As the population on Earth grew larger, and as the people, tactics, inventions, and wars of the human species crowded and then poisoned the Earth, it was inevitable that they looked to other galaxies for new beginnings.
Planets were discovered suitable for mankind’s second chance. Many massive ships were launched to different planets in various galaxies.
Not all arrived at their intended destinations.
Rose slid the backpack off for the third time and dropped it on the floor of the escape pod. “Damn it, make a decision.”
She paced, hating being alone after being in cryosleep for a thousand years, but fear was keeping her in the craft.
She slapped a fist into her palm. “Action cures fear. Just do it!” Donning the backpack before she could change her mind again, she slipped through the partially closed hatch and loudly sang Christmas songs to exercise her voice and lungs and to bolster her courage and determination.
After an hour, she rested by a waterfall and drank copious amounts of water. If it was poisonous, she hoped it would kill her quickly and not just make her ill and incapacitate her. If that happened, she could be eaten alive by animals. Her gruesome imagination accelerated her heart and tightened her gut.
Suddenly, muffled voices startled her and she hid behind some shrubs. The voices came closer and they seemed to be speaking English. Fear and trepidation clamored inside her.
Four people looking like actors in medieval attire came into view. Three were men who were large and in need of grooming and were armed with bows, belt knives, and short swords. The woman, her long hair pulled into a ponytail, wore a pack. The leader was a bear of a man who carried a staff.
Would they be peaceful? Could she communicate with them? She wondered if she should take her survival knife out, but she quickly realized that would be hostile and foolish. Besides, she’d never trained with a knife and doubted she could use one against a person.
Rose forced herself to be brave and moved slowly toward them, making sure her hands were visible. When she was about hundred feet away from them, they stopped and stared at her. Raising one arm slowly, Rose said, “Hello. I’m Captain Rose Flemming.” She managed to work up a weak smile.
The towering one was carrying a staff and moved toward her confidently. Gesturing with the staff, he answered, “Hello. I am Jabin.”
With trepidation, Rose stepped toward them. When she was within about twenty feet, she couldn’t contain her wide grin. “You speak English.”
Jabin knit his brows. “Eng—what? We speak Thax.” He unabashedly assessed her short figure from her head to her toes. “You are a beauty, lady, a blessing from heaven.”
Oh, what a gentleman… Despite his telltale gray-streaked beard and unkempt hair, he was well-toned and had an air of confidence.
He glanced at the sun, and with no formality or introductions of the others, he grabbed her upper arm. “We’ll leave now to return to the village.” He gave her a guiding push as he took the lead.
Who the hell was he to assume she’d want to go with them? Still, she decided she might as well go along, and she fell into place beside the quiet woman bringing up the rear. The other two men walked side by side behind Jabin. Rose looked the woman in her eyes, but the woman looked away. She tried to remember the landscape as they walked in case she decided to return to the escape pod, but in minutes she was confused as her mind grew distracted as she worried about the consequences of going with the motley group.
Jabin led them confidently and at a brisk pace. Time passed quickly, with only the sounds of birds, gentle wind, and the sparse trees dancing in the breeze. Rose’s exercise program since landing had done little to prepare her for the jaunt, and about an hour later, while taking deep, gasping breaths, she announced, “I need to rest.”
Jabin barked over his shoulder, “I wish to be at the village and in my castle before dark. I have no desire to meet night animals or to sleep on the ground.”
His words ignited her perennial ire. “I’ve had a strenuous and long journey and am not conditioned for such a trek.” She dramatically stopped walking and pulled a juice bottle from her pack. “I presume you’ve brought your own water or whatever it is you call it in Thax.” Groaning softly, she sat on a downed log under some shade and drank the flavored nutritional drink as the party glared at her.
Leeda moved close and cautioned Rose, “He is a good leader. Don’t force him to punish you with a spanking.”
“Woman,” Jabin growled in a deep voice that made her wince, “I do not know most of the words you used, but I am Jabin, one of the three ruling seniors of our village.” He pounded his chest with a fist. “I lead this party. We are grateful for the gift and blessing that you represent, but you are to hold to our rules. Since I don’t want to wear out our gift, I’ll allow you to rest. But remember your place and speak with respect.” His gaze seemed to penetrate her deeply. There didn’t seem to be anger in his manner, just an authority that made her heart beat faster.
She stood and glared, holding her hands on her hips, a tactic that usually worked. “I am a senior captain and I’ve commanded over three hundred others.”
Jabin howled in laughter and turned in a circle. “Where? Did you bring them?” The others laughed with him. “We will rest for a short while,” Jabin said. “Leeda, explain.”
“Yes, Jabin.” Leeda sat with Rose, drank something from a skin carrier, then said, “Do not challenge him or stare him in the eyes like an enemy. He can make your life gentle or harsh. Do not force a punishment.”
Rose tried dampening her anger by taking deep breaths. Punish? Spanking? What the hell planet did I land on?
As she focused, her training kicked in. When in a new environment, it was always best to observe unless there was an immediate threat to life. Soon, she was ready to keep walking.
Jabin barked, “We continue.” He glared her way as she hauled herself to her aching, throbbing feet, her anger beginning to boil again.
Leeda glanced at Rose as they began walking. “I do not know your training, but be silent as much as possible. And remember, a woman is always to be a woman and not to be angry. It is not for us to make decisions. We rest when the leader decides. We go when he says.”
Rose needed to collect intelligence on the situation. “Are you married to any of these men? Do you know what married means?”
“Of course. Everyone in this group comes from different castles, so in case of a death, no one family suffers too much. We are modern and smart.” Her voice rose with obvious pride.
They moved along for hours in a torturous path up and down gentle valleys, and everyone except Rose sported a gentle smile.
Rose played all of the events of her life through her mind to try to entertain herself while pushing her body beyond its limits. Her feet and legs ached badly and she wanted to collapse and rest. When she fell behind, Leeda encouraged her, and Jabin, though obviously displeased as evidenced by his scowl, slowed the pace.
Since landing, each day had brought more memories of Earth, her lost crew, her family, and her lover and soul mate, Jackson, who had regularly reminded her to stop and smell the roses while she’d locked herself on a hard-lined, professional path of promotion, just as her father had done.
When the hiking group was delayed by a spontaneous hunting event, Rose welcomed it as a chance to rest. They had spotted what seemed to be a deer nearby, but it looked shorter and thicker than any deer she’d seen on Earth. Rose thought she was keeping quiet, but Jabin glared at her twice and lifted his finger to his lips.
He must have given a signal because simultaneously he and a man they called Adam each rose, spread apart several yards, and let loose two arrows, hitting the animal. When it fell to the ground, everyone moved closer to look at the animal.
It was still alive so Adam drove a deadly looking knife with a curving tip and carved handle into its throat. Adam was thickly built and shorter than Jabin, but his body looked toned, and he had the same wild beard and mustache the other men had. His eyes seemed perpetually narrowed under the wide-brimmed felt hat he wore.
Everyone dropped to one knee, touched the warm corpse, and bowed their heads. Rose followed suit, and Jabin nodded, sparing her a tiny smile. Then they quickly decapitated and gutted it and tied it to a long pole they’d improvised. Adam and the other man, who was also large and hadn’t yet said a word, hefted the pole to their shoulders.
As the sunlight fled, the tension in the team was palpable, and the men kept their hands on their swords. They looked about nervously and their stress spread to Rose. She wished she had a flashlight and a laser weapon.
“I don’t wish to move quite so fast,” she spoke up. “It’s dangerous and I’m tired.”
Jabin pointed ahead. “We are close. It is dangerous to take too long.”
“Quiet, woman! Do not distract me.”
They walked and Leeda held Rose’s arm in physical support and emotional comfort.
Three fires in the distance offered a ghostly outline of a small village ahead, reminding Rose of a medieval movie set. Her back, hips, legs, and feet were in fiery pain, and she was grateful she had on her nurse’s shoes.
A few rough-looking men with a torch came to meet them. They seemed equally worried and they were armed. There was no conversation, but they patted the arms and backs of the people in Rose’s group. Everyone seemed relieved, although the new men openly stared at Rose.
The village was lit with lamps and the fires, and dozens of others arrived to welcome the party and to point at Rose in her smooth gray two-piece attire. Some of them made comments about her hair, which was far shorter than the hair of any other female that Rose saw there.
The next event was dinner. In Jabin’s hut—which he called his ‘castle’—there was a medium-sized room that made up his kitchen, dining, and sitting area. A crude metal stove sat off to one side.
There were two other men and two women in the hut. The table, a simple picnic style, could sit ten. Jabin rattled off the others’ names, and Rose tried to remember the two women. One was Mary, the other Siri. They could have passed for sisters as both had a similar height and build and both had long straight hair. Mary’s was shiny black and Siri’s was a slightly wavy brown. They wore plain tan dresses that reached their ankles and no jewelry.
Rose sat at the table and was given a bowl of food. Jabin clapped his hands once and the others’ soft chatter ceased. Every head bowed, and he said a grace that she didn’t listen too. Exhausted, she prayed for the ability to sleep later on. On cue, she recited “Amen” with the others.
Then they ate. The dish seemed to be a casserole made with some kind of grain, brown rice, vegetables, and chunks of meat that Rose pushed aside.
The man next to her, who was sporting a long ponytail, whispered, “It is an insult to not eat what is provided.” He was younger than Jabin, and she noticed that both men had appealing blue eyes and distinctive facial features. This man was clean-shaven and Rose had the fleeting thought that he could probably have been a model or actor back in her world. His eyes held her attention and his sharp and appealing facial features added to his allure. She’d have to pay attention to the other men in the village to see if they were as handsome.
“I’m not used to meat.” She glanced at him and he frowned.
“It is rude.”
She took tiny bites, and at one point, he stabbed the last piece of meat from her bowl and dropped it in his.
“Thanks,” she whispered. He mumbled disapprovingly.
Trying to be amiable, Rose asked, “Tell me your name again?”
She stayed silent during the rest of the meal and listened to the table’s occupants talk of the trek, the kill, and the delays due to Rose’s condition. Jabin didn’t use her name but regularly referred to her as ‘the woman’ and he questioned what value she’d be to the village. They talked about her as though she wasn’t there, but her desperate need for sleep made it easy for her to ignore them.
When the meal was over, everyone stood. Dylan told Rose, “Watch the other women clean and tend to their duties. Then rest well. Your new life begins tomorrow.”
Rose decided she had to move on as soon as possible to find her people and return to civilized society. She wanted her life back.