Anta

        I squinted at the sun, determining its position in the sky. It was not yet midday, and it would not be wise for me to venture out yet, or my golden skin would become red, blistered. I had learned that lesson long ago, and would not risk it again. Still, I was excited, for tonight was the night that the gods would bless us with antelope, and I had been chosen as part of the group that would hunt. It was rare for a woman to be given the honor, but my skill with the arrow was undeniable. I kicked at the sand around my feet, impatient. I felt like I had been waiting for this day all of my life. I looked around at my tribe, saw the women chasing after children, or crushing wheat, or grouped into a circle chattering about unimportant things while they dyed cloth. I had no desire to be like them; I wanted to roam, to hunt, to conquer.

        I stood up and ran towards the river, diving in, and relishing the coolness on my skin. I was thankful for this river- my tribe had once been nomadic, the tales said, and there had been much hardship. We had settled in this spot shortly after I had been born, and now we flourished- our people had learned to irrigate and farm, and there was never any shortage of harvests or fish. I was glad life had improved for my tribe, and that I had never had to experience the hunger or droughts. Still,  I felt that I had our history of roaming coursing through my veins, so I felt trapped in this one spot. But, I would roam tonight. A smile broke out on my face underwater, and I broke the surface with my face to the sun, running my hands over my hair. I heard crude whistles. Opening my eyes, I saw three men of my tribe smiling, showing me their ugly teeth.

        "You've grown into quite a beautiful young lady, Anta."

        "Yes, brother, very beautiful indeed."

        "Who would have thought that skinny young pole would develop such curves?"

        I choked back the bile that threatened to rise. I spat a curse at them and swam away. They laughed. "You can only play hard to get for so long, Anta, you no longer have a father to provide for you. You will choose a husband soon, or one will be chosen for you, whether you like it or not."

        I climbed onto the bank near my tent and eyed my arrows. It was tempting to begin my hunt now, starting with those snakes. How dare they speak of my father? He had barely been dead a month, and they expected me to run to one of them and submit myself, just because it was tradition? I would die first. The thought of being tethered to some old man, forced to cook for him, raise his children- and, worst of all, allow him to touch me. I shuddered. The sadness began to descend upon me that, realistically, this was what the members of my tribe expected of me. It had been suggested to me by various women, the insisting that "This is the way it was intended," but no one had pushed me yet, most likely because of the freshness of my grief.

        I now had no family here, I was an only child, and my mother had passed long ago. I would eventually have no choice but to submit to the will of my people, and that knowledge caused within me a great depression. I shook the webs of despair from my mind. Tonight, I hunted. I would focus on that, and that only. I sat, sharpening my arrows, and thinking about how good it would feel to get out of here, to roam. It would take half the night to get to the oasis where the antelope would appear, and we would be leaving at sundown.

        The day seemed to drag on for eons, but finally, the time arrived. I stood with the group of 4 other hunters as we stuffed our packs with water, bread, and dried meat to sustain us for the journey, and of course, our weapons. We were given the traditional send-off, and we were on our way. Once the firelight from the village faded from view, I tilted my face to the stars and took in a deep breath. I walked a distance away from the hunting party, not that any of them noticed, nor cared. They weren't too happy that a lowly woman had been appointed to their ranks. I scoffed quietly, enjoying the tension. Let them sulk. We walked for hours, and when the oasis came into view, I was almost disappointed. I had been so happy just to be heading away, exploring, and the sight of the oasis reminded me that after what was sure to be a too-short hunt, the remainder of my journey would be heading home. Home. Funny, it didn't feel much like home anymore. I didn't feel a kinship with these people- I never had. I had always had the burning inside me to roam, but I would have never left Father. Not to mention, no matter how tough I felt, it was hard for anyone to survive alone in the desert, let alone a woman. I shook the thoughts from my head and focused on the impending hunt. At least I could look forward to some antelope meat and new skins.

        We began moving more stealthily, and with a few shared hand signals, we split up and circled the oasis, so that we were sure to catch the prey anywhere they tried to run. I moved to the east, a large sand hill to my right, a grove of trees to my left. I snuck forward and began inching through the trees until I just caught sight of the antelope. I crouched down, waiting for the others, to get into position. I was so intent on watching for my crew, to be in place that I never heard the footsteps behind me. A hand slipped over my mouth, but before I even had time to react, I felt the sharp smack of a large rock across my head, and then the darkness engulfed me.

        I felt the throbbing pain before I even fully woke. Throbbing so badly it was rocking my whole body. No- wait. That wasn't right. I forced my eyes open though they wanted to stay closed against the pain. I looked around, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized I was in a covered chariot of some sort. At once, I remembered the attack. My eyes widened, and I tried to jump up.

        "You won't get far," a voice said, close to my ear. I jumped, having been unaware of the presence next to me. I jerked sideways, away from the voice. He shrugged, face sheepish in apology. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I just meant that they tied these pretty well." He held his hands up the two inches he was able to move them and showed me that they were bound tightly to a rope that circled his waist. My eyes trailed it down and saw that his feet were bound, too, just as I realized I was in the same predicament.

        I shook my head, ignoring the pain, trying to rid myself of the fog in my head. I was too out of sorts. I hadn't even sensed him next to me, hadn't felt the tight ropes. "I didn't even hear them coming..." I murmured to myself.

        "Don't feel bad, neither did I, and I'm usually more perceptive than a cat, even in my sleep. It's how I survive."

        "Where are we? What is this? How long have I been in here?" I asked, my voice a furious whisper as the fear began to creep up on me. I couldn't hear anything outside except the sounds of horses pulling the chariot, but even that was quiet.

        "I got knocked out, too, but I was awake when they tossed you back here, so they took me first. You were knocked out a while. It's almost sunrise by now, I imagine. My best guess is that we've been kidnapped into slavery. I've heard rumors of that happening in these parts... Men who sneak in like demons and take people and no one ever hears or sees them. Seems we've got a long ride ahead of us, they wouldn't have this big chariot just for us."

        The words sent a shock through my body, a desperate need for action. Slavery? I had heard tales of such a thing, and I knew, exactly what that meant for me. There was no way I was about to become someone's concubine. They took the wrong woman. I took inventory of the options available to me. My pouch was still around my waist, but my bow and arrows were gone. Damn it. I had no idea of the enemy we were facing, and now they had taken my only weapon. Except- wait! I scooted back until I was up against a board, and felt a flood of relief at the feeling of something sharp on my back. My mother had taught me long ago how to hide a small flint knife in a hidden pouch at the small of my back. "For emergencies," she had said. I didn't know what she meant then, but I was eternally grateful that she had now. They hadn't found it, and it was more than sharp enough to cut through these ropes, except that my hands were tied in the front. I struggled to see if I could get them behind me, somehow, but I couldn't get into the position to slip them down over my feet. I growled in frustration.

         "What are you doing?"

        I looked at the man in frustration, which turned into anger when I saw he had a goofy grin on his face. "What exactly are you smiling about? What is wrong with you? Don't you know what is about to happen to us?"

        He shrugged. "None of us ever know what's about to happen to us. All we can do is live in the moment. I admit, I would rather be in a nice bathhouse, or feasting on a pharaoh's meal, but, what can we do? Here we are. At least I have some company now."

        I sighed in exasperation. He was completely nonsensical. My heart sunk as I realized the only way I was going to get the knife out of the pouch was if I let him do it. Put my only weapon- and my only chance of escape- in the hands of this stranger who couldn't even take being abducted seriously. What if he was crazy? What if he used it to hurt me? I hesitated, but only for a moment. I would rather take my chances here, with him, than with whoever had taken me. I turned to face him. "Listen to me," I said quietly, leaning in close. "There is a small knife hidden at the small of my back. You're going to have to get it out, so we can cut the ropes."

        His smile widened. "Sneaky, sneaky girl. Hey, I like you. I'm Khait. What's your name?"

        "Would you stay focused?" I said, kicking at him involuntarily.

        He chuckled. "Feisty, too. Yup, we can be friends." He noticed the look on my face and held him palms forward in surrender. "Ok, ok, turn around." I turned, scooting back. His fingers brushed up against me, and he grunted in the effort. "I'm sorry, I can't reach it. You're - forgive me, but you're going to have to sit in my lap."

        I wanted to be outraged, but based on how tightly his hands were bound; he was probably right. I growled again but obliged. He fumbled with it for a moment, but found the hidden flap and slid the blade out. "Don't move," he said, and fear struck me again. I knew this was a mistake. He was about to stab me, steal my knife, free himself... I prepared myself for death, but instead, found him sawing away at the rope around my waist. I felt a bit embarrassed that I had immediately assumed the worst of him. As soon as the rope dropped free from my waist, I turned quickly, and he began working on the ones confining my wrists. When I was able to pull my hands-free, I took it from him and cut my feet free.

        My first instinct was just to run- as fast and as far as I could. He knew it, too, because gone was the carefree look on his face, replaced now with worry. I sighed again. I shouldn't care. He was not my problem, not from my tribe- I had to worry about myself. But, I couldn't. He had helped me when he could have taken the knife and cut himself free. I grabbed his rope, sawing deftly, releasing first his hands, and then his feet. I kept the knife gripped tightly in my hand as I looked towards the flap at the back of the chariot, overlapped so that I couldn't see anything outside. My heart was pounding almost out of my chest. I didn't know what we were facing out there. It could be a whole army, as far as I knew. I took a deep breath and headed for the flap. Khait grabbed my arm and shook his head, easing past me. He crouched down in a corner and eased the flap aside, ever so slowly, and soon his head disappeared outside. He came back in and did the same for the other side. He motioned me over and spoke quietly. "We're in luck. There are only two men. We are on a road alongside many rocky hills, and there are trees for cover. The sun is just beyond the horizon, but it is still dark enough for us to hide. I say we slip out as silently as possible, and hide behind a tree until they've gotten far enough away for us not to be seen."

        I agreed, and we both slipped out of the back, silently as mice. We had just reached the first tree when an arrow struck it, so close to my head I felt its wind on my face. Khait all but threw me behind the tree, and swiftly scooped up a large rock and threw it. I heard the sickening "SMACK" it made as it connected with skull, and a shout from the other man in a language I did not know. Suddenly he had me up over his shoulder, and he was running, taking the rocky terrain as if it was nothing. I was terrified he was going to drop me. He rounded a corner and set me down, poking his head out to see if we had been pursued. I punched him in the arm. "Who are you to pick me up like that? I'm not helpless, you know!"

        He rubbed him arm, wincing. "Well, now I know. I was just trying to save your head."

        I rolled my eyes. "Seems like it was MY knife that saved both of our heads."

        He backed up, hands raised, with that stupid, goofy grin again. "Yes, you are right. Had you not come along, I'd still be stuck in there. I am eternally grateful, and I was simply trying to return the favor."

        "Well, next time, keep your hands to yourself. I have legs to run with, thank you very much."

        He laughed at me and poked his head around the rock again. "He's still there- and his friend is still on the ground. I either knocked him out real good, or he's dead. I know who they are now- I recognize the language. They are slave traders, hired to collect slaves for the King."

        "King?" I asked, confused. We had no king. "Yes," he said solemnly. "We would have been in for a long ride. Come, I know this area well. He probably won't come looking for us- too much trouble for their type, they prefer to catch their prey off guard- but just to be safe, we will hide out until after the sun is up. They will be gone by then."

        He led me through rocks, climbing at an angle and making sure not to be in the open until we came to a cave with a narrow entrance that I would have walked right by without him leading me into it. He disappeared into the darkness as I fumbled around, feeling the walls. "Sorry," he said, taking my hand and leading me. "Usually when I'm in this cave, it's dark. I've learned my way around well. Here, sit."

        He guided me down to what felt like a pile of animal skins. "Now, let me see if I still- hey, look at that. We're in luck yet again." I heard him take a drink of something, and then he handed it to me. "What is this?" I asked.

        "Beer. Try it, this stuff is blessed by the gods. It will cure all your ailments and keep you healthy."

        He couldn't see me roll my eyes at his exaggerations, but I drank anyhow. "Not bad," I said and handed it back to him.

        "That's the closest to breakfast I can offer you, um- I still don't know your name."

        "It's Anta. Here, take this," I said as I handed him some provisions from my pack, thankful the slave traders hadn't taken that, also.

        "What a great team we make, you and I. Thank you kindly, Anta."

        "Khait, you said, right?"

        He grunted his agreement through a mouthful of food.

        "How can you be so cheerful? We were assaulted, kidnapped, and now we're hiding in a dark cave."

        "That's what you think happened? The way I see it, those gentlemen gave me a free ride in the direction I was headed in any case. I had an exciting adventure with a beautiful new friend who has the most intriguing personality. And now, we are safe and warm, reclining on the finest furs and skins while we feast and drink beer. I'd say this is shaping up to be the perfect day."

        A laugh escaped me, and I felt my mood lighten. "Well, I suppose that's one way to see it."

        "That's the only way to see it! We've got it made!"

        I chuckled again. "You said you were headed this direction. Is this your home?"

        "One of them, I suppose you could say. I'm coming to visit a friend."

        "What do you mean, one of them?" I asked.

        "The world is too big and beautiful for me to plant roots in just one place. I would go crazy, knowing there was so much going on beyond my walls that I wasn't a part of!"

        His words made me tingle all over. Questions began pouring out of me, and I had no power to stop them. Each of his answers came in the form of a story. Light began to seep in through openings above us, and I was able to see him clearly for the first time as he animatedly described adventure after adventure. He looked different than me, but I couldn't place it. When I asked what tribe he was from, he simply shrugged his shoulders and told me that from as early as he could remember, he was always moving from one place to the next, from family to family, although none of them were his blood. I expressed how sad that was, and he looked confused. "Why? I'm not stuck with one group. I've got family and friends all over, all different sorts of people, from cave dwellers to people who live in palaces."

        Everything he said invigorated me, as did the beer we kept drinking. He had quite a few bottles stashed, and what was supposed to be a short hide out turned into hours and hours of me hanging on his every word. His stories were so vibrant and descriptive that I felt like I was in those places with him, experiencing it. I found myself admiring his exotic features - the abnormally light eyes against the dark skin, the way his hair fell around his shoulders in tight ringlets, the well-defined muscles of his chest, which I hadn't even noticed was bare until that moment. I caught myself biting my lip as my eyes slowly slid down his body, and I realized that I was quite attracted to him. This was the first time I had ever looked at a man in this way. I tried to wave off the impure thoughts; it was obviously the alcohol. I had begun to feel a giddy buzz, which died the instant he said, "Enough about me, tell me about your home."

        I dropped my head and sighed deeply. "There's nothing really to tell. It's a small tribe near the river."

        "Do you have a family?"

        I shook my head. "I only had my parents, but they're both gone now. It's just me."

        "Aren't you close to the members of your tribe?"

        I shook my head again, wishing he had never brought it up. I had been enjoying hearing about his life so much, and I had forgotten about the stark reality of my own.

        "You seem unhappy. Does your home make you unhappy?"

        I sighed deeply and nodded.

        "Silly girl, then why do you call it your home?"

        I wrinkled my brow at him. "Because that's all I have. Where else would I go?"

        He opened his arms. "How about with me? You want to know about all of these places I've been, then why haven't you offered to accompany me? You'd rather sit around and hear about them, rather than create your own stories?"

        I stared at him, frozen, unable to believe what he was saying. My mouth parted, but I had no words. Was this possible? Could I just...never go back to that place I despised so much? Travel the world? A feeling came over me, warm and exciting, more of a buzz than the beer had provided. This was freedom. This was hope. This man- he was my future. Without so much as a word, I launched myself forward into his arms. We toppled backward, with me landing on top of him. He laughed. "I take it that's a yes?"

        I shocked myself by responding with a kiss- and not a friendly one. I attacked his lips like my life depended on it like he contained my life force. He was caught off guard at first, but recovered and kissed me back, wrapping his arms around me, then running them up into my hair. He pulled me back and looked at me, his eyes a question- "Are you sure?"

        He must have seen his answer in my eyes, because he took my bottom lip into his mouth, sucking gently, then ran his tongue across my lips. He was teasing me, and I felt a heat begin to spread from the center of my body. I pushed myself closer to him from where I was straddling his body, and I felt him grow hard beneath me. The feeling made me catch my breath, and he rolled me over so that he was on top of me. He gently moved my arms above my head, running his fingers down the tender parts, making me shiver with delight. He tipped my chin up gently and began kissing my neck, slowly moving downward as I moaned at each touch of his lips. He grazed the top of my breasts with his tongue, and I reached down and helped him remove my top, my breath quickening as his hands grazed my now hard nipples. He took note of this and looked into my eyes as he first took them in between his fingers, then into his mouth, sucking them gently, and then nibbling.
 
        I squirmed beneath him, pressing up against his hardness. The lust in his eyes smoldered as he stared at me. I could feel a wetness coming from me, and I couldn't control my body. I kept grinding up against him, wanting him more with each second, until I felt like I couldn't stand it anymore. I grabbed his head and pulled him back to my face, kissing him with trembling lips, and begging, "Please..." That's all I could manage. "Please."

        His eyes took on a mischievous look. He shook his head no at me and began his slow descent towards my breasts again. Only this time, he didn't stop there. Soon, he was kissing my stomach, drawing circles with his tongue. He eased his hands down my hips and pulled my skirt up around my waist. Then, he shocked me completely and put his mouth on me. I had never heard of such a thing, let alone expected it. My body jerked at the feel of it, and I was so very sensitive in the spots his tongue was exploring, I found myself trying to crab walk away from him. He grabbed me tightly and pulled me closer to him, burying his face as his seductive movements sent jolts through my body. He continued at it until I was no longer seeking to escape, I was instead pushing towards him. Then, he was hovering over me again.

        He kissed me deeply as he removed first my bottoms, and then his own. I could taste myself, and it aroused me. He placed a hand beneath me, tilting me up, and in one moment, he was there, at the entrance to my passion, lingering in the outer wetness, rubbing against spots that were making me groan. He waited, looking at me, as I panted with anticipation, my body writhing against him, silently begging for him to take me. And finally, he did just that, easing into me slowly, going deeper, deeper than I thought possible, and I wrapped my arms around his neck as pain and pleasure collided. I found myself inching backward at first, every time he almost hit the base of me, but soon I wanted more, and crying out for it. He was moving slowly, gently, and I planted my feet on the floor, pushing my hips up, grasping frantically at the furs below me, moving faster, faster against him. I didn't know what was happening to my body, I felt primal, I was all instinct, and I needed him more than I had ever needed anything.

        I felt a tingling begin in my toes, radiating through my entire body, and I wrapped my hands into his hair. He grabbed me with one hand and lifted us with the other so that he was leaning back on his haunches while I sat over him. I moved up and down, our bodies slick with sweat, the feeling of my nipples and sensitive spots rubbing against him, adding to the building eruption I could feel gaining momentum. Suddenly, he began to groan, too, and his hands gripped me tight, squeezing my cheeks.

        I was breathing hard, and I felt him grow even bigger, causing me to cry out his name. Suddenly, the soft, sensitive 'him' was gone. Before I realized what was happening, he was on top of me again, with one of my legs lifted over his shoulder, slamming into me, over and over. That put me over the top, and I exploded all over him, wetness squirting out in a way I hadn't known possible, the climax making me arch my back and scream out, a feeling of rapture touching every inch of my body so that even my scalp was tingling. I could feel myself pulsing inside, spasming against him as he called out, and I felt him throb and release inside of me.

        Both of us lay intertwined, gasping for air and our hearts pounding. I wrapped my arms tight around him, and at that moment, there was not a single place in the world I would rather be than listening to his heart beat slow, and match mine.

        I didn't realize I had dozed off, but when I woke some time later, I found him gazing at me, a look of lazy contentment on his face.

        "How did you sleep?" He asked. I stretched and smiled. "Better than I ever have in my entire life."

        His smile now matched mine. "Beautiful. Listen- you never really answered me, you know, when I asked if you wanted to stay with me. I didn't want to assume, in case the beer had you not in your right mind, but I'm hoping the answer is yes."

        He looked adorable waiting for me to respond. So unsure, and nervous of my answer, and I knew, at that moment, that by this man's side was the only place I belonged. Home was in his arms.

        I sat up and embraced him. "There was never a doubt in my mind," I said, kissing him.

        His grin lit up the cave. "Well, in that case, let's go! We've got a bathhouse waiting for us that serves the most delectable delicacies. You'll love it. Plus, we'll want to be clean and be presentable if we expect to have dinner with a Pharaoh."

        I looked at him with wide eyes, and he grabbed my hand, and off we went to the first of many adventures.

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