Because of their sterility, a warrior's duty is to guide their clan in the ways of the bedroom.
— Jacin Torabin, The Noble Barbarian
“And that is how Bàyo stole both Pabinkue Kishifín's and Pabinkue Makohūni's herds right from underneath them, may their bones bleach in the sun.” Mikáryo's laugh ended with a gulp. She drained the last of her bottle of wine and slammed it down into the sand next to her bedroll.
Rutejìmo laughed with her, though he didn't understand half the story. He had known that Tsubàyo could control horses with his mind, that was how he attacked Chimípu and Rutejìmo years before; but the idea of controlling a hundred horses at once without a word was too much to understand.
Tsubàyo chuckled and ducked his head with humility. His own bottle rested against his side. He had only drunk a third of it, and the red liquid sloshed with his movement.
Rutejìmo glanced over at the man who tried to kill him. A day before, he would have never even considered he would be sitting next to Tsubàyo ever again, drinking and chatting as if they were friends. It felt strange and disturbing. When they grew up, they were always rivals. The haze of drink tempered his anxiousness.
Mikáryo leaned over and thumped Tsubàyo on his back. “My little horse thief.” Her voice was slurred from the second bottle of wine.
Tsubàyo looked away. He used a clumsy hand to part the flaps of her tent. The dim, morning light streamed in through the opening. “Káryo, morning is here. I need to get some sleep before we head into the city for supplies.”
Mikáryo snatched Tsubàyo's bottle, waved it toward him, and slumped back on her thin pillow and blankets.
Tsubàyo turned to Rutejìmo, who tensed at the intense gaze. “Jìmo.”
“Tsu…” Rutejìmo gulped and blinked to clear his eyes. “Great Pabinkue Tsubàyo.”
Tsubàyo's lips twisted in a scowl. He glanced over to Mikáryo and then back to Rutejìmo. With a nod, he crawled out of the tent and jerked the flap back into place.
“Jìmo, don't worry about him.”
The muscles in Rutejìmo's back and shoulders tightened. He took a deep breath and leaned back against a thin pillow. The sand underneath the blanket shifted with his movement, and he twisted a few times until the contours molded to his body. “It's hard. He tried to sacrifice me. I thought he was a monster, but to hear him tonight, he seems… kind and generous. He was never that when we were growing up.”
“Everything passes. Everything changes.” Mikáryo stretched. “Though, he is right. I can feel the moon about to sleep.”
As the sun rose above the horizon, Rutejìmo felt the morning himself with a quickening of his heart and a pulse beating in his ears. The moment, which never lasted long enough, rushed through him and everything felt possible.
“Hard to believe that Bàyo has three kids already.”
Surprised by the sudden change in conversation, Rutejìmo stared at her. “W-What?”
“Yeah,” said Mikáryo. She arched her back. Her nipples tented the thin black fabric covering her breasts. “Two boys and a girl. The two young ones are going to be Pabinkúe, no doubt about it.”
“To a grain singer, of all things. Rojikinomi Fimúchi is a good girl, no interest in traveling of course, none of the Rojikinòmi do. But they watch the homes, protect the crops, and feed the Pabinkúe's horses.”
Rutejìmo shook his head, trying to imagine Tsubàyo married or even having children.
Mikáryo grinned. “What? You thought he would remain celibate his entire life? Doomed to wander the deserts alone with me? Not everyone pines for the woman they saw once over ten years ago.”
A blush burned his cheeks and he glanced down at his hands. He didn't think his affection for Mikáryo was that obvious, though it seemed that everyone knew. “How… how did—?”
“You're in my tent in the middle of the night, blushing like a boy when you should be sleeping.” She chuckled and got on her knees. Using her hands, she crawled a few steps away from her blankets toward him. His eyes were drawn to the sway of her hair and breasts. She looked like a beast, the way her body moved and her fingernails dug into the sand.
When the fabric pulled away from her nipples, he inhaled sharply at the sight of the hard, dark tips standing up between tattooed skin and black cloth. He tried to gracefully rest one arm to hide his growing hardness, but he was sure he failed. Sweat prickled his skin. He stared at her, trapped by her gaze.
“What about you?” she asked with a purr. “Is there a girl in the valley for you? Or one running around with your heart in her bag?”
He couldn't look into her eyes. Turning his head, he stared at the tent. “N-No.”
“What about the little warrior girl at least? Someone warm for the long nights in the desert?”
Rutejìmo closed his eyes. His hands balled into fists, and he tightened them until his fingers ached. “No, Great Pabinkue Mikáryo. We've never done that.”
Sand shifted underneath the blanket and he felt the ground shifting underneath him. A heartbeat later, the warmth of her body brushed against his skin.
At the touch of her breath on his neck, he shivered and struggled to breathe.
Mikáryo whispered in his ear, her breath hot against his lobe and neck. “We're beyond those formalities, don't you think?”
With her whispered voice came more warmth and a rapid beating of his heart. “Y-Yes.”
A chuckle, the faintest of sounds, and then she pulled back. “Pathetic. Even all these years later, you're still the boy who peed his pants that night, aren't you?”
Rutejìmo crawled to his knees. Fumbling with the tent, he stammered, “I-I have to go.”
The rustle of cloth stopped him. He could almost imagine it sliding along her tattooed skin. And then the soft, almost indiscernible sigh of it pooling on the blanket. “Are you sure?” Her voice was soft and wry, teasing him to turn around.
His fingers clenched the side of the tent flap. He had trouble focusing on the dim light spearing through the opening, but he couldn't tell if it was the drink or the pounding in his heart.
“Leave if you have to.” She chuckled again. “Or stay and let me teach you a few things your little warrior girl should have done years ago.”
Rutejìmo's knuckles cracked with his indecision. He wanted to run and turn around at the same time. Fear and excitement burned through his veins, screaming at him to surrender or fight, scream or moan, anything but kneel near the feet of the woman he had fantasized about for years.
Chimípu had offered to bed him many times, quietly making herself available without pressuring. Kiramíro, the other female Shimusògo warrior, had done the same. That was what the warriors did. They taught the ways of the clan even in the darkness in the bedroom caves. None of them could have children—it was the price they paid for protecting the entire clan—so they were the gateways for teaching the way among the others.
He panted with anticipation. For ten years, he never had an interest in any woman besides Mikáryo. Now that she was offering herself to him, he found it hard to think past the aching of his manhood and the painful thudding of his heart against his ribs.
As much as he wanted her, he also knew it was wrong. Mikáryo was from a clan of the night, a warrior that fought against all of the day clans including Shimusògo. Every story about the sun and moon said she should have tried to kill him, not bed him.
Slowly, he closed his eyes. He should have accepted Chimípu's or Kiramíro's offer. He could have spent the night with one of the many other warriors who saved him over the years. Then, he would have been ready for the woman of his dreams. Instead, he didn't know what to do.
“Come on, I'll show you,” she said quietly.
The fabric of the tent slipped from his fingers and settled back into place. In the sudden darkness, he pulled back and turned around.