Max and Kayla sat together atop an ancient glass tower, their bare legs dangling over the edge of the roof. Sweat dripped down Max's forehead. His legs ached from the fifty seven storey climb, but it was worth the effort to sit here alone with her at last.
The breeze was chilly up here. He pulled his deerskin tunic closer around himself. It was the most expensive piece of clothing he owned, and he wore it just for this occasion. He heard the distant echo of drums beating through the night, the shrill squeals of delighted children, and the deep rumble of singing men. He reckoned the raucous of tonight’s festivities was loud enough to be heard across the whole world.
Every tribe of the Golden Horseshoe Confederation had gathered here tonight at this ancient city to celebrate the Everlasting Peace – a once in a decade celebration of the founding of the Confederation fifty years ago. Max was only four years old when the previous celebration occurred. He didn’t remember much of it, but he had heard much about it from those old enough to remember. These older boys spoke of beautiful girls from all over the world, all gathered in one place, singing and dancing around mighty bonfires. Max didn’t understand why these older boys made such a big fuss about girls at the time, but tonight he understood.
He gazed at his love, Kayla. The full moon provided just enough light to see her beautiful face. He had just met her. They had danced. Then she pulled him away from the crowd and led him up the tower. He wondered if she wanted to kiss him. He leaned towards her and puckered his lips. She wouldn’t have brought him up here if she didn’t want to be kissed, right?
She pulled away from him and put her right index finger on his lips. “You should know first that I’m promised to another.”
He blinked. “Huh?”
“Conner. He’s the son of your Clan Chief, is he not?”
Max curled his lips. He disliked Conner – Conner who was so well-liked by everyone else in the tribe. “You know him?”
“I’ve only just met him yesterday. He’s strong. Fast. And also quite handsome.”
Max turned away from her to hide the scowl on his face. Why did she bring me up here, then? “Are you pleased that he's to be your husband?”
Max snapped his gaze back to her. “Why?”
“Because I didn’t choose him. My father did. My father seeks the friendship of your Clan Chief.”
At the risk of sounding stupid, Max asked again, “Why?”
“Do you know nothing of politics? Tomorrow, the Clan Chiefs will gather at the summit of the Great Tower and elect a new Chief of Chiefs. My father desires to become Chief of Chiefs, and he seeks friends to vote for him.”
Max scrunched his face. “So… you have no choice?”
“They cannot force me to marry Conner. But if I refuse, my father would disown me. I would have no home.”
“Then come live with me.”
“Sorry Max, but I see that you are not wearing a bonelace. You’re not yet a man. Even if you were, I do not wish to anger my father. He is a powerful man. And dangerous. It is not wise to undermine his authority.”
Max took Kayla’s hand and squeezed it. “Let’s run away, then.”
“And go where? A boy and a girl cannot survive alone out there.”
“Then why did you bring me up here if you know it is impossible for us to be together?”
“Because just for tonight, I want to know what it’s like to be free.” She leaned in and kissed him on the lips.
He closed his eyes and savoured it. When their lips parted, he sighed. “What will it take to convince your father to let me marry you?”
“Max, there is no chance-”
“Are you the son of a powerful clan chief?”
“Then what can you offer my father?”
“I’ll become his strongest warrior. I’ll fight for him.”
“He has many strong warriors. If you're to have any chance to be with me, you must become a powerful chief in your own right.”
Max stood up, puffed out his chest, and pointed at the stars. “Then I swear by the stars, I will become a powerful clan chief!”
Thunder rolled. He snapped his gaze towards the heavens. A streak of fire screamed across the night sky. He covered his ears, wincing. Had he angered the gods?
Kayla stood up next to him and put her hands on his cheeks. “The gods have answered you, Max! I hope you know what you’re doing because the gods will not forgive you if you fail in your destiny.”
Max kept his gaze fixed on the comet. His legs trembled, and his hands felt sweaty. He gulped. “I will not fail.”
He noticed that the drums and the revelry had ended. The crickets chirped.
“Kayla, there you are.”
Max turned to see who had spoken.
Two young men approached. One was slightly taller than the other. The taller one held a torch. Both wore leather hides, and both wore a bonelace around his neck.
Max swallowed his growing anxiety and hopped down from the edge. He approached the young men. “Who are you?” His voice sounded too squeaky for his liking, so he deepened his voice. “Why did you follow us?” He curled his hands into fists. If they mean to take Kayla from me, then I will kill them.
“We’re Kayla’s brothers.” The taller brother shoved Max away. “Stay away from her, Runt. Our father doesn’t want her hanging around weaklings like you.”
Max gritted his teeth. “You don’t know who I am.”
The taller one wrinkled his nose. “Exactly.”
“You two better be nice to him,” Kayla said as she hopped off the edge. “The gods favour him.”
The taller brother put his hands on his hips. “That so?”
Kayla pointed at the stars. “He swore he’d become a powerful clan chief one day. The gods answered him with a shooting star.”
“Just now. Didn’t you hear the thunder?”
“I thought it was a storm approaching.” The taller brother glared at Max. “What’s your name, runt?”
Max flared his nostrils. “Max.”
“My name’s Talos. My brother, here, is Ramos. No doubt you’ve heard of our father, Chief Heinrich. What were you doing up here with Kayla?”
“I’m going to marry her.”
Kayla’s brothers guffawed. Talos clapped Max on the shoulder. “You speak boldly. But,” Talos grabbed Max by the collar and shoved him towards the edge of the roof.
Max screamed as he hung precariously over the edge. He grabbed Talos’s arm and hollered, “Pull me back!”
Talos laughed. With one arm, he threw Max back onto the roof. “Know your place. Nobody likes an arrogant runt who thinks he’s more than he really is. Kayla, come with us. Conner wants to see you.”
Max sat up and curled his knees against his chest. He pouted as Kayla’s brothers whisked her away. I refuse to give her up so easily. The very gods have answered me. I am meant for great things. I must meet with Chief Heinrich and make him understand what the gods intend for me. He stood up and hurried after Kayla and her brothers.
Click the following link to view the episode list for my Saving Ever After series, which is based in the same universe and timeline as After Eden:
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Michael E. Vigil