There was not a trace of fear on Szlamy’s face. “Yeah, but I’m not afraid of that! I’m right. The great King of the Huns is on my side; he’s watching you. Kill me if you want!”
Attila the Hun had been dead for over a thousand years so Szlamy was actually referring to the sword of Attila.
Dayetia hesitated. The sacred relic was right next to them. She would be going against her beliefs if she killed Szlamy.
“Get up. Shut your mouth. Say nothing when Xia comes back!” Dayetia put away the sniper rifle, glancing at Xia Lei’s bathing spot as she spoke. However, she saw only a blurry view of the water and the trees. Sniping Xia Lei in this environment seemed impossible.
“Can you not kill Xia, Chieftain?” Szlamy looked pleadingly at Dayetia.
“Who said I wanted to kill him?”
“Then, just now…?”
“I wanted to injure him, then make him… Never mind. You won’t understand if I tell you anyway. Just shut up about this. Don’t poke your nose into it.” Dayetia put the sniper rifle back in Xia Lei’s luggage.
“Not killing him? What do you want to do then?”
“Silence, you idiot! He’ll be back any time!” Dayetia chided Szlamy fiercely.
Anger flashed in Szlamy’s eyes, accompanied by a trace of menace but it quickly disappeared; Dayetia saw nothing of it. She was the marks-woman of the White Hun Tribe and was the fiercest in every battle. She had killed at least 80 if not 100 of their enemies. Szlamy was a human-shaped beast and it was dangerous to threaten her, no matter who it was.
Dayetia and Szlamy’s fight did not escape Xia Lei’s eye. It was a struggle to lip-read their conversation in Pashto but his brain had unimaginable computing power and he was able to decipher their conversation. It was not a hundred percent accurate but the meaning was clear.
Dayetia putting the sniper rifle away signalled that he was out of danger for now. He climbed out of the water and put his clothes on, then walked to the camp. As he neared the camp, he bent to pick up a rock from the ground. It would be quicker for him to brain Dayetia with a rock at close distance than for her to reach for her gun and shoot him, purely because he could be much faster.
Dayetia did not shoot. She put a smile on her face when she saw Xia Lei return. “How was it, Xia?”
Xia Lei smiled. “Not bad. The water was refreshing. To have a place like this to bathe in is a gift from the Heavens.”
“Rest. We’ll go on our way again in four hours. Let’s try to get to the Ika Tribe by noon tomorrow,” said Dayetia.
“Nn, you two go to sleep first. I just bathed so I’m not sleepy. I’ll stand guard.” Xia Lei went back to his blankets and took out his sniper rifle to inspect it.
With gun in hand, he was not worried about Dayetia making any dangerous moves against him.
Dayetia made no suspicious moves. She slept in her clothes under her blankets.
Szlamy looked at Dayetia, then at Xia Lei, and seemed to want to say something but didn’t say a word after much hesitation.
Xia Lei had seen Szlamy’s reaction out of the corner of his eye. She had kept silent but he did not blame her for it. She had spoken up for him and risked an even greater danger of standing up to Dayetia and stopping her from shooting at him. It was already good enough for her to have done so much for him since she was a White Hun too. He could not hope for her to betray her chieftain and her tribe.
Time slipped quietly by as Xia Lei’s thoughts roiled.
‘All signs point to Dayetia not cooperating with me. She won’t release Tang Yu-Yan and Ning Jing, and maybe won’t let me enter the ruins to excavate artifacts either. She might even betray me and sell me to the Americans in exchange for benefits and the safety of the tribe. It’ll be easy for me to kill her off now and remove the risk for her betraying me but if I do, what happens to Tang Yu-Yan and Ning Jing? Will Szlamy fight me? Will I still be able to enter the ruins to excavate artifacts?’ Thoughts popped up in Xia Lei’s head one by one, churning, turning, twisting; he could not settle down.
He should kill her, but he shouldn’t. If he walked on with Dayetia he would fall into a dangerous situation and when that time came, he would not be able to guarantee his own safety, much less rescue others. He’d never encountered a situation like this before and it was giving him a serious headache.
Dayetia’s eyes opened, just a crack, and she watched Xia Lei’s movements.
Her movements were imperceptibly small but Xia Lei still spotted it. He stood calmly and looked about himself, pretending to survey his surroundings.
Dayetia seemed to be assured and a small, cold smile appeared discreetly on her lips.
After a while, Szlamy crawled out of her blankets and walked over to Xia Lei. “Go rest, Xia. I’ll stand guard.”
“I wasn’t on guard for long. Why don’t you sleep some more?” said Xia Lei.
“I can’t sleep. You go.” Szlamy hugged her AK47, her face gloomy.
Xia Lei pretended to be unaware of the situation and asked probingly, “Szlamy, what’s made you so unhappy?”
Szlamy sneaked a look at Dayetia and let out a huff or air. “It’s…”
Dayetia awoke abruptly and interrupted Szlamy. “What are you two chatting about?”
“Nothing!” said Szlamy grumpily.
Xia Lei smiled and said, “Szlamy had just woken up and is relieving me of guard duty.”
“Forget it. Looks like we’re all not sleepy. Let’s be on our way. We’ll arrive at the tribe even earlier like this,” said Dayetia.
“Chieftain…” Szlamy started, then stopped, as if afraid that something bad would happen.
Dayetia gave Szlamy a cold glare. “Enough nonsense. Mount your horse. We’re leaving!”
Szlamy went huffily to get her horse, kicking up sand as she walked.
Dayetia’s gaze grew colder. She was, without a doubt, treating Szlamy like she was challenging her authority. As chieftain of the White Hun Tribe she could not allow anyone to challenge her authority.
Xia Lei gave a laugh. “Szlamy is still a child. It’s normal for her to act immature.”
A smile appeared on Dayetia’s face too. “I think she is very cute too but sometimes she can really cause headaches. All right, let’s not chatter away anymore. Pack up. Let’s continue.”
Just then, Szlamy led two horses over, hers and Xia Lei’s, and didn’t bring Dayetia’s horse over. Szlamy put the reins of Xia Lei’s horse in his hands and said rebelliously, “I can’t lead three horses, Chieftain. You should get your own.”
“No problem.” Dayetia walked off to the poplar trees where she had tied her horse.
Xia Lei caught a flash of anger in her eyes as she turned away. Szlamy had angered her.
“Szlamy, why are you angering your chieftain? She’s your Chieftain. You’ll get in trouble if you make her angry,” said Xia Lei worriedly.
“Humph!” Szlamy spat on the ground. “I respect her and follow her commands but she’s never thought about me. Every time there’s an intruder I’m the one on the frontlines but she still treats me like a child. Let me tell you, she would’ve been killed by her rivals long ago if it weren’t for me. She was able to become Chieftain because I killed her rivals but she treats me like a fool now!”
So there was this backstory?
Xia Lei was awash with curiosity and wanted to ask more but Dayetia had already led her horse over. He shut his mouth, alert.
“Let’s go.” Dayetia mounted her horse and gave Szlamy a look laced with threat. She had obviously heard Szlamy’s complaints from earlier.
Xia Lei and Szlamy mounted their horses too and followed Dayetia out of the oasis and to the Ika Tribe.
The trio had passed through Ika Tribe territory the last time. It was a tribe with a population of over 10,000 and hundreds of armed tribesmen. Dayetia had a good relationship with their chieftain, Abutulu and they had crossed the Ika territory smoothly, even gaining some provisions.
They had to go through the Ika Tribe on this journey back to the White Hun Tribe but Xia Lei was already full if misgivings. If Dayetia received support in the Ika Tribe and gained helpers to move against him there, he would be in serious danger.
‘Shit. I can’t kill her even if I want to and I’m heading into more danger if I follow her. Why have I gotten myself into such troublesome matters?’ Xia Lei was stewing.
He wanted to turn his horse around and fuck the mission but then thought of Tang Yu-Yan and Ning Jing, trapped in the White Hun Tribe. He thought of the Bureau 101 agents who had sacrificed themselves for the mission and he could not harden his heart.
‘I have to think of something. I need to solve this before we enter the Ika Tribe, but what can I do…’ Xia Lei was hard-pressed to find a solution.
Szlamy slowed to draw shoulder-to-shoulder with Xia Lei and lowered her voice. “Lei, go back. Don’t care about your friends anymore.”
The moonlight illuminated Szlamy’s worried yet angry baby-face.
Xia Lei knew the cause of her worry and why she was angry but he feigned ignorance. He gave her a toothy smile. “I’m not one to abandon my friends.”
“You are a fool. You don’t know what you’ll face.” Szlamy gave Xia Lei an anxious glare.
Her worried and angry side had a different sort of attractiveness.
A flash of inspiration hit Xia Lei when he looked at her face which still possessed the innocence of childhood, and her astonishing chest. A solution which did not seem like a solution slipped into his head.
“I’d like to be with you.” Xia Lei put a smile on his face and warmth in his eyes. “Aren’t we dating now? Are you telling me to go because you don’t want to be with me?”
A blush crept up Szlamy’s baby-face. “Of course I want to. You’re my hero. I don’t want any man other than you, but…” She looked at Dayetia’s back with an undercurrent of hate in her eyes.
Xia Lei reached out to hold Szlamy’s hand. This was a gentle, friendly gesture and more effective than any sweet words.
Szlamy gentled too but only for a few minutes. Her hand went to Xia Lei’s backside once he let go of her hand.
Xia Lei froze. This was Szlamy’s style and he could not hope that she would change.
This was also Xia Lei’s solution which was a non-solution. He would not use such a lame plan of selling himself if he had another choice - but he didn’t have any, did he?
Dayetia looked back at them and yelled, “Hurry up, Szlamy! Follow me!”
Szlamy retracted her hand from Xia Lei’s buttock and said heatedly, “Coming!” She cracked her horse whip and sped up.
A small smile sneaked into the corners of Xia Lei’s mouth…Previous Chapter Next Chapter