Kalaya was released by the priestess around noon. There were no tragic goodbyes or glorious speeches.
“Remember what you have learned”, the old woman had simply said. Kalaya had bowed slightly. That she would.
She had pushed away the urge to thank the priestess. I did this on my own. She is not to thank for it. Still, she felt grateful for the opportunity to restore her tribe’s honor. After the other champions had admitted defeat, they had returned to their tribes baring a message that Kalaya Arayeo was a Creator of strength and honor. Not all of them had taken it well. She saw their smiles but she still felt the piercing look in their eyes that meant everything but the respect they now owed. She would have to be careful.
The way back to her tribe’s compound felt eerie and silent. She didn’t see another living soul and the sun was burning down on her mercilessly. But Kalaya didn’t care. She just wanted to go home. She had been surprised at herself when she realized how much she missed her home during the time at the temple. In her younger years the house and its lands had always seemed boring to her, a means to an end to survive, nothing more. But now that she had been away for many moons she felt eager to return. Sleep in her own bed, train on the grounds, which she had despised so much before, and play chess in the library. She didn’t like to admit it but what she missed most of all was her mother. While her presence had always seemed pressuring and supervising, she now found herself in need of her guidance and wisdom. She had to unify the tribe for what was to come. Beating the other champions might have restored her official honor but she was determined to also earn the other tribe’s respect. Real respect, not the fake one she had seen at the fight. A wave of burning shame washed over her as she thought about the things she had said and done to her mother. The dream from the temple still haunted her. Every day after she had prayed that her mother may forgive her for her faults and the damage she had caused to their legacy.
Kalaya’s pace quickened as she saw the tribal grounds loom in the distance. Every step brought her closer to home. Finally, she stepped onto the compound. Taking a deep breath she looked around. The compound was empty but it felt tranquil rather than abandoned as it had in her dream.
She wondered if the priestess had somehow notified the tribe of her coming. She nervously touched the ritual bracelet and necklace as if to reassure herself that she was actually the Creator now. Would the Tribe accept her? She wanted to be a good Creator and undo the damage her loss had caused.
Suddenly, a figure appeared at the corner of the house and walked into the garden. It was a man with gray hair, one of the slaves. As he noticed her, he turned and bowed slightly. It was Baato. So much time had passed… Kalaya took a few steps towards him.
“It’s good to see you Baato”, she said shyly. Baato’s eyes went wide for a second but he quickly regained his composure and bowed again.
“Creator”, he stated. “I shall notify your mother of your return.”
He disappeared into the house and left Kalaya wondering what she would say to her mother and to the other tribal sisters. But when the doors burst open she didn’t have any more time to think about it as Manika enclosed her in a tight hug.
Kalaya never cried but she felt a burning sensation in her cheeks that came very close. She swallowed hard to keep the tears away and finally said the words that kept repeating in her head since the day of her dream.
But Manika let go of her and shook her head.
“The past is in the past”, she said. Her gaze wandered over the ritual jewlery on Kalaya’s neck and wrist. “You’re back and you’re Creator now.”
Kalaya nodded. Nieva and Tahia came out of the house and silently observed the scene. Next to them stood a little girl who could only be their daughter, Prie. Kalaya took a step back and cleared her throat.
“I invite you to sit with me”, she said and gestured towards the meeting grounds. Everyone followed her request except for Baato who stood back respectfully.
“I have made a lot of mistakes in the past. For that I want to apologize. To all of you”, she announced and looked at every tribe member in turn.
“I apologize for the way I treated you” – she locked eyes with Baato for a moment who nodded –
“and for my immature behaviour. I have learned the error of my ways now. The damage I caused to the honor of this tribe was grevious” – she saw Manika wince in the corner of her eye – “but I have faught Champions of the five most powerful tribes and defeated them to restore the respect Tribe Arayeo deserves.”
The tribe members looked at each other, surprised at this news.
“You did that?”, Manika asked wide-eyed. Kalaya nodded.
“It was the only way. I have more plans to create real respect for Tribe Arayeo again. The one I have earned is fickle and forced. The other tribes will accept us again but it will still be hard. I want to do more.” Manika nodded and then said: “I am so proud of you, my daughter. The temple has made you grow. You’re a true Creator now. You have my loyalty.”
“You have my loyalty”, the other tribe members said in unison. Kalaya looked around and smiled.
“I will not disappoint you again. It’s time to rebuild this legacy.”