Chapter 16 – Elza – Iteration 1
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She watched Hess haggle with an elderly man. They spoke a different way in this region and Elza could understand only one word in four. Hess didn’t seem to have any trouble communicating with the locals, which he often claimed proved him better traveled than her.

The elderly man pointed at her and Elza felt her cheeks heat. Her body had grown stronger during the three months they traveled at the maddening pace Hess set for them. Hess shook his head no. When they weren't hiking at a reckless pace, they were either procuring food or sleeping like the dead. While hiking, she thought they carried too many supplies. While making camp, she thought they carried far too few. Though the lifestyle was far from comfortable, she could not deny it had done her body some good. Hess looked back at her and mouthed this one offered a whole tent for you.

Elza pointedly ignored the rest of the negotiations. In the distance, there were tall mountains with white rock caps Hess claimed were snow. They had walked for the remainder of the spring season and through the entire summer. The two of them had settled into a daily routine almost devoid of words. There seemed no point to speaking when they could understand each other's intentions so well through observation and words added only arguments.

As Hess returned, she saw the small smile on his face and decided they would argue that day. “I've discovered that the secret to selling a woman,” he announced, “is telling people she can't talk. That's the third offer.”

“You don't own me,” Elza said.

“I'm pretty sure I do. I traded Dalana for you.” His eyes sparkled in the daylight. Elza looked away. She had dreamed of him saving her again the previous night. She wished that had been where the dream ended.

“We're both Observers. That means we're equal.”

“Men own women in this world. Probably because the Creator is a man.”

He could tell I planned to pick a fight and beat me to it. Elza glared at Hess. “Have I ever mentioned that I don't like you?”

“Regularly, but it doesn't bother me.”

“Then I'll find something else to say.”

“You know, if you were one of them, you would be the most interesting thing I've ever observed,” Hess said.

Elza held out her hand. “What did you buy?”

“Not a tent. Those things cost an entire woman this far north.”

“You don't have a woman to trade.”

“A lot of the people we meet think otherwise.”

“What did you buy?”

“Nothing.”

“That will make a wonderful dinner tonight. Or perhaps we will eat those skins you insist we carry everywhere.”

Hess shrugged. “He offered a bundle of apples for a deer pelt. We need the material to build a tent.”

“Do you intend to starve to death?”

“We're going to set up camp for a few days so we can hunt,” Hess said.

“So I have to spend all night making traps?”

“I thought we might try something different this time. I want you to come with me. You can have one of my extra spears.”

Elza raised a brow. “You say I scare away the animals when I go with you.”

“Animals are a lot like men. Too much talking keeps them away.”

“And they both smell,” Elza added.

Hess stopped walking and pulled his three spears free of his pack. The things broke faster than the fire-hardened variety used by settled tribes, but otherwise served them well. He selected one and handed it to her. Elza hefted it overhand.

“No, no, no,” Hess said. He dropped everything to the ground except one spear and demonstrated the proper stance. Elza mimicked him as best she could. When he shook his head, she fixed him with a warning look. “What am I doing wrong?”

Hess put his last spear down. “Try again.”

She bent slightly at the knees and lifted the spear up to her ear. Hess stepped close and placed one hand on her shoulder. “Lean forward.” His other hand touched the hip closest him. “Center yourself.”

“I'm not very good at this,” she said.

The breath of his laugh tickled her cheek. “It might take some time.”

“I suppose I'm not getting any older,” she said.

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