Her name was Martina but everyone called her Vanka. In the village language it meant fair or blessed and it was meant as a compliment.

But now as she stood opposed by Nex the son of the dead chief it sounded like a curse.

“Vanka,” Nex spat. “You would have us run and hide like cowards. BUt that is not what my father would want. We must avenge him and protect our lands. We must let Okrex and his hordes know we will not be bowed.

Vanka’s shoulders sank. He made her position sound cowardly and unreasonable. When it was he who was being irrational. Brave maybe, but stupid. She saw the yes of mthe survivors of her village look to her for an answer to him. She knew they did not want to die. But they did not want Okrex to win either.

Vanka spat to buy time. It also eloquently summed up what she felt of Nex’s words. “You sound like fair winds but speak wet dirt. Okrex has given us two options. Fight and die or submit and be slaves. You would have us die. Which is brave. BUt I would have us outsmart Okrex. I would have us live and yet not be slaves. I know the ways through the forest. We can save our village. We can live another day. If venegance we want we can wreak it in the next moons. But if we listen to your words we give Okrex what he wants. We give him our village.”

Nex sputtered at this. She was a fine speaker, she knew. She liked words. She was the unofficial storyteller. But he had not given in to her yet. “You would give him our village too,” was all he managed.

“Yes,” she answered quickly. “But not with anything valuable in it. Certainly not with us in it.” He might get thatch and mud, but that is all. You would give him our bodie.”

Nex gave up arguing with her. She saw it. “We are riven!” he declared, invoking the ancient term for a village that has decided to split in two. It was not what she had proposed. She was heartbroken. More than half their number had died in Okrex’s attack. There was not much left as it was without splitting up.

Nex continued. “Those who would stay and fight, to me. Those who would run and hide, to her.” He didn’t give her the courtesy of using her name this time.

Vanka turned to the villagers. “If you wish to survive, follow me.”

She gathered her things, a pack of the barest essentials and made for the tree line.

Almost two dozen followed her. She would not keep her promise. Not all would survive.