Saga of the City by the Flowers, Book 2
Tekokwa runs. He runs from his past, he runs from his future. He runs from himself.
He runs so far from civilization that he should be the only human around, but instead he finds himself living with Kwaotli, a mysterious young man who is one contradiction upon another. He's a spoiled lordling one moment, a humble weaver the next. He tells stories like nobody Tekokwa has ever known, and yet won't share his own. And above all, his moods swing: from fun and carefree to manic and angry.
Despite everything, Tekokwa can't defend himself against Kwaotli's advances. Kwaotli seems determined force Tekokwa to face himself, to let out the darkness that Tekokwa has tried so hard to suppress all his life.
A Coward, A Warrior is a 30k novella with no happily ever after.
- 1 To Be Read list
Heat Level: 5
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: Ageless/Immortal
Word Count: 32000
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
Tekokwa wasn’t quite running anymore—he was sure he’d lost his pursuers by now—but he didn’t feel safe staying still either. The forest around him had grown ever denser, trees impossibly large, and still he felt the slave hunters’ breaths on the back of his neck.
It was illogical. He wasn’t worth that much, and his owner had been a priest’s daughter. They’d bought him to protect her from a particularly arduous suitor, who was of too low rank to even be considered for a husband.
It would have been fine, if Xochititlan hadn’t invaded Yowalapan. Suddenly, tribute needed to be sent, month after month, more and more warriors to become part of their army of slaves and sacrifices.READ MORE
Tekokwa had no intention of being sacrificed. He’d overheard his mistress’s father saying he’d be sent away next month, and he’d planned his escape. He’d waited until the festival to Ekakoapilli, when the city of Yowalapan would be too busy to watch all exits, and left while all the people celebrated. He felt bad for the poor ixiptla, the living representative of the god Teska’atl, who would have to let their slob of a king fuck him that evening. And at the end of the year, the ixiptla would be sacrificed, having put up with all that shit for nothing. No way was Tekokwa going through any of that, or even worse: being the kind of tribute who got sacrificed when some rich snob died. So he ran.
The jungle he was in now would probably be safe. He was already lost, and he doubted any of the slave hunters knew the area any better. He’d heard there was a great river somewhere here, almost as wide as the Great Lake. Finding it would help him survive—fish would be in abundance—but even without the river the forest appeared to have plenty. He’d spotted many peach trees and berry bushes, and several nut trees as well. His spear wouldn’t last forever, but he was sure with enough time he could fashion other ways to hunt. Some of the trees had bark that he could easily strip to weave into nets.
The most difficult part would be finding a good spot to build a shelter. He hadn’t ever built a house before, but a light drizzling rain had followed him the past few evenings, and he didn’t want to sleep like that forever.
So he walked farther and farther, another three days, until he found a small clearing near a large old tree, its trunk so wide that it would have taken three of Tekokwa to encircle it. The lower branches already provided some semblance of shelter; he would just need to fashion a proper roof to fill the gaps and he would be set.
He got to work clearing the forest floor. Near midday, he left to find food and collect a few more materials: large leaves and vines and more branches that might serve as a frame.
When he returned, there was a youth sitting in the middle of his little clearing.
The young man—he couldn’t have been much older than seventeen, not with that skinny frame—was extremely pale. Instead of rich clay tones, he looked more pink, as if he had lain ill for a long time. His long black hair had bold streaks of silver running through it, another sign of illness.
Only his eyes shone like bright emeralds, despite the red tint around the irises.
So, ill and crying.
But not, Tekokwa thought, a poor boy. He wore finely woven sandals, and his skirt was dyed in greens and yellows. On his ear dangled a quetzal-feather earring and his fingers were bedecked with rings.
“Get out,” Tekokwa growled as he dropped his supplies. “This is my spot.”
The boy sniffled and huffed. “No. I was here first. And you’re not supposed to be here anyway.”
The words pierced Tekokwa’s heart with fear. The boy couldn’t be from Yowalapan. It was too far away for somebody so fragile to have traveled here. A noble son, then, of some city nearby.
“Boy, I could easily murder you right here. Run home if you value your life.”
The boy had the gall to approach him, walking in a circle around Tekokwa but staying well out of immediate range.
“Are you sure? Should I go home and tell them I found an escaped slave?”
“What? No, I’m—”
“I’m sure there are a lot of free men with numerous whip scars on their backs. If you aren’t a slave, then in the very least you’re an unrepentant criminal.”
Fuck it. Tekokwa couldn’t risk this brat giving him away. With his heart pounding hard, he lunged and grabbed the boy, closing his hand around the boy’s throat and squeezing.
Instead of looking scared, the boy started laughing. Laughing until Tekokwa stole his breath entirely, and his eyes started leaking tears.
Tekokwa closed his eyes, not wanting to see the boy’s face turn pale for lack of air. He waited, and waited, and then his hands started shaking so hard he was forced to let go. He stumbled a few steps back and cursed his weakness.
The boy collapsed to the ground, unbreathing, and for a moment Tekokwa thought that he’d actually done it, actually killed him. It made him feel ill. But then the boy took a gasping breath, and when he looked up at Tekokwa he started laughing all over again.
“I thought you said you could kill me!” He stood up and twirled mockingly, apparently unaffected by the choking.
The ring of red Tekokwa had left behind stood out in sharp contrast on the boy’s pale skin, almost like a collar around his neck. Tekokwa felt his face heat with an unwanted emotion.
“Get the fuck out of here,” Tekokwa said, but his voice wavered with a frisson of fear.
“Oh, don’t be like that. There’s enough space here for both of us. Yes. I’ve decided. We’re going to live here together.”
Tekokwa looked at the small clearing, and the work he’d already done on it. It was the perfect place for him. If he could tolerate this crazy boy...
Maybe a jaguar would eat the kid. That would save Tekokwa some trouble. “Fine. But you do your share of work. And don’t even think about telling anybody where we are.”
The kid smiled wildly. “I would never! I was having such an awful year, but you’ve brightened it completely.”
An awful year? Maybe that explained the sick pallor and the red tinged eyes, but Tekokwa didn’t know how getting almost murdered by a stranger twice his size would have improved it.
“What’s your name, kid? I want to know what to yell the next time you piss me off.”
“Kid? Oh, I guess I look young compared to you. Hmmm... you can call me Kwaotli. And you are?”
Had the boy given him a fake name? Tekokwa hesitated and thought of doing the same, but his name was the only thing he’d really owned for the longest time. He didn’t want it gone. “I’m Tekokwa.”
With surprising grace, Kwaotli darted in close and peered directly into his eyes. The gaze made Tekokwa uncomfortable, but he couldn’t get himself to look away either.
This close, he had to admit that maybe Kwaotli wasn’t as young as he appeared. He had lines around his eyes that ran deeper than expected for a man so young, and fine scars peppered his shoulders—very thin, almost invisible on his pale skin, but there nonetheless.
“Very well, Tekokwa. You’ll do. Let’s finish building your home.” Kwaotli turned and skipped away.COLLAPSE