Artemis did not see Gideon for the next few days. The thought brought melancholy rather than relief to her. She shook off her musings with a muttered curse. She did not realized that she spoke out loud. She looked up to see the stares of the Dinjun women. Artemis curved her lips into a ghost of a smile and determinedly twined the flowers and stems into a crown, ignoring the wary gazes. King Gideon Rivers could wait. He had his retainers and faithful ladies. The Gathering, for any Dinjun member, comes first. The gods were of utmost priority.

The Gathering was a Dinjun tradition. It consisted of food, music, dancing and storytelling—to thank the gods for a year of bounty, ask them for supplication, tie knots and tie the community. This effectively instilled the pride and identity of the individuals—something Artemis treasured. It gave her license to speak with her tribe and feel like she belonged. Though these people might take it for granted, being included in the Gathering, it was more than that for Artemis. The Gatherings gave her the pride and virtues she needed when she was in the Capital. The people in the Capital were not exactly accommodating to someone like her. Even now, she could feel that she neither fitted in either society. They both viewed her with wariness—either because of her background or her education. Unfortunately, she did not know how to change, nor what to change. But she, like any other organism, had to adapt. Her parents and siblings still talked to her but it was stifled now. She had to paste a smile every time they tried to use the colloquial tongue—leaving her out of the discussion.

The only person she considered trustworthy enough to understand her was the head of the tribe, Old Asahina. The same woman who booted her out of the tribe and the same woman who was her tether to the only family she had known. Since the woman was already eccentric, accepting another eccentric would not be too hard on the other woman. Besides, the old woman had been through a lot, and her views made her more liberal than the rest of the tribe.

Artemis heard the insistent clanging of the bells. She excused herself from the other women who were busy with the preparations and went to Old Asahina's house. Old Asahina's house, like the other houses of Dinjun Tribe were made from wood and bamboo shoots, propped above ground and atop the trees. They mostly used ladders to enter but for the elderly and crippled, they used extensive pulleys or were situated near the lake—for protection against wolves. In the case of Old Asahina, she had demanded for the pulley system, much to the chagrin of the tribe. Artemis guessed that the spaces between the bamboo walls designed to cool the inhabitants during warm nights and thick pelts were used to block the same slits during colder nights gave the old woman some comfort in extreme weather. She smoothed her clothes, an embroidered vest on top of her rough homespun clothes and sat on the wooden floor of Old Asahina's house. Her skirt fanned on the floor as she waited for Old Asahina to talk to her. Her hair was loose from the usual braid. The dark strands fell on her back, curling at the end. Her feet were shod with soft shoes made from the same fibers of her clothes.

When she heard the rattle of the bracelets that encircled the head of the tribe's limbs, she quickly bowed and said, "Old Asahina".

"Artemis," the Old Woman said and gestured for her to raise her head. She smiled at her, revealing large teeth, some with gold enamel, then offered Artemis a wooden cup.

"Here." She took the glass and drank and was surprised to taste sweetened coconut milk. Did Old Asahina still consider her a child?

"You've grown."

"You always say that." She said and returned the drained cup.

Old Asahina took the cup and grabbed her hands. She inspected her palms. Cold clutched Artemis gut when she saw the older woman's features crease further. What did Old Asahina read on her palms? The Capital-educated part of her did not want to believe that the mere lines could tell an individual's destiny but the fundamental part of her that grew with the tribe knew that some things were not random. . . How was she supposed to reach a compromise?

"You have to be prepared, child."

Artemis looked at the old woman, memorizing the wizened eyes and the wrinkled skin. She looked the same: old, benevolent and sarcastic—even when she was a child. The gods must have preferred to make her look so mature to embody wisdom. The head of their tribe seemed to always know everybody's business.

So, Artemis, deciding that the best choice would be enlightenment by Old Asahina's wisdom started to share her story. The old woman nodded her head emphatically and after sometime, said nothing.

"You'd better be prepared to dance this night."

Artemis' eyes went round. Dance?! She had never been invited to dance at the Gathering since she was not deemed by the tribe to be in dire straits. Besides, she did not think that it was that dire. She expected the old woman to tell her to indefinitely stay with the tribe until the menace in the form King Gideon sailed away. But asking her to dance? To offer a form of prayer, a plea—her situation must have been desperate!


"Don't just look gobsmacked, girl," Old Asahina said and cackled. After collecting herself, the woman's face turned serious. "When that man settled on a decision—do not bring this kingdom down."

Before she could protest or even ask further, Old Asahina had called one of women, a sturdily built woman with long dark hair with beads threaded through her hair. She was also taller and younger than her. Upon closer inspection, Artemis remembered the woman's name, it was Ronan. She was ushered out of the house and into another wherein she was stripped of her clothes and was wrapped into a more sumptuous robe. She wore nothing beneath the red and gold embroidered fabric. The robes were tied at the waist and fell gracefully on the ground. They removed her shoes and twined flowers to her hair. Ronan then pulled her towards a tent at the edge of the lake. Each step she took made the future feel like the ground, hard and uneven, painfully reminding her of life. The group of men and women inside the tent did not ask any questions and proceeded to practice. They had their own problems to deal after all. She struggled to follow and remember the steps. Left, right—she had to follow the beat of the drums. . . Why did she have two left feet? She thought, frustrated as she wiped the sweat from her brow.

Old Asahina! Why did you have to do this to me?!

Gideon allowed himself to be dragged into the woods by Tristan and Shannon. Shannon, Gideon was starting to appreciate possessed some claws—enough to push his recalcitrant friend towards the woods. They were dressed in their most comfortable clothes: homespun, soft and baggy. They left their horses outside the forest and followed the hunter's path to which the two lovebirds where knowledgeable. Gideon inwardly winced. The only reason he allowed himself to be included into this was to escape his adoring and obsequious public. What he did not calculate was that being in the company of lovebirds could also have the same effect on him: absolute disgust and the urge to run the other way. Could these two not get a room? Their flirting left him in the most awkward position. No wonder Dunst did not tail them today!

"Why are we here again?" Tristan demanded, after being whacked by a stray branch. Gideon was glad that Tristan asked. The backwater princess just whisked them off with a feigned feminine complaint and with the efficiency of a military general found themselves going towards the forest. Earlier, Gideon was having fun seeing his collected friend so flustered until he realized, upon seeing the looming forest, that he too found himself coming along.

"It's Gathering today. I had to come," came the defiant reply.

"You're pregnant—"

"Old Asahina said I could come."

"Old Asahina is no physician!"

"Artemis is there." Shannon said in that mutinous tone of hers. Tristan immediately shut up.

Gideon's ears perked up, upon hearing Artemis' name. Why was she with the Dinjun Tribe? Is she not a physician from the Capital? Before he could ask, they reached their destination. Shannon gave them a withering look and led them towards the crowd.

When twilight came, the clearing was lit by the bonfire and the stars, far from the city lights sparkled above. It was a beautiful night for offering, thanking and asking help from the gods. Everyone gathered near the lake and the instruments were being tuned. When Old Asahina began to sing in her raspy voice, Artemis went towards the circle and stood still. Ronan gave her a small smile that she returned with a determined nod. She took a fortifying breath as the drums began to beat.

The excited crowd began to hush and avidly watched the dancers. The tribe began to sing while their eyes followed the dancers. They were synchronized—following the beat—and varied—each step, each wave of hand or arm, the swing of the leg or a turn—each were different. Before the chorus, they all stomped their feet and changed positions, turning—the robes swirling in beautiful patterns. The strings carried the voices of the dancers while their body lent power and life to their plea. Fortunately, her body was now cooperating after knowing the fundamental steps. She realized that the few words from her fellow dancers were true and what mattered most was that she follow the melody and infuse her spirit. It would not matter if she perfected the steps or not. The passion, the spirit of the individual was the most important and that tiny but strong voice inside that hopes . . . that maybe, just maybe, the gods are listening to a mere mortal like her.

It was already starting. They stood in the fringes. Rhys looked to see the brightening eyes of Shannon and saw Tristan's eyes on her face—absorbing every nuance. What was so interesting on the woman's face? He wondered. Then, he saw the excitement on Shannon's face. He looked back to the dancers and saw—Artemis.

His breath was caught. He forgot about the jealousy he felt on seeing Tristan and Shannon. His eyes were on one dancer and a different kind of rhythm filled his blood. This was the side he never saw on the cold woman after he returned from the Capital—passionate. Maybe, this was what he had been looking for. The passionate woman who cared for him when he was wounded. He wanted to see her smiling at him, telling him stories, berating him if needed be— before she knew that he was a king. The beat of the drums pounded. The twists, turns and twirls—the way her figure moved in sync, lithe and graceful. She was riveting.

On their way back to the castle, Gideon had decided. He should bring her back with him. She would definitely be breath of fresh air in the cold castle.