Aiyana isn't like the other girls of the White Ant Clan. Instead of keeping house, she longs to compete on the Ball Court with her best friend Honovi and the other boys. Instead of marriage, she daydreams of traveling beyond the mountains that surround her small village. Only Honovi knows and shares her forbidden wish, though Aiyana doesn't realize her friend has a secret wish of his own...***
When Aiyana's father arranges her marriage to a man she hardly knows, she takes the advice of a tribal elder: Run! In fleeing, she falls into the hands of Spanish raiders and finds herself being taken over the mountains against her will. Now Aiyana's on a quest to return to the very place she once dreamed of escaping. And she'll do whatever it takes to survive and find her way back to the people she loves.
The Apache crept to the edge of our campsite, each step as light as a bird's feather. It was as if they walked and breathed as one man instead of ten.
When they got close, they surrounded us in a half-circle. More light crept into the sky and through the trees. Their bows quickly lowered when they saw us, cold, bleeding, and dirty. We were hardly a threat. Their eyes, unfortunately, rested mostly on me while mine spoke to theirs, pleading for their help.
Despite the early chill, they were bare-chested. They wore grey deerskin pants and skins around their feet that reached their knees and laced near the top. A dark, wide skin wrapped around their foreheads. Three of the men wore brownish-yellow feathers against their foreheads. Their hair was black and hung loose past their shoulders; their skin was brown, although their faces were flatter, less oval, and their noses longer.
The Apache who stood in the center of the men recognized Diego. He had two feathers tucked inside his headband while the others only had one. Diego mumbled a greeting and the Apache repeated the same words back to him. I did not understand their words as easily as I understood Diego. Their words were nothing like mine.
"Isdzán," the Apache said, nodding at me from the center of their semi-circle. His eyes traveled down my body. Instinctively, I wrapped my arms across my chest, mostly to keep my dress closed.
Diego turned, looked at me once before turning "Yes," Diego said. "A woman." He paused and then extended his arms. "A gift."
My eyes widened.
My surprise did not go unnoticed by the man with two feathers. Even so, I sucked back a breath and watched for Honovi in my periphery. He tried to stand by my side but his knees wobbled. I reached out to steady him but he shook his head. Finally, his knees buckled and he sank to the ground.
Carefully, the Apache with the two feathers stepped away from the circle and approached me. He was just as tall as Diego but even broader across the shoulders. Long scars sliced across his chest. On my other side, Lobo started to growl as the man approached. The Apache stopped, eying Lobo warily. I was afraid he'd draw back his bow and kill him.
My voice shook. "Quiet," I whispered to Lobo. I patted the top of his head with my free hand, clutching my deerskin with the other, eyes still locked on the Apache.
The Apache tilted his head curiously and looked from Lobo and then back to me. He turned to the other men standing behind him and said something that made the whole line chuckle, including Diego, but Diego's laugh sounded forced.
Another step and the Apache stood directly in front of me. My nostrils flared as I raised my eyes but not my head. He studied me strangely, his dark eyes narrowing, his brow furrowing, like he'd never seen a girl before.
The Apache's eyes were as black as Honovi's but there were more crinkles in the corners. I could see my reflection in his eyes and I looked terrified. Finally he stepped closer so that our noses almost touched.
My neck pulled back. The Apache was so close that I could feel his warm breath on my face.
His eyes widened; his head tilted with curiosity. He pointed to my eyes.
I blinked, confused. What did he want?
"Ya'ài," he said. "Ya'ài."
I turned to Diego, pleading for a translation.
Diego was on the ground, cross-legged, his hand pressed against his neck. He was still glaring at Honovi. I wondered if he'd help me.
He surprised me.
"The sun," Diego said, pausing a moment to turn his attention away from Honovi. His voice was flat. "He believes your eyes hold the sun."
I turned back to the Apache and shook my head, confused. I wanted to tell them that they were simply green, like my grandmother's and the grandmother before her. Nothing more, nothing less.
But then Diego said, "He's never seen anyone with green eyes before, Aiyana."