She shuffled her feet with the other women as the brutes who had murdered their men herded them forward. Abduction was a new experience for Elza. The world had grown increasingly violent over the centuries to the point that its absence was more remarkable than its presence. Elza thought that particular observation would be useful to the Creator.
One of the women found the energy to sob. Elza moved away from the noise, sure one of the brutes would charge in to restore silence with more violence. A man shouted for quiet and the woman swallowed her grief. They trudged in stillness once more.
Elza studied the landscape. Trees, hills, and streams dominated. She had determined long ago that the intended subject of her observation was the people rather than the environment. She only noticed her surroundings when she had nothing better to observe or when she had trouble with her nerves.
The brutes had attacked her tribe's camp without warning that morning, murdered men and children, then gathered the surviving women together for their sport. Elza’s constant handicap, the apathy men felt towards her, had saved her from all but a little roughness. She didn't know how long they would continue to ignore her. Eventually, they would hold her down and take their pleasure. Elza crossed her arms tightly across her chest. As an Observer, it was her duty to bear whatever happened in the service of the Creator.
It might be easier if she didn't struggle. Elza banished the worries from her mind. She should be grateful for the new experiences. The Creator needed to experience everything possible through Elza's senses so that She could have input for the design of the next Iteration of the world. Still, thought Elza, it would be nice if the sky opened before these brutes put their hands on me.
They stumbled to a stop at the edge of a camp. The leader of the brutes, a man called Kallig, raised his gray-bearded face skyward to roar in triumph. “Come look at my trophies! I bring ten women for the tribe!”
Thirteen women, Elza silently corrected him. She suspected Kallig was much better at spearing men in their sleep than he was at counting.
“Who brought the other three?” asked a man from the camp.
“I brought all of them, coward,” Kallig said.
The man who had spoken walked towards the captive women until Kallig barred his way with a spear. “You don't get any of the women because you are a coward.”
The man smiled up at the taller Kallig. “I'm not afraid of your spear and I already have a woman. Let me pass or I will send you to meet your uncle.”
Kallig lifted his spear. “We'll have a feast to celebrate my victory!”
Elza ignored the women's restless movements as the man approached. While neither tall nor muscular, he strode confidently, sizing up the situation with a steady gaze. Elza froze for a second when his eyes met hers.
“My name is Hess,” the man said. “I know this is probably the worst day of your life.” His brilliant blue eyes met each of theirs in turn. “You will have time to grieve later, but for now you need to be smart. Resisting these men will only make them crueler. Try to please them as best as you can.”
A woman held out a hand to him. “Protect me,” she said. “I will do everything to please you if you protect me from them.”
Hess sighed. “Sorry. I don't involve myself in these things.” His gaze caught Elza’s for a third time. He frowned. “What is wrong with your eyes?”
Elza's face flushed hot. “Nothing.”
“Only one points at me.” Hess scrutinized her.
“Perhaps the other objects to your looks.”
Hess stepped close and pitched his voice low for her ears only. “Watch yourself in this tribe. You speak too boldly and watch too openly. The men here like to break stubborn women.”
Downy chest hair peeked free of Hess's furs, different from the smooth chests of the other men of the tribe. Combined with his uncommonly pale eyes, it suggested he was an outsider by blood as well as temperament. “Why do you care what happens to us?”
“Wrong question, woman.”
“And what is the right question?”
“The right question is why no one else cares.” Hess stepped away, then hesitated. “If you aren't noticed, the men may forget you and tire themselves out on the others. You are smart. Do whatever it takes.”
Elza watched Hess cross the camp, collect an attractive woman, and disappear into a tent. In spite of her situation, she found herself intrigued. Hess was, without a doubt, the most fascinating man she had ever met.