Vatar is about to be forced into a near-suicidal hunt of a pair of tigers (think saber-toothed cats):
The Dardani had never hunted a tiger, at least, not that Vatar had ever heard of. It was too dangerous. Thinking about the tigers wasn’t helping. Out of the ripples in the water, a face started to form, red hair, green eyes, and a bridge of freckles across her nose–Thekila. She wasn’t even a real girl, but Vatar couldn’t help noticing that she was pretty, in a slightly exotic way. He wished he’d gotten a chance to know someone like her. Or, really, any girl. The masters back in Caere had effectively blocked him from getting close to any of their daughters. He rarely even got to talk to one for long. Though he’d had his torc for months now, he’d never even gotten a chance to kiss a girl. If this plan didn’t work, he likely never would.
The face disappeared as a shadow fell across the water. Vatar turned and looked up into the face of another girl. A real girl this time. She was slender, but her light blue tunic barely contained her ample breasts and the corresponding curve of her hips. The color also matched the clear blue of her eyes. From this angle, looking up at her, the sun made a halo of her blonde hair. He’d seen her hanging around, watching the boys drill. He thought she had a brother in the group. Or maybe a sweetheart. Although the boys weren’t supposed to start courting girls until after their manhood tests, sometimes the girls had already made up their minds before that–and made their preferences known.
Vatar jumped to his feet and brushed off the knees of his trousers. “Uh . . . hello.”
She smiled briefly–a flash of white teeth behind those pink lips. “Hello. What were you doing?”
Vatar shrugged. He’d like to seem braver, but there weren’t very many things he could realistically be doing out here. “Trying not to be afraid.” He grimaced. “It’s not working.”
The girl smiled again. “Ravaz isn’t succeeding either.”
One of the javelinists. Lucky . . .
The girl took a step closer and placed her hand on Vatar’s arm. “Ravaz is my only brother. Is . . . is your plan going to work? Is he going to come back from this hunt?”
Her brother. Oh. Then . . . Vatar squared his shoulders and stood straighter. “We have a good chance. And he’ll be safer than some, I think. It’s still going to be dangerous, though. I can’t promise that no one will get hurt. Or–”
“I know. No one can promise that. I just wanted to hear that there’s a chance.” She looked into Vatar’s eyes and the side of her mouth twitched up again. “I’m Avaza, by the way.”
He nodded. “I’m Vatar.” With her standing this close, his mind started to fog with the smell of her hair, the warmth where her hand still rested on his arm.
That quick twitch that wasn’t–quite–a smile again. “I know. I’ve been watching you.” She took another step closer.
Vatar smiled. She’d been watching him. That sounded . . . hopeful. He couldn’t think of anything to say. Avaza’s eyes shifted down to his lips and one side of her mouth quirked up. Vatar drew in a deep breath and swallowed. It seemed like an invitation, but he wasn’t sure. But, if he didn’t try, then he might really never get a chance to kiss a girl. Ever. She could always pull away if she didn’t want him to. He bent his head and pressed his lips to hers. He meant it to be just a short kiss, but Avaza moved closer and locked her arms around his neck. Her lips parted under his.
Vatar forgot about the tigers. He forgot everything. His arms came up to encompass her waist and pull her closer. All his fear and anger evaporated in an entirely new and delectable feeling. He wanted to keep on kissing her. Or rather, he wanted to explore more than just her lips. But . . . was the world spinning just a little too fast for him all of a sudden? With difficulty, he broke of the kiss and stepped back.
Avaza smiled and lifted one hand to his cheek. “You know, when I watched you drill or in your workshop, I wondered what it would be like to kiss you. It was better than I thought.”
Vatar’s pulse was still pounding. He felt light all over, almost like he could soar over the plains. And Avaza, beautiful Avaza was looking at him like . . . like a hero. He wanted to be her hero, to make her keep looking at him like that and keep on kissing him like that, too.
He liked the thought that his kiss, unpracticed as it was, had pleased her, too. Vatar smiled and took her hands. “If we come back tomorrow with the heads of those tigers, will you kiss me like that again?”
Avaza cocked her head to the side and gave him a secretive smile. “If you do that, any girl in the whole tribe would kiss you.”
“But I’m asking you.”
Avaza’s smile could have put the sun to shame. “Then, of course I’ll kiss you. I’ll be waiting for you.”