After the sun had disappeared under the horizon, the salt flats, for a short period, emitted the heat of the day and, as it dissipated into the cooling night, Ben Ahmed Safir urged a little more haste and for any stragglers to close up on the main caravan, at the rear rode ten or so older men on horse back, they hurried the few slow starters until we were all in a closed mass of moving animals and people.

There was very little noise as we trudged through the salt flats, the stars twinkling off the crystals as we disturbed them with the hoofs of the animals and the shuffling of men’s feet, the pace was as fast as it could be, the dangers inherent on these flats was not a wild story and all of us knew it.

Hour after hour we trudged at a fast pace, the creaking of equipment and the soft swearing of tired men filled the night air as we moved ever onward, my own throat was dry from the disturbed salt in the air and my eyes were now red rimmed and smarting from the same particles as were all the others, and still we moved at the fastest pace possible.

Occasionally you would here the stumble of someone as they missed a step or tripped over something on the ground, by the first rays of the dawn light, we could almost see the end of the flats as they shimmered under the rising sun, we had made good time but still it would be close to another two hours before we could find protection in a far off oasis, the faint outline of the tall palms barely visible as though floating on water appeared out of the shimmering salt.

As the sun rose higher, Ben Ahmed Safir urged more speed, those who had been on foot were now taken up by other riders and they doubled towards the only safety visible too us, the sense of urgency now overtook the whole caravan as the heat rose at an astonishing rate, even with the protection of my Dragon cloak, I could still feel the increase, the salt magnifying the heat by the second.

The animals could now smell the water of the oasis and their pace quickened, it took all of the riders strength to hold them to a steady pace so that nothing would be lost, including riders, it was almost two hours when we came into the shade of the tall palms and even I could now smell the fresh water waiting for us.

As the last of the caravan came to a halt, Ben Ahmed Safir shouted out orders for the animals to be watered before any man could do the same, as the younger boys and teens went about this task, the men set about raising the tents and the women began to sort out food for cooking, those who had been detailed as guards set themselves around the edge of the oasis and kept their eyes open for unwanted visitors.

Slowly the camp came together, the tents were up, the women were cooking the first meal of the long crossing and the animals were settling down to rest after the frantic dash across the flats, children were running around laughing and playing games as they waited for their food, the men not on duty as guards, were sitting back relaxing, it had been a mad dash and few felt like expending energy unnecessarily.

Finally the meal was served and the men talked about the crossing, it had been a good one and no one was lost, nor had they lost any animals, Ben Ahmed Safir was a happy man, not all crossings went this well, we would now stay for two days at the oasis to fully recover and allow the animals to rest completely, from here on there would be other watering places but the worst of the trip was now over, there were only bandit raids to watch for.

The area we were to venture into was now well beyond the reach of the Pharaoh or his minions, the Emperor of the north was now far from my thoughts, the pull of the Thread was now stronger than ever, my mate was not far away now, every bone and muscle in my body was singing with the pull, every morning brought new and stronger emissions for me to wipe away before rising, this was not helped by the nocturnal sounds of the other boys in the tent.

The meals were filling and spicy, dates were served at every meal but they also had a rice dish, something I had never had before, rice was unknown in my lands, the meat dishes were either goat or fat tailed sheep, the Bedou seemed to have a particular liking for the eyes of the sheep but they were not too my taste at all.

There were other habits that took me by surprise as well, they would eat only with their right hand, the belief that the left was used to clean ones self after certain bodily functions and therefore deemed unclean for eating, the rice would be balled up into bight sized pieces with the right hand, dipped into the stew and then popped into the mouth to be chewed, it took a little to get used to this form of eating, but, once mastered, it seemed to add flavour to the meal as it was more relaxed and a lot of stories were told as we ate.

After the meal, the men would sit and talk about what was to be done the next day, any family disputes were also settled at this time, Ben Ahmed Safir told me that men were more inclined to agree with a full stomach than when hungry, I think it also had a lot too do with his over all demeanour of power that he projected without effort.

The following two days were used to rest, for my boys they used the time to once again hone their fighting skills, this was also helped with some of Ben Ahmed Safir’s older guards, who showed the boys some new ways that helped them as most were of smaller size than grown men, what most of the boys did not realise, was that the Guardian’s magic would keep them of a similar age and size once they reached their eighteenth year, to outsiders they would always look like teens, these benefits of the Guardian would stay with them for as long as they served under me and, if all went well, that could be a very long time.

On the morning of the third day, the animals were once again loaded, the children rounded up along with the goats and sheep, and the caravan was under way once more in the usual long strung out line, the pace was gentler than the mad dash across the flats and everyone was relaxed except for the vanguards who’s job it was to keep us from walking into any ambush that, may be set up ahead of us.

For the next two weeks we travelled in peace, of the talked about bandits we saw nothing, the land around us turned from sand dunes to rocky flats, the path through these gardens of rocks was well worn by years of use by the caravans of the past, it appeared that the road was well used as it meandered from one watering hole to the next in an apparent random pattern although always moving southward.

We were now well adapted to the desert style of life, the boys had tanned those parts open to the sun and all had taken up the mode of dress of the Bedou, that is, the loose flowing blue cloth jacket and pants with their heads wrapped in the long turban cloth which was also pulled across their faces when the wind blew soft sand into the air, it was now difficult to tell who was a boy and who was a Bedou, only I along with Shemba and Simba remained as before, I with my cloak of Dragon hide, as much for its protection as its magical powers, and the two freed slave boys now dressed in their small white cloths around their waist, which left their shiny black skin to glow in the sunlight, they seemed totally unaffected by the heat.

It was shortly after, that we came to a large river, it was very wide and the water rushed past the banks in a torrent, in the distance I could hear the deep rumble of a water fall, it was here that we were to leave Ben Ahmed Safir and his people, they were now heading westward while we would try to maintain our journey south.

That evening, the Bedou put on a great feast for us as a parting gift, the old man, Ben Ahmed Safir’s father, also gave a small gift to each of the boys, when I offered to pay for our travel with them, Ben Ahmed Safir, politely refused on the grounds that the boys had been excellent guards and this had been the first time they had made this trip without loss of life, in return he gave Gregor a special necklace and myself a strange whip.

The necklace was of something like bone but had a soft yellow tinge to it, it had a circle at the top and then a flat length bisected by two cross bars, Ben Ahmed Safir told Gregor it was a special talisman of the old people and would keep him safe in times of trouble, the strange whip I was given was made from the tail of something called a rhinoceros, it had a handle of the same yellow bone of the necklace topped with silver, it was very flexible and I was told it came from the far south where these large beasts roamed in the thousands.

Both Shemba and Simba were now very animated, they said they could smell the fresh air of their lands, it was the first time in a number of years that they had been so close, our only problem now was to cross the fast flowing river without losing anyone, trying to swim was not an option, Shemba told us that there may be a village further east that would have a means of crossing so we could continue our journey.

The next morning, we parted company with the caravan, as they disappeared into the trees on a westerly course, we packed our few belongings and turned east, the loud sound of the rushing river filled our ears as we moved out with a spring in our steps, Shemba and Simba more so than any of us, coming home was a major factor for them.

For three days we walked through ever thickening forests, at night the sound of strange beasts could be heard in the distance, each night our guards were doubled in case of attack by either beasts or humans, we were now in a land of many dangers and could not rest in the hope of nothing happening.

On the morning of the fourth day we came across a small village, it was perched on the very edge of the river bank, along the shore were many small wooden hand made boats, they were very narrow and seemed too fragile for the river that rushed past, as we entered the village, Shemba called out in his own language, from one of the grass covered huts came an old man, while he was bent with age, his size and demeanour told us he was an important man in this small village.

His skin, like that of Shemba and Simba, was the darkest of blacks but his eyes showed a deep life of their own, I was to learn that he was not only the head man but also the witch doctor or shaman, in this small village he was the ultimate power, above him was only the king of these lands, this was the far outskirts of the Mandingo lands.

As Shemba talked to the headman, the old mans demeanour changed markedly, suddenly he was totally subservient to the small boy, Shemba talked on quickly in his own language and the old man only stood and nodded that he understood, it was strange to watch, but it almost seemed that the smaller boy grew as he talked, it was only an illusion but the conversation was definitely being led by Shemba.

After a few minutes, Shemba turned to me and said.

“The headman will have as many canoes for us as we need, he is going to call all the young men to come out and get them ready, he has also offered us some extra young men to escort us southward, he says there is tribal fighting about four days south, it would be best if we accepted his offer.”

“Thank you Shemba, tell him we accept his offer and would offer something as a gift for his help.”

“A gift is not need, Great Elephant, it is his pleasure to please one such as yourself, I am sure his king would not like him to refuse you help.”

“Thank you Shemba, as long as it is not trouble for him.”

Shemba turned to the old man and spoke quickly, the old man nodded and turned away to call out loudly for his young men, within an hour we were all on the river, the canoes, though narrow and of shallow draft, seemed stable in the hands of the men with the oars, the strength they used to cross the river was making their skin shine with sweat and their young muscles bulge with effort but we made good progress, we could not cross directly but had to go with the flow of the water while angling for the other bank.

Close to half an hour later we were being helped ashore, joining us were twenty young men and older teens armed with long spears that had very long metal blades, they wore only a small animal skin breechclout, they also wore a thin strip of some spotted animal skin, it was soft yellow with black spots and was tied in a thin band around their head, they were completely bare apart from these simple clothes, in one hand the long spear and on their other arm they carried a small round shield made of dark wood covered with a black and white cow hide, the extra guards led us with ten in front and ten following behind, these young men and teens moved with a dance like grace, it looked as though they could move this way for days without rest.

As we moved through the forest, one or other of the teens would run off to the left or right, a short time later he would return with a wide smile showing the whitest of white teeth and over his shoulder would be a large bird or small deer, this was to be our dinner, the cat calls of the older teens and men brought much laughter to others.

Two hours later and we were at the very edge of the belt of forest, before us stretched mile upon mile of open grass lands, broken only here and there by a small hillock that rose from the grass like a hump, it was for one of these humps that the vanguard led us.

When we reached the hillock, ten of the new guards took up a sentry post, they formed a ring around us facing outward, I was amused at first by their stance, with one hand leaning on their long spear, they would stand on one foot and raise the other up until the foot was tucked against the other knee, they looked like one legged men, Shemba explained, after he saw me smiling at the stance, it was a restful way of standing for long periods but also kept the guard alert.

The younger teens that had caught game, set about preparing it for cooking, it took no time at all for a large fire to be lit while others ran out into the grasslands and began looking or occasionally digging for roots, by dusk there was ample food on the fire and the new guards were chatting animatedly amongst themselves as we relaxed back onto the still warm ground, they would not let us help in any way, Shemba said it was their duty to look after us.

I began to have thoughts about who these two young boys might be, when even an old respected man bows to their will, they must be of some importance, I had my suspicions but kept my thoughts to myself, I was sure that in time we would all be told why the two boys were obeyed with such alacrity.

As the food was cooking, other guards began to spread out and, with their long spear points, began to cut down a very prickly bush, this they piled around our circle with a narrow opening in the middle, Shemba told me it was to keep the larger wild beasts out during the night, the small gap would be filled in when the night fell, then we would all be safe until morning and the night guard could be halved.

Under the bright light of the stars, and with our bellies full of fresh meat and cooked roots that had a sweetness to them that I did not recognise, we all lay back on the soft grass of the hillock and drifted into the deep sleep, broken now and again by the deep roar of some wild animal far out in the grass land, the night air was warm and smelled fresh and clean.

Some of the foods supplied by the hunters were strange, of those was a large snake, it took two of the teens to carry this monster of the grasslands but when cooked tasted similar to chicken and the single snake fed all of us heartily, this apparent bare grassland held many delightful secrets under its long waving stalks and the teens seemed to know every little trick it held.

For ten days we moved at a steady pace, each evening brought something new to the table, my boys had divested themselves of the Bedou garb and now, because of the high humidity, wore little more than the native boys although they still kept their armour close and at the ready, it took only a few minutes for them to suit up, the new guards were fascinated with the Mythral armour and weapons, especially the long bows and their power once they had seen them in action during practice.

At mid morning, on the tenth day, we crested a high ridge, during the last three days I was sure I had seen men far off in the distance pacing us as we moved, of the tribal fighting we saw nothing, it had been a peaceful journey the whole ten days.

Below us, in a wide grass valley and about half and hours journey away, stood a huge village of grass huts surrounded by a large well built wooden wall, the ground around the village was covered with many small farm plots, in the distance I could see great herds of cattle being tended by what looked to be very young boys.

I watched as, from the large village there streamed what looked like an unending torrent of young men, all armed with the usual long spears and dressed similar to our own teen guards, at the sight of so many armed soldiers, my boys quickly set about donning their armour and readying their weapons although the numbers would easily defeat us, they were not going to give way without a fight.

I watched from the ridge as the many new warriors formed up in long ranks of about twenty wide and ten deep, there were, once they had formed up, about ten of these Phalanx of warriors, at their head stood a very large figure, even from this distance, the man was huge, on his head, unlike the warriors, he wore long white feathers of some strange bird, around his biceps and calves, he had wide bands of spotted animal skin adorned with small brown seed pods, I was to learn later that they were a special rattle that clacked as he moved, it was a signal to others of who this giant of a man was.

In one hand he held the normal long spear, in the other, some form of long handled club, it had a long handle and at the top was a round knob, and I was to learn later it was called a Knobkerrie and could crush a mans skull with ease, all the other warriors had only the spear, at a signal from the large man, the warriors began to chant a single word and beat the shaft of their pears on their shields, at this they also began to move forward, all in step with a high lift of their legs to stamp down hard on the bare ground.

The steady stamping made the very ground shake and the rattle of their shields set birds to take flight, they moved towards us at a steady and even pace, at this, the extra guards that had been with us quickly went to the ground and knelt with the heads on the turf, only Shemba and Simba stood upright holding hands as the terrifying mass of warriors came closer, my swordsmen took up a defensive ring around me with Peitro close by my side, the archers stood in two lines just behind, their bows filled and drawn ready.

The noise grew as the warriors came closer, their stamping and shouts shaking everything within range, at a point close to where they could run at us, Shemba and Simba raised their joined hands and called out as loud as they could with their young voices, it was not so much as words but more of a ululating sound that was as high pitched as the strongest of whistles.

At the sound of the two boys voices, those getting ready to charge our small group, stopped in their tracks and looked up, the large man also stopped in his stride and leaned forward as though to see clearer, with a single gesture of his club, the large man began to stride forward with certain determination as though he could not quite believe he had heard the sound from the two boys.

As the lead warrior grew closer, the two boys shouted with joy and took off running towards the huge man, their voices calling a single name, the large man suddenly stopped and dropped his weapons as he opened his arms for the two excited boys too jump into, if it were not for my Elvin sight I would not have seen the tears in the mans eyes, the two boys had come home and their father was waiting for them with open arms, I had never seen a happier sight, from the massed warriors came a huge deep sigh, it was as if they too had been waiting for the boys return to their home.

At this show of family love, my boys began to relax, although the other guard boys still stayed on the ground with their heads down, after a few minutes, where I watched as Shemba and Simba chatted excitedly with their father, the large man looked up at us on the ridge, lifting his weapons from the ground he called out loudly to his warriors, as one they called a strange name, to my ears it sounded much like “Bayete” and then the drumming on their shields started again.

At this sign of battle, my boys once again took up their arms in readiness to defend us, the massed warriors below us then began to move into long lines with a large gap between them, the once tight phalanx were now two columns of five men in width, with the Large man and the two boys at its centre, suddenly, Shemba released his fathers hand and came running towards us alone.

When he was close enough to call out, Shemba told me that his father wanted to invite us to his Kraal as his guests, the warriors would be there to escort us in safety, a combined sigh of relief went through my boys as they lowered their weapons once more, in his own language, Shemba then talked to the other guards still with their heads on the ground, when he had finished speaking, all the guards leapt to their feet and took up a guard position around us in two lines and Shemba then led us down to meet his large father.

When we arrived before his father, Shemba introduced us to him, the man was a giant, his warriors were also very tall and well built, but this man stood another head taller than all of them, too us smaller boys he was of gigantic proportions, I could almost feel my neck strain as I tried to look up into his face.

First in his own language and then in the common trading language, Shemba introduced us, I caught his name as being, Simba Aali, the name he gave for me was Tembo Aali, the huge giant looked down at me and for the first time I saw his large white teeth, the front four were filed into sharp points, I was to learn later why this was done.

After much talking back and forth through Shemba, we were directed to follow the large army of warriors back to the Kraal, when we entered, it turned out to be two Kraals, one inside the other, the outer Kraal was for the farmers and warriors, the inner one was for Simba Aali and his family, which I was to find out very quickly, was almost like a village within a village.

As we entered the second Kraal, I saw that there were very few men but about fifteen women were silently working at various tasks, around them ran many children of all ages but the eldest looked to be no more than about eight years, when I asked Simba who the children were, he simply said.

“Oh those are all our brothers and sisters; my father has fifteen wives but he is young yet so he will have more as he grows older, Shemba and I are his first sons, that is why he was happy to see us return.”

A man with so many wives must be a very virile man, the thought of one man with so many women was a knew concept for me, I did understand that the Arab men of the north had many women in harems but usually only a few wives, this man must be very strong to have so many, I had counted as many as thirty children, his nights must be filled with pleasure.

In the centre of the inner Kraal was an open grass thatched hut, the sides had been removed to let any small breeze blow through to keep it cool in the heat of the day, sitting inside was an old man, he was dressed in the barest of animal skins and was wearing a feathered head dress, around his neck was a string of old bones, this was their shaman/ witch doctor, the centre of all decisions made by Simba Aali, we were led to the hut and asked to sit as women began to appear with large wooden plates of food and a form of drink that smelled lightly of corn.

All of the talking was done in the local language except for when either Shemba or Simba translated for us but most of the chatter was about the two boys and how they had disappeared from their fathers Kraal, it was at the end of the large meal when we were brought more into the tale and both Shemba and Simba translated for us.

When all were finished eating, we were directed to another very large hut, it was now put aside for our use only, the many very young children that ran around were told in no uncertain terms that when we were in the hut, we were not to be disturbed by their playing, there were many small smiles and energetic nods from the youngsters but I could tell they had no intention of obeying their father, the advent of so many strange white skins was to much temptation for young minds to ignore.

That first night in the Kraal of Simba Aali was peaceful and, only occasionally interrupted by some muted drumming far outside the Kraal, when the first rays of daylight lit the interior of our new home, Shemba came running in to awaken us, he was excited and begged for us to rise quickly, outside the women had prepared another feast to break our fast and the Kraal was a hive of activity, naked children ran around laughing and shouting as the adults tried to work around them, of Simba Aali, there was no sign.

After breakfast, we were asked to go out into the main Kraal, there we saw a large cleared space in the centre of the village, on a small platform, in a large wooden throne type chair, sat Simba Aali, he was resplendent in animal skins and long white feathers, in his hands he still held the two weapons we had seen him with the previous day.

Shemba directed us to a place on the platform but one step below Simba Aali, there we were to sit on tanned animal skins like some sort of potentate, I was amazed at the variety of skins, some were like those I had seen on the foreheads of the warriors but were the full size skins, of yellow with black spots, others where of a sandy or tawny colour, still others were of black and white stripes, all were softly tanned and very comfortable to sit upon.

Once we were settled in comfort, the old man standing beside Simba Aali, called out in the high pitched and squeaky voice of the aged, at this call, all the women that had been around the circle, fell back as far as they could, from the open gates of the Kraal came rank upon rank of warriors, all were in step and their feet sounded like drums on the hard packed earth, their black skinned bodies shone with the sweat of their exertions as they half marched and half danced forward, their shields rattled with the cadence of the march.

When they had all filled the circle around where we sat, the loud chant of “Bayete” went up three times, with the lifting of one hand, by Simba Aali, there was total silence, I had no idea how many warriors there were but it was in the thousands and not a single sound could be heard as Simba Aali rose to his feet, I felt the presence of a body beside me and turned to see Simba settling down between myself and Gregor, Shemba settled on the other side with Peitro.

In a voice filled with power and strength, Simba Aali began to speak in his language to the assembled warriors, Shemba and Simba took turns to translate for us as the large man gestured to us and to the small contingent of guards that had brought us safely here, the massed warriors listened in complete silence until Simba Aali had finished and sat back in his wooden throne, again the massed voices of the warriors took up the chant of “Bayete” until Simba Aali lifted his hand once again.

When the silence had settled, Simba Aali called out for the young guards that had brought us to his Kraal and protected his sons; Simba took up the translation as Simba Aali spoke to the young guards.

“He says that he is grateful for their protection of his two long lost sons and that they have done well to protect and bring them safely home, for this he would give them all a reward fitting for such brave young warriors, in the afternoon, each warrior could go among his heard and select three cattle each to take back to their village as reward for such valuable service to their king, also the word would go out to other villages that, these warriors were now under the protection of the king, as well, when each reached his age of 25 summers, he would come here and join the kings guard as would their sons and their sons sons.”

As Simba Aali sat back on his throne, Shemba explained what the gift of three cattle too each warrior meant, in their society, cattle were worth even more than five wives, for the warriors to receive three of the kings heard each was spoils beyond belief for such young men and the fact they now had the trust of the king to enter his own personal guard when they came of the right age, was tantamount to giving them a gift from the gods, the guards, who had been kneeling on the earth with their heads on the ground up until this moment, looked up and joined in the chorus of “Bayete”, they were then allowed to leave the front of the circle and move back with the other warriors.

Simba Aali then told everyone that in the afternoon, he and his guests would go on a hunt, their new friend Tembo Aali and his men would now hunt their name sake and slake their thirst in the blood of their namesake, Shemba told me quietly that this was a test of our manhood as the king still looked at us as though we were children but the name Shemba had given too me had to be proven, at this stage I still did not know what an elephant was nor what it looked like, I only hoped it was something small and not too dangerous for us to tackle with bows and swords, there is something to be said about the ignorance of youth as I was to find out in no uncertain terms.

As we sat, there was more of the corn drink brought for us and the warriors and women began to dance, raising the dust and sending long ululating calls out into the far distance, as the sun rose higher, large umbrellas made from animal skins were brought out to cover us and the king but the warriors and women continued to dance as though it was a pleasant day out and the heat did not seem to affect their strenuous gyrations.

When the main heat of the day had subsided a little, Simba Aali called loudly and the dancing stopped as if their strings had been cut, quickly, many warriors formed up in ranks and the king stood up and beckoned us to rise with him, as we did, Shemba then translated his father’s words for us.

“My father says, it is time for him too see if your name is true, he has sent scouts out and has found your namesake, while he can see you carry no weapons, he understands that you have other ways, he says that if you can face you namesake and make him lower his head to you, then you are truly Tembo Aali, your warriors may keep you safe and if the old one charges, they may use their weapons to protect you, but, if the old one does charge, then you can not have his name and must find another.”

This sounded confusing for me as I did not even know who or what this Tembo was, as any prideful youth would do, I smiled and nodded in acceptance, what else could I do, looking back now I feel I could have learned to run a lot faster or not even let myself get into these situations without first knowing what it was about.

During our stay I had left my hood back but kept my long hair under the cloak and covering my ears, I was not ready as yet to fully reveal myself although I did attract a lot of looks from their old shaman when he though I was not watching, I knew deep inside that he felt my magic but kept it to myself for now.

We left the village altogether, there were countless warriors ahead and behind us as we moved out onto the vast grasslands, for so many people, it was very quiet and only the soft shuffling of bare feet in the grass made any sound at all, the swishing of the grass blades as they brushed the many warriors legs was almost a hypnotic tune.

After some time we came to a small ridge above a deep vale, down in the hollow was a tall tree with wide spread braches and, under its shade stood what I would describe as a mountainous animal, it was taller than two men and had a bulk equal to that of ten men, its legs were like small tree trunks, its skin, even from this distance I could see, was all wrinkled and lay in folds over its body, its head was the thing that gave me most pause, the ears were large enough to cover the roof of a hut and, its nose was beyond understanding, it hung to the ground in a long hose like projection, on each side of the long nose were two very long yellowish teeth, they looked to be longer than Simba Aali was tall and at the jaw, were thicker than a man’s thigh, if this was Tembo, then he was a very formidable beast, it was not until I got close enough that I truly began to realise just how much beast it was.

We came down off the small ridge and began to approach the beast slowly, as we neared it, the beast lifted its head and, with a toss of its might head, lifted its nose into the air and gave out a cry much like a trumpet as it flapped the enormous ears and raised dust from its back, I could also see that this beast was very old, it took a step forward and we all stopped as it swept its head from side to side, showing us its deadly long teeth, it was now I began to realise that I was well out matched with this Tembo.

Shemba whispered in my ear and I stood rooted to the spot as the animal looked us all over with its small eyes which looked to be full of anger and the pain of old age.

“You must go forward alone; your archers can follow you but must stay back so that you greet the old one alone.”

I nodded my head, I had no idea what or how fast this huge mountain of flesh was, I decided to remove all my clothing so I would have the freedom to run fast if needed, I began to remove my cloak and other clothes, when my hair came free and my ears were exposed, there came a deep rumbling whisper from the massed warriors, I had no idea what they were saying and, one look at the behemoth took my thoughts away from the warriors very quickly.

Once I was finally down to only the small thin breechclout that I wore under my cloak, I pulled my hair back into a tail and tied it with a thin piece of hide I carried in my belt for such occasions, with a last look at my very frightened friends, and trying to quell the shaking in my legs, I stepped forward towards this great beast, its grey colour blending well with the dark shade of the tree.

At each step forward, the beast would shake its head and flap its ears but did not make any other movements but at the same time its eyes never left me, when I was some thirty paces from it, I could almost feel the tensing of its muscles, to try to allay its fears, I knelt down and placed my left hand in the soil, feeling for any ley lines, I was almost knocked over by the magic throbbing through the ground of this ancient place, my head filled immediately with visions from the long past, among them many of the same old beast and its forebears.

Concentrating on the figures of the beast, I let my mind run towards this one, from the very ground came a deep rumble, it was as though I could hear a low drum through my hand, with sudden clarity, I was seeing myself through the eyes of this very old beast as I knelt on the ground, to this beast I was as much a curiosity as a threat.

For the next few minutes, my head was filled with images of this old beasts past life, it had been a very long one and he had now come to this place of secrecy to spend his last days alone and away from his tribe, he had little time left and his old bones ached with age and his massive stomach could no longer work to feed him.

For a short time we communed with each other until I fully understood his needs, at this I asked for his blessing before he passed on his way to the kingdom of Creator, the beast agreed that it was his time and asked that he may go quickly and without pain, to this I agreed and gave him some comfort, in exchange he agreed to approach me and give me his blessing.

I stayed on my knees as the great beast moved towards me, I was no longer afraid as we had made our peace and the ancient beast only wanted to meet the Creator, slowly he neared, when he was less than one pace away, he lifted his long thick nose and laid it gently on my shoulder, then, with great effort, he also knelt on the ground with his bright but rheumy eyes fully on me, at a blink from him, I raised my right hand and laid it on his massive head, from the thick nose came a long soft sigh and the beast rolled sideways and went to meet Creator.

From the massed warriors far behind me, came a loud roar and cries of “Bayete” rent the air, the sound of a thousand running feet filled the vale as they came forward to look at the huge beast, Shemba was quickly by my side, his eyes wide with awe and a little fear as he looked upon the massive beast lying by my side.

“This will bring much meat for the Kraal and its teeth are the biggest ever seen, they will be a great trophy for you.”

“No, Shemba, the beast must be left alone, he is not for eating, this is his chosen place to journey to Creator and we can not take from him anything but his mighty teeth, they were given to me by his word as a symbol of his long life, only they can be removed, his flesh must be left for the ground, it is his wish.”

“Then, Tembo Aali, it shall be done as you ask.”

Shemba turned to his father and related what had been said, the giant of a man looked down at me and smiled his spiked tooth smile and nodded, it shall be so, he gave orders and the warriors immediately set about removing only the great teeth, once completed, it took four men to carry each tooth back to the Kraal, that night, Simba Aali, gave orders for another Kraal to be constructed beside his own, the two great teeth would be set in the ground as the gateway to my own Kraal.

It seemed that every person in the great Kraal joined to build the new Kraal for me and the boys, within a week it was completed and a great party was held to celebrate, the mighty teeth were its gateway and told everyone who lived there, little did I know at the time that we would stay here for some months, in which time we learned the language of the Mandingo and many new friends were made, it was also to be the first time I saw what a fierce war was to these large and strong people.



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