Thread

                                            By 

                                         Arthur 

 
CHAPTER 10


We could do little more than watch the large well trained Dinka warriors close in on the two smaller teens as they stood side by side, their weapons ready and their metal fittings shining in the sunlight, Tzuma’s short handled Assegai was held high while his shield scattered light around him, its very sharp lower edge glinted with menace as the warriors ran closer.

These were well trained warriors, they had no intention of being caught out by bravado and inexperience, there would be no individual show of bravery, these men had been sent to kill the nuisance boys standing alone on the field, all six of them spread out in a curved line as they approached, by attacking in a single unit they would overpower the two smaller boys with their superior size and numbers, the two boys stood firm, only the slight shuffling of Tzuma’s feet as he looked for his balance, betrayed any sign of nerves, Gregor stood still, holding his head up high almost as though he was arrogant and thought the approaching warriors were no more than flies to be swatted away.

The semi circle of warriors was now no more than a few steps away, as one, they ran forward, their long spears lowered to gut the two boys before they could defend themselves, the echoing sound of metal on wood rang around the now silent field, silent except for the continuing hum of high flying arrows as they continued to take their toll of the massed ranks, their leader seemed oblivious of the damage being done to his men as the tableau unfolded below them.

Tzuma went to one knee as the closest warrior stabbed viciously at his midsection then, with the speed of a striking snake, Tzuma half rose and whirled around on his knees, his left arm outstretched with the leading edge of the shield slicing through the stomach of the attacker, his assegai he used to parry another strike by the warrior on his right, the Mythral shield was now crimson as the first warrior yelled and collapsed on his knees, his insides now falling to the dry grass of the field.

Gregor’s sword had flashed twice in the blink of an eye, the first slash had severed the long spear just behind the metal head, the returning slash had severed the warriors head from his shoulders, Gregor turned his attention fully on the remaining two warriors on his side, they were not going to just rush in for the slaughter, smartly using the longer reach of their spears, they tried stabbing Gregor from a distance, keeping his deadly sword out of reach of their flesh.

Tzuma was also now at a disadvantage as his two remaining warriors also took up their stance just out of reach of his assegai, his Mythral shield was now the only thing keeping him uninjured as the two spears probed and stabbed at him, his one big advantage was his youth and physical ability which had been honed by Peitro, Tzuma continued to block with his shield or parry with his assegai as he waited to find an opening, his feet danced over the grass and soon the larger warriors were sweating profusely, the awkwardness of their long spears starting to take a toll on the arms of the bigger and heavier men.

Both boys kept their concentration as they slowly began to wear down the larger men, every now and then, Tzuma or Gregor would close in and be able to inflicted a flesh wound on one or other of the attackers and then dance back out of the way of the longer spears, this added more pressure to the already angry men, it soon had the frustrated warriors starting to make small errors of judgement, the nicks and small cuts grew as the two boys saw their adversaries weakening, both from the frantic pace of the fighting but also from the slow blood loss the small cuts caused.

It was now evident too all that were watching that the remaining four warriors were outclassed, Tzuma danced, twirled and leapt as he parried and cut with his assegai, the end coming as something of an anti climax as, suddenly, Tzuma went in close to the two warriors, another slash with his shield and an upward thrust of his assegai, and the two warriors were lying dead on the ground, followed quickly by the two that had been trying futilely to rid themselves of Gregor, three flashes of his sword and they also joined their compatriots.

The drawn out groan of the last warrior was heard by everyone watching, Gregor and Tzuma looked down at their fallen foe, their bodies glistening with their own sweat and some of the blood of their vanquished enemies, from along our ridge top came the long drawn out call of “Bayete” as the two small warriors turned their backs and made their way back to us, on the field below lay only the bodies of those foolish enough to attack boys that were protected by the Creator.

The leader of the Dinka seemed stunned as he watched the two small boys walk away from what he thought was their certain death, twelve of his warriors lay on the burnt grass and not even the smallest of cuts had been administered on the two boys, as he watched, his anger grew, turning to the rest of his warriors, he called for the blood of the Mandingo, he was met with a low grumble and a shuffling of feet, to his warriors there had to be a special magic used, they were not happy about going into an attack against magic, the anger of the leader grew even as he saw how his massed warriors had been decimated by the arrows, something they had not faced before, the fact that so few archers could cut his lines to shreds with such ease, now began to settle in his stomach.

Although he still had more numbers than the Mandingo, the obvious use of some form of magic to give his enemy more speed and strength began to creep into his irate brain, the Mandingo warriors alone he could defeat but, magic was another thing, the before unseen flashing metal of the boys also spoke of magic and, the fact that a single Mandingo warrior who was not much more than a boy as well as the strange white boy who looked more like a spirit ghost than a black skinned Mandingo also shook him awake.

Simba Aali could feel the indecision in his opponent, with a loud call he, and all his warriors rushed down the side of the ridge in a full out charge at the Dinka lines, for myself, I could not resist the temptation to unsettle the Dinka further, wriggling my feet into the soil of the hillock, I lifted my right hand and called for Ranganui to give me help, after chanting the correct words, I felt the power of the sky father build inside me, once full, I reached out my right hand and threw the built up sky fire into the massed ranks of the Dinka, it was all that was needed to confirm in the minds of the enemy that there was magic here, as the first lines of the Mandingo clashed with those of the Dinka and, with the heavy smell of ozone in the air from the lightening, the ranks of the Dinka began to crumble.

Large numbers of the Dinka began to turn and run from the fierce enemy that could use magic, the Mandingo followed close behind causing more slaughter as they realised they had won the day against their most hated enemy, the blood letting would not finish in a hurry, it was a chance for the Mandingo to get revenge for past losses including the enslavement of the Kings two sons, as the lines had closed, my archers had stopped firing, Tzuma and Gregor had rejoined us, we had no intention of joining in the bloody slaughter that was taking place across from us.

The King’s men were taking a terrible toll on the fleeing enemy, he was also suffering losses but no where near the same numbers as the retreating enemy, the smell of death and blood was now heavy in the air as the toll mounted, looking at my friends and as if in full agreement, we turned from the ridge top and started the journey back to our Kraal, our fight was over we had no intention of being part of the slaughter that followed.

We had been back at the Kraal for some time when we heard the first of the returning warriors entering the main Kraal, there was the sound of jubilation as they shouted out their own stories of conquest to the women who had gathered to watch for their return, it was tradition that had the King arrive last so that all the warriors could form an honour guard as he strode in through the main gate, behind him were tied those he had captured.

The prisoners were all tied about the neck with thick rope, their hands bound behind them, at the head of the long column of beaten Dinka, walked their leader, he had a limp and was bleeding profusely from a large gash in his forehead, you could easily read in his eyes that he knew what was to come, there was not even the faintest hint of defiance left in him, his end would not be quick, for King Simba Aali, there was much revenge to be had from his sworn enemy.

Once all the returning warriors had rested and been fed, the sun was beginning to set, we received a call from King Simba Aali to join him in the main Kraal, tonight there would be a large festival to mark his victory over the hated Dinka, it was also an excuse to wreck his revenge on those he had captured, it was on this night that I learnt a lesson that would stay with me for many, many years.

Once the sun had set and the first shadows of the night had begun to fall around us, the King called for dancing and music, the women formed up in long lines around the very edge of the kraal and began their high pitched ululations while the men, dressed in their best feathers and finery, stamped and sang about their victory, fresh cooked meats and large platters of fruit and vegetables were laid out before us and the King, all the small children were included in the victory ceremony, it would go on all night.

The victory feast finished apart from those who wished to continue snacking, the King called for the first of the prisoners to be brought out, the first group was a string of ten very young looking warriors, it was obvious that they had only just made it into manhood, most of them had little or no man hair as they stood naked in front of the whole tribe.

The silence that settled around the Kraal was almost palpable as the King stood up from his throne like chair, he then went on to talk about the great victory over their most hated enemy the Dinka, at the end of the cheering and ululations of the women, the King looked at the young warriors, most had already soiled themselves in their fear, they knew they were going to die but it was the thought of how it was to be done that really scared the very young boys, these far away tribes had a very cruel streak in their make up.

The boys were being held by two large warriors, one on each arm, at a command from King Simba Aali, two more warriors joined them and the boys were unceremoniously thrown on the ground on their backs, the warriors holding the boys arms, sat on the ground one on each arm and placed one foot against the boys rib cage, pulling the boys arm tightly out to the side, it was easy to see the strain on the boys arm sockets as the two full grown men leaned back.

Next came the warriors on the boys legs, they also spread the boys legs wide and braced themselves, the boys legs were almost spread level with their hips, next came the Kings voice and, from the crowd of women, ten older women came running, the glint in their eyes was both from the fermented millet beer they all drank, and from the prospect of what lay ahead.

The ten boys lay writhing on the ground but movement was very restricted by the four large warriors holding them, the old women closed with the captors, going down on their wrinkled knees, they grasped the testicles of each boy and began to belittle them for their smallness, all the time squeezing them and bringing loud yelps of pain from the hapless boys.

The boy’s screams increased when the old crones flashed sharp cooking knives in their hands and continued their teasing of the youths by running the knives over their scrotums and penis, what happened next was so fast that it would have been easy to miss it, with a sudden flash of the knives, the old women slit the sack of each boy and pushed with their fingers, the boys testicles popped out of their sack as the blood ran from the cuts, the boys screamed louder as the old women bent to their groins and, with a movement so fast for such old crones, they bit through the cords holding the boys testicle in their sack.

The screams of the young boys could be heard echoing out on the empty grass lands as the old women chewed then swallowed the boys testicles, leaving only an empty bloody sack and ten castrated boys screaming and writhing on the ground, even the large well built warriors had trouble holding the boys down as the pain coursed through their bodies, for over an hour this scene repeated itself with all the youngest of the enemy warriors, there were over two hundred boys that were now castrated.

Once the old women had finished with the boys, they were bound up and left in a hut under guard, if they were still alive in the morning and did not die from infection, they would eventually be sold into slavery, it appeared that the Toureg had a penchant for eunuchs of a very young age as they sold well on the markets of the known world.

It was then the turn of the older warriors, those who had just reached manhood were given the choice of death or slavery, much to my amazement, most chose death, it seemed that they preferred a quick death rather than having to bow their heads for the rest of their lives, I am now sure that, had they known the form of their deaths they would have chosen slavery, the vicious streak of these Mandingo, knew no bounds.

The penchant for mutilation of captives appeared to be a normal thing for these people, of all of them, the women were the most vicious, this was the lesson I would never forget, men can be cruel but, women were plain vicious and very inventive in their ways to torture a man, most of the women had a definite liking for the reduction of the mans genitalia, it was as if they were getting revenge for their station in life, not that the men did not find some very creative ways to dispose of their captives, the most popular was the staking of the captives while still alive.

Staking was also done in numbers, the King had had ten stakes buried in the ground, they were as thick as a mans thigh and sharpened to a point at the top, the captives would be lifted high by many hands and, with their legs spread wide, they would be lowered with a little force onto the sharpened stakes, once they had been impaled, they would be released by their captives and, as they writhed in pain and agony, their movements would force them lower on the sharpened stake until eventually after much agony and pain, they would die of blood loss and shock.

Once dead, the staked bodies would be removed and thrown over the walls of the Kraal for the wild animals to feed on, all through that night the staking took place and, when the sun finally rose, over four hundred enemy had been staked and disposed of over the wall, it would be the work of the women this morning, to drag the bodies further out onto the grass lands, for us, we had retired to our Kraal long before the main event started.

We awoke to a silence in the Kraals, everyone except the old crones was now asleep, either from the excess in killing or from too much of the fermented beer, in the air I could smell the blood of the previous night, I also knew that it was far from over, there were still prisoners left, when I left our Kraal to look for water, I was followed by Peitro and Tzuma, it seemed that I now had two body guards or, Tzuma was there protecting Peitro, it was hard to tell with them.

I walked through the main Kraal, of the two hundred young boys that had been turned into eunuchs; there had been some ten that had died during the night, of the others there were only listless looks of defeat and pain, for them their normal lives had finished, they would now be bought and sold at the whim of their new masters, most of the boys still tried to stay alive, they kept the ever growing horde of flies from their blood encrusted groins in an attempts to stave off infection.

As I watched the hopelessness of the boys, my heart gave a jolt, while I could not change anything for them, it was the way of this land, I could however, help the surviving boys, I stopped and looked around the Kraal, there was no one in sight, I stooped low and rested my right hand on the ground, pulling power from nearby ley lines, I stretched out my left hand and spoke the words of healing, making sure I covered each and every boy, at least now they would be healed and no infection could enter the cuts on their scrotum, I did not have enough power to replace their testicles and it would also not be a good idea to be caught doing so.

I now felt my conscience to be a little clearer as the groans of pain slackened among the young boys, at least now they had a chance to survive, of the dead men who had been staked, their bodies were even now being dragged unceremoniously out into the grasslands, the women working in groups of three or four, it was a grisly task but they seemed unconcerned as they cleared away the walls, in some places the bodies had already been chewed upon.

On our return to the Kraal, I saw a very large pile of arrows, each had been cleaned and tied in bundles of twenty or so, it appeared they had been collected from the sight of the battle and returned to the boys, although, with the aide of the Creator, they were not really needed but, I saw it as a sign of generosity by the warriors, they had been well served by the archers.

Our small Kraal was now busy as the boys broke their fast and sat talking about the night before and what had happened, none of them were all that happy about the means of revenge by the Mandingo and, after some discussion, asked if we could make plans to leave this place as soon as possible, I readily agreed, I was used to the blood of battle but the aftermath of this one was a little more than I liked to think of, I could forgive the Mandingo to a certain extent as it was their way but, I was still not happy about it, it was time to move on and follow the Thread, its pull was stronger than ever and was getting harder to hold in check.

That night, the torture of the captives continued, King Simba Aali showed surprise that so many of the young boys had survived and that they were all showing signs of healing so soon, before the killing of the captives started, the King called for both Gregor and Tzuma to step forward, once in front of the wooden throne, the King began to tell the village of the bravery of the two boys, describing in detail how they had fought against larger numbers and better trained warriors, when he had finished his speech, the King told Gregor and Tzuma to go and select ten castrated boys each for their own use as slaves, it was one of those presents that could not be refused and so, both boys went over to the now quiet boys and selected ten each, had they been able to they would have taken them all but that could not be, at least they had saved twenty of them.

Again we left before the really bad part of the torture started, it was in the morning that we saw what remained of the enemy leader and could only guess at what he had been put through by his tormentors, his remains were hardly recognisable as that of a man, the old crones had been at work on him as well as the stakes and many other forms of torture I had no idea about, his end had been long and painful, it was definitely time for us to leave.

It was Tzuma that took charge of the twenty slave boys, he had grown quickly now that he was held in high regard by the boys and also now his own tribe even though he would never be accepted back with them, during the night I was never left alone, Tzuma had the twenty slaves sleep on the ground inside my hut so that I was surrounded by their bodies, for anyone to get to me they would have to climb over the boys, it was a very effective alarm, during the day the twenty slaves were put too work getting things ready for our departure, I got faint hints that the King was not happy about it but, I explained we had a quest that had to be finished, he was still not happy but the laws of hospitality forbade him taking any action to stop us from leaving.

It was to be another two weeks before we were ready to leave, the twenty slaves would now carry all our food and water along with the extra arrows that had been returned from the battle as well as some little bedding and thick wool clothe to make a tent for sleeping, the slaves had been given a skimpy loin cloth to wear they would need some protection for their boyhood even though they no longer had testicles, their demeanour was now one of acceptance, they at least knew by now that they were better off with us than staying in the Kraal.

On the morning of our departure, I decided to leave a parting gift or should I say, a reminder to the King, that it would not be a good idea to follow us and try to ambush us at a later time, as I walked through the huge tusks that had guarded our Kraal, I spoke a spell over them, any man or woman trying to enter the Kraal would fall ill, in the dark of the night the tips of the tusks would glow with a blue light, this was to tell the Mandingo that it was a place of magic and could not be entered, I hoped they would get the message.

We travelled for two weeks before we saw another person, he was a young boy with a mighty herd of cattle, the beasts covered many parts of the small valley below us, the boy was tall for his age and wore only a red cape over his shoulders, underneath he was naked and, in his hand was a long thin stick, sharpened at one end, much like a spear but also like a wand to herd the cattle which ever way he wanted them to go, in the distance there were other young boys, also dressed as he was, it was Tzuma that told me they were the Maasai herd boys, it was my first meeting of the tall slender people that were also not only herders but very proficient fighters and feared by most of the other tribes.

Gregor was quick to set out our boys in a defensive pattern, one that they had practiced often for just such an occasion, our willing slave boys took up their place in the centre of the two columns and behind Peitro and myself with Tzuma at the rear, Gregor lead from the front along with his swordsmen.

When we were seen by the young herd boy, he immediately raised his head and sent out four long whistle blasts that echoed around the valley and carried a long distance, from every nook and cranny, the other herd boys came running and, in the distance, on top of a low ridge, came the figure of a grown man, from this distance it was hard to tell his height or age but by the look of things, he was very tall, almost as tall as a plains Elf, I could see he also wore the long red cloth but held a spear tipped with metal, as we stood and watched, he turned and disappeared while the boys below went into herding the cattle into a close group for protection.

There was no panic or alarm from the boys below, they seemed to know just what to do when strangers appeared, their first concern was for the safety of the cattle, I would learn that the whole world of the Maasai revolved around their cattle, without them the Maasai felt as though they were nothing but lesser men, they would fight and die to hold onto their cattle and yet, would walk away if some of their women were taken by slavers or an enemy, as long as the cattle were safe they had little concern.

It was a genuine surprise to see that the cattle kept coming from all corners of the shallow valley, when finally they were amassed at the centre of the valley and the herd boys were spread around the outside, it looked like nothing more than a sea of cattle, their large greyish bodies stirred up the soft dust and their large thick horns clashed with each other as they tussled for position, the herd boys somehow keeping control.

We were about to go down the small ridge when we saw the tall warriors appear over the far off ridge, they kept coming and the numbers grew quickly, it soon looked like lines of tall dark trees with long red cloths swirling around their trunks, their shields held in the left hand and their long spears in their right, at a silent signal they all moved into the valley in a long loping stride that covered the ground effortlessly.

It took no time at all before the large group of warriors were spread out in three ranks across the valley below us, to get to the cattle one would have to go through these lines, even for us, it would be a daunting task, it was Tzuma that took the initiative, with Gregor and Peitro by his side, he led them towards the Maasai holding his spear and shield above his head, it was a sign of peace, it also opened his torso to show the Maasai he was vulnerable and meant no harm.

Once the three of them were on flat ground, they stopped some little distance from the Maasai warriors and squatted down to wait for the warriors to make up their mind about them, it didn’t take long before six Maasai came towards them, spears and shields at the ready, their whole posture indicating wariness, these people did not take too strangers easily.

It was another ten minutes after the Maasai had closed with our small party, finally squatting down and beginning talks, that they again rose and the three boys turned and signalled for us to join them as the warriors called out loudly to their own that all was well and we were no threat, it was not until later I found out how brave Tzuma had been, the Maasai and Mandingo had been enemies for generations and most were usually killed on sight but, Tzuma’s bravery had somehow impressed the Maasai and they had been prepared to at least listen to his reason for being on their lands.

Although, like other tribes, the Maasai had their own dialect, they also used the common Swahili when dealing with outsiders or for trade, it was not until we were allowed to enter their large village that we understood what sort of trouble we could have been in, if we thought that King Simba Aali’s Kraal was large, the Maasai put it to shame, from a distance I could see that the village was spread out over many acres of land, the stake fence that surrounded it went on for ever.

In the village the number of women alone, were more than the total occupants of the Kings Kraal, add the herd boys and warriors and they outnumbered the Mandingo King’s Kraal by some large number, although the Maasai were formidable warriors, they truly were more concerned with their cattle than going to war on others, that evening, I was too see the largest herd of cattle that had ever gathered in one place, they came in from the four winds, the dust stirred up by their hooves filled the air until it was like a red haze over the village.

Once the herd was around the village, we saw that the herd boys still never left them, I was to learn that the boys would stay by the side of the cattle until they came of age to join the warriors, the boys meals were taken directly from the cattle and, only in the evening, did some of the women take a thick soup, much like gruel out to them, the rest of the time the boys would suckle milk directly from the cows teat or, using their sharpened sticks, they would puncture the blood line in the neck of the cattle and drink the warm blood as it flowed from the small wound, of the milk suckling, it was hard to tell who enjoyed it the most as many of the young boys soon had erections as they sucked on the warm teat.

We were taken to the centre of the large village, fully surrounded by the warriors, the first person we were to meet was their medicine man, he was an ancient but his eyes were clear and penetrating although his body was bent and the skin was wrinkled with age, when he glanced at me, his eyes opened wide and he began to mumble to himself and his hands were making signs in the air as the bones on his thin hide belt rattled, when his small spell or whatever it was, was complete, he turned and hobbled off to one of the larger huts.

From the door of the darkened hut strode a man of middle years, he was taller than even a plains Elf, his almost black skin shone brightly turning it almost blue in the dying sun light, on his cheeks were the thin scars of his initiation, he carried only the long spear of the Maasai and was dressed, as were all the warriors, in the knee length red cloth under which he was like the others, completely naked, he was a very impressive looking man, as were most of the warriors and young men of the Maasai.

After looking over the others, this man whom I guessed was their chief, stared long and hard at me, suddenly his face lit up and his broad lips spread into a smile that showed off a fine large set of perfect teeth, with a few words in his own dialect, he sent off the warriors and then, in Swahili, he invited us to sit and eat with him, this of course did not turn out to be as simple as it sounded, eating with the Maasai for a special occasion turned out to take up most of the night, we were yet to find this out.

The first thing served was a mixture that we all found hard to accept at first, it was a concoction of warm milk and fresh blood served in a wooden bowl, the first swallow was the hardest but had to be endured for the sake of hospitality, once drunk by all of us, the tension eased and everyone began to enjoy the occasion, soon lines of young girls were dancing and singing as we ate, the mountain of food seemed to appear as if by magic.

The chief was a talkative man and had no trouble in keeping us entertained amid the dancing and singing of the young ones, as the girls danced they were occasionally joined by younger single men who’s form of dance seemed to be a competition to see whom could leap the highest from a standing position, it was very impressive when you saw the massed ranks of single men all trying to outdo each other, the young girls also seemed to be impressed.

The chief was only different from the other warriors in that the medicine man never left his side, it was the only way to tell he was different, there were no other outward signs of his position in the tribe, it was very late in the night before we were shown to a large hut at the centre of the village, it was made from thick branches that were then covered with a type of grass matting and then plastered with a mixture of mud and cow dung and left to dry, the floor was tamped earth and quite solid, at the centre of the hut was a small fire, also fuelled by cow dung, it seemed the Maasai wasted nothing that came from their cattle, even the young warriors hair was plastered with it after it was mixed with red ochre, it was the symbol of the Maasai.

When we awoke the next morning, it was to the subdued sound of the women at work, the warriors, all apart from those set to protect the village, were now out on the grasslands, the herds had long departed for the day of feeding and watering by the young herd boys, we were met with the milk mix for the first meal of the day as well as the same gruel that the herd boys had eaten the night before.

On exiting the hut after the small morning meal, we were met by the chief once again, as we followed him he led us out of the village and talked about his clan as we went, the old medicine man close on his heals, his eyes continually glancing at me as we walked, the chief explained about the boys and warriors, he was also the one that told us how important the cattle were to the Maasai, his stories and information kept us captive until we came to a large area of cleared scrub, here we saw a large number of young warriors going through various practices, it was noticeable that they seemed to stay in certain groups and, although they competed with each other, it was noted that they always stayed within certain groups, the chief explained it to us when we mentioned it.

The chief himself had thirty wives and twenty six sons, his eldest were already warriors, the middle sons were in the young groups and his youngest were herd boys, the boys were sent to herd the cattle at the age of six years, they stayed there until they reached about thirteen or fourteen years at which stage they were brought into small cabals of boys of the same age, they stayed with these cabals until they reached the age of initiation where they had to kill a great lion and then become a full warrior, they were not allowed to have a wife until they were in their mid twenties, all their sexual outlets were only had with the boys of their own cabal until they married but, even at that stage, their cabal always came first for the rest of their lives, it made for a very tight and robust warrior cast, this is what made the Maasai so powerful.

As we looked around the practice ground, we could see these cabals in practice, some were learning how to fight with their long spears, others were sitting under trees and grooming each others hair or bodies but all were paying attention to what was going on around them, it was a scene of intense but peaceful contact.

The chief mentioned that we all seemed a little young to be moving in this wild country without grown warriors to help guard us, when I explained that all the boys were competent warriors in their own right, he seemed amused at the thought of such young boys being able to defend themselves, I pointed out the scars on Gregor and Tzuma, then went into an explanation for him as to how they got the scars, at the end of the story he was impressed and asked if he could see a demonstration of the boys skills as the archers were a novelty to him and his warriors as was the shortened assegai of Tzuma, our use of Mythral also held his attention as he had never seen the bright white metal before.

We decided on a friendly competition, he would get some of his best spearmen and we would have a couple of the archers, then he would select the best of his young warriors to spar with Gregor and Tzuma, I could tell that he thought his warriors with their long spears would easily defeat Gregor and Tzuma and that the unknown archers may have a good competition with his best spear throwers although he had no great expectations for the small little arrows to be better than a full size spear.

For the spear competition, they set up an old shield at forty paces, this was to be the target, the highest number of hits would win, the chief called for six of his finest spear throwers, we all stood back and waited for them to throw, at forty paces, they all hit the shield with ease, Peitro, whom had decided to take the place of lead archer, refused to take any shots until the target was moved further back, it was repositioned twenty paces further away, again he let the warriors take first throw, only one of the spears hit the far off shield, when they had finished, Peitro asked that the shield be taken back another thirty paces.

The shield was now no bigger a target than a leaf on a tree, Peitro lined up the six archers and set them to fire, as if they were one, the arrows were released with a twang that could be heard far away, the soft sigh of the arrows as they sped through the air was met with silence as the warriors all watched with bated breath, as one, the six arrows found their mark in the centre of the shield, a loud shout went up from the massed warriors as they saw the effects of the arrows, their respect for the young archers went up immediately, even their best spear thrower could not reach the target, let alone actually hit it, the chief also was greatly impressed.

Next came the sparring, in all fairness, Gregor asked that they have at least six warriors to contest with the two of them, the chief, having seen what the archers could do, had little problem in assigning six of the best of his young warriors to spar with Gregor and Tzuma, it was decided that the sparring would continue until first blood on each contestant, once started, it was less than three minutes before the six young warriors were showing small cuts on their arms and legs, they were not deep but just enough to draw blood, Gregor and Tzuma had no intention of hurting the young men.

There was much consoling to do for the young men once they rejoined their cabals, the fight had been fast and furious and they had stood little chance against the combined efforts of Gregor and Tzuma, the chief asked us back to the village for more feasting and talk, he was now well assured of our ability to defend ourselves, his next question was about our twenty young slaves and how we had come by them, he could easily see that they were of the Dinka and found it unusual that they would be held by us, again we told the story of the battle and how we came by the boys.

We were invited to stay with the Maasai for a week and rest until we were ready to move, it was on the night of the third day that the old medicine man came to see me as dusk fell and the rest of the boys were settling down for the nights feasting, in his halting and quivering voice, he asked why one such as I would be travelling so far from my home, I went about explaining the pull of the Thread, the old man just nodded his head as I spoke, once I was finished, the old man looked around carefully to see that we were not overheard, in a very soft voice he told me what he was thinking of.

Long ago, when his Father was also medicine man of the tribe and he was just a small boy, almost of age to go out and herd the cattle, his Father told him of a wondrous people in a valley far away in the land of the Xhosa, these were a people like no other in this land, their skin was white like ours and their hair was like the power of the sun, they stood as tall as the Maasai and their ears were of the same shape as my own, he had been told that among these were others who had magic far superior to that of the medicine men of the Maasai or any other tribe, if I was following a Thread of magic, perhaps that was where I would find my treasure.

When I asked him how far this valley was, he could not answer but said it was many, many weeks of travel to the south, it had also been many years ago that he had been told so he was not sure if it was true or just a story to frighten young boys with but he did say that his Father had been a very powerful medicine man so, there may have been some truth in the story, I thanked the old man and went to join the boys for the feast, the story running through my head as I sat and looked around.

That night, as I sat surrounded by the double ring of slave boys, my thoughts were on what I had been told by the old man, if his story was true then I knew that my intended was only weeks away and the pull of the Thread, though even stronger and more demanding than it had ever been, would soon be satisfied, my intended was now close and I began to wonder what he would look like, would he be tall like a plains Elf, or would he be dark like myself and hold the power of a mage, so much was unknown that my mind would not rest enough to let me sleep in peace, the added noises of boys making love to their partners also did not make it easy for me.

Our week with the Maasai was just what we needed before venturing off to find the end of the Thread, as a parting gift, the chief gave me a necklace of brightly coloured beads, it was made of many strings and was quite heavy to wear, he told me that other Maasai tribes would recognise it and give us safe passage through their lands, he proved to be right and our trip was made so much easier for his thoughtfulness.

Our little group of archers, swordsmen and the twenty slaves carrying our food and water along with our tent cloths and sleeping blankets, made its way forward as the pull of the Thread increased by the day, it was getting harder and harder to resist its pull, on the last day of the third week, we entered the land of the Xhosa, our journey was about to get harder and much more dangerous, the Xhosa, as we were about to find out, lived for battle and conquest and our small group looked very inviting to such a war like people, only their fear of the Maasai warriors stopped them from crossing the border into their lands and giving battle to the Maasai, even though the cattle were a temptation.

For some time we had been followed, and at night, surrounded by a strange animal, it was part dog and part something from the spirit world, its yelps and cries could be heard from dusk until dawn, these animals hunted in large packs and, I was told by Tzuma, they could be dangerous if we were separated and alone, while we stayed in a group they would keep their distance, it was our introduction to the Hyena a very underestimated animal on the wild grasslands of this continent.

It was on the second day of entering the Xhosa lands; that we came across the remains of the Xhosa need for battle and blood, the smouldering remains of the small village and the smell of blood filled the air around us as we entered the clearing after walking through a dense jungle for two days.

The ground around the burnt huts was littered with the broken bones of many men, women and children, even the smallest of babies had not been spared and the ever roaming Hyena had well feasted on the bones and flesh of the villagers, this was the result of the Xhosa demand for conquest and blood.

TO BE CONTINUED:

Artcart65@vodafone.co.nz

 

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