Atop the wall facing the still great Palm Forest, the Champion N’Sisi stood in full battle garb with spear and shield. The cleared area before the city walls was extended farther back to increase the range Tenaree archers would have to shoot across. The open land was now studded with stumps, large chunks of felled trees and sharpened wooden palisades to make the movement of the approaching siege engines more difficult when they arrived.
She preferred to be here instead of with her troops down in the city. At the Montsho Banga’s order, brigades of soldiers and able citizens went about dousing homes and other buildings with seawater to make them saturated and difficult to set ablaze. The stench of swollen wood, palm frond rooves and soaked cowhide threatened to make N’Sisi wretch at the mere thought of it!
Volunteering to take command of the Wall Watch wasn’t just to get away from the smell of the defenses. She needed breathing room to contend with the betrayal of her Spirit-Sister and the Montsho Banga. To have seen them embrace left a hollow place between her heart and stomach that grew as that of a carcass filled with maggots!
Why did Meru do such a thing? She is betrothed to the Island Prince! Must she have everything?
The Montsho Banga is everything she ever aspired to find in a husband! When she awoke after her defeat in battle at his hands and he later took her on as an equal instead of servant which was his right, N’Sisi knew he was the man for her.
With her obsidian-bladed sword broken by him in battle, Montsho Banga made her craft a new weapon of such great power. The ‘Black Sword’ pledged that with each stroke of the hammer, she was forging a piece of her soul into the new bronze spear blade!
N’Sisi felt his power from those words flow into her and down her arm as the hammer struck. The heat of the forge, the pain in her hands, arms and ears from the continuous ringing eventually became part of her as the blade took shape. By the time sharpening and polishing of the weapon was complete, her ‘Great War Spear’ as he called it had truly become one with her for she had ‘given birth’ to it.
Always, the Black Sword was there guiding her hour by hour and day by day. He was her conqueror, her leader, her love! Yet, in a single unguarded instant, her Spirit-sister snatched him away….
The ‘theft’ was unforgiveable. There would be further evil committed when ‘Princess’ Meru left so great a man broken-hearted as she sailed from her country in great peril for the safety of the Islands married to the Prince!
N’Sisi, pushed down her feelings. Right now, her mind needed to be here atop this wall awaiting signs of the enemy’s approach. From the thick smoke rising high on the horizon, the Tenaree’s arrival would not be long a wait.
“I see you are taking the better air atop the wall Champion N’Sisi.”
The warrior felt the skin of her back and neck crawl with anger at the presence of the Tenaree turncoat, Sadiki.
“Why do you speak to me dog?”
In a proper show of respect to the Champion, Sadiki bowed his head and saluted with his hand just below the breastbone.
“As always, your direct manner is refreshing Champion. I come at the order of my master the Black Sword. He inquires as to the status of the wall and the perimeter defenses.”
N’Sisi made no effort to face the Tenaree as she pointed out over the wall.
“As you can see turncoat, the wall is strong. The woven sheets of wet seaweed have been hung as instructed to add further fire-proofing. The perimeter has been widened another fifty strides and the killing zone is strewn with debris, stakes and palisades as commanded.
There, you have your report. Now begone.”
Sadiki started to bow and take his leave, but a wicked thought came to mind as did a similar grin.
“Is all well Mazi? Your harsh honesty seems sharper than usual….”
This time N’Sisi turned to face the Montsho Banga’s Tenaree dog.
“What will be ‘harsh’ shall be you attempting to pull the shaft of my spear out of your ass with both hands as it sticks out of that damned Tenaree mouth.”
Sadiki had to admit, the new armored shirt made of small bronze plates over tough rhinocerous hide and the pattern of war-paint chosen by the Champion added to her fearsome presence. The Champion’s rebuff made his grin diminish as he bowed once more.
Sadiki knew somehow, he’d struck a nerve. Something happened between her and his master after the great meeting days ago. Whatever it was sent her out beyond the walls without orders. Upon her return with valuable news of the enemy none before had been able to gather, she seemed ‘changed’.
“Forgive me Mazi. I only wished to express my concern for one of Palm’s great champions on my master’s behalf.”
There was the sound of grinding leather beneath N’Sisi’s bronze reinforced wooden shield as her grip tightened on the handle.
“Concern yourself elsewhere or the Great Man will have to find a new dog to fetch for him.”
With that Sadiki backed away while facing her until out of striking range.
Putting the irritant out of her mind, N’Sisi started to turn from the wall only to stop to hear the call of a ship’s horn from the portside of the city. A ship had arrived!
The large cove which served as Sea City’s port seemed to overflow with boats from the Island Principality’s flotilla. Large and small blue-sailed catamarans bobbled in the cove rivaling the far smaller cream-sailed boats of Sea City. Ashore, hundreds of Sea City residents waved cream-colored cloth and cheered as the Island Prince’s boat was paddled onto the beach.
A man of medium height leaped from the boat followed by a dozen soldiers armed with spears and other weapons made of whalebone and shark teeth. Though his stature was not imposing, his physique more than compensated. Slabs of hardened muscle seemed ready to burst through his dark skin and the pearl plates covering his massive chest. Powerful legs partially covered by a white finespun cotton skirt drove him over the sand with regal precision as sharp dark eyes surveyed the presented spectacle.
Waiting atop the platform looking down the long steps leading to the beach was the Valley Knight, Minister Namba and the Champion N’Sisi. Speaking so only they could hear amidst the cacophony of cheering, Minister Namba quickly briefed those with him.
“Mind you all, that is Prince Tinochika. Of the ten sons born to the previous Prince, he is the only survivor.”
Scrutinizing the man striding towards them and his entourage of warriors, the Knight knew the answer to the question he was about to ask, but did so anyway.
“What happened to the other nine brothers Minister?”
“According to Island custom…he killed them. A considerable feat since he is the youngest of his father’s sons. It is said Tinochika rules with a ‘fist of stone’. Yet, the Islands are quite prosperous. Of course, they get a considerable amount of their profits from raiding the upper coastal lands and taking boats at sea.”
The Knight knitted his brow and put forth his next question.
“So why haven’t the Islands attacked Sea City and Palm in general? Looks like they could easily field a credible invasion force.”
The Minister, chuckled slightly at the War Chief’s ignorance of politics.
“Montsho Banga, the Nation of Palm has had a long-standing ‘non-aggression pact’ with the Islands. We trade the lumber from tall trees that makes their fleet possible. Food, gold and of course, the women of captured lands which have increased the size of their Principality and filled our coffers. With the City of Palm now in Tenaree hands, Sea City is the new capital of the country and the marriage of Ade Meru to Prince Tinochika will turn our two nations into one.”
The Valley Knight saw the logic in Minister Namba’s thinking, but the Prince who now ascended the stairs looked too much of an unknown variable. Too many times during his life, the Knight found himself amidst politicians and their machinations to take any of their plans for granted. The Knight reluctantly pushed down his suspicions for the alliance could well make the difference in the outcome of the coming battle.
Minister Namba gave a respectful bow to the Prince as the Warriors of Palm behind him saluted by slapping spears against their shields. The single action by the hundreds of soldiers present at the port gates and atop the city walls echoed loudly within the cove. Prince Tinochika surveyed the many warriors and civilians then put eyes upon the bowing minister dressed in white and blue cloth.
What immediately caught Tinochika’s eye was the one warrior who stood at attention, but did not salute. The man was not much taller than he, or much larger in physique. He was the only person present dressed in black and white cloth, part of which covered the lower half of his face. He carried no spear, but did carry a strange black painted round shield with the emblem of a golden spear with a long blade upon it. Sticking up from his back was a black bow, a brace of arrows black of both fletchings and shaft within a black leather quiver.
That the man stood with his fighting hand free and those near black eyes made the Prince’s hackles rise! Tinochika had faced many a man in combat and killed most of them. This man was dangerous on a level he could not yet ascertain. Beside him was a woman warrior of fearsome countenance as well. She wore formidable looking armor with plates of a shining brownish substance unfamiliar to the Prince. Even her spear was topped with a blade made of the same material which was neither stone nor bone!
The invasion of the Palm Nation had changed things. The people of Sea City looked to have made innovations in weaponry and armor since he’d last come ashore as a child. To the Prince’s mind, this wedding to the new Regent’s daughter may prove to be far more profitable than he dared believe.
Yet, there was something about the warrior in black and white clothing casting a shadow across Tinochika’s ambitions. The feeling was far too strong for it to be nothing. He hadn’t survived the struggle for power against nine formidable brothers by ignoring his instincts. Vigilance would be paramount as these negotiations concluded.
Ghilda watched the spectacle in the cove with interest. High atop the whitewashed adobe palace, the spacious patio made an excellent observation post. As the wife of a Chief and warrior in her own right, Ghilda and two of her shield-maidens were invited to sit with the Princess Meru and her attendants during the arrival of her betrothed. The Witch Mjarga or ‘Amoosu’ as the locals called her was at the Princess’ side.
To Ghilda’s eyes, it seemed the two young women had known each other for years as they seemed so comfortable together. According to Svengald, Mjarga impressed both the Regent and Princess with her spells. It was difficult for Ghilda to warm up to the youthful witch after knowing her as the powerful, ancient crone she would become.
In all seriousness, this whole affair had taken time for Ghilda to become accustomed. The trials at sea, the battle against savage warriors called the Tenaree and the ‘Red Spirit’ who turned one of her countrywomen against her were more events in the past few weeks, than had happened in the last ten years!
But reconnecting with her long-lost husband, being here in this rich and fascinating new land with all its perils was worth the hardships suffered. Even the approach of war could not dim Ghilda’s excitement. What did cast a shadow across her was concern for what had become of Aesirfjord. The great sea wave which took them far from the shores of home, no doubt made landfall. Ghilda did not want to guess at what devastation befell those left behind ashore.
“Why so fearsome a face Chief’s Vife?”
To hear words in her language brought comfort to Ghilda even though they were spoken by the Witch Mjarga.
“I worry about our people back in Aesirfjord…uh, ‘Old One’?”
Mjarga burst with laughter causing many of the women present to look in her direction. Covering her mouth abruptly with embarrassment, Mjarga did her best to hide her amusement.
“Chief’s Vife, right now we are in ‘strange circumstances’. As I see things, you are my ‘elder’ though I was born many, many years before you. But we both are far out of our times at this instant. The things either of us concern ourselves with back home…have not yet come to pass.”
Ghilda’s red-gold brows narrowed as she tried to comprehend the young witch’s words.
“What do you mean Old One? All that has happened to me and our people was but a few weeks ago!”
Shaking her head, Mjarga placed her elbows on the wooden railing and leaned out over the patio’s edge.
“Young One, look out over the edge and tell me what you see?”
Ghilda caught the Witch’s jest, but gingerly complied with the request.
“I see the ground far below, people and boats upon the water farther out.”
“Where are you right now Young One?”
“I don’t know what you mean. I am here, where else would I be?”
Mjarga looked back at her and smiled. With a quick movement, the young woman pointed far out over to the edge of the cove.
“True. But not long from now, you will be over there looking back towards here. Later, you’ll realize where you are then and where you ‘were’ now.”
Ghilda was now completely confused. Mjarga placed a hand on her arm and gently pulled her to the railing.
“Did you know you would be standing here against the railing a moment ago?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“What if you did? Would you have let me pull you forward? Would you have come forward on your own? Would you have just stood there?”
“I-I don’t know Old One! What does any of this mean?”
Mjarga turned around and leaned against the railing. The sun peaked through the weave of the awning covering them making a spotted pattern of light. Ghilda thought the beautiful scene of sky and sea behind the Witch made her seem more otherworldly.
“Chief’s Vife. Just as always, where you are and where you were; are two separate things connected only by ‘now and when’. Comfort yourself in knowing while you live, there is always ‘now’. Right now, we have the unique knowledge a great disaster will befall our home. You know so because you were there when it started. I now know because you are here to tell me about it. If as you imply I am still alive when this happens, I will have known about it for some time before you did.”
Ghilda felt her eyes glaze over at the Witch’s explanation.
“H-how does anything you just said make sense?”
The smile left Mjarga’s face.
“It will make perfect sense once you accept the answer. The ‘reason’ you see me as I am, are in this land and will do the things you shall is because we are in the past. Far beyond the time either of us was born. If you were to go to where we call ‘home’ at this time, you would find nothing. Not even the Vanir are a people strong enough to claim those wild lands now. They don’t exist…yet.”
The matter-of-fact look upon the young woman’s face made Ghilda’s heart skip.
“H-how? W-when? Why did this happen?”
“No doubt it was the ‘Everstorm’ that brought you here. As for ‘when’ and ‘why’? You wanted to find Svengald did you not? This is where he and all of us were meant to be. We all must play our parts in that which is to come. You know what is to come for those living when you do. But if I live then as well, do you believe I would do nothing?”
Ghilda was at a loss for words. Then, the most obvious question came to mind.
“Did Svengald know about all this?”
The smile returned to Mjarga’s face. Ghilda quickly realized it was due to the return of her paramour, the ‘water demon’ called ‘Little Fish’.
“I think it best you ask ‘The Red Chieftain’ that question…if you do so at all.”
Mjarga patted her shoulder as she happily rushed past to leap into the dark-skinned young man’s arms. With the arrival of the young man, the women of the Princess’ entourage began to lead her away. Several of the women beckoned Ghilda to come with them as bright smiles illuminated their dark faces.
She went forward to join them, but there were numerous questions roiling around in her head. Ghilda had caught Mjarga’s warning as to whether she should ask her many questions of Svengald. There was too much to think about but for now she would simply enjoy the moment….
© 2017 H. Wolfgang Porter. All Rights Reserved.