Being summoned for unknown reasons by the Newcomer and having her rest interrupted was bad enough. Having the Tenaree invader now turned servant bring the message made N’Sisi’s blood boil.
No matter what her questions as to why she’d been summoned, the Tenaree she now knew as Sadiki gave no answer other than, ‘Montsho Banga has summoned you.’ Were it not for Meru’s calming words, N’Sisi would have finished what she’d started in the forest.
Instead, she now stood in what should be a stable for goats and cattle awaiting slaughter. Gone were the animals, straw, and herders who attended them. To N’Sisi’s dismay, the stench of their dung was ever-present. Compounding the odor’s potency was the heat of a large charcoal fire within a makeshift oven made of stones piled high atop each other and held together by baked mud.
In the other half of the stable was a group of women building something out of mud and men stacking baskets of charcoal. The scene was strange to N’Sisi, yet she noted Sea City’s Champion looked on with great curiosity.
What made the scene seem more bizarre were two young men atop a scaffold using sharpened palm stakes to widen a hole made in the stable’s thatch roof. Smoke from a hole in a stack of mud on top of the improvised oven billowed black smoke that got sucked through the ceiling and had the young men coughing as they worked.
On either side of the contraption, two men stood with long hollow bamboo tubes with the ends coated in dried mud. At intervals they both blew hard into them and the charcoal fire grew brighter as flames reached outward like snake’s tongues. At the center of all this activity was the Newcomer.
“Why was I summoned? I have no interest in any of these goings on. I need to begin the task of finding a proper blackstone to hew into another spear blade to replace the one you shattered foreigner!”
All in the stable looked from their work to an obviously irritated N’Sisi and then to the black-clad warrior.
A long awkward moment passed as all waited for the Newcomer to respond. N’Sisi only saw the glow of the fires light his masked face. The warrior slowly unfolded those dark constrictor-like arms and after a beat, he signaled two women waiting at the side of the stable. They brought in a heavy pot filled with the white powder used to coat the walls of homes and decorate the skin of warriors during ceremonies.
The two men holding the tubes put them down and picked up two stone tipped ground hoes and shoved them into the oven. With difficulty, they pulled out a medium-sized pot which glowed bright orange from a flaming liquid within. The sight shocked N’Sisi momentarily and she forgot her irritation at so magical a thing!
After having dragged the heavy pot to the side of the oven, one woman dug inside and filled a smaller pot with her hands. The other woman holding the pot handed it to one of the men tending the fire. They all looked to the warrior who stood silent watching the flame-filled pot. He nodded curtly and the fire-tender poured the powder into the pot of fiery liquid. Bright green flames leaped from the pot which produced gasps from those present. Using the stone hoe to steady the pot, he carefully tilted it in a circular pattern as the green flames began to die down.
Now N’Sisi was both curious and irritated that her question had not been answered.
“Mazi, you have not answered me. What sort of witchcraft are you brewing in that pot?”
Again the warrior made no response. This time except for those involved with working the oven, all eyes were on the former Champion of Palm and the Warrior.
He gave another curt nod and the man stopped swirling the liquid and then he and his fellow pushed the pot back into to the pile of burning charcoal.
As N’Sisi’s ire moved her to make an outburst at being ignored, the Warrior turned to face her.
“Mazi N’Sisi. You are here to watch the weapon you will take into battle being born. The ‘witchcraft’ as you call it is the process of taking the weapons of your enemy and making something stronger. You need to pay attention for you will fashion your weapon once brought from the fires.”
N’Sisi blinked as she choked back her angry retort. Confused with head cocked and eyes full of suspicion, she stepped closer to the man who bested her in combat.
“Why would you make a new weapon for me Mazi? You defeated me in single combat and spared my life when I certainly would have killed you? By your right, you could command me to place the mark of the defeated upon my forehead and serve you as does that Tenaree dog at your heel. Do you plan on purchasing my forgiveness with this ‘gift’?”
Still looking her in the eye, the masked warrior gave his matter-of-fact reply as the others looked on.
“Mazi N’Sisi, make no mistake in your interpretation of our conflict. You live because the Gods and Princess Meru favor you. It was she who begged me to spare your life. You challenged me and on that field, I knew not if you were friend or foe. I realized in time…your life was not mine to take.
Now, I merely provide the means for you take revenge owed for the massacre of your King and people. You will forge this new weapon, breathe life into it and thus become bonded body and soul.”
Once more, N’Sisi was forced to choke back a negative response. The level of respect and honor the Newcomer was showing her was something she had not expected. Her skin became flushed and she suddenly found it difficult to hold his eyes with hers. He then handed her a wooden mud-scoring tool used by brick makers.
“Take this. You and Mazi M’Bezi must get a large water pot, a long and flat granite stone, a heavy stone hammer and a sheet of the toughest hide you can find then bring them all here. Have the brickmakers fashion brick molds with semi-cured mud in them for each of you. Gather these things together quickly and bring them here. You will need them to fashion your weapons.”
Both warriors looked to each other and then acknowledged the Newcomer by the name the Tenaree called him.
“As you command, Mazi Montsho Banga!”
When the pair ran for the exit, N’Sisi noticed the Tenaree was with them.
“What are you doing invader?”
With a smile Sadiki replied, “I follow the Montsho Banga’s command as do you. He has pledged I create a mighty weapon as well!”
M’Bezi’s frown was quite noticeable as he continued forward to complete the task set before him.
N’Sisi was livid, but realized arguing about it would do no good at the moment. At an appropriate time, she would get the turncoat out of her path. She then remembered there was something the invader said caught attention.
“Why do you call the newcomer, ‘The Montsho Banga’? Is that not his name?”
Working hard to keep pace with the pair of champions, Sadiki laughed with a sharp bark.
“Ha! I don’t know the newcomer’s name. I called him Montsho Banga because of the wicked ‘black sword’ he slaughtered my fellows with!”
N’Sisi shielded her eyes as they left the shade of the stable. The midday sun was at full strength and its power seemed to drain away her hatred for the moment. She too faced that ‘Black Sword’ and fell to its touch though its wielder allowed her head to remain in place. ‘The Black Sword’ was a suitable name for the newcomer. She would see if his witchcraft for making weapons was strong as his fighting skills.
The smoke within the stable slowly dissipated through both the hole in the roof and through the efforts of two young men using large palm fronds to fan it out the stable doors. The smoke which remained gave the space an eerie look as it drifted about the people working about the improvised forge.
A young boy carried a pot of water over to the Valley Knight and set it at his feet. Using a hollowed out gourd to dip a sizable drink, the boy stood up and took a deep drink. The Knight thought the boy quite bold and then realized he was covered in what looked to be stripes of gray and black ash.
“Whoo, can’t tell whether it’s hotter outside or in here Caretaker!”
The Knight’s eyes narrowed and his voice became a deep-throated growl.
Smiling with a flash of razor sharp teeth, the God and Second Husband of the Priestess handed the Knight the gourd full of water.
“You are getting quicker Caretaker. I see you got my message and spared that lovely killing machine. You got all soft when her friend went weepy to keep you from killing her. I wonder why that is?”
“You know why…‘Owner’.”
Aggravated by the presence of the completely untrustworthy god, the Knight forced himself to remain calm and not make a scene. He couldn’t be certain if the others working in the new forge could see his visitor or not. Without any recourse, the Knight took the gourd and his chances by drinking deeply.
Again the god laughed.
“Heh. It always amuses me to see you concerned I’ll poison you. I told you, that’s not my thing.”
The Knight was suddenly embarrassed at being so easily read by his rival-in-love.
“Sorry. I’ve found it safer not to fully place my trust in someone who tricked and killed me before.”
The boy rolled his big brown eyes in exasperation and when they came down, bright red light illuminated them.
“I swear, pull a prank and mistakenly kill a man one time and he’ll never let you live it down!
Well, at least you took to heart what I said during our last meeting. Looks like you’ve given two ‘enemies’ the benefit of the doubt. Just so you know, one of them is still your enemy and you shall be the reason why.”
The god’s statement made the Knight’s ears prick up.
“Who is still my enemy?”
Qatula looked at the Knight like he was a fool.
“You know the rules Caretaker. Besides, you’ve got a much bigger problem. Those grubby sand fuckers outside the walls and especially their leader are who you need to be concerned with. Never forget why you are here and what you must do. Given the chance, these fucking sand fleas would kill our wife and lay waste to the Valley Realm. All with no more thought than a mosquito has when stealing your blood!”
“I remember why I’m here Qatula. One question, where are Little Fish and Chief Svengald? Little Fish opened the way for me to come here. Did he follow behind me?”
“Yeah, that’s two questions Caretaker. Don’t worry. They are where and when they are supposed to be…as are you. You’ll see them when you need to and not before.
Keep your mind on what you do here and now. There’s much to accomplish and ferret out, but you don't have time to do it all. I will say this; get those three shit birds you’re giving weapons that should not exist yet on the same horse. They can’t comprehend half the things you already know coming into this.”
The Knight had a brief look of uncertainty cross his face and the god admonished him.
“You need to get all these people up to fucking speed Caretaker! What the Tenaree have done so far is nothing. In order to save our wife and the Valley Realm, you will have to make some brutal choices and these people need to be ready for what’s coming!
Oh, and don’t get any ideas about that cute princess or the killing machine with the fine big butt! No good will come from it….”
Fire from the forge burst forth with bright green sparks and flames startling everyone including the Knight. When he looked back towards the god, only the wispy shape of a boy quickly dissolved into the swirls of existing smoke.
The Valley Knight saw no one seemed to notice the boy had been there or disappeared. In his hand though was the gourd with a remnant of the water he drank and at his feet was a heavy pot of water no boy should have been able to lift! On a whim, he finished the gourd and poured the pot of water into the larger pot the trio of warriors had been sent to fetch.
His mask was down from taking a drink and he saw them staring at him.
“I believe…the remainder of fresh water required to fill this pot will not fetch itself….”
The two men snapped out of their spell and quickly ran off to comply. The Knight noticed the warrior N’Sisi took a beat longer to do so. As she reached the stable doors, she turned to briefly look at him then took off after the others.
Just after Palm’s Champion disappeared from view, the Valley Knight’s eye caught sight of the Princess Meru dart behind the stable door’s edge with a swirl of the bright blue sari she wore following behind her.
© 2016 H. Wolfgang Porter. All Rights Reserved.