Oden welcomed me with a rather inimical face; Mother too noticed some change in me.
“Some scouts were found dead today, Buga! Four scouts, and not a trace or smell of any Redican to be found around them,” Oden said.
‘Well, we should step up our guards, I guess. The Redicans don’t seems to be taking things lightly … latterly, Brother,’ I retorted.
“Their tools are not like ours, oh Brother. Let’s not forget, they hunt to ensnare and enslave, they do not hunt to kill or eat,” Oden said as he stared at me, “Unless … someone from our land killed them over something they saw or found out, I am just saying.” Oden added.
I hung my sword on the wall and walked toward Oden, looking straight into his eyes.
“What if the chief is behind this? I mean, he is the only Purican with power enough to kill anyone and get away with it. We have all seen and heard the stories. This is a Purican who strangled his own mother and offered her to the gods when he was a youngling just so he’d become great and closer to the gods. I wonder if such a Purican would be remorseful killing his own son, or a few guards for that matter,” he said.
I did not understand where Oden’s mind was directing him. He was impudent. Mother always addressed him as the wise one and from the look in his eyes, I had a feeling he knew more than what he was saying.
“Has Mother told you the chief came looking for you not long before you arrived?” asked Oden.
I replied to him in the negative. Mother then told me that it was true and asked me to go to the palace. I took my sword down from the wall and as I was about to leave, Oden came to me.
“Don’t you think you should wash yourself first, brother? You look like someone who has fought with a beast. You don’t want to appear before the chief like that, even though he is a filthy bastard. Do not forget … your two biggest admirers are close at hand!” He mocked.
I turned to Mother and she nodded in agreement, so I washed my body first before leaving. I sensed something was wrong. Oden knew more than he expressed, obviously.
When I arrived at the palace, the chief did not waste any time. He sat me down and told me he wanted to attack the Redicans immediately.
“They are making me appear weak before the Puricans, so the game needs to change,” he said, “I know you’re not bothered much about governing, I understand that. But I will need you to do this great task for me. You’re the only one I can count on, Buga”
The chief spoke to me calmly, saying that he wanted me to lead the invasion on the Redicans. The chief told me that he was tired of their small, ignominious attacks on his image and he was becoming impatient. He had made up his mind and wanted us to attack them by nightfall the next day, and so we must leave by the following morning. I listened to his request and uttered no word. He then asked if there was any problem giving me half of the able Puricans to lead against the Redicans, and I told him everything was perfect. He walked to me and held my face in his hands.
“I know this comes so sudden but you are one Purican I’ve never doubted, my young warrior. One day, this throne will be yours, I tell you. It was created for great Puricans like you and I. Bring me the head of their leader in a bag,” he said, looking straight into my eyes.
The pungent smell from his mouth assaulted my senses as he gave a big smile. I smiled back.
‘As you wish, my chief!’ I replied.
Before we set out for the attack, we had to attend a ceremony. Usually before any war or battle, it was the duty of every Purican to attend this ceremony; six nights before any battle or war, our Chief would sit naked at midnight when all the Puricans were assembled in front of the palace. The chief would walk out from his palace and stand bare in the presence of all his subjects, then six of the elders would carry three vessels each filled with human blood and walked to the chief as they chanted the ancient words which only the elders knew. They would stand in a circle around the chief and pour the blood from these vessels on him, enchanting and calling upon the Purican gods.
Rumour had it that any chief who did not perform this ritual would run mad while on the throne and be dethroned by the very foe he waged war upon, so all the chiefs made sure it was readily observed.
We were also taught that the chief was the representative of the gods in this realm and therefore, all Puricans must feed on the humans and drink their blood in order to maintain our position in the realms and in the eyes of the dark lord, whom our elders so much revered.
Ever since I was a youngling I always thought it was a waste of time to attend the ceremony. We used to laugh after the ceremony, as every young Purican described how the chief’s body appeared when seen bare.
The chief ordered that the ceremony be hastened and so it took place the night before we set up for the attack on the Redicans. I had never taken any rites or ceremonies seriously. I had laughed at the oracle and had eaten food in the temple of the gods when I was a youngling. I was the only Purican who never feared the wrath of the gods as claimed by the temple keepers.
I could not remember ever going to the temple to pray or offer any sacrifice. I had hated my life before I met the human woman; it had been purely about fighting, wars and killings, there was no light inside of me. I was just there like the walls, strong but dead inside.
I used to ask Mother why they never performed the rituals during the day.
“Darkness cannot stand before the light.” she would say.
Until now, I had no idea what Mother meant. I had challenged Mother once about the temples and form of worship the Puricans preferred.
“A Purican cannot question nor deny his old ways even if he finds himself dining with serpents, but it is his responsibility to redirect his heart towards the light,” she responded.
The Redicans were closer in resemblance to the humans; their only difference was in size. We were even told that the human ancestors and the Redican ancestors shared the same spirit, whatever that meant.
Maybe that explained why they never killed the humans, but only enslaved them and used them to build their great walls and civilisation. It was even said that some Redican younglings performed such abominations with some humans and mated with them. We were not sure if it happened, but like Mother always said, “There is never lightning without thunder, and if you do not hear the sound it’s probably because you are far from where it strikes!”
The difference between the Redican race and we Puricans was in the hair colour and skin texture; the Redicans had long thin braids of hair radiating from the scalp, unlike the Puricans who kept short rough hair. They were mostly taller and lighter skinned than us but we were broader in chest span which made us fearful and intimidating. However, I was different; I was as tall as the Redicans, with a broader chest and stronger arms. My sword was longer and heavier than the ones regular Purican warlords carried around.
The chief had no doubt that I was the only Purican for the task; to lead the attack and bring the end to the era of the Redican kingdom and entire race if necessary.
After the ceremony was observed, we gathered at the palace and waited for the chief that night. He came forth and told us to go and prepare.
“My beautiful daughters await your return, my young warrior, and I shall give thee a special ceremony,” the chief said, as I made my way out of the palace.
If only he knew I would rather be killed in battle than have his daughters as my mates.
We would journey half the day to get to the Redican land and another half day to get back. How long it would take to study their lands and scout through in order to launch the attack I did not know, but it was clear that we might be gone for a long time. The only problem was I did not want to waste any time, I wanted to get back and visit the human woman.
I had to make sure that she and the little human were safe in my absence and that they had enough food to survive until my return. I could not trust Oden or even Mother with them, so I kept it to myself and never told anyone.
I told Mother I needed more fruits and some garments to go prepare for the battle. I lied to her that I needed to go pray with some Purican warriors in the forest. She did not question me, so she packed enough food and gave me even more than I asked. Oden himself heard about the preparation for the attack on the Redicans and badly wanted to go too but Mother refused. He got mad and excused himself.
“Is there anything I should know, dear son?” Mother asked.
I smiled and kissed her gently on the forehead, packed the items and walked away.
It didn’t take me long to get to the underwater cave. I had to explain to the human woman that it may take me days before she would see me next. Luckily for me, she understood. I broke the sword which Oden had given me into two and handed the other half to her along with another smaller one that was light enough to be carried around.
I promised the human woman I would help her locate a safer place when I returned and she smiled happily. She allowed me to carry the little human again and hold it for a while. It was asleep so I made sure I did not wake it up. I stared at it for some time. It looked so cute, and I wondered why my kind never got to see the beauty in the humans and the way being around them warmed the heart. I was always happy around them and they made me smile a lot.
I took my time and made fire to warm the cave for them. The human woman prepared some cooked meal and served me. I tasted it and it was sweet. I asked that she teach me how to prepare it, so that I could go tell Mother how to make it. Of course, I would not let her know about my little secret.
The human woman explained to me that when I came back she would teach me a lot of things. She then stood up and placed her hand on her chest and uttered a word, she then pointed at the little human and said another word. She made a gesture asking me to repeat after her, which I did in the best way I could.
“Anna!” she said, then looked at me and asked me to repeat what she said.
‘Hannah,’ was my reply.
She laughed hysterically and placed her hand on her chest again, “Anna!” she said.
I opened my mouth and pronounced it just like she did. She was impressed and happily pointed at the little human and said, “Baby!”
I was so excited that I just said, ‘Baby!’
The whole experience was fun for me, so I touched my chest too and said, ‘Buga!’
It wasn’t hard for her to pronounce it the first time. She was so happy, but at times her smiles would melt and she would sigh heavily as though her mind were somewhere else.
Anna sat next to me and after a while she tried to explain something; she picked up some stones and placed them in front of me and then fetched some water in her hands and poured it on the stones. The water washed away the stones but I still did not understand her. She then asked me to come close to the pool which I did. She ran and picked up one vessel and floated it on the water then picked up those same stones and laid them on the ground next to the pool. She picked up three stones and put them in the vessel. When she pushed it away, it sailed. She then fetched more water and poured it on the remaining stones on the ground in front of me. She continued to do that until the stones got washed away and sank into the pool.
I guessed she wanted me to create a boat for the three of us to escape, but when I explained to her if that was what she wanted she shouted, “No!” angrily.
We did not understand each other very well over that issue and she was getting mad at me. Anna explained that she could not stay in the cave forever; she needed to go away or water would fill in the underwater cave and kill her and Baby. I then explained to her that it was impossible for water to fall from the roof, because the underwater cave was safe under all conditions and seasons, but Anna looked at me like someone who had no idea what she meant.
After eating together we all fell asleep, and I dreamt again. In my dream I saw myself on top of a big ship with a huge black bird hovering above me. It descended with great speed and attacked me, and while trying to run from it, I fell into the ocean and drowned.
I opened my eyes quickly and looked around, rolling my eyes from side to side. As I made an attempt to get up, I realised that Anna was lying on one side of my chest with Baby on the other. They were both peacefully asleep, so I smiled and went back to sleep.
I had a good rest that night, sweeter than all the good sleeps I’ve had combined. When we woke up, I handed Baby back to Anna and when I was about to leave, Anna asked if she could hold me. I agreed without any waste of time and she hugged me. It felt warm even though she was little and I became more passionate toward her. Her head was around my navel while she stood. I looked down at her and gazed into her beautiful eyes and also understood that my size at that time did not intimidate her. She took my hand and buried her head in it. I had to leave, so I pushed her off me gently and walked to the pool, turned and looked at her and she smiled at me. She then uttered the word “Anna!” and tapped her chest.
I repeated the same word in question and pointed at my chest too, she laughed and nodded, mentioned the same word again and touched her chest then turned to me and asked me who I was.
I laughed, “Buga!” I responded, keeping my head up with such great pride.
“Anna,” she said again pointing at herself. “Buga!” she added pointing at me.
I nodded like a fool and we both laughed. Baby started making some noise and as she turned to go to it, I saw someone swimming under the pool coming towards me. I drew my sword and took a step back. I warned Anna to keep quiet. I could tell that the one coming could see me but he kept coming anyway, so I raised my sword ready to attack and as the head of the encroacher came up above the water, I saw Oden.
Oden looked at me and lifted his hand so that I could help him up. I then moved back. He looked around and saw Anna and Baby. Oden quickly pulled out his sword to attack them but I blocked him. He stared at me as though calculating on how to get around me to the humans, but I stood between them and made sure he had no choice but to stand down.
“You fool, you harboured … humans? You are such a fool. The chief must hear this,” he protested.
Oden called me a traitor, then he raised his sword once more, but I snatched it and pushed him to the ground. He stood up and quickly dived into the pool and without thinking twice, I dived in and chased after him.
As soon as Oden got out of the water on the other side, he started running toward the mountains. He did not want to wait nor hear anything I had to say. I chased after him but he was faster, so I took a short cut up the mountains and blocked Oden on the road.
I tried to explain to him but the look in his eyes told me that there was no way of stopping him from exposing my acts. Oden pulled out a dagger and attacked me with it, cutting me on the hand. I dropped my sword on the ground and tried to get into terms with Oden but he was not willing to be reasoned with. I followed him around and tried to explain things to him.
I had already moved from where my sword was and went down on my knees, begging him to understand. Oden’s foot was close to my sword. He then picked it and faced me.
“You are such a fool. How did you think the chief’s son found out about the little human you were carrying during the last hunt?” said Oden.
I could not believe that he had known it all along.
“Not only did you kill the chief’s son, you hid these humans and have been feeding them? You are not a Purican warrior, Buga, you are a Purican disgrace!” he said as he charged towards me.
I dodged his first strike and fell to the ground. He was able to cut me on the side of the stomach but it was not deep. Oden stumbled and fell. I ran to the edge of the cliff to save him and he was right there, holding a small root from one of the nearby trees that had weaved its way through the rocks. I tried to reach out to Oden, but instead of giving me his hand, he made several attempts to strike me with my own sword. The root snapped and he fell off the cliff.
I watched my brother fall, screaming my name and holding my sword. Crying and filled with rage at the same time, I got up and ran home quickly.
As soon as I got back, I saw that the chief and his guards were at my house. I dared not say a word about what happened and used my left hand to cover the small cut in my stomach which Oden had given me. I went to my room, dug out another sword from underneath my bed, then went along with the chief to his palace.
There was no time to waste. The chief said very little, leaving it up to me. All the warriors were well equipped for the battle. More than a thousand armed Puricans were placed under my command. We then set out on foot for the land of the Redicans.