Chapter Forty-Nine – A Pleasant Reunion
Goran’s head was pounding from a splitting headache, caused when he smashed it against the gunwale during the violent storm the night before. His eyes slowly began to focus in the dimly lit confines of a small hut. As he looked about him, he saw his friends lying on driftwood-framed straw beds, moaning from their injuries. They were alone inside the thatched roof hut. He could hear the sound of the pounding surf in the distance. Tentatively, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and went to the door.
“You’re awake then! I need a hand to retrieve everything from the wreck of your boat. Be quick now, no time to waste. The tide is on the turn!” Goran stared at a wizened old hag, who was speaking to him in a strange accent. “Well, are you going to help, or are you just going to stand there feeling sorry for yourself?”
Goran and Manouf helped the old woman for the rest of the day. That night, the five friends spent most of their time back at the hut, arguing with the hag, over who owned the retrieved weapons and supplies from the pile of salvaged items in the centre of the hut. “I own anything salvaged from the wrecks on the beach; you own nothing!” the hag cried angrily, as she snatched Goran’s bow out of his hands.
Tihke seized her by her hair. She screamed in agony as he lifted her up until her feet were suspended in mid air. “Listen, old woman,” he said quietly, with a look in his eye that told her he was in no mood to argue. “We’re all very grateful that you found us and brought us here to your home, but we’re not dead. We still own our possessions; not you!”
The old hag spat at Tihke. “Curse you all; may you die alone and forgotten! And may your bones be picked over by the vultures!” Manouf tied her by her unkempt grey hair to a hook suspended from the roof, while Goran and Tihke bound her hands and feet behind her, stuffing a rag in her mouth to silence her.
The next morning after they had eaten, they departed the hut to the sounds of the old hag, still crying and cursing them after Torinn had removed her gag, and Manouf had lifted her down from her precarious perch on the hook. They were in a strange land now, with dangers at every bend of the path that they now took through high mountains. “Where are we going; does anyone know?” Shaila asked, as she stood looking down to the valley below them. In the distance, another range of mountains lay before them, shrouded in a blue haze, across the valley.
“I vote we stay here until dark, and then cross to the mountains beyond,” Manouf said, snacking on one of the retrieved pomegranates.
“Let’s get further down the path while we still have daylight. I don’t fancy feeling my way across unknown territory in the dark,” Tihke added.
“Well Shaila, does that answer your question?” Goran asked.
“It’ll have to for now. But we must decide exactly where it is we want to live, Goran. Torinn and I need somewhere we can call our own, somewhere we can make a home together,” Shaila said, as she gently stroked her lover’s flaxen haired head. As the group grew up together, Torinn and Shaila’s attitude towards each other began to take a strange twist, taking them beyond simple sisterly friendship to the close physical, relationship that now consumed them. During their teenage years, both of the beautiful young women had rebuffed the countless advances of the young males within the tribe. Shaila became a warrior in her own right, standing shoulder to shoulder with Goran, Manouf, and Tihke in the many battles they had fought. Physically, she was as strong as any of her male berserker counterparts, able to fight like a demon in defence of her family, friends, and her home. But emotionally, she was fearful of having any kind of physical relationship with her male counterparts, preferring instead the safety and tenderness she found with petite, gentle Torinn. Manouf, Goran, and Tihke looked on the pair as nothing more than loving sisters, during those early innocent years. Inevitably, trouble and gossip arose within the tribe over the relationship between the two young women as it steadily grew. The three men defended their friends’ right to happiness together, bringing the group closer and forming a tight bond of friendship between all of them for the rest of their lives.
With the encroaching darkness, they made camp at the edge of the valley floor, beside a small stream. The scent of wood smoke in the air drifted towards them from somewhere to the west. Torinn’s keen eyesight found the source when she pointed to a tiny glow about five kilometres away. After they had eaten a hasty meal, they decided to investigate. Manouf led the way as the friends silently crept across unknown territory in the inky blackness of the cloud-covered night sky.
When they were less than three hundred meters from the source of the fire, Tihke’s nose began to twitch from the smell of spit-roasted meat filling the air. Goran signalled the group to stop while he scouted ahead. In the glow of the fire, he could see a lone figure seated with his back to him, turning the spit. “Come and join me, friend,” the stranger said. “Bring your companions with you; you must be hungry.” Goran slowly advanced with the arrow of his drawn bow aimed at the broad back of what was now discerned to be a warrior. “No need for that,” laughed the stranger. “I mean you no harm. Sit, eat. What’re your names? I’m Max.”
Goran and his friends ate the meal of freshly cooked goat meat while they told Max all they knew about his two brothers, Seti and Besal, and the passing of Khan. Max had struck out by himself, after the brothers departed the Ur battlefield, following the same dangerous path they had just endured across the ocean. After a few years on his own, he found some of the survivors of Shu had migrated here to Kirenia, and he settled down with them to a peaceful existence, taking a wife and fathering two sons. “I still like to get away on my own and hunt,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “It keeps me sharp.”
Max told them about the unrest among the tribes of Kirenia. Many of the tribal leaders were planning an all-out raid on Gilgama, to take the continent for themselves. “Why would they want to do that, Max? Kirenia is a fertile land; surely there’s room enough for all to live here?” Manouf asked.
Max sighed and poked the fire as he threw more wood into the embers. “They want to leave because of the cannibal raids!” To the south west, in the area that had originally been Sicily, a tribe of cannibalistic female berserkers ruled over the land. They constantly raided the surrounding lands, terrorising the tribes as they searched for male slaves to sire female babies to perpetuate their numbers, killing all male infants and any weak females. Only the strongest were good enough to take their place in the ranks of the female berserker warriors. Over the years, their raids expanded further and further across Kirenia. In the last few months they had been sighted raiding Max’s nearest neighbours, eighty kilometres to the south west. “The next time they raid looking for males, they’ll come here,” Max said, with a look of resignation on his face. “Will you and your friends help us defend our village, Goran?”
Goran looked at his friends already nodding faces in the glow of the fire, “of course, Max, of course we will.”
Next time – Chapter Fifty