Chapter Fifty-One – Meral’s Story
Meral’s survival was nothing short of miraculous, dear reader. When Kalma rode away with her baby son, leaving her to the mercy of his berserker warriors, she endured days of brutal torture and rape. When they eventually tired of her and left her for dead, she managed to crawl away and hide in the cave where she had given birth to Merak. All summer long she slowly recuperated, healing her many wounds as best she could, vowing to take revenge on all berserkers for what they had done, even though she was now completely alone in a violent world.
Each day her strength returned little by little. From time to time, berserkers passed the caves on their raids against other tribes. Somehow, Meral always managed to evade them whenever they were near. She decided to put as much distance between herself and the berserkers as she could by heading west. Meral made the same dangerous ocean crossing to Kirenia on a raft of driftwood logs at the mercy of wind and tide, cheating death more than once. When she was eventually washed ashore, she was taken in by the same wizened old hag that her son had met. She spent months crossing Kirenia, always travelling at night, heading west looking for a safe haven away from the berserkers. Eventually she arrived at the western edge of Kirenia in the volcanic soiled area that had once been the island of Sicily, at the southern tip of the old Italian peninsula.
Her luck still ran against her when she was captured by female berserkers and taken to their camp on the lower slopes of the active volcano, Mount Etna. The berserker chieftainess challenged her to fight for the right to join the tribe in the arena against her champion Ivana, a powerful warrior who was friend and protector to the old matriarch. Meral had learned how to live by her wits during her journey west, and now she was about to learn another valuable lesson – swordsmanship. The arena was a circular patch of baking hot scoria surrounded by a thorn fence made from roughly intertwined briars, that slashed and tore her skin as she fought the female giant. All the female berserkers cheered their champion, baying for Meral’s blood.
While Ivana was immensely strong and athletic, Meral was younger and more agile, able to duck most of the vicious blows from the berserker’s double-edged sword. Using every ounce of her strength and cunning, Meral eventually emerged victorious after a lucky blow from her sword cut Ivana’s achilles tendon, felling the giant female berserker. Using all of her remaining strength, Meral beheaded Ivana and stood triumphantly holding the grisly trophy. The crowds of berserker women stood in stunned silence looking at their chieftainess where she sat on a platform above the fence. Meral angrily gouged out Ivana’s lifeless eyes and ate them, before she threw the severed head of the former champion at the old woman’s feet. “Thank you,” Meral sneered, staring at the old queen with sheer insanity in her coal black eyes. “I was hungry!”
The old woman’s eyes misted over at the death of her friend and protector as she cradled the eyeless head in her arms. She looked at Meral standing before her, bloodied, with her beautiful face slashed cruelly by a vicious sword cut, in the harsh heat of the summer sunlight. She said something to the warrior nearest to her and tearfully left the arena. The gate to the arena swung open and ten female berserkers entered, armed with swords and shields. Meral stood ready to die, determined to take as many of them with her as she could before her own life ended. “Put down your sword, girl. You have earned your place here today,” the senior warrior told her. They escorted her out of the arena and took her to their chieftainess. Bidding her enter, the berserker females stood guard outside the hut. Meral entered the gloom of the hut and stood in front of the old woman.
“What is your name, child?” the old woman asked, from where she sat in semi darkness on a wooden bench at the back of the hut.
“Meral, my name is Meral,” she said, as her eyes adjusted to the gloom.
The old woman got up from where she sat and came into the narrow shaft of light at the hut’s centre. “You’re not like us; what tribe are you?” she asked.
“I am the last of my tribe,” Meral lied. “My mate was murdered, and my child was taken from me months ago by berserkers on Gilgama. I was tortured, raped and left for dead by the murdering animals. I have spent nearly a year travelling west to find safe refuge, looking for somewhere to raise an army and return to kill the men who did this to me.” She sank to her knees in tears, overcome by all that had happened to her.
The old woman gently lifted her to her feet and looked deep into Meral’s insane eyes. “You shall get your chance for revenge. But first, you have to learn our ways to survive in this savage world. We all came here at various times over the years from the east, after our parents were released from the giant ship Kalki in India, before the great battle in Ur. In my case, I travelled here when I was young, after my parents were both killed in the tribal wars to the north of Kirenia. We formed ourselves into a tribe of female warriors by capturing berserker males, taking them as mates to produce children. After they have fulfilled our needs, we kill them by throwing them into the volcano. We have survived here for over fifty years. Stay with us. When the time is right child, you can take your place on one of our hunts.”
In time Meral proved herself the equal of any of the warriors in her adopted tribe, eventually becoming their queen. During the early years of her reign, she taught her warriors ways to inflict pain beyond even their own barbarous imagination, and introduced them to the taste of flesh, turning them into cannibals.
She never forgot her beloved son Merak, dreaming that one day they would be reunited. If she had known that he now stood before her in chains, things may have turned out quite differently, dear reader.
Meral looked at each of the captives, turning to the leader of the raiding party, she said, “Take them to the pit. Tomorrow we’ll begin selection.” Goran, Max, Tihke, and the rest of the captives spent the night huddled in the uncomfortable heat of a steep sided natural pit in the scoria covered lower slopes of the volcano.
Shaila’s fate was sealed when she caught Meral’s lecherous eye. From then on, she would spend her life as Meral’s lover. She was taken to Meral’s quarters where she was bathed and aromatic oils were rubbed into her skin before she was presented to the queen of the bloodthirsty female berserkers. Perfumed and dressed in figure hugging sheer fine white cotton to accentuate her female form for Meral’s lecherous eyes to feast upon. She was fitted with a studded collar that dug viciously into her neck, secured to a long chain like a household pet.
When darkness fell and the guards no longer stood around the edge of the deep pit, Max, Tihke, and Goran sat plotting their next move. “How are we going to get out of this Max,” Tihke whispered. “I don’t fancy winding up as the plaything of one of these muscle bound females, or as their next meal…Do you?” Max sat in silence.
Goran was busy trying to find a way to remove the metal collar and chain, which held each of them. “From now on when we see an opportunity, we take it,” he said.
“Yes, but we go together – right!” Tihke said. “There’s no way I’m staying here. I’d rather die in that volcano than be eaten by these monsters. I tell you one thing. Shaila will be lucky to survive. Once that murderous hag of a queen tires of her, she’s dead just like the rest of us. Whatever we do, Shaila’s part of it, agreed?” Max patted Tihke’s shoulder in silent agreement while Goran nodded as he continued to work on the collar around his neck.
Next time – Chapter Fifty-Two