I've finally sat down and started to write. Would love to know what somebody else thinks of my effort. :littlethi Sorry if it is a bit long. The heat radiates depressingly of the dry grass between the scorching boulders. Even the incessant singing of the cicadas has wilted under the two blazing orbs in the sky. Sariandra carefully positions herself between two of the boulders before slowly raising her head above the skyline. They are here. Nothing is quite as inexplicable as the feelings generated by those who have given themselves to Gemka. In appearance they differ little from the woman studying them from the ridge, unless you are close enough to look into their eyes. In those blood red orbs you can see nothing but emptiness. The absence of feeling is enough to make you reel back, enough to make you want to feel pain, to feel anything as long as you feel. Of course if you are close enough to look into their eyes more than likely they will soon give you more pain than you could ever have imagined. 1 The wizened old man turns slowly to look at his charge. The ache in his bones making even this small movement a test of his will. Oh, to be so young again. Too look at the world with all it’s opportunities with eyes untamed by time. He shuffles to a chair and slowly lowers himself into it. “You want to leave.” The old man makes this statement without turning his head. “Yes. It is time.” The sounds coming from the old man cause a moment of concern before it’s identified as laughter. “Time, what do you know about time?” For a moment both of them contemplate their own thoughts in silence. “I suppose in a way you are right. Change is in the wind and it calls to you, the same way it once called to me. So what is it you want from an old man?” He turns to look at the youngling, eyes bright as his own had been when he left in search of his own destiny, ages past. In front of him stands the boy he brought into his home a mere ten years ago, wet and bedraggled yet proud. Also standing there is the man he has become, tall, broad of shoulder and still proud. The handsome young face splits into a wide grin. “A blessing, of course.” His eyes hold the only hint of his self doubt, a cloud that shows his true need – approval. “Ahh! Well, come, bend your knee.” The young man kneels in front of the old and still towers over him. His head bows while his curved shoulders show all his respect and love. Jasco lays his right hand on the dark hair and his left on the strong, wide shoulder. “Go with honour. Never act without thinking. Never think without feeling. Never feel without holding to hope.” A moment they stay thus, frail old arms pinning the strong young man to the ground. Then the young man rises to his full height and squares his shoulders. “Thank you.” Again it is his eyes that give the whole message, showing all the emotion that no self respecting man would ever express in words. I’m sorry, I’m exited, I will make you proud and I love you. A long time later a woman enters the room. She moves over too the window, intending to draw the heavy drapes. “No Catalina, leave them. Tonight I want to see the stars come out.” She moves over to the old man and seats herself on the chair next to him. “Then I will keep watch with you.” They sit in the slowly darkening room and watch as the sky’s colour drain out of it. With the dark comes a chill that causes the woman to draw a soft quilt over the old man’s knees. As the first stars blink into being, she turns to regard the man next to her. “At least you will have the peace and quiet you have been begging for, for the last ten years.” The old man turns his head and smiles ruefully. “Catalina, I’m afraid there will be too much quiet and no peace until he returns.” She returns his smile, gets up and moves towards the door. As she reaches it she turns. “Aye, but he will return.” With that she leaves the room and closes the door softly behind her. The old man sits and watches the stars as they carve their map across the velvet sky. “I will pray that he does. And hope.” “We will reach the city by moonrise.” The two men standing on the bow of the ship both glance at the darkened sky where only a steak of violet indicates where Banta, the second eye of god, has gone into hiding. They both turn towards the lit door that serves as entry to the bowels of the ship. As they walk they are constantly looking around, every small sound or movement searched out, identified and then ignored. Their shoulders are stiff and their hands never stray far from their weapons. Inside their quarters they seat themselves around the table, one watches the door while the other faces the window. In-between the watching they study each other’s faces, noting the changes that have imprinted themselves there. The widened eyes, red-rimmed and blood shot. The skin around the eyes is tight and the lips thin. The whole face is pale and bloodless. “Are you sure he will help?” The man who breaks the silence does not look like he should be wearing the mask of fear that has become his constant companion. “Will he help? That is a certainty. I just hope he can.” The second man also has the appearance of one who has little to fear in the world, but now he knows it as his constant companion. “If anybody will know what to do it is Jasco, but he is old and frail and I have not heard from him since before the winter.” Both men contemplate this as the boat dips and sways them closer to the current goal, Terestiun, Pearl of the Eastern Trading Kompanje. 2 There are no children amongst the Gemka. You can’t join until your majority and if they have any of their own, nobody has ever seen them. Sariandra runs her eyes over their camp again, taking care not to look directly at any of the individuals. There are twenty warriors, two shamans, six carriers and a lot of the carrying birds, the Tarkie. She nervously starts to bounce her weight from one leg to the other, and almost in the same instant freezes, aborting the movement. “Silly girl, why are you so uneasy around the old enemy? Surely you have controlled your fear of them a long time ago?” She examines her surroundings, looking for the cause of her unease. It’s their behaviour. She has never seen them in their own camp and they are behaving oddly. The only sounds are the hisses coming from the animals. There is no talking, no laughing in fact, no camaraderie at all. Mentally comparing it to her camp two hours run away this camp looks like it is filled with the risen dead. She watches from the corner of her eye as a woman struggles to place a heavy cooking pot onto the fire. The Gemka around her watches passively, but carries on with their tasks, nobody moves to help her. It’s time to go. The girl slowly lowers her head behind the boulders, pressing her lithe body down to the dust and dry grass. She holds still for a moment then eases around to regard the ground in front of her. Bunta and Serun are still above the horizon, and there is enough light too easily see her path. Slowly she moves down the slope, carefully placing her feet to avoid stepping on dry grass or a loose stone. As she reaches the bottom she finds Gero waiting with her spear and the Mayanti carcass. She signals him to stay quiet and pick up their kill. As he moves off she looks for any sign that may betray their presence; scuffs up some tracks, cover some blood spots, then follows. “We have to run Gero, their Gemka” The young man falters as his face goes pale. He is barely into his majority and has been accompanying Sariandra on the hunt since he joined the tribe. He will soon be a fine hunter. As they pickup speed and fall into the evenly paced lope characteristic of their people, she once again reflects on how well their society works. There are six clans, each with its own abilities and strengths. Her own, the Marahandra are the hunters, they travel the plains to bring meat to their people. Upon the night of naming Gero chose this tribe and thus received his name: Gerhanter Mentyhe. Ger for his child’s name Gero and han to signify his new clan. He was born in the dream caves to the west, with the clan of shamans, the Mentyhe, but obviously he belongs here. Each goya, travelling group, is made up of all six clans and works together to insure the prosperity of their people, the Gerenti. As a child Sariandra had considered joining the Mentyhe but during her spirit walk she realised that she was a child of the hunt. She would not be happy in the caves or with the largely sedentary lifestyle of the Mentyhe. And so, she came to the Marahandra and has been happy for the past four years. As the two runners round a hill they spot the smoke rising from their temporary home and unconsciously both speed up even more. Closer to the camp of hide tents they start to hear the sounds native to their people, laughing children, scolding mothers, boasting men and flirting girls. For once this sound makes their blood run cold. By the time they reach the central fire half the camp suspect something. When they sit down, out of breath, it is confirmed, hunters are never out of breath. Mothers start to look for their children, Kuriken, warriors, gather their weapons and the leaders gather, awaiting the news. Finally Sariandra squeezes the words from her gasping lungs; “Gemka.” The people around her are suddenly as eerily quiet as the Gemka camp. “They are two hours run to the south-west. It’s a skimming group on Tarkies, they have twenty warriors, two shamans and six carriers. They were setting up camp and it looked as if they were settling in for the night.” As the she speaks, the quiet people begin with their preparation. Children are dressed and fed, fires put out, belongings packed away and the carcass they brought salted and stored. The Kuriken leader sends out scouts while the rest of the goya council contemplates their options. An old shaman, with the blue headband of the Mentyhe, is the first to speak. “Will we run, hide or fight?” He looks at the Kuriken leader, Kuriyana, a strong woman in her late twenties and now, by default, leader of the goya council. She in turn looks at the older man to her right, “Maratam, is there anywhere to hide, or at least a more defensible position?” Her sharp eyes show no fear, only cool calculation. The Marahandra leader closes his eyes as he reviews his memory of the area. When his eyes open they are drawn and seem almost yellow in the light cast by the two setting suns. “No. Between here and the steam pools of the Dontenko is only open plain. The settlement is two days run away, and in any other direction but south-west it is open plain for four days run.” Quietly the council absorbs this news. The old Mentyhe speaks again, breaking the tense silence, “So Kuriyana, fight or run?” “It will have to be the choice of the goya.” These seemingly innocuous words, quietly spoken roll over the assembled council like a death sentence, a choice by the entire goya means there will be fighting, either way. “I will call the gathering.” Serun is dipping below the horizon, colouring the heavens a bright crimson. The light seems to deepen the apprehension that hangs over the gathering of the goya like a shroud. There is still plenty of light and all can see Kuriyana as she stands before them, straight and unflinching. Strong. A child starts to whimper, but is quieted by an anxious mother. Silence. Then the standing woman starts to speak. Her tone is even and her demeanour one of confidence and determination. Nobody interrupts her as she explains the choice in front of them. “A Gemka skimming group are two hours to the south-west. They have twenty warriors, we have ten Kuriken. We can run, but they have Tarkies. We all know the effectiveness of hiding from them on the open plain. While I know the Kuriken can take the warriors that will leave the rest of the goya vulnerable to the carriers and the two shamans. I do not think they know we are here. That can be to our advantage in two ways. First, it gives us the element of surprise if we should decide to attack their camp tonight. Second, it gives us the opportunity to make all haste towards the east, with some luck they may never even cross our trail. If we decide to run, it will have to be to the east, to the steam pools of the Dontenko. There is always a large contingent of Kuriken guarding the crafters and we may even run into patrol by the river Kiko. The drawbacks of running are that if the Gemka find us we will be tired and the goya may be strung out or surrounded, also we run with children and possessions. Drawbacks of attacking are as follow: whether we fail or succeed there will be heavy losses amongst the Kuriken, if we succeed that will leave the goya without protection, if we fail, all will die. The third choice is splitting up. The Kuriken attack while the rest of the goya splits into two groups and run. That leaves the goya unprotected but even if we fail one of the groups have a better than average chance of survival. The choice is the goya’s.” In silence the goya reflect upon its choices. Serun has sunk beneath the horizon and the sky seems to be covered in blood. Slowly discussion starts and several suggestions are made to all the options. Bury our goods, if we live we can return for them, if we die, what does it matter? Maybe we should run, but the Kuriken should not attack until the Gemka are a direct threat. Why not three groups? The Marahandra can help defend the goya and also disguise our tracks. As Bunta approaches the horizon Kuriyana again takes the stage. “Whatever we decide, we decide now, our time is running short. All tribe members have the right to vote, exercise that right by standing. The majority rules and we all serve for the survival of the tribe. Natye Donteko, please call the question.” As the old Mentyhe seats himself in front of the goya the rest of them follow suit. All look at the ground as the first question wavers through the air. “We stand and fight.” Sariandra hears a rustle as some of the goya rise to their feet. Her heart beats faster while her gaze stays riveted on the toes of her moccasins. “We run together.” The young woman struggles to regulate her breathing as she listens to some of her people casting their votes. “We run in two groups.” She carefully climb to her feet, counting a slow five while the vote is tallied, then sinks back to the ground. “We run while the Kuriken fight.” She hears almost no sounds at this question; nobody wants to be caught on the open plain without the protection of the Kuriken. She raises her head as the old shaman calls the close of the count. “It is decided. We run. We will divide into two groups of equal size lead by five Kuriken each. Each clan will divide in half and lots will decide with which group each family travels. All possessions except food and weapons will be buried; we leave as soon as we are ready. Make your preparations and report to the council. May the wind follow our footsteps and hide them from the enemy.” The old man turns and makes for his own tent where he starts to gather his herbs and powders. The rest of the goya rushes after him. Now that the decision has been made there is no more discussion, only fast and careful action. Sariandra heads for the tent she shares with the rest of the unwed Marahandra. She quickly gathers her things and organises to have the remnants buried with those of the others. With their blessing she hurries off the help the old Mentyhe for he is alone. He gives her a sad smile as she starts to strike his tent, but makes no comment. They are joined by one of the young sons of the Donteko and between them they quickly gather up the last of the old man’s belongings. Everything is wrapped in the ground cover and moved to a grassy slope. They carefully cut squares in the hard turf and remove the grass, roots and all. The ground underneath is hollowed out and carefully gathered on a hide. The bundle is placed in the hole and the surface evened out with dirt. The grassy squares are then replaced and the excess dirt taken back to the camp where it is used to cover the scars made by fire, tent pens and human occupation. When they finish there is almost no indication that anybody has stopped here in many weeks. They move off to where the goya is slowly gathering and splitting into two groups. The boy makes his way towards his family. Sariandra hangs back, she has no family in this goya and she will fall into the group that shorts Marahandra. As she checks her pack and weapons she examines her heart and finds little fear there. This is not the first time she has run from the Gemka. Finally her lot casts her with the group that will travel due East. It is a shorter distance, but they are more likely to be followed by the Gemka. Also in her group are Kuriyana and Natye, she feels this is an auspicious sign. As they set out the skies’ colour has bled out leaving only a line of purple where Bunta has hid his face. They move in a close group, herding the little ones in the middle surrounded by their Kuriken guards. There is almost no sound as they start running. The children will only be able to maintain the pace so long, but the longer they run the more energy is spared by the adults who will carry them. For a short time they can see the other group moving away from them at a slight angle. Then they too are swallowed by the darkened sky.