In the Lair of the Bloody Handed
Part Ten – Home
The gathering in the early light of the following morning was a sombre affair. Traces of mist wove about them, yet to be burned away by the rising sun. Nhaqosa, Abasan, Niati and Lakach carried their kit, ready to depart. Katako and the others who were staying behind had gathered to bid their farewells, and not a few of the villagers attended as well, led by Tolvir.
“This is the last time that we shall meet, I do not doubt,” Nhaqosa told his companions. “If you remain here you will not be able to follow me, nor I return to you.”
Katako nodded gravely. “We understand that Kwaza. Do not think of this as us abandoning you. You taught us well during our journey together and we feel that this is the right thing to do.”
Nhaqosa clasped Katako on the shoulder. “I do not doubt your motives nor your heart. Take care of them Katako.”
“I will, Kwaza.”
Nhaqosa looked over then all, slowly, fixing their appearance in his mind. “My friends,” he said, “My brothers and sisters, we have been through much together, suffered and fought and lost companions along the way. You are free now, free to make your own lives in peace and security, free to raise families. Never forget though how precious was that freedom bought, nor how quickly it can be lost. Remain vigilant to protect it, yet never deny freedom to others. There is one more thing I have for you, before I depart.”
He pulled out a pouch he carried, and from it took a simple stone carving of a wolf. He handed it to Katako before moving among the others, giving one to each of them.
“I carried these against the day that you might die, to lay them upon your graves so that you would have a companion to guide you home. You are home now, but I would have you carry them with you now, to remember us in your hearts.”
Katako gripped the carving tight. “You will be with us always, Kwaza,” he replied. The hard man’s eyes began to water as he spoke and he swallowed hard.
Nhaqosa nodded slowly, his tail slashing through the air behind him. “Farewell, my friends. May it be that we shall meet again, if not in this life then in the next.”
Deep in the wilds of the forest, far from any signs of inhabitants, Nhaqosa and the three with him came across an open glade. A dozen metres across, nothing grew in it but thick grass, while a few moss covered boulders were dotted around it. Where most of their journey had been made beneath the canopy of trees, the glade remained open, with bright sunlight drenching it.
The trees that ringed the glade had all been decorated by many hands, with tokens and totems made of feathers, bone, fur, stone, vines and more. Into the bark of the trees had been carved faces and other images, of birds and animals and signs untranslatable.
“This is the place,” Nhaqosa announced, standing on the edge of the glade and looking in.
“And beyond?” Lakach asked.
“The unknown.” Nhaqosa swung his maul up onto his shoulder, tossed his head back and stepped forward. A chill shimmer caught him, and everything seemed to slow, to stretch out into a great expanse of cold light. It seemed to last but a moment, and an eternity.
Then the world came snapping back into focus, and where once had been steaming forests now stretched out hill country, a place of small tarns and heather, of trickling flows of water and wild flowers. A fine drizzle misted across rocky outcrops that thrust up from the ground.
One by one the other three emerged behind him.
“Where are we, Kwaza?” Niati asked as the three turned around, peering across the mist shrouded hills.
Nhaoqsa lifted his head and sniffed at the air, at familiar scents.
“We are home.”
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