In the Lair of the Bloody Handed
Part Four – This Is Not Your Fight
Nhaqosa and his companions followed Tolvir and Ashara as they crossed through the fields in the clearing and into the village. The man that Tolvir had called Barlor stayed behind with the other men, starting to work on the long task of skinning the crocodile and butchering it for its meat. The village had a rough and rustic feel about it, being comprised of a cluster of huts centred around one large hall at the heart of it. Alongside the hall a tall tree grew, casting shade over a grassy sward. Throughout the entire village there was no evidence of the use of any forms of metal, only stone and wood. Tolvir led the way towards the hall, and on inside it, through an entrance from which a hide hung as a simple door.
From the layout of the interior, Nhaqosa gathered that the building served as some form of communal gathering hall. A long fireplace had been built down the middle, while woven baskets, clay pots and jugs and bundles of hides were lined along the walls, and strings of herbs, dried meats and other foods hung from the beams that formed the rood. Only a few others were present, mostly elderly villagers who were sorting through a number of bundles of hides.
The far end of the hall remained clear but for a ring of wooden stumps that were set there as seats for gatherings.
“Please, sit,” Tolvir said, gesturing to the stumps. “Ashara, get drinks for our guests.”
The group began to take their seats, setting down their packs and weapons, while Ashara headed to one of the clay pots and began to fill some clay mugs from it. When she began to hand them out, Nhaqosa found it contained a drink which, on tasting, turned out to be a form of strong spirit that burned the throat on the way down.
“Who are these People of Iron?” Nhaqosa asked after a moment adjusting to the effects of the drink.
“They live beyond the forests,” Tolvir explained, “In the lands beyond the Great River.”
“You call them the People of Iron, which would imply that you know of iron, and of metal, yet I do not see any around your village.”
“We do not know the secrets of the making of it,” Tolvier replied. “It is a secret the People of Iron guard jealously, and as such they demand much in the way of trade for even the smallest item.” He shook his head. “It is the way of things, but we make do without. Tonight, though, we feast, thanks to your efforts. That creature will provide meat for many days.”
“Are there many such wild animals around here?” Abasan asked.
“Many. The forests are full of them, whether they are snake or flightless bird, lizard or cat or others beside. They grow large and strong and most dangerous.”
“That must make life interesting,” Lakach noted dryly.
Tolvir’s answering smile had an amused element to it. “It has its moments. You have to learn to live with it though or you do not survive.”
Barely had he completed speaking when one of the men of the village burst in through the hide doorway, breathing heavily, his face bearing a look of grave concern. He hurried over to where Tolvir sat. “Keturhi’s minions approach!”
A look of profound sadness came over Tolvir at the news and he rose to his feet. “If you will excuse me, but I must attend to this.”
“What is it?” Nhaqosa asked, setting aside his clay mug.
“It is most certain that we shall be attacked shortly.”
“By the forces of Keturhi the Red, the Bloody Handed,” Tolvir explained.
The name was not one that to Nhaqosa’s mind inspired confidence. “We could be of help,” he offered.
A faint spark of hope lit up in Tolvir’s eyes. “This is not your fight though.”
“It is if we make it so,” Nhaqosa told him, to the nods of the others around him. “Who is the Keturhi?”
“She was one of us, once, though not of this village. Born gifted far more so than any for many a generation, she quickly mastered all that could be taught her, and more, yet deep down she lusted for power like no other has. We did not realise it until it was too late. She began to twist the minds of some to do her bidding, and seduced others were promises of wealth and power. One by one the tribes have fallen to her, and her forces have grown with each victory. Now it would appear that it is our turn to suffer that fate.”
“Not if we can stop it,” Nhaqosa stated firmly.
“She possesses formidable power, great one,” Tolvir warned.
“She has not met the likes of me before, either,” Nhaqosa pointed out in a low rumble.
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