In the Lair of the Bloody Handed
Part Nine – We Can Do Good Here
A much larger group accompanied them on the return journey than had left two days earlier. While some of those freed had gone their own ways, seeking out family who had been captured and taken to other camps and villages that Keturhi had controlled, most followed Artor, wanting to see Keturhi pay for what she had done to them.
Nhaqosa carried Keturhi the whole way, slung over his shoulder, bound, gagged and blinded by a strip of cloth wrapped around her eyes. Though she had regained consciousness and constantly struggled, there was nothing she could against his iron grip. At times they removed her gag to allow her water, but her hands and eyes remained bound the whole time. Even those few times, when she spat out curses and threats, her voice held a power that they struggled to resist.
Twice during the march they suffered ambushes from the Painted Ones, springing from the dense growth of the forest in an attempt to free Keturhi. Both of the attacks were driven off in short, brutal clashes, as the Painted Ones did not have the numbers of those that they battled, and the now freed villagers fought with a ferocity unmatched, driven by the memories of their minds enslaved and determined not to return to that state.
As they neared the village, their approach on it did not go unnoticed. Just short on reaching it, they found Tolvir and the men of the village, baring the way, weapons at the ready and prepared to defend it. Upon spotting Nhaqosa, and the burden that he carried, their attitudes changed.
“You have her? How?” Tolvir asked.
“It is a long story,” Nhaqosa replied. “This lot here wanted to kill her out of hand, and I can well understand where they are coming from, but I felt it best that cooler heads decide on her fate.
Tolvir nodded, looking rather serious as he did so. “It is good that you did. Simply killing her would not solve anything, and indeed could potentially make matters worse. While we never thought that this day would come, the Elders do have a plan ready. We will take her and see that she received the punishment her crimes merit.”
“You won’t kill her?” Nhaqosa asked.
Tolvir shook his head. “No. We will merely strip her powers from her. She will no longer be a threat. Knowing her, she may prefer death.”
From the quivering of Keturhi’s body, Nhaqosa could tell that Tolvir was not mistaken. He set Keturhi down on her feet, though he kept a grip on her in the event that she decided to run. “You do not need powers to be a threat from what I have experienced.”
“She will not be a threat, in any form,” Tolvir told him. “But now we must celebrate. You have saved us all, my friend.”
The feasting, drinking and celebrating continued on for a number of days. After living in fear for so long, the villagers gave into wild abandonment. Keturhi was kept alone in one of the village huts during the entire time, with guards always present. Nhaqosa made sure that one of his band at all times were also present to aid in the guard duty. Runners went out to spread the word of the victory over the feared Keturhi the Red, and to call in the Elders of the others tribes and villagers to help undertake Keturhi’s punishment.
As the celebrations began to wind down, and the Elders started arriving in the village, Nhaqosa’s companions approached him where he sat outside of the village, on the stump of a tree, staring out towards the green wall of the forest. His hand clasped the pendant that hung around his neck.
He looked up at their approach, studying them all. “We have done what we came here to do,” he told them. “It is time that we were continuing on.”
“It is that which we want to talk to you about,” Katako said.
“You wish to stay here,” Nhaqosa stated simply, seemingly unsurprised.
“How did you know that?” Katako asked.
Nhaqosa replied with a faint smile. “You have found a place where you are welcomed, respected even. After such a long and hard journey, here is a place that at last you can be safe in. Am I right?”
Katako nodded. “More or less. We can do good here, Kwaza. We can help these people. We were not always fighters or gladiators. There are skills we posses than can aid them. Farming and masonry, evening mining and blacksmithing.”
Nhaqosa looked others the rest of the band. “You are all of a mind with Katako?”
Most nodded in agreement, though not all.
“Where you go, I go, Kwaza,” Abasan told him. “You know that. Our journey together hasn’t ended yet.” Niati nodded along with him.
“I’ll stay with you as well, boss,” Lakach added. “It is a little too rustic here for my liking. I prefer the bustle of cities and I don’t think that I will see that here anytime soon.”
Nhaqosa chuckled. “No, I guess not.” Slowly he rose to his feet. “I will be leaving tomorrow morning, if you change your minds, though I can see that you do not plan to.”
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