The Merchant’s Legacy
Part Four- Aftermath
The arrival of morning saw Katako’s condition improved, though he still remained weak from the ordeal.
“I am fine, Kwaza” he reassured the concerned Nhaqosa. “I can manage. Besides which, we can not afford a delay.”
Nhaqosa nodded in agreement, though he did not look completely convinced by Katako’s protestations. The man looked pale and tired, his cheeks drawn. “Very well,” Nhaqosa said, “But we will split your gear amongst the others to carry.”
They broke their fast with a quick meal, washed down with fresh water from the stream. Waterskins refilled, they headed out once more, making for the hills, travelling through the dry forest that bounded the slow flowing stream.
Despite his best endeavours, or perhaps because of them, Katako soon displayed signs of tiring. He sweated profusely, despite there still being a hint of cool from the night in the early morning, his hair soon plastered to his heat from the damp and his clothes soaked through. The strain of the effort etched itself upon his face, colour draining from it.
He pressed on doggedly, in spite of that, step by step, face locked into an expression of grim determination, focused on the ground just ahead of him. As the morning wore on and the full heat of the day made its appearance, bearing down on them once more, he fell further and further behind.
“This is not working,” Abasan told Nhaqosa as the pair paused to wait for Katako to catch up, the struggling man grimly following their trail.
“I know, but what can we do?” Nhaqosa rumbled, tail twitching behind him. “We can not leave him behind, yet he was correct in that we can not afford to delay either.”
“He saved my life at Halkhur, Kwaza,” Abasan said. “That is not easily forgotten and makes it all the more harder. We may have to leave him behind and return for him later.”
“No,” Nhaqosa replied, steel in his voice. “There is another option. Malkut,” he called out, motioning across one of the other men of the band, a tall, broad shouldered man, the largest and strongest after himself. “I need you to carry this for me,” he said, carefully handing over his heavy stone-headed maul.
The dark haired, burly Malkut took the maul with profound respect. “I will, Kwaza.” He shifted his weight to feel for the balance and grip of the weapon before shaking his head in wonder, a lopsided grin splitting his face. “I do not know how you can use this.”
Nhaqosa laughed, a deep rumbling sound, as he turned towards Katako. The man, just caught up, sagged against a tree, supporting himself there as he breathed heavily. “My friend,” Nhaqosa told him, “You are still too weak and not yet recovered from the poison. You must let me carry you.”
“No Kwaza,” Katako objected, shaking his head. “I can do this.” He straightened up and took a step forward before starting to sag and buckle at the knees. Only Nhaqosa’s quick response in grabbing a hold of his arm prevented him from collapsing to the ground.
“You can barely stand, my friend.” Despite Katako’s feeble efforts to stop him, Nhaqosa gathered up the physical drained man in his arms. “There is no shame in letting a friend carry you in a time of need.”
“I rather think that when people say that, they do not actually mean it” Katako tiredly noted.
“In this case we shall go with the literal sense,” Nhaqosa said, starting out walking towards the hills once more.
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