I searched for Pappa and found him erecting our shelter.
“Take that Raki.” He pointed toward a wooden pole.
I quickly pulled my wavy red hair into a pony tail before dragging the pole to him.
“How was the hunt?” he asked.
“Strange, but we got the Telike.”
“Well, that’s all that counts.” He grinned and rubbed his tummy. “And, you can feel good about there being one less Telike to destroy the Kasku’s crops.”
Once our shelter was up I took a stroll. Denakai was at the far end of the camp building his family’s lodgings. His tall slender body strained under the weight of the poles, his light hair caked with dust and tied back with a well-worn band. I had known him all my life, born only a few days after him. He glanced up and caught my gaze. With furrowed brow he moved toward me, hooking his arm in mine once he reached me. We headed toward the fire where our mouth watering Telike bird roasted. In silence we slumped down on a tree stump and for a long while watched the flames dance.
“So,”—I finally said—“what has the brave and fearless Denakai so spooked? The last time you were this worried was when you prepared to ask the love of your life, Sabina, to the Winter Festival Dance.” I stood up and did an over dramatized dance.
He glared at me, picked up a small stone, and threw it at my legs. I decided to let him tell me what happened in his own time.
Around the camp most of the night shelters had been erected. The clan was beginning to relax and prepare for dinner and a good night’s sleep. Far in the distance the moon clung to the black sky, its light forcing tree shadows to creep and stretch along the grass while, next to us an army of croaking frogs betrayed the small stream hiding between the rocks. On the other side of the fire a group of young ones played, their laughter lifting the dark mood that had descended on my heart since the hunt.
Denakai spoke suddenly, his gaze fixed on the fire, “There was something in the forest.” His fear-filled eyes remained glued to the flames. “Everything was going as planned. I crawled into position with the others, surrounding the Telike but the bird didn’t move—it just…stood there, as if frozen.” He tore his eyes away from the fire and stared up into the darkness.
“I saw a shadow rise up from behind the Telike, the scream that tore from within its darkness shattered the silence. At the sound the Telike hissed and then bolted, running into the forest as if on fire.”
He rubbed his face with his hands, concentrating most of the movement on his eyes, as if trying to rub out what he had seen. After a long pause he continued, his voice just a whisper, “The shadow rose high above us, its eyes boring into us. Screams echoed, and chaos broke out.”
I kept quiet, mulling over his words. There were many legends, folklore and superstitions within the clans. I didn’t know what to make of this one. I hadn’t heard of any such thing, not even around the campfire with my Nan who knew the whole history of the island. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that whatever Denakai experienced in Dinja Forest was real enough to scare not only him, but three other experienced hunters. I laid my head on his shoulder in an effort to comfort him. As I didn’t know what to say, I decided not to say anything. We didn’t talk about the hunt again for the rest of the night, instead we spoke about the excitement of almost being back in the Waio and how we’ve missed it.
At sunrise the next morning we saddled up and continued our journey. By midday, the motion of the horse was slowly lulling me to sleep, while the sounds around me seemed far away. My eyelids drooped, and I knew if it wasn’t for my sore legs and backside I would’ve been fast asleep. I thanked the stars we made this trip only once a year. But even though I was tired and uncomfortable, I knew a trip to the Homeland was an honour. I couldn’t wait to see my Nan and longed to set eyes on the Mountain Ranges of Waio, to smell the old familiar smells like I’d done since I was a little girl.
The beauty of the Waio Region was legendary throughout the island of Keipura. It was here that the foreigners beached their gigantic ships and tried to take the island for themselves. Keipura, shaped like a diamond when seen from above, was at that time in the grips of civil war. Ancient gripes and superstitions stirred up boundless animosity between the clans and plunged them into combat so brutal it was later named ‘The Great Clan War’ and sometime simply spoken of as ‘The War’. With the arrival of the foreigners, the war between the clans were swiftly forgotten as they united against their common enemy.
I gazed around, savouring the beautiful green hills and colourful flowers and imagined how different it must’ve looked when war ravaged the land. Far in the distance the snow-capped Jaki Mountains appeared like a picture on a painter’s canvas, while overhead an eagle hung almost motionless in the sky.
My soul trembled with love for the land. I felt it running through my veins and filling my spirit. Ancient legends spoke of the Everlasting weaving the lifeblood of the plants and animals into each child born on the island. I often thought He must’ve put some extra in me!
“What ya doing?” Denakai asked, steering his horse next to mine. He seemed less worried than the night before, as if the dawning of the new day had dimmed the memory of the hunt.
“I was thinking how proud I am to belong to the Kindaki Clan,” I replied, my eyes resting on the far off distance where the Waio stood waiting for us. Once we reach it, it would be like being home again.
“Uh huh,” Denakai nodded his agreement. “It’s hard to believe the island was almost destroyed by The War isn’t it?”
“Denakai, have you ever considered that the arrival of the foreign ships actually saved the island?”
He thought about it for a moment. “I suppose you’re right. If they hadn’t arrived when they did, who knows what would’ve happened.”
“Raki!” My father’s voice jolted me back to the present.
“Coming Pappa!” I spurred my horse to a gallop, catching up to my father who rode way out in front.
“What are you up to girl?”
“Day dreaming about the old days,” I chuckled.
“And what would you know about the old days?” He patted my back with a wink.
“Pappa,”—I asked—“have you ever heard of a Shadow Creature in Dinja Forest.”
All colour drained from his face. “Why do you ask?” He straightened up and held me with his gaze.
Without answering he spurred his horse, leaving me behind while he disappeared into the distance.
I only saw him again hours later. His eyes avoided mine and we fell asleep in silence. That night I had a fitful sleep. I tossed and turned, hearing the eerie scream of the Shadow Creature. Black hands closed around my neck, suffocating me.
I woke up tired and groggy, as if I had drunk too much fermented berry juice the night before.
Pappa shot me an annoyed look. “You kept me up all night with your tossing and turning and moaning and groaning. Tomorrow night you’ll sleep next to the fire.”
“Tomorrow night I will be in a lovely warm bed at Nana’s house in Rukima,” I growled.
PERIL, The legend of Sedrak – on Amazon