The Chief Pt. 02 Ch. 14byamicus©
The new day broke warm and clear as the day before. The men gathered around the still burning fire at the campsite; most carried the newly discovered shields of the high grounders.
“We have not sent a scout with news to our People,” said Duulaat.
“We can not spare a man,” said Sahjeed, “And I do not wish to take the chance that Suulumaag’s men may stop a messenger and learn of our numbers. Those from the village still live?”
“They were not cowards my Chief. One is no more, the other took a spear in the stomach, he may not live,” answered the First Guard.
“The boy? He did not seem well when I saw him last dark.”
“His wound is not good, my Chief, we have done all we know how to do.”
Sahjeed was troubled; “I would not lose him now. We will try to return quickly and get him back to our People. Wish us well, First Guard.”
“You know that I do, my Chief, I only wish…”
Wolf had set out earlier and returned soon after Sahjeed led the men back up the trail. “There are no new tracks, Chief, and I saw no smoke.”
They arrived at the track going up into the high ground with most of the morning still ahead of them. Wolf had gone on up the trail for a distance, but was waiting in a shaded area, as a scout, and then the men of Sahjeed came into view.
“I have nothing to report, my Chief. I have been up the trail and I see nothing new.”
“You do good work, tracker; the climb is hard?” asked Sahjeed.
“It is steep, but it has been well used and perhaps even some work done on it. It is passable as far as I have gone.”
“We would rest for a short time,” said Sahjeed, “What of you?”
“I would take another with me, one who is quick and with good eyes.”
The Chief chose a Guard and watched as Wolf and the man began climbing the rock-strewn trail.
They climbed slowly and cautiously, constantly alert as the sun rose higher in the sky. Just before high sun, the Guard who had left with Wolf came quickly back down the trail. “There is smoke and a cave! We saw only one person, an old man on lookout, he did not see us; the Tracker is keeping watch.”
“Good work, Guard,” said Sahjeed as he signaled the men forward.
Wolf was waiting for them as the trail turned sharply under an overhang and then opened to a wide area with trees and grass and a small meandering stream. Wolf pointed; Sahjeed stood beside him and slowly raised his head to look over a rocky outcrop.
“We are out of spear range, but in the open and we could be seen from the cave if we step out, Chief.”
“It looks as though a small boy has joined the old man,” said Sahjeed.
Wolf looked again, “Yes, I see, he sits next to him on the rock above the cave.”
Sahjeed turned back to his men and flashed two hands and gestured for them to follow him. With shields up, they moved out into the open area in front of the cave, their shadows were short behind them as they faced the sun.
There was a high-pitched shout as the boy jumped up and pointed. The old man stood, peering and brandishing his spear. For a moment nothing happened as Sahjeed’s men spread out in front of the large opening at the front of the cave.
There was a flurry of motion in the shadow of the opening of the cave and then a tall thin woman with long gray hair, wearing a flowing black robe appeared, looked up at the boy and the old man and then at the men in front of the cave. No one moved.
Sahjeed moved in front of the men and took slow steps forward, “Hola!” he called out.
The old man on top of the cave shouted a strange word and then cast his spear in a long arc that ended several paces in front of Sahjeed. The boy threw a smaller spear that landed close to the other one.
Sahjeed’s men raised their bows, “Hold!” shouted Sahjeed.
They watched speechless as the old man gestured and screamed and then threw himself off the ledge and landed heavily not far from the woman. The old man did not move on the ground.
The woman turned and screamed at the boy who appeared ready to jump. Upon hearing the woman’s voice he backed away from the edge and disappeared from sight.
Sahjeed and his men advanced slowly as the rest of his group came from behind the rocks and fanned out behind him, weapons at the ready. The boy reappeared and at a gesture from the woman, ran to her side; she pulled him behind her and faced the men in front of her.
“Hola,” spoke Sahjeed again, standing some twenty paces away from her.
“Hollla?” Her voice was uneven; her posture was tense.
Sahjeed gestured for her to come forward, away from the front of the cave opening. She did so slowly, keeping the boy behind her.
“Do you understand my words?” asked Sahjeed.
“Not my words,” she said slowly, “But, I hear…”
“Men…warriors…are they here? Do you have weapons?”
She pointed at the shields, “Our warriors…all go to fight, none left here; women, children, old people, no men.”
Sahjeed pointed, “Have your people come out.”
The woman looked at Sahjeed, “You will kill all of us? It is your way?”
Sahjeed shook his head from side to side, “No. We do not fight women and children. Have them come out. They will not be harmed. It is my word as Leader.”
“Not believe you. You will use women; then kill all.”
“They must have no weapons, not even cooking knives. They will not be harmed. Have them come out or I must send men in to get them,” Sahjeed put a firmer tone in his voice.
The woman continued to hesitate, “None of our men are left? Have you killed all of them?”
“They fought hard, old woman, many died, my men also. You must have your people come out from the cave.”
Her face fell and her posture slumped, “It is the end. We are no more.” She pulled the boy from behind her, spoke a few words that Sahjeed could not understand and pushed him toward the cave.
They waited without words until silent figures, some carrying children, came slowly out of the shadow of the cave into the sunlight. Four women, all young, separated from the main group which numbered nearly fifty not counting the children.
The woman who had been speaking with Sahjeed turned to face them; she spoke a few rapid words that the Chief could not understand.
Almost simultaneously, all the women, including the one who spoken, placed their children on the ground, turned around, raised their skirts and bent over, exposing their bare bodies before Sahjeed and his men. The four women who stood apart remained standing; staring at Sahjeed and the other women who offered themselves.
The Chief could find no words, he glanced at his men, some were embarrassed and looked away; others laughed and made gestures with their hands and pelvises.
“Tell them to stand, old woman! To use women in this manner is not the way of my People. Tell them that! Tell them they will not be harmed! Now!” Sahjeed spoke loudly.
The old woman stood and let her robe fall, covering her again. She spoke rapidly and loud, the women stood and turned to face Sahjeed and his men.
The four women who stood apart suddenly ran forward and fell at Sahjeed’s feet, “You are of our People!” said one, “We were taken from our village and held here! We had given up hope of ever being free again!”
Sahjeed told the women to stand, “You are from Suulumaag’s village?”
“Yes!” answered the one who spoke before, “Who are you? Does Suulumaag still lead? We are so happy you have come!”
“I am Sahjeed Deeda, leader of my village. You will be safe now.” The Chief turned and signaled his men, “Old woman, I must have my men look in your cave. If there are any with weapons inside, have them come out now or they will be killed.”
“There is only a sick old man, he will not be sad if you take his life.”
Sahjeed looked into the woman’s eyes as the men cautiously approached the cave entrance.
“You learned to speak my words from the captured women? What are you called? Who are you?” Sahjeed stepped just out of arm’s reach to the woman.
She met his gaze and did not falter in her words, “What will you do with us? We cannot live without our men to provide for us; surely not all were killed?”
Sahjeed looked at her for a long moment and then raised both his hands and opened and closed them many times. “That many died, I do not know how many others may be. But that many have gone to the Lights.”
The woman hung her headed and moaned, “That is all our People, from all our caves. There are no more, you have killed us.” She moaned again and swayed, “What are we to do, we are no more.”
“There are more caves of your people?” asked the Chief.
The old woman blinked away her tears and dabbed at her eyes, “You will not kill them? What will you do with us? If you leave us here, we will die. Oh, what are we to do?”
Sahjeed looked around at the group of women and children, closely clustered together, clinging to each other, not understanding the words, but feeling the hopeless in the woman’s voice.
The men came back out of the cave and signaled Sahjeed that all was well. The Chief relaxed and took a deep breath.
“You spoke truth, old woman. No men were found in your cave. It was necessary that I make certain.”
She looked into his face and saw him for the first time, “I understand. You lost many of your men in the battle?”
“Not nearly as many as your People lost. What are you called?”
She stood tall before him, “I am called Ulla Coodra, I am the Medicine Woman of my People, of all caves; I am the Elder of this Cave. I serve the People.” She stepped back and bowed slightly to Sahjeed.
Sahjeed saw her stature in her words, “I am Sahjeed Deeda, Leader of my village, descended from Ahjeed, First Chief of my People; I too, serve the People. I regret we must meet in this way.”
Ulla Coodra looked up at him, “I do not know all of your words, but I understand the way in which they were said.” She looked away, “We tried to meet in peace; it was not possible.”
“We must talk more, later, Medicine Woman,” Sahjeed leaned forward looking into her face. “Would you turn so the sun is in your eyes?”
She frowned and tilted her head, but did as he asked.
“They are the color of the sky!” exclaimed Sahjeed. “None of my People have such colored eyes! How can this be?”
The woman smiled for the first time, “Only a few of my people have eyes such as mine. It is in our Legends, we must find time to talk of such things…ah…Sahjeed?”
“Yes, that is what I am called,” said the Chief. He paused for a moment and looked over the area around the cave, “I must think of what would be best to do. You say you cannot stay here without the men? What are your thoughts, Medicine Woman, Elder of this Cave?”
She also looked around the cave area and at what remained of her People. “No others of my People have come down from the mountains in my life time. There is no place to go back to. We cannot remain here. We must leave and cannot go back. Those are the things I know. I can speak of no more.”
Sahjeed offered a slight smile, “If you can not stay here, and you can not go back, then, you must go with us. How and what will happen, I do not know. What would you say to that?”
Ulla Coodra tilted her head and looked into Sahjeed’s face again, “It is a man’s way to see the bones of a problem and reach an answer. That answer is in my mind also, as no other answer is there. But, as you say, the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ are yet to be resolved. What would you have me say to my People?”
Sahjeed thought for a moment, “You must tell them that their mates are no more but that they will live and will not be treated badly. I would have you go with me to the other Caves of your People and tell them also. That is a beginning. How do you say?”
“It is a beginning. When do you wish to do these things?”
“Now,” said Sahjeed, “I must return, I have left injured men behind.”
“You have even more warriors than there are here?”
“A few,” said the Chief, “Tell your People, I will leave some men here and we will go on to the next of your Caves. Have them prepare to leave, they can take only what can be carried.”
Sahjeed spoke to his men and chose those who would stay and those who would go on to the next cave. Wolf was uneasy.
“My Chief, what if we are being lured into a trap? What if there are more high ground warriors ahead. We leave some here and have fewer to fight with. I am not sure of this.”
“Your words are heard, Tracker, and appreciated. But I hear in the Medicine Woman’s voice a truth that I do not doubt. I do not know why, but these People risked every warrior they had. They lost, but they would not have lost had we not been ready. They would have taken Suulumaag’s village, easily. I do not know all of this, nor am I certain we will not meet other high grounders, but it is my feeling. I ask you to go with me on my feelings.”
“My Chief, I have said that I serve and I will. But I must give you my feelings also or I do not live up to my own self. I have done that and I will follow where you lead. Hoorrah!”
Sahjeed smiled and clasped arms with Lobolaaht, “For a man who might have been my father, I am pleased that we serve together.”
Wolf glanced at the Chief, but did not speak.
There was another old man on watch at the second cave, but the Medicine woman hailed him and he came down to join the rest of the People as they filed from the cave and faced Sahjeed and his men.
All went quietly as Ulla Coodra; the Medicine Woman explained what had happened and what was left for them to do. She could not stop the offering of the women’s bodies as tribute to the conqueror, it was, ‘the way of the People’, she said to the Chief.
One woman did not offer her body to Sahjeed’s men.
The Chief looked at the Medicine Woman with a question in his eyes.
Leaving the women with their bodies exposed, Ulla Coodra lowered her eyes and spoke to Sahjeed, “This woman is a child of my mother. It is not known who her father was, it is only chance that I know who sired me. It is the way of the People. But she is…she is mate of the Leader of this Cave. But the Leader was weak, he did not lead, it is she that leads and she leads badly. The People detest her; she is cruel and vicious when challenged. There will be much trouble if she remains as she is. I have heard you speak of the ‘ways’ of your People and I respect that; but, I ask, that you take my warning of the danger she will be.”
Sahjeed listened and turned to her, “What would you have me do? I will not take her life.”
The Medicine Woman met the Chief’s stare and held it, “I will force her to present herself to your men, I ask that you allow those who will, to use her before the other women. She will loose face and not have the respect of the others, if you do not, I shall have to take her life; there is no other way. With power she is terrible, with no power; she can be controlled. Those are my words, Sahjeed.”
Sahjeed’s face hardened, “This is not a good thing for my men, but I understand you. Rather than her death, I will do as you wish. Medicine Woman, I would have your oath to me as I trust you in this.”
Ulla Coodra went to her knees and extended her arms and then rose, “I will serve as you choose…Sahjeed.”
She pointed and held out her hand, Sahjeed gave her his wood handled stone knife. She turned and screamed at the single woman still standing and brought the knife close to her face. The woman turned white and dropped to her knees, raising her skirt as she did.
Sahjeed turned and pointed to the men he knew to be without mates and gestured to the woman who had just presented herself.
The men blinked in disbelief and laughed with embarrassment until one was pushed forward by his friends. He looked at Sahjeed, the Chief nodded and then turned away.
The woman tried to move away as he came behind her, but he held her hips and thrust against her until he made entry. She made no sound but looked up as the other women turned their heads and watched.
The second guard mounted her and still she did not move or make a sound. The watching women stood and moved around in front of her pointing and laughing.
The third guard was a large man who had fought well and killed and was full of him self. He did not immediately come into her, but grasped her breasts from behind her and roughly squeezed and rubbed until she cried out. The women laughed. He brought a huge calloused hand around her thigh and between her legs and moved his hand back and forth. With his hand still there, he came close up behind her, grabbed a handful of her hair with his other hand and then plunged inside her, grunting and thrusting so that she was lifted with each thrust. Sounds began coming from her throat as the women cheered and clapped; she screamed and rose to accept him time and time again until finally he fell on top of her and forced her to the ground.
The Medicine Woman went to her and pulled her up by the hair and spoke loud and fast as the women fell silent. Ulla then dropped her head and kicked her side and turned to the women and spoke again, hard and fast.
She came before Sahjeed, dropped to her knees and bowed her head. “What needed to be done is done. The People of this Cave will follow you, not her. I serve the Chief.”
“Tell them to make ready to leave, we shall return early the next sun. We can reach the last cave while the sun still shines?” asked Sahjeed.
She did not even look at the sun, “It is very close my Chief, there will be much light left when we arrive. Ahh, you should take the big man with you to the next village or he will not be ready to travel at next sun.” The Medicine Woman gave Sahjeed a wry smile.
The final cave of the high ground people had no one watching the trail. Instead, there were children playing and goats grazing and small dogs running after laughing children.
Sahjeed exclaimed, “Woman, they have creatures of the forest near their cave? Why is this?”
“You do not have the goats for milk and meat and the old wolves to watch? I do not understand. We have always had these things; each cave has its own.”
Sahjeed’s eyes were wide, “Not even in the Legends of my People and I have listened to many. This is a new thing to me. You must tell me how such things can be.”
The women of the third cave presented themselves as had those at the caves before. It was the ‘way of the people’; it signified that they were conquered and knew it and would do as the new leaders demanded, what ever that may be; so that they and their children might live. Sahjeed Deeda began to understand and was not as shocked as he was before.
“It was the second long cold time that was longer than we had known. We had to kill most of the male goats, and the dogs, all but a few and the females who carried puppies or we would have starved. It was the worst time in all our memory.
“We sent four of our men, with the black stone for blades and the cheese of the goats and the fire stones that we found. We wanted to trade for food, so that we might live. Our men were butchered like animals, we had no choice.”
Sahjeed and Lobolaaht listened closely as they sat around the fire outside the third cave of the high ground people.
“We were sent, by the Chief of all our People, because some of our people, women, were missing from the village near you. We did not know of your People, but thought mountain cats or bears had taken them. We sent a small group to help, but they did not return.”
“They were killed, Sahjeed. The men were blood angry when they found those sent to trade had been hung from trees and their bodies cut in terrible ways. It was thought those you sent were the ones responsible.
“We took the women, but it is the way of the People. In our ways, a woman is not left alone outside a village unless she is not wanted. A maiden might wait outside a cave, alone, because there is no one she wishes to mate with. It is the same with the elders who no longer serve a purpose, they will wait to be taken by another cave, or they wait to die. Our warriors thought the women, left alone outside your village were no longer wanted or needed. As I began to know them and learned to speak as they spoke, I suspected it was not so, that our ways were different, but it was not my place to speak.”