tagSci-Fi & FantasyDemon Child Ch. 05

Demon Child Ch. 05


Chapter 5: Neekah finds her magic.

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Neekah woke early in the morning. Kwal'kek still snored loudly in his blankets. She pulled on her new dress and wrapped the scarf around her head. Few warriors were up and about. Tim'kah was hauling water from the lake. She reached for the rope and asked him to take her to the latrines. He looked around and nodded.

Neekah quickly emptied her bladder and they were walking back when a large warrior approached them. He blocked their way and made a low comment to Tim'kah and tried to move past him, his eyes on her. The young warrior stood tall and refused to move aside. Tim'kah said something she did not quite catch but she heard 'Bak Tai Twisted Dagger'. The warrior snorted and moved toward him, his hand raised. Tim'kah stood ready and as the big warrior reached toward him, he dodged quickly under the outstretched arm. In a move almost blindingly fast, he hooked his foot under the big warriors foot and shoved him hard, making him stagger and lose his balance. "Run!"

Neekah did not need any encouragement. They flew down the path toward their encampment. Neekah could hear a shout of anger and then heavy feet pounding close behind. She shrieked when she felt a heavy hand grasp the rope around her neck. The pull of the rope made her feet fly out from under her and she fell hard. For the first time in years she found herself fighting in blind panic as a heavy hand reached for her. She found herself struggling as the far larger man lifted her to her feet and pulled her head covering off and stared curiously at her hair. Neekah twisted and struggled to escape from his hand clenched like steel around her arm.

Suddenly Tim'kah was there. He launched himself at the warrior almost half again bigger than he was, shrilling a long war cry as he came to her defense.

The larger warrior had difficulty defending himself from the faster youngster and holding the twisting thrashing woman at the same time. He seemed a bit nervous, like he had gotten into something he wished he hadn't. He did the best he could to block the blows that Tim'kah repeatedly struck at him, and held Neekah out at arm's length to avoid the worst of her flailing arms and legs.

Suddenly all was still. Jhardron's voice was sharp calling all movement to a halt. Tim'kah stepped back instantly, his chest heaving. The warrior released Neekah's arm and she fled to stand behind Jhardron.

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Jhardron had been just coming from his tent when he heard the shrill war cry of the Twisted Dagger. Early in the morning he was puzzled, no games should have started yet. Striding to the edge of camp he spied the little group. A large warrior held the ha'akh as she squealed and struggled to get free. Tim'kah was circling and feinting trying to find an opening to strike, as the larger man tried to block his blows.

"Halt!" Jhardron was pleased to see Tim'kah instantly stand down. The large warrior released his grip on the struggling girl and she scurried to hide behind him.

Jhardron turned to the girl and looked at her quickly. She stood trembling, tears on her face. He pointed at the camp, "Go to Kwal'kek." She nodded and dashed off.

Jhardron looked over the warrior. He had the mark of the Broken Spear on his arm. "I cannot help but wonder why a warrior of the Broken Spear would be trifling with a ha'akh of the Twisted Dagger."

"This pup attacked me. It is against the rules of the gathering to fight."

"He is young. His orders were to protect the girl. His inexperience led him to make a poor choice. He will be punished for his error. It is also against the rules to assault a ha'akh of another regiment."

"I was not assaulting her. I just wanted to look at her. I wanted to see the demon's hair. They said it was red as fire."

Jhardron felt a wave of irritation. "Go back to your Khan. It would be wise to speak to him of your actions. I do not want to be troubled with going over this with him when I speak to him." Jhardron turned on his heel and walked back to camp. Tim'kah hastily picked up the square of blue cloth that lay discarded in the grass and hurried after him.

Once in the camp Jhardron turned to the boy. "It is forbidden to fight in a gathering."

"Yes sir."

"Tell me what happened to lead you to make such an error."

"He told me to get out of the way. He said he wanted to see the demon close up, really close up. I didn't like the way he was looking at the ha'akh. We ran to get back to the camp but he caught her. When she screamed I thought he was hurting her. I called for help and tried to distract him until someone came. I was wrong to strike at him." The young warrior stood proud and ready to accept his Khan's judgment.

"You were correct to go to her defense. The warrior was wrong to touch her. Still, any fighting at a gathering is a serious offense and I cannot ignore your actions. For this gathering you will not participate in any games. You may watch the competitions from the sidelines." Jhardron saw his words sink in and the dismay in the boy's eyes. To be barred from competing was harsh. There would not be another gathering for many months. Tim'kah nodded and turned away, carrying the blue cloth to where the ha'akh sat in front of Kwal'kek's tent.

Jhardron carefully donned his finest armor and took out his scimitars. He sharpened them carefully. He did not expect this to go so far as a formal challenge but he knew he should be prepared. He called for Jhu'kresh to join him as second in command.

He strode into the Broken Spear camp and approached their Khan. He greeted him formally, "Drantham Khan Bak Tai Broken Spear."

The heavily scarred older man stood, "Jhardron Khan Bak Tai Twisted Dagger."

Jhardron sized up this man. He had heard many good things about his leadership of the Broken Spear. He was a veteran that had worked his way up the ranks. "We have the beginning of a rift between our regiments. I would regret losing so many friends. This is a small thing best dealt with now."

"My warrior informed me about his rudeness to your ha'akh. He will be busy tending the latrine pits for the duration of the gathering. I must apologize on his behalf."

"Apology accepted. The boy was impetuous. He has the impulsiveness of youth. He will watch the games from the sidelines to allow him time to contemplate the rules of the gathering."

The older Khan nodded. "A boy will suffer greatly watching his friends as they compete. Perhaps you have been harsh. Defending a ha'akh is the duty of a warrior."

"I expect my warriors to follow my orders. I had cautioned them to refrain from fighting. Let's set that aside. This talk about the ha'akh of my camp is disturbing. To accuse someone of being a demon could be interpreted as an insult. The warriors of the Twisted Dagger are proud of their ha'akh. She sings sweetly as she gives them the blessing of the goddess. Their loyalty could lead them to make poor choices."

The older warrior's eyes sparkled with humor. "Yes she does sing sweetly. Her songs called to many around the lake last night."

"I would speak with this ha'akh of your camp that names this girl a demon."

The Broken Spear Khan spoke to another warrior and shortly a small dark mud person girl was cowering at his feet. Jhardron spoke sharply. "Ha'akh Bak Tai Broken Spear, I would speak with you regarding your words, naming the girl of my camp demon."

"She is a demon. I was a child in her village before I married. She lived with the witch doctor. He conjured her from the belly of a grass lands woman. She is evil. She had great magic to bring curses down on the heads of those around her. She killed her mother. She killed Kharthmah the witch doctor. She probably brought the doom of your warriors down on her village."

Jhardron frowned. He did not believe this ranting little mud woman and her stories of magic. He had fought many people. He had heard tales of powers but never seen anything that could beat cold steel. "You speak the language of the mud people. This girl you call a demon is new to the Bak Tai and knows little of our language. I would have you translate for me as I ask her about these supposed magic powers."

Jhardron negotiated to bring the little mud woman with him back to his camp. Drantham nodded and said, "I agree that this is a small thing. A squabble among women should not cause conflict between the Broken Spear and the Twisted Dagger. Take this woman; let your warriors use her if you wish. She is nothing."

Jhardron moved back toward the Twisted Dagger, the little woman trotting behind him. He moved to the front of Kwal'kek's tent and sat down on the box the old man used as a chair. He called to the wild color girl and pointed to the skin she used as her place to sit. "Come sit."

"You are not here to accuse this girl. I am not interested in what you say she did to mud people. You will translate my questions and tell me her answers. If I feel you lie or fail to follow my instructions I will see that your Khan makes you suffer." The little woman flinched and cowered.

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Neekah was nervous. This was the woman that called her demon. She watched as Jhardron spoke to her at length, catching words here and there.

The woman turned and spoke to her. "I am ha'akh Bak Tai Broken Spear, once named Madi. I remember you from the village of Kharthmah. Your Khan wishes me to ask you some questions in this language of the mud people and translate into the warrior talk."

Neekah nodded. "I do not remember you."

"I left when I was young. I was betrothed as a child to a village far down the river valleys." Jhardron spoke sharply and the little woman spoke quickly back, cringing in fear. "He wants to know why you look different than the people of the Ramaldi, he calls us mud people."

"Kharthmah said I was a demon. He said I am the daughter of a demon that came to the grasslands." Neekah told the story of her mother Sa'amdi. She recited word for word the tale of the demon forcing his seed into her mother's womb and then killing all the men of the village. She told how Sa'amdi had tricked the demon with magic herbs. She spoke of the demons slow death at the hands of the women. The little woman spoke her words to Jhardron.

Jhardron listened carefully. "That is a tale to be told around a campfire at night." The little woman repeated this back to Neekah. "Ask her if she has magic powers."

"He wants to know if you have magic powers."

Neekah looked confused. "Kharthmah said I did but I never knew what he spoke about. When the young men of the village would hurt me I would try to curse them but they never stopped hurting me. The only thing that ever came true was when I wished that the raiders would come and kill them all."

"Did you kill your mother or the old witch doctor?"

"Oh no, my mother just went away. I think she hated me. The old witch doctor just didn't wake up one day. I was sad when he died. When he was gone I was alone."

"Will you use magic against the Bak Tai?"

"I am ha'akh Bak Tai Twisted Dagger." Neekah spoke this in the Bak language. She held her arm up and displayed the brand on her arm, her eyes blazed with pride.

Jhardron looked at her, his eyes approving.

He sent the little mud person ha'akh back to the Broken Spear untouched. If he had let his warriors use this ha'akh, it would have obligated him to share this wild colored girl with the Broken Spear warriors. Jhardron was not inclined to make such a gesture. He told himself that she was too new in her training.

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Neekah stood close to Kwal'kek, holding the extra loops of the rope that tied her to his belt in her hand. She stood tall and proud her short red hair gleaming in the sun. Jhardron had told her to leave her head uncovered.

Neekah still basked in his words as the ha'akh Bak Tai Broken Spear had translated them. "The Twisted Dagger is lucky to have a demon for a ha'akh. Her wild color is fair to look upon. If the Broken Spear warriors want to look upon our demon, let them."

Neekah stood close to Kwal'kek. They were standing watching as two very large warriors battled furiously in the center of a circle defined by a rope lying on the grass. They were nude and unarmed, it seemed like they were striving to push each other out of the circle. Beyond that there were no rules that Neekah could determine. They fought with a deliberate violence that seemed to infect the minds of the mob of men watching.

It was very confusing for Neekah. It was crowded and deafening with the shrill war calls and shouts of the spectators. Her mind pummeled by the emotions of those around her. Over and over she shied back nervously as she was jostled by someone in the crowd. Tim'kah stood close to her but his eyes were glued on the spectacle of the battle.

Neekah could not see any other ha'akh. She wondered why she was brought along instead of being left in camp. Her attention was drawn back to the warriors in the circle when a roar rose up from audience. One of the warriors had pushed the other close to the rope and seemed about to win. At the last minute, the one closest to the rope appeared to weaken, he grinned and laughed and seemed to falter. But just as he fell, he lunged low and grabbed the other, and using his opponent's momentum, lifted and tossed the him over his head and out into the crowd.

The mob of warriors around the circle converged on the victor and lifted him to their shoulders, chanting and yelling. Neekah noticed that one of the warriors lifting him was the loser. All feelings of violence were gone. She watched as several warriors approached Kwal'kek and handed him coins. They laughed and blustered as they did it, but Neekah could tell they were angry to have lost this wager.

Kwal'kek had a satisfied look on his face as he dropped the coins into a bag and tied it to his loin cloth. "Ha'akh tet." He strode off with Neekah trotting obediently behind him. She could hear him speaking with Tim'kah as they left the crowd.

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Kwal'kek was swaggering with confidence. "Always bet on the smarter man, Tim'kah. Wits are what win the battle in the end." Kwal'kek was very satisfied with his winnings. He had seen that Ghost Rider warrior fight in the ring before, a fighter filled with tricks and devious moves, he had repeatedly triumphed over larger foes.

He was irritated that he had to drag the ha'akh around with him as he watched the games. Ha'akh were expected to stay in the camp. He knew this was to display their new exotic pet to the other clans, to allay their curiosity and to demonstrate that the Twisted Dagger were proud of her differences rather than frightened by them. But to have a puppy on a leash was interfering with his gambling.

"If we hurry we will be able to watch the last half of the archery. Harnum is the best archer here at the gathering; if the gods smile I will win again."

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The watchers at the archery competition were much more spread out and it seemed that they spoke more softly. Neekah was very aware of the tension of all the watchers. She recognized several Twisted Dagger warriors lined up with their bows; Harnum was with them and he was speaking softly and rapidly to them. She also recognized Klektor carefully stretching his bow, warming and preparing his arms. He had a very determined look on his face.

The archery competition went much like the one she had watched on her first day with the Twisted Dagger. Every warrior had one chance to hit the target. If they missed they left the field. The target was a long distance away; Neekah wondered that any could strike such a tiny target. On this round almost half of the archers were eliminated. Two of the Twisted Dagger warriors left the field leaving Harnum, Klektor, and one other, the only regiment members still on the field.

The Twisted Dagger warriors that left the field joined Kwal'kek's small group. They clasped hands with Kwal'kek and then turned to watch.

Neekah turned as she heard a horse gallop up. Turning she saw Jhardron seated high on his tall black stallion. He was elaborately decorated with a shining black leather breast plate, bracers, and grieves. All were heavily gilded. The stallion reared and danced as he was brought to a stop. Tim'kah stepped up and took hold of the bridle. Jhardron jumped down and joined the group, his eyes locked on the archers.

The target was moved another two paces away. Neekah could feel the tension building in the spectators. When Harnum's and then Klektor's arrows struck true Neekah could hear the release of the held breaths of those around her. The last Twisted Dagger warrior missed, as did most of the other archers. Only five competitors stood on the field and two were from her camp. Neekah felt a rush of excitement.

Again the target was moved back. As Klektor stepped up, Neekah felt herself vibrating with tension, willing the air to be still, praying that the arrow would fly straight. He turned and saluted the group of Twisted Dagger warriors and slowly pulled back the string of his bow. When he hit the target Neekah squealed in excitement. Kwal'kek softly put his fingers to her lips. "Silence, ha'akh, Harnum shoots next."

Neekah put her hand to her lips and nodded her eyes shining with excitement. Harnum slapped Klektor on the shoulder, clearly proud of his success. "Well done. Now watch a master." He stepped up and almost casually put an arrow in the center of the target. All the Twisted Dagger warriors nodded and murmured in excitement.

Only one of the other three archers managed to hit the target. Only three were left.

Again the target was moved back. Neekah was startled when Harnum walked off the field and approached the group of Twisted Dagger warriors. He held up two arrows. "Let our little demon touch these arrows. She is lucky."

Kwal'kek pushed her forward, "Touch the arrows ha'akh." Neekah reached out her hands and gently touched each one in turn. The warriors muttered and made gestures at the sky.

As Harnum returned to the field he handed one of the arrows to Klektor, "Shoot straight, if we both win, we will bring great honor to the Twisted Dagger."

Again Klektor saluted his Khan and aimed carefully. Neekah kept her hands sealed over her mouth as she practically danced in her nervous tension. Again he hit center. The emotions of the men around her were a storm in her mind, their lips were silent but their inner screams of celebration shook her like a wind shakes the grass.

Harnum laughed in delight and stepped up, again he did not aim, and he just turned and shot like the target was just steps away. He did not even look to see if he had struck true. He knew. The Twisted Dagger warriors went mad, silently pounding each other on the back. Neekah staggered back almost overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotions swirling around her.

The third archer stepped up and raised his eyes to the sky. Neekah suddenly was aware that there was another group of spectators across the field that was watching him with equal pent up excitement. He looked to them and saluted. He looked at the distant target and Neekah could see him force himself to relax and focus. He pulled and aimed. His arrow was so close the center that at first the whole field was still. An old warrior approached and peered at the target and stood shaking his head, signaling a miss.

The field erupted in a roar. The Twisted Dagger warriors converged on Harnum and Klektor, pounding on their backs lifting them to their shoulders. Neekah found herself being dragged forward by the rope on her neck, her mind confused and dizzy with the chaos of emotion. She stumbled along trying to keep her balance, when she felt a strong hand on her arm steadying her and plucking the rope from over her head. Jhardron pulled her back out of the mob of excited warriors. He stepped back to where Tim'kah held the bridle of the stallion and took hold of the horse. "Go boy. Join them. It is time to celebrate."

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