The Chief Pt. 02 Ch. 11byamicus©
“I fear for him, my Chief! I know he must go and he wants to go, but I am afraid!”
Laawaleah clung to Sahjeed as they watched Wolf and Alahbaand quickly move down the trail away from them. She broke away and waved her arms wildly, but no one looked back.
Saaleesha, who had made the drawing of Wolf, waved also and then put her arms around the other girl. “They will be all right, I know it. In my sketch of Wolf, I did not show the hardness that I know to be in him. He will protect your mate and himself; he can be very mean if he needs to be. They will come back!”
A small group had gathered to watch the advance scouts depart, mostly Guards and a few others. Duulaat and his mate, Rahseeta, stood near the Chief as they passed out of sight.
“Leeah, I am happy that you stay in my lodge until we return, my mother is more than happy with all the young women about.” Sahjeed gently patted her back and turned to the First Guard.
“All is ready, Duulaat? We leave at first light? There is nothing more to be done?”
“We are ready my Chief, there are…” Duulaat struggled to equate hand counting to words, “uh, this many hands of ours, eight is the word I think, and four hands from Galawaand’s people, all together, ah,” he flashed two hands and two more.
Sahjeed smiled, “You are doing better, my friend, it is twelve hands or sixty men that will go, plus you and I. Come, let us walk the village and let the People know we are in good spirits and anxious to set forth.”
Rahseeta, Duulaat’s mate, stood behind the two men, watching and listening, her face a conflict of emotions.
Sahjeed returned to his lodge to find his mother and the girl who cared for her waiting on the deck for him.
“Lobolaaht and the boy have left, my son?”
“Yes, mother, just after first light, Wolf did not want to wake you, he said to tell you that he will miss your company and he promises to return safely.”
Sahjeed’s mother bowed her head and turned away, the girl placed an arm around her shoulders. Sahjeed stood watching as the girl led her to a chair on the deck and draped a large fur about her.
He joined them at the table, “Tea… Hot tea… my Chief?” asked the girl.
Sahjeed smiled and nodded, “Thank you, uh…mother, what is this girl’s name? I have nothing to call her?”
He saw tears in his mother’s eyes as she raised her face to him. “She has no name, my son. Perhaps she did, certainly she must have, but not hearing or speaking well, she does not know what she is called.”
The Chief leaned forward and gazed into his mother’s eyes, “Do you cry for Lobolaaht, my mother?”
She slowly moved her fingers below her eyes, “We were young together, my son. Now we are old. We share many memories. I knew of his injuries but it was great pain to see what life has done to him. He was very strong and very good looking as a young man.”
Sahjeed’s eyes opened wide, he leaned back in the chair, staring at his mother, “You…you had f…feelings for Lobolaaht?”
A dim but twinkling smile crossed her face, “Your father was slow to ask for my hand until he saw Lobolaaht visiting my father’s lodge many times. Had your father not acted, I would have mated Lobolaaht. Now you know, my son; it is not a bad thing and I do not regret the choice I made, but the memories…ah, I have not thought of such things…”
Sahjeed reached and took both his mother’s hands, “I have never thought of you as a young maiden, sought after as a mate. Forgive me, my dear mother, I…”
She removed her hands from his, put a finger across his lips, and smiled, “…and you have no reason to see me that way…Sahjeed, my son, you need not answer but, ah, do you have feelings for any maiden? Perhaps you favor one of the Domohaas’s daughters? After your words, the People will soon expect you to choose.”
The girl returned with carved wooden cups of steaming tea, allowing Sahjeed to escape the question for the moment. They sat quietly and sipped the hot beverage.
“The tiny pink flower that grows in the highlands, that smells so sweet but has tiny stickers on the green part…what is that called, my mother?”
“There are many different kinds, my son, some have no name given; I call that flower the wood rose…”
“Rose?” mused Sahjeed, “…aah, yes, perhaps, ah, Sahrosah? Saarosah?”
“It has a pretty sound when spoken softly, my son…”
The girl sat quietly observing the expressions and politely looking away as she could not hear the words. She folded her hands together and looked from Sahjeed to his mother. They both smiled warmly at her.
“Would you ask her if…well, aah, if she would like a name, uh, if she likes the sound of Saarosah? I think you should ask her, my mother.”
She leaned to the girl and spoke close to her ear. The girl’s eyes opened wide and filled, she lowered her head as tears coursed down her cheek.
Sahjeed’s mother sat back, but kept an arm around the girl’s shoulders and brushed the tears away.
She raised her face, blinked rapidly and breathed deep, “Oh, my Chief… Malaeeva… mother of the Chief…I am so…honored…it is a lovely… name…that you…think of me…as a…person…as someone…I am so…I love the…name…I will always be… Saarosah…thank you…with all my…heart.”
Late at night, when all were asleep, the girl, who now had a name, once again knelt on the floor alongside Sahjeed’s bed. She lay her face close enough to his to feel his breath and cried herself to sleep.
A light mist rose from the meadow below the Chief’s lodge as the Scouts and Guards of two villages began arriving. The sky was gray but clear and the forest was quiet.
People from Galawaand’s village mingled with those from Sahjeed’s as they said tearful good-byes to mates and sons. The men slowly formed into marching groups and scouts as they prepared to leave.
Sahjeed’s mother hugged her son on the deck of the lodge, surrounded by the three young women who cared for her. Rahseeta, Duulaat’s mate embraced him fiercely and then lightly put her arms around Sahjeed before she moved aside. As the men started to move away, the crowd began clapping hands and making a communal sound, a chant that echoed through the trees then faded away.
A small distance away, even before the sun broke over the hill, they arrived at the river and began loading the boats for the short trip across the slow moving water.
Scouts went out as soon as they landed on the other side. The men formed up into groups of ten with Sahjeed and Duulaat in the lead.
The trail to Suulumaag’s village was overgrown from disuse, but easily followed. Duulaat pointed out fresh cut vines and tree limbs that suggested Wolf had marked the trail. The men moved quickly and remained quiet; the scouts came and went from each side, keeping the group in sight as they ranged the flanks.
Sahjeed gave a small sign to the men behind him, nodded to Duulaat and they jogged a slight distance ahead.
“I have the strangest feeling, First Guard. We are armed with weapons, but not to hunt. We are strong in numbers, more than I have ever traveled with before. We are ready to fight and a great emptiness fills my stomach.”
“My Chief, I have, not fear, but a great unanswered question in my whole body. What lies ahead?”
Sahjeed smiled as he jogged, “I just wanted to see if only I felt whatever it is I am feeling. We should be near the village before the sun is high. I wonder if Wolf will join us before then?”
“I do not see into Wolf’s mind, my Chief, but I do not think he would go into the village of Suulumaag. He would scout the place where the men disappeared.”
“I agree, Duulaat, drop back through the ranks, see if we need a rest stop yet…find what the mood is…”
“Yes, my Chief.”
Domohaas walked the village for the second time since the war party had left. This time he sought Rahseeta, mate of Duulaat, who had each day visited the Trader's lodge. This day she did not.
He struggled up the slight hill to the Chief’s lodge, saw Rahseeta on the deck and paused before he mounted the steps. His quick eyes caught the tense looks of the three young women surrounding Rahseeta.
Saaleesha, the girl who made the drawing of Wolf, glared at Rahseeta, and then looked at Domohaas. “The mother of the Chief is resting and should not be disturbed, Trader.”
Rahseeta did not smile, but stepped back, “I came only to see if I could be of help to these young girls that care for Malaeeva. It seems they have things well in hand. I will see you at your lodge, Trader.”
The First Guard’s mate walked stiffly down the steps and across the meadow. Domohaas sighed and lowered himself into a chair.
“I did not know what to do!” Cried Laawaleeah, “She was resting, she needs to rest, she was up early…oh, Trader, may I bring you something to drink?”
“You are the girl from the commune? Yes, yes, please, something cool, you are called…?
“Leeah, Trader, yes, the Chief and his mother invited me to stay here while Alahbaand is gone, Alahbaand is my mate, I fear for him and I am alone…I…”
Domohaas reached out a hand and squeezed the girl’s hand, “It is all right little one. I will see what I can do about Rahseeta, but you must expect the mates of the Guards to offer help in caring for the Chief’s mother. They feel it is an obligation.”
The Trader turned to the last girl whose tear stained face pleaded with him. He gently patted her back. Saaleesha stepped forward. “She does not hear or speak well, Trader, she is very upset, Rahseeta was very unkind to her, to all of us. She thinks she should be the one to care for the Chief’s mother. This girl is called Saarosah, she was chosen by the Chief and his mother to stay in this lodge. She does well and should not be treated so badly.”
Domohaas stood up, “Yes, yes…I will do what I can…” He took the drink offered him and downed it quickly. “Thank you, my dear; that was very refreshing. I must get back…we will work this out. Please tell Malaeeva that I stopped by and give her my good wishes.”
Domohaas maneuvered his heavy frame down the steps and across the clearing, shaking his head and muttering to himself.
Sahjeed called his men to a halt as the sun reached halfway to mid sky. He walked among them, watching as they drank deeply, but ate very little of the carefully prepared trail rations.
Shortly before the sun was highest, a scout reported that Suulumaag’s village was in sight.
“We have made good time, my Chief,” said Duulaat.
“Yes, but no sign of Wolf or the boy.” Sahjeed peered through the trees at the outline of a fenced in village. “What are your thoughts, First Guard?”
Duulaat scuffed his hide bound foot in the pine-needled dirt of the forest, “Suulumaag does not know that we come, or how many we are. If things are bad in the village…”
“Ah, yes, I see. Perhaps all but, say, two hands should stay out of sight. I think I should see Suulumaag, you should stay with the main force.”
“Yes, my Chief, I think that would be best. He would not fear just a few men. Do you expect any trouble?”
“I do not know, Duulaat. The village is barricaded but I have seen no one patrolling the open fields. I cannot think that Suulumaag would challenge me, whatever is going on. Do you?”
“I can not say, Suulumaag did not ask us to come, he hasn’t asked for help. No one knows what is going on in the village, only rumors. I would suggest you keep your weapons ready and keep the men alert."
“Good advice, First Guard, I suppose you should have a scout close enough to hear if we have to call for help.”
“Yes, my Chief, I will do that. There is tall grass fairly close to the entrance to the village.”
Sahjeed approached the gate to the village surrounded by his guards. No one appeared on the wall above as they closed to within a few feet of the barricade.
“Hola! In the village!” Sahjeed cupped his hands and shouted.
There was no response for a moment, and then a single head appeared at the top of the barricade, “Who goes there? What do you want?”
Sahjeed raised a hand to block the sun as he looked up, “I am Chief Sahjeed Deeda. First Chief of the People Beedewat has sent me to speak to Chief Suulumaag.”
“Wait! Do not come any closer!” The figure at the top of the barricade shouted and then disappeared.
A few minutes later several figures appeared at the top of the barricade, they all showed bows strung with arrows. The gate before Sahjeed and his men slowly swung outward and more armed men faced the Chief and his guards. One of the men stepped forward, “Only the Chief may enter!”
Sahjeed’s men closed in tighter around him, “I will have one hand of my Guards with me.” Sahjeed said firmly.
The man from the village went back inside for a moment and then came back out, “You may bring only this many,” he held up three fingers, “They must leave their weapons outside!”
“My Guards will not be without weapons. Does Suulumaag fear so few men?” Sahjeed spoke with scorn in his voice.
Again the man from the village turned away and then returned, “Suulumaag fears no one. You may enter.”
Sahjeed’s men surrounded him as best they could and followed the man from the village through the gate, which swung closed behind them.
Sahjeed and his three guards passed through a gauntlet of armed men from the village. None other of the people from the village were visible as they walked up steps into a large lodge.
Sahjeed looked around the large lavishly decorated room to the huge figure sprawled on a heap of furs. Suulumaag did not attempt to rise as Sahjeed approached. As if for show, three bare breasted young women tended to the obese man with drinks and bites of food, he drooled and wiped his lips.
“So…Beedewat finally sent a few braves to my village. Why? What does he want?”
Sahjeed looked upon the grossly huge thighs and distorted belly of the man and wondered if he could even walk. “We have been told of several women missing from your village, Suulumaag. We have also not heard from the two hands of men that were sent before. What can you tell me of them?”
Suulumaag swept his hand slowly across his body, “Nothing…they were here, perhaps a moon ago…they left. My thought was that they returned to their homes. The women missing from the village probably ran away or were taken by the mountain cats or a bear, I do not know.”
Sahjeed’s face was grim as he listened, “Many people from other villages have not heard from family members that live in your village. They say they have been turned back when they try to visit. Why are they not permitted to visit their kin?”
Suulumaag’s face grew hard and reddened, “There is sickness in the village, I do not want others to become ill.”
Sahjeed looked into the narrowed eyes, “I would visit with your People that I might report to the families…”
Suulumaag interrupted, “That will not be possible.” He offered no further explanation, “There is something else you wish…?”
Sahjeed blinked and swallowed, “You would perhaps offer a guide and one hand of men as we search for the lost women?”
Suulumaag laughed, “You have too few men? How many men do you need to kill a bear or a cat? Hah!” He swung his arm and pointed once and then again, “I will give you these to fight the beasts, they are of little use to me.”
Sahjeed looked at the two men Suulumaag had pointed out; both showed streaks of gray in their hair and carried ample bellies before them. He turned back to the heavy jowled man on the furs, “I…”
Suulumaag interrupted, “Enough! I have done as you asked!” He gestured to his guards and they closed around Sahjeed and his men, moving away from Suulumaag.
Sahjeed clenched his jaws together and let his group be led out of the lodge and through the gate in the barricade. He turned and looked back at the walled in village.
Passing through the tall grass, Sahjeed heard the slight movement of the men Duulaat had sent. They stayed out of sight until they were into the brush and then the forest until a small rise obscured the village. Duulaat and the rest of his men moved forward to rejoin Sahjeed.
“Guard these two from the village; kill them if they try to get away!”
Duulaat looked at Sahjeed, “I think I have never seen such anger in your face, my Chief.”
“We will talk later. Let us find a good place to camp, away from here, near water.”
“Yes, my Chief.”
“Guards and scouts are out, my Chief. All have eaten, they rest now.”
“Thank you, First Guard, the two from Suulumaag’s village?”
“Tied and bound to a tree and under guard.”
“Good, I do not trust them. I do not want Suulumaag to know how many we are,” said Sahjeed.
Duulaat added wood to the fire and sat down out of the smoke, close to Sahjeed. “Things are not well in the village?”
“I think it is very bad for the people;” said Sahjeed, “I think we must try to help them, but not at this time. It troubles me.”
Hot drinks were brought as they talked and made plans for the next day. Sahjeed glanced up behind Duulaat into the shadows behind the fire and quickly rose.
Lobolaaht raised his hand and smiled, Alahbaand moved toward the fire from the other side. Duulaat gasped and scrambled to his feet.
“You were not announced! You could not possibly have gotten past the scouts and the guards!” The First Guard was furious.
Wolf stepped forward and grasped Duulaat’s shoulder, “Your Guards are very alert, it took much time to get past them; they nearly had us several times. Young Alahbaand is also very quiet and his eyes are good. He did well. What did you find today, my Chief?”
“Not good, Tracker, but first you, what have you found?”
Duulaat sent for food and drink as Wolf and Alahbaand found places around the fire. “The same as we have been told, my Chief; many tracks leading into the high ground and some, I think are very fresh.”
“How many?” asked Sahjeed, “Can you tell?”
“Only as a guess; a hand of hands, but I think more than one group, we did not have much time.”
“My Chief?” Alahbaand spoke softly.
“Wolf did not agree with me. On my own I went along the water that flows into the village and found a way to speak with some of People. My Chief, they are slaves! They are starved and beaten and forced to work long and hard, it is like the commune was, it is terrible.”
Sahjeed looked from Wolf to the boy. Wolf locked eyes with Sahjeed, “The boy was sure he could stay unseen. It did not please me that he should risk himself, but he was certain. In all other things he follows my advice.”
The Chief stared into the fire, “It is as I suspected. I was not allowed to even see the People. Suulumaag did not offer the hospitality of an open village. Boy, I have promised your new mate that I would bring you back safely. Do not take such risks lightly.”
“Yes, my Chief. Many of the People are concerned about those who live in Suulumaag’s village. I felt an obligation to see for myself. What will you do?”
Sahjeed stood, “We will do what we can, young friend. But first we must do what we came here to do. Then we will think about what is possible and what is not. We must rest now. I want an early start at first light.”