The Chief Pt. 02 Ch. 18byamicus©
The women held captive by Suulumaag screamed and cried out as the villagers came back through the main gate into the center of the fenced in cluster of lodges and hide houses. The women and children from the high ground people stood uneasily and gathered in a group just inside the closed gate.
Cooking fires were started as the people returned; Ulla Coodra spoke to calm her people as the confusion slowly abated and a child’s laughter was heard rising above the muted voices.
Sahjeed sat quietly in Suulumaag’s lodge, nodding as guards came and went with information and food and drink for the Chief.
Wolf and Alahbaand waited until Duulaat stepped out, gestured to them and to Ulla Coodra, medicine woman of the high ground people.
The Chief greeted each one as they stepped into the room and remained standing until it was quiet again.
“The boy, Teeda Coodra, he did well?”
“Yes, my Chief,” said Alahbaand, “But he was anxious to join the fighting once the village people were safe.”
Sahjeed smiled, “And you my young friend, your wound?”
“It did not re-open, my Chief, but I am not yet ready to fight again.”
Sahjeed smiled again; “Nor should you have to, your mate will be angry at me as it is.”
The Chief turned to Lobolaaht, “My tracker friend, the big step has been taken, it was your advice and counsel that made it so, I am in your debt.”
Lobolaaht bowed his head slightly, “You only needed to say the words, my Chief; the answers were in your mind.”
Sahjeed grasped Wolf’s good arm with his own, “You are too modest, Tracker, your mind is to be as valued as your skills on the trail. I am fortunate to have found you.” Sahjeed pulled back from Lobolaaht and looked from face to face of those around him. “We must send news to our People, I would ask who and how many should go. I must speak with the People of Suulumaag’s village and we must decide about Ulla Coodra and her People. I would have your thoughts.”
The Medicine woman of the high ground People looked from face to face and then dropped to her knees before Sahjeed, “I would speak, my Chief.”
“What are your thoughts, Ulla Coodra?”
“More men were killed today, my Chief. The people of this village may have reason to be bitter against my People. There is also the matter of the women taken from this village. There is the difference in how we live; we do not live inside walls of wood and only in the caves during the cold times. The women are concerned about how we shall survive, as am I, my Chief. I do not see an easy answer.” The medicine woman looked again at each person and opened her mouth to speak again but did not for a long moment. “I have spoken.”
Sahjeed blinked as he listened and then paced back and forth before those gathered, “I, we, will think on your words Ulla Coodra. Thank you.”
Sahjeed turned to the men, “Who shall we send to tell our People of what has happened? They will be very anxious for news.”
First Guard Duulaat stepped forward, “I would send one hand each of Scouts and Guards, my Chief. We would still have enough to fight and two hands can defend themselves if need be.”
Sahjeed nodded, “Yes, pick the swiftest of foot. If they leave soon they will arrive before the darkness. They must know of each who has fallen. There will be much grief; you must speak gently to the People. We will follow at the next sun or perhaps another sun, but no later. I will send a scout if that changes.”
Duulaat said, “Yes, my Chief,” and turned to leave, then stopped, My Chief, shall I go with the Scouts or remain with you?”
Sahjeed blinked and did not answer for a moment, “I would have you stay, First Guard. Tell a Guard to speak to your mate and to my mother before any other.”
“Yes, my Chief,” said Duulaat as he turned and left.
“First Guard…” Sahjeed called out.
Duulaat stopped and turned around, “Chief?” “Gather the People of Suulumaag’s village in a place where I can speak to them.”
“Yes, my Chief.”
“What will you say, my Chief?’ asked Ulla Coodra.
“I do not know, Medicine woman. I think I will listen most of all. I do not know what I will hear.”
A quiet, cowed and frightened group of women, young and old and many, many children formed a half circle in an open grassy area in the center of the village. Only a few young men, a few more middle aged and a few old, were sprinkled throughout the women and children. None looked into the eyes of Sahjeed and his guards.
Sahjeed Deeda stood tall and looked from side to side and then again at the gathering before him, “Is there one who would speak for all?” he asked in a firm but gentle voice.
There was movement as the people looked back and forth at each other but no one rose.
Sahjeed waited a moment longer before he spoke again, “I am Sahjeed Deeda, Chief of my People. I was sent by the First Chief of all the People to ask of the People of the village of Suulumaag. My men and I are here to help you, to restore the freedom of the People. How can I best do that? How can we help you?”
Again, there was a nervous shuffling about, but no one rose. Lobolaaht moved next to Sahjeed and whispered in his ear. The People shuddered and pointed at the disfigured Tracker as he hobbled his way to the Chief.
Sahjeed nodded and turned to face the villagers again, “Suulumaag is no more, his guards are no more. Are there those among you who have committed crimes against the people? Tell me and they will be punished, you need fear them no longer!”
The people before Sahjeed were suddenly animated and talking with each other. A large bodied man with streaks of gray in his long hair slowly rose; a woman on either side of him provided support as he stood. His face was heavily wrinkled and he grimaced as he moved forward, one faltering step at a time.
“I am Caljaanian; I was a woodsman and a good one, now I am not a man at all. If you do not speak truth, then do with me as you will; I do not wish to live any longer. But I will speak for the People if you wish.”
Sahjeed was stunned as the man moved clear of the crowd. His hands and feet were bound in stained bandages, every step showed pain in his face.
“He tried to stop Suulumaag!” said the woman supporting his left side, “They chopped off his fingers and toes and left him to die. It is a wonder he lives. They killed all the younger men who would not join them.”
Sahjeed lowered his eyes, ”I cannot tell you the anger I feel, Woodsman, nearly a full moon ago we sent two hands of men, they did not return. There is a Medicine woman, who can perhaps ease your pain, if you would permit?”
“They would allow no medicine for my use, I would welcome your help, but, you have a Medicine woman with you?”
Sahjeed gestured to Duulaat and with another guard they went to the man and lifted him between them, “I will explain, Woodsman, but first, let us care for your injury.”
Sahjeed watched as they carried the man away and then turned back to the people, “Who is the Elder that would speak for the People?”
An old man, thin and nearly bald, with a paunch, rose slowly and looked around, receiving nods from the rest, “It seems I have outlived all the rest, although I do not know how, Chief Sahjeed. Your name is well known and respected in this village. We have long hoped someone would come.”
Sahjeed bowed slightly to the Elder, “Are there any left among you who should not be; those who have committed crimes against the People?”
The old man shook his head slowly, “There was one, but when we were lead away from the village he tried to run, your guards told him to stop but he did not. He is no more.”
“Elder, people from many villages have asked to know about their kin in this village, I have men from Galawaand’s village and they too wish to know.” Sahjeed looked again across the group of listening people, then motioned to Alahbaand and Teeda Coodra and spoke quietly.
As the two boys left, Sahjeed let a small bitter smile crease his cheeks, “This has not been a good time for you; nor has it been for us, we have suffered losses also.” The Chief paused until he heard sounds of movement coming toward the waiting people. “Some good must come from even the worst of times.” The people of Suulumaag’s village gasped and surged forward as one, when the four missing girls shyly made their way before them. They were touched and hugged and caressed and tears and wails flowed as Sahjeed remained silent and watched.
“We thought they were no more!” said the Elder. Other voices joined in, “They were said to be taken by a bear…” “…Wolves…” said another.
Sahjeed waited until the faces turned toward him again, he pointed to Teeda Coodra, “This boy, who crawled beneath the barricade and protected you as you left the village; this boy…is not of our people.”
“Then who?” asked the elder as others looked with questions on their faces.
Sahjeed gave a brief recount of what had happened and why, then motioned to the boy. A moment later the high ground women came slowly before the villagers with children in arms and tugging on clothing from behind the mothers.
“This is all that remains of three caves of high ground people, the others are no more.” Sahjeed spoke quietly, “They must leave their homes; they have no men left to protect them and hunt for them. The women have asked to be permitted to hunt for themselves. I have agreed. I would have the thoughts of the people of this village.”
The people of Suulumaag’s village turned to each other and talked and pointed but could find no voice to give words to Sahjeed. The Chief paced back and forth between the groups looking from one to the other.
“This moment has been in my mind for several suns,” said Sahjeed, “My thinking is this: the high ground women from one cave will stay here, with you. They will hunt and find food for themselves and for you. They ask to be treated as free people; they are not beholden to me or to the People.” Sahjeed paused, “I will not force this upon the people of Suulumaag, I must know your thinking.”
Again the people turned and talked to each other, Sahjeed motioned to Ulla Coodra and she had the high ground people separate into those from each of the three caves.
When it was finally quiet, the elder who had spoken before stood forth. He looked from face to face and then turned to Sahjeed and the people from the high ground, “Chief Sahjeed, my people are overjoyed at the return of the women we thought to be lost forever. We are grateful beyond words for the Chief and his men for setting us free.
“We will accept the high ground people from one cave or more if needed, we too share the pain of losing so many of our men.” The elder paused and again looked from face to face, “That women should do things that only men have done before…is a new thing and not the way of the People. But I see no other way for us to survive. The cold season is near and food supplies are low, I think it must be so that women can hunt. I have spoken.”
Sahjeed nodded as the elder spoke; he smiled softly and turned to the Medicine Woman of the high ground people, “Do you understand the words of the elder enough to tell your people?”
Ulla Coodra moved alongside Sahjeed, sought his eyes and then turned to the people of Suulumaag’s village, “I was the daughter of the leader of my cave and sister to another. My mother was a healer to my people, as am I. I understand our people need not have had the battle that took so many lives. I have great sorrow for my people.
“The ways of my people are different than yours. When a woman is left alone outside a cave, it means, to us, that she wishes to find a mate and move to a new cave. Our men did not know of your ways, they came only to trade, not to take that which was not theirs.
“I speak your words only because I learned from the women taken from your village. I understand that you have offered to let us stay and hunt as men do, that we may all survive the cold time. I will tell this to my people.”
The Medicine woman of the high ground people turned toward the three separate groups and stomped her foot three times on the dusty ground. Her people stood tall and gave her full attention. She spoke to them for several minutes as all the others looked and listened in silence.
When she stopped speaking, one after another, the three groups, one from each cave, bowed and each person held their hands out, palms up for all to see.
Ulla Coodra looked first at Sahjeed and then faced Suulumaag’s people, “I have done something never before done by a woman in the history of my people.
“I have talked with my people as we waited while the men of Sahjeed healed. I explained to them what choices we might have. They asked me then and confirm now, that I am to speak for them, for each cave.
“We were all of great hope that you would forgive what has happened and permit us to join with you. We were prepared to go on without your help, if it came to that.”
Ulla Coodra bowed deeply, “I would offer great appreciation to Sahjeed and his men. They have treated us fairly and kindly and with respect; they shared what they had and hunted for us. They could have treated us badly and left us to die. They did not.”
She paused again and took a deep breath, “It was with great warmth that I heard your words allowing us to stay in your village. Our ways are different in many things. I hope we can learn from each other.
“We have given oath to Chief Sahjeed Deeda and his People; we have accepted that we are now, ‘one’ with your People. We shall work hard to earn that honor, in all ways. I thank you and my people thank you for making us welcome.” The Medicine woman turned to Sahjeed, “I have spoken.”
Sahjeed took a small step toward Suulumaag’s people, “It is spoken, do all agree?”
The people of the freed village bowed as one and as had the high ground people, stretched both arms out, palms up, in acceptance.
Sahjeed nodded and smiled as both peoples moved slowly and cautiously toward each other.