Chapter 21-Yellow and Black
Pell has her short sword strapped to her back, but the big man with the yellow painted face has his arm wrapped around her, pinning her arms to her sides. She is strong enough to grab her black and white flint blade, but the man holds a steel knife across her throat and she doesn't move. Other yellow men surround the edge of the clearing with short heavy clubs spiked with boar's tusks. They are vicious weapons, designed to penetrate deep.
Rapa, Pell's Hoppo protector, is on the ground, suffering a wound to his hip. I charge Rain, my mare, around the clearing, taking count of the yellow men and yell, "Come out and fight."
Wolf yells, "It is a good day to die."
And Pell shouts, "The day is not over."
Wolf's arrow sinks into the eye of the man holding Pell and mine takes the first yellow man I see. As each of us yelled the others armed ourselves. Kaniwa hunters pour into the clearing and the slaughter begins. Wolf is soon out of arrows and pulls his sword to start hacking. I have plenty of arrows and keep riding the perimeter of the clearing as Wolf tries to advance Nudge towards Pell. He takes a gash in the leg from a club and plunges his sword down into the attacker's chest.
A yellow faced man charges Pell, but Rapa now on his feet gets to her first and takes the blow of the club into his back. He collapses on Pell forcing her to the ground and remains on top as I sink an arrow into the attacker's back. He crashes on top of Rapa, but not before sinking the boar tusks of his club deep in the protector's back a second time. The forest grows quiet leaving only the sounds of moaning from fallen warriors; the yellow men have melted through the trees.
Dismounting, I pull the dying yellow man off of Rapa and lift him enough for Pell to crawl out. I quickly look around; the only yellow men are dead, or too wounded to crawl away. There are six Kaniwa hunters wounded and Rapa's wound looks nasty. Wolf is hurt, a thin chunk of flesh taken out of his hip. Nudge also has a wound on his left flank, but bears it without complaint.
Pell says, "Quick, heal our wounded." Wolf takes his staff and starts to apply it to Rapa, but Pell throws a fit. "Heal Kaniwa first, Rapa is not Kaniwa. They look ready to kill each other and Wolf starts to disobey and apply his staff to Rapa, but the Hoppo warrior no longer breathes.
We help Pell in treating the wounded, using our staffs, forest medicines, and modern antibiotics. Losau has joined us and sutures the wounds. She has had lessons in modern emergency treatments for battle injuries.
The butcher's bill is light for the Kaniwa with only Rapa dead. Pell faces Wolf and says, "If one Kaniwa hunter died while you were treating Rapa my authority would be at stake. You once saved his life but you only delayed his death, it is what you call, fate."
I have a hard time recognizing the hard woman before me as the scared innocent girl I met four years ago in school.
The journey starts again with me in the lead followed by Pell. Wolf has stayed behind to build a funeral pyre for Rapa with the help of three hunters and Losau. It is later in the night in camp with the women and children that I receive the word; Wolf has a second wife, a Yellow Face widow of a man he defeated in single combat. I fume and Aurora smirks. When he arrives in camp with Losau and the woman I glare and motion for him to walk out of earshot of the others.
"What the hell are you doing? I warned you against cheating on Losau. It's only two months and you have another woman." I slam my fist into his shoulder.
Taking the blow he says, "Losau insisted that I marry Rhoku."
"Rhoku is it. And, what is that gold collar around her neck?"
"The Yellow Face will try to reclaim the gold." Wolf makes a slicing motion across his neck. Losau made me do it to save her."
"What will you do when you go back to the states? I see this ending badly."
"I'll figure something out," Wolf answers.
"That's the trouble with you, Wolf, you act before you think." I hit his shoulder again and stomp away. I approach Rhoku who has seen everything and wears a scowl on her face. I smile and scoop her into a hug saying, "Welcome."
Later Wolf leads Rhoku out of camp carrying a rolled up hammock. Aurora stands by me and says, "We are not in a position to criticize him; You sneak out of camp every night to meet Upatu, and I sleep with Oure and Cunno."
I, the hypocrite, still steam, and yes I share my hammock with Upatu.
We confiscated a dozen or so spiked clubs from the downed Yellow Face Warriors. They are short, flat, and heavy with two tusks mounted on each edge. The tips of tusks are chisel sharp and nasty; the wound on Wolf's hip has turned putrid.
In three days he has started to weaken and I assign his friend Normu to walk beside him; Rhoku walks on his other side, she has not left him. Wolf slides off Nudge into Normu's arms, so I order a halt and a small shelter of palm leaves erected to keep the rain off of Wolf. Oure administers morphine and penicillin, and then the crones start chewing the ixbo leaves to make the green antibiotic.
The shaman flakes a new edge on his flint knife and purifies it over a small fire. Tipping the blade with Dart frog poison he starts slicing the rotting flesh from Wolf's hip. Satisfied, he tells Losau to stitch the wound after painting the exposed flesh with Ixbo juice. She uses surgical sutures that I'm sure she learned from the school Veterinarian. He is going to have a big ugly scar. Once all the medical techniques, both forest and modern are complete I place my staff to the side of the wound and wait for the coolness to come up my arms. His fever decreases.
Since the Yellow painted tribe's action the passage to the new forest has been easier; our reputation as fighters precedes us. The tribes we encounter maybe unfriendly, but are not hostile. We negotiate carefully to cross their forests. Our worst trouble is crossing the rivers. Each time we have to build a raft and pull them back and forth using the great draft horses. Wolf and Wart swim Nudge and Cloud across pulling a medium rope to pull a cable the women have woven from tree fiber to hold the raft against the current. Aurora is the last one across with the last Clydesdale, but the freshening river breaks the cable and she jumps in to avoid the whip of the taut line. Wolf mounts Nudge and plunges in after her. When we find them They have killed a bunch of filthy slavers and set a number of frightened women and children free. Some of them join our tribe and take on the Kaniwa tattoos and nose rings, including one tall woman of obvious European origin.
The elder, Xilban, dies; a funeral pyre is lit to celebrate her life, and Aurora is appointed her replacement as an elder. Amsoil challenges her and is quickly dispatched not by the new elder, but by his friend Korbo. While Amsoil was a slimy leech, Korbo is a strong hunter and I am sure he will challenge Pell for leadership after Oure dies.
The trek is long, more so when Wolf orders a detour south to avoid some nasty tribes. We find a milepost, a stack of rocks, before we turn west, back to the new forest. It's not soon enough; I have been feeling anxious the last two months. It's a feeling of doom.
Today is a good sunny day and Wolf rides ahead with his squire Athena; strange woman, she speaks Greek in her sleep, sometimes about Thermopylae
At sunset Pell calls a halt and we set camp. I am assigned to the perimeter guard for the night and Upatu seeks me out.
We sling our hammock far from the camp, mostly because we not married, but also to act as sentries during the night. A small smoldering campfire, the smallest possible, captures our gaze and sitting cross ways in the hammock, we feed each other slivers of dried anaconda rubbed with chili.
Upatu says, "It is not important if you do not become happy with child. I have seen too many unhappy children on this journey for my taste; perhaps we can make one happy. I would be happy to be father to such a boy or girl."
"If you had your choice which would it be; a boy or a girl?" I challenge.
"Hah, that is easy; she would be strong and beautiful like her mother."
"Are you sure it wouldn't be a boy who would cry for his mother?"
"Wherever they come from, Kaniwa boys know the value of quiet, but she will be a girl."
I snort, "I hear a boy crying now; perhaps he wants his mother."
"She will soon quiet him down," says Upatu. He starts to recite a story about Gabro the great crocodile trying to outsmart Pumba the great jaguar. They have a contest to see who can catch the most fish, but Tell the great hunter walks down to the bank of the river with his fishing spear and a big grin.
I listen for for the mother of the crying child to sing him to sleep. There is no singing and the boy does not quiet down. A second infant joins in, and a third, and then a woman screams.
I am on my feet charging for the camp, sword and staff in hand. I first encounter a man leaning over a prone Kaniwa woman with a club in his hand. She is moving and he raises his club to strike again. I plunge my sword into his chest below his arm and the club falls. He turns to look at me, his face painted black, and his eyes roll up as blood spits out of his mouth. The sword slips out as he drops.
I stare at him until the crying of children shakes me back to reality. I help the stunned mother roll over freeing two children underneath, and I am off to find the next attacker. He is just two trees away and has my friend Kopell over his shoulder so I plunge the sword into his belly. He looks at me, raises his club, and collapses. I catch Kopell and lower her to the ground before moving on to another attacker.
The night is endless, and I see the enemy die, I see my friends die, and I see children die. I catch glimpses of hunters and knights in close fighting with blood flowing over their flint blades. The black faced men are attacking the women and carrying them away; more filthy slavers. The hunters pursue the black painted men and many fall. I catch a glimpse of Losau, well along in her pregnancy, plunging her short Spanish sword into an attacker's belly as she ducks low to avoid his swinging club.
The morning can't come soon enough and the action is deep in the forest as our hunters pursue the black painted men to recover our women. I am occupied using my medicine staff to stop the bleeding of our women and children. It hurts, there are so many to help. Earlier I had used the staff to hurt the black faced warriors and I need to get rid of the pain I had accumulated. I still am not a master of the talisman. Some of the youth who were bonded with their staffs are also healing victims.
I start taking inventory of our losses; nine women are missing. And four are dead. A few children were killed. We've lost seven hunters.
Late afternoon arrives along with our returning hunters, including the wolves: Shadow, Snow, and my Lady Gay. The blood on their muzzles makes it clear they have done damage, and I shudder to think about the terror they created.
Wolf and Athena returned during the night. Having freed a group of captives. Athena has a head wound and is being carried by the women on a stretched hammock. She is talking in Greek, and the only other person I know who speaks Greek is Aurora, who now serves as an elder for the tribe.
Wolf's friend Normu lost his wife and he has three children. Upatu, my love, lost his unmarried sister, Harpatell, her daughter Monell is now an orphan. I find a little boy, Kendo, who clings to me. One woman Soboro has lost both her husband and her nursing child. She is in shock and I touch her with my staff, causing her to jerk to alertness. I ask her several times to take care of Kendo and she agrees.
Wolf directs me to search the backpacks for sutures and antibiotics. In the first bag I find a supply of pregnancy tests. Nervously I slip one into the waistband of my loincloth. Later I pull Upatu to a private area among the trees I explain to him what I am trying to do. He watches intently as I perform the test. We wait and the stick turns positive.
Oh Lord. It is Upatu's. I firmly believed I was barren, surprise. I desperately think about what this means; not for me, but for Upatu, he cannot become a knight if he is found out to be the baby's father. I spend the next twenty minutes trying to convince him to keep it a secret.