younger mother-Traditionally your biological mother's sisters are your mothers; younger mothers are younger sisters of your mother and elder mothers are elder sisters of your mother.
I was surprised at Khuze's apology. Her cleaning and dressing my wounds hurt but she did it gently which I did not expect. I suppose she felt bad for getting me caught. We were all tired from the previous night. But it was already dawn when they rescued me, so we pushed on, fearing that the Vukutu would discover the bluff or that we would delay our mission. Mazaza would exchange with Nyasha and Khuze, as the rest of us dozed. They all refused me to let me take over.
"You need to rest." Khuze said. That day, we stopped just before dusk , finding a cave to sleep in.
Cold water rushing down my body woke me. I looked around the dark small hut I was held in. A Vukutu man stood before me holding a dripping earth pot. He placed the pot down and raised his fist. I tried to block it but the restraints holding both my hands to the walls of the hut, prevented me. He hit me twice. The air circulating around my bare upper body revealed to me they knew who I was. Khuze shouting who I was at the river must have alerted them. They had probably been on the other side of the river. The man withdrew from me. A dagger pierced my skin from behind, the wielder etched it from my lower back to my mid-back. I groaned from the pain. He stuck the dagger into another part of my back and continued piercing into my skin. Another blow from the man in front of me, then another.
"Enough Vuwa," the man in front said to the man behind me.
"C'mon I just started having my fun with him," Vuwa hissed stabbing another part of my back. He was experienced with the human body for sure. He made sure his wounds were deep enough to hurt but shallow enough keep me from bleeding out.
"You can have all the fun you want with him tomorrow at his execution."
I woke up with a start. I was safe now. I was not in the Vukutu camp. I lay back down on my mat.
"Where is your father?" My uncle asked, holding me by my hair.
My eyes focused on the floor of the hut. A kick from behind sent me to the floor. I turned to see my younger mother who had kicked me and was laughing.
My uncle re-established his grip on my hair, which had come loose in from the impact of the kick. "Answer me."
"He is dead." I answered reluctantly.
"He got into the waters to wrestle the crocodile because he had nothing to live for." My younger mother said.
My eyes focused on the floor again.
"Nod when she speaks to you!" My uncle said lifting me with the braids he had held onto. He put me down and I nodded my head.
"He knew he was going to die but he didn't care because you were a horrible son," My younger mother continued.
I nodded my head fearing being lifted with my braids again. My hair had started to grow back after Uncle yanked it out last time.
My younger mother slapped me twice. "He died because he did not want to raise you."
Again I nodded, tears welling in my eyes.
"Leaving us to raise you." Uncle said.
"Thank you for taking me in." I recited. For I knew if I did not say anything I would not be able to walk properly for a week.
Mother hurled a punch at me. "Say it like you mean it."
I stumbled backwards. Then readjusted myself, kneeling before them. I recited again this time with more feeling.
"Get out." Uncle spat.
I rushed out of the hut so fast, scared he would change his mind. I could run away. I could go away now. But where to? My eyes opened. I searched the cave. Nyasha, Mazaza and Khuze were all asleep. I walked outside the cave. I sat on a large rock facing the river which was at a distance. I felt weight on my shoulder. I flinched as I turned around. It was Nyasha. He perched himself beside me.
"Are you okay? I know being held in the camp probably brought back memories?"
"I am not okay."
Nyasha squeezed my shoulder.
"I will be okay." We sat in silence, both watching the river. At dawn I cooked porridge made from millet.
"What are you doing cooking?" Khuze said coming out of the cave. "Your wounds are still sore. You should not be moving this much."
"I tried to tell him," Nyasha said.
"I am almost done." I told her. After I finished, she checked my wounds. Rubbing mono onto my bruises on my face and there ones on my back. Did she notice the scars and burns on my back? Where did she think they were from?
"Thank you," I smiled up at her when she told me she was done.
Her lips formed a small smile. "It's the least I could do. Did you sleep alright? I know from experience it's hard not being able to sleep on your back."
"I slept alright."
Nyasha dished out his share of the porridge into a wooden bowl.
Each day, till my wounds healed, Khuze would inspect my wounds and rub mono on the ones that had not healed yet.
Mazaza brought the cart to a halt. "Look," his finger was pointing in the distance. Between the green and brown foliage were two elephants trunks locked and each tugging the other. They were sparring. They were in a deadlock, then finally the one closest to us managed to pull the other down.
I missed my daily sparring sessions with Zidana. Out of the 683 matches we had, I had finally won one two months ago.
"Nyasha, could we spar with me this evening when we stop?" I asked.
Nyasha nodded. "I enjoy hitting your uptight butt. But is he all healed up, I don't want him to have an excuse when I kick his butt." He looked at Khuze.
"He is okay. He won't be able to blame his wounds." Khuze replied with a smile. Her long golden hair looked like the sun's rays. She was a beautiful girl. I was starring. I averted my eyes, turning them to the trees and grass we were travelling across.
Once we made camp, Nyasha and I sparred. I lost once, Nyasha lost three times. Mazaza took the cows to drink water at the stream which was not far from our camp. Panting and covered in sweat, I went to lay down on my matt. I took pieces of lamb biltong. Nyasha hurled himself on his matt. Mazaza returned with the bulls.
"Ready?" Khuze said glancing up at Mazaza.
He nodded his head. They both walked where me and Nyasha had been sparring. I watched them spar, by the end of the first round, Khuze had Mazaza in a chokehold with her legs. That tiny girl had the very tall and broad Mazaza in a chokehold. The next round, he won. The last, she had him a chokehold with her arms.
"I see you only asked to spar with Mazaza, to make a fool of him." Nyasha crowed.
Khuze bit on a piece of biltong, her lips drawn out into a smirk.
Mazaza laid down on his mat. "Who taught you to fight using nsato?"
Nsato was the martial arts form of Amanda.
"My mother." She replied.
"Ah, so the rumours of Khataza marrying an ex-amanda assassin are true?" I said.
"How did she end up in Amanda?" Nyasha asked.
"Her father had a debt with a kyangonde man. He gave her up as payment when he failed to pay it when she was seven. Her husband demanded all rights one would expect of a husband. At nine, she poisoned him, the village wanted to put her to death when she was rescued by two Amanda assassins and trained by them."
The council was doing all it could to end the archaic practice of selling daughters as debt collateral but clearly there was a lot of work to be done. I winced at the thought of being forced to play wife to a man old enough to be your father.
"How did she meet your father?" Nyasha inquired.
"Apparently my father hired her to teach him combat. He had some sort of deal with her superior. They fell in love."
"So the blade throwing that was her weapon of choice?" I asked.
Khuze nodded. "She used to make me practice twice a day, it sucked but," She threw a blade that glided below my ear onto the tree behind me. "I am glad she did."
"You should train with someone of your calibre." Nyasha placed his hand on my shoulder.
"Fight my husband?" she placed her hand on her chest and leaned backwards to dramatize shock. "What abomination is this?"
We all laughed.
"Why did they train you so vigilantly?" Mazaza asked.
"Being born with milky skin, it has come with its challenges. They have been many attempts to harvest my bones. So my parents felt it pertinent to..."
"Turn you into a human weapon." Nyasha finished.
She nodded her head touching her neck, "This necklace it protects me from such kidnappings too."
I bit into the piece of biltong in my hand. There was sadness in her eyes when she talked of her milky skin. Had she suffered much because of it?
"Mazaza, I had no idea you were once Vukutu. How did you join the Mlenje?" Khuze asked. Mazaza turned away from the bulls facing the cart that held us.
"My grandfather was a rapist. My family lived in an encampment similar to there one we stayed in. When I turned thirteen, I went to live with my tribe. But everyone treated me with contempt and fear. I knew I had two options become Vukutu or train hard and be picked to join the council's army." His gaze returned the bulls.
"Why wasn't returning to the encampment an option?" Khuze inquired. The Rukuru river looked like a large snake, lying on its back. It swelled and contracted like muscles do when you pick something heavy.
"Because, I did not miss hunger, the harsh sun of the treeless land we stayed in and the constant harassment from the Vukutu."
"Are you happy as a Mlenje?" She asked.
He nodded his head. "I met my wife, a clerk in Mchengautuwa. We've built a good life. I went back and took my parents and siblings to Mchengautuwa."
"Do you have children?"
"Three. Two girls and a boy."
"How old are they?"
Mazaza told her his firstborn was 15, his second born the boy was 12 and the last was 3.
"That last one was mistake wasn't she?" Khuze said, laughing.
"Chauta makes no mistakes." Mazaza retorted.
Khuze's eyes and mine met. I turned away, focusing my eyes on the turbulent tides of the Rukuru.
"When we sparred yesterday you said if you lost you would do whatever I wanted." Khuze said giving me her Ikwa .
I glanced at the water teeming with crocodiles and hippos. "I never agreed to this, Nyasha agreed on my behalf."
"And you didn't protest," Nyasha crowed.
"I did. You two ignored me."
I lost because, during combat, I was distracted by a thought. That thought was, she smelled so good. She leg swept me into one of her chokeholds.
"Fine," I conceded, curling my fingers around the short spear. At least I had this, if something went wrong. Mazaza was away making the bulls drink at a part of the river that did not have crocodiles. Nyasha and Khuze climbed a tree near the river. I lay down clutching the spear tightly. I was directly below Nyasha and Khuze.
"It's coming, don't move." Nyasha said.
"Don't. Don't try to look towards the river." Khuze said. Its footsteps got louder and louder. Just when I was about to lose my nerve and ran, Khuze dropped down from the tree branch. I exhaled and pulled myself from the sand. Her spear was lodged into the beast's mid-section.
"It's dead." She announced after sometime. We had all gotten tired of the biltong. That's when the crocodile hunting expedition was suggested by Nyasha. Nyasha, myself and Khuze dragged the large animal into the cart. Even though it was dead, riding with it back to the cave we had found, was a little frightening. At the cave, Nyasha and Khuze gutted the crocodile throwing away it's poisonous parts.
"What if you had not landed on it?" I asked. The shock of the expedition was still surging through me. I exhaled a couple of times.
"She had me as back up," Nyasha retorted.
"You, two are fuelled by excitement." Mazaza said.
"That they are." I said.
"You sound like Siopi, my wife. She complains about it but I think secretly she finds it attractive." Nyasha crowed.
My eyes moved from the animal to Khuze. I caught her gaze. Our eyes locked. Then she looked down at the corpse.
"How close are we to our destination?" Mazaza asked.
"A fortnight at most." She replied.
A fortnight. Something pinched my heart. I had grown accustomed to her presence these last few weeks. Why was I distracted with how she smelt? Why did I not look forward to returning to Mchengautuwa. Mazaza and Nyasha took turns snoring. I turned myself. Khuze was seated in the far side of the cave. Her knees pulled up covering her face. I got up, walked till I got to where she was. Silently I sat next to her.
She turned to face me. "Nyasha told me how your parents died. I am sorry I scared you when you were swimming. It was juvenile."
"My parents were killed by Vukutu thugs who were in conflict with our village. Khataza found me hidden under their kama. I was two years old. He took me in. Found and killed everyone involved in that attack."
"It was kind of him to take you in."
"It bothers me that I don't remember what they look like."
"You were two, that's quiet young."
"I know but I just wish I remembered something about the way they looked."
I starred at the cave's entrance, at the slice of moonlight that shined the bushes that Mazaza had placed at the cave's entrance.
"My mother, she loved to swim. A crocodile had migrated into our village's part of the river but no one knew. My mother was swimming, I was on the bank watching her when the beast took her away from me. I ran home and told my father. By the time, we got to the river, her clothes were floating at the surface."
She placed her hand on my shoulder. "Oh Aya..."Her eyes were filled with pity, I looked away.
"My father was so angry. He went to confront the beast. When he did, he killed it and it killed him. I was eight."
Her fingers stroked the back of my neck.
"I often wonder why he did that? Why was he so willing to leave me alone? Was I not enough?"
She placed me in her embrace. I arched my back away from her but then relaxed it. She stroked my back for sometime. She pulled away.
She pushed her back against the wall. "Who did you stay with after your parents died?"
"I stayed with my mother's sister and her husband."
"Is that who put the scars on your back?"
I looked away and nodded my head. She placed her hand on my shoulder.
"If Zidana had not chosen me, I would have died at my aunt and uncle's hand, my own or joined the Vukutu." I turned my gaze towards her. I could not read the expression her face. It was not pity.
"How old were you when they picked you as an elder?"
"I was 13. Sometimes I wonder if Zidana saw the desperation in my eyes and chose me out of pity."
"No, he chose you because you are mature and perceptive."
I smiled down at her, moving myself till I was next to her against the wall. Her shoulder was nestled beneath mine. I should move. I should move but I liked being this close to her.
"I completely misjudged you."
My lips lifted in a smile. "And I you. I am going back to bed."
"I should too."
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also yes yes my stories tend to be fast pace but i promise there is alot going on and the end is not near!