Tau moved to his father’s side as Nkiru arrived.
“Signal smoke, near Daba,” Nkiru said, blowing hard.
“Daba?” said Berko. “Daba?”
Nkiru ignored the Harvester. “‘Hedeni crossing fields’, that’s the message. The Xiddeen must have landed a war party and climbed the cliffs. If they’re in the farming fields it won’t be long before they’re in Daba.”
Tau thought about the wrecked boat. It had been Xiddeen. He wondered how many ships and people the savages lost, mounting this raid.
“Did the message say anything about numbers?” Tau’s father asked.
“No,” Nkiru said. “But, if they’ve come this far—”
“Send men,” Berko pleaded. “You can’t let them reach Daba.”
Aren gave his orders. “Nkiru, Ekon, take the men you have and head for the mountain barracks. Empty it out.”
“Yes!” said a frantic Berko. “I’ll go too.”
“I’m for the Keep. I’ll gather the men there and ask Onai’s Gifted to send an Edification. We’re calling for the military,” Aren told Nkiru. “This isn’t a normal raid. They’ve come too far into our territory.” Aren paused, looking into the faces of his men. “With the Goddess’ strength, we’ll get there in time and be able to hold until the Ihashe and Indlovu arrive.”
Nkiru turned to the men he’d been assigned, doing his best to sound eager. “You heard the Inkokeli. Move!”
The fighters, High-Harvester, and the two Drudge went up the mountain, making for the Taala path. It was the quickest way.
“Go home,” Aren told Tau. He looked grim. “I’ll see you, when this is done.”
Tau watched his father run down the mountain, racing against what little time the people in Daba had before the raiders were among them, and he knew he couldn’t stay behind. Tau Tafari was no Drudge. He would not place the responsibility of his safety on the shoulders of others.
Moving fast, he hid the ration sacks and his practice blade. Then, he belted on his sharpened bronze sword, the one that had belonged to his father’s father. He gripped the hilt, feeling the etchings his grandfather had made, spelling out the family name in a spiral that wound its way from pommel to guard. ‘Solarin’ it read.
Tau ran after his father, knowing he wouldn’t catch him and not wanting to. His grandfather’s sword would see battle again, he thought, as he went to find Jabari. They’d go to Daba together, to fight the hedeni with the rest of the Ihagu soldiers. His father wouldn’t agree, but Tau felt this was his duty. He was almost a Chosen warrior. He needed to act like one.
It wasn’t long before the Onai’s Keep, the largest building in Kerem, came into view. It was two floors tall, had a central courtyard, and was surrounded by an adobe wall that was nine strides high. The adobe was smooth and that spoke to the Onai’s wealth.
Seeing the Keep, Tau felt a twinge of jealousy. This was Jabari’s home. Tau’s mother was High-Common, but he lived with his father, a Low-Common, and they shared a single room hut that was more mud than adobe.
“Eh, what’re you about, Tau?” a raspy voice asked from above.
Tau looked to the top of the Keep’s fortifying wall. It was Ochieng. Ochieng had always been a blustering oaf and, a full cycle older than Tau, he’d already reached manhood. He hadn’t passed the test for the Ihashe though, and he’d come back from the Southern Capital with his head low.
In truth, Ochieng had been fortunate. Tau’s father had spoken on his behalf to the Keep Guard. They respected Aren and had agreed to take Ochieng on as one of their men. Many of Ochieng’s family were already Drudge and, if Aren hadn’t vouched for him, Ochieng would be one too. As it stood, Tau felt Ochieng owed him.
“Open the gate, Ochieng. I don’t have time.”
“Don’t have time, neh? Where’s your hurry?”
“Hedeni raid,” Tau said, hoping the news would shock him into action.
“Just heard. In Daba. What’s it got to do with you?”
“I have to see Jabari.”
“He know you’re here?”
“What do you think?” Tau said.
“Don’t know what you’re fooling about,” Ochieng muttered, disappearing behind the wall. A moment later, Tau heard the heavy latch on the bronze gate swing up and away.
“Hurry. In you get.”
“Didn’t open the gates for you.”
Tau rushed past. Ochieng still felt he owed Tau’s father. He should know Aren didn’t consider owing and owed, when he did a thing. Aren Solarin simply tried to do what was right. And that, thought Tau about himself, was exactly what he was doing.
With his head down, he moved through the Keep’s yards as fast as he dared, hoping not to draw attention. The Lessers in the Keep tended to be High-Commons or up. He saw a few Harvesters, though they were rare, so far from their farms. More often, he came across women from the Governor’s Caste going about their administrative duties.
Tau was headed for the bathhouse. He hoped to find Jabari there. Jabari loved his baths and always said that spending time with Lekan made one feel necessary. Tau figured Jabari wouldn’t have heard about the raid yet and, if he was done dealing with his mother, father, and Lekan, the bathhouse was where he’d be.
He sped up, eyes on the dirt, which was why he came near to knocking his younger half-sister on her ass.
“What in the Goddess’… Tau?” said Jelani, unable to keep the surprise from her face. “Why are you here?”
“Don’t ‘hello’ me.”
“That’ll depend,” Jelani said, glaring at Tau like she’d found a maggot in her rations, “on what I tell her about seeing you here.”
“I’m looking for… Jabari asked to see me.”
Jelani squinted at him. “Jabari?”
“Yes, there’s a raid in the mountains… the hedeni—”
“He’s in the bath house. Find him and leave, before I tell my mother.”
Our mother, Tau thought, inclining his head and walking away. He swore he could feel Jelani’s beetle-black eyes on his back as he went. She hated having a half-low as a sibling and that’s how she thought of him, as a half-low.
It made Tau want to yell that he was as High-Common as she was. Status came from the woman who bore you, and his name was Tafari, just like hers. It wouldn’t have done any good. Jelani knew their mother wouldn’t have anything to do with him, or Aren.
Pushing Jelani out of mind, Tau stepped up to the bath house, opened its door, and was hit by a blast of hot scented air. “Jabari?” he said into the fog. He didn’t dare go in. “Jabari?”
“Tau? That you?” said Jabari’s familiar voice. “What are you about?”
“Violence,” Tau told the son of his Umbusi.Get the Book or Continue to Part 7