31 May, 2012

The March

Once they were out of view of the village, the Mrynan put down the Newcomer. They begged her pardon, using a familiar trader tongue and bid her to continue with them on their march back to what their walled town. When she tried to run away, she was tripped, dusted down and offered a ride on one of the broad shoulders. The Newcomer preferred to walk and had to hop-skip in order to try keep up with the Mrynan’s long, hairy legs.

As they walked, the Mrynan sang songs in their own tongue. Some fast, some slow and one that appeared to be so sad that the men cried as they sang. After this last song, the men fell silent, occasionally wiping away a falling tear. The Newcomer wondered at what this song could be – a song so sad that these fierce warriors would cry. She tapped the man who marched beside her and asked him about the song.

“The song is the story of our women,” the man said, smudging dirt across his pink cheeks. The other men called him Ove. “Our people are at war and at the last battle, our brother tribe betrayed us. They hid in the mountains, under the stone and the enemy overwhelmed us. We ran back to our women and children ashamed and crying our loss. Our women thrust the children in our hands and told us to run, for if we men stayed, we would all die, and if they ran, they would slow us down and none would escape. So our women went out to meet our enemies and they bought us time with their lives. We and our children came here to recover our strength and then one day, we will avenge ourselves upon our enemies. We have heard news that of all the Mrynan women who went out that day, only the children we carried away survived. We sing for the loss of our wives and the memory of their bravery. We sing for our shame and vow that we will never kill another man’s women and children again.”

This was confusing. Was not forcing villagers to give up their young boys and girls as bad as killing them, seeing as their families never saw them again?

Another Mrynan, called Hjalmar, answered this question.

“We do not kill the young ones we take,” he told the Newcomer while picking out food scraps from his bushy beard. “The girls like you, do the women’s work and the boys we turn into mighty warriors that even our enemies will fear if they find us here. We teach you new things and about metal. We teach you to become a greater people. We do a good thing. One day you will understand.”

“One day,” Ove said, “Our enemy will learn we are here and come after us. They will kill your people and ours. At that time, we will need to help each other.”

When the Newcomer asked they did not tell the villagers so, why they did not offer to teach the villagers properly and why they did not also teach the girls to fight, the Mrynan laughed.

“You ask too many questions for a girl,” said the Chief Mrynan, who had been listening to the discussion. “Your people to do not trust us. We invaded your land and had to fight to build our town. It is the man’s job to protect his wife and children. If women fought as a man, who would cook our bread and bear our children? A good woman is like a rare jewel. Easy to lose and hard to find. Don’t worry. We will take care of you. Maybe in time, you will allow one of our young men to choose you as wife.”

Seeing her horror, the Mrynan laughed, their sorrow forgotten. They struck up a happier tune that carried them up to the great wooden gates of their town. It was a song, Ove said when they had entered the town, that told the story of a girl who with the help of a hunter, tricked an evil stranger into a swamp and became the hunter’s beautiful wife.

The story did not stop the Newcomer from noticing when the big gates were slammed shut behind her.

30 May, 2012

The Village

Every morning, the women and girls of the village would get up early to pound their day’s grain into flour. Families were habitually drawn out of deep sleep by the sound of the thumping and the melody of the women’s pounding song. Out the door of the grass huts, they would be greeted by the sight of the women’s step dance, performed to the steady, unbroken rhythm of the pounding sticks in the deep drums dug out of old tree trunks. All the women moved in sync, their timing set by the Chief’s Wife. Any woman or girl that broke the rhythm or stepped out of time was called names and ignored by all the women for the rest of the day.

Nobody had spoken to the Newcomer for weeks. She was always out of time and lagging behind in both steps and rhythm to the song. None of them even knew her name. They only knew that she had arrived a month ago, skinny and starving, asking if she might join their village for a time. She did not know how to do the women’s chores and did not have the strength for them when taught. The Chief’s Wife was near her wit’s end with this young girl’s incompetence. It was no wonder this stupid girl’s village had cast her out. What use was a woman who could not pound the grain into flour within a few hours or make the day’s bread? What use was a girl who could not make clothes, tend the fire or forage for roots and fruits?

The time of the yearly sacrifice was coming and the village had already agreed that when the sun-haired Mrynans came to collect their offering, they would offer the Newcomer. This way, their children would be safe for another year, they would rid their village of a nuisance and appease the huge white-skinned strangers who lived behind the white stone walls a day’s run from their community. The Newcomer was unaware of this and the villagers did not intend to make it known to her until the day came, in case she tried to run away.

The sky-eyed, sun-haired Mrynans came marching with their shining spears and long plaited hair bouncing behind them. Bright, polished bucklers hung off their backs and their long, shaggy beards still held the previous day’s meal caked in them. Chunky throwing axes were thrust in their belts and braids of the hair of their enemies caked in dried blood hung in tassels around their waists. The more tassels, the greater the warrior and his standing among the Mrynan.

It was mid-morning and the Mrynan stood at the edge of the village where all the villagers had gathered. No words were spoken.

The Chief Mrynan and the Village Chief cast their weapons on the dust and sat. This was the signal both sides had been waiting for.

A sack of grain was carried out by a young villager and placed in the dust separating the two peoples. A belt of metal knives were tossed by its side by a burly Mrynan. Another sack of grain was brought out and exchanged for a bundle of spear heads. This went on until no more sacks of grain were brought out.

At the Village Chief’s nod, his cup of was brought out and filled in the sight of all with his village’s best beverage, a mild alcoholic drink made of sweet fermented tubers. At the same time, the Mrynan Chief unhooked his cup from his belt and filled it with a fiery liquid that his right-hand man poured from a clay bottle. The chiefs exchanged cups and drank, tipping the cups upside down when finished to prove they had drunk all. The cups were returned and the men waited to see whether either had performed treachery.

When neither chief fell dead or appeared ill, the Mrynan men began to itch at their weapons and fidget with the tassels around their waists. Then the Mrynan Chief stood. The Mrynan Chief picked up his weapon and hefted it, while the Village Chief remained on the ground, head bowed. Now the sun-haired strangers drew their weapons and advanced on the villagers behind their chief. The village warriors blocked their advance and blue met brown in hostile stares until the Newcomer was pushed and shoved out from behind the protection of the village warriors.

With deep booming laughter, the Mrynans gathered around the bewildered girl to examine her, talking in their strange guttural tongue. Satisfied, the Mrynan’s flicked their sun-coloured plaits and cast mocking smiles at the villagers. The shivering Newcomer was tossed over a huge shoulder like a sack of grain and carried off. It was only once the Mrynans were out of sight that the villagers picked up the metal they had bought with their grain and re-entered their village, resuming their daily activities as if nothing had happened.

03 May, 2012


Alan had come over to the Thornton's for dinner. He was their favourite boy and after his failed application to get into university, they decided he needed cheering up.

Alan was one of those people that brightened up a room just by walking into it and made people laugh just by making a simple observation. For example, tonight Batty was wearing a matching green glass necklace and earrings.

"He'll say she's a mermaid," Chiena said.
"No, he'll say it reminds him of bobbly seaweed," said Pom.
"Maybe a jewel tree," said Drayf.
"Emerald tree?" suggested Batty.

When Alan had joined them, he said, "Batty, tell me those beads didn't come from your nose." Which had of course cracked them up. Alan had looked pleasantly bemused. He always looked bemused when they laughed at what he said.

Now, Batty was stirring the soup, Pom was making mini pavlovas with cream cheese for dessert, Drayf was basting the chicken and Chiena draining the vegetables. Alan had fallen asleep in front of the tv, the long drive back home from the interview in the city had tired him out. It was probably for the best, because just like they had in high school, they were going to play the game of guess the special ingredients - or at least Alan was, seeing as they all knew exactly what was going into everything. They used to tease him by making him special cupcakes or cookies just to see him freeze and try to swallow the strange tasting concoctions they had come up with. Seaweed cookies, salted cupcakes and mini toothpaste cheesecakes were only a few of the things they had afflicted upon the poor boy.

"Hey, wake up, Alan. Dinner's ready," Chiena shook him awake. "Come on, come and eat."
"I smell chocolate," Alan sniffed.
"I think you smelt wrong," said Chiena. "You'll have to do better than that. There. Sit."

The girls placed the bowl of soup in front of the tired boy and ate with him.

"What's in here?" Alan asked, scooping up the soup and letting it dribble from the spoon to see if he could find any mysterious ingredients that might serve as a warning.
"Guess," said the girls laughing.
"Carrots? Cucumbers? Avaocadoes? Leeks? Green chewing gum?" Alan asked, receiving shakes of the head at every suggestion. He looked down into the bowl, sniffing it and tasting it. "I don't know. I'm mistified," he said looking up and showing the girls that his his glasses had steamed over.
"There's nothing yucky," offered Drayf with a giggle. "Think of nicer foods."
"Cabbages? Peas? Green food dye?"
"Green jelly powder," Pom said. "There."
"Green jelly powder?" Alan sniffed. "That's why it's so sweet. Thank you, Pom."
"It's not bad, is it?" asked Batty.
"It was Batty's idea," Chien said. "Warm green jelly soup for starters. Looks like some sort of other clarified soup, doesn't it?"
"Or sweetened bile," Alan licked his lips.
"Oh!" Drayf dropped her spoon and glared. "Thanks."
"What's bile?" asked Batty.
"You don't want to know," Drayf said and Pom nodded agreement.
"Anyway," said Batty finishing her bowl, "it tastes nice."

Alan opened his mouth to say more, but Drayf clapped pointed a finger.
"No. No more. You'll put the others off their food," she said.
Alan sighed.
"Takes all the fun out of it, Drayf. I'm meant to put them off their food."
"Not while we're eating, thanks. Wait here, we'll go get the mains."

Alan tasted his chicken and then his vegetables, rolling the food around his mouth, thinking. He took another few bites.
"Well?" demanded Batty.
"Mistified," said Alan and sure enough his glasses had been misted over again by the steaming plate. The girls giggled. "Let me see," he peered through his foggy glasses, clearly going by the taste. "I see juice. Some sort of fruit juice."
"Grape," nodded Pom. "Good guess."

Since dessert was cold, Alan excused himself for a few minutes and when he came back, his glasses were all fogged up.
"It's so you can stay mistified, isn't it?" asked Drayf.
"That's right," said Alan, tasting his pavlova. "Cheese and... is that corn?"
"Corn chips, to be correct," said Pom.
"Huh," said Alan, nodding.
"But there's still another special ingredient in there," Pom said.

Alan wiped his glasses with a napkin to try and get a good look at his dessert, but as soon as he'd wiped away the condensation, it gathered again.

"The glass should have warmed up enough by now," he muttered, tasting his pavlova again. "I only put it in the freezer for a few minutes."
"Can you guess?" asked Batty.
"Umm," Alan peered at her through his foggy glasses, thinking and taking another mouthful. "No. I'm mistified."