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.

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