How the Highland People Came to Be
Click on image to enlarge.
by Bruce Holland Rogers
Description: Masquerading as a princess from a faraway kingdom, a simple village girl promises wealth and tribute to a wounded warrior of the Moon People, persuading him to walk with her across the dense jungle to her home. While her careful lies keep him on their path, her true aim is for the warrior to teach the men of her village to make the spiked club that he carries, and train them to fight with his skill. But before they reach their destination, a goddess entraps the two travelers, forcing them to compete with one another in a game of skill which the loser will not survive.
eBook Publisher: Fictionwise.com, 1999 Realms of Fantasy v5 #6, ed. Shawna McCarthy
eBookwise Release Date: November 2001
17 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [33 KB]
Reading time: 20-28 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
Nictay paused in her leaf gathering. From the jungle shadows, she watched the battlefield. Not long after the Moon warriors had retreated with their captives, women of the Red Crown village had come into the bloodied fields of maize stubble to care for wounded brothers and husbands, to wail for the dead, to grieve for the defenders who had been taken captive. The attackers had lost men, too. Red Crown warriors led some of the Moon warriors into the village as prisoners. Other Red Crown warriors helped the women to carry the wounded and the dead.
Soon, Nictay knew, those men would return across the field of battle and satisfy themselves that the invaders had not lingered in the jungle to set an ambush. Once they were sure that all the able-bodied Moon warriors had retreated, they would scour the jungle for stragglers like the one Nictay had found. But Nictay meant for the big, scarred Moon warrior to be her captive.
She whispered her apologies to the plants as she pulled off more leaves. "Forgive me, Her Daughter. My need is great. I thank you for what I must take." Then she hurried back to the tree where her Moon warrior sat with his obsidian-toothed club in his lap. Among his fresh wounds were traces of old ones; he had many white scars on his arms and legs, and one on his cheek. His nose had been broken some time in the past and healed crooked. His expression was so passive, his posture looked so relaxed that he seemed to be merely taking his ease. But his skin looked gray. He had lost a lot of blood.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Do your priests care how their sacrifices are named?" His words came slowly, as if he were drunk on balche. But it was blood loss, no doubt. Nictay's words had been heavy in her mouth like that when she had bled herself, seeking a vision.
Nictay bound the leaves to his legs with cotton string. "I have already told you. I am not from this village. My people do not make sacrifice of their captives. Our gods demand only the sacrifice that they take themselves upon the sea. Fishermen drown, and the gods are satisfied." She gave him a water gourd. "Drink."
He sipped, watching her. "If you are not of these people," he said, "then they will think you are of mine." The water had helped. Words slipped more easily from his lips.
"I am not dressed as one of your women."
"No," he admitted, taking in the details of her plain cotton cloak, her shell necklace "But they will not stop to consider. It will not go well for you."
"That is why you must stand. We must get away from here."
"You saw my legs. Leave me! The gods have made their decision about me. Maker of Himself has decided." Breath whistled through his crooked nose.
"You are as good as dead if I leave you. And if I save you, your life is mine."
"The gods have decided."
"No god attacked you, but men. You fought well. Swinging your great club, wearing your feathered helmet ... how great a prize you seemed! That is why so many tried for you. Now stand."
"But my legs...."
"The Red Crowns cut you many times, yes, but they did not sever the tendons. Up!" She picked up her spear, then strained to lift him. He made no effort to stand.
"Why should I go with you?"
"Because you'll die if you stay!"
"If I'm to save myself, let me crawl after my own men."
"I need you."
His gaze on her was hard, speculative. "Need me for what?"
Nictay pursed her lips. She could tell him the truth, but the trials of her village meant nothing to foreigners. Once again, she would have to lie.
"Come with me, and I will make you a rich and powerful noble."
He grimaced. "I am a Nacom of the Moon People. Would you make me greater than that?"
So he was indeed a great warrior. A veteran. A general. He was just what she was looking for. "I would make you a rival to the greatest Nacoms of the Middle People," she said. "That jade you wear on your breast plate, the feathers of your helmet are nothing compared to the wealth my people take from the sea."
The warrior grunted. "Who are you to offer these things?"
"I am a princess."