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  • Milton Davis

Black Rose: Part Eight




One week after finding the Faint Star, Kesi and others entered the waters of Kawa. The baharia kept a vigilante watch as they sailed into the empty harbor. Kesi and her father were not the only seafarers that knew the way to the obscure island. Kawa was a pirate’s nest, a refuge for the sea thieves that raided the merchant ships riding the monsoons. Kesi’s plan was to sail to the uninhabited end of the island, hoping they would not be spotted along the way. That meant sailing wide of the island then approached from the west.

They dropped anchor, loaded the boats then rowed to the shore.

“We’ll set up camp in the bush,” Kesi said.

“What good will that do?” Tukufu asked. “We can't hide the dhow.”

Kesi laughed. “We can at least make them find us. Besides, I don’t plan to be here long.”

“What do you mean by ‘long?’" Tukufu asked.

“The sultan will calm down after a few months,” Kesi said. “He’ll find a more suitable wife for Rafiki and move on. We’ll sail south to Sofala and make a home there.”

Danuja came to her side.

“What can I do?” she asked.

“Stay with me and pay attention,” Kesi replied.

Danuja nodded.

“Come, let’s help the others.”

It took them a week to make camp. During that time, they were blessed with good weather. Kesi didn’t know how long they would have to hide on Kawa, so they cut down trees and built sturdy homes. They cleared open areas and planted yam and sorghum. Some of the baharia went on hunts, providing everyone with bush meat, and a few caught fish from the harbor and a nearby stream.

As the sun descended under the horizon one evening, Kesi led Danuja to the beach. She carried two sticks in her hand. When she reached the beach, she handed one to Danuja.

“Remember when you asked me how I learned how to fight?”

“Yes,” Danuja replied.

“My mama and baba taught me,” Kesi said. “Well, my mama taught me first. Baba complained, but mama said she would not have her children be defenseless, especially her daughters. When baba began to worry if they would have sons, he began teaching me as well.”

“Why are you teaching me now?” Danuja asked.

“Because it’s time,” Kesi replied. “I promised your baba I would protect you. The best way to do so is to teach you how to protect yourself. There will come a time when I won’t be at your side. When that time comes, you will be ready.”

Kesi crouched then raised her stick.

“Do what I do.”

Danuja crouched as well.

“Is this good?” she asked.

Kesi grinned. “It’s good enough for now. Now, what is the first thing you must do to defend yourself?”

Danuja frowned. “I don’t know.”

“Strike at me with your stick,” Kesi said.

“How?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just do it.”

Danuja shrugged her shoulders then raised her stick. Kesi spun on the balls of her feet then ran into the bush.

Danuja dropped her stick then chased after her.

“Kesi! Kesi! Wait!”

Kesi returned just as Danuja reached the edge of the bush.

“Why did you run away?” Danuja asked.

“Because that is the best way to defend yourself,” Kesi replied. “There is no shame in running away. What I will teach you is what you do when there is no way to escape.”

Kesi put her arm around Danuja’s shoulders then led her back to the beach. She taught her a few basic blocking moves that they practiced until darkness was almost upon them. They used the waning light to return to their camp.

The weeks became months. The crew had settled into a relaxing rhythm as the camp thrived. No one seemed eager to leave; everyone enjoying the respite from sailing the seas. Kesi and Danuja became closer as she taught the girl how to speak Kiswahili and how to fight. The others became instructors as well, teaching Danuja how to maintain the dhow, how to cook, and how to hunt. She became dada mdogo to them all.

Their peace was finally broken six months into their voluntary exile. Kesi and Danuja were awakened by insistent knocking on their hut. Danuja sprang up wide eyed from her cot; Kesi sat up calmly then dressed.

“Stay here,” Kesi said.

She secured her sword then stepped out to meet Tukufu.

“What is it?” she asked.

“We’ve been discovered,” Tukufu replied.

Tukufu hurried away and Kesi followed. Their walk ended at the edge of the bush. Anchored beside their dhow was another dhow.

“We overstayed our visit,” Tukufu said.

“No,” Kesi replied. “I was hoping this would happen.”

Tukufu looked at her with wide eyes.

“You wanted us to be found?”

“Look at what we’ve done,” Kesi said. “Kawa has good soil and resources. With the proper attention it could become a prosperous city-state. Instead, it’s wasted as a pirate haven.”

“I hope you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking,” Tukufu said.

Kesi grinned. “What am I thinking, rafiki?”

“That you want to take this island from the pirates!”

“You’re almost right,” Kesi said. “I want to share it with them.”

“We don’t have enough fighters,” Tukufu said.

“We don’t need fighters,” Kesi said. “All we need it a little time and diplomacy.”

“You’re mad,” Tukufu said.

“Do you trust me, Tukufu?”

“You have never led me wrong, Kesi.”

Kesi placed her hand on his shoulder. “That’s good to hear. Now let’s go meet our friends.”



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