Hunted: A Priestess of nKu excerpt
Updated: Mar 18
They were trespassing.
For fifteen years the Hagosa River stood as the border, separating the natives of nKuland from the invaders from Menu-Kash. Much blood had been shed to establish the watery boundary, but neither side believed it would stand forever. The merchant caravan crossing at the fording point knew what they perpetrated could be the cause of war, but greed overruled fear of death and common sense. They had items to sell and wealth to gain and nothing would quench their hunger. Their guards had been paid three times their worth in hopes that if danger came, they would defend the caravan with their lives. Most were natives themselves; they accompanied their conquerors not for wealth but for a chance to kill their traditional enemies and regain some dignity. They too, were naïve. They knew not what trouble they stirred.
Nandi, Siza and Abasi observed the Bindamu as they crossed the river separating Chuikuland from Buyukuland. Nandi counted twenty of them, twelve Bindamu men and six women. The breach of their territory angered her, but what angered her most was the nKu leading the foreigners. The claw tattoos on their shoulders revealed them as Taiku, one of the first clans to fall to the invaders.
“What do we do?” Abasi asked.
“We kill them all,” Siza answered.
“No,” Nandi said. “Only seven of them carry weapons, nine including the Taiku. Siza, stay here and cover us with your bow. Abasi and I will deal with this.”
Siza nodded then loaded her bow.
Nandi looked at her brother then grinned.
“Come Abasi. Let us hunt.”
Abasi grinned. “Yes sister, let’s.”
Sister and brother ran down the steep slope, weaving through the dense foliage with speed and stealth. As they neared the caravan they separated, Abasi working his way toward the center of the group while Nandi continued to the road ahead. The Taiku became aware of her presence before the others, raising their heads then looking about with concern. Nandi burst from the bush before the Taiku could warn the others. She threw her spear into the chest of the first Taiku before he could draw his sword; she ducked the swing of the other Taiku as she jerked her spear from his dead cohort’s body. She spun about, slamming the blunt end of her spear into the Taiku’s ribs then chopped into his head with the knife-like spear head.
She glimpsed Abasi attacking the Bindamu warriors in the midst of the wagons as the others ran toward her. Three Bindamu lay dead with arrows protruding from their necks. Nandi dealt with the two Bindamu quickly but the last one possessed skill. They sparred, spear against swords, Nandi grinning with respect of the foreigner’s talent. She saw Abasi creeping up from behind then shook her head; this was her kill.
The Bindamu faltered, his endurance far short of his skill. Nandi swept him off his feet with her spear. The man fell on his back, his swords knocked from his hands. Nandi planted her foot on his chest as she placed her spearhead against his throat.
“Ask for quarter and I will give it for you were a worthy opponent,” she said.
The man spat at her instead.
“You get no begging from me, crut!” he said.
Nandi pushed the spear into his throat. She kept her foot on his chest until he stopped thrashing.
She looked up into the angry face of a short, round Bindamu draped in a dingy robe and jangling with jewels.
“What is the meaning of this? We are not an army! We are merely traders seeking barter.”
Nandi cracked the man across the mouth with her spear butt. He fell on his haunches as he covered his bleeding mouth.
“You crossed the river. You broke the treaty. No one asked you to come, nor were you invited. Leave now before we kill the rest of you.”
The others needed no prompting; they scurried to turn the wagons about. The pompous one stood on his feet then lowered his hands, blood running down his chin then dripping onto his robe.
“I will remember you,” he said.
“And I will remember you,” Nandi answered. “If I see you here again, I will kill you.”
The merchant walked backwards, stabbing a finger at Nandi.
"My name is Thotmus," he said. "Remember it, savage. You will not see me again, but you will see my vengeance!"
Nandi raised her spear as if to throw it; the Bindamu Thotmus yelped, turned then ran. Abasi glared at the fleeing man as he came to Nandi's side.
"They are poor fighters," he said. "I wonder how they defeated any nKu, let alone the Tai."
"Don't underestimate them," Nandi replied. "This was a merchant train. The guards were hired, although that one' - she pointed at the man she'd stabbed in the throat- 'displayed some skill.'
Siza emerged from the bush. She strolled to the Bindamu she killed then jerked her arrows from their corpses.
"We should follow them to make sure they don't turn back," she said. Her eyes were on Abasi.
Nandi grinned. "You two follow them. I'll head back to Jikubwa. The Matrons must be in-formed."
Abasi and Siza sprinted down the road. Nandi watched them and her mind drifted to Etana. It had been three years since she'd seen him, three years since she journeyed east for his company. She looked around her and was reminded why. Serious times were ahead for the Chuiku and as First Hunter it was her responsibility to protect the people. Etana would have to wait.
Nandi set off at a hunter's pace down the trail leading to Jikubwa. She was three days from the city; with good weather she would reach it a day sooner without Siza to slow her down. She ran until dusk overtook her then receded into the bush to make camp. The first night she slept soundly, comforted by the dreams of her child-hood in these woods. She remembered chasing game with her small bow and the proud look on mama and baba’s face when she came home with a full game bag. Those were pleasant easy days, long before the Bindamu. The next night she was haunted by the spirits of the men she killed. She wasn't sure it would be the same for the Bindamu as it was for her kind but now she knew. She prayed, asking the Priestess to accept their spirits so they would leave her in peace.
On the morning of the third day the walls of Jikubwa rose over the horizon beckoning her home. He took the small horn from her hip then trumpeted her arrival. The rampart guards responded. Nandi placed her spear against a nearby tree then sat to tie her loose braids into a tight bundle that fell below her buttocks. She wrapped the braids carefully then took her bracelets and other baubles from her pouch. By the time the city guards arrived on stag back she had transformed from Nandi the hunter to Nandi, Bintifalme (princess) of the Chuiku.
Bishara, the garrison captain, was the first to reach her. A riderless stag was tethered to her mount. She dismounted her stag then bowed.
"Welcome home, Bintifalme," she said. "The Malkia has been worried about you. You have been hunting a long time."
Bishara looked about. "Where is Siza?"
"She is with Abasi, following Bindamu."
Bishara's eyes went wide. "Bindamu?"
Nandi nodded. "They crossed the Hagosa. I must meet with the Matrons immediately."
She mounted her stag then rode into the city with the guard through the wide gates and down the paved avenue leading to the city center. The guards turned away as she approached the palace. The palace servants greeted her at the gilded doors, taking her stag after she dismounted.
Nandi entered the palace alone. She strode down the elongated foyer, passing through a gauntlet of images of her ancestors. She glanced at them, each a woman of strong features. She was a continuation of their lineage, but she was not sure she deserved to be.
"Where were you?" her mother shouted, her voice echoing across the atrium. The elegant elderly woman sauntered to Nandi with her arms folded across her chest, her long skirt swishing against the granite floor.
"There are rumors that the Bindamu are about and you ride off as if nothing is the matter."
"They are no longer rumors," Nandi said. "Abasi, Siza and I came across a merchant train crossing the Hagosa. We killed the guards then sent them back. There were Taiku among them."
The Malkia's eyes narrowed. "You fought them."
Nandi looked puzzled. "Of course. I'm First Hunter."
"You are Bintifalme! You are my heir! You could have been killed!"
"What was I to do? Let them reach the city?"
"You could have sent word back to us! We have marons to deal with such emergencies."
"Siza and Abasi were with me. We dealt with it," Nandi said.
The women glared at each other for a moment before her mother relented.
"I will summon the Matrons," her mother said. "Be kind enough to do your duty and send word to the marons. Maybe Etana will come. It's been years since you've seen him."
Nandi said nothing as she walked away. She would do her duty. She hoped Etana would stay away as he always did. Now was not the time.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. You can purchase Priestess of nKu on sale directly from MVmedia. It's also available wherever books are sold. Sword and Soul Forever!