So 144 people have viewed my blog and have read chapters of the novel “Moses was a Liar” since I started posting it in August. This is much appreciated and I have no doubt will lead them to purchase hard copies from Amazon, Kalahari.net or any on line book store. Also available at Exclusive Books, Adams Books, Barnes and Noble etc. The book is also available for US$6.99 on Kindle and other e-formats. The sequel to the book is in an advanced stage and should hit the market some time in 2012.
And thus it is written:
At the beginning of time and in the age of stones
the earth was created when the silver bird of the heavens
descended upon a lone mountain;
it brought to this earth the seeds of time
when the red waters covered the earth
and great fires spewed forth into the skies
then came forth a force to deliver us from the waters
the seeds of time descended to earth to populate the soil.
when we observed what had transpired
we saw that it was good.
And the Red Angel said to us
Go forth and multiply
Create the beginning but know the end was not in vain
know that you are the seeds of time
and on the eighth stone so it came to pass.
The multitude went forth and multiplied
To the sixth generation
in the Promised Land as was prophesied
and the seeds bore fruit
In a multitude never before seen
and thus was borne the new nation
and it was good
The time had come for the exodus to begin. Karl had set the date after considerable discussion and debate with the villagers. In each village there was some consternation as dissidents who wished to remain in the comfort of their homes and live the lives they had become accustomed to became more strident in their warnings of doom to those who were finalising their preparations for the long journey to a destination they had no understanding or even vision of.
After a long and drawn-out round of negotiations with each of the tribes with the Red Priestess observing and guiding Karl in the background, the date was set to coincide with the next full moon, which he had told them would be in roughly two weeks time. It had been agreed that they would set out in a southerly direction toward the warmer climes of the African plains and if possible to get closer to the equator which the Red Priestess had explained to Karl was an imaginary line between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of the planet, where the sun and the seasons changed but little. She also explained why they would be better off in the warmer and more tropical climates. The land of the mythical Promised Land lay in that direction she said. To the north lay cold wastelands not to be tested by the tribes. Of course she had to explain to him how to maintain a southern route and taught him about the Southern Cross which she had pointed out to him just above the southern horizon. Rachel also presented him with a mysterious black metal box.
“This is the instrument of Oscar the Navigator, Karl. I don’t know how it works, but it was handed to him by your grandfather Karl eighty years ago. He kept it until he died about fifty years ago or about thirty bird migrations, if you prefer, after we crashed. He tried to explain how it worked to me but because we had no celestial bodies to measure, I couldn’t learn how to use it. The only thing it could do was to look at the horizon and measure the angle of any object I choose.”
“To what use would you put this so-called angle, Rachel?” Karl asked while he fiddled with the unfamiliar instrument and looked through its small telescope. Rachel showed him what Oscar had showed her so many years before but without the privilege of a star or a moon. Karl was astounded by the clarity of the stars. She then showed him that when you pointed it towards the horizon, and knew what angle a star should be you could calculate the latitude of the earth. To Karl this was all hocus-pocus stuff but he thanked her for the sextant and decided quietly that he would give this to one of the New Londoners. They would know what to do with it. Ahmed would be delighted to help with navigation.
She then stood up from her customary stool and walked into the inner recesses of her cave. When she returned she was carrying a bundle of what looked like parchments or skins wrapped up with hemp strings.
These she handed to Karl who looked at her questioningly.
“These are the maps which were drawn by your forefathers and especially by your grandfather Karl on his last-ever exploration south of Red Valley. It was the time when he was attacked and injured by the lioness and Beowulf saved his life with his short hunting bow. These maps contain much information regarding the terrain you and the pilgrims will cross on your journeys. Nobody else has seen these maps and only a navigator can use them. They are clearly marked with mountains and rivers to the south and will guide you as surely as an arrow shot in the sky. You will find evidence of cities of lost civilisations and even the spot where your grandfather was attacked. Also the location of the Bushmen tribe which befriended Beowulf and your grandfather is recorded on this precious map. Let me explain to you how you are to read it.”
Rachel spent some time with Karl explaining the maps and how to interpret the information so laboriously recorded many decades before. He was transported back into history; a history as relevant to him as it was to his ancestors when they compiled it. The documents before him were indeed sacred and he would protect them with his very life.
When she was satisfied that Karl understood the importance and relevance of the maps and knew how to read them, she rolled them up and after tying the bundle again, handed it to Karl with the words: “You are no longer Karl the Hunter; now you shall be known as Karl the Navigator. Lead your people to the Promised Land and go in peace.”
The New Londoners had sent out a number of scouting groups and in collaboration with Karl and the Caesareans, had established two supply stations each seven days away from each other. Their strategy would be to use these to replenish supplies as the exodus advanced and establish new ones further south. Hunting parties constituted by each tribe would seek food as they progressed.
Meanwhile the Jesuits were struggling with the exodus. Timothy the Vicar General was supporting the expedition but a large sector of his village wanted to stay behind. They argued that they preferred the known to the unknown and in any case were not comfortable to follow a pagan leader into the unknown. They were mostly the older citizens who had traditionally been followers of Joshua, the deposed Vicar General, who was still isolating himself although he had commenced eating again.
Timothy’s followers made up roughly two-thirds of the village. They were ready to depart. In fact they were impatient and looked forward to leaving the place behind in which they had been shamed.
The Convocation’s decision to allow the former Vicar General to remain behind if he so wished still stood. A group of more than 200 citizens loyal to him decided to remain behind and it became a rallying point for the conservative group of Jesuits. They believed that Father Timothy represented a spiritual aberration from the teachings of Jesus Christ and that he had been unduly influenced if not bewitched, by the Red Priestess. The City of the Jesuits was sorely divided and many a scuffle took place between the two camps in the days leading up to the departure.
The High Priest and his acolytes had also prepared themselves for the journey. Rachel’s son had consulted with his mother on several occasions during the months leading up to their departure. She had impressed upon him the importance of his contribution to the overall exodus. To ensure that he and Karl would constitute a formidable team, she arranged for the two to meet and discuss the way forward. The Red Priestess had encouraged Karl to use the High Priest as Oracle and Prophet and to afford him some standing within the control structures they had planned together so carefully.
Michael realised that his departure from the valley would mean that it would be the last time he would see his mother and while their farewells were not as emotional as one would expect between a mother and son, she silently cried in her heart; he was her last link to Hassan.
About two weeks before the departure of the pilgrims, the Red Priestess left her cave with instructions to the girls to prepare themselves for the expedition and clean up all rubbish and unnecessary objects in the cave which had become their home over the last eighteen months.
The following day she arrived in New London and asked to see Ahmed. She was shown to his home and when she entered the dim room was happy to see him poring over parchment documents. He had never married and was somewhat of a recluse, being happy to work on his research. Now that the stars had been revealed, he had many years of work to do.
He looked up in surprise at Rachel: “And to what do I owe this privilege?”
“Hallo Ahmed, sorry to burst in on you like this, and I am somewhat tired, so before answering your question, answer this: Do you have a bed for me tonight and perhaps something to eat?”
Even more nonplussed now Ahmed could only nod.
“Ah good. We have much to talk about,” she replied somewhat relieved.
“Let me show you to your bed,” Ahmed said, leaving his table and walked her down a small passage to a tiny room which was spotlessly clean with only a bed and table as furnishings. Rachel freshened up and after some time emerged with a large parcel. Ahmed had meanwhile brewed some fresh char and she could also smell something cooking on the fire in the hearth.
“Come sit down. You must be tired and thirsty,” he said, having recovered his composure.
“Yes, thanks very much,” she replied as he handed her a cup of char.
“I must say that you are the very last person I’d have expected here tonight, or any night for that matter. But please feel free, you are doubly welcome as my guest. It gets lonely at night so some company is just what I need right now,” he said as he busied himself with the food setting two places as he spoke.
“Ahmed, I have a very special mission and reason for seeing you, but before I get to that I wish to enlighten you on some of your history in Red Valley,” she said looking keenly at Ahmed in the dim light of the tallow candle on the table where he had dished up food and sat down facing her. Ahmed said nothing and waited for her to continue.
“Your grandmother, Shenaaz was the sister of my husband and as you very well knew was happily married to your grandfather Gary, one of our original survivors who played a major role in our lives for many stones until his death about four stones ago. Shenaaz and he were very happy.”
“I know that but I was not aware that you had married and now you’re telling me that in fact you are my great-aunt by marriage,” a somewhat taken aback Ahmed replied.
“Hassan, your great-uncle was my husband. He died in an accident on the cliffs of KRAT. I was devastated as we were still quite young and our son was only three months old.”
“What? A son, you?” he said in some shock now. Not only had she informed him that she was his great-aunt but that she had had a child: “Who is he? Is he still alive?”
“Yes he is very much alive and you have seen him, especially on KRAT. I believe his favourite colour is blue,” she said with a twinkle in her voice, looking at Ahmed’s shocked face.
“No, I don’t believe you. Are you talking about the High Priest?”
“His name is Michael. We named him after my father, Michael Hailey. After Hassan’s death and the more shocking murder of Christine, I left Michael in the care of my dear friends Esme and Oscar who served as his foster parents. I retreated to my cave as you heard me tell after the tornado in the Jesuit church. I visited him as often as I could and indeed we still meet today and share information about the doings in the Valley. Michael has a real talent in that he can to some degree foretell things as we have discussed. This is not as mystical as it may sound as I helped to develop his intellectual capacity and strengthen his so-called ‘vision’ as did Esme at my request.”
“But nobody knew of this,” Ahmed protested.
“It was by choice that I decided not to divulge our relationship. It could have harmed him or painted us both into a particular corner in the eyes of especially the Jesuits.”
“So why are you telling me this now, Rachel or should I say Aunt Rachel?” he asked with a mock-pained look on his face.
“Relax, I’m not going to burden you with anything. I’m telling you this in order that you appreciate our bond and as an introduction of something infinitely more important.”
Now doubly suspicious, Ahmed waited for what was to follow.
“The world which I came from was very different to what it is today and certainly from what we know here in Red Valley. We were technically very advanced and I know that you as a person with a very enquiring mind would have enjoyed the marvels of the modern world. Many of the things you are researching right now have been resolved many centuries ago.”
“Such as what?” a visibly excited Ahmed asked. His eyes shone in anticipation of her answer.
“Well now, that would be telling wouldn’t it?” she replied laughing at his expression. “Just to whet your appetite, there was a famous scientist called Isaac Newton who formulated the so-called laws of motion. His second law of motion states that if you place force on an object, it will accelerate and it will change its velocity in the direction of the force. In other words it accelerates in the direction you push it. If you push twice as hard it accelerates twice as much and if its mass is twice the mass of another object, it will accelerate only half as much.”
“What was the first law then?” Ahmed asked, barely able to contain his excitement.
“No, I’m not a scientist and I believe that the New World will have to re-discover many of the scientific things which we accepted as common occurrences. Newton for example was the first scientist to break light into its different colours.”
“Now you’re teasing me, Rachel. How can light have different colours?” the frustrated man complained.
“No, I don’t want to tease you. I merely want to stimulate your already capable mind to think beyond the norm; to help you with the objective that you will carry a message of enormous import into the New World you are about to journey to. The journey of the mind is infinitely more exciting and challenging, but it requires discipline and hard work. You will fail many times and as another famous inventor once said, each failure was a lesson on how not to do the experiment.”
“What do you have in mind?” Ahmed asked looking at the large parcel that Rachel had brought from her room. It lay in front of them like a snake ready to strike.
“Many years ago, I was asked to take an oath. It was an oath which required of me to keep a secret and to look after a heritage from the Ancient world with my life. Are you willing to take a similar oath now Ahmed?”
“I don’t understand what it’s all about, Rachel. In any case I don’t believe in gods and spirits so what is the value of an oath?”
“I know that, Ahmed, that’s why I selected you. An oath does not mean you swear before some deity for fear of being struck down should you break your promise. All it means is that you undertake on your honour to fulfill the conditions of such an oath. Your honour has infinitely more value to me than a hollow oath to some invisible god or spirit. What is expected of you is to protect a work of art; a work of wisdom. A work which contains very important discoveries of man. You are expected to ensure that this is never to be used by persons with dishonest and mystical intentions. What say you?”
“I can go along with that; I too jealously guard my work and allow nobody to abuse it. There are many fools in the world and it is too easy for someone to steal your work and declare it to be their own,” Ahmed replied.
“You have illustrated and confirmed the wisdom of my choice, Ahmed. Thank you.” Rachel stood up and carefully unwrapped ‘The Ten Pillars of Ancient Wisdoms’. As the skin covers fell away, the dark burnished wood glowed softly in the candle-light. The carvings seemed to come alive and dance as the flame flickered. Ahmed gasped and reached out to the object but Rachel stopped him.
“Wait Ahmed. I need you to swear that you will never permit this book to fall into the hands of a religionist or any mystic who may wish to use its contents to benefit him/herself, or who may wish to destroy it. You must swear to protect the book with your life and only to allow those who you believe will uphold its values and teaching, access to its contents and who will use this in the best interests of mankind. You must swear that you and only you will keep the book in your custody and only permit those of whom you approve to read it in your presence. You must swear this by the lives of your great-grandfather Ahmedi and your great-grandmother killed during the birth of Mt Brutus, your grandmother Shenaaz and Hassan my dear husband and all others you may hold dear.”
“I swear that and more. I swear by my life and by the lives of those who may follow me, to uphold the sanctity of the book,” Ahmed answered solemnly
Rachel now handed the book to the new Custodian of the Book with instructions for the care for the book, how to read it and a final instruction to ensure that when the time was right, to pass the book on to a suitable person as she had done.
“Rachel, why did you select me?” he eventually asked, very intimidated and humbled by the responsibility that she had placed on his shoulders. He was paging slowly through its soft skin pages without reading. The illustrations, mathematical notations and drawings were mysterious yet in a strange way somehow familiar to him. They seemed to stir some ancient and buried memories in his mind. His hand trembled as he turned the pages.
“I’ve my reasons just as much as you will have your reasons for choosing a successor, years from today. But know this: the contents of the ten chapters are of such importance that as you work through the pages you will realise that man’s mind will require a mature and intelligent approach to appreciate the relevance and impact of what is written. In the wrong hands this information could once again lead to man’s downfall; to his ultimate and inevitable destruction. As Custodian it will now be your responsibility to ensure it is put to the best use.”
The two of them sat quietly contemplating what lay before them; Ahmed whose life lay before him and who could look forward to sharing the wisdom of the Ancient World; Rachel who now could lay to rest the ghosts of the past.
The dawn of the departure day arrived and the sun was greeted by an astonishing sight.
Gathered in Red Valley was a motley crowd of some 950 souls. The gathering was clearly divided in four distinct groups with the smallest constituted by the High Priest and his small entourage. The largest group was the Jesuits who were clearly distinguishable by their drab clothes and religious accoutrements. The Caesareans together with the New Londoners made up the balance of the exodus.
Standing on a small hill overlooking the gathering, the Jesuits who had decided to remain behind, had gathered. In front of them the deposed Vicar General could be seen. He was quiet; quietly awaiting something to happen. In his left arm he carried what seemed to be a Bible while in his right hand he held a long staff, crooked at the top. With his flowing grey beard and disheveled long hair, he looked the part of the mythical Moses of the Israelites, Rachel thought to herself where she stood on a hill facing north at the exit from the valley. Sitting beside her were the acolytes. The young girls had been groomed and prepared for this moment but they were nonetheless terrified by the prospect of leaving their mentor and soul mother behind. When Karl signaled their departure, they had been instructed to march down to him and join him and the High Priest as a group.
The previous night had been a sad affair. Karl and the girls had said their last goodbyes in private to Rachel. She had marked the occasion with her last lecture to them: the legend of Beowulf.
She told them the story starting with his momentous birth which signaled a new era for the survivors. They heard how he had grown up to become a young hunter and explorer; how Karl’s grandfather had taught him everything he could. They also heard how the Jesuit priest had tried his best to convert him to Christianity but how he had rejected not only the priest but also any form of religion. They learnt about his exploits, his exploration of the Red Valley and the world which lay beyond the Great Divide.
“It was about twenty-five years after his birth that his mother Esme died after contracting cancer of the breast,” Rachel explained to them.
“What’s cancer?” one of the girls asked.
“It’s a terrible disease which destroys the healthy body cells until you eventually die. In the Ancient world they had ways and means of curing most forms of cancer but it still constituted one of the biggest killers,” she replied, before continuing. “After Beowulf had executed the priest of the Jesuits, he disappeared and only came back to us on odd occasions. On one of these trips he learned of his mother’s death. He was very sad that he had not been there when she needed him most. He then left Red Valley for almost five whole migrations and when he returned he had changed a lot; he was more aggressive and withdrawn. He also told me that he had again encountered the Lost Tribe to the south of the Great Divide. They had tried to convince him to remain behind with them. There he met the woman called Amanda. She was the one who was abducted many years before and since then had had five children. She seemed to be quite an influential person and virtually ruled the Lost Tribe. Their chieftain was a man called Jim but he was very old by that time and close to death. Amanda was the one who protected Beowulf from harm when they met him.”
“Why did Beowulf not stay behind with them?”
“He told me that they were total barbarians. They killed for pleasure and attacked small tribes who had established themselves in the area, killing and raping as they went. They even ate the livers and hearts of their victims. He found their lifestyle totally abhorrent and left them in the middle of the night, lest he be killed as well. They followed him but he escaped.”
“What then became of him?” Karl wanted to know.
“The night before he left Red Valley for the last time, he came to me and told me he was going to go away for a long time. He said he had discovered a very beautiful valley next to a very large lake where he would be able to establish his own village. I asked him how he would do this on his own and then he said quite a mysterious thing. He said he had a family which awaited him. This was the first time I heard that he had already established a family. He must have met up with a tribe or at least a woman and with whom he was prepared to live. I believe this was his dear friend Xcaixia. He tried to explain to me where he would be, but from what I could understand his village was very far south; according to him at least two month’s distance from Red Valley.”
Rachel stood up slowly and walked to the rear of her cave and after rummaging around for a short while returned to hand to Karl a beautifully carved object. It was made of the finest ivory and showed the figures of two people embracing each other.
“Beowulf gave me this as a token of his love and respect for me. He said that if I ever left the Red Valley to seek him I should bring this token along as it would be a peace token even after his death for whosoever carried it. I want you Karl to carry this close to your heart and if you should find Beowulf’s tribe, show them this with this message from me: “I come in peace and hold this token in memory of the Red Priestess and her friendship with Beowulf.”
“It is now over 50 years ago that I last saw or heard from Beowulf. If he is still alive he would be an old man. Seek him on your journeys,” she instructed Karl.
To the girls she said in farewell: “Go in peace and find peace where you go. You’ll be confronted by many challenges and many dangers. Be confident in your own abilities and although you are still very young, you are to remember that you carry with you the history of the New World. Protect that at all costs and allow no person to destroy or corrupt your minds and what you have learnt. It will be your oral tradition which will be carried forward to the next generations. The legends of the future will be based on what you tell the world. Karl will protect you and guide you where guidance is needed. I also tell you that my son will be with you as well,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.
“Your son, who is he…?” they, including Karl, yelped in consternation.
Laughing at the looks of disbelief on their faces, she said: “My son you all know very well. You have seen him conduct many ceremonies. Yes, the High Priest is my son. He was the issue of my husband Hassan and myself when I was about 27 migrations old.”
“But Rachel, why didn’t you get him to lead the exodus,” Karl asked. He was taken aback that she had never told him this.
“Karl, my son is not a leader. He’s a mystic and as I told you before, you should use him as the Oracle and maybe even as a Prophet. The mystics of the Caesareans as well as the Jesuits love these things. But beware; let mysticism not become your tradition or your strength. Remain rooted in reality and cut through the bullshit; that is your strength and where your leadership will win the day. Let the mystics play their games but do not permit them to rise to positions of power. That has been the downfall of many civilisations in the past.”
They had all packed their possessions in preparation for the journey and after each girl performed a small presentation in thanks to Rachel, Karl left to return to his home. The cave grew quite as they slept waiting for the new dawn.
In the Valley, Karl stood on a small mound which gave him a view of the whole entourage. He raised his arms and said in a loud voice which carried to all: “Hear ye who wish to create a new world. Today, this day is known on the calendar of the world of the Ancients as July 1st 2093 after the death of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Jesuits. It is also the year 83 of the new world, our world. A new count shall herald today. Thus we shall create a new calendar. This day shall be known as July 1st, 83 after the Apocalypse. Hear ye who have the courage and vision to find a new beginning. Hear ye who are prepared to confront the challenges on our journey and who have faith that we will overcome and conquer. We leave this valley which has been home to us for so many years to seek our land of milk and honey. It is our destiny to do so; it is also our destiny to become the foundations of future generations; there can be no greater honour and there can be no greater reward for our forefathers who arrived in this valley under such difficult circumstances. They have left behind a heritage for us to follow. They have trodden the road we are setting out on and they have communicated their wishes to me. They will all be proud of our achievements and our journey will honour their memory. We may not disappoint them. I here today pledge my loyalty to them and also to you; we are the seeds of the future!” he turned and with a wave of his arm signaled the start of the new exodus.
A roar rose slowly from deep in the belly of the crowd; it rose to a crescendo and as one man, a movement started, first a small ripple then more urgent; a flow through to the very last family as they gathered up their belongings and set off on a journey which will for generations, nay centuries to come be the lore of legend and song.
The Red Priestess was standing alone as the young girls streamed down the hill toward the entourage of the High Priest. They merged with the younger priests and with sad glances at the lonely but regal figure on the hill, moved in coiled lines like a winding serpent out of Red Valley. She watched as the pilgrims left the valley; the only home they had ever known; the decisions and debates that had raged for the last six months in each household as they considered whether the exodus was wise, were tempered by meetings in which questions could be asked of the leaders and even of the Red Priestess herself. She was the instigator of the exodus; she was the one who had sketched the New World to them. It was due largely to her vision of this new world which swung the majority of the villagers over to support the exodus. She had converted the exodus into a pilgrimage; a voyage into an unknown but challenging future where the limit of their achievements would be determined by the limits of their joint efforts and imagination. Like Moses of Egypt, she was not destined to see the promised land. The exodus appealed especially to the young and more adventurous and who were becoming increasingly stifled by the geographic borders of the valley. They hankered after new horizons. The growing population also recognised that the valley had limitations concerning its capacity to feed and clothe them; new fields and pastures were needed.
As Karl passed Rachel’s position he turned and saluted her with a straight right arm raised shoulder high. The tears rolled down his cheeks as he moved on. She acknowledged his salute with her two arms outstretched to the clear skies. Her body was racked with the pain of their departure; the new world became her ultimate, final legacy.
Behind him and to his right strode the Vicar General, Father Timothy who had surprised even the Red Priestess in his support for the pilgrimage. He had told his followers that he had had a vision which showed them entering a promised land much like the Israelites of old; a land of milk and honey where water and food was abundant and fields were fertile. He told them that the Lord Jesus Christ had spoken to him and had told him to lead his people out of the Red Valley. When he was asked about the leadership of Karl, the Hunter, his reply was simple and to the point:
“It is the will of God that a man such as Karl has been chosen to lead us.”
Rachel watched as Ahmed walked past her. As he reached her he looked at her and with a slight bend of his back cast his eyes down to the ground in a salute of the deepest respect. On his back, a large square object tightly bound in skins and hemp ropes, rode comfortably on his broad shoulders.
On the opposite side of the divide, Father Joshua remained standing, still as a statue. The scene playing out before him seemed unreal. His greatly reduced band of followers were all quiet; there were many who now doubted the wisdom of remaining behind, but no-one dared break rank. He had not played a major role to convince them to remain behind and neither did he have the opportunity to do so. This had been a collective decision taken at meetings when a split became evident. The hardliners refused to agree with the younger and more liberal followers of the new Vicar General and after the compromise was reached to release Father Joshua. Now they awaited his guidance.
As the last of the pilgrims left the valley and turned a corner around a mountain to disappear, Father Joshua raised his wand and pointed it at the Red Priestess. As one, his followers roared as they sped down the hill toward the spot where she was standing on the hill opposite them, only to come to a confused stop as a pall of white smoke enveloped the priestess. When it dissipated, the hill was empty.
Father Joshua roared at his people to destroy the witch and led the charge up the hill. As he crested it, he looked around in amazement. The witch was nowhere to be seen; for miles around him he could see the terrain but she had disappeared into thin air.
“I told you she’s a witch,” he screamed partly in fury, partly in fear as he looked around him: “Find her, find her!”
His followers scurried around the small hilltop but they could not discover the cave system which was cleverly concealed and into which she had disappeared only to emerge more than a kilometer away, hidden by an outcrop of rocks. She was astride her trusty steed which sped across the ground at a breathtaking speed.
She had discovered many years ago that the ostriches which roamed the countryside when trained, were perfect for her needs and could cover large distances in a short time. She had trained many of these large birds over the years and they could be seen innocently grazing around the valley effectively hidden from inquisitive eyes by the flock. At least ten birds were at her disposal at any one time. To mount them she had made ingenious saddles which placed her weight directly over the legs of the bird and allowed her to mount it without any difficulty. To steer, all she had to do was to put some pressure on a wing and the bird would turn in the opposite direction. To stop, she hauled back on their thin necks restricting the bird’s ability to see. No-one ever suspected them to be her means of transport and when she mounted one, the rest of the trained birds followed, providing her with fresh steeds on her journey which often took place at night or the very early hours of dawn. This allowed her to cover long distances silently and quickly. At a distance it looked like a swarm of animals was trekking in a cloud of dust. On closer scrutiny one could see that one of the ostriches had a hunchback.
By the time Father Joshua realised that she had escaped them, she was far away. He immediately gave instructions that her cave be invaded. A short while later the group of fanatic persecutors burst into her cave without ceremony only to find it and its inner recesses deserted. They ransacked her abode and destroyed everything they could lay their hands on. Father Joshua searched high and low for the cursed camera not realising that it had been handed to the girls sometime ago.
When they left the cave he instructed them to pack brushwood into the cave and set light to what had been Rachel’s home for more than 60 years. She was watching them from afar and saddened as she was at the wanton destruction of her domain she became angry, very angry. Clicking her tongue at the ostrich, she turned it around and headed for the City of the Jesuits. She would reach it a full day before Joshua would arrive with his followers.
Frustrated in their attempts to apprehend the red witch, the remaining Jesuits returned to their now deserted and strangely quiet village on the slopes of KRAT. As they approached they could see a small flock of ostriches grazing on the slopes but gave them no further thought. They were tired and were looking forward to sleeping in their own beds again.
Joshua headed straight for the church and flopped down on his bed in the cell in which he had been a hermit since being deposed as Vicar General. After washing up and drinking deeply from the gourd of water next to his bed which unbeknown to him had been laced with a hallucinatory drug extracted from certain mushrooms which grew in the vicinity, he retired for the night. In most of the homes of the remaining residents, the same process repeated itself. Within an hour of their arrival the village was quiet.
In the darkest hour of the night, the priest felt a presence in his room. Fearfully opening his eyes he saw a vision on the ceiling above him. Its light filled the room and smoke swirled as the dried cannabis seeds Rachel had placed beneath his bed, smoldered.
In a quavering voice, he asked: “What will thee of me?”
A loud and deep voice thundered: “Man of God, why do you persecute me?”
“But I know thee not, who are you?” he screamed in fear.
“I am the soul of thy father; I am thy conscience; I am thy worst nightmare; how dost thou not know me when you have been my consort for so long?” the voice continued hollowly, echoing through the passages of the empty church.
“What will thee of me?” he asked again voice rising, fearing the answer.
“I have come for thee; I have come to take you to your destiny and to your own personal hell.”
“But I have been a loyal and faithful servant for my whole life,” the priest protested. “What more do you want of me?” The fear clutched at his heart and his breath was shallow as he tried to compose himself.
“Joshua, you have denied your real calling for so long it is now the time to face your true master. I am Lucifer and I have come to claim your soul for myself,” the voice thundered back at him. “Have you forgotten your promise to me so many months ago when you said that you would give anything to rid the valley of the witch? Well I’ve now come to claim your soul in payment before I rid the valley of the witch on your behalf.”
“No, No, No. I know thee not. I promised thee not. I am but a weak and pathetic human and have failed in my faith and in my calling to the Lord Almighty…”
“Hah, the Lord Almighty wishes not to hear from thee. As it is written, the sins of the father shall be visited upon his sons so shall ye now pay the penalty for the sins of thy wicked father and for the murder most foul for which he was responsible.”
“I know only of the crucifixion and execution of Satan’s daughter. She was sacrificed in the name of God Almighty. I did not commit this crime and cannot be held responsible. I am a God-fearing and obedient servant of the Lord Jesus Christ!” the priest wailed.
“So now you deny the writings in the Holy Bible as well, priest. You have denied God and have carried hatred in your heart; instead of preaching love and the power of love everlasting, you have preached hell and brimstone; you have called for the death of thine enemies and promoted hatred of all who opposed you; yeh even of your own brethren who have now left this valley to escape your influence. Now it is time to face the consequences of your actions.”
The voice was replaced by a screeching sound which seemed to fill the church. The priest who had fallen to the ground lay on his back staring at the vision on the ceiling, felt a sharp pain in his heart as the fear clutched at his chest, suffocating him. Panting, he crawled to his bed and flopped over onto his back. The last thing that filled his living vision was the Red Priestess standing over him.
“Lucifer, I know thee now,” were the last words of Father Joshua.
The following morning his cold body was discovered sitting upright in the church, facing the door. His face was contorted in a grimace of fear. Above him on the wall below the empty space of Christ’s Crucifixion, hung the craven figure of his father with an arrow through his neck.
On the slopes of KRAT a lone figure could be seen laboriously ascending the path towards the Source. As she crested the familiar plateau she stared for a last time at the valley below. In the distance to the south she could just make out a dust cloud moving slowly toward a promised land. Rachel turned toward the spring on the top which had served them for so long and after slaking her thirst one last time she walked slowly to the graves of her loved ones. Her mother was buried here as were Hassan and her sister Elizabeth. This was where she now belonged.
As the sun set over the western slopes of KRAT, Rachel Hailey sat down next to Hassan’s grave and lay her head next to his; closed her eyes and joined her ancestors.
The rays of the setting sun shone through the rising dust cloud; a golden ladder. The new pilgrims stopped and stared at the great shimmering crown of light. As one, the girls fell to their knees and cried softly; Michael the Oracle raised his arms to the skies and Karl, standing next to him raised his staff in salute. The sun set and darkness softly embraced the planet. Even the hyenas were quiet.
Beowulf celebrated his 16th birthday in style. His mother Esme together with Christine and his god-parents, which was everybody in New London, plus Zyndile and Tom from Caesarea, organised a party for him such as the Red Valley had never seen. Karl and Gary had hunted and hauled a buffalo bull kilometres over rough terrain to be roasted on a massive spit John Duguid and Oscar had constructed near Bracken Lake. The women baked the best birthday cake ever seen from cassava, sorghum and millet, milled laboriously by hand and baked in a large earth oven. For sweetness they decorated the cake with wild honey, mixed with the juices of several types of wild berries which gave the honey a rich golden colour and caused it to harden on the cake.
The men-folk had pre-prepared copious quantities of beer and a mead-like wine which they cooled in a water-cooled cold room John had built some years ago and was used by the small community for storage of meats, buffalo milk and cheese.
The feast was complemented with fresh vegetables Esme had planted and harvested while Zyndile did her normal duty with herbs and spices she brought along with her.
Christine and Karl’s daughter Isabel was 11 years old and together with the women folk, she helped prepare the rough wood hewn tables for the feast while Rachel and her husband Hassan designed and made decorations from branches and fronds as well as small lanterns which they hung around the area. It was indeed a sight to behold.
Beowulf was lured away from all the preparations by Tom. The two of them spent the two days before the festivities, tracking animals and setting their traps.
Red Valley now boasted three villages which each had a name. After New London was established, the second village Tom and Zyndile had established had been named Caesarea. It was also the name of an ancient city in Judea where the slaughter of Jews by the Roman oppressors triggered the Jewish revolt in 66AD. They liked the name Caesarea as it reminded them of Rome and the battles that they would face on their small hilltop. Quite a number of the original survivors joined them in Caesarea. The building of a wall around their settlement became one of their biggest priorities.
The third village was not established until the remaining survivors who had remained on KRAT were forced to evacuate KRAT due to diseases which mysteriously attacked them but not the other villages. Father Ridgeway could not understand why they were singled out for punishment and as a result of poor relations with the other two villages in the valley, he could not access their expertise. Both Christine and Zyndile, who were considered to be the health experts, agreed that the bird migrations had much to do with the spreading of the diseases. They were quite isolated from the birds but not so the Jesuits. When the birds arrived, they virtually covered the plateau with guano, feathers and rotting carcasses of small birds and fledglings as well as eggs which were targeted by snakes and other predators. The hilltop stank to high heaven and it was this which eventually led to the Jesuits evacuating the plateau to establish their new village along the slopes of KRAT where they could access water and create a semblance of sustainable living for their followers who far outnumbered the other two villagers.
Once the Jesuit village was established, the diseases diminished by the ‘Grace of God’ as Father Ridgeway told his flock.
Much had changed in the valley. Christine’s daughter Isabel was a budding teenager and Karl had established himself as the champion tracker and hunter of the villages. June’s daughters were now in their twenties and Elizabeth soon found a man to her liking from Caesarea called Petros, a middle aged Greek survivor. She moved from New London to Caesarea where she quickly became pregnant. Rachel and Hassan had moved in together in a new house they built for themselves in New London and she had just become pregnant.
Hassan’s sister Shenaaz stayed with Ahmedi in the village of the Jesuits. They lived quite a lonely and reserved life until Ahmedi died aged 66. Shenaaz who by that time was twenty four expressed her feelings for Gary which she had had for many years when she arrived from KRAT in New London. She told Gary without any ceremony that she had loved him from the very first day she knew him. While Gary was surprised, he felt strangely relieved. He had had similar feelings for her but the distance between the two villages as well as the poor relationship between the villagers, had created a barrier for their feelings to develop any further. Shenaaz promptly moved in with Gary in New London where they had a productive and happy life.
John Duguid was nearing seventy and had perceptibly slowed down. The relationship between him and June had strengthened through the years and was built on mutual respect and love for each other. It was consequently a massive shock to the small village when it became evident that June, now in her early sixties was getting ill. Christine examined her and after some doubt in both her and June’s minds came to the conclusion that she had breast cancer. Rachel was especially devastated. Her mother had been the rock in her life and the prospect of her dying of a disease such as breast cancer after everything they had made through together, was beyond her comprehension. While the onset of the disease was quite slow, it developed rapidly and when June died she was but a shadow of the fit, athletic person who had played such a dominant role since their crash-landing on KRAT. Her funeral which Rachel insisted should be held on KRAT, was attended by virtually all the original survivors except for Father Ridgeway and Suzette who were politely turned away when they asked if they could attend.
About two weeks before June’s death, she called Rachel to her side.
“You are familiar with my pet project which has been in the making now since the destruction of the world as we knew it. I have carefully bound it and leave it to you as Custodian if you like, of the history of the world.”
“Shush, let me speak. My time is near and despite all that has happened to us, I have been very happy here in Red Valley. The work we have done and what is contained in the Book, which is called ‘The Ten Pillars of Ancient Wisdoms’ must be protected at all costs. It is the only record of the wisdom and creativity of man, but it contains none of the theories which have led to man’s destruction of the environment, man’s destruction of his fellow man or of man’s stupidities. It has been written by several of us and in some cases took the writer and his or her advisers, five years or longer to finalise. It is now complete. It contains ten so-called papers, each dealing with a fundamental and momentous discovery or philosophy which was developed years ago in the modern world. I will not tell you what each paper is about; you have to read and discover this for yourself.”
“You are the only one outside of the persons who contributed to it who may see its contents until such time and occasion as you believe it is appropriate to hand its care over to another; one who will be able to value it and use its contents to the benefit of all. In this we trust your judgement and together with your recordings on your camera will make a significant contribution to all of mankind’s well being some time in the future.”
June took a heavy manuscript out from under the blankets of her bed where she had been hiding the valuable document. It was bound in a thin but strong hard wood. The two wooden covers were tightly tied with thin but very strong hemp ropes which had been woven by Mark some years ago. She struggled to lift up the book but Rachel sprang to her side and lifted it from her terribly thin arms.
Rachel was surprised by the weight of the book and was about to open it when June lay her hand on her arm to stop her from untying the tethers.
“No,” she almost whispered, tired to her very bones. “Do this when you are alone. We all agreed that you be the Custodian but with it comes a responsibility you must swear to.”
She looked enquiringly for an answer from Rachel who nodded her agreement immediately.
“You must swear that you will never permit this Book of Wisdom to fall into the hands of a religionist or any mystic who may wish to use its contents to benefit him/herself, or even worse, who may wish to destroy it. It is so intrinsically powerful and far-reaching that some will try anything to lay their hands on it, or spread rumours that it is evil and is the work of Satan.”
“Of course I swear it mother; on the lives of all those who died in our lifetimes but especially on the life of Dad and on his memory. I also swear it on your life.”
June fell back on her cushions and with a satisfied little sigh, closed her eyes and almost immediately fell asleep.
Rachel tiptoed out of the room and left for her home where she hid the book in a safe place.
After her death, John Duguid’s health rapidly deteriorated and he followed her to the grave 18 months later.
In the Jesuit village, Father Ridgeway held sway over his flock. Alistair, now all of 25 years of age, had been fully inducted into the Jesuit order. He nonetheless found Father Ridgeway’s methods overbearing and invasive. While he was a devout Christian, he believed that they needed a new dimension for their religion which he described as being one-dimensional. Ridgeway vehemently opposed any attempts by Alistair to embellish the New Testament or to change one iota of it. This ultimately drove Alistair into seclusion. He refused to share any of his work with any members of the Inner Circle much to their alarm and consternation. It was only after a full ten years, that he was prepared to divulge his opus magnum; a new New Testament which he had illustrated in such splendour and with such vibrant colours that it brought gasps of delight and admiration from everybody. The work of art, for that is what it was, depicted life since their arrival by the Holy grace of God on KRAT. Br Alistair called his work the New Testament, while he recommended to the Inner Circle that the testament of the life and times of Jesus Christ should be called the Testament of Jesus and the Apostles.
Whilst Father Ridgeway was initially opposed to Alistair’s work and his recommendation that it be included as part of the Bible, he relented when the Inner Circle pointed out to him that Alistair was a gift of God. It was clear to all that God’s hand was evident in the wondrous writings and illustrations he had brought to their village. His legacy was sure to be revered and appreciated for centuries and generations to come.
This gave Father Ridgeway a wonderful opportunity to appoint a small team of novice priests to rewrite the Bible in its entirety and to incorporate Br Alistair’s New Testament into it. He was at pains to point out to them that when the Book of Revelations is interpreted properly, it becomes clear that all that had transpired on Planet Earth since 2010 had been predicted. He ensured that Alistair incorporated and merged his work with the prophecies contained in the Book of Revelations to give his New Testament validity and to strengthen the power and influence of the Bible. For the Jesuits the predictions of the End of Times had indeed occurred as was written in Revelations. Clearly they, as villagers, were now experiencing the Times of Tribulation and could look forward to a thousand years of peace, the ultimate destruction of Satan and the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the interim, Suzette had born a son. He was now but five years old. The birth had been a difficult one given Suzette’s age. Rumours as to the identity of his father abounded throughout the valley, but it was common knowledge to those close to her that Father John was the father. For the sake of appearances, Donald James moved in with Suzette after she had pleaded with him that the effects on the child to be born and grow up as a bastard would be devastating. They named the new born child Joshua and a feast in his honour was held for the villagers of the Jesuit village.
In the valley itself, it was apparent that the devastating effect which the flood and the sea waters had had on the soil was diminishing. Several successful agricultural projects were producing better crops than ever before, while the wild animals had settled down in their traditional grazing fields.
At the behest of the Caesareans and specifically Zyndile, now a matron in her mid-forties, they captured a small herd of buffalo and over time the offspring were hand-reared, rendering a new generation of virtually domesticated buffalos to the extent that they were able to milk the lactating cows. This herd had a dramatic impact on the Caesarean and ultimately the other villagers’ lifestyles. Meat now became a staple food and while hunting as well as the bird migrations were still a major source of meat, the buffalo created a significant level of stability while the leather from their skins had a multitude of uses such as clothing, water utensils as well as leather thongs for binding and tying. In addition, the male animals were trained to be draught animals and with the rudimentary ploughs they made from wood, the villagers were able to cultivate the soils more efficiently which in turn led to higher yields of sorghum and barley as well as several types of vegetables.
Beowulf’s birthday celebrations attracted most of the original survivors and their families. He was a popular young man and his hunting exploits were starting to rival those of Karl despite his youth. Karl couldn’t have been happier. He’d taught Beowulf everything he knew and the youngster was a willing pupil. Karl’s only fear was that he was too impetuous. Many a time he was obliged to caution him to be more patient.
Esme had prepared a special present for Beowulf. Karl had been working at it for some time and after many tests in the field, eventually got it right. It was a composite hunting bow which was based on the ancient technology of Genghis Khan. He used buffalo horn to stiffen and strengthen the short mobile bow while flattened buffalo sinew provided its flexibility. These components were merged to create an incredibly strong yet mobile weapon. Sinew from animals was used for the string and it took two grown men to tension the bow. Christine and Esme fashioned a beautiful quiver from soft leather which Karl filled with hunting arrows tipped with flint stone specially shaped with a fine slot to hold suitable poisons. The arrow-head was fitted to its shaft in such a manner as to lodge in the prey. The final product was a work of art and Karl was rightly proud of their joint efforts.
When Beowulf returned with Tom from his hunting trip, the village was quiet, too quiet; his senses warned him that all was not well. He could smell meat burning and the smoky smell of fires. Arming his long-bow with a poisonous arrow, he motioned to a now-alarmed Tom to follow him quietly into the centre of the village. Tom held his arm, ostensibly to assist him but more to restrain any loosing of a deadly arrow at some unsuspecting reveller, when suddenly everybody poured from the surrounding houses cheering a suitably surprised and sheepish-looking Beowulf’s return.
“I could’ve shot somebody, you fools,” he shouted in mock consternation as he unloaded and sheathed his arrow in its quiver.
“The way you shoot you couldn’t hit Mt Brutus, Beowulf,” somebody shouted as they poured mead and sorghum beer.
The party was launched with much cheering and raucous laughter.
When Karl and Esme presented Beowulf with the beautiful bow and decorated quiver of arrows, the guests went silent. Beowulf first clapped twice and then with the one hand clasping the opposite wrist accepted the gift. Zyndile had taught him the Zulu tradition of accepting a gift.
It was a treasure beyond measure. His eyes glistened as he realised how many hours of patient and careful work had gone into the making of the unique bow. Flexing the bow, he quickly and expertly fitted its string and tested the strength. He was shocked by the power and degree of strength he had to use to draw it to its fullest extent. It was a powerful weapon and would enable Beowulf to fell large game, including buffalo and elephant.
Turning to Karl, Beowulf said quietly: “This gift has been made with the love and respect for the animals it is destined to hunt. I will always honour that as I honour you who have shown me what it means to love life. I salute you.”
He turned to the small gathering of guests and proposed a toast to his mother, Oscar and Karl. For the first time in his life, Beowulf got smashed on the mead.
His hangover the next morning was such that for the next five years he didn’t touch any home brew.
Two weeks later Beowulf accompanied by Karl, Oscar and Gary, departed on an extended safari not only to hunt and look for new grazing fields of antelope but also to explore the southern reaches of the land beyond the Great Divide. Christine, Esme and Shenaaz had prepared rations for the men and made an extra suit of clothing from tanned skins and hemp for them to wear as they were not too sure what the weather would be like on their travels.
The hunting party departed early in the morning and by the time the invisible sun had reached its zenith behind the cloud cover, they were far away with KRAT and Mt Brutus having disappeared behind the horizon to the north. By nightfall they had left the valley proper and after making camp under the overhang of some massive rocks, quickly fell asleep around the small fire they had made.
It was roughly midnight when something woke Beowulf. He was the lightest sleeper and lying quite still could hear very quiet scuffling sounds on the rocks above them.
He crept out of his bed and quietly slipped out of the camp with his hunting bow and arrows to circle the cluster of rocks approaching them from the opposite side. Worming his way up onto the largest of the rocks, he sniffed the air and listened. It was a dark night and a hidden moon didn’t ease matters. He sensed rather than saw the source of the sounds just ahead of him. Arming his bow, he inched his way forward using his elbows to pull him forward over the hard rock surface without making a sound. As he slithered closer he stopped in shock! From the soft silhouette against the low glow of the embers of the fire below, he recognised the head and body of a human lying peering down at the camp. Beowulf leapt up and threw himself without thought for his own safety on to the back of the person slightly below him, landing with a thud that drove the breath out of his target. As he landed, he shouted to his comrades below to watch out.
The two struggling figures tumbled straight down into the camp where a confused Karl, Oscar and Gary leapt up only to see the two bodies writhing in the dust. Karl grabbed at the stranger while Gary pried Beowulf away from him at the same time. Standing the two up to face each other, the second shock hit them in the gut; Beowulf’s ‘prisoner’ was a young girl! She looked wildly at them expecting to have to defend herself against the four men.
“Who are you?” Beowulf who was the first to recover his voice, shouted.
The answer was unintelligible and consisted of clicks and weird throaty sounds. She screamed like an animal and tried to break loose from Karl’s grip but he held grimly onto his catch.
“Who are you? Where are you from?” Beowulf shouted again.
“Whoa, Beowulf,” Karl said, “she doesn’t understand you. She looks like the hunter-gatherers from the south that we used to call the San people, or Bushmen. I can’t believe that they have come so far north though. Bring your bow and arrows and show it to her. If she is what I think she is, she’ll go quiet.”
And so it was. When Beowulf held the beautifully shaped bow out to her, she stared at it. It was truly from the gods. She slowly held out her hands and Beowulf placed the bow in her hands. She immediately sat down on her haunches and stroked the smooth buffalo horn and crooned with delight. It was a wondrous thing. Looking up at her assailant there was admiration in her eyes; if he had made this he must be of the gods themselves. His white skin further confirmed her new-found wonder. Only hunters from the skies and clouds had weapons such as this.
The men watched her very carefully, but she was content to stroke the bow and look at them quizzically. Clicking at them she pointed toward the south and to the bow, seemingly to say that she came from the south and that she would like to take the bow to show her people.
“No,” Beowulf said, shaking his head when Karl interrupted him to say: “Hang on Wulfie, she knows the terrain and if we get on the San people’s good side they could be a great source of information They also possess exceptional skills at surviving in this world. Let’s follow her but take the bow back, lest she ducks and we can’t follow.”
Beowulf affirmed her intentions with her and in the lightening dawn the small party set off together to the south. This time the pace was quick as the San girl jogged at a pace which required especially the now-ageing Oscar to keep up.
By noon, they reached a very large flat expanse of savannah grassland which was populated with a multitude of zebra, wildebeest (gnu), Thompson’s gazelle and buffalo. In the distance they could just make out a low line of kopjes which seemed to be underlined with a dark line of acacia trees. As they approached these trees, the girl slowed down to a walk. The three stragglers quickly caught up with her and Beowulf and as they grouped around her, they sensed people behind them. Spinning around, they were confronted by roughly twenty small wizened hunters all fully armed with tiny hunting bows which were aimed straight at them.
The girl sat down immediately and indicated that they should follow suit, which they did with alacrity. A scratch from a poisoned hunting arrow was certain death. From the shadows of the acacia trees, another small group of San people approached jabbering incessantly pointing at the girl; angry, disappointed. Where the hell have you been?
For a while there was a pitched argument and clearly she was in trouble for leaving the tribe but she seemed to eventually convince them that something had bade her to find these strange beings. She indicated to Beowulf to stand up and cheekily took his bow from him and handed it to what seemed to be the leader of the tribe who in turn looked at the bow in wonder. When he tried to draw the bowstring he was disgusted that it was too strong for him. Beowulf walked up to him, took the bow, strung a hunting arrow to it and rapidly pulled it back to release the arrow high into the air. It virtually disappeared. The Bushmen screamed with surprise and delight as the arrow re-appeared to fix itself deep into the red ground in front of them. This was clearly a superior weapon to the traditional bows they made from single raisin wood branches. Everybody laughed and jabbed at the weapon while an on-going discussion took place as to who would be strong enough to use this great bow.
Meanwhile Karl and Gary were observing the goings on with some relief. Suddenly Gary nudged Karl and said: “Did you hear that?”
“What? All I can hear is a lot of noise.”
“Listen carefully. Open your ears.”
“What’s it you’re hearing man?”
“Afrikaans, man! Some of these guys are using fucking Afrikaans, man. Shit man these guys are either from South Africa, Namibia or Botswana.” Gary could hardly contain his excitement.
Switching to the indigenous Dutch-based language of Southern Africa, he said loudly: “Waar kom julle vandaan? (Where are you from?)”
The San people suddenly went quiet and watched him warily. An old man stepped forward and looked at Gary and Karl with some suspicion. The relationship between the erstwhile settler-farmers in Southern Africa and the indigenous people was more often than not, very problematic. They were not going to allow these intruders to spoil their hunting grounds as they had done when they colonised South Africa centuries ago.
“Waar kom julle? Dis nie plek virrie witman dié nie. (Where are you from? This is not a place for white men),” the old man replied.
“We came by airplane which crashed seventeen years ago on mountains far from here when the world came to an end. We are now not white men. We are like you, hunters and survivors looking after our own small tribe. Many were killed and the world was destroyed as you probably also experienced,” Gary replied in the vernacular.
“Yes, the gods were very angry and instructed us to return to our traditional ways. It is good because the ways of the white man were bad for us. Now you arrive here and I have a bad feeling. For many years I worked on a cattle farm in northern Namibia and after the End of Times, I gathered my people and we have been moving northward ever since to the lands of our forefathers. We are happy here and do not wish to be disturbed. Where are your guns?” he asked looking around for weapons.
“We have no guns,” Karl said, “you see the only weapons we have here on us and you’ll see we do not wear the clothes of the white man any longer. Animals are our tradition now and we live as you do. We do not wish to disturb you and will be happy to leave you in peace. We brought your daughter home because she was far from her family, it seems.”
“Yes, she will be punished, but later. Now you are welcome to join us for the night. We have enough food and will light the big fires tonight.” The old man turned around apparently satisfied by what he had heard. He quickly explained what had transpired between him and the white men as many of the younger San did not understand Afrikaans any longer.
That night’s festivities lasted until all the food had been eaten and the traditional beer containers had been emptied. As the feast progressed, Karl and his comrades learned of the impact the earth crust displacement had had on Southern Africa. Clearly the world as they had known it was no more and only small pockets of survivors could be found dotted all over the radically changed continent. They were also warned about marauding bands of cannibals and thugs who survived by killing off weaker tribes or absorbing them into their own tribes. Karl and Oscar were especially intrigued by the old man’s, whose name they learned was Xiu, description of a band of white cannibals whose leader was a female. Apparently they numbered about fifty members and were known to eat the hearts and livers of their victims. Beowulf was sitting with the girl he had captured and through sign language communicated with her. He learned that her name was an almost unpronounceable Xcaixia. They seemed quite oblivious of the rest of the people around them.
It was almost dawn when the dancers and revellers fell asleep one by one.
The following morning when Beowulf woke he shouted to the others. They were totally alone. They had not heard a sound. The whole tribe had disappeared into the vast savannah like mist before the sun. In a panic he searched for his bow, but was relieved to find it untouched under the piece of wood which served as his pillow.
“The Bushmen will never steal your hunting weapons, Beowulf. They know the value of it but you can be assured they will be copying it and in all probability improve upon my design,” Karl said.
“Let’s get going guys; we still have some way to go,” the ever-impatient Gary urged and after a cold breakfast of dried meat and bread, they packed their packs and set off further south.
Two weeks later, Karl’s hunting party which had traversed mountains and valleys, crossed dry river beds and waded through streams, was eventually confronted by a massive river which flowed westwards. They decided to set up camp on the river banks and then to strike out from this camp in all directions to see if they could find anything to help them locate themselves in the topsy-turvy world.
Their first expedition took them downstream and as Gary observed, such a large river must have a name. The fact that it flowed westwards stumped them. The largest African river which they could recall flowing westwards was the Congo River and this was clearly not it as this river flowed through dry savannah-land and parched mountains. Floating downstream on the small raft they had built for the purpose, they were surprised to reach what seemed like a sizeable town within two days from their base camp.
After hiding their raft in the reeds along the banks, they reconnoitred the area, and to their utter amazement stumbled upon the tarmac of what looked like a sizeable airport. The buildings were all derelict. A couple of planes standing on the parking tarmac were rusted and while clearly not serviceable, Oscar was nonetheless excited at seeing aircraft again; a world long forgotten. As they approached the terminal building, Gary exclaimed: “Look guys, we’ve arrived at Malakal. Wonder when the next flight is due?”
There in front of them on the faded paintwork of the small terminal building, the name was written in Arabic as well as English ‘Malakal Airport’.
“Where the hell is Malakal?” Beowulf asked.
“Good Grief guys, Malakal is a rural town in Central Sudan south of Khartoum and the river believe it or not is the White Nile. We often used it as a beacon south of Khartoum,” Oscar, the navigator said unbelievingly.
“But doesn’t the Nile flow northward, Oscar?” Karl asked.
“Generally yes, but this seems to confirm June’s theory once and for all. If the earth’s crust slipped as it must have slipped, it caused the African continent to swivel around. So that what used to be north is now west; what used to be west is now south and south has become east. This means that whilst we were trekking from KRAT in what we believed to be a southerly direction, which it was over the ground as we knew the geography of the old world, we were actually moving westward. That in turn means that KRAT and where we landed is in what used to be Ethiopia; thus we have been going towards Sudan in a westerly direction over the ground.”
“Good grief now I am truly lost,” Gary said sitting down on a rusted fuel tank scratching his head.
“There must be a town close to the airport. Let’s see if we can follow the road to it,” Karl proposed.
The foursome quickly located a derelict tarmac road and by using a bit of common sense found the town of Malakal or what used to be a town. The apocalypse had clearly flooded the whole town and destroyed the bulk of its infrastructure. Some tall buildings were however discernible closer to the centre of the town but there was no sign of life anywhere. Sand dunes had invaded the deserted streets and reclaimed what was originally desert land right to the edge of the river banks.
By consent they agreed to split up in two groups to scout the town quickly. It was spooky to walk in the deserted streets and they were not enthused by the notion that they may have to spend the night in the ruins. Beowulf was especially intrigued. It was his first experience of the world his mother and foster parents knew well but he was the first born in the new world. The buildings and roads as well as the machinery such as rusted vehicles and the airplanes were monsters with mysterious and unknown uses.
By midday, the group met up to compare notes. The picture that was painted was consistent. A massive flood of biblical proportions had destroyed the lands and the town. Nobody could have escaped its impact. Agreement was quickly reached to return to their raft and return upstream to their base camp. At least they now after seventeen years in the wilderness had an idea where they were and what had happened to the planet earth.
Contemplating this new information kept the foursome virtually quiet until they reached their base camp five days later.
Oscar was the first to broach the subject after they had had a good night’s sleep.
“The implication of our very important discovery is that if we follow the river upstream, we will eventually locate the lakes of Uganda and especially Lake Victoria which is the source of the White Nile. Obviously if we go downstream we will find what is left of Khartoum and ultimately Cairo and then the Mediterranean Sea,” he said.
“That’s as you remember it Oscar,” Karl commented. “The Mediterranean may be the new North Pole judging by how cold KRAT has been. If what you say is correct and Africa has swivelled around in an anti-clockwise direction, what has happened to Europe? Maybe the Mediterranean is no more, for all we know.”
“True enough. It’s anybody’s guess what the world looks like now, but I think my theory still holds true. Personally I would opt to go upstream in the short term and find the lake districts of Uganda. It’ll be lot warmer than the downstream option is my guess. In any case, we’re not equipped to trek to colder climates.”
“Do you have any idea how far the lakes are?” Gary asked. “We’re a bloody long way from home and every step we take will have to be retraced. So in my opinion we have been successful in our broad mission and can return to our wives and families now. Let somebody else do the exploring.”
“I’d love to finds the lakes as you described them, Uncle Oscar,” Beowulf said. “It sounds so exciting to find lost worlds and the sources of rivers.”
“Yah well, you’re still young and adventurous so maybe it’ll become your calling, Wulfie,” Oscar replied fondly ruffling the boy’s hair up, much to the latter’s irritation.
The discussion lasted the next two weeks while they prepared themselves for the return journey. To mark their outward journey they constructed a cairn of stones with a note written on the soft skin of an antelope as to who they were and what they had found here. This was tied into a neat and secure little bundle with hemp rope and hidden under the top flat stone. Oscar together with Karl also used the time to carefully map out their journey, using recognisable geographic features along the way which would direct and guide any future explorers. They used soft skins of small antelope such as the ever-present dijker to draw on with inks and dies they made from berries and insects.
The long trek back to Red Valley was uneventful except that they came across signs of human habitation in several locations. They skirted these as they did not want to attract undue attention to themselves.
Two days away from Red Valley tragedy struck the group.
They were hunting a gazelle to bring fresh meat to their homes for the pot. Beowulf stalked the animal as he was taught while Karl and Oscar circled keeping themselves behind a copse of acacia trees and bushes. Gary brought up the rear. Their eyes were fixed on the prey and the young boy with the result that none of them saw the lioness lying low in the copse with tail twitching as she too watched the buck. Her cubs were hiding in the low bush where she had left them.
Just as Beowulf reared his body up to release an arrow from his bow, the lioness suddenly noticed him and as her head whirled to take in this threat, Karl, seeing the sudden movement in the grass, realised the boy’s danger. Shouting and running out to distract the lioness, she turned and in total surprise and defense of her litter, attacked Karl.
The lioness leapt at the man from an enormous distance taking him down in one fell attack. In the ensuing fracas, with dust and noise obliterating any view of Karl or the lioness, Beowulf who was the closest, fearlessly rushed in and let an arrow fly at the lioness striking her in the loins. She snarled in pain, striking with her claws at the arrow and turned her attention immediately to the new attacker who was still out of reach of her deadly claws. By this time Beowulf had a new arrow ready and this one he aimed straight at the lion’s face striking her with deadly force in the eye, killing her instantly.
The whole attack was over almost before anyone had had time to think. As Gary and Oscar reached the scene they turned their attention immediately to Karl. He was lying about ten metres away and was clearly seriously injured. The skin on his skull had been ripped open from the crown of his head to his right shoulder, leaving an ear dangling uselessly. The lioness had gripped his shoulder in her massive jaws and the deep lacerations pumped dark blood. Lacerations through the throat had exposed the windpipe but fortunately the windpipe was undamaged. Karl was unconscious but alive.
Oscar and Gary ripped strips of hemp from their shirts and bandaged Karl as best they could but it was evident that he needed the professional care of Christine as soon as possible. They instructed Beowulf to run to New London immediately and to get Christine to meet them halfway while they would carry him on a litter as fast as they could.
A shocked and distraught Beowulf immediately took off while Gary started to construct the litter from saplings and branches. As they struggled to staunch Karl’s loss of blood, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by Bushmen. It was Xiu’s band of hunters.
With much jabbering and clicking they pointed to the dead lioness and the arrow in its eye and to Karl who was lying unconscious in front of them. An old wizened woman dug into a leather pouch hanging between her shrivelled breasts and filled her mouth with some dark concoction of herbs which she chewed for about five minutes. Using this, she plugged the bite marks on Karl’s shoulders, virtually immediately stopping the flow of blood. Somebody started placing dried leaves on the extensive wounds on his neck as well and wrapped what looked like the bark of some tree around the neck tying the loose flaps of flesh back along his throat. The old woman then lit a thick cigar she had rolled and while puffing away at it, she blew the smoke down Karl’s nostrils. After a short spell his breathing changed from rapid shallow breaths typical of someone in severe shock to more relaxed and deep breaths. He was clearly under the influence of a powerful soporific drug.
Satisfied with their work, the old woman got up and jabbering at them, pointed the way to their temporary village. Old Xiu explained in Afrikaans to Gary that Karl would be OK but that they needed to take him home for more treatment. Oscar and Gary thanked the small San tribe and they virtually melted away into the grass.
After lifting Karl onto the litter Gary had built and making him as comfortable as they could, the two men started out toward New London pulling the contraption over the ground as fast as they dared.
In the meantime, Beowulf had settled into a long loping jog which covered the terrain surprisingly quickly. He didn’t look left or right; he was too stressed for that. Karl was his special mentor and ‘Uncle’ and when he had left him, Beowulf feared the worst. Tears streaked down his dusty face as he considered New London without ‘Uncle Karl’. He should’ve seen the lioness. It was entirely his fault. He stretched his legs even more. Trailing him about a kilometer back a small Bushman was jogging well within herself but Beowulf was too stressed to be aware of her.
By nightfall Beowulf reached Red Valley and after another hour or two, burst into Christine’s home, tired beyond words. She leaped up in alarm and fright when she saw the young man’s dishevelled face.
“What’s wrong?” she cried. “Where’s Karl and the rest?” but seeing the state Beowulf was in, she hurried to fetch him some water which he drank thankfully. She then ran out of the house and called to Esme who was in her home a hundred metres away.
The two women went back inside to find Beowulf more composed and able to speak with them. He told them about the lion attack and Karl’s condition when he had left them and what Oscar had instructed him to do.
Christine immediately went into overdrive and started collecting medicines, bandages and whatever she thought she would require including needles made from bird bone as well as suturing thread they had prepared from animal gut for emergencies such as this. She arranged with Rachel to look after Isabel in her absence and within half an hour she was ready, but Esme cautioned her to wait until dawn. Christine was about to argue when they heard a noise outside. Beowulf leapt up and opening the door, found the young San girl standing in the doorway. Christine shrank back when she saw the apparition and immediately associated Karl’s position with the wild looking girl.
“Get out, get out,” she screamed more in panic due to Karl’s position than actual fear of the young girl.
“Wait Aunt Chris, I know her,” Beowulf said taking Christine by the shoulders and gently leading her away from Xcaixia who entered the house timidly looking around her in astonishment. It was her first experience of a white man’s home.
“We spent a night with her family. She’s my friend.” He indicated to her to come inside and gave her some water as she was obviously thirsty as well. She sat down on the floor and slaked her thirst from the water gourd.
With much gesticulation and the odd English word she had learned, Beowulf was able to gather that her family had stopped to help Karl. She had come to help them find them again, but from the look in Xcaixia’s eyes, Christine suspected there was more to her presence here with Beowulf than met the eye.
After further discussion and pleading by Esme, Christine was convinced to wait until morning before they set out to meet her husband’s party.
Christine could not sleep that night and was up and about hours before they were due to leave.
Eventually the four of them left while it was still dark. They had packed enough water and rations for four days and progressed quite a distance with dawn finding them out of sight of Red Valley.
Beowulf and Xcaixia led the way but she started veering away from the track Beowulf was familiar with. When he pointed this out to her she just clicked her tongue in exasperation at him and indicated he must follow her. What does a white man know about the bush even a white man as handsome and as good a hunter as this one, she thought to herself with some amusement looking over her shoulder every few minutes to ensure they were still within her sight.
By late afternoon, Xcaixia slowed down and started casting around looking for sign of her family when with a satisfied grunt she suddenly straightened and took off to her left and headed toward a small outcrop of large rocks not dissimilar to the outcrop where she had chanced upon Beowulf’s party the first time around. When they reached it, she suddenly stopped and sat down on her haunches in the relative shade of a large boulder. Beowulf, Christine and Esme soon followed suit although Christine was impatient to find her man; sitting down didn’t fit in with this, she thought to herself.
As she sat down and unhooked and lowered her load to the ground, she saw that they were surrounded by a whole tribe of Bushmen. She shrank back instinctively but Beowulf stepped forward and spoke with the old man Xiu. He merely indicated to Beowulf that they wait right here as Gary and Oscar were not far behind. And so it was; within an hour, they heard Oscar’s voice and saw the litter-party approach through the grass. Christine immediately leapt up and ran to meet them, with Esme and Beowulf in close attendance.
When they reached the shade of the hill, they thankfully lowered Karl to the ground and Christine immediately set to work. When she opened up the skins which served as blankets, she was surprised to find Karl looking at her with clear and wonderfully cogent eyes. She looked up at the old San woman who was sitting down next to the litter, and just hugged her without saying a word. She instinctively knew that the old woman had saved Karl’s life.
Gary spoke with Xiu and indicated to him that Christine was their medicine woman. She in turn, started to remove the bark from his neck wounds and after washing and disinfecting the wound again with herbs as Zyndile had taught her, she started sewing the flaps of flesh which were still in a surprisingly good condition, back on. The Bushmen were fascinated by the process and were constantly jabbering and clicking away, pointing out this and that.
“If it had not been for these wonderful people, Karl would not have survived,” Christine said after some time, as she stood up from the litter looking at her handiwork with some satisfaction.
“We know that, Christine,” Oscar said gently. “They have been incredibly helpful. We’re worried though, because despite Karl’s obvious consciousness, he’s been unable to speak.”
“It’s too soon, but the wound across the throat although not life threatening could have damaged his vocal cords, Oscar. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
The group settled down for the night and within a short time a large fire was roaring while meat was prepared in pots the San women had magically produced from the folds of animal skins on their bodies. Soon savoury aromas spread though the night air. Music and dancing commenced.
In the main dance, the dancers caught up Beowulf and Xcaixia and clearly started simulating the lion’s hunt of the gazelle; Beowulf stalking the buck; the lion stalking Beowulf; Karl’s brave attempt to save the hunted Beowulf; the attack by the lioness and then Beowulf’s mastery of the short hunting bow with the lioness leaping into the air as the fatal arrow crashed into her skull though the eye. This final triumph over the lion was repeated over and over and yet the lioness seemed to have grown in stature together with the great hunter, Beowulf. Christine and Esme were fascinated and delighted by these bush dwellers’ understanding of life’s simple moments and how they lived in harmony with nature, allocating spirits to the animals especially after a hunt. The lioness was not a villain in their dance but a brave soul which will go straight to heaven becoming one with the stars; remembered forever. Beowulf also was clearly a hero and master of the hunt in the way the dance portrayed him. Many legends and stories would be told by generations to come around campfires of Beowulf. He was no boy to them.
The following day the San had done their disappearing act again. When Beowulf awoke he found a small chain of grass intricately woven in a ring and carefully placed at his head. He told nobody about this. Xcaixia had left him a love letter. The party returned to New London with their injured friend and husband, where he was made comfortable in his bed.
Christine busied herself with her new and dearest patient who recovered remarkably swiftly except that he would never speak again. His two vocal cords had been severed by the attack. While Karl seemed to be himself again, he had hunted for the last time. He however prided himself in Beowulf’s hunts and who when he returned, was forced to regale them with his stories sometimes somewhat embellished they suspected, but nonetheless superbly told and highly entertaining.
Two years had passed swiftly after the expedition by Karl’s party. The findings of their expedition were recorded on parchment and maps were drawn from the originals they had done while on safari. Karl who did the bulk of the mapping with Oscar’s expert input, never in a thousand years expected that these same maps would be used by his grandson many years later when he would be called on to lead the exodus from the valley.
During the two years, Rachel and Hassan had a son they named Michael in memory of her father. He sported a red crop of hair.
Michael had reached the tender age of three months when Hassan left to visit his father’s grave on KRAT. During his stay on the mountain top, he clambered down the waterfall to inspect the work he had done years ago to prepare for the installation of small hydro-electric generators which had never materialised due to a lack of suitable materials. Hassan still believed that he could have succeeded given enough time. Twenty feet down from the lip of the plateau, he slipped on a patch of moss and fell to his death. His body was only recovered two weeks later when Rachel realised that he had met with some misfortune when his planned date of return was exceeded by a full two days. Oscar and Gary led a search party and after they traced his tracks through the forest on KRAT, found his desiccated body lying spread-eagled over an acacia tree two hundred metres below the edge of the plateau. Clambering down the cliff, Gary was able to haul the body back up the cliff with hemp ropes they had brought with them. They proceeded to bury their friend next to June’s grave at the small cemetery they used to use when they lived on the plateau.
When the search party returned to New London, Rachel as well as Shenaaz were informed. Rachel looked at Oscar without words or tears. She held their small baby up in her arms towards the sky and simply said: “Hassan, my dearest we will always hold you close to our hearts.” After thanking them for finding and burying her husband, she then turned her back on Oscar, and retreated to her home. She didn’t emerge for a month except to throw out the rubbish and draw water and didn’t speak with anybody, much to her friends concern but they left her alone to deal with her ghosts. They all had ghosts to deal with.
After a month, Rachel emerged a changed person. She looked fresh and her eyes shone again. She walked straight to Christine’s home and found her tending to Karl.
“I would like to thank you for allowing me my private space when I needed it. I would not have been able to face people during my time of mourning, but I’m now ready to visit Hassan’s grave. My mother’s also buried there so it will be a good cleansing process and pilgrimage for me. I would not like to go alone, Christine. Will you accompany me? I’ve also asked Shenaaz if she wanted to come along. The three of us will enjoy the pilgrimage in each other’s company.”
“I’d be honoured to Rachel but I’ve Karl to look after,” she replied. Karl who was listening to the conversation plucked her arm and angrily indicated to her that he was OK and she must go. After some argument which seemed somewhat surreal to the watching Rachel with two gesticulating persons arguing without sound from the one, it was agreed. Christine would accompany Rachel as long as they would only be away for four days. Rachel made arrangements with Esme to look after Michael in her absence.
Two days later, the three women approached the plateau carefully making their way up the only precipitous access path they had used so many times before. Cresting the mountain, they made their way to the small and decaying cemetery and spruced up the graves that mattered to them. Christine left Rachel and Shenaaz alone to give them time with Hassan and walked to the forest to bathe in their traditional spot near the waterfall.
After bathing she dressed and walked slowly towards the cemetery only to be surprised by a figure sitting on a log close to the edge of the forest. It was clearly not Rachel and as she approached was shocked to see Father Ridgeway, watching Rachel and Shenaaz through the leaves of the forest.
“So now you’re given to spying as well are you, John?” she said sarcastically as she walked up to him.
He almost fell off the log in surprise and looked at Christine very sheepishly.
“Sorry, I was just surprised to find Rachel and Shenaaz here and didn’t want to disturb them. Whose grave is the fresh one?”
“Hassan’s. He was killed about six weeks ago when he fell off the cliff at the waterfall. It’s been a hard time for Rachel so soon after June’s passing away and then Michael’s birth about four months ago.”
“Michael?” the priest asked.
“Rachel and Hassan’s little baby.”
“Oh, I wasn’t aware.”
“Of course you weren’t.”
“Shame, Hassan was the last of Ahmedi’s line.”
“Well Shenaaz is still around. She’s married to Gary and they have a daughter, John.”
“Yes, I know that they’re living in sin together. Ahmedi would be turning in his grave, I believe, a Muslim and a pagan living together.”
“John, when are you going to realise that these conventions are no more? You have still not woken up to the realities of our world have you?”
“God does not sleep, and while man’s world may have been destroyed, it is up to the faithful to ensure we keep the faith regardless of the difficulties and challenges that God lays at our feet,” the priest replied.
‘Well then do so priest,” she answered abruptly making to leave the forest. As she walked past him, the priest laid his hand on her arm and implored her to stay. He would like to speak to her. Her skin crawled at the touch of the priest’s hand. Christine knew that whatever the priest had to say would not be of interest to her at all, and was about to say so when the priest said: “Since we crash-landed on KRAT you have fascinated me, Christine. Yet we have never had an opportunity to really get to know each other better.”
“What makes you think I would like to get to know you better, John?”
“Now, now don’t be like that. You’re always so defensive. Isn’t it time to let your defenses down just a little bit?” he pleaded.
“Again John, what makes you think I’m being defensive? You have nothing to offer me, spiritually or intellectually and I’m not interested in defending anything, least of all my principles against yours.”
“Are you saying you’re perfect Christine and that you have no needs?”
“Not at all, John, and my needs are none of your business anyway. I’m a human and therefore can always improve myself, but I don’t think you have anything to offer me to help me in this process.”
“But how do you know if you haven’t heard me out?” he asked.
“I do not wish to know because I have heard every argument you have to offer; I have studied different forms of mysticism and ultimately realised that mysticism is a disease. It is a human disease created by the parasites of the world. Your religion is just one of those diseases, John,” she said.
“But what if you’re wrong?” he cried angrily.
“That is my problem, not yours and even if I am, it’s still none of your business. The problem with mysticism is that people have been denied the truth for so long that it’s impossible for the average person to differentiate between the lies that mystics have been feeding them and the fundamentals of logic, reason and morality. It is no accident that the era of argumentation, reason and logic was suppressed by the religionists or that the philosophies of great philosophers such as Aristotle were swept into the background in favour of the mystical nonsense espoused by Plato or even Kant. Neither was it an accident John, that the Catholic Church in the fifteenth century demonized women with its dogma that all physically attractive women were evil witches. It was also not accidental that religions for centuries been have fighting any form of liberation of people’s minds. Any attempts to question faith and the tenets of religion were often brutally suppressed and even in modern times, the advance of science in a variety of fields which didn’t suit the dogmas of the churches was criticised, vilified, opposed in the halls of power and neutralised wherever it could do so. HIV/AIDS thus became God’s answer to promiscuity, while birth control and abortion was violently opposed, even in times of over-population, burgeoning poverty and famine.”
“No John, you have nothing to offer me and neither does your religion, your god or for that matter any religion. It is our belief in ourselves as humans who have the capacity to think and to be aware of the fact that we think, that differentiates us from animals; it is our right to choose what we wish to choose that has made man great and it is our pursuit of happiness that enables us to create value and leave this earth fulfilled. I will ensure that whoever gets out of this valley takes that message to the generations of the future,” she said walking away from the priest toward Rachel and Shenaaz who were sitting down next to the graves and watching the discussion from afar.
“How can you speak of happiness without God and the love of Jesus Christ the Lord?” the priest shouted at her receding back.
Turning around and retracing her steps, she said: “Happiness? What do you know priest, about happiness? Your church as well as others have spread misery throughout the world and you grow from strength to strength on the corpses of those you have destroyed and persecuted in the name of love. The ‘happiness’ you and those before you preached was conditional; conditional upon the sacrifice of your mind, upon the sacrifice of your individuality and the sacrifice of your self-esteem. True happiness can only come from within; it is not something a deity can give or bestow upon man; happiness is a condition brought about by the achievement of one’s goals; happiness comes about through activities which seek to find a balance between reason, ambition and virtue. Happiness can never come at the expense of another person; happiness is not the equivalent of an absence of fear or evil or even of unhappiness. Happiness comes about when man succeeds in achieving his or her personal goals, goals which they believe will make them happy, in achieving recognition for this from those they respect and love, and from the rewards of such achievement. It is not a gift bestowed upon a person such as one bestows upon a child. It does not come from material goods, wealth or power unless such reward was justified by the creation of value and virtue. That is not the happiness I am referring to. I pity you priest; your happiness will only come about when you convert me or destroy me in the attempt to do so; you will consequently die an unhappy, unfulfilled man.”
Pausing, she turned around to face John: “By the way John, what if it’s you and all those who preceded you who’ve been wrong all these years?” Shrugging she added almost pensively: “Just imagine how much time, energy, resources and opportunity you and those like you have wasted.”
She couldn’t help feeling sullied by the encounter. A shiver ran down her spine as she walked away. Behind her, he shouted again: “Know this woman; you shall suffer for your heresies. God through Jesus Christ will see to that!”
Rachel and her two friends returned to New London the next morning. Rachel felt a calm such as she had not felt in a long time. The pilgrimage to the graves of her mother and Hassan had had a cleansing effect on her psyche and as she strode alongside Christine and Shenaaz she felt an inner strength she had never felt before. They did not speak much but the bond between the three women was almost tangible.
The Jesuit priest had also returned to his village. His interaction with Christine had unsettled him. She seemed to exude an almost vulgar confidence which he could not understand or tolerate. She seemed to be imbued with an inner strength and energy; how could this be if she was indeed an atheist? How could it be that God is prepared to allow such an aberration? Surely God’s intentions were not to use her to test his faith? God knows that he had never wavered but who is he to question God’s intentions? What was that she said about taking the message out of the valley to future generations? What she was talking about was incomprehensible rubbish; dangerous heresy and blasphemy.
The priest sat in the church’s sacristy located behind the small altar. A noise made him start but it was only Suzette, now grey and emaciated. She brought him some of the herbal tea he enjoyed so much.
“How was your visit to KRAT, John?” she asked more out of politeness than interest. Her interest in John had faded long ago. Their only common interest was their son Joshua.
“It was interesting. I met up with Rachel, Shenaaz and Christine. Apparently Hassan died six weeks ago when he fell from the waterfall. They buried him next to June. Interesting hey? Not near Ahmedi’s grave as I would have expected.”
“Well he wasn’t that close to his father. What did Christine have to say or didn’t you speak with her?”
“I did. She’s as hard as a rock. Actually she was quite insulting as well.”
“Why, what did she say to you?”
“Nothing you can put your finger on,” he replied evasively. “She just denied that I have anything to offer her. How could she say this without knowing what it is I have to offer?”
“Hah! You bluff yourself John. She has you figured to the last drop of blood.”
“I don’t follow,” the puzzled priest responded.
“What can you offer her, John? Think about it and answer me as truthfully as you dare,” she said, looking at the priest with some irritation. Discussions of an intellectual nature between the two them usually resulted in heated arguments.
“It is not me that can offer her anything but only the Holy Trinity. It’s her salvation that’s on the cards here, not mine. She seems to reject this without giving me a chance to explain it to her and to explain the risks if she doesn’t believe. It defies all logic that people like her believe they have all the answers and do not need God. It’s her salvation that’s at risk. Isn’t it my calling to save her soul?”
“Well what are you going to do about her body and her soul, John?” Suzette asked sarcastically. She had always had a sneaking suspicion that John’s interest in Christine was more of a physical nature than spiritual.
“I think that God is testing my resolve as he tested Job’s resolve,” John replied, missing the barb. “We’ve been in this accursed valley for many years now and I have failed to convert her or her family and friends. How will I be able to face our Lord, Jesus Christ with a failure such as this? I must think of a way to convince her of the error of her ways. Talking will not work. I don’t think her mind is open to any arguments I may have to offer.”
“You cannot force her to believe; that must come from an inner conviction surely?”
“Yes, but it must be initiated externally. During the Inquisition thousands of non-believers repented and were saved when confronted by the consequences of their sins. Sometimes one is forced to use extreme methods to achieve the ends desired.”
“John that sounds like a fascist approach. Those thousands you speak about were tortured. I do not support the notion that the end justifies the means although I’m fully aware that is one of your credos.”
John was quite puzzled by Suzette’s stand in the matter. She usually supported him in his religious approach despite the fact that she was originally a Protestant from one of South Africa’s three leading Afrikaans churches and he a Catholic.
The matter of Christine’s conversion had become an obsession with him. The fact that her name was a derivative of Christ’s name was not lost on the priest either. That surely was a sign from God? He had to get her alone and get her to listen to his side of the story. There could be no doubt that she had to repent. Maybe her age would mellow her. How could he ensure she would listen? He will revert to prayer.
“Leave me now, Suzette. I wish to meditate and pray.”
When she had closed the door behind her, he immediately started rummaging through his old notes and looked for his diary written shortly after the Airbus had crashed. He had made copious notes of all the survivors; their habits, who they associated with and his interactions with them. His diary was a detailed history of all the happenings on KRAT. With a grunt of satisfaction he eventually dug it out under rolls of skin and reed scrolls. The priest spent the next three days carefully reading all his notes until he was satisfied that he had found what he wanted. He knew that one day this information would come in handy.
For the next three weeks, Father Ridgeway barely came out of his study and when he did it was for a short while, only to return to his rough hewn desk. He worked at a document which he discussed with nobody and showed nobody, not even Alistair who visited him once during the period.
After the three weeks, he returned to his normal routines and seemed somewhat more relaxed and even cheerful.
In New London, Christine and Karl were planting their summer crops with Rachel helping them. Michael was tied to her back as she bent to her task planting sorghum in the tilled soil. In the distance they could hear Esme and Oscar arguing over something they were busy building while Gary and Shenaaz were adding another room to their home. The scene in the small village was peaceful.
Out in the valley a lone traveller approached them. Esme cried out as she recognised Beowulf’s long and athletic gait. As he neared them his pace increased until he ran towards his mother and the two embraced as he swung her around in his powerful arms. Karl grinned soundlessly and Christine laughed as they watched the two approach them.
“Welcome home, Beowulf the Great,” Christine said mockingly as she bowed low.
“Aw c’mon Aunt Chrissie. Hi Uncle Karl. How’s my favourite uncle now?” he asked looking closely at Karl as he hugged him to see if he could discern any improvement. He still felt responsible for his injuries although, Karl had long since dispelled this as nonsense.
Karl grinned in his lopsided way and rubbed his hair in his usual affectionate manner.
“Come I have things to tell you. Let’s go to our house. Mom can make us some of her char and biscuits from the oven,” Beowulf said.
Christine called to Isabel where she was carving a small statuette from wood which seemed to look remarkably like Beowulf. Gary and the others had already heard the commotion and were approaching in anticipation of some news. When Beowulf returned from one of his hunting trips, he always had some interesting tales to tell and it brought to them news from the world beyond the Red Valley.
As the friends gathered in Oscar and Esme’s home, Esme bustled around busily in the warm kitchen preparing tea and snacks for the unexpected guests while Beowulf had a quick bath in the warm spring waters at the rear of the house.
When Shenaaz came through the doorway she was accompanied by Rachel and Michael. They had brought along some dried and salted meat strips which Gary called “biltong” which he had cut into small slivers. Soon the small lounge was quite festive as everybody gathered and started talking while they waited for Beowulf to join them.
As Beowulf entered the kitchen, they all watched him expectantly.
Esme called out to everyone to fetch their tea while she served them some warmed bread she had baked that very morning before dawn. In the resultant rush, Beowulf had the opportunity to pull Oscar aside and said: “Dad, I’m afraid the news I have is not that good.”
“Why? What’s up?”
“I’ll tell you shortly but it has to do with the Lost Tribe.”
“What? Did you find them?”
“Wait up but I don’t want to spoil everybody’s day.”
“No, we’re not sissies, Wulfie, tell it like it is. That’s the only way for us as you know.”
“OK,” he replied as Esme put his mug of tea in his hand.
After everybody had settled down, he stood up and started to speak.
“I’ve been away for thirty days and I’ve travelled further south than when I accompanied Uncle Karl, Gary and dad here, two years ago. I’ve seen much including green valleys and large forests. From what I’ve heard the destruction of many of man’s cities and towns has had the effect that nature has taken over vast tracts of land again. I also came upon a large lake right next to a large sea. It was evident that a piece of the Africa which you described to me had torn away from the mainland. You could see a massive island not very far from the shore. It was so large that I could not see its end. It left behind very high cliffs which looked like the island had been torn from the living rock of Africa. There were many volcanoes such as Brutus and the skies were covered wherever I travelled. The smell of sulphur and stinging rains often accompanied me.”
“It was on the eighteenth day after leaving Red Valley, that I met Xcaixia’s family again…”
“Probably by total chance we take it,” Gary piped up from the rear. The small group laughed at Beowulf’s obvious discomfort.
“Yes, Uncle Gary, but listen to this; they told me of a marauding band of white scum only two days walk from where we were. I decided to stalk them and see what I could find out…”
Esme immediately gasped and held up her hand to her mouth in panic.
“Yes mom, I discovered the Lost Tribe!” he said, looking at Oscar.
An immediate hubbub broke out as questions rained on to Beowulf.
“Did they see you?”
“Did you see Amanda?”
“What did they look like?”
“Is it true that they are cannibals?”
“Who’s their leader?”
Oscar stepped forward and holding up his hands said: “Whoa people! Let Wulfie speak.”
Beowulf continued: “I stalked them like a python and followed the trail the San people had explained to me. I found sign after a day’s trek. That night I slept in a cold camp in order that they not spot my camp fire. The next morning I left before dawn as the San do. I found the village of the Lost Tribe by mid afternoon that day and I was able to approach the village without being seen as it was located in a dense forest. I climbed the highest tree I could find and was able to see into the village. During nightfall I tied myself to the branches so that I would not sleep and fall from the tree. But what I saw that night kept me awake throughout the night and even the night after.”
“What was it? What did you see?” came the chorus.
“I saw a camp which seemed to be well built and which had been used for some time as the area was bare from many feet. They made a large fire in the middle of a circle of huts. There was one hut which was a lot bigger than the others. I thought this was where the headman would be living, but I was wrong. It was a place where they seemed to keep people like in a cage. The floor was raised but you could see people lying on poles inside and you could hear crying and wailing to chill your bones. I even heard a child’s cries from inside this horrible place. By nightfall, the fire was burning high and they spread the coals over a wide area between two large wooden stakes which ended in forks. Just before it got totally dark, they dragged two people from this large hut and without any delay cut their throats so that they could bleed to death. The blood was caught up in bowls. They were to drink this later.”
The audience knew what was coming. They sighed the sigh of a million souls.
“One of the victims was a woman. They stripped all their clothes from their bodies and then they disembowelled them both close to a hole in the ground so that their bellies could just be rolled in and covered to avoid the flies. Before throwing the innards away, they cut out their hearts and livers. These were put aside.”
“They then took a large blackened pole and tied both bodies, belly-down to this pole. After this they picked this terrible pole up and hung it between the two stakes over the hot coals. The coals sizzled and steam rose from the still warm bodies as they were cooked over the fire by turning the pole around and around.”
“While the meat was cooking, they brought out large bags made of skins and which seemed to contain some type of beer. They also brought out drums and music instruments and they started dancing around the fire to the beat of at least five drums. After some time, everything went quiet and the music stopped. They all sat down as if waiting for something or someone. Then I saw her! I saw this woman, she was white like us and she was wearing a skirt made from grass. Her breasts hung like a woman who has suckled many children. One of the men crawled to her and offered her the livers of the two people. She stuck these onto two sharp sticks and gave them back to the kneeling man who placed the livers on the hot coals. She then walked to a large chair and sat down. When she sat down in this large chair, another man brought her some beer. She drank of this like a man and then the music started up again. After some time, she called to someone in the dark and a much older man came into the circle of light. He had very hairy arms and used to be quite well built, but he had only one eye over which he wore a leather patch. He sat down next to her but it was clear that she was the chieftain. She instructed another of her subjects to roast the hearts of their victims over the fire as well. This was the old man’s share of the spoils.”
“The feast continued until the early hours of the morning. The tribe feasted over the roasted human flesh and the beer and when all was done they either collapsed onto the ground or disappeared into their huts. The chieftainess and the old man had disappeared sometime earlier. After this I just waited for a chance to escape and when all seemed safe I got down and retraced my steps until I eventually reached the San people again. Here I told them what I had seen. They confirmed that this is as they had heard as well. I spent two days with them before coming home.”
Beowulf sat down now and answered questions as they rolled in from all sides. Eventually Oscar quietened them down and said: “I guess we now have definite evidence that Amanda is still alive. From Wulfie’s description I have no doubt of that. James seems to have survived although he must have lost an eye at some stage. It’s horrifying to think that they could have sunk to cannibalism. It seems as if the Lost Tribe is really lost in more ways than one. Their brutal ways must be a terror to their victims. How many people do you think they are now Wulf?” he asked.
“I counted at least 50 but I saw no children, they were probably sleeping when the feast took place.”
“OK, Oscar what are we going to do about it?” Gary asked.
“Nothing, Gary. We are not crusaders for human rights. We have enough on our plates as it is. We must just hope and pray that the Lost Tribe do not develop a taste for us again. Fortunately they are far away and we’ll know well in advance should they attempt to attack us.”
“Well I don’t like the idea of those bastards out there while one or more of us could become their next meal. Jees,” he exclaimed, “just imagine the trauma Amanda had to go through to become a cannibal and their leader at that. She was such a cute kid!”
“Come on Gary,” Christine cut in, “you’re being facetious now!”
“I know, I know,” he protested.
“OK, Esme thanks for the tea and bitings. Beowulf thanks for the information. We all hope that your will be able to sleep a bit better tonight after your horrible experiences. It’s getting late and we can leave you and your family to discuss things further,” Christine said getting up and dragging Karl to his feet with some effort as well. They all followed suit and trooped out of Oscar’s house to start their evening meals.
The mood over supper in each house was subdued as they all contemplated how it was possible that a normal well-brought up woman such as Amanda could resort to murder, violence and cannibalism. It stressed the abnormality of their circumstances once again as had happened so many times since their crash-landing on the plateau of KRAT.
The news of the Lost Tribe travelled fast throughout the Red Valley and when it reached the ears of Father Ridgeway he immediately went into the church, stumbling blindly into its dark interior and prostrated himself before the altar:
“Dear Father in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Have mercy upon my soul and the souls of the wretched victims of the Lost Tribe.
Hearken their cries for help oh Lord and deliver them from evil.
Through Thy Son Jesus Christ we plead for Thy interventions and the destruction of the work of Satan most foul.
I beseech Thee o Lord to hear this plea
Father it was as You instructed me to do.
I pleaded for their lives and I begged the accusers that they be merciful and forgive them their evil just as You have forgiven us, ours
Not because I deserve it but I call upon thee to hear the cries of the souls of those brutalised so that they may be saved
Lord I ask Thee to forgive me my indiscretions which have led to Amanda’s downfall and her kidnapping by Satan most evil
But hear me o Lord, I swear to avenge the torture and pain of the innocent as Your soldier
I do this in Your name and the name of Jesus Christ your Holy Son
Dear Father, I confess my sins to Thee and beg Thy forgiveness
I ask this in the name of Your son Jesus Christ our Lord who died and was resurrected for our sins.
He lay in that position in the church for at least two hours before arising stiffly from the cold floor. His face was drawn and his eyes looked haunted by the spirits of the past. He stumbled out of the church and went to his room where he picked up the notes he had made some weeks before and turning to the fire in his small hearth, threw all the notes into it. After that he left the building and walked out of the Jesuit village without a word to anyone else.
Three days later he was seen on the ramparts of the semi-completed wall the Caesareans were in the process of constructing around the small village. Tom and Zyndile were called. They walked to where he was sitting. They were very surprised by his presence here. Something must have happened. While Zyndile had branched away from pure Christianity to a variation of animism and ancestral worship, her Christian upbringing had instilled Christian values in her which she respected and adhered to as long as they did not bring her into too much conflict with her own emerging traditions and rites.
As they approached the priest, they were quite shocked by his appearance. He was dishevelled and dirty and looked like he had not eaten for some time.
“Father John! We are honoured by your visit. What brings you here to our simple abode?” Zyndile asked.
“Devil worshippers! You are all devil worshippers and are doomed to hell forever,” came the shocking reply as the priest turned his eyes on her. He had said it calmly as a matter of fact. Zyndile noticed that his eyes were bloodshot like a person who had not slept in days.
“Come Father, you are tired and hungry. Join us for a meal and some rest. Then we can talk. You are clearly stressed and need to calm yourself,” she replied soothingly as she held out her hand to help the priest up from where he was sitting on a rock.
“Get thee hence, Satan’s Disciple. I have come to warn you and your followers of the evil of your ways. I have been sent by Jehovah, God Almighty, to slay His enemies. I have come to tell you that the Second Coming is nigh and that ye shall all be judged and cast into the pits of hell. Repent, repent and be saved or be damned forever more.”
Zyndile shrank back at the priest’s vehemence and threat. She could see that he was unbalanced and not thinking rationally. He sounded like John the Baptist would have sounded, she thought to herself.
“Father, you know that I don’t worship Satan,” the Zulu princess said again, “you also know that I was baptised as a Christian. That I have reverted to the rites of my ancestors does not make me a Satanist. I ask you again, come down from this wall and join us in supper; rest your body and even your soul for you seem troubled beyond recognition.”
By this time the scene on the wall had attracted the attention of all the villagers and a small crowd had gathered.
“I will not consort with devil worshippers nor will my feet tread upon this ground soaked in blood. I have come to deliver to you a warning. The Last Judgement is nigh and the dead shall rise up to be judged. You are tainted with the blood of your ancestors and the sins of your fathers. A wind shall rise from the east and shall cleanse the land of your filth. Rains shall descend upon you to wash away your sins if ye repent. Repent now and be saved. Persist in your sinful ways and be caste down to rot in perpetuity.”
Zyndile looked at the priest pityingly. She realised he was beyond reason. He had slipped over the edge. She did not know what had caused this but knew that he would not listen to anyone from Caesarea. He turned around and started to clamber down from the walls. He was weakened and without warning slipped and fell heavily onto the ground below where he lay without any sign of life.
Zyndile rushed down from the wall and when she reached him realised from the peculiar angle of his leg that it was broken. As the priest was unconscious, she quickly instructed some villagers to bring him to her house where she could inspect his injuries and treat him properly. The priest’s limp body was carefully lifted and carried the hundred odd metres to the neat little cottage that Tom and Zyndile had built for themselves and their children. They cleared out one of her children’s rooms and placed the priest on the bed in the room. Without further ceremony, Zyndile ripped the priest’s filthy clothes from his body and examined every inch to determine any injuries. Except for the broken thigh bone, he had cracked several ribs in the fall as well. Blood poured from a gash in his scalp but this looked more serious than it was.
Zyndile prepared some hot water and bathed the man’s body to rid it of almost a week’s sweat and dust. After that, she tended to the bleeding gash and wrapped that in hemp bandages after smearing some herbal ointments to help the wound to heal. She then tended to the most serious injury by tying his leg tightly against the other leg to stabilise it. She strapped the leg with leather thongs Tom handed to her under which she had placed straight pieces of wood they used to construct roof trusses. When she was happy with this, she tended to the rib-cage by strapping his chest with hemp bandages tight enough to stabilise the ribs without restricting his breathing.
As she was doing this, the priest’s eyes opened. He looked around him without comprehension until he focused on Zyndile’s face. In horror, he tried to lift himself from the bed, but fell back wincing in pain.
“What have you done to me, witch of the night?” he whispered painfully as his ribs and bandages restricted his movements. As he looked down, he noticed that he was naked. Shrieking at Zyndile to cover him, he tried again to roll off the bed to cover his nakedness. As he fell to the ground, his shriek of horror became a shriek of pain as his injuries hit him.
Tom and Zyndile lifted him up again despite his protestations, and put him back on the bed. This time she covered him with skins. Tom brought out some more thongs and proceeded to tie the moaning priest firmly to his bed.
“Maybe now you’ll listen to us and stop your raving, you fool,” Tom said to him.
Zyndile succeeded in getting him to drink a potion she kept in the house for occasions such as this. Villagers often consulted her with all types of aches and pains and this drug helped them to sleep soundly. The priest eventually succumbed to the drugged potion and they could leave him to sleep till morning.
That night Zyndile and Tom discussed the priest’s strange and unsettling behaviour but could not fathom what had caused this. They settled into a fitful sleep with the realisation that the priest would be their unwilling guest for the next couple of months until he was strong enough to walk back to the Jesuit village. Tom somewhat reluctantly, undertook to leave for New London the next day to call on Christine to come to Caesarea and have a look at the priest as well. Then he would go to Suzette and inform her of his whereabouts as she would be quite worried. The round trip with lay-overs would take the best part of a week to complete.
Early before dawn Tom had left and Zyndile peeped in to see if the priest was OK. He was fuming at being tied to the bed and shouted at her to immediately untie him.
“John, I will if you promise to be a good boy and let me have a look at your dressings. You’re hurt worse than you think, you know. You’re unable to walk because you broke your leg; you have several fractured ribs and a nasty gash to the head. You fell quite far and you’re lucky to be alive, so count your blessings, priest. Anyway I’ve sent for Christine and also sent a message to Suzette that you’re OK and in good hands.”
The priest looked at her in consternation: “I won’t let Christine touch me. She’s a heretic and I don’t care how good a nurse she may be but I will not allow her filthy hands on my body.”
“We’ll see,” Zyndile said as she loosened his bonds and had a look whether the dressings were still secure.
She left the room and within minutes the priest could smell something he hadn’t smelled for a long time; porridge! How could she have made porridge, he asked himself, salivating as the aroma drifted through the open doorway. It seemed to be an interminably long time before Zyndile reappeared through the doorway with a breakfast the like of which the priest had not seen since his departure from London. On the tray, Zyndile had a bowl of dark brown porridge made from locally grown sorghum; two eggs beautifully turned; a thick rasher of what looked like pork but the priest wasn’t aware of any pigs in the vicinity and some rough freshly baked brown bread with a white butter spread thickly on the bread. It was all rounded off with a steaming cup of char. The priest did not wait and dug into the first meal he had had in three days and the best meal since he had established the new village; Suzette was not a good cook. A smiling Zyndile sat on a small stool watching the priest devour the meal. It always gave her the utmost pleasure to prepare good food and then watch people eat, usually without talking.
With a sigh, the priest pushed the tray away from him, looking at Zyndile with a strange look; a mixture of thankfulness and what to Zyndile looked like guilt.
“Thank you,” he said. “I haven’t eaten for almost a week and didn’t realise just how hungry I was till I smelled you preparing my breakfast.”
“Oh I wasn’t just preparing only your breakfast. I have a family to feed you know, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. You were very distraught yesterday and I knew that a good meal will do much to restore your balance.”
“Yes, you were showing signs of being unbalanced and wouldn’t listen to reason. We’re not your enemy John but that’s how you see us purely because we worship in a different manner. But be that as it may, I don’t want you to get worked up again, so I’m going to leave you to rest and sleep for as long as you like. You need the rest. Just call out if you need anything; I’ll be close by doing the kids’ and Tom’s washing.”
She walked out of the priest’s room leaving him to rest. He commenced by examining his injuries and was taken aback at the extent of the bruises and more serious injuries he had. The expert treatment of these also impressed him. Lying back on his comfortable bed, the priest thought about the past few weeks.
Things seemed to be unravelling and he could not put his finger on the reasons for this. Since Amanda’s kidnapping so long ago, things had changed in the valley. The respect he had enjoyed as a priest and counsellor and especially the work they had done with the Eduskills project on KRAT had given him a position of influence and respect, sometimes grudgingly from people like Christine, but nonetheless genuine. This had now been replaced by isolation and revulsion in certain quarters.
He wasn’t welcome in either Caesarea or New London and if it had not been for the work he had done with the Jesuit New Testament and the village’s new constitution, he would have gone crazy. Clearly God was testing him. He was weak as was evident not only by the birth of his illegitimate son, Joshua but also by the fact that his relationship with Suzette had indirectly resulted in Amanda’s disappearance. In addition, he had been a total failure in converting the non-believers in the valley. Even some of the children who had gone to school in the Eduskills project now rejected his faith and him as a person.
This valley is cursed; he was sure of that. Satan ruled the valley and that was why God placed him here. Satan’s presence was evident everywhere. It had started with the air crash; the burial by throwing the dead over the cliffs as if to appease the demons; the ever-present hyenas; the colour of the clouds and dust; even the volcanoes and Mt Brutus especially, it burned with the fires of Hell; the red waters which had held them captive on KRAT. The natural order of things was wrong; the Church did not carry the same weight in the valley; two villages rejected the Church and followed their own beliefs; babies whether born in sin or not were often not baptised and people who were buried never received the Last Rites except in the Jesuit village. Yes it was clear as daylight; he was placed here to rid the valley from the influences of Satan. Only by rigorous and radical means would he be able to achieve this.
The accident he had had was indeed a blessing in disguise! It was a beautiful opportunity to infiltrate the very lair of Satan’s nest here in Caesarea and live in the very house of its High Priestess! The machinations of God were indeed wondrous! Nobody would suspect, even Tom had been removed so that he had direct access to Zyndile. Now he had time to plan his strategy; first the High Priestess and her children; the children! What a wonderful opportunity, they were still young and malleable; with them on his side they would erode the mother’s resistance. And so he would move on till he would eventually triumph with the great victory; a victory to the glory of God: Christine!
Excited but tired by his ruminations, the priest fell asleep. When Zyndile poked her head into the room a little later, she smiled to see the contented look on his face. Sleeping like a baby; fill their stomachs and they fall asleep without exception, she thought to herself.
Towards evening Father John woke and for a couple of minutes was totally disoriented. Settling back he remembered where he was and what his new mission was. He rubbed his hands in anticipation. Zyndile would be bring the evening supper soon and besides the rumbling in his stomach, the prospect of ‘turning her around’ excited him.
Sure enough after about half-an-hour she strode in not with his supper, but with a chamber pot made of hard-baked clay. She expected him to defecate here, in this house!
“I can’t use that thing. How do you expect me to do anything here?”
“Come, come Father. Cleanliness is akin to heavenliness, not so? You remain on your bed and I will place this pot under you and leave you to it.”
With much protestation and shoving and heaving to get him into a semblance of a sitting position with cushions of sorts propping him up, his naked butt was strategically located and Zyndile left him ‘to get on with it.’ Much chagrined, Father John took some time before he had ‘got on with it.’ Afterwards he called to Zyndile who promptly removed the pot and without further ado commenced cleaning him up with hemp paper. Unfazed by the priest’s embarrassment she continued to wash him from head to toe with luke-warm water and some home-made soap. After rubbing him down with rough towels woven from pounded reeds and hemp mixtures, his skin took on an unfamiliar glow as his blood circulation returned back to normal.
“You’re very competent I must say,” he admitted somewhat sheepishly to her.
“Christine taught me well and then having the children quickly helps a person to dispel any discomfort at these basic human tasks. With you so helpless you are like a child to me. Feeling better now?”
“Absolutely,” he replied. “Do you mind if I give thanks to the Lord our God while you’re here? I think it very appropriate for all you’ve done for me.”
“No, go right ahead, Father. I will sit here on the edge of the bed but then I must get back to my children’s supper.”
Father Ridgeway bowed his head:
“Dear Almighty God through Your beloved Son, Christ the Saviour who died for all our sins, I beseech Thee to bless this household and all who reside in it.
Dear Lord, have mercy on all our souls and direct us in Your ways; we are but weak humans who falter at the slightest obstruction which You have placed in our way to test our resolve and faith.
Lord we know not the way in these dark and challenging times;
we are uncertain in the face of an unknown enemy;
we hesitate when something confronts us which is unfamiliar and unknown to us, Thy children.
Dear Lord Almighty, look down on us while we recline with injuries which cut deep into our souls; help those who have helped us; have mercy on those who have had mercy on Thy everlasting and faithful servant.
Open their eyes Oh Lord to Your beneficence and to Your mercy and love. Help them Oh Lord to see the light which bathes You Lord, the Holy Mother of God and Thy Holy Son.
To hear the clarity of the ultimate Truth
to feel, yes to feel the purity of spirit when
consorting with the Holy Trinity
Oh Lord we ask this not for ourselves but for those who need it most and only in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The two figures were quiet for a short spell. Zyndile stood up and walked out of the room. At the door she hesitated and turning around said: “Thank you Father. I have missed your prayers.”
After she disappeared the priest closed his eyes in thankfulness for the wisdom and foresight of his calling as it was sure to unfold here in this household. God had steered him as certainly to Caesarea as the Airbus had been steered to the mountain plateau. Now for the first time he saw his destiny with a clarity which seemed to pierce his heart. He was fulfilled at God’s plan for him.
A short while later, Zyndile appeared once again, this time accompanied by one of her children. The girl was about 13 years old and had a dark complexion. Her features were similar to Zyndile’s but she sported longer curly hair. She smiled shyly at the stranger. She placed a tray of steaming soup and some more of the rough bread in front of the priest and left the room.
“She’s a beautiful child, Zyndile. How many children do you have?”
“Three, two girls and a boy. The one who brought your soup is the eldest. Her name is Cyndi. I’m pregnant again.”
“That’s wonderful!” the priest cried with real pleasure as he slurped his broth between chunks of bread which he wolfed down.
“You must let me know when the baby is born, so we can bless the child together.” Looking at her rather accusingly, he added: “You said you were Christian, yet I never performed any baptisms of your children. How is that possible?”
“That’s true Father. Here in this wild world things are not what they used to be. I have found that much of Christianity was false and reverted to the ways of my forefathers and ancestors.”
“My child, how you have been misled,” John said with an expression of grave concern. He was well aware of her strong friendship with Christine and no doubt the atheist had influenced the impressionable young woman to her way of thinking.
“Christianity is the only religion which can lay claim to the one and only Truth. Of this there is substantial evidence in the Bible. You must allow me to explain the teachings of the Lord Jesus who perished for our sins, yours and mine. Many people are not able to really understand the import of his teachings.”
“Father, I was educated at a Catholic School in South Africa and have a good understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ. He was indeed a wonderful gift to mankind but as an African I find it difficult to reconcile his teachings with the life experiences of my people who suffered under a repressive and so-called Christian regime for over three hundred years. What type of God will permit innocent women and children to be murdered, raped and abused for so many years; what type of God smiled on the white supremacists when they took our lands from us and cast us into the desert to perish like vermin; what God is it who tolerates the continued suffering of the poor in Africa and what type of God is it who destroyed everything you see around you and cast us into this world?”
“My child, I can see that we will need to spend much time together. You have clearly wracked your brain over many difficult issues and questions and that is good, but I can see that you have not had the help from above in understanding God’s mercy and justness. It is not too late and with my assistance and guidance I’m sure we’ll be able to show you the Way to calm your soul.”
Zyndile looked at the priest with some suspicion but as is typical of many African cultures, she was too polite to question his motives. She would allow him to put his side forward and to consider all her options, but it would ultimately depend on her own value system whether she would ‘convert’ as the priest seemed to be indicating, she should. Her strict catholic upbringing notwithstanding, she knew that her ancestors would ultimately guide her.
“That would be good Father. I must see to the children now. Have you had enough to eat?”
After seeing to the patient’s comfort for the night and placing a chamber pot next to the bed she left him to sleep.
The next few days John Ridgeway recuperated rapidly, partly due to Zyndile’s expert treatment but also largely driven by his own impatience with his immobility. He wanted to get on with his strategy to convert Zyndile and her children before Tom returned with Christine.
Zyndile was very patient with the priest and he couldn’t have wished for better treatment. While he lay alone in his bed he planned a careful strategy. It commenced with Zyndile who prayed with him each time she brought him something to eat. This was the easy part as she had grown up in a home where saying grace over meals was the norm. At times she would sit down on the edge of the bed and the two of them would talk about life in the valley and on occasion she would ask his advice on social dilemmas they may have in the village. It was one such time now.
“The problem Father is that the woman, I’m sure you will remember her, she was the one who used to become quite morbid and cry for days while we were on KRAT. She’s quite old now, but has taken a man and the two of them fight every day. He joins some of his friends and they get quite drunk. When he gets home he beats her. The other day she was ready for him and when he came home, she attacked him and gave him such a hiding that he’s close to death. They called me to help and I was shocked by the extent of his injuries. He may even die, and then what do we do?” Zyndile asked.
“What you tell me is a sad reflection of how we have deteriorated as human beings since our isolation here in the Red Valley,” the Jesuit replied. “I believe that the answer lies in our values and self-discipline. We have wandered away from the narrow path and a culture of ‘anything goes’ has developed. Nobody listens to the Lord, Jesus Christ any more. I know that in your village you have also followed the traditions of your ancestors and I understand this, but you must appreciate the importance of practicing this within the realm of Jesus. He would have been the first to stress the importance of respecting your father and mother and all their ancestors just as much as He respected His Father, the Lord God in Heaven, Jehovah. Without Jesus in your village, you will find aberrations such as violence, fornication and sinful behaviours in general,” the priest said earnestly as he looked kindly at Zyndile.
“Father John, what do we do if the man dies?” Zyndile, ever the realist asked.
“You’ll have to punish the woman. The Bible is very clear on these matters. “Thou shalt not kill” is a non-negotiable Commandment as you know. In addition, the Bible is clear that woman is the servant of man and must submit. She is not permitted to question or raise her hands against him. Man is the breadwinner, the head of the family. It his duty to maintain discipline and his family is called upon to respect him at all times.”
“Bullshit Father! Don’t come to me with that nonsense,” Zyndile was outraged. She had grown up in a paternalistic society and knew exactly how paternalism and downright discrimination against women had harmed them worldwide. The priest had hit the wrong button, that was for sure.
He immediately realised that he had made a fatal error.
“Child, don’t misconstrue what I say…” he started to say but Zyndile was too incensed to listen.
“It’s due to these types of old world preachings that I moved away from western type religions and even more so from what the Moslem, Ahmedi stood for. The rights of women are inviolable as far as I’m concerned and if you believe that we need this kind of discipline in Caesarea, you are grossly mistaken. The Bible, as much as the Qu’ran are ancient philosophies written by men because they kept the women illiterate and in the kitchen so that they could control them. These philosophies are totally out of place in a modern world. Here in Caesarea, I’m the leader and not even Tom will ever expect of me to ‘submit’ as you call it. Is that what you want me to teach my daughters? No-ways, John don’t try that on me. Don’t worry; I’ll solve my own problems in this village. Your approach doesn’t cut it for me.”
She stood up from the bed. As she walked out of the room with a pale and clearly shocked preacher trying to think of something to do to limit the damage, Christine walked into the room with Tom close behind her.
Zyndile immediately hugged her dearest friend as well as Tom. Christine was like a breath of fresh air. The Zulu princess ushered the two of them out of the priest’s room to the kitchen where he would not be able to hear them.
She was seething inside but calmly put water on to boil and prepared tea and sandwiches for the two weary travellers. Christine looked around her at the neat and comfortable home Tom and Zyndile had created for themselves.
“I’m so pissed off,” Zyndile interrupted her thoughts. “I’ve had enough of the priest’s preaching,” she carried on quietly. “He thinks I’m stupid. He’s been trying his best to get to me and the kids while we feel sorry for him and have to look after him.”
“What happened, Zyndi?” Tom asked. He knew his wife well enough that she didn’t speak in this way very easily. She was too calm and diplomatic for that. Her breeding as a Zulu royal had resulted in a lovely and loving person and he was quite surprised at her vehemence.
“I was fine until he started on a woman having to submit to her husband and not being allowed to defend herself…”
“Oh Oh,” Tom murmured looking at Christine with a wry smile. They both knew Zyndile’s stance on women’s rights. She wasn’t the leader of the village for nothing.
“Relax, Zyndi,” Christine said, laughing at her quietly, “soon I’ll have to deliver another baby, very premature this time. Have a cup of tea and tell us all about it.”
The three old friends spent the rest of the afternoon, quietly discussing the Jesuit priest; how he had come to be here and what he had been doing in their absence.
In the room, the priest lay fretting. He knew that he’d blown his chances and now that Christine had arrived, his proverbial goose was very much cooked. He’d have to get away from this place as soon as possible. He could not hear what they were discussing in the kitchen but had no doubt it had to do with him and the argument he had had with Zyndile. Damn!
Late in the afternoon Zyndile and Christine came into the room together. Zyndile was carrying his soup and bread for the evening while Christine had a small box which she placed at the foot of the bed. After opening it, she came around the bed with something in her hand which looked like a small transparent container.
The priest shrank back against the wall as she threw the blankets off him.
“No don’t touch me, Devil woman!” he shouted as he grabbed back at the blankets wincing as his cracked ribs reminded him of his injuries. “I don’t need your ministrations woman.”
“Now listen, John,” Zyndi said crossly. “Christine here has walked for two days to get here to help you. How dare you insult her with your small-mindedness and cursing? I won’t allow it. If you don’t let her help you I will cease to bring you food or look after you. For all I care you can go to hell, church man!” Zyndi was now livid. Nobody insults her best friend and ally in her house or anywhere for that matter. She stormed out of the room, leaving the flustered man behind alone with the woman he hated and feared most.
Christine, much older and wiser than Zyndile, smiled at the priest and sat down at the foot of the bed, facing the embarrassed man.
“Now John, it seems that you are the one who needs me. I did not come here to crow over you or to harm you in any way. I’ve treated many men worse than you; more insulting; more dangerous if that’s possible and certainly more human than you. So what’s it to be? Either you allow me to tend to you and make you more comfortable or you don’t. Life is about choices and that is now your call. My trip here will not be wasted as I’ve wanted to see Zyndi for some time and this was a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.”
The ‘church man’ looked at Christine with some distaste which seemed to be mixed with embarrassment. She was right, he needed her but would that not put him in her debt? Wouldn’t she create some feeling of guilt given their history; for heavens sake he had called her names and had fought her for so long? He couldn’t allow that to happen. He must remain resolute. Was this another way in which he was being tested? He was reminded of Satan’s wager with Jehovah concerning Job. He must call upon his inner strength and know that whatever this woman does to him he will be able to fight and resist.
“Christine, you and I have had a difficult history and we are from different worlds. I respect your expertise and accept that you have come to help me. I thank you for that. My patience has been sorely tested over the last few weeks and I snapped when I reached this village. Zyndile has been very good to me and I offended her some hours ago. For that I apologise and I will apologise directly to her. Please ply your skills and see to my injuries but know this, your assistance will in no way ease your way into heaven.”
“Good grief no, John I would never presume to be allowed into the heaven of your gods,” Christine said with a somewhat impish look in her eyes.
He lay back and closed his eyes feigning tiredness, but Christine knew that he was watching her through his almost shut eyes. If she made any threatening move he would scream to high heaven, she laughed silently to herself; the silly man. After removing the blankets once again, she inspected his leg, pressing here and there, causing the patient to wince and suck in his breath when the pain was too much. She took her little pouch and poured a thick whitish ointment into her cupped hand. This she started to gently rub onto his injured ribs and when she had done that, she rubbed the remainder onto his broken thigh. She knew that by massaging the muscles around the break, it would stimulate the blood-flow which in turn would facilitate the healing process of the broken bone.
As she rubbed she became aware that John was getting very uncomfortable. Oh no, she thought to herself as she looked at his face; he was becoming aroused! She didn’t look at his body to save him further embarrassment. He suddenly grabbed her hands and cried out: “Jezebel, get thee hence!”
Christine shrank back from the man, jerked her hands out of his and saw that his penis was greatly erect. It was not the first time this had happened to her in her profession as a nurse but under normal circumstances in hospitals she knew how to deal with this; this was however different. She felt humiliated and the priest’s feigned disgust with her, made her flesh crawl.
“Sort yourself out John,” she said calmly and walked out of the room. Behind she could just hear the man’s suppressed grunt of relief as he came.
Christine walked into the kitchen where Zyndile was washing the utensils in preparation for the next day’s breakfast. Zyndile saw the look on Christine’s face and stopping what she was busy with, asked: “What happened?”
“Nothing abnormal,” came Christine’s terse reply as she washed her hands in a bowl of warm water Zyndile had placed before her.
“Come on, spit it out!” her friend insisted.
“I had a look at the leg, but he first refused that I touch him as you know. Then after you left the room I spoke with him and he was actually quite contrite and allowed me to do what I had to do. I took some of that wonderful balm oil you taught me to make from the oil of castor seeds, mint and camphor and rubbed it into the ribs as well as the leg.”
“Yes and then?”
“Well, as we all know, men don’t have too much resistance to stimulation and I guess a so-called celibate priest, probably less so.”
“Oh no, I don’t believe it,” Zyndi exclaimed with a look of amusement on her face.
“Yes, then he shouted at me to get away from him. I was a Jezebel. Christ, Zyndi, he gives me the bloody creeps. I’ve treated many injured soldiers in my days in frontier hospitals as a nurse for Medicins Sans Frontiérs. For a soldier to lie in a bed for weeks it is very normal that they become aroused when a woman just walks by, let alone massage their upper leg. But with this man it’s different. He makes totally normal human things look and feel sleazy and disgusting. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s just me, but I really think the further I stay away from him, the better.”
Zyndile could see that Christine was upset and gave her tea to calm her down. The two of them spoke about men and the doings in the valley for an hour or two before turning in. Tom had gone to bed early.
The next morning, when Zyndile entered the priest’s room with his breakfast she was surprised to see him out of bed sitting on a small stool. He had dressed himself and looked like he was preparing to leave.
“What’s this all about, John?” she asked.
“I think I’m ready to leave. I’ve been a load on your shoulders long enough now and my people will be wondering what’s become of me.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. You only been here for a week and heaven knows that you are totally incapable of walking back to your village. Under normal conditions its two day’s walk. I’ll call Christine.”
“No don’t,” the priest interrupted her. “That woman is dangerous. I only now start to realise that she is evil and is possessed by evil thoughts.”
“Father, stop talking shit! Christine is one of the nicest and kindest people I know. I realise that the two of you don’t get on, but don’t start calling her names or try to denigrate her. If you think you’re strong enough to walk then do so, but I tell you now that you won’t make it to the street outside.”
And so it was. The priest hobbled out of his room with the aid of a rough crutch Tom had cut and left in the room the previous day but as he got to the doorway, he collapsed, writhing in pain.
Zyndile called Tom to help her get him back to bed. Christine immediately came to assist them.
As they settled him back in his bed, his face was white with pain and disappointment. He realised that he would have to remain in Caesarea for at least 6 weeks to allow the leg to heal. Christine poured him a stiff sleeping potion and he sank back into his bed. Zyndi removed his clothes and clothed him in a nightgown.
The injured man slept for most of the day, giving the two women time to catch up on their friendship and also for Christine to examine Zyndi who was four months pregnant with her fourth child. What Christine saw was not encouraging. Zyndile seemed to be quite tired and from her eyes she also noticed what seemed like anaemia. She immediately got her friend to promise to take things a bit more calmly and instructed Tom to help where he could.
The following day, Christine walked into the priest’s room and without any discussion started to clean him up. He lay back and seemed to be more resigned and allowed her to do what she had to. After giving him his breakfast she ordered him to sit up and start doing some exercises to minimise the build-up of fluids in the lungs and to give his muscles a chance to recover.
This routine carried on for the next four weeks but Christine was starting to get impatient to get back to her own family. In any case the priest seemed to be progressing very well and he could actually walk to the street and back without any assistance.
On the day before Christine had decided to return to New London, she was sitting outside, stitching some clothes, when John Ridgeway appeared and sat down opposite her.
“Well you seem to be getting on fine now, John. Soon you’ll be able to start your journey back to your village,” she said.
“Yes, and thanks largely to you and Zyndile,” he replied.
“Tom will go with you and make sure you’re OK.”
“I want to speak with you about something else, Christine.”
“Yes?” she replied warily.
“When I took my vows as a priest, it became my duty to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and to spread his Gospel wherever I go. I am but only a human being so I’m weak and have been created weak; that’s why it’s important that I find my strength in religion and my faith in God. It was for this reason and this reason alone that I have had difficulty to understand your rejection of God and me as His apostle. Our Order of Jesus was created with the purpose to fight paganism and followers of Islam, not so much the Reformist movement.”
“Yet you didn’t really fight or even argue with Ahmedi, did you?” Christine interrupted his train of thought.
“No, I didn’t because Ahmedi was a good man and helped me with my work on KRAT. We spent much time together discussing the differences between Christianity and Islam, and make no mistake there are many and some are quite fundamental. We ultimately came to an agreement to leave each to his own.”
“But that was not your approach where I was concerned, now was it?” Christine reminded him.
“No, you’re a very different case. You’re an atheist. You actually deny the existence of a god and in the eyes of God that’s akin to the murder of God and punishable by death.”
“John, don’t threaten me,” Christine said starting to gather her things to end the discussion. “I am sick and tired of the weak and emotional arguments you religionists raise when you face opposition to your preaching and dogma. It is so obvious when you think about it. Listen to me; believe what I tell you and you will be blessed; if you don’t you will be cursed. That’s the way of it, John, pure childish carrot and stick stuff; the only problem is that people die for this gibberish.”
“Christine, you must listen…” John stopped mid-sentence, caught in the irony of his own statement.
Christine looked at the hapless man with a sardonic smile. She waited to hear what his next gambit was going to be.
“Jesus loves you,” he said almost in a panic that she might not believe this either.
“I know John, I know.”
Now John was totally taken aback. What was the woman up to?
“Yes John, I know.”
“But, I thought you…” he started to say.
“That’s the problem with you. You are so taken up with the Bible and what you’ve been taught that you miss the real messages that sages like Jeremiah, Confucius, Buddha, Socrates and Jesus were giving the world. You miss the logic and reasoning behind what they said, because the church wishes you to believe in its dogma and biased interpretation of who said what. You’ve become, like all the blindly faithful, blinded to the truth and ignorant of the real message, John.”
John looked at the woman in total silence. She had taken the wind out of his sails. Here he was trying to reason with her and through quiet diplomacy get her to realise the folly of her ways. Instead she is starting to cause doubt in his mind. Was he losing it? Was she the ultimate anti-Christ? Is that why he has been placed in this accursed valley? He must be very wary in the presence of Satan; he must be ever resolute and not to allow anything to undermine or attack his faith.
“I fail to grasp what you are saying,” John said hesitating before he continued: “Do you accept that Jesus loves you?”
“You heard what I said but as you just admitted you didn’t grasp what I said. Let’s stick to what Jesus said and what he did not say, because that is your field of expertise. It’s been many years since I studied the Bible and some of the sayings may be fuzzy, but before I start, tell me John: do you consider yourself a child of Jehovah, a son of God?”
“Absolutely, I am in His bosom.”
“OK, when Jesus said he was the Son of God, how was that interpreted many years later by your church?”
“It was not merely interpreted but confirmed by the witness of His Apostles, by St Peter and St Paul that the Father was Jehovah, Jesus the Son.”
“Yes and just now you said you were also a child of Jehovah. Is it possible that Jesus was speaking metaphorically in exactly the way you said it, when he merely made the point that he was faithful in the Jewish faith, to the Jewish God and inexorably linked to that, a follower of Judaic Law or Halakha? Can you confirm or deny that Jesus never ever, intended to create a new religion or to deny his adherence to the religion of his father, Josef? When Jesus preached on the Mount to the multitudes, he spoke in parables and metaphors; was he not ultimately a spiritual teacher much like Hillel, the great Jewish sage? Did he at any point encourage his followers to believe in him or did he say that through love, one will reach ultimate enlightenment and salvation? Am I not right to say to you that the essence of religion, and dare I say all religions, is ahimsa which means that people are advised to rise above hatred, egotism, violence and greed; to do no harm and to live and let live? It was the way to teach a mental or spiritual state where one experiences upliftment though discipline, love of self outside the bounds of egotism because it is only through the love of self that you are empowered to love others. When Jesus spoke of love and that he loved others, did he not love himself first? Is this not what he was saying as a Jewish Rabbi? Is this not what he meant when he said: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’? He himself states that he is not God and that there could only be one God, yet the religions of the world and more critically your mother church, created the Holy Trinity. Is this not one of the great aberrations of interpreters of the Bible when they argue Jesus’ divinity? Do you honestly believe that Jesus himself would’ve supported the worship of himself?”
The Jesuit answered the atheist: “But it is not about whether Jesus was the Son or not. It is all about your faith in Him as the Christ, about your acceptance that He is Lord. He died for your sins; He suffered for all of humanity and it is only through Him that we shall enter the portals of heaven. Is it not possible for you to understand that simple truth?” He was becoming visibly agitated.
“John, you are ignoring what I said. I know full well that faith is essential for the religions of the world to promote their mysticism. You know that when confronted by serious questioning and investigation, the truth as presented by the churches fades like mist before the sun. You also know that the so-called divine inspiration of Judaic oral law was entirely man-made as was the Shari’ah Law of Islam. The spirituality of religion is dependent on ritual, legend, mysticism and tradition. It was not designed to withstand interrogation; hence the resistance to reason as was stated by Luther. What I’m trying to get across to you is that Jesus’ teachings have been misinterpreted to suit the agendas of churches of many denominations. Jesus himself sought to teach love; love of self, of others, and of his god, not of love or worship of himself by others. The love he speaks of is the same as the love and respect of self and of others displayed by people like the Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and others.”
The Jesuit looked at the woman in front of him with an inscrutable look. Most of what he heard her say was beyond his understanding and beyond the basis of his faith. It was also clear to him that his greatest enemy sat here before him and that he was called upon to destroy her. That was his ultimate calling he realised now. The tenets of the Holy Jesuit Oath rang in his ears: “That I may go to any part of the world withersoever I may be sent, to the frozen regions of the North, the burning sands of the desert of Africa, or the jungles of India, to the centers of civilization of Europe, or to the wild haunts of the barbarous savages of America, without murmuring or repining, and will be submissive in all things whatsoever communicated to me. I furthermore promise and declare that I will, when opportunity present, make and wage relentless war, secretly or openly, against all heretics, Protestants and Liberals, as I am directed to do, to extirpate and exterminate them from the face of the whole earth; and that I will spare neither age, sex or condition; and that I will hang, waste, boil, flay, strangle and bury alive these infamous heretics, rip up the stomachs and wombs of their women and crush their infants’ heads against the walls, in order to annihilate forever their execrable race. That when the same cannot be done openly, I will secretly use the poisoned cup, the strangulating cord, the steel of the poniard or the leaden bullet, regardless of the honor, rank, dignity, or authority of the person or persons, whatever may be their condition in life, either public or private, as I at any time may be directed so to do by any agent of the Pope or Superior of the Brotherhood of the Holy Faith, of the Society of Jesus. ”
This woman was displaying an open disregard for not only the Catholic Church but to Jesus and indeed to the Holy Father! Was this not his entire calling; to neutralise and even to ‘rip from the earth’ people who denied the very existence of God?
In a barely audible voice, the priest, as he stood up facing Christine, said: “I am bound by my oath to the Holy Trinity and to my Order to command you to desist this very instant in desecrating the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. You will never again utter words to defile His memory; neither shall you receive the mercy of God, for you are cursed in His Countenance from this day on and for evermore; you and the issue from your wicked loins.”
Christine could not believe her ears. She was under the impression that they were having, for the first time ever, a reasonable and rational discussion, not even a debate. For this she is cursed by the raving lunatic! Without a word she stood up from the stool she was sitting on and walked back into Zyndile’s home.
As she walked past Zyndile’s room she heard her name called from its dark interior and entered her friend’s room.
“I heard the two of you discussing things and thought it best to leave you alone. What was it you were discussing? What’s wrong Christine? You look terrible. What did that silly man say to you?” Zyndi said as she sat on her bed where she had been folding the children’s clothes away.
“I’m too shocked to coherently explain to you what he said. I was asking him questions concerning Jesus’ life and philosophy without any argumentation, rancour or bitterness. I thought, let me reason with this man whom we have tended for the last couple of weeks and healed to the point where he could safely return to his people. Jesus Christ! He not only attacked me but he cursed me and my children dead or alive!”
“Why, what did you say to him?” Zyndi asked anxiously. She had never seen Christine so distraught.
“I was the foolish one. I thought that he was open-minded enough to listen and answer my questions, quoting from scripture or from his training and education as a priest or the dogma even of his church. I actually believed that I had sufficient standing with him, that he would listen! Good grief Zyndile, what is it with the zealous that they are unable to rise above their petty arguments and hatred of opposition? Here we are in a world destroyed by his god if you believe in him; we have a divine opportunity to right what was wrong in our old world; we have a duty I believe, to create a society which is caring, in which people love one another and which is able to enjoy a level of spirituality unequalled in the history of man. What is wrong with us? Look at the survivors of Flight BA 765; look at our split villages, our criminals and a beautiful girl like Amanda who have turned into cannibalistic savages; look at the deceit and lies we tell. This is the world my daughter and your children are destined to live in; this is the world Beowulf has inherited. We must not and cannot allow fanatics such as John Ridgeway to take us back into the Dark Ages, to destroy what is inherently good and great in man; to again annihilate his mind and his capacity to think for him/herself.” Christine sank down to the bed and quietly wept for her child; for Zyndile’s children and for all the children of the world.
Zyndile placed her hand on her friend’s shoulders: “Do not despair, Christine. Listen you not to the ravings of the lunatic priest. You have done wonderful things for the people of the valley. You have lived the life you wished upon others and served as an example to them; you preached not to them but treated man, woman and child with compassion and equality in the countenance of whatever god or gods there may be. It is not your rejection of him that you may be judged upon but the actions and kindness you have displayed despite your rejection of religions that is key. I grew up to believe that an atheist is Satan’s disciple; but you have proved that no religion has an exclusive right to goodness, to righteousness and to justice. You have taught me that religion is not the custodian of moral standards, of charity, faith, love or compassion. You have taught me that all human beings have the right to be happy, free of misery and the right not to suffer irrespective of their beliefs; from you I have learned that the key lies in the responsibility of every individual to seek happiness as a rational, thinking being. I salute you my friend.”
Outside her door, Zyndile heard a small shuffle as the eavesdropping priest scuttled away to his room. The following morning when she entered his room with his breakfast, he had disappeared. He left behind a small note to thank her for her hospitality and apologised for his hasty departure. He had ‘urgent things to see to’ he wrote.
Meanwhile in New London, Gary and Beowulf who had been preparing for an extended hunting cum exploration expedition for a week said their goodbyes to Karl, Shenaaz, Oscar and other villagers and set off in the general direction to intersect with the narrow path between Caesarea and the Jesuit village. They were both hoping to meet up with Christine before they left.
As they made their way south, Beowulf who had very acute vision, noticed a figure walking in the distance.
“Hm,” he said, “looks like the person is limping and walking with a crutch. Wonder who?”
“We’ll catch up with him soon enough,” Gary answered.
After about an hour they caught up with Father John Ridgeway. He seemed to be in quite a hurry and hadn’t noticed them approaching from the right. The intersect of their paths placed the two from New London directly in his path and the priest started when he rounded a bend around a large boulder to find the two sitting on their haunches next to the path.
“You gave me a start,” the priest said somewhat out of breath as he slowed down.
“G’day, father,” Gary responded. “You seem quite tired, rest awhile.”
“Thank you very much, but I have to get back to my people. I’ve been away too long now.”
“Yes I heard that you injured yourself, are you OK to walk now?”
“Yes, yes,” the priest replied testily. “Who’s that with you? I can’t recall him.”
“Don’t you recognise Beowulf, father?”
“Beowulf? Oh yes the first born of the valley,” he responded with a suspicious look. “The child ripped from Jesus’ bosom. A man now, no doubt another pagan much like his mother and the brood of vipers nesting in New London.”
“Now, now father, your views are not welcome and your insults even less so,” Gary said irritably. He had never had any time for the priest’s narrow-minded views and lack of tolerance.
“Is Christine following you, priest?” Gary asked to change the subject.
The priest’s response was quite astounding. At the mention of Christine’s name, he spun around as if half expecting the woman to attack him from behind, then guiltily relaxed and faced Gary again.
“No, no, I know not where she is,” he replied, hurriedly picking up Tom’s makeshift crutch to proceed on his way.
“Why the hurry? Has Christine threatened you? Are you scared of her?”
“Leave me be, I must get back to my people. Those who befriend her befriend the Devil and so ye be all cursed.”
Now Gary was incensed and his stubborn streak kicked in.
“Just a minute, you bloody fool, nobody but nobody curses me or any of my friends. Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I am an Apostle of God Almighty, get thee hence pagan. I am on God’s mission. Get out of my way!” the priest said gesticulating wildly in the air with his arms and crutch.
By this time Beowulf who had been watching the discussion such as it was with some amusement, stepped in front of the priest to block his escape. The Jesuit raised his crutch and slammed it down toward the young man’s head. Ducking the vicious blow, the heavy stick hit his shoulder, bouncing off without doing any serious damage. Beowulf merely stepped right up to the older man and hit him a solid blow in the solar plexus. The priest’s breath exploded with a whoosh as he collapsed onto the hard ground.
“I thought men of your god were men of peace, father,” Beowulf said calmly as he rubbed his shoulder.
“Curse you, you whelp, your ways shall be strewn with boulders and your seed shall never bring forth issue,” the priest wheezed as he struggled to get his breath back.
Gary stooped down and dragged the bedraggled man bodily off the ground by his cloak. He put his face right into the priest’s face and hissed: “If you fucking ever raise a hand again against any of my people, priest you and your filthy issue shall bear the consequences of your dirty deeds. You are nothing but a coward hiding behind God’s word; you are a disgrace to Jesus Christ and calling yourself an apostle of God is a bloody joke.” With that he flung the priest away from him causing him to stagger backward and fall onto his buttocks.
The two travellers picked up their backpacks and stepping around the dazed man continued their journey toward Caesarea.
It was almost midday when they again noticed two travellers approaching them. This time there was no mistake; it was Tom and Christine. Beowulf rushed up to meet his favourite aunt and swung her around as he reached her with Gary in close attendance. He gripped Tom’s hand hard as the two laughed in pleasure at seeing each other again.
After they found a suitable place to lower their packs in the shadow of a Kigali tree, they sat down to share a meagre meal of bread and water which Zyndile and Esme had packed for them.
Beowulf was quick to relate their run-in with John Ridgeway and Christine filled them in concerning her experiences with the priest.
“I don’t trust that man as far as I can throw him, and throw him I did,” Gary commented with a wry smile.
Christine sucking on the bone of a wild duck agreed with Gary but added: “He’s not well, Gary. Before he broke his leg he attacked Zyndile and cursed them as well. I don’t know what’s brought it all on but he’s totally irrational and seems to be on what he believes to be a holy crusade. We’re all targets.”
“What do you think he will do?” Tom asked.
“Heaven alone knows, anything is possible,” she replied, “At least he’s gone to his village where he can rant and rave as much as he wishes. Let’s talk about something more agreeable. When are you two due back?”
“About a month, I think. Depends what we find. We’re going to go south and then head east instead of west. We haven’t gone that way yet. But first we’ll meet up with our San friends. They give us the gossip of the veldt and naturally Wulfie here get’s to see Xcaixia.” The small group of friends laughed at Beowulf’s blushing face.
After another half hour, they split up and with waves and hugs of goodbye went their separate ways. Little did Gary and Beowulf suspect that it would be the last time they would see Christine alive.
Two weeks later, it was a misty and still dark morning in New London, when Oscar emerged from his house, stretching himself, when he was suddenly surrounded by a group of silent men. They were all armed with clubs and stabbing spears and forced him down on the ground. They tied his hands with hemp cords behind his back and gagged him. Some of the men went into the house and dragged Esme out and treated her in the same manner. Oscar watched in horror, as they silently entered each home and emptied each of its occupants. Only children were left untied. It all took but half an hour. They were all rounded up and herded into the village square. Here Oscar noticed that some men had built a rough cross and were planting it solidly into the ground in the centre of the square. Scanning through the faces of the captives, he noticed that Christine’s household was missing. He also recognised that the men were from the Jesuit village. He relaxed somewhat as his first knee-jerk reaction was that the Lost Tribe had attacked them.
After about an hour everything in the square quietened down. Oscar heard a shuffle behind him and saw that Karl and Isabel had been herded into the group of captives as well. Rachel was nowhere to be seen either, but Oscar knew that she had the habit of getting up well before dawn to walk with her son to Bracken Lake and have a swim in its healing waters. He hoped she had been spared this ordeal.
Entering the square, Father John Ridgeway appeared much to everyone’s surprise. He walked up to the captives and instructed his followers to remove the gags. Everybody shouted to him as the gags were removed but he merely watched them with a smile. Christine was still nowhere to be seen and Karl who couldn’t speak was rolling his eyes trying desperately to say something to Oscar. Oscar leant over to Isabel and asked quietly: “Where’s mummy Bella?”
She looked at him with tears streaming from her eyes and said in a plaintive voice: “They’ve caught her, uncle Oscar.”
Oscar shouted to Father John: “Where’s Christine, you fucking creep?”
The priest merely nodded at a henchman who walked up to Oscar and rapped him with a club over the head causing him to fall to his knees while everybody screamed in horror at the unexpected violence of the Jesuits, men of God, Holy Society of Jesus.
With blood streaming from a small cut on his head, Oscar straightened up and watched as more men carried bundles of brushwood to the stake and packed it in neat piles around the wooden upright; it suddenly dawned on him; the stake was being prepared for an execution by burning! Oscar retched as the horrible truth hit him in the gut: the victim was Christine! He screamed and tried to run at the smiling priest only to be felled by another blow, this time from behind.
As he raised himself again, he saw three men dragging Christine toward the stake. She was not struggling and must have been drugged or rendered comatose in some manner. The captives were now all sobbing and crying; Isabel’s cries were the most horrible sounds to ever have reached Oscar’s ears. Karl was beside himself but two men held him captive and forced him to watch the whole process by holding his head between their hands. The sounds from his torn throat sounded like a stone rasped over sandpaper.
Christine was tied to the stake and the wood packed up against her. The priest then motioned to one of his henchmen who stepped up to Christine and with a couple of jerks, ripped her nightgown from her body. The priest watched with a small smile as the woman stood naked before him. She never took her eyes off Karl and Isabel. That was when Oscar realised that she was fully conscious but refused to resist her captors.
The priest turned and faced his captives.
“Hear ye, Hear ye, Hear Ye. As the Lord Jesus’ Apostle and sole representative of the Society of Jesus, I am authorised to consider and punish those who dare trespass the laws of the Church by order of his holiness the Pontiff and the Superior of the Brotherhood of the Holy Faith, of the Society of Jesus. You are all here to watch the trial by fire of the witch and heretic, Christine Brown. She has been tried by a tribunal of the Order of St. Ignatius and has been found guilty of heresy, of witchcraft and of fornication with God’s apostle. She was sentenced to death by burning. She will however be given one last opportunity to confess before Jesus Christ the Lord, who in His beneficence may consider a lesser punishment. Should the witch be held to be innocent by the Holy Trinity, the flames shall not devour her and she shall walk free from this place.”
“You are all charged to witness this holy event and bear witness to the power of the one and only God, united in the Holy Trinity.”
The priest walked up to Christine and shouted loud enough for all to hear: “Do you Christine Brown, witch and heretic of the Red Valley confess to crimen exceptum which is the double crime of heresy against man and God in that you deny the very existence of God the Father; in that you reject the Holy Sacraments of the Catholic Church and in that you lay a wicked curse on the Christian people of the world? Do you Christine Brown confess that it was through your unholy ministrations that the young woman, Amanda was targeted for kidnapping, rape and abuse by the Lost Tribe which was due to your jealousy and manipulation through unholy and wicked spells that you caste on the members of the Tribe? Do you Christine Brown admit that you seduced and caste a spell upon a Christian woman in that she agreed to reject the Holy Baptism of her child and encouraged her to resort to pagan blood offerings and the sinful emersion of the child’s cleansed body in uncleansed water. Do you Christine Brown admit to corrupting the minds of the children of Red Valley and teaching them heresies when they needed the love of Jesus Christ our Lord; and do you Christine Brown admit to the crime of leading and seducing a fully ordained priest of the Holy Order of St Ignatius causing him to lose consciousness while you could abuse his cleansed and chaste body to satisfy your own lust and unholy appetite of the flesh? How plead you to these charges woman? Confess these sins before the Holy Trinity now and experience the release from all sins, in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.”
The crowd was silent. It was clear to them that the priest was mad. They all looked now at the hapless woman who stood at the stake with a straight back and clear eyes. Her eyes never wavered from her small family, until she looked at the priest with a look of utmost pity and compassion, and said:
“I forgive you John, in the name of your God.”
The winter that hit Red Valley was vicious. The villagers interpreted it that they were no longer welcome or at the very least needed to find a more equitable climate. The cold swept in from the north with great blizzards covering the ground in snowdrifts such as had never been experienced even by the Red Priestess whose childhood memory could recall cold winters in the English countryside. This was different. The weather was trying its utmost to wipe the last vestiges of the scourge of the planet i.e. man, from the face of the earth.
No-one ventured outside while the storms at times raged for two weeks without let up. Those who had heeded the predictions of the Red Priestess and prepared themselves properly had sufficient firewood and had built shelter for their domesticated goats and chickens. They survived. Those who had delayed and procrastinated, perished. The Valley did not tolerate fools.
All three villages were affected by the bitter winter but it was mostly felt in the City of the Jesuits. The tornado had left many homes damaged. Families were forced to take in neighbours in order to survive and with the barren cold earth unable to produce any crops, hunger spread throughout the valley.
In the cave above the valley, Rachel had closed the entrance with a wall of stones which she plastered with mud from the nearby spring. A small opening was left which she closed with the cured and soft skin of an eland slaughtered many decades ago by Karl Hofmeyer.
Inside the cave it was warm and dry. Two fires were burning merrily. The smoke from the fires escaped straight upward through an invisible hole in the roof of the cave. From the unknown dark depths of the cave a fresh breeze ventilated the whole cave.
Unbeknown to the girls in the cave, the deep recesses of the cave served as a virtual pantry. Cold air which flowed through the cave from openings high above them in the roof of the cave served as a very effective cooling agent. Meat and grain stores were kept in relative cold and dry conditions and while rats were a constant problem these were often captured and eaten as a delicacy by the inhabitants of the cave.
Rachel was sitting with her back to the wall of the cave. In front of her the young girls were sitting in a semi-circle. In their small hands, each child cupped a small cup of char, their favourite herbal tea. They were debating something in which they all had an avid interest: the role of a woman in the New World.
“In our family, my mother had a lot of influence over what we did but it was always my father who took the final decision. Also my brothers were always preferred when gifts were handed out,” one of the girls was saying. The speaker was called Eliza. She came from Caesarea.
“In our family we were never allowed to speak in front of the men,” said another girl, called Esther. She was from the City of the Jesuits. “Even my younger brother had more right to speak than I or my mother did. We were not badly treated but it was made very clear that the woman of the house was there to see to the needs of her man and the children.”
“Children, I want you now to listen closely,” Rachel said. “In the world of the Ancients, women were discriminated against for thousands of years. It was only after they fought bitter battles against a male dominated society, that it was admitted that women also had needs and that they actually had brains. We must never again allow this situation to develop. You are going to be confronted with the same, if not worse, discrimination and bias. Men will send you on your way with words like “this is man’s work, be off with you” or “what does a woman know?” Remember, a woman is able to do exactly what a man can and besides, she can bear children!”
They all laughed at the mere thought that men could bear children. Perish the thought!
“Why are men like that?” a child called Kerry asked. She came from New London and was the oldest of the girls
“The history of it starts with child bearing. A woman’s body was considered to be a mysterious thing by men, but a thing to be used for their pleasure. Most religions of the world portrayed the woman as being a sinner and in fact the original sinner; as being devious and wicked and even as being dirty because she menstruated, which as you already know is a perfectly natural process. Some societies actually used to isolate their women during that time of the month in fear that men may be contaminated! The Jesuit Bible actually says ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.’ This silly statement implied that even a newborn child is tainted, dirty and sinful and that woman is unclean.”
“Maybe the men were angry and hurt and believed wrongly that at certain times of the month we could not satisfy them or that something they did not understand was happening to our bodies. At the same time we as women must know that a man can never feel what we feel as women and a woman can never feel what a man feels. It therefore follows that we as women should never suppose that we can think for men as much as men should never be permitted to think for us as women.”
“I know. I know,” Esther loudly interrupted the Red Priestess who merely laughed because she encouraged a questioning mind and open debate: “One day, I c’n remember it clearly, my father read from the Bible. It said something like woman was created to be man’s servant forever. He also said the woman must submit to man.”
“That’s correct,” Rachel continued, “it goes to show that throughout history, the woman has at best been ignored; not appreciated for her mind and at worst she’s been exploited and even abused with impunity by men. There was a time when the Catholic Church of the Ancients which was the biggest Christian church in the world of the Ancients, argued that women did not have souls. They even debated whether they were human.”
“What is a soul and why did they believe that women did not have a soul?” Kerry asked again.
“A soul is something many religions say the human being possesses. It is a like a spirit which leaves the body when we die, they say. This soul is then supposed to go to heaven where a god or an angel will welcome it if you were good or banish it if you were bad as a person in the world. According to these religions, the human soul lives forever but it has never been proved that we do have souls. The implication of this is also that the physical body is unclean and impermanent while the soul is pure and everlasting. I personally think we are energy forms as any animal or plant is an energy form. When we die as we all must, this energy is passed on into the universe to become part of another energy form. In my opinion, a soul is merely a way the religions try to convince people that they must live a good life because if they don’t, their souls will perish or be banned forever. It doesn’t make any sense except to mystics. To me seems like stories to tell children. It is also a way to manipulate people’s behaviours.”
“Is a soul and a spirit the same?” Dianne from Caesarea asked.
“No, many religions state that the soul is the non-physical side of a human being’s existence which cannot die, while a spirit is many different things to different people. Spirit is a term often used to describe the existence of entities which populate the so-called spirit world such as ghosts, goblins and poltergeists. In Caesarea, Zyndileka, which is the spirit of my dear friend Zyndile, is believed to be such a spirit and because Caesareans believe that she looks after them, she’s considered to be a ‘good’ spirit. The notion that man possesses a soul is the manner in which those of religion have tried to explain that man is everlasting.”
“The way I would like to explain the life of a person is to use the example of a river. It is born tiny and pure, perfect in every way. It then streams forth in delight; bubbling, laughing and it slowly grows, gathering experience along the way, sometimes good, oft times bad; being added to by tributaries almost like brothers or sisters. It reaches great lakes and quiet pools, falls down dizzy heights and grows stronger and deeper; it cascades over rocks and wrecks; struggles in dry seasons and roars in anger during floods, until one day it reaches the seas which like death, is a marriage with all the waters of the world; then it evaporates into the heavens only to be reborn again as rain, somewhere as a new river. Every river is unique, different and special like a human life; some strong, flowing with great force; others small and tiny, yet wonderful in their own way. Some give life, some take lives and finally when a river dries up, life around it also dies.”
“I also believe it’s important to understand that man, woman and child are more than the sum-total of their physical makeup. People have the capacity to be creative, to add value. They do this in music, art and other creative activities when they create value. When they die, this creative capacity is lost forever. Your dead body is unable to tell the world what you were able to do when you were alive; it is merely a shell that decays. But what people have left behind is like the sediment of a river; this is their legacy and becomes the inheritance of their descendents; if this is foul and poisonous, the world will die as will the memory of such person in the minds of those left behind. However if the heritage is fertile, useful and valuable, it will bear fruit and feed the people; the person’s life would have added value to the world. Hopefully your descendents will value what they’ve inherited and build upon that to increase its value even more.”
“People of great ‘spirit’ are those who are able to break the mould in which they were cast; who are able to channel their energies, both physical and mental to achieve great things; who often possess wonderful qualities such as compassion and love for fellow-beings and in the final instance are able to rise above expectations of themselves and others. We should learn from them and thus carry their lessons into the future, much as you are required to do when you leave this valley.”
“So why did the church think we women don’t have souls?” the same girl asked again.
“The churches of the Ancients were designed by men; rulers were mostly men. The Catholic Church refused right to the end to allow women to become priests, thinking that men were the only ones who could understand their god. Through sheer arrogance, the implied gender of their god was male. Many other churches however allowed women priests and also allowed their priests to marry and bear children which is as it should be. Historically, women were relegated to being the child-bearing property of men. Even daughters were handed over during marriage to their new husbands as their property. It was only in the later years when I was already a child that women were given equal status to men. Even then women had to fight every inch of the way to achieve greatness. Yet some religions such as Islam still discriminated against women and even sentenced them to harsh punishment including death when they sinned according to their harsh and unreasonable laws, such as falling in love with someone else when they were already married, having extra-marital sex or even wearing trousers. In the world I came from a great argument developed concerning the clothes women may or may not wear if they were of the Muslim faith. Those who had settled into cultures where women were allowed to think for themselves and wear what they wished to wear, were sometimes forced, as were their sisters in Islamic countries, by the mystics of the Muslim faith, to wear clothes which covered the whole body so that a man’s eyes would not tempt him to think impure thoughts. Men of course could wear what they wanted to. It follows that when women spoke out against this discrimination they were often very severely punished. You’ll notice that again it is the woman who is the source of evil, not the man whose thoughts could be impure. This created an enormous gap between people often leading to violence, bombings, murder and importantly to the subjugation of women. It is a symptom of the male’s arrogance that women are considered to be impure and the cause of man’s sins.”
“But men are much stronger than women,” one of the more diminutive girls from Caesarea, called Haly said. Rachel knew that Haly was her long departed sister’s grandchild but the girl was not aware of this.
“Physically yes but mentally no,” Rachel countered. “Physical strength has its uses my dear, but it’s mental strength at the end of the day which is more powerful. That’s why men who feel that a woman’s mental strength is stronger than theirs, often resort to violent behaviour and even rape or murder. Men who feel inferior to the intellect of a woman usually are inferior. This could lead to improper behaviour such as drunkenness, violence and verbal abuse.”
“So how do we fight for our rights when men and even boys are stronger than us?” Haly asked again.
“Never try to match physical strength or brute force with force. You merely lower yourself to the level of the brute. You have a mind which will always be superior to those who resort to force. When faced with brute force, either flee or submit. You cannot argue with a person who holds a knife to your throat. That sounds cowardly doesn’t it? Remember that survival against these odds is more important than a hollow physical victory.”
“Yes but that would mean that we are the slaves of the brutes; they will just continue to dominate us with force,” Kerry chipped in.
“Only if you allow it to happen. Life is all about choices; if you want to be a slave so you shall be; if you choose to be superior without the use of brutish force you must apply your minds. For example do not allow the attack to take place by becoming a victim in your mind. Brutes and bullies are usually cowards who hide themselves in numbers. Avoid gangs of men; stay away from drunkenness when their minds are affected. Look for signs of aggression; even in your homes you may have noticed your mothers playing an argument down when your father is aggressive. You cannot win a physical confrontation but you can win by being clever and using your own strengths. Never let your guard down; always look for the signs when men become arrogant and abusive and never allow men or anybody to drug or mislead you with false promises or even with beer and wine. Remember you have your own strengths.”
“Like our physical attraction?” Kerry asked again. She realised that her developing body would create interest among the men. The other girls giggled.
“No! But yes many women have done exactly that throughout the ages, but it invariably made them victims as well. No, because you have more than physical beauty. When the time is ripe this physical beauty will attract the right mate to have children with; but if you resort only to beauty you are no better than the male who uses force to achieve his ends. But please remember that not all males are abusive. There are many wonderful and kind men out there. Befriend them and give them the respect they deserve but don’t allow even them to dominate you or to deny you your right to think and to be an independent person in your own right.”
“You must believe in yourself and have the confidence that your decisions and minds will generate respect from others. One of the Ancient world’s most respected religious leaders, the Dalai Lama often said that the world can do without religion but not without love, tenderness and compassion.”
Rachel looked at the girls who over the last five months had matured beyond all expectations. They had come to love these lessons and they absolutely revered her as much as she loved them as a mother, mentor and even as a granny. Since the revelations on KRAT five months ago, they had been hard at work learning all about the challenges which lay in wait for them on their long exodus from Red Valley. Their daily sessions with the Red Priestess were the highlight of their day.
The Inner Circle of the Jesuits was experiencing a major crisis. The Vicar General had been deposed and replaced by Father Timothy. The deposed Vicar General did not accept his lot with dignity and accused all of being bewitched by the Red Priestess. He isolated himself in his small room and swore that anyone who followed the exodus from the valley would be cursed. This led to Father Timothy to call a General Convocation.
After the traditional opening rituals and prayer for the important meeting, Father Timothy introduced the discussion: “Brothers, we have taken the unusual step to call another meeting of the Convocation so soon after the last one during which Father Joshua was asked to step down. We are pained that this is required but we believe that it is our sworn duty to revert to the Convocation in times of crisis and we believe that we now have a crisis.”
“We are all aware that Father Joshua has isolated himself and now he refuses to eat. He only drinks the water we are able to pass through the door of his room which he steadfastly keeps shut. He allows not one of his brethren inside and curses any who venture close to him. I am a particular object of his invective and dare not venture close to his room. He seems to sense my presence as if I am evil.”
“While his hunger regime is clearly his own choice and one through which he seems to seek communion with Jesus Christ our Lord, we believe that Br Joshua has become filled with not only hatred but more seriously that his soul has been possessed by Satan most foul. We have prayed for him even outside his door so that he could hear us invoking the power of God to drive Satan out of his spirit, but to no avail. He merely increases his threats and curses. Satan surely has him in his grip.”
The Convocation murmured in alarm.
One of the elders stood up: “Br Timothy, you have called us here this evening to give consideration to a most serious affair. It is clear to us that Br Joshua has been singled out by Satan. We do not understand that. We know that none of us are spared Satan’s jealous eyes nor his hatred for all that is good. What are we to do?” He turned around facing the rest of the gathering: “I say to you that we do not have the weapons to confront Satan. With a single look at us he is able to destroy us and all our generations. If it was so easy for Satan to invade Br Joshua’s soul how much easier would it not be for us to fall victim to his evil as well.”
The Convocation erupted into a chaotic shouting debate with all of them terrified by the grim prospect of being confronted by Satan.
The newly-elected Vicar General held up his hands and shouted in great anger: “I have not come here, brethren to be told that we have no weapons to fight Satan! Have we not kept Satan from our doors all these stones, nay centuries? Shame on all of you for being so weak-willed! Shame on you for deserting your very faith in the Lord Jesus our Saviour who sacrificed Himself for our sins and forgave us our weaknesses. How shameful of you to forget the pain He suffered at the hands of His persecutors; yet He arose from the dead and walked among us. How dare you fear Satan more than the wrath of our Father, Jehovah who struck down all the enemies of Israel? How can it be that you who say you are faithful to Him now run away from God’s countenance?”
“We are faced with a more challenging exodus than the challenges faced by Moses, Aaron and Joshua, yet you falter; you doubt that Jesus Christ Our Lord is on our side. Moses baulked not at the challenge; they hesitated not for a moment but followed God’s guidance from Egypt, the oppressor. We are the chosen ones; we are the new Israelites and yet we entertain doubts concerning God’s counsel on the threat of God’s wrath and eternal damnation.”
The Convocation quietened down as the new Vicar General harangued them. His leadership was as yet untested, but they now listened in shame as he lashed out at them. It was as he had said: the Lord is with them; they must be firm in their resolve.
One of the younger members of the Convocation named Benjamin, stood up to be heard.
“Brethren, the Vicar General is correct and we must take note of his admonishments. But Vicar General,” he added turning to the Vicar General, “you must remember that we placed you in the position of Vicar General. We expect appropriate leadership from you, not a tongue-lashing. We are not children. We are as frightened as you no doubt are at the prospect of confronting Satan. This has never been necessary and will need our collective energies and powers to invoke the support of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Fear is not the energy required from us but conviction and true faith.”
The Convocation hesitated before loudly applauding his words.
“Thank you, Br Benjamin. Spoken like a true Christian. I stand corrected before you and am chastised,” the Vicar General responded with the appropriate look of one who has been chastised. He had taken careful note of Benjamin’s response. Here was a prospective leader, but also a threat. He was one that will require watching.
“Brethren,” he said more guardedly, “we are here to discuss the way forward concerning Father Joshua. We must decide the most appropriate way for us to meet this challenge. It is something we have no experience in yet; we must believe that the Lord Almighty will guide us. I ask for your guidance.”
Br Benjamin stood up again. It was unlike him to be so vocal and the rest of the Convocation wondered quietly what had brought about the change.
“Father Timothy, since the prophesies ill luck has been our fate on KRAT five months ago. It was also during this time that Father Joshua was shown up to be the illegitimate son of St John while the very St John has a history which we chose to ignore, nay even praise as the work of God. I saw not the work of God but that of a demented man whose soul was tortured. This is our legacy, for this we must collectively confess before the Holy Father. I believe that what we are experiencing now and especially what Father Joshua is experiencing, is the will of God. I believe we have been singled out for God’s punishment. The tornado only struck our village and killed our people. The pagans and Satanists of New London and Caesarea were spared this disaster. There is a message for us in this and we will be fools not to heed this. The only manner in which I am able to understand this is that Father Joshua brought this curse upon us. Is it not written that the sins of the father shall be visited upon his children? Is it also not written that ye be sure your sins will find you out?”
“I believe that the only way forward is for us to expel Father Joshua from our midst and banish him to the wilderness. Then we will know peace again. It is not in our power to combat or wrestle with Satan.”
Benjamin sat down amidst a deafening silence.
They were all shocked at his bold proposal and the confidence with which he had delivered it. Banishing their former Vicar General would be a most radical and deadly sentence, but then the Holy Bible does speak of casting out the sacrificial goat to cleanse a people of its collective sins.
He would be caste out into a wilderness where his death was certain; where he would be a total stranger and where even the meekest of animals is better equipped to survive. Father Joshua was not a young man and mercy should be shown, many of the Convocation thought to themselves.
A man of roughly the same age as Father Joshua got up slowly and with a bowed head, spoke so softly that those furthest from him, shouted at him to speak up.
“I have known Joshua since I was a child. We played together in the village streets. His mother, Sister Suzette once gave me a hiding for shouting too loudly on a Sunday afternoon. Joshua is not a perfect man just as we are not perfect. It is said that his father sinned in the very eyes of God. It is also said that the sins of the father shall indeed be visited upon the child.”
“This is the law! Neither you nor I wrote this law; nor is it open to interpretation or to mercy. It is our sacred duty to obey.”
“In the eyes of the Holy Trinity it was Br Joshua who struck at the heart of our faith, more so that he was a man of God and was expected to act as our leader in spiritual and material ways. It is therefore just that Joshua be banished as much as you would have banished me for a lesser offence in the eyes of Jehovah.”
Another younger man Paul jumped up to protest: “Brothers, listen to yourselves! Is it not true that Jesus Christ died for our collective sins? Is it impossible for us to forgive Fr Joshua for indiscretions which took place even before he was born? Yes the Bible instructs us that the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son, but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ changed all that. I do not support the proposal that he be banished. I believe that is a death sentence and we do not have that right. I propose that Fr Joshua be allowed to find his own peace; that he be informed that he is welcome to seek God’s counsel and find love for his fellow man. Those of us who have decided to leave this accursed valley shall do so and leave the final decision to Fr Joshua to join us or to remain behind. That will absolve us from any guilt and a possible miscarriage of justice.”
The debate that ensued was heated and carried on until the early hours of the next morning. There was much uncertainty among the Jesuits. Many of them were loyal to Joshua and despite his history they believed that the proposal to banish him was excessively harsh for a man who had given his life to Jesus Christ, the Lord. The final decision supported the proposal by Paul. This was communicated to Fr Joshua the following day.
The winter was abating and spring was in the air, despite the cold which still cut through the valley. The exodus was a common focus in all the villages, but major differences were evident in the manner in which villagers proposed that the exodus be undertaken. The New Londoners were not interested in following some common “Moses”. They were in favour of and had already established, scouting groups which would scout the territory to be traversed and report back to their tribe as all the villagers had now started calling themselves.
The New Londoners, being a smaller group than the other tribes, and who felt that they could move much quicker, suggested that they form the vanguard of the exodus and set up camp in advance of the two following tribes. This was resisted by the latter tribes, but after much debate with Karl serving as the chairman, it was resolved that the New Londoners be allowed to be the vanguard as an experiment. Karl would accompany them to serve as their navigator.
None of the tribes had any idea where they would be going but a system of signs and indicators was agreed on so that even stragglers could follow the leaders.
Of the tribes, the Jesuits were the most concerned, as well as concerning to Karl. They believed that only Jehovah could lead them and they steadfastly refused to follow the New Londoners or even Karl. At the same time Karl realised that they were the most ill-equipped for the hazardous journey set toward an unknown destination. They insisted on building what they called the Ark of the Red Earth and which contained their original illustrated Bibles and especially their New Testament which was their holiest document.
The Caesareans, in contrast were by far the best equipped for the journey. They had over the years developed substantial survival skills such as finding water in the dry veldt, trekking across, and overnighting in dangerous areas infested with snakes, scorpions and large baboon spiders. In addition they had weapons and tools that they could easily carry with them. Their women folk were hardy and educated in herbal foods, natural cures and the preparation of food in the veldt. Many of them had accompanied their men on their hunting sorties.
In addition Karl, as their legendary hunter/leader, was popular and everybody had accepted his advice and guidance for the preparations. An example of this was the preparation of large quantities of dried and salted venison which could keep indefinitely should they run short of fresh meat. Team spirit and cohesion among the Caesareans was excellent although some of them were quite arrogant and looked down upon the Jesuits and the ‘Boffs’ as they called the New Londoners, a sarcastic comment on their so-called ‘intellectual’ bias.
The Red Priestess kept an eye on all the preparations although she did not involve herself except when Karl asked for her advice. The winter’s cold was matched by the cold in her bones. She could feel that the end was near. Her only wish was to see the exodus commence; her task fulfilled. She had no illusions however that bidding farewell to her many friends and her son would be the hardest thing she had ever had to do. Bidding farewell to Karl and the young girls was something she refused to contemplate but realised she that she had no choice.
In the meantime she counselled and taught the girls all she could. She had also shown them a number of her video recordings as well as still photographs. Their memories were filled with information concerning the Beginning which included pictures of the Airbus wreck Rachel had taken when she had had an opportunity to do so. She had even slipped in some shots of the burial process of the passengers eighty years ago who had been flung off the cliffs of KRAT.
The girls had seen the very first Base Camp; the birth of Mt Brutus and the red seas and clouds above them; they had seen the trial of Bennie Smith, Jim Armstrong and his gang before they were banished into the seas; they had seen the first priest of the Jesuits, Father Ridgeway and his relationship with Suzette; they saw St Alistair as a precocious young boy who grew up to become a fellow priest with Father Ridgeway; they also watched him go into convulsive spells with foam from his mouth and jerking around in the dust and how Father Ridgeway poured holy water over him to immediately stop the seizures; above all they had seen the birth of Beowulf whom they had all heard of in fireside legends; they had watched him grow up into a strong young man who later so efficiently dispatched the murdering priest.
Rachel did not show them the torture and murder of Christine again; they had seen enough but she showed them how the three villages had been built; she also showed them pictures of her world at London’s Heathrow Airport, the amazing jet liners, cars and restaurants. The children liked these the most and always asked her to repeat them. They were miracles and legends they became.
The girls had become repositories of history and legend that would be created anew. Rachel also instructed three of the girls in the use of the camera. They would take it with them on their travels and use it when they reached the Promised Land to inform and teach some of the ways of the ancient world.
Karl often disappeared from his home in Caesarea. He told no-one where he was going and when he re-appeared told no-one where he had been. These disappearances led to much speculation but as he had now become the leader of the exodus, Benedict and the leaders of the other tribes did not feel threatened by his presence or by his absences. As tribal leaders they all sensed that Karl had decided to take on the challenge to lead them out of the valley into the unknown lands; he had no ambitions to become a tribal leader. For his expertise in survival and navigation he was highly respected and this gave him the edge in the planning processes each tribe was engaged in.
The absences from his village had a simple explanation. He spent these precious moments with Rachel. He was being coached and informed as much as the young girls were. When he was unsure of himself, Rachel usually had an answer or a solution. He also knew that Rachel’s strength was waning and they had reached an agreement to extract as much from her as was possible.
When she died, a massive repository of knowledge and history would be lost forever.
During one of these meetings in the cave, with the girls soundly asleep, Karl asked Rachel how she thought the Jesuits would react to his leadership. He had brought her and the girls the fresh carcass as he often did, of a Thompson’s Gazelle which he had snared close to the cave. It would serve as rations for them through the rest of the winter as they dried the meat in the traditional manner while sweetmeats will be used immediately.
“I believe that they don’t really accept the fact that I’m to lead them as I am a pagan in their eyes,” he was saying.
“Yes, and a fornicator, remember?” she replied with a naughty glint in her eyes.
“That too,” he grinned. “Man cannot live by bread alone you know.”
“True,” she replied impishly, “and neither can woman but more seriously though, I think you’re right. They may rely on your skills in navigation and survival, but on the spiritual level you’ll have problems with them.”
“I know, but I’m not interested in their mumbo-jumbo. I’ve grown up in Caesarea and we have our own rites and traditions.”
“To successfully lead the three tribes you’re going to have to allow them sufficient space to practice their own traditions, Karl. It would be absolutely fatal, if you were to try to impose any single religion or belief system on any of the three tribes. In any event, I trust that you do not consider this to be your task. Your most challenging task’ll be to create a unified group from very different types of people who will jealously protect what they believe is right and good. To succeed I think you must learn about the different approaches of each tribe to their belief systems. Each one has strengths and weaknesses. The key will be to work on each tribe’s strength.”
“What do you think the strengths of the New Londoners are, Rachel?” he asked.
“Their open mindedness and intellectual freedom. They are able to assess any situation and rightly or wrongly come to conclusions which will inform and guide their actions. They are not influenced by mysticism and very significantly know that they and only they are responsible for the consequences of their actions.”
“How does that help me?” Karl asked again.
“When you are confronted with a situation you have never expected or have no experience of, such as being totally lost in a new and strange environment where even your navigation skills are unable to help you, the New Londoners will be able to help you to establish reference points, retrace your steps and find possible ways out of your dilemma. I know for example that they are currently hard at work trying to figure out ways of using the stars to navigate with. I told them that this was an ancient skill and highly prized by explorers in ancient times. The Caesareans as well as the Jesuits would tend to ask for guidance from their spirits and gods.”
“The big difference between the New Londoners and the rest is that the New Londoners use what used to be called an internal control approach; in other words a consciousness that they are able and therefore obliged to find solutions and face the consequences thereof, while the other two tribes subscribe to an external control approach which means that external forces such as deities, even as mystical as the moon and the stars, influence their lives and that they are mere victims of circumstance; some called this a fatalistic approach or euphemistically ‘what will be will be’. A typical response you’d get from them is that you have lost your way because you have sinned and have thus been deserted by the gods or worse still, that their god has led you into a deviation to show you that he or she has the power to do so. It’s their manner to create uncertainty hoping that this will expose your own inferiority in the face of the gods; or they may blame you for leading them into trouble and that you as a pagan whose soul is lost, are trying to lose them as well. When things get bad, for example when children get ill or die from an infection, they would blame spirits or at the very least say it was the will of their particular deity.”
“…and what then is the strength of the Jesuits?” Karl asked quite perplexed and somewhat intimidated by the task that lay in store for him. There were so many angles he had never thought about. He wished he could take the Red Priestess with him but knew that this would not happen.
“The Jesuits are single minded in their religion and have utmost faith that Jehovah, through Jesus Christ will guide them. Their original religious order was a lot more fanatical and set out to destroy all opposition to their beliefs. In fact they were set up as the soldiers of Christ. They do not tolerate dissension and are very strict about adherence to the requirements of their so-called Trinity. The real strength in this is that if you could convince them that your leadership will enhance and not threaten their faith, they will support you regardless of your so-called pagan ways.”
“They strongly believe that Jehovah works in mysterious ways which may not be questioned. If it’s Jehovah’s will to use a pagan to lead them, then so be it. That is what Moses also did although he was not a pagan in terms of the belief system of the Israelites. He continually told the Israelites that God or Yahweh had spoken to him. They could not question him because he was Yahweh’s messenger. If Yahweh said do this or do that, the tribes of Israel had no choice but to comply or were faced with terrible consequences.”
“When they were overrun by invading forces such as the powerful Assyrian empire, the prophets would put this down to the Israelites’ lack of faith in Yahweh. Moses would also tell them that Yahweh had instructed him to tell the tribes to exterminate their enemies such as the Canaanites who occupied Canaan. Moses’ successor, Joshua used the same approach. Moses used his so-called relationship, as did many prophets and soothsayers after him, with his god to influence and manipulate the tribes of Israel. The Bible of the Jesuits recorded this as if it was fact. Moses was a very astute mystic and politician. He knew how to manipulate his tribe.”
“Rachel, are you suggesting I follow Moses’ example and actually mislead the tribes of Red Valley in order that they unite and follow me?” Karl asked in amazement. He had heard this before from her, but it continued to puzzle him that she used Moses as the example for him to follow. Moses seemed to be a poor example to follow.
“I’m not a supporter of lies, deception or mysticism, Karl. Good leaders are however normally able to separate myth from reality and are honest with their followers. The trick for you will be to convince your tribes that you are their leader and by following you they’re improving everybody’s chances of survival. Remember that your main strength lies in your navigation skills and understanding of the challenges of a wild and forbidding world. Especially the Jesuits are very weak in exactly this field and will need your skills sorely. Moses used the promise of Canaan as the so-called Promised Land, which it never really was. It was actually more likely that the Israelites had been in the region for thousands of years and were forced to unite to survive. So the historical accounts of Moses and Joshua in the Jesuit Bible are not accurate at all and are based on myth and legend. However, to give credence to the story, the promise of something good in Canaan was the uniting factor.”
“My advice to you is that you promise the three tribes a similar outcome of the exodus; a promised land, a new life and the prospect that they will all benefit by following your leadership. Of course your promises must be honest and you as leader above all must fulfill your promises. If you don’t, you will be as much a mystic as the leaders of the Ancient World were. You must also never forget that a leader is only as strong as his followers; lose their loyalty and you will cease to be a leader. Value them and give them respect and they will follow you to the ends of the earth; enslave them, mislead them, abuse them and they will destroy you.”
“And if they refuse to follow me, regardless of what I do for them?”
“What did Moses do?”
“He threatened them. OK I get it. You are saying that I should allow the tribes to follow me to this so-called Promised Land which will benefit all; those that go their own way will have to suffer the consequences and may perish in the process or something like that. Is that what you’re saying?”
Rachel smiled at Karl. He was not the most astute politician and neither was he a mystic. But he was learning and time would tell if his fabrications and possible false promises would destroy or unite the settlers of New Earth.
“Yes, Karl. That is roughly what I’m suggesting. However, I must warn you to constantly be on the look-out that the Jesuits do not use you to control the exodus and take over the other two tribes or on the other hand that the Caesareans to whom you will tend to show a preference because they are your tribe and understand the challenges, try to use this for their own purposes. You must maintain your independence and seek counsel equally from all the elders from each tribe. If you show any preference you will make implacable enemies which could lead to your downfall. It is going to be very difficult for you. To be the leader is a lonely task and nobody will thank you for it. You will have detractors and enemies who will seek to destroy you, even if you should become a popular and wise leader.”
“Why do you use the Bible of the Ancients to compare our exodus while at the same time you are very critical of the inaccuracies and deceptions contained in it?” Karl asked.
“I really enjoy seeing your mind opening up to the more complex matters. You have grown immensely from Karl, the Great Hunter,” she replied looking at the man sitting in the cave with her. He had become more of a son to her than her own son whose role, ironically was that of a mystic, in the pending exodus had been relegated somewhat to that of oracle and seer of the unknown.
“Karl, the Bible of the Ancients played a major role in our society and directed the thoughts and actions of millions of people. There are those who believed that the Bible was the only moral code and called on the faithful to adhere to it, just as other religions believed their scriptures were their moral codes. For the uncritical and unthinking, it provided a basis of conduct and in many cases it helped to give people a standard against which they could measure their behaviour. In reality the Bible is a very poor code of morality where their god is depicted as a jealous god who tolerates no other god, who supported ethnic cleansing, who considered people like Lot as being just and righteous yet who was guilty of incest and who condoned rape and the subjugation of women. However, these people didn’t question the word as it was written but believed in it blindly and faithfully. That made them the subjects of the priests and hence they were easy to manipulate and lead. The same principle applied in the world of politics where leaders twisted reality and told downright lies to justify their actions.”
“The parable of Noah which I told you about a few months ago is very similar to our situation here now. The metal bird accident could be likened to the story of Noah landing on the mythical Mt Ararat from where he and his family repopulated the world. Scientific studies have shown this to be a myth but that is not the message we need to take forth into the world. KRAT is our Mt Ararat, the airplane our Ark and we the seeds of the New World, a world you will have the privilege to see.”
“What has happened to our Ancient world happened before; the legend of Noah was the manner in which the Israelites and indeed Moses as the carrier of the message thought it wise to relate the floods they had experienced in very ancient times; and it will happen again, maybe in many thousands of years in the future. The difference is that they created fables and legends and described the floods as the wrath of Jehovah for the sins of the people of the world. It was merely the way the planet we call earth, functions in this beautiful universe which you have now come to see and respect. They did this to encourage their subjects to be loyal lest they be ‘punished’ again. This approach was repeated in hundreds of religions in the Ancient World.”
“Earth is not a stable place and will once again sometime in the future experience a disaster like the one we have experienced here. Your task and that of the girls is to take that message into the future and to ensure that it is written for generations to come. That message should reflect the truth and not be embellished with myth and legend to suit the agendas of the mystics. We have a massive advantage over Moses; we have the written word and need not rely on centuries of oral transmission and manipulation of facts.”
“That is a very big responsibility you are placing on me,” he answered dubiously.
“Yes, because I believe you to be free of much of the clutter and rubbish which mysticism has created. Even as a Caesarean you have been able to cut through nonsense. I think this is largely because you had to survive in the veldt and did not rely on spirits to guide you.”
“Well at times I did exactly that,” he disagreed with her. “One time I was injured when I fell from a ledge on a mountain and broke my arm. I had enormous pain and could not hunt. I had snared a gazelle like the one I brought you earlier, which I skinned with my good arm and then I wrapped the wet skin around my injured arm. As the skin dried I cried out to the spirits of the gazelle to repair my arm and to look after me. The pain I suffered was great. I lay in a small cave for more than twenty days before my arm, still wrapped in the skin was strong enough to use again. I believe that Zyndileka looked after me and even you agree that she was a good doctor.”
Rachel smiled at his naivety but realised that he was serious.
“Karl, Zyndi was a good doctor and if her spirit could look after you she certainly would have done that. Your belief in her strength is what helped you pull through that difficult time because it gave you an inner strength and confidence. What also helped you was the fact that you treated your injury in the best possible manner by making a support for the broken bone in your arm to give it time to mend. That was not magic or mysterious but plain common sense. The difference is that you knew what to do and did not merely rely on the spirits to help you.”
“If you had called on Zyndileka and waited for divine intervention, your arm may have healed but it would have been twisted in a way to offend the eye. The mystic would then respond by saying that is the will of the spirits or of their particular god. Wisdom will come to you when you are able to distinguish mysticism from reality. In my world there were religions which actually forbade the use of certain medical procedures which were tried and tested, with the instruction to their followers that if God wills it the person would live. Many died unnecessarily in this way. That is clearly where mysticism becomes dangerous and must be fought at all costs.”
As she was speaking she noticed that Karl was getting restless. It was time for him to return to Caesarea. There was much still be done. He needed to speak with the Jesuits as well as with the New Londoners. The timing of the exodus was a key issue and to synchronise the gathering of all the people to move out of the valley was important.
Standing up slowly from her stool, Rachel embraced Karl whose broad shoulders made her thin skeletal body look like a walking cadaver. Stepping away from his mentor, Karl held her at arms length from him: “Woman, I am going to need your ministry on my travels. I will miss you dearly. You must take care. I leave now but will be back to see if you are still with us. Go well.”
“You too Karl. You are like a son to me and I too will miss you and our talks; indeed I will watch over you if I am to believe anything the sages over the ages said about our everlasting souls and spirits. Farewell friend.”
Karl stepped quickly and silently out into the cold wind before the Red Priestess could see the tears coursing down his cheeks.
It was about six months after Zyndile and Tom had moved to their new settlement that the first disappearance occurred.
Christine and Karl were working on their home when they heard someone calling outside. Emerging from their home, they were very surprised to find a tired Father Ridgeway and Suzette approaching.
“This is a surprise, Father. To what do we owe this privilege?” Karl asked.
“We’re very tired, Karl. We’ve been rushing around since the day before yesterday afternoon and left very early this morning to come here,” the priest replied. He was clearly unaccustomed to a long hike and the speed with which he and Suzette had covered the distance between KRAT and New London was a considerable accomplishment.
“Why what’s wrong?” Karl asked in concern.
“Amanda has disappeared,” Suzette blurted out. She was close to tears and clearly about to collapse. Christine immediately helped her into the house where she gave the two weary travellers some water. She was quite surprised that they had chosen to come to her home.
“What happened? Tell us everything. Wait let’s get Oscar and the others in to hear your story as well,” Christine said motioning to Karl to call the other two households. She had a bad feeling about their presence. Oscar and John arrived just as Karl was about to call them.
“What’s up, guys?” Oscar asked.
As the priest started speaking, June as well as Esme also arrived panting a bit as they had run from the fields where they were planting seeds. They had noticed Father Ridgeway and Suzette approaching. It was unusual for them to have visitors and more so from the Jesuit priest and Suzette.
After waiting for everybody to settle down, Father Ridgeway explained that Amanda had gone to the bathing spot on KRAT on her own, despite the standing rule that they always be accompanied. She never returned. Nobody had noticed that she was gone until it was supper-time and Suzette enquired after her. A search party combed the forest but found no sign of her or any indication of a struggle. She had disappeared into thin air.
She would not have left KRAT without company, and as it had become dark, they were unable to search the whole plateau until the next morning. No sign was found of her. Once they had established that she was not on KRAT they had decided to inform both villages in the valley of her disappearance and ask for help to search for her.
“Have you looked around the cliffs of the plateau, John?” Gary asked.
“We’ve sent out two parties to scour the cliffs in opposite directions, but they haven’t come back to us yet. They should have finished by now. I asked them to light a fire and send a black smoke signal before dark today if they find nothing or, the Lord forbid, find her body,” the priest replied.
“Well we haven’t seen her or anything suspicious have we?” Karl asked his neighbours. They all shook their heads in confirmation.
“Could she have been caught by a wild animal you think?” Gary asked.
“Surely that would have left some sign. I shudder to think about the possibilities, Oscar,” Father Ridgeway replied. He seemed to feel responsible for her disappearance and was clearly greatly stressed.
“There is of course one other possibility,” Gary offered looking knowingly at Karl and Oscar.
“What?” the priest asked.
“We have seen the tracks of snoopers around the valley,” he replied.
“Who? Surely not…”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Karl said. “We have been following their sign for a while now. It’s Jim and his crew who have been scrounging around the valley; clearly they’ve been watching us.”
“Oh no!” Suzette exclaimed. “Do you really think they could have abducted Amanda?”
“Well we know it’s not beyond them, Suzette. Ask Christine,” John Duguid replied.
“Why would they do that?” she asked her voice breaking knowing the answer but denying the reality of it.
“They’re all male, remember,” Gary offered unnecessarily.
“Look,” Christine suddenly said, pointing out of the open door of their home. In the distance they could clearly see KRAT. From the top of the mountain, a thin wisp of smoke was rising into the still afternoon air. It was black.
Now there could be no doubt. Amanda had disappeared without trace.
A search party would have to criss-cross the valley to find any trace of the missing girl or of her possible kidnappers. Zyndile’s settlement would also have to be advised. A joint exercise would be needed. Gary was delegated to travel across the valley to Tom and Zyndile to inform them as he was the fittest and could reach them before nightfall the next day to arrange that a council of war as he called it, be called. In the meantime, Oscar together with the priest and Karl started discussing their options. They realised that Jim and Bennie would be expecting some form of retaliation and would have prepared themselves very thoroughly this time, in anticipation of this.
Three days later, with still no sign of Amanda, the group who had congregated at New London were quiet. Zyndile, Tom as well as five other men had arrived from their village, while Father Ridgeway and Suzette had been joined by another two men from KRAT. The rest of the gathering consisted of the New Londoners. They had no illusions what lay in store for them. The possible death of Amanda or her abuse by the men of Jim’s Lost Tribe lay heavily in everybody’s thoughts. She was a popular person and besides being attractive, was fun loving and never did anybody any harm.
Oscar started the discussion with a brief overview of what had transpired. The priest then related his side of the happenings while Karl gave them his perceptions regarding the whereabouts of the perpetrators. Once everyone’s questions and views had been aired, it became time to plan their response.
“The way we see it, meaning Father John, Karl and myself, we have to accept that Amanda’s been abducted by Jim’s Crew for purposes too terrible to contemplate, and let’s have no illusions, we are certain that she has suffered greatly at their hands. They hate every one of us and will vent their fury on the poor girl. It has become a savage world we live in and they are the product of this world. As Christine told them when we banished them, they operate and live as sub-humans. If Amanda’s still alive, we’re duty bound to rescue her from these beasts, but at the same time we’ll have to be very careful as they know we’ll retaliate. They await us and I’ve no doubt will be ready for us. Confronting them with brute force will not succeed despite the fact that we outnumber them. We need to outwit them.”
“At the same time we’ll have to protect our flanks as they will seek to divide and attack us. I think it was Sun Tzu, the great Chinese general, who would have recommended them to use guerrilla tactics against a superior force such as we could be if we wished to be. No, I believe we need to succeed through strategy without trying to be reckless and rash heroes. To again use Sun Tzu’s philosophy, he considered war an intellectual undertaking subject to rational analysis.”
“Sorry, Oscar! I have a problem with this rational bullshit,” Gary interjected. His patience was being tested by Oscar’s careful assessment of the challenges ahead. “We have a task at hand which will require strategy, yes I agree, but at the end of the day we have the upper hand when it comes to a straight fight and that is what this will ultimately come down to. We’ll have to annihilate these bastards.”
“Hang on Gary!” Karl said, not very surprised by Gary’s impetuousness. He knew that the younger man had a hot temper, but they needed the maturity and leadership only Oscar could provide. The risk they ran would be to blow everything, cause unwanted casualties and fail in the ultimate mission which was to extract Amanda from the brutes who had taken her.
“In a way you’re right but let’s cool down and look at all the options we have,” Karl carried on. “The way I see it we’ve only a couple of realities to consider: firstly, they have Amanda. They’ll not hesitate to use her as bait to weaken our attack and confuse our approach. Secondly, they know more about us, where we are, when we will attack and how many of us there’ll be while we know zip-all about them. In the third instance, they’ll be on familiar ground as they will not come out in the open to confront us, meaning we’ll be on unfamiliar ground which they could have ‘prepared’ in advance for us. Let’s hear Oscar through and keep our wits together.”
Gary quickly saw the sense in Karl’s assessment and he had sufficient respect for his views to agree. He was nonetheless fidgety and raring to go.
“OK let’s continue,” Oscar said loudly, looking at the delegates from the three settlements
“Oscar, can I just say something at this stage, please?” Christine said from the back of the living room.
“Certainly, Christine. What would you like to add?” Oscar said smiling at her.
“I too have studied Sun Tzu; one of his tenets was that successful campaigns should be based on deception; in other words to confuse the enemy we must use subterfuge, delusion and even feign incapacity or a division among us. He used to say that you must attack the mind of the opposing commander. This is what I believe to be the way we should approach this messy business,” she said, looking around at the gathering.
“Thanks Christine. Yes I support the notion but how do we go about this?” Oscar asked the group, “Are there other views or opinions about this?”
“We must assure victory in whatever we do, Oscar. If deception is what’s called for and we know that it will work, I am all for it,” Esme commented.
Fr John who had been listening quietly, said: “We must ask the Lord’s guidance. Through Him and Him only will justice be done. An innocent has indeed been taken from us; that is the will of God and although we may question His wisdom and judgement, it is not for us to judge. I suggest we all pray for His guidance and deliverance. In His name great deeds are done; let us be led by Him.”
“Crap, absolute bloody crap, John!” Gary exclaimed in anger. He leaped up from his seat and standing in the centre of the living room, said: “I’ve had enough of this. Praying for guidance or deliverance will get us nowhere. Where was your god when she disappeared? You say it was God’s will. What type of god is it who’ll allow an innocent as you put it to be kidnapped, raped and murdered for all we know? You ran to us for assistance; we who according to you, are pagans and devil worshippers. Is that also an example of the mysterious ways in which your god works?”
“Gary, stop it!” Oscar intervened. “We all share your frustration but shouting at John will get us nowhere. We must focus on the problem at hand and if we’re unable to work together on this, woe betide Amanda.”
Disgusted Gary walked from the room.
The discussion carried on for the whole day and as it progressed, even Gary who had returned somewhat calmer, started to realise the wisdom of their approach. At times the arguments became quite heated but slowly a strategy started to emerge which minimised risks while improving the considerable odds they faced. The life of Amanda was too valuable to risk but as they discussed their options the reality of her situation started to sink in; Jim and his ruffians would have extracted their revenge on her some time ago as her disappearance had taken place all of four days ago. Their own lives were now also at stake and as harsh as it may sound this would have to be their primary consideration. In addition, by weakening their own defenses when they send out a posse to rescue Amanda, Jim could outflank them and further kill or abduct their women or children.
Room was made for all to overnight and early the next morning they all departed to their respective villages to begin the preparations as they had agreed.
Unbeknown to them but as they had suspected, they were being watched from afar. Bennie and Graham had been sent out by James from their cave to keep a lookout after they had captured Amanda. Graham had objected the most as he had had only one turn with Amanda, something he had been dreaming about for the last three years; his first woman. His thoughts still turned to her in anticipation upon his return to their hideout.
Their hideout had been well selected. After their landfall two and a half years ago, the thirteen banished survivors were in a sorry state after spending close to ten days on the seas drifting to and fro in wild and unpredictable eddies and currents with the winds thrusting them this way and that in their small craft.
After recovering sufficiently to scout their surroundings they realised that luck was with them. On the far side of the mountains, they discovered a verdant valley which lay substantially lower than the level of the seas which surrounded KRAT. The seas had obviously arisen through some cataclysmic geophysical disturbance on the opposite side of KRAT. A massive wall of rocks, sandstone and sediment had caused the seas to back up into the valley. It was this rock wall which had kept the Airbus survivors captive on the plateau for more than a year.
Danny discovered the cave in the far side of the mountains and when they all reconnoitred it, found a network of caves which virtually honeycombed the shale-like mountain-side. The location of the caves gave them a view of the whole valley below them, but its greatest disadvantage was that they could not see KRAT or Mt Brutus at all unless they traversed the two mountain ranges between them and the red seas.
It was a simple decision however to stay in the caves as they were secluded from view from the valley below while they were dry and relatively warm. After getting rid of some unwelcome bats and a leopard that had the same idea as them, they made themselves comfortable in their new abode. Water was available from springs in the valley and they were able to quite quickly create storage facilities with rock and clay to hold sufficient water for their domestic use. Washing and bathing only took place in the valley below as did their ablutions.
Life for the banished survivors was not a cake-walk however. They had to start afresh with the manufacture of hunting weapons and traps. It took them close to eighteen months to stabilise their supply of fresh meat from the animals they hunted in the valley. Their diet consisted largely of meat with some fruit they could find in the summer.
Uppermost in their minds however was one thing: revenge. It dominated their discussions and plans but James had enough power to control especially Bennie and Graham who he knew he could not let out of his sight.
Combined with their thirst for revenge was their need for sex. Despite alternative sexual practices in their camps, it was women they all dreamt about. They had marked out the women from KRAT in order of priority and while Christine was a prime target due to her history with them, they realised that she would be protected. This shifted the focus to the younger girls, Elizabeth, Rachel, Amanda and Shenaaz while a few of the older women such as Esme, Christine, Zyndile and June still constituted acceptable alternatives.
James nevertheless made it clear that if any of the women were to be abducted, it would have to be a united and concerted strategy as they would be attacked immediately by the KRAT survivors. Any female captives should be selected for their long-term value to the camp and they should be isolated from any rescue attempts. If they could destroy the attackers in the process, so much the better for their own survival. With this in mind they fortified their caves and created secret escape routes which only they knew about.
Twelve months after their arrival, they were almost all destroyed when the massive five hundred meter high sandstone barrier in the mountain range, which was slowly being eroded by the continual water seepage deep below the surface on the dolomite rock-bed, suddenly exploded when Mt Brutus erupted about twenty kilometres away. The gap that was created in the mountain range was enormous as the sea crashed its way through the narrow chasm into the green valley below taking everything before it.
After the waters had receded, the survivors were horrified to find that their valley had been totally destroyed for as far as the eye could see. The salt water had deep-scoured the fertile soils leaving behind massive boulders and sterile leached sand. Of the trees and wild animals there was no sign any longer while the springs had disappeared.
For months after that they suffered great hardship as they had not bothered to store water or food for any lengthy period. Their thirst and hunger drove them to rove far and wide and they survived largely from scorpions, slugs, birds such as they could trap and some hyrax and bats from the cave system. They ultimately discovered water in a small spring which flowed from the rocks in the mountain-side about two kilometres from their caves.
Driven by their hunger, it did not take them long to decide to preserve Fred’s flesh, the oldest of the group who had died of hunger and deprivation. Danny refused to participate in this cannibalistic ritual but the rest of the crew had no such scruples. Fred’s clean-picked bones served as useful tools and even decoration when Graham pierced his nose with one of Fred’s small rib bones.
James had hidden Amanda in a cave which was well removed from the rest of the system. When he, Bennie and Graham had captured her, they had fled from the forest on KRAT under cover of nightfall and using skins of animals to hide their footprints, had made good ground to their cave to reach it by the next nightfall.
That night they had a great feast. To welcome Amanda who was tied to a stake in the ground, they danced with their naked bodies covered in tallow and ochre mud. The tallow was derived from Fred’s body a few weeks before. The flickering fire cast a spell over the small tribe as they danced in their ghoulish red bodies in celebration of their prize.
Amanda was barely conscious but they ensured that she was given enough water and food and especially meat to keep up her strength. Her terror was palpable as pleaded with her eyes with whoever glanced her way. Mouth gagged, she was unable to cry out or speak. The hungry stares of the members of the tribe and their huge erections were her only responses.
As the flames receded, it was James who claimed her for the night. Graham was about to fight him for her but thought the better of it. Her screams waxed and waned through the night, echoing through the caves where other men lay impatiently, until all was quiet in the early hours of the approaching dawn. The next day the rest of his tribe would each have an opportunity.
Three years had been a long drought.
Christine woke up screaming. She could feel Amanda’s pain and horror. She leapt out of her bed with a confused and sleepy Karl in close attendance.
“What happened?” he asked.
“The poor child! I tended her hurt for so long after the air crash I feel I have a special bond with her as I have with all my patients. Oh Karl!” she cried. “They are brutes and will destroy her forever. We must do something to save her. We must, we must,” she cried beating him on the chest as he held her close to him as the tears of frustration streamed down her cheeks.
“There now, shush. There is nothing we can do now. It’s no use beating ourselves up over this. We are in a harsh world and we must look out for ourselves. You often said so yourself.” He held her tightly. Her body was shaking and shivering from the nightmare but also from the thought of what Amanda must be going through. Karl stirred the coals in the kitchen and set some water to boil. A herbal tea would calm her down. The two sat quietly sipping the hot liquid which warmed its way into their bodies wrapped in warm blankets.
“Karl, there is something I must tell you,” Christine said in a hushed voice. The quiet of the night pressed in around the couple.
He waited without saying anything.
“I think I’m pregnant,” she said calmly, looking at the man she had come to love and respect.
He looked at her in wonder. How his life had changed he thought. From being a virtual fugitive from organised crime, here he now sat in the wilderness of a strange new world, hunter-gatherer, fathering a new child in a new civilisation by a woman who had his total love and respect. He felt fulfilled yet humbled.
“I had a suspicion, I must admit. Your tantrums were a dead give-away. I’m so happy and I know you are too, my darling. You’ll have to learn to think for the baby now and be less stressed about things you can do nothing about,” he said happily, hugging her as the two of them shared the special moment in a world which was waiting to destroy the weak and pounce on the unwary.
The next morning Christine was working in the garden when Mark walked up to their home. He had trekked down from KRAT to tend his cannabis nursery.
“Morning Mark, how are you?” Christine asked him as she ushered him into the house for some cool water.
“I’m cool thanks. A bit stressed about Amanda’s disappearance hey? A bad scene that, not cool at all. Everybody on KRAT’s all stressed out, big time man, don’t know what to expect,” he replied thankfully accepting the gourd of water from her.
“Tell me Mark; why did Amanda go to the ablutions on her own? She knew that it was not very clever.”
“Well, don’t know like I should be saying anything, but when I saw her she was crying when she ran past me on her way to the bog,” he said pensively.
“Why? What happened? I can’t understand why she would’ve done such a thing in the first place,” Christine pressed him.
“Well as I heard, she tuned Suzette and the priest shortly before,” he said.
“It’s a small world up there Christine; Father Ridgeway like rules the roost since you guys took off, you know?” he said almost accusingly.
“Doesn’t surprise me, but what did they fight about, Mark?” she insisted.
“The way I heard was that Amanda was like wound up with the priest shacking up with Suzette. She tuned him that he was supposed to have taken like an oath of celibacy and should be like an example to the youth and others in the settlement. Suzette told her to shut the fuck up and that she could move out if she didn’t agree with the set-up. There was some heat generation and the priest tuned her to go and like wash her mouth in the river for swearing at Suzette and not to return until she was prepared to say that she was sorry. Like that’s when she ran past me to the bogs to get away from them.”
“But it seems too trivial for Amanda to do something this stupid, Mark,” Christine said puzzled. Something didn’t quite gel for her.
“Well seems Amanda came to hear of Suzette’s being with child, like she’s preggies man,” the young man stated somewhat diffidently, chewing on a piece of grass.
No wonder that the priest and Suzette were the ones to bring the bad tidings to them, Christine thought. They had had something to hide and obviously felt guilty about the girl’s abduction. The bastards, she thought fuming at their stupidity and its tragic consequences.
Mark thanked her for the water and left to tend his precious plants.
Christine walked to Karl where he was sharpening a spear-head on a flat stone behind the house and told him what Mark had said.
“OK so now we have a fuller picture of the background Christine, but that doesn’t really change anything except to strengthen your already low opinion of the priest,” he responded. He was not one to get involved in arguments but knew how to keep things simple and stick to the task at hand.
“True, but I cannot stand their holier than thou attitudes. The way they sketched the happenings, it was Amanda’s stupidity that led to her being abducted. That’s what pisses me off, Karl. It’s so bloody typical of mystics; they always look for the problem elsewhere, not with themselves.”
“Listen my dear, you have something far more important to worry about, so don’t go getting your blood pressure up now,” Karl commented quietly.
She turned away knowing that Karl was right but she could not forget the pain she had felt for Amanda in her nightmarish dream. She shuddered and felt a bitter cold shiver run down her spine.
James was confused. It had been two weeks since Amanda had been kidnapped, yet nothing had happened. He knew that Oscar and his lieutenants were aware of Amanda’s kidnapping and what would happen to her. Why did they not retaliate? What was going on? He sent three scouting missions to spy on the small settlements but each had returned with the same message. Life in each settlement was going on like nothing had happened.
It slowly dawned on him; they were calling his bluff! They wanted him to make the next move. They couldn’t care a stuff about Amanda’s situation but were challenging him to come out of hiding and face them on their terms. The bastards! “What should I do now?” he fumed as he paced up and down in front of the entrance to the cave system.
Amanda was inside cleaning the eating area as she had been told. She had made their lives a lot easier and they made full use of her. She was a slave to their every wish. Christine would not have recognised what was once a young lively girl full of bounce. This creature had turned into a pitiful hag who spoke to no-one; saw nothing with empty eyes and moved like one who was at least eighty years old. She was virtually naked and filthy. When she moved too slowly for some of them they delighted in kicking her in the butt to sprawl in the dust in front of them.
James had lost all interest in her after the first night and had thrown her to the proverbial dogs; and dogs they were; dogs on heat with only one bitch to satisfy their craving.
Sitting around the fire with Amanda serving up gruel for them to eat, Jim later put his thoughts to his gang.
“The bastards want us to come out to play!” he said while he cleaned his teeth with a bone picked from the bird stew they had eaten.
“So? We’ll oblige them then shouldn’t we?” Graham, ever the impetuous one responded without thinking further about it.
“I dunno. I don’t trust ’em further than I can throw ’em,” Bennie responded.
“We need another bitch don’t we? Why not oblige them? If they’re waiting for us to come and play, so we’ll play,” Graham continued unconcerned by Bennie’s more cautious approach.
“Stop thinking with your balls! That’s exactly what they expect us to do, Graham. You’re so fucking stupid you’ll walk right into their waiting arms,” Jim said disgustedly.
” ’ere’s what I think,” Bennie said. “They want us to show our ’and first and they expect us to kidnap another woman, so they’ll ’ave a watch set up around the women. I think we let them stew and wait till they tire and then we strike.”
“How long do you think we should wait, Bennie?” Graham asked.
“Dunno, maybe like a month or so; we’ve nothing to lose,” he answered.
Jim however disagreed: “I don’t think that’s the way to go. I’ve been thinking. We must try to attract them here to our hide-out. They still don’t know where we are so they need to find us first. Maybe we can send them something to think about.”
“Like what?” Bennie interjected.
“Like a piece of the woman. What about her hand? Or maybe some fingers.”
“Shit guys, whose going to cut off her hand, hey?” Danny objected.
“Shut the fuck up, you wimp. I’ll do it,” Graham shouted.
“Wait guys, think about it,” Danny continued, unperturbed by Graham’s rebuke. “She’s been handy around and all. If we do her serious harm she could die and then even you Graham would miss her and we lose our advantage and bait for Oscar’s guys.”
“That’s true. We’ll have to threaten dire consequences if they don’t respond but they’ll want to be sure she’s still OK,” Jim commented, agreeing with Danny’s more reasoned approach.
“Why don’t we send a small deputation to negotiate with them. We have, what’d you call it Bennie, leverage now,” Graham suggested.
“and what do we negotiate for, Graham?” Jim asked.
“More women, that’s what. They have more than they can use and we need women or we’ll die out,” he replied confidently.
“Oh sweet Jesus! Do you really believe they would agree to that?” Jim replied. “No, that’s so stupid!’
“Well fuck you too, Jim,” Graham responded angrily, “I’m getting fucking tired of you calling me stupid. According to you, you’re the only one with any brains here and as I remember it, it’s through your fucking stupidity that we’re holed up here in the first place.”
James got up from his customary chair and walked to Graham, lifting up his arm to strike him. Bennie however sensing the threat to his friend leapt up and struck him down with a rock he had secreted in his hand when the two had started their argument.
Jim fell like the proverbial sack of potatoes. He lay quite still as Graham and Bennie commenced to kick the living daylights out of him.
“Stop it, you fucking fools,” Danny yelled trying to pull them away from each other with little success as they continued to pummel, kick and hit Jim. The rest of the crew looked on without any interest.
Tiring from their attack, Bennie and Graham eventually let up and sat down on the ground to contemplate their handiwork.
“Fucking serves ’im right, it does,” Bennie said to no-one in particular, quite breathless at the sudden exertion.
Graham stared at Jim’s inert body.
“Do you think he’s still alive?” he asked.
“Dunno and don’t care,” Bennie replied getting up and walking out of the cave to wash his face.
Danny got hold of some water and splashed it on Jim’s face. There was no response.
“You’ve killed him, you fools,” he screeched in panic. James had always had some time for Danny’s views and they seemed to get along.
He ran to fetch some more water from the skin bag, and splashed it on Jim again. This time he moaned as he turned around to lie on his back. His head and face was a mess. One eye had been kicked out of its socket and at least three teeth were missing. Danny called Amanda who walked up listlessly and helped him to wash off the blood and mucous. They tried to pop back the eye they into its socket but it was damaged beyond saving. It was eventually thrown away and the empty socket stuffed with some leaves to stem the blood.
After some time they were able to help the injured man up and carry-dragged him to his bed where he flopped down on the hard rock bed covered with animal skins, barely alive.
Danny stayed with him while Amanda walked out of the cave. She had no interest in his fate or her own any longer.
Meanwhile Bennie and Graham were discussing their options outside the cave.
“That sorted the arsehole out. He had it coming, I tell you. You think he’s alive?” Graham asked with mock concern.
“I told you I don’t care. Now shut the fuck up while I think,” Bennie replied irritably.
“Bennie, we must do what you said earlier. Let’s see what they’re up to. I think you and me should go out and spy on them again. Maybe some opportunity will present itself while we’re watching what they’re doing, like a kid or someone walking around alone—we nab him or her and take off.”
“’im or ’er? You’ve developed a taste for boy’s meat ’ave you? What’ll we do with a boy?”
“I dunno, Bennie but it’ll get them all worked up and then we can ambush them in the canyon as we planned. In fact, the way I see it, the boys’ll be less protected than the girls.”
“H’m. Maybe you’ve got a point. What’re we going to do about Jim?”
“Fuck him. He’s being giving us enough shit for a long time now. We leave him be and strike out tomorrow. What do you think?”
“OK, let’s do it. Get our rations sorted out and then we leave early when the others are still asleep,” Bennie decided. It was up to him now. He was not going to allow any interference and knew he couldn’t afford to fail his crew again. Jim was out of the way now and would be for some time.
The next morning before anybody stirred, the two set off. They were well versed in survival skills and carried with them water and food, mainly consisting of dried meat, millet and sorghum. They also carried bows and arrows as well as bush knives which they used to chop undergrowth, firewood and skin animals with. Their bush knives had been crafted from sections of the Airbus with wooden hafts and sharpened to a fine edge. The terrain was also nothing strange to them and they were probably as familiar now with the valley as were Karl and Gary.
The greying dawn found them only a couple of kilometres away from the emerging settlement of New London. Hiding themselves beneath a small overhang on a hillock which faced the settlement, the two spies settled down to observe the activities of the inhabitants as they carried out their daily chores.
After a couple of hours they started getting bored with their vigil and decided to sleep for a short while, each spelling the other. There was very little happening in New London anyhow. According to their count all the villagers were accounted for. Graham had the first shift while Bennie made himself comfortable and quickly fell asleep on the hard ground. It wasn’t long before Graham also nodded off. The stress of the previous couple of days and the long walk got to him.
Karl and Gary had been watching the two of them for some time. They knew that sooner or later Jim would send out a small team to establish why the villagers had not responded to Amanda’s abduction. They’d ensconced themselves for over a week in a well concealed observation post quite high in a small range of hills from where they could easily observe the whole valley as well as the approaches from the Great Divide. Meanwhile, as agreed with Tom and Father Ridgeway, two men from Zyndile’s village disguised as Karl and Gary had been delegated to create the impression that they were busy with their daily chores around their settlement and that things were totally normal. A head-count would confirm that all the inhabitants of New London were home.
Descending carefully from their lair, Karl and Gary stalked the small hillock where the two spies were hidden. They took care not to be seen and stalked as they would have stalked a hare or small buck. They knew that their quarry was dangerous and would retaliate at the first indication of danger. Splitting up in order to approach from two sides in a pincer-like movement, Gary was the first to notice that Bennie and Graham were both asleep. He signalled Karl and they quickly and noiselessly ran to a spot where they would be able to hear what Bennie and Graham were saying to each other. Karl smiled grimly at Gary when they heard two sets of snores coming from their small hideout. With Gary on his flank, he straightened up and walked right up to where Bennie lay. They were both carrying large clubs and short stabbing spears and were well versed in the use of these weapons. They were also totally prepared to use them.
Prodding the sleeping Bennie with the sharp point of his spear, Karl shouted: “Wakey, wakey boys!”
Bennie started and grabbed at his bush knife which lay under his head as he rolled away from Karl, but Karl had anticipated his response and moved in close to him so as to deny him any manoeuvring space with his weapon. As Bennie raised his broad knife, Karl hit him hard on the arm causing him to cry out in pain and drop the knife. Bennie jumped up and was about to run when, Karl again hit him, this time on the side of the exposed neck dropping him like an ox. He stood over the fallen man and looked to where Gary had disarmed Graham without any trouble.
“So boys, what have we here; just visiting are you?” Karl asked in mock friendly tones. The menace in his body language was unmistakable though. Gary herded the cowed Graham to sit next to the groaning Bennie.
“Haven’t seen you two for some now. Must say we haven’t had time to miss you either,” Karl continued.
Bennie rolling over onto his back and rubbing his neck with his good arm, groaned while staring balefully at Karl and Gary. His right arm was badly bruised and swollen where Karl had struck him.
“OK arseholes; game’s over,” Gary said with enough venom in his voice to scare the Devil out of his skin.
“What have you done with Amanda?” he shouted, raising his club to strike Graham who shielded his head with both arms in fear.
“Who? We don’t know no Amanda?” he said as he tried to distract Gary’s attack, to create an opportunity to reach for a knife he had concealed beneath the skins draped around his upper body. Gary circled his prey waiting for him to try anything; he was relishing the moment when a slight movement from Bennie to his right distracted him, giving Graham the opening to whip out an evil-looking aluminium knife. Lunging forward at Gary he managed to sink the knife into the arm which was holding his club causing Gary to curse in pain as he dropped the club to the ground. As Graham extracted the knife and lunged up towards the injured man to stab Gary a second time, Karl seeing the danger swung around and stabbed Gary’s assailant through the chest with his stabbing spear. Graham looked at the wooden haft of the spear sticking out of his chest, in total astonishment. The knife he was holding in his hand dropped to the ground; stepping slowly backward, he sank to the ground while holding on to the spear’s shaft with both hands in a feeble attempt to withdraw it from his body.
Sighing and mumbling something unintelligible, Graham keeled over on to his side and died, still clutching the shaft of the spear.
Bennie who was still sitting on the ground looked at Graham uncomprehendingly.
“You’ve killed him, you swine,” he said in a matter of fact kind of way.
“Yes, that’s how we deal with rats, Bennie,” Karl said without any emotion as he tended to Gary’s injury. “Get up. We have some talking to do and since we don’t have to listen to Graham’s whining any longer, you’ll have to do.”
After bandaging Gary’s wound with some woven and absorbent hemp, he kicked Bennie into a standing position, tied him without any sympathy for his injured arm, and shoved him out of the small shelter so that he could keep an eye on him. Satisfied that he posed no further threat, he dragged Graham’s body out of the hideout and lay him out on a level piece of ground. With some effort he removed the spear from the dead man’s chest. They then gathered stones and covered the body in a shallow grave.
After resting and drinking some water, the three started the short hike to New London.
Christine, Oscar and Esme saw the three men approaching. One was clearly a captive and was stumbling in front of the other two who were prodding him with little sympathy. As they neared the small settlement it became evident that they had captured Bennie.
Christine was the first to run to Karl who grabbed her and swung her around in pleasure. They had been gone for over a week and they’d missed each other. She looked at Bennie with distaste: “So Bennie you couldn’t stay away could you?” she said sarcastically. Rubbing his injured arm, he didn’t reply.
They guided Bennie into Oscar’s house where the villagers had gathered and set him down on the ground. After giving him some water, they related their encounter with the two and about Graham’s demise. Meanwhile Christine tended to Gary’s wound with some herbs and ointments.
“What do we do with him now?” June asked.
“Well we’ll have to let the other villagers know first of all, then come to some arrangement as to what we intend with Bennie. I’m sure that Jim will have something to say about the situation so we’ll have to keep a sharp lookout until everybody’s here,” Oscar said. Karl noticed Bennie’s eyes flicking at the mention of Jim’s name.
“Jim knows you’re here, does he?” he said prodding the captive with his spear. Bennie remained quiet. They were aware of the bad blood between the two leaders and Graham’s death would certainly put Bennie at a disadvantage.
“OK. First things first. Where’s Amanda and what have you bastards done to her?” Gary asked as Christine finished bandaging his wound.
Bennie refused to respond.
“We have ways of making you talk, you bastard. We’ve told you before, hurt any of us and you’ll have us on your neck in no time,” Gary said again.
Oscar walked behind Bennie’s back and beckoned the other men to follow him outside out of ear’s reach. They all trooped out of the house and gathered to hear what he had to say.
“Look, we’ll have to hang on until Father Ridgeway and Tom arrive. We must light the fire with white smoke as we agreed to signal them. Remember that although we are all survivors, this attack was aimed at the guys up on KRAT.”
“Whoa, hang on Oscar. Let’s not fool ourselves. This attack was aimed at all of us, especially the women. Amanda was the unlucky one but it could just as easily have been Rachel or Zyndile,” Karl objected.
“You’re right of course, Karl. What I meant to say was that we’d agreed that whatever we did when we captured one of them, that it would have to be a joint decision as to what we’ll do. Graham’s death is also the first violent death in the valley and while I have absolutely no qualms about it, we need to consider the way forward concerning stuff like justice, the rule of law and so on. If we don’t, we’ll certainly slide down a slippery slope to total anarchy and brute force.”
“That’s fair enough Oscar, but right now we’re still missing Amanda. We have to get her back if she’s still alive. Jim’s gang has been reduced to ten or eleven and they would be no match in a confrontation,” Gary interjected.
“Hang on guys,” Oscar cautioned. “We’re running ahead of ourselves. I thought we’d agreed not to go the direct confrontation route. To extract Amanda will require a well planned exercise with maybe only a couple of guys to wait and watch for the right moment. They’ll be on the alert when Bennie and Graham don’t return, so it’ll be a lot more risky.”
“In the meantime what do we do with Bennie?” John asked.
“We keep him tied up to the stake we use to skin and hang animals out here. He’ll keep for a couple of days. But let’s soften him up. We need to get information out of him, so no water except a little bit of salty water from the hot springs. That’ll drive him crazy soon enough,” Oscar proposed.
The small band of men returned to the Karl’s house where the women were keeping watch over their captive. They removed him and quickly and expertly tied him spread-eagled with leather thongs to the stake. His feet were tied to small stakes that were normally used to spread the carcass of an animal on the ground with his arms secured above his head over the cross beam of the stake. Bennie was totally at their mercy. Karl fetched some water from the hot bath in his house and holding Bennie’s head, poured a full cup down his throat. He retched and spat out the bulk of the foul tasting water and cursed them all to hell. Karl then, stripped most of the animal skins from Bennie’s upper body and poured a large leather bucket of the warm salt water over him. This would dry and form a crust on his skin and hasten his thirst as the moisture in his body was wicked out by the salt on his skin. They left him hanging there and returned to Karl’s home to discuss the next steps.
Meanwhile John and Esme gathered the wood and salt they had prepared for a signal fire and lit it. As soon as the fire was burning brightly, Esme poured the salt which contained a high concentration of sulphur over the flames, causing it to splutter and almost die out, but emitting a tall pall of white smoke into the quiet afternoon air. The lookouts they had promised to post on KRAT and Zyndile’s hill were sure to spot it. It would take the priest all of the next day to reach them while the fitter and more athletic Tom would reach them by early afternoon. In the meantime they had no option but to wait and carry on with their normal daily chores while Gary chomped at the bit; both with his injury which turned out to be a flesh wound and the delay in getting Amanda back to safety.
During that night, the men took turns to keep a close guard over their captive. Bennie was in great pain. His parched throat and salt encrusted face and swollen lips burned as he called for water. They obliged with more salt water which he swallowed in desperation; this caused dysentery. His humiliation was complete as the stench of his excrement stained his legs, and permeated the small area between the three houses.
The following morning found Gary sitting outside watching Bennie, while he was in a virtual state of collapse. Concerned that he may die, Gary asked for some warm water and again soaked him with it. It gave him some short term relief as the filth washed off and sluiced away from the area.
“So how does that feel now, Bennie?” Gary asked, walking a bit closer to the wretched man.
Bennie looked at him with salt encrusted eyes filled with hatred.
“Want to tell me now what you’ve done with Amanda?” he asked again.
With no response from Bennie, Gary picked up the gourd with the salt drinking water and held up to Bennie’s parched lips. He twisted away to avoid the poisonous liquid and succeeded in dashing the gourd from Gary’s hand to the ground. Irritated, Gary kicked Bennie between his spread out legs.
“Hey Gary, let up man!” Christine shouted as she emerged from the house. “We need him alive. Don’t lower yourself to their level.”
Somewhat chastised, Gary turned and stalked away. Christine, ever the nurse brought some fresh water and forced Bennie to drink it. Realising that the fluid was potable, he slurped the last drop from the gourd with closed eyes. As she turned to walk away, she heard him say softly through cracked lips: “T’anks.”
It was mid-afternoon before everybody had gathered.
Oscar, still the informal leader by tacit consent, called the gathering to order and informed the new arrivals of the happening of the previous day and the successful trap they had laid for Amanda’s captors. He also advised them of Graham’s demise and what they had discussed concerning the way forward. Nobody had anything to say about Graham’s death; a cockroach’s death.
Father Ridgeway was the first to react.
“Oscar, the Lord has blessed us with a successful strategy, but Amanda is still captive and no doubt suffering greatly at the hands of these beasts. Should we not use Bennie as bait to trade her release for his return to them? In such way we will achieve our goal and Bennie will be given his freedom,” the priest said.
“What!” Gary shouted, “are you really proposing that we let Bennie go? Jesus Christ, you must be joking.”
“Your profanity is forgiven,” the Jesuit replied, “because you are wrought up and have suffered injury, but yes that is exactly what I propose.”
“No way, Doris Day! I haven’t spent ten days lying in ambush for these bastards, being attacked and almost killed just for us to let the bloody perpetrator go again,” he replied angrily.
“Father, thanks for your proposal,” Oscar interjected. “While it has some merit I agree with Gary. Letting Bennie go would be counter-productive. He’ll be back to avenge himself and Graham in no time. No, we need something more creative. At least we had almost three years of peace after we banished them; now they’re back to cause us as much harm as they can. We have Bennie here and I believe we’ve softened him up somewhat. Why don’t we men go and speak with him? He may have something to tell us.”
“I’m going with, bru,” Christine said, “don’t you dare deny us women the right to ask him questions or to hear what he has to say. Remember that it was a woman who has suffered at his hands.”
“My dear, this is not the work of a woman…,” the priest started to say, when Christine exploded: “John, this whole damn mess is your fault; you and Suzette have been at pains to hide that from us…”
“What do you mean?” the priest asked in feigned surprise. Only Karl was aware of the priest and Suzette’s role in Amanda’s abduction.
“Don’t try to bullshit us now, father. You know full well that you chased Amanda to the ablutions before her abduction, to wash her mouth after she and Suzette had an argument about your moving in with Suzette and about Suzette’s being pregnant. It seems that Amanda respected your precious catholic vows more than you did holy man!” she stormed. “It was you who sent her to the toilets without anybody to accompany her wasn’t it? You never bothered to tell us about that now did you, you holier than thou creep and then you have the gall to put the blame on the poor girl!”
“Now, listen here…” the priest started.
“OK, OK,” Karl interjected. “That’s all we’re going to hear from either of you, now shush Christine. And father, I believe that it would be wise for you to withhold your pearls of wisdom when you’re around us.” He took Christine who was shaking with rage in his arms and led her away from the small but shocked meeting. The priest’s role in Amanda’s disappearance had not quite sunk in yet.
They all trooped outside while the visibly shaken priest followed them in some embarrassment to the stake where a forlorn and seriously distressed Bennie was still hanging on his thongs.
“Cut him down,” Oscar instructed.
Bennie collapsed at their feet as the restraining thongs were cut through. He was close to unconsciousness but Karl doused him with clear fresh water and in the cool late afternoon, he soon started to shiver from the cold and from exhaustion.
“OK, Bennie. Let’s make this totally clear to you,” Oscar started. “We’ll have absolutely no hesitation to string you up again, if you refuse to answer our questions. We are not playing games. If you don’t co-operate you will suffer serious consequences. We have Father Ridgeway here as well as Tom from the other two settlements, so as far as we are concerned, whatever is decided to do with you will be a joint decision. Now let me ask the first and most important question: is Amanda still alive?”
Bennie, shivering from sheer exhaustion as well as the cold, looked up at his captors. He knew that for him the game was over. He had seen Graham die a couple of days ago and realised that Oscar and his team would fulfill their threats. He nodded.
“She’s alive, you say?” Oscar repeated to make doubly certain.
“Yes,” he mumbled.
“Where are you keeping her?” Oscar continued the interrogation.
Bennie merely inclined his head toward the Great Divide. It was too hard to talk.
“What condition is she in?” Gary asked.
Bennie just looked at him, cringing ever so slightly. He was not prepared to answer that question. From his body language it was clear that the answer didn’t bode well for her. Christine’s skin crawled at the thought of the young woman alone among these sub-human specimens.
Father Ridgeway leaned over Bennie and said to him in a gentle tone: “My son, confess thy sins and you shall be forgiven in the eyes of our Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ. Regardless of your sins, Jesus loves you and will forgive you if you repent.”
Bennie merely spat in his face.
The surprised priest jerked upright and slowly wiped the spittle from his cheek. Stepping back, he thought he caught a look of mockery on Christine’s face.
Turning to the onlookers, Oscar said: “I think we have enough information for now. Let’s get back to the house. Tie the man up again, please,” he asked John and Karl.
Back in Karl’s house, they all sat down while Christine and Esme boiled some water for char. The priest disappeared to the ablutions to wash his face.
“We now know that Amanda is still alive,” Oscar said unnecessarily.
“…or at least was when Bennie and Graham left their hide-out,” Gary added.
“So now what?” Karl asked as he and John Duguid returned to the room.
“I guess we now have no option but to get her back,” Oscar answered. He realised that Jim still had the advantage over them if they attacked him. Without Graham and Bennie, his resistance would be weakened substantially but the mission would still be risky.
The discussion carried on for some time and finally it was agreed that Tom, together with Oscar and John would make up the expeditionary force. They realised that they were grossly outnumbered but were not prepared to risk leaving the women and children behind without sufficient protection, should Jim decide on a pre-emptive attack, possibly to liberate Bennie.
Bennie meanwhile would remain captive but with some food and water, until a decision could be taken about his future. Gary and Karl were tasked to keep watch over him.
After a good night’s rest with Father Ridgeway overnighting in June and John’s home, the three-man posse departed. With the foresight of experience that they may be watched, they left under cover of darkness and struck out on a false trail to shake off any suspicion. By mid-morning they had reached the massive gorge through which the waters had escaped from the valley and silently made their way toward the suspected location of Jim’s lair.
By afternoon they stopped to sleep until midnight when they planned to approach the caves the fugitives were thought to be hiding in.
Under cover of the moonless night, the three scaled the precipitous walls of the canyon, often slipping on the shale and loose stones but making sufficient headway to reach a small cave which would have to serve as their hideout until they have reconnoitred the lay-out of Jim’s lair.
The next day was spent preparing their weapons and resting. Shortly after nightfall, they left their dry camp and crept up the remainder of the slopes towards the Jim’s caves.
Crossing a rock-strewn but flat expanse of the original valley floor, they carefully made their way through the boulders, Tom swore as he stumbled over a small object which rattled loudly out ahead of him. Stooping down to pick it up, he sucked in his breath and exclaimed under his breath to Oscar behind him: “Look here,” and held out the object.
In the darkness, the object gleamed dully. It was a human skull, but not any skull. It was the skull of someone who had had a gold filling in one of his front teeth. Oscar racked his brain trying to remember whether a member of Jim’s group had such a tooth but failed to recall all the members of the Crew. He carefully placed the skull in a bag over his shoulder and they carried on. Their find seemed to signal that they were close.
The mountain range loomed up before them as they carefully and silently picked their way up the slopes toward the general direction of the caves. After another two hours, they reached a level plateau which seemed to stretch out some distance ahead of them before the bulk of the massif loomed darkly above their heads. It was very quiet and they couldn’t detect any signs of human activity as they approached the mountain-side.
Oscar was very uneasy. The pressure was telling on them and the lack of further sign of the gang’s presence worried him. The eastern sky also started to lighten. The climb had taken them longer than anticipated. It was time to find a suitable hideout again, he thought. Beckoning to the others, he caste out to the left, away from the canyon which they had consistently kept to their right, when he noticed a well trodden pathway leading up and down the mountain. By sheer coincidence they had found the access route!
With renewed energy they scuttled up the steep path taking care to make themselves invisible as far as was possible. Two hundred paces further they rounded a ridge to come face to face with a small enclosure that was built to keep out wild animals. Crouching behind the dry branches, Oscar peered through to see if he could see any movement, but all was exceptionally quiet, too quiet. He was very uncomfortable to approach the caves, which were quite visible through the strengthening dawn, and motioned to the others to hide themselves wherever they could.
As the day dawned, they watched the camp-site. It was clearly Jim’s base. In the centre a stake had been driven into the ground while a large fireplace was situated close to it. The fire was cold. They could not discern any utensils lying around; the camp looked spooky and deserted.
After watching the site for any life for another hour, Oscar and Tom moved though the concealed entrance in the palisade fence while John remained on guard outside. As they neared the cave entrance and moved through the complex of inter-linked caves, it quickly became evident that the caves were empty; beds, utensils, food and all the normal signs of human occupation had been cleared out; Jim’s gang together with Amanda had disappeared!
Searching for signs of their departure, all they found were a few discarded items which had been chucked on to a nearby rubbish dump. Their trail quickly petered out on the rocks and although they caste around the site in ever-increasing circles, they could not find any sign of the direction they had taken.
The valley below them showed no signs of movement either. The trail had gone cold. To make a point of the folly of the chase, a soft rain started falling which further ensured that the trail would be obliterated.
Disgusted, Oscar sat on a rock and peered out over the valley.
“Where would you have gone if you were on the run?” he asked no-one in particular.
“Oscar, do you think we know enough about the cave network? It was pretty dark in there and we may have missed a small fissure or exit through which they could have escaped,” John said.
“Your right as usual, John. Let’s rest a bit then really explore the caves. I can’t believe they could’ve left no sign whatsoever. Maybe we should pack some fires and take some torches into the depths,” Oscar agreed, standing up to gather brush wood for the torches.
They spent the rest of the day fine-combing the caves. They were quite astounded by the extent of the caves and found a total of twenty different entrances facing in different directions. It was also evident that the complex of caves had served many generations of inhabitants. The walls were covered in primitive paintings and frescos. The ceilings were black with hundreds of years of fires.
In the late afternoon, John exclaimed, calling to his two comrades.
“Look here, I’m above you but you’ll have to climb up here from the outside,” he called.
When they reached him, he pointed to the soft sand in the cave entrance. It was clearly a footprint of a young woman, Amanda! This energised them to sift through the sand. They were duly rewarded when Tom found something Amanda always wore; it was a small hair clip made of the anklebone of a small bird. Amanda had decorated it with the unmistakable dye of cochineal they used on KRAT.
Nightfall was approaching and the three scouts prepared to overnight in the caves before returning in the morning for New London. Their mission had failed but at least they were now quite confident that Amanda was alive.
A full day’s walk from the three sleeping scouts, Danny and Amanda were helping Jim cope with his injuries and the long walk.
Danny had convinced the gang to vacate their caves when they discovered that Bennie and Graham had left without informing the rest. They had done exactly what Jim had argued against and Danny knew that if they were captured, Oscar’s people would trace them and try to get Amanda back. At one stage he even considered abandoning the girl to throw the followers off the trail but James, even in his weakened state disagreed and they took her with them. She didn’t resist.
Their gang had now been reduced to only ten, eleven if Amanda was included. They moved quite quickly and with their knowledge of the terrain were able to move between watering holes. The general direction they had taken was southerly, following the general lines of the Great Divide. They knew instinctively that as they progressed toward the south, it should start getting warmer as they approached the savannahs of what used to be Central Africa.
Jim’s condition was serious but he had recovered sufficiently from his brutal beating to walk. His open eye socket had been covered with a soft animal skin, while the contusions on his body were slowly disappearing. The worst damage had however been to his mind. His rage had almost consumed him while he was lying in the cave. He had rejected any attempt by Danny to help him and it was only after some time that he started to calm down and allowed someone to tend to his injuries. As soon as he was fit enough, he didn’t waste any time to start packing up and getting the rest of his gang to follow suit. He also knew that when Bennie and Graham returned to find him alive, the chances were that they would dispatch him without further ceremony. There was no room for them and him in the same group. His basic strategy was to retreat and regroup to fight another day. They had to lose themselves in the great African plains where no person could follow. They had become the Lost Tribe.
Upon arrival back at New London, Oscar quickly debriefed the rest of the villagers about their mission. Bennie had in their absence been locked up in a small stockade that Karl and Gary had built.
The disappointment in the failure of the mission was palpable. They didn’t know what to do next and the thought of leaving Amanda to her own fate created a feeling of utter dejection and sadness. When the priest suggested they pray for her, it was not only Christine but all the others who totally rejected him and his god. He was asked to leave the gathering immediately. Gary escorted him to the border of what they considered their village boundary. As he crossed the boundary, Gary said to him: “John Ridgeway, you are considered to be persona non grata in this village. Never return here and never ask for us to help you again.”
The priest was about to say something but the look on Gary’s face stopped him in his tracks. He turned around and made a forlorn figure as he tramped his lonely return to KRAT.
Back at Karl’s home, the discussion had shifted to Bennie. He had now become a burden to them and could certainly not remain in the valley. They however quickly agreed that he be tried for kidnapping, suspicion of rape and indecent assault as well as insurrection against the residents of Red Valley as Oscar had started calling the valley.
Their tribunal was quickly assembled and Bennie was hauled from the stockade with his arms tied firmly behind his back with a leather thong wrapped around his throat.
As he stumbled into the gathering he knew that this was his day of reckoning. While he had lost none of his bluster he was now quiet.
Oscar commenced the trial without further ado:
“Bennie Smith, you stand accused of a number of crimes and although it will no doubt be your defense that we have no right to try you, we wish to tell you that we do. As much as you decided to create your own rules by attacking a young woman, kidnapping her and no doubt subjecting her to indecent assault, probable rape, sodomy and torture, we will try you by our laws. We have sufficient evidence that she is still alive so will not add murder to your charges. How do you plead?”
“I refuse to plead t’ any of this kangaroo court’s charges. You ’ave no right t’ try me or t’ punish me for anything. You’ll regret this when Jim and the rest of my gang come out t’ spring me from captivity. We’ll avenge ourselves also for the brutal murder of Graham,” he replied with a bravado which belied his body language which spoke of abject fear.
“Let it be recorded that the accused pleads not guilty,” Oscar said and continuing added: “I must advise you that if you’re placing your hopes of release on your comrades, you’ll be sorely disappointed. They have deserted you to your fate and have fled. We don’t know where they’ve gone, but thought that maybe you could enlighten us.”
“They’d never leave me behind, never, ever, I tell you,” Bennie almost shouted, “In any case Jim would not ’ave been able to leave, ’e’s not fit enough…”
“Oh?” June asked innocently, “please tell us why not.”
Bennie quickly realised that they had not seen Jim. But Jim could never have recovered sufficiently to pack up and go. His mind raced; what should he say?
“Well he was sick you see…”
“Yes please carry on.”
“Well, he ’ad a bad fall and couldn’t walk when I last saw ’im.”
Tom stood up and walking to Bennie, placed a human skull in front of him much to everyone’s shock.
“So whose skull is that, Bennie?” Tom asked.
“Dunno,” came the dull reply as Bennie looked at the skull with the gold-filled tooth.
“I recognise it,” Christine said from where she was sitting. “That’s Fred’s skull; I recognise the gold filling. He actually came to me once to ask for a pain killer for toothache.”
“Oh, so what happened to Fred, Bennie?” Oscar asked.
“He died,” Bennie said looking at the group furtively.
“What ailed him, Bennie?” Christine piped up again.
“I dunno, I’m not a frigging doctor now am I?” Bennie said again sullenly.
“The bone Graham had through his nose looked like a human rib bone to me,” Gary said. “Was that a donation from Fred?”
Bennie kept quiet, eyes shifting left and right. His silence confirmed their worst suspicions. Jim’s gang had become cannibalistic!
“Shit, so you guys actually ate your own buddy,” Gary shouted in disgust as he pushed his face into Bennie’s face.
“OK Gary,” Oscar intervened. “Let’s get back to Amanda and Jim.”
The audience was dumbstruck. It was totally inconceivable that fellow passengers on the flight three years ago from London to Johannesburg and ultimately fellow survivors, were able to descend into such pits of despair and hopelessness; it was a one way road into hell.
“Did Jim instruct you and Graham to spy on us, Bennie?” Oscar queried.
“No, I mean yes ’e did,” Bennie lied unconvincingly.
“What were his instructions to you?” the interrogation continued.
The coward in him came to the surface. “It was all ’is plans, the girl, spying on you and everything,” he blurted. “I was just following ’is orders.”
“But I thought you said he was unfit, how unfit was he then if he could have planned everything and sent you on your mission with Graham?” June asked again.
“Well, it was like this. Jim and Danny were the real planners behind everything. They ’ad it in for you after you banished us and wanted revenge. Kidnapping the girl was also ’is idea. ’e said ’e needed some relief and she was good enough for ’im. ’e was also the first to do ’er…”
The audience erupted into chaos and try as he might, Oscar could not get them to calm down. This was turning into a lynching mob he feared as Gary ran up to Bennie and kicked his legs out under him. They were baying for blood. The small mob dragged the hapless man outside with the members of the tribunal trying to create a semblance of order; to no avail.
They dragged Bennie to the stake and Gary quickly and deftly whipped a leather thong over the cross-member which he then looped around the victim’s neck. Pulling it taught, Bennie eyes were already bulging in fear as he tried to plead with his captors; his face went blue as the noose tightened. The small crowd fell silent, waiting for the miserable creature to be hauled into the air. Karl took the opportunity and leapt to Gary loosening his grip on the rope allowing Bennie some respite.
“Stop! Let’s not allow ourselves to become beasts, baying for blood regardless of the justness of the hanging of this filth,” he said, motioning with his head to Bennie who was standing with his head lolling to one side. He was almost out on his feet.
“Justice will forever be a lost cause if we act at a sub-human level. God knows, this man deserves no better, but what we do here now today will set a standard for all time to come and I for one will not be party to a system that I cannot defend. This man deserves to die for his crimes, but he also has a right to be heard; he has a right to justice and such justice as we are prepared to live by, is the justice according to which he should be judged.”
Turning to Gary he asked: “Will you Gary, be able to defend a lynching and will you Tom, Zyndile be prepared to live by a system which allows no man, woman or child the right to a fair hearing?” Karl did not wait for an answer.
“Justice is all about judging others by respecting their rights; by respecting the truth and by respecting yourselves. Our morality will not be evaluated by others; it will be judged by ourselves according to what we hold dear and I for one believe that the principles I live by will be destroyed forever if we continue with this lynching.”
Karl let the thong drop from his hand, and noticed that Gary had followed suit. He turned to Bennie, and said: “I despise everything you stand for. You are a looter and parasite on the world. You are also a coward and could not even face up to your own contribution to Amanda’s kidnapping and torture. You’ve no pride and no moral right to exist. That has been the failing of the governments of the world we have come from; that has been the failing of religions and that has been the failing of all those who have consistently protected the rights of parasites, criminals and the weak such as you. While you stand here accused of vile crimes, you still believe you have the right to life and I agree with you, you have a right to life but not the life you may wish for; not a life among humans who are able and proud of the fact that they can make choices and be rational; or among children even, who still need to learn the difference between right and wrong. No, you have chosen life among sub-humans; life with non-thinking beasts; life where the ants and the tireless dung beetle are at a moral standard far superior to yours.”
“I have seen your kind in my country of origin; parasites and brutes who believed that force is equal to the intellect of those who have created the world they live in; who believed that through force they hold the moral high ground. I have seen how they systematically destroyed independence, intellectual thought and productivity through intimidation and demands for equality for all while not being honest enough to tell the world that their equality is the equality of the useless, unproductive and immoral. I do not wish to be part of such a world again and I will not permit you the privilege to be part of mine.”
He looked at Christine. Her eyes were shining with a light he had never before noticed. She turned toward the house and he followed her into its comforting depths.
The small crowd looked at each other sheepishly. Karl had brought them from a precipice they did not quite grasp the significance of yet. Even Oscar was quiet. He sensed that Karl had shown the colours of a true leader and a morally just man; a man that he would be happy to follow.
“Take the prisoner and lock him up again, the trial shall recommence tomorrow” he instructed. Gary and Tom quietly obeyed while the rest returned to their dwellings. Tom and Zyndile were accommodated with June and her daughters and they spent most of the early evening talking about the worlds they came from; their families and friends and the things they held dearest to their hearts.
Bennie sat in his stockade, slowly rubbing his neck which still showed the angry red marks where the thongs had bitten into his flesh. The news that James had ducked, threw him. Even if he could escape, where would he go? Jim would never allow him back even if he knew where they had headed. What were they going to do with him? He shivered at how close he’d come to swinging a couple of hours ago.
The night went quiet as the lights in the homes flickered out one by one. In the distance a jackal called its mate.
The following day Bennie was hauled before the Tribunal again. This time he was subdued and co-operative. He knew that his fate lay in their hands. He was at their mercy and hoped to exploit their sense of justice to his own ends.
“Bennie, we will keep this hearing simple and short. You have been accused of the crimes of kidnapping, indecent assault and rape. We have also recorded a plea of not guilty on your behalf. Do you have anything to add at this juncture?” Oscar started proceedings.
“No,” came Bennie’s subdued response. His neck still smarted from the previous day’s near-lynching.
“Then we as the Tribunal further record here that you have admitted to knowing the circumstances of Amanda’s whereabouts and that you were party to her kidnapping and assault. Do you agree with this?”
“Then you leave us no option but to find you guilty of the kidnapping of Amanda; of removing her to your tribe’s hideout and that there she was assaulted, raped and generally maltreated. Do you have anything to say in mitigation before we pass sentence?”
“I was but part of the gang and cannot be ’eld responsible for the collective actions of Jim’s gang. I plead for your mercy,” he stated quietly; bravado a thing of the past.
“We note your plea for clemency. However, Amanda had no such opportunity and she had no choice or right of appeal. You are as guilty and indeed will bear the collective weight of guilt of your compatriots. We hereby sentence you to be caste out into the wilderness. You shall be marked with the curse of your crime and forever be shunned by whosoever shall meet you. You have chosen to be caste into the twilight world of the monster and the subhuman; we will honour your choice. Take him away.”
Gary and Karl immediately bundled the pathetic man out into the open where he was again incarcerated in the stockade, pending his removal to what Oscar had called ‘the wilderness’. Bennie had no idea what that meant; neither did he understand what the marking implied.
Back in Oscar’s house, they discussed what Bennie’s sentence implied.
“Karl, I want you and Gary, that’s if you agree to do it, to take Bennie away and to dump him as far away from this valley as possible,” Oscar said. “There must be no possibility for him to rejoin Jim’s gang again. He is to roam the wilderness and to survive on his own. Karl you have a much better idea where this could be?”
Karl thought for a while and said: “I think we should take him as far north as we can. About a week’s trek from here, there is a mountain range which forms a natural barrier and seems to have permanent snow. Seeing that Jim’s gang has gone south from what we can see, it would be very difficult if not impossible for them to meet up again. But what about the marking, Oscar? What did you have in mind?”
“I wasn’t sure myself actually; just thought we have to do something without being barbaric about it,” Oscar replied.
“He should be castrated,” Gary piped up.
“Or have a hand chopped off, isn’t that what some religions do?” Esme offered, looking at Christine who just shook her head.
“No, can’t we brand him almost like a mark of Cain?”
“Yeh, with the word ‘rapist’ on his forehead,” Gary proposed, warming to the task.
“Guys, listen to yourselves,” Christine said quietly, “you’re discussing ways and means to extract revenge on this man. Don’t get me wrong, he deserves everything he gets and certainly doesn’t deserve mercy. What worries me is what example we’re creating for the future. By maiming and marking him we’re descending on what I believe will be a downward spiral of an eye-for-an-eye style of justice which is exactly the barbarous style of Shari’ah law of Islam. I know there are many who believe that this is exactly what went wrong in our societies, i.e. not dealing with criminality in a decisive manner, but what separates us from the primitive ways of early man and even the punishments meted out to criminals in the dark ages as well, is our sense of justice and impartiality. Before we realise it, we will be witnessing the stoning of perpetrators for any crime we believe deserves it. As Karl said yesterday, I do not want to part of such a system.”
“OK Christine, what do you propose we do with Bennie?” Oscar somewhat irritated. He knew Christine’s moral stance well but she wasn’t bringing them any closer to an equitable solution.
“The decision to banish him to the wilderness is sufficient, I believe. I would blindfold him for the journey. He should have no idea in which direction we have taken him. That would place him in a difficult position; he will have to survive by his own abilities. It should also isolate him sufficiently to ensure that he doesn’t threaten us in the valley again. If Karl knows where to take him, I think we should leave it at that. In any case by marking him, who would understand the mark? I think his actions have marked him and will continue to do so.”
“How do the rest of you feel about Christine’s proposal?” Oscar asked looking around at the small gathering. There was general assent although Gary would still have preferred to extract a more visible form of punishment. The man must feel for what he’s done, he thought to himself.
“OK so it’s decided then. Karl how soon can you leave? The sooner we are shot of the man the better,” Oscar asked.
“On the morn if that’s OK with you Gary?”
“Let’s leave as early as possible,” Gary said.
The following morning the small party of three left before anyone else had woken. They tied a rope to Bennie’s neck and strung it between the two of them to ensure that he didn’t try to escape. Bennie had no idea what they were doing as they blindfolded him and instructed him to follow them. After stumbling along at the outset he soon became accustomed to the gait and they progressed quite rapidly to disappear over the horizon. By the time Christine and the rest of the settlement rose, there was no sign of them.
Karl and Gary trekked for 6 days before they removed Bennie’s blindfold and untied his hands. They had traversed three small valleys and two mountain ranges, the last which rose steeply into the skies to pierce the sullen cloud cover above them. Karl knew of passes through the range and after leaving the last range well behind them instructed Gary to remove Bennie’s blindfold.
Opening his eyes to the unaccustomed bright light he peered around him at the unfamiliar surroundings.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“In the wilderness, your new home,” was Gary’s short reply.
Around them lay a wasteland of sand and very short scrub. To their left Karl had found a small oasis and this is where they set up their last camp for the night.
“Are you guys really going to leave me ’ere?” he pleaded pathetically.
“You bet your life, bru, and be thankful that it’s not worse.”
“But how will I survive here? ’ere’s fuckall,” the doomed man whined.
“You should have thought about that earlier. You have water and food you’ll have to find. We’ll leave you with about one day’s supply of dried meat. The rest is up to you,” Karl said gruffly. He was in a hurry to get back to his pregnant wife.
The following morning they loosely tied Bennie’s feet and hands to a palm tree to slow down any attempts by him to follow them back. Without any further formalities or greetings, they set off back to Red Valley following a false trail over hard ground and rocks to throw him off their tracks.
Bennie’s cries and screams faded into the distance, as Karl and Gary disappeared over a small hill to the west of the oasis.
The oasis was the only water for hundreds of square kilometres. All animals trekked there to quench their thirst. That night a pack of wild dogs found the tracks of a prey they had never smelled before and after following it for a few minutes found their whimpering evening meal.
JUST TO ENSURE THAT ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED, IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THE BOOK “MOSES WAS A LIAR” WAS PUBLISHED IN 2009 BY RAIDER PUBLISHING INTERNATIONAL, NEW YORK. THE POSTINGS ON THIS BLOG ARE EXTRACTS FROM THE BOOK AND ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED BY THE AUTHOR WHICH ENJOY PROTECTION UNDER INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT LAWS.
Esme went into labour.
It had been on the cards for the last two weeks and Christine had been fluttering around her to everyone’s amusement except for Esme herself.
A small nursery had been created in the stockade which had been unused now for the last two months. A bed was made for the expectant mother as well as a small crib for the baby well in advance of the massively expected and awaited event. Skins and woven hemp served as curtains. All the equipment necessary for the confinement was sterilised at least ten times by an excited and nervous Zyndile.
In the camp, a mood of great expectation and excitement prevailed. The children were arguably the most thrilled with the coming of a new child in their midst, while the adults, young and old debated the gender and size of the baby. Some even laid wagers and substantial banter pervaded the settlement.
As soon as Esme started her labour pains, Christine bundled her into the nursery and closed the curtains to ward off inquisitive onlookers. Gary was asked to stand guard. Oscar pranced around like a typical expectant father while Karl disappeared into the hills of the plateau to hunt in preference to waiting. Suzette and Father Ridgeway were as excited as the rest and held a vigil and prayed to protect the mother and baby from evil.
Inside the small enclosure, Christine had boiled water, washed her hands and did what she could to make Esme as comfortable as possible. She called Zyndile in to help and who rubbed Esme’s back with lard and herbs to dull the pains.
Esme’s first contraction was accompanied by her water breaking, much screaming, panting and some serious swearing at all and sundry.
She continued to have contractions for the next six hours; Christine was becoming very concerned as the dilation of the cervix was too slow for her liking. However, once the baby’s head started to poke through, the rest came swiftly in a rush of blood and fluids.
In true tradition, Christine held the child by its small ankles and slapped it smartly to extract an anguished yelp, followed by loud cries from the healthy little boy child. Outside a cheer arose as the gathering heard the tell-tale sounds from the infirmary.
She quickly tied and cut the umbilical cord and with Zyndile’s help, bathed the child and cleaned a smiling, tired but happy Esme in the process. They then walked outside the enclosure and were shocked to see the whole population of KRAT standing at the entrance. Holding the small bundle up in her arms, a tearful but smiling Christine shouted: “It’s a bloody little lad and Esme is fine!” to shouts and cheers from everybody.
“Three cheers for Esme!” Gary shouted exuberantly pounding a speechless Oscar on the back.
“Hip Hip Hurray; Hip Hip Hurray; Hip Hip Hurray,” rang the cries over the plateau and cliffs in celebration of a new-born child. To the religious it was a symbol of God’s love for them. The rest were just deliriously happy. This was cause for a great party.
Returning to Esme, Christine gently placed the small bundle in her arms. Esme’s first reaction was to unbundle the child’s wraps to check that all the appendices and pieces were in place. Satisfied with what she saw, she cuddled the baby close to her naked body and promptly fell asleep while Zyndile wrapped the two of them in a clean blanket.
Oscar, Karl and Gary tiptoed in when Christine said it was OK and in wonder just looked at the little miracle. A new life; a new beginning.
That night the celebrations lasted till dawn.
Some of the men had devised ways of fermenting cassava mixed with wild barley as well as the fruit of the sausage tree which aided the fermentation process. For sugar they had used wild honey which combined with the starch of the cassava created a rich and potent beer. Yeast was plentiful in its natural state as fungus on stale bread and pulped berries left to ferment.
Music was provided with improvised instruments made from gourds with metal inserts from the wreck; flutes from reeds and drums from hollowed trees with animal skins stretched over them. While not melodious, nobody cared; the beat was intoxicating as was the beer.
The cold weather was banished for the night by a large bonfire around which the latter day citizens of KRAT danced and sang new songs to mark the occasion. A great celebration was held with many splitting headaches the following morning. Some of the revellers fancied themselves as songwriters and many new songs were born that night.
A child, a child born in the wild
More than a child a legend, a new beginning
Drums and flutes Let’s be singing
The son of man, love the new
Loved by all but carried by few
To survive, to survive the challenges that strive
To destroy the new world and life so dear,
Free us, believe us and deliver us from fear
We’re alive, we’re alive
and a boy is born and we have no fear
The son of man, loved by all but carried by few
To grow, to grow, stronger as we go
we sing, we sing of our roots down far into rock
We stand, we dance, we love
let the wind blow
The son of man, loved by all but carried by few
To live, to live we are born to give
Life to the world, we sing we sing
The son of man, loved by all but carried by few
Morning dawned over a quiet camp. Here and there a figure would peer out of a hut only to disappear again to get away from the cold.
In the nursery, Esme was attempting to suckle her baby without much luck. Zyndile was helping her but she also knew that mother’s milk would not be produced for a couple of days as only colostrum would be forthcoming, accompanied by some sharp pains in the mother’s breasts. The baby however quickly found the nipple and with contented little squeaks and burbles sucked with closed eyes while his mother watched in total amazement at the tiny miracle.
“Have you thought about a name yet, Esme?” Zyndile asked, while she cleaned up the nursery and washed the bowls and instruments.
“Yes, it’s been something I’ve been pondering for some time. We are in a strange new world and everything we used to hold dear and believe in has been destroyed. Old names just won’t do, so I’ve decided to name him Beowulf after a mythological Danish hero-figure who battled monsters and dragons in the Ancient world.”
“What a strange name, Esme!” Zyndile exclaimed in wonder. The name conjured up images of spirits and monsters in the dark. “What’s the history and meaning of the name? In our Zulu culture we normally name the newborn child after some joyous happening or happy destiny that we wish upon the child such as Jabulani which means happiness or even my name Zyndile which is derived from the Zulu term, to get better or to become healthy after an illness.”
“Beowulf has no real meaning in itself. It was the name of the hero-figure some 1500 years ago in the then Denmark. According to legend he battled with a monster called Grendel as well as its mother who was a dragon which Beowulf killed but is then himself mortally wounded. I just thought the name to be symbolic of our battle to survive here on this mountain top. I don’t know what the future holds for my child.”
“Wow, I think it’s beautiful and I believe he will become a great hero like Beowulf. I will ask my ancestors to look after him.”
“Thanks Zyndi. You have been such a good friend all this time. I think you and Christine should be Beowulf’s god-parents.”
“But we are two women!” Zyndile exclaimed.
“So what? What better parents than two wonderful people like you? In any case there are enough men in the camp who will be only to happy to play the father role to him but I guess Oscar will fulfill that role.”
The child was symbolically christened a few weeks later, in three separate ceremonies much to Father Ridgeway’s protestations.
First they held a normal Christian ceremony conducted by the unsuspecting Catholic priest. Esme herself was not a Catholic but that seemed to be a minor issue on KRAT. After that Zyndile and Tom together with some of Esme’s closest friends including Karl, Christine and Oscar held a secret ceremony in the forest during which the child was introduced to his ancestors by way of the slaughtering of a hyrax caught by Karl. The blood of the writhing little animal was ceremoniously daubed on the forehead and cheeks of the baby while Zyndile as a royal descendent, invoked her own matrilineal ancestors’ blessings for the child. After the ceremony they all feasted on the hyrax together with some other cooked meat brought to the feast by Karl and Christine.
Finally, a few days later the child was taken by Christine and Esme and some of the younger people, to the waters of the Source and washed of all ‘sins’ real and imagined, imposed by mankind. Christine had convinced Esme that she as the mother should accept that a child is not born in sin as determined in Christian theology; that so-called ‘sins’ are normally transgressions of societies’ norms and that a symbolic cleansing would be a break from the past. Esme agreed wholeheartedly.
“I do not subscribe to mystical rites such as the christening of a child which seeks to reaffirm a parent’s loyalty to the church under the false premise that a child is born in sin and should be ‘cleansed’,” Christine said as she held the new-born child in her arms. “Neither do I subscribe to the notion that angels and ancestral spirits be called upon to look after a new-born child in his or her life time or be protected from evil or from demons; that is the responsibility of the parents of such child and no parent may abrogate this responsibility to any deity. In any case I don’t believe in demons either and have never been bothered by them. Here on this mountain we are faced with a stark truth; to survive we must face reality just as it is presented to us; there are no other alternatives. If we believe that the gods or spirits will guide us and protect us, we are denying our own minds’ capacity to formulate solutions to the challenges confronting every one of us.”
As she spoke, Father Ridgeway, accompanied by Suzette and Alistair who had run to call them, walked up the incline to the small gathering. Holding his small Bible aloft in his right hand and pointing straight at Christine with his left, the priest thundered: “You! Sinner and false prophet, you are forbidden to bless the child who has been offered to Jehovah through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ! Your soul shall burn in hell, woman!”
The children who had joined Christine, all started in fright at the priest’s dark countenance and his threat to Christine. Most of them decided that discretion was the best part of valour and ran away from the group to their huts. Only Rachel and Hassan remained behind with the adults.
“Priest, by whose authority dare you threaten me?” Christine retorted loudly, not intimidated by the approaching priest.
“By God’s authority and by the authority vested in me as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ!” the priest shouted.
“I do not recognise your god or his authority over me. Neither do I recognise your right to tell me what to do or not to do, priest. It is my right to take conscious decisions for myself. I do not expect any other individual to follow me or my chosen path unless they are happy to do so and then do so of their own free will. I live by my values and I am prepared to face the consequences of my own decisions and actions. I do not expect a single human being to live by my values unless they are happy to do so. That is the basis of my morality, father.”
“You are a witch, woman; how dare you speak of morality? You are Evil incarnate. I absolutely forbid this ceremony to carry on!” the priest shouted again, walking forward to take the child forcibly from Christine’s arms. As he did so, Oscar as well Esme stepped out to block his way.
“Father, it was my decision to have this private ceremony and you were not invited. Please leave us alone.” Esme said firmly as she took the child from Christine’s arms.
“But Esme,” the priest objected, “you presented your child to the Lord Jesus Christ. He was baptised in the blood of Christ while you partook of the flesh of the Lord. Do you realise the seriousness of straying from the Path? You swore a holy oath in God’s presence to bring your child up in the presence of Jesus Christ. Do you now rescind that vow and your oath to God Almighty? Do you understand what that means in the eyes of God?”
“Yes I did that and it was a joyous occasion indeed, father. That was as I was brought up although I’m not of the catholic faith, and yes father I understand full well what I am about to do and what the consequences may be. But here and now we’re expected to create a new world and my child is the first born in this world. The Christian baptism was symbolic to me of the old world, a world we’ll never see again; his introduction to his ancestral spirits was done as he is our joint heritage on this mountain top but carries in him the blood of his father, a father he will never have the privilege to see. We who are gathered here today will be this child’s parents in flesh and in spirit. This cleansing is also symbolic of the New World. It is my choice and my choice alone to bathe him in these waters because I believe it is good and proper. How I bring this child up is my decision and my decision alone. I will not permit you or any one else to take those decisions for me or for my child. I don’t recognise your right to do so and neither do I have faith in your capacity to do the right thing by me or by my child. Now father, I ask you to leave this gathering and to return where you came from.”
Esme remained in her position until Father Ridgeway in a last attempt, shouted at Christine: “You will regret this, Christine. You will be struck down for corrupting the youth and for undermining the will of our Lord Jesus Christ. God will not permit this to happen.” He turned angrily on his heels and with Suzette and a somewhat confused and almost apologetic Alistair scampering after them, marched off to the camp.
The small remaining group clustered around Christine and Esme. In a silent but ceremonial manner, they washed Beowulf in the cold waters, who with wide eyes but without a sound looked at his mother as the cold water covered his tiny naked body.
The atmosphere in the camp rapidly worsened after the baptismal incident. Everybody was obliged to take sides. There was no middle path. The two distinct camps, which had been emerging for some time, now represented two clear and disparate value systems. The one which was based on religious and mystical values was substantially larger than the other which subscribed to a non-religious value system which was strongly opposed to mysticism and supported a liberal open value system.
Zyndile found herself torn between the two as her values, both the traditional ancestral as well as the modern Christian upbringing she had had, rejected the notion of a world without deities and spirits. At the same time, she had listened carefully to what Christine had told her. For the first time she realised how the spiritual world she came from had been annexed by European values and belief systems which were propounded by missionaries, priests and schools that used various religions to subvert their traditional values and practices. These practices still continued in most parts of the developing world as underdeveloped people battled to come to terms with a so-called global village, a term coined by western powers that had everything to gain through their subversion of emerging peoples and nations.
For many years, her native country South Africa, was ruled by white cliques who believed, utterly and with firm resolve, that they had the God-given right to control and exploit the blacks of that country. The Christian reformist movements which emanated from mainly France, the Netherlands as well as Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries AD, had transplanted value systems totally alien to the indigenous peoples under the guise of so-called modernisation of the natives.
She could clearly remember reading a hated quote during her studies at university, in ‘The Christian Express’, a small but widely read religious newspaper published in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa dated 1878, which stated that: ‘Christianity also teaches the duty of working and denounces idleness as a sin. To Christianise a Kaffir is the shortest way, and the surest, to make him put his hand steadily and willingly to the work that is waiting to be done. ’
The total lack of morality of the apartheid system had always puzzled her when she had studied this at university, especially when public pronouncements by church leaders and political leaders of the apartheid regime had seemed to find religious justification for their immoral policies. This contradiction she had never been able to understand. As the daughter of the paramount ruler and king of the Zulus, she also knew that Christian missions with a few exceptions, had sought to differentiate between the ‘heathens’ and ‘converts’ and by so doing undermined the powerbase of the traditional leaders in her country. This together with forced labour migration, armed incursions into their traditional lands by colonisers and the imposition of punitive taxes had led to the disintegration of the old order of which her father was a descendent on the one hand and victim on the other.
In discussion with Christine about this a few days after the cleansing rites, Christine asked her: “What is the apparent contradiction, Zyndile?”
“What do you mean?” she asked puzzled.
“Well, the way I see it, the apparent contradiction lies in your understanding of morality. You have been brought up to believe in the Christian gods and in your ancestors. In other words you’re expected to have faith, unquestioning and absolute faith, not so?”
“Yes, that is expected, but how does that relate to the immorality of apartheid?” she asked.
“Hang on, I’m getting there,” Christine replied patiently. “The politicians of the apartheid era were led by political mystics who were convinced of their religious destiny and their divine right to do so. As all religions are mystical and constitute the opposite of reason and logic, so did the political principles espoused by the politicians of the day use mysticism to manipulate the people of South Africa. Many of the principles of apartheid were mystical in the sense that they created false realities for both the oppressor as well as the oppressed.”
“Explain how they did this, please,” Zyndile asked, still puzzled.
“Well, the false realities the oppressor created were firstly to get the whites to believe they were in fact superior to blacks; that they had the divine right to rule and exploit them. In fact this can be dated back to the days when blacks were considered property and were captured as slaves by western traders and sold on markets. These people successfully used the Bible to justify this; even in the Bible itself, slavery was an accepted way of life. If I recall correctly Verwoerd, the architect of so-called grand apartheid had a doctorate in divinity.”
“No, he had a PhD in Psychology but he was a very religious person and was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church,” Zyndile corrected her.
“Just as bad,” Christine commented cynically. “Most psychologists are very astute mystics in my view. Anyway, the apartheid rulers also created false realities for the oppressed by forcing them to live in homelands, creating separate and inferior education systems and convincing them they were inferior through propagandistic methods much like the Nazis did in Germany to Gypsies and Jews. One of the falsehoods they created was to convince the so-called leaders that it was in their people’s interest to rule and govern themselves in the Bantustans. This was strengthened by corrupting the leaders with quasi-power and material goods. Probably the greatest lie they perpetrated was to preach, quoting parts of the Bible out of context that the indigenous people were destined to be slaves and carriers of water and hewers of wood, and added to this they created fear among the whites of the so-called ‘swart gevaar’ or black threat which would engulf them and their families and confiscate their property. The contradiction as you see it is that they used Christian values and belief systems to prop up an immoral system. Fundamental to your confusion is that you consider the Christian value system as moral in and of itself. Think about it; if a value system allows itself to be used by criminals like Hitler who was a Catholic to justify the ethnic cleansing of the Jews; by Verwoerd and some influential South African churches to oppress millions of blacks; by Martin Luther who railed against the Jews as a ‘brood of vipers’, then there is something fundamentally wrong with that system, despite the stated Christian value which calls for tolerance. When Hitler instructed his Gestapo to eradicate the Jews was it a moral, justifiable instruction?”
“No, obviously not.”
“When Stalin purged his country for the ‘common good’ of Mother Russia, was it morally justified?”
“When Jehovah instructed Moses and Joshua to annihilate the enemies of the Israelites, was it morally justified or not?”
“I cannot see the justification except if the enemy threatened their lives or security of the Jews as a people, Christine.”
“And again, when Al-Lah calls on his faithful to ‘slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, is it justified?”
“Christine, I now have a headache! You are confusing me with so many thoughts that my brain is objecting, but please go on.”
“The contradiction lies in the perceived moral justification of the ends to be achieved through immoral methods such as I have mentioned. It makes no difference whether it was Jehovah’s, Al-Lah’s or any dictator or moral bully’s instructions; they were all immoral. The argument that every religion has its good and bad practitioners while true, doesn’t wash with me; an even more cowardly argument is that we should not hold God responsible for man’s actions.”
“What do you mean; why do you say that?” Zyndile asked again.
“Whenever, a discussion concerning the ethics of a religion is held, defenders of the religion argue that one shouldn’t blame a religion for the actions of its faithful as man is not perfect. We all accept man is not perfect, but religions play a big role in creating the environment within which man functions, so when the morality of the religion is tested it must be tested by the extent to, and manner in which it influences man’s actions. After all, the dogmas of the churches have been created by man. It cannot stand alone. This is where religions are fundamentally flawed. When religionists try to justify a particular ethic it, the ethic I mean, is often held to be ‘the will of God’ telling those who would believe that they had had direct communication with God, Al-Llah or whosoever or more to the point, that the scriptures are sacrosanct, inviolable and the ultimate truth. This effectively negates any attempts to question and criticise. It is man’s fundamental right and responsibility to think, ask questions and to analyse; religions resist this and in some cases punish this most severely. They hold up the Torah, Bible or Qu’ran to justify their actions, quoting verses from them, often totally out of context. This is done so successfully that any criticism is thwarted by non sequiturs, threats of dire consequences and everlasting death.”
“Immoral politicians have replaced this falsehood with the equally illogical and immoral concept that some political policy or strategy is ‘in the interests of the common good’ or ‘in the public or national interest’. They never define what the public interest is or who the ‘public’ is; neither do they specify at whose cost the public interest is served. Underlying this false argument is the notion that the public interest is superior to the interest of the individual. This of course gives these mystics the power to loot the property of the individual including his or her intellectual property ‘in the public interest’. They are nothing more than common thieves and looters. A practical example of this is where mineral- or water rights of private landowners are confiscated by these looters ‘in the common’ interest. The argument naturally resists questioning and intelligent debate because the ‘common good’ is held to be above debate, above the interests of mere individuals; a non sequitur.”
“Now I will go back to the concept of faith. When it is impossible to justify a system on moral basis, faith is called on to do this. What this means is to say ‘just believe, don’t question the facts’. That equates with a moronic, slavish denial of man’s intellectual capacity. The same argument applies to the ‘common good of society’ approach. In essence this gives a particular society a blank check to do whatever it decides is ‘good’. Naturally this suits dictators and moral bullies. When you are called on to believe, watch out Zyndile. When a political leader states that a decision has been made ‘for the good of the common people’ run for the hills! The imperative to ‘believe’, suggests that the object of such belief is suspect, doesn’t exist or at the very best may or more realistically, may not happen. Belief is not required where certainty exists.”
“But Christine, how is one to know the difference between what is right or moral as you put it, versus what is wrong or evil if there is no religious norm or system which judges the actions of a society?”
“I hope you have identified the fundamental contradiction in terms of your question, Zyndi,” Christine replied with a wry smile.
“Why? What did I say?” Zyndile asked.
“You expect a system or society to judge your behaviour against whatever its norms are. This implies that you are unable or unwilling to make these judgement calls yourself; you require and look for outside guidance and even judgement. How is this different to control by an external agency? If a religion is needed to direct and actually to control individual or societal behaviour, you create a slavish, granted possibly an obedient but a slavish society nevertheless, which the powers that be, can manipulate and control. Isn’t that exactly what the apartheid fascists were attempting to do in your country? Isn’t that what the Chinese did to the students in Tiananmen Square many years ago and were still recently doing in Tibet? Isn’t that what the Islamists in Saudi Arabia did to their women and isn’t that what the neo-fascists were doing in the USA when they started their hate campaign based on fabricated lies against Muslims and terrorists? Of course it is usually couched in terms which imply that the means justify the ends. The ends are invariably described as being ‘for the common good’ and thus the lie is perpetuated.”
“Religion is not the patron of what you termed right or the enemy of what is evil. In fact what you are asking is why should people be ‘good’ if there is no god? This suggests that without a deity it’s OK to be bad, to kill, rape, steal and so on. It also suggests that you are only ‘good’ to avoid some god’s wrath. This denies man’s morality; it’s tantamount to saying that man is a beast and needs to be punished and rewarded like a beast to extract acceptable or good behaviour from him. Is this what you believe, Zyndile?”
“Hang on Christine. The way I see it is that religion provides us with guidelines and laws if you like. Without these we wouldn’t have any norms to measure human behaviour. Who will decide?”
“Zyndile, to complete your last statement… Who will decide if God doesn’t? Many philosophers have debated this issue through the centuries. Your question follows the school that believes that man must ‘obey the rules’ regardless of who established the rules or how moral the rules are. For example, does a conscientious objector have the right to refuse to go to war because his government decided ‘war is the right thing to do’ or is for ‘the common good’? Were the Nazi murderers justified in their defense at the Nuremberg Trial when they stated that they were only doing their duty by exterminating the Jews and Gypsies?”
“While I accept that religion in many parts of the world, did establish rules or laws as you put it, the most famous arguably being the mosaic laws of the Jewish faith, there are thousands of communities who survived for centuries without formal religions and who formulated their own laws, usually designed to protect citizens from attack, theft or to create a system of judgement in disputes. A good example of this was the ancient Greek civilisation which had many gods but no real religion which defined their standards. They had lawmakers who wrote their laws. The first such laws were written about 620 years BC. They were not inspired by a god but by human logic and what they considered to be moral behaviour at the time.”
“What then are we here for?” Zyndile asked pensively.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean here on earth if what you say is true. Is there no better hereafter?”
“Ah. Reward and punishment again. The question begs an answer. It presupposes again that we were placed on earth for ‘a reason’. By implication some external deity or some would argue alien being, placed us on earth to fulfill some purpose. I reject that. We are the result of an evolutionary process which is on-going. Our purpose is to survive and maintain the species; it’s as simple as that and indeed here on KRAT, this has become our prime raison d’etre. However, if you ask what we should try to achieve during our lifetimes, I believe it is our duty to be happy and seek happiness on the one hand, and on the other hand try to leave the world in which we have some influence, a better place. This motivates me and gives me satisfaction. We do this in different ways depending on our interests and talents.”
Zyndile sat still for a long moment. A realisation started dawning on her: mysticism was a source of power which could not be ignored; she thought it would be critical for her survival on KRAT but it would have to be mysticism far removed from the mysticism of Christianity; it would have to be her own brand of mysticism. She would establish values which she was comfortable with. She however made no mention of this view to Christine. Her new realisation would lead her on an inexorable path, away from both Christine’s atheist/liberal approach which she found distasteful as well as the Christian philosophy which she believed to be fundamentally flawed and above all, dishonest. She also knew that her chosen path would recognise an individual’s right to think but that it should be subjected to the scrutiny of the ancestors. For the moment she did not consider the underlying contradiction of her thoughts.
Christine was watching her with a small smile on her face. She could only guess what was going on in Zyndile’s mind. She knew however, that Zyndile had not fully accepted her argument. Her body language said as much.
“Zyndile, you are my friend and I respect you and your traditions as you know. I will and can never impose my arguments on you unless you wish to learn or hear my views. Every person has the inalienable right to hold dear that which he or she believes in. I will fight to the death to protect that individual right. The only condition I do wish to put to you for your consideration is this: never allow your mind to be closed to the views of others even if such views are different to your own. That doesn’t mean you must listen to the rubbish some people talk, but to evaluate and consider another’s views before judging, and judge you must as measured by your own individual norms and morals.”
The two friends laughed as they stood up and walked towards the ablutions hand in hand, comfortable with each other, accepting each other.
Meanwhile, Father Ridgeway, Ahmedi and Suzette were in earnest discussion. They were sitting in an isolated spot on the crest of the little hillock on KRAT.
They were very unhappy with the circumstances in the camp. Although they knew they had the larger following, the atmosphere was stiff and formal. Whilst the work committees were all functioning well under leadership of either Gary or John, social occasions reflected a split camp and disunity; while Gary, Esme and their friends would easily sit up until late at night regaling others with songs, jokes and stories, Father Ridgeway’s group tended to make some excuse and return to their huts as soon as the camp had been cleared of left-over scraps of food to lessen the possibility of hyena attacks.
They were looking for a way to resolve this tension and ultimately to convince the other group of the error of their ways. They agreed about one thing though; Christine was the main problem. She had a gentle way of communicating her atheistic views. Especially the younger set such as Rachel, Elizabeth and the Lockhat children were exposed to these dangerous and blasphemous views and enjoyed her company because she expected nothing in return.
“We must employ a divisive strategy,” Ahmedi was saying. “It will not work if we try to get Christine to side with us. She’s too set in her ways for that. What I have in mind is that we work on the younger set and those who are neither here nor there.”
“Like who?” Suzette asked.
“I don’t think June is an atheist at all. She merely enjoys Christine and Zyndile’s company and thus associates with them,” he replied.
“Sounds rather far-fetched to think she or her kids will prefer our company in preference to theirs,” Suzette commented.
“That’s true enough,” Father Ridgeway replied. “We need a more aggressive approach. Associating with the atheists should be seen for what it is; a deadly sin in the eyes of the Lord Jesus. In addition, they need to appreciate the risks they are running when they reject God.”
“The same applies in Islam but there are differences…” Ahmedi added. Without waiting he continued: “Muhammad received a revelation from Al-Llah, which provided for those who opposed him and had been captured after the battle of Badr:
O Prophet, say to the prisoners in your hands:
“If God knows of any good in your hearts
He will give you better than what has been taken
From you and he will forgive you, surely God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate“
“That’s good and well Ahmedi,” John replied with a twinkle in his eyes. “The Qu’ran also states:
Say: “O unbelievers,
I serve not what you serve
And you are not serving what I serve, nor am I serving what you have served, neither are you serving what I serve.
To you your religion, and to me my religion! 
Suzette looked at the two and said: “A direct confrontation or preaching from whatever scriptures you wish will be counter-productive. Threatening them with God or Al-Llah’s wrath will not work. We could achieve our goals quite simply through the provision of a proper level of education as well as other assistance and social counselling.”
“Many of the survivors are virtually lost souls with no perceived purpose in life after the tragedy which has struck us. If we set up a proper schooling system and use the skills of some of the people here, it would give them a purpose and at the same time educate and train the younger set. The education must however be expanded beyond the Bible and must include maths, physics and other practical subjects such as making clothes, hygiene, cooking etc. In this way we could possibly persuade people like Christine to participate, as she has skills in nursing.”
“I like that. It sounds like a good idea, Suzette,” Father Ridgeway said. “That would also give us an opportunity to influence people’s minds and develop appropriate value systems while at the same time providing a valuable service to the small community.”
“Yes,” Ahmedi added. “We have been wasting a lot of time here on the plateau. We should have started earlier and maybe thus have avoided the split in the camp.”
“Yes but be careful, we don’t want them to think that this is merely a ruse to get their co-operation. We must be genuine in our approach and education must be the main and overriding purpose behind it all,” Suzette warned.
Father Ridgeway seemed to have some doubts. Education was fine by him; after all it was part of his background as a priest to teach. What worried him was how cooperative Christine and her friends would be.
Sensing his hesitation, Suzette bulldozed him into accepting the proposal.
“OK, what’s the plan? I suggest that we first prepare a proposal which should contain exactly what subjects to include and who we propose should teach it. I for one can teach mathematics, economics and statistical systems, not that the last two have any relevance any longer,” Suzette said, rubbing her still sensitive leg.
“I agree,” the priest replied. The notion of a relevant education system on KRAT was starting to appeal to him. “Besides religion, I can teach English and English history.”
“And I can teach business practices!” Ahmedi laughed. The three conspirators were enjoying this. The concept of setting up a school gave them a constructive goal; one they believed would benefit all the survivors.
After further discussion it was agreed that Father Ridgeway would discuss the proposal with Oscar. Prior to that, Suzette would ask for volunteers who would be prepared to offer their knowledge and skills to the children. They could then discuss the logistics of setting up a small facility to teach and to start with the development of materials to teach. Men such as Gary and John Duguid would be asked to assist in constructing and making basic infrastructure and aids such as slate boards from local slate, chalk from the lime stone deposit they had found at the far end of the plateau close to the spot where the Airbus had crash landed and benches which could be made from stone and wooden poles.
It sounded like a fantastic project and they were very enthused by their own creativity.
As it panned out, Oscar and his committee gave them their full support. Naturally the educators would function on a voluntary basis which created no problems in the camp. A surprising number of survivors offered their services and after evaluation they found that they almost had more teachers than learners.
Only one proviso was made by Oscar’s committee; religious education would only be provided on demand and then be provided on a non-partisan basis. Father Ridgeway objected vehemently to this but finally agreed. He realised that he would have ample opportunity to influence the manner in which school was conducted and what values their education would contain. To object now would only create further division and dissent.
The education project, which became known as Eduskills, absorbed everybody’s attention for the next two months. During this time they constructed a small lean-to in the forest where it would be cool during summer and relatively protected from the cold in winter.
They only had a total of 33 children of school-going age, which they had determined was to be between 6 and 16 years of age. To cater for the wide distribution between the ages they constructed three primitive classrooms; one for the 6 to 9 year olds; one for the 10 to 13 year olds and one for the 14 to 16 year olds. The latter group consisted of 12 youngsters, making it the largest group.
While the lean-to was being built, Father Ridgeway, Suzette and John Duguid worked on the curricula for each of the levels. All classes would contain practical skills classes such as clay moulding and painting for the tiny tots; the intermediate group would do small projects aimed at improving the living circumstances of the survivors in Base Camp. This would include refuse removal and -disposal, food production, water harvesting and general environmental improvement projects.
The senior group would be drafted into small work teams and together with the adults, help with actual construction projects or to develop technologies such as the generation of electricity if at all possible. Agricultural projects included hunting and trapping. Besides the practical content of their schooling, at least 50% of a scholar’s day would be absorbed by theoretical classes such as languages, mathematics and creative arts.
Eduskills created a strong sense of purpose and unity among the survivors. Even Christine pitched in with all her energy and helped in personal hygiene course development; practical first aid and together with Zyndile, they developed innovative ways to teach all the classes the value, purpose and cultivation of herbs and natural medicines as well as environmental protection. Eduskills also gave Father Ridgeway, who was elected by all as the chairperson of the educational committee, a powerful position in the community. It could not have worked out better for him, he thought privately to himself. The project seemed to be a success with regards to healing the rift between the two major groups.
The launch and official opening of Eduskills was a grand affair. Naturally everybody was invited. A duiker had been trapped, dispatched, skinned and cooked over a large celebratory fire together with some hares and hyrax. The women prepared a substantial meal with cassava, wild berries and onions and while it was spring, the festival served the double purpose to celebrate the coming of summer as well.
A clearing had been prepared around the new ‘school’ and the newly-to-be-inducted pupils had been cajoled into rehearsing for a small concert. Hassan wrote the script for the play and titled it: “A mid-summer night’s scream!”
The opening day was awaited in eager anticipation by all. Everything was in readiness at noon, and all the survivors moved into the forest clearing, taking up their seats to witness the occasion.
The organising committee had elected Gary as Master of Ceremonies. He seemed to be the most erudite and popular. Ahmedi was asked to bless the gathering which went off without a hitch or a murmur of dissent.
Gary then introduced the camp leader, Oscar.
He strode up to the front of the gathering.
“Fellow survivors. This is the first and the most historic opportunity we have had since that fateful day when we were forced down on KRAT. It is also the most auspicious occasion; this small school should not be judged by its size or the primitive state of its equipment, but by the innovation and sheer effort which has gone into creating it from nothing. We must thank the organising committee under the able leadership of Father Ridgeway who put it all together and organised this opening ceremony as well. In my view, it is the first time we as the KRAT community have pooled our energies in this focused and single minded manner. I salute you all and welcome you to this opening ceremony. Thank you.”
With that very short formal address he returned to his log-seat, after which Gary regaled the audience with some jokes.
The play was then performed by all the new learners much to the hilarious laughter and enjoyment of the audience. The scenes from the play were surreal to those who reflected on their location and precarious position on KRAT. This made it so much more enjoyable.
Hassan had done a magnificent job with the script and the production of the small play which was basically a satire of the KRAT community. No-one escaped the sharp end of his wit.
After the play, Gary introduced Father Ridgeway as chairperson of the Eduskills committee.
Holding his Bible in his right hand he strode to the front and without further ado, said: “Fellow survivors. We are indeed privileged to be here today. We did not know what God intended for us when we crash-landed on this mountain top, and we cursed Him many times. Yes we did! But today we can see it. Each and every one of us has been carefully chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ to be here today. Our destinies are not of our own making and do not necessarily follow our preferred options, but they nevertheless are ours to explore, understand and to live to their final inexorable outcomes. We see around us many who are not of the same conviction as ourselves. We also see here those who do not appreciate the relevance and immense importance they have to realise God’s work; yes God moves in mysterious ways and while He tolerates no opposition, He also uses those who reject Him and harden their hearts to exclude Him in glorifying His name and His work. Praise the Lord!”
A murmur of hallelujahs followed his lead.
“This project is the living proof of God’s work. It has been manifested in many ways which we will not discuss here but to the faithful, it has been evident. Our prayers have been answered and now we have this wonderful facility which will be used for the benefit our young people, regardless of their beliefs and traditions.We have here the net result of the joint efforts of every one of us here. We will be able to teach as best we can with the scarce resources but at least it’s all free.”
Laughter rippled through the audience.
“Eduskills belongs to all of us and we will in the near future prepare and submit to you the final curricula and rules for the school.”
This time a small groan emanated from the learner body, much to the amusement of the adults.
“We must thank all of you for the effort and commitment you have shown. We must also express our special thanks to Professor Suzette who was the originator of the concept as well as my dear friend Ahmedi who also played a crucial role in the development of materials and as you saw, his son Hassan has a very creative flair.”
“It would be remiss of us not to mention the role Alistair has played since we arrived so tragically here on KRAT. He was grievously injured and close to the doors of death; he had lost his dear and beloved mother and was left with no-one. Only through the intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ did he recover miraculously from gangrene. He was and still is I dare say but a child and one can only wonder at the workings of the Lord as to what He has in mind for him.”
No-one except Father Ridgeway himself noticed Christine getting up towards the rear of the audience and walking out quietly.
She was fuming but thought the better of it to object to the priest’s bias and twisting of the facts. It was after all the occasion of Eduskills’ opening which she fully supported. To create a scene would be boorish but Father Ridgeway was exploiting the situation to the fullest and over and beyond that, he was using every tool to strengthen his influence over the small community. It was clear to her what he was up to but she also knew there was little she could do about it.
“Alistair,” Father Ridgeway continued, “has since his miraculous recovery, played a very important role in joining all the learners together in this project. It was as a result of his joy of life that other less enthusiastic youngsters were turned around; it was his vision which he shared with all that made this project what it is today.”
Hassan and Rachel snorted quietly.
It had become a joke among them and some of their friends, that Alistair saw himself as a miniature version of Father Ridgeway. He was often derided for being imperious and quite demanding in the false assumption that he had any authority over them. He basked in the reflected power of the priest.
In the play Hassan had written, he had made a subtle mockery of Alistair but not many had noticed except those in the know. Hassan’s role in uniting the youth through his play went totally unrecognised.
Meanwhile, Father Ridgeway had reached the stage where he declared the Eduskills project officially open and with one of the last remaining axes which had been specially sharpened for the occasion, he ceremoniously cut a cord made of hemp and which had been wrapped around a large log. Everybody cheered and with a lot of banter and jeering from the learners they all returned to the amphitheatre where the banquet had been prepared.
The celebration lasted well into the night and for a change Father Ridgeway and his followers stayed the course and revelled well into the early hours of the next day which had been scheduled for the first classes.
Christine was a notable absentee from the celebrations.
The first school day dawned and was conducted without a hitch, except that Christine was nowhere to be seen. She had not arrived to present her lecture on healthy eating. Her campfire was cold.
Esme, who was feeding Beowulf, was the first to notice her absence. Christine always made sure she was present when she fed the child. Wonder where she could be? After finding that she had not slept in her hut, the alarm was raised and two search parties were sent out. The threat of the hyenas was still present and spending a night out was frowned on by the community.
Karl’s team found her first.
She was sitting in the fuselage of the Airbus.
She had obviously spent the night there among the memories and nightmares which still terrorised many of them.
Karl sent message to Base Camp that she was OK but remained behind with her. It was clear that she was emotionally spent and very tired. She sat in the seat she had sat in during Flight 765. She was huddled forward as if preparing for the crash-landing; her shoulders and body were racked with convulsions as tears streamed down her face. Karl sat down next to her and wrapped his arms around the thin body. He was shocked at her boniness and how frail she felt. Everybody always saw the cheerful, happy, bouncing Christine who ministered to all who needed it and some who didn’t! This was a very different and vulnerable woman; a woman who suffered as much as the rest of them but who was always prepared to give of herself, unselfishly and with great compassion. She asked for nothing in return.
She laid her dishevelled head on his shoulder and soon fell asleep. There the two of them sat quietly; he not daring to move lest he wake her; she obviously totally worn out and tired to death.
After a couple of hours she woke and raising her head shyly, looked up at Karl.
“Thanks, Karl,” was all she said. That was all that was necessary. She put a finger on his lips, forestalling anything he may have wanted to say. Words were not needed.
The two of them clambered from the wreck and walked slowly back to Base Camp.
About eighteen months after the Airbus disaster or what was now being hailed as a miracle by some on KRAT, a rumbling woke up the survivors during the night. It was a small tremor; something they had all become accustomed to. This one however felt different; it sounded like a large bubble rising to the surface of a pool of water.
With an abrupt roar, the bubble burst forth from Mt Brutus, ten kilometres away in the red seas. The survivors quickly vacated their flimsy huts and ran to the relative protection of the small rock overhang. They were unable to see Brutus but memories of its birth were still fresh in everybody’s minds, especially for Ahmedi and his children.
The mountain plateau shook and trembled as the volcano continued its eruption; in the reddened dark glow of the night the survivors could hear the flaming missiles plunge into the seas around them with loud cracking explosions as the molten rock hit the cold water.
The eruptions continued for half and hour and eventually quietened down while the hot magma continued to flow down the mountain into the seas with a hiss so loud they could hear it ten kilometres away.
After a while, the survivors returned to their beds to sleep fitfully till dawn awoke them.
Bleary eyed they emerged to commence another day on their perch in the red seas. It was only after about an hour, that Karl who had left early to clear his traps returned to the camp with some astounding news.
“The seas are receding!” he shouted as he approached Base Camp. Everybody looked at him uncomprehendingly.
“Come look,” he called, turning around to disappear around the shoulder of the hillock towards their customary look-out point facing Brutus.
They gaped at the sight of the seas receding. Vast currents and eddies had formed. Something had happened to break the massive marine dam which had been created more than a year ago. The waters were rushing out, carrying everything before it towards the Great Divide. It seemed that an opening had been created in whatever it was that was blocking the waters. Long streaks of red mud and foam converged towards the Great Divide where the waters were pouring through. A roar was heard which sounded like a thousand trains from afar. The survivors could only imagine what it looked like as the massive body of water forced it way through a narrow break in the mountains.
It slowly dawned on all of them. A slow sigh seemed to escape their collective mouths; this increased to become a shout and rose to a delirious cheer of relief and delight. Their stay on KRAT was coming to an end; the waters which had held them captive for so long were receding!
As they danced on the edge of the plateau, Oscar, Karl, Gary, June and some of the other leaders gathered to discuss the implications.
“Damn, I’d just become comfortable with KRAT’s toilets,” Gary laughed. They were all grinning at each other like children.
“Jeez this is one for the record book,” Oscar said. “I never considered this a possibility and had somehow resigned myself to remaining on KRAT until we either die or are rescued. This changes everything.”
“It does,” June commented, “but let’s not fool ourselves; the seas would’ve ruined any short-term possibility of descending and setting up camp in the valley below.” June had become the official geographer in the group although she had no real training in the field.
“I’ve no doubt that the seas have killed off any prospects of agriculture or fresh water and that we are probably better off here on KRAT for some time,” she continued.
“Surely we need to investigate once the mud has dried up, June?” Gary objected, somewhat taken aback at June’s negative assessment of the situation.
“Absolutely, Gary. I’m not denying that. All I’m saying is that we not delude ourselves about the realities confronting us.”
“I guess it’ll take some time for all the water to disappear, let alone dry sufficiently for us to traverse the valley,” Oscar said. “We don’t even know whether the seas were salty or not. But what is clear is that our options have now improved immensely.”
“Yep, I agree,” Gary said.
“I wonder what happened to Bennie and his Crew?” Karl said suddenly. They were all immediately quiet. Since the banishing of Jim’s group, they had neither seen nor heard of them again. They could be dead, but they preferred not to think about that.
“Well whatever became of them, good riddance to rubbish as far as I’m concerned,” Gary replied. He hadn’t lost any sleep over their decision to get rid of them.
Slowly turning and trudging back to their small village, they were mostly silent.
KRAT would in the next week cease to be an island. Things would never be the same again and they all wondered what lay in wait for them now.
Father Ridgeway called all his followers together and they gave thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for their deliverance from the waters of damnation.
During the week there was much debate and discussion around the possibilities of descending from KRAT and exploring the valley below as soon as the waters had receded sufficiently for them to do so.
Oscar was reticent but eventually agreed that a small party consisting of Karl as the expedition’s leader as well as Gary and Tom be tasked with the exploration. They prepared themselves for an absence of about a week and would need food and sustenance while away. Ropes were prepared for the precipitous descent and rough hemp knapsacks were assembled by a couple of women. The women also prepared the food and Zyndile showed them how to season meat with salt and herbs to last for the duration of the journey.
The three men set off after the waters seemed to have sufficiently receded leaving the valley plains relatively dry with large remaining pools of stagnant water. Their descent was uneventful and especially Gary loved the exercise and challenge again.
When they reached the floor of the valley, they realised that the seas had virtually destroyed everything.
It was clear that the waters had an oceanic origin and was salty. They even found the remains of fish around with fresh tracks of jackal and hyena which had been scavenging the dead fish. Trudging through the mud flakes and scratching around in the soil, it was clear that agriculture would be impossible for a long time to come. The only signs of life in the valley were a number of tracks of wild animals. Gary could distinguish between hyena, jackal, some buck types and caracal. These had obviously descended from their mountain hideouts around the valley when the waters had receded.
Returning from their disappointing expedition, they conveyed the bad news to the survivors on the plateau. General consensus was that they remain where they were. When the prospects improved they would have the opportunity to investigate again. Gary also suggested that they send out a longer expedition to trek to the Great Divide as the far off mountains had been named. This was where the break which let out the seas had occurred.
Beowulf had turned two years old and the survivors on KRAT held his customary birthday party.
Since his birth, several babies had followed as if it had triggered an instinct to procreate among the survivors; the strongest instinct of all living species. This was evidenced by the cries of the newborn in the camp.
Father Ridgeway was having the time of his life. His involvement with Eduskills had grown substantially and working at the three levels of the learners required a lot of his time as well as that of Suzette’s. In addition, he had launched Bible appreciation classes for the adults which were well attended by quite a large group of the adults. Ahmedi helped him but it became quite quickly evident that substantial differences were emerging between the Qu’ran and especially the New Testament.
In addition, the priest held a mass every Sunday although nobody was too certain anymore whether their battery powered watches still reflected the correct dates or time. Many watches had been thrown away in disgust as they failed or were broken.
The births and funerals he was required to conduct had also steadily increased with the rise in deaths resulting from the general hardships they suffered especially when simple diseases such as influenza or infections could not be sufficiently addressed with their herbs or concoctions. Neither did prayers or incantations seem to work as well as they were expected to.
Generally the population had diminished to a total of only 72 adult souls taking into account that Bennie’s Crew had been banished while the births had of late stabilised the population on KRAT.
To cap it all the priest had decided that what the community needed was a small church. There was not too much support for this idea but after some debate concerning the church’s placement and design, it was agreed that a small church be constructed on the far side of the forest but close enough to the hillock so that they could use the natural rock to build it.
A small team was organised and some women were taught to dress the softer rocks into shapes required for the structure. The church catered for 100 souls which was roughly double the number who actually made use of the church, but clearly Father Ridgeway had visions of his flock growing quite dramatically.
After some six months the church was completed. It was constructed with rocks packed in neat wall structures with lintels of stone, while the roof was covered with grass thatching over wooden slats and beams. Inside the building, rocks had been placed for seating purposes while the baptismal font and small altar were also made from suitably shaped rocks. Under the circumstances, it represented the first substantial structure on KRAT. The survivors were very proud of the achievement.
During its inauguration, the church and the faithful who worshipped in it called themselves the Church of St Ignatius, after the founder of the Jesuit Order.
In the meantime, substantial progress had been made with improving the day to day lives of the survivors.
A number of expeditions had descended from their mountain perch to investigate the surrounding territory. It became evident that slowly but surely more animals were returning to what was probably their traditional grazing area. Although the grazing was exceptionally poor, a very small reddish grass did start sprouting despite the poor soil and high salt content. This seemed to provide sustenance during the summer months for a number of antelope as well as buffalo, zebra and wildebeest which roamed over vast areas in order to find sufficient grazing.
Heavy rains helped to leach out the salts and to the survivor’s delight small pioneer shrubs started appearing along the banks of the small river which originated on top of KRAT.
Esme, Oscar and John Duguid started planning the construction of a small dam in the river’s course not too far from a small lake which remained after the tides had receded. The lake was quite hot and Mark was enthusiastically building his new nursery next to the brackish waters to house his cannabis plants. He led the water down a small slope to course through his small rock structure to heat it up in order for the cannabis to survive the cold winters. In the nursery he constructed beds for the plants and carted bird manure which had been decomposed to give a rich compost which when mixed with soil from below the volcano provided a rich loamy base to plant his precious plants.
The dam which Esme and her small team started constructing was regularly destroyed by periodic floods until, in a flash of inspiration, the former air hostess recommended they build the dam in a tributary and strengthen it sufficiently before diverting the water from its normal course. They made provision for the overflow of water and after toiling in the hot summer sun and a cold winter, the small dam was successfully filled after eighteen months. This dam would eventually in turn supply a smaller holding dam with fresh water for their homes which they would construct in the valley. They were quite quickly able to start with some rudimentary irrigation of lands for cultivation and fresh food production.
It was also due to Esme’s efforts that small sapling trees and herbs from their forest on KRAT were transplanted to suitable spots next to the banks of the river. No wonder then that everybody started calling the river, Esme’s river.
Karl, Gary and some of the younger men trekked far and wide in their new Valley. The valley was shaped much like a long sausage with the Great Divide providing one border and KRAT and some smaller mountains close by, the opposite border. Mt Brutus stuck out like a pimple while a small flattish hill lay to the south east.
To the south another range of mountains enclosed the valley but exploration in that direction would ultimately discover several exits from the valley. These exits were found to be located at a relatively high altitude and exploration teams would be required to trek uphill for many kilometres before emerging from their valley.
Karl’s explorers discovered the tail of the wrecked Airbus on the slopes of the mountain where it had come to rest after breaking away from the main fuselage during one of the earthquakes shortly after their arrival on KRAT.
They also discovered human footprints in the mud around the wreck.
Relaying this news to Oscar and the rest of the leaders when they returned to KRAT, concern was expressed that it was Jim Armstrong and his men who were poking around. On the one hand Oscar expressed relief that they had survived their voyage over the waters but immediately cautioned everybody to re-establish and sharpen their vigilance. The women and children were all warned to be on the look out and never to walk alone. They also implemented a system of writing down where they went and posting this on slates on the wall in the amphitheatre.
Christine often accompanied Karl on his explorations. The two of them had become very close and now shared a hut on KRAT. On one of these trips they were sitting on a small hill to the south of Mt Brutus looking out over Esme’s handiwork on the side of the river.
“You know Karl, some day we’ll have to move from the mountain down into the valley,” she said to the deeply tanned business tycoon turned hunter, next to her.
“Why? We’ve been on KRAT for close to three years. I’m used to it now.”
“Yes so am I but if we have to set up a more sustainable lifestyle, this valley will be where it’s going to have to be. Here where we are sitting right now is where I would build a house for you and me. Here I can see us living, even having children. Some of the others could join us here as well. I’m sure Esme will love that too. She’ll be close to her river and we’ll have good access to water.”
“You’re forever the realist aren’t you?” Karl said looking at Christine with a laugh, “but at the same time I detect something of an idealist in you too.”
“Well, being a realist doesn’t mean you cannot dream. We’ve been dealt shit cards but, hey, what about the rest of the world? The devastation the apocalypse has caused must have been a terrifying experience. Maybe we were the lucky ones,” she replied throwing her head back coquettishly.
“I’m sure we were. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we should start setting up a small village here for those who want to join us. I don’t think Father John will be one of them. He’ll have his church and flock to think about.”
“Thank heavens for that. I can’t stand the man and his ‘direct line to God’ ways. My motivation to move is partly to get away from him and his kind as well.”
June had in the meantime progressed substantially with what she had euphemistically started to call the ‘The Ten Pillars of Ancient Wisdom’. Originally conceived as a repository of the scientific discoveries of the world to date, which would serve as a historic if not scientific treatise, of important breakthroughs in man’s quest to improve life, it had grown into a more comprehensive tome which would deal with economic as well as social issues. Among these she thought to include the discovery of penicillin, Sir Isaac Newton’s work as well as Darwin’s theories of evolution. John Duguid was tasked to write up a chapter or ‘paper’ on gravity; while Christine did a paper on Darwin’s theories. Even Suzette wrote a chapter on a market economy. It was however not that simple. Once the contributors started out they wondered about the subject choice and prioritisation. This led to long debates and discussion. Ultimately the book would be quite different to what was originally intended.
One of the guidelines they had however all agreed on was that only one paper would be included per selected discipline. This would force them to carefully select and prioritise the subject matter for its relevance to, and impact on future generations. As time was not an issue, June encouraged each contributor to carefully evaluate content and to ensure that future readers would be able to interpret and understand it. A further point they agreed on was that no ‘paper’ would be written on religion. The book was very much a ‘work-in-progress’ project and kept the ten contributing teams busy for a number of years.
June had selected soft buck-skin for the pages of the book much along the lines of ancient parchments and once the paper had been written, edited and approved by her small editorial team, it was carefully re-written by Karl, who had the best long-hand handwriting, in ink on the skins. The book’s cover was fashioned from wood and illustrated with beautiful yet simple carvings of the Seven Wonders of the World they had come from.
During the following six months, Christine and Karl were joined by Esme, Beowulf and Oscar, John Duguid, June and her two daughters. Together they built three small but comfortable houses close together. Gary joined them some months later. Being a bachelor he added a room to Karl and Christine’s home for himself. Their new homes were more substantial than the huts on KRAT although they were obliged to use the beams from their old huts to construct the roofs. Wood was scarce as was suitable grass for the roof thatching in their new location, but the new homes were built for the long term and even boasted internal, waterborne toilets designed by John. Each house also had a small hot spa bath which utilised the hot sulphurous waters from the Bracken Lake. The hot water sluiced through the homes and away from their small settlement to form a small pan which they would be able to use for the extraction of salts at a later stage as the brackish water evaporated.
The bulk of the survivors however, remained on KRAT. They had become accustomed to their lives close to a good supply of water and the forest which provided them with herbs, wood and some wild fruits and cassava. Meat was nonetheless scarce and with the main hunters living in the valley, some of the men from KRAT were obliged to start looking for their own meat instead of bartering with Karl and Gary. The annual bird migrations continued to provide meat, feathers and eggs.
Zyndi and Tom who had moved in together, stayed behind on KRAT as well but they missed their friends, Christine and Gary who had become one of Tom’s best friends despite their earlier differences. They kept much to themselves and did not attend the masses and church classes Father Ridgeway was conducting. Zyndile as well as Tom together with some other survivors preferred to do their own worshipping deep in the forest. Father Ridgeway was aware of this and he never missed an opportunity to lambaste them for their ‘devil’s worship’. This eventually developed into a crisis which forced Zyndile’s followers to descend from the plateau and to start searching for their own place to establish their new homes. Donald James remained behind on KRAT. A close but platonic friendship had developed between him and Suzette, much to Zyndile’s surprise.
A small flat-topped hill to the south-east of KRAT was eventually chosen, and with the help of Christine and John, they started to build their own homes on the summit of this hill. As Zyndi had remarked: “I want to be able to see when the hyenas approach us.” Christine knew full well that she was scared of the wild creatures but wasn’t too sure she was referring to them. With the help of John’s engineering expertise they dug a well, finding potable water thirty feet down which would suffice their village for many years to come.
After another year, the valley population was divided into three small villages; Oscar’s group who now started referring to themselves as the New Londoners near the Bracken Lake; Zyndile’s village which had grown very quickly when quite a number of those who had remained on KRAT decided to join them; and those who consisted mostly of Father Ridgeway’s followers still stuck to their lives on KRAT.
Meanwhile Rachel and Elizabeth had developed into two stunning young girls as had Amanda. Elizabeth had turned seventeen years old; some of the unattached older men were starting to hang around on some pretext or other to help June with the distillation of salts from the salt pan. They fooled no-one and Elizabeth actually enjoyed all the attention. Rachel was a lot more stand-offish and preferred to visit Hassan whenever she could. He in turn would spend weeks on end at their home in the valley and the two of them would take long exploratory hikes in the valley to see what they could find. The nineteen-year old Amanda had however remained on KRAT and was living with Suzette and Alistair.
On one of their hikes, Hassan and Rachel chanced upon the carcass of a wildebeest. Portions of the animal had clearly been removed. Upon examination they saw a broken arrow lying next to the carcass. It was made from a thin reed tipped by a small flint arrow-head. The animal had clearly been killed on a hunt but they knew that nobody in the valley or on KRAT used such arrows.
Returning with their find to New London, Karl remarked that it was the work of the Lost Tribe. He informed them that he had been following their tracks for some time now and knew in which direction their lair lay. On hearing this, the women and especially Esme and Christine were quite shocked. They could still clearly recall their experiences at the hands of the likes of Graham Grant, James Armstrong and Bennie Smith.
“So what are we going to do about them, Oscar?” Christine asked while the three families were sitting around a camp fire, their traditional social gathering point.
“I don’t think there’s much we can do, Christine,” Oscar replied. “As long as they’re not bothering us we’ll just have to carry on building our lives here as I suspect they’re doing.”
“What happens if we run into them?” Gary asked.
“Well, it could turn into a confrontation I guess. So far they haven’t done anything despite knowing no doubt where we are. It’s a bit worrying that they know more about us than we about them,” John commented.
“I think we should send out a small scouting party to spy on them. Knowing their set-up could stand us in good stead one day,” Karl said.
“Hmm, maybe that’s a good idea. Of course we’re a lot more vulnerable than we were while living on top of KRAT,” Oscar said.
“I’m worried about the girls,” June commented. “Those bastards will have no hesitation to do them or us some harm if they could, so the sooner we find out where they are hiding out and what they’re up to the better. They really hate Christine, Gary and Oscar here,” she pointed out.
“My problem is that we can’t leave you women alone while we try to find them. If something were to happen to us or if they knew in advance that we’re coming, they could easily outflank us and attack you here,” Oscar observed. He knew that Karl and Gary were the obvious scouts to send on such a mission. That would leave only himself and John to look after the women and young girls. Maybe he could convince some of the men on KRAT to join them for the interim until Karl and Gary returned.
The discussion did not produce any constructive action but this was soon to change.