Moses was a Liar: 3 GENESIS 6: Ahimsa

Posted: November 1, 2011 in SciFi

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.”

“But mum…”

“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.

“Where?”

“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.

Amen

 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.”

“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

and

 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.

Amen.

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?

“You know?”

“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’?[1] 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. [2]

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.”


[1] The Bible: John 14:6

[2] Source: United States of America: Congressional record: February 15, 1913, pages 3215-6

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