There was one thing that seemed to be very strange. Kemir had heard of the raids of the Dulkas. But mostly they occurred at the border of the departments Westerend or Konteki and only once in a lifetime in Spira. Why had they traversed the whole Forest of Bandar to search for slaves in Kamardam? It was a common knowledge that the Dulka people had a sacred fear for this wood. They said that it was haunted and that a powerful witch put a spell on those who still dared to travel through it. Kemir didn’t believe in fairy tales, but he would be careful. There’s no smoke without fire and didn’t want to be ambushed unexpectedly. Not by a witch and not by robbers or anyone who made the forest unsecure. How hard he thought about it, he couldn’t find an explanation why they had overcome their fear.
He had easily found the track in the soft underground at his house. Considering the height of the Dulkas and their equivalently horses, even a lesser trained tracker could see that they moved to the south of Spira. Obviously they would travel through Spira using the Forest of Bandar to reach Mandros. Not a logical behavior. Why not directly through the wood, directly over the frontier to Mandros?
Kemir also had heard, passing by the villages near the border of the forest with Spira, that more people were abducted. However, he received no cooperation on his quest to free his mother.
When he arrived in Melissa, a village located in an open place in the Forest of Bandar and made acquaintances with Adriana Somp. Melissa was situated near the tree line of the forest. A strange population inhabited a few little houses. His mother had told him once. These inhabitants weren’t afraid of the dangers of the wood. They lived here because it was so well protected by the fear that lived in the hearts of the other people. Most of them were exiles from Westerend, Spira, and Konteki. Here they lived, concealed from them who had exiled them.
Kemir would let his horse White Cloud rest a while and saw just at that moment a pen with a little house on his way through Melissa. It would serve his intention. A young woman was busy to repair the gate of the fence, but when she saw him approaching, she stopped working and greeted him.
‘Hello, stranger, your horse looks as it can use some rest. It’ll cost you a silver crown, traveler, to pay in advance. What brings you here to the border area of our department?’
The young woman he looked at, was dressed in a masculine manner, what surprised him a bit. Her brown hair was cut very short and her features were rather rough. Most of the time, it wasn’t appreciated that women wear trousers. Himself, he didn’t care. It’s far easier to ride a horse and to do some works with trousers on instead of skirts. His mother once in a while did it also. But, of course, people expect to see a girl in a beautiful dress or a colorful skirt.
‘I see you’re not used to seeing a woman in men’s clothes, stranger?
‘No, eh, I mean…,’ Kemir stumbled over his words. ‘It’s all the same to me!’
‘My parents have died last year of the Yellow Fever. Sometimes it’s more practical to work in these clothing. And I’m feeling good about it. So now I’m the owner here, together with…’ Her voice suddenly stopped and she looked at the tree line with Mandros.
‘What’s the matter, you’re okay?’ Kemir asked. He had followed her look and saw sorrow and fear in her eyes.
‘Last week, my little brother, Jani, hasn’t returned from his morning walk to the border of the village. He would gather some mushrooms. I fear he’s abducted or worse.’ At that moment, some tears ran over her cheeks. She wiped them away very fast with the sleeve of her coat.
Could he also be abducted by them? ‘My mother is kidnapped after an attack on our house by the Dulkas,’ he explained. ‘Maybe he is also the victim of these brutes. I’ve been searching for her and am following the tracks they have left. It leads me here past Melissa. The chance he also is taken by these vandals is very great.’
‘What’s your name, traveler?’ Adriana looked at him with an attentive glance.
‘Kemir Ocain from Kamardam, from over the river Zifra. You know the place?’
Adriana nodded. ‘I’m Adriana Somp. Let me go with you, I won’t be a burden. To go alone on such a quest is not wise. I’m strong and powerful if the situation asks for it. I can defend myself as well as any boy in the neighborhood. I know my way with a stick or with knives.’ To prove her sayings, a knife suddenly appeared in her hand out of her sleeve and before Kemir could react she had thrown it at him.
‘What…?’ he shouted and looked behind him where the knife still was trembling in a beam of the fence.
‘Don’t be afraid. If I wished to hurt you, I would have hit the mark.’
Kemir couldn’t decide what to do.
‘I still can do other things too, work a normal wife does, washing and making dinner. You’ll advance faster if all the work is divided by two.
He supposed that would be right. Hesitating, he nodded. ‘Do you have to warn somebody that you’ll leave?’
‘Not necessary, it’s just a pen with a well, anybody can give water to their horse themselves. I rather go searching my little brother than earn a few silver crowns. He’s more to me than any amount of money. However, a girl alone on a quest, it’s not so evident, even if you know your way with weapons.’
‘Okay, Adriana Somp, then we travel together. How fast can you be ready?’
‘Until you have given your horse the necessary water and food, I will be ready and so will my horse.’
The Dulkas had brought their army to a halt after a couple days riding. It was a big surprise for Theresa Ocain to see the many warriors who had put up their tents between the trees. They were not a few they needed to raid the villages and to abduct people for slaves. She estimated their strength at almost a thousand men. These were combat troops to make war.
While she was resting between the other prisoners, she noticed most of the warriors were heavily armed. Broadswords, curved ones and other straight ones, spears, morning stars and big bows were only a few of the dangerous weapons soldiers were carrying.
Some of the fighters had bounded their long hair in a bun on top of their head, but many of them also wore it in a long twisted ponytail that reached almost their lower back. Their faces were painted in red and white and gave them the look of horrible alien ghosts.
Theresa scented something else. Her stomach made strange noises when she smelled the big pots of stew. Around these kettles, she saw a lot of activity from different women. Probably slaves who had to take care of the food for this army. She also saw children running from tent to tent with papers and little packages. Messengers with reports between the leaders of the Dulkas.
She was lost! In the midst of this group of soldiers, she wouldn’t see her home again. She would never see her son Kemir again. She still had so much to tell him. So many issues would be unspoken. How could she tell him now about his father, she loved so much? How could she tell about his strong father who was more than we ever could imagine? She had so many memories she hadn’t shared with him. She felt sorry about the fact she had waited too long. The last years of her life would be years of slavery between these wild conquerors.
Suddenly she saw in the distance between the trees a group of soldiers coming to them. At the respectable space they made in front and behind one person in the middle of them, it was obvious that this was a very special warrior. For a start, he was at least a head higher than the already tall soldiers, but his appearances were even more terrifying than those monsters who had captured her.
The man walked around in his naked upper body. That’s why she saw his muscular shoulders, breast and stomach were branded with marks. Those were big scars in the form of runes that were carved on his body. At his left ear, he wore different earrings, making a clinking sound when he approached. Through his nose, there was a bar who gave him a beastly appearance. His head was shaven bald, except for a peak of hair in the middle of his crown. It looked more like a spine than ordinary hair. He had only one eye. Not that he had lost the other, he only possessed ‘one’ eye. It was at least five times bigger than a human eye. The iris of his eye colored white and in the middle, his pupil was blood red, just as red as the nerve lines his sclera showed. The eye was situated in the middle of his forehead. In his hands, he had a gigantic sword with two blades. He manipulated it as if he was carrying a twig. On his large belt hung some huge knives and a large fighting-ax, so big that a normal person probably wouldn’t be able to lift it above his head.
Theresa’s knees started to tremble with fear, only by looking at him. Frightfully swaying with his sword, he passed by the prisoners. At times, he stood still and inspected one of them. He breathed as a wild bull through his nostrils, by which the bar in his nose went up and down. He took one of the abducted men by the neck and threw him at his men. A few times he repeated this ritual before he arrived before Theresa. She couldn’t defend herself when he pulled her closer. He brutally felt her upper arms and looked at her hands. Obviously he was satisfied because he threw her in the same way and with a contented growl at his men. Theresa, with a pained face, rubbed her arms and her hip, she had hurt during his treatment.
‘Kulkadan…,’ the giant shouted and with his gigantic fists, he battered on his carved chest. ‘I’m Kulkadan… you will call me Master Kulkadan. Nobody of you can look me in the eyes.’ He stopped a moment. Most of the prisoners hurried to look at their feet. A few were so impressed by the sound this Dulka produced that they didn’t realize, what he had just said. With two well-aimed strokes with his double blade, the insubordinate prisoners had been decapitated and died in front of him. Everyone was shaking with anxiety. In total, there were four prisoners who were chosen by Kulkadan. Theresa, a man a bit younger than she was and two younger women.
Kulkadan pointed at them. ‘You, pigs, will come with me. When I say walk, you’ll walk… when I say jump, you’ll jump as far as you can. From now on you’re mine, Kulkadan.’ He again beat very hard on his chest to emphasize his words. His men whooped and laughed with his gesture. Obviously they knew what it meant to be chosen by their leader.
Theresa didn’t know, but she suspected it couldn’t be very good. This brute would beat them or maybe worse, considering his reaction against the disobedient prisoners. The horny look in his eye, when he glanced at the two young women, didn’t predict anything pleasant. Theresa knew what it meant for these poor girls. They would serve as his toy. Such a madman they wouldn’t survive. She felt sorry for them. For herself, she didn’t fear for the same treatment, she was too old to be appealing to a man, even for a Dulka. She supposed she would have to serve in another way. She had heard of women slaves of the Dulka. A day full of hard manual labor, washing, and cleaning, repairing clothes and even take care of their horses. No, she didn’t fear that. She had two good hands on her body and she would show she could use them. Only this way she could save her life. Maybe long enough to escape one day.
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere