The messenger’s call reached the village long before the man himself, the undulating cry chilling the hearts of the people. Sahteia hit the sandstone harder against the sword he was sharpening, his fingers white as he gripped it.
A motion at the door made him look up. One of the chief’s aids touched his chest in greeting. “Chief Tojtielo and Gobed the Wise request your presence, Sahteia.”
The fear hit harder, deeper. Why would they request him, a commoner? He rose on trembling legs and soon stood under the great canopy of palm leaves. He was suddenly acutely aware of the hue of his dark skin, so much redder than any around him. He ducked his head respectfully to the two men before him.
Gobed spoke first. “It has been fourteen harvests since we found you in the shadows, escaped from the ravages of the Blajek against your people, the Dele. Even as a toddler you knew to stay silent, yet the tears rolled down your face like a river. So it was we called you Sahteia-mala-Quadon, River of Tears.” The old man spoke words they knew, for this was the custom of the Milete people, to weave tales again and again so they would not be forgotten.
“We took you in and made you one of us.” Gobed looked deep into his eyes. “Now is the time for you to repay us, Sahteia. Now is the time for you to take the path The Great One set before you.”
The chief spoke then, his gaze far off. “You have heard the cry of the messenger and know that we have lost the battle on the northern front. We cannot hold the Blajek off much longer.”
Chief Tojtielo turned his gaze upon the young man. “Often I have thought of an alliance between your people and mine against our common enemy.” The chief laid his hand on Sahteia’s shoulder. “You have become our link. You, Sahteia-mala-Quandon, will be the saving of your adopted people, and perhaps even of your blood people. For together, by the power of The Great One, we can defeat the Blajek and live in peace.”
“Go then,” Gobed handed him a satchel filled with provisions. “Run to your people and tell them your story. For the mercy we have shown you, perhaps they will come to our aid.”
So Sahteia ran. His feet found their way through first the familiar paths, then the denser growth of the less-used trails. All the while his mind raced with unanswerable questions. Would his people accept him? Would they accept the offer of alliance?
The sun was only a fiery glow on the edge of the horizon when Sahteia reached the edge of the Dele village. The scouts paused in confusion when they saw a black face that was unfamiliar, yet tinged with the red of the Dele race.
“I have come in peace.” Sahteia did not allow his voice to quiver. “Please bring me to your leader.” His mind sought to find a name deep in the recess of his memory, but none came.
He was brought before the council and they listened solemnly to his story. When at last he finished they were so quiet he thought all was lost.
Finally the chief stepped forward. “Show me your hand, son.”
The request was so curious that for a moment Sahteia thought he had misunderstood. But when he held forth his hand and the chief ran a finger along the faint scare that marred his left palm, he understood.
The chief’s eyes softened and he nodded. “It is my sorrow to tell you your parents no longer live. Yet you have kin remaining. Your elder sister is soon to be married, and I,” the chief looked down. “I am your uncle. Long your mother and aunt looked for you and wept, that night so long ago, while we men were in the battle that was to take your father’s life.”
Sahteia stood still, unsure what to think, what to say, yet feeling somehow as though a part of him long forgotten had been completed.
The chief motioned to the council. “Prepare the men. We will go to the aid of my nephew’s new people, for this is a war that is ours, as well.” He turned back to the boy. “Welcome home. No longer shall you be called River. From now on you shall be known as Melenkitaka, the bridge between your peoples.”
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