Song of the Brohoro

a work-in-progress

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.” ~Charles Peguy

Here’s an excerpt from my current writing project, Song of the Brohoro, which should be done this summer.

Chapter One - The Stranger

Minkhoy gritted her teeth as she flicked yet another mite off of her map for what felt like the one hundredth time that day. Living in a cave had always sounded so romantic. She was finding out differently. In all the village chronicles of past crises when her people had sheltered in caves, no one had ever mentioned the mites. It seemed to her that they should have a whole page dedicated just to them, if not a whole chapter. Never mind that they were in her hair, crawling in the folds of her clothes, and stuck beneath her fingernails. Their crusty little bodies dotted the dried ink of the beautiful paper. Well, it used to be beautiful.
The radio crackled beside her and she bent close to the paper, pen poised. A few moments of broken static and then the words: “Third hour of tarma, national report: the Karysian army has broken through the line of defense on Morkraydel Ridge and is sweeping west in the direction of Dorkrisek—coordinates U-113-40.”
Minkhoy followed the movements with her pen, drawing a thin, steady line across the map.
“Brohorodane from local villages are impeding the progress of the Karysian army, but Edoni-Dirni is withdrawing the royal army to the north to fortify the Udolian command base at Chomith. The Karysians have set-up camp two miles north of Shor-til and it is still unclear at this point if they will angle north to engage or will continue west.”
She waited a few moments more, begging for more information, but the signal cut out with the familiar click. She sat back and studied the path she’d traced out. The Karysian army was only sixty miles east of them now. Too close for comfort, yet still too far to sound the alarm. She chewed on the end of her pen. Or was it? The Druhsol was expecting a verdict at mahheg. Should she advise them to wait, see if the Karysians turned away, or get ready to evacuate?
Her legs were starting to tingle. She rose as stiffly as an old lady and went to the window of her tower. The entrance to the caves was far below; her ancestors had carved this tower inside the mountain to afford a scouting position, which later had proven a good place to receive radio transmissions. A long, narrow window curved around the tower in all directions, except directly northwest, with a fine netting to keep the keppa mags from roosting. She could see the entire valley from here.
She pressed her face against the grating and peered down. At the foot of the tower was the entrance to the caves. There was a steady stream of people going in and out and a pack of children played in the clearing in front. Their shouts echoed up to her. On the other side of the dell where the caves were hidden, wild kaytil covered the hillside below her; their light purple petals were edged in red, like fire licking at a piece of paper. Where the kaytil ended, at the bottom of the slope, she could see her village, quiet and still. They had moved into the caves only two weeks ago, but it looked as if it could have been empty for decades. Beyond that, the desert swept up to the horizon, where another mountain range caught it up and ran it north in a jagged line. The Karysians were on the other side of those teeth. As there had been for the last several days, a haze of smoke could only just be seen on the other side of them, growing steadily nearer.
There was a patter of paws on the stairs behind her and Minkhoy turned around as Red bounded into the room.
“Hello, girl!” She bent down to scratch the viper leopard’s head behind the small, curved horns, where she liked it best of all. “What have you got there?”
Red laid the fat bird at Minkhoy’s feet and looked up with her red eyes glowing with pride and her plume of a tail raised in victory.
“Did you bring me a keppa mag? Ooh, and a nice plump one too. Aren’t you a skilled hunter?”
Red rolled over onto her back, exposing her cream-white belly. Of course Minkhoy rubbed it, and gently worked a burr out of the soft, spotted fur on her flank.
“So what’s the story? Are we all going to be mowed down by Karys?”
She looked up; D’junehoy was coming around the corner up the winding staircase. His face was smudged with dirt and his hair all swept to one side. He clearly had forgotten to comb it this morning.
Minkhoy straightened up. “We have a plan of defense if they should come before we have a chance to evacuate, but—”
He rolled his eyes. “I was kidding, Mink.” He crouched down and rubbed Red’s belly. “Come on, we need a fifth for Zinla chase.”
She started riffling through her papers. “Not now. I have work to do.”
“Oh, puh, I’m sure you’ve already had the morning broadcast. What else is there to do, stand here and watch the crows flit by? No one’s going to miss you for a few hours. Now come on.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be helping Koreni with the harvest right now?”
“He said I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to.” His voice took on a defensive whine. “And I don’t want to. Most of it’s done anyway. I’ve got to enjoy the weather before the winter sand storms come! And so do you.” He grabbed her wrist.
She pulled her arm out of his grasp and put on her worst older-sister face. “D’june, I’m an adult now. I’ve received my brohoro.” She touched the ornate rifle leaning against the wall and hoped the thrill at the sensation of the bone along the barrel carved with her name didn’t show on her face. “That means I have to put the village before everything else. So play games if you want to. The rest of us have work to do.”
He glowered at her and muttered under his breath as he stomped back down the stairs, “A brohorodan for eight months and suddenly you’re the most important brohorodan to ever live…just can’t be bothered with the rest of us…”
Before she could throw back a retort, the radio started to beep. She whirled around. A blue light was flashing on channel 4. She flew to the dial and reached for her pen.
A man’s voice, thick with a South Senno accent, came on: “The mysterious plague continues to rage in Sal and has cut the slave population down another two percent in the last week. Researchers have yet to find an effective cure or vaccine for the disease and there is still a strict export ban on the island. Prices on slaves are sky-rocketing, forcing Karys and other markets to look elsewhere. To fill the gap, Udolian civilians from conquered cities are being captured and sent to the occupied royal city, Koren Hill, where the slaves await sale and transport to countries across the ocean.”
Minkhoy felt her blood turn cold.
“Many slave bosses and enterprising freelancers are flocking to Udoli to get in on the opportunity. With the Udolian royal army cleared out of the area, a large slave harvest is expected to be collected within a week. All hope points to balancing out the economic impact of the continuing famine and natural disasters crippling eastern Karys.”
There was a pause; then the voice continued: “South Senno is abuzz with the news of Erena Holk’s third pregnancy…”
Minkhoy rolled her eyes and turned down the volume, scribbling the last of her notes. Even as she wrote them down, she could hardly believe the words. All of a sudden her people were fair game for the slave market. She now suspected that, whether the Karysian army came their way or not, they would be in trouble. A small, isolated village like hers… slave bosses would be descending like vultures to a carcass, ready to pick it clean. And why by Morna hadn’t the royal broadcast mentioned this?
“Mink! Mink!” Roryse charged up the stairs three at a time. He had his brohoro in hand. “There’s a stranger skulking in town.”
“Looting?” She jumped to her feet, reaching for her brohoro too. Red was on her feet in a moment, tail lashing back and forth in excitement and her ears perked.
Roryse shook his head. “Doesn’t seem to be. Just sneaking around. We don’t know why.”
She grimaced. “I bet I do. Come on.”