Manchild, page 4
Soon everyone gathered around the fire to listen to the chief. The only noise one could hear was the crackling of the fire; an owl hooting. The voice-of-the-night. The Tree Dwellers were always absolutely silent when the chief spoke. Ee!xu was admiring Manchild from where the Tree Dweller girl's sat. His eyes were focused on the chief's. She always liked those eyes. She secretly called them,
which was the Tree Dweller word for rain-drops. Ee!xu and Manchild both hoped that when the chief announced the names of the hunters, that Manchild's name would be one of them. The chief would only make his decision known the next day.
The chief's story that joyous day, was ended with the words of the great chief, his grandfather. The chief told,
Even when the great chief saw that the number of his people was slowly diminishing, he never roared like a lion, nor did he hiss like a snake. He did not hide underground like the mole, nor did he start to stalk like a hawk. He did not charge like the rhinoceros nor did he trumpet like an elephant. For though the foe surrounded them, his heart did not grieve like the wolves. Instead the great chief's heart sang a song. It sang the song of the song-bird.
Soon everyone was dancing around the fire. The Tree Dweller girls that had not found a mate yet, were doing a dance that signified that they were ready for a mate. As Ee!xu danced with real energy and excitement, she kept a close eye on Manchild. He was not focused on any one at all. She wondered what was weighing on his mind.
Manchild stared into the open space confused. The words of the chief kept repeating in his head. What was the chief talking about? More however, he wondered how he got to win the Victory Swing. What about the white lion? Was he a hee-bab?
Manchild felt suddenly scared. If he was a hee-bab, no one may know. The Tree Dwellers do not tolerate hee-babs. That would threaten his desire to be one of them.
He might then never be a Tree Dweller.
8 - Unexpected
!Xe-!Xo didn't put the chief's bow and arrow down for a second. He had never seen such a finely crafted bow. The tips of the arrows fascinated him the most. As the chief told Manchild, soon as the arrow strikes the target, the bone would remain lodged in the wound, while the arrow itself would fall to the ground.
The beetle poison would then take care of the rest.
!Xe-!Xo took a few shots with it, aiming at the target hanging from the tree trunk that formed part of Manchild's home. He hit it spot on every time. He wanted to ask Manchild if he could have it, since it was obviously too small for him.
But then he thought it was a gift from the big chief.
That was a honor.
Secondly, Manchild won the Victory Swing, so it was his.
He hoped that Manchild would realize he cannot use it and give it to his best friend.
Manchild listened with keen interest to !Xe-!Xo as he spoke of Manchild's performance. The end was definitely a highlight, but !Xe-!Xo was more proud of how Manchild dodged all those quill-mud-balls and nets. He was sure that snake was going to bite him right in his face.
He looked at Manchild admiringly a few times. Then said that it takes a great man to do what he did. To not retaliate when he was almost shaken off the branch and not losing hope when all seemed lost.
Manchild didn't know whether he deserved to be admired. He didn't shake the branch because he didn't want the Tree Dweller to get hurt.
The last swing was...
Manchild wasn't sure.
He also didn't want to tell !Xe-!Xo, for fear that he too might not want to be friends with him anymore. He didn't want to lose any one of them, especially not !Xe-!Xo. Certainly not his father, the chief.
Manchild was not sure what he was going to do.
Tree Dwellers did not tolerate hee-babs. The last hee-bab they encountered was from the man-with-no-thirst. He brought pestilence and night-walkers that gave the children nightmares and the women sleepless nights. The men didn't want to go near him, for fear that he might infect them. They only tolerated him due to the history between the Tree Dwellers and the man-with-no-thirst. They were however extremely glad that he finally left. Things turned back to normal and no hee-bab was ever tolerated by the Tree Dwellers since.
Manchild still felt the slight buzzing in his blood, but everything else felt normal. Why did the buzzing happen as soon as he saw the lion? Was the lion somehow responsible for him winning the Victory Swing? Was the lion real? Or did he imagine it?
It was real, Manchild suddenly remembers.
The paws were sunken into the soil. He could see the bushes move as the lion moved.
But that meant nothing.
Perhaps a hee-bab sees things clear as day, while there is probably absolutely nothing there. Manchild felt frustrated not knowing what to do or what to expect. He thought about asking the chief, but that would only raise suspicion. The chief was very insightful and would smell a mole across the river to the east.
He tried to forget about the lion and focused on the hunt instead. The hunters that had mates would accompany those that were hunting for the honor of a mate. Should they fail to slay an animal before the sun was at its peak, they would then start joining in, to make sure that an animal is slain. The feast of the petals could not continue hence without any meat.
That was the tradition.
If a hunt was unsuccessful, they would see it as a bad omen. That the deity they worshipped was not pleased with them anymore.
Every year those that went to hunt for the honor of a mate, were always successful.
The chief always said, the animal must choose you. Only then will you truly kill. Till today, no one has really understood what the chief meant. No one has also tried to find out.
As these thoughts run through Manchild's mind, the herbalist enters his home. She looks horrified and scared.
The chief was ill. They have no idea how it happened.
The chief was asking for Manchild.
9 – Forgotten
Manchild was already anticipating the worst.
Whenever an elder Tree Dweller was ill, they always ended up in the hot room and were then never seen again. The Tree Dwellers didn’t make a big fuss when someone passed away. They accepted that it was part of their journey.
But if the chief was ill during the feast of the petals, it could only be seen as a bad omen.
Manchild felt the tension as he gallantly swung up the trees to get to his father’s house. He could see all the Tree Dweller’s eyes; scared and bewildered, all focused on him as he swung higher up, resting on a branch or two to gather his thoughts and rapidly increasing need for breath.
He felt the buzzing in his blood again. The jolt to his heart, then the ostrich egg that this time lay on the ground, next to a baboon that was trying to salvage what it could of the splattered yolk.
Suddenly the baboon looks at him and barks loud. Its eyes were bloodshot; that elongated muzzle revealing huge, sharp teeth. The Baboon gets up and barks more.
Then the chief asked Manchild to sit down.
Manchild was really confused at what just happened.
He accepted that it must be part of the hee-bab effect. He must be turning into one more and more. What seemed to worry Manchild, was that it seemed to happen whenever it wanted.
This time he didn’t see the white lion.
He only felt…
The same as he felt during the Victory Swing.
Like he was just about to lose everything.
He slowly enters the chief’s house and goes to sit next to him on the straw strewn floor. The big broad smile Manchild saw on the chief’s face earlier was now reduced to a sullen caved in look. His eyes were closed and his breathing was fast and shallow. His skin not its usual sandy-brown complexion.
A small fire burned in the corner of the room. It was the herbalists frantically trying to come up with a remedy for the chief. They have tried the ones that have worked in the past, to no avail. This was something they have never seen
The herbalists left the room to give Manchild and the chief some privacy. He gave them a grateful look as they slipped out of the room. They were trying their best to help the chief.
To save his father.
Manchild shifted awkwardly closer to the chief and looked at his face. The chief opened his eyes slowly. With his eyes deep in his skull and the dim light of the fire, his eyes looked like a shadowy blackness. When the lids were open, Manchild froze in place.
The chief’s eyes were bloodshot.
It looked exactly like the eyes of the baboon he saw earlier, just before the chief asked him to sit down.
The chief tried to smile, but a sharp pain in his chest, made it near impossible.
He turned his head to Manchild slowly. His eyes were twinkling, as bloodshot as they were. One could see that the chief was smiling. Manchild could see the chief’s pouted mouth in his eyes. The chief was not one to easily lose faith.
He uttered silently.
This time his mouth curves, but only slightly. He coughs. Manchild was not sure what to do. He resorted to wiping the chief’s head with some of the herbs the herbalists prepared. The chief gestures that Manchild should stop.
He then says fast and quick.
Only the White Lady can help us, my son.
Manchild looked at his father, as if asking what he must do.
The chief then said,
Go to the north and cross the red-vast-space, there you will find him.
He will lead you to
The White Lady.
Find her son, for without her, the Tree Dwellers, will seize to exist.
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