The massive bridge and its stone guardians impressed Dad. I could hear him asking questions that the Tribe Historian was anxious to answer. I blocked out the annoying drone of Rudo’s voice as I saw the people streaming out of the city up ahead.
As we got closer, King Zayas and Dad took the lead. When the people sighted them, they began pointing and talking excitedly. Zayas raised his arms over his head, and my father followed suit. The crowd knelt, throwing out colorful pieces of fabric for us to walk on.
We entered the city, where the noise was deafening as it bounced off the rock walls. Every Harun was present and knelt as we passed. We trickled through the crowded streets until we arrived at the stone temple. The king directed my father to sit outside the entrance, on a stone that served as a stool. It sat at the top of the temple steps, with two smaller blocks set on either side for Joel and me. Fresh guards appeared, stretching a purple awning over our heads.
I felt important, and loved being the center of attention, at least at first. We soon discovered that they expected us to sit, while Zayas, Rudo, and Anon introduced an endless line of people. Kayin stayed far away from me, and he busied himself arranging those in line. We met the five stripe men first because they were the most important, and then worked our way through others of lesser rank.
It was tedious, and Joel was the first to look cross and fidgety. Even Dad grew quiet and more solemn as the introductions progressed. Maybe this was one of the things he was afraid would happen if he came to Fahdamin-Ra. I felt like falling off my stool just to jar myself awake.
“Where are the women?” I blurted out to the king. “You say that you want us to meet your tribe, but all we see are men.” This time, Dad agreed with me as he looked at Zayas.
A strange emotion passed over the leader’s face, but he motioned for some of the women in the back of the crowd to come to us. The first one, a dignified woman in a purple hat, he introduced as his wife, Queen Adama. She bowed and moved on without speaking, her eyes downcast.
Rudo’s wife was a surprise; a pretty, though unhappy looking woman, young enough to be his daughter. The line stalled as Rudo went on about his wife’s lineage, until Zayas looked annoyed and the tedious historian moved on to introduce the next woman.
At that point, Dad stood up, and announced, “I am glad to know all the people of this city, but it would be more meaningful to meet them in their workplaces, while seeing what they do.”
Zayas clapped his hands and ordered everyone to go to work, though the next people standing in line must have been disappointed. Joel and I were so relieved to get up and move around, that it was hard to feel sorry for them. Rudo was at Dad’s elbow, steering him inside the temple, so my brother and I followed.
Sudi came over to greet my father. He was delighted to see Joel again, and expressed congratulations to me, after discovering that I was a Creator, too. “The sun has come up on a new day, indeed,” he said. “It fulfills the prophecy of the three; the father, the son, and the daughter. It was foretold that they would come together and make changes in the land.”
A prophecy about the three of us? It was a weird feeling to consider this. As tall men crowded around, I saw Yohance on the fringes of the group, so I waved. He beamed back at me. By now, there was a crowd in the temple consisting of historians, guards, and the royals.
It was a relief when my father decided to go outside, but the bunch from the temple followed us. Taking Joel’s and my hands, he started to walk away, but the men were right on our heels, so Dad turned to address them.
“Gentlemen, I would like to have everyone behave as if my children and I were not here. Please let us be free to browse around unaccompanied. I have so much to see and learn, and would appreciate the time to look around at my own pace."
Everyone's eyes went to King Zayas. It was impossible to tell from his stony expression if he was hurt, annoyed, or angry. “Yes, my lord, it shall be as you desire. Please let the Tribe Historian go about with you, so that he can record your doings for our history, and assist you.” Rudo smiled and stepped forward.
“Wait! Dad, I saw Yohance, and he writes stuff down. Can’t he go with us instead?” I jumped in, daring Rudo or Zayas to disagree. “See, he’s the young guy in the back. I met him before. He’s helpful and nice.” I waved to Yohance, who waved back, and then Dad spotted him.
“Yes, that’s fine with me. I am sure Tribe Historian Rudo has many important tasks to do. Yohance, would you come here, please?” The young man threaded his way to us. He carried a paddle with paper attached and held a writing utensil ready.
My father turned back to the Harun monarch. “Thank you so much, King Zayas, for all that you have done to make us feel so welcome. My children and I will enjoy ourselves, and will see you later.”
The king dipped his head. “If one would acquire knowledge of an eagle, one must climb the cliffs, not just study a feather. Please call on me, or any of my men, well, anyone of my tribe, and we will assist you at any time. Historical Scribe Yohance will record your observations, and everything that you Creators say and do. You may read his writings at any time, to check for accuracy.” It sounded like a threat to Yohance, but Dad just nodded, smiled, and turned away.
“Lead on, Yohance. You will also double as our tour guide.”
Yohance wrinkled his brow in puzzlement, and then smiled as he walked backwards. “I must confess that I do not know what this 'tour guide' is, but I will take you to wherever you wish to go. What is your desire, my mysterious and glorious Creators?”
“Let’s go explore the savannah,” said Joel. That sounded like fun, but Dad shook his head.
“Not so far away. Yohance, please take us to the fields that we passed on the way in.” Our guide nodded, and in one graceful movement, spun on his heel and started down a street. Not as many people were about, so we walked along with ease and arrived at the main gate much sooner than I expected. People still gawked at us, but no one said anything as we stepped through the arch.
I felt the welcome breeze on my face, as we headed along the road. From the city to the bridge, there was a paved road of nicely fitted stone. Yohance soon veered off and went through the neat rows of plants. He saw a woman carrying a basket of leaves, and called out a greeting to her when he was near. She was not wearing the earth-toned stripes like the other farmers, and her dress was longer, with four stripes of gray, white, and two shades of blue. Her hat was a blue scarf with three knots tied in it, one at the front and one on either side. Balancing her basket on a hip, she waved to our guide, but knelt on the soft ground between the rows as we approached. Spying us, some farmers nearby copied her.
“Please, everyone, if you would stand, then I could have the pleasure of seeing your faces,” Dad said with a smile. The people rose, gazing at us with uncertainty.
“My Lord Councilor Raymond, I wish to introduce you and your children to my mother, Silkworm Grower Sela.”
It was easy to see where Yohance got his dazzling smile and his sister, Jetta, her beauty. Their mother was elegant, with slanted eyes and arched brows, which reminded me of a cat. “Master Creator, what a welcome sight all three of you are for our longing Harun eyes. I have heard that both your children are Creators?” News traveled fast.
“Yes, Silkworm Grower Sela. It appears that this is the first time two Creators were ever born in the same generation. All this is new to us, and we are looking forward to learning more about this world and its entire people.”
“Some people have impressed us with their kindness right away - like Yohance. I have asked if he could record our history,” I said.
Sela smiled at me as she responded to our father. "You are so kind. I am honored to see him in your presence."
“We are glad to have him accompany us, though I must think of something profound to say so I can satisfy Tribe Historian Rudo,” Dad joked. “Please, would you share with me how you grow silkworms?”
She was pleased that he asked. “We grow them in caves, where it is dark and damp. I pick leaves every day to feed them, such as these that I have in my basket.”
“What do you use silk for?” questioned Joel.
“Royalty and the important tribal members are the only ones who wear silk. Of course, now that you Creators are here, we will be making silk outfits for you. I am so delighted to meet all of you, but my silkworms need these leaves, and I beg that you understand that I must go.”
We said goodbye to Sela and she left, after extracting a promise from us to come visit her in the caves, where she would show us the silkworm production. Joel was interested and I hoped we would go there next because it sounded so interesting and she was so nice.
After Sela left, Dad turned his attention to the farmers that edged closer to us. “What do you grow out here? I have never seen such carefully attended fields.” The farmers surged forward, and began showing us their crops. In no time, we felt as if we’d always been part of their lives.
Dad, Joel, and I recognized peppers, tomatoes, onions, and different kinds of melons. The Harun farmers knew so much about farming, and they grew a huge variety of crops, including vegetables that I had never seen before. Besides food, they showed us fields of cotton, and plants that they used to make dyes. The growers were proud of their irrigation system, taking great pains to explain how they watered their crops by using the river. We must have spent hours looking over the fields, but it was educational in a fun way, because they told fascinating stories about wild rainstorms or endless droughts. We never realized how many animals and pests the farmers had to fight off to protect their crops. I thought how hard their life must be at times, but they took it as a challenge they were unafraid to face.
It was getting along toward midday when we took a break and sat in the shade of the stone bridge. Joel was tossing rocks in the murky brown water, when he stopped abruptly. I saw what he was staring at and nudged Dad, who was talking to Yohance beside him.
At the edge of the fields, Harun guards appeared to be holding a man as their prisoner. It was hard to make out his features from a distance, but he was not dressed like a Harun, and his hands were tied together as he was led along. A guard brought up the rear, clutching the arm of a Harun girl in a red dress, who was struggling to free herself.
“Jetta!” said Yohance, who leaped to his feet. “What are they doing with her?” We all got up and started to run along the road.
The guards disappeared through a side gate in the city walls, but we kept to the road, dashing through the main gate in record time. Yohance took the lead, his scribe paddle bouncing against his leg. We had to slow down a bit as we navigated the city streets.
Yohance led us to the main plaza, in front of the tall, imposing building to the left of the temple. Jetta and the prisoner knelt on its bottom step, while King glowered at them from the doorway, a dozen steps above. Sudi was pleading in his son’s ear, but the king’s eyes glittered like stones, and he was not hearing a word his father said.
Dad pulled us into a nearby shop, where we could listen and observe. Yohance jotted down notes faster than he had all morning. Joel and I stared at the prisoner.
He looked as if he were in his twenties, and he was scantily dressed. His clothing consisted of two flaps of zebra skin, held up by a wide leather belt, one each in the front and back. Unlike the barefoot Harun, he wore sturdy leather sandals. Odd green areas splotched his torso, arms, and face. The stranger's build was shorter and more muscular than the Harun. His nose was longer and wider, and his skin was a lighter brown. The most unusual thing was his hair. Shaved close on the sides and a few inches long on top, it had black and white tufts woven into it.
Zayas waved his father away and told the prisoners to rise. Jetta rose at once, but the man took his time and then stood in a casual stance. “Masamba prisoner, what is your name?” The man remained silent. “I command you to tell me your name,” commanded the king, but the man spat on the ground before him. The king took a few steps toward to the prisoner until he was an arm’s length away. “Your insolence and defiance are what I have come to expect from your people. Why were you trying to kidnap this girl from my tribe?” The prisoner just continued to stare at Zayas.
The king gave a tiny nod and a guard from behind the prisoner kicked the Masamba’s legs out from under him, making the man’s head crash into the steps as he fell. Zayas put his foot on the prisoner's head, holding it down as the guard touched the point of his sword to the helpless man’s back. “I can put all my weight on your head and crush it like a melon,” taunted the king. "Shall I do that now or will you talk?” Two guards held Jetta as she begged Zayas to let the man go. Ignoring her, the monarch nodded to another guard who brought out a whip. “Perhaps a whipping will help you find your tongue. You will tell us everything we need to know, starting with where you are holding my missing people.” The king stepped back and the guard raised the whip.
Dad brushed past me and ran to the Masamba man. Zayas’s gaze centered only on the prisoner and he smiled, his eyes triumphant as the sound of the first lash cracked in the air. My father grabbed the whip before it slashed the prisoner and yanked it out of the startled guard’s hand. “There will be no whipping today or any day in the future, Zayas. We need to go somewhere private and talk about this.”
His eyes blazing, the king nodded and led the way into the building. Dad helped the wounded man to his feet, and motioned for Jetta to come, too. Of course, Joel, Yohance, and I followed them. We entered a narrow, dark hall and went into the first room on the left. It had a long stone table and benches. Jetta and the Masamba man took their seats on the far side as she examined the swelling, bleeding gash on her companion’s head. Her friend stared at the wall over our heads, behaving as if the cut was minor while the blood trickled down his face.
"Would you like me to help with that?" my father asked.
The wounded man smirked at him. "I don’t think you can."
My father was calm as he walked around the table and pulled out a clean cotton handkerchief. When he touched the Masamba’s head, the prisoner flinched at the contact. My dad’s face lit up in wonder as the wound and the blood disappeared. The man stayed there unmoving, while Dad untied his hands and then returned to the other side of the table, sitting beside Zayas. The rest of us stood against the wall. Joel and I aimed to be inconspicuous and Yohance just stood there, absorbed in his writing.
“I do not know what has gone on here before, but I know that nothing is solved by beating another person. If you,” Dad nodded to the Masamba,”don’t want to give your name, then give us something to call you.”
“Call me Hunter.” He had a deep, smooth voice.
“Yes, thank you, Hunter. King Zayas, why did your men feel that they needed to capture Hunter?”
“We have been plagued for some years now with kidnappings. He was trying to abduct this young woman and we stopped him.”
“He was not kidnapping me,” Jetta announced. “We are, well, friends.”
“Then you ought to be punished for associating with the enemy,” the king snapped at her, glowering from beneath his furrowed brow.
“Wait! What is going on? Why should anyone be punished for making friends with people from other tribes?” Dad asked Zayas.
The king pursed his lips, unaccustomed to explaining himself. Jetta spoke up instead. “Our tribal leaders think the Masamba are responsible for the mysterious disappearance of some of our people. I tell you that the Masamba have nothing to do with it.”
"The Masamba are bloodthirsty and deceitful. We have to distance ourselves from them and their wicked ways. This silly girl knows this, yet she willingly associates with such people," said Zayas.
“I fail to see why it matters who I interact with as I am soon to be banished.” Jetta glared with great loathing at the king.
“Banished to where?” Dad questioned. There was a lot going on that he needed to learn about.
After a moment of hesitation, the king explained. “We have a place...my Lord. I must state that we were a lost people facing dark times, trying to get along without the divine guidance of our Creators. We sent people who are problematic, who don't fit in, to a small village where they will not be a menace to society.”
“They sound like criminals. Why would you send Jetta there?”
“She is a criminal. Jetta refuses to obey our laws.”
Dad turned to Jetta. “Was making friends with Hunter the only crime that you committed?”
“No, I also did not marry the king’s son as they ordered me to.” Joel and I looked at each other in astonishment. No wonder Kayin hated Jetta; she refused to marry him. “I am considered too rebellious for a woman and this is how they deal with me,” Jetta proclaimed, beautiful and defiant, while Hunter gazed at her with unconcealed admiration.
Dad stood up and the rest followed suit. “Hunter, I am going to send you back to your tribe. King Zayas, please have someone accompany him until he leaves Harun lands, so that no one will harm or hinder him. Hunter, my children and I will come to visit you soon.” With a shrug of his shoulders, Hunter stood up, glanced at Jetta, and then he left. Zayas hurried out to give orders to the guards. When the king returned, Dad addressed him. “We will go see the village where these banished people live. You will accompany me, as well as your advisers and the prince. We can leave now.”
Zayas became so tense that his face looked like stone. He gave a stiff bow saying, “As it pleases Your Greatness. It is going to rain soon, but if my Highest Lord would like to go immediately, I can make arrangements.”
“Well, if it is going to rain, let us start first thing tomorrow morning.”
The king nodded, his solemn face hiding his thoughts. There was an awkward silence until he said, “In the meantime, would the Councilor like to review Harun and Creator history in the Temple?”
Dad’s face lit up, but Jetta implored, “May I stay with your children?”
“Of course,” Dad said. Seeing Jetta glance at the king, he added, “You have my protection Jetta, so that you may go anywhere you please without anyone bothering you.” Jetta relaxed and smiled as my father continued, “Yohance, since I will be at the Temple reading, you could stay with my children, if you would like to continue noting events.” Yohance gave a small bow in reply.
With that, Dad followed Zayas out the door.
Jetta and Yohance smiled at each other and us, too. “Would you like to see your apartment?” Jetta asked us.
“We have an apartment?” I asked.
“Yes, our master builders designed a place for Creators to use during visits. We keep them fresh and ready," Yohance said.
“Let’s go.” Joel was already moving out the door. Jetta led us across the plaza as people stopped and stared. We trailed behind her as she began mounting a steep staircase chiseled out beside the temple. I felt nervous because there were many steps that led straight up with no landings. As scary as it was to climb up the stairs, I kept wondering what it would be like to descend them.
At last, we reached the top. A narrow portico ran across the front of the building and followed along the sides. The graceful columns looked like budding flowers with long stems, their unopened blossoms at the top. In the middle loomed a tall doorway decorated with an elegant curtain of colored silk, which fluttered in the breeze. The gleaming gold and bright touches of jewel toned paint set off the dark stone of the walls and columns.
We all turned around to view the city below. It was not a wide, sweeping vista, that would be expected from such a height. Tops of other buildings and higher spires of stone impeded the sight, so most of our view consisted of mountain peaks. Large birds flew overhead or perched on sharp crags. They blended well because their dark brown backs were the same color as the mountain. Their white breasts had spots of brown, as if they were wearing a polka dot shirt under a dark jacket. Some sat on untidy nests of sticks that rested on jutting ledges or hollows in the rock.
"Look over there." Joel pointed to the left. A mature bird flew with its young, soaring above our heads. The older bird had a curvy beak, which looked familiar, as did its long tail. "They are the birds carved on the box." We watched them flying until they went out of sight.
"They are called Mansa eagles, and are the most powerful bird in the world. They nest in our mountains and act as out guardians, always keeping watch. The eagles alerted the guards when you arrived yesterday morning," Jetta said. She turned and walked in the building, so we followed her.
It was cool and quiet inside, in contrast to the heat outside and the bustling noises of the marketplace. We entered an elaborate main room with intricate murals of trees, flowers, and animals on one wall, and the open portico on the others. With a few large potted plants in ornate pots and some stone benches, the room had the warmth of a museum lobby.
Outside, the sun disappeared behind a cloud and the wind picked up. "I think it will rain in short order," Yohance said. "This is the perfect time to acquaint our new Creators with this special and ancient place."
"It is impressive," I said. "Could we see the whole apartment?" Two more doorways led to rooms beyond, of which I caught a glimpse.
"Of course, my Holy Ones. Let me show you where everything is." Jetta guided us though the apartment, telling us that young women took turns cleaning and preparing it, which was an honor. All the rooms had sparse furniture and most looked the same. None of the rooms had doors, but some had strips of silk hanging in the doorways, similar to the main entrance.
My favorite room was the Treasure Room. It was long with a window at one end. All sorts of gold and jeweled items rested on beds of purple silk laid on shelves. We stayed there a long time examining the gold jewelry, dishes, statues, and other items. Both Joel and I selected necklaces and bracelets to wear. I chose some bangles to put on my arms, while Joel put two wider ones with jewels on his ankles. My necklace was a large leopard pendent with green stones for eyes. Joel selected a good-sized eagle pendent, the golden wings of which spread out across his chest. Jetta and Yohance admired our jewelry, but we could not persuade them to try any themselves.
There was a bathroom, a good-sized room, with only a massive stone tub in the middle. Beautiful murals of a river adorned the walls, which were lit by narrow openings near the ceiling. "Creator Zareb, the Great Philosopher, requested the tub so he could have a quiet place to think. After that, all Harun homes had a large tub added to them. Soaking in warm water clears the mind, leading to great meditations," Yohance said.
We could hear the rain outside now, when we meandered back to the main room. Jetta and Yohance brought out huge, purple silk pillows for us to sit on.
"Your mother grows silkworms, but what does your father do?" I asked.
Jetta smiled. "Mistress Celestine, he has a remarkable occupation where he designs and crafts things out of gold."
"Yes, my lady. Our father is a Master Goldsmith."
"Wow!" Joel said. "How did he get a great job like that?"
"Master Joel, my father showed an aptitude for it when he was a boy and learned much from his father, who was a goldsmith before him. When he was a young man, he mined for the gold. As he got older, he learned how to refine the metal and then mastered the skill of working with it. When he is an Elder, he will teach younger men his craft and pass on his knowledge."
"How old do you have to be to get a job?"
Jetta's smile wavered a little and she gave her brother a look. “When you reach sixteen harvests you are grown enough to start a trade, Lord Joel," Yohance said. "The City Director decides what job you will have, determined by your abilities."
"So, Jetta, do you have a job?" I wanted to know.
She smiled, though her eyes looked sad. "I was training to be a healer, Creator Celestine. The apprentices start out learning what herbs and roots to collect. I loved leaving the city walls, going out in the fields and woods."
"Is that how you met Hunter?" My new friend bowed her head in embarrassment and nodded.
"I can’t believe that they told you to marry Kayin," Joel said.
Yohance smiled, but quickly clapped his hand over his mouth.
"Well, I don’t blame you for turning him down," I announced, then proceeded to tell them how I changed Kayin into a pig. When Joel and I began laughing, our new acquaintances joined us, though they giggled behind their hands.
After we calmed down, I realized that it explained Kayin’s reaction to Jetta the day before. "So, Jetta, did you say no because Kayin is an obnoxious pain, or is it because Hunter is mysterious and brave?"
She smiled as she said, "It is because of both reasons." She then became solemn. “Someday, I hope you get to know Hunter and become his friend. In his tribe, they do not welcome outsiders and will not tell you their names until they trust you."
"I won't breathe a word, if you and Yohance will just talk to us like regular people, without all the formalities." My brother nodded in agreement.
"I will endeavor to follow your command, Councilors." Yohance got up and bowed.
"I would like that. You honor us, and we shall never forget it," Jetta said.