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Griots Excerpt: The Three Faced One by Charles Saunders

The Three Faced One by Shawn Alleyne

One of the cool things about Griots is that Charles Saunders wrote a brand new Imaro story just for the anthology. Here's an excerpt...

The warrior peered intently over a high sandstone escarpment. An unfamiliar landscape spread like a ragged carpet beneath him. Far to the north, his keen vision could discern a dark smudge on the horizon: not storm clouds, but smoke and ash flung skyward from the fiery throats of a lengthy range of volcanoes that erupted only intermittently but were never completely quiescent. The volcanic range, along with its immediate surroundings, was known as Motoni, the northernmost boundary of the mighty continent called Nyumbani.

It was said that nothing could live in Motoni … nothing other than demons and the spirits of the damned. The warrior had no desire to encounter either, though he would not retreat if he were confronted. What he saw in the area beneath the escarpment interested him more than the tales of vagabonds who had ventured close to – but never into – Motoni.

The land before him was bleak, but not blasted. Part of it consisted of semi-arid territory, with patches of scrub-brush interspersed with the occasional flat-topped acacia tree. Desert antelope with horns as straight as spears browsed on the brush, and puffs of dust marked the passage of other, smaller creatures that moved so swiftly that the dust was all that could be seen of them.

The other part – the part that lay to the east – was covered with short, dun-colored grass. Blade-leafed mopane trees grew in copses not large enough to be considered forests. Herds of gnu, zebra and impala grazed the plain. Their ears flickered and their nostrils twitched as they kept constant vigil for signs of lurking flesh-eaters.

Farther to the east, the warrior saw clusters of stony spires that towered like monuments to forgotten deities. Outcrops of rock were present on the arid side as well, but they rose in isolation, and were not as high as their eastern counterparts.

At the border of the two territories, sand and grass competed in a never-ending struggle, with dry yellow fingers reaching into the plain and clumps of ochre grass finding precarious purchase in arid soil. It was on that border that two groups of people gathered. And it was those groups that had captured and maintained the warrior’s attention.

Even from the distant escarpment, the warrior could see clear differences between the groups. The people of the grassland were very dark in hue, and wore almost no clothing. With them were long-horned cattle of a type similar to the ones the warrior had herded during his youth.

It was difficult to discern much about the people on the other side of the few yards of space that separated the groups. For their bodies were wrapped in lengths of white cloth that threw back the sunlight in a blinding glare. Turbans of similar cloth covered their heads. Camels stood placidly at the swathed people’s side. The humped beasts bore saddles and bridles.

Neither side carried any weapons that the warrior could see. Yet the tension between the contingents was apparent even at a distance.

They must be here to trade, the warrior thought. To his way of thinking, the cattle-herders would surely get the worst of any bargain. Despite the many rains he had spent away from the herds of his childhood, the warrior continued to prefer cows to camels.

Then he realized that none of the white-robes’ camels were unsaddled or without bridles. And the warrior saw no bundles or stacks of other goods for exchange. He frowned in puzzlement.

One of the white-robes made a sudden, emphatic gesture. With ill-concealed reluctance, the herders acknowledged the signal, and urged all the cattle they had brought to go to the westerners’ side. Nearly a score of the herders followed the cattle. The ones who went with the beasts were not young enough to be considered children, but still too young to have reached adulthood. They carried sacks and containers with them. As they departed, they did not look back. And the herders left behind looked at the ground.

Not trade, the warrior realized. Tribute. The robed ones take not only cattle, but also slaves and other goods, from the herders.

The white-robes mounted their camels. The warrior heard echoes of harsh words and cruel laughter as the westerners drove the cattle and captives into the semi-arid side of the land. The herders watched silently for a time. Then, heads still down, they turned and trudged toward the jumble of tall rocks that shimmered in the distance.

The warrior frowned. He had wandered a great distance since his last sojourn with other people. Increasingly, he had become careful concerning such contact, and drained by its demands. In most parts of Nyumbani, his name preceded him. So did tales of his deeds. Some of those stories were true; others, exaggerated; and still others nothing more than the imaginings of the griots and praise-singers who told them.

To some, he was The Liberator. To others, he was known as The Deathless Warrior. More ominously, some referred to him as Death’s Friend. He had overthrown empires, destroyed demons, freed slaves, slain sorcerers. It was whispered that a deity dwelled inside him – a Cloud Strider from ancient times.

The whisperers spoke truth. But the warrior was still a man, though unlike any other. At times, he wearied of the importunings of men and women, as well as the toll he exacted from himself as he reflected on some of the things he had done.

He was aware that the lands to the immediate south of Motoni were isolated and mostly unknown. He had never ventured this far north before. He wondered if the tales about him had spread to this place. If they had not, there was a chance he could find the peace that eluded him elsewhere.

But the scene below did not look peaceful …

Read the rest of this exciting story in Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology.

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