06/08/2015 by paulinebsc
Chi ran. He enjoyed running and his little legs pumped furiously to stay ahead of Aunt Lisbet. Her legs were longer, but he was managing to keep ahead of her. This time she had made him run for a long way. He had never been this far from the village before. Chi’s rough tunic was starting to chafe around his arms and he paused to pull it to a more comfortable position.
‘No Chi, don’t stop. Keep running’ she panted from behind him. She seemed to be taking the race far more seriously than usual.
‘Lisbet’s taken the lad and done a runner.’ Kart called to Shemp back in the village. ‘The whole village will be destroyed if the sacrifice doesn’t happen today.’
Shemp had mixed feelings. Chi’s mother had been with most of the men in the village before her death, and Shemp thought the boy looked a little like him. As an elder his loyalty lay with the village and he should be ready to perform the ceremonial sacrifice. As a possible father he could not bring himself to begrudge the lad his freedom.
‘Cass and Drub are chasing them down. They’re our fastest runners. You’re the best rider; we’ll get Branz ready for you.’ Branz was the village’s only horse, but in spite of the care that was taken of him, it was clear the horse was limping as he was led towards Shemp.
‘That’s that then.’ Shemp declared. Nothing I can do, it’s up to Cass and Drub.
Lisbet was tiring, and she could hear the two men puffing behind her. She knew she could outrun them over a short distance, and in spite of his short legs, she knew Chi had speed and stamina. She was confident he could keep running, less sure that she could.
Chi’s name been chosen by the gods, and Cass knew the village would only be safe after he was sacrificed. That silly woman thought she would save her nephew, in spite of what it meant to the rest of them. They needed Chi alive until the ceremony, they didn’t need Lisbet. Cass threw his angry spear in her direction.
Lisbet stumbled then she lay still. Heedless, Chi kept on running. Cass bent over the body but Drub kept lumbering after the boy.
Chi heard his aunt yell at him to keep running and did so. He had no idea why they were running from Drub and Cass but her panic had affected him.
It was a long time before Chi got a chance to rest. He now knew Drub was too far behind to ever to catch him, and allowed himself time to bend over and take a few deep breaths. The break did not last long. He heard a horse galloping towards him from one side, and changed direction to run from it, but he didn’t stand a chance. Arms reached out and grabbed him, and he was lifted onto the horse. Until now the only horse Chi had seen was Branz. This horse was much smaller and shaggier. Words were spoken, but he didn’t understand them. He turned to look at the stranger holding him.
The man held Chi tightly, pleased with his prize. Any slave trader would be pleased to buy a good looking lad as strong as this. He held his prisoner tight and sped away from the man lumbering after them. Drub stopped, knowing his chase was hopeless now, and dropped his head in despair.
Twelve years later:
Chi had been with his current master for nine years now, and enjoyed working there, his childhood almost forgotten. Tibas was not a cruel master, and treated his servants and slaves as part of the family. Punishments were rare, and Chi had never received more than an occasional slap, and he had to admit that he had deserved every one. In truth he did not feel like a slave except when it came to his love life. Tibas’ daughter, Talima, kept trying to get him alone. While he liked her as much as she liked him, it was not his place to return her affections. He didn’t want to give Tibas any reason to punish him severely, or even worse sell him. She was old enough to marry one of the village men that she deserved. Slaves were not permitted to marry without their master’s permission. Talima was out of his reach.
It was unusual for a slave to be summoned to Tibas’ private office when the master was present. Chi shifted his feet nervously before knocking the door.
‘Come!’ Tibas sounded stern, and his face was grim when Chi entered.
‘You wanted me sir?’
‘My daughter is annoyed with you.’
Chi was surprised. He couldn’t remember doing anything serious enough for her to tell her father.
Tibas could not keep his serious face any longer, his laughter broke out.
‘You know she fancies you?’
‘Yes sir. I haven’t done anything though; it isn’t right for her to feel anything for a humble slave.’
‘ Quite right. She told me you felt like that.’ Tibas steepled his fingers, looking thoughtful.
‘You’ve always been like a son to me, Chi. Tell me, truthfully, to you fancy her too?’
‘Oh yes, sir, I do.’
‘Will you marry her if I set you free? You know that my steward is leaving? You can have his place if you want, I pay well. But I am sure anyone in the town will employ you if that doesn’t suit.’
‘I would love to work with you, sir.’
‘And marry Talima.’
‘Yes sir, if she’ll have me.’ Love shone in Chi’s face.
‘Less of the sir, you can call me Tibas now. I know she’ll have you.’
‘Thank you, sir … I mean Tibas.’
Tibas laughed. ‘Go on, ask her.’
After Tibas’ death Talima and Chi travelled. Chi had discovered a gift for selling things, and Talmia had proved to be an excellent at bargaining. Together they had started trading, at first in the town, but their ambitions grew, and now they were travelling with a group of similarly minded traders covering more and more of the neighbouring villages.
They were looking for new markets to the north when Chi stopped.
‘What’s up darling?’ Talima followed as he drew away from the troupe.
Chi looked at the stone temple close to them, and moved towards it.
‘This is where I grew up’ he told her, looking around in confusion. Instead of the wooden houses that had surrounded the temple there was only a few squares of scorched earth and where fields had been there was bare earth. He could see bones lying in them but had no intention of looking to see if they were human or animal.
Talima felt his distress and walked up to take his hand. A few minutes later he led her back towards the waiting group of traders pausing only to pick up an ornate ceremonial knife and heft it, feeling its weight.
‘That could bring a small fortune.’
‘Perhaps you should keep it, at a memento?’ Talina suggested.
‘Nah! Why remember the past when I’ve got a life with you.’
Chi kissed his wife tenderly and walked away from his past, unaware that he was carrying the knife which should have killed him all those years before.