Like a sample? Here’s the Prologue..
Misanwi ran lightly across the broken ground that bordered the edge of the great forest. His feet were bare and callused. They slapped the dirt with a steady rhythm, puffs of dust kicking up to sting his ankles and calves. A dark bloodstain crept up between the toes of one foot, and a series of blisters marked the hours he had already run. In his slim, scarred fingers he held a sweat dampened spear, tip fire-hardened, shaft etched with unique patterns. In his eyes he held a message that could destroy his entire tribe.
The boy stumbled and fell face first into the dirt. The thump of his head hitting the ground startled a small troop of shetani, and the tiny demons chittered and yipped at him as they fled back into the forest. To his left, massive trees loomed like sullen ghosts under the low grey sky, their trailing branches dipping towards the shallow path that the young warrior followed. The forest was not a good place for Maasai. The trails within were thin, sickly things. Worm trails. Every step one took upon them seemed to draw the shadowing trees closer, until they closed in like green witch fingers, gnarled and snaggly, ready to clutch at an unruly cape or strand of hair. Misanwi pulled himself to his feet and ran on.
The Maasai were people of the open. They made their homes away from choking forests. How could you live in all that thickness, all that strangling, constricting… closeness? Home was sun upon the face. Home was wind to make your eyes squint. Room to see your enemies. Home was a bright, wide sky under which the herd ebbed and flowed with life. As he ran, a hint of a smile flickered across Misanwi’s face at the thought of home.
A rustling crack echoed from within the forest depths. Misanwi shied away from the shadowed canopy. Briefly he considered changing direction. He could edge further from the forest towards the escarpment, and make his way through the tumbled rocks at the base. But no, the crumbling, slippery footing away from the path would slow him down. He might stumble again, perhaps sprain an ankle or worse. He’d already been running for a day and a half, with few stops for rest. His speed was down to a fraction of what it had been. Were he not Maasai, he was certain he would already have collapsed in exhaustion. He ignored the wet, snuffling noises that followed the crack out of the forest, and kept running.
Two hours later he left the edge of the forest proper and began to wend his way through the open woodlands that led toward the ocean. With a grin he slowed to a walk and puffed out his cheeks in mock relief, swinging his arms high and flicking back his head, letting his long, plaited hair slap his cheeks and forehead. A sharp twinge in his ankle reminded him that he had run almost eight hours without rest. Misanwi realised that his reserves were almost drained. If he stopped now for more than a few minutes he might never begin running again, and that he could not afford.
The boy straightened his back, mouthed a silent prayer to the gods of his people and began to lope again towards the distant horizon. He was Maasai. He was strong. He would succeed.
For three hours more Misanwi ran. Sweat burned his eyes, dripping from his forehead and chin, trickling down his arms, threatening to send the spear slipping from his tired fingers. Occasionally he glanced back at the trail behind him. The mountains he had left were named Nahtoch in an ancient, mostly forgotten tongue. Nahtoch. Sword sharp peaks. Dragon backed, crumblings of giants. Fierce, unforgiving heights. The Maasai sent their youth to learn fighting skills from the hill folk who lived in the shadow of the mountains, a counterpoint to the wide open spaces the Maasai wandered for the rest of their lives. Nahtoch. Mountains of Madness.
Only one thing terrified Misanwi more than the jagged peaks of Nahtoch. The black, swirling, churning clouds he had seen boil up from within them.
Misanwi ran. Before him white crests of sand dunes began to poke through the thinning scrub. His nostrils flared as the first faint smells of salt and sea echoed the distant cries of gulls. Utterly exhausted, he staggered over the last dune to see what he had left at the beginning of the autumn. Maasai. His tribe stretched out across the white sands. Cowhide tents and cooking fires. Warriors, women, children. Family, friends… and drawn up on the shore like beached whales, row after row of long, low slung ships. Carved wooden dragons and long horned bulls topped their prows. Square sails were neatly furled, long oars wrapped in oilcloth and resting against the high, curved stern.
The Maasai were people of the open ocean. Sea herders. Cattle raiders. Where other people had settled and built towns and planted crops, only the Maasai remained true to their ancient heritage. They swept across the sea, constantly searching out new pastures for their cattle. Other tribes clung to the land like limpets on a bare rock. Only the Maasai lived the true life.
As he stumbled towards the encampment, Misanwi saw a familiar figure crouched by one of the cooking fires, painstakingly sharpening the blade of a huge battleaxe. “Father”, he yelled, surprised by the croak in his voice.
His father stood and turned towards the sound. Unruly red hair and thick, plaited beard matched Misanwi’s own in colour. Woollen leggings kept out the brisk sea breeze, and even at a distance Misanwi could see that his mother had once again been forced to patch the elbows of his father’s tunic.
“Misanwi?” his father said softly, then louder, his eyes lighting up. “Misanwi?”
The older man began to run towards his son. Behind him, other members of the tribe turned and looked. Within seconds, Misanwi was surrounded by a sea of familiar faces. Black, milky white and every shade between. Maasai. Traditional beaded locks capped in stout leather and iron helms, summer kilts and cloths replaced by thick leggings and winter coats. It had been so long, he realised. Too long away.
“Welcome son, welcome home” his father grinned.
“Hola” he replied, smiling weakly. “Misanwi Thorgenson has returned to the Maasai.”
“In disgrace?” his father suddenly growled, forehead wrinkling into a worried scowl.
“Father! Is this the greeting you give a returned warrior?”
“Ha! I jest. If you were truly in disgrace you’d be running the other way.” Thorgen clapped a meaty hand on Misanwi’s shoulder and gazed down at his son, the frown flickering across his broad face once more. “You’re not due back for another two weeks though. Have you finished your training so soon?”
“No father,” Misanwi said. “I bring warning. Over Nahtoch, clouds gather. Black clouds.”
Thorgen’s face paled. He stepped back from his son as if from a ghost or demon, his eyes flicking left and right as he strove to gather his thoughts. Suddenly he shook his head, the great mane of hair flying about his face, and bellowed to all within earshot. “Load the boats! We break camp. Herd the cattle to the holds. By all the gods, I want these sands bare within the hour.” Then, with a glance at the blue skies above him… “The Storm is coming!”
Less than an hour later, trampled sands and steaming ashes were all that remained of the Maasai camp.