For reasons unknown to anyone that night Nhau took upon himself the task of feeding our captors most unique and priced weapon: a pack of seven mighty wolves tamed and trained for the sole purpose of hunting and killing people. His torso ended up being in the animals’ jaws. Nhau screamed long enough to be heard and rescued before the beasts had mauled him to death.
There was a lot of stir in the camp as people came to see what the commotion was all about but they quickly returned to their tents to sleep, the sight of a dying slave wasn’t interesting enough to hold their attention for long. Most of those who stayed a moment longer were young women captured from the same village as Nhau but the soldiers who now owned the quickly came and dragged them back to their tents to warm their beds. When the crowd had dispersed Nhau was thrown back to the wolves and the taskmaster ordered the rest of us to watch as the seven creatures ripped and tore Nhau into pieces. This time Nhau did not scream or struggle. There was only a small growl and moments later small puddles of blood and flesh on the ground to prove the once existence of Nhau.
As expected the taskmaster gave a little speech befitting the circumstance. He wanted us to work, he said. He did not want us to be distracted in our daily duties by mourning or burying bodies so from that day forth to save everyone’s time and strength unabled bodies would be thrown to the seven dogs. We were ordered to get some sleep for the next morning we were to start preparing for the soldiers’ march to the north.
“We have to try again tomorrow Nhamo,” Jaji my friend and fellow slave whispered into my ear as we made our way to the centre of the camp where we slept,”you have to warn Rudo about the changes now or else she will be in huge trouble if she get caught.”
I nodded and made the usual manoeuvre to sneak away from the rest of the group. I knew I wouldn’t be missed for a while, and if I did my friend Jaji would cover for me untill my return. I made my way to the east side of the camp without making any noise or rousing suspicion. Despite it being a moonless and almost a starless night I reached my destination without any trouble. I now knew the camp like the back of my hand and could navigate it from end to end with my eyes closed. I had made it my priority to know everything about the camp and its surroundings before I made my escape.
Rudo was waiting for me at our appointed meeting place. She had a little bag with provisions and looked ready to go, I was sad to disappoint her.
“You have to go back,” I told her,”the plan failed tonight but we will have to do it .”
“Why, what happened?” She whispered into my face. She did not look weak or sickly and it made me believe that she was at least getting some food. I told her how another slave had attempted to feed the wolves and got eaten making Jaji’s task of poisoning them with small pieces of meat impossible. If it had succeeded we would have ran that night, with dead wolves the soldiers had no way to track and follow us at all. Rudo startled me by sitting down on a huge stone near us.
“Don’t worry Nhamo I have some few more moments to spare, Nyari is on duty tonight.” She said and it took me a moment to remember who Nyari was, another girl who was in the same predicament as her.
Rudo started playing awkwardly with her hands, a gesture she did when she was nervous or guilty. I asked her what the problem was.
“You know there is a thousand ways this plan can fail,” she continued,”if we get caught we will be killed instantly.”
I took a closer look at her, she smelt of garlic and perfume. I was wrong to think she was almost starving she was getting plumpy and I hadn’t noticed it.
“What I am saying is that we haven’t thought this through…” she stammered. I couldn’t believe it, Jaji’s suspicions had been proven true.
“You don’t want to go?”
“I do but I don’t think now is the best time can we wait just for few more weeks perhaps? ”
“I can’t believe it! You want to stay here at this place of death? Do you want to continue living as that evil man’s property?” I heard my own voice rise, I ways getting angry. How could Rudo ask me to continue living as a slave? Each passing sunrise did not guarantee that I would see the next sunset. The taskmaster would acquire younger new slaves and I would be disposed of or one of the captain would look at my face and dislike it then I would be gone or simply someone would discovered about my sneaking to see Rudo and I would be hanged before the next meal. The more time we spent trapped in the camp, the more likely we were to die before winter began. If the ancestors were to spare us that long then they planned to kill us with the northern winter cold.
“Rudo tell me, why you want to stay maybe I might understand.” I pleaded with her
She didn’t answer but continued looking up at the dark sky. I looked closely at her silhouette and calmed myself with reasons I loved her. Rudo had been my friend since we were toddlers. When we grew a little older I knew she was the love of my life, the only one the gods would ever grant me. So I married her in a huge wedding feast our village had ever had in years. For two weeks we lived like husband and wife. We were happy, I presume. Then they raided our village in the dead of the night, the Masashi army did. We woke up to find our huts burning, children crying and worst of all enemy soldiers with spears dripping our loved ones’ blood. In a matter of hours my village, my home and my family were no more. Our way of life had been reduced to ashes. They took our wealth, everything my people had. The Masashi people emptied our granaries, added our cattle, sheep and goats to their already bountiful herds they had already stolen. In my despair I believed that everybody was dead, I mourned them. I thought they took me prisoner then turned me into a slave because I was the last of my line, a trophy of their atrocities.
For almost a year I toiled in the Masashi solders’ camp doing what ever I was ordered to. Once in a while I would find enough food to keep hunger from ripping my stomach apart but most of the nights I slept on an empty stomach hoping the next day would be better. Other slaves came and went, when I say went I mean die. Some tried to escape but the wolves caught up with them, they were mauled by the beasts to death or if they were lucky enough they would be beheaded on the spot. Some were beaten to death by their masters for laziness but usually most worked so hard that they just croaked to death whilst doing their chores. For reasons I don’t know I wasn’t among those that fell ill or starved to death. If death had came for me sooner I would have graciously accepted it with both hands. I never bothered with escaping because I had no where to run to or someone whose arms to run into.
Then one day I saw her again, almost a year since the raid. My dear Rudo was wearing a grey cloth and carrying a clay pot filled with water on her head, a familiar sight I had fallen in love with years earlier. She was coming from the river with the other slave girls. There I was, digging latrines for the solders’ crap with other male slaves when a group of young women slaves passed us talking and laughing with my dead wife amongst them. I continued staring at her with astonishment until one of the girls noticed me and whispered something in to her ear. Rudo turned to my direction and saw me. Her bewildered face showed that she was twice as surprised of seeing me than I was of seeing her, plus she stumbled and almost fell in the process. She quickly looked away from me but I believe I saw blood drain away from her face.
Conversations, contact or any form of relationship between male and female slaves was prohibited and punishable by death or by flogging if you happen to be a worth property in their eyes. It didn’t matter though, the solders always flogged offenders to death. It wouldn’t come as a surprise that it was almost a month later when I was able to talk to her alone. It was her who came up with the places and times we could meet, three months later we haven’t been caught yet. On our first reunion night I asked her how she survived the raid, she told me how she and the other women were weeping after the soldiers had dragged all the men away when a young captain flanked by two soldiers walked by and took a liking at her. The captain who was merely a boy, probably a prince, claimed her for himself. None of the soldiers objected and that is how she survived the initial slaughter of our people. She told me that the Captain ordered her to ride on one of the donkeys that way she didn’t suffer from blisters or died of exhaustion on the two month march to the west kingdoms, which killed the rest of our people. For almost a year she had been his slave doing whatever he asked. I tried to tell her about my own tale but she didn’t want to hear of it, she said it was too sad to be ever talked about again.
“Rudo tell me why you want to stay maybe I might understand.” I asked her again. For three months after I found her again I had plotted a way to get us away from that place, now it was almost done the person I did it for didn’t want to anymore.
“You don’t have to yell Nhamo please,” Rudo’s voice sounder angry from the darkness around me, “please listen to me Nhamo.”
I waited for her to continue. The silence and the darkness of the night was familiar from the days of our courting, only the feeling of love and happiness that hard flowed in our veins then had now turned to despondency and fear. Although we could still hear songs and laughter from where we were sitting, it wasn’t of our neighbors and kinsmen anymore but that of the Masashi soldiers, rough voices of ugly men singing praise songs of their own looting and murdering of the poor and the weak. I would have preferred to hear croaking toads, howling jackals and hooting owls than those bloodthirsty captors from the south singing of their own glory.
“Nhamo tell me, do you honestly believe we can safely escape from here, return to our village and rebuild our homes and be happy for the rest of our lives? ” she finally asked.
“Yes I do. I don’t see why that’s impossible.” I replied kneeling in front of her, trying to show her hope still lived in me,”If not our village we might go to Vhera village, I still have relatives there.”
“He won’t let me go just like that you know,” Rudo continued, “Prince Mhtuli is powerful and dangerous, he will send a whole battalion after us and it won’t end well you know it.”
She had never mentioned the name of the man who now owned her until that night. I had learnt from my fellow slaves that Prince Mhtuli was the first cousin of the current Masashi Emperor himself, if I took his slave away I would be more than in trouble. but wasn’t our love worth it?
“Nhamo tell me the truth, if we manage to escape how are you going to feel for the rest of your life raising your wife’s bastard? An innocent child of a man who enslaved you, killed your family and burnt your village to the ground?”
“Rudo you know I love you …”
“I know you love me Nhamo but what I don’t know is if you will love this Masashi child I am carrying in me right now. ”
I paused for a moment and looked up to the sky for answers, none weren’t brutal. Was I selfish to think that my love with Rudo would triumph over her love of her unborn bastard child?
“It’s late we should go and rest, ” I said with a yawn,”we have a long journey tomorrow. ”
A million and half thoughts ran around in my mind that moment. If I promise to take care of the child, I would always see it as a bastard no matter what. Wouldn’t it be better if the child grew up a semi-royal and a semi-slave. That moment I made my decision, I loved Rudo a lot to put her in pain.
“Goodnight my love, I will see you tomorrow. ” I lied.
“Nhamo please,” Rudo said before starting to sob. I walked away full of rejuvilation and filled with vigor to escape and live again. Rudo’s weeping reminded me of death. Jaji mourned with me after I returned to the camp and told him she was dead. In a way she was dead to me, without her love I had no use or need for her. Sometimes I do wonder what happened to her after I left her crying on that rock.