– by Haav0c
“Please elder, tell the poorly-made man story again!”, the children cry. A man, with a smile on his face surrounded by wrinkles of age on all sides, leans back against the wall of the hut. “Fine, children, I will tell you the story of the poorly-made man”.
“It is the third day of the planting. The three moons, Alaha, Moroha, and Gleema shine high into the night sky, bathing the unsown fields with their blue
light as the tribe sows the morana seed.
Then, there is a light in the sky, like a new ancestor, shining over us. But, children, this light was not an ancestor. It grew, like the rising sun, but
fast, until the light came to rest outside the village.
The sowing forgotten, we creeped towards the light, like stalking the wild brunda, who roam the plains. What we find is no brunda. It is no ancestor either.
It was shaped like a man, only wrong, and blacker than night. The chest was not some tanned, taught expanse of brown skin, but a drum, big enough to hold a
man twice over. The legs were bulky, big blocky things, like the gods had spent little time sculpting legs that were meant to run like brunda or dance in the
firelight. The head was much the same, there were no eyes for seeing, no ears, no nose, just a ball, with holes in the front where the eyes should be.
The arms were much like the legs, and seemed horrible for the intricate weaving of morana baskets or throwing a spear, with the wrong number of fingers, only
three. They lay at his side, unused. Then, the sphere lit with light like the sun, and the ground around the black-as-night man lit like day, but only blue,
with bumps and mounds where we could all swear there were no clumps of grass.
Sees-the-horizon, with the best eyes among us, climbed a sturdy morica tree, whose fruit is small and tasteless, but is ideal for looking for herds of
brunda. He crept back down, and told us what he saw.
The blue light was not just a light, it was a map. Sees-the-horizon could see all of the land around us, the twin rivers, Sheka and Roanka, and all the land
between them. The rocks and caves we hide in, hidden to prying eyes, were clear as day on this magic.
Then, we watched as the ghostly blue caves vanished, and turned into a great block, with lights smaller than the smallest arrowhead on the side, in little
rows. Blue lines spread from the cave, across the rivers and trees, ending with more blue boxes and spreading to another. It was beautiful.
We left for the night, and talked with the elders, them as old then as I am now. They listened without speaking, and with little discussion told us to return to him in the morning with gifts.
Come morning, we returned, with stalks-the-herd’s second best spear, a necklace of brunda bones and a basket of morana seed.
The man still stood there, still black, with the blue picture on the ground, as beautiful as it was the night before. It was different, though. In the corner closest to us, we could see thin wavy lines, looking just as the rivers around our territory, with the blue lines and boxes still present. Lines went from our territory far away, a beautiful web, like a half-woven basket, and in front of the man a square, blocky shame spun and rotated, growing more detailed with every minute.
I was the one to walk to the man, not out of bravery but because no-one else would. The second my foot landed on the very edge of the blue web, the graceful spins of the object stopped like death had claimed it, and the black man moved for the first time, the head that was not a head turning towards me. I kept walking to spears distance, too far away for blows but close enough for a spear thrust, the distance all tribes hold their discussions in. The man did not react as I held the gifts out to him, nor when I laid them at his blocky feet and walk quietly backwards. The rest of the tribe, emboldened by my approach, stands with hands out to show we mean no harm. His head turns and the holes grow and shrink, making a sound like running a spear along the bark of the morika.
As I clear the edge of where the blue square is and stand with my tribe, the blue light shines again. There are no lines, no blocks, but there is red. The river is the boundary again, and I see red shapes that were not there before. We look closer, and each one is the shape of a man. Sees-the-horizon moves to my side to see better, and we all gasp as one of the red shapes moves to the other. The rivers shrink, and the red shapes lose their shapes, as the picture seems to grow bigger, while not changing size. The red shapes grow closer and merge into one as the image grows, but there are other red spots as well. I recognise the Harana tribe territory, who we exchange children with to prevent the broken-child curse, because it is surrounded by lakes, in my memories and in the picture.
The black misshapen man is still silent, but the map grows abruptly bigger, and the red dot of us merges with the red dot where the Harana tribe is, as other red dots appear, farther away than any of our tribe could hope to travel. The map suddenly stops its growing, and vanishes. The black man moves for the first time, with noises like ten spears against a tree, as the awkward legs move him away from us, leaving the gifts where he stood. He stops, outside of a spears throw, and stands there for the longest time.
We gather the gifts, and return to the elders. They are offended, as a refusal of a gift means a refusal of peace, meaning the black man means to fight us, to hunt in our territory and burn our morana fields. We wait until dark, gather spears and bola, and amass a party of twenty men, who softly run to where the black man was. Before they leave the village, though, there is a rush of flame and light. A blue light, pulsing like my chest, flies skyward.
No-one knows what happened. The black man is gone, but the ground where he stood is black as he was. It fades, in time, and no black men ever return. It was a great day for our tribe, as the best enemy is the one who is defeated without fighting.”