The Love of Chiefs
Our chief is a great man, powerful and smart.
He loves children, and fights for his people like each one is his child.
I am his nephew, but he treats me like a son.
Every chief is commanded to see his people as children, but this chief lives it.
Tonight I am fifteen.
We feast after a great hunt.
I think of another feast to come.
In a month, we gather with the people of the low country.
I will take Nanik as my first mate.
Tonight, I drink too much, and go a short way into the forest to relieve myself.
When I finish, I start back, and find myself surrounded by three shape shifters in the form of the great cats.
Strange for them to come so close to our village, even at night.
One of the Kalmil reaches out with her great paws, and knocks me down, scratching my face.
I get up and they knock me down again.
The cuts are small, but soon there are many of them.
This is play, not killing, but soon I will lose enough blood to die.
I give a warrior’s yell for help.
Someone might think that a chief would stay with his feast, and let other warriors fight.
My uncle grabs his spear and is halfway to the forest before anyone else moves.
He finds me quickly.
The cats stop playing when they see the chief.
He yells, and jabs one cat with the spear.
It backs up.
Our chief is powerful.
His presence touches the other two, and they back away.
A dozen warriors join us.
The Kalmil bow their heads, turn, and disappear into the forest.
The chief sends for a healer to take care of my cuts.
“They like to play with you, eh Jaina?” he asks.
“You carry their fire,” he adds.
The orange fire of the Kalmil dances brightly around my hands.
I am twenty-three, and a curse falls upon the people.
Our chief is touched by the madness.
When the madness comes, it doesn’t come all at once.
First, the chief is angry over little troubles he would once laugh away.
Then he tells his warriors that they have no courage or skill at hunting.
Untrue, and a great insult.
No normal chief speaks this way without cause.
The healers have no power over the madness.
The fire dreamers pray, but the madness grows.
Soon, the chief strikes any children who get in his way.
They are not hurt, but our chiefs watch over the children.
My father is the chief’s older brother.
“Perhaps he is just troubled,” says my father before he goes to speak with him.
“In time, his mind may rest.”
My father comes after a meal, when the chief is well satisfied.
“How is the chief this night?” asks my father.
“The chief needs to find warriors with courage,” he answers.
“These fight and hunt like little girls.”
My father speaks with him a few minutes, until he finds that his brother is trapped in the madness.
“Let the night bring you peace,” says my father.
A common farewell.
He turns to walk away, and the chief answers with death.
He pierces him through the back with a spear.
“I need no weak brothers,” he yells.
“No brothers, no children, no one!”
“Do you hear me, little girls?”
The people run away from him.
The two councils meet and condemn him to death by combat.
His children and wives run away from him.
They go to other groups to hide, all but his eldest wife.
The next night she comes to me, her face bruised.
“You must do it Jaina,” she says, “now, before he dishonors himself any more.”
Elder mother’s words spin through my thoughts:
Do not be kind out of fear of challenge.
That is weakness.
Never be kind out of weakness.
The world needs strength.
Find the strength to kill.
Then hunt for a way of kindness.
Find kindness that does not leave you weak, and give it gladly.
When there is no way of kindness, kill quickly with no pleasure.
Celebrate that you have fed your people or protected them from danger.
Then mourn the deaths of your enemies and your food quietly, in your own silence.
The battle with my uncle is, as elder mother says, “great work.”
He has lost none of his strength or skill.
In the end, I am stronger and faster, and one of my long knives pierces his heart.
I do not kill him from anger, even though he killed my father.
The killing is something I must do, so I find the strength to do it.
The orange fire of the Kalmil dances around my hands.
It is strong when I kill my uncle, and when I kill in battle or the hunt.
I don’t know what this means.
The New Chief
We mourn the old chief the same as we mourn any chief, more because of his greatness.
I mourn two fathers this day.
I assemble my wives and children.
“You always act with honor,” I tell them.
“Now you are the wives and children of a chief.”
“All look to you.”
“Stay true, just as you are.”
We tell stories of my uncle and other great chiefs.
We laugh and cry together deep into the night.
The next day, his eldest wife comes and bows before me.
“Chief,” she says.
“My mate knew long ago that you would rise as chief in his place.”
“He hoped his death would come in battle, or of sickness or age.”
“His spirit shines on you, happy that you killed him, and returned his honor.”
She goes into the forest, and is never seen again.
His other wives and children return.
I take them as mine, according to our ways.
I treat each wife as if I chose her myself.
I mourn my uncle in silence, long after others forget him.