THE BOY UBAR
by Alii Nui
The civil war had raged for four months across the breath of the Kailiauk District of Lake Ushindi.
Finally, the forces of the hereditary mfalme, Ubar Moto Kutwa, had trapped the army of the usurper Regent Sei against the treacherous wetlands of the western Great Marsh. With the dawn would come the decisive battle of the conflict, the conclusive clash of the opposing hosts.
The Mflame’s generals gathered in his tent a couple of ahn before sunrise to instruct their captains of the final plans for the coming battle. They spoke in hushed tones, careful not to raise their voices too loud lest they wake their ubar who slept on a couch in the corner of the big tent, his form covered by a light linen blanket.
In his sleep, Moto Kutwa looked as boyish as the scant twelve summers he’d lived. There was the innocence of extreme youth about him. A blooming handsomeness to his relaxed features. On his left cheek were the swirled tribal marking of his Home Stone, House, and the purple script marking him as Mfalme, the ubar. He had been the maximum leader of his people for only a third of the year, from the first day of his ascension he’d been at war. Nearly from the first ahn of his ubarate he’d been earning his askari feathers and scars.
Time passed and one of his generals, Kilele, brother of his deceased mother, draw apart from the officers at the map table and looked over at his nephew. It was time to wait the boy, but Kilele hesitated. Moto Kutwa had been asleep but a handful of ahn and he needed his rest. But, the boy was ubar, and the ubar must tend to his duties.
Kilele reflected on how unfair it was that so heavy a burden should fall on such young shoulders. But, he knew the world to be an unfair place. The rains of the forest fell on the good and the evil alike. And young or not the boy was Mfalme of Kailiauk, he must accept the burden and master it or be crushed by it, such was his fate. The general moved across the tent’s carpeted floor to the royal couch.
The young mfalme blinked opened his eyes. The irises were dark black/brown, giving the illusion of being all pupil. They were eyes which bespoke friendliness, a good spirit. They didn’t seem to be the eyes of a person who had seen the horrors of war, who had seen men killed, who had himself killed.
“Uncle. I fell asleep.”
Kilele laughed. “Eeh, Mfalme. It happens to the best of us, sooner or later. Dawn approaches, my Ubar.”
“Eeh. ‘Fraid so.”
The young man nodded, thrusting the coverlet from him, yawning as he sat up. He was dressed as the other askaris in the tent were dressed, in sandals and loincloth. The golden medallion with the Kailiauk symbol of the House of Kiroboto rendered on both sides hung around his neck. He reached to a side table and drew on the feathered headdress of a Mfalme, festooned with the long and curling white feathers of the Ushindi Fisher-bird.
“I’m ready,” he said to his uncle as he stood, a long and lean muscled gangly boy, and crossed the tent to join his much taller generals in their final council of war.
It is a basic rule of armed engagement to leave an avenue of escape for an enemy to use if they wish to retreat. But, the battle lines of the mfalme’s troops provided for no such escape route. This was intended to be a fight of annihilation, no quarter given. Inbuthos, Inlander regiments, were ranked one behind the other in a great crescent facing the forces of the usurper, whose backs were to the all but impassable reed fields of the Great Marsh. It was the culmination of the war which had raged all through the summer and a month into the autumn season. All on the battlefield knew the day would see the end to it, one way or another.
Koto Kutwa exited his tent and strode across the high grass to his mount, a bull kailiauk. The brawny animal stood twelve hands at the shoulder, its four legs were bulky, pillar-like, its head wide and blunt with a trident of horns growing from it. It was small-eyed, small-eared, and a short trunk protruded over its mouth. A Terran seeing the animal would think it a combination of an elephant and rhinoceros. The bull’s overall coloration was a deep tan with light stripes upon its hind quarters. Its short stubby tail was bristled on the end. A slave knelt on all fours in the grass, Koto Kutwa stepped up on his back and swung into the saddle, jamming his sandaled feet into the stirrups as he grasped the chain reins.
The bull snorted and tossed its tri-horn head, being an ornery beast at the best of times. The young Ubar jerked at the reins. “Behave, you good for nothing, whore’s son.” The beast stamped as Koto Kutwa secured his ngao, the oval hide shield, to the saddle and was handed up his short stabbing spear, known as the sagai or ixwa.
With the Mfalme saddled, his generals and knights mounted up. Only the nobility and aristocracy were allowed to compose the kailiauk calvary. The ubar kicked his beast into motion and led the knights forward to the front lines of his regiments. As he rode, great shadows began to ripple across the fields of knee-high grass, temporarily blocking out the Sun. He looked up, seeing the great leathern wingspans of the Ul, the marsh pterosaur. More than a dozen of the reptiles of the sky glided silently overhead. It was a rare sight to spot one of the elusive swamp uls, to see a flock of them was a once in a lifetime occurrence.
Moto Kutwa took it was good omen and swore to himself if he should live through the coming battle that he would change his House emblem to the elegant Ul. He turned in his saddle and spoke to his uncle who rode to his right. “A good sign, eh?”
“Eeh. The best of signs, your majesty. The day is surely ours.”
The ubar laughed, a boy’s laugh with a man’s edge to it. “Eeh. All over but the fighting.”
Even the most ardent warrior, the most dedicated fighter will admit that war is an ugly, messy business. The stink of the battlefield is that of the slaughter pen with the malodor of human guts and offals an inescapable stinging miasma. Sphincters and bladders fail, men shit and piss themselves as fear grips them. And there is the pervasive scent of copper, owing to the copious amounts of spilt blood. Men, strong and brave men, will cry out, weep like unto women when they feel and see their bellies slit, their intestines tumble like so much string of sausages to the ground, when they witness their arms or legs no longer attached and twitching independently in the matted grass and scarlet swirled mud.
The battlefield, an arena of glory, no doubt, but equally an abattoir of agony, of shameful unmanning humiliation. Of undignified death.
The armies clashed under the merciless heat of the equatorial Sun. Shouts, yells, the thud of steel bush-knife against hide shield, the sucking sound of the point of the stabbing spear, going into and being pulled from vulnerable flesh. Bodies splashed into brackish marsh water never to rise again.
And finally, as the Fates would have it, when the neat battle lines dissolved into a general melee, Koto Kutwa came within striking distance of his Uncle Sei, his father’s brother, the man who would be ubar in his place.
“Uncle!” The youth shouted from his saddle.
The mfalme was as much blood and gore-splattered as the rest of the combatants. His fine headdress lost in the first hour of fighting which seemed a lifetime ago. He bled from several wounds yet most of the blood on his body was not his own but of foes who had fallen before his spear and long curved knife. And now, seeing the author of all the bloodshed, the cause of the great unrest in his ubarate, he kicked his kailiauk into a gallop, stamping over fighters too slow or tired to move out of the way, and headed for the usurper.
Sei, upon his own kailiauk mount, his forces surrounded and slowly being whittled down looked up to see his young nephew galloping toward him. His face, only a moment before composed in a grim expression, gave forth the predatory smile of sleen coming upon unexpected prey. Sei, only recently Regent of Kailiauk and the most powerful man in the ubarate, had thought not to live to see the end of the next ahn, but his nephew foolish charge gave him hope. If he could capture the boy then he could ransom his way out of the certain death lurking before him.
Moto Kutwa urged his mount on faster until the bull was charging forward at its best speed, the wet ground shaking beneath its clumsy flat feet. Sei sped his animal forward as well and the two trumpeting kailiauk bulls met, their heads down, horns locking. Both riders were nearly thrown off their saddles from the tremendous impact.
The huge beasts dug in their wide feet and with much snorting and furious shaking of their head they disentangled their horns. They then proceeded to butt heads, again jarring their riders, who were striving to stab the other with their spear. Moto Kutwa quickly saw the futility of trying to control his mount, the two bulls had obviously decided their conflict was a personal one and would not be deterred. He dropped the reins, secured his shield on his right arm, his spear in his left hand and he stood up in the saddle, leaping over the tossing heads and slashing horns of the trumpeting, snorting kailiauks. He slammed against the surprised, Sei, knocking the much bigger man to the mucky ground.
The young ubar rolled with the fall and quickly got to his feet, albeit covered in mud. Sei, temporarily stunned was slower getting up. For a few ihn he made an easy target. Another man would have taken advantage of that moment. Moto Kutwa did not. He thought it beneath the honor of a mfalme, even if his uncle would’ve had no such scruples.
Both men, now on their feet, spears at the ready, shields protecting their side closest to the enemy, began to circle one another while the rest of the battle spun out around them. The fighting kailiauks continued to stamp and ram heads dangerously close by. Neither of them spoke, no taunting, no words of bravado. There was only deadly earnestness between them. The young ubar intent on killing his nemesis, the usurper Sei wanting to disable the boy, to use him as a bargaining chip. He feinted with his spear, making the smaller mfalme block with his shield. Sei then shoved hard, putting his superior weight behind the push, hoping to knock his lighter opponent off his feet in the slippery grass and mud.
But, years of weapons practice had not been for naught, Moto Kutwa allowed his uncle’s hide shield to slide off his own, shedding the momentum of the push. As Sei tumbled by, his right side was open and the young ubar stabbed out. The thrust scored but did not go deep, merely glancing off a rib, still, he’d scored first blood. He leaped aside as his uncle slashed out with his own spear blade, barely escaping injury himself.
The noise of the fighting kailiauk became deafening as they trumpeted, snorted, and their horns clattered together. But Moto Kutwa had no time to spare for the beasts. Sei, although clearly smarting from the gash to his torso was still a deadly threat. His eyes had narrowed and again he feinted with his spear, this time his young opponent not taking the bait. But it didn’t matter, Sei blinded him by throwing his shield, forcing his nephew to throw up his own to block it. By the time he lowered his shield Sei was upon him, drawing his panga, the curved bush-knife, and knocking Moto Kutwa to the mud.
Caught off-guard and his wind knocked from him, the young ubar instinctively kicked out and caught Sei in his sac, the sudden crystalline pain spoiling the older man’s panga slash and the sharp steel slicing into the wet ground instead. Moto Kutwa scrambled to his feet, dripping dirty water and viscose mud, sheildless but still holding his spear. He drew his own panga in his right hand and stood as Sei attempted to struggle to his feet, his face crumbled in the pain of having his balls squashed.
This time, Moto Kutwa did not hesitate. He thrust his spear into his uncle’s chest, through the breast-bone and into his heart.
A great scream rent the air, a rising trumpet note of agony. Moto Kutwa’s bull had won the argument between himself and Sei’s mount. The ubar’s kailiauk had managed to lay open the side of his adversary along his entire flank, gutting him. The defeated bull’s shiny entails fell out and splashed into the mud in an endless tumble as the dying animal raged blindly about. Sei, already dead on his feet, stood in the rampaging bull’s path and the tonnage of the mortally wounded kailiauk crashed down upon him, slamming him down into the flattened marsh reeds, into the mud. There was a tremendous splash. Moto Kutwa was thoroughly covered in dirty water. It dripped from him, his ixwa, his panga, the ends of his loincloth.
His kailiauk trumpeted his victory, throwing up his short trunk and broadcasting his kill for all to hear. The ubar walked through the sticky mud up to the celebrating bull, catching at his rein chains. “Easy boy, easy, you got him right enough. Two for the price of one,” he said.
Only Sei’s hand was visible from until the small hill of the dead kailiauk’s body. And with the death of the usurper the battle was over, the war was over. And, Moto Kutwa stood the victor. He patted the still trumpeting bull against its tough hide. “I’ll never speak ill of kailiauks again,” he vowed.