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In the midst of writing my first Imaro stories back in the early 1970s, I made an ambitious effort to write a novel about the warrior’s mother, Katisa. The novel chronicled the events that led Katisa to abscond from her people, the Ilyassai, as well as the circumstances surrounding the conception and birth of Imaro … and Katisa’s ultimate return to her harsh, unforgiving tribe.

I learned a great deal about writing as this project progressed. And I applied those lessons to the Imaro stories, and, later, novels. But the Katisa novel waned as Imaro waxed, and I never attempted to get it published.

Even so, I realized that Katisa’s story shouldn’t remain on the shelf. It’s essential to the context of Imaro’s life. Accordingly, I incorporated it – in much-shortened form – into the third Imaro novel, The Trail of Bohu. Later, I rewrote the beginning of the novel as a short story for the 1983 program book of Maplecon, the convention of the Ottawa Science Fiction Society. Because of space considerations, only the first half of the story saw print. The second half went unpublished in the wake of my departure from Ottawa. So, this is the first time the entire Katisa story has seen print.

For this collection, I’ve done a substantial amount of editing and rewriting on the text, to make it consistent with the way the Imaro saga has developed over the decades since it was first told. What happens here, in a clan of a tribe of nomadic warrior-herdsmen, precipitates the events that ultimately shake the continent of Nyumbani to its core.

Consider this the true prequel to Imaro’s epic narrative

In the brilliant sunlight that poured through the openings of the manyatta, a slender young woman studied her reflection in a mirror of polished iron. Admirable indeed was the image that looked back at her, for she was attired in a magnificent muvazi – the marriage robe of a woman of the Ilyassai.

Draped loosely over the lithe contours of her body, the muvazi was made from laboriously tanned antelope-skins. Leaving one of the young woman’s shoulders bare, the robe glistened with a sheen similar to that of the satins woven in the rich kingdoms that lay far to the east. Row upon row of copper coils adorned her arms, neck and ankles, while hoops of the same metal pierced in spiral clusters through the upper part of her ears.

Of further ornamentation, there was no need. Even without her splendid ceremonial garb, the Ilyassai woman’s appearance would have been striking.

She stood a full ten inches over five feet in height, and her frame, though sapling-slim, was lithe, graceful and strong. Her face typified the beauty of the people who dwelled in the eastern part of Nyumbani: a narrow, mahogany-hued oval with flashing black eyes, high cheekbones, narrowly flaring nose, and full lips. The curve of her clean-shaven pate would rouse the passion of any young warrior of the vast yellow plain called the Tamburure, for the various tribes that dwelt there deemed hair on the head of a woman an abomination.

Yet the young woman, whose name was Katisa, was not satisfied with what the mirror showed her. Frowning into the surface of the prize the warriors of her clan, the Kitoko, had taken from a trading-caravan that had ventured too close to Ilyassai territory, she adjusted the coils at her wrists and rearranged the draping of the muvazi. She wanted to look perfect for the young warrior with whom she would soon be mated.

Then she let out a startled cry as the mirror suddenly showed another face, leering over her shoulder. Anger rose within her as she turned to face the intruder. No man was permitted to enter the manyatta of an Ilyassai woman on the day she was to be wed. Yet here one stood, shadowing the entrance-hole of the leather dwelling.

Recognizing her unwelcome guest, Katisa scowled, and her lips curled in undisguised scorn. For the man was Chitendu, the oibonok of the Kitoko clan. A combination of shaman, sorcerer and priest of Ajunge the Spear-God, the highest deity in the Ilyassai pantheon, the oibonok’s status was second only to that of the ol-arem, the clan’s chieftain.

The Kitoko clan’s ol-arem was Mubaku, Katisa’s father.

“You dare to look upon me in my manyatta before my mating?” Katisa demanded incredulously. “Leave at once, or my father and Karamu will hear of it. Is that what you want?”

The oibonok did not move. Clad in a cow-hide robe that covered him from throat to foot, his sinister appearance was heightened by a headpiece of black wood. Though he was known to be of late middle rains, Chitendu’s face betrayed scant sign of advancing age. His cold eyes, vulpine features and knottily muscled frame were at odds with the nobility of feature and form that characterized most Ilyassai.

“I come only to inspect what will soon be mine,” the oibonok said, exposing his teeth in a sinister smile. “By now, you should be aware that nothing comes between Chitendu and what he desires.”

In a swift blur of motion, Katisa reached beneath the mat that served as her bed and pulled out a long-bladed dagger.

“This stands between you and I, oibonok,” she said between clenched teeth. “Come past it, if you dare.”

The edge in her voice was as keen as the one on her blade. Even so, Chitendu laughed.

“You wrong me, child,” he said in a mocking tone. “I was merely calling to your attention the agreement reached between your father and myself. Surely, you have not forgotten that if your betrothed, Karamu, fails in his olmaiyo today, you will be entrusted to me as a Bride of Ajunge.”

Katisa had not forgotten. Karamu, the warrior she loved, had nearly come to blows with Chitendu when the oibonok made known his interest in her. Mubaku interceded with an alternative to which Karamu had readily agreed.

The young warrior was due to undergo his olmaiyo, the ritual in which Ilyassai youths claimed their manhood through the single-handed slaying of a lion. Mubaku’s resolution had thus been simple: if Karamu succeeded in killing his lion, he would then wed Katisa. If the lion slew the warrior instead, Katisa would become a “Bride of Ajunge.”

Confident in the prowess of her warrior, Katisa had not the slightest doubt that Karamu would be victorious in his olmaiyo. Yet Chitendu spoke as though the youth were already dead, before his quest had even begun.

As though he were reading her thoughts, the oibonok laughed again. His cold eyes held Katisa’s like those of a serpent transfixing its prey. Katisa averted her gaze and tightened her grip on the hilt of her dagger.

“Must I ask you again to leave my manyatta?” she demanded. “If you do not go now, I will tell Karamu of it. Then, even my father may not be able to prevent him from turning you into food for the jackals.”

Briefly, something hateful and inhuman stirred in the depths of the oibonok’s obsidian eyes. Then it was gone.

“Soon, Katisa, you will learn that your posturing father and simple-minded lover are no more to me than straws underfoot,” he said. “The learning will begin when you hear the toll of the Death Drum for Karamu. Think on it.”

Before Katisa could respond, Chitendu turned and squeezed through the door-hole. Only iron-self-control prevented her from hurling her dagger at his retreating form. She did, however, spit at the ground upon which he had stood.

Though her courage was exceptional even among a people for whom fearlessness was the primary virtue, Katisa still felt a sense of unease as she contemplated Chitendu’s words. The very thought of becoming a “Bride of Ajunge” caused her to shudder inside. For it was well-known that such “Brides” actually belonged to the oibonok, not the Spear-God. And the uses to which Chitendu was rumored to put them were far from religious …

After returning her dagger to its hiding-place under her bed, Katisa allowed herself a final glance into the looted mirror before bending to pass through the manyatta’s door-hole.

Let others worry about Chitendu, she thought defiantly. I am the daughter of the ol-arem, and will soon become the wife of mighty warrior. Why should I believe I will ever be a Bride of Ajunge?

Yet for all her unbounded confidence, Chitendu’s implicit threat remained a small, dark cloud of foreboding … a cloud that did not dissipate as she stepped out into the full glare of Jua the sun.


The shadows cast by the collection of leather-walled dwellings that was the temporary village of the Kitoko clan darkened as the sinking sun set the horizon ablaze. Half-naked herd-boys urged the ngombes – the long-horned Ilyassai cattle – into the thornbush boma, where the animals would spend the night. There were no fields of millet or sorghum for the animals to avoid trampling, for the Ilyassai disdained agriculture. Throughout the widely scattered manyattas, lean warriors and shaven-headed women silently awaited Karamu’s return from his olmaiyo.

Also silent was the group of women and girls gathered near Katisa’s manyatta. Though their garments of antelope- and cowhide did not match the splendor of Katisa’s muvazi, the women of the clan would have been the envy of the seraglio of any East Coast potentate.

The women had watched as Karamu and the warriors who accompanied him strode away from the manyattas in the morning. Katisa had favored the stalwart Karamu with a smile in anticipation of the reward she would bestow when he returned triumphant from his olmaiyo. Chitendu accompanied the warriors. For him, Katisa spared only a glare of contempt.

Katisa wished her mother, Junyari, were present. But Junyari had died of a wasting disease several rains before. And her father, Mubaku, had not been the same since. He had given her only a slight nod of acknowledgement as he accompanied the warriors on their hunt.

In the hours that followed the departure of warriors of the olmaiyo, Katisa and her friends and relatives chattered about the festivities to come: the feast of antelope meat, milk and cow’s blood the older women were preparing; the ritual kidnapping and chase in which Karamu would seize Katisa from her manyatta and carry her away, with Katisa’s family in mock pursuit; the mating in a manyatta built especially for that purpose …

But as the day dragged beyond the time when warriors usually returned from olmaiyo, the bright mood darkened, and the chatter stilled. The eyes of Katisa’s friends began to gaze at the ground, not her. For they knew as well as she that a delay of this length could be accounted for in only two ways: either Karamu had been slain by his lion, or – even worse – he had fled in fear from his foe.

Katisa did not believe the latter alternative was possible. She knew Karamu would never turn ilmonek; never run in cowardice at the moment when his manhood came to the test. Despite the lengthening of the shadows and the lowering of the sun, Katisa refused to consider the only other explanation: that Karamu was dead.

She impatiently dismissed the pitying gestures her friends now made. Not until she knew for herself that Karamu was not coming back alive would she accept what the others new to be inevitable. Chin upraised defiantly, Katisa continued to scan the horizon for signs of the warriors’ return.

Thus, she was the one who first spotted line of dark figures descending along a slight rise in the yellow plain.

“They come!” Katisa cried. “The warriors return!”

As she ran toward the oncoming spearmen, other eyes saw what Katisa’s hope-clouded vision refused to recognize. Makaro, the aged warrior who was responsible for beating the Death-Drum, was saddened, for he had seen this sight many times before.

The returning warriors did not leap or dance or clash their spear-points against their shields in joy. No shouts of victory carried across the Tamburure. Narrowing his eyes, Makaro ascertained that the warriors were not carrying Karamu trussed to a pole – the signal that the youth had turned ilmonek. The old man was thankful for that. Still, he knew what he must do.

With a sad shake of his head, Makaro turned and went to his manyatta to retrieve the Death-Drum. By the time he returned with the hide-covered wooden cylinder, nearly all the people of the clan had gathered to meet the warriors. Katisa stood at the forefront of the crowd. Patiently awaiting the moment when his task would begin, Makaro squatted behind his instrument. Before long, grief and sorrow would be his fellow musicians.

Solemnly, the procession of fighting-men filed toward the assembled Kitoko. Including the ol-arem and the oibonok, there were nineteen of them: tall, rangy men with sinews of steel. Short swords called simis were belted to their sides. Hide garments clung to their lean, hard torsos and red pigment daubed their skin. Their hair lay in braided, ocher-covered plaits that would have seemed feminine had the faces beneath them not been so fierce.

Yet for all their warlike demeanor and panoply, the warriors’ huge, oval-shaped shields and long spears weighed heavily in their hands, and sadness underscored the grimness of their expressions. Twenty of them had marched through the yellow grass in the morning. But Karamu was not among them now.

Katisa could no longer avoid the truth. Mustering all the stoicism Ilyassai tradition demanded, she approached her father, the ol-arem. Though Mubaku’s presence was not required on all olmaiyos, he had joined this one because Karamu was to be wed to Katisa. The other warriors were relatives of Karamu’s who had already slain their lions.

A formidable-looking man who had risen to his current rank at an early age, Mubaku waited for his daughter to speak.

“How did Karamu die, Father?” she asked.

“He died as an Ilyassai should … bravely,” Mubaku replied. “His spear missed its mark – and against Ngatun the lion, a man has but one chance.”

“But Karamu once killed a bush-pig with a single cast,” Katisa exclaimed, momentarily giving way to emotion. “How could he have missed his lion?”

“Silence!” Mubaku thundered. “I speak as your ol-arem, not as your father. Do you doubt the truth of my words?”

“I do not doubt you,” said Katisa.

“Then I will continue. After Karamu’s spear missed its mark, he went down as Ngatun leaped onto his shield. Karamu drew his simi, but he could not penetrate Ngatun’s heart before he tore through the shield and killed him. We then slew the lion, and buried it in the Tamburure with Karamu.”

That was all … a few stark sentences describing the end of a man’s life. That was the Ilyassai way.

Katisa was neither surprised nor outraged that the other warriors had not speared the lion before it killed Karamu. An olmaiyo was a contest between one man and one beast. The others were there to be witnesses if Karamu won; avengers if he lost. That was the Ilyassai way.

“Unfortunate,” a new voice said, breaking the moment of silence. “So very unfortunate.”

The voice belonged to Chitendu, who had unobtrusively placed himself between Mubaku and Katisa. The oibonok was accoutered like the rest of the warriors, save for the long, spiraled horn that hung at his side. With this horn, many generations of oibonoks had summoned forth lions to test the mettle of Ilyassai men.

“Indeed, Karamu would have been a fine warrior and a wonderful mate,” Chitendu continued. “But he is dead. And according to our agreement, Mubaku, your daughter is now a Bride of Ajunge.”

With that admonition, the oibonok reached out to seize Katisa’s arm. She slipped away from his grasp. Before Chitendu could take another step toward her, Katisa’s foot lashed out and caught the oibonok in the pit of his stomach. Doubling over in pain, he sat down hard.

Baring her teeth in rage, Katisa sprang like a panther at Chitendu, who had risen to his knees and was gasping for breath. Well-versed in the many fighting-skills all Ilyassai women were taught, she might have slain the oibonok bare-handed, had she reached him. But three warriors intervened, catching her in mid-leap and pinioning her limbs.

“He did it!” she shouted, struggling fiercely in the grasp of the warriors. “He used sorcery to cause Karamu’s death! I’ll die before I let him take me to his filthy sleeping-mat!”

A murmur of disquiet rustled through the crowd. Katisa’s accusation could not be taken lightly, for an oibonok was forbidden to cast harmful spells against a fellow clan-member. The punishment for doing so was death. Yet Chitendu remained calm as he rose to his feet and looked at Katisa.

“Every man who went on this olmaiyo will tell you that I did nothing beyond the calling of the lion,” he said.

He turned to the other warriors.

“Is it not so?” he demanded.

One-by-one, seventeen plaited heads nodded curtly. Only Mubaku’s head remained rigid.

“Is it not so, ol-arem?” Chitendu repeated, a hard edge pushing aside the deference in his tone.

Reluctantly, Mubaku nodded. Rage kindled in his heart as Chitendu grinned. Because of Katisa’s unseemly outburst, the ol-arem was being none-too-subtly ridiculed by the oibonok, whose influence was growing well beyond the traditional limits of his place in the clan’s hierarchy.

“Your daughter is not behaving in a matter befitting an Ilyassai,” Chitendu continued, elaborating his insult.

Mubaku could only grind his teeth and say nothing, for nearly half the clan had heard Katisa’s indiscreet accusation.

“I go now to prepare the Place of Ajunge for the arrival of his Bride,” Chitendu said. “In three days, I will come for her. Perhaps by then, Mubaku, you will have convinced her to accept the reality of what has happened on this day. If you do not … I will.”

Abruptly, the oibonok turned on his heel and strode away, showing little effect from the blow Katisa had landed. The people of the clan made way for him as they never would have in the face of armed foes or menacing beasts. Then he was gone, vanishing into shadows darkened by deepening sunset.

Mubaku glared angrily at Katisa. On this day, his daughter had disgraced him almost as thoroughly as if she had been a warrior who turned ilmonek on his olmaiyo. And that devil Chitendu had taken full advantage of her indiscretion and diminished Mubaku’s standing as head of the clan.

With each passing moment, the ol-arem’s fury grew. The crowd murmured in anticipation, for they knew as well as Katisa what was going to happen next.

“Turn her,” Mubaku said to the warriors who were still holding Katisa.

Obediently, the three men positioned Katisa so that her back faced Mubaku. Then one of them used the point of his spear to trace a line in the dust about two paces away from her feet. The other two pulled her muvazi away from her shoulders, baring the skin of her back.

At Mubaku’s behest, a boy fetched him a stick of wood slender and strong enough to have served as a spear-shaft. Gripping the stick firmly in both hands, Mubaku bade the warriors holding Katisa to step aside.

Then he swung she stick against Katisa’s naked back. Wood met flesh with a sound like the strike of lightning against a tree. Pain seared through Katisa’s body. Her knees buckled and a scream struggled to escape her throat. But outwardly, she neither struggled nor cried out. The crowd muttered is approval, for refusal to acknowledge pain was the way of the Ilyassai.

Again, Mubaku swung. Again, the stick struck. Again, the pain. Again, no sound escaped Katisa’s lips.

But this time, the impact of her father’s blow drove her a step forward. As the next blow landed, she tried to plant her feet more firmly. For if Mubaku succeeded in forcing her to cross the line in the dust, even worse punishment would ensue.

Mubaku was a powerful man, and the blows from his stick pushed her ever forward. Her legs weakened, and her knees became numb. The smooth skin of her back became a grid of swollen welts, some of which were beginning to bleed. The scream caught in her throat was forcing its way ever upward, and she was losing the struggle to dam the tears threatening to burst from her eyes.

Only a moment before the tears would flow; before the awful pain would rip an outcry loose; before her feet staggered the final inches across the spear-cut line, the stuck shattered in Mubaku’s hands – and the beating was done.

Katisa heard the sound of splintering wood and saw part of the stick fly past her. Her back was composed of layers of agony, each one worse than the last. Darkness eddied around the periphery of her vision. She could no longer feel her legs. Yet she knew she must not fall across the line. If she did, the phenomenal fortitude she had demonstrated would mean nothing …

Her unyielding resolve could carry her no farther. She felt herself reeling to the ground. With a final, heart-wrenching effort, she twisted her body so that she fell on her side. Even so, the impact of her landing jarred her welted back, and sheer agony stitched through her body. Then she lay still and unconscious … only a hairsbreadth away from the furrow in the dust.

Grim pride showed in Mubaku’s eyes as he looked down at his daughter. At least some of his family’s honor had been salvaged. Yet even as his foot erased the line beside which Katisa lay, a voice spoke deep inside his soul:

Would you have done this if Junyari were still alive?

He had no answer.

In the meantime, the Death-Drum pounded a doleful dirge for Karamu long into the night. For Karamu … and Katisa.


The black blanket of night lay above the Tamburure, broken only by the wan light of Mwesu the moon and the scattered stars. In the manyattas of the Kitoko clan, night-fires burned like red-orange eyes, while the ngombes milled somnolently in their thornbush enclosure. No one stirred other than the night-sentries and the boys whose duty it was to tend the cattle.

It was the night of the second day since the death of Karamu. Katisa had finally fallen into a fitful slumber. It was not the heartache of her lover’s passing that disturbed her sleep this night. Nor was it the pain that lingered from the beating her father had given her. Nor was it the certainty that Chitendu would be coming for her the next day that pulled moans from her mouth and sent shudders through her limbs.

The pain in her back had become bearable – partly because she was Ilyassai, and partly because the welts had been healed by the balms and poultices of Mizuna, the Kitokos’ herb-woman. As the oibonok practiced sorcery with spells and incantations, so the herb-woman worked healing-magic with roots and leaves. Many were the warriors and women who owed their lives to Mizuna, who was so old that even the clan’s elders were as children to her.

It was a dream that troubled Katisa’s sleep this night.

She was a bodiless soul, floating amid a milieu of vague colors and indistinct shapes. She felt nothing. She understood nothing. She could hardly even recall who she was …

Suddenly, her surroundings snapped into sharp focus. She was suspended somehow between the bright blue bowl of the sky and the flat plain of the Tamburure, a sea of yellow grass dotted with acacia and baobab trees. Twenty Ilyassai warriors strode through the grass. Straighter, taller, prouder than all the rest strode a figure she recognized as Karamu. Against her will, she drifted closer to Karamu, until his fiercely handsome face blotted out everything else.

Abruptly, the focus shifted. Again, she was floating above the warriors. She saw Chitendu raise the spiraled horn to his lips and sound the challenge to the lions. The bestial clarion boomed … and was answered by the roar of a huge, black-maned monarch of the plain.

Karamu stepped away from the other warriors, and glided toward the great, tawny predator stalking through the tall grass …

Katisa knew what was coming next. She tried to shut out the sight of Karamu’s impending doom. But she had no eyelids to close. She wanted to scream a warning to Karamu, who now crouched and tensed his spear-arm as Ngatun’s tufted tail lashed in anticipation. But she had neither mouth nor voice. She wanted to flee from the terrible vision as Ngatun roared and rushed with frightening velocity toward the waiting warrior. But she had no legs to carry her away.

She could only watch in helpless horror as Karamu’s spear missed its mark. And she saw it was a streak of green luminescence, like an errant bolt of lightning, that deflected Karamu’s weapon from its course.

Now the enormous weight of the lion bore Karamu to the ground. Beneath the protection of his shield, he drove his simi toward the heart of the snarling beast. But a glowing green sheath formed along the blade of the short sword, blunting the weapon’s thrust.

Mind reeling in disbelief, Katisa watched as emerald light formed around Ngatun’s claws, enhancing the lion’s power as he tore into the thick rhinoceros-hide of the shield. Inexorably, the lion peeled away the only barrier that separated him from the human who had dared to challenge him.

Talons ripped red wounds in Karamu’s flesh. Fanged jaws closed over the warrior’s face as he continued to strike futile blows with his simi. Katisa screamed soundlessly at the sight of the body she had once embraced as the black-maned beast continued its attack.

Then the focus changed again. Now the figure of Chitendu dominated the scene. The oibonok stood rigidly immobile, eyes closed and arms upraised. Hovering only a few feet above his headpiece was a sphere of emerald fire. Threads of green light coruscated across its blazing surface. Katisa realized that Chitendu could manipulate those threads in any way he pleased. This was a new kind of sorcery, ominous and forbidding.

Frantically, she looked to the other warriors, and to her father. Were they not aware of what the oibonok had done? Why were they not butchering Chitendu for his crime? Why had they not understood that it was necessary to save Karamu, who had been robbed of his ability to fend off the lion?

The answer to her desperate, unspoken questions lay in the warriors’ faces. Slack-jawed, vacant-eyed … they saw only what Chitendu intended them to see. The green sphere, the luminous tendrils … none of those manifestations of sorcery registered in their benumbed senses. Illusions created by the oibonok were all they saw.

Chitendu opened his eyes and lowered his arms. The emerald sphere winked out of existence, leaving not even an afterimage to mark its presence. Abruptly, the mindless glaze disappeared from the warriors’ eyes. Surging forward in a wave of sinew and steel, they plunged their spears into the crimson-jawed beast that crouched over what was left of Karamu.

Chitendu looked directly at her … and grinned.

Beyond further anguish, Katisa watched passively as a black fog began to envelop the scene. Soon, the blackness became absolute, and she floated in nothingness, devoid of light, devoid of feeling … but not devoid of sound.

It was a low, chilling cachinnation that rose from the periphery of nowhere. At first, it was only a soft whisper. Then it became hideous, all-too-familiar laughter that grew in intensity until it boomed like the thunder of a thousand war-drums. Katisa writhed and groaned as she struggled to free herself from the grip of the nightmare …

She sat bolt upright on her sleeping-mat. Her sweat-drenched body trembled, and the pain returned to her welted back. Her eyes darted toward the entrance to her manyatta, half-expecting to discover the shadowy shape of Chitendu lurking there. But she saw only a circle of flickering firelight.

Despite the pain in her back and shoulders, Katisa dragged herself to her feet, wrapped a length of cloth around her body, and squeezed through the doorway of the manyatta. Despite the lateness of the hour, she was determined to speak with the one person in the clan she believed she could still trust.


Half-hidden in a garment of zebra-hide, Mizuna squatted in the center of her manyatta like a benign spider in its web. The dim light that filtered through the openings in the leather dwelling softened the network of creases that seamed her ancient face. The scattered piles of roots, stems, leaves and other bits of plant matter with which she plied her healing trade were obscured by deep shadows.

Katisa sat near the entrance. She had thought she would have needed to rouse the older woman from a sound slumber. But she found Mizuna wide awake, her dark eyes lively in a way that belied her advancing rains. As the women talked, they sipped from a bowl filled with the pinkish mixture of milk and cow’s-blood that was the staple of the Ilyassai diet.

“It almost seems that you were expecting me,” Katisa said after she had told the herb-woman of the dream-vision she was certain had been sent by Chitendu.

“I was,” Mizuna confirmed. “Since the time your mother, Junyari, died of a fever I could not cure, I have tried to take her place for you. So I knew you would come to me before you do whatever you are going to do.”

“But I don’t know what I am going to do!” Katisa cried. “I just know that I will not go to Chitendu to be a Bride of Ajunge. Either he or I will die before that happens.”

“Yes,” mused Mizuna, seemingly unmindful of the ferocity in Katisa’s voice. “Chitendu is a devil in human form. I knew him of old, before he disappeared from the Tamburure, then came back a different man, with a name that was not the same as the one his parents gave him. I understand how you feel, Katisa.”

She touched the younger woman’s hand.

“There is another way for you,” the herb-woman said. “It is a very dangerous way, but it is better than killing. If you take it, you may one day wish you had become a Bride of Ajunge after all.”

“What is this way?” Katisa asked.

“Exile,” Mizuna said.

“Exile?” Katisa repeated in a whisper. “But you know as well as I that exile means death. Where would I go? To the Zamburu? The Turkhana? The Place of Stones?”

At the latter mention, an involuntary shudder gripped Mizuna, and her hands formed a sign of protection. For the Place of Stones was a ruin left behind by an archaic, pre-human race. Located far to the north of the Ilyassai domain, the ruins had always been shunned by the warrior-herdsmen. The gesture Mizuna made was as close as an Ilyassai could come to an admission of fear.

Mizuna reached out touched Katisa’s face. The herb-woman’s gaze probed deeply into the younger woman’s troubled eyes.

“Have I ever done you harm?” Mizuna asked in a gentle tone.

Like a child, Katisa shook her head.

“Then trust me now. There is a place you can go to, if you are willing to take the risk. This place lies neither to the east nor the west, where the enemies of the Ilyassai dwell. Nor does it lie to the forbidden north. It lies to the south.”

“The Ardhi ya Nyama? Katisa exclaimed incredulously. “The Land of Beasts? Are you telling me it would be better to be eaten by the monsters that dwell there than captured by the Turkhana or Zamburu?”

“I thought you trusted me,” Mizuna reproved.

“I do,” said Katisa. “But …”

“Do you know the story of the Lost Clan?” Mizuna interrupted.

“Yes,” Katisa replied in a puzzled tone. “I heard the tale from your own lips when I was a little girl. Many rains ago, a warrior named Kamayu had a disagreement with his clan’s ol-arem. In anger, Kamayu and most of the clan marched southward, toward the Ardhi ya Nyama. They were never heard from again, as the beasts of the Ardhi must have killed them.”

“So it is said,” Mizuna agreed. “But if the Lost Clan did disappear, it was not because of the Ardhi’s beasts.”

“How can you know that?”

“The story was told to me by Myinya, the mother of my grandmother, not long before her death,” Mizuna replied. “In the time when Myinya was a young herb-woman, she loved Kamayu. But the ol-arem loved her, too, and that was the reason for their anger against each other. In the end, Myinya chose the ol-arem, and Kamayu and his followers were angry.

“Because she still had feelings for Kamayu, Myinya gave them an herbal dawa she had recently discovered. When rubbed on the skin, this dawa drove away beasts that hunt by scent. Yet at the same time, it attracted game animals to within reach of hunters’ spears. Because she cared for Kamayu, Myinya gave him the dawa. But because she loved the ol-arem more, she did not go south with the Lost Clan.

“Since then, the Ilyassai have believed the Lost Clan marched stubbornly to certain doom. Only to her daughter did Myinya eventually tell the secret of the dawa. The story came down to me. And now, I have told it to you.”

“So, you’re saying there could be Ilyassai living beyond the Ardhi ya Nyama,” Katisa said.

Mizuna nodded.

“But how could I follow the Lost Clan?” Katisa asked. “I have no access to the dawa. The secret of making it must have died long ago, with Myinya.”

A smile spread slowly across Mizuna’s face.

“You are wrong, Katisa,” she said. “Before she died, Myinya chose me to succeed her as herb-woman. She gave me all her knowledge … including the way to make the dawa that drives away dangerous beasts.”

“And you will give that secret on to me, so that I can go the way of the Lost Clan to escape Chitendu?” Katisa asked, already knowing what Mizuna’s reply would be.

Mizuna nodded. She chose not to tell Katisa that before Karamu’s fateful olmaiyo, she had decided that the daughter of Mubaku and Junyari would become her successor. Now, that could not be.

Better to keep that grief to myself, Mizuna thought.

Katisa wanted to hurl herself into the older woman’s arms and weep in gratitude. But that was not the Ilyassai way.

“If I am going to go at all, I must leave tonight,” Katisa said.

“Then I will tell you the secret of the dawa now,” said Mizuna, aware of the emotion Katisa was suppressing. “It is unbelievably simple. First, you rub your skin with biki-leaves, then with those of the jawuma – always in that order. There is nothing more to it than that. Yet Myinya was nearly killed as she tried different combinations of leaves before finding the right one.”

Reaching into the shadows behind her, Mizuna produced a large leather pouch equipped with a strap that could be slung over one shoulder.

“I have picked many leaves over the past days,” she said. “The biki are on the right; the jawuma on the left.”

Wordlessly, Katisa accepted the pouch. She was filled not only with gratitude, but also awe. Given the many rains Mizuna had lived, and the great age to which Myinya was known to have lived, the events of which the herb-woman had spoken must have occurred beyond the memory of anyone else in the Kitoko clan. Yet Mizuna could just as easily have repeating yesterday’s gossip.

Then, in defiance of the Ilyassai way, Katisa embraced Mizuna and allowed a few tears to fall onto the older woman’s wrinkled brow. The tensions and bitterness of the past few days seeped freely from Katisa’s tightly shut eyelids.

Finally, Mizuna gently freed herself from Katisa’s arms.

“You must go before dawn,” Mizuna said quietly. “May the ancestors guide your way.”

“Yes,” Katisa said solemnly. “Thank you, Mizuna.”

Slinging the pouch over her shoulder, Katisa turned and squeezed through the doorway of the herb-woman’s dwelling. On her way back to her own manyatta, Katisa did not notice the small shape that hid in the background.

It was Muburi, a boy who had seen the passing of fewer than ten rains. Leaving the ngombes he was guarding to relieve himself, Muburi had spotted Katisa as she had made her way to the manyatta of the herb-woman. The curious child followed her, then crouched outside the manyatta, and heard everything that had passed between Katisa and Mizuna.

Now, after Katisa’s departure, the boy’s brow furrowed in thought. What was he to do with what he had just overheard? Should he tell the sentries that Katisa was about to flee? He quickly dismissed that alternative, for he knew he would be flogged mercilessly for leaving his cattle unattended. But the next day, when Chitendu would come for Katisa … then he would tell the oibonok what he knew. Katisa would not have traveled far …

Muburi smiled as he returned to his ngombes, and his thoughts overflowed with fanciful speculation on how Chitendu might reward him.


The sun had set only recently, and the southern edge of the Tamburure was now veiled in a twilight gloom. Over the treetops in the distance, Katisa could see the looming escarpment that marked the beginning of the Ardhi ya Nyama. She decided to rest over the night. Tomorrow, she would arrive in the last sanctuary of the giant beasts that had roamed the length and breadth of Nyumbani before the advent of man and woman.

It was not difficult for her to slip away from the manyattas three nights ago. She knew where the sentries would be, and believed she could avoid the herd-boys. No palisade surrounded the manyattas, for the Ilyassai were so feared that neither human nor beast would dare to attack their dwellings.

Thus, Katisa had simply stolen away, leaving little sentiment behind. For her father, she felt no regrets, as the distance between them had widened steadily since her mother’s death.

She was accoutered for a long march, like the clan’s seasonal migrations to better grazing land. Gone were the muvazi and copper ornaments in which she would have been wed. Now, she was clad in a brief cowhide garment that left her limbs bare and unencumbered. Her only adornment was a boar-tusk that hung from a thong around her neck. Karamu had given it to her as a token of his last kill before olmaiyo. It was all she had left of him.

Her only weapons were a slender throwing-spear and the dagger with which she had threatened Chitendu. For an Ilyassai woman, that was more-than-sufficient armament.

Before leaving the manyattas, Katisa had rubbed her skin with the biki and jawuma leaves, in the order Mizuna had prescribed. Not much time passed before the herb-woman’s dawa was put to the test.

A rustle in the grass had alerted her that she was being stalked. Her keen eyes spotted the tawny, moon-washed form of a lioness several strides behind her. The great cat seemed about to charge … then it hacked and sneezed in sudden disgust, and padded disdainfully away from its intended prey.

Later that night, Katisa passed a rare clump of savannah trees. She walked beyond the distance across which a leopard lurking in the branches could spring. There was, indeed, a leopard in the trees. And it did leap … in the opposite direction from Katisa, spitting and snarling as it ran away.

“I must smell like a civet,” Katisa said ruefully – and gratefully.

Thus far, there had been no signs of pursuit from Chitendu. The farther the distance between her and the oibonok increased, the better. Now she was entering the edge of a narrow fringe of forest that separated the plain from the escarpment. Like all Ilyassai, Katisa did not like forests. But this night, at least, she could sleep comfortably in the shelter of a tree instead of napping fitfully and tending a night-fire as she had on the savannah.

As she clambered up a particularly tall tree and found a comfortable fork in its branches, Katisa wondered how the Lost Clan had traversed the seemingly impenetrable cliffs that guarded the Ardhi ya Nyama. Soon enough, she would learn.

She fell asleep.

And she dreamed …


She was standing at the base of the tree in which she’d been sleeping. She could not recall having climbed down from her perch. A sense that was beyond the ones that served her when she was awake told her that something was standing behind her … a presence that imbued her with a terror she had never before experienced. She must not turn around; she must not turn around

The thing behind her spoke. It called her name: “Katiiiiiiisa …”

She recognized the hollow, whispery voice, even though everything inside her wished that she didn’t. She found herself turning to face the thing that called her name. But she would not open her eyes.

Katiiiiiiisalook at meeee,” the thing commanded.

No, her mind pleaded as a force beyond her control slowly pried her eyelids apart. I don’t want to seeI don’t want to see

Her eyes were open. And she saw. And she suppressed a shriek that would have been loud enough to awaken all in the small fringe of forest.

Standing before her was a thing that had once been a man, but was now only a travesty, a caricature surrounded by a nimbus of bilious green luminescence. Its legs were scored with wounds clawed deep to the bone. Its thigh-muscles hung in gory, striated strips. Entrails slithered downward like snakes from its slashed-open abdomen to its groin. One arm clung by a single shred of sinew to its shoulder. Its face was chewed and mutilated almost beyond recognition.

Almost … but not quite. Katisa knew that face. It was the face of Karamu … her Karamu … calling her to join him in death …

Dead hands bore deadly weapons, the same ones with which he had been buried. The torn arm carried his simi; the sound one his broken spear. The arm that held the spear drew back. And the eerie voice crooned: “Katiiiiiiisacome, Katiiiiiiisa …”

“No!” Katisa shouted.

Her feet moved, carrying her away from to spot to which her terror had rooted her. The steel point of the spear bit into the bole of the tree. Even though it dangled loosely, the arm that held the simi transferred the weapon to the thing’s empty hand. The green glow intensified.

CooomeKatiiiiiiisa …”

Now the thing she refused to think of as Karamu shuffled toward her. It raised its simi to strike. Reflexively, she raised the blade of her dagger to meet the attack. Lithe and fearless, Katisa was a match for many a warrior. But she was reluctant to battle this foul distortion of the warrior who had loved her.


Only her lightning quickness saved her from the first vicious thrust at her stomach. Her dagger parried the next blow, and the one after that. But she was being forced to retreat by the attack of the dead thing. She fought defensively, unwilling to add to Karamu’s terrible wounds.


Even as she retreated, she noticed that after its initial flare, the emerald glow surrounding Karamu’s corpse was dimming. Bits of rotting flesh were falling. The strokes of the simi were weakening.

Cooome … Katiiiiiiisa.

The voice had changed. No longer did it mimic that of Karamu. Katisa recognized the new voice. It was Chitendu’s.

The mere thought of the oibonok’s name sent a torrent of rage flooding through Katisa. Chitendu had pursued her after all … in the most hideous way he could devise. She leaped to the attack. The clangor of her dagger against the dead thing’s blade echoed through the trees. It was Chitendu she fought now, not her dead lover. She battled with the fury of a lioness.

Now, the dead thing’s movements slowed. Katisa saw an opening. Her blade flashed in the moonlight. The dead thing’s simi spun to the ground. She plunged her weapon into a heart that had long since stopped beating. The dead thing staggered. Its nimbus faded to a faint glimmer.

But it did not fall.

Katiiiiiiisa …”

The dead thing lurched heavily against her, even as she desperately attempted to wrench her dagger from rotting flesh. A bony hand jerked the boar tusk from her neck, then snaked around her waist. As sharp teeth snapped at her skin in a ghastly parody of a lover’s caress, Katisa cried out in pain and horror.

Her heel caught on a root and she fell backward. The dead thing landed on top of her. Its teeth slashed beast-like at her breasts and throat. Katisa struggled wildly as she and the dead thing rolled across the forest floor in a macabre embrace. The green glow was almost gone now, as was most of the flesh on the dead thing’s face. The movement of its limbs slowed, then stopped.

One last time, it called her name, in the ghost of a whisper:


The sound echoed endlessly as darkness closed on Katisa’s consciousness.


Dawn’s crimson light greeted Katisa as she awakened. The moment she opened her eyes, she realized that the horror she remembered from the night before was more than a mere dream. For she was lying at the bottom of the tree, in the embrace of a skeleton.

With a cry of disgust, Katisa shoved the clinging bones aside and rose to her feet. She brushed her skin, as though that action could cleanse her. A slight charnel scent wafted from bits of rotting flesh strewn haphazardly across the ground. Nearby, Katisa saw the paw-prints of a hyena. The scavenger had come close to where she had lain unconscious. Then it had abruptly turned away.

Was it the dawa that had driven off the leopard, Katisa wondered. Or had the animal been repulsed by what it had seen, rather than what it smelled?

She looked again at the disjointed skeleton.

“Karamu,” she murmured as she touched the teeth-marks on her skin. Then she turned away from the skeleton and climbed the tree to retrieve her and the pouch of biki and jawuma leaves. On the way up, she avoided contact with Karamu’s broken spear, which was embedded in the tree’s bark.

Her expression settled into a grim mask as she descended, then plucked her dagger from the ribs of the skeleton. The bones may have been Karamu’s, she thought, but the will that had animated the warrior’s corpse, and beclouded her mind so she could not tell the difference between dream and reality, was that of someone else.

She knew that Chitendu had done something forbidden and unspeakable. He had inserted his spirit into Karamu’s corpse, transforming it into a mindless creature that did Chitendu’s bidding. Long ago, the oibonoks of the Ilyassai clans had renounced such evil use of sorcery. But not Chitendu.

Her spirit had prevailed over that of the oibonok. But the victory gave her no joy. She could only hope that she had slain Chitendu’s spirit … if that were possible.

Katisa searched the ground upon which the bones lay. She spotted the boar’s tusk that the dead thing had torn from her. She picked it up and re-knotted its leather thong around her neck. With a final glance at Karamu’s remains, she turned and began to make her way through the strip of forest.

When she emerged on the other side, she saw what Kamayu and the Lost Clan had seen many rains ago. Like an open mouth, a small canyon split the stony face of the towering escarpment. Here was the way to the Ardhi ya Nyama.

Katisa began walk across the stretch of grass and trees that led to the canyon. But before she reached the opening, a sudden wind blew behind her. In its swift passage, the leaves and grass whispered her name: “Katiiiiiiisa …”

And as she entered the canyon, Katisa wondered if she would ever be truly free from Chitendu and the evil he served.

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