Our home is a hill top half way up a large mountain range. These mountains give us what we need, but they are not generous. We must work the mountains, and the magic that gives us the power to control the mountains is water.
There is precious little water here in the Cabreras. We have been blessed with springs. Old Pretzl lectures us that whilst we are strong, our village productive, the Sun shall give us water, but if we are slack, our water will vanish.
We are lucky with the water. We have a spring at the top of the hill. This we have channelled into a large reservoir, stone lined, which gives us water for our rites and our washing. Next to the spring, at the very top of the hill, is the home of Pretzl, from where he carries out his mysterious rites, cultivates herbs, and tends to the sick. Only the ill are allowed to drink water from here. Water for drinking comes from a smaller spring which pours from the very cliff, reached by a narrow path created by the constant coming and going of generations of our fathers before us.
When the water leaves the reservoir, it runs downhill amongst our homes. It has three exits, but do not think that the water is abundant. Sometimes during the heat of the summer it dries up entirely, and we must protect the water, and rely on springs further down the hill which have never been known to stop.
Our homes are grouped together by our function. Our warriors live together around the home of Charl, our current leader. My father lived there, before he was cut down in battle, and only survived thanks to the ministrations of Pretzl. Afterwards, he was allowed to return to his family, although he can no longer participate in battle, and must sit with the old people who are not on the council. Sometimes he is asked to help with the training of young warriors, but with every passing year the requests are fewer. He cannot work in the fields, for he has no left leg, and his right hand is terribly mangled, crushed by the blows from a club as he lay in the ground bleeding during a battle.
We now live down amongst the smiths, as I am an apprentice smith, and so it is sensible that the family moves to where I work, as once I reached adulthood I became the head of my family, responsible for my crippled father and younger sister.
The three streams run to the very edge of the high cliffs that surround our village and fall in waterfalls down to the fields below.
They join the water from the other main spring, below the cliffs, accessible by a narrow path from the village. Together, they make a small stream that snakes round half of the cliffs of our home and eventually runs into a small valley below, where we cultivate crops.
Life is comfortable, when the village is small. We know that. There is food aplenty for those who need to live here, but when our village swells, we must encourage those youngsters who seek adventure to move elsewhere.
Around us are mountains. The very peak behind us is double the height of our hilltop. For that we feel secure, knowing that it is difficult for any to come and attack us.
And the mountains provide. They give us the forests that supply us with food and wood. We use them to make charcoal to fire our minerals. And it is for the minerals that we are here, and the minerals make us rich.
For we make bronze here. We quarry tin, and copper, and know the secrets of combing the two to make the strongest metal there is, the golden bronze that Father Sun himself gave us, stronger than any other, strong enough to shatter the poor tin weapons of our enemies.
And we have enemies. For we also mine gold, and silver, to make intricate jewellery that those who live around us covet.
And which last night, they had come for.
I stood with the rest of the village around our top reservoir. Which water from the our sacred spring filled. Looking at the bodies floating in the water, water rich with their life blood.
An entire family floated there. Felix, and his family. His father, a kindly old soul, who despite being blind through age, could still juggle four eggs in the air, to entertain and delight the small children. Felix’s wife, and her sister. And the children. The three children of Felix, one a baby in arms, just three months old. All floated there.
There was a deathly silence amongst us. I had never heard such silence. Then Charl spoke up, and gruffly ordered some of the men to start getting Felix and his family out of the water. He then quietly said something to Furl the tracker, who nodded and scurried off. Furl always reminded me of a rat in his movements.
Charl pushed his way through the crowd and grabbed me by the shoulder, swinging me around to face him.
“What did you see?” he asked me.
“Nothing” I replied, and explained about the shock of seeing the blood on the water. Charl nodded in comprehension.
“Whoever did this isn’t far away” he said, almost to himself. His usual deep, bellowing voice was quiet now, not a whisper, but a deep, low, threatening purr. “Are you sure you saw nothing?”
“I saw nothing… but when I awoke… I knew something…” I trailed off. Charl looked at again, staring into my eyes.
“I knew something was wrong” I said balefully. “But instead of investigating, I went to relive myself. I just felt that something was not right”.
Charl grunted, and went back to the waters edge where Felix’s body was being pulled ashore. Pretzl was there, examining the body as soon as it was dropped on the ground. I followed Charl as he pushed his way through the silent crowd.
Pretzl spoke up, in his high, reedy, precise voice.
“This man did not die a long time ago. After the festival ended, before dawn. His murderer cannot be far away” he pronounced. “I believe his throat to have been slit whilst he slept.”
“And the others?” someone called. “Why was this done?”
“I believe it was done for silence” replied Pretzl. “Felix guards the Shrine, his family lives before the doorway to the Shrine and Felix is sworn to protect it with his life. A thief who snuck in here tonight, knowing that we were at festival, slit the throat of the guard and his family whilst they slept. And then profaned their bodies, and dishonoured our village, by throwing their bodies into our water.”
He fell silent, and with the fingers on one hand gently closed Felix’s eyes for the last time. Then he painfully pushed himself upwards from his squatting position.
“I must go and inspect the Shrine” he explained to Charl, before striding away.
Charl turned to face the raising sun. He said nothing, but instead drew his dagger. A ferocious dagger, carried by our Leader, made of golden bronze, with a silver hilt, a large red garnet set into the pommel. We call this dagger Lucia, the guardian, and it is carried at all times by he who leads our village.
Quietly, almost without thinking, he pushed the sharp tip of Lucia into his lower arm until it drew blood. A few drops of red liquid ran onto the blade. He dropped to his knees, and allowed those drops to fall from the weapon into the open mouth of Felix’s corpse. He kissed Felix’s forehead.
I shuddered. The ceremony of vengeance. We all knew this was coming. Charl had just signed a death warrant, a promise of vengeance for a fallen comrade. And by using the sacred blade of Lucia, he had committed the whole village to the vengeance.
But this was necessary. I suppose we all knew this was coming. This was not something that could be undone. Until the killers of Felix and his family had been in turn hunted down and killed, the village was shamed, under an oath.
I was standing next to Charl as he performed the ritual. I had always imagined it would be a fiery performance. As children at play, we had made mock vengeances upon one another, and had pretended that the very heavens would shake at the moment of allowing the drops of blood to roll from the blade. I had imagined that a ray of Sun would illuminate the blade as it was held aloft, and that the gods of thunder would roll out their approval.
None of this happened. Charl did not even seem emotional, almost lost in thought as he kissed the blade with his lips, removing the last trace of blood from its burnished surface.
But I could see his eyes. They glittered like precious stones, hard and determined, and I shuddered.
“Women!” he roared suddenly, breaking the deathly spell of silence. “Prepare food and water, for today we hunt! No demon or spirit did this, no night stalker, but a mortal enemy, who snuck amongst us when we were asleep to strike at our women and our babies. Men scared to face us in the light of day, afraid of our power. I swear to you now, before the day is over, I shall know who did this, and they shall know me!”.
As if a skin of water had been dashed over us all, normality returned. No doubt in part it had been caused by the massive hangovers most of us had from the festivities of the night before, but nobody had spoken, all felt as it were in a dream. Even the men dragging the bodies out of the water had been unnaturally silent in their actions, as if they were afraid to wake Felix and his family.
Now, people were galvanised by the shout into action. Several old women of the village, the traditional preparers of the dead, hurried forwards to receive the bodies. Wives hurried about to prepare the victuals demanded by Charl. Children chatted, or wept, or started to play, those too young to understand the horror of the mourning.