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contents Wai Z contents

8) Splinter

Mpho woke the next day with mild trepidation, and when Yunio asked she could not explain. They began to meditate together and soon their energies became one with the source. Yunio felt the concern, knew it was real but was unable to feel more. When they felt Sarpo and Namzo nothing more was added, but the concerned reality weighed heavily on them all.

Namzo set off slowly but this time the burden was his own and not the concern for others, no-one objected the slower pace suited the more difficult terrain.

They began climbing and after a while weariness took over and people tried to concentrate on the walking. Mpho stopped and looked up to see Uu in the distance. She pointed but Yunio saw nothing. She ran to the spot, but it was a tree. She sat tired from the exertion and the voice of the teacher spoke to her "Trouble is in the ashram far quicker than I expected. Please don't be concerned but there are some people following you." She saw the image of Suivo and friends beginning their trek up the mountains, and then it all faded. Immediately Namzo and Sarpo knew they must go down so Namzo asked Blenbu to take them up further pointing to a meeting point much higher, and then camp. Knowing Mpho and Yunio would help Blenbu, the two went down to search for Suivo.

Knowing roughly where Namzo would be aiming for was one thing but to know which route he took was completely different. Suivo wanted to avoid settlements knowing there were risks, sadly these places of erstwhile bonhomie and human kindness had been drastically altered by prevailing contact with the jetsam and flotsam of humankind that wandered the world fleeing the turbulence manifesting itself in the world's major conurbations. Not only good fled but renegade individualists whose self-interest would not allow its own criminality to be subjugated by the gangs. As the gangs became powerful such mavericks found themselves more and more eschewed from society, both rejected by the gangs and not wanted by the good people of society either whom they exploited where possible. So these criminals sought pastures new. Rural communities whose common code within reason had been courtesy and help soon became prey to these opportunists who feigned what was needed to take advantage. No, settlements were not going to be safe, thought Suivo, but we need to track Namzo.

But maybe he could look for outlying croppers, if they were treated well maybe Suivo's troop could pass. So off he set, not looking for humankind but not avoiding either. Early on he stuck to the paths, even the 20 or so that Namzo led did not leave a trail on paths; and there were no alternative signs. Once out of sight of the ashram the obvious happened leaving Suivo in a quandary, the paths divided and he chose the right as he felt sure there were human settlements that way - to the left was more bleak.

They soon reached an outcropping, and the farmer was barely cordial. No, he hadn't seen any sign. Suivo moved on to where the next farmer was equally brief and much less than unhelpful. At the third they thought their luck had changed as this time the residents seemed pleased to see them. Old times thought Suivo, not knowing his luck had changed - but for the worst.

"They didn't come this way. We saw them in the distance and watched," pontificated Gohok gesticulating back towards the fork in the path "'who were these strange people?' I said to Mia". The wife obligingly nodded.

"So we should return and take the left turn that way towards the mountains," Gohok agreed and smiled. But then he insisted they stay and eat ahead of their long journey. Suivo readily agreed, and soon the five had ate their fill. Thanking Gohok profusely they offered some fare but were gently but firmly refused. So on their way again they retraced their steps, only to find their way blocked by a group of farmers. Suivo recognised the two they had earlier met.

Suivo went to talk but beyond perfunctory greeting nothing else was offered. Indicating he wished to return along the path he saw that they intended to block it. He could see following the path back was not going to happen. Maybe Gohok could help them with a route to rejoining Namzo, he turned and saw that just in front of the gate of the outcropper was another group of farmers, a phalanx of peasants. This is what he had feared even though he had been lulled by Gohok's demeanour.

Suivo moved away from the path and decided that he would have to risk crossing the valley, and hope they could find a way across the river. In places it was invisible from where he stood, but up close? And the land near the river, surely it was marshy?

Then Libro suddenly ran towards the first group of peasants, and started on at them angrily "We want to follow the path around," she told them in no uncertain terms "let us through."

"These are our lands," muttered one of the larger and more intimidating of the phalanx "you are not going to cross them." He held his staff across his body in a clear sign of no entry. Libro's anger was far stronger than her common sense, so instead of taking heed she pushed at the staff turning the farmer, knocking him off balance. Not expecting this from a slip of a girl he fell and lost balance - as well as losing face. She slipped past him and turned to call to Suivo to follow her. The man now equally angry stood up, and with his staff struck her across the head knocking her down dazing her. She stood feeling a swaying inside her head, would she faint? Again the man with his staff sideways pushed her to where Suivo and the rest had remained watching. After a couple of yards she fell to the ground, began crawling and stopped.

This had turned quickly. From one second when the stupid girl was endangering them all with her belligerent sanctimony, thought Suivo, the next she was struck, dazed and falling to the ground. She didn't deserve that either, he thought. Telling the others to wait there, he and Tanbo went to carry the girl. As they reached Libro he pointedly moved his body between her and the farmers, his back to them, demonstrating that he had no intention of moving towards them. They picked up the girl, and carried her back so that they were five again.

Laying her down he wiped the blood from her temple, a small cut but a large bump. That would be sore for a while, he thought. He wanted to give her time to rest but he heard a shout. The two phalanx of peasants were now stood menacingly as one, and they were gesticulating with staffs in the air. He continued tending the wound but the noise increased and he saw the men moving towards them slowly.

Calling Tanbo over again they started carrying Libro, and although they walked slowly they still increased their distance from the men - they were not after them they were chasing them away, he realised. "If we keep going we will be OK. They see us threatening them somehow," he concluded.

They continued slowly away, and soon the men had disappeared in the distance. And at this they rested.

Suivo looked at Libro, she was still slightly concussed but soon all she would have is a bruise and a headache. They had not sought serious harm, he realised they were only firing warning shots to protect their homes. Righteous indignation and ire at such instincts was intellectual delusion, he thought, he could see their point. Even in these times some people hadn't got over the arrogance of miseducation.

He wanted to rest but they were now in an exposed region, and the nearest shelter was the wrong side of the valley. He was tempted to move further round beyond the outcroppings they had encountered, but he knew they would be watched. And if confronted this time would be more than a heavy tap on the head. So he resolved they had to seek shelter on the other side of the valley, meaning they had to find a path to and across the river.

It was necessary to test the lie of the land, especially with the injury, so the other 4 rested as he moved across the valley seeking a way - a path. He had expected a man-made path but soon decided there would be none - whether myth, tradition or just custom, these people did not cross to the other side. Why?

He needed to forge his own route so sought the highest ground in the valley in the hope of meeting the least marsh; not so easy as marshland abounded. This done he tested his proposed path, and found that it was difficult but traversable if he stepped on the clumps of thick grass. This decided, he returned to the group who then recommenced their trek. Libro struggled but was stoic, Tanbo and Suivo took turns to support her as the other two were also struggling - not very suited to this land, Suivo thought. After an hour of slow walking they had crossed the mile or so that meant they had reached the river.

As they neared Suivo's heart sank, it was far wider than he had thought. At this point it was not passable, so they must follow along the bank. But which way? Gohok had told him that Namzo had followed the ridge on the other side of the valley, that is where they must aim for. But they also sought shelter so Libro could rest. He decided that the river would be easier to cross higher up, but he must avoid the peasant-croppers.

At this they moved up the bank, and thankfully the river did thin. They continued on up but Suivo was conscious that this was bringing him nearer his erstwhile unwilling hosts. Not knowing exactly where they were, he decided that they must now look for the best place to cross. Shallow and slow-moving, he thought. Up ahead he saw that the river held a small fall, yes that looked good. Not necessarily shallow but below the fall the water was quiet and would have formed a good place to swim in former times. Tentatively he tested the pool, as he thought - quite calm. And he swam out a way, yes traversable he thought to himself. He swam back and told the others to cross.

"If we walk higher," asked Mosi "won't we reach the entrance to the valley and can follow the path round?"

"That might have happened," answered Suivo "if we hadn't antagonised the residents. I am sure they are watching us." Mosi was thinking, she wanted to argue more, but she was unsure.

"The water is safe here," wheedled Suivo.

"Maybe so," said Mosi haltingly "but . I can't swim."

Suivo smiled, he was irritated but it wasn't a real problem at the moment. "OK," looking at Tanbo he decided "I will carry Libro, you can help Mosi?" Tanbo nodded. Turning to Kereng he could see there was muted agreement, no problem there.

Soon they reached the other side, and now another problem it was getting cool - late in the day, they needed shelter and fire. They were still inside the valley but having moved higher the distance to the ridge was far less. Despite murmurings from Mosi and Libro, Suivo and Tanbo prevailed and they forced another hour as they reached the base of ridge where they found an alcove of natural shelter. Whilst Kereng sought to Libro and Mosi rested, Tanbo and Suivo gathered wood for the fire that Suivo started with the neckflint he carried after seeing Namzo with same.

Soon they settled to the warmth, and gradually the evening wore on. Libro had been sleeping, and when she woke she asked "How will we meet with Namzo and the others?" she asked.

"A good question," answered Suivo pondering his answer, but she drifted off and Suivo was left to ponder his answer within his own mind. Soon he began to feel tired and he left the answer to the night and sleep.

The next morning they moved up towards the top of the ridge, and very soon the path crossed them.

Namzo and Sarpo had rushed down the mountain, found the gap in the ridge, walked round a bit, and soon after night fell. They left it as late as they could, but needs must; they planned to wake early to get a fresh start. They figured there was only one source of digression - the choice on entering the valley, so they headed to where the paths diverged. Very soon they saw Suivo's bedraggled five following the path on the ridge. Being careful Namzo had seen the group from a distance, and they had climbed further up the ridge to get a better look at the party. It was only when Sarpo saw Kereng, Naro's friend, were they sure this was who they were looking for. They then descended down to the group who were immediately defensive as from a distance they couldn't recognise Namzo - they weren't expecting him.

After greetings were passed Namzo encouraged them back onto the path, as they still had much to do to get back up to the rest of the good ashram. He thought the situation now much better, at least they were in touch.

As they walked Suivo told Namzo and Sarpo what had happened, and his story gave them not one ounce of surprise. Both made a mental note to avoid local outcroppings if possible. Sarpo simply asked "who is this Libro . and Mosi?" Suivo smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

Soon after Suivo finished his tale, they moved out of the valley and started the steep ascent. Sarpo took them up and Namzo moved to the back to observe the new group. Obviously Libro was flagged as a problem, but what about the others? Why hadn't they joined them in the first place? Namzo needed to push them hard but at the same time Libro still had an injury - although it was better after a night's sleep. He could see she was struggling as was Mosi. Tanbo helped Libro and she readily accepted it - a good sign, but Mosi needed continual assurance from Kereng. There were elements in his own group they would easily align with . unfortunately.

A strenuous day passed without incident, and as they found a spot to camp food was prepared and Suivo's group appeared tired and all seemed to repair to sleep. Namzo and Sarpo took this chance to take leave, and found a quiet place to sit. Soon the peace of the night sky took over, and within this they sought the mental calm that brought contact. As expected they found Mpho and Yunio joining them, and felt comfort knowing the Blenbu had gotten the group to where Namzo suggested. They had arrived early so there was some disgruntlement at time being wasted so they agreed for tomorrow to move further up slowly so that by the end of the day the two groups would be one. At this the four sought mental silence, and became rejuvenated in their contemplation. Finishing they returned to the camp, not noticing Suivo hiding a small distance away.

The next morning Namzo led them off early, the longer the groups were split the more possible dangers. A small group of seven might be picked off by outcroppers, whereas 25 huddled together would not be such a target. However the terrain was steep so it was unlikely that there would be problems.

Sarpo spoke with Kereng,"You decided to join us now," he smiled.

"I couldn't leave Mosi, I promised her mother," she said briefly. Sarpo looked at her glancingly, truth, no assumed attitudes, and much unsaid. He had always liked her. Most of Naro's friends were Uu sycophants, whilst he was a great man it was not a trait Uu had liked; mind you he didn't like disagreement either. Kereng would help Naro, he thought.

Knowing she would not ask, "we will meet the others higher up - we arranged a place; probably by the end of the day," Sarpo volunteered, and she smiled.

"Naro will not enjoy the walking," Kereng said after a while.

"Why?" asked Sarpo.

"At school she had a bad break; although it healed well her joints give her pain sometimes," she explained.

He was going to say "she never said", but they both knew that was not her way. Sarpo then felt a silence, this was not a small revelation.

They walked on for a while as Sarpo sought to understand, and this was broken gently by Kereng who said "I am pleased to now be with you and Naro." Her gentle voice soothed Sarpo, and he focused again on the walking and the steep terrain.

The day was hotter than normal, and this gave Blenbu an excuse to finish walking early. They made camp in the shade, and the group was in good spirits as the sun brightened their demeanours. Just before dark, they saw 7 people pop over the near horizon, and Blenbu went over to greet Namzo all feeling glad they were one again - at least for a short while.