Milton Davis is the author of more than a dozen books on Speculative Fiction. He's also a publisher, MVmedia, LLC.
Woman of the woods Synopsis
The latest Sword and Soul novel by Milton Davis returns to the land of Meji, the amazing world of Uhuru. It tells the story of Sadatina, a girl on the brink of becoming a woman living with her family in Adamusola, the land beyond the Old Men Mountains. But tragic events transpire that change her life forever, revealing a hidden past that leads her into the midst of a war between her people and those that would see them destroyed, the Mosele. Armed with a spiritual weapon and her feline 'sisters,' Sadatina becomes a Shosa, a warrior trained to fight the terrible nyokas, demon-like creatures that aid the Mosele in their war against her people.
Woman of the Woods is an action filled, emotionally charged adventure that expands the scope of the world of Uhuru and introduces another unforgettable character to its heroic legends.
Woman of the Woods Excerpt
The Shosa followed Teshome through the village and out into the countryside. The journey was slow; Teshome walked before the Shosa, refusing to mount a horse with them. From morning to noon they traveled though farmland; after a brief rest they journeyed until they reached the fallow fields beyond the farmland. They camped in the shadow of the mounds, the Shosa posting guards to patrol the camp in shifts. They broke camp early next day and continued their march, reaching the river that separated the hills from the fields by late afternoon. Hazeeta and Teshome strolled to the river’s edge, the two of them gazing at the verdant and ominous knolls.
“How long have you known the woman of the woods?” Hazeeta asked.
“Sadatina,” he said.
“What?” Hazeeta’s heart jumped. It was her! Her daughter was alive! She looked at Asli and her sister smiled.
Teshome looked at her and smiled. “Her name is Sadatina. I knew her before she became a hunter. I saw her one day when she and her mother came to Wubet. I met her when I worked on her baba’s farm during the harvest season.”
“How did she become a hunter?”
Teshome looked away. “You will have to ask her. If she wants you to know, she will tell you.”
His reply angered her. “Does our presence bother you? You didn’t have to lead us here.”
Teshome squatted and pulled a blade of grass. “No, you are fine. I’m happy you have come. She needs help. I…we cannot fight the nyokas. We try, but they always kill more of us than we kill of them. If it weren’t for Sadatina, you would have found what you expected.”
Teshome stood and smiled at Hazeeta. “We will have to go slow, though. Sadatina only trusts her sisters and me.”
“Since you won’t tell me about Sadatina, can you at least tell of the other women?”
Teshome looked confused. “Other women?”
Hazeeta rolled her eyes. “Her sisters!”
Teshome smiled. “It is hard to explain. You will see.” If Teshome knew anything else he was reluctant to provide it.
“When will she arrive?” Hazeeta asked.
Teshome stuck the grass blade between his teeth. “Soon.”
Hazeeta and Teshome spent most of the day beside the river, staring into the foliage. The sun began its descent behind the hills when the silence was broken by the faint roar of a shumba. Teshome suddenly stood. “She is coming,” he whispered. He waded into the river, Hazeeta close behind. Asli ran to her side. Hazeeta turned and signaled for the other Shosa to stay back.
Teshome halted a few yards away from the forest edge. Hazeeta and Asli were approaching when he waved them back. “Wait. I will tell you when to come,” he shouted.
Hazeeta heard the shumba roar again. It was coming closer. The foliage before Teshome jostled and Sadatina emerged.
It took everything in Hazeeta to keep from shouting for joy. There was no doubt in her mind that the woman emerging from the woods was her daughter. She was her father’s daughter, from the intense eyes to the confident walk. The Wubetu nyoka hunter sauntered from the trees, a confident look on her young face. She was barely dressed, a leather top covering her breasts and a kanga resting low on her swaying hips. A sword hilt peeked over her shoulder; she carried a lance punctuated by an ornate broad leaf blade in her left hand. But what caught Hazeeta’s attention was the ginanga head Sadatina held by its coarse hair in her right hand.
Another sight stunned the Shosa leader as well. Two female shumbas followed Sadatina, their snouts stained with nyoka blood. They trotted past her to Teshome, snuggling their heads against his legs and humming like docile pets.
Sadatina’s tough demeanor fell away as she neared Teshome. A childlike smile graced her face as she dropped the lance and nyoka head carelessly and threw her arms around his neck. They kissed long and Hazeeta smiled. She couldn’t remember the last time a man had kissed her that way.
Sadatina pulled away from Teshome and peered over his shoulder. Her smile faded. The shumbas took notice as well and their backs stiffened. Asli raised her lance.
“No,” Hazeeta ordered. “No threatening moves. We’ll let Teshome handle this.”
Words passed between Teshome and the huntress. Sadatina marched up to them, the shumbas beside her. She stopped a lance thrust away. The shumbas kept their distance as they circled the duo.
“You are Shosa?” Sadatina asked. Her voice sounded as young as she looked. “Why have you come?”
Hazeeta wanted to reach out and hug Sadatina but she maintained her composure. Now was not the time. “We came to survey this valley and protect it if needed,” Hazeeta answered.
“We need no protection,” Sadatina replied.
“I see,” Hazeeta agreed. “But we are curious about you.”
“The ability to kill nyokas is not a common thing,” Hazeeta answered. “We Shosa train years to acquire the skill and still we need talismans, gris-gris, Cha’s strength and each other. Yet you hunt alone…”
Sadatina looked to the shumbas. “I have my sisters.”
“Yes you do, which is another mystery. It is now obvious to me why Cha sent us here. He sent us here to find you.”
“You have found me. Now you can go.”
“Wait!” Hazeeta stepped toward Sadatina and the shumbas leaped between them. They crouched and roared. Asli rushed to Hazeeta’s side, her lance leveled at the cats. The other Shosas advanced toward them, bows loaded and aimed. Sadatina turned her head and again Hazeeta was impressed. The young slayer was not intimidated by the Shosas’ threat. If anything, she looked annoyed.
“Stand down!” Hazeeta shouted. Asli lowered her lance and raised an open hand, her signal reinforcing Hazeeta’s words. Their sisters lowered their bows.
“Come, sisters,” Sadatina said. The shumbas roared and trotted to Sadatina. She smirked at Hazeeta and returned to Teshome's side.
“She’s fearless,” Asli commented. “She is your daughter.”
“Yes she is,” Hazeeta replied. She patted Asli’s shoulder. “Come, let’s leave those two alone. We’ll set up camp a few yards away. I’ll try to talk to her again tomorrow.”
The Shosa set up camp. While her sisters tended to their needs, Hazeeta sat by her tent, watching Sadatina, Teshome and the shumbas. The child she had left behind thirteen years ago had followed in her footsteps despite not knowing anything about her. It was surely Cha’s will she survived. Any lingering doubt of her decision to have her was washed away by the sight before her. Her daughter was meant to live.
It fascinated her at how completely the girl’s hard countenance melted away when she was with the young man. The two of them cavorted as if the danger just across the river was nonexistent. The shumbas joined in the carousing, batting at the two of them like cubs rather than the fierce predators they were. It was a strange scene of innocence that went on most of the afternoon until Sadatina and Teshome went to the river. They stripped naked and plunged into the clear waters, no modesty between them as they bathed. They began to play again, but this time the play was more suggestive of things to come. As the sun settled behind the hills they retired to their tent. The shumbas moved before the entrance, their eyes and ears suddenly attentive.
Asli’s voice startled her. She held a plate of food out to her. “Here, eat something.”
Hazeeta accepted the plate and ate absently. “Did you see them?”
Asli rolled her eyes. “Who couldn’t? Your child is not very modest.”
“We’re leaving her here,” Hazeeta decided.
Asli stepped into Hazeeta’s view, her shocked expression plain.
“We can’t! She may be the one Cha has summoned.”
“Then let Cha call her,” Hazeeta retorted. “She is happy here, far happier than she would be if we took her back to Wangara.”
“How long can she continue to fight the nyokas alone without Cha’s guidance? You know what is coming. You know what Nana has seen.”
“I know, but I cannot do this to her. If I were in her place I wouldn’t want to go, either. Here she has companionship and love. In Wangara…”
Asli frowned. “You let your personal feelings get in the way of your duty.”
Hazeeta dropped her plate. “Don’t lecture me! I am in command here and if I say we leave her be then we leave her be. Do you understand?”
Asli looked more hurt than angry. “I understand.”
She spun to walk away but Hazeeta grabbed her arm. “I’m sorry, my friend.”
Asli grasped her hand. “I understand. I am your sister, remember? We will leave in the morning as you ordered. I will talk to the others. No one will speak of this upon our return.”
“Thank you, sister.”
Asli looked away from Hazeeta. “Nana will find out eventually.”
Hazeeta nodded. “I know, but at least I’ll have no guilt when she finally comes to Wangara. At least I can say it was not my doing.”
Hazeeta slept easy that night, assured she’d made the right choice and happy that her sisters agreed. She knew she would have to deal with her choice in the future, but that was then. Her daughter was alive. Tonight she was at peace.
That peace was shattered with a familiar sick feeling in her stomach. The ground shook beneath her as she clambered from her cot, a strange rhythmic cadence that heralded a solitary approach. She donned her leather and chain mail and draped her gris-gris about herself. When she exited her tent, her sisters were in motion as well, mounting their horses and arming themselves. Hazeeta didn’t look to them. Her attention went to the solitary tent closest to the river’s edge. Sadatina stood with her sisters, their faces turned toward the wooded hills. Teshome stood behind them. She looked so vulnerable, her only protection her swords and her shumbas.
Asli brought her horse. “What is this?” she asked. “This does not feel right.”
“We'll find out soon,” Hazeeta said grimly. “Come, we must hurry.”
A garbled cry burst from the darkness, spooking the horses and sending a chill through Hazeeta. This was something different, she was sure; the confidence forged by her earlier experience against Karan’s creations diminished with the realization. The Shosa gathered at the riverbank.
“Start a fire,” Hazeeta ordered.
The sisters hurried to gather wood from the nearby forest and started a healthy blaze. Hazeeta did not need to give the next command. Her best archers went to the flames with arrows dipped in flammable oil, lighting the missiles in unison and loading their bows.
“Fire!” She commanded. Her sisters responded seconds later, blazing bolts streaking overhead like falling stars and peppering both sides of the bank. Another bellow shook the night and their adversary emerged from the woods. It was huge, much larger that the biggest washaka, a grotesque amalgamation of beasts built by malicious hands. Its massive body suggested the mountain primates but its stance was more human than beast. A jackal-like snout protruded from its face, its head crowned by a pair of thick, curved horns. Hazeeta had no idea about the meaning behind the beast’s demeanor, but its size alone signaled caution. A volley of poison arrows followed by a gris lance charge would have been her command, but she had no time to call out the orders. Sadatina and her shumbas leaped through the flames no sooner than the arrows illuminated their way. The larger shumba leaped onto the beast’s shoulder, digging in with teeth and claws. As the beast cried out and reached for her, the other shumba lunged at its left leg, biting into its hamstring. Sadatina ran at the beast and leaped into the air, her sword raised over her head.
But the beast was swifter that its size suggested. It grasped the shumba at its leg, ripped it free and threw it away like debris. The shumba crashed into Sadatina and they both tumbled into the river. It grasped the other feline with both hands and pulled it away, but before it could fling it free the shumba gripped the hand and bit into the wrist. A piercing howl caused Hazeeta and her sisters to cringe as they reached the flaming perimeter. The Shosa raised their bows ready to fire but Hazeeta stopped them.
Sadatina and the other shumba emerged from the river and renewed their attack. As her companion worried the beast’s arms, the other climbed its torso. Sadatina worked her way behind it and hacked at its hamstrings like a woodsman, gritty determination warping her face. Again the creature managed to free itself. It twisted, throwing both shumbas from its body. Sadatina barely dodged a swipe from its clawed hand, jumping away to join her returning cohorts.
“Now!” Hazeeta shouted. A volley of bolts sprang from the Shosa bows. The beast crouched and they sailed over it, peppering the trees across the river.
“Reload!” she shouted. “Lancers advance!” The sisters split into two groups. Half replenished their bows and gathered behind Asli. The others slung their bows on their backs and freed their gris lances, the double tipped spears laced with gris-gris. They lined up behind Hazeeta. She raised her saber, preparing to signal the charge when a horrifying sight stopped her. Sadatina leaped before the creature again. She sliced at its neck but the creature ducked. It raised its head, slamming its crown into her. The girl warrior sailed backwards through the flame barrier, landing hard on her back.
Teshome ran toward her, a machete in his hand. “Sadatina!” he yelled as he approached the flame.
“Teshome, no!” Sadatina yelled back. “Get away!”
“Shossssa!” the creature hissed.
Hazeeta jerked with morbid shock. “It speaks?”
The creature charged through the fire on all fours. Teshome stood before it like a statue. Hazeeta had seen this scenario too many times before. A warrior too terrified to flee bolted in place by indecision.
The creature turned its head to the right and jerked it left. The left horn impaled Teshome’s chest. For a brief moment he rode the horn until he slipped away and tumbled from the nyoka’s path. Sadatina scrambled to her feet and ran to him. Hazeeta followed her with her eyes until she was clear. It was time for her sisters to act.
“Fire!” she yelled. Arrows swarmed the creature's face like bees, some penetrating into its head while others caromed off its horns. The creature collapsed, grabbing at the poison bolts protruding from its bleeding face.
“Second volley, fire!” Asli shouted. The second volley struck with such impact the nyoka staggered back, its arms flung wide. The second volley was no random fusillade; each sister aimed her shot at a point on the beast where the veins should be close, thus speeding the entry of the poison into its blood. The creature continued to stagger, though with the amount of poison coursing through its bulk it should have been dead.
Hazeeta said nothing to instigate the charge. She lifted her lance, spurred her horse and galloped forward, lowering the weapon as she neared the wounded beast. Her sisters spread out beside her, keeping pace as they neared the nyoka. It tottered, absently pulling at the projectiles in its flesh. The Shosa could have waited for the poison to take effect but Hazeeta would not let this thing die a peaceful death. She raised her lance to her shoulder and flung it with all her strength. The double edged projectile hit the nyoka full in its throat. It grabbed the lance’s shaft and tugged at it weakly. Her sisters threw their lances as well, peppering the beast’s body. The beast shuddered, falling onto its back.
Hazeeta veered away while her sisters drew their sabers and advanced on the dying beast. She searched the darkness and found what she was looking for. Sadatina knelt beside Teshome, cradling his head in her lap. She rocked back and forth, her sobbing loud in Hazeeta’s ears. An old pain resurfaced in the Shosa’s heart and her own eyes began to water. By the time she reined her horse and dismounted she was crying as well.
“Why, Teshome? Why?” Sadatina said between sobs.
Hazeeta approached slowly, wary of the shumbas which paced nervously, occasionally looking at Sadatina and the lifeless Teshome. When she reached Sadatina’s side, she knelt beside her but said nothing.
“You always wanted to protect me,” Sadatina said. “I didn’t need your protection. All I needed was your love.”
Hazeeta reached out and gingerly touched Sadatina’s shoulder. When she was sure Sadatina wouldn’t reject her she moved closer, holding her within her arms. This was not a time for words.
“Hazeeta?” Asli came up beside her, her face grim.
“Harvest the body for gris-gris and burn the rest,” Hazeeta said automatically.
Asli lingered, glancing at Hazeeta and back to her sisters. Hazeeta looked at her again, her face stern. “Go. I’ll be here with Sadatina.”
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