The old chief died and had a splendid burial. Our ancestors smiled on us, our land was rich, our herds plenty, and the people prospered and were happy. The Young Chieftain become Chief and for a while all was good in the land. He married the most beautiful girl among us, the one with green eyes and long shining hair, and they had two sons. But then the Young Chief became restless. He was not content with his fat herds or the telling of past glories. He hunted, he had other women, he passed the day as he pleased, but there was nothing that filled him. One day he said he would go to war.
The Shamanka stood up in the council and said, ‘We are happy, we have plenty, our world is good. There is no need to make war, to cause the death and suffering of others.’
Some people agreed but some said, ‘Those who die go to a happy place, where all is good and plentiful.’
The Shamanka said, ‘Some say that is the way of it, but some say we pass into a world of shadows, and some say we are reborn into endless suffering to pay for our misdeeds.’
The people considered this, and the wise said it was different for different peoples, but that with our people death was not a bad thing. The war party prepared to leave, and I was among them, and though the Shamanka had begged me to stay, I wanted to see the world that she had told of.
I came to say goodbye, but she was ashen and her face was drawn. I touched her shoulder as she turned her back to me.
‘I’ll be back Eirene.’ I had never said her name before. It was Hellenic and strange on my tongue.
‘I know you will be, Satana,’ she said. Her voice was hollow and came from a far off place, farther than death. I knew she was not saying this to comfort me, but that she had seen the way of things yet to come, and I rejoiced. I went back with the woman warriors who presented me with my first armor made of pared horse hoofs and a helmet with crested feathers which made me feel like a bird which could soar. Our leader had horns on her helmet and carried the traits of the deer with all its swiftness and power. When I dressed, I wore trousers and boots and a padded jacket over which my armor was placed. I had my bow and my quiver of arrows, my spear, my sword and sharp knife. For five summers I had trained with those weapons; I knew how to thrust and parry, and leap and duck, and hit a moving target with my arrows while galloping on horseback. The older warriors bound their large breasts with tight cloths, the better to aim and shoot, but I was light and well muscled, and there was no need of that.
The war party left one spring morning for the lands in the south; the people came to see us off, the horses were excited and snorting, pawing the ground. The Young Chief was resplendent in a costume of deep red trimmed with sable, commanding the troops, the men on the right, the women warriors on the left. The people chattered, throwing wildflowers on our path and cheering us on. Our banners unfurling, we rode away from our mountains, anticipating victory, arrogant and well fed.
We stopped at the camps of our allies to raise a great army, we feasted and drank, we told stories, and I saw the wide world. I reveled in it, it was an adventure, it was an endless banquet. There came the day when our army was mighty, when the hooves of our horses made the earth shake, and the sky turned red from our banners and then we were ready to let blood run over the land. We went to the south, we went to the west. We fell on settlements like ravening wolves and killed those who stood in our way. Those we did not kill, we enslaved. We took goods from our enemies, we took them for ourselves, we took their horses and livestock, we took their silver and gold. And the more we took, the more we wanted. We sang songs of glory about our people, we sang to our victories, we thought we were blessed by the Gods and the spirits, and that the skies smiled down on us. We had everything, and for our enemies, we left nothing.
Our Chief now wore a golden diadem on his head and drank from golden goblets and even his food was sprinkled with gold dust. He took the best women and had them in his carpeted tent, and then he discarded them for his men to do what they willed with. He had horses, he had cattle, he had fortune, but he had no mercy. And then one day, his fortune left him.
We heard that a great army was being raised against us, our scouts knew, and there was a whispered rumor among our prisoners that spread through the camp. Our war chiefs said that enough was enough, we had taken everything, we had killed everyone, it was time to go back. But our Chief was filled with blood lust, and he was filled with rage. They didn’t dare raise their voices against him, for he called them cowards and assured them we would be victorious and lay waste to the enemy, and then we would invade the capital of Daraya and seize such wealth that it was beyond imagining. That night I dreamed of maggoty meat and for the first time was frightened of battle, but the others said, ‘Hush, don’t speak of it, for he has executed a captain for defying him and wanting to lead his troops home.’