First Sons is a Shadow Sprawl setting story, continuing on from Choices.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge
“Papa,” the small voice cut through the men’s conversation, silencing them for a moment.
Hasham lifted his gaze away from the gathering, his dark eyes narrowing as he looked around the camp, searching for the source of the voice. Smoke rose from a dozen small fires, tents erected in a circle surrounding a main fire, the same fire that the men had chosen for their meeting. Women bent to their tasks, spinning goat hair into yarn, working hides with scrapers and preparing food.
He rose, dusting off his robes as he stood. From across the camp the small figure flew, feet barely touching the ground as he ran. A small figure, his legs bare beneath his short tunic, sandals forgotten somewhere in the tent. With a grin Hasham lowered himself just enough to make it easier for the charging figure, his arms spread wide as the boy ran and half jumped into his arms. He laughed, standing fully, tickling the squirming mass of young boy in his arms. “Well now, what have we here?”
“Silly papa!” The boy laughed, wriggling under the attack of fingers.
“I’m sorry, he got away from me, father.” A girl, close to womanhood, followed the laughing boy, her sandals slapping against the ground.
“He tends to do that with you, Leah.” He turned a fleeting gaze on the girl. “But perhaps it comes close to the time that he needs to spend more time with the men.” The boy was still a child, but there were things he would need to know.
“Yes, father.” She bowed her head, hands folded in front of her. A single strand of dark hair slipped free from the strip of leather that held her hair back from her face. “I’m sorry.”
He set his son down and looked back at the gathering of men. “Go now,” he pushed his son toward Leah. “Go with your sister now. This is time for the men, Jebadiah. There will be time for you later.”
“Please, let me stay. I don’t want to comb wool,” the boy pouted, scuffing one bare foot across the ground.
“If you do not listen, how can I trust you to spend time with the men?” Hasham’s voice hardened.
Jebadiah flushed and ducked his head. “I’m not a woman.”
“No, but you’re still a child. Now go.” The shove was harder this time, enough that Jebadiah half stumbled as he made his way to his sister. “Leah, keep him close this time. Do not disappoint me.”
“Yes father, I’m sorry.” Leah shifted her weight from one foot to the other before she caught her brother by the arm and led him away.
“The girl will be needing a husband soon enough,” one of the men observed as Hasham settled back down.
“A year, but yes - it’s time I begin to look for one. She’s strong willed but a good girl. Still a few things to learn but her mother claims she’s learned the basic skills required of a wife.” Rebecca, his wife was a good woman but didn’t always understand what was needed by a man when it came to seeking a wife.
“Perhaps one of the older men?”
Hasham growled, shaking his head. “No, better one closer to her age but with a father who can guide him. She would do poorly with a man closer to her father’s age, though I know some of you would say otherwise.” Leah was, even to his own eyes, a beautiful young woman who caught the eye of many a man in the camp. Yet the thought of her being with a man of his age, sat ill with him. Foolish, it was common place for a girl to wed an older man. “Still, this is not the time or place for this, there are more important matters.” He glanced back, making sure that none of the woman were close.
“The dark ones.”
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yes, Gilad, the dark ones.” Hunters and defilers of men, stealer of women, beings who were cursed with darkness and hatred. “They have come too close to our people this time and we have lost two women in the last month to their hungers.” Two women taken from their families, fathers, husbands and children. “We cannot afford to lose anymore to them. It is time they were dealt with once and for all.” Demons, spawned in darkness from the blood of a cursed man. “They appear to have split themselves up between two camps, which weakens their position, but the majority of their men are in this one.” He scratched a map into the dirt with the end of a fire hardened stick.
“Why do they do such a thing?” Gilad leaned forward, looking at the map. “They leave their women unguarded?”
“No, not entirely There are some men but they do not appear to be armed. Weaker in some way, so we must deal with the threat of the ones in this camp. They are the hunters, the sons of Caine.” He spat the name out. The women in the second camp, were they stolen ones, such as the two that had been taken from his people? Caine, his sons, the dangerous ones who stole out into the night, claiming lives, souls and leaving only chaos and pain in their wake. All knew that Caine’s people were cursed, just as he had been cursed for the murder of his brother.
“The women, could they be redeemed?”
Hasham closed his eyes. There it was, the question that he knew his father had been asked several times during his time as leader of the First Sons. “I do not know, it’s never been tried as the males, removing them from the area, has always been the important part.” Could the women saved? There were stories, of course, tales of women returning to their families, but those once touched by the darkness were often reclaimed according to the tales passed down through his family.
Gilad waved one of the women over, gesturing to the skins of water hanging from outside of one of the tents. She scurried over, grabbing two of the skins before bringing them to the group. She paused only long enough to make sure there was nothing else they wanted from her before she returned to her work scraping hides clean of fat and connective tissue.
“I don’t want to leave any of our people, even women tainted by their darkness, in their hands.”
“Hasham, why don’t we attack the other camp, the one with the women? Wouldn’t that cause the cursed ones, pain?”
He closed his eyes, shutting out the background noise of the camp. Stealing back the women, raiding that camp, the one that was furthest from their own home, was an idea he’d given some thought to before, but the women weren’t their true enemies. He rolled back his shoulders, opened his eyes and sought out Gilad. “Caine is our enemy, his sons must remain first and foremost in our plans.” Women weren’t a danger, they were the caregivers, they were weaker than the males, not as warlike and he would deal with them when the men were out of the way. “If we attack the women’s camp, the men will come at us from behind. Better to remove the true danger before we reclaim the women.”
Movement from one of the tents caught his attention and he rose, cutting off the discussion as he turned his attention away from the fire. The plans were set; they would attack within two days. All he needed was the final information from his scouts.
“Hasham, I would speak with you,” Gilad moved with him as the rest of the men, eight in total, moved away to see to their own families.
He gestured for the man to walk with him, though he cast a longing glance toward his tent. His wife, beautiful, attentive and hardworking, would be waiting for him within the tent. Their daughter would keep his son away, tending chores until closer to dark, that would give him time to pull his wife onto their shared bedroll. His body tightened at the thought of her strong thighs and full breasts. Her belly was marked with the lines of childbirth but he had grey in his hair, both on his head and on his body, so he wasn’t going to shy away from her because of the scars of bringing his children into the world.
She was warm, sweet and willing, never turning away from him when he sought relief within the warm confines of her body. Even when she was tired, she did her duty as a wife. Their tent was well kept, clothes tended, food prepared and in many respects she was an ideal wife, heeding his words and leadership as was their custom.
“What plagues your thoughts, Gilad?” He glanced at the man as they walked toward the edge of the camp. A line of horses and asses grazed, hobbled to keep them from moving too far away.
He tensed but didn’t miss a step. “As I mentioned, I will begin to look for a husband for her. Perhaps within the year, perhaps a little sooner. But I am in no rush. Better to find her the right man than to settle for the first one who might come along.”
“Ah, I was hoping… as you know my wife died seven months ago.”
Hasham nodded. The woman had died in childbirth. A bed of blood that had stolen both mother and child. “She was, perhaps, a little young for children.”
The man shrugged. “She was old enough but weak and sickly, at least that is what my father said.”
Weak and sickly? Hasham bit back a response. The girl had been around Leah’s age, strong, healthy, one who had worked with her family and chores without complaint. In truth he could only remember one or two times that the girl had been sick. Still, it did no good to argue with a man when he blamed his wife for her death and the loss of the child. Gilad would believe what he wished to believe, that was the nature of the man and many others like him. “She was a good woman, would you not wish to honor her life and death by mourning her loss for the full year?”
“I barely knew the girl,” he paused, looking around the camp. “We were wedded and bedded within a moon of my father arranging the match.”
Hasham turned, shoulders tight as he took hold of the man’s left arm. “You know that not to be true. I was there when you began to court the girl. You chased after her and her family for nearly a year, before she had her first bleeding.”
Gilad pulled his arm free. “It wasn’t like that.”
“I was with you. You can lie to yourself but lying to me isn’t going to work.” Was this how Gilad thought to persuade him about Leah?
“You would name me a liar?” Gilad tensed, anger tightening his jaw. His eyes darkened, lines tight at the corners of his eyes.
“Perhaps your memories have become tainted by the loss of your wife?” Hasham suggested, softening the words. Lies told to yourself had a habit of becoming the truth written in stone. “It was, after all, a trying time for you.” The man had been drunk through labor and had remained so for days after the loss of his wife. He’d raged and cursed his way through the camp during that time. Not something easily forgotten, unless you were the one lost to drink.
Gilad snorted and looked away. “I remember. It is you that have muddled the truth. No doubt because of the work you take on and the pressure of leading the First Sons.”
Anger rippled into life but he pushed it back down. He was the leader not just of the First Sons but a small family. No matter what was said, he would not let his anger get the better of him. He was not the leader of the tribe, but didn’t need to be. The leader, Asham, spoke with him on a regular basis. Though Asham would never be a member of the First Sons, they shared information where it was needed for the good of the tribe as a whole. That was the nature of the beast. “Leading the First Sons is hard work, I will be the first to admit such.” He didn’t, however, agree with the rest of what was said. Still, there were somethings worth arguing about and some that he would walk away from.
“Will not wed for a year. She is not ready and her mother still needs her assistance.”
“I see,” Gilad’s voice turned cold, matching a glint in his eyes.
“Was there anything else?” He looked, pointedly, in the direction of his tent. Rebecca would be waiting for him, the small movement of the cloth covering the entrance of his tent confirmed that. They had time, not much before the meal would be needed for the family, but enough that he could enjoy the pleasures offered by his wife.
“No, we will speak on this further in the months to come.” Gilad turned, stalking away through the camp, scattering goats and children alike from his path. He snapped at one young woman, a wife with a new babe in her arms, when she failed to move quickly enough to his liking.
“Fool,” Hasham muttered under his breath. “That’s a man I would gladly see taken by the cursed ones.” He regretted the words the moment he gave them life. No one, not even a walking bag of pride like Gilad, deserved such a fate. He sighed, rolled out his shoulders and looked around the camp.
Children too young to work, ran and played on occasions, women worked, combing wool, spinning yarn and weaving on frames that had been set up in places. Others scraped hides, worked leather or prepared food. One child played with large pieces of wood, rounded and smoothed down, threading them onto a stiff piece of rawhide, another cuddled a crude doll carved from wood and dressed in scraps even as she watched over a sleeping babe in a woven basket. As soon as a child was old enough to be aware, they were taught the first of their chores. The younger the child the more they played instead of worked, but play quickly gave way to work as they grew older. By the time most children were five, they were working half of their day, learning skills and becoming a fully working member of the tribe.
Odd, children weren’t normally taken by the cursed ones.
He shook off the thought and made his way through the camp. He would think of such things another time, once the camp of the cursed ones had been dealt with and the threat removed. Until then, he had his wife, his children and his family. A son to train and teach, to pass on the secrets of the stone blade, the message of their duty to the tribe and to mankind as a whole. They were the protection against the darkness, the ones given the knowledge to fight against the cursed one, the blood drinkers and stealers of their women.
It was their duty and one he would never turn away from.
But for now… he had a warm, willing wife ready to welcome him and everything else could and would wait.
To be continued...