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  1. camel shadows for blog 8 by m bartosch fdphotos

    Sahara - Courtesy of M Bartosch at free Digital Photos

    The Birth of a Novel – Proverbs and Destiny 8


    8 If God were not forgiving, heaven would be empty – Berber proverb


    Characters in novels must have ‘arcs’: as in life, we change - moulded by events, and those people who influence us. Characters that don’t respond to the plot and the other characters, become static and cardboard. The character traits with which you imbue them at the beginning determines how they respond, and how they are likely to change and develop. They must also have aims, fears and hopes just as real people do.

    My writing is a little ahead of my blog, and I have just introduced a character called Erin. She is named, with her permission, for the very helpful lady at the Independent Author Network who sorts all my publicity requests. Thank you, Erin. I hope you like your character.

    Anyway, Erin, the fictional one, is a healer. This gives caring for the plight of others as an innate character-trait. She is just bereaved, so she’s also emotional and vulnerable. Born into a culture that glorifies war, she is sickened by the killing. This makes her ripe for sedition. She has proved her courage in the line of duty, so she is brave. She will make a stalwart addition to the fight for Kiya and Raphel’s freedom. Thus she begins her part in the story, around chapter eight, so we've jumped quite a chunk. I shall go back to chapter two, later.


    The moon still hung low in the western sky as the sun rose on a scene of devastation. Erin wiped a bloodied hand across her brow. Charred hulks of fishing vessels smouldered on the wet sand in the harbour. Even the sea seemed to have abandoned them. Smoke rose from blackened dwellings and the stench of charred flesh lingered as people wandered the streets in the early light with their few possessions in their arms. Some had only the clothes they stood in.

    Bodies lay on streets sticky with blood. Not all were the enemy; there were people here she recognised. A warrior raised his sword in a sign of respect and then helped load his comrades’ bodies onto carts. The invaders’ bodies would be burnt on a huge pyre, their ashes cast into the sea as offerings to Okeanos and Wrohe.

    The slain warriors would be taken to the temple and laid out in their armour with their weapons arrayed beside them: accorded honour as befitted their courage. Their bodies would be taken to a chamber on the hill and buried with comrades who’d fallen in other battles over the years. The chamber was large, the fallen many.

    She searched the faces of the warriors around her. ‘Jakob…’ He’d have gone down to his boat. He was a fisherman first, a warrior second: the people had to eat.

    She left the body of the youth she had been tending: someone’s son. She closed his eyes gently and moved on. There were so many afraid and in pain, so few she could help. They had wounds and burns beyond her skill. A young girl had cuts and burns. The burns were small and would heal; the cut on her head was deep. This she could treat, this child would live.

    A hand touched her shoulder. ‘Jakob?’ She turned and looked into the face of a stranger.

    ‘You are Erin?’ The man was tall and fair, his clothing dark with blood.

    She nodded as she stitched the girl’s wound.

    ‘I’m Daniel. I fought beside Jakob. He saved my life.’

    ‘He’s safe?’

    ‘He asked me to give you this.’ Jakob pressed a brooch in the shape of a seabird into her palm. ‘It was to be a gift for your birthday… I’m sorry.’

    ‘He’s dead?’ More a statement than a question, yes, of course he was dead, so many were dead. She turned back to the girl to dress the wound. There would be time enough for tears.

    Next day, Velik himself cast the ashes into the sea. He gave thanks to Wrohe for the signs that warned of the invasion, alerting him to danger and saving many from being slaughtered as they slept. He asked Okeanos for calm seas while they repaired the boats upon which they depended for their livelihood, and assured the people that the priests of the order of Okeanos would to make daily offerings to their god.

    The enemy wounded had been killed without compassion, their bodies added to a pyre large enough to burn for three days. It had taken a whole day to carry the fallen warriors to the chamber to join their ancestors. Velik had praised their courage in battle and acknowledged their sacrifice. Their comrades had raised their swords in salute, and she had wept for her man as women have wept since the dawn of time.

    She walked down the hill alone, not wanting the company of the other women. She stopped and looked out to sea. The sun shone, the tide still ebbed and flowed, the gulls still shrieked in argument around the jagged top of The Tower of Wrohe. Nothing had changed. Nothing showed that the light had gone out of her heart.

    Everything had changed, everything. She had no home to go to now, just an empty house, an empty life, an empty future.

    She didn’t believe, as the men did, in Wrohe, God of War. War, death… She was sick of it, sick of the stench of blood, sick of the stench of burnt flesh, sick of seeing the fear in the eyes of children, the tears in the eyes of women. Sick of holding the hands of young men while they died, beseeching her for help she couldn’t give, watching the light go out of their eyes. Her tears were salt on her lips. She wanted Jakob, but she’d never taste the sea on his lips again.

  2.  The Birth of a Novel – Proverbs and Destiny book blog 7 – Labour pains

    No nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both. – Abraham Flexner

    I’ve been thinking about Alaric, the warlike character I envisage as a Viking type, and getting his background and character straight in my head. He’s an important character, and to understand the way he will evolve throughout the story, I need to understand his background. This is how I see him. He is born into a culture that glorifies war. For this culture to be understood, I need also to make a whole backstory about why this is so. What makes a nation this way? Fear, is the usual reason. Greed, after all, is only fear of not having enough. In the case of the Northmen, as will become clear in the story, they had to defend what they had from all comers, or perish. Once this culture of war is established, it becomes ingrained and doesn’t lessen the fear, and isn’t attack the best form of defence? I think we could apply this to wars throughout the ages.

    But the cost of war is not just in financial terms: as Abraham Flexner observed, it comes at the cost of civilisation. I often think of the waste of war, in lives lost, lives ruined, and the loss of achievements that might have happened had mankind devoted themselves to mutual benefit, not mutual detriment.

    In Alaric’s case, the high priestdom rules, like many religious causes that cause more wars than they prevent. Young boys are taken from their parents to be trained. Family ceases to be what most of us think of as family. The warrior status becomes all that these boys have, their duty to the high priest alone. They are brainwashed, radicalised, just as the Hitler Youth were, and young Muslims are today. Nothing really changes, does it?

    This has left Alaric with no concept of family life, love or friendship – only duty and a place in which to perform it, and when he is chosen for an important task, and taken out the natural order of his society, it is bound to go to his head. His ego is inflated, he becomes self-important, and that will prove to be very dangerous for him and the high priest, though perhaps not quite how they might expect: it leaves him open to other, quite alien emotions.

    Excerpt 7

    Next morning, Kiya woke to the sound of shouting. She leapt from her bed, grabbing her travelling clothes and doubled as the pain in her hand, and the agony inside tore through her. The memory of the day before crushed her. She felt for her knife but couldn’t grip it with her right hand. It felt unwieldy in her left, but she moved carefully to the door, aware of the pull of dried blood caking her thighs. A sliver of light shone through the narrow gap between the part-open door and the frame, bringing with it the taste of smoldering ash.

    She put an eye to the gap. Only now, seeing the Northmen en-masse, did she realize how many and how huge they really were, how little chance any of the men had had to fight them off. The bodies of the dead had been thrown in heaps, the Northmen’s dumped with the same lack of respect they had for their enemies. The dead didn’t look so many as she’d feared, this morning: maybe some had been only injured and had escaped in the night. She fingered her cäle. ‘Please, Great Goddess Atete, goddess of fate, who has the power of life, let Raphel and Jalene be alive. Let Genet and Mother be safe.’

    Alaric detached himself from the body of men and strode towards the door. She shrank back against the wall.

    The door flung open and, as Alaric stooped to enter, she raised her knife and lunged at him. He caught her wrist with a swift, effortless movement and twisted the knife from her grip. ‘You think me so stupid?’ He gestured his impatience. ‘Quickly, girl. Get dressed. Come.’

    She shrugged clumsily into clean clothes, tears of frustration brimming. She turned her back on him and fetched a box. In it were sturdy, finely-wrought pins, brought years ago by Abe from across the mountains, which she would use to fasten her cloak.

    ‘Hurry, girl.’

    ‘My name is Kiya.’

    ‘Yes, I remember. Kiya the Herbalist. Come, I need you.’ He looked at the pin in her hand. ‘If you attempt my life again, or attempt escape, I shall pick out both your eyes with that pin.’

    She raised her chin. ‘When I attempt your life again, Alaric, I shall have no need to fear my own pins.’

     ‘You have courage, herbalist. Now come, before I’m tempted to prick you again with my pin.’ He laughed at his own joke but he fetched a piece of twine from a hook on the wall and bound her wrists.

    She smiled inwardly, though her broken fingers throbbed and her wrist burned. This big man feared her. He was a coward.

    Alaric led her across the ruins of the village. ‘The men are searching for hiding places. We’re skilled trackers, taught from youth. We’ll find these women you’ve hidden.’

    She spat at him. ‘Only a coward seeks to dominate the weak.’

    He looked at her for a long moment. ‘The strong dominate the weak. It’s the way of the world… why we survive. Don’t we kill the weakling calf and rear the strong?’

    ‘In our culture we help the weak. There are other virtues than breadth of back.’

    He tilted his head to one side and considered her words. ‘This may be true in your world. It’s not our way. Come.’ He yanked at her tether and forced her onwards, past the burning ruins, past the heap of dead. She craned her neck, searching the tangled limbs and lifeless faces. Her heart lurched. Raphel? She was certain it was Raphel.

    Enemy soldiers scanned the ground and moved off towards the hillside. She stumbled after them, blind with tears, averting her face from the rock that marked the trail to the caverns. She could do nothing for Raphel, but she must stay strong for Jalene. Please, Goddess, Jalene was there safe. Please, Goddess, they had left no tracks in their haste.

    ‘Over here.’ A man gestured and pointed upwards where a thin cleft in the rock, the entrance to the caverns, painted a line of narrow shadow on the mountainside.

    They climbed and reached the cleft. Alaric pulled her closer, watching her expression intently. ‘Is this the hideout?’

    She shrugged, brushing aside tears with the backs of her hands. ‘It’s a place we played as children. It’s a small cave, that’s all. I think wildcats use it. Or maybe cheetahs. The children are forbidden to play here, now.’ She moved closer and sniffed. ‘Definitely cheetah. Unpredictable animals, but go in and check if you want.’

    ‘My shoulders won’t fit through. ‘Anson… you’re thin as a streak of piss. Check if this is a cheetah lair.’

    ‘Check it yourself, Alaric. Or send the girl in.’

    Her heart leapt at the chance of safety, but Alaric wouldn’t give up on his Gift and the orders he’d been charged to fulfil. He’d search until he found her again, or found the fissure through which they’d lowered the milk cow. She raised an eyebrow. ‘And if the cheetah eats me, you’ll be no wiser. There could be a back entrance and you’d never know I escaped. You Northmen aren’t very bright, are you, Alaric?’

    ‘Silence, girl.’ He yanked her to her knees and gestured to the men. ‘Keep searching.’

    She scrambled to her feet and followed him, her eyes scanning the rocky ground to hide her relief. The sun was sinking over the western peaks before they gave up the search. Her relief was more than the safety of Jalene, and those she loved: as the only dark-eyed woman he’d captured, she seemed to have value to Alaric, alive.

  3. painting - kes_by_ruth_coulson

    This is amusing, said the dog when asked to guard a container of cheese - Oromo proverb.

    This is Kes, my bitza. I'm sure she is smiling, and thinking of cheese.

    It’s four-thirty am GMT. Sleep? What’s sleep? My mind is bursting with thoughts that strain at my heavily-pregnant imagination. My novel is getting swollen ankles, and feeling bloated, as if the ending will never come. All  manner of perceived problems lie ahead before I can deliver my story to a waiting midwife.

    I spent most of yesterday producing a book trailer for The Silence of the Stones. It’s my first attempt at anything of this nature, so I’m quite pleased with the result, though I expect it could be better. Anyway, for what it’s worth, you can see it at Maybe you’ll let me know what you think, and how I could improve it. I did rather like the ‘spooky’ music, though.

    I imagined re-writing Destiny would be a faster process than starting a new story from scratch, but it isn’t proving so, at least not in these early stages. Kiya and Raphel are very different from my original characters and, having researched the religion and culture of the Berber and Oromo peoples, even though the story is fictional and not set in the present time or the present geographical homelands of the Oromo, the history of these separate peoples must be researched, and merged and blended believably.

    Take religion, for example: the Berber are mainly Muslim and the Oromo have been influenced by Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Greek orthodoxy and other religions preached by various ‘invading’ cultures, not that that has stopped a re-emergence of their beliefs in their own god Waqqa, who lives in the sky. The Berber lay their dead to face Mecca. In Oromo culture, grass is spread on the graves so, when Raphel is faced with laying out the dead at Saanqaa Riqicha, he adopts both practices, he being an amalgam of those cultures.

    It’s this attention to detail that takes time, two lines of writing can take hours of research, but ultimately creates a believable fictional culture and scenario with rounded, believable characters.

    Alaric’s culture will prove even more difficult, in some respects, as it is a wholly fictional culture, imagined from a throwing together of a wide range of different races from the Northern hemisphere. I suppose I was partly influenced by the accepted image of the Vikings as a warlike people: fair, tall, broad, strong, argumentative but loyal to their leader. Certainly, I imagine Alaric as being of Scandinavian descent, and I mean no disrespect to Scandinavians here, but he had to come from somewhere. He is a man with no conscience and little imagination.

    Velik, the Northmen’s leader, oddly, I see as tall, slim and dark, apart from his people and yet wielding a power over them. Only now, do I realise he’s a kind of Hitler figure, and every generation has one. Someone who is no greater than any other man, but is a ‘come the moment, come the man’ figure: someone who inspires his people, ultimately not necessarily in a good way, and is supported by them, but a Genghis Khan figure rather than a Martin Luther King one. We should never forget that it is the people who allow these monsters to run riot, but that taking the first stand against a figure who is powerful in the people’s imagination takes more courage than the average person contains. Velik trusting Alaric with Kiya was like trusting a dog to guard cheese but that is his mistake, and Alaric’s, not mine.

    If you can imagine the peoples of the north moving south looking for new territory, and the peoples of the south moving north… the immovable and the irresistible... the ensuing conflict over land becomes easier to understand. Anyway, here beginneth Chapter Two and, again, apologies for the delay.


    This is amusing, said the dog, when asked to guard a container of cheese. – Oromo proverb.


    Chapter Two


    The stench of burning filled Kiya’s lungs. Her arm clutched in Alaric’s huge hand, she stumbled after him across the flat space in the centre of the village. Bodies littered the ground and the number of dead Northmen attested to the fight the men of the village had put up. Every male body was Raphel. Every dead woman was Genet or their mother. Every tiny body was Jalene. Too many, she recognized as much-loved friends. Wind-dried tears stiffened her cheeks: she was numb with grief.

    Some of the stone-roofed houses built higher into the hillside, still stood undamaged, but Alaric dragged her towards one of the only thatched houses left standing. It was the home she’d built with Raphel from stone and sun-dried mud… they’d cut branches for the roof timbers and gathered reeds from the lake lower down the valley. Her heart hammered in her chest as she entered the low room. Jalene’s cot was empty. Raphel was not here.

    She swung to face him. ‘Where are my husband and child?’

    ‘Dead.’ He flung her onto the bed and ripped open the fastenings of her traveling clothes. He hesitated, as if considering her fate, and she clutched her clothing around her, watching his face. If she could reach the gutting knife, she’d slit him from throat to belly like a fish. As her muscles tensed to move, he threw her back again. ‘Velik gave no orders other than to bring you with us, safe and well. If you are The Gift… or if you are not…’ He appeared to come to a decision. ‘You may die on the way, being so small and weakly, and it would be a shame to waste the spoils of war. I am The Chosen. You are mine by right. I shall enjoy breaking you.’

    She had no chance of escape, no hope of reasoning with him: no hope. Why give him the pleasure of a conquest? ‘If you leave me alive, I promise I will kill you. You’ll be forever watching your back.’

    He took her in her and Raphel’s bed, the bed where they had loved and where Jalene had been born. His manhood ripped her small body, his weight crushed her, and the stench of his rancid skin made her retch, but she uttered no sound and made no movement. He’d wanted a conquest to brag about, to massage his male ego: although he shook her and hit her, all she gave him was the passion and fight of a limp, dead fish. He stared at her, as if he didn’t understand her, and then got up and went outside.

    She rolled onto her side and carefully, holding onto chairs, made it across the room to the rack where the knives hung. She took down the gutting knife with her good hand and returned to her bed. Hiding the knife beneath the bedclothes, she curled into a ball, held her stomach with her hands and let her tears fall. Everyone she loved was gone. ‘Atete, take me. Waqqa take me. Make me spirit. Give me back to those I love.’ She lay awake for a long time, waiting for Alaric to return and take her again, or kill her, but he didn’t come. Finally, the pain subsided and she fell into an exhausted sleep where Jalene was roasted on a spit and eaten, while Alaric laughed.

  4. blog image rise early

    Image courtesy of satit_srihin at

    It is said that to rise early will not help escape God. - Oromo proverb.

    I knew what I was going to write about until I sat down to type. Pregnancy, in the literary sense, has addled my brian. I think I mean brain.  I suspect it had to do with realising what’s important in life. I had a brain scan a couple of weeks ago and have been waiting for the results somewhat nervously: life on hold. I had the all clear, which is a huge relief and feel life beginning again. It isn’t the first time I’ve been in this position, and I’m sure many of you have faced, or are facing, the same thing… staring death in face, or the death of someone close.

    It does focus you on what is not important in life. Things you may have quibbled over, or moaned about, when you were happily well are not given a thought. One aspect my novels have in common is that they’ve helped me see what is important. The Silence of the Stones deals with the loss of a child, missing and never found. I can’t think of anything worse than that, so why would I even think of complaining about toothache?

    Touching the Wire deals with the holocaust and two medics trying to save women and children, the old and sick, from being herded to their deaths like cattle to an abattoir: having to make life and death choices. My mind frequently refuses to even think about it, and yet I forced it to, to bring Walt and Miriam’s story, the story of every man, woman and child sent to Nazi death camps, to a wider audience and a new generation. Did I say I couldn’t think of anything worse than losing a child? Living with the guilt of being responsible for its death?

    Destiny also has its horrors. It’s a story that makes me realise how small and insignificant I and my worries are, and how sorely we under-estimate the power of nature, to rid itself of the scourge that is man. I’m not religious, but ancient man worshipped sun gods or the god of thunder, and goddesses of water, tree and moon. It seems to me that we can’t rise early enough to escape God.

    Excerpt 5

    Moti wagged a cautionary finger. ‘It is said that to rise early will not help escape God.

    ‘Our persecutors waged war upon us, and Waqqa stopped sending them rain, and the lands around our homeland burned to dust under the hot sun, and their cattle died and man went hungry. And Waqqa sent them pestilence, and floods from the sea to drown their fertile plains, and then he sent famine.

    ‘So they coveted our land and our cattle and our water, and wanted it for themselves, and in their arrogance they took what they wanted and the people of Boorana, who held nagaa Boorana, the peace of the Boorana, above all else, were pushed closer and closer to the vast desert that bordered these lands.

    ‘It is said most of mankind was on the move at that time, trying to escape the rising water. Many of our people travelled west in search of new homes and vanished from our knowledge. And some went south and almost certainly perished. And some, our forefathers amongst them, travelled north driving their herds of goats and their huge Boran cattle before them. They followed the great river looking for somewhere to settle, but always they were turned away for every acre of fertile land was fiercely defended, and they were pushed ever closer to the Great Sahara.’

    The tallow lamp guttered: dark fingers fled from the crevices and the ring of light faded. Moti paused and indicated that he should light fresh candles. He forced aching bones to fetch some from the rock shelf and lit them. The ring of light grew again steadily, throwing the fingers of shadow dancing across the walls as Moti continued.

    ‘Many died on that journey of hunger and thirst, for there was no rain for forty days and forty nights. The old and the very young suffered first. Then the Boran cattle began dying and then the goats. Some of our people turned back and took their cattle and goats with them, but most fell by the wayside and their bleached bones lie scattered in the Great Sahara. A small knot of our men and women pushed on, skirting the great desert for some two thousand miles. When the last of the nanny goats and cows had suckled their young for the final time, our forefathers carried two fine bull calves and two heifer calves, and two nanny kids and two billy kids on their backs. And the meat and blood of their faithful cattle and goats sustained them, and for this we give thanks. This way they came finally to the foothills of Idraren Draren, which is Berber for Mountains of Mountains, and came at last to the high place we now call Guddaa Mana.

    ‘The people who lived here greeted our people warily. It is told that Birmajii, who had been Abbaa Seera, the memoriser of the laws of his village, put down the two fine bull calves in front of the strangers, and indicated that the other men should also give up the two nanny-goat kids, while he kept the two heifer calves and the billy kids. In this way he showed the strangers that we had something to share with them, and that without co-operation none would benefit.

    ‘Seeing that we came in peace and brought a fine strain of cattle and goats that we gave readily, and that we were not many, we were given a small piece of land, by the river that falls down from the mountains, where we could build our houses. And we lived in peace with ourselves, and the animals, and the land, for that is to have the blessings of Waqqa. But that was many fathers of fathers ago, and now our cultures and our bloods have merged and we speak a common language native to none, but which all can understand, though we keep some of our Oromo words and our god and our stories, for to remember the past is to remember the future.’

    Moti looked at Abe and raised a brief smile. The children were asleep.

  5. blog photo 3 a busy person

    If you want a job doing, ask a busy person.

    Firstly, this is me, being a busy person - well someone has to do it. Secondly, apologies for the delay. Where did the last seventeen days go? Don’t ever let anyone tell you that self-publishing is an easy option! Far from it, and very time consuming, especially promotion-wise.

    I opted for self-publishing after a number of very near misses with the traditional publishing route, but the crunch came when I realised that the stress of actually going out and meeting people, like agents and publishers, and actually having to talk to people would be more than I could cope with. I’ve lived in a remote part of Wales for so long I’ve lost all confidence in my social skills. But I refuse to let the stories of the characters I’ve created go unheard and gather electronic dust in the confused jumble that is my laptop. It’s been a very steep learning-curve.

    What have I been doing since I wrote blog 3? Firstly, I’ve been tweeting until people must be sick of me, trying to raise awareness of my first two titles, Touching the Wire and The Silence of the Stones. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who has retweeted my tweets and have boosted my ‘following’.

    Touching the Wire has a new cover prior to its launch date of November 1st, chosen by fb Readers and Writers Unite group, and that has been publicised on Google+, fb and Twitter. The Silence of the Stones has had a free promotion which has led to a number of new readers, some of whom have already pre-ordered Touching the Wire. If I tell you that 11,500 views of my tweets led to 2 people who followed links to my purchase page, you’ll see what hard work it is… and I don’t know if they downloaded the free copy.

    Also, Sarah Stuart and I have decided to produce paperback versions of our novels and that is proving to be yet another steep learning-curve. I hope to have the paperback version of Touching the Wire available for launch date. Sarah’s Dangerous Liaisons and my The Silence of the Stones should follow very soon.

    Anyway, while awaiting the proofs of Touching the Wire, I’ve squeezed in excerpt 4 of Destiny, and apologise for the long gap.

    Excerpt 4

    ‘If I’d seen the signs sooner… realized what the two burned houses meant. If I’d come faster…’

    Moti sighed. ‘You’re an old man, Abe. Your legs not your heart betrayed you. You’re feeling bad that you didn’t stay in the village to fight? I, too, but that would have put my sons in danger, looking out for me. A man has to know when to leave the fight to others.’ Moti fell silent.

    ‘I wish none of them had stayed to fight. There may be honour in such a death, but your village needs your young men.’

    ‘Some may yet make it here, Abe.’ Moti looked at him anxiously. ‘The crack in the mountain is surely too narrow for men of that girth?’

    Moti had voiced the concern of all. ‘If, come daylight, these men from the north find the entrance… I almost got stuck getting in, Moti. Even your own people have to squeeze through. We are safe as long as we do nothing to alert them to our presence.’

    ‘Our people know to tread only on stones and leave no tracks, but in the haste…’

    ‘If they do get through we can pick them off one by one, Moti. The passage is narrow.’

    ‘Or they can pick us off one by one. We have few weapons.’

    The children grew restless, tired now beyond sleep they sat on grass mats, wrapped in kidskins, or on the laps of the women. One small boy looked up wide-eyed. ‘Dur durii, Moti.’

    ‘A story, Eba?’

    Eba was Temara’s son. Temara was Moti’s daughter. He couldn’t see her among the women who nursed the children, some of whom were not their own. Jalene was here: he had a soft spot for her as he’d been staying with Raphel and Kiya the night she’d been born. Kiya hadn’t made it to the caverns. She’d failed to return with the herbs Genet needed and Jalene wasn’t with her grandmother. Genet had collapsed in the wood, in labour, during her rush to safety: an older woman, it must have been Genet and Kiya’s mother, had stayed with her. He should have stayed, too but what could he have done: a useless old man unable even to carry a pregnant woman, or defend her. Each time he looked around he realised more faces were missing.

    Moti cleared his throat.’ Raphel tells our stories better, but I shall do my best. You must be still and silent for I shall speak quietly.’ His dark eyes took on a faraway look: his hands moved as if to illustrate the story. ‘When the world was young, and the Horn of Africa was a land of peace and plenty, Waqqa, the god in the sky who made the world, sent rain to grow the sacred coffee bean, and the grass that feeds the animals. He sent fertility to the earth. The land of Boorana was blessed and the Oromo rocked the cradle of humanity.’

    Rapt faces watched every gesture. Abe had heard the legend many times but, like the children, never tired of it.

    ‘And the children of humanity spread, far beyond Boorana to every land, and the people settled and grew apart from one another. The hand that rocked the cradle no longer knew her children. And the children no longer knew their mother. But man prospered and Waqqa blessed them. But man who has much, wants more, and he forgot Waqqa who blessed nagaa Boorana, the peace of Boorana, and he forgot the sacred places of the Oromo and the ceremonies, and the language of the Oromo.’

    Moti’s face grew sombre.  He held up his hands, fingers spread. ‘Many tens of generations pass, father to son, and Waqqa is known by many names. By some he is called Allah, by some Buddha, and by some Brahman. To some he is Jehova, or Adonai, or HaShem.

    ‘The Abyssinian king, Menelik, forced the Oromo to become his subjects, and later still our borders straddled the two great countries of Ethiopia and Kenya, but the leaders of these countries sought to suppress our culture and our religion, our language and even our names. But…’ Moti wagged a cautionary finger. ‘It is said that to rise early will not help escape God.

    ‘Our persecutors waged war upon us, and Waqqa stopped sending them rain, and the lands around our homeland burned to dust under the hot sun, and their cattle died and man went hungry. And Waqqa sent them pestilence, and floods from the sea to drown their fertile plains, and then he sent famine.’

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