The barbarian chieftain filled the door of the crude, woven reed hut. After three days without food or drink, I could hardly lift my head to look.
The large, heavy muscled savage stared at me for several minutes, than started talking. The language consisted of a series of growls, hoots, and whistles, none of which I understood. The chieftain stopped speaking and stared at me as if expecting an answer. After several seconds of silence, the brute moved forward and grabbed the front of my soiled uniform, lifting me off the cot. I could smell the sour sweat of his strong body. As he growled into my face his foul breath struck me like a slap. His scarred face was centimeters from mine. He grunted again, demanding a response. After receiving none, he dropped me roughly back onto the cot. Turning, he snarled at one of the men who had been guarding me for the last several days.
The guard growled back, then turned and left the hut. After several seconds, he returned with a couple of well-endowed females. One carried a platter of fruit, and the other carried a jug of water. As the Chieftain looked on, the females set about propping me up against a bundle of furs then began taking turns feeding me. If I hadnít felt so bad, I would have enjoyed the service I was getting. Two attractive females dressed in furs that barely covered their privates and only enhanced their shapely figures were waiting me on. Each female had long auburn hair, tied back with strips of leather. Their lithe limbs were sun-browned. Large brown eyes refused to meet mine, as they single-mindedly continued to feed me. My stomach gratefully accepted the food and water it had so eagerly craved.
The chieftain watched for a moment, then laughed loudly as he turned and stomped out of the hut.
* * *
The chieftain came by to see me often, during the next several days. Always, he tried to communicate with me, but I was unable to understand his primitive language. He usually left in frustration. A couple of times, he simply sat and stared at me, as if by will alone he could make me comprehend. I tried my best to understand what he wanted, afraid that he would withhold the food and water again, as the party that had found me had. Not only did the chieftain continue to have food and water brought to me, but also he had the two females tend to my wounds, and massage my aching muscles. Between meals the two beauties came to the hut and stripped me. First, they would wash the dirt from my body then they would use a soothing lotion to rub my tired muscles. Finally, they cleaned and dressed my open wounds, applying ointment to the sores.
Three days after the chieftain had arrived at the small camp where I was being kept I was walking around the small hut, stretching my legs. They were still stiff and sore, but with a little more exercise they would be fine again. Suddenly, the cloth covering the opening to the hut flew back, and two guards entered, their spears held out in front of them. This was the first time anyone other than the chieftain or the women had entered the hut since the chieftain had arrived, though I had caught glimpses of the guards standing outside as the others came and went. I stood for a second confused, wondering what they wanted.
Motioning with their spears and grunting, I realized that they wanted me to walk outside. Cautiously, I stepped out of the hut, which had been my home now for nearly a week. I staggered a moment. After being in the dark interior of the hut for so long, I was momentarily blinded by the bright sun. One of the guards poked me with the tip of his spear, forcing me to step onward. Cursing, I stumbled forward, nearly falling. The guard poked me again, snarling menacingly. Suddenly, a strong hand seized my arm, preventing me from falling. The chieftain held me upright, while he scolded the guard. Both guards stepped back, giving us some room. The chieftain turned toward me, glaring into my face, then began leading my by the arm, half dragging, half supporting me.
After several minutes, I realized where he was taking me. He was taking me to my crashed ship. The party that had found me had set their camp up near where my vessel had crashed. They must have seen my vessel go down, and came to investigate. The barbarians had pulled me from the wreckage and treated me as best as they could. They were known to be a nomadic race, but they had remained where they were, waiting for their leader to return from wherever he had been off to, and waiting for me to recover. I tried to recall why my vessel had crashed, but was unable to. I didnít even know why I had been flying the craft in this area, or the area was. I donít even know if I had a chance to signal a mayday.
We walked over the hill and I looked down to where the remains of my crashed ship lay. The metal hull was split open like a pea pod. One of the wings was completely torn off while the other was twisted and pushed back against the crafts body. I was lucky to be alive, let alone walking so soon afterwards.
The barbarians had obviously been exploring the remains of the vessel. Equipment and supplies had been pulled from the gap in the hull, and strewn across the surrounding area. Wires extruded from the wrecked equipment, evidence that the savages had tried to figure out how everything worked. I realized that it would be useless to try and use the radio to contact rescuers; it was probably destroyed along with the rest of my equipment.
The chieftain led me down the hill to the crash. He motioned with his arms toward the air, and then at the wreckage. He growled his barbaric language, trying to get me to understand what he was saying, but I was unable to. Finally, in frustration, he led me back to the camp.
When we returned I saw that the savages were taking the tents down and loading the pack animals. The large, hairy pack animals stood patiently nearby, waiting for their burdens. We were preparing to move out. The chieftain motioned and snapped at me, then motioned toward his workers. After a moment, I realized he wanted me to help. As I stepped toward the others, one of the workers handed me a tarp, and indicated that I should start folding it. Before long, we had the whole camp packed up and loaded on the pack animals.
We left the area near the crash, heading west. I wondered if my rescuers would be able to track us. I also wondered why they hadnít shown up yet. I had been with the barbarians a week, even if I hadnít gotten off a mayday, someone should have come looking for me by now.
* * *
The place we had been camped had been a grassy area, with rolling hills. As we marched, we passed small stands of trees. One of the guards was constantly behind me, as if making sure I wouldnít try to flee. As the day continued to heat up insects started to plague us. Small, stinging flies attacked us, biting our exposed skin. We stopped long enough to smear a reeking ointment on our skin, which repelled the insects and provided us some relief. I saw numerous animals running about freely. Deer, rabbits, and bison fled at our approached, or watched us from a wary distance. Back home in the cities I had only seen such animals in zoos or on videos. I was starting to get some of my memories back, but most of it was still vague. Near noon, we stopped to rest momentarily near a small stream, taking a small meal of fruit. My legs were sore from the march, but I refused to let the barbarians think that I was too weak to continue. After the short rest, we continued on. There were times I thought I would collapse, but I forced myself to keep walking. Soon, the only thought I had was placing one foot in front of the other.
As we walked, I tried to recollect my past. I could only catch vague memories. I knew I was from the distant cities, where technology was far more superior then anything the barbarians had. I could not remember who I was, or why I had been in the wastelands, as they were called by the city dwellers. As I looked around, I realized wasteland was not an appropriate name, perhaps wild land was more suited for the area. The land was teeming with wild animals and plant-life.
As the sun approached the western horizon, we stopped for the night. The pack animals were unloaded and set out to graze. A fire was started and several of the women began to prepare a meal. I assisted with the unloading of the animals under the watchful eye of one of the guards. After dinner, the barbarians gathered about the fire and talked. They laughed and sang as I watched, wondering what they were saying, wishing I understood them. Finally, we settled down for the night in bedrolls gathered around the fire, and went to sleep. We continued this routine for three days.
I awoke sometime during the night after the third day. I lay there, listening to the sounds of the others breathing steadily. Slowly, and as quietly as I could, I rolled over and looked around. I could see one of the guards standing near the pack animals, watching them. He was looking the other way, not paying attention to me. I slipped out of my bedroll and ran crouched over in the other direction. Once I was beyond the range of the campfireís light, I sprinted away, trying to put some distance between the savages and myself. I had planned on returning to the crash site, and seeing if I could salvage the radio enough to get a signal out. Even if I couldnít I knew that if anyone was looking for me, they had a better chance of finding me if I was near the crash site.
I ran for some time, trying to put as much distance as possible between the savages and myself. I finally stopped to rest at the base of a rocky hill. There was a small stand of trees nearby with thick brush covering the ground around the trees, and I crawled into the brush, hoping to remain hidden until daylight then try to find my way back to my ship. I fell asleep listening to the insects, frogs, and birds singing to the night. The next day, I saw no sign of pursuit, so a continued on in the direction I hoped lay my crashed vehicle. I didnít recognize the terrain, but it all looked the same to me; there were rolling hills covered with tall grass and stands of trees scattered about. I stopped to rest that night near another stand of trees, hiding in the tall brush nearby.
When I woke I realized instantly that something was not right. I lay still in the grassy brush and slowly opened my eyes. Sunlight brightened the sky. I lay still for a moment, wondering what was wrong. Suddenly, I realized that it was too quiet. Yesterday, when I had walked with the savages, I had heard insects, birds, and small mammals, especially near stands of trees. Now, the air was silent.
I slowly started to sit up, looking about for the cause for the silence. I soft noise to my left caught my attention. Something moved in the brush not far away from where I lay. I slowly turned; trying to see what it was, expecting to see barbarians.
For a moment, I didnít see anything. Then I realized that a large cat was crouched in the brush slowly making its way to me. It was nearly the same color as the brush, and I could barely see it as it remained still. I slowly rose to my feet, wishing I had taken the time to steal a spear or anything I could use to defend myself before I had fled the camp. The beast was huge, much larger than I was. It was heavily muscled; it resembled a bear as much as a cat. Long fangs protruded from its open mouth. The bearcat and I may eye contact, and it advanced as I started to step away. The beast was crouched down, ready to pounce or pursue at the slightest movement. I glanced around, looking for something, anything I could use to protect myself.
Suddenly, another large form erupted from the brush, charging the bearcat. The beast was caught off guard, but still spun quickly against its attacker. The barbarian chieftain drove the spear into the animalís side. He leapt back, drawing his sword, but failed to evade the enraged bearcat. The beast lunged at him, knocking the sword from his hand even as he drew it, and instantly knocked the man down with its superior weight. I watched as the chieftain struggled to force back the beastís gaping jaws. His face was turning purple with exertion. Both combatants snarled and growled at the other.
I hesitated, unsure what to do. I could flee, leaving the chieftain and the beast to battle it out. The chieftain would probably die, and the wounds might slow the bearcat. I stood for a second, as the animalís slathering mouth drew closer to the manís face.
Without thinking, I snatched up and chieftainís fallen sword. It was heavier than I expected, but I swung it with all my strength, striking the bearcat in the back of the neck. I leapt back as the beast shrugged off the blow and spun toward me. Blood poured from its side, where the spear still protruded, and down its shoulders, from the wound I had inflicted. As the beast closed on me, I swung the weapon again. The creature, wounded and hurting, failed to dodge the blow and the sword struck it in the face. I swung again, before the bearcat had a chance to recover, and knocked the animal down. It howled angrily and tried to rise, but I swung the sword from overhead, bringing it down onto the beastís neck with all my strength. I stepped back as the bearcat thrashed about, moaning and snarling, blood spraying from its nearly severed neck.
Dropping the sword, I turned toward the chieftain, who had pulled himself up into a sitting position. His arm had been sliced open by the attack, and he was covered in blood. As I watched, he pointed at me, smiled and said something in his coarse language. As I smiled back, his eyes rolled and he collapsed.
* * *
I couldnít bring myself to abandon the chieftain, after he had saved my life, so I bandaged his wounds and tried to make him comfortable. He had supplies in his pack, and I was able to get a fire started. I caught a couple of fat prairie hens and was cooking them when he woke.
He didnít try to talk, but motioned for his bag. I gave it to him, and he removed a pouch of ointment. He removed the bandages, with my help, and had me rub the medicine on the wounds. Afterwards, we ate the birds in silence. He soon fell back asleep. I gathered a supply of wood that would last through the night, and kept the fire going to ward off any more predators. I considered leaving the chieftain now that he was bandaged, but couldnít bring myself to abandon him. I sat that night and realized he had saved my life twice, once from the bearcat and once from the crash. The least I could do was get him back to his tribe.
The next morning, the chieftain was able to stand and we started our walk to find the rest of his tribe. He walked slowly, still sore from his wounds, leaning on a crutch we had cut from a fallen tree. He carried the spear we had pulled from the dead bearcat. I carried the sword and his pack of supplies. I had the sword strapped across my back, to try and balance the heavy weight for the long walk. We walked in silence, with the chieftain directing the way. Are pace went slow, and I realized it might be several days before we caught up to the rest of his tribe.
The sun was reaching its zenith when I heard a noise that caught my attention. Looking up, I saw one of hovercrafts from the cities where I came from. I recognized the design as one similar to the one I had crashed. Dropping my pack, I ran after the vessel, shouting and waving my arms. The vehicle slowed and passed directly over us. It made another pass, then hesitated in mid-air, slowly lowering itself to the ground. I glanced at the chieftain then ran to the craft as it touched down. As I reached the craft, two soldiers from the cities stepped out, their rifles aimed at me.
"Wait!" I shouted. "Iím from the cities. My vehicle crashed and Iíve been stranded here. I need help." I ran toward them shouting and waving. The roaring sound of the hovercraft drowned out my voice. Suddenly, one of the soldiers fired his weapon at me. I felt like I had run into a wall. The force of the stun-weapon knocked me down. My chest and arms felt heavy as I lay gasping for air.
"Looks like we got us a live one," one of the soldiers said to the other one.
"Yeah, I guess he canít wait to get to the games," the other soldier replied.
"WaitÖ" I gasped between breaths. "Iím from the city." My voice was barely audible. I stretched out a hand, reaching for the soldiers.
The soldier stepped closer, and kicked me in the stomach. I rolled, trying to keep from retching as the soldier talked to each other.
I started to recall the games. They were a distant memory in my forgotten past. We were supposedly at war with the savages, who were constantly trying to invade our cities. Prisoners were put in arenas, to fight each other or wild animals that had been captured. More than once, I had sat among the crowd, cheering as some unnamed barbarian was slain.
"NoÖ" I said weakly. "You donít understandÖ" I knew there would be no mercy. I had heard how prisoners had their tongues cut out to keep from talking. I was dressed as a savage, with a barbarian. There would be no way I could convince them I was otherwise. But I had to try. "PleaseÖ" I strained to say.
The soldier turned his rifle butt towards me, preparing to beat me. Suddenly, the chieftains spear flew threw the air and struck the man hard in the chest. Dropping the rifle, he grabbed at the primitive weapon protruding from his chest as he fell to the ground.
The other soldier threw his gun to his shoulder, preparing to fire onto the barbarian chieftain. I knew that since one of the soldiers was either dead or dying we would not be taken prisoner. We would be slain, and our bodies taken to the city for desecration. With what little strength I had left, I threw myself at the soldierís legs, knocking him down. We struggled momentarily before he managed to throw me off and dashed for his waiting hovercraft. The vehicle started to rise even before he had the door shut. Grabbing the fallen rifle, I fired toward the vessel. An engine burst into flames as it rose in the air, the result of the stun-weaponís blast. The craft rose unsteadily then moved toward the east. As I watched, the craft suddenly veered sharply to the left, then rammed into the side of a hill with an explosion.
I sat for a moment, watching the vessel burn in the distance. Slowly, I realized that the barbarian Chieftain was standing next to me. With his help, I rose to my feet and removed the spear from the dead soldiers chest.
I looked at the large wounded man standing next to me. I was a stranger to him, not even one of his people. Yet he had saved my life several times, and had even sought me out when I had tried to flee. My own people had tried to kill me because they thought I was a stranger, yet this man had taken a stranger in.
Grabbing the fallen pack and slinging it across my back, the barbarian chieftain and I set out to catch up to the rest of his tribe.
Bio: I have been reading Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy since grade school. My hobbies are hunting, fishing, golfing, writing, reading, and arguing with my teenage daughters. I have had short stories published in Aphelion Science Fiction, in Planet Magazine, Writer's Hood, and Dark Moon Rising. I currently have a book available through Booklocker.com or your local bookstore, a horror novel called THE UNLEASHED. I live with my wife and three teenage daughters in the Northwoods of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where the four seasons are early-winter, mid-winter, late winter, and July.
Visit Aphelion's Lettercolumn and voice your opinion of this story.
Return to the Aphelion main page.