Razzmorten appeared on a lonely beach amongst the cries of terns, just as a wave soaked his feet, sending small snails vanishing into the sand as it rushed back to sea. A beached jellyfish glistened in the mid-morning sun. He stepped away from the water and scooped up a double handful of shells to admire for a moment before squinting under his hand at the arid hills of white limestone dotted with grey shrubs which lay inland. He pulled out his scrying ball from his shoulder bag and squatted in the sand to stare into it, shaded by the brim of his pointed hat. At once he was underway through the marram grass, making straight for the hills.
By the time the sun was overhead, he had crossed over three great ridges of hills. A savannah sparrow called nearby. He paused to mop his brow and look about as he felt of the ball in his bag. “Maybe I need another peek,” he said. Suddenly he held his breath.
“Could that be children?” A pebble skittered across the rocks at his feet, just as he spied a
curly haired head slipping behind some rocks. He heard hushed giggling. “Hello?’ he
There was dead silence.
“Hello? Is someone there?”
“Mamin!” cried a brave naked boy, prancing into view.
“Mamin! Mamin!” shouted another, “Dirdawung, mamin lamang gahan!”
“Menuny mamin mawu ga-yu-ma wutjjurrh-ma!” cried a girl, taller than the others, leaping to her feet.
Soon there were eight naked children dancing around him, just out of reach, chanting sing-song: “Ma-min…ma-min…ma-min…” After a bit of this, they took turns crying: “Mamin!” as they leaped forth to tug at his clothes and jump back as if he would bite.
“I say,” cried Razzmorten, looking ’round about, “would you all be Ngop?”
The children broke out in such laughter that they could scarcely stay on their feet.
“If you all are Ngop, could you take me to Dort-da?” he said, nodding with wide eyes of encouragement. At this, a middle-sized girl with the merriest eyes of all dashed up and began yanking and pulling on his arm. He followed her at once.
Up through the next ridge of hills they led him, pattering through the dust and rocks, until they came to a wide dusty valley. The merry eyed girl kept a relentlessly tight grip on his hand, pulling him along through the dust and shrubs as they came to scattered acacia trees with ruminating cows bedded down everywhere in the shade. He could see low domed mud huts in the thickest of the trees. At the far end of them against the rocks of a limestone bluff was a whitewashed hut, larger than all the others. They hurried with
him, straight up to it. “Dort-da! Dort-da!” they shouted. And the next thing he knew, he
was standing in front of the hut’s triangular door without a child in sight. As he was
glancing here and there at the paintings of animals chasing each other across the breadth
of the whitewash, trying to gather his thoughts, Dort-da stepped into the light, adjusting
his long gourd cod piece. For a moment he looked as though he had been asleep.
Suddenly he smiled. “Razzmorten!” he cried. “It’s been ages since Hanter Koadou. Come
Razzmorten removed his hat and followed Dort-da inside, finding that ducking was scarcely enough to navigate a triangular doorway. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. “Why, it’s as cool as a cellar in here,” he said.
“Sit here,” said Dort-da, giving a slap to one of several fat rolls of blankets on the floor in front of a great chair made of cow bones. He sat in the chair and crossed his legs. He clapped his hands and a girl clad only in a skirt appeared with a jug of water and two large cow horns. He took the first drink and nodded at Razzmorten. “What brings you
“It wasn’t too many years before our meeting at Hanter Koadou that there was a great plague which swept through the Dark Continent…”
“Douar-Noz might be better,” said Dort-da. “The house of Dark hadn’t taken over yet.”
“Certainly,” said Razzmorten carefully. “So, when the plague swept through Douar-Noz, of course, it killed thousands upon untold thousands of people, including my progenitor, the First Wizard, who was visiting here at the time. It killed half the people living here as well as half the people on the Northern Continent. Well, I’ve just heard that when the plague came, not a single Ngop died from it. Is that true?”
“Has the plague returned after all this time to Norz-Meurzouar?”
“Yes. One and by now, maybe two have died at Castle Niarg.”
“Who brought it?” said Dort-da as he studied the backs of his hands. “Do you know where it came from?”
“Far,” said Razzmorten, keenly aware that Dort-da was being careful. “The one who died just before I left was a retainer of Princess Branwen of the House of Far. I have no idea how many have died there.”
“I’ve only heard of them a time or two. Do you know if they trade with the Gwaels of Gwaremm?”
“The last I knew, the Gwaels made them uneasy…”
“We have a lot to lose Razzmorten, but you convinced me years ago at Hanter Koadou that you have a true heart. You need to see Ngerrk-ga. His dreams are strong. If he doesn’t want to help you, you are not to return here until seven years after this new plague has run its course.” Dort-da studied Razzmorten carefully for a moment, then clapped once more. The young woman appeared with more water. “Nu-jabing-nga,” he said. “Razzmorten-ga-ndi lahan Ngerrk-ga.”
“Nu-jabing-nga quickly set down her jug. “Di-nya,” she said, motioning to Razzmorten with a nod. “Di-nya.” Waving him on, she disappeared out the door.
Razzmorten bowed to Dort-da, thanked him and hurried out into the heat and blinding light to find Nu-jabing-nga. He saw her at once, but found her even more difficult to keep up with than the children. He had to jog to catch her before she disappeared beyond the huts along the meandering path in the thorny wait-a-bit bushes that the Ngop used for fences which ran along the limestone bluff from acacia tree to acacia tree for a very long way, sticking up in the roasting heat like great parasols which gave shade to the resting cattle who languidly chewed their cuds and swished at flies, watching them pass.
At last the path rose into a break in the bluff which led to an isolated mud hut, whitewashed and covered with red ochre hand prints in the shade of a pair of especially
large acacias. Ngerrk-ga was out front with his back to them on his knees feeding the fire under a large kettle that he was stirring. Nu-jabing-nga held her finger to her lips and motioned for Razzmorten to sit on the ground at Ngerrk-ga’s back before grabbing her nose and dashing away, back down the path. Ngerrk-ga went right on stirring as if no one had arrived at all, chanting quietly: “Nja-min-ah… nja-min-ah… nja-min-ah… nja-min-ah…”
“Fates forbid!” thought Razzmorten. “I hope he notices me before I pass out from the
Ch. 2, Good Sister, Bad Sister
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps