I lifted his head, heedless of the greasy blood matting it, dragging him to the cliff’s edge as he struggled.
“Please! I have done nothing!”
“This isn’t about you!” In my anger, I threw him to the ground, and for a second it looked like he’d go over. He clawed at the rock and managed to hold himself back from the edge. “This is about Chuwa. Your tribe’s raid took everything from her. Her beauty. Her innocence! Her life.”
“But Chuwa is–”
I cut him off with a stomp on his fingertips. “A child’s name?” I had a flash of cruel inspiration, and saw a way to hurt him. That’s right. Your people ruined a child. They cut her face, beat her. That was how they began.”
Even through the blood smearing his face, I could see him pale in horror. Good. I knelt on his head, pinning him against the stone – not that he had anywhere to go – as I described the horrors to him. I didn’t realize I was twisting his hair in rage until a bloody clump tore free.
“But that’s not me! All of our tribes raid! I am a farmer, I’ve nothing to do with what our warriors–!”
As he spoke, I stood, and I felt bone give as I kicked him in the jaw. I had to raise my voice over his screams to be heard. “It doesn’t matter! I will end your clan. I’ll come back again and again, until there is nobody left!” Another kick, then another, and then he was sliding, tumbling past the brink. Then he stopped screaming.
I turned to walk away from the cliffside. “I killed him, Chuwa. The first of many. Judge him.”
Chills overcame me, then. I had killed a man. I staggered, unconcerned with being strong as my stomach twisted. I almost made it to the treeline before I threw up. Then again and again, as if my very spirit had swallowed poison.
My wife greeted me as I returned home. I had washed my mouth out, washed the blood away. I had even managed to bring meat home, crossing paths with a boar on the way. “Gavos. You brought meat!” She took it from me, and I watched her as some was cut away for dinner, the rest taken to preserve for later. I spent a moment admiring her shape, her curves. Then there was the swell of her belly. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
“I killed one.”
Her stirring halted, her shoulders stiffened. “You… aren’t talking about the meat.”
My expression didn’t change. My emotions were exhausted, and I had no masks left to show her. “No.”
I took a stone from my pocket. It was meaningless, the kind of pretty thing she would have liked. It was also a life. I put the first of many on the shelf upon which we had laid Chuwa’s necklace of stones and shells.
She watched this, quiet, but only for a moment. Then her stirring resumed, and her dull, dark eyes turned away. “And now?”
“I rest, and prepare myself for more. I go back and take another, and another. I kill until they are gone.”
She glared up at me then, and I saw hate in her brilliantly blue eyes. “Good. Let every one of them know how it feels to lose…to lose–!”
She never finished telling me what loss they should know, but I understood. Her face crumpled, and she howled in grief, throwing herself at my chest. I held her through her sobbing and her crying, my chest growing wet under her eyes. She needed strength, but I was so tired. I relied on exhaustion instead, and stirred her pot as I held her.
Finally, she seemed to quiet. “This child, too, will be our revenge. A Sawaku child given to us, and we will–.”
She looked up at me in confusion, clearly expecting me to want that revenge as much as she did.
“We do not hurt the innocent. We do not raise our child a slave. It is not Sawaku. It is born to the Talam tribe, raised to the Talam ways. This is our child, a Talam child. Promise me, Sasua.”
So many expressions crossed her face, then. Guilt, hate for the Sawaku, shame, hate for me, disgust, love for a husband, grudging affection for her unborn child. She had always been so expressive. “But…it’s…”
“It did not hurt you. You can’t hurt them this way.” An idea came, a motive her injured heart might understand. “Hurt them by raising it to hate them. Steal this child’s love from them. ”
She nodded, tears falling down her cheeks quietly. “I’ll try. ”
“Good. You work on that, I’ll kill them all, and together we will end them, my love. But first…is this burning?”
She started, whirling, and took the pot off the heat. “Sorry! Sorry. You were killing for me, for Chuwa, and I can’t even have a proper dinner for you.”
“Hush. Let’s eat.”
“You should let me cook something else.”
“Sasua. Sit with me. Eat with me. I won’t put your work to waste. Besides, everything you make is good.”
She wiped her eyes, shaking her head. “Liar.”
I leaned over her, touching my lips to her brow.
The stew was dry, and had too much salt. When I was done, I scraped the last drops out of my bowl with my spoon, before letting her take it. She smiled at me as she took the bowl, and I knew she saw right through me. She saw the blood that I’d washed off my hands, and still, she smiled at me. It was the first smile I’d seen from her in a while.
I ran my hands through her soft, clean hair, a contrast to the bloody mat I’d gripped while killing a man. It felt cleansing, almost, in the same way that sheathing a knife quelled the urge to kill with it. For her, I’d bloody my hands. For her, I’d even remember to be human again.