By Mandisi Nkomo
They came on mechanical Fellbeasts, gnarled wings screeching, showering bullets. I fled while shooting back, yelling profanities and, “freedom!”
So often I wonder what ancient evil possessed these people? Harbingers of doom they are, who arrived on boats propelled by the winds of white magic. They spoke of benign and forgiving Gods, whom it appears, do not forgive the dark-skinned. They brought technologies and the promise of civilisation using what was uncovered in Europe: some intertwining of the organic with man-made crafts, using runes, metallurgy and spells to bind. But the bindings were corrupt, and all the dirty work was laid heavy on the backs of dark-skinned men, women and children. Like a battery, the blood, sweat and tears of the dark-skinned was collected and siphoned to hold the New World aloft. The creation of such a scheme; it boggles my mind. Truly, I cannot fathom it, and therein lies the fear. What kind of a person would I be if I did?
I wander the Namibian veldt with my rifle and few munitions; a meagre defence. The pale trolls hound me from the ground as the mechanical Fellbeasts shriek above. I take care with my footprints, so my path might remain unknown. Though they may lack the spells of the Wringwraith, they are still large and vicious.
I lived once in a cave marked with drawings of the Khoi, my ancient brother who is now all but extinct. Rudimentary yet beautiful depictions of characters and animals, I appreciated the drawings greatly. They were taken from me by a pale troll, wielding a hose that sprayed no water. For the next week I was forced to sleep on a patch of dry grass, huddling under my thin blanket, too frightened to light a fire. I returned eventually to find the troll gone and the drawings scratched off.
Even with no roof, little food, endless walking and hard sleeping, the bush is a better place to be. I do not wish to be a slave or ‘contract worker’. Forgetting the indignity of it, I fear contamination. Should I be exposed to their magic too long, I myself might be possessed by that ancient European evil. I too might become a wraith and terrorise the dark-skinned. I want no part of it.
When hunger strikes I seek out my sister, whistling a tune shared between us. Stomach grumbling, I find her and she bravely feeds me. Against those European spells that would make a man into a beast, she stands simply with vegetables and pots. We sit around the fire and discuss the nature of things: the hypocrisy of beasts calling others beasts.
She recalls the time she was tortured by the whip of the Balrogs. Bathed in white flames designed to expunge the dark, the Balrog are so old many of the whites have forgotten where in the Netherlands they were found. At first completely feral, a great white mage discovered how to control them, fusing charmed metal horns upon their heads. It interrogates in a harsh Dutch tongue and each strike of its whip burns while paling the skin.
I refuse to look at the white scars on her back, and I cry, apologising for my part in it. If I had not signed up for the resistance she would be of no interest to the architects of Apartheid. She assures me that I have made the right choice. She does not regret assisting me or keeping my location secret.
We must not bow to these creatures, she says.
After resting at the hut, I must always return to the veldt, wandering from rock to rock and breathing in the dry air. Many of my comrades have been captured or killed. I fear capture more than death really, for if I am captured I shall be taken to Pretoria. Pretoria, that necropolis of the Undead, that bastion of white evil. There the dungeon masters, the Balrogs and the mages, reside torturing dark skinned people – poking and prodding, interrogating and infecting, experimenting. They fuse white magic and eugenics, seeking the means to cast out the remaining dark.
They have already cast out much of the dark. They have shaped the present in their sickening image and built pillars of vile white that have infected the very history of man. As I wander this veldt so close to the cradle of humankind where the world began, I wonder why people chose to trek north to Europe. Perhaps when descendants of the Khoi arrived on that white continent they opened something they should not have, and monsters spilled forth spitting white fire and venom. From Europe they spread, tainted with white magic, and they arrived back at the cradle – ravenous.
Now I flee and fight over rock and veldt, resting against the thick trunk of the baobab tree, all in fear of Pretoria and Robben Island. African lands deformed by the idolatrous markings of Apartheid – they are tainted, bathed in white ichor.
The Wringwraith approaches. The shrieks of its mount stir my meandering mind.
I wait, and in my desperation I hope it will veer off towards another downtrodden mark. Behind a small formation of rocks and boulders, I listen with my knees aching against the granite. I hear the wings of the mechanical Fellbeast grow close.
I run, flinging dust in my wake. The sound of the screeching grows louder, piercing my ears. The Wringwraith, one of the nine Lich Kings, launches bullets from his fingers and I leap out of the open into the embrace of waist-high grass. I lie on my belly uncomfortably, hugging my rifle and shaking. I ignore the itch of the grass and the tickling crawl of ants on my skin.
I have no white magic. No spells. I stand with only a rifle and my sister with her pots and vegetables. What hope is there really? I whimper and the Lich on his mechanical Fellbeast passes overhead. I exhale and roll onto my back. The formations of the stars look down upon me with apathy. The calm rustling of the grass is disrupted by the Lich’s cold cackle, and I curse him.
They turn around.
The Lich commands his mount to descend. The crooked wings of the mechanical Fellbeast whirl, buffeting my face with sour wind. I sit up and behold him. He is cloaked in white, part flesh and part machine, all fused together with glowing white runes. His face is pale, and his eyes a dead grey. Cold white mist leaks from his mouth. Even in the cool of the summer’s night, his cold is distinct and makes the skin prickle. His frost sucks the very nutrients from the earth leaving it naked – frosted, cracked and white. I stand up with the all the strength and pride I can muster.
I have but four, five bullets left. I fire upon him and not a dent. I scramble about in the grass for stones and throw, but he does not buckle. He approaches hissing, excited for a physical confrontation he knows he can never lose. His mount stares idly through gaping eyes, licking the organic bits of its wings.
I charge, swinging my rifle and he cackles, excited by my indignation and defiance. My blow does him no harm. He flicks me back and I fall. Dazed and scratched, I stand again.
We circle one another, his large form terrifying. The grass is all but slaughtered around us. He does not even bother with his bullets. He summons forth a jagged baton and cackles.
Our weapons clash, each blow buckling, shaking my bones. Finally he cleaves my rifle in two. I topple over and lay on the frosted grass, exhausted and drenched in cold sweat. Through the fog of fear there is something in me that will not relent. I believe this to be a trait shared with my sister.
I stand yet again, now so cold. The warmth of the bush has all but dissipated. I charge him. I beat him with my fists, his armour bruising my hands until he bashes my torso, ripping my flesh and sending me so far I land in the warm arms of the grass yet again. He approaches. The white mist and frost engulf me.
I think upon my sister. I do not wish to leave her alone against this evil, yet there is a comfort in knowing I shall have to fight no more. I am sorry to leave you this way, sister. I know your kind heart will forgive my cowardice.
I lament her future battles, but I laud them too, as I know she will never be defeated.
I attempt to stand and the Lich King beats me, rending flesh once again. He cackles, and so do I.
Freedom. I think upon freedom.