This other story finished many hundreds of years ago. It ended deep in the heart of Africa, right next to its largest freshwater lake. Dense, green foliage covered the low hills that ran up to the lake’s narrow beaches. In the years to come, the lake would be named after a monarch living in a far distant land, a name it would continue to bear for many years thereafter. But that morning, no one knew of that future. That morning, those living around its northern shores called it Nyanza. That morning, the proud subjects of the powerful kingdom on its western reaches called it Nalubaale. And that morning, the two powerful armies locked in desperate battle simply called it Nam Lolwe – the great ship.
It was on a distant stretch of Nam Lolwe’s shores that the tall, black, powerfully built man turned his gaze that chilly morning. But for his loincloth, he was completely naked. He frowned, irritated, and clenched his jaws as his thick, powerful calves and hamstrings cramped convulsively. The decorative scars on his chest and tummy rose and fell rhythmically as he sucked in mouthfuls of the cold morning air. His arms, bulging out of the silver bracelets that circled his biceps, hung limp at his side, clutching two short spears. A tiny obelisk, carved out of igneous rock by some ancient artistry, hung around his neck from a leather thong. He was exhausted. All around him, the air was thick with the whizzing of arrows, the piercing shrieks of mortally wounded men, the sickening thuds of clubs cracking through skulls. He found the din repugnant. He narrowed his eyes and focused on the lake – Nam Lolwe. It shone silver that morning, mirroring the pure light of the steadily rising sun. Here was a moment’s respite raging around him. Here was silence. Here was a peace.
In the solitude of his head he tried to remember what he was fighting for. That always helped. Even as a spear smashed into his ribs and he heard the sharp creak of metal bending on his rock-hard skin, he breathed in another lungful of the cool, morning breeze stirring from the lake beyond. He appreciated the morning breeze. It carried with it the soft sound of the waves breaking on the shores nearby. He remembered the many peaceful evenings listening to those waves with his beloved wife, before they took her away. Before they — murdered her.
The sounds of battle came crashing back into his ears, bringing him back to the moment. Back to the blood-soaked earth curling about his feet. His purpose had returned. His strength was renewed. Only one idea was in his mind now: end the carnage, find his wife’s body, lay her to rest.
He spun around at the sharp crack of a shield splitting behind him. Another soldier, with an ostrich headdress and spear just like his, crumpled to the ground.
“Lwanda!” the man gasped, as he rolled to his side to dodge the blows that the lean, young man towering above him was aiming with deadly precision. He raised what was left of his shield to parry a wild blow. It glanced off his raised shield and came down hard on his head, stunning him.
Lwanda was at his side in a second. He slashed his spear at the the attacker, ripping through his sinewy back. Dark red blood spurted out and mingled with the ashen mud that covered the man from head to toe. The man screamed and swivelled to face Lwanda, his oval ox-hide shield and short broadsword levelled. Lwanda was ready for him. He swung his spear again, and even as the man ducked, Lwanda lunged in for the kill. The man lost his footing, and stumbled backwards. Lwanda was on top of him in a second. The sun was behind him, and Lwanda noticed his long dark shadow covering the panicked, panting warrior lying on the ground. The man closed his eyes, preparing for the deathblow.
But it did not come. Lwanda hesitated. Pity flashed across his face. Impatient, the warrior opened his eyes. He sized up the situation in an instant. Grabbing a dagger from its scabbard on his waist, he swung wildly at Lwanda. Lwanda gasped as the thong around his neck was severed, sending his obelisk soaring through the air. The man stabbed again, thrusting hard and deep into Lwanda’s exposed abdomen. The knife scraped Lwanda’s skin and fell to the ground, twisted and misshapen. The warriors eyes widened in fear. Lwanda roared. He grabbed the warrior by the neck, lifted him off the ground, and stared into his mousy, anxious eyes. He was no more than a lad. Barely sixteen. He didn’t even have a beard. Lwanda let go. The boy fell to the ground with a thud.
“Run, boy,” Lwanda growled, and turned towards his fallen companion, still lying stunned on the ground. At that instant, he felt a sharp pain searing through his side. Warm blood spurted out a wound on his ribs. Instinctively, he brought his hand to it, and felt the sticky, gooey liquid that was gushing out.
In seconds, he was surrounded by a dozen fighters, all covered with the same white war paint, teeth bared, broadswords at the ready. He looked at his shadow on the ground. A knife was buried to the hilt in the bare ground that it darkened. The young lad grinned, triumphant. Lwanda groaned. The dozen fighters each raised their swords and brought them down with crushing force into Lwanda’s shadow, stretched across the ground, driving them deeper and deeper into the dark grey soil. Wounds appeared on Lwanda’s dark-muscled body. His eyes watered – the pain was too much – and he sunk to his knees. A warm liquid filled up his lungs. He could barely breathe as he felt the warmth bubbling in his throat. A wave of calm swept over him. His heart slowed. The din of the surrounding battle faded from his ears. In its place, the soft lapping of the waves on the shores of the lake. He turned his eyes to it, one last time. With his final ounce of strength, he wrapped his fingers around the cold, hard rock pendant that lay next to him. Finally it was over. He was going home. The last thing he felt was the earth give a violent jerk beneath his feet.
And then he was passing through a tunnel.