The Voices of Martyrs

The Voices of Martyrs

by Maurice Broaddus

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Overview

The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus

We are a collection of voices, the assembled history of the many voices that have spoken into our lives and shaped us. Voices of the past, voices of the present, and voices of the future. There is an African proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” This is why we continue to remember the tales of struggle and tales of perseverance, even as we look to tales of hope. What a people choose to remember about its past, the stories they pass down, informs who they are and sets the boundaries of their identity. We remember the pain of our past to mourn, to heal, and to learn. Only in that way can we ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. The voices make up our stories. The stories make up who we are. A collected voice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780996769259
Publisher: Rosarium Publishing
Publication date: 02/28/2017
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author


Maurice Broaddus’ fiction has been published in numerous venues, including Asimov's Science Fiction, Cemetery Dance, Apex Magazine, and Weird Tales Magazine. He co-edited Streets of Shadows (Alliteration Ink) and the Dark Faith anthology series (Apex Books) and was the author of the urban fantasy trilogy, Knights of Breton Court (Angry Robot Books).

Read an Excerpt

The Voices of Martyrs


By Maurice Broaddus

Rosarium Publishing

Copyright © 2017 Maurice Broaddus
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4956-1801-7



CHAPTER 1

Past


Warrior of the Sunrise

Lalyani surveyed her surroundings, one hand pressed against her hip in stoic resignation, the other clutching her spear. Half of her spear's length was razor sharp iron and had considerable heft, not easily wielded by a man, much less a woman. Pangs of hunger rumbled her insides, but she dared not chance a bite of what little fruit she spied amongst the sickly branches. Fungus encroached the uninviting copse of trees in slow digestion. The stink of rotting carcasses rose from the murky waters of the fetid pool, discouraging anyone from tarrying too long. A low-laying fog swirled about at the foot of the jutting crag. The Mountain of No Name, a desolate stretch of rock, leered from above the tree tops.

The silence disturbed her, the forlorn and petulant stillness wore on her bones. No bird song, no frog bark, no monkey chatter, no whir of insect, no stir of bushes. The beast had come this way. The muscles in her arms ached from their previous encounter. The scars along her back still oozed though she paid the pain no mind. She nursed her anger, a newborn to be suckled until it could march on its own. She would kill the beast and then its master, such was the simple order in her world. That was who she was now.

Lalyani, the Outcast.

Her name would be whispered on the lips of griots, in poem, and song, and story — sometimes of her adventures with Dinga Cisse and that Greek dog he called a friend — not that she cared about such things. Most times, however, she preferred to go her own way, to wander The Path anyway it bent.

Unbridled and sure-footed, she had the supple physique of a horse, her legs wide-braced and powerfully muscled. Though lacking a man's height, she held her head high, her shoulders always bent in anticipation of action. A broad girdle of bronze beads over black sable skin made no attempt to hide her full-bosomed figure. Her leopard hide skirt stopped a hand's spread above her knees.

Slinging her spear through her kaross, she groped for hand holds along the unnatural ridge of stone before her. The shelf was more wall than anything else; a craftsman had worked too hard to make the imposing edifice appear natural. Her people, the Mo-Ito, were hill denizens, so she climbed the stone spire with keen aplomb. She quickly passed the shattered bones of men scattered along the ridges who had failed their bid to climb the summit.

Hours into her ascent, the cliff wall leveled into a landing. Her hands had grown numb from finding purchase. From the top, she turned westward. The impenetrable forest roof thinned at a kraal. Her breath hitched in remembrance of ...


* * *

... how she struggled in Manuto's presence. The chief storyteller and high wizard summoned her to his hut for his final pronouncement. Manuto let loose a weary sigh as if not knowing where to start and circled her. She imagined he often paced the length of his hut, wondering what to do with her. In better days, she teased his over-protectiveness, rarely admitting, even to herself, how much comfort she took in his attentions. Tonight he bore the mien of his position; his word to the chief's ear was law. Her throat tightened in a dry swallow.

"It is time," Manuto said. A fine sheen of sweat misted his fresh-shaven head.

"Let me see him one last time."

"No."

"You dare stand between a mother and her son?" She stood tall and proud, too much iron in her backbone for some. They met eye-to-eye as he drew near to her slender body, her long limbs somehow seeming out of proportion with the rest of her. Despite her exaggerated illusion of fragility, she possessed a tensile strength, a fierce tenacity of spirit, matching both her raw beauty of exquisite cruelty and her air of cold serenity.

"He nears the age of ascent. And there have been ... whispers." Manuto shifted as if in sudden discomfort. "The tribal code demands that you name the father."

"I cannot. He belongs to another."

"He's married?" Adultery meant fatal punishment doled out by the Tribal Avengers. She hated this dance of conversations. It was mostly for the benefit of the two warriors who stood guard outside of his dwelling. Or the countless other ears straining to eavesdrop.

"Only to his duty and obligation."

He rubbed the keloid along his neck. "Then Kaala has no mother. He has no father. He is of the tribe."

"Like mother, like son." The Mo-Ito were a mixed race people, accepting any who wandered into their community as long as they lived by The Path. Proud and fierce though a near forgotten people now. Lalyani's mother was never named, her father was ... gone. Like her, he would never truly know the embrace of this village. He had to earn his right to be a part of the San tribe. "What will come of my son?"

"Rest easy in this: when it is time for him to walk the journey into manhood, I will stand beside him."

Lalyani nodded. She understood this was how things had to be. All choices had consequences, and she made hers readily enough. The time would not be easy for either of them. She had little stomach for the politics of the tribal ways, but she knew what her fate was to be before Manuto gave voice to it.

"You, however, cannot stay here."

"I know. I will abandon The Path as it has abandoned me." Hers was a conviction that struggled to find meaning. While many in her tribe found comfort in The Path, she knew only her terror and brokenness. Some questions were best left unasked because no answer would satisfy. And Lalyani questioned. Buried doubts and insecurity, an embraced self-deception, meant she would never know the pain again. But the pain cut through the lies. Pain was the Master-Teacher.

"You may abandon it, but you may find that it is not so easily left behind. The teachings remain in your heart." Manuto moved to comfort her, his thick arms opening in embrace. She pressed her palm into his chest to halt him.

"Many things remain in my heart that I can no longer feel."

"Mine as well. The demands of duty."

She knew this day would come and had steeled herself for it. A few tasks remained before night descended on ...


* * *

... the wings of sunset. Lalyani dropped into the gardens. Caution lightened her steps as she glided along the cave wall. The honeycombed mountain encircled a small kraal with a series of catacombs. From the upper ridge, she made out the shapes of huts as well as a byre full of cattle. Off to the side of the kraal proper stood a lone, leather-thatched hut, shaded by an old, leafy marula tree. Like a breeze through leaves, Lalyani moved along the gentle slope of the cavern, treading close to the kraal without disturbing anything. Only when approaching the hut did she realize how large it was.

Slits between sheets of cow hide allowed her to study her enemy's master. The cruel tyrant Harlaramu was renowned for his tremendous rages. A gold band pulled the lank strands of his long black hair into a cord revealing a bald pate. Taut muscles rippled under duress, his skin glistened in the heat, his body sticky with greasy charm medicines designed to repel demons. Scars scored his back. Beside him, an overturned pot — with the last trickle of strong beer draining from it — had drowned his heart and dulled his sullen anger. Mad laughter erupted from him as he talked to the shadows, a shifting silhouette against the tricks of moonlight. With a flourish, he whirled to grab whips tipped with shards of broken pottery and began to scourge himself. Ancient, unnatural words tripped from his tongue. The guttural language wailed in higher and higher tones. His limbs flailed in spasmodic gyrations as the spirit talk threatened to consume him, until he fell prostrate as if struck from behind.

For a few heartbeats, he lay on the floor of his hut. He grabbed a fistful of earth and let the dirt trickle from his grasp. Once. Twice. Thrice. Then he struggled to his feet and entered the next chamber. Fearful of being watched herself, Lalyani scuttled along the side to peer into the room. Harlaramu bent over a coterie of small figures. His body obscured the people, but she heard their thin voices. Once he stepped to the side, she realized this was a nursery of sorts. Strapped to curved pieces of wood, small men — she prayed they were of the Pygmy tribe rather than children, though this was no better a fate for those warriors — whose legs were snapped into positions to encourage deformed growth. Their bones canted at odd angles, their limbs pulled and bowed, suspended in agonizing positions. She counted five bodies in restraints. Harlaramu tended to each one, feeding them, stroking them, whispering to them. The sixth body lay on a table. Its ears mangled, still leaking blood. Harlaramu closed his eyes and uttered a prayer. He jabbed a sharpened stone into the creature's mouth and buried its edge to remove its tongue.

"Now you are truly born," he said with foul pride. A tokoloshe. "Hush now and rest. Soon you will be ready to do your master's bidding."

In that moment, Lalyani's warrior's instinct alerted her that she was ...


* * *

... being observed. A team of scouts patrolled the kraal at the behest of the great crone. Lalyani trailed them, though, unasked and unwanted. She, too, knew the sting of duty, and one of hers was to the great crone. Perhaps a faint sound broke her reflections, but she brought her spear to bear before her mind realized what disturbed her. Someone stole along the forest line. Branches snapped in the wake of a sinister shadow. Lalyani fought down a surge of panic; its familiar fearsome lope caused most men's hearts to pump water. It stooped in a semi-crouch, its head turning from side-to-side, mouth ajar as if tasting the air.

Then it turned to her.

Lalyani's eyes widened in surprise as the beast was like no creature she had ever seen before. A distorted face — the flesh of its previous victim draped its own, giving the face the appearance of a melted candle — worn as a trophy. Baboon pelts stitched together formed its vest. The decomposed head of a woman dangled from around its neck. All sinew and hair, it hunched over, a malformed man short of stature, its ears raised to a point, almost as a wolf. Its jaw yawned and revealed a gullet of protruding teeth. The snapping of branches and crackling of bushes ushered its charge. Mad laughter careened through the forest in its dash. Despite its diminutive size, it hit with enough force to send her reeling the length of several men.

It should have killed her in its initial rush, but like most men in her experience, it had to demonstrate how strong it was first. Now she had its measure. As it sprang forward, she dodged to the side, but its long arms slashed wildly. Its raking panther talons caught her along her back. It battered the wind out of her. She cursed herself, angry at her carelessness. Its eyes glinted with intelligence. Thrown off balance, she stumbled to the ground but leapt to her feet to face her attacker. It lashed out in frustration. Holding her spear in a two-handed grip, she didn't measure her strength against that of men. She was as strong as she needed to be. It reared in a blur of motion. She tried to sidestep it, but its momentum carried them into the forest when it tackled her. The tokoloshe snapped at her throat until it slowly realized it had impaled itself on the point of her spear. Buried in its fur, the spear pierced thick muscle. Her dark grimace gave a rueful stare as it escaped into the ...


* * *

... shadows of the catacombs. The rocky path left little doubt the direction it traveled; however, it knew the crags and crevices much better than she. She closed her eyes and listened. The cavern echoed with life of its own, the thrum of rock and pressing presence. She stilled even her breath so she could try to sense it. A void in the darkness hiding patiently, waiting for her to near it only a step further. It was stunned into momentary inaction as she sprang upon it. Her spear whipped through the air, beautiful and frightening, catching the beast across the bridge of its nose. The spear point lanced both eyes like overripe boils.

The tokoloshe screeched in tongueless cries. Blood spurted as it slashed about, seizing her by chance rather than skill. Death was upon her with a snapping jaw and terrible grip. Instinct took over her, her lips drawn back in a crazed snarl, a primal rage burned in her eyes. Reckless, she threw herself into the beast, letting the force of her weight do its work. Its wounds showered her in a spray of blood. She drove the length of her spear deep into its belly, the creature's face tightened in surprise. Its blows grew weaker with each careless swipe until it fell limp along her shaft. She scanned the cavern, her ears alert for any telltale footfalls of guards approaching the fray.

Wiping her spear point on its vest, Lalyani stood over its corpse and knew that the great crone ...


* * *

... rested a little easier in her grand chair. Daubed head-to-toe in white and red clay, the old woman rocked back and forth. Little more than a skeletal figure, a shawl of antelope pelt cloaked her. Her fierce eyes commanded respect once they opened and focused on the young warrior. The great crone summoned her with a gesture of her message stick. A man's head was carved onto the handle of her stick. It was whispered that it was through him that the gods spoke to her.

"Lalyani." The great crone demanded an austere reverence, one for pomp and pageantry with an ill temper for poor manners and hasty words.

"Mistress." Lalyani resented the bowing and scraping of her assumed tone.

"I want you to kill a man for me."

Lalyani demonstrated nothing approaching surprise at the request. Men and women alike from all tribes and status sought her when their needs so required. "Mistress?"

"Harlaramu. Blood demands vengeance."

"If I may ask, whose blood cried out?"

"As it was whispered to me, Harlaramu suffered from pains in his head so strong, thoughts were harassed from his mind. Only his personal guard, the Krys, seemed safe around him. One day, driven mad from his pain, he shut his favorite wife into a cave alone except for a cow dung fire so that he might watch her tortured expressions while she suffocated to death. Later that night, he raped his daughters and fed them to crocodiles. Yet the maddening headaches still torment him." The great crone reached for her cup of wine and drank deep but with all due deliberation. Lalyani hated the way she had to wait on the great crone's performances. "I trust you knew of the creature that stalked our kraal? The beast comes for me. The weapon of Harlaramu."

"Ah, so it's a game of kill him before he kills you," Lalyani said with a smirk.

"You are too stiff-necked. Your insolent tongue will be your undoing."

"Until then, it amuses me," she said over a mildly derisive laugh.

"I hope your son will be equally amused."

Lalyani's eyes focused into a dagger's gaze. "What say you of my son?"

"No more jokes?" The crone brushed her hair to the side. "Despite the huffing of the chief, your son will be raised as one of our own. He will follow The Path, and perhaps he won't stumble as his mother and father did. He will be the pride of the tribe and will one day lead it to great heights. I will see to his education personally. Once you accomplish your task."

Lalyani parsed the choice before her. She asked for nothing, depended on nothing, and she expected nothing. All she had was honor and duty. She hated to depend on others — a man, an employer, the world — where she'd be tied to life. When things become precious to her, she was always on guard against someone snatching it from her; or worse, she herself destroying it. Life became about fear of losing. And the compromises she made in order to keep what she had. Better to stay unattached. Free. A tribe of one.

Lalyani nodded.

"You remember how to use the charms." The woman handed Lalyani what appeared to be a bone wrapped with twine.

"Yes, mistress." Lalyani held the talisman to her ear. It hummed with the pulse of magic.

"Good, for unprotected, I'd be sending you to certain death."

"The night is my ally and stealth my trade, mistress."

"I trust in your ability to remain silent."

"How will you know if I succeed?"

"These bones will know. And you'll be free. You will be of the Baluba tribe, one of the forgotten, and one day, you may even lead those nomads."

Dismissed, Lalyani ...


* * *

... crept up the earthen stairs. Weeds sprang up through cracks in the crushed rock that formed the pathway. The cloying moisture of the stones formed a stark dankness with malefic odor. Torches lit the way through the cavern. The walls closed in on her, the passageway narrowing such that only one body could pass at a time. If she knew fear, she pushed it down into the deepest part of her. It was easier for her to act rather than worry, especially in defense of her own. Even if her own would never know of her actions.

Stones steeped in shadows formed the portico of the temple. A series of caged, chattering monkeys screeched in alarm at her approach. Lalyani cursed and then plunged into the deeper shadows of the temple proper. The main chamber was a huge cavity the color of teeth, the walls smooth as if hewn from a single block of marble. From her hiding perch, Lalyani had full view of the passing processional.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus. Copyright © 2017 Maurice Broaddus. Excerpted by permission of Rosarium Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Past

Warrior of the Sunrise 15

Rite of Passage 25

Ah Been Buked 35

A Soldier's Story 44

Shadow Boxing 53

Present

The Ave 65

Family Business 73

Read Me Up 87

Cerulean Memories 94

The Volunteer 101

Futures

The Electric Spanking of the War Babies (with Kyle Johnson) 115

Pimp My Airship 126

The Valkyrie 138

Voices of the Martyrs 149

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