The battle raged on. Mankayo lost two of his men. His party of six was now down to four. Dirt kicked up all around them. Sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lips as he pressed hidden into the old oak. A young mother had been struck down in the battle, her child laying beside her in the dirt, seeping red. He could see the little one was sobbing in the open field between their wood line and the Elitists property line. The welcome committee had not been exactly as Mankayo had hoped. They had come out with weapons similar to the traders, only theirs would not stop firing.
“Cover me!” he cried out. “I need to get the child!”
Balam stopped him, “Your Highness, you will die if you leave your cover!”
“God will protect me, Balam, but I will not leave that child to the beasts of the wild. Letting another suffer so I may escape, is not who I am.” He slapped Balam on the shoulder, and took off on a dead run, zigzagging to avoid being shot. When he reached the child, he dived, grabbed the child, and rolled into safety behind a large pile of rocks.
Gunfire kicked up dirt and chipped the boulders. He held the child close as he cried for his mother. “Shh, I am going to try and get you out of here safely. What is your name, son?”
“Vincent Michaels III, Sir of the Elitist clan Mulholland.” Mankayo looked at the child. His mother had been very fair skinned, but he was the color of his morning coffee. He frowned.
“How old are you, child?”
The child counted on his fingers. “I’m four revolutions.” Mankayo narrowed his eyes as he dug deep in his memory. Since becoming the leader of the Rebellis, he had been introduced to so many different types of languages, he sometimes had to think for a moment. Suddenly a door opened in his mind. The earth orbited the sun and one orbit around the sun was called a revolution. That revolution took one year, so the boy was four years old.
“Why are they shooting at you?”
“The clan chased Daddy into the badlands a while ago. Momma wanted to be with him, so she ran away. She married outside the clan. Daddy was a Land Dweller of the Redwood Clan. He wanted momma to move away from Grandma and Grandpa and move to his clan. They called him Tarzan, and said they would not allow him to make us Jane and Boy.”
Mankayo had read the adventures of Tarzan in the books his clan had found in the library buildings. He didn’t believe that was the kind of life the father had planned for his wife and son. He was building an opinion of the Mulholland clan, and it wasn’t a very pleasant one. The boy started shivering as another burst of gunfire spread across the meadow. There was a wood line 100 yards in front of him. He knew the risks of running across an open space, but he dare not stay where he was. It endangered the child. He looked down at the child. “When I say; you wrap your arms tightly around my neck, and push your face into my chest. Try to hide the best that you can.”
“Going somewhere, Heathen?” Mankayo felt an unforgiving cold metal pressed against his spine. His mouth went dry and the grip on the young child tightened. He would die before he gave the child up to the same fate as his mother.
“Please, we mean you no harm. We are a party of explorers. We are on a recovery mission.”
“Looks like your mission ends here!” His opponent’s voice was hard and unforgiving. With a gasp the man reached for his neck, and then fell to his knees. Mankayo dared to look. Balam’s aim was true. The warrior had worn a Kevlar jacket and a helmet, but the arrow hit its carotid target and blood escaped. The man fell to his knees. The soldier’s companion came out of hiding and started shooting toward his men and a rapid exchange of gunfire went off around him. Terrified, he threw himself over the child, and felt the sting of stones hitting his bare arms and back. Wincing, he prayed for protection.
Mankayo heard the war cries of his own team mingle with the guns, and the thud of bodies hitting the ground. The child trembled as the battle raged on. He prayed continuously as the uncertainty of their fate grew. He swallowed to ease his dry throat. Then just as suddenly as it all started, the gunshots, pounding hooves, and sickening sounds of bodies falling stopped. Mankayo’s muscles tensed as he listened intensely. Silence. Was it safe for he and the child to move or were the enemy nearby ready to shoot at the first sign of life?
Anxious and uncertain, he could not stay there forever. “Mankayo, are you hurt?” Relief came over him as he recognized Goldring’s voice.
He rolled over, and accepted Goldring’s offered hand. His new friend lifted him to his feet, and he in turn lifted the child into his arms. “Still making friends, I see.”
Mankayo managed a smile, but his heart jumped to his throat when he realized there was nobody from his party. “My team?”
Goldring shook his head. “They fought valiantly, but their weapons just couldn’t stand up the Elitist Malitia.” He sighed, and put a hand on Mankayo’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, My friend.”
Mankayo collapsed on a rock. All of them dead. His friends. His team. His army. Gone. All gone. He dropped his head in his hands and spoke each of their names softly as if he was saying goodbye. Goldring kept a hand on Mankayo’s shoulder as he mourned his men. “I failed them.”
“No, your methods of war did. You need updated weapons and travel. We are putting down camp a mile into the woods from the south border. It is beyond the Elitist territory. I want to discuss things with you. For now I will leave you to say goodbye. I am leaving two soldiers with you, armed with our weapons. That should give you enough time to bury your men without conflict.” Mankayo nodded. Goldring gave commands to his men, and they headed out except for the ones he left behind.
Mankayo watched them leave, and went to where his men lay awaiting burial. Mankayo went to his pack, and pulled out an ax, and constructed a makeshift shovel. One by one, he lay his team to rest, each grave marked with a large stone and a wooden cross marked with their names. By the time he had tied the last cross together and posted it at the head of the last grave, he collapsed on a nearby boulder. He prayed for safe passage to heaven for his people. He placed his hands on the last stone. “Dear Balam.” He was emotionally drained. Never before had he lost even one man on an exploration trip. Things were getting on the trail. Weapons were more dangerous and deadly. He could not stand against an enemy with the kind of power he had seen today.
“Sir, it is getting dark.” One of the guards Goldring left behind stated. “We need to be getting to the rendezvous point.” “Of course.” He grabbed his bag and stood up. Darkness was coming. If they stayed, they could be ambushed, and they did not have enough firepower to face the Elitists. He followed the men into the woodline, Mankayo turned to look back once, and caught a glimpse of a glare in the wooded area behind the graves before it disappeared. He shook his head, and followed Goldring’s men onto a path, and started hiking to the clearing.