Mora is a character from my second soft science fiction novel, Swords and Symmetry. It is the back story that should be in your head, but not in your novel/story.
As the ogres charged towards her, Mora Atem, the warrior princess, side stepped and slashed her trusty sword across the throat of the first, spun on her heel, and drove the point into the chest of the second. When the imagined beasts had crumbled to the ground, Mora raised her sword over her head and screamed to the heavens, “For the old Gods,” then blushing from embarrassment she glanced around to see if anyone was close enough to have noticed.
Luckily, no one was. In fact, there was enough noise coming from the direction of the village to hide her scream, and make Mora wonder what was happening. She stepped out from behind the large bolder where she was playing to look down the long path leading to the huts and houses. A chase was on. Some village women were chasing something up the main street, screaming as they ran. The figure wasn’t more than five meters ahead of them as it left the village behind and started up the path towards Mora and the safety of the mountain behind her. It was starting to increase its lead. Mora shook her head to clear the imagination that was obscuring her vision and looked again. She suddenly knew what had happened because she recognized the escapee as a baboon.
These evil creatures snuck into the village about once a month to steal foodstuff or anything else they could find. Mora could see the bundle clasped in the crook of baboon’s arm, and she realized that this time the beast had found living food because she could hear the cries of the frightened infant in its wrapping. Fear gripped Mora.
Some eleven year old girls might have run away, because baboons are dangerous creatures, but not Mora. The baboon had its head down as it ran. It hadn’t seen her, so she ducked back behind the boulder, and took a two handed grasp on the handle of her wooden sword. It is a good sword, she told herself. Grandfather carved it for me.
She could hear the thumping of the baboon’s feet as it raced up the path. As the sounds came closer she pictured the beast, bent over, it’s free arm being used as a third support as it leapt along. Its head would still be down. She would have to strike at an upwards angle to avoid hitting the beast skull. Their skulls are hard, she reasoned, while trying to stay calm. The beast’s running sounds were close now, almost beside her.
Mora stepped forward, and swung her sword with all her strength, catching the beast across its face. Her sword broke. The baboon screamed – a nearly human sound – as the arm clutching the infant came up to protect the beast’s face. The bundle of baby flew free. Mora grabbed it up and held it to her chest as she turned, and started down the path to the safety of the village. She didn’t get more than three steps before the enraged baboon landed on her back. Mora collapsed with the babe beneath her. The baboon tore at the side of her face and neck with its terrible teeth. Mora passed out. She didn’t feel the blows the beast delivered to her body before it fled the screaming villagers as they bore down on it.
The first woman to reach the scene stopped beside Mora and looked around for her baby. Not seeing it, she was about to continue after the fleeing baboon, when she heard her muffled cries coming from below the bleeding body of the girl. As frantic as she felt, she was careful as she rolled the girls unconscious body off of the infant, and gathered the child to her chest. Exposed, the baby’s crying was voluminous; enough to raise the dead, but the girl’s battered body remained still.
When the women got Mora back to her home in the village, they tended to her wounds. The only doctor in the area was located at the clinic, a three day walk. No one thought the girl could make the trip, so they cared for her as best they could. They washed and treated the bites before they sewed them closed. A careful examination revealed two broken bones in the left arm, and three damaged ribs. These injuries the women could handle with splints and wrappings, but the ear, mangled by the baboons bite, was something no one had dealt with before. They did what they could.
Wani Atem, Mora’s grandfather, sat quietly by while the women worked. He was heartbroken, and could barely keep his tears from flowing, but at the same time he was also terribly proud. She had saved the babies life, of that there was no doubt. Saved it with that stupid wooden sword he had carved for her after she had pestered him for months. An eleven year old girl taking on a full grown baboon, it was no wonder she looked so bad. The women left and he released his tears. Get them out before she wakes up, he thought, because he had to present a confident face when she opened her eyes. Eventually the tears stopped, and he sat and prayed to the old gods and their messenger, the Smith, to help his brave granddaughter.
Mora awoke briefly a few times over the next two days until the infection from the filthy teeth of the baboon brought on a fever. For over a week, her grandfather bathed her body with cool water, and spooned sips of drinking water into her mouth. By the time the fever broke she was emaciated. Eventually she did awake, and her grandfather hid his tears again.
The story of Mora’s heroics soon spread outside of their small village. By the time Mora awoke, the story had been picked up by newspapers as far away as Kenya to the south and Egypt to the north. Mora was famous, but she didn’t know it, until two days after she awoke when a journalist and a photographer arrived for an interview. The pictures of the emaciated child with her body and face wrapped in bandages spread to even more news agencies. There was even a picture of Mora, with tears streaming from her eyes, as she lamented the loss of her wooden sword.
The reporter returned for a follow-up story two months after the first interview. This time he was accompanied by a doctor and a photographer. The doctor changed Mora`s bandages and examined the wounds in the privacy of her grandfather’s house. He proclaimed that the bandages should stay on for another two months, and that he would return at that time to remove them, and do a final examination if the newspaper was willing to pay again. This possibility must have already been discussed by the news agency because the reported agreed at once. Pictures were taken of Mora in her fresh dressings. The resulting news story reported that Mora`s arm would probably heal perfectly, and that she would be able to wield a sword again.
True to their word, all three men returned two months later for the unveiling. The porch bench was dragged out into the sunshine for the best lighting, and Mora sat quietly waiting for the bandages to be removed. With the camera recording, the newsman approached Mora carrying a long thin parcel wrapped in brown paper. He knelt beside her and announced to the camera and the villagers who had gathered for the spectacle.
“Mora, your story has touched the hearts of millions of people across Africa, but none more than Raft Berger, the president of the company Coldsteel of South Africa. Mr. Berger was extremely moved by your selfless actions, and he wants to present you with a gift suitable to your bravery.”
Mora watched as he slowly lowered the package to her lap. She couldn’t remember ever receiving a present like this before.
“Open it child” the reporter prompted.
Mora carefully removed the paper from the gift – paper was something to value – revealing a white cardboard box. Removing the lid of the box, Mora lifted out a blue-violet sack. The reported quickly removed the cardboard box and lid from her lap to make room for the bag. Laying it on her lap, Mora loosed the draw string at the end, and withdrew the most stunning black lacquered wooden scabbard. The handle of what could only be a sword protruding from it.
Mora had to wipe the tears from her eyes before she could continue. With shaking hands she eased the sword out of the sheath. It was the most beautiful sword she could ever imagine. The blade shone as it reflected the sunlight. Mora couldn’t believe how wonderful it looked and how natural the wrapped handle felt in her hand. The reporter, speaking more to the camera than to Mora, interrupted her amazement.
“This is the Emperor_O_Tanto Japanese style sword made by Coldsteel. Mr. Berger believed that it’s thirteen and one quarter inch carbon steel blade would be the perfect size for Mora. Now, let’s get those bandages off so you can swing that steel.”
The doctor moved in and Mora sat quietly while he removed the bandage from her chest first and then from her arm. He had her lift the arm and move it around; actions that resulted in murmurs of approval from the gathered villagers. Mora watched the anticipation on the smiling faces as the doctor unwrapped the bandage from her head to reveal her face. When the bandage fell away, so did the smiles. Some of the children turned aside as looks of pity crept over the faces. The doctor pushed and prodded Mora’s cheek and her ear then turned to her grandfather and said something. Mora was too stunned by the crowd’s reaction to understand what her grandfather was told; in fact she didn’t comprehend anything that she heard as she sat with eyes locked on the sword, waiting for this part to end.
Mora sat on her bed in her darkened room trying to shut out the sounds of the wedding celebration that was occurring two houses up the street. This one she hadn’t even been invited to. She could understand why, after all, she had punched the bride in the face three weeks ago after overhearing the comments about her scars and mangled ear.
She had been hearing statements like that for five years now, ever since the baboon incident. At first she had ignored them while concentrating on exercising her injured arm by swinging her beautiful sword. It had taken almost eight months before her arm recovered, and her sword strokes were back to what she imagined a warrior princess’s should be. During that time the scars on her face had lost their redness and freshness, but they would always be there, she had realized. Her mangled ear she could hide with the bandana she wore all the time now, the scars on her neck could be hidden by a scarf, but the scar on her cheek could not be covered over.
For the first year after the accident she had tried to ignore the cruel comments. She had laughed along with the others, trying to fit in, and be one with the herd, but it had hurt too much. Over the next three years she had worn her scars as a badge of courage (her grandfather’s idea), and kept to herself except for the time she spent with Ahmad, a friend of her fathers. Ahmed was a goat herder who had grown up with her father and mother. They had all gone to war together. Only Ahmed had returned.
Ahmed carried a sword of his own, a long broadsword, commonly carried by herders three or four decades ago, but not seen as much these days. It was used for protecting the herder and the herd from wild animals. Ahmed could use his well and had shown Mora how to handle hers. They had practiced together whenever he was in the village and had time, until Ahmed had admitted that she was as good as him, if not better.
Mora didn’t mind stopping the practice sessions because her interests had changed to other things. She was turning sixteen, had become a woman, and she had developed an interest in a young man. Most of the girls who were slightly older than Mora, and some of those her own age were already married, so Mora put away her sword, grew her hair to try to cover her cheek, and set out to capture the boy’s heart.
She laughed bitterly as she thought about it. What a fool she had been to think any man would be interested in her. Oh, he had played her along nicely until she spread her legs for him, and then he was gone. All he left behind was his laughter as it mingled with the snickers of his friends. Now here she was trying not to listen to the sounds of his marriage celebration as he wed that bitch.
Unable to take anymore, Mora grabbed her sword, tied it to her back, and stormed out of the house. She thanked the Smith that she didn’t have to pass the wedding to get to the mountain. Everyone else was attending the ceremony, so no one saw her as she stamped down the street and up the path. Up she climbed into the boulders of the mountain, cursing to herself, and not paying any attention to where she was, or what was around. Finally the excursion burned off her anger, her tears came, and she sunk down on a bolder, blind to everything except her misery.
She had stopped crying and was sitting quietly when she heard the sounds of something moving below her. Mora arose quietly. A troop of eight baboons was making its way over and around the boulders about twenty feet below her. She was closer than advisable to the troop, but not so close to be in immediate danger. Mora stayed as still as possible hoping the animals couldn’t hear her heart pounding in her chest as they cut diagonally in front of her. As the creatures moved further away, Mora started to think about escaping when she felt a soft breeze blow across her body. With the breeze came the realized that she was now upwind of the animals. The old male baboon leading the troop stopped, sniffed, and slowly turned his bulbous head towards Mora. Instead of continuing on, as she hoped he would, the beast turned fully towards her, and moved his head in a way that suggested he was trying to focus on her. The baboon growled, and another male leapt up onto the boulder beside him. As the rest of the troop settled where they had stopped, the two males advanced on her position.
Mora eased her sword from the scabbard on her back. The two males split apart as they drew closer. She chose to face the old male with the bad eye who stopped ten feet from her. Hoping her voice sounded strong, Mora spoke to the beast.
“So you old child stealer, we meet again. You will die this time, Ogre.”
With a howl, the beast launched itself at her.
Mora Atem, the warrior princess, side stepped and slashed her trusty sword across the throat of the charging baboon, spun on her heel, and drove the point into the chest of the second beast as it leapt forward. As the dying beasts crumbled to the ground, Mora raised her sword over her head and screamed to the heavens, “For the old Gods!” This time she didn’t blush.
The rest of the baboon troop watched as the girl’s sword flashed up and down. When she lifted the severed head of the old baboon to show them, they decided to continue their journey without contesting her superiority.
© Dave Skinner 2012