An explosive adventure-thriller set in 14th-century Africa, and in the 1970's bush war of Rhodesia-Zimbabwe.
Powerful characters who shaped their worlds: Tcana, daughter of a cattleherd, wife of a prince, high priestess of a new religion that will rip apart the ancient city of Tsimbaboue. American TV journalist Rebecca Rawlings, caught up centuries later in the remnants of Tcana's faith and a violent war of attrition. Peter Kennedy, commander of the famed Selous Scouts. His friend and right-hand man, Kuru. And Kuru's brother, Mandhla, trained as a top flight freedom fighter by the Russians. In this gripping tale of love and retribution, Mandhla stalks the woman he sees as the key to his revenge, just as surely as Peter and Kuru stalk the man known only to them by his nom-de-guerre: the Mamba.
"An unusual book in that it attracts the same applause from both men and women."
"The author's own intimate knowledge of Rhodesia makes this a powerful, fascinating read. The narrative is fast-paced and crisply told. The author writes with clarity and style. Above all, her novel melds many universal themes-love, hatred, religion, fear and rebellion-into one insightful, compulsive narrative." - BookWire
"The author interweaves multiple, strong, leading characters and two completely different time frames masterfully. Reminds me of some of the great works of Wilbur Smith. This book certainly ranks with some of the best that I have reviewed to date... Romance, adventure, suspense, ancient tribal history and modern day action-this book has it all!" - Lillian Brummet, Book Ideas
"... offers great insight into the hearts of people on all sides of the Rhodesian war. I especially liked the historical aspect and portrayal of the ancient city. Tcana's story is poignant, and the author pulls no punches. The characters are finely drawn and the story becomes compulsive reading." - Lucy McCarraher, Blood & Water, The Book of Balanced Living www.lucymccarraher.com
She wondered why she was still conscious, her mind still wandering, still fighting against the pain, the haze. The ancient amulet was like a vice on her arm, coiling cold above her elbow, the serpent’s head nestling flat against her flesh, blood spatter blinding one eye.
Words, a tune: “... these are the times when I know how alone one can be, and I yearn to go once again, back to my home down in...”
She could hear her father’s voice, singing the Belafonte ballad, but she couldn’t remember where home was.
The plump, dusty fingers reached out carefully and lifted the horny black beetle from the ball it was rolling. The dung was tight-packed and fibrous, a dry bunch three times the size of the persistent insect; the child set him down a foot away from his prize and watched him hunt frantically for a moment before he latched his clawed feet into the yellow manure again, pushing and clinging, flipping over as the ball rolled, now under it, now over it, in constant motion.
The child laughed with delight, her milky teeth glistening wetly. “Now you may go, Beetle, and take your food to your wife who will scold you if you’re too late. You must hurry!”
She laughed again as the beetle rolled the ball against a rock, re-orientated himself, and began his homeward battle once more.
“Xalise! I’ve been looking for you. Help me to fetch water — we’re late!”
The child looked up at her elder sister, then down at the pan in the girl’s hand. She pointed to the beetle. “He’ll be late too, and his wife will scold him.”
“Not as much as the Priest will scold me if I’m late! Come, Xalise, you know that today’s not like other days.”
Obedient, the child stood and took the proffered container. “Tcana, what will they do to you ... up there?” Fearfully she looked towards the Hill, and quickly away again.
“I don’t know, little sister. That’s why I’m going there — to find out.” Tcana turned and led the way swiftly down the path to the spring, where the water welled up clear and cold from inside the ground.
Xalise followed more slowly. She was afraid for her sister — and for herself; in eight years she, too, must go up the Hill.
She washed carefully, meticulously. Her mother helped; she was the only one permitted to do so, and it was the last assistance she would ever give her daughter with her toilet. Knowing this, Lila was slow, and Tcana became impatient.
“Mai, I’m late already. We must hurry!”
Her mother moved more quickly, drying Tcana with soft suede, and rubbing the calf-fat in gently to make the purple-black skin smooth and shiny. She understood her daughter, and knew she was afraid. When Tcana feared, she became impatient to find out what it was that frightened her, to face up to it, conquer it.
“There.” Lila straightened and stood back.
Tcana’s body gleamed in the last rays of the sun that filtered through the rough cloth at the windows; even her eyebrows were plastered flat against her forehead, like spiders in the rain.
The mother looked longingly at her child. She recognised suddenly that her daughter was beautiful — when had she become so? The tiny, chubby, dirty-faced, laughing urchin — when had she become a graceful buck?
Lila sighed, deftly slipping the white cotton robe over Tcana’s head and adjusting it to fall easily to the floor; in places it clung damply to the calf-fat. Cloth was expensive; the weaving looms were big and ungainly, the weaving itself tedious and time-consuming. Thus, woven cotton was prized in a fashion not unlike cattle. This traditional initiation gown was planned for from the moment a girl was born.
She lifted the hood over Tcana’s head and hesitated. Their eyes met, Tcana’s apprehensive and excited, her mother’s pained. She dropped her fingers to touch the girl’s cheek, stroking the line of the dove’s eyes, and deliberately smiled to ease the worry lines on her forehead.
“Remember, you must not speak, nor cry out, whatever happens. Whatever happens. Speak only when spoken to, until your hood is removed.”
Tcana nodded seriously. They had gone over this a thousand times — ten thousand. It was all her mother was permitted to tell her, and it was not enough, but Tcana knew it had to suffice. And it was this inadequacy that made Lila repeat the warning so often; there was nothing else she could say.
They both looked toward the Hill as the wailing began suddenly. It was the first wail, a high-pitched, thin, keening note, and as it died away the mother quickly slid the hood over her daughter’s head. They turned and walked to the other room, where Tcana’s father was waiting.
The fly rested its shiny blue-green bottom and began to salivate onto the blood, starting the digestive process before the food entered its stomach. The black bristles on its legs scraped on the dried brown clots, as it moved lazily forward, sucking and spitting and sucking, over the ragged skin and the dull white bone protruding from it.
Peter Kennedy watched the fly dispassionately for a moment, listening to the newest of his men retch in the bush behind them. How long, he wondered, how long since he had last done that? His gaze rose to the dirty white walls, caked with red-brown dust and spattered with blood. Elliott’s Mission. He looked down again at the fat, glistening fly. Elliott’s wife. His eyes travelled further. Elliott. And fifteen black kids, none of them yet in their teens.
He shook himself. “All right boys, we’re here to track. Let’s track. Wright, you lead.”
He looked at the white face of the latest recruit; the boy was shaking but trying bravely to ignore it. He was not, Peter noted wryly, looking at the bodies.