Fhomi sang a song as he crept between the trunks of two great arrow trees, far ahead of his tribe.
The warriors of his tribe would not be singing as the humans approached the site of the ambush, of course. Complete silence was required on their part to lure the human warriors into the trap. Fhomi had watched the brave men and women of his tribe set to work in the thick of the forest, laying the sharpened stakes in pits covered with moss. The archers had hidden themselves as high as they could go in the pines, and the spearwomen and spearmen disappeared amongst the trees.
As the fastest runner in the tribe, Fhomi had been given a higher honour than that of warrior on his song-day, which had only been four sun-cycles ago. He had been appointed as his tribe’s messenger.
As the fastest runner, it was also his honour to be the bait.
Fhomi had made his way through the Vohori Forest with confidence, knowing that the humans would not be as comfortable in the thick underbrush. Fhomi knew the paths of the wolves and the deer, the bears and the rabbits. He knew how to blend in amongst the thorny immopo bushes without drawing blood, and he could throw a stone between tree trunks that stood close together, flicking his wrist the way a cat catches a fish to stun his prey from afar.
Fhomi sang his song loudly as he went. It had taken Fhomi many years to learn the art of aahmm, the sing-and-listen, but not as many as some in his tribe. He wanted to be found by the humans who were blundering through the Vohori Forest, and he wanted them to pay for what they did. The song he sang was Rummaavo, the song of anger. The hama had no specific song for vengeance, at least not any tribe that Fhomi had ever met, but Fhomi figured it was because each revenge was unique. This revenge was a whole tribe seeking to make the humans pay for killing, raping or enslaving every last hama of their sister tribe. Fhomi could think of no other song to sing than the song of anger.
He remembered when he had first learned the song of anger. It was not a song taught to children; a warrior-in-training had to be mature enough to hear the truth behind the words, rather than just the feeling behind the singing. Fhomi and the other warriors-in-training would run up and down the big hill outside the summer village, singing the song of anger from deep in their bellies. Some would sing from their throats and the warrior-chief would punch them in the stomach to remind them what happened if you took a blow while holding air in the wrong place.
It was not the only song being sung. The gatherers would sing the song of tasks as they fetched roots and berries. The new mothers would sing songs of joy and life to their babies as they fed them. The hunters would sing the songs of the birds as they crept through the woods searching for prey. The children would run and play, singing the made-up songs of a new generation. Every word that passed from a hama’s lips was music and movement, sound and gesture, but the songs were part of a deeper thrum of life that pulsed through the tribe. They always made Fhomi feel as though he were a part of something eternal.
Once the sun was high in the sky they would fight each other in the purplegrass field. They were not allowed to hunt with anger in their lungs so they would practice their warcraft instead. The warrior-chief reminded them that there was a time and a place for anger, like any emotion, and anger was best reserved for war or games. If it was brought into other parts of life, it would overshadow the songs of joy and happiness, and a hama could become Mubhaar - one who lessens the songs of others.
As Fhomi crept up the crest of a mossy hill, he could hear the humans nearby, discussing something in a language full of clicking and clacking and snake sounds. Fhomi could feel his own fear; it made the hairs on his arms and neck stand up straight. The humans had better weapons, ones made of metal instead of stone, but Fhomi knew that the humans would soon be more afraid, so long as he managed to stay hidden but heard long enough to lure them to his tribe. Most humans were smaller and weaker than the average hama, and they would hopefully be caught unprepared and afraid. The humans had a different kind of fear from the hama, Fhomi had been told, but supposedly they were familiar with the feeling. They did not fear angering the gods by acting without honour, but they feared death greatly. For that, Fhomi was glad. He wanted them to be afraid as they died.
Fhomi could hear the humans fan out as they tried to surround him, but a hama knew how to project the voice to make it seem like they were somewhere else. He stopped singing and stopped moving for a moment. Some of the human footsteps stopped as well, and they continued their discussion in their hissing, unmusical voices.
“I know what you did, humans,” Fhomi whispered, loud enough to be overheard.
“The spirits of the forest will punish you through us, their mortal servants,” he said in a slightly different voice. He wanted to make it appear that two hama hunters were having a hushed conversation and would soon flee. He was relying on the humans’ gullibility, and their greed for more slaves.
He took several loud steps. A human shouted and Fhomi could hear the rest of the warriors pick up the chase.
He did not have to run fast to stay ahead of them. The humans wore heavier clothes because they were more sensitive to cold, and they were not comfortable in the thick of the forest. Even if Fhomi hadn’t been the runner for his tribe, he could have evaded the humans for as long as he liked. He wished that the Haouar tribe had been so fortunate. Fhomi deliberately made a lot of noise so that the humans, as deaf as they were clumsy, would continue the chase.
A familiar copse of greenspear trees appeared to Fhomi’s right, and he knew that he was close. He made a sound like a crow to signal the tribe. Not that he needed to; the archers would see them coming, and the whole forest could hear them blundering through the wood.
Then he slipped and fell.
Everything slowed down for a moment. Fhomi could see the world spinning as his body rushed downward. He could hear the archers loosing their first arrows. He could smell the moss covering the trap below him. He had enough time to contemplate how strange it was that he, the tribe’s most surefooted, had slipped and ruined the surprise of the traps. He wondered if it was the forest’s way of punishing the tribe for the holes they had dug in her.
The spikes in the bottom of the pit drove their way through his flesh, and Fhomi screamed. As his scream died away and searing pain shot through his arms, legs, torso and neck, Fhomi could hear the warriors of his tribe lift their voices in the song of anger as they attacked the humans. He realized that he was still alive, but he would not be for long. His whole body urged him to scream, but instead he joined his voice to that of the warriors of his tribe.
As Fhomi shut his eyes, listening to the dying screams of the humans and the blood bubbling past his lips, the song could be heard above it all. Fhomi continued to sing, adding his voice to the song of anger, an eternal part of the musical tapestry that Fhomi knew as ‘life’.
Fhomi was determined to die the way all hama were meant to: with a song on his lips.