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Episode 012
Winds of Fire

Winds of Fire

3607 BC


“Flint, my sweet, blessed child, you have your whole life ahead of you. Everyone provides for our village, and in turn the village provides for us. We are blessed by the Father in heaven and the great Mother Earth. Let me show you everything Brynhass has to offer.”

Chess held her son’s hand and walked through the open fields. Today was an exceptionally beautiful day, as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The sun was hot, but a cool breeze kept them just the right temperature. The wind rippled across the grass and brought with it the smell of flowers. The sound of friendly chatter and children laughing carried with the wind. Chess and Flint had left their sandals behind, letting the warm blades of grass slip between their toes. They crossed a stream and soaked their feet in the cool water. After climbing a small hill, they had a view of the entire village of Brynhass.

“Everything you see around you is Brynhass, my son,” said Chess. “Our sheep graze freely in our fields while our shepherds keep away the wolves.”

Hundreds of sheep roamed the rolling grass hills. There were only a few patches of trees here and there, as most of the forest had been cut down for firewood. It was safer this way.

“You have many older brothers and sisters, my son,” said Chess. “All of them have chosen different paths, yet all of them are happy.”

Flint was no more than four years old, but that did not mean Chess was a young woman. Far from it. She had more strands of gray hair than she did blonde. Flint was Chess’s eighth child to survive—a miracle—and little did anyone know but she was blessed with another baby in her womb. As they stood on the hill watching the villagers go about their daily routine, she held her tummy with her left hand and her child with her right.

“Many find peace and joy looking after the sheep. You’ll be running over the fields all day, and when it is hot like today, you’ll shear their wool.”

“Do my brothers shear the sheep?” asked little Flint.

“Yes, my child. Two of your brothers have dedicated themselves to tending the sheep. Your sisters help the maidens of the village gather the wool and spin it into yarn. With their gift of wool, we are able to make clothes and blankets that keep us warm in the cold winter months.”

Several large men walked past them, carrying woven baskets in both arms. They walked along the top of the hill, before dipping down into another shallow valley. A creek trickled over rocks, where several men gathered around clay domes. The smell of fire and ore filled their nostrils as they approached. Several men pounded the rocks with mallets, breaking them into small chunks, while others pounded the small rocks even further until there was nothing left but a green powder.

“If you so desire, you could join our smiths,” said Chess. “Only the strongest men can gather the green stones, and when their baskets are filled, they bring them here.”

Men gathered around the clay domes with billows made of sheepskin and blew air inside from below. Black clouds of smoke puffed out of the chimneys. Some of the clay domes leaked red-hot liquid that froze onto the ground, where other men scooped it up with wooden tools.

“From the green stone we make copper, which can be molded into knives, tools, sewing needles, and spear tips.”

“I like the fire, Mama,” said little Flint as he stared at the molten metal flowing from the side of the clay kiln.

“Maybe that is where your true calling lies, my child.”

Chess walked along the fields, leaving the metal workers behind them, and followed the stream down to the valley where it entered the river. All of the little streams that made up Brynhass merged into the river. The water was low enough to cross with ease, but in the spring and fall it became too turbulent to cross barefoot. The edge of the river was filled with men casting nets into the water. As they pulled the nets out, they dragged fish from the water. Young boys untangled the fish from the nets and threw them into woven baskets before the men cast the nets back into the river.

“Look at that, my child.” Chess pointed to the old man standing on the side of the river. “The chief has come down to observe our men hard at work.”

Chess led her son by the hand and walked up to the chief, who turned to greet them.

“Good day to you, Chess,” said the chief. His long white beard and hair hung over his tanned and freckled chest and shoulders. The weather was warm enough that he wore only leather pants. Like everyone else in Brynhass, he was barefoot.

“Good day to you, Father,” said Chess. “This is my youngest, Flint.”

The chief knelt down and smiled at her son. Everyone in the village called the chief their father. It was a long-standing tradition of the people of Brynhass.


“And how are you doing today, young man? Has your mother shown you around the village?”

“Yes, Father,” said little Flint. “My mama says I can do anything I want in the village.”

“You surely can, young man. Once you grow up. How many seasons have you been around now?”

“I’m four years old,” said Flint.

“Four? Already?” The chief laughed as he spoke to Flint. “Why, I was already carrying baskets of ore when I was your age.”

“Mama says only strong men can carry the rocks.”

“Well, you look pretty strong to me,” said the chief. “What do you think you’ll want to do to help out our community?”

“I want to be a warrior,” said Flint. “Like the stories you tell around the campfire.”

“A warrior,” said the chief, standing up. “Well, you definitely have the right attitude to be a warrior. But I’d like to see you work your way up. Why don’t you start off by carrying sheep wool from the fields to the huts? That will build your muscles. It takes great strength to be a warrior.”

Chess laughed with the chief, but little Flint kept his serious look, never breaking a smile. The scent of fire was strong, and Chess looked up at the sky.

“The kilns are burning strong,” she said. “Are we burning the fields today?”

“Not today,” said the chief. “It’s too hot out.”

Chess looked up at the sky. “What is wrong with the sun?” she said. “I’ve never seen it that red before.”

The chief looked up at the sky, and his smile faded away. “You’re right. That is unusual for this time of year.”

Chess walked to the top of the hill, hoping to catch a breeze, but the air smelled even more like smoke. The blue sky was now a hazy white, and the once-yellow sun was now blood red.

“Is everything all right?” she asked.

“No,” answered the chief. “That isn’t right at all. That is a bad omen. Forgive me, but I must speak with the elders.”

The chief left Chess and her son on the top of the hill, and she looked off to the west. The horizon was so hazy she couldn’t make out the forest, and the smell of smoke was getting stronger.


“What’s happening, Mama?” asked little flint.

The white haze turned black and swept across the fields, bringing with it sparks and ash. With the smoke came riders—people fleeing as fast as they could. Some ran on foot, carrying their children.

“It’s a fire, my son,” whispered Chess. “But do not worry. The fire can’t spread through the fields.”

As the riders fleeing the fire passed her, she noticed something that shook her to the very soul.

“There are no men,” she mumbled. “What’s going on?”

“Mama. My hand. You’re squeezing my hand.”

Chess looked down at her son, then bent down to pick him up.

“They’re coming,” cried one of the women fleeing on horseback.

Chess spun around to ask her who was coming, but the rider was already long gone. As the others fleeing the fire rode past her, all of them cried out, and some warned the others.


“They’re right behind us.”

“Get out of here.”

She had no idea who or what was chasing these people, but she knew better than to stick around. Gripping her young son in her arms, Chess ran across the fields. The sky was now hazy with smoke, and red and brown clouds blotted out the blue sky. Her lungs burned with smoke. She felt like the slowest runner in the village as people ran past her on both sides and horses galloped past everyone.

The sheep in the fields ran in every direction, and the dogs that guarded the village barked incessantly. Every child cried at once, filling the air with a terrifying chaos that made it feel like the world itself was coming to an end.

“Mama? What’s happening?”

Before Chess could answer, a horse sped past. It was the first horse to go running towards the fire, and after a moment, several more ran over the hill in front of her. She stopped to catch her breath and turned around for the first time.

“They’re warriors, Mama,” said Flint. “Like the stories.”


Chess knelt down and coughed. Her chest hurt from breathing in the smoke, and she was exhausted from sprinting. She watched as the brave men of Brynhass mounted their horses and charged at whatever it was that was chasing them.

She put her son on the ground for only a split second, and never thought anything of it. But her son bolted from her arms, following the warriors.

“Flint!” She shouted. “Flint! Come back here!”

Chess followed her son back through the fields. The sky was now brown, and the sun was so dim that she could stare directly at it without hurting her eyes. The heat was overwhelming, and she dripped in sweat. Then the men screamed, and it frightened Flint, who stopped dead in his tracks.

Just as Chess caught up to him and grabbed him in both arms, a rider in front of her fell off his horse with a scream. A rider burst from the haze with a spear and stabbed the man on the ground. He dug in the spear and twisted it into the warrior’s stomach before riding past Chess and her son.

At that moment, Flint started crying. It wasn’t a sad cry: it was a screaming cry, a sound Chess had never heard her son make before. She knelt down and held him as tightly as she could.

“It’s okay, my son,” said Chess. “I’ve got you. Nothing’s going to happen to us.”

But as Flint cried, another brave warrior from Brynhass was struck down from his horse. The young man stumbled up again with a dagger in his hand, but another strange rider galloped past, skewered him with a spear, and left it buried in the man’s chest.

“Back to the village!” shouted one of the warriors, but a death cry quickly silenced him too.

Chess shut her eyes and hushed her crying child. The sound of screams and falling bodies filled the air. The smell of fire and smoke burned her nostrils. She rubbed Flint’s back with her right hand and hushed him with soft whispers.

“Burn it to the ground!”

Chess opened her eyes and saw the enemy riders carrying torches. They rode past the fields and set fire to the huts. More screams came as people ran out of the burning buildings. Some of them were on fire themselves. But the most chilling sound came from the enemy soldiers who laughed as innocent men and women were killed.

Chess dared not run, for her movement would trigger a deadly response. All she could do was watch in horror.

The sun was blocked out by a shadow that moved across the field and stopped above her. Chess looked up to find an old man sitting on his horse with a spear pointed at her face.

“Please,” cried Chess. “Please don’t kill us.”

She looked down at her son and gripped him tightly in both arms, waiting for the inevitable. But the fatal blow never came. When she looked up again, she made eye contact with the old man. He had long white hair, and a long red beard speckled with gray. His face was wrinkled, but his eyes were fierce. They were the eyes of a wolf that hunted its prey… but as she looked at him, something in his face changed. His eyes widened in recognition.

“Take this one,” he shouted to his men.

Another rider jumped off his horse and snatched Flint from her arms. Chess fought and punched and clawed, but her son was ripped away. She screamed and cried, but they would not listen.

Another man wrapped his arms around Chess, wrestled her to the ground, and pinned her under his weight until she stopped fighting. When another man came to help, they grabbed her by both arms and wrapped a rope around them. She was then tied to the back of a horse.

The chaos continued for the rest of the afternoon as Chess waited, a prisoner. The fires burned their village to the ground. Every fighting man was killed, their bodies left in the fields. Every child and woman was gathered up, tied together, and towed away behind horses.

Her life was completely uprooted, and Chess was hoping to wake up from some terrible nightmare. But the nightmare continued all day. Dozens upon dozens of women, all tied together, were forced to march barefoot across the fields and through forests. They were dragged across streams and rivers.

Chess kept looking for her children. It wasn’t until nightfall, when everyone was forced to sleep on the ground without a fire, that Chess found two of her daughters. But she was unable to speak with them because they were too frightened to talk. They fell asleep only because they were exhausted, and when they awoke the march continued. All day, they were dragged behind the horses. The long caravan of tears brought them to a great river.

The old man, their leader, sat on his horse at the edge of the turbulent water and pointed. Each horse trotted down to the banks, entered the water, and swam across, dragging the long chain of women and children behind them. The women were tall enough to keep their footing, but the younger ones were almost swept away. If not for their bindings, they would have drowned in the water. When they made it across, they continued their march for the rest of the day.

“Welcome to your new home,” the old man said to the prisoners as they approached a settlement on top of a hill. “Welcome to Kurhass.”

A hundred men, women, and children gathered around the strange village, watching the prisoners get dragged up the grass hill. Chess’s feet were sore and bleeding. Her hands were red from the rope, and her lips were cracked from dehydration. She could feel the salt stains tighten her cheeks where her tears had dried in the hot sun. She looked at the people watching her and saw that many of them looked sad. Only a few young men had smiles on their faces. Unfortunately, Chess knew what that meant.

“Gather around, men,” said the old man on his horse. “Your chief brings gifts.”

The enemy warriors who’d kidnapped them got off their horses and lined up around the captured women. Chess recognized every one of them. She looked around for her son but couldn’t find any of the children. She did notice that all of the local woman watching them wore matching looks of disgust. Yet none of them said a word. This village was strange. It didn’t seem as happy as Brynhass. The people looked like prisoners. And their houses were very close together. The sound of whimpering, exhausted women filled the otherwise quiet village.

“Due to the bravery of our young men,” shouted the old chief on his horse, “we have brought home a bounty that will replenish our village. More wives to bear our children.”

The young men cheered and stepped forward.

“The brave men who came with us today shall have their pick first,” said the old man on his horse. “Toor. You killed the most men. You will choose before all of the others.”

A young man with black hair and a black beard stepped forward. His chest was covered in dried blood, yet he had no visible wounds. He walked right up to Chess’ eldest daughter, took her hand, and pulled her out of the line.

“No!” shouted Chess. “That’s my daughter. You cannot take her.”

Her daughter pulled back for a split second but ultimately submitted to the young warrior. Chess was in anguish. She felt more helpless than the time her second and fourth children had died as infants. She screamed and cried and dropped to her knees. Some of the girls around her helped her back to her feet. And when she finally regained her composure, she saw the women of the village turn their heads in abhorrence. Some of them turned and walked away. Even the elders of Kurhass shook their heads. But the young men, the strong men, waited in line to take their brides.

“Thank you, Chief,” said one of the warriors as he took his bride from the lineup of prisoners.

The line got smaller and smaller, but none of them took Chess. She was much older than most of the other girls. Only then did she realize the truth. She was the eldest by far. Why was she still alive?

“You will spend the evening with Elder Lolo,” said the evil chief of Kurhass. “I will make sure your son is brought to his hut.”

An old man, hunched over and wrinkled with time, came out to meet the chief.

“Elder Lolo, take this young woman to your hut. Make sure she is fed and cleaned.”

That evening left a terrible scar on Chess’s memory, one that rivaled the initial attack on her peaceful village. Corralled into the old man’s hut, she heard the whales and whimpers of her fellow sisters echo from the huts of the village.

“What are you going to do with me?” Chess asked the old man.

“I’m going to let you sleep, young child,” he said.

Chess looked around the hut for a weapon she could use to overpower the elder. Meanwhile, the cool air of night was seeping through the entrance, so Lolo lowered the hide curtain. The fire in the center of the round hut burned a pile of wood that cracked and sent sparks up into the dome ceiling, where the smoke seeped through gaps in the roof. The yellow firelight brought warmth to Chess, but the sound of her sisters crying in the background sent shivers down her spine.

“Take this, young child,” said the elder, as he laid out a fur blanket on the dirt floor. “You need rest.”

“Why are you doing this? Why did you take us?”

“I did not take your child,” said Elder Lolo. “This is not what I wanted. None of this is what I wanted.”

“Then why did you kill my brothers and sons?”

Chess knew the old man was distracted. As soon as his guard was down, she planned to make her move. She just had to wait for the right opportunity. An antler next to the fire would do. If she ran, she could pick it up, stab the old man, and break out of the hut. But the old man never turned his back to Chess.

“Our village was not like this before,” said Lolo. “We were a peaceful village. Before he took over.”

“The old man?” asked Chess. “Your chief?”

“Our chief is dead,” said the elder. “He was murdered by an outcast. Long ago, before I had any gray, a young man brought great shame upon his family and was cast out of our village. We thought he was gone forever. But he returned, and he brought many young men with him. They killed our chief and destroyed our way of life.”

“The outcast,” said Chess. “The old man who spared my life. Is that your chief?”

“Chief… peh. A fraud. Impostor. Levi is his name. We are all prisoners here. Just like you.”

“Not like me. My family is dead. He killed my sons. Killed my husband. All the men of my village are dead.”

“That is not unlike what happened to Kurhass,” said the elder. “Many years ago, when Levi returned to our village, anyone who stood against him was slaughtered like an animal. Their wives and daughters were taken by his men. Ever since, our village has been ruled by his violence.”

Lolo quickly jolted upright and shushed Chess when they heard a rustling at the front of the hut. A young warrior stepped inside and dragged with him a young child.

“Flint!” cried Chess.


Chess and Flint ran together and hugged next to the fire. The warrior dropped the curtain and left the hut. Chess held her son tight and cried with him in her arms. She inspected him to make sure he wasn’t injured and breathed a deep sigh of relief when she saw he was okay.

“You’re lucky,” said Elder Lolo. “I’ve never seen Levi treat anyone with such mercy.”

“What do you mean?” asked Chess.

“You are older than all of the other woman captured. Your son was returned to you. And he let you stay with me instead of handing you off to one of the young, eager warriors. Why on Earth would Levi spare you?”

“I’m not sure,” said Chess. “There is nothing special about me.”

“There is something,” said Elder Lolo. “You might not see it. But Levi surely does. Otherwise, he would not have spared your life.”

That night, Chess slept on the fur blanket with her son in her arms. The sound of girls crying echoed through the night. It was a nightmare, but Chess had a newfound strength. Before speaking with Elder Lolo, she’d thought she was all alone amongst barbarians who would strike her down like a fox. But she knew now that she had more allies. Thoughts of mourning and sadness were quickly replaced by thoughts of revenge and retribution. When she fell asleep, she had a smile on her face.


She was going to kill the bad chief Levi.



The next morning, Chess woke up to the sound of men shouting. Something was happening outside.

“Come with me, young child,” said Elder Lolo. “We mustn’t anger the chief. Your son has to come too.”

Chess and her son begrudgingly walked outside and saw the captured women from her village lined up around the communal fire. They wore the look of violated women, and their new husbands stood behind them.

“You came from another village,” said Chief Levi. “But your old village is gone. Turned to ash. This is your home now. This is your family. Your children are the children of Kurhass.”

The chief walked around the group and stared at each woman for several moments before moving on to the next.

“Your skills, your trades—they are ours. The more useful you are to us, the better your life will be. I know you can sew. I know you can cook. I know you can make metal. If any of you want to be treated better than you were last night, step forward and tell me what you can do for Kurhass.”

No one answered the old chief. The women shivered in fear and refused to bring attention to themselves. But there was one woman in the group who was not afraid.

“I can make ale,” said Chess, as she stepped forward. “I can also make cheese.”

The old chief looked at her and smiled.

“I knew I saved you for a reason,” he said as he walked right up to her. His missing teeth distorted his smile, and his breath stank like a rotting piece of fish. His white beard was stained yellow under his nose. “Tell me: what else does your village know?”


“We can make metal, and we can make clothes. We can fish. All of us share the same skills.”

The chief looked at the frightened women and laughed.

“I told you Brynhass was worth our blood. The skills we take from them will make our village stronger than any other along the Great River. I’m going to put you in charge of the other women. You will teach our people the skills of your village. You will make us ale; you will make us cheese.”

The old evil chief smiled at chess, holding his glare over her for quite some time. “You remind me of someone I knew a long time ago,” he said. Then he dismissed the village.

Over the next several weeks, the women were put to work. They were forced to sew, forced to cook, and forced to teach everything they’d learned back home to the men and women of Kurhass. They made pots by taking the woven baskets made by Kurhass women, lining them with clay, sealing them tight, and making them waterproof. Chess gathered the wheat and oats and loaded the pots with water. She instructed them to bury the pots in the cool earth so the wheat could ferment into ale.

When the brew was ready, she presented it to the chief, who took the first drink. He was so impressed with the concoction that he shared it with all of his men, and that night they all drank around the campfire, laughing and sharing tales of their conquests.

One night after almost the entire village fell asleep drunk around the campfire, Elder Lolo sat down beside Chess.

“You’ve become quite a popular member of the community.”

“This isn’t my community. My community was burned to the ground. Their bodies are still lying in the fields of Brynhass.”

“That may have been true at one time, but now Kurhass is your home.”

Chess could not stomach that thought, so she stood up and retired to the hut. She was normally very polite to Elder Lolo, but she was starting to see that he was part of the problem. There might be a faction of people in Kurhass who did not support Levi’s reign of terror, but they weren’t doing anything to stop it. In her mind, that made them guilty by association.

The next day, as most of the young men slept in, the women and children got up alone and tended to their chores. It was the only time she heard the laughter of the young women and children captured from Brynhass. It was the only time their slave masters were not watching over them.

“Can we help you, Chess?” asked one of the maidens stirring the clay pot of ale.

“I’ve come to make sure this next batch will be fit for our new chief,” said Chess. “The last batch was too sour, and he liked the older one better.”

“But we made it the same way we do every time. It’s the way you showed us.”

“The weather is changing, and with the colder nights we need to add more to the brew. That’s how we used to do it in Brynhass.”

The young woman stirring the ale let Chess add her ingredients. It was a powder of purple flowers that Chess had gathered during her first few days in Kurhass. For the last two months, she had held this dried purple powder in a satchel around her waist. If anyone had caught her with it while the flower was in season, they might have caught on to her plan. But by now, most would not even give it a second thought.

Two nights later, when the chief and his young warriors gathered around the fire, they drank their ale and shared stories about their conquests, just like before. As the ale was shared and passed around, Chess slowly moved from girl to girl, sitting down next to each one in turn.

“Do not drink the ale tonight,” she whispered to each of them.

The girls all respected Chess and were frightened by their new captives. So most silently nodded. Only a couple gave her trouble.


“Why not?” asked Hela.

Chess didn’t know how to convince her without raising suspicion, so she came up with a lie.

“It’s not good for the baby,” answered Chess.


By the end of the night, the entire batch of specially prepared brew had been drunk by the chief and his closest men. Only one of the young captive women from Brynhass had ignored Chess’s plea and drunk the ale.

Just like every other night, the men passed out around the fire while the women, children, and elders retired to their huts. The sound of snoring put most of the village to sleep, but Chess lay wide awake in her bed… listening and waiting. For the first half of the night, she thought something was wrong, that her plan had failed somehow. Her alertness faded, and her eyes closed. But before she completely drifted off to sleep, the sound of vomiting and dry heaving woke her up.

The villagers, however, had heard the sound of the men throwing up their drink all too often, and they thought nothing was out of the ordinary. They did not know about the foxglove flower—the secret ingredient added to the ale.

The next morning, Chess woke up to the sound of screaming. She took her time putting on her clothes before stumbling out of her hut. Most of the villagers were desperately trying to shake the men awake, but their pale skin and blue lips told the ugly truth.

“They’re all dead,” said Elder Lolo. “How could this have happened?”

“It looks like they drank too much,” said one of the men of Kurhass.

“I don’t know,” said one of the elder women. “It looks like they froze out here.”

“They probably drank too much and then froze,” said another.

Chess kept her mouth shut. As she looked around at the women captured from Brynhass, she noticed they were all looking at her. But not one of them said a word.

And then she realized. Even though they’d been captured and brought to this foreign place, this was her home now, and this was her community. These people were her family.

Their children were the children of Brynhass.

But would killing the chief and young warriors erase the evil done here?


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