Sheltered from the pitiless sun under a woven palm awning, twenty-three men met and unknowingly determined the fate of this world.
Their meeting was necessary and inevitable because the rains hadn’t come for the last three years. Most of the grasses burned off and didn’t return after the drought’s second year causing almost all of their goats to die. The water springs, once the source of their wealth, now needed clearing every week as the water disappeared further down into the thirsty soil and the men had taken on the job of tossing dirt and stones out of the pond by hand in a vain attempt to loosen the spring and make it flow again.
The fronds on the date palms hung limp, and the desert grasses and scrub bushes had retreated into a brown, lifeless dormancy. The surviving goats had to scramble to find even the meanest thorn bush for grazing.
The tribe had lost half its children in the past year and the countryside was dotted with raised rock cairns marking their sorrow.
“Are we agreed,” asked the leader of the group. A solidly-built man, with the blackest of eyes, Atalan met their eyes, one by one, and returned their nods of agreement.
“We pack tonight and tomorrow we take the women and what remains of the herd to the lowlands and the great lake. They’ve refused us water in the past so instead we’ll take the fishing village and make it our own,” said Atalan. “We don’t need more mouths to feed as slaves so we kill the people. Or we can sell them to the slavers to eliminate the problem and make us money to help us while we learn how to fish.”
He met the eyes of his best friends Morduk and Liddun sitting opposite him in the circle, absorbed their silent nods, and nodded in return. “It has been decided,” said Atalan.