“I’m not going anywhere!” said Esmeralda and slammed the heel of her palm on the table like an Arcasian woman.
“I don’t think it’s up for debate,” Dr. Linnaeus told her in a calm voice while poring over his notebook. “Orders came from the top.”
“Well then you just have to tell the old man to shove it because I’m staying and finishing the job that I was hired to do. I don’t need daddy watching over me.”
“Look, if it were up to me, then-”
“Oh please. Tell me Dr. Linnaeus, how do you plan to gather drone data without a pilot?”
“I’m not so bad, am I?”
“Ha! Atrocious! I’m not going anywhere, and that’s the all there is to it.”
A sudden commotion outside drew their attention. They listened and heard women shouting.
“Now what?” said Esmeralda rolling her eyes.
Before the professor could stop her, she bounded towards the door.
Too late, the girl flung open the door and stepped outside. No sooner had she done so than a group of women surrounded her with spears at the ready and grabbed her by the hair.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” shouted Dr. Linnaeus, rushing to intervene.
Three women blocked his path and held him back. Then grabbing him by the arm, they commanded him to “move!”
“Where are you taking us?” he asked them, but the women simply hauled them into the jungle without saying a word.
They came up to the village and entered the courtyard, where the inhabitants had gathered in a circle. In the middle of the circle, stood the tall imposing figure of the young girl called Kirn, her hand enclosed around a 12-foot pole. Her body was painted with abstract patterns, almost entirely nude save for the adornment of flowers and vines interlaced around her breasts and mound of Venus. In the evening light, her hair shone in brilliant hues, adorned with a crown of hummingbird feathers glistening like flames. A dark band was painted across her face like a mask, accentuating her piercing green eyes.
Esmeralda took a few steps closer, her back arched with exaggerated poise, and facing the girl, she shouted, “what is the meaning of this!? We were working in our homes. We were at peace in our home doing our chores. Then your fighters come with weapons drawn to disturb our tranquility. Explain this, Kirn of the Fang clan.”
“Do not speak my name, foreign whore,” retorted the girl, thumping the ground with her pole. The onlookers also thumped their spears and staffs. “I am no longer Kirn of the Fang clan, I am no longer a girl, I am woman, and my name is Sanai!”
Thump! Thump! Thump!
“I don’t care what you want to call yourself, squirt. I want you to explain why you brought us here.”
“I am a woman!” shouted the girl now called Sanai. Then pointing her pole at Dr. Linnaeus, she said, “And I need a man. A man who will tend the garden, carry water, and feed my children. I choose you, Skyman.”
“Woe, woe, woe,” said the professor waving his arms.
Esmeralda stepped in front of him and said, “He is my property. You cannot have him.”
The villagers thumped their staff.
“Then we will fight!” shouted Sanai.
“We will fight!”
“We will fight!”
The crowd roared with a warlike cry of elation and thumped the ground some more.
The old shamanness called Innana walked towards Esmeralda. Strings of colorful beads and small lizard skulls draped her face. Then chanting a series of incoherent words, she handed Esmeralda a long pole. The staff was more than twice her height, and from the looks of it, it took great effort on her part to hold it upright.
The professor and his assistant had witnessed the ritual before and knew it could be quite brutal. It consisted of a choreographed display of aggression in which each duelist took turns taunting and attempting to strike the other. On the first turn, the challenger would try to hit her opponent with the pole. The opponent was only allowed to defend herself, not strike back. Once three hit attempts had been made, attacker and defender switched roles.
The ritual was used to settle scores, avenge insults, resolve grudges, military exercises, or- as was currently the case- pry men away from each other.
“Esmeralda, listen to me,” said Dr. Linnaeus. “You don’t know the moves. They can be quite dangerous.”
“Don’t worry professor,” she said reaching back and tying her long hair with a red ribbon, “I’ve got some deadly moves of my own.”
Sanai raised her pole and spun it in circles above her head, her young but powerful muscles tensing with the effort. She shouted crude and offensive words at Esmeralda, kicked sand in her direction, then feigned an attack on her left flank- changed direction mid-swing- and struck Esmeralda’s right thigh.
The slight defender squealed and limped backwards.
Sanai moved in circles around Esmeralda, yelling insults, approaching, growling, feigning attack, advancing then retreating with a laugh. She suddenly lunged forward with her raised pole and brought it down upon Esmeralda, who barely managed to raise her own pole and ward off the blow directed at her head. The pole flew off Esmeralda's hands and fell to the ground. Seeing an opening, Sanai stabbed quickly with her pole, landing a few blows on Esmeralda’s legs as she scrambled away to safety.
The crowd groaned in disappointment when they saw Esmeralda pick up her pole and stand up. It was now her turn.
She calmly lay the pole in front of Sanai. Then she stood back a few feet from her and began to dance back and forth in quick successive steps in a small circle.
The villagers roared with laughter upon seeing the odd display by the foreign girl. Even Sanai seemed amused at Esmeralda’s antics. "You dance like a monkey with an itchy cunt!"
Dr. Linnaeus recognized the dance as an ancient martial art known as Capoeira. He wasn’t quite sure of its origins, except that it had been developed in the southern hemisphere of Earth’s American continent. Esmeralda herself had roots there, and this no doubt explained why she was familiar with the dance.
Esmeralda kicked up her legs from side to side in a quick and fluid manner. Her strength and flexibility were smooth and elegant. A murmur ran through the crowd. She ran towards Sanai and before reaching her, she kicked up her feet in the air and balanced on one hand while stretchting and rotating her lithe body.
The villagers thumped on the ground to show their approval of the acrobatic display.
Esmeralda twisted and turned, planted both feet on the sand, then in a single bounce she back-flipped, grabbed the pole in a fluid motion and swung towards Sanai. The surprised girl barely managed to raise her pole and attenuate the force of the blow, which sent her staggering backwards.
The audience shouted and cheered and thumped. They were clearly enjoying Esmeralda’s odd but athletic strategy.
She danced back and forth, spinning and twisting around Sanai, who did not quite know how to defend against the ridiculous looking but effective maneuvers of the outsider. Esmeralda’s lean form was gracefully quick, darting here and there, kicking up dust, like a cartwheel as she somersaulted towards Sanai. She let her momentum carry her forward and headbutted Sanai’s mid-rift.
The tall girl stumbled back and fell on the sand.
The audience roared with laughter.
Sanai's face grew red. Enraged, she scrambled to her feet and charged Esmeralda with her pole.
Esmeralda back-flipped just as her opponent’s pole whizzed by her head. Her trailing feet struck Sanai squarely on the jaw with two heavy thuds. The girl fell on the sand with a dazed look in her eyes. She then began to cry.
There was silence all around. Innana walked into the circle and raised her staff.
“The foreigner has won,” the old woman said in a crackling but powerful voice. “She has the right of possession. Let the fire be consumed. Let V’ara bless us with her kuk-sha!”
Shouts and cheers rang throughout the village and the tumultous crowd gathered around Esmeralda and Dr. Linnaeus, hoisting them up on their shoulders and carrying them through the gates towards the river shore.