It was a time ripe for war.

War is rarely the fault of those who fight it. Warriors wield their weapons of steel and song. Kora players feed the power and magnitude of their attack. And Drummers level the land with the right magical beat. But none of these instigate conflict. No, conflict always begins with a leader’s gripe, the slight of a nation, or some other failure of decency. War was coming soon to Reshan, and Kamu knew he would once again be thrust into tradition not of his choosing. At least, this time, he was better prepared for the storm that lay in wait.

In the center of the circle, Kamu slapped his djembe to the beat of kingdom pride as Akachi, the griot, told stories of past victories and courageous warriors, the typical entertainment when war was nigh. Kamu was part of the Masanii, musicians trained in magic. His rhythm sent uplifting waves to every ear within the sound of his drum. He opened the spirit of the people much like ground was tilled in preparation for planting. The people sang a chorus together:

Reshan, Reshan, the first the last,

The soul of the drum, the spirit of the ten,

Reshan, Reshan, our land our love,

All enemies will fall to the song of Jindh.

Akachi strummed the kora. He was a master griot and the King’s Beat, the highest-ranking royal advisor. Akachi and Kamu were on a special assignment from the king to prepare all seven villages of Reshan for war. The chords of Akachi’s kora were mesmerizing, and it amplified Kamu’s drum magic.

Kamu slowed his beat to make room for Akachi to plant his verse.

United we are strong, united we will stand,

If the blood of Reshan seeps into the ground,

The ancestors will drum from the depths of the land,

They’ll carry Reshan to glory with their sound.

At the verse’s end, his drum thundered. Two women dressed in simple hazelnut pagnes and tunics patterned with canary and a man in a maroon boubou stood and danced in the center. A handful of other formal-dressed drummers played into the chorus.

The village sang along with Akachi. Kamu played with the rest of the drum circle for half an hour more. Then he and Akachi said their goodbyes and started on the road to the last village before they would return to the capital.

Camaraderie and kinship lit the streets of Reshan under the threat of invasion. Men refrained from fighting with one another over petty squabbles. Women ignored perceived slights against them or their families.

Reshan had become one when the neighboring kingdom of Thiya bragged that they would push the Reshanians into the sea and take their land. Thiya had the greater army—more warriors, more arrows, more spears, more drums, and more magic. But Reshan was older, wiser, and stronger. At least, that was the story the griots told, not only in Reshan but in all the ten kingdoms on the continent of Mbali.

The warriors and musicians who would fight had, like Kamu, been taken from their homes as children and trained early, to have an advantage over any enemy. Their parents just let them go. The greatness of Reshan always took precedence. The great god Jindh had blessed them with offspring for all of Reshan, and it was their responsibility to present these offerings for service. Jindh demanded it.

“You’ve done well, Kamu,” Akachi said as they walked the road. “It is rare that a drummer of only fifteen years could tour every village in Reshan without his palms and fingers becoming too numb to play.”

“My father started teaching me the drum when I was two,” Kamu said.

Akachi chuckled. “When Dorjan told me you’ve played since you were weaned off your mother’s teat, I thought it was an exaggeration.”

Kamu could not keep the confidence from his voice. “My hands have known the skin of a drum more than anything else.”

“The king will be pleased,” Akachi said. “When Thiya’s army marches to Reshan, our people will be ready.”

Kamu nodded in silence. He had been too young to fight in earlier battles. If Thiya attacked, this would be his first war as a battle drummer. Jindh had favored him with gifted hands. His destiny was inevitable, but he didn’t feel devoted enough to die before he’d had a chance to really live.

“The ancestors watch over us, Kamu. We are never alone.” Akachi must have sensed his conflict. “Don’t be afraid. You’ll do well.”

“Thank you.” Kamu appreciated Akachi’s words, but they didn’t lighten the unfair burden he carried.

“We have only one more village left before we head back to the capital.”

“Knon,” Kamu said.

“That’s right. Your home village. It will be good to see your family an extra time this year, eh?”

Kamu’s chest tightened with unease. Most royal drummers begin training at thirteen, but his father, Dorjan, had seen Kamu’s potential much earlier. He had brought Kamu to Akachi at the age of ten. Kamu had cried in protest, but tears didn’t prevent his father from giving him away.

Kamu nodded silently at Akachi’s question, worried that any words would reveal the bitterness and anger in his heart.

As they continued down the road, Kamu quietly agonized at the prospect of seeing his parents again.

The light of day had completed its coup of the night sky, and the last drops of the morning dew had evaporated as the soft and slow beat of funta magic welcomed Kamu and Akachi into Knon. Funta was a terrestrial rhythm for enriching the growth of crops. Compared to the heavy fast melodies of wren magic, the magical rhythms used in battle, funta drumming soothed the tsun in every living thing, coaxing the corn, sorghum, fonio, and every vegetable to grow fast and firm. Harvested squash was several sizes larger than squash grown without funta.

The rhythm spoke beads of memories to Kamu. Memories of playing his drum alongside his father in the field. Excitement rose in him, the thrill of drawing life from the soil, and his fingers itched to join the work.

The crop fields were just outside the village, and Kamu and Akachi walked into the dance of morning chores. Women in long sage wrappers carried baskets to collect grains on one side of the road. On the other, men and women in common umber garments stood in ankle length water, clearing the unwanted growth in the rice paddies. The funta circle played at the end of the road, between the village and the farmers.

Dorjan, his father, led the circle. As drum leader, he wore the full-length juniper wrap stitched with golden symbols. When he saw Akachi and his son coming down the road, he rose from the circle with a welcoming smile.

“Ah,” Akachi said, “your father seems pleased to see us.”

Kamu wished he felt the same. He took in a deep breath to brace himself.

Dorjan met them on the road. “Welcome to our village, Master Akachi.” He greeted Akachi with an embrace, then turned to Kamu, his face alight with pride. He stepped to Kamu with open arms, but Kamu could not bring himself to match it. He stepped back and bowed, showing respect without the affection.

His father’s smile waned. “You have grown strong, Son.”

“Thank you, Father.” Kamu could not look long into his father’s eyes and control the fire of emotions inside him. So he looked toward the people in the fields.

“We do not wish to disturb the morning’s work,” Akachi said. “Perhaps we can join the circle until the proper break time.”

Dorjan’s fatherly joy returned with a fresh exuberance. “We would be honored.”

The faint butterflies of eagerness renewed in Kamu’s belly. The beat of his drum would help soothe all of his discomfort. He and Akachi were given a place within the circle, next to Dorjan.

“What shall we play?” Akachi asked.

His father picked Kamu. “Son, do you remember the Planter’s Chant?”

Kamu remembered every rhythm he ever played in his home before he was sent away. He always yielded to the warm memories the songs brought him, no matter the pain and sadness that lingered after the song ended.

“Of course I do, Father,” Kamu said. He slid his fingers over the skin of his djembe and could feel the tingle of magic at their tips. He slapped the drum, beginning the beat of the Planter’s Chant. The other drummers followed. Soon, the chords of Akachi’s kora eased into the rhythm, and Kamu could feel the village’s funta magic expanding across the fields.

Jindh gave everything tsun, living or not. From the dirt of the ground to the stars in the sky, from the worms in the earth to the dragon in the sea, to the minds of men. If one was disciplined enough, like the Masanii, to speak with the voice of one’s own tsun, then one could tap into anything, with the right song. The right song captured the attention of a target’s tsun and drew it, moved it, manipulated it. So not only crops were affected by the song, but the rhythm also stirred the hearts of men and women.

A peek outside the circle revealed villagers working in step to the Planter’s Chant. Heads bearing baskets moved up and back down at the same time. Hips swayed from side to side. The sound of water swishing in the rice paddies echoed loud as the feet under its flow moved together. Smiles lit every face, and the chant of the song burst from every tongue. Heads bobbed and hearts burned in total surrender to the rhythm.

The music carried on throughout the work day. A great feast was prepared in response to the King’s Beat visiting Knon. And in the evening more music filled the air, and Akachi sung his song of war.

Kamu evaded his father every chance he could. But when the feasting and dancing ended, he was left alone to face both his parents in their mud brick home in the village.

“Every year you come home,” his father said, “I hope that you’d have finally grown to manhood, but I still see the eyes of a child in you, Kamu. You cannot still be angry...”

“I was still a child when you gave me away, Father!” Kamu snapped.

“Every child trains in their specialty young,” his father said, “that is not unique. That is your service to Reshan.”

“I could have remained here, with my kin and friends, served Reshan as you have by providing sustenance for the kingdom.”

“Have you not learned anything at the capital!” His father’s voice thundered against the home’s brick walls. “You are special, Kamu! A child with your gifts is destined for the Masanii. It was my responsibility to make sure your gift was discovered early.”

“Jindh gave this gift to me. I should have been able to choose!” Kamu took a breath. “Or at least, you could have waited. Masanii don’t begin training until thirteen. You took me away at ten. Ten! I was alone. I missed my mother. I missed my home. I missed you, Father. It wasn’t right!”

His father’s frustration softened, and he started to reply, but Kamu’s mother, Ebele, placed a hand on his arm, then stepped to Kamu and embraced him.

Kamu wanted to push her away, but he couldn’t. Tears poured from his eyes, and the thick anger that was stiff in his chest deflated as she squeezed him. This love had been taken from him too early.

His mother released him and cupped her hands around his face.

“We are so proud of you, son,” she said. “The village is proud of you. Your father is proud of you. There has not been anyone from Knon trained as Masanii for a hundred years.”

Kamu could not stop the tears from falling. He felt like a child again and wished he could hide the shame.

“You will be the best of them.” His mother took his arm and led him to his room. “Please rest. You and Akachi have a long road to Shouba in the morning.”

Kamu embraced his mother again before she left, then took a deep breath and prepared for bed. When he slept that night, he dreamed.

In his dream, he stood in the Reshanian drumline. Djembe players stretched across the open battlefield. A strong line of at least twenty drums held the front, and armed Reshanian warriors stood behind in battle formation. Their gold-armored shoulder plates and thigh guards sparkled in the sun. When it was time, they would run between the drummers to charge the enemy. But the drummers began every fight.

The massive Thiyan army formed a hundred yards away. Waves of indigo and charcoal went back as far as Kamu could see. They started their rhythm first.

The Reshanian drummers played to defend against whatever magical attack the Thiyans planned.

The echo of the enemy’s drums radiated across the field, and the Reshanian drummers felt the full force of their magic. It blew against them like the storm’s wind bending trees.

Kamu and his line slammed their palms against the skin of their drums, but the sound was faint and dull. The Thiyan drums boomed like thunder.

Kamu played his hardest, but he felt no magic at his fingertips. His sound was hollow.

What’s going on? Why isn’t my magic working?

A shudder of fear shot up his back. With no magic, he could not attack nor defend.

When the proper rhythm, beat, and skilled fingers of the player were in time, drums performed supernatural feats. Storm lightning and ground shaking leveled the enemy.

In Kamu’s dream, his drum conjured only a faint echo.

The Thiyan magic pushed the Reshanian drummers back, knocking them to the ground. The Reshanian warriors charged into battle to take the focus of the Thiyan magic off the drummers.

Thunder rumbled above them as Thiyan drums continued to play. Kamu, instead of recovering and getting back in line, remained on the ground, hands over his ears.

Suddenly, all was silent. Kamu looked to see the Reshanian army dead around him. Drummers, warriors, and griots lay on the field, covered in blood.

The Thiyan army stopped a dozen yards away. The enemy ranks loomed before him, massed endlessly wide and endlessly deep. The Thiyans pointed at him and laughed. He was alone.

A handful of Thiyan drummers set up a semi-circle around Kamu. He rushed to play a defense rhythm to protect himself, but he still felt no magic at his fingers.

The Thiyan circle played a strange and unique rhythm. He’d never heard it before, but he believed he could mimic it, to try to counter their attack. He would not get the chance. The ground began to crumble below his feet. Soon, it opened up, and he fell into the darkness under the earth.

Kamu awoke from the nightmare, sweat soaking his entire face. He tried to recall the enemy’s song, but the rhythm had slipped out of his grasp, gone from his memory, lost for good.

“Why haven’t the elders responded to my summons?” King Baku demanded of Akachi and his other advisors in the throne room. “Do they think they are above punishment for ignoring their king?”

Even though Kamu stood in the back of the room, his body tensed at the king’s words.

“You know the elders are always slow in responding,” Akachi answered. “All of them have lived over ninety years.”

“I know they’re old as dirt!” Baku snapped. “I don’t need my highest advisor to tell me that. The Thiyan army will be waiting for us on Ruba Field tomorrow!”

Kamu rubbed his arms, still sore from his tour of drumming. Tomorrow was so close. Only yesterday, he and Akachi had been traveling the kingdom. It felt as if only a fortnight ago, his father had brought him to Shouba to be trained as Masanii. Only two fortnights ago that he could run into his mother’s arms for safety. Now, he could be dead in a day.

Baku rose from his wooden throne. Wrinkles of stress and anger streaked down his face below the gold band that sat on his brow. He folded his hands behind his back, maintaining some semblance of regality.

“I needed the elder’s council at half-moon, after the Thiyan messenger delivered their terms for our surrender. They think they can come here and snatch our land from under us, and we’ll cower like lambs before lions.”

Akachi grimaced. “The Thiyans think too highly of themselves. It will be the cause of their ruin.”

Sending the young to war, Kamu thought, that could be our ruin.

A woman with thick strings of dark braided hair and shoulders adorned with golden plates entered through the guards’ door and marched up to the king. She looked only a few years older than Kamu. When she reached the throne, she bowed.

“What is it, Mika?” Baku asked.

“My king, the elders report that they have completed the ritual of Nas to compel the ancestors to assist us in battle.”

Baku frowned. “How will the old prayer of a fairy tale help us now?”

“Nas was a great elder in our history,” Akachi pointed out. “His ritual saved our people from the Funani Empire that stretched across half of Mbali.”

“That was centuries ago! Ancient prayers won’t help us today. We need strong magic!” Baku plopped back down on his throne. “All I’ve done to make this kingdom great—moving us past the old traditions and ridiculous rituals that kept us locked in the past—and this war threatens all of our progress!”

He took a breath and turned back to Mika. “What else did the elders say?”

“They asked for the youngest battle drummer to report to them immediately,” she said. “The preparation of the youngest reflects the strength of the whole line... they said.”

A knot of worry formed in Kamu’s gut. He was the youngest drummer on the line. What would the elders want with him?

“Is that all?” Baku’s face twisted in irritation.

“Yes, my king,” Mika said.

Baku fixed his gaze on Akachi. “Who is your youngest drummer?”

Akachi turned to the back of the room. The other advisors craned to see who his gaze had fallen on.

Kamu’s uncertainty grew double as he became the center of attention. This task fell to him. He walked up to the throne, pushing past his discomfort and uncertainty. Dropping to one knee before the king, he bowed.

“Who is this boy?” Baku asked.

“He is Kamu, from the village of Knon,” Akachi said.

“A farmer?” Kamu imagined the king frowning at the sight of him. “We won’t need funta magic tomorrow!”

“Kamu has been trained in the art of wren since he was ten.” Akachi stepped up and placed a hand on Kamu’s shoulder. “I have personally overseen his training these last five years. He is strong.”

Kamu looked up soon enough to see Baku roll his eyes.

“Very well. Rise, boy!”

Kamu stood, the many eyes still upon him feeling like a burden across his shoulders.

“Go ahead and deliver the boy to the elders, Mika.”

Mika bowed and marched towards the exit. Kamu rushed behind her.

“Bring your drum, Kamu!” Akachi shouted.

Yes, his drum.

The elders lived in the hills north of Shouba. They never came down. Kamu, and most other Reshanians, had never laid eyes on all the elders, just the one elder from their home village. Very few obtained an audience with the elders’ council.

It took hours to reach the base of the hill. Mika’s tempo never slowed, even when climbing the path to the elder’s huts. Kamu lugged his drum on his back, doing his best to keep up.

“Is it true that you started training at ten?”

Kamu was surprised by Mika’s voice. She hadn’t said a word since they left the palace.

“Yes,” Kamu said.

“Jindh has honored you with a gift. We will need that tomorrow.”

Kamu dropped his head but kept moving. Everyone always reminded him that he had a gift. But he worked no less than any other Reshanian. He completed his training like every battle drummer, most of whom played everything he could and more. He didn’t feel special, just young.

“How long has it been since you started training as a warrior?” Kamu asked.

“In my home village, Kondor, we are branded as warriors from birth,” Mika said. “My training began before I could speak. I was, however, brought to Shouba five years ago, at the typical age of thirteen.”

“Did you want to come to Shouba?”

Mika’s head twitched once in mid-stride before answering. “I was a child then. I did not yet understand my duty to Reshan. I cried like a baby. I cannot imagine leaving my home at only ten.”

“You were still too young,” Kamu said. “Our lives are chosen for us and we don’t get a say in it. We can’t even choose how we die.”

“That is not true,” Mika said. “We can choose to die honorably, by fighting, or we can die as cowards.”

“That is not what I mean. I am not afraid of protecting my home. Jindh gave us the gifts we have. When we are old enough to know what that means, we should be able to choose our own paths. We should not be subject to the whim of kings and elders. Our parents, enthralled to tradition. Our lives, given over to the ambition of others.”

“Perhaps, one day a sympathetic king could change the way things are done.” Mika’s eyes peeked back at Kamu with a reassuring sparkle.

“Yes, and while we dream, maybe there can be a council of young warriors to govern side-by-side with the elders.”

“Nevermind that, Jindh could just make us the rulers.”

The two of them laughed, even as they ran. Kamu let out a huge breath and felt a welcome release of tension. He noticed for the first time a familiar mark on Mika’s neck.

“The Star of Kondor,” Kamu said, recalling his lessons of the other villages.

“Yes. Leading Reshan in battle is a proud tradition in my village. We are expected to be the best warriors, but nothing is promised. We don’t receive our field assignments until we reach sixteen years, when our voices are matched to the proper ranks.”

Kamu understood. The warrior song was vital in battle. When the warriors yelled their battle cry or sang their fighting song, their voices in unison energized the whole army.

“We have trained all our lives for this,” Mika said. “Thiya will regret the day its army marched on Reshan.”

At the top of the hill, they came upon a tiny hamlet.

“Each elder has their own cottage,” Mika explained. “The cottages surround the roundhouse in the center.”

Kamu knew that the council consisted of an elder from each of the seven villages of Reshan. He remembered the names of only a few of them: Aamina, the elder from his home village of Knon; Jengo, from the capital and largest village Shouba; and Chaka, the elder from Kondor, Mika’s village.

“I’ve never addressed the council before.” Kamu struggled to keep hold of his drum in sweaty hands. He hoped Mika could help him. “Do I need to know all their names?”

“Just listen and answer any questions asked of you,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”

Mika led Kamu to the roundhouse. She saluted the two guards at the double door by crossing her right arm over her chest and tapping her left shoulder twice with a fist. The guards did the same.

“Kamu,” she said. “Follow me into the circle. I will introduce you, then step out. Stand in my place facing your village’s elder, and they will address you. Oh, and you may want to have your drum ready. Understand?”

Kamu nodded and followed Mika into the roundhouse. The ceiling of the building rose as high as an ancient tree. Its center opened up to the sky like a bottomless bowl.

The elders sat in a full circle in the center of the room, wearing clothing of various hues. Most of them had djembes before them; two held a kora by their side.

Mika stepped into the center of the circle and faced her village’s elder, Chaka. Chaka leaned back, his honey and ivory-colored pagne hiding the chair he rested in. Mika saluted him the same way she saluted the guards. Chaka responded in kind.

“My humblest greetings to the council,” she continued. “This is Kamu, the youngest drummer to take the field with us for battle, as you have requested.” Mika bowed her head. Chaka nodded in acknowledgement, and Mika stepped outside the circle.

As instructed, Kamu stood in the center but faced the elder of Knon, Aamina, whose emerald and olive headdress signified the healthy crops that her village, Kamu’s home, supplied for all of Reshan. Kamu laid his drum to the ground and dropped to one knee.

Aamina smiled warmly. “You may rise, Kamu. The families of Knon are all proud of what you have accomplished. The last drummer from our village to be trained in wren died a century ago.”

A voice from Kamu’s right spoke up. “Yes, yes. We have all heard of the boy’s skill, but we have never seen it.” Kamu turned to a bald old man with very few teeth remaining. The man’s crimson and ebony pagne revealed his roots from the capital. “How ‘bout you give us a demonstration? I’ll call.”

“That is Jengo, of the Shouba village,” Aamina said. “Show him what you can do.”

Kamu strapped on his djembe and placed it between his legs. He faced Jengo and waited for him to call what he wanted.


Kamu slapped his palms on the center circle of his drum, playing the steady rhythm of the Mahsou. It was a ceremonial rhythm used since the first three tribes of Reshan —Shouba, Xaire, and Niles—had established a covenant to unite against hostile kingdoms. He played for about a minute before Jengo called again.


Kamu sped up his hands to match the Nimba rhythm. Nimba was a rhythm for the post-planting season, one of the first beats he had mastered as a child in Knon. The intensity of the traditional tones vibrated through his fingers.


Kamu adjusted for the rhythmic moves of the Ouilila. A couple of voices in the circle called out to his beat. Sweat chilled his brow. He closed his eyes and let the rhythm energize him.


Kamu loosened his fingers for the higher tones of the N’Gri. While he played, a few elders accompanied his rhythm by slapping a steady beat on their drums.


Kamu switched into a fast-paced Madan. Jengo was testing him to his limit. This time, he called on magic from within and felt the warmth on his fingers. He opened his eyes, and a cloud of smoke formed in front of him. He intensified his rhythm and set the cloud on fire. The small fireball rose above the elders. Kamu continued to play the Madan and whirled around in a circle, the fireball moving with him. He stopped before Jengo and ended the rhythm with a final loud bass tone, leaving the fire to dissipate into a smoke that floated up through the opening in the roof.

Jengo’s mouth twisted into an impressed grin, his remaining four top teeth not enough to hide the pink insides of his mouth.

“Goood!” Jengo dragged out the compliment as he nodded his head in approval.

“Kamu!” Aamina called. “Listen closely.” The wrinkles of her face tightened with the sudden intensity in her voice. “There are dark days ahead for Reshan. King Baku is a fool. He has no respect for the history and traditions of our people.”

“Baku,” an elder on Kamu’s left interrupted, “is more concerned with himself and how he can be the greatest ruler in all of Mbali.”

“Our kingdom can do much better than Baku,” another elder added.

“With our help, even you would be a preferable ruler, boy,” Jengo said. “You haven’t lived long enough to be corrupted by your own vanity.”

“This war,” Aamina continued, “is Baku’s doing. He has antagonized Thiya for years, and now they have decided to act. He has repeatedly ignored the recommendations of our council.”

“And he has the audacity to demand our help now,” another elder chimed in. “Now that his pride has threatened ruin to us all.”

“He dishonors the throne!” another voice cried out from the circle. “Baku can’t grasp the present because he doesn’t honor the past.”

Kamu’s mouth felt dry. He was saddened by the disdain both the king and the council had for each other.

“So we will lose,” he said.

“Reshan will never fall!” Jengo cried out. The other elders nodded in agreement.

“You,” Aamina said, “represent the future of Reshan. No matter what happens, Reshan will not fall to Thiya. The ancestors and Jindh will always guard our land.” Her face went grave. “But both armies will pay a heavy price.”

Around him, some elders dropped their heads while others closed their eyes.

Kamu opened his mouth and closed it. He searched for the right questions, and the right way to ask them. “I understand that the words of our ancestors guide us for all time, but how can the dead guard the land?”

“Reshanians who fight for the land never die, they only sleep—and they can be awakened. Remember Kamu—you will never be alone. You have the favor of both Jindh and our ancestors.” Aamina looked outside the circle and beckoned with an incline of her head.

A boy entered the circle carrying another djembe. Its vertical ropes were dyed gold and the base showed intricately carved symbols. He set it next to Kamu and walked out.

“Take this drum into battle with you,” Aamina said. “It has been induced with the most powerful magic this council could conjure.”

Kamu bowed in gratitude. “Does the council have instructions on what I should play?” he asked.

Aamina shook her head. “This is all the help we can give. The ancestors will lead you when the time comes.”

Kamu’s heart ached with frustration and crumbling hope. He could sense the council’s grief in advance of tomorrow’s battle.

“How do you all know what will happen?” Kamu couldn’t stop himself from asking. “How can you be certain?” Despair leaked from his high-pitched voice. How could they just send hundreds of young Reshanians to their doom?

Aamina sat back in her chair. “We have all foreseen it, boy.” She waved her hand at him, looking away. “Go. Bring honor back to Reshan.”

How could I do that? Kamu wanted to ask more questions, get more direction, but he knew better than to press the council. He bowed his head, picked up the new drum, and walked out of the circle—leaving his old drum behind.

A gray sky settled over Ruba Field. The land had been the site of countless battles where many had died. Today would not be different.

Kamu was one of a hundred drummers stretched across the Reshanian side of the field. Dozens of kora players were posted throughout the drumline so they could enhance the sound and extend the range of its magic. Over eight hundred Reshanian warriors formed ranks behind the line. They stood proud in their golden armor.

King Baku waited atop a flat rock that jutted out towards the open field. From this high point, every Reshanian over the field could see him. His words echoed over their heads.

“Mighty Reshan! All of you have been chosen by Jindh for this momentous moment in the greatness of Reshan. To you the honor falls to defend our land against the tyranny of Thiya. Thiya believes that we will cower under the rumors of their big army. They believe we will surrender to the stories about their scores of drums and their thousands of foot soldiers. But they are the ones who will sour under the ferocious power of the mighty Reshan!”

“Raooo!” the warriors shouted in unison, and the drummers struck a bass tone that reverberated across the field.

“Are we going to allow the dogs of Thiya to step foot on our lands?”


“This fight won’t be easy, but we will slash their thousands to dozens running back to the piss-smelling land they call Thiya!”


“We will never cower at the wicked, nor shudder at the devil’s droppings!”


“Stand with me, warriors of Jindh! Soldiers of righteous destiny! Heralds of due justice! I call upon you to fight! Fight like there is no tomorrow! Fight like your sons and daughters depend on it! Fight like the world will die if you don’t win. We are Reshan, and we will never fall!”

“Reshan!” The warriors sang, and the drummers played. “Reshan! The first and the last! Reshan! Reshan! The strongest of the ten! Reshan! Reshan! Our land, our love! Reshan! Reshan! We are the mighty warriors of Jindh!”

The warriors cried out after the last line, and the drummers rolled a crashing crescendo.

A low rumbling echo from across the field drew Kamu’s attention from King Baku. The ground shook as the drums of Thiya accompanied the entrance of their army onto the field.

At least twelve lines of Thiyan warriors appeared down the hill just over a hundred yards away from Kamu. Their line extended far up and down the field beyond what he could see. The army was massive. The thousands of warriors hinted at in the songs were true.

When the Thiyan line halted, their drummers began to play. Smoke rose from above their army; then fireballs lit and flew toward Reshan.

Akachi, as the King’s Beat, raised a blue flag from his central hill, signaling for Kamu and the drummers to respond. The warmth of magic prickled Kamu’s fingers as he and the others called on strong winds. He could hear the kora players strumming along and projecting the drum magic. Strong winds blew from the air above and quenched the Thiyan fireballs before they reached the Reshanian army.

Thiya’s army marched forward as they played; this time, arrows were loosed and propelled by their drum magic. Reshan answered with a powerful bass rhythm, drummers slamming their palms and fingers hard against their drum skins, to deflect them.

As the Thiyans moved closer, Kamu noticed a second enemy drumline step in front of the first. The fresh line of drummers kept a steady and robust force of magic for attacking and defending. As they advanced, Reshan’s single line of drummers had to keep up their rhythm without rest.

Baku must have seen this as well because he signaled for his warriors to rush in. The warriors yelled a battle cry with melodious precision that enhanced the drummer’s lightning attack. As long jagged sparks struck multiple places within the Thiyan lines, Mika and a host of Reshanian warriors charged into the open field.

The Thiyan magic did not wither. Fire and arrows continued to fly, and Kamu saw many of them break through their defensive magic and strike among the Reshanians. Warriors and drummers were pierced and burned. Cries of pain rang out everywhere. The clash of spears and blades echoed from the line in front of him as he thumped a magical rhythm to press back the enemy.

Akachi’s hill was surrounded by flames. Kamu looked towards the king’s hill for direction, but Thiyan fireballs landed on both sides of King Baku, striking his drummer guards. As he retreated, an arrow penetrated his back, and he fell to the ground.

A thundering rumble reverberated from the Thiyan side. Kamu played his drum hard to raise an invisible barrier around him. The new Thiyan spell leveled the Reshanian army with the force of a tsunami. Musicians and warriors tumbled to the ground.

Kamu’s barrier broke, and the wind knocked him on his back. His body stung, but he pulled himself up, ignoring the pain, and continued to play. Around him he saw no other Reshanian drummers rising. A few scattered warriors fought in front of him. He saw Mika spin her spear to ward off multiple Thiyan warriors as she steadily retreated to stand by Kamu’s side.

Thiya advanced again. Their drummers played a steady beat, and their last spell had smote most of Reshan. As they marched forward, Thiya’s army was still vast while only a scattering of Reshanian warriors stood to fight.

Kamu played his drum and called for magic. Remaining Reshanian warriors stumbled to his side, rallying to their last drummer. He conjured fire; he conjured lightning; he conjured wind. The overpowering Thiyan drumline deflected all his spells.

Kamu felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Akachi, still carrying his kora. Cuts and bruises layered his face, and burns streaked his cloak. Blood trailed down the side of his head.

“Let’s make our stand and die with honor,” Akachi said. He moved his kora in playing position.

Mika placed her hand on Kamu’s other shoulder. “We are with you. If we die, we die together.”

Kamu closed his eyes. What song? What spell? Is there anything left?

In this moment of helplessness, a familiar dream entered his mind—the Thiyan army overcoming him, playing a strange tune before he fell through the ground. Before, Kamu couldn’t remember what the enemy army had played, but in this instant, he recalled the beat as if he had composed it himself.

He began to play the mysterious rhythm. Soon, he heard an echo of his song rising from the ground below him.

Akachi strummed his kora to enhance Kamu’s range and carry the drum echo down the Thiyan line. Mika looked at Kamu, stunned.

“I remember that from a dream!” She raised her voice and sang. The scattering of Reshanian warriors joined with her, accompanying her words.

The ground rumbled, and fear of sinking through the ground like in his dream gripped Kamu, but he continued to drum. The rumbling grew louder, and the earth shook below them. Kamu waited for the shaking ground to swallow him, but the land under his feet held. A loud crackling rang out from the direction of the enemy.

A fire rose up from the ground below the Thiyan warriors. They began screaming as it spread through their ranks. Soon, the blaze ran for hundreds of yards down their line. Some of them attempted to run, but the flames caught them and burned until their charred remains fell to the ground.

A blood drop splattered on Kamu’s face. He looked down and saw streaks of blood over the skin of his drum. He stopped drumming and turned over his hands. His palms were red as beets, and his skin peeled in tatters. As fatigue overcame him, he felt himself falling backward.

War cannot be fought alone. The young blood of thousands saturates the ground, seeping down to intermingle with the thousands who have fallen before. The drummer who plays the right beat can awaken the sleeping warriors and find accompaniment to defend the land. Kamu joined the few Masanii who had struck the right rhythm and tapped into the tsun of ancestral blood.

Kamu opened his eyes to an unfamiliar room. He sat up quickly.

“Take it easy, young man.” Aamina sat on a chair beside the bed. Next to her, Akachi stood. At the foot of the bed, Mika had her arms folded over her chest.

“Where am I? How long have I been asleep?” Kamu asked.

“You’re in the palace,” Akachi said. “You’ve slept for two days. Elder Aamina decided to wake you with herbs.”

“You’ve had enough rest,” Aamina said. “Both armies were devastated. Thiya will take years to recover, and so will Reshan. A new king must be chosen. As the savior of Reshan, your presence is expected and needed at the choosing.”

Anger flushed through Kamu’s aching body. He would not be thrust into another role with no power to change things.

“Why does there have to be a king?” Kamu asked.

Aamina narrowed her eyes and hesitated before responding. “This has been our way for thousands of years. Why would we need to do anything different?”

Kamu felt his heart beat nervously. This attitude for tradition had claimed a heavy toll from Reshan. Something needed to change. He took a deep breath.

“Why do we have to continue to follow traditions that result in death and loss and pain? Can’t Reshan be a land where a mother’s love isn’t barred from her children...” ...a vision of his father’s eyes filled Kamu’s head. “...and a father doesn’t have to sacrifice his son.”

Aamina looked away dismissively. “You speak of what you are too young to understand, boy,” she said. “Our ways have kept our kingdom from falling for more generations than your mind can fathom.”

“Is it not possible for Reshan to be greater... stronger?” A wave of calm settled over Kamu. He could see a better future for all of Reshan. “Imagine what we would be if so many of our young were able to live.”

Aamina stared blankly at Kamu. Her momentary silence arrested the room.

“What you suggest,” she said, “won’t be received well from a child.”

Kamu confidently smiled in respect to his elder. “If Jindh and our ancestors saw fit to bring Reshan victory through the hands of a drummer as young as myself, then maybe the elders should listen to what this young drummer has to say.”

Again, Aamina sat in silence, staring intensely at Kamu.

“The ancestors have given you favor such as we have never seen before.” Aamina paused again, her wrinkles tightening as if her mind was struggling in decision. “I suppose you have earned an audience with the elders.”

Aamina began to move, and Akachi helped her stand.

“Come. You will present your case to the council. Perhaps Jindh’s hand molds a new path for us.”

Aamina made her way out the door with Akachi at her side.

Kamu tried to swing his tired legs off the side of the bed, but they trembled as feeling returned to them.

Mika called in another warrior. “Let’s help our brother stand,” she said.

The two flanked his sides and helped him rise off the bed. Every muscle stung with flares of pain. Kamu gritted his teeth.

“Do you think they will listen?” he asked her.

Mika placed a light hand on his shoulder. “The blood of thousands opened this door for you. I do not believe it was in vain.”

“I will make sure that it was not,” Kamu said, and they left the room to confront the council.

The time was ripe for a new beat.

Read Comments on this Story (No Comments Yet)

A.G. Lamar is an emerging writer who's also a passionate historian and museum professional. He lives in the Midwest US with his family, busy crafting short and long prose inspired by true stories of history and a vast imagination.

Return to Issue #379