15 Oct '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Blood and Gold is a powerful, dynamic fusion of African and Scottish myth and fantasy which explores the themes of racism, immigration and colonialism, and the acceptance of self, grief and loss. This exceptional and ground-breaking story comes to us from Mara Menzies, a celebrated, prizewinning performer who is much in demand for events and tours throughout the world. Read an extract from the book below from the story ‘Something Has To Change’, featuring magnificent illustrations from Eri Griffin.

It was darker than a thousand nights, with the trees growing so close to each other the forest was almost impenetrable. Jeda’s heart pounded in her chest. Then she saw a tiny chink of light. As she quickly made her way towards it, grateful to be out of the dark, she was quite unaware of the thorns and twigs piercing her skin. The trees began to thin and, before her, she saw a small village. Her eyes searched for the boy, but he was nowhere to be seen.

‘Go to the first house, Jeda,’ her mother’s voice instructed. Jeda peered in and saw a handsome young man with his wife, whose warm smile lit up the room. There was a tiny child in his arms: a girl with skin the colour of the midnight sky and eyes that shone brighter than a million stars.

‘The boy became a man and a father. He had one daughter, his pride and joy. He had watched her grow from a tiny baby who gurgled happily – she had the most beautiful black eyes and soft wet lips – to a girl full of curiosity and interest in the world. The rest of his family laughed, stating that she should have been born a boy. You see, Jeda, in the village a boy grew to become a man with a trade or a skill, but a woman was a woman like a cow is a cow. She was to become a wife and a mother and that would be her destiny.

‘But her father was watching his world change around him. He knew that words held power and could be woven into something with great strength, not just swept away on the wind. He wanted his daughter to learn these new ways and so he requested that one of the more approachable settlers teach her. It was a role the stranger relished to the discomfort of many. The father knew that there were those in his community who would struggle to accept this arrangement, aware of their fears that a young girl could have access to so much power. His suspicions were confirmed when he overheard his brothers talking in secret.

‘“You know, he is teaching his daughter!”

‘“Imagine if anyone finds out – the shame!”

‘“Wasting his money on what? A girl! He is a fool!”

‘“It is not his money that he wastes. It is our inheritance.”

‘There was silence for a moment.

‘“What shall we do, brothers?”

‘There was a longer silence, then the decision was made.

‘The father knew it was no longer safe, so in the middle of the night, with the blessing of his wife, who could not leave her many other responsibilities, he took a small bag containing only food and water. He took his daughter by the hand and, without a backward glance, they left the only

home they had ever known.’

Jeda followed, as the father walked for three nights. They came to a forest unlike any that Jeda had ever seen before. Many of the trees were so large that it would take twenty people to encircle them. They were tall and dark, their finger-like branches stretching up into the sky, but the forest glittered, it whispered, it beckoned. They walked in silence. Jeda noticed that at no point did the father mark the trees. He had no intention of ever going home.

The young girl walked with purpose, trusting that her father would always do what was right by her. Just as Jeda was wondering whether she would have been so trusting, without warning the hairs on the back of her neck began to tingle. Her instincts sharpened as she saw a fine mist swirling around them. A familiar dread overcame her. She knew exactly who it was.

The Shadowman had sensed a growing power in the young girl and was determined to put an end to it. He would not allow her to believe that she had any sort of control over herself. Jeda needed to warn them.

Run!’ she cried. ‘He is here!’ But they heard nothing. She raced in front of them, waving her arms and shouting her warning, but it fell on deaf ears and they marched on, oblivious to her presence.

‘Please let them hear me!’ she begged, but to no avail.

They entered a clearing and the Shadowman swirled around the girl’s feet. She stopped as he enveloped her, whispering into her ear, ‘you are not strong enough for this. you are not brave enough.’

The girl’s brow furrowed as she contemplated the words.

‘Don’t listen to him. Don’t listen,’ Jeda beseeched.

The Shadowman continued. ‘you are just not smart enough.’

The father recognised the danger: he had heard those words himself many times before. He needed help and so he raised his arms, opened his throat and cried out, ‘Upepo!

A mighty wind rushed through the branches, swept up the man and his daughter, and carried them high above the trees. Jeda managed to leap up just in time. The father and daughter clung to each other, looking down as their beloved land – the glittering mountains, with the animals roaming free – rushed away from them. He held his daughter a little tighter and prayed that one day, just like the children he could still see splashing in the river, she could play freely too.

High above the land, the three sat in silence, contemplating their situation. The father gazed down at his daughter and began to sing a lullaby. Jeda found it vaguely familiar and was able to hum along. Soon the girl had fallen asleep. Her father stayed awake, vigilant. He would occasionally rest his head on his knees, but Jeda could see he was perplexed. She watched him stroke the child’s hair when she murmured restlessly.

The next morning, as they travelled further on, the father noticed a fine mist sweeping across the hills and valleys. Just under the surface of the Earth he noticed the great roots, planted by the settlers and now spreading over swathes of land, pushing the original inhabitants into smaller and less fertile areas. He heard wails, as many mourned the loss of their ancestors’ resting places, saw sacred trees being felled to make way for new homes. Skirmishes were taking place between his people and the settlers. Jeda watched the father’s stomach tighten when he saw great lines of men chained together, dragging themselves forward, as though an enormous creature with rotting limbs crawling reluctantly and painfully towards its nest. It was not long before a great stench filled his nostrils and belly, making him retch. Below them was the nest. Enormous camps where thousands and thousands of his people were held with no shade, no water, patrolling guards who lashed out with leather whips if someone coughed or uttered the wrong word or simply because they dared look them in the eye. The barbed wire surrounding them glinted viciously in the sunlight, ready to rip and tear the flesh of those who dared dream of freedom. A tall gate with razor-sharp wire was the entrance to this hell and it creaked open to welcome its latest residents.

Jeda saw tears streaming down the face of the man as he watched the scene unfold. She wished she could offer him some comfort, some sense of hope. She understood how shocked he must be watching his people go through so much pain. It had to be the worst thing in the world.

Understanding Jeda’s thoughts, Rahami reassured her.

‘No, Jeda. It was not the stench of blood and sweat and pain that shocked the father most. It was not the screams of men rolled up in barbed wire or tortured with bottles, sand and scorpions. It was the fact that it was his own people who listened so intently to the words of the Shadowman, that they whipped and beat with such fury, such rage, such hate that their eyes glowed red. Around them all, the fine mist continued to swirl.’

Jeda cried out, ‘Why am I here? Why do I need to see this?

‘You will see.’

Mara Menzies is a narrative artist who draws on her rich, dual Kenyan/Scottish cultural heritage to create worlds that explore contemporary issues through legend, myth and fantasy. She lives in Edinburgh.

Eri Griffin is a freelance illustrator based in Edinburgh who works with publishers and design agencies across the UK and Europe.

  • Paperback | Pub: 07 Oct 2021

    Winner of the Saltire Society Fiction Book of the Year ‘a beguiling mixture of poetry, moving prose and magical realism’ – Stephen McGinty, The Sunday Times Jeda is a girl on the cusp of adulthood, living in Edinburgh; with a white…

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