August 2, 2018


The girl’s happy childhood came to an end
when the muroyi declared,“As my payment,
I shall take the daughter- a life for a life...”
Ruvatsvuka was born in a village atop a low kopi on the edge of the veldt to a mother and a father who loved her very much. And, on the day that she was born, a bright-red flower bloomed on the hillside and her parents named her for it and, when she was a little older, gave her a gift of earrings of red-hued leather in the shape of a flower like her namesake.

Years passed… It was when the rains fell and bit away at the walls of the hut that Ruvatsvuka’s mother died and her father fell deathly ill, and her uncle sent for the muroyi who lived in a canyon amongst the rock-strewn hills to the east.

The witch-woman came and looked at the sickening man, whose brow was wet with sweat, just as the walls ran with rain, and said, “He has been cursed.”

“Can you cure my brother?” asked the girl’s uncle.

The muroyi took a pouch from the thong that hung about her neck and tossed its contents into the fire and breathed deeply of the noisome fumes and gazed deeply into the dancing flames.

“I can. But, the cost will be high.”

“Cattle, millet, ivory, gold – whatever you wish – my brother’s life is worth it.”

“It will be a great cost. Swear you to pay it?”

“I swear by the spirits of our ancestors.”

“Then, cure him I shall.”

The muroyi banished them all from the hut, even tearful Ruvatsvuka, who clung desperately to her dying father. Then, she performed the healing ritual, emerging with the morning light to declare its success.

Ruvatsvuka was delighted to see her father whole and well, once more, and paid no heed when the old woman told her uncle, “I will return in five days to collect my payment.”

And, return she did, bringing the girl’s happy childhood to an end when she declared, “As my payment, I shall take the daughter – a life for a life.”

“No!” exclaimed Ruvatsvuka’s father. “I would rather die than give her away to one such as you.”

The muroyi merely laughed, even as he reached for his assegai, as if he meant to strike her down.

“Refuse me – kill me – if you wish, but it will rebound on you. You will die – but, not just you… your brother, your daughter, and all your kin shall die. An oath was sworn and payment will be made…”

His hand dropped back to his side, and he sagged almost as if sick again.

“Take her,” he said, softly, and the witch-woman took the sobbing girl away to her hut, which lay deep within a canyon, so deep it seemed almost to be night even during the day. Water swirled past it all through the rainy season, threatening to wash it away, and strange fungi grew on its walls and floors, which the muroyi used in her spells.

“Sit,” barked the witch-woman upon their arrival

Ruvatsvuka sat.

The muroyi said, “You are my daughter now, and you will obey me as if I gave birth to you. Remember, I hold your father’s life in my hand.”

She flexed long and withered fingers, like dry twigs, at the girl, as if demonstrating the fact.

“Your tasks will be to sweep out the hut, to clean, to cook, and anything more I tell you.”
Ruvatsvuka sighed and nodded.

The witch-woman worked her hard and, when the dry season came, set her to sweeping the area about the hut so that it was always completely bare, just earth, with not even a pebble to be seen.

“Good, good. I cannot stand disorder.”

And, if ever the girl left a mess, the muroyi would rant and rave, screaming and shrieking, and threatening to beat her till it was set right.

“I cannot stand disorder,” she would say over again. “Dotadoko, do your job.”

Dotadoko was the name she gave Ruvatsvuka, meaning ‘little ashes,' for the girl always seemed dirty from attending to the chores the witch-woman set her.

“Clean yourself, Dotadoko – you are disorderly!” the witch-woman would cry, only to put her to work at some new task, returning to berate her for her filthiness, again later.

For a long time, Dotadoko served the muroyi, so that she almost forgot who she was in her gloomy despair, trapped in the shadowy canyon, longing for the sun.

Even when the rainy season ended, a trickle of water continued to fall like rain near to the hut, joining the meagre flow of the stream that ran the canyon’s length. This trickle came from a pool in the lee of a boulder on the cliff’s edge, which was fed by a secret spring. It was to this pool that the girl would go, whenever the muroyi was absent or asleep or too busy to notice her, relishing the kiss of the sun’s light upon her skin, and wash the filth of dirt and ashes from her, transforming Dotadoko back into Ruvatsvuka, if only for a little time.

One day, she went to the pool and carefully laid her bright-red earrings on a flat stone beside her neatly-piled clothes, before slipping into the waters and luxuriating as the coolness caressed her skin.

But, as she splashed and washed herself, a kestrel swept down from the sky above and seized one of her earrings and flew away before she could even let out a cry.

The bird vanished into the glare of the sun, and she saw not where it went, nor whether it dropped her earring or carried it afar.

She slumped on the edge of the pool, head upon the flat stone, sobbing. Her heart felt torn, as if she had been snatched away from her parents, once again.

Climbing out of the pool, she dressed and picked up her remaining earring, holding it to her chest, resolving never to wear it again, lest it, too, be lost.

She returned to the witch-woman’s hut and hid the earring carefully and surrendered herself to her life as Dotadoko, believing she never again would be happy or free.

Unbeknownst to her, the kestrel flew for many miles before dropping the red-leather earring, which spun and floated like a flower caught on the breeze to fall into the lap of the mambo as he sat in his kraal, receiving tribute from the lesser chiefs.

The mambo stared down at it in surprise.

“A flower from heaven.” He picked it up and examined it. “A leather flower… an earring. How strange.”

He waved his n’anga over, the wisest of his diviners, and asked, “What does it mean?”

The old man bent, slowly, and picked it up to examine.

“Interesting.” He took the hakata from a pouch on a thong about his neck and threw the bones. “Very interesting…”

He gathered up the hakata and returned them to the pouch, saying, “This earring is one of a pair that belongs to the woman you must marry, a beautiful maiden, lost some place far from here.”

The mambo rose. “I shall seek her.”

He bade the chiefs return to their kraals and see if such a maiden lived amongst their people and he travelled from one to another, only always to be disappointed.

“I do not think,” he said to his n’anga, “that I shall ever find her. She is absent from every kraal.”

“Then,” said the n’anga, “seek her elsewhere – look in the forest and the thick bush, go anywhere a person might live alone.”

They sought her widely and every time he met a woman or a girl, whether she was outside a hut pounding grain into flour or in a field working or on a riverbank washing clothes, the mambo would take out the bright-red earring and show it to her and ask if she owned the other like it.

But, no matter how eager they were to marry a handsome and powerful man, none could produce the twin of the one he held.

After a long journey, just as the rains began to fall again, the mambo and his retinue came to the little hut in the canyon amongst the rocky hills.

Disconcerted, the muroyi came out to greet them.

“Are you the only woman here?” the n’anga asked.

About to say ‘yes,’ she was forced to admit her captive’s presence when the girl looked out from the entrance of the hut.

“Just me and my daughter, the filthy, lazy brat I call Dotadoko.”

The mambo stepped forward and produced the earring.

“Do either of you possess the twin to this?” he asked, voice weary with lack of hope.

“No,” said the witch-woman, too hastily, for she suddenly remembered the girl had worn a pair just like it when she took her.

Dotadoko stared at it for a moment in surprise, then said, “I do.”

“You do?” asked the mambo.

“No, she doesn’t,” snapped the witch-woman, but he ignored her and said, “Fetch it, now, and you shall be my bride.”

Dotadoko ran inside and returned a moment later with the proof of her claim.

“No!” screamed the muroyi. “She is mine – you cannot take her from me.”

“I can,” said the mambo.

Then, the witch-woman turned sly and looked at the girl. “Remember, the deal that was made. Leave and your family die…”

But, the n’anga stepped forward and threw the hakata and, laughing, said, “She lies – the curse is broken and cannot return.”

With a delighted cry, Dotadoko ran to the mambo and put her earrings on, while the witch-woman went inside her hut, shrieking and screaming so loudly that she drowned out the thunder of the burgeoning storm.

“I will consent to marry you,” said the girl, after she told the mambo her real name, “but first I must return to my father and you must give him cattle.”

The mambo laughed with joy, for Ruvatsvuka truly was a beautiful and lovely woman. “My dear, I shall give him that and more, and do whatever else you wish.”

Together, followed by his men, they left that place, hurrying to make it to her father’s kraal before the rains grew too heavy and floodwaters swept down the empty riverbeds, the witch-woman’s cries echoing up and down the canyon behind them.

And, as the muroyi’s shrieks grew louder still, there was a sudden rumble, not of thunder, but of rock, and the great boulder that sat beside the pool where the girl had bathed, agitated by the witch-woman’s shrieks, slid over the edge of the cliff and tumbled down… down… down into the canyon, landing with a crash upon the hut and silencing the muroyi for good.

Which is how the story ends: The muroyi didn’t live, but Ruvatsvuka became the wife of the mambo and the two of them lived happily ever after and the people they ruled rejoiced in peace and prosperity.

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Winter’s Grasp (Fantasia Divinity), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Pagan (Zimbell House), Misunderstood (Wolfsinger), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and issues of Fantasia Divinity, Broadswords and Blasters, and BFS Horizons, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
DJ Tyrer's website is at
The Atlantean Publishing website is at

Cover: Amanda Bergloff


Guy S. Ricketts said...

I was pulled immediately into Ruvatsvuka‘s story, feeling her range of emotions with every change of her circumstances. What a rollercoaster ride this was, wondering whether evil would win, or might Ruvatsvuka be somehow rescued from her dire dilemma. Great story, DJ!

AMOffenwanger said...

I love this story so much. Thank you!

Unknown said...

An echo of classic fairy tales of captivity and unexpected delivery. The heroine's loss becomes her gain.

Unknown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. And I'm so glad to see EC including wonderful stories from other cultures besides European ones.