Short Bow Hunter
Legend has it that the Zakullu Tribe of Western Tobbonbay have used child assassins for thousands of generations. Their ability to infiltrate neighbouring enemy tribes is legendary among the native peoples. This explains why adults of any race are accepted as friends in that region without question but children are, without exception, treated with suspicion.
I asked Jjengombrey, son of Sasamarra’s medicine man, Tomm, how often they are employed.
‘Not often at all,’ he tells me in near perfect English, ‘the Zakullu are a stubborn and cantankerous people but rarely have cause to murder men from foreign villages.’
When was the last incidence of such an attack?
‘Three years ago, I suppose. I have friends who live in a large settlement by the Third River. The leader of those men, whose name was Tarmun, had spoken out against the Zakullu. In what way I do not know. But they had heard of his dissent. And Tarmun paid with his life.’
Did he know the details of the assault?
‘No. One of the hallmarks of the child assassin is that he can enter a community, kill and leave without ever being noticed.’
It is this lack of evidence, along with the unlikelihood of the myriad tales to Western ears, which has led to the infant assassins of Zakullu being deemed a tribal myth by academics and reporters. Given his extraordinarily good English I decide I put it to Jjengombrey that those who have trouble believing the stories would be far more likely convinced if I could actually speak to someone with first hand experience of the phenomenon. He does not get a chance to respond.
Tomm enters the meeting hut now, looking every inch the archetypical medicine man, bones arranged on cat gut around his neck and animal fur dragged across his otherwise naked, leathery old skin. He speaks to Jjengombrey in their native language. It is fast and guttural and entirely unique to the Sasamarra.
‘My father thinks I should not speak ill of the Zakullu, lest they find out and send a young killer for me. I have a newborn son and would not like for him to grow up an orphan.’
I nod and explain that I understand, but I remain unconvinced. This has all the hallmarks of a myth spread by the Zakullu to dissuade defamation of their name. The tribal equivalent of The Boogie Man.
As I prepare to leave, Jjengombrey lifts his infant son from the cot outside his home and brings him over to show me, glowing with paternal pride. A light cloth protects the newborn from the strong midday sun. When Jjengombrey lifts it to reveal an angelic three-week-old child, I beam. The child gurgles. And Jjengombrey’s face falls in abject terror.
What happens next takes less than two or three seconds in total.
The child produces a tiny cable-backed bow and arrow from its swaddling, draws it taut and shoots Jjengombrey dead. It leaps from his falling arms and races into the bushes like a feral animal.
As Tomm begins to wail for his lost son I realise what has just happened. The entire village assemble around us as I am trying to gather my thoughts, and begin singing what I assume to be funeral songs. As Jjengombrey was the only member of the small tribe who spoke English I will probably never know.
I am ushered out with grief-laden sign language, and I have no way of conveying my regret for the way things have turned out, since I surely am responsible.
As I wait in the glade outside the village for my guide to return and take me back to civilisation I contemplate my culpability in Jjengombrey’s death and know that no man back home will ever believe this story. Nor even any child.