While the barbarians are noisily setting up camp at the forest clearing I am looking at the jet-black sky and realise I am so far from home that I am unable to recognise a single one of the constellations. The men are worn out, starved and aggressive and I flinch every time one of them comes close to me since it has become a habit of theirs to punch or shove me out of frustration. We have been living off roots and bark and tubers ever since we set foot to this stretch of land as there seems to be no game, no breathing thing in fact, except this flock of strange white crow-like creatures that are relentlessly following our miserable caravan.
As every evening they send me and the tattooed woman to the woods to scrape together all edible things we can find while they pass their time getting drunk on their dwindling stock of foul-smelling brew, tormenting the enslaved and throwing stones at the strange hunched birds in the treetops. As every evening, one of the barbarians keeps an eye on us while I try to make sense of the foreign muttering of the tattooed woman and dig out the plants, she confidently points at with her painted hands. Something in the way she treads the ground and moves her long limbs, indicates that she is not yet on the verge of exhaustion, which gives me another reason to be wary around her, beside the fact that she occasionally warms the bed of the leader. A cawing sound that seems to come from somewhere close and at the same time from the deeply secluded heart of the forest makes me jolt up from my thoughts. We both look in the direction of the sound and our gaze falls on a bush with dull yellow berries. The woman approaches it and carefully snaps off a twig heavy with the unobtrusive fruit. I want to follow her example since our bag is still more empty than full and the cold of the hard forest floor is beginning to creep up my legs. But she pushes away my hand, places her painted fingers on her own throat and looks directly into my eyes. Another caw is echoing through the wood as if to answer the first one.
I wake up to the sound of suffering. The other enslaved are already up and watch the barbarians with hollow eyes as they desperately try to regurgitate the poisoned brew they drank hours before. Their necks and faces look swollen and bloated and somehow their heads make me think of overripe fruit. As the sounds of dread and pain grow louder I notice that the moonlit glade is encircled by myriads of motionless white hunched figures. A somehow harmonious cawing is now filling the glade and drowning the whimpers of the men. Then the creatures begin to stir, they flutter and scamper and scuttle around the sick men in a gradually tightening circle.
And now I sit and listen to the satisfying sound that emanates from the corpses as the birds dismember them and gobble them down. The other enslaved are gone and I wonder how they can hope to find enough strength in their bodies to return to civilisation. Everyone is gone beside the birds and myself and I just can’t bring my weak legs to obey me and hurry after the others, wherever they have disappeared to. A piece of bright red meat is dangling before my eyes and I feel an expectant gaze resting on me. I willingly accept the gift she brought me. As I am pecking at the meat I look up to the sky and wonder why these constellations looked so unfamiliar to me a few hours ago. I have always been here, with her and the others. We have always been here, roaming the forest, looking for meat.