You Cannot Own the Land – a flash fantasy story

When the men in the blue coats claimed that the land was theirs, we laughed at them.

“You cannot own the land,” I told them. “It’s not a drum or a club, something that you can pick up and trade, something whose spirit you can control. It’s just the land.”

But the blue coats had swords so sharp they could cut the wind, guns that roared like thunder, and floating fortresses from which to bombard our villages. So in the end, we let them have their foolishness. They would call the land theirs but we would still live on it, and that was what mattered.

They called the chiefs to a great signing ceremony. I had given birth to my second daughter only weeks before, but they became angry when I said I would not go. So I donned my stone bark armour and my feathered crown, took up my war club and my charm bag, and went to meet them.

I stood with the rest of the chiefs, surrounded by blue coat soldiers. Their chief, with his golden shoulder strings and his pointed headdress, oversaw it all. Another man used a metal stick to draw a map on a great sheet of hide, marking out the shape of the coast and the limits of the land the blue coats called theirs.

As his blood-red ink touched the page, I felt something change around me. The flow of life through the earth stopped, power building up like water behind a dam.

“It’s real,” I said, staring in shock as he kept drawing his lines and the power kept backing up. “They own the land.”

Ofabilla of the Long Fall village sank to his knees, pale and shaking.

“What have they done?” he hissed.

I opened my bag of charms, drew out a death tree gourd wrapped in red ribbon, and squeezed it tight. As the spikes pierced my skin and blood dripped into the dirt, I opened the way for the power of the land to flow through me.

Nothing came.

I squeezed harder, letting the pain open a path.

Still nothing.

I closed my eyes and took hold of my war club. Its power at least would be mine still. I reached out with my heart, down my arm, through my hand, and into the wood, calling the power forth.

Nothing.

The blue coats’ map had laid claim to all this land. Its power was theirs.

I opened my eyes. The map maker was trembling with the strain of his work as he moved towards the end. Another blue coat dabbed the sweat from his forehead so that it would not fall and mar the map.

I could not let this stand. They had guns and swords and floating fortresses. They would not have our spirits too.

In my heart, I said goodbye to my daughters, knowing what I took from them in trying to save their world. Then I dropped my club, leapt forward, and snatched the map from the blue coat’s hands.

They stared at me in shock, every one of them.

“What are you doing?” their chieftain exclaimed. “Put that down at once, you mad woman!”

I had no words to waste on him. I simply took hold of the map with both hands and pulled at it with all my strength.

“No!” the map maker shrieked as his creation began to tear.

The ground trembled. Trees fell. Men and women were thrown about. I felt the power they had constrained rush through me in a glorious, golden surge.

Guns roared and I knew that my time had come. I would not see my daughters grow, but at least they would hear of me with pride.

Death did not come. Instead, the bullets were flung back against those who fired them. The power of the land poured forth, flinging these invaders through the air, leaving them broken like straw dolls at the end of harvest night.

“You cannot own the land,” I said, picking up their chieftain by the throat. His skin shrivelled as his power was sucked away on the great tide coursing through me. “But perhaps it can own you.”

* * *

Maps have power. Look at how we treat borders and the people who live across them. I liked the idea of treating that power as something magical, and this is the result.

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