After the first month on Hollandia, things started to gradually go downhill for the colony. Up until that time, we had been living mostly off the fruits, roots, and vegetables native to the region. Because there were so many of us, we had quickly exhausted all those natural resources. The colony had to be broken up into twenty smaller colonies and each colony moved to a new part of the island with their own access to fresh water and food resources. Spreading out the population helped reduce the over-harvesting of the island’s ecosystem at the cost of little further technological advancement. For the time being, we were locked in the Iron Age. It took about a month to resettle everyone and then each colony set about trying to solve the problems caused by so many people living off uncultivated land.
By the end of the third month, it was clear to my father and the leaders of the other nineteen colonies that despite our efforts to cultivate the local vegetation, it just wasn’t going to be as high a yield as the crops we grew on the mainland. We needed the crops our ancestors had selected, modified, and cultivated for us over hundreds of generations and brought to this land with them. The blacks on the mainland have no history of farming and no idea where the crops they eat come from. The wheat, barley, quinoa, and corn they depend on each day are the blessings of the white settlers to Zakhanda— blessings they are seldom, if ever, grateful for. If the supply of roots and berries on Hollandia were to run out, we would be forced to rely on fishing and goats, which might keep us alive to the end of one year, but after that, famine would overtake us and our population would collapse just as President Muza had wanted to see, albeit a year later than he expected.
One morning, I was walking along the beach with my brothers, looking for crabs and clams to boil for dinner. My younger brother, George, started shouting, pointing to a great wooden head moving behind the crags that looked like a dragon. We scrambled up the beach and hid in the undergrowth, watching what at first looked like a sea monster. It turned out to be a great wooden boat being rowed by two dozen men at oars and a single sail made of vines and goat’s wool. The men manning the boat were all like us: blond with blue eyes, so we reasoned it was safe and started to approach the vessel as it was coming to shore. My father soon appeared on the beach and joined up with us.
“What do you think, Millie? That’s a longship.”
I recalled one time in school, before we were forced to live in the shanty town, we looked at a pictures of longships and Vikings. In our school textbooks, they were beautifully crafted, ornate vessels. However, this one looked quite crude and warped compared to the perfectly trim ships we had seen in the pictures. Ande, the captain of the longship, jumped down onto the beach to greet my father. He explained that he had just sailed from around the other side of the island and his men would be ready for the raid on the mainland whenever he was ready. I asked Ande what the name of the longship was and he told me it was Freya, after a Norse goddess. My father jokingly commented on why he chose a goddess’ name instead of something like Thor, Odin, or Baldr, which sounded more threatening and powerful. Ande blushed and said that he’d named the other longships those names already.
“Other longships?” my father exclaimed, “How many longships has your colony made?”
“Eight,” answered Ande.
“That’s almost a fleet, why not bring the others with us?” suggested my father.
Here Ande explained that all seven of the first longships had sunk or broken to pieces and that Freya was the first longship to actually survive more than a day on the water. My father couldn’t contain his concern about using the longboat and Ande strenuously reassured him that building a ship was a complicated feat of engineering, especially with only Iron Age tools, but that he and his men were confident that Freya would get them across the sea to the mainland and back with a cargo full of seeds for planting. My father asked a litany of questions about the quality of the workmanship and concerning the experience of the builders and sailors before eventually agreeing they would set out at midnight for the mainland with them on their mission to collect seeds necessary for large-scale farming of Hollandia.
That night over dinner, my father explained to us all that he was going away on a mission with two dozen men to the mainland and that he might be gone for as long as a week. He told us remember to say our prayers every morning and evening, to do our chores, listen to our mother, and not to worry about his return. He put us all to bed in our hammocks and finished packing his things for the mission he was going on. While he was saying a lengthy good bye to Mother, I slipped out of my hammock, put my clothes on and snuck out down to Freya. Even now, I can’t adequately explain why I did this; I recalled being afraid of my father being away for so long, but whatever the reason for it, I stowed myself away on Freya and, by the time the sound of my seasickness alerted the crew to my presence, the longship had already been at sea for some hours.
My father wasn’t angry with me, he never was. I remember him as always being patient and calm. He did want to turn the boat around and drop me off back on Hollandia; however, Ande convinced him to let me stay with them because we had already crossed half the distance to the mainland. We could be there and back in day. Ande was always so optimistic and my father, while calm, was cautious. In retrospect, the two men worked well together in offsetting their respective character deficiencies.
We arrived on a sandy beach in the morning. The sea had been calm all night and the men ceaseless in their rowing. We had covered the entire 73 kilometre journey to the mainland without encountering any obstacles. Once we arrived, the men all got out and heaved the longship up onto the beach and covered it in vegetation. The sun was up now and I was expecting that we would immediately start making our way inland. However, the men were all tired, including my father, and instead we all crawled into a nearby cave and went to sleep. Father said they would rest all day and start exploring the area at night time when it was safer. He told me I was to stay near the boat at all times and that they all might need to leave in a hurry at any time. He said they would stay there for three or four days scouring the countryside for anything they could use back on Hollandia and then we would all head back there with whatever we’d managed to find.
I woke up around lunch time and all the men were fast asleep. I decided to make myself useful and started harvesting the local plant life and rock pools for food. I had gathered a good feast when I noticed a tuft of red hair bobbing along the ridge line. I immediately ran towards it. I moved as quietly as I could, up over the rocks and between the thorn bushes. As I got closer, I started to hear singing. It was the song of a young boy. I peered up over a crag and spotted a skinny ginger boy shaking the seeds out of a brush and scooping them up into a sack. He finished his song and at that moment of silence my foot slipped alerting the boy to my presence. Straight away the boy was off sprinting. I immediately gave chase, shouting, “Excuse me! Little boy! Come back please! Little boy! Please come back! I won’t hurt you, I promise!”
I can’t remember how long or how far I chased the boy. I remember enjoying myself thoroughly so it could easily have been a fair distance. Eventually I did catch up with the boy and pounced on him. We tumbled into the grass rolling on top of each other. By this point, we were both playing and giggling. We untangled each other and kept walking farther inland. I just followed the boy, I assumed he knew a safe place for us since he was a white like me, although his first comment was that he hadn’t seen anyone blond and blue-eyed like me for a long time.
“Sorry to scare you, little boy, my name is Millicent, Millicent Rey, but you can call me Millie.”
“Hi Millie, I’m Reid. Sorry I ran away from you at the beach; I thought you might have been a black come to chop my fingers off and drink my blood.”
I explained to him that I was from Hollandia and that all the blond and blue-eyed white people had been put there by President Muza.
“President Muza says that us Aryans is cursed. That Zakhanda will never flourish for the blacks until every last one of us is dead,” I told him.
“Wow, my parents told me that the witch doctors believe the blood of gingers, like myself, will cure them of jungle fever. So they made this little hut for me to hide in when things get rough.”
Reid showed me his hut that had been buried so well in the desert sands that it was invisible from all directions on the landscape. I was surprised to find how big it was. It had lights, a proper bed, a fan, a radio, hundreds of books, and pantry full of grains. Most impressive of all was that it contained about a dozen chickens. Reid said that his parents dropped him off here on his own three months ago and told him to wait until they came back to collect him. He hadn’t seen or heard from them since and he didn’t know the way home from here. He’d been living of the food cache his parents had left for him and the eggs from the chickens.
“Your parents were very thoughtful to build this escape for you,” I said. “If they knew you were in danger though, why didn’t they just move away?”
“My father told me that we can’t give up our land or country, no matter how sorry we might feel for other people. Giving into other people’s demands just makes you look weak and so they will keep demanding more and more from you until you have nothing left for yourself. My father used to tell me that ‘a nation is only as strong as their love for their ancestors.'”
The young boy sounded so proud of himself as he repeated his father’s words to me, but then he started to sob, “I hope I get to see them again. They’ve left me here before on my own when things got rough with the blacks, but they always came back after a few days. They’ve never been gone for this long.”
At that moment the sounds of distant gunshots rang out. Reid and I carefully made our way outside and peeked out. Our hair colours and skin perfectly blended into the landscape. However, the blacks fighting in the plains nearby stood out in sharp contrast. There were about fifty on one side of the plains and about twenty on the other. They were firing shots at each other and shouting from behind the scarce boulders and crags dotting the landscape. Reid handed me a pair of binoculars so I could watch them. They were probably only a kilometre and a half away from us.
“Why are they fighting with each other?” I asked.
“Now they’ve taken all the land away from the whites, the blacks are fighting over who gets it. Lots of different tribes claim this region and they’re always fighting and killing over it. No one actually does any work, they just want to fight,” Reid explained.
“They won’t be happy until they have everything for themselves. ‘All of ten is better than 10% of a billion,'” I said, quietly repeating my father’s words which I am certain I didn’t fully understand at the time.
We watched them fighting for about an hour. It seemed that their guns malfunctioned a lot more often than they actually hit anything. Occasionally, a black would start screaming, fall over and start convulsing on the ground. We were transfixed as we watched the violent spectacle unfold that we didn’t notice my father and three other men sneak up behind us and pull us back down into the hut. I was excited to see my father and gave him a big hug and lots of kisses, but I was surprised to realise that he had been weeping. It became clear to me then what I had done. My father must have woken up and, seeing I was gone, panicked. He told me he followed our tracks in this direction and the sounds of gunfire brought him the rest of the way. I felt terribly guilty for frightening my father so much. I promised him that no matter what happened, I would never leave him behind again.
I introduced him to Reid and he was impressed with all the equipment in the hut, especially the grains and the chickens. He told two of the men with him to go back and tell Ande they’d found all the materials they had come for here in the hut. Reid started to protest at the idea that all his stuff was about to be taken, but Father reassured him that he would take him back to Hollandia with us and he would be safe there. Reid wasn’t easily convinced; he was sure his parents would come back and look for him there. So my father helped him to write a long note to his parents to leave there, in case they did come back for him, explaining Reid was safe without giving away too much information about Hollandia and who lived there.
“Now all we need to do is wait for the blacks to finish killing each other, then we can move all these things to the boat and go back to Hollandia.”
However, when Ande arrived with twenty men, he informed my father that they had best move all the stuff out immediately because there was a crowd of blacks waiting for the fight to finish so they could sweep in and loot the bodies of the defeated faction. There was a good chance they would find the hut when they moved onto the plains. My father decided they would only make one trip and so each man was weighed down with all they could carry. While packing the equipment up, my father discovered a rifle and ten rounds of ammunition. He brandished the rifle with all the awe of a young boy opening his Christmas presents.
“This is a Lee–Enfield rifle, just like the one your grandfather used to have, Millie. Back in the Bush War.”
The shots were starting to die down in intensity and Ande was getting restless.
“The invading tribe is about done. There’s only ten of them left and they must be short of ammunition now. Pretty soon this place is going to be swarming with locals looking to grab their guns and clothes.”
My father explained that he would go out with the rifle he had just found and lay down some distracting fire to prolong the battle and to give Ande enough time to lead the other men back to the boat. My father ventured outside; I watched him move stealthily across the plains, finding a good vantage position just a hundred metres away from the hut. We waited until everyone’s knees seemed to shake with anticipation of the first shot. Then it happened. My father fired the rifle and Ande pushed us all into motion running out single file back towards the shore where Freya was waiting to take us back home.
As we ran back across the landscape, I noticed lots of little black dots along the horizon. I hadn’t noticed any people when we first came this way, but a crowd had certainly gathered now. Once we got back to Freya, we would have no time to waste, Ande kept reminding us, so much so that I started to worry about my father out there on his own. I had only just made a solemn vow to never leave him. I really didn’t know my father well at the time, he was always my hero and tower of strength, but I had no idea then that my father even knew how to use a gun. I didn’t know if he was a good shot nor what he could hope to achieve with only ten bullets.
The journey back to the beach was far more frantic than my original trip and it felt like it took far longer. When we reached the beach, the men immediately set about loading all the chickens and supplies onto the boat and making her ready to sail. The longship was in the water and most of the men on board at the oars ready to set off. However, my father had not returned. I didn’t know it at the time, but my father had told Ande to throw me and Reid onto the ship and leave without him. Ande attempted to do just that. As soon as he grabbed me to haul over the side of the boat, Reid leaped to my defence and stomped on Ande’s toe savagely, causing Ande to topple over into the sea foam. I scrambled free and ran for the shore with Reid close behind. Apparently he wasn’t going to leave my side either. Ande was at this point the only crew member not on board and was about to give us chase on his injured foot when the crew spotted a black high on the ridgeline. They hauled their captain aboard and heaved on the oars breaking the last connection the ship had with the mainland. They were now on their way back to Hollandia without my father, Reid, or me on board.
The sun was setting, so I quickly led Reid to the sea caves where we had spent that morning sleeping and hid in there just as a mob of blacks poured down onto the sand shouting and throwing rocks at the longship as it sailed away back home to Hollandia. They weren’t far from us and I was afraid they had seen us run back up the shore. So Reid and I pressed deeper in the cave until he couldn’t see anything at all. The ground turned to sand and we started sinking into the darkness. Behind us, the excited chirping of pursuers echoed down the cavern. We were trapped in the darkness and our only hope now was to keep pushing our way through the sand farther from the light.
Thank you for the overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response to my first installment of Hollandia. As with all my short stories I am more than happy to write sequels to them if theirs enough enthusiasm for them. If you enjoy reading about Millie’s adventures please like, share, and subscribe so I know to keep writing about them.