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The Sangerria by JJ van der Merwe
SUMMARY: A short tale of bloodfeud and vengeance amongst those stripped of humanity by their own culture.
My family have been in sangerria with the Gerales for more than twenty years. Of all the wounds to our honour this has been the most flagrant, the most suppurating, the bloodiest.
I stood on the balcony of our barranca, overlooking the street below through iron bars in three-foot thick stone, and watched my brother's blood-soaked shirt flapping in the breeze outside. This was the custom, when a death was yet to be avenged.
The Gerales had taken him through treachery, bribing one of his more trusted henchmen to drug his rakao on a journey to our holdings further up the valley. He had stolen my brother away in the night and delivered him to Branco, Cairaldo and Fat Naimo Gerales by the bridge called Kill-Priest, where they had tortured him for six hours before finally slitting his throat. His eyeless head had been delivered to my father by that same bribed henchman, who had grinned as he handed it over. This traitor did not realise he was now a pariah for all the families in the valley; no-one trusted a man who betrayed his kin.
As the younger brother it was my duty to avenge the insult, and continue the sangerria.
My brother's name was Terriao. He was the fourth of us, I the fifth. Two had been killed in sangerria before we were born, late in our mother's life. The eldest, Junero, was now taking the greater part of running the family; I too had to step up. As a pair Terriao and I were not close; but that did not matter in sangerria. I struggled to find feeling in my heart for him beyond obligation. The hate I felt for the Gerales overwhelmed it. Hate and pride are the only emotions we consider honourable. Standing over the coffin listening to the women's weeping, staring at my father's blank face, long since drowned and glutted of pain and blood, Junero had taken my hand and given me a single slight nod. I knew then my duty.
I said a brief prayer and turned away from the bloody flag. It would not be the first man I had killed. Uleao, Jaquin and Kalefero waited for me underneath the head of the bear my great-grandfather Oloso was reputed to have killed with his bare hands when bet to do so by a woman he was courting in the village of Agura Remales.
I suspected it had been old.
Kalefero was a Txachi from the north, a traditional enemy of our people, but one who had made his home here. He was a talented killer, one of my father's right-hands. Uleao and Jaquin, younger sons from my family's lands in the valley, were sworn to me.
Uleao lifted the massive oak crossbeam from the door. Kalefero held his pistol at the ready behind him. The Txachi had taken it from the corpse of the last tax collector to venture into our mountains, and the butt was engraved with the symbol of the Kingdom.
We strutted down the street in the manner we'd learned from the elders. I hated the town. It stank of shit and piss tipped out of the barrancas which lined the narrow, shady streets where it was always cold. Cobbles were loose under my feet. My own pistol was one with my hand, as usual.
There was no-one out in the street.