A Tale of Two Houses, Part 2

The Mulu Pinnacles, Mulu.

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By Char Tickens

(Part One can be read here.)

Sawak sat by the River of Panjai and wept. The sun was just rising but the bright rays and the beautiful reflection of his house on the river surface failed to make him feel calm and blessed.

The wind blew, bringing a strangely sweet scent that was almost toxic in the air. Sawak wept.

One of his cousins’ friends had brought back some bad news last night, when the crocodiles were all afloating, waiting silently for prey.

By the same spot and the same river, the messenger told Sawak that one of the men of his cousin Thor had been arrested in Peninmaya’s land.

“Thor’s man Dr Petros was arrested for stealing, and lots of it. He is now detained by the Fighting Thief Unit,” said the friend.

Since then, Sawak had been sitting there staring hard at the waters of Panjai River.

Sawak had been working so hard, to remind all his cousins and his cousins’ men not to steal as the act will cause loss of confidence in the management of the house.

He remembered the oath which he and his cousins were asked to take by the spilling of blood. The Blood Oath, they called it, a secret ceremony that only some men in the family, those given heavy responsibilities were allowed to take.

It was about ten years ago, on a warm dark night, when young Sawak was woken up in the middle of the night by his father.

“The time has come. It is your time to go for the Blood Oath,” his father said.

Sawak, who still very much wanted to sleep, did not take heed, until he felt a sudden hard slap on his left shoulder which drove away all his sleepiness.

Sawak’s father quietly walked out of the room and led the way. Young Sawak had to follow. No man could say no to Sawak’s father.

They left their house, walked along the path leading to River Panjai. They stopped at the open area before the long jetty that led out to the river, where longboats and express boats came and went.

A bonfire had been set up in the middle of the open area. Sawak saw his uncle and cousins, including Thor who were either the same age or older than him. Then out of the shadows came Homob, the spiritual chief of the household.

Most of his cousins stayed away from Homob, but not Sawak. Homob was ugly and had a big lump hanging down his left cheek. But what scared his cousins most were his eyes, which changed colour, depending on what was on Homob’s mind.

Sawak was a quiet boy who liked to read and meditate, unlike his cousins, who were mischievous and always got into trouble, either because of girls, or too much of their homemade alcoholic drink, Kaut, which more often than not, would result in them fighting.

To end the contention and animosity after fighting, Homob’s advice and judgment would be sought. Most time, the problem makers would have to face an almost demonic Homob, whose eyes turned red because of rage, who could never control his temper when the young men of the household wasted their energy causing trouble and doing nothing.

That night, however, Homob was silent and calm, like the moon and the wind, that night. The lump on his left cheek even appeared smaller.

Going to the fire, he held out an ancient looking dark grey urn.

“This urn contains the ashes of our first ancestor, Borneo. Whatever pledge or vow made with blood on Borneo’s ash will be sealed. Any pledge or vow made before Borneo’s ashes should not be broken. The breaking of the oath will result in your bones turning to ashes. This is our Blood Oath.

“Tonight, as the men of this house, you will pledge not to steal, not to kill, not to take advantage of those weaker than you but to protect them, and you will protect this house, until your death,” said Homob.

Some young men started to giggle because they were dizzy from their merrymaking earlier with free flow of Kaut. It was a weekend evening.

“Greed is the root of all evil and stealing is the result of it. Once greed starts to creep into our house, there will be no stopping of it. It will destroy the foundation of our house and our house will rot from within.

“That is why, I have asked all of you, the young men of this house to swear by your blood not to steal, not to kill, not to take advantage of those weaker than you but to protect them and that you will protect this house until your death.

“Our house needs to be built on integrity and honesty for us to move fast. We are already starting late and we cannot neither afford to be bolted down by leakages through corruption or mismanagement, nor can we afford to build a house where we kill or take advantage of each other,” said Homob.

With that, Homob passed them a sharp knife and asked them to cut their fingers and drip a drop of blood inside the urn.

Sawak saw with his eyes, every time a drop of blood fell into the urn, a purple flame would burst out, briefly lighting up the face of the blood giver before disappearing.

When it was his turn, he saw within the small flame his own image before the purple flame went out. He felt a bit of himself had dissolved into the urn.

“With the Blood Oath made, the deal is sealed. Whenever you break your oath, there will be consequences. You will be punished where you will have to face your darkest fear. For some perpetual darkness; some, poverty and lacking; some loss of loved ones and others, to encounter their own horrific imagination,” warned Homob.

Sawak was then allowed to go back to his room to continue to sleep. The next day when he woke up, he asked himself whether the whole Blood Oath ceremony was a dream. But the cut on his hand said otherwise.

Now sitting on a log by the Panjai River, Sawak was worried for Dr Petros. Did Dr Petros steal? And worst, did Thor steal?

His cousin Thor had indeed the look of the mythical Norse god Thor — tall, big and handsome, who would dance and sing all night long with his people. He had always been well like because he was generous with what he had. He would always come to instantly help whoever sought it from him.

Due to his good looks, his main problem was always women. However, as he treated his women well, there had yet to be a public complaint from any of his women.

Sawak loved Thor, the handsomest of them all. He had sent Thor to represent Sawak House in the Grand House Meeting.

Then he saw Thor approaching.

There was sadness in Thor’s eyes. Thor’s usual bright and smiley eyes were gone. The worry and darkness reflected in his eyes were so intense that even his normally broad and confident shoulders seemed to droop, giving way to the unbearable heaviness which from a distance, Sawak could sense.

Thor sat down quietly, and like Sawak, stared into the flowing waters of the Panjai River.

(Read Part One here.)