Excerpts of historical novel Mfecane: The Crushing


Cover (2)

Below I have included three chapters or portions of Mfecane:The Crushing. In order to give a represenative sample I have included portions that emphasize both the Zulu and Boer (Afrikaner) threads of the plot.  The entire novel may be obtained either through Kindle e-books or Amazon Books (if you prefer a paperback copy).



Manqoba watched with unexpected interest as the women left the kraal for their work in the fields.  A few full moons ago he would have paid them little attention if he noticed them at all.  Now he longed to follow them; to follow them and to do other things.  Why it was so he could not say.

He turned from them, embarrassed that such thoughts could intrude.  It was beneath the dignity of a Zulu warrior.  Although he could not fairly call himself a warrior, he had yet to enter an age-regiment much less wash his assegai in the blood of an enemy, his days as a child were rapidly ending.  In his own mind, he already had fought a hundred battles.  Soon he would be admitted to an impi and become a man.

For now, he had his own labors to look to.  That the induna recognized his worth was shown by the honor bestowed upon him this day.  He would act as leader of the herd boys that would tend the cattle during the next fortnight, the guardian of the kraal’s treasure.

He was aware that he was being watched by a small group of maidens and other unmarried females who tarried behind their elders, more interested in apprising the lithe bodies of the young men of the kraal than in attending to their chores.  Manqoba affected a haughty indifference even as he slyly examined their firm black breasts, bare in the manner of his people.  Then he let his eyes wander to their legs and buttocks. Each of the young women had a beauty uniquely her own and he longed to possess them all but in his mind the widow Nandi was by far the most comely, her fertility already attested by the young child she carried in her arms. Without conscious will, his eyes returned to her again and again.

He shook his head in annoyance.  She, like the others, was his kraal- sister.  She could never be his wife.  Moreover, she was the granddaughter of the village diviner, not one to whom a mere unproven boy could aspire even for casual sexual play.

Only when the stirrings within brought uproarious laughter from the young women did he realize that his erection had become obvious even through the loincloth of monkey fur which he wore.  He brusquely walked away from them, projecting as much dignity as he could gather.  He noted that it was Nandi who laughed the loudest. That grieved him greatly.

He focused as best he could on the duties which had been entrusted to him this day.  The women would humiliate him but he would not allow it.  He knew as well as they that they were not for him.  They would be given to old men of other kraals who had proven their courage in battle yet had been fortunate enough to survive to claim the young girls as their prizes.

Even had the incest taboo not prohibited his taking of a woman of his own kraal, for a boy whose iKlwa had never been washed in the blood of an enemy to lust for a Zulu maiden was futile.  When he became a warrior, he might enjoy the pleasures of ukuhlabonga even with one of his kraal sisters, sexual play which permitted only fleeting genital contact and forbade actual intercourse lest they both be severely sanctioned. Perhaps, he would even take the widow Nandi whose husband had so displeased the great induna Cetewayo that he had been condemned to kwaBulawayo, execution hill.  Her own status was ambiguous at best.  She might laugh at him now but she could not deny him when he returned in triumph from battle.

One day, when he had proven his courage, he might be granted the right to take wives from another kraal.  Until then it was best to keep his mind occupied on other matters, a difficult chore when the maidens so delighted in practicing the charms of their emerging womanhood by tempting the young men.

He met Fanyana at the cattle pen which formed the center of the kraal.  Although Manqoba generally disdained casual conversation with younger boys, affecting the manner of a proud Zulu warrior toward uninitiated youth, he greeted his uterine brother with a broad smile.  Fanyana was five years his junior but they had shared their dreams as well as their mother’s womb.  Their friendship was deep and not merely an accident of birth.

Laughing together, they leisurely herded the beasts through the gate and toward the opening of the kraal.  The kraal was formed in the shape of a horse shoe, its wattle and mud huts resembling giant overturned beehives with defensive barriers stretching between them leaving but a single entrance to be defended.  The opening was narrow, allowing no more than two or three of the animals to pass through at a time.  Outside, the other herd boys had gathered, respectfully awaiting instructions.

As the last of the small herd left the pen, they became agitated without apparent reason.  Several attempted to push through the barriers between the huts.  Manqoba and Fanyana quickly coaxed most to follow the rest of the herd towards the mouth of the kraal but one of the beasts, an unruly bull, wandered from the others, roughly brushing by one of the huts and trampling through a collection of water jugs just outside its low entrance, spilling the contents of all and shattering one.  Manqoba struck him repeatedly on the flanks with a small stick before the confused animal could be convinced to rejoin the others.

The old crone called Loki sat on the ground near the hut tightly clutching both legs to her withered breasts.  She was no friend of Manqoba.  They often had exchanged unpleasant words.  He did not show her the respect due to one of her age and position.  To him, she was only a foolish old woman.

Laughter from a handful of women and children standing nearby gave evidence that the incident had not gone unobserved.  Both Manqoba and Loki would be the object of jest and ridicule before it was forgotten.

Loki glared at Manqoba but said nothing.  She dared not challenge even a boy while he was so importantly occupied.  Later he would feel her anger.

It only concerned Manqoba slightly.  True, Loki was a diviner whose mystical power gave her the duty and responsibility of smelling out witches.  He knew that she relished the authority it gave her and was jealously protective of her unique status.  Many had learned to regret incurring her displeasure.  Some were even beginning to whisper that she was a witch herself, a dangerous accusation both for the accused and, if there was any truth in the charge, for the accuser and his family as well.  A witch’s wrath might well be turned upon them before she could be destroyed.  Disease and bad fortune awaited the unwary.

Witch or not, Loki was dangerous, but Manqoba was confident that he could find a way to deal with her.  He was much too proud to admit, even to himself, that such an old hag could be the source of the slightest concern for him, certainly not fear.  Still, there would be no harm in offering her a small gift.  It was only fair.  Had not her jug been broken because of his lapse in controlling the bull?  Besides, she was grandmother to Nandi.  He did not desire a feud that might cause the young widow to reject him when the time came to satisfy the lust he had for her.

With a shrug, he put the matter to rest for the moment.  More important matters required his attention now.  His duty to his tribe and kraal took precedence over any personal difficulty, however troubling.  He hurried to catch Fanyana and the herd.

The lush, green pasture to the north of the kraal offered the best grazing but caution was required.  Manqoba’s kraal lay at the very fringes of the territory presently controlled by the Zulu.  It was not uncommon to portray the Sotho or Swazi as contemptible beggars suckling at the tit of the loathsome white usurpers and cowering in their mountain citadels, tribes which would have been swept away by the irresistible Zulu tide had not the intervention of the whites brought full-scale tribal warfare to an end.   In truth, however, these tribes had demonstrated by the fact of their survival in the face of the Mfecane that they were worthy rivals.  The Mfecane, the crushing of neighboring tribes during the Zulu’s period of imperial expansion and conquest under the leadership of the great Shaka, had led to a great scattering of peoples in a ripple effect that set tribe against tribe in secondary struggles for survival and dominance.  The effects of the upheaval had been felt throughout sub-Sahara Africa.  In the chaos that followed, the whites had taken their chance to seize a depopulated and dispirited land in the South African interior.

Once away from the kraal, Manqoba permitted the animals to go as they would, directing the other boys to follow strays while he and his brother remained with the main herd.  Left to its own devices, the herd would seek out the tall, tender grasses, avoiding overgrazing without conscious design.  The boys were watchful for predators, human or otherwise.  Their very lives were forfeit should they fail their charges and their people by allowing one to be killed or stolen.

Shortly after midday, Manqoba saw the old prophet Xhegu limping toward them, a long ironwood cane supporting a frail body.  For ten years Xhegu had wandered from kraal to kraal lamenting the disgrace not yet avenged which had befallen the Zulu at the hands of the whites, calling for a war that all knew must come.  The great chiefs only bided their time, awaiting the moment when the white invaders were weak and the Zulu strong.

For the present Xhegu was an embarrassment to the chiefs.  Only the fact that he had fought at the side of Shaka himself saved him from kwaBulawayo.  Still, should he be so reckless as to return to the Mfute valley, kernel of KwaZulu, Cetewayo, great Induna and soon to be King of all the Zulu, would have little choice but to order his death lest the whites be provoked.

Xhegu contended himself with roaming the outskirts of KwaZulu, even venturing into the white sanctuaries of Port Elisabeth, Pietermartinsburg, and Durban, learning what he could and returning with grave warnings about their evil plans for the extermination of the Zulu nation.

The old man squatted a short distance from the herd boys, feigning indifference to them as he studied the cattle grazing nearby.  Although it had been a full day since he had last eaten, he would not beg.  His need hardly could be mistaken; if these boys ignored it, the dishonor was theirs, not his.

Manqoba offered him dried meat and ground maize.  The old man accepted the meat without thanks, his worn teeth chewing it with difficulty.

Manqoba looked forward to the old man’s visits.  It was an opportunity to hear tales of the glorious Zulu past with a warrior who had seen it all with his own eyes.  He sought to direct the conversation toward the Mfecane, before white incursions brought an end to Zulu preeminence in southern Africa.

The old man spoke even as he tore at the tough meat.

“The day is coming when the glories of Shaka and Dingaan shall be revisited,” he said.  “The Sotho and Swazi and all the others will discover that their raids upon our kraals will be avenged.  All that they have will be ours.”

“They are weak. Our impis shall crush them,” Manqoba agreed.

“So it shall be,” Xhegu said, “but there are dangers. It is hard to believe that the English speakers, the whites who every day scheme to steal our land and infect us with their strange religion, will permit us to strike against our enemies.”

“They want the herds of the Sotho and Swazi for themselves?”

“I think not.  The English speakers are not like the Dutch speaking whites.  Their purposes are obscure and strange.  The Dutch speakers want our lands and our cattle.  They, I understand.  When the time comes, our iKlwa will taste their blood and we will be done with them.  But the English speakers…” Xhegu shook his head in puzzlement, “I just don’t know.”

“Baa!  They want the same.  Whatever they say, they wish to destroy us and take what is ours.”

“There is truth in your words my young brother, but I also think that there is another truth.  They want much more.”


“Yes.  They wish to imprison our spirits.  They wish to make us white.”

“Our skin is black.  Our spirits are Zulu.  They cannot change that.”

“They cannot,” Xhegu agreed, “but I think that they will try anyway.”

Manqoba pondered the old man’s words long after he had taken his leave and resumed his wanderings.  The words were strange but sincere.  He found them oddly disquieting.

That night Manqoba for the first time had the nightmare that would torment him for the remainder of his life.  The English speakers had nailed him to the wooden cross that they reserved for their holy men.  Strip by bloody strip, his living black skin was flayed from his body even as others of their kind sought to affix putrid white flesh on the exposed muscle and tendons.  All the time they assured Manqoba that what they did was for his own good and that later he would thank them.

Manqoba awoke from the nightmare screaming.



Pieter, of course, was the one who saw her with Jeremy.  Despite Marika’s tearful pleadings, he hurried off to betray her.

“I hate him!  I really do,” Marika said, muttering aloud to herself as was her custom when she was alone.  He was a shifty eyed weasel, a grotesque little rat that delighted in her suffering. There was no stopping him when such an opportunity came his way. He was the youngest of her six brothers, not more than five years her senior, and the only one she had reason to despise.

She quickly scurried back to the house and up the narrow stairway to her small bedroom.  Closing the crudely suspended door behind her, she frantically looked about for some previously unnoticed cranny in which she might hide. She knew hiding was pointless.  Still, her fear drove her to grasp for anything that might save her.

The gloomy room was austere and bare save for a roughly hewn bed and matching table and a small lantern hung high on the wall.  It offered no hope of concealment.  In despair Marika shuddered, her terror growing with each silent moment that passed.

Even as she stood there, petrified by her fear and her helplessness, her brother was excitedly disclosing her nighttime exploration of the veldt to anyone who would listen.  He knew that their father, the imperious Johannes Christian Van Dam himself, had expressly forbidden her from leaving the family compound after sunset. Even venturing to the nearby livestock kraal was expressly forbidden. “Lions or jackals lurk in the darkness,” he claimed. Nor did he approve of the friendship which was growing between her and Jeremy.  It was contrary to the Word of God, he claimed, to get so close to a Coloured servant.

She did not believe him about this or about many other things.

Pieter was malicious and without pity, he took considerable pleasure in whatever misfortune he might bring on her.  Perhaps she did not actually hate him, she knew it was a great sin to permit such feelings towards a member of her own family, but certainly life would be a great deal easier without his persistent interference.

It was only a matter of moments before their father learned of her latest offense.  At best, he was not a forgiving man.  For the most trivial infraction, he would condemn her without hesitation in a voice that foretold eternal doom unless she mended her ways.  This transgression, however, would require sterner measures.  He did not tolerate disobedience.

Although scarcely seven, Marika had no doubt of her sinful nature.  Her father had pointed it out to her countless times, reading from the scriptures and praying for her soul, his eyes directed heavenward in pious solicitude as he squeezed her head with one of his gigantic hands until she was certain it would burst like some fragile melon. He was determined to drive out the demons that infested her soul, by holy supplication if possible, by brute force if necessary.

Marika knew that she richly deserved any punishment that he might mete out.  Her father sought only to save her from her own wickedness.  Still, she could not help resenting it.  She would avoid it if she could though to do so required her to compile sin upon sin.

It did not matter.  She long had suspected that her father secretly regarded all of his efforts in her behalf as futile.  She could not disagree.

For all decent Boers, the inspired commentaries of the Institutes of John Calvin were as binding and uncompromised as when God had revealed them to mankind three centuries before.  Predestination was unconditional, atonement and redemption by choice impossible.  The Elect had been designated and the rest damned even before the first day of the Creation.  No effort by mortal man could win or lose heaven.  The choice was God’s, not mans’.

Yet, despite the uselessness of his attempts to redeem her, her father persisted.  Driven by a fire within that would not permit him reflection on the doctrinal implications, he seemed unmindful that others of the faith might consider that his efforts were akin to heresy.

The heavy plodding of footsteps on the stairway announced that he approached.  With an overwhelming sense of dread that only another child could fully appreciate, Marika began to whimper even before he reached the top.  There could be no hope for her now.

The footsteps stopped outside her door.  She sat stiffly on the bed, clutching tightly the tanned wildebeest hide that served as a bed covering, wringing it with both hands as one might a damp rag, intently studying the door for the slightest movement.  She could hear him breathing heavily from his exertion but he made no move to enter.  The waiting could be almost as bad as the whipping itself.  Her father understood this very well, intentionally prolonging these episodes for their maximum effect.

Finally, the door opened and he entered, a gray bearded hulk of a man whose ponderous body filled the narrow archway.  He clutched the family Bible to his chest with one hand; the other rested on the strap that hung from his belt.

Marika rose to her feet automatically.  Dropping the hide to the floor, she faced him with head bowed in pretended shame.

Malevolently, he gazed down upon her, his deep set eyes piercing a gloom that was only slightly arrested by the flickering light of the lantern.  He made no effort to conceal his displeasure.  Indeed, he was scarcely able to control the fury that seared his very soul.

Warily, Marika smiled up at him, displaying an outward innocence she did not feel.  She might yet convince him that she had not really disobeyed him, if he only gave her the chance.  With practice she was becoming a skillful liar.

Even should she succeed in deceiving him, his wrath would not be entirely deflected.  He truly relished his duty as guardian of her body and soul.  Towering over her, the great strap at the ready in one hand, an open Bible precariously balanced in the other, he gave all the appearance of an enraged avenging angel who had not a trace of compassion for her plight.  She could expect no mercy from him.

“Is it true?” he demanded without explanation.

Fighting the temptation to profess ignorance as to his meaning, his abruptness convincing her that such an obvious lie would only prolong the punishment that was certain to follow, Marika nodded meekly.

He turned the pages of the large family Bible to the passage he had marked.  He had neither doubt of her guilt nor any intent to discuss her reasons for disobeying him.  He knew that she would not confide in him anyway.  “Honor thy Father,” he read, his eyes, now blazing with the ardor of a fanatical faith, leaving her only for an instant.  “Do you know who gave us these words?”

Convinced that however she replied, somehow it would be wrong, Marika answered resignedly.  “Yes Father, the Bible.”

“It is the Revealed Word of God, child!” he thundered.  “The Word of God!  You have disobeyed me.  In doing this you have flaunted His Commandment and violated the Covenant our people have made with Him.  Will your sinful ways never end?  Satan is in you, child.  He has been with you since birth, but with the Almighty as my witness and my guide, I shall beat him out of you.”  Without further warning, he lashed out with the strap, expertly catching her flush across the buttocks.  Even through her clothing, it stung bitterly.  “Repent!” he screamed as each blow fell upon her.  “Repent!”

An unexpected streak of stubbornness seized her.  Instinctively, she knew that somehow this was wrong.  He had no right to violate her so.  She clinched her teeth and her little hands and closed her eyes tightly.  Though the tears fell freely, she refused to say the simple words that might stop the horrible beating.  She stood her ground.  Escape was not possible and she was much too frightened to run even should she have the chance.

Her defiance only served to infuriate him all the more.  He increased the strength and tempo of his blows, his voice rising hysterically as each fell.  He was dumbfounded by her resistance.  It had never happened before!  He would not tolerate it now!

Pausing to rest his arm and to consider the best avenue of attack, he placed the Bible on the table.  Then he used his freed hand to grasp her arm near the shoulder so that the full force of the blows would not be deflected by her movement.

Again and again the strap flashed through the air, falling on her arms, her legs, only a few deflected by a hand raised in defense.  Although she tried to protect herself, wrapping and covering herself with her free arm and twisting her legs and torso to avoid the blows, uncannily each found an exposed part of her body.  Within moments her pale flesh was reduced to a throbbing ruin, crimson welts and the hint of deep bruises covering her everywhere. One blow caught her on the side of her face, the welt oozing a few drops of blood.

Somewhere beyond the door, she could hear Pieter’s gleeful laughter.  He was well satisfied with the suffering he had brought upon her, delighted and amused by each shriek of pain that escaped from her.

It only served to reinforce her defiance.  She wouldn’t give in!  She just wouldn’t!  Biting her lower lip until her teeth drew blood; she steeled herself against the explosions of unimaginable agony that rippled through her body, leaving her weak and befuddled.  If only she was able to guess where the next stroke would land, she might be able to endure it by sheer determination.

It was not to be.  Her father was too experienced in these matters to allow her that.  He permitted no defense, randomly spacing his blows for their maximum effect, giving her no chance to recover from one or to prepare for the next.  It was an irresistible bombardment that vanquished all reason, bringing upon a total paralysis of will.  Marika was left with only the primitive instinct for survival at whatever the price

She held out as long as she could but finally, inevitably, she could withstand it no longer.  “I repent Father! I really do!  Stop!  Please stop!” she sobbed, collapsing at his feet, more ashamed of her weakness in surrendering to him than of the sin for which she was being punished.

He lashed out one final time; he then left her weeping where she had fallen.  “I only do what God has commanded,” he assured her as he closed the door behind him.  “I must break your spirit in order to save your soul.”

Later, when her tears had subsided, he returned to read verses over her.  They sang the evening psalm together, his deep voice reverberating in triumph throughout the house.

“Promise me no more of this foolishness,” he demanded.  “You shall not see Jeremy again. It is unseemly and against the Holy Word. You shall not leave this house after nightfall.  No proper girl has any desire to do so. You shall not leave the compound unless accompanied by one of your brothers. There are dangers and temptations outside which you cannot begin to comprehend.  In the future you will obey me.” His commandments seemingly had the full authority of the Almighty Himself revealed to him alone.

“I promise,” Marika replied contritely, eyeing the strap that still hung threateningly from his belt.

Even as she spoke, she knew that she lied. It was a silly promise. Not see Jeremy? He lived in a hut only steps from the house; he tended the barn and took care of the horses.  She saw him every day.  It was impossible for her not to see him.

In her heart, she knew what her father was really saying. He meant she should not see him alone or at night.  But that too was impossible.

It was Jeremy that let her brush the horses late at night and even was teaching her to ride when no one else was about.  It was Jeremy that went with her to the small kopje barely outside the family compound and pointed out the stars to her, calling some by name. It was Jeremy who comforted her when she needed someone.  It was Jeremy who explained everything to her. No one except Jeremy noticed she was there except to torment her even when she had done nothing wrong.

Of course she would see Jeremy again. That he was Coloured, which without really thinking about it, she supposed meant  he was part white and  part Bantu, meant nothing to her. Nor did it matter that he was probably as old as Hans although she had no idea exactly how old her eldest brother might be. Jeremy was her friend, her only friend; that was all that was important.

She truly must be a wicked child, but she no longer cared.  She had seen the savage expression of her father’s face as he beat her, a twisted pleasure not guided by duty or love, but rather the unrestrained joy of a predator devouring its prey.

For the first time Marika had some understanding of him.  He recognized, even as she was beginning to herself, that she was not among the Elect.  He was no heretic, futilely attempting to redeem those that God had condemned in the manner of an Outlander proselytizing to the savages.  Rather, he was merely punishing evil in the person of his only daughter in testimony to his own piety.

For Marika, this insight was both terrible and liberating.  She firmly resolved never again to honor her father or his God, that wrathful, unforgiving deity of the Old Testament. She had no familiarity whatever with the merciful and forgiving Father of the New Testament and would have found the very idea incomprehensible. Her father’s God was the only one she knew. Gods were to be feared and, when unavoidable, obeyed, not loved.  She could not really separate the dread and contempt she held for her father from what she felt for his God.

One thing she did know. She would disobey her father again whenever it pleased her to do so.  In the future, she would just be more careful not to be caught.

In fact, she would steal out again as soon as she was sure everyone was settled.  She was certain that Jeremy would be waiting for her as he did every night.




Manqoba opened his eyes slowly.  With some effort he suppressed his resentment at the unknown intruder who compelled this hasty return from the land of dreams, abruptly ending his mystic vision of the great Zulu heroes . . . Shaka, Dingaan, countless others, massed in an irresistible black tide sweeping across Africa.  Shadows of a past and future glory.  Whispers that hinted at a destiny of blood and death that only a Zulu warrior would covet.

He had been with his age-regiment for over two summers now. His muscles hardened by training that never ended, he had grown to be a powerful young warrior who stood half a head above the largest of his impi-brothers.  His strength had won such respect that none of them dared challenge him even in play. Yet, as all of his impi brothers, he remained a boy; his assegai not yet having tasted the blood of an enemy.

Half rising from his sleeping mat, Manqoba belatedly realized that it was only his kraal-brother, Nqobani who disturbed his rest.  He allowed himself to fall back onto the mat.  There was no reason for concern.  Nqobani often had trouble sleeping.  His dreams favored the bizarre and he took small comfort from the presence of his impi-brothers huddled on their mats around him.  He sought a soothing word from his friend, nothing more.

Lying back, Manqoba relaxed, almost slipping into unconsciousness, only to be roughly brought back to his senses as his friend shook him vigorously, He gazed at Nqobani’s face, now seeing the urgency in his brooding eyes.

Come!” his friend said quietly.

Manqoba was on his feet instantly, touching the shoulders of impi-brothers sleeping on either side who in turn reached out for those more distant.  Soon all were awake.

Each man reached for his battle shield and iKlwa, the short stabbing assegai of the Zulu which they had carefully placed at their feet the night before.  Without a word, they hurried through the low doorway of their hut into the open kraal beyond.  A stream of their brothers flowed from a score of identical huts until every warrior of the age-regiment was gathered, over six hundred in all, each within three summers of Manqoba’s nineteen years.

They were curious as to the reason for this break in their routine but Zulu discipline prevailed.  Some stood about, shields and iKlwa dangling casually.  Others crouched, fondling their assegai or examining their shields for tears in the tough leather.

Not a word was spoken.  Most of them scarcely breathed.  Each sensed that this was not just another test nor a training exercise designed to harden mind and body. Something important was happening.  War against the Sotho, called Basuto by the whites, was anticipated, perhaps inevitable.  Finally, the time for washing of spears may have come.

They maintained their silence while they awaited their induna. They must not allow their growing excitement and impatience to prompt an ill-considered outburst.  They must not dishonor themselves or their brothers.  If war it was as every one of them hoped, death by the knobkerrie was the reward for such foolishness.

When Mputa emerged from his hut, discipline broke.  A murmur of amazement rolled through the impi that was quickly replaced by an unsettling hissing that came in unison from six hundred throats. Although much older than any of Manqoba’s age-regiment, for a moment their induna appeared equally agitated and rather confused but he quickly regained his self-control, standing tall and proud.

Their excitement clearly had been justified.  Rather than the simple loincloth that was the only clothing worn by the others, Mputa was ceremonially attired.  His leg ringlets and headdress were adorned with ostrich feathers.  The tail of a monkey was around his waist.  Behind the large oval battle shield, he carried his iKlwa and several throwing assegai.  In his other hand was the traditional knobkerrie, a war club that had but marginal use in battle but which Mputa would bring along simply because it gave him dignity.

Mputa raised shield and knobkerrie high.  Instantly the impi was silenced, awaiting his words.

“Invaders come from the mountains,” he said in a voice shaking with incredulous rage rather than fear.  There could not be the slightest doubt of the reward for those that would dare trespass into the blessed Mfute Valley, heartland of KwaZulu.  “They shall be destroyed,” he shouted, beating his knobkerrie against the back of his shield with a rhythmic force that threatened to smash it.

The entire impi picked up the rhythm, the blunt ends of six hundred iKlwa smashing into six hundred battle shields, the beginnings of a chant swelling from the rear until it had engulfed every man in a mind numbing frenzy.

“Zulu!  Zulu!” they cried out again and again, a celebration of their courage and their determination. “Zulu!”

Manqoba found himself caught up in the furor.  He pounded his shield until his arm ached with the effort and still he had no thought of stopping.  He chanted with the others, his chest swelling with pride.  His thoughts were of Shaka, the great one who by the exercise of an indomitable will had forged from an insignificant clan the greatest warrior nation in the world.

Manqoba vowed to prove himself worthy of his Zulu heritage.  Before he slept again he would become a man.  He would wash his assegai in the blood of an enemy.  He would win honor for himself and his impi brothers.



A Cabin in the Woods



For many years my wife would respond whenever I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, birthdays etc. with the refrain “a cabin in the woods.” In some years she would receive a joke gift in response to this request (one year a bird house with “A Cabin in the Woods” sign attached; another year a painting of a cabin with the same sign added etc.) The time came, however, when we were in the financial circumstances that we could attempt to make her dream come true.

At first we considered land in the Charlottesville area but we found that land there was just too expensive. Eventually, we began looking for property in southwest Virginia. Initially, we had a real estate agent in Floyd to show us land. In this search we actually found a 25 acre plot we liked. It was connected to electricity and already had a well so it seemed almost perfect for us. For unknown reasons we could never get the agent to present an offer on this property. She showed us other properties but seemed uninterested in helping us to purchase the piece we wanted. Eventually we found a different agent in Blacksburg.

Although he had never sold rural land before, he was eager to explore this posssibility. One weekend he took us to see many rural properties that were for sale throughout the New River Valley area, including the one in Floyd we liked. One of the pieces of land was in Giles County. We found this property amazing, better even than the Floyd lot, with breathtaking views in every direction. It was a bit more land than we had intended to buy, almost 30 acres, and there was no electrical connection to the land and no well, but we were hooked and put in an offer.  It was accepted while we were vacationing and visiting our daughter  in Florida.

Fran and me shortly after closing

Cave Hill Rd. 031

View of property from above small barn

Cave Hill Rd. 069


Stakes in ground mark location of future cabin Cave Hill Rd. 129


Cave Hill Rd. 073

Fran in hayfield looking toward future cabin location Cave Hill June 05

Much to our dismay we learned that certain information we had been given by the realtor and/or closing lawyer was not correct. The issue of bringing electricity to the land almost torpedoed all our plans. There was a telephone/electric pole directly across the road from our driveway. We were led to believe that there would be no problem bringing the wire across the road since it was on a road and utility right of way.  Wrong!!! An easement from our neighbor’s property was required.

We had met the neighbor (whose actual house is about a quarter of a mile from our property) briefly during a weekend visit to our land but did not really know him or his wife. I made a very stressful walk to his house to see, in an indirect way which we had learned was the country way of doing things, if he would give us an easement, probably for a price. To my amazement, he immeditely volunteered to grant the easement without cost. Country people are different. They are good neighbors even to strangers.

The next challenge was putting in a well. Without a viable water source, our plans would be unfeasible. I was fairly confident since a nearby well had found good water and I selected a drilling site as close to that well as possible.  When the drilling hit 700 feet and encountered several fractures (essentially caves) with the well driller speculating that he might have to cease the drilling, we became very stressed. Fortunately, at 780 feet  (and over $15,000 in cost including the pump) we hit good water. Whew!!! What a relief.

completed well head


Our eldset son and his family moved into the area to supervise the construction of our log home. A general contractor was engaged and almost before we knew it a basement/foundation had been dug and poured.

Me standing in “basement” of future cabin.


Logs finally delivered by four 18 wheelers

cabin construct 006

Eldest son inventories logs and other building materials


Soon the house was under construction. My son did the masonary including the fireplace and chimney from stones found on the land and later also did the inside carpentry and back deck.

Constuction of cabin begins


Progress slow but sure



My advice to anyone planning to build their own home; Expect it to cost twice what is estimated and take three times longer to complete than expected.


Ariel view of construction and property

P1010522 (2)

More progress


During the early construction process my wife moved into the area, “unretiring”  to take a job as head counselor at a local high school. I remained in Virginia Beach with my youngest son with a very active law practice, looking for someone to buy my interest in the firm. Three years later, with the house completed enough that wife, son and family had already moved in, I finally was succesful in finding a buyer, and made the big move.

Although there have been a few problems with  the house construction, we love our log home in the mountains even if is in the middle of a hayfield rather than in the woods (a forest does surround the property). We love  the small towns that are in easy travel distance and our new laid back lifestyle.

Winter view of completed cabin

House from barn

During our time here my wife has taken up a number of interests, including knitting, spinning, creating a large garden and raising chickens as well as maintainiing our little farm. As for me, I have become a Harley enthusiast, exploring by motorcycle the mountain roads throughout southwest Virginia, completed and published the first book in my historical novel trilogy (Mfecane:The Crushing) and am currently working on the second book with publication expected before the end of this year. Together we have taken up horseback riding and possibly will add horses to our little mountain farm next year. We continue to enjoy long held hobbies such as snow sking and traveling and try to visit our kids and grandkids regularly.

Completed “Cabin” (over 4000 square feet) in the Woods


Life is good on our mountain farm. We cannot imagine ever living in the stress of a big city again.

35 year odyssey of the Novel Mfecane


Cover (2)


Shortly after Fran and I were married in 1978 I began working on a historical novel set in South Africa during the late 19th century. At that time the book’s title was Afrikaner. I would write by hand and Fran would type the manuscript on a typewriter in the evenings and on weekends (no computers in those days). When completed, it totalled well over 375,000 words, a mammoth work for an unpublished author, to say the least.

Sample chapters of the novel and a brief synopsis were submitted to perhaps a dozen literary agents for possible representation. Four of the agents asked to read the full manuscript. At a major literary house, after submitting the book to their in house review committee (which means that the agent who initially read the book was behind it) it was rejected, apparantly in large measure based on two issues which had little to do with its quality: the length was seen as too risky (i.e. expensive) for an unpublished author, reducing substantially the likelihood that a publisher would accept it , and James Mitchner had just published his book on South Africa (The Covenant) which was seen as direct competition for my novel. They asked to see any future efforts and were very positive in their overall evaluation of my talent but no sale.

Discouraged, I filed away the manuscript and proceded with my career as a lawyer, husband and father. Occasionally, I would pull out the manuscript and make relatively minor changes but essentially it was abandoned but not quite forgotten.

After retirement I decided to give it another look. On review of the manuscript,  It seemed to me that the primary Zulu character’s background needed additional development so that his motivations would be better understood. A new character I decided to add for this purpose required me to research Zulu names. I soon came across the name Manqoba which I learned means “He who conquers when all is lost” in Nguni (Zulu).

Suddenly I realized that the entire focus of the novel was wrong, that an important but only supporting character, then named Soluka but now to be called Manqoba , was actually the hero and main character of the novel, that extensive  rewriting was required, and that the entire direction and theme of the novel would be dramatically changed. I also realized that with added text, the size of the book, already lengthy even for a historical novel,  would grow substantially so I made the difficult decision to divide the book into three parts, creating a trilogy. The first book of the trilogy, Mfecane: The Crushing, was recently published  (available on Kindle e-books and Amazon Books) with the second installment expected out later this year.

An unexpected result of the change of focus has been the possible change in its genre′. Afrikaner and indeed the first book of  its successor Mfecane: The Crushing, are examples of classical historical fiction. The assumption in historical fiction is that major events which rise to the level that they may be related in historical texts are not changed in any substantial way (although minor changes may be considered acceptable based on plot  requirments and artistic considerations), i.e. Wellington is victorious at Waterloo, not Napoleon, the North wins the Civil War, the assassination of Hitler fails, the Cuban missle crisis is resolved without nuclear confrontation etc. Some or even most characters may be fictitious but real people typically are part of the drama. Even they speak and act in ways that may be entirely the creation of the author’s imagination  as long as the significant historical flow is not altered.

The alternate history genre′ on the other hand proposes a significant change in a major historical event,: i.e. Napoleon defeats Wellington, The South prevails, Hitler is killed, nuclear Armageddon destroys civilization as a result of failure to peacefully resolve the Cuban missle crisis etc. which substantially changes everything that follows, creating an entirely new reality.  Historical figures typically are an essential part of alternate history stories but they respond to events never encountered in the”‘real” world. (For one of the best  of the alternate history books see Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove although there is a sci-fi component to it.)

The change of genre′ within one work is unusual and risky but I have observed it in several books I have read recently, One (whose title I will not reveal; I don’t want you wasting your time on it) goes for almost 500 pages as a typical sci-fi alien invasion story only to switch completely, unexpectedly and without forwarning  to a vampire gothic horror story (the vampires are pissed that the aliens are about to wipe out their flock i.e humans, and quickly vanquish the seemingly invincible poachers. Talk about deus ex machina.The danger even if done well is that such a switch in genre′ will disappoint and even anger the reader who feels betrayed by the author. (That was my reaction to the sci-fi vampire book.)

If I were teaching a creative writing course one of the questions I would ask students is why they write fiction. Most, I expect, would proffer trite reponses: “to express myself,” “because I have to,” etc.  I propose that the truth is grander and, to some, blasphemous. We write fiction because, within the context of our creation, we are God. We create a world and populate it with characters of our imagination; we force those characters into uncomfortable and sometimes implausible situations; we randomly kill off characters seemingly on a whim and without remorse; or if it pleases us, we  remove a person from the universe of our creation entirely as if they have never existed at all. (poor Ava from Afrikaner, died a senseless and ugly death while but a child but then she was compelled to endure an even crueler fate, wiped from existence entirely in Mfecane, existing now only in the author’s memory and in some discarded chapters of a version of  a book that will never be published.)

Are we authors really demigods over the fictitious universes we create?  Any half decent writer knows that doesn’t quite describe the process. Well developed characters may have a mind of their own. Some refuse to die despite the author’s long held plans or even detailed outlines of plot and others act in unexpected ways requiring complete changes in plot direction; but it is exceedingly unusual (perhaps unprecedented) for a character to be so strong that he forces the writer to change the genre′ of the work itself.

Which brings us to my dilemma. In Afrikaner, Soluka ( now Manqoba) dies and his dream of a revived Zulu Empire dies with him. The history of South Africa is unchanged and his life and struggles, at least in his own eyes, are fuitile and meaningless.

Manqoba of Mfecane is made of far sterner fiber than his Soluka predecessor. He refuses to die so easily. He is determined that the Zulu nation will not only rise again but will become far more powerful than even the great Shaka  Zulu ever dreamed. He is indomitable, a force of nature, who refuses to surrender. He will control his own destiny if it is humanly possible and thereby irrevocably alter the future of his people.

Is Manqoba that strong? Can he overcome seemingly overwhelming odds when history mandates that he must  be defeated and destroyed? Can he succeed in forcing me to make the changes that will allow him not only to survive but to conquer, thereby changing the history of  South Africa and the world?

So far the author, this would be demigod over the universe he now calls Mfecane, is resisting. The rewrite required for such a change alone is daunting, the time required  to make the changes dismaying.

But Manqoba is insistent. Manqoba is powerful. Manqoba is dauntless and unrelenting. Manqoba does not want to die without the fulfilment of his dream.

We are at war over the soul of Mfecane. It remains to be seen which of us will prevail.


note: It is my intent to include an excerpt of Mfecane: The Crushing in a future entry in this blog if there appears to be sufficient interest.  Please let me know.

A story of four (or five) puppies


Many years ago after we had purchased a new home, on a whim my wife and I bought an Old English Sheep Dog. Although initailly intended for the kids, Ragtag soon became as much my dog as theirs. She was huge for her breed and sex, growing to over 95 pounds, and she remained an oversized, playful puppy until slowed by age and accumulated infirmities. At 13 years, when she could no longer stand up on her own and obviously was suffering, I was compelled to take her to the vet to put her down. I have visibly cried only twice in my adult life, once at my mother’s funeral and then when Raggy was in my arms as the vet put her to sleep.  I think the staff at the vets were somewhat confounded by a 60 year old man bawling like a baby.

Ragtag (Raggy) as an adult



For a long time I wasn’t sure I wanted another dog. But once we had built our log home on our 30 acre mountain farm, I began to explore the possibility of a new companion.  I’m not sure how I decided I wanted a Mastiff.  I had encountered a couple some time ago and was impressed not only by their size but also by their friendliness and good nature. Once I decided that I wanted another dog in my life, I began researching the breed on line and ultimately agreed to purchase a puppy sight unseen from a breeder in Pennsylvania (I know, this was not the best way but we got lucky this time). When the litter was eight weeks old, we journeyed north to pick up our new family member.

There were only three remaining puppies from the litter when we arrived, a huge brindle male, a smaller  fawn female and the aproicot male we had purchased who at 20 pounds was about midway between the other two in size.

As you can probably discern from the picture below, it was love at first sight.

Ranger and Me

I named him “the Lone Ranger of Staffordshire” (“Ranger” for short.) He quickly settled in as a beloved member of our family.

From the beginning we had decided we wanted a second puppy of about the same age as a playmate for the big boy. My wife had grown up with German Shepherds and we soon arranged for the purchase of a puppy from an Amish breeder also in Pennsylvania.  (Only much later did we learn that the breeder family had several charges for animal abuse and/or neglect and were running a “puppy mill”). Meeko was a cute and lovable puppy but soon we discovered she had multiple problems. We noticed almost at once that her gait was odd, with her front feet spred and pointed outwards, but initially we assumed that this was only a puppy characteristic. We soon began to notice other issues. She actively resisted walking on a leash and seemed to be in pain. Although initially playful, she often cried out when playing wth the big guy as if in pain.  Her condition rapidly deteriorated. After several visits to the vet, X Rays and an MRI at the local vet school animal hospital, she was diagnosed with canine wobblers. Soon she was virtually paralyzed , whining in obvious pain almost constantly especially if touched even gently. During this period my wife and I became very attached to the poor girl but in the end there was no choice but to have the vet put her down, an event almost as traumatic as with Raggy. It seemed so unfair for a puppy who never had the chance for any kind of life.

Meeko with Fran at breeders (Ranger in background)

Fran and Meeko

Meeko and Ranger (best buddies)

ranger and Meeko


We decided that Ranger, who seemed lost without his friend, still needed a playmate. We ultimately contracted to purchase a Shiloh Shepherd, a larger and somewhat calmer version of the German Shepherd, from an as yet unborn litter. After the expected due date had passed, the breeder informed us that the breeding had not taken (although too late, shortly after we had purchased Shadow, he discovered this was incorrect and the breeding had taken). Unable to find any other Shiloh puppies then for sale, we agreed to buy a German Shepherd from a South Carolina breeder. Shadow (so called because she scarcely left my wife’s side for the first several weeks after she joined our home although her registered name is “Lady Gizmo of Staffordshire”) was 16 weeks old when we picked her up from the breeder and was very shy. We suspect that the breeder essentially ignored her and the other puppies in her litter since he was wholly concerned with expensive show dogs, not mere working dogs like Shadow. She has made considerable strides in the past 2 years but still tends to be shy in public even though at home she dominates the big guy. She is dainty for her breed (to the point we have wondered if she is really pure bred) even though she weighs in at 75 pounds, a big dog by most accounts but tiny compared to Ranger. She is a lovable and very intelligent pooch but also very hyper.



Ranger and Shadow in car


Ranger and Shadow


As for Ranger, he is huge at 210 pounds even though we restrict his diet somewhat hoping to avoid or delay some of the health problems common in the giant breeds. He is a handsome, loving, goofy , low energy delight who has never met a person, child, cat or horse he did not love (he is somewhat more reserved with strange dogs perhaps as a result of being bitten by a pit bull he was ignoring at a local dog park). He seems to believe he is a lap dog, sitting on my lap but usually with his front feet on the ground.  Alternatively, he paws at me until I join him on the carpet where he curls up in my lap, sometimes with crushing results.



Ranger is a lap dog


I never thought any dog could replace Raggy in my heart  but Ranger has become my best buddy.  I love him dearly.