Before recorded history there was a land called Evóvuotu. It was so-called because there were two kinds of people living there: Okoruchi (the gifted) and Ehuehu (the ungifted). They had one King, the King of All Living Folks. There was also the King of all dead folks, but no one knew who he was nor was anyone interested in finding out. A select few knew he was in Rimeòku, his lair, and the doorway was guarded by a special sect of the wood nymphs of the Agbalanya Forest and only the White Priestess was granted a free pass to this forest.
All folks just wanted to be good to their fellows, to be sure that when they left the living, they wouldn’t be thrown into Eli’ndiosunanjó, a place for the wicked. This did not mean there weren’t mean folks in the land, it just meant they weren’t wicked enough to tip Akanchi, the scale of sins and justice.
While there was a King of all living folks there was also a Chieftain of Wealth & Duty. He had as much authority as the King of all folk but his duty was to ensure that there was balance between the Paramount Ruler of Hierarchies and the citizens. However, the Chieftain of Wealth and Duty was usually born on a day without sun, rain or a cloud in the sky. It was an unusually occurrence as the birthday had to be in between two rainy days before the harvest season begun. If there was no Chieftain then the King of all folks took on the responsibility of the sceptre for safekeeping.
A gifted was a Paramount Ruler in his talent. They were under the guidance of the Chieftain of Wealth and Duty. Although, they were of equal ranking as the marshals they never joined the army but had similar training as everyone born in Evóvuotu.
The last of the Hierarchies had passed twenty cycles of seasons ago. As none of them had handed their totem capes to their kin, their powers automatically returned to the Chieftain’s sceptre.
Anyanwuze, the King at the time was charged with this duty. As the caretaker, Anyanwuze’s burden was too much for him to bear – the powers not being his to wield drained him of his physical element thereby depleting his lifespan. He was an old man saddled with choosing the next King of All Folks. His favourite son was taken from him by death, but he had fortunately left him five grandsons. His adopted sons were greedy and hostile. Three of his grandsons got his attention, but he wanted to see who would develop the spirit of kindness amongst them.
Uzò, nicknamed Okpararebisi by his brothers was the youngest of his grandsons and his favourite, a carbon copy of his father but would make a weak leader and couldn’t run the affairs of his compound much less a kingdom. A leader was not meant to cower when being bullied.
That was over eighty cycles of seasons ago. Okpararebisi was now king. In his reign there were no Hierarchies because a Chieftain had not yet been born. Okpararebisi reigned without interference but he was nearing his end and no hope was in sight. He was a master of Illusion and made everyone believe he young, lean and agile but he was the exact opposite of old. But when the date has been fixed in someone’s timeline, only the Lord of All could extend it and everyone knew that immortality was a tale by moonlight to teach children morals.
Ónwu, the soul reaper and second son of the King of dead folks lingered but he wouldn’t dare take Okpararebisi without the passage of the mantle of rites being completed, lest he incurred his father’s wrath, again. He was desperate to complete his quarter and so he stayed. Besides, a soul like Okpararebisi’s was worth more than the thirty he had in his bag at the moment. But as he lingered, a lot of people fell ill with unidentifiable ailments. Ónwu belonged to the land of the dead folks so that was all he could exude. The fiery-eyed black giant goats that pulled his carriage devoured any white goats they saw with envy.
Desperate to have Ónwu back, His children, gave to the willing hearts strife, stress, and depression with rife. His eldest son succumbed to his brothers’ whines and flew up from the bottom of the earth and dropped a seed in Okpararebisi’s heart.
The season came for a new King to be mentioned. Okpararebisi with all the powers of the sceptre of the Chieftain of Wealth and Duty could not cause his wives to birth him an heir to the throne. The Chieftain of Wealth and Duty’s sceptre would have to be handed over to a new king. It was too much power for an ungifted, yet no child was born on the said day. But not far away in the outskirts of the towns and villages, a place designated for the unusual, the cruel, the atrocious, and even the lewd, a child was born. That was sixteen cycle of seasons ago.
The kingdom was desperate for change, since there were no blessings done before the planting season, the harvest had dwindled. The plants had gradually died and there was drought in some of the villages. The eldest in each household from all the communities far and wide came to see the King for a solution. One of them was Ónu from Rumuoriji. When everyone had convened, Ónu brought up an idea which everyone agreed to; Okpararebisi could crown his nephew as the King of all folks while they go and search the outskirts of their borders for the next Chieftain of Wealth and Duty.
Okpararebisi asked them to go home and ponder on Ónu’s opinion. The following day they reconvened at the palace. Soon after they cleared their itinerary Ónu stood up.
Ónu cleared his throat. “I have news.”
There was murmuring.
“Because you are called Ónu does not necessarily mean you should use your mouth all the time,” Omena’ala muttered in his raspy voice.
A few people lowered their head to laugh because Ónu was much older than most of them.
Ónu eyed Omena’ala. They had been head-locked since Ahu gave Omena’ala the piece of land near the river beside Eli’ikenueze after he’d pledged it to him. “There is a child born on the said day.”
The news was followed by an excited buzz. Ónu gestured for them to calm down before clearing his throat. Okpararebisi raised his brows slightly, his interest piqued.
“Why are we hearing of this now?” Ômadike asked, eyeing Ónu suspiciously.
“Where is this child?” Someone asked.
“Are you reeling us into one of your pansy schemes again?” Njuru, a former palace guard in the time of the late king, asked.
“Are you sure?” Mekaweli inquired curiously.
Ónu rubbed his eyes. This was why he hated these meetings. People always interrupted.
Okpararebisi was interested in this new development and spoke softly. “Let him speak.” He turned his gaze to Ónu and urged him to continue.
“The child is in the outskirts of this very village near the boundaries of Akanóónu.” Ónu paused.
“Eh?” Omena’ala gasped, his eye twitching. “Isekó.”
“Isekó? Of all places?” A young elder asked.
Ónu ignored the young man sitting next to him and continued, “Born to Eriri.”
“How many Eriris do you know?” Igala from Omeoha snapped at his friend.
“The murderer?” The youngest of the elders leapt up like something hot had been placed on his seat. “A leopard does not change its spots.”
Everyone glared at him. He had used the wrong parable it seemed.
“Can a lion birth a snake?” Njigi asked, tapping his walking stick.
“No o!” The elders chorused.
“But the child is innocent of its father’s sins.” Oche-eze, the Chief Priest, muttered, rubbing his tired painted eyes.
Ónu couldn’t help but notice that Okpararebisi was in a pensive mood. Okpararebisi raised a solitary finger, and everyone quieted.
Amadi from Óròdomanya leaned further into his cane; his back was already hunched with age. “What is the point of cutting off ringworm from a leprosy covered body? We need a Chieftain for Wealth and Duty. No offence, Your Majesty, but you aren’t getting any younger.”
Okpararebisi nodded slowly. He had learned long ago not to argue with Amadi. He was the bluntest person and most well respected he knew.
Onwuchekwa of Anyadike groaned, “Yes, of course, and if this child was born on the said day that is all that matters.”
“I think there is more,” Omena’ala added when he saw Ónu still standing.
“You have all forgotten so easily how he beheaded his wife because she helped his half brother,” Igala spat in a strangled voice as he tried to be heard.
“Into his bed,” Another elder muttered as the others broke into laughter.
“I would have done the same thing,” Ónu said. Some of those laughing covered their mouths to hide the sound. “But that is not the issue.”
“Then what is the issue? Because you do not farm does not mean -” Oongu stopped to soothe his shin.
Omerò had struck Oongu’s shin with his cane and glared at him sternly. “Sit down. He who has no head has no need for the cap.”
Oongu glared back at him but did as he was told.
Igala smiled with kind eyes. “Wait until you are old enough my son. You’re still new to these things.”
Okpararebisi’s patience was wearing thin. He needed to quench their thirst for his replacement as soon as possible. The meeting was getting rather long.
Omena’ala grimaced and shook his head exasperatedly. “He just wants to waste our time as usual.”
“What is the issue?” Omerò asked.
“It is a girl child.”
The assembly fell silent. Even the morning birds and the noisy turkeys that prided their nuisance in Okpararebisi’s compound seemed to have discovered silence. It was the first time they had been in this kind of dilemma. The elders, the chiefs, Paramount Rulers, and Lord Marshals, were all male. The only known female with authority ever known was The White Priestess, and she was never seen by men. If a man went to her for supplication, her husband became the go-between. What would become of them should a woman become the Chieftain, or worse still, if the Lord of the Sky, and Earth decided to make her the head of all living folks, a Queen?
Okpararebisi smiled inwardly. This was going to be easier than he thought. He was after all in charge of Wealth and Duty. His son was of age and passed the three rites of passage to manhood. He could smell Ónwu nearby, desperate as always. He had until nightfall to give his son the totem cape, Lord of Sky and Earth be damned. He looked up and roused himself. Everyone quickly got up in reverence. He swept his eyes around them one last time. Who knew what the future had in store for them should his son be king but that was the only way he was going to relinquish his title.
“Ónu, Omena’ala,” he whispered to one of the guards beside him and waited. The guard returned with four warriors. “No man will cut off his nose to spite his face. The warriors will go with you to fetch the new Chieftain. This is a time of change after all. We must embrace it. Go and bring our daughter home.”
“You are wise your majesty,” Oche-eze muttered. “It’s only a man that is blind and deaf that the elephant will trample upon.” Oche-eze was glad that a consensus was coming so he could go and investigate the rumours about his wife as the gods had promised to grant him access. He folded his legs in readiness to get up when his staff vibrated in his hand. He immediately started his incantations. He spread out a stripy animal skin and tossed his cowries and shook his head.
To be continued.