Everyone preened their eyes and some cleaned their ears.
Oche-eze opened his raffia bag and produced two calabashes, one with murky liquid and the other with white powder. He cupped powder in his hand then opened his palm to blow the powder in four cardinal points. He lapped some of the murky liquid and squirted it in four cardinal points. He dug the cowries out of his bag and tossed them lightly and did more incantations.
He slunk back from the cowries and looked again. He shook his and shrugged forcefully. He looked again and sighed dolefully. “It happened in the dark but the sun snuck in to expose its buttocks. Ah! The buttocks of a man! Regality is in his scrotum? The wild drum he summoned by stroking its slumber has a tune. The rhythm that was put to slumber before time begun, the dreaded music of the formidable is beckoning to its drummer. The drum has recognised the one who stroked it and has demanded a dance. The time has come for it.” Oche-eze gathered his cowries still shaking his head dolefully. He poured libations and eulogised the deities of the entire kingdom. He straightened and looked around.
There was a long pause. Everyone was expecting more information and perhaps solution.
“Is that all?” Omeneri from Imidike who had been quiet the whole time asked.
“I say what the gods lent my eyes to.”
Omeneri was sure that there was more. “But-”
Oche-eze stared at him coolly. “The gods have spoken.”
Everyone chorused. “So be it.”
Okpararebisi nodded and walked into his hut without another word. They waited a few more minutes for him to disperse them with blessings or invite them for refreshments as was customary. When he didn’t they began to head home each lost in his own thoughts.
Ónu got home and told his wife that the daughter of her distant cousin would be crowned the next Chieftain. She was so excited that she dared to ask him to give her the whole details of the meeting. He was so glad that he would be affiliated with people of influence that he told her everything. She was quiet while he ate. He had just finished his last morsel of pounded yam before he realised that she hadn’t told him how her day went. She was supposed to be dancing and rejoicing. Eriri’s daughter was her niece, but she was frowning.
He cleared his throat.
She didn’t respond.
He washed his hands and wiped them on his goat skin kilt before tilting her chin up to face him. “What is it?”
“My lord, the night has ears.”
“Speak to your husband,” he commanded.
She fidgeted and exhaled deeply. “My lord, this is good news.”
She laid her hands on his lap. “A mouse that removes the palm nut that turns out to be the bait of a trap should have known that palm nuts do not grow on the ground.”
Ónu shook his head. “Thank you for the food.”
She gathered the plates and quickly left for her kitchen.
He frowned and then reprimanded himself. Her warnings have never failed him. He pondered. The king’s countenance wasn’t good. He had to leave at once. He summoned his wife.
“Bring me my satchel.”
He carried gifts in his satchel and a small knife in case the path his father had once shown him was now overgrown with grass. He began to laugh at himself. There had been a drought for so long the leaves had fallen off most of the trees. From the path his father had shown him it would take him a few hours to get to Isekó. He had to make sure to go unseen, so instead of lighting a touch he caught as many fireflies as he could and put them in the gourd lantern his son invented. He had wanted a strong son who wouldn’t be a wimp but the devices he made always worked. It wasn’t quite dark yet the moon shone.
He got to Isekó when the moon was at its peak. He was so exhausted it was an effort to clap his hand – clapping was a way of announcing your presence. “Kpom, kpom, kpom, it is your favourite in-law o.” He clapped a few more times but no one answered. He looked around; there were too many huts too close together. He felt claustrophobic just staring at them. He knocked again, shuddering every time a cold wind passed over him. He nearly died of fright when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Sorry, but there has been a lot of restlessness in the vicinity.” Eriri whispered and beckoned him to follow. They walked round the back of the hut and followed a narrow path until they came to edge the village. They made a detour towards the stream when they heard a scream and many rapid footsteps.
“Yey!” Ónu stopped and turned around when he heard a shrill voice in the almost quiet night.
Eriri looking surreptitiously around for a place to hide.
“Head hunters?” Ónu was shaking, oblivious to the fact that he had peed on himself.
Eriri raised a brow with a grimace as he eyed the stoic man’s apprehension. “Be a man.”
Ónu remained rooted to the spot as Eriri left the path. Eriri had to pull him out of the path and into a patch of dense thickets. It was difficult to see through. Eriri no longer felt like hiding when he noticed that the caterwauls were getting closer to his main house. He got up, pulling the reluctant Ónu with him.
When he got there, he found three badly mutilated bodies. He walked over to one, a woman, and knelt beside it saying a word of prayer before he gently shut its staring eyes. “This is not the work of head hunters.” He muttered and rested his hands on his lap. He frowned curiously at the mutilated body of a man with clenched fist and struggled to open it. He took the piece of cloth out the man’s hand and got up slowly.
“Why?” Eriri asked through clenched jaws.
Ónu’s legs could no longer carry him so he sat on the stool in a corner of the room, biting his nails as his legs shook involuntarily.
“Why?” Eriri asked again, his back no longer turned to Ónu. He was livid. No one was supposed to know his daughter’s birthday.
Ónu’s eyes stayed fixed on the dead bodies.
“You gave me your word you scoundrel.”
“Hmm?” Ónu looked up in surprise.
“What did you think Uzò would do? Pat you on the back and give you half of the kingdom?”
“Eh? It can’t…”
Eriri glared at him.
Ónu held his mouth with his fingers and looked away.
“Ómalichanwa.” Eriri called in a loud whisper, almost choking from fear.
“Mpa! Mpa, is that you?” She crawled out from the ground under the mat.
Eriri sighed. Relieved tears dropped from his eyes as he hugged his daughter. He had forgotten about the hiding place.
“What if it wasn’t me?” he asked.
“Who else knows my name?” she nudged him and peered over him. “Uncle!” she exclaimed as she jumped on Ónu.
Eriri couldn’t fault her. Ónu was the only relative who visited. He looked at her with concern. He needed to get her out of Isekó before daybreak. The planting season had ended a few months ago. They would soon be in the middle of the harvesting season, and by his calculations, the sceptre would seek her in a few days, on her sixteenth birthday. Its present owner will follow its scent. He couldn’t risk it. The farther away she was from it, the better. In the meantime, where was she safest?
“Mpa?” Ómalichanwa tapped her father on his shoulder.
Eriri raised a brow.
“You have been very quiet. Uncle is not himself. Besides…” She looked back at her uncle before whispering into her father’s ear. “The sceptre has located me.”
Eriri gasped. It was early. Too early.
“More men are coming, more than before.”
“Go and get what you need. We must leave now!”
Ómalichanwa went to the hideout in the ground and pulled a string up like water from a well. It brought up three sack bags.
“Mpa!” Ómalichanwa whispered, rubbing her ear and pointing outside. She blinked, frowned and nodded. She quickly pulled her father towards her uncle and held her breath. She closed her eyes, tapping into the air around them and created an illusion. The next second it looked like they were not there.
A few seconds later, four palace guards and one warrior trooped in looking around. They scattered everything and discovered their bunker. The warrior looked in their direction, squinted and shrugged before leaving.
“Let’s go!” Ómalichanwa said as she heaved the smaller of the bags.
Ónu was still in a state of shock. Eriri wanted to wake him up with a punch, but Ómalichanwa placed her hand on her father’s hand. He looked at his daughter with a frown but her eyes were closed. She nodded. She was listening, but listening to something or someone? It was a new thing to him and now very frequent that he dreaded his inability to be prepared to take care of her.
They walked a few miles into the bush and came out in a large expanse of farm land. She plucked a cocoyam leaf and turned it upside down for a few seconds then picked it up and fanned the air in the direction of each cardinal point. They felt the wind but she couldn’t make out its direction. She did it again, and this time on their right, the wind pressed against their bodies from the west. She stopped fanning and the breeze stopped. She did it again, the wind pressed them from the east towards the west. She walked towards the west and disappeared.
Eriri was startled. There was nothing but the farm land. He let go of Ónu whom he had been dragging along. He scratched his head and looked around.
She reappeared, frowning. “Mpa, come quick nawh!” then she vanished again.
Eriri hesitated. He stood close to where she disappeared and stretched out his hand. The whole of his arm was gone. He retrieved it, his heart thudding. He shoved Ónu in and Ónu disappeared. He rubbed his jaw. He was about to enter when her head appeared and he was taken aback. He stumbled over a few moulds of loamy soil. He staggered but didn’t fall.
Ómalichanwa’s worried face quickly turned angry. “Mpa, don’t forget the leaf.”
He picked the leaf up, held his breath, and ran through the portal, stumbling over Ónu and landed flat on his stomach. They had appeared on the path that led to the latrine of Ónu’s compound. Eriri was impressed. This was what he needed to take his daughter out of danger.
“We must leave.” Ónu was muttering more to himself than either of them.
To be continued.