That night, his brothers bullied him but he didn’t care he was planning his next visit to his Uzò’s house. His grandfather will be in mourning and will also be confined to his quarters in deliberation. All he had to do was get past the guards unnoticed. He would have to bribe his bath-maids. And he would have to wake up much earlier than his brothers.
And he did so.
He was at his namesake’s hut until it was almost dawn. He sneaked back in just as the maids were coming to prepare him for his bath as they had arranged. He dispatched two of them. They were still in the bath area when he heard a commotion, he didn’t bother to come out it wasn’t like he was ever expected to do anything or that anything he did was appreciated. Besides he was tired of playing peacemaker. It was probably one of his uncle’s wives feigning or alleging one thing or another to get her husband into fighting with his brothers again.
Like an approaching torrent he heard scream after scream then wailing, something was wrong. He hurried to the hut he shared with his brothers out as quickly as he could. When he got to the gathering, he shoved passed to see what they were all staring at to find two of his uncles – Nwóna’azu and Cheta – lying in precarious positions in pools of their blood. Some of the guards had blood on their machetes. He never liked his uncles anyway; there was no love lost between them and were only cordial when their grandparents were within ears-reach. What he didn’t understand was why his uncles were dressed like the guards. He went to the hut and a guard blocked the entrance. Just then one of the guards with feathers on his head ran through the group that circled him panting. Between pants he whispered into Okpararebisi’s ear. “The King demands your presence.” Okpararebisi looked back at the hut and shrugged, he would just be bullied again.
It was too late to make his escape to meet the widow at the edge of the forest. He bowed in curtsey to his grandfather who was dressed in full regalia. He frowned and looked around all the elders of each house was present in full regalia complete with their insignia. He peered at the crowd. His brothers were not there neither was Omehia. His grandfather looked on stoically when he turned to face Okpararebisi. He summoned his servant to dress Okpararebisi. As soon as he was dressed in full regalia, Oche-eze, the Chief Priest got up. Even with his cane he was still bent double but he wasn’t old. His wiry grey and white hair shaped like spikes. There were three white lines drawn on each arm and half of his face was painted white, the other black. He produced a flint that was as clear as water and as flat as a leaf.
He started chanting and everyone quickly in the hut quickly scrambled for a seat as quickly and as quietly as they could. The ceremony was quick and solemn. Immediately after that his grandfather quickly introduced him to the guards with animal hides across their shoulders as warriors and the marshals were the ones in feathers. The Lord Marshal had died weeks before, and it wasn’t time to crown anyone for that position.
They all left with Okpararebisi. They were to take him to a secure location in Rumujieli. When they got to the outskirts of Eli’ikenueze on the ridge just outside Rumuoriji, the warriors decided to rest as they hadn’t slept in days. They sent a few servants to get them food. None came back except one, he was carting a large raffia bag tied to two long sticks. Every one of them started gulping and slurping their food. Okpararebisi didn’t feel like eating.
He was worried about the implication of what his grandfather and the Chief Priest had said, after he told them he had not known the loins of a woman. Well, if it were true he would have been mad by now. He couldn’t marry a widow. What would be his excuse?
He was still lost in thought when he heard an uproar. The men were groping their stomachs in pain and looking for the servant who had purchased the food. One of the men who kept watch ran back to inform them that there was danger. From behind Okpararebisi, one of the Marshals’s grabbed him roughly and told him to run and not look back. He did as he was told, holding the bag the Marshal had given him. He ran close to the path but not on it. He stopped under a large tree as he tried to assess where he was. Recognising where he was, he quickly changed into the outfit in the bag and ran towards the widow’s hut.
He inhaled deeply, holding his breath as he knocked on the window at the back of the house.
Uzó peered through the crack of her straw window. She pulled back and peered again. She was surprised to see him back at her house so soon that she hesitated to open the door. When she cracked the door open, he slid in, forcing her to open it wider. She quickly closed it after him and folded her arm across her body.
He pushed her to the bed, and when he was done, he sat up and said, “My brothers were murdered before I got back.”
She gasped nosily and crawled towards him. “I’m so sorry,” she drawled, massaging his neck and shoulders.
“Now, I’m supposed to find the next Chieftain of Wealth and Duty.” He roused himself from bed and began pacing, one hand rubbing his shaven chin. “How am I supposed to find out who that is? The only person that knew who to get me to this unknown person died on our way there. How…?” He looked at her longingly and shook his head. “Put something on. You’re distracting me.”
She rolled her eyes but didn’t budge. He was where she wanted him, and now she couldn’t believe her luck. She had hoped he will die of the poison in the food but she was an optimistic woman. All she wanted was to use him to get to the King. Who knew he would be made Caretaker? The youngest of all the men in that household. It was only a matter of time before she could get hold of…
He had fourteen moons to make the transition. She hoped he didn’t know that. She just needed something to keep him entertained until the period had passed so that he will give her the essence she needed. The repercussion was too minimal to the power she would wield to get her heart’s desire granted. She was too excited to think, but she was desperate for a good plan. She knew powers too. She wanted to watch his grandfather suffer along with his wives who had put her in this state. She walked to the window and stared out of the window. My husband may not have been a young man but he was all I had, all I needed and they took his life. He wasn’t even interested in the throne. Adaku killed my husband just so that Anyanwuze would be King.
“Did you not hear a thing I said?” Why are you still naked?”
“Your majesty I long for you.” she purred blinking repeatedly as she sauntered towards him.
He smiled. “You don’t have to try so hard. I do however have to think.”
So do I. You’re more than a man but you think like a child. I’m tired of being lonely and you’ll be useful, very useful. I best pay another visit to that disgusting old man. He owed me a favour, and I need a love potion.
“You seem distracted.”
She sighed despairingly.
“What is it?”
“Out with it.”
Uzò looked up absentmindedly. “I can see a gap in the roof. The rain is fast approaching to water the seedlings in the ground. My hands aren’t firm enough to build…”
“Say no more. I’ll start to take care of it. Tomorrow, I’ll get the raffia.”
“But Your Majesty, your safety?” she leaned on him coyly. “Why don’t I go out there and get it. Then you can… your majesty I.”
“I like the way you say it.”
“Say what Your Majesty.” She smiled with a crinkle around her eyes.
“Show me some love.”
She was exhausted, but she was the one that put that potion in his food the first time they met; now he couldn’t stay away from copulating. The mad woman had told her that the potion didn’t have a cure but she didn’t believe her.
Moons and Sunshines passed, he had finished the roof and plastered the hut. The kitchen tent and was almost through with the bigger structure for himself when he felt the urge to puke. The urge was uncontrollable. It was like something clung to the insides of the throat and he couldn’t get it out. It was suffocating him. No matter how much water he drank, he just couldn’t bring it out. He went into the kitchen hut to get palm oil and salt and mixed it like his grandfather had taught him. He drank it, and then a few minutes later he puked out an egg, a whole black egg. It fell and made a splat on the ground. Only charms had that effect on anyone, his grandfather had told him so.
He was contemplating on it and stumbled into something in the kitchen. It was a doll in the replica of a human being. He would have ignored it but for the fact that it had his insignia. He picked it up and pulled a straw from the head of it and his head felt like it was on fire. He quickly soaked it in palm oil and ran to the back of the house with a flint, cut open the stalk of one of the plantain tree then tucked the doll inside it. He retrieved the doll, took it with him to the kitchen, started a fire and tossed it into the fire.
As soon as it was ash, an energy passed through his hand to his whole body starting from his fingers. His mind reeling as memories flashed before him, he shook violently as he saw the warrior telling him to run. He looked at himself. He was wearing rags, and there were many changes to the compound that he almost forgot it was the widow’s hut. He had no recollection of what happened after he entered the widow’s hut on that very day. If he rebuilt the hut, then he must have been there a long time.
He ran to the back of the house and picked up his regalia which was already ridden with worms and covered in sand. He shook the worms off. Energy passed through his hands and sparkled where his fingertips touched the regalia and it started to renew itself. He smiled as he felt his strength increased. He needed his machete and in a flash he was in the hut beside his machete. He laughed maniacally. He was glad that he hadn’t transferred the sceptre to its successor.
He wanted to see what was happening in his grandfather’s hut. Suddenly, it was like he was running until he got to his grandfather’s hut. His uncle sat on the throne; some elders were with him laughing and click their palm wine gourds. None of them drank from the small gourds in front of them. He blinked and felt like someone had pulled him and he was awake. No one could run that fast. He shrugged it off and blinked. He was still standing with his machete in hand. He nodded to himself. It was like his grandfather had said, you think of anything and you get it except you couldn’t control another living thing. He sat down on the bamboo bed and looked at it again. It was new and bigger. He most certainly was living here. He would never willingly give up the throne. He grinned. Her punishment will be swift and easy.
He inhaled and held his breath as he came into his grandfather’s compound again. His uncle’s head hung low, at first he thought he was dead then he heard snoring. A few elders he recognised. They were all in a pensive mood. He tried to see if he could coerce his uncle to tell him any secret. Just then he heard a woman’s voice.
He took his mind to the sound. It was coming out of one of his late uncle’s hut. He didn’t think it would be a good idea to go in there so he waited. It was supposed to be private. He looked around the compound there were two little children playing. One was the replica of the other except where one was fair the other was dark. They were girls. They looked up at someone and called her mother he followed them as they ran to the woman. It was Cheta’s wife. They didn’t have children when he was there. How many years had he been under Uzò’s spell?
He came back to himself and would have lost balance if he wasn’t sitting down. His head throbbed. They looked no less than three cycles which meant, he had been with the viper for cycles of four seasons. He would kill her with his bare hands. He wondered where he could find her and suddenly there were footsteps; it glistened and a waft of brown smoke seemed to be emanating from the footprints and it was fading.
That was one of the powers of the Paramount Ruler of War and Servitude. This could come in handy. He followed it until he got to the market. He saw her haggling. In her hand she was weighing a bunch of pumpkin leaves. He was beside her and she jerked her head back like she had seen him. She looked through him, frowned and shrugged and went back to haggling. He smiled and raised his had to her neck and a child tugged its mother and pointed at him.
He retreated to himself. His head was beginning to whirl from the numerous powers within him, some threatening to burst. His body felt like it was being pricked all over. He was hungry and sweaty, his eyes hurt, and his body felt like an iroko tree was used to pummel him.
How did the little girl recognise me? Did an Okoruchi recognise another Okoruchi? Would I be able to recognise them? I need had to get the sceptre as soon as possible. I hope I can remember the uncloaking spell. Most importantly, I need to leave before Uzó returns. He decided that Uzó’s punishment would no longer be swift; he would wait until he could unleash a suitable one.
He stepped outside again and the overwhelming smells of greenery almost knocked the air out of his lungs. Each plant had its own scent and they seemed to be greeting him, introducing themselves and their attributes. They were alive! How can plants be alive? Their smells were both intoxicating and scintillating; it choked him, his throat scratched him, his eyes watered, his nose was swollen and his nostrils clogged.
An idea occurred to him. He followed the scent of the flowers and plants he needed. He went as far as the thicket of the forest to get a particular nectar to add to the items he had already collected. He didn’t know how but his brain knew everything that was required. He zipped in and out of the bush in a blur, then separated the items. One set he squeezed the juice into her bathwater and lined all clay pots in the house. Another he added to her favourite soup. He desperately wanted to add it to her palm wine but she had a good nose. Wanting her to think he was coming back, he carried only his regalia and his machete.
When he arrived at Eli’ikenueze, he thought of being invisible and looked down and almost laughed out loud. It had worked. He went to the back of the house and hid under the shrubby tree which he used to stay in to hide from his brothers. Until they started tying rats to strings and hang them around the tree to attract snakes. It had an eeriness to it which made anger boil in his blood. He got so angry that his mind travelled into his late uncle’s hut. He saw his Nwóna’azu’s wife crying. “I don’t want this accursed child.”
The old woman slapped her mouth. “Don’t say such things.”
“Please don’t come out. You deserve a better father. Don’t come out!” She pleaded with the child in her womb.
As soon as the baby came out, Okpararebisi touched its head, it stopped crying. A maid had already gone to tell the King the good news – it was a boy. The midwife checked the baby and froze. Its mother’s head fell back with relief. The midwife checked the mother’s pulse and covered her mouth, so she wouldn’t scream. How was she going to tell the King what had just happened?
To be continued.