Okpararebisi headed for the palace just as the second maid was running towards it with the sad news. He smiled mischievously. He suddenly didn’t want to kill his uncle right away. He was going to watch him suffer until he confessed. He raised a brow at one of the cohorts whom he was going to torment at dusk. He returned back to his body and was hit with the incredible urge to urinate. Just as he was about to pee, he heard footsteps that lingered. Peering out from his hideout, he could only make out a silhouette with a lamp and only remembered there were insects when he saw her slapping herself. A few seconds more and another set of footstep, faster, approached the silhouette.
“Mother,” the silhouette with the lamp muttered.
They hugged hurriedly.
Okpararebisi strained his ears to enable him pick out their voices later but they were whispering. He focused on the silhouette with the lamp and picked her scent while he listened. Her scent was so nice it was distracting him as it ensnared him to her. He had to control his urge to urinate, listen in and see their face. Somehow he couldn’t see their faces which was probably because he couldn’t resist the scent of the woman he concentrated on.
“Daughter of mine. How are you?”
The girl said nothing.
“You have news.”
“It was a boy.”
Her mother stood frozen, her eyes looked like they were about to pop and her mouth hung open.
“It died. It came out alive and then it just, died.”
“Our ancestors have heard our prayers.”
“That’s beside the point, when do I get to leave? I do not like how His Majesty looks at me.”
“But why? You are the fairest maiden in all the lands combined.”
“My heart beats for another.”
“It’s been a cycle of five seasons already, forget him. He hasn’t been back since he fed the warriors their last meal.”
“Which you provided.” The silhouette holding a lamp spat.
“Oh, he knew what he was getting himself into.” Her mother stretched her hand to touch her but she pulled back, the swaying lamp flickered.
“You poisoned them mother. How am I sure -?”
“Shut up child.” the mother hissed. “The night has not lost its ears.”
“Did you kill him too?” she asked in a loud whisper.
“I did not.”
“Like you forgot my father?”
Her mother slapped her and pulled her close almost immediately. “Avenge your father, and he will return.”
“I’m tired of this, Mother.”
“You watch your tone child. This was your idea, was it not?”
The girl was silent.
“You’ve got to finish what you started.”
“You made me -”
“Enough! Now go be a good girl. You need enough rest for your chores tomorrow.” She turned to leave but turned around. “Daughter of mine.”
The girl stopped in her tracks but didn’t turn around.
“If he wants you, let him have you. And when he does come to me. You will bear him an heir and we’ll take the kingdom which rightfully belonged to your father.”
The girl turned to look at her mother, tears streaming from her eyes. Her mother walked to her, wiped her daughter’s tears with the back of her hands, and cupped her face. “Remember; share your bed not your heart. Do not forget you father. Take back what was his.” She let out an exasperated sigh. “Now, cry no more. Think less, my dear. We have a family to conquer.”
The girl nodded.
“I have a guest, and I don’t want him to get suspicious.”
“He is useful.” She patted her daughter’s shoulder impatiently. “No one to concern yourself with, eh! Now go!”
Okpararebisi couldn’t make out who was talking. The mother had something on her that repelled him. No matter how hard he tried to see her face, he literary hit a wall. They had taken too long, and he ended up urinating on himself. Now, he knew the warriors were killed by a widow whose daughter was a maid in the palace. He had missed the poison by a stroke of luck. Now, he needed to know if she was the same person who murdered his brothers and his grandfather or working with Omehia. For all he knew she could have been one of the maids that bathed him. He had to make sure before he took any step forward. He was desperately hungry, tired and stank of urine.
He imagined being where both women stood. But he felt like someone had tossed him and he appeared at his bath house. He grimaced as he remembered he was also thinking of taking a bath. The big water pots still had water in them. He tasted it and spat out in disgust. He thought of what to do and the essence of the herbalist floated in front of him again. He felt like he was being pulled in three directions; the essence of illusion pulled his left hand towards the water pot, the essence of herbology pulled his right towards the mushrooms growing near the pot and the algae in a broken water pot. His legs were being pulling behind him. His heart fell to his stomach when his eyes fell upon an apparition. He was appalled by the odour it exuded. It seemed to be beckoning him. He shook his head. He was going to die but definitely not now. He wasn’t old enough to die.
The apparition came closer, as it did others appeared with outstretched arms. His entire body shuddered violently. The closer they got the colder he felt. There were too many voices that his ears from within his head were drumming. His forehead felt very hot. In an instant, the voices were gone. He opened his eyes and rummaged while trying to focus his vision. It was still dark and quiet except for the night owl, the cuckoo and the cricket. He could hear people talking and some laughing. He moved closer to see who it was making sure he was invisible. He didn’t see anything but the voices were really close. When he tried to focus on where the sound was coming from he realised the size of the leaves were increasing, sand now looked like little rocks then he saw six-legged creatures in a straight line. At each distance he saw another six-legged with longer tall barking orders. “Because you’re ants does not give you the license to nuisance. Speed up!”
He blinked, a little startled. He heard a rat tell a mouse that they were not of the same class and where not expected to be seen with each other. He covered his ears but the sounds didn’t stay out so he turned to take his leave when one of his feet got stuck in a water pot. He had forgotten why he was there in the first place. The smell of urine brought him back to his predicament. He looked up and saw a few plantain trees; he figured he could roast some plantain for dinner. He tried to unsheathe his machete then realised he had abandoned them with his wet clothes.
He whisked his hand and the two bunches fell, one of them smelt sweet. The skin was yellow and soft. He tasted it and moaned; it was soft and sweet. Enjoying it he consumed almost half of the bunch. He heard the rustling of leaves and tidied up the place with a flick of hand. He plucked a few leaves and dipped in the water then tossed it out before dunking flowers into the water.
After taking his bath he felt light but smelled like flowers. He sniffed again. He smelt like a woman. He liked it but couldn’t stand it and worse still it made him sneeze. Although he was exhausted he followed the scent of the silhouette with the lamp earlier. The scent was everywhere it was difficult to choose the most recent so he followed all. He finally found her ten minutes later. She was humming as she strode in the direction of the bathhouse but vied right, a few paces ahead him with an earthenware pot in the curve of her hand.
It was only when she started undressing that he realised it was where the maids took their bath. Watching her aroused him. His head urged him to run but he wasn’t used to following his instinct so he stayed and pondered. He willed himself to look away. Indecision wavered into intent. He flicked his hand the bulb of light on her lamp went off.
She hissed then rummaged in the dark for the flints which was stashed in her sack of potpourri then cussed when she accidentally knocked the bag over. He pulled her roughly to himself and had his way with her. She had bitten him so she could catch him out but he healed soon afterwards.
He went to his hut. Memories of his brothers came flooding in his mind as if they were still there causing him to be restless. He went out of the hut and paced around the compound glad for the cloak of the night sky. He raised a brow and smiled knowingly when he heard groaning from his uncle’s hut and shrugged. A few minutes later, he saw a maid he had never met walk towards the palace. She looked around surreptitiously and slipped into the palace via the rear entrance. He wanted to use his mind to see what she was up to but remembering how exhausting it was he decided to stick with his invisibility.
He didn’t need to get inside to hear his uncle’s voice. He sniggered and almost laughed when he realised that his uncle’s wife had to be with someone else. Curious to know who he went to check, the man on top of her was her acclaimed cousin. A while after he entered the room the man left. He flicked his hand and the door opened and closed she didn’t react; it seemed she was expecting someone. So he saw it as another opportunity to quell his hunger for Uzò, his namesake.
He had just finished with her when the person came in. He shook his head; the rumours about her were confirmed. It was tit for tat as her husband was no different. He came back to her twice that night and she didn’t flinch. She knew he was different and begged him to come back again. So long as it would keep him from going back Uzó. He didn’t understand why he longed for her even after the spell had been broken.
Sated, he snuck into the hut he once shared with his brothers at the early hours of the morning. There was a film of dust in the room which he swiped away with a wave of his hand and fell into a fitful sleep filled with memories of all the past Hierarchies.
There was a maiden called Enyia who had a keen eye on the Omehia. Enyia was the only daughter of her father, she had many brothers and they were too poor to get themselves a bride. She decided to work in the palace as most of the maids had run away because of the queen. She knew most of the maiden were beautiful, and the queen found a competition in them. So when she approached Eli’ikenueze, she rubbed palm kernel oil on her skin with a special paste from a fungus her mother used in chasing rodents from the house. It wasn’t a horrible smell, but it was bad. When she mixed them with the paste of black mushroom her fair skin became dark and patchy and she oozed lightly of dead fish.
Enyia had always admired Chinwó. Chinwó was the only maiden in the palace who didn’t cower when the King approached. For that reason the queen didn’t like her, but Chinwó didn’t mind. She was given double portion of the housework which she did diligently. The queen, angry that she hadn’t hurt the girl’s feelings, started maltreating her in any form humanly possible. It was in one of such feats that the King discovered Chinwó. His wife wasn’t getting any younger and would soon pass child bearing age. He beckoned Chinwó to come to his hut, but she always meandered her way out of going.
Omehia was curious to find out how Chinwó got her confidence, if only to boast before his chiefs in this trying time of his reign. He became more observant of her. Omehia noticed that every fortnight Chinwó would go to the bath house much later than usual. One particular day, he decided to follow her.
Enyia saw the King following Chinwó, thinking Chinwó was going to meet her lover – this was prohibited – tried to signal her but she wasn’t watching. So she cut through the bath house and tossed a stone a Chinwó, and slanted her head in the direction of the King.
Chinwó’s mother, on seeing her daughter turn away from her quickly left suspecting that her daughter had given her up.
Chinwó snuck back to the bath house, but Omehia was stood in front of it. She gave herself to him because he was eyeing her suspiciously, and she didn’t want to be beheaded or hung on a pike.
Soon after, Okpararebisi moved into the hut he disguised himself as Omehia and started dishonouring the women in Eli’ikenueze. Some of the maidens began to move further away from Eli’ikenueze. Others their fathers gave them away for little or no bride price. Men were wearier of the unattached maidens that remained. The news about the young maidens being undone by the King didn’t spread quickly, and none were willing to admit that she was a victim. He didn’t care that some of them were married. Some widows would come and pay homage and then remain in the palace for days with him. Praying. It was usually easy. All he had to do was his uncle insatiable with Chinwó.
The Queen thought it was her husband that was behind the atrocities, due to his desperation to have an heir so she stabbed him to death. She was hung that same day in the evil forest where their ancestors will not lay claim on them in the land of the dead folks. They loved her and didn’t have the courage to behead her. He watched the procession and waited. The following day Okpararebisi went to Oche-eze the Chief Priest who invited the elders, and by the third Moon Okpararebisi was coronated.
For the next twenty cycles of seasons, he terrorised the women, trampled on the men, and turned their children into slaves. Not openly at first, but then hunger thrived. It seeped into the rest of the kingdom and that became a weapon in his hands too; Men sold their children to him in exchange for food. Some gave him their daughters and like one would share his food he shared the maidens amongst some of his elders.
In the first and only uprising, half of his farm produce and the entire yam in his barn were taken. He decided to bury the pearls of Oko River so that no one could use magic on whatever belonged to him – the pearls of Oko River were cloud-coloured stones which were found in the riverbed near Isekó, it turned red when magic was near. He quelled any uprising as he saw it while it took place. He was never able to see ahead because when he did a part of his body would go limp and stop working entirely. He couldn’t heal himself. He used herbs and since it was caused by magic it took a long time to get healed.
To be continued.