Forty cycles of seasons later, near the edge of Akanônu farmlands, in the Mekwele clan a wedding was being held. Bachanna, the leader of the age-grade of Ité, the groom was almost drunk. He had done everything to woo the bride, Ezinma, but she had chosen Ité who wasn’t even from the same village. He didn’t believe in love at first sight, but after discovering that Ezinma had only met Ité once before his people brought wine, the idea nagged at his resolve. Ezinma, the most beautiful girl, was slipping off his hands, and he was getting drunk as he sniggered to himself. He just needed them to get it over and done with. He could have faked an illness if he wasn’t there to represent his father.
The wedding was barely over when the town crier announced that the King demanded the presence of the age grade of the twenty-fifth full cycles. Before the present King, no town crier announced an impromptu meeting. It was usually in the evenings or, in the case of an emergency, in the morning. The men grumbled all the way to the palace, Ité in tow.
Ezinma was on her way to Ité’s house. She was supposed to wait for him to take her there after the meeting, but she was worried that he might be waylaid by the bullies who attacked him the day before their wedding, because she refused to marry from their clan. Her mother had told her not to leave until her husband took her home since she didn’t leave with his family members. She only carried a basket of leftovers from the wedding. Her excitement numbed her exhaustion. She knew no harm would come to her if she took the path to the stream. Taking the main road could cause her to fall victim to the savage King whose lust was insatiable.
Feeling thirsty, she went to the stream. She heard voices but ignored them, it was probably her cousins and their friends. She never understood the amusement of hanging down from trees. It was only until she got to the mouth of the stream that she realised who it was and was about to make her escape but it was too late. He never walked in these paths, it was for peasants.
The King had seen her. He ordered his men to carry her to his hut. She fought them with all her might. As they got close to the compound, she turned abruptly and in the twisting of her body, she broke her neck. He was so angry with the palace guards that carried her that he instantly made them leprous.
Ité and his age grade were leaving the palace where they had an impromptu meeting with the King. He wasn’t hungry but stayed for refreshment as custom demanded even though the King was no where around. He was only too glad when it was over.
On their way out there was a commotion as some guards tried to cordon off the leprous guards. A path was made to let the young men pass. One of them squinted and tapped on the shoulder of the person ahead of him, then pointed to their left. There was something on the floor covered with the clothes the royals wore. Curiously, they moved their line closer to the item. The one that tapped his friend’s shoulder used his feet to brush the clothes. A hand fell out. He jumped, knocking back some of the people in their group. It was his shriek that attracted the attention of the others. He was pointing and shrieking. The guards quickly came to cordon off the place. The group, who had been eager to know what happened in the palace, blocked the guards.
Ité, eager to get his bride and take her home, was oblivious of the second commotion. It was only when one of them shouted the wife’s name that he stopped in his tracks. He heard her name mentioned a few more times and decided to check out what they were saying about his wife. He pushed and shoved until he got to the centre and saw his bride. He fell on his knees. It was his wedding day, a day he was supposed to take his wife home, but they had to have an accursed age-grade meeting.
Her eyes were red and swollen like she had been crying. Her head lolled. One hand was curled into a fist, and the other hand lay open like she was pleading. Ité cried. He stretched his hand and closed her eyes muttering. Whatever he muttered, his mates stamped their feet in agreement. They later dragged him away from the body, and someone else helped him carry the body of his lifeless bride.
In Abaliland, a girl, Omezie, was born to Amauche and Azu. On the eve of her birth three spotless chickens strayed into the compound and left soon after her birth. On Omezie’s eighth birthday, she was whisked off to her aunt’s hut to be prepared in the rites of becoming the White Priestess. She was to remain within her aunt’s compound until the rites where completed. On her thirteenth birthday she was paraded around the entire Kingdom on completion of the first of three rites. Three years later, on the eve of the second rite her aunt went into a trance. Since she was supposed to announce it, it couldn’t be held. The trance lasted for two seasons. No one knew what to do as it had never happened before and even though Omezie had been taught how to go into such a trance she wasn’t permitted to. Even if she did, she wouldn’t know where to find her aunt’s spirit.
When her aunt came through, she was struck with an unusual sickness. Whenever she was asked to treat it she would smile, but she was dying slowly. Omezie knew it had to be really bad because her aunt kept nothing from her, and there was always a lasting look of worry her face. To worsen it she wasn’t allowed out of her aunt’s sight. She was banned from going outside the hut. A mason who owed her aunt several favours built a bath in one corner of the room. Her aunt taught her a weaving – spell – to heat water as she had restricted the movement of people to her hut.
Omezie was frustrated and confined her thought to the day she would finally be free from her aunt. Her parents hadn’t come to visit since after the first rites. Her mother had told her that they weren’t supposed to. The beginning of a new season increased her eagerness and yearning. She stopped concentrating, distracted by her imaginations of what her friends and family will be like. Perhaps most of them would be married with children. On one such occasion, she didn’t listen when her aunt announced that she was going to get herbs from the forest. Her aunt had gone into the Agbalanya Forest at the back of their house which was at the edge of the village to get a specific herb to ease the labour of a pregnant woman in the hospitality hut and came back limping. When Omezie asked about it, she was given a stern glare. She never brought it up again. The following day, before the cock crew, her aunt came into her hut and told her to sit up.
She waited patiently for her to rouse herself. She was a bit uncomfortable. Her aunt was anything but patient.
“Night has come upon us. I have shielded the evil arrow that threatens our kind, but I’m afraid it will not be enough. You need to leave for Rimeòku right away. I have packed…” She gestured to the leather bag beside her. “For you. Do not turn back. Remember, you are our future, and I have taught you everything I know. Kneel down. Let me bless you.”
“But the blessing is after…”
Her aunt placed a curved pendant and a jagged stone as clear as water in a leather string over Omezie’s neck.
“From today henceforth you shall be called Anyanazuvuanyamgbede. Hope is despairing but not while you’re safe. Go through Agbalanya Forest. The forest nymphs owe me a favour. Use it wisely. This is a gift for Ene-e. He will know what to do. Now go!” Tears streamed down her aunt’s cheek. She placed a hand on her shoulder. “Sorrow and joy, light and dark, night and day… Watch for the pawn of darkness for its lure is strong and its lust is true. Like life in the blood is its fire. Shred your heart from its grasp. For a man can find his way back but not you my child.”
Her aunt quickly pulled her in a hug and shoved her away then turned away from her. She couldn’t tell her aunt that she had received a message in her dreams for Okpararebisi. Her aunt would have cast it off as nothing just like she had been doing for the past four cycles of seasons. She hurriedly left the hut heading towards the path her aunt had once taken her. She has been crowned the Priestess of Light. If she could be crowned before the rite was completed then why on earth had her aunt kept her estranged from her family? She longed for her mother. She knew a shortcut that could lead to the edge of Eli’ikenueze. It was a few hours away; she would still make it back in time to meet the forest nymphs. She had never met them before, but her aunt had told her that they didn’t come out at night. Since she had three days journey, she might as well get some food from her mother. She licked her lips, and her stomach grumbled as she thought of her mother’s cooking.
What she didn’t know was that the White Priestess was never to enter Eli’ikenueze or death will visit their kind like a plaque. It was an unusual treaty and no one knew why it was made that way. It just was so. As soon as she got to the boundaries of the Eli’ikenueze she pulled her raffia cloak over head. She knew where to find Okpararebisi; the sceptre gave him away. She entered the hut stealthily and tapped on his shoulder. He turned, not seeing her. The cloak made her invisible to everyone but him. He tapped into his power and saw her. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid his eyes on. He got up and approached her with a leer in his eyes. She had heard a rumour when she was younger that the priestess exuded a scent that lured men. They had no control over their actions, and the only way to stop them was in their death.
He was fixated on her, and she felt like something was crawling down her spine. She turned to run but was frozen on the spot. She had forgotten that he had all the powers of the sceptre. She had even forgotten why she had come to see him in the first place. She was now worried about her aunt. She couldn’t even remember any weavings that would protect her, her mind had gone blank.
He smiled impudently as he made his way towards her. He waved a finger, and the door latched. He clicked his finger and the bushels came on like they had been struck with a flint. He beckoned her, and she couldn’t resist. She had no control of her limbs. He flicked his finger continuously but nothing happened so when he reached her he stretched his hand to pull the dress off of her body. As he tried to tear the dress, it glistened searing his palms. Agitated, he tried again and again and again.
To be continued.