7.Omezie looked down at her dress in surprise. She smiled in triumph just as a sharp pain pierced through her side and she saw a vision of her aunt falling and the maids clutching at their chests. She gasped and looked around surreptitiously for a way out.
Okpararebisi was grinning, but his grin looked frozen. His eyes were starry as he carried the fire towards her.
She comported herself to look defiant. Then she remembered why she had come. She opened her mouth but words weren’t coming out. She blinked and tried again. No word came out. She tried to raise her hands to defend herself, but they didn’t respond to her.
He flinched and became more determined. He tried to scorch the dress but nothing happened. He sat on the bed near her and pondered. He needed a way to get the garment off of her. He didn’t like the thick barrier of it. He could get to her but couldn’t get past the dress and then an idea occurred to him. He motioned for her to face him. She turned to face him against her will. He gestured to her to pull up the dress, and she did. She was whimpering, but he was oblivious to it. He told her to lie down. She did. He wiped the tears from her eyes tenderly. Her eyes pleaded, but he was oblivious to it. He got up and perused her like she was something he was trying to fathom. He asked her to part her legs. She did just as fresh streams of water ran down her temples.
He paused then tilted his head to listen. Someone was in his court. He could feel it. His mind sailed to his court. He stiffened when he found out it was Uzò. He quickly retreated to his body and left making sure to latch the door. He gritted his teeth; her back was turned to him as she perused his things. He cleared his throat and she turned around slowly. He smiled but she didn’t smile back. He wondered how she got in without the guards knowing. She wanted to introduce him to his son. He laughed. It couldn’t be, he believed. The young man in front of him had seen less thirty cycles of seasons and he hadn’t set eyes on her in a long time. She laughed a long mirthless laugh. She reminded him of the time he spent in her hut, and he sank on the bed as his legs could no longer carry him. He was doleful for just a few seconds; he was aware of the boy but didn’t know he was an offshoot of Uzó.
“What is his name?” He asked, his back turned to them as he smiled with satisfaction. His heir was home. He just needed to find a way to make the kingdom accept his son so he could become King when it was time.
“Anyaeze and you’re not my father.”
“Yes, you’re my son. A child who cannot live under my roof but a son none the less.”
Anyaeze snickered. “You are a grandfather. I ask that you pass a totem cape to my son. I want nothing from you, but it would be unfair of me to deprive my son of that right.”
“This is his foreskin, so you don’t need to set your eyes on him,” Uzò said and sauntered out of the room pulling her son with her.
Okpararebisi smiled meditatively. He picked up the foreskin and tried to sniff the child’s scent and started sneezing. It was covered in pepper. Uzò was a spitfire and he missed her. He shook his head. Just seeing her undid him but she wasn’t going to get away with placing him under a spell and neither could she keep him from his lineage. He blew into the foreskin and everything she had imbued in them wafted away. What he didn’t know was that she had covered the foreskin with pepper so he wouldn’t realise that there were actually two foreskins. He had grandsons, twins. He sniffed the foreskin again and followed its trail.
It led him to Chinwó’s hut. Then realisation set in; the silhouette with a lamp all those seasons ago was Chinwó and her mother was Uzó. He bit the inside of his cheek. He should have noticed it earlier with her insolence during his uncle’s reign and her insubordinations in his time. Uzò must have cast a spell on Chinwó so he could find her repulsive because the first few years of his reign she was the only one he wanted to be with. He was going to undo that spell if only to hurt Uzó.
He searched for a baby only to discover that it was a child no less than ten cycles old. He had over the seasons mastered how to summon someone with his mind. He told the boy to come to his hut as soon as everyone else was asleep. It didn’t work. He heard Uzò call the boy Ogbuogu then summoned the boy by name.
Anyanazuvuanyamgbede got up and walked out of the room as soon as Okpararebisi left. She had succeeded in eluding some of the guards, but she needed enough cover to escape unnoticed. So she waited patiently for the cloud to cover the moon. If she ever got out of the compound in one piece, she would never be disobedient. She was about to come out of her hiding spot when she heard light footsteps approaching. She crouched lower but the footsteps continued towards her.
Seeing that it was a child, she knelt down and pleaded, but he laughed. He had just come out of the hut Okpararebisi had entered when he left her. In a few seconds, Okpararebisi was beside the boy.
He tapped the boy’s shoulder. “Ogbuogu.”
Ogbuogu nodded and walked back in the direction he came from.
Okpararebisi grinned sheepishly. “I may be old, my dear, but I have experience on my side. Now come with me!”
It hurt to resist, but she did for several minutes. He pulled her to his room. She saw a few women in the distance and screamed for help.
He shook his head muttering, “Why bother?”
She continued to scream. He turned around and drew around her neck with his finger. She could no longer scream. She heard hurried footsteps. She looked to where she had seen the women and no one was there. She trudged behind him no longer in control of her limbs.
As soon as he got off her, she summoned all the strength she could muster to prevent herself from crying. She closed her eyes. She saw a vision of her aunt crossing the Mini-Echichem (River of my thoughts) and anger welled in her. She got up and ran out of the room. She had almost reached the gate when she saw the other women. She was oblivious to the fact that the sun had risen and that she was naked. She spun around on the spot, tilting her head so and so. There was muttering and exclamations from her viewers which attracted the attention of the others within the compound. They came out. The group of children who had gathered around a few peacocks with sticks and stones were now focused on her. An elderly woman shooed the children away. No one made and attempt to cover her shame. They looked on, shaking their heads.
Her eyes darkened when she saw Ogbuogu. A glint caught her eye. She glanced sideways to find out what it was. It was the sceptre for the Chieftain of Wealth and Duty. She walked purposefully towards it. As she walked towards it, there was rumbling like a storm was approaching, but it lasted just over a second. Power which threatened to overwhelm her coursed through her. Okpararebisi saw where she was heading and appeared near the door. Sensing his approach she quickly grabbed the sceptre. He folded his arms, leaning on the wall of the hut, and watched her. He was amused and found her more irresistible. The glint of anger in her eyes aroused him. He began to walk towards her.
“Don’t you dare!” Her voice was barely audible, and her lips were trembling.
“What did you think would happen when you held it? How does it feel to near such power and be unable to wield it?” He continued to walk towards her with a smug look on his face.
She let out a ragged sigh.
He nodded. “A man of my potential can make you a great woman. With you by my side, all folks will adore me, you even. Why then do you stand against my heart’s desire?”
She began to laugh then it turned to a mournful cackle. The anger in her was so strong that her brown hair turned black and glossy, but her eyes were no longer red. She let out a guttural sound then laughed. Her laughter rippled and pierced the ear drums of those close by.
He took another step towards her and stopped when Ogbuogu called him. He turned to see that every member of his household was in the hut. He couldn’t lose his integrity before his family so he lunged forward to take the sceptre from her. He tried to stop her from cackling, because it was getting louder and shriller. He tried to slap her, but she flicked her head toward her left and he went flying across the room. He looked up at her startled.
She looked around. “I called for help, but my women folk looked on. Your children stared at my nakedness. Feast your eyes children. Feast your eyes. Feast your eyes for your father’s sin has come upon you. Your sons shall hunger for this and will not find it in any woman, dead or alive. O daughters, your brothers shall graze your bed like the bulls of Rigene Forest that they are.”
Okpararebisi grimaced. She was beginning to irritate him. “My sins cannot be visited on my children. It’s not the law of nature.”
“Gone are the days when men fell by their sins. You all chose your fate the day you shut your mouth to my pleas and those of the numerous women who’ve been brought in here. The oppressions of the people who stare at you.” She scuffed. “Ah, the poor that lingered at your gate and you can’t even spare a morsel of garri.”
“Give me my sceptre!” Okpararebisi ordered.
“It was never yours.” She replied solemnly, her eyes gleaming with mischief. She whispered into the staff. “Find and protect your wielder for Awele will soon awaken.” Then she looked at Okpararebisi and taunted, swinging it. “You want this, don’t you?”
“Hand it over. Now!”
She stopped swinging it and tossed it. He stretched his hand to catch it. Less than an inch from his reach she made a fist and the sceptre shattered. She smiled gleefully as the essence began to waft out of the pieces.
“The White Priestess!” Uzò gasped as she saw the shattered sceptre – only the White Priestess could shatter the Sceptre. Uzó moaned. She had always hoped she would be the one but her cousin was her grandmother’s favourite. She wouldn’t have foreseen Omezie, the sickly, curious, obnoxious one as the choice for next priestess after her cousin, or she would have covered her with leprosy or something viler. She saw some of the red essence flowing towards the gate and chased it. Just as it was about to enter one of the women at the gate she pushed the woman away, and it entered her. The scent was weak so she couldn’t identify which power she had imbued, but she needed more so she chased down every single one but only succeeded in acquiring two more.
The essences went out in flight for its next possessor. Most of them couldn’t sail out of Eli’ikenueze because of the pearls of the Oko River. The pearls of the Oko River repelled magic. Unable to find their owners, the essences searched for willing or eager hearts which was difficult in the height of despair and the essences didn’t recognise motive.
There was an old woman at the gate who was bent over a few minutes earlier. An essence had entered her and she got up with a bone cracking stretch. Her hair was no longer white but black with specks of grey. She could no longer feel the inflammation in her fingers or around her knees. She brushed pass a blind man who regained his sight instantly. She looked around surreptitiously and blended into the crowd as she made her escape. She couldn’t afford to let the King discover her. She was heading towards the outskirts of Eli’ikenueze before three more essences slammed into her almost knocking the air from her lungs. They were all in shades of green much lighter then the first one.
An hour later, more people were at the palace gate and were heading in the old woman’s direction to exit the Eli’ikenueze. She couldn’t leave. It felt like there was an invisible wall that prevented her from leaving. She was exhausted with finding a way. The others also tried to leave but couldn’t so they all gathered around the exit, exhausted and beginning to despair again.
It was almost sundown when two young boys, came to the exit. As they got near the wall, one of them asked, “Do you see that?”
“See what?” the other boy replied as he passed through the invisible wall.
One of the men sitting near it followed the boy and met a brisk wall and limped back to where he was sitting.
The other boy was startled by what he had seen. He called out to his brother who was getting ready to shoot a stone from his catapult oblivious to his brother’s plea. He continued to call on his brother while he cautiously walked to the wall and closed his eyes to pass through it. He was almost out when all the essence in the old woman entered him causing him to fall forward. His brother ran to his side. He felt something sting him as he touched his brother’s face. His brother belched and sat up knocking his brother’s catapult out of his hand.
Meanwhile at the palace there was pandemonium. Some people shuddered as the essence entered them, soldiers and maids alike. Some, sensing the change in them and suspecting the king had done something against them, began to withdraw carrying what they could slip away with. In the King’s court, most of the women were shouting mundane words. Some gasped and cowered and some knelt down pleading for their lives. The children in the court did whatever each of their parents were doing except for a few curious ones.
Anyanazuvuanyamgbede closed her eyes and summoned her dress. She stretched her hands up, and the dress passed through her like it was being pulled over her. As the dress sat on her, it started changing colour. The gold flecks in the raffia flickered and fire engulfed the dress, causing ripples on the fabric. When the fire stopped, the dress was a silky gold, black, and red.
She chuckled and said, “Commit to memory this day. For when you forget the owl will cry. The hummingbird will announce the day of hunting. The eagle will fail to soar. The lion will be unable to brag. The vultures will have their fill. Yes, that day is nigh.” She cackled once more. She spun around with hands flailing. She was still doing that when Anyaeze threw his spear at her. It went through the side of her neck and she lolled backwards. Blood gushed from her half-open neck.
Ogbuogu saw something fall where she was and picked it up. It looked like a claw. Three shiny objects were embedded in them, one that shone like the sun, another like the moon and another like a rain cloud. He looked surreptitiously around and tucked it in his pocket and went back to stand between Chinwó and Uzò before slipping through the crowd.
Okpararebisi lividly stared at the pieces of sceptre. He summoned the Chief Priest who was conveniently out of town. Whingeing and moaning, he ordered his warriors to find another priest.
Anyanazuvuanyamgbede shimmered and disappeared.
Ene’e created an illusion of the sceptre on the ground and ran after the real one that Anyanazuvuanyamgbede had dispatched. The pearls of the Oko River had repelled it, but Ene’e was quick to catch the pieces in a bubble before depositing it near Ónu’s house. He went back to get Anyanazuvuanyamgbede back to the last of her people before her soul could be stolen by Ónwu.
He could perceive Ónwu and knew was close.
By the time Ene’e deposited the sceptre at Ónu’s house, Ónwu was hovering around him. He could perceive him close by. As soon as he saw Ónwu, he disguised himself as Ogbuogu and made Anyanazuvuanyamgbede invisible with a wave of his hand. Then he moved her away from that spot before Ónwu would notice the illusion. He created a portal, picked up the keys before anyone would noticed and put it in his pocket. He slipped through the crowd, invisible, and took her through the portal.
Ene’e couldn’t shake off the feeling that he had forgotten something so he returned through the portal, making sure he was still cloaked in invisibility. He heard Ónwu harrumph and turned around to face him, removing the mask of invisibility. “What do you want?”
Ónwu gritted his yellow, decayed teeth. “The soul you stole from me.”
“Do not act dumb!” Ónwu’s eyes glistened bright red, he closed his hands, making his fingernails stand out like a bird’s tail then gestured. “I don’t like you, and you don’t like me, understandably.” He rubbed his chin with his knuckle. “But you are interfering and it is irritating me.”
Ene’e scoffed. “Awele will decide that. Until then, stay out of my business.”
Ónwu shuddered at the mention of Awele and gulped. “Very well, but this is not over.”
To be continued.