3 CHAPTER 1

The men watched as the Diviner circled another series of dance steps. The beads, and cowries that clothed her, oscillated, and swerved in rhythm to the wooden gong that vibrated the serenity of the cold night, whose handler was a ghost in the scene. Sulugede, the dance was so-called. It was, it is and will always be the dance of the spirit.

Drunk and possessed by the spirit of the ancestors, the diviner paused and started making gestures with her two hands. The numerous beads lining her wrist jingled with the cowries and both followed their wearer without complaint.

The musical beat of the wooden gong has ceased and the diviner had also paused, listening to the air, trying to pay heed to their advice.

Nobody spoke, nobody dared to speak, for this was one of those moments when the diviner and the spirit of the dead interact.

“Let the child that wrestle with the father be put to shame” she began the incantation, with a voice which cracked alongside the ember glows of the naked yellow fire.

“Let the man that humiliates his household be put to misery. He that doesn’t want the good of others, let no good come his way. Egbe belu, Ugo belu. Nke sina ibeya ama mbe, nku kwa ya (For the hawk and the eagle must perch, if any of them object the perching the other, let it break its wings and die). Our ancestor say, never will light or darkness prevail, for one must balance the other”

The diviner danced again with the flow of an imaginary tone, but this time, she was carried to and fro as if intoxicated by a strong wine.

Uncertainty was prevalent on the faces of her audience, which constitute every chief in Alaocha. The King was there too, standing in the front of his company. His eyes hung weakly on his tanned skin, with the patch of sleepless night, smearing the crease on his chin.

“A na-m anu (I can hear)”

The diviner held her ear lobe, paying attention to the instructions of the spirits. This act by the diviner was familiar to the people. Some said it was at this moment that the diviner receives commands from the gods. While others say it was a time when the diviner gives orders to the gods. Nobody knows; the diviner was believed to be a god that became flesh. People feared and respected her religions power more than the King.

“Igwe” the diviner called, with respect lurking its head in her voice. With all her powers she still respects the monarch.

“Awo adighi agba oso ehihie n’nkiti (It is not vain for a toad to run in the afternoon). Either it’s after its prey or its predator is after it. I know why you have come. The land is bare and unclean. The people have deflected from the ways of our ancestors,”

“Wise one,” the King spoke, clearing his dry throat. “An adage says that, if you wake up and finds a fowl running towards you, that it’s better to start running for dear life, for you never can tell if the fowl has suddenly grown teeth overnight. The impossible has happened. Please, what shall we do? Why has this calamity befallen I and my kinsmen? Why has such taboo surfaced in this peaceful generation?”

“The gods are angry with your household,” the Diviner spoke sadly.

“What have we done wrong, great one? Haven’t we sacrificed the fattest lamb? Haven’t we paid homage to Ala, the god of the soil? We gave Idemili—the river goddess—the ten damsels she asked, where then is our loophole?”

“You and your people ended up making a sacrifice of fools. Listen, this is my message to you from the gods. They said I should tell you, oji ihe nwata welie aka elu. You have something that belongs to a child; give it back to the child, or else—”

“…Or else what?” a rich deep voice behind the king shouted.

Surprised eyes turned to the direction of the one who dares interrupt the greatest dibia (herbalist) of Alaocha.

Three men walked their way to the front, not paying mind to the choirs of surprised eyes that studied them. They were bare chest and the pelt that rounded their waist was that of a leopard. They appeared to be warriors at first—from the sword resting in the scabbard of their waist and the shield they carry—but the white tattoo circling their left eye gave them away. They too were diviners.

“What will you do?” the voice that had spoken earlier asked. The owner appeared to be the leader of the three. Muscular frame; with long dreadlock and unshaved mustache and beard that had two white cowries on it.

“What sacrilege, Mbakwe. How dare you and your disciples walk into my shrine unannounced?” The female diviner asked. Those bright eyes of hers glaring dangerously as the light of the touch danced in them.

“The crown is powerless without the Ofor,” the Man called Mbakwe said, “our land is bare. The protection of the gods has been stolen. The throne has come to you seeking for redemption, and all you could do is to threaten it? What diviner are you? Whose doom’s day do you preach?”

“You did not break the first rule of the sacred shrine to ask me that question, do you?” The female diviner asked. She was still trying to contain her anger despite Mbakwe’s arrogance.

“No, I came here for the King. I haven’t come to watch your lunatic drama.”

Mbakwe turned his attention to the King.

“The spirits of our ancestor has shown me the Ofor. My disciples and I shall embark to retrieve it at your command. But we have come to seek your blessing. We have come so your sanctification will enable us to wield its power and return it to you.”

The King furrow his brow and turned those golden eyes of his to the diviner. His stomach tightened when her laughter suddenly echoed. It was as though the woman has been tickled by an unseen force. He didn’t know if he should believe Mbakwe and his tale. He knew the man very well, but even though Mbakwe had been a trustworthy servant in the past. The reluctance to give him such power was still there. But what other choice does he have? He desperately needs his Ofor back. His kingship was but a wind on a cold rock without it.

Rumors are birds, it’s just a matter of time before the neighboring village learn about the missing Ofor and then, an impending attack would be inevitable.

“I think it’s our only option,” someone said from behind. The King needn’t turn to know who the voice belongs to. It was the voice of Ikenna, his prime minister.

“You have my blessing,” The King returned his attention to Mbakwe, “go and may the light of Amadioha touch your path.”

The King lifted his crown and circled it twice on Mbakwe’s head. This was an act, delegating the power to wield the Ofor to Mbakwe. Now, Mbakwe too could lift the Ofor and wield its power if he finds it.

“Go and return in peace,” The King finished.

“Thank you, your highness, we won’t let you down.”

Mbakwe turned to his disciples and murmured something. The other two hummed in unison and like a flash, they took off with a sprint, into the night which enveloped their shadows.

“You did the right thing,” Someone said from the behind the King. The voice was familiar, but the King could not place the face. He was deeply drowned by the ocean of uncertainty.

“Do you know your problem?” the voice of the diviner seemed to piece the King’s soul as he suddenly remembered her presence and why they had come here at first.

“You surround yourself with evil men,” the diviner was saying “Mark my words. If you do not give that child what is rightfully hers,’ you and your household would be a living ghost,”

“What child are you talking about?” the King asked. The lines on his forehead deepened. He came here to find answers, not to sit on the fence with the four cardinal point meeting on his head.

“Now you are playing ignorant as well,” The diviner said. She bit her lower lips and the cowries on her hair clattered when she shook her head. “The death that will kill a dog does not allow it to perceive the stench of danger. I warned you, beware.”

She finished and walked back into her hut, closing its door with the flap of the curtain made from a woven palm tree.

“It is a blessing in disguise. If Mbakwe hadn’t shown up here; this old woman would have wasted our time in a gibberish puzzle.” Ikenna, prime minister to the king said.

“Let’s hope they find the Ofor, if not, then our reign is over,” The king hissed and rested his crown back on his head.

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