Who am I?
In the morning, loud drums and trumpets of initiation festivities woke the young prince, he opened his eyes to the inevitable task ahead. Hurriedly he arose from his bed, for a boy his age,he was tall,muscular and blessed with a jutting chin and a scar on his chest that resembled the tattoo of a Spartan. He had fierce eyes that glittered like blue gems, for an African, he had a long ponytail hair, striated and adorned with cowrice at the tip.
He was handsome and admired by women for his athletic body, at seventeen he already knew he needed an average of fifty to hundred pushups each morning to keep body,soul and mind together. While he was still at it, his mother walked in with a sword,a chainmill and a shield branded with the star of David."I can't believe it," she said, "can't believe what mother?" He responded astonishly. "I can't believe you're all grown up, just yesterday you were young and sucking milk from my bossom, but here you are today, grown and ready to earn a seat on the table of men."
"Take this," she offered, he took them from her with excitement. "Those were my late brother's," she informed, "but as brave as he was,he died in war,out of all my brothers I loved him more, just as I love you more than anything in the world, therefore I'll like you to own them and wield the last weapons of Agatha, all I ask is that you come back alive and in one piece." "Thank you mother,I'll make sure I come home to you no matter what," he assured.
She annointed his head with oil, stood by him as he geared up, watched on as he wore the chainmill. "I didn't think it would fit," she admitted as he proceeded to take a look at his new sword. "That's Tentetsuou" she revealed, "the sword of heaven and a symbol of the relationship between human, space and time." He unsheathed the sword and lifted it up for admiration. "It's magnificent" he proclaimed, "indeed! It is, it was forged from a meteorite and romoured to have magical powers."
The young prince was thrilled, the sword was indeed out of this world,it had on it an inscription "Uko ke ekong", along with other inscriptions in an unknown tongue,he wasn't just inspired, he had moltivation. "I have to go now mother." "I'll pray to the gods of our ancestors to keep you safe."
Nnamundo immediately proceeded to the horse barn with a lopsided swagger,his favorite horse was the white unicorn,a gift from a brother who died on the day of his initiation seven years ago. He mounted on his horse while his mother watched from a distance as he rode off. He rode with tenacity,pride,and a certain African swagger. He wore a confident countenance, one without fear nor a desire to surrender, defeat seemed far from his agenda.
As he arrived the temple of Aroi, it was obvious he had waited all his life for this day's encounter. He majestically alighted from his horse and bowed to the Kings and noblemen, the crowd applauded his Noble gesture, after which he turned to join the over five thousand youths seeking passage into manhood.
"Attention!" A feminine voice announced, "this is the moment you've all been waiting for, the moment boys would be separated from men, this day you all would embark on the most defining journey of your lives,adieus to those who may not make it out alive. The passage rite is in two phases, the first phase is combat amongst yourselves, those who make it through the combat stages automatically qualify for the second. In the second phase, you must journey to the evil Forest to conquer the evil that dwells there. Survivors must return with the head of a black Lion as evidence of victory.This will prove that you can conquer the evil that lives amongst and within men. The rules are simple,kill or be killed. I, the mouthpiece of Aroi and the ten gods declare this year's initiation contest open."
The temple was packed to capacity and the audience cheered louder as she declared the contest open, although a section of the crowd had mixed feelings about the tradition. Some parents watched on as life was sniffed out of their offsprings, tears,joy and celebration communed together in the arena. Nnamundo's flawless victories got the attention of every man,woman and child.
His leg movements,his gentleness with the sword,his acrobatic moves and swiftness made him the most dangerous, ruthless and brutal swordsman in the arena. Each time he won,he looked up to his father to have a glimpse of how proud he was of his performance. "Your son would make a great general", king Jaja tipped. "He sure would", king Mutanda agreed with so much pride. Noblemen who initially conceived to rebel against the throne begun to voice their satisfaction with Nnamudo's ruthlessness and immediately renewed their vow to their throne.
Word of his heroics had gotten to his mother,who had refused to attend out of fear of watching another son die in the name of tradition. "I bring good tidings from the temple my queen, Nnamundo lives,he has made it to the second phase with ease." She dismissed the messenger immediatly only to break down in tears of Joy in her chamber.
Ninenty-nine lads were left standing, surprisingly, a lady took the tally to one hundred,in a patriachcal society, her bravery won the hearts of many and Nnamundo found her guts attractive. "Who's she?" He enquired from the fellow by his side,"she's Affi,daughter of the priestess whose aspiration is to be the greatest hunter ever,romour has it that she's undefeated in combat," he whispered. "Thanks mate," Nnamundo replied as he turned to admire her some more."The name is Eyo by the way, and I'm glad to have been of service," he mumbled as the priestess and her maidens went about sprinkling protective substance on the potential initiates while babbling incantations.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly, until it was Nnamundo's turn. The priestess mysteriously froze after she sprinkled the protective substance on him,her eyes were locked on his,the crowd was left in pandemonium as they witnessed blood trickle down her nose. Hurriedly one of her maidens tapped her on the shoulder in hopes of salvaging the situation,it paid off as the priestess regained conciouness and continued her duty as though nothing happened. "What just happened?" Eyo questioned Nnamundo,"I don't know," he responded, "seems she has for seen your death," Eyo giggled.
Nnamundo became troubled, so he watched the priestess closely as she went about her duty in hopes of a reoccurrence, unfortunately, there was no such thing, he watched on as she returned to her sit amongst the nobles, to his dismay he saw her whisper something into the king's ear who in turn gave a certain nod that left him disturbed.
After she took her sit,the hundred men rode off, each chasing destiny, but Nnamundo rode with fear and worry in the company of his new companion. "What troubles you,my Prince?" Eyo finally enquired, "I worry about what the evil forest might hold," he disguised, "by the way, how far off are we?" Nnamundo asked in a bid to change the conversation,"if we continue with this pace, we'll be there by night fall", he responded.
They galloped on for hours in silence,the horses were tired and the riders exhausted as they approached the forest, thus they agreed to pass the night at a nearby village and proceed with their task the next day. Their arrival in the village brought joy to the heart of the village head who immediatly threw a feast so the visitors and villagers can merry.There was dancing and singing,and tales about the evil forest which left many initiates frightened. After listening to the tales, Nnamundo began to wonder if the priestess had forseen his death,he wondered long and deep,to clear his head, he decided to take a walk.
He walked a few miles outside the village, he saw someone swinging his sword in the dark as though he was fighting something unseen, Nnamundo grabbed his sword slowly and tiptoed closer for a better veiw. To his admiration, it was Affi, his heart pounded faster than normal at the sight of this ravishing Nubian beauty, he fixed his gaze on her reddish strawberry lips that blossomed softly under the moon light, her hair was ebony-black and flowed gracefully over her shoulders. Her Amazonian figure sat well on her thin body and her decanter shaped waist. "You Know it's not safe to be out here alone," he said as he got closer,"how kind of you to join me,I feel safer already," she chuckled."I must admit I admire your bravery," he confessed as he turned to leave,"Thank you," she whispered with a cute smile.
"You don't have to be afraid you know?" Nnamundo paused almost immediately,"what do you know about fear?" He asked sarcastically. "Not much, but I do know that the evil that lurks in the forest preys on it, and I would be a failure if any harm befalls you my prince," she walked up to him as she continued, "I have a plan that might keep us alive". "Go on," he commanded.
"From what I've gathered from the locals,the forest is engineered to hunt mortals, it operates in reverse time, luckily everytime a black Lion dies, time is normalized for a period and all the forces of darkness that plague there are neutralized for a period of time along with the defensive measures in the forest." "I thought black lions are a myth," Nnamundo interrupted. "I used to think so too,but apparently they are real,here is a map of the forest I obtained from one of the locals." "The black lion can be found on this island," she said pointing it out on the map, "I suggest that we send ten men to the island from the south wing of the forest which is closer to the island while the rest attack from the West wing where they'll be met by the league of faceless men. If we're in luck, the ten men should be able to kill the black lion before the forest slaughters us all, what do you think?" She exhaled.
"Sincerely, this is crazy but brilliant, I'll gather ten of our best men, you'll have to lead them South when the first cock crows, the rest of us would proceed to the West wing at the rising of the sun, I hope that is fair enough," "Yes it is" she concurred as she stretched out her fist for a knockle, Nnamundo obliged without hesitation. They walked back into the village together and all eyes were on them, he walked her to her tent where he bade her good night but quickly asked, "how would we know that you've killed the lion?" "You will," she replied as she walked into her tent.
At the sound of the first crow,Affi left the village with some men,the rest lingered till the break of day. When the time had come, Nnamundo assembled the eighty-nine men,after all they'd heard the villagers say,he knew fear had gripped them all and the opportunity had come for him to lead. "Brethren!" He said, "We have journeyed far from home, to this place where evil dwells, just so we can uphold the tradition of our fathers and their forefathers. It is true that only those who make it out of here would be recognised as men, but to me, we are men already and men don't give up,they don't fright, they fight to the last drop of their blood." As he was speaking morale begun to rise,they cheered as he spoke on and followed him as he led the charge into the forest.
Horses became uneasy and troubled, some began snorting and stomping their paws as they entered the forest. Some threw their riders off and ran away. With each gallop into the forest, the sky was getting darker and darker.
Darkness overwhelmed them, from a distance Nnamundo could hear horrific screams of terror and pain, he could smell the stench of blood even as he struggled to light up his touch, the screams became louder and more rampant. His breath caught in his throat as he kept on trying, alas, his resilience paid off. He tried not to retch at the sight he beheld, he desperately wanted to look away, but he could not. Lying in a pool of blood beside him was his companion, Eyo.
His heart was pained and pounded so loudly, his breath was harsh as he watched him take his last breath. "Show yourself," Nnamundo screamed, "show yourself." Those still alive rallied around him, enduring the sights of dead bodies, skeletons and scary voices. Nnamundo watched to see who their assailants were, to his confusion he saw no one. They advanced further into the forest till Nnamundo saw a reflection from a distance and charged towards it but on getting there, he found nothing.
Nnamundo drew his sword as he unmounted the horse, he held his shield tight as he shouted "show your face you coward." Finally a figure appeared dressed in a long, black cloak. The cloak wrapped all the way around the specter’s body and his face was shrouded beneath a deep hood. He appeared to have In his hand, a scythe, a long pole with a curved blade fixed to the top just like the grim reapers of old. As he advanced towards Nnamundo, the clearer it was for he and his men to see that they were outnumbered and surrounded by specters. This sent chills down his spine but regardless of the odds, Nnamundo engaged. He fought spirits as though he was a demon, no sane man had ever engaged the league of faceless men, but the young prince did and even slaughtered one. The faceless men paused as they heard one of their own squeal, their eyes lit up with fire as they took a closer look at Nnamundo. "He has the sword!" An unseen voice roared. The battle intensified. The faceless men pushed harder, seeking the head of Nnamundo.
In the south wing, Affi and her team had a relatively smooth journey up until they arrived at the sea, the south operated in a different time zone, it was a fuggy evening with violent thunder storms on the island. "How do we make it to the island?" Effiom asked, after several fruitless search for boats ."We might have to swim over," she replied as she dived into the sea while others were hessitant. In less than an hour, they had arrived on the island. "Spread out!" She ordered, "the black lions could be anywhere." They searched the nucks and crannies of the island and found nothing, the unlucky ones fell prey for one evil or the other. Eventually, Affi stumbled on a cave where there was a pride of black lions. The pride consisted of thirty black lions including their young cubs. Taking on a pride of lions would spell disaster she thought, so she waited patiently for one to stray, eventually one did. She drew her sword, sneaked up on the beast to stab it from behind, only to be accursed by another lion.
She was in danger as the two lions closed in on her speedily, she charged towards the one on her left aiming to stick her dagger in it's throat. As she approached, the second Lion charged towards her, just when it opened it's mouth to tear her apart, an arrow pierced through it's chest, giving her the chance to slaughter her target.
She lifted the lion's head up as proof of conquest, after which the thunder storms seized, Effiom ran down to her. "Nice shot," she commended as they proceeded to leave the island.
The moment she killed the lion, the battle on the west wing was over. The faceless men vanished as day replaced night. Hurriedly, they mounted their horse and rode off with jubilations and songs of victory. Nnamundo waited patiently for Affi outside the village, she was running late and he was getting worried, thoughts of his companion brought tears to his eyes which fueled his decision to abolish the tradition when he becomes King.
"We did it," Affi proclaimed joyfully as she sneaked up on him, "No, you did it, left to me and the rest of the men, we would have approached through the south wing and we would have all been dead, so, thank you." She seemed delighted, from the way she smiled, Nnamundo knew she wasn't expecting such recognition. "Here it is", she said while handing him the head of the black lion, "it's your duty to show it to your men." Nnamundo turned down the opportunity to take glory for what he did not do. "I'll do no such thing," he said, "You made the kill, you present it to them."
The initiates were proud to see proof of conquest and immediately began their journey back to the capital to complete the initiation process.
"A hundred boys left us yesterday, thirty-three men have returned to us today, may the gods accept our sacrifices and bless our land. They now have a seat on the table of men and can lay claim to their entitlements, lands and any woman they so desire, for they have been chosen by Aroi and the ten gods. I, the mouth piece of the gods declare you as men."
The crowd cheered, Nnamundo's mother was in attendance. Just when other men were dispatched, the priestess singled out Nnamundo, walked slowly towards him as she explained. "There is a special task for you great one, one that every man in the royal lineage perform the moment they become men." As she was speaking, one of her maidens followed her closely with a metallic object in the Calabash. "Tales of your victory over the faceless men confirms my vision that you are the promised one, the one to wield the power of the medallion."