THE KING’S MEN
The news came in the dead of the night. Akunna ran nearly 20 kilometers, through the shrubs and swampy fields of Ihile village, as fast as his tiny legs could carry him till he reached Udi’s hut.
“The king’s men are coming for you!” he whispered, perching on a fallen tree stump, he held the window frame of the mud wall, before pulling himself upward to peer into the room. The tiny kerosene lamp was on the floor, near the leopard skin mat in the center of the room. The golden flames cast shadows on the bowl of half-eaten eba and naked bones of chicken littered on the soup plate on the table, the dried head of a leopard hung on the wall and goatskin bag holding spears and knives rested on the wall yet, Akunna didn’t see Udi.
“Dee Udi! Dee Udi!” he called again. His eyes darted around the room, his heart slamming in his chest. He had seen the king’s men come. He had heard their feet kick the bamboo door of his home.
His mother has grabbed him and hurled him through the window before climbing down after him. She then whispered to him to run to Udi and tell him the king’s men were coming. He had heard the rapid beats of his mother’s heart. He had felt her trembling hands fold around him in a fierce embrace. She had pushed him toward the dark path before climbing back into the hut to face the king’s men besides her husband.
Akunna didn’t run along at first. He wanted to climb back in and stand beside his father. He peered into the room, through the hole in the wall and watched the king’s men barge in. 7 huge men wearing leathered armor, their machete and spears glistening in the light of the lamp. They stared down at father with fury in their eyes.
“Tell me, Agu! You and your brother are raising rebels to overthrow the king, Okwa ya? You are speaking ill of the throne! Why?” the tallest of the king’s men asked, the gold seal of the crown’s lion head symbol was fastened to his tunic. A large scar ran from his left eye to his jaw. He dragged father to his feet and pressed his hand around father’s throat, squeezing air from his pipes. Father’s head barely reached the man’s chest, yet, Akunna didn’t see his father tremble. The more the man squeezed, the prouder father stood. The scarred man laughed and ordered his men to search the hut.
His men searched, breaking the water pots and smashing calabashes. They tore down the animal heads hanging on the wall, animals father had killed on his hunting sprees. He watched them empty mama’s ancient leather box on the ground, her wrappers and beads spilled over, even the art molding, Akunna had given her two moons ago, fell to the floor too. He watched as one of them step on it, crushing the clay molding beneath his heels.
The scarred man looked around the room, dissatisfied. He walked from one end of the hut to the other, turning the bed and lifting the chair, he saw nothing. Then he stood on tiptoes and searched the edge of the wall, the space between the wall and the ceiling – then he saw it. Father’s Uyiuwa charm. It was the birth charm my grandfather had prepared for father at his birth, he had used father’s bloody umbilical cord to prepare the charms. The scarred man pulled it down and despite mama’s pleas and screams, he set it ablaze. It was only then did father cry, his knees buckled and he slumped on the ground. They began to hit him, landing blows on his face and back, but when their leader raised his spear towards father’s heart, Akunna turned away and began to run as far as his legs could carry him.
“Dee Udi! Dee Udi!” Akunna called, his eyes searched the dimly lit hut till he saw the heavily built frame of Udi’s body sprawled across the bed. His snores, soft and irregular. His wrapper had loosened around his waist, his manhood laid limp across his thigh.
“Dee Udi!” he called again. He stirred but didn’t wake. A sound on metals clicking pulled Akunna’s attention to the darkened shrubs, the same direction he had come. That was when he saw they coming, blood splattered over their bodies. Their knives dripping with blood. Father’s head hung at the tip of the scarred man’s spear. Akunna’s throat tightened. He wanted to scream, cry or kick but he held himself and turned back to the window.
“Dee Udi, wake up!” he whispered, half plea, half cry. Udi stirred and raised his head. The king’s men had already passed the mango tree near his Obi and were walking to his door.
“Onye?” Udi called, rising, wiping his eyes and adjusting his wrapper to cover his thighs.
“O mu,” Akunna said. “The king’s men are here. Save yourself!”
He didn’t see Udi jump from his bed, he didn’t see him dive for his machete and spear. He didn’t see because he was already running towards the bushes, into darkness, into safety, into his pains.