The two burly guards carried the short, squat man between them, and I watched with interest as his legs dangled in the air. It was a comic show, the man twisted and writhed, trying to break free from the hold of guards, but he might as well have been trying to move two mountains. The guards didn’t as much as twitch in cognisance of his efforts. When they got to the building where I was holding a meeting with my advisors, they tossed him like a rag on the floor.
“Greetings, my king,” Achala, the chief border guard of my kingdom said. He was a mountain of a man; well over six feet with arms and calves the size of tree trunks. He had hard, piercing eyes and was the strongest man in all the lands of the Seven Rivers.
“Achala, the great warrior! Who is this man?” I asked. The other chiefs were visibly incensed at the way our deliberations had been interrupted. That was the way of Achala; it was as if the only authority he acknowledged and respected was mine. I had thought of sanctioning him many times, but I would remember his battle exploits and the fact that my kingdom had enjoyed five years without any form of outside trouble. Other kingdoms feared the Lion of Obodoako kingdom.
“My king,” he began, “we found this man at the border with Ichere kingdom. We questioned him, but has refused to talk, saying that he would talk to only you. But I have the feeling that he is an Ichere spy.”
After his reply, there was a collective murmuring amongst the chiefs. They were instantly agitated, and had every right to be. The people of Ichere have always been our enemies and were looking for ways to infiltrate our kingdom. The recent information we had was that they had accepted the strange men that have landed from the sky; those men whose skin were white, and who spoke through their noses.
I faced the short man. He had sad and sorrowful eyes, that held so much pain. Contrary to what I thought when I saw the guards carrying him, he was not a belligerent man. I wondered what he had gone through to make him to be that sad.
“Who are you, young man?” It was Ichie Akata. He was the village troublemaker, who openly challenged my authority whenever he deemed fit. He was the main opposition I faced when I was vying for the kingship, and he had never gotten over the fact that his vast wealth had not won the throne of Obodoako for him.
When the man spoke, his voice was surprisingly strong and clear. “My name is Nwokeka. I am from Ichere land. But I am not here for war, neither have I come to spy on your land. I came with a message from the king of Ichere land. My king is asking that we become allies and fight against the strange men from the sky. A reliable source has informed us that the white man plans to wage a full-scale war on all the lands of the Seven Rivers.”
By this time, the murmuring of the chiefs had turned to chatters and exclamations of surprise, fear and indignation. The message was indeed a strange one. The Ichere people had a strong army who could match up to anything the white man had, so why did their king extend a hand of friendship? Also, they were the second people to welcome the white men; why would they now want to fight with them? Unless…
“We know that your king accepted the white man,” I said, looking at the five members of my cabinet, and seeing the same expression on their faces: suspicion. “Why would the same people you welcomed with open arms turn against you? Is this a ploy to make me open my kingdom to you and then you turn on us and butcher us?” I asked, hardening my voice, and fixing him with a gaze that had made many men to squirm.
Akata spoke up again. “Ebubedike, my king, I think I speak the mind of everyone here,” he looked around the men seated in the room, “when I say that this man is a liar. We all know the history between us and the people of Ichere. It is one of bloodshed on both sides since the time of our forefathers. And the current king of that cursed land is known to hate the very air we breathe, and would do anything to wipe us out. I cannot see such a person deciding to turn to us for friendship. No, he’d rather swallow hot coals than to be friends with Obodoako.”
Nwokeka cried out with passion. “Yes, I know there has been a lot hate and acrimony between our people in the past. But I assure you that my king is really honest about the offer. The white men have turned against us; they have burnt the shrine of Ogwugwuno, killing many of our people. They have shown us their true colours, and unless we unite, we stand no chance of survival.”
Something in me wanted to believe the man, I wanted to believe that the king of Ichere land had gotten tired of the hostility between us and would be ready for peace. But I was still wary, so I decided to discuss it further with my advisors. I told him that he would stay in my guest house till we were done with our deliberations. I then adjourned the meeting; we would reconvene in two day’s time.
Two days later, I was awoken by the cries and screams of people, mostly from my compound. The air was heavy with smell of smoke, burning flesh and death. I rushed of my room and saw the true definition of horror. Everywhere was ablaze; many people lay dead, and the ones that were alive were shackled together. There were so many of the white men that I instantly knew that what the Ichere messenger said was true—war had come to us. And we were unprepared for it.
I tried to run to the hut of my wife, but something hit me in the back, causing me to land on the ground with a thud. My vision blurred and I could not move. I was slowly slipping out of consciousness, but I forced myself to focus.
Then two of the white men came into view. They spoke through their noses and one of them pointed his long stick at me, at the end of it was a hole. I knew that the stick would kill me, so I looked away.
The last thing I saw was dead eyes of Nwokeka, the Ichere man who had brought us the news of the war of the white man.