By the time she got to her village, she was dragging her feet as well as her sword. Her sandals had worn away to nothing and she had rinsed the blood off her feet in the last stream she had happened upon. The village was an open village; it was almost impossible to tell where the boundary began and ended. She took the left turn off the road and unto a well-worn path and walked down the path. Her people were an altogether peaceful sort and didn’t expect trouble from anyone, so their defenses were weak and their offences even weaker. It would not have been at all troublesome for the Chief’s people to invade.
She decided to leave her sword behind a tree – there was no point antagonizing the warriors waiting. The feather she slipped into her hair. Then she took the steps that would lead to her demise. The sun was out and beat upon her back. Her hair was knotted for lack of combing and her lips were chapped. She knew she would look a sight, but there was nothing she could do about that. And what did it matter what a dead woman looked like anyway?
“Ah ah, look what I have found.” A warrior stepped forward and blocked her way. He carried a staff customary to the Chief’s warriors. She stood still and waited. He slapped her and she fell to the ground. Another set of feet stepped out from behind a tree.
“We better take her to our oga.”
“We can have some fun with her first, na.”
The second warrior didn’t respond. Instead he pulled her up by her hair and began to drag her to her home. She tried not to cry out but her body twisted and turned and she received cuts and burns as she was pulled along. She couldn’t see much except for feet but they were in the heart of the village now. She could hear the sounds of hurriedly hushed voices and the clomping of donkeys. People made way for the warrior dragging her and no one said a thing. She wondered if there were any familiar faces in the crowd.
Finally, the torture stopped and she lay there quietly. They were outdoors under a palm tree and there were mats laid out on the floor. On each mat, lay a woman. Before her, were the legs of a stool, and the legs of a man.
“It is her.” They spoke in the Chief’s tongue and so that was all she could make out of the hurried speech. He was talking to his superior. His tone was reverential and he used all the appropriate manners of address. She soon deduced that he was talking to the Chief’s second son. The warrior pulled back her hair and she let out a cry as she was forced to stare into the eyes of the man who wanted her dead.
She had never formally met his second son. There had never been any need for her to meet him. But she instantly realized how handsome he was. His skin was the colour of burnt copper and his eyes were golden. He had lips that reminded her of the blooming of flowers and a dimple on either cheek. If he smiled, she could only imagine the damage it would do to a woman’s heart. But he wasn’t smiling now. His beauty made his anger no less threatening.
“It took you a long time to get here,” he said to her, in her tongue, “I don’t like to be kept waiting.”
She said nothing. He pulled out a dagger and held it to her throat. She closed her eyes.
“I would not kill you here,” he informed her, “An example must be made of you. Open your eyes.” She opened her eyes. “You will die, a painful and slow death in front of your people. They will know what happens to someone who messes with my people.”
He reverted to his own tongue and told his man to take her away. She knew where she was now and which way she was going and like she had foreseen, he led to the village hold. It was a pit. One that was impossible to climb out of because of its smooth sides. People were usually held there until something was decided, but on a few occasions the prisoners had been known to die. And the panic that she had been suppressing burst out of her. She started to kick and bite. The warrior had let down his guard because until then, she had been docile. But she would not be thrown into the pit.
She threw herself at him and bit and hit whatever flesh she could find. But he soon regained the advantage and held her down on the floor, spitting and squirming.
“Mo wa nofe to ge.”
His threat got the desired effect and she froze. He carried her and dumped her into the pit. She closed her eyes as she fell.
She could hear her grandmother’s voice but it was so far away. Was she dreaming?
“Lara! Wake up!”
She didn’t want to wake. Waking up meant pain. She could already feel the aches and the scratches and she suspected her shoulder might have dislocated.
She opened her eyes. The pit was dark, but it was also the dark outside the pit. She couldn’t make out anything.
A basket at the bottom of a rope made its way towards her. The basket was filled with food – mangoes, bananas, meat, bread, and water. She grabbed the water and soothed her parched throat
“Lara. Did you get it?”
“Thank you Mama.”
“Why are you here? I thought you understood when we spoke?”
Lara took a bite out of the mango, and tried to gather her thoughts “How is Leye?”
“Dead. Your father too. You will have saved no-one by sacrificing your life.”
She choked on her mango and her grandmother said nothing as she spluttered and wept. The night was quiet except for the frogs, singing to one another. She wondered that there were no guards to make sure no attempts at escape were made.
Her beautiful younger sister was dead because of her. Leye who dreamt only of marriage and having lots and lots of babies. She had been a happy, simple, comely girl and had not deserved to die so violently, so young.
“Why? Why did they kill her?”
“It was that Oga. He asked her where we were hiding you. She started crying. He got irritated and cut her throat…You should not have come here.”
“Your father, was killed as soon as they got here. They accused him of sending you to them with the sole purpose of finding their weakness and exploiting it. Would have been an excellent plan, if he were that smart.”
“There is nothing for you here Lara. You must go to the Osobolands. Go there, and return when things are calmer. Return and you can get your vengeance. Right now, you are of no use to anybody. And your death will be a useless shame.”
“She made herself sick with all that silly shrieking. She will be fine. She was taken to Oyun village so she doesn’t anger the Oga.”
“Why didn’t you leave with her?”
“I had a dream. After I told you not to come, I still kept dreaming that you would. So I waited here for you.”
“Lara where is your guard? Did they kill him?’
“I sent him away,”
“You did wetin???” she heard her grandmother drawn in her breath the way she usually did before she exploded. In the midst of all the horror, she cherished this familiar gesture. “Call him back immediately!”
“He will be long gone by now, mama,”
“He is connected to you. Call out to him,”
Lara knew Dare would be too far away to hear her. Even when she didn’t see him, she could usually sense his presence but she had sensed nothing since she had asked him to leave, and he was fast. He moved quickly and silently. Wherever he had headed to, he would be there by now. But her grandmother had risked her life for her, and the least she could do was oblige the old woman.
“Dare? Dare, please come,”
“Ode! You have to do better than that! He doesn’t have the ears of a bat. Shout!” Shouting would most likely draw the attention of the warriors long before it drew Dare’s attention. But again, she obliged.
“Dare! Dare! Please! I need you!”
“A guard is coming,” hissed her grandmother, “You were too loud. The feather, use it.” A few minutes later, she heard the heavy steps of a warrior
“Shout again and I will come down there and silence you.”
She said nothing, hoping that her silence was enough proof, for the guard, of her acquiescence.
With her grandmother gone, and her food eaten, Lara continued to call out for Dare quietly. She didn’t think he would come, but calling for him distracted her from imagining the look in her sister’s eyes as her throat was cut. She was beginning to feel more anger than pain. She could understand how the Chief’s son felt. She was thirsty for blood, his blood.
“Dare, where are you? Where did you go?”
She thought about Dare. He had been the one constant in her life ever since she was a baby. They were not friends but they had grown up side by side and she had always felt safe knowing he was there. His absence had left a bigger hole than she had anticipated. Her grandmother was right. She needed him.
She felt a change in the air around her and then a thud not far from where she sat. She scrambled to the other end of the pit and waited, poised, ready and afraid. Dawn was approaching, so when the figure rose, she quickly realised that it was Dare.