“….Every morning, before sunrise, residents of Odi, especially from Ozo city, were on their feet, going about their activities. The main market opened early, farmers arrived early with fresh produce from their farms. In various homes, women cooked and cleaned. Children helped their parents, either at home or at the farm, and played afterwards. However, there were those, chosen right from the age of 4, to be warriors and guards. Those set did nothing but train, day and night. They grew into powerful warriors and their sole duty was to protect the kingdom.
Our great ancestor, Odi, was one of the residents in the Benin Kingdom. He didn’t like the ways of the new Oba, so he took his family and quietly left the kingdom. He was not alone, a lot of other people left too. Being a wealthy man, he took along with him he’s entire household, including his workers. They came out here and the building of a new kingdom began. It wasn’t easy at first, they were always raided, robbed and killed by horse men. Odi decided it had to stop. He spent every last cowrie hiring swords men, and warriors from other kingdoms. And to expand his kingdom, he accepted any man or woman who had been banished from their homes, especially from the Oyo and Borgu empires. After building, the kingdom was named after our founding ancestor, and a lot of the hired warriors decided to stay back and become part of the empire. They made Odi their home.
Due to constantly accepting people from various kingdoms, we grew. Trading grew too as different empires traded with us. Men skilled in iron smelting from Nok, came to reside with us. We had weapons of every kind for our warriors and sold the rest to make money. A gold mine was soon discovered in Gudo, the outskirts, east of Ozo. And then our trading increased. Men sailed across the seas to buy gold from us. Our kingdom was large and it was wealthy.
Then one day, during a round inspection of the city, Odi met and fell in love with a woman from Mawewa. Kume was her name. She was a raving beauty, dark skinned and had the markings of a tiger on both her shoulders.
Upon investigation, it was discovered that she was banished for her rare type. She wasn’t totally human. She was half human, half leopard. What our people didn’t know, was that she also wielded great powers. Odi married her and made her queen, Aye Ovie. None of the evil things said about her could change his mind. He loved her, that was all that mattered.
Kume turned out to be a brave woman. She fought several battles alongside Odi. Both as human and animal. On several occasions, her inner powers took over, completely consuming our enemies. Not one battle did they lose. Her presence alone oozed victory. The kingdom expanded. Odi grew to love her more. The people of Odi, adored her. They worshipped the ground she walked on.
With time, a lot of her kind who had been shielding their powers so as to not be banished from Mawewa, came into the kingdom. They were welcomed with open arms and they mingled among us. Their presence made us at peace with nature and our enemies dared not harass us.
We were a great kingdom. One that every other kingdom feared to fight against. For history has it that once, the Sokoto Caliphate combined forces with the Nupe and Borgu to bring us down. An army as vast as that was destroyed with a single sweep of Kume’s staff. It took them many seasons to recover, but never again did they make an attempt on us.
Four seasons after she became queen, Kume gave the kingdom two children. A boy and a girl. Of course, the boy was to become the next Ovie, after his father. But it wasn’t so. He grew up to be useless. His ways were not good and it worried everyone. He could never be the warrior that he’s father was. Neither could he be like his mother.
In an attempt to try again, our royalties met. The result was another male child who ended up worse than the first. While both sons displayed cowardice and stupidity, the daughter, Mulra, grew in wisdom and strength. She had her mothers abilities and her father’s leadership qualities. She was a beautiful sight to behold.
Upon consulting the oracle, they were told that a male child could never possess what Kume had because she didn’t have the child with her kind. She was the stronger specie and as such, the female child thrived better in her womb. If Odi was of her kind, both male and female children would grow very well and have equal strengths and abilities. But if he was the one with the ability, the male child would thrive better and the female child won’t.
The fear of having a kingdom full of men and women who can’t think for themselves, made the Ovie order that the oracle’s words be spread throughout the land. Men with abilities were to marry and have children with only women of their kind. Same went for the women. But those that had no ability were advised to stick to their own kind. And that was how it was. A lot of lovers were torn apart, but it was for the best.
So many seasons passed and Odi, after a wonderful rule, went to the great beyond. Kume followed a few seasons later and Mulra was made queen. Since then, our tradition has stuck with having queens as rulers.
Mulra was a strong Queen who fought many battles and claimed many lands. Odi grew in every aspect under her rule, even in trade. Men and women sang her praises, young men wished to be her companion and young girls prayed to okurute to help them be like Mulra.
Yes, our queen was great, but she did not abide by the laws of her late father. She did not marry from her kind. History repeated itself. Her sons were useless. But her girl child was not. And that child was to become the next queen of Odi. That girl child was, Ula, your grandmother. She gave birth to your mother, Osela. And your mother produced two girls. Those two girls brought change with them. They are what the Oyos call, ìbejì.
I’ll stop here tonight.” Buko said, heaving a sigh of relief. “Its late. You need your rest.”
I sighed too, and for the first time since he started to tell the story of Odi, I looked away from the small piles of wood that ignited our camp fire, into the dark sky dotted by tiny twinkling lights. Soft breeze blew, increasing the cold of the night.
We had walked a long distance since we left the city of Ozo. Buko said it was an opportunity for sight seeing. “Look all around you as we journey, he had said just before we set out. “For everything you see and touch, was and still is yours to rule.”
We avoided the open roads. Sugho warriors could be anywhere and we didn’t want to be seen. After we reached the first hill, Omar left us. He went fishing at a nearby river. Fish was the only food we could get. Buko and I camped at a hidden spot, away from prying eyes. It was during the long wait for Omar that I asked to know more about Odi kingdom, starting from our ancestors. Buko relished the idea. Being a good story teller, he wasted no time taking me down memory lane. Omar arrived later on. And with the aid of two rocky stones smashed together over dry grasses and wood, fire was made. We roasted the fishes and ate. Buko continued the story afterwards. But now it was late. We would resume our journey early and sincerely, I needed to rest. This sister of mine was sort of important. Buko had said so countless times during the journey. If it was my choice, I would let her be. But, could I?
I’ll take the first watch,” Omar volunteered, picking up his weapons and heading towards the bush path.
“Thank you.” Buko was grateful, putting out the camp fire. “An old man needs his rest.”
We lay down at our respective spots, but I couldn’t sleep. I thought about my situation. I thought about the comfort of my mat back home. I thought of my mother and my father. What were they doing? How were they coping? My stomach turned and grumbled. A sign I was still hungry. I thought of my mother’s delicacies and not for the last time, I wished I hadn’t come with Omar. Odi kingdom was doomed already. It had fallen. My life was at stake. If Sugho warriors ever caught me, they would kill me. From the little side talks Buko and Omar shared, I gathered that Abentu wanted me dead. He kept his eyes on the road and his ears on the ground, waiting for my return. He knew I would then try to fulfill the other half of the prophesy which says, Odi would be restored.
I was the one to restore Odi and yet I was so weak, so powerless and so ignorant of the culture of the Odi people. It was why I had asked Buko for a history.
I turned from my side on to my back. The stars stared back and the moon, although not crescent or half, somewhere in between, illuminated the surroundings. It was beautiful watching the night sky. My only trouble was the cold air freezing my skin. Buko made a wrapper covering out of large leaves from several plants. But it couldn’t compare to my kente back home. I wished I had tied one when coming. My plain, floor length gown wasn’t enough, although it did help cover my feet.
It was late into the early hours of the morning when I heard rustling in the nearby bush. Omar. I thought. But it wasn’t him. The tall figure of a man stood in the bush, watching me intently.
Slowly I sat up, my eyes never leaving the figure. I could have screamed, or called Buko’s attention, but I didn’t think screaming would help. I would only disturb the elderly man’s rest and besides, a scream could attract unwanted visitors.
The figure moved out of the bush and came in my direction, quietly. By this time, panick took over. I threw caution to the wind and started towards Buko, but before I could move, the figure stood in my way, blocking me. It stooped low, using cold fingers to caress my cheeks. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. I closed my eyes, preparing for the worst.
“Look at me.” A calm baritone voice said, politely.
At first I refused. A few more persuasion and slowly, I opened my eyes. The person before me, at closer look, was Katomo, the ferry man. His eyes shown in the dark and had pupils like that of an cat’s. Those eyes burned into me and I felt naked before him, like he could see the depth of my soul.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, whispering. My heart beat doubling.
“Since our encounter at the river, I haven’t been able to take my mind off you.”
“I’m not your…”
“I came for you my love.” He cut me short, inching closer.
Once again I tried to run, but his hands were already all over me, ripping off my clothes. The cold morning air hit my bare skin and I gasped at the sudden action, but I couldn’t stop him. Within minutes I sat naked before him. His lips moved, from my temple, to my eyes, nose and lips. His lips wrecked havoc in my once calm body and his hands, roaming freely over my sensitive skin, caused my body to burn with desire. I shouldn’t have encouraged him, but I did, parting my lips for him. That single action seemed to fuel his desire. He laid me back, after completely shredding my clothes. His lips roamed my body and my desire increased after they covered the hardness of my breasts. He made love to me. He made me make sounds I never thought I could make. It was long afterwards, his hand pushed my legs, spreading them apart. His fingers found their way below my abdomen, playing in my wetness and sending bolts of desire shooting through me. I made to touch him back, and that was when I felt the length and hardness of his desire. But as suddenly as he started, he stopped and pulled back.
Breathing hard, I looked at him, wondering why he stopped. He seemed to have read my thoughts.
“You’re not ready.”
He disappeared and I jerked up, Panting. Birds chirped from nearby trees. The rays of the morning sun greeted my cheeks and warmed my body. The V of my thighs felt disturbingly wet. My nipples, hard. But I was still fully clothed. Some distance away, Buko sat with Omar. They were discussing privately, but Buko’s eyes occasionally darted in my direction.
Ignoring him, my thoughts went back to what had just happened. It was a dream, but it felt real. Why would Katomo come to me? I thought, reliving the event in my mind. I touched my body and not for the last time, I wished he had done it. How could a man make a woman feel that way then disappear? It wasn’t normal, nothing about the dream was normal. I didn’t know when I fell asleep. Only to be visited by a Katomo who had animal eyes and sent bolts of electric pleasure into every part of my body.
“That’s not Katomo.” I whispered at last. The Katomo I met at the river, hates me. This was someone else posing to be Katomo. His animal eyes made me remember Buko’s story about my ancestors. About their half man half animal abilities. Someone was playing tricks on me, and I just did not know who.
I should tell Buko. I thought. He might have an answer. But how could I? How could I tell him I was made love to in the dream? And Katomo? I tried coming up with a plan B when Buko’s question interrupted me
“Are you ready, my queen?” He asked, coming in my direction.
I looked up. He and Omar were done with their discussion. “Ready for what?”
“To continue the journey. Time is against us. We didn’t want to disturb your rest.” His expression looked worried
“I didn’t sleep in time.” I admitted.
He nodded. “If you’ll like to take a quick bath, Omar found a small river, tub like, inside the bush.”
“I’ll like a bathe, please.”
It was almost noon when we continued the journey to the second hill. We soon reached it and crossed over, heading to the third.
“How much further is my sister’s kingdom?” I asked, weary and thinking about taking a break. Evening was already fast approaching.
“It’s at the other side of the third hill. But I cannot say what has become of its borders.”
“Can we rest a little? We have been walking all day.”
My question caused both men to halt and look at me like I had gone mad.
“We left very late, because of you. Yet you want to rest?” That was Buko.
“I should. I have a right to. We have been walking for a very long time. And on empty stomachs.”
“Omar encountered a Sugho last night, not too far from were we camped. Yes, he killed him, but not before extracting information. Somehow, news has spread about your return. Abentu will not stop until you’re dead. Our best bet is to reach the hill and gain your sister’s protection while you recover and prepare for what lies ahead. You still want to stop?”
I sighed and looked away. Both men had been faithful. I had no right to make extra demands on them. Besides, they regarded me as their queen. The faster I started acting like one, the better. “Let’s proceed” I said.
Sneaking through the forest was a great plan that soon stopped being great. We ran into thorns. Omar did his best to cut away and create more paths, but it was time and strength consuming.
“We don’t have all day for that.” Buko stopped him. “We take the main roads.”
We took the main roads, walking as fast as our feet could carry us. It was sun down and we had just reached the foot of the third hill when we heard the faint galloping of horses. Looking behind, in the distance close to the horizon, we saw riders. About five of them. They chanted as they drew closer.
“Sugho. Sugho warriors.” Omar whispered.
“I wonder how they found us.” Buko added. “Quickly, let us climb up the hill. We may not make it over before they reach us, but we have to try.”
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