Cose Vecchie

My heart is on a journey.
My purpose is on its leave.
My passion, once sweet as honey,
Is now like the dead i bereave.

Each new day mocks an old king
Whose zeal to love is unreal.
Each bright noon darkens as they sing:
”He’s faint to live! He’s lost the zeal!”

My soul rides on thin circuits.
My vision, a cast of gloom.
Let my dreams dodder as it suits.
Let my scars grow in docile room.

Let none save me from this fall,
Lest you reap what you don’t sow.
I shall stand in my fall, up tall
And glory in my failure row.

I hear the choirs and their song.
I hear bells and a message.
I see the hands; they want me home.
I read the signs; the throne is gone.

False hope is born.
Lost time has come.
The king is gone.
Now sets the sun.

Pens bled with each sound of my voice.
Armies of words rose at my word.
My presence swallowed every noise.
But that was when i ruled the world.

Now,

I’m the chaff before the wind,
The helpless pack before the pride.
The dishwasher for the new king,
The happy son from a dead dream.

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The Blog’s Year In Review

Just when my mind was totally off it, WordPress.com sent an email!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Only Growing?

Was watching porn with the girl next door

Heard she said no but I wanted more

Said she hadn’t done it before, I swear she swore

A claim in dark contrast with the dress she wore

A claim we both forgot when we started on the floor

And then to the bed where she finally won the war

 

He pleaded but I doubt I can recall

What it means to be forgiving

Or why we need to be forgiven

So I hit him with all of my gall

And when the blood rolled from his sides

I felt no remorse; all I had were questions

 

They say they love me and I swear I don’t know what they mean

All I know are my dreams and that I’m a vagabond teen

I make more enemies than friends; friends I’ve never seen

I’m in an emotional sewer and I doubt I can ever come out clean

And I heard them say cleanliness is next to godliness

So maybe the virtue after cleanliness is total mess

(Because I don’t understand how quickly purity can turn filth

Or how a desert could suddenly become a tilth)

 

Or maybe I do

 

But I’m not sure

 

Many have eyes but they do not see

And those who see would rather look away

Many have ears but they do not hear

And the few who have heard have kept silent

I may look too hard but I don’t ever see

Because I’m becoming who I don’t want to be

 

But papa says I’m only growing

 

And I wonder how.

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From Paris, With Love

Shaita sat there not daring to move. The devil himself must have been sitting a few feet away, smiling mockingly at the rivulet of tears that rode down her face unto the gloss of the Kodak she was staring at. Abdullai smiled back at her through the stains of her tears. She could trace the creases on his face above the raised patch formed by the tear which covered his entire face and meandered down his shoulders. She wiped the small, teary ditch away from the picture and looked back as he smiled more handsomely. The picture will definitely begin to ruin from that moment, she thought as she turned the back of the Kodak and read his scrawny handwriting.

From Paris, with love.

She turned the picture back again and stared blankly. Abdullai stood akimbo on a street curb, a telephone booth behind him. The telephone’s mouthpiece dangled carelessly from the dial slit and there were bold scribblings all over the glass of the booth. She couldn’t read any, probably because they were written in french–a language she neither spoke nor understood. He must have just finished using the phone before deciding to take the picture. He must have used the booth to call home. It must have been one of those afterwork occasions when he had the chance to speak not only with her, but also with Alhaja and his two kids.

She sighed and wept for him again. She wept even more for herself; a freshly-turned widow.

Her focus kept coming and going. She couldn’t hold her gaze on to anything for too long, so she folded the picture into two neat halves and carefully slid it into her clutch. She off-handedly tugged at the corner of her Jalabia and wiped off the tears from her cheeks. Most of her mascara came off too, turning the used portion of the white Jalabia into a murky brown.She had cried enough. She stood up, stretched her arms and smiled into the day’s azure sky.

Shaita knew she had to brace up. She had to stand for her kids–Keila and Ahmed. She had to stand for her aged mother-in-law, too. How would she do it? How would she raise her two kids alone now that their father was no more?How would she be able to console Alhaja over the loss of his first son. There were many tasks ahead.

First, she must sign an acknowledgment of receiving the package that contained her man from the French Consulate. She was so struck by the thought that Abdul, who used to walk with a nimble spring to his steps, now returned home in a box; like a common gift sent over courier. She would have to transport him from the MM Airport to Gombe; to his hometown in Kaltungo where he had fled from at the wake of the Boko Haram insurgency and bombings.

“I’ll not wait to be blown to bits by these illiterate Boko boys,” he had said tersely as she stood beside him while they waited for his flight at the Muritala Mohammed airport. “In future, if you ever get as apprehensive as I am, I’ll be on standby to ship you out–you and the kids,” he had concluded.

“No! thanks, darling. We will be safe here, Insh’Allah,” she had told him.

That was three years ago.

She reflected briefly on how many a times– since that conversation–she had seriously contemplated packing the kids up and flying abroad. She had stayed too long without the warmth of her man. Her bed had stayed cold for three long years. Her eyes misted over again as she realized that now she is permanently bereft of a bed-warmer. Then, she had begun to live with the hope that someday, either he would come home to her or she would go to him; now such hope was totally lost. Now, she had to arrange for his funeral, this man that was now in a box.

Shaita’s grief was interrupted by the loud shrills of her cell phone as it momentarily rang. It was Mukhtar, her husband’s kid brother. He was calling from Jos where he worked and lived. Mukhtar was crying too, over the phone. He kept babbling like a child about the loss and she could only hear him partly. He was saying something about Allah’s will. Shaita couldn’t listen anymore. If Abdul’s fate had anything to do with Allah, then Allah was wrong to will death to an innocent man. She ended the call and walked briskly towards the rented SUV.

“You’ve got to toughen up,” she told herself over and over again as she trotted on. A thin smile curved at the corners of her swollen lips as the chauffeur curtsied and opened the door for her.

Alhaja was slumped on the SUV’s backseat. Her face was swollen from grief, too. “Ma’am, you are stronger than death,” the chauffeur consoled.

She offered a grin.

“I’m stronger than death, Insh’Allah” she answered in faith. “It’s just the thoughts. It beats me how he left death here to die abroad,”she said. “How could Abdul run from here, from locally made Boko bombs to be killed by a bomb in Paris?” she asked, breaking into tears again. “This is the part that zaps my strength.”

Written by:
Anny Justin


Anny Justin, also called Poet Razon-Anny is a south-Nigerian‎ poet, writer, spoken-word artiste and motivational speaker whose works have appeared in so many literary journals and review sites. He is a Food Process Engineer by training. He manages the southernibid blogs and tweets @Poet_Razon.

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I Remember

(I)

Here I am
Laying awake again
Spreading it all
Remembering home

I lost my faith
Failed the mountain climb
Desperate again
Praying for home

I remember…

The dreams I see
Pictures in grey and red
The silence of my past
Speaking through me

The dawn speaks loud
I cannot hear my cry
The path I walk
Away from home

I remember…
I remember…
Above the beats of hope
Above the drums of war
Above the touch of pain

I remember…
I remember…
The little boy who returned home

Lord, you’re my everything
Lord, I want you to be
Jesus, lead me home
Touch me again
Oh Lord, one more time

(II)

Where’s the hand
To draw me near?
Where’s the light?
Where’s the tunnel?

It’s Sunday
And I’m almost lost
Find me here
Quiet my soul

I remember…

The lies I tell
Myself at midnight’s dawn
Spreading it all
Surrending it all

Drive me there
My hand’s failed my wheel
Arms stretched wide
Praying to be home

I remember…
I remember…
Above the beats of hope
Above the drums of war
Above the touch of pain

Lord, you’re my everything
Lord, I want you to be
Jesus, lead me home
Touch me again
Oh Lord, one more time

Lord, I remember
Lord, take me home.

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Life and Wants

At twelve years old, over a breakfast of garri and okro, I read my first newspaper article. I remember it vividly. It was The Daily Punch. Page 4. That page designed to grab your attention with weird stories of people who did silly things for silly reasons. ‘Crime Watch,’ it was called.

That day, Crime Watch was about two men. Two fools, they were called. One was on his way from work, fought with someone who tried to rob him, shot him and died, himself of multiple stab wounds. Here comes the shocker. It was all for a thousand naira.

Several questions arose in my little mind. Where did the man who was robbed get the gun from? The workplace he was only just arriving from? When the robber saw the gun, why didn’t he stand down? Had he been listening to too much of Sia’s Titanium? Only for a thousand naira? A measly thousand naira? That couldn’t even cook a good pot of soup! Couldn’t pay power bills! It couldn’t even pay for internet subscription on phones people used then. I don’t remember what they were called, something. …berry. Yes. BlackBerry. Two men killed and two men died. I agreed with the newspaper. They were fools indeed. Aunty Maria thought so too.

She couldn’t stop talking about them. Two men who threw away their lives for nothing. She spoke of the lack of patience Nigerians suffered from despite the fact that the First Lady then was named Patience. She who used to scold me for talking while eating–bad table manners she called it–couldn’t stop talking. I wondered if I should remind her about her table manners after all. I wanted to find earphones to plug my ears with but that would only have made her talk more. I couldn’t blame her though. I understood her anger. I felt it too. We knew one of them.

I didn’t quite understand the rationale behind the actions of these men then as a child. But now that I’m a thirty-five year old adult, I understand it now.

That robber didn’t take time to think, to question the wisdom of his actions. He didn’t perform the 4-way test boldly displayed then in front of UNIBEN’s main Auditorium, or at the roundabout in Maryland in Lagos. No. He was too busy trying to attend to his needs at that moment. A wise man once said, “You’ve got to have been satisfied with the basic needs of life before you can listen to someone preaching on how to behave.” That’s what he’d been doing. Satisfying himself.

A thousand naira was good enough for him. It was enough to get an average meal for himself and perhaps those that mattered to him. It was enough to buy drugs, enough to settle whatever debt he owed. It was enough for whatever he needed it for.

But what could excuse the man who was robbed? Perhaps, the very same. Maybe he needed it to fend for his children at home and that thousand naira was all he had. His last card. Maybe he was desperate, too. Desperate enough to shoot a man for it. Maybe he hadn’t meant to shoot him and just wanted to scare him off. Maybe, just maybe.

After they died, what became of the thousand naira? I’m sure it must have felt like the most powerful currency note. Guess what. It may not have been the most powerful, but it sure was powerful. Powerful enough to turn two full grown men to idiots. My mother would say, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” I beg to differ. Love, generally, is tbe root of all evil.

As an adult, I see the brief struggle of these men even more clearly and I’m astonished at the brutality of people’s desires and ambitions. I’ll be damned if I risk my life for a mere thousand naira. I’m way bigger and more learned to do that. Besides, I’ve got what I need. Unfortunately, there’s a huge difference between what I have, what I want and what I need. I discovered something else.

I have to have what I want.

Some call it greed, others call it covetousness. But for me, it’s plain human nature. Some might think they are way above that. I laugh. I wish they will take a moment and try something out. Imagine yourself, one dark night, standing in the centre of a room filled with high denomination currency notes. Imagine the thoughts that will run through your mind. The thoughts of how much more comfortable your life will be, your parents at home, the fast cars you will buy, the boat cruises you will go on, the socialites you will get to rub shoulders with.

Fun, isn’t it?

Now indulge in another fantasy. You can have all the money you have ever wanted. Every good thing you’ve ever thought of can be yours. You don’t have to steal, no decades of hard work. Now, that wealth will be yours if you can do this one thing.

Yeah, I know you’ll grab the chance with both hands. Don’t tell me you won’t because that’s a big, bogus lie. I trust you will make all the shakara and do all the yanga. I know you won’t want to sell your soul cheap. You will have your terms and conditions. You will ask for time to meditate and think. Your price may not be the same as mine, but there is a price. Judas’ was thirty pieces of silver.

Admit it. You have a price and you’ll kill for it.

Me too.

It’s better to live a life of luxury than that of penury, dontchya think? Better to ride in a Bugatti than to trek about on the streets. You never can tell what you just might find on those streets. You never know who you might meet. Maybe a beautiful young girl that may be the love of your life, or a man like my father, with a knife held tightly in his fist, needing whatever you had to offer. Maybe even me, as naughty and deadly as I can be. Maybe, just maybe.

Life’s hard lesson. We have to have what we want. We have to be the one who walks away alive….. and free. We have to win.

Rest In Peace, Papa.

Written by:
Pearl Wright
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LAST NIGHT WAS THE LAST NIGHT

Source: LAST NIGHT WAS THE LAST NIGHT

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Me, You, Us

                            I

in my tattered wares
all I think of when I smile
with my sorrowful face
are what I wear when I see the future
playing on tuneless solfa.

                            II 

my protuded belly
is filled with fruitless promises
the one that was made to my fore-parents
which made us pregnant with hopes
of a future change.

                           III

your silent voice
whispers over the earth crust
in all axis and crooked areas
where destinies are robbed off
by men of suits.

                           IV

with your dusty feets
you step on the palace of death
killed in the inside with blades of hopeless hops
eye blinded to change
cheeks swollen to speak.

                            V

we shall stand to our feet
to journey through memory lanes of failure undone jobs
silenced heroes
unmodeled to speak.

                           VI

with our ragged clothes
dead faces
flattened feets
protuded belly
we will seek change even into the deep.

Written by:
Ogunsanya Enitan Olalekan


Ogunsanya Enitan Olalekan a.k.a. Enistik is a student, a poet, a writer and a lover of art.

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A Tale Of Crowns (CHAPTER 3)

The hem of Berba’s dress dropped to the floor, along with all that was to follow. Naked, except for the gold pendant that shimmered around her neck, she padded to the window, shutting the shutters.

She stood for a moment in front of Zamorak as he undressed, before slipping into the coverlet. The sheet only covered her hips down, leaving full breasts for Zamorak to admire. She took a finger in her mouth, sucked, and then pulling it out, twirled around her nipples. They perked upright, straining as far as they possibly could.

That was all it took to get Zamorak to undress quickly. Her stood naked, hands on hip, looking like an athlete eyeing his prize.

Berba met his eye, before shifting her gaze down to his neck, flabby chests, paunchy stomach, hesitating at the source of his heat, before looking back to his eye. He had grown more huge than she last remembered. “How did you grow so fat?” she asked, letting the coverlet slip down a bit more.

“I only stop eating when i have to breathe,” he answered impatiently.

“You know that’s not what i mean,” Berba teased, cupping a breast in her hand.

“You’re talking to your king, remember?” Zamorak said in mock seriousness.

“Not in my bedroom,” she said before pulling away from the coverlet and revealing all of herself to him. “Come to me, my king,” she began innocently, sprawling herself carelessly on the bed while she slipped a finger into the source of her heat. “Let me make a man of you.”

          * *  * *  * *  * *  * *  * *  * *

Ziax knotted his leather belt around his middle and sat at one edge of the soft bed in Seethos’ Dark Room. He drove his feet into his shiny, leather boot. Getting up, he grabbed his cloak from the drawer, then slipped it over his head.

Ciphra watched as he dressed up, amused by his hastiness. He had performed better than three years before, or anyone since then, sending her to a world where she only floated in pleasure and her feet never touched the floor. “Why the hurry, Ziax?” she asked as she climbed down from the bed, already knowing what his answer would be.

“They can’t suspect a thing. What will we tell them?” Worry formed finely etched lines on his forehead.

“Nothing.” Ciphra turned her back to him and bent down to pick her dress, staying that way longer than she needed to. “You’re damn virile. How come you and Berba…”

“She’s barren,” he said hastily, swallowing a lump as he fought the urge to move forward and grab her.

She began slipping into her dress. “Oh! Barren,” she said, hesitating just below her breasts to give Ziax a final glimpse, and laughing when he drew a quick breath.

Ziax sighed. “Wipe that smug look off your face. You have no child for the king, either.”

Ciphra chuckled. “Everyone knows i’m barren. I’m not ashamed of it.” after fastening the light gold onto her earlobe, she asked, “Do you still love her?”

Ziax looked away, peering without aim into the evening clouds that had begun to gather outside the window of the Dark Room.

“Yes?” Ciphra asked in that mocking way that meant she wanted him to know she found it absurd. She grabbed his hands and motioned him towards the door. “Let’s go.”

          * *  * *  * *  * *  * *  * *  * *

“Here she comes,” Ziax whispered.

Ciphra turned her head. “We’ve been waiting, Berba.”

“That was rude, Berba. You have kept us waiting for too long,” the king added, with an grim twist of his face.

Well said, Zamorak. Well said, Berba thought.

“I’m so sorry. This maid came begging that her sick mother be given royal treatment. Pitying the poor woman, i arranged for her treatment. I beg the mercy of Your Grace,” she said, fixing her gaze on Zamorak.

Zamorak did not answer, he just waved for her to take her seat, and when she did, he looked at Ziax, “Why that look?”

It took a while before the question penetrated Ziax’s thought. “Um…look? What look?”

“That look of the lost. Anything you’re not telling me about?”

“None, Your Grace,” Ziax said, aware of Ciphra kicking his knee under the table.

“Nonsense. Of course, there are,” the king said, only half-seriously, staring at the reducing phalanx of people in the courtroom who were increasingly getting too drunk to continue merrying. Then after commanding Ziax’s and the two women’s attention, he began, “I left this discussion for the table because of its importance.” He turned to Ziax. “I’m saying this in front of our wives. They stand as witnesses, so if you fail, i’ll hear no excuses,” Zamorak said, then gulped another mug of beer.

Ziax listened, the air and everything around him suddenly hostile.

“Before the days when men began to rule themselves and kings began to defeat kings, the True-eyed goddess created an inimitable weapon for the gods–an elixir. It made them immortal, changed time and did other things too powerful they were undocumented. Ashktur wasn’t foolish. She knew the greediness of men and the ill-nature of the gods. And…” Zamorak paused suddenly. “And now i narrate? We all know how it all goes, don’t we?”

Yet he continued. “The gods were angered by man’s revolution and thinking the elixir would change man back into the submissive element he has always been, they cast it down to earth where it was lost forever,” the king concluded without hesitation. He stood up and walked behind his chair before continuing. “Here’s the good news. It has been found, the elixir has been found. Found with a man living with a dwarf and one lanky kid alone in a marsh across the east. I think his name is Caiz.”

Ziax forced a smile as he said, “Surely, Your Grace, your men won’t…won’t have any trouble with that.” He has a fair insight into where the conversation was heading to and the possibility caught him stuttering.

“My men found only a burning mass of wood but those three unfortunate bastards would have to do more than that to deceive us,” Zamorak said, caressing his bearded chin.

“Or, Your Grace, it may be that they died in…”

“We can let this lie this way for now. It’s the hilt that’s more important now.”

“Hilt?”

“Our beloved history was generous enough to include this part but was also thoughtful enough to make it as unavailable as necessary.” Zamorak hushed the noisy crowd into a murmur before continuing. “Ashktur forged a hilt, too. The elixir without this hilt is just another sticky liquid. And, fair enough, the hilt without the elixir is just an ordinary steel.”

Ziax had never seen the king’s red-faced anger before. Well, there was a first time for everything, he thought.

“If we have the hilt, then the elixir will be useless to whoever possesses it. You will join forces with D’jara and find both. But hilt comes first,” Zamorak said, walking forward to refill his mug.

“Me?” Ziax poked a finger to his chest, evidently stunned.

“Your men,” Zamorak hissed while trying to drink.

Ziax looked at Berba. She was staring at him, and what he saw was not what he expected. With brows raised, she only gave a slight backward toss of her head in what he understood to be a nod, the treacherous acknowledgement of her support for the king’s choices, and he felt a guilty anger for himself, and for her and for everyone. Then he wondered, briefly, how his men would work with the D’jaran swordsmen who were just as haughty as their king.

“Name’s Caiz. Tough-bone with a scar on his right eye.” Zamorak’s words came out more like a warning than a hint as he repeated the name.

“I shall dispatch my men immediately, Your Grace.”

“Nonsense. It’s dusk. They shall leave at first light, or when i want them to leave,” Zamorak hissed.

The two women just watched and listened. Zamorak’s arrogance and obtrusive superiority blatantly petered out Ziax timid servility.

Zamorak threw more vituperating orders that made Ziax’s eyes smoky and his ears itchy. By this time, the women had already started their own little chit-chat. Their conversation was not as one-sided as the men’s. They talked so much about unimportant things and Berba managed to get a few laughs out of the queen.

After much barking and royal noisemaking, an unwelcomed question, on Ziax’s part, burst out from the king’s stinging lips. Raising one stocky finger with superior grace, Zamorak pointed at Vonhonx who was lust sitting–watching the crowd–at the far end of the room. “Tell me something you will never forget about your son.”

Knowing the king was drunk and it would not have mattered if he answered or not, Ziax emptied his mug in one slow gulp before deciding to answer. He chose to answer not because Zamorak was king but because he too, was drunk. “He was six when he went his first hunting. His arm got grazed from one of our own arrows,” Ziax said, upending his mug over his mouth which was pointing to the hall’s ceiling. One tiny bulb of dark beer doused a portion of his growing moustache, clinging to the tufted tips below his brown, long nose. Half-expecting to get an order to go on, he got the reward of a tired belch instead.

He went on anyway. Virtually everyone, except the king and his D’jaran army, knew he had adopted Vonhonx and had found it natural to call him his son. Even Ciphra knew. “That was the last we saw of the scratch. When we came back home, there was nothing except the blood from what was supposed to be a scratch. The scratch…the cut was…gone. Just like that.”

Ziax was not talking about Vonhonx, Berba realized. He was talking about Erythmus, the bastard.

“So this cut just disappeared?” the king asked, and after a drunk pause, shouted, “Magic.”

The slurred word, Zamorak’s last before he dropped his head on the table, ricocheted across the hall, weaving through upturned tables and slanted chairs, and then past the guards standing at the swinging door before waning away into the hot evening air.

           * *  * *  * *  * *  * *  * *  * *

“Can anyone remind me how that happened again?”

“Just make breakfast ready.” Breathing heavily and without glancing at Tyriux, Caiz punctuated his words with a heavy strike that buried Ixas’ sword into the valley ground.

“Ow! You almost had my fingers flying with the sword,” Ixas complained before Tyriux hit him lightly from behind.

“It appears you were made for making dishes alone. Go on ahead. It’s been half an hour and i haven’t even put the twigs together yet,” Tyriux said, wiping his hands on his breeches as he approached Caiz.

“You haven’t started dinner?” Caiz asked disbelievingly. He intentionally swung his sword over Tyriux’s head, letting his shorter friend easily roll under his arm.

“Magic.”

“What?!” The word dazed Caiz. He did not understand how magic fit into their conversation.

“How else do you explain it? Lucky?”

“No. Blessed!” Caiz answered hotly after grasping Tyriux’s insinuation. He picked up Ixas’ sword from where it was still buried in the valley ground and bowled it over to Tyriux, watching him dodge. “Pick it up. If i’d wanted to hit you, you’d, by now, have been another memorial for the next people who come around here.”He turned his sword around his hands and made a mock scowl. “But aren’t memorials for people who are at least known?”

There was nothing fake about Tyriux’s look. “You’re becoming too proud and i’m going to make you pay.”

“Oh! I’ve heard that so many times already…and how did it all end?” Caiz mocked, gesturing to Ixas who had started dinner fire already.

“The famous Tyriux’s pratfall and sand for his meal,” Ixas called, half-laughing, half-coughing from across the cooking fire.

To assuage his growing temper, Tyriux thought, he had to crack someone’s skull. He just had to, but he was not sure how. Ixas was out of reach and Caiz would assuredly feed him dust. Even though he knew it was supposed to be a joke of a fight, he wanted to hurt someone, to make someone wish he had not mocked him. He picked up the sword. “Someone’s gonna pay!” he screamed, running forward. His deafening, high-pitch shout and the gravels crunching under his stomping boots sent an echoing noise across the valley, bouncing off one jagged wall to another.

“No, no. Noise doesn’t do it.” Hopping on one leg, from one gentle rise to another, Caiz calmly approached the oncoming, enraged Tyriux. “Neither do anger.”

Tyriux’s compact stature and keen tact had never been a match for Caiz’s dexterity and sang-froid. Using Tyriux’s height to his gain, he jumped over the shorter man’s blade, but felt a sharp, growing pain on his right arm as he hit the ground behind Tyriux. With Tyriux’s back now to him, he threw a quick glance at his arm, and there lay a thumb-length tear oozing out blood.

He turned quickly and prodded Tyriux’s spine with the hilt of his sword. Ignoring the deep grunt on Tyriux’s end, he bounded forward, causing them both to stagger, before toppling over Tyriux on the barely peaky ground.

The wafting smell of burnt meat uninvitedly came in-between all the chuckling, cursing and groaning. The scent had the heads of both men turn to the cooking fire. The tiny flake of an overburnt meat was all they could see; Ixas was seemingly nowhere near.

Caiz got up off Tyriux and staggered backwards, wrinkling his forehead and squinting to see through the dust motes of the retiring evening sun. “What is he thinking, leaving our dinner to burn?”

“We’re having him for dinner then, no ways around it,” Tyriux said, scowling at the tiny tear-marks scattered around his arm.

They both tottered to the cooking fire and Caiz took off the roasting stick crackling above the fire. Tyriux began looking out for Ixas.

“You’re going to be dinner, Ixas,” Caiz muttered, looking mournfully at the tiny meat he held up. He turned his head when Tyriux called him over, then matched across.

“Look at that hovel. I think he’s in there,” Tyriux said offhandedly, as if he could not possibly be wrong.

Caiz let his gaze follow Tyriux’s pointing index. There was a thatched hut, probably two miles south from where they stood, with most of it sunk into a miry bog. Bobbing his brows nonchalantly and walking away, he said, “You can check that out. I’ll look out the other areas.”

“Okay.” Tyriux bent over the thin stream of water coursing through nearby. His eyes caught the blood on Caiz’s arm and a vein twitched in his forehead. “Did i cut you?”

Caiz looked down at the cut he had forgotten he had, then said, “Yes. I’ll have to give you that much credit.”

“Hurt much?”

Was that a teeny hint of pride he heard in Tyriux’s voice? “No,” he said, and he really felt no pain whatsoever.

“You had better wash it off before a bad-tempered animal chooses to volunteer,” Tyriux said, sousing his arm into the brackish water that meandered by lazily.

Caiz squatted beside Tyriux, dousing the lukewarm water over his right arm where fresh blood sat and watched as the water carried the smoky red into its shadowy depth.

“Where’s the cut?” Tyriux asked, fixing his gaze on Caiz’s arm.

Caiz looked back at his arm. Tyriux had been watching him closely, he realized. There was neither a tear nor a scab. This was the second time in two days he would have a cut and look back to find it disappeared. First, it had been the wood splinter in his bicep from the collapsing hut which had only kept him uneasy for just some hours after they had gotten it out, and now this. He was pretty certain he had been cut. He remembered the sharp pain he felt while jumping over Tyriux, and what else could explain the blood?

“Are you sure i cut you?” Tyriux asked thoughtfully.

“Or maybe that was your blood rubbing off on me…you knoe, when i knocked you down,” Caiz suggested.

“When you fell over me,” Tyriux hastily corrected. “And that brings us back to yesterday.”

“There’s someone that needs to be found,” Caiz said quickly. He knew where Tyriux was driving this to, and that was one road he was not willing to go down through. But he also knew Tyriux would not quit.

“Magic. You’ve got magic, this power of healing quick that…”

“We have to find Ixas,” Caiz said pressingly, pausing at each word.

“Right.” Tyriux flung his hands in empty surrender, heading towards the hovel and shouting, “Ixas!”

Caiz washed his face with more water, liking its caress against his skin, supplanting his sweat, then he stood and headed the other way. He knew Tyriux believed firmly that magic was the reason for his cut’s disappearances and he did not care to think too much of it. The disappearance that worried him now was not that of the cut; it was a disappearance of some other nature–Ixas’ disappearance. He strained his eyes, turned his head, listened for sounds, made sure he did not miss any sign of movement. “Ixas, come forth. I’m really hungry,” he shouted into the hot evening air, rubbing his forehead.

The worry became upsetting. “Ixas!” Sounding hoarse, he shouted for the twentieth time, or maybe near.

Then he saw something. Standing on one of the hillocks that was scattered across the valley, he saw an area of scattered dry leaves and twigs that were caved into the ground and imbued with tiny gravel stones. It could be a wild animal that just stomped past, or it could be entirely something else. Right now, he was not willing to take any chances, because as it seemed, Ixas was lost.

Amid Tyriux’s distant howling and the hubbub of an approaching wind, Caiz trudged through, holding out his sword for any potential danger. He got to the spot where he had seen the tiny gravel stones and bent over, scratching off some small stones from verdant leaves down the rise. He turned his gaze to the dry leaves, letting it rest upon the neatness of the lined stones that dishonoured the assembly of the many others. It looked like someone had been dragged through the gravel and there had been a really big struggle. And…and, Caiz hesitated, as though to make peace with his thought, that someone had to be…

“Ixas!” Tyriux cry was pinched off short by Caiz’s tap on his back.

“The wind is getting worse. I’ve been calling out. You didn’t hear?” Caiz asked, wheezing.

“Were you running all the way down here?” Tyriux asked back unnecessarily.

Caiz ignored the question. “I found something,” he said, holding out a piece from Ixas’ clothing.

(c) Iwundu Wisdom

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A Tale Of Crowns (CHAPTER 2)

SEETHOS KINGDOM
EAST KENDRAL

Lord Lark Ziax paced around his four-cornered, cornice-clad chamber. Bulbs of perspiration travelled down his torso, pervading through his cloak and having the thick silk of his inner shawl clung to his back. He was not always this way when stern, pertinacious king Zamorak of Oceanuk was to visit. Maybe it was because the last time he had visited was three years ago and at the end of that visit, he had suffered a huge pecuniary loss. And as if that was not enough spanner in his wheels, he had had to live with Zamorak’s lingering threat scanning his conscience.

As if Zamorak considered how long since he had visited and thought that maybe he would act rum, he had made sure he left a superficial reminder of the unquestionable leverage he possessed. Ziax wondered why Zamorak would want to come all the way from the icy north–a three-week journey–to meet him. He stared down at the card in his hand, at the six-word routine message the king sent ahead of his trip whenever he would visit: Be prepared. To Seethos I come.

As scantily unnerving as those words were, coming from one he had sworn fealty to, it was not what kept him on the edge of himself. It was the inscrutable, small-lettered inscriptions emblazoned to the bottom of the card that had him doing things unusual to him, things like running his hands through the hair he had only just crimped.

He had had the palace council try to decipher the message but it had been like knocking on ice, and Vonhonx, the kingdom’s only living sorcerer, would have nothing to do with Zamorak and his notably cruel entourage.

Ziax had known Vonhonx’s father, Zethrux, as a friend, a very brave man with an unrivalled obsession for dark magic, and the unwashed image of Zethrux sprawled beneath grubby mattresses in the pool of his own blood when he had gone to visit him in his home twenty-three years ago always aroused an overwhelming feeling to repress the rule of tainted justice wherever he encountered it. He remembered the last of Zethrux, barely alive with a directed knowledge of his impending death. So he had nodded to everything Zethrux had been whispering, including keeping and raising his son, Vonhonx. Ziax doubted if his friend had known about his son’s powers, but if he had, he had never mentioned it to him. He had raised Vonhonx for over a decade, oblivious himself of Vonhonx’s peculiarity, when Vonhonx had to save his life–suspending him in the air when he had slipped from the high-rise palace staircase–and spare him a glimpse of his darker side, a secret that only the gazes of the two men held. All these happened before he had sworn fealty to king Zamorak.

Now he was Lord of Seethos, and Vonhonx, after years of furtive honing of his powers, had matured to become a majorly decisive asset in the palace council–a carefully selected gathering of both aged men and retired soldiers devoted to the kingdom’s edification. Once, he had granted Vonhonx permission to leave the Lark’s household on the young man’s request and was befuddled with worry when Vonhonx did a complete turnaround and decided to remain in the palace. Vonhonx sparing unwillingness to talk about his reason, to share his stilted silence, did little to clear the cottony cloud hovering over the nine-year-old memory, but he was content with the way things had turned out between them.

He considered Vonhonx a son already and would contentedly pass the crown to him if his dynasty prevailed. Now that he thought of sons, a memory he always would rather forget came rushing at him with an undeterred easiness; the thought that he once had one twenty years ago. He made no effort to distract himself as he remembered how he and his clan had, before the birth of Seethos, vowed to seize the city of Eethos, even if it had meant for them to give their lives; even though their desperation had not been rigid enough to blur the course of reality–which was the uncertainty of a minor clan conquering an outfit of trained swordsmen–they had still pressed for war, for freedom from their oppressors, the major, affluent Tusch tribe.

On grounds the two oppositions had agreed on, it was a two-day war, each side teaming into two batches, one for each day. After the first day, devastated by the growing numbers of casualties his side recorded and realizing what little hope held for them, he had found an inn-keeper, Zorah, and made love to her so if he died, it would not be without a child.

But if he had even the murkiest insight into the future, perhaps he would not have been so stark in his unbelief, so yielding to his hopelessness, because the next day–a day he still swore he would have died–Zamorak, the intrepid king of Oceanuk, had intercepted with his fearless D’jaran soldiers to salvage the future of the city, and offered him, Ziax, the reins, the treasure of being named ruler.

But just as he should have known, Zamorak was not one to pay your debts and let go your beloved. Zamorak had offered–actually forced him to swear–fealty to the kingdom of Oceanuk, threatening him and the very little left of his clan death if they declined. He knew truly that his clan would never had won the war were it not for the king’s selfish intervention, and what good would it have done to refuse? Never having really made a choice, he had been named Lord of Eethos, which he had renamed Seethos down through the years.

He had later returned to Zorah’s inn only to find a mucky table and her sewing item; she had not been there and it seemed she had left in a hurry. Barely looking out the surrounding areas of the inn was all he had done. He had been named Lord and his wife, Berba, Lady of Seethos. What he now called a kingdom was formed from the relatives and friends of the clan battle’s remnants.

Zamorak had not just left him and his newly acquired city to clamour and merry for victory, he had left an uncomfortably final warning before leaving for the north: “A lion travels the jungle because he’s king, but a tortoise watches his steps because he knows he has one to answer to.”

Things had fit as a fiddle and everyone had been in fine fettle. They had just won another battle when Zorah, three years after his encounter with her, had walked into his courtroom, back into his life with his son beside her. He had long forgotten her like a boring incident from his past, so when she showed at his kingdom, he felt no surprise; all he felt was shock, a curious shock. And Berba, with all her savoir-faire, had not said a word even after Zorah had introduced herself and the little boy who had his blue eyes.

He had expected an angry barrage later on and he had braced himself, but even that had not done much to help when Berba had flung out choice words, words he would have sworn she never knew or could not say, and took her right by the horn. Owing to custom, he had had to execute Zorah, as the adulteress, and belay her lifeless body to an inflammable canoe set afloat on one of the city’s streams and, as it sauntered towards the middle of the stream, had had it set ablaze by the dexterity of a skilled marksman. As for his bastard son, the palace council had decided his fate.

He had wanted so bad to stop it, but he feared the people’s obsession, a people who were more devoted to the custom than to the king as they believed the custom was not impressionable and their security was more certain that way. The decision of the council was unquestionable, and they had made the boy stay until he was nineteen. He had shared an almost inalienable bond with Erythmus, the name he called the boy, and when he clocked nineteen, the council had had to trick him, Lord of Seethos, to send the boy into a cold, brutal beginning.

Ziax forced himself back into the present and what he had meant to be a glance became a gaze as he watched Berba sitting in front of the mirror, combing back her blond hair. She was still very beautiful. Since what was now a twenty-year-old clanger, it took an effort to break through the almost reachy wall she had biult around herself and have her talk like a wife and Lady. As he continued to watch, she caught his gaze through the mirror and paused, apparently waiting for him to look away.

“You’re staring,” she said, finally breaking the awkward silence.

“Yes. Any reason why i should not stare at my wife, the Lady of Seethos?” he replied, sauntering forward.

“Oh, i forgot that,” she said with sarcasm.

“It’s quite unusual to see you sit in front of a mirror for thirty minutes.” He was used to her stinging repartee by now, so he just ignored it as usual.

“It’s not like you to crimp your hair for a visitor, either,” she said, turning to face him.

“I’m expecting a very important visitor,” he said, unsure if what he heard in her voice was accusation. He was now standing in front of her.

“So am i.” Berba stood, pushing her chair back with her legs as she tried not to make contact.

He made to grab her shoulders be she shifted. He sighed, then said, “You look beautiful, Berba.”

“Don’t you really mean barren?”

“Stop it! Not now, Berba.” His voice came out harsh with emotion. Yet again he tried to hold her. And again she evaded his hands, this time pulling out of their broken, non-existent embrace.

Right now, Ziax thought absently, what he needed was an interruption. And he got one. There was a knock.

“Yes, come in,” he sounded, a tiny bit of sadness still lingering in his voice.

His favorite swordsman, Sirhlock, graciously walked in. “My Lord. My Lady. The Harbinger signals the king’s arrival.”

“Tell the palace to meet him at the square at once,” Ziax said, his tone taking on a new seriousness. He turned to face Berba. “They’re here.”

“I heard,” Berba said, hurrying to the mirror to finish her make-up.

Ziax just stared. Berba was not a fusspot, even when someone was visiting, but the fuss she was now making left him in a brown study.

              * *  * *  * *  * *  * * * *

“Still as beautiful as you were!”

Watching Zamorak kiss Berba’s hand in a most unnatural way had things crawling up his nerves but what especially caught his eyes was the flush-red blush blurring her dimples.

“Stand!” boomed the king to the expectant crowd of people who were all crouched in reverence, although his gaze was on Ziax’s.

Ziax tried to understand the look of contendedness on Ciphra’s face. Everyone knew Zamorak and Ciphra shared a loveless marriage. He returned his gaze to the king who was now looking across at the crowd who had gathered to both welcome him and show their allegiance.

Ziax was not quick to look away and Zamorak’s gaze locked upon his. That stare. He did not understand why he was feeling that way but he was aware of the work his throat did against, he was sure, a coin-size lump. “We’ve to talk,” Zamorak said.

Walking shoulder to shoulder, both men strolled forward into the unusually inwrought palace. The crowd followed like puppies after their mother’s milk.

If Ziax had not been straining his hearing, too eager to know all the king’s thought, he would have missed the part where the king asked to be shown the palace’s vault.

“The vault?” He asked anyway, just to be sure.

“You heard me.” Zamorak paused.

No, I did not, Ziax wanted to say but instead said, “Yes, of course.”

They moved further a few feet before Ziax motioned the king left. He allowed Zamorak walk in first, buying enough time to order more sustenance be brought from the buttery before they returned. “Remain outside,” were his last words to the approaching Sirhlock before vanishing into the half-lit vault.

Inside the vault, they both walked in silence. As much as he wanted to hear what Zamorak had to say, there was a greater urge to somersault out of the vault into brightness.

“You said we have to talk, Your Grace.” Ziax patience wore out.

“Finally talked,” Zamorak said. “I was beginning to think the vault is held by a dumbing spell.” Zamorak brought their quick pace to a relieving halt, and pointed at the tiny outlet that sat high east of the wall. “You see that tacky building up there with the overshooting turret?”

“The abandoned keep?!” Alarm fired off colours in Ziax’s head. The keep had been there hundreds of years before anyone of them had been born.

“I don’t care. Empty it.” Zamorak waved dismissively.

“Your Grace, but it’s a sacred place,” Ziax said, dropping to a knee.

“I said i don’t care. Empty it. We’re bringing it back to life, or rather we’re bringing life back to it,” Zamorak started to walk back towards the entrance. “And there’s another thing,” he started to say, arching his brows, then as if he thought better, said, “We’ll discuss it over dinner.”

“If i should ask, Your Grace, what do you plan to do?” The colours from the alarm blowing off in his head was now inundating his senses.

“Before creation comes destruction,” Zamorak said happily.

“Creation?” Ziax stood.

“We shall build your abandoned keep into a temple. For Ashktur.” The king said with a sarcastic bore and the finality his choice of tone had no more questions coming.

                 * *  * *  * *  * *  * *

Arrayed in her long scarlet, silk dress with heavy gold pendants crowding her neck, Berba admired Ciphra’s blue silk that hung down low on a lace around her shoulders, revealing a remarkable amount of cleavage across the table.

“No heir yet?” the Queen asked her the question she dreaded most.

“No, Your Grace,” she replied, offering a wan smile.

They chattered and laughed at things neither of them found funny. Ciphra, the Queen, fired off questions and she just answered. To show her disinterest, she looked up.

The two men were already halfway to the table. She had not heard them come in. Her husband was fairly taller than the king. Zamorak, on the other hand, was plump and his carefully coiffed beards perched on the base of his neck. Three years since he had last visited, and she could still get unnerved by that look in his eyes that she once thought could see into one’s past. She suppressed a smile at her thoughts. Who said three years can change a man? She watches intently as the two men took their places, each at the end of the long table.

Ziax did not want plenty to eat. With a disturbing assignment at hand, Ziax forced himself to follow the women’s casual non-jokes while Zamorak fondled his beard more.

Berba was the first to take leave of the gathering. With a calculated dance to her hips, she gracefully strolled down towards the exit of the palace hall.

Zamorak excused himself not long after, pounding out of the hall without as much as a glance back. It was Ziax and Ciphra left.

Just as the door banged after Zamorak, the crowd drunk with their feasting, Ziax stood up and walked down the table to sit beside Ciphra. Reaching for her hand, he locked his gaze on hers and, knowing the crowd was too drunk with merry to care, he began to circle the inside of her palm with a forefinger.

Ciphra did not remain still. She reached out to fondle Ziax’s chin. “You stopped keeping beards. Good.” She smiled. “You’ve changed, Ziax Lark,” she added, parting his lips with her thumb.

Ziax raised a brow.

She threw her head back with a coquettish toss and laughed lightly. “Yes. You look more handsome than the way you appear in my dreams,” she said, moaning softly when Ziax cupped her left breast. She paused before pushing his hand away. “Look at us, behaving like teenagers. We can’t even behave as adults, you know, control ourselves,” she said, laughing.

“Then let’s go somewhere where we wouldn’t need to bother about controlling ourselves,” Ziax whispered in her ear, nibbling lightly.

“Where?”

Ziax chuckled, looking into the deep blue of Ciphra’s eyes, amazed at how helplessly it held him, and he thought he saw, in it, the little boy who had his blue eyes.

(c) Iwundu Wisdom

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