The Ngola's Promise: An Eda Blessed Story
The gamblers gathered around the table, their covetous eyes expectant. Piles of cowries sat before them, their boasts and curses filling the smoke-stained air. Each took his turn betting against the patron and each took their losses in stride. Everyone, except Omari Ket.
“Curse it to the Cleave!” he shouted. The stout man sitting before him chuckled as he took Omari’s last cowries. A tear formed in the corner of Omari’s eye as he watched them disappear into the man’s pouch. A night with no food and sleeping in the street awaited him. At least it was dry season.
The man standing behind him patted his shoulder.
“My turn,” he said.
“Wait,” Omari said.
“Wait for what?” the man replied. “Your luck is terrible and your pockets are empty. Get out the way!”
Omari jumped to his feet then punched the man in the throat. The man staggered away gasping as he clutched his damaged neck. The room fell silent, the patrons staring at Omari. What was once a jovial atmosphere had become tense. Omari sat back in the chair then rustled through his belongings. A smile came to his face; he pulled out his hand cannon then slammed it on the table.
“This!” he shouted. “I’ll bet this!”
The opponent looked at the hand cannon while scratching his head.
“What in Daarila’s name is that?”
“It’s a hand cannon!” Omari replied. “The most dangerous weapon in Ki Khanga. It speaks like thunder and can slay a hundred men with its voice. It has saved my life many times.”
The gambler picked up the hand cannon, examining it carefully.
“One stack,” he said.
“One stack? One stack! It’s worth at least three.”
“I’m not a fighter,” the man said. “I have no use for weapons.”
“Maybe I can help.”
Omari turned to the woman who spoke. A smile slowly formed on his face as he studied her. She was an umber skinned woman dressed in an extravagant robe that conveyed her wealth. Dozens of thin jeweled chains encircled her graceful neck. The thin wrinkles at the corners of her brown eyes hinted she was older than Omari, yet her face still embraced her youthful beauty. The woman was flanked by two burly guards wearing sleeveless tunics and pants which ended at their thick calves. Short swords hung from their waist belts. Their countenances were as unpleasant as the woman’s was comely.
The woman placed a bag of stacks on the table, and Omari returned her gesture with a generous grin.
“To whom do I owe my salvation to?” he asked.
“An interested investor,” the woman replied.
She smiled then stepped away from the table.
“Okay, let’s go!” Omari said. The others looked at Omari uncomfortably.
“You sure you want to do this?” his opponent asked.
“Since when did you become concerned about my well-being?” Omari snapped.
“I could care less,” the man replied. “But a stranger just gave you more money than you deserve and you’re not wondering why?”
Omari smirked. “I think I know what she wants. And when I win my money back, I’ll make sure she gets it. Now let’s play!”
* * *
The tavern had long since emptied. Omari sat alone at the gambling table in shock and denial. There was no way he could have lost so much money in such a short time, yet he did. He was too drunk and too stunned to slip out early so when the woman and her guards approached his hand fell to his sword hilt. He hadn’t expected to have to fight his way out of the situation, but he had no choice.
“Seems things didn’t go well,” the woman said.
Omari jumped to his feet, his sword drawn. The woman shook her head.
“There’s no need for all that. You do owe me a lot of money, but I don’t want your life in return.”
Omari stayed on guard, his eyes darting back and forth between the guards. Neither of them made a move for their weapons. Omari relaxed, lowering his sword.
“What do you want?” he asked. “Me?”
The woman laughed. “An interesting proposal, but you’re much too young for my taste. I do have a task that your skills would be ideally suited for.”
“How do you know what skills I have?”
“You are a former Mikijen, are you not?”
“Yes,” Omari answered.
“And you still wear the ngisimaugi?”
Omari’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at the black tentacle running down his left arm.
The woman smiled. “Fascinating. Then you’ll do fine.”
The woman turned then walked away.
“Come with us,” she said. “First you need a good night sleep, then we’ll discuss what I require. Does that sound reasonable?”
It didn’t, but Omari was too inebriated and broke to argue.
“Sure,” he finally said. “Lead the way.”
Omari followed the woman and her men to a waiting wagon. He climbed in and the men sat beside him. One of the men offered him a beer bowl.
“Thank you,” Omari said. He took a long sip. This was good beer. He took a longer sip. This was very good beer. He was in the middle of his third pull when the world went dark.
* * *
Omari could barely keep his eyes open. Whatever the woman slipped into his beer lingered. He had no idea where he was or how long he’d been there. He tried to move his arms but his hands were chained together. He attempted to stand but was pushed back down to his knees. He looked to either side and saw the woman’s bodyguards standing beside him, the amicable expressions gone from their faces. He was kneeling beneath a large ancestor tree before a lavishly dressed woman flanked by two armed warriors. The woman sitting before him was definitely beautiful and regal; the warriors flanking her no less attractive. All three bore countenances of serious intent. They did not seem impressed by him at all, which hurt his feelings somewhat.
“What is this you bring me, Mayele?” the seated woman said. “I hope you aren’t wasting my time again. I told you before I’m not interested in your pretty men, although this one is prettier than most.”
“I wouldn’t waste your time, Great Ngola,” Mayele said.
The mention of the woman’s title cleared Omari’s head. He was kneeling before the ruler of Matamba, and the women standing beside her were Mino, some of the fiercest warriors in Ki Khanga. He was in serious trouble.
“This man is no consort,” Mayele continued. “He is a former Mikijen.”
“So you bring me a hired sword.” The Ngola smirked. “You more than anyone else should know I need no warriors.” The Ngola glanced at her fighters and they grinned in return.
“The reputation of the Mino is unmatched,” Mayele agreed. “But still there is one thing they have not obtained for you. This man may be able to do so.”
Mayele’s pleasant smile evaporated as he looked at Omari and the men holding his chains.
“Stand him up and turn him around!” she commanded.
The men yanked Omari to his feet then spun him about.
“He still bears the ngisimaugi!” Mayele announced.
The Ngola smiled, the Mino grinning as well.
“What is your name?” she asked.
Omari raised his chest and kept a stoic demeanor.
“You’ve done well, Mayele,” the Ngola said. “Very well. Unchain him.”
The men released Omari then stepped away as the Mino advanced on him, their spears lowered.
“I have a task for you, Omari Ket,” the Ngola said. “Accept it and once the task is complete you may go free with as much wealth as you can carry. Refuse and my Mino will kill you and feed you to my mambas.”
Omari looked at the Ngola, the Mino standing before him and his captors on either side of him. Under normal circumstances he would try to fight his way out, placing his fate in Eda’s hands. But the promise of payment was tantalizing and much better than the very good chance he would die where he stood.
Omari smiled. “I accept.”
The Ngola smiled back.
She looked to her warriors. “Take him to Izegbe. She will prepare him.”
The women bowed then prodded Omari with their spears. Omari walked away, cutting his eyes at Mayele.
“I will see you again,” he said. “This I promise.”
“I doubt it, Mikijen,” she replied. “May Eda bless you.”
Omari smirked. “She does.”
Omari marched away with the warriors. As they neared the palace he noticed how the men of the city looked away from the women, a hint of fear on their faces. The reaction of the women was just the opposite. They smiled warmly at the Mino, a look of pride on their faces.
The Ngola’s palace was a large rectangular building, the stone walls covered by white stucco decorated with images of war and sacrifices. The warriors led him to the entrance where a man dressed in a long robe and conical hat waited.
“Take him to Izegbe,” one of the warriors said. “She will know what to do.”
The man prostrated before the warrior. He rose then glared at Omari.
“Follow me,” he ordered.
Omari stepped into the palace. The interior walls were painted white as well, intersperse with expensive and rare fabrics from throughout Ki Khanga. The man led him to a room at the end of the wide corridor, the beautifully carved doors closed.
“Kiswala,” Omari said.
“What?” the man replied.
“Those doors are from Kiswala,” Omari said. “They are very expensive.”
The man frowned. “This is the Ngola’s palace. What did you expect?”
The man knocked then dropped to the floor, pulling Omari with him.
“What are you doing?”
“Prostrate, or Izegbe will kill you,” the man said.
Omari reluctantly prostrated, touching his head on the stone. He heard the door open.
“What you want, Odion?”
“Honored mother, the Great Ngola has sent this man to you. He is to be sent on the journey.”
“Leave us,” Izegbe said.
Odion crawled backwards for a distance before standing and backing down the hall.
“Stand up,” Izegbe said.
Omari came to his feet, looking Izegbe directly in the eyes. She was broad shouldered and firmly muscled in a way that impressed and aroused him. Her bronze plain face bore ritual scarifications on her cheeks. Unlike the warriors that escorted him to the palace she wore leather armor draped with chain mail. A sword and dagger hung from her waist.
Izegbe looked him up and down then smiled.
“Interesting,” she said. “Turn around.”
Omari turned slowly, his arms outstretched. When he faced Izegbe again her eyes were wide.
“Very interesting,” she said.
She drew her knife then stabbed Omari in the gut.
“Wh-What?” he groaned as he fell to the ground. He grimaced as he bled; moments later his ngisimaugi warmed on his back. Izegbe stood over him, watching as the tattoo glowed, Omari clenching his teeth. The wound slowly closed, the bleeding reducing to a trickle.
“So the stories are true,” Izegbe said.
“You could have just asked me,” Omari replied.
“I would not have believed you,” she said. “There have been others who claimed to have what you possess. They are dead. With this you might stand a chance.”
Izegbe grabbed his arm then dragged him into her chambers. She lifted him onto her shoulders, carrying him across the room then dropping him onto a hard bed. Omari grimaced.
“How long does it take?” she asked.
Omari lifted his head to take a look at the wound.
“Two days at the most,” he said. “It would help if it was bandaged.”
Izegbe ignored his request.
“Are you immortal?” she said.
Omari shook his head. “A wound to the head or the heart is fatal. If a limb is severed it won’t grow back. You can bleed to death if it’s a severe wound or if there are many wounds.”
Izegbe folded her arms across her chest.
“Not as good as I expected,” she said.
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Still, it may help.”
The woman strode toward the door.
“I will send a healer. Once you are well, we will be on our way.”
“To where?” Omari asked.
“You’ll see,” Izegbe said. She exited the room, slamming the door behind her.
The healer arrived a few moments later, a thin, bare-chested man wearing a bark cloth kanga with dozens of gourds hanging on his person. Omari lay still as the man poured various ingredients into a stone mortar then mashed them together. He scooped the resulting paste into his hands then spread it on Omari’s wound. The paste numbed his belly and Omari sighed.
After inspecting the application, the man gathered his gourds and proceeded toward the door.
“No bandages?” Omari asked.
“No,” the man said. “The poultice with dry to a coating. The kipande in your tattoo will help. Do not move until you are healed.”
Omari lay on his back then closed his eyes. He fell asleep immediately, the stress of his predicament finally overwhelming him. He dreamed of Sati Baa, of the life he once had there and was forced to abandon. He awoke to gentle nudging and the smell of lilacs. Opening his eyes, he spied the first friendly smile he’d seen in weeks.
“I have come to feed you, Mikijen,” the woman said. “Can you sit?”
Omari struggled to a sitting position, watching the poultice as he did so. Surprisingly the coating did not crumble. It moved with the flexibility of his skin, remaining attached as he leaned to the woman to take the tray on which she brought his food. The woman dipped the spoon into the stew but Omari grasped her hand.
“I can manage,” he said.
“It seems you can,” she replied, her eyes inspecting his body. “I have heard many stories about the Mikijen.”
“They’re all true,” Omari said. “Except the bad ones. Those are lies.”
The woman chuckled. “No, I believe they’re all true. I can look at you and tell you have done good and bad things.”
Omari didn’t reply. He ate his stew, ignoring the truth in the woman’s words.
“My name is Nourbese,” the woman said.
Omari smiled “It’s a beautiful name.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Nourbese replied.
“I’m Omari. I’ve been summoned by your Ngola to find a treasure for her.”
Nourbese giggled. “You’re a liar as well.”
Omari laughed as well. “I had to try.”
“You would like to lay with me. That is why you lied.”
Omari smiled. “Yes to both.”
“That is not possible,” Nourbese said. “You belong to the Ngola. If you were to lay with anyone, it would be her. But you don’t want that to happen.”
“Because she kills any man she lays with,” Nourbese said. “She only does so when she wants a child. Lucky for you she does not need one, for you are a well-built man and would make good children.”
Izegbe entered the room, a frown on her face.
“Nourbese, why are you talking to him?”
“I was just…”
“You were to feed him. Nothing more. Get out.”
The woman gathered her items then left the room.
No sooner did Nourbese exit did Izegbe begin to take off her clothes.
“Undress,” she told Omari. A sly grin came to his face.
“I thought I belonged to the Ngola.”
“The Ngola does not want you, nor is she here.”
“I could tell her,” Omari teased.
“If we survive this journey, you can tell her anything you want. For now, be quiet and take off your clothes. You’re wasting time.”
* * *
Omari awoke alone. There was a bowl of water, a large towel and soap beside his bed. Apparently Izegbe was one for cleanliness. He washed up then began donning his clothes as Nourbese entered with his morning meal. The large tray was filled with fruits, meats and grains with a jug of beer.
“Good morning Omari,” she said. There was sadness in her voice.
“Good morning, Nourbese.”
Omari sat at the table and Nourbese served him.
“This is a large breakfast,” he said.
“Izegbe wanted to make sure you were well fed,” Nourbese said. “She said you would be tired.”
“I take it she is pleased with me,” Omari said.
“She can’t stop talking about it. She was actually humming this morning. Humming!”
Izegbe entered the room and terror filled Nourbese’s face. She scurried from the room with her head lowered and shoulders hunched as is if expecting a blow. Izegbe followed her with her eyes until she was out of the room.
“Finish your food then get dressed,” she ordered. “Our bulls are waiting.”
If Izegbe was pleased with him, she showed no signs of it as she waited for him to finish his meal. Omari dressed, grabbed his weapons then stood for Izegbe’s inspection. She nodded her approval and they marched from his room to the stables where their bulls waited. The bovines were similar to wild nyati but apparently much more docile. They mounted the large beasts and were quickly on their way. Omari maneuvered his bull beside Izegbe.
“So where is this talisman we seek?” he asked.
“In the Sati Swamp,” Izegbe replied.
“Which is why we are riding the nyati.”
“Yes,” Izegbe replied. “They will get us to the pine islands. Once we arrive the way is less certain.”
“We have a map, but it is old. The recent maps were used by the others.”
“Who never returned,” Omari said.
Izegbe said nothing.
They traveled the remainder of the day, reaching the forest edge at nightfall. Izegbe set up camp and they ate from the supplies they brought with them. That night Izegbe visited him again. This time they had sex until daybreak then slept away most of the day. It was afternoon before they set out again, Izegbe humming the entire day.
The swamp was in view as they camped for the night, the forest evergreens giving way to tall cypress trees and marsh grass. Omari set up camp as Izegbe went off with her hunting bow, returning with three swamp rabbits and some local vegetables. They prepared the meal together, cooking a savory stew.
“How did you become a Mikijen?” Izegbe asked him as he chewed on a leg bone. Omari almost choked.
“I didn’t think conversation was allowed.”
He was surprised again when Izegbe smiled.
“Answer my question,” she said. There was softness in her voice.
“It wasn’t my choice,” Omari said. “It was either become a Mikijen or die.”
“What did you do? Were you a thief? A murderer?”
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Omari said.
Izegbe rolled her eyes. “I think you did something wrong.”
“In a way, I did,” Omari said.
“Men are always doing stupid things,” she said.
Omari nodded. “Which is why I’m here.”
Izegbe shrugged. “When we reach the swamp we must be wary. Many of the Ngola’s enemies live there. They will try to kill us.”
“How did they come to live in the swamp?”
“The Ngola exiled them. They defied her rule and were defeated. Then there is the Frog Hag.”
Omari put down his stew. As a boy in Sati-Baa he grew up with the legend of the Frog Hag. Most parents would warn their children of her, usually when they were misbehaving.
“You keep stealing and the Frog Hag will come for you!”
“Go to bed now or the Frog Hag will take you from your bed and eat you!”
“Talk back to me one more time and I’ll send you to the Frog Hag!”
Omari had heard the warnings so many times as a boy the threat lost its sting. If there was a Frog Hag, he’d be long dead. Apparently his skepticism showed in his expression.
“You do not believe in the Frog Hag?”
“When I see her, I’ll believe it,” Omari replied.
“If you see her, it will be the last thing you see,” Izegbe said.
Omari shrugged. “Anything else we need to be mindful of?”
“No,” Izegbe said. “If we make it through the wild tribes and the Frog Hag, you will be free to collect the talisman.”
“What exactly is this talisman?”
Izegbe looked unsure.
“I don’t know. You will know it when you see it.”
“How am I supposed to find something and I don’t know what it looks like?”
“You will know.”
Izegbe placed down her bowl then crawled to her sleeping mat.
“It’s late. We must rest.”
“You have no intentions of resting.”
“Neither do you,” Izegbe replied. “Hurry up.”
* * *
The next day they entered the swamp. The nyatis didn’t hesitate when they reached the wet-lands; they waded into the water, their hooves unimpeded by the muddy foundation. While Izegbe frowned as the warm waters climbed her legs, Omari was unperturbed. He was used to being wet after years serving the Kiswala. What bothered him more was that they were crossing the swamp in the open instead of using the bordering forest as cover. If the Ngola’s enemies were fair to good archers, they were done for. On the other hand, traveling through the woods could set them up for an ambush. It seemed there was no good way to travel where they were headed, so he cleared his mind and took in the scenery.
They were halfway across the open water when they heard the cries coming from all around them. Masked warriors burst from the woods waving throwing spears and brandishing loaded bows. Izegbe looked at Omari, her expression all the answer he needed. If they had to run and fight, they might as well run in the direction closer to their goal.
“Hita!” Izegbe shouted as she slapped her nyati’s neck. The beast bellowed then charged forward as Izegbe released her lance from its saddle sheath. Omari did the same, his bull keeping pace with Izegbe’s. It was a formidable advance, but the masked warriors before them did not move. Instead they raised large shields and slammed them into the ground. Omari grinned; this was a disaster waiting to happen. He kicked his bull, spurring it to run faster.
The bull bellowed as its head and horn hit the shields. Instead of breaking the wooden barrier and the men behind it, the bull’s head bent at an awkward angle. Omari went soaring over the barrier, a shocked look on his face that turned into a painful grimace when he splashed down into mud and water. He lay stunned for a moment before regaining his feet. Izegbe learned from his mistake; she turned her bull aside and fought with spear and sword against the warriors swarming around her and the bull like lethal bees. Omari ran towards them, loading his hand cannon. He reached the edge of the fray as he lit the fuse.
“Ago!” Omari shouted.
The warriors looked his way just as the hand cannon fired. Three men went down, the loud blast stunning the others. The hand cannon’s voice had another devastating effect; Izegbe’s nyati flew into a frenzy, flinging warriors aside with its head and horns and kicking others airborne with its rear legs. Izegbe dropped her weapons and clung to the bull with her arms and legs. Omari jammed the cannon into its holder then took out his sword, working his way through the stupefied attackers until he reached Izegbe and the now calm bull. Omari scanned the scene; the other warriors were running toward them, high-stepping through the water. He climbed onto the bull with Izegbe.
“Get us out of here!” he yelled.
“Hita!” Izegbe shouted.
The bull splashed through water and grass, carrying them into the forest. Once on solid ground it ran fast and confidently through the short trees and open grasses, the warriors falling far behind. Izegbe continued to push the bull until darkness forced them to stop. Omari slid off the bull, rubbing sore butt. Izegbe fell off the bull and lay still on the ground. The bull laid down as well, breathing heavy.
Omari finally found his way to Izegbe then sat beside her.
“You could have warned me about the shields,” he said.
“I didn’t know,” Izegbe replied. “They were not ordinary shields.”
“Charmed by a powerful sonchai most likely,” Omari said.
Izegbe gave him a sideways glance.
“Thank you for coming back for me.”
“You had the map,” Omari said.
Izegbe grinned. “I should have known.”
“Should we expect more surprises like this?”
Izegbe sat up. “I don’t know. We are in Eda’s hands now.”
“In that case, we should be fine. Eda is my patron.”
Izegbe cut her eyes at Omari. “Is that so? Then you must have done some wrong she is punishing you for.”
“Why would you say that?”
“This journey has been a disaster. I’m glad my part is almost over.”
“Yes. I return tomorrow.”
Izegbe gave him the map.
“The landmarks are clear. You should be able to find the talisman with no problem. If you survive.”
Omari took the map. It was too dark to study it, so he put it in his pack. He took out dried meat and yams and they ate as they rested. Once they had their fill, they sat beside each other, listening to the chirps, croaks and squalls of the nocturnal swamp life.
“You are not as bad as most men,” Izegbe said.
“I didn’t need you to tell me that,” Omari replied.
“You are strong, you fight well, and you are not that ugly.”
Omari laughed. “I think you’re trying to give me a compliment.”
Izegbe frowned. “It’s not a compliment. Just an observation.”
“So, what do we do now?” Omari asked. “I’m not sleepy.”
Izegbe glanced at him them began removing her clothes. Omari did the same.
* * *
Omari awoke to the rising sun. He opened his eyes to see Izegbe dressed and mounted on her bull. Omari jumped to his feet.
“You’re taking the bull?”
“Of course,” she replied. “It’s mine. You killed yours.”
“Not on purpose!”
“Still, you have no bull. According to map you won’t need one. Good luck, Omari Ket. May Eda bless you.”
Omari gathered his items as Izegbe rode away.
“I will speak well of you to your daughter!” she shouted.
Omari stood dumbfounded.
“My daughter? What? Wait!”
Izegbe laughed as she kicked the bull into a gallop. Omari watched her ride away with a mixture of anger and resignation. He’d heard the stories of the Mino choosing men from the surrounding lands to impregnate them. The men would present themselves during an annual festival, where they would put themselves on display for the women warriors. A warrior would choose her mate then sleep with him that night. The next day the men were driven away; those who refused to leave were killed. Izegbe apparently decided she wouldn’t wait until the festival, and since she believed Omari would die he made the perfect mate. That and the fact that he was not so ugly.
There was nothing left for him to do but continue the journey. He took out the map, comparing the drawn landmarks to the reality before him. The swamp treetops peering at him from over the low evergreens resembled a location on the western side of the map, so he packed his gear and headed in that direction. As he traversed the dense forest, Izegbe’s word of his daughter distracted him. He thought of Mariama, the reason he was on this quest that might likely end in his demise. He was so distracted that he didn’t notice the activity above him, the muted shapes following him in the canopy starting and stopping in time with his movements. It was midday before his head cleared and he picked up the commotion. His right hand fell to his sword hilt; with his left hand he extracted his dagger from its sheath on his right forearm. Omari stopped walking then looked up. He wanted whatever was pursuing him to know they were no secret in hopes it would discourage them. It didn’t work.
The canopy grew denser and lower as the day progressed. Omari could barely see an opening between the trees, indicating a clearing. Whatever followed him would have to act soon if its intentions were to attack him. He braced himself.
“Eda guide . . .”
His prayer was cut off by sudden pressure around his neck. He gagged as he was jerked off his feet. Omari grabbed at the appendage circling his neck and sliced it with his dagger. There was an ear-piercing scream as the fleshy coil released him. He fell to the ground, landing on his feet but falling to his knees as he caught his breath. As he stood to run an-other appendage grabbed his arm. Before he could cut himself free he was pummeled by bodies from the treetops, his ears filled with yips and cries. Omari slashed with his dagger and struck out with his fists as the unknown horde bit and clawed. He managed to fight himself free and get on his feet, catching a glimpse of his attackers as he turned to run. They were some type of primate, almost as tall as an adult human with faces like a nyani and tails twice as long as their bodies. Some pursued him on foot while the others climbed the trees and chased him from above. He held his sword and his dagger, slicing through any of the creatures blocking his way, determined not to fall under another assault. The creatures seemed less eager to attack with each death of their own.
The forest transformed into an open area of knee-high water and grass. Omari high stepped into the marsh. He took a quick look; the primates did not follow him. Instead they lined the water’s edge, pacing from side to side as they shrieked and threw handfuls of feces in his direction. Omari slowed as he turned toward them.
“Daarila’s ass,” he shouted. “Are you afraid of a little water?”
Omari froze as he realized there was probably a reason the primates didn’t follow him into the clearing, and that reason had nothing to do with an aversion to water or the lack of tree cover. He ran again, hoping to get out of the marsh before whatever terrified the primates appeared.
He sprinted by a bare mound to his left, paying little attention to the nondescript mass. A deep croaking sound from behind made his insides shudder; Omari turned to see that the mound had eyes, and they were trained on him.
“Shit!” he yelled.
He took two more bounds before something hard smacked against his back. He jerked backwards, his weapons flying from his hands. Omari dug his fingers into the mud, trying to keep his head above water as he was dragged toward the living mound. A loud cackle made him twist his head about. What he saw would have been humorous to him if it wasn’t real. A ragged old woman danced on the head of a giant frog, clapping her hands as she babbled. The frog’s pink tongue extended from its wide mouth, ending on Omari’s back.
“Frog Ha . . .!”
Omari’s fingers pulled free from the mud as he flew into the frog’s open mouth. Rank darkness consumed him as a viscous liquid enveloped him. He tried pushing against the frog’s insides but the muscles crushed him. Outside, he could still hear the Frog Hag singing his demise. His skin burned, the frog’s saliva digested his clothing. The damage to his body ignited the healing properties of his ngisimaugi. It flared and the frog croaked its discomfort. The ngisimaugi became hotter; the Frog Hag’s singing ceased and she began to babble again. Omari was losing consciousness when the ngisimaugi flared with heat so intense Omari believed he was on fire. The frog belched, expelling him. Omari flipped through the air landing with a splash into the marsh, the muddy water cooling his back. Sitting up instinctively to avoid drowning, Omari saw the giant frog thrash in pain, the Frog Hag scampering about it waving her mangled staff and shouting in grief. Omari was hurt, but he wasn’t going to wait for the Frog Hag to realize he had been regurgitated. He struggled to his feet, searching the water until he found his weapons. Omari staggered across the marsh to a clump of trees ahead. He chose the largest, hoping the dense cover would protect him from the Frog Hag’s ire. To his relief there were no canopy primates, just the heavy organic smell of the swamp and the weak illumination of the dusk sky. As he caught his breath the sound of splashing came to his ears. He looked up to see the primates charging across the water. Some ran toward the Frog Hag and her fallen companion; the others were coming directly for him.
“Damn it to the Cleave!” he spat.
Instead of fleeing he took time to load his hand cannon. He didn’t load the fuse; he wanted it to fire as soon as he touched the power. He lit the match then stuck the stem between his teeth before checking the map one more time. After coming this far, he would at least see this talisman before he died.
Omari trotted toward his destination. Running would wind him too much before the primates caught up with him. The canopy rustled with the screaming beasts as they swept through the branches like a storm. Omari ran faster when he saw a small clearing ahead. The beasts reached him as he stepped into it and spun around to face them. They clambered out the trees then shambled toward him on all fours, fangs dripping with spittle. Omari took out his hand cannon then waited. The weapon wasn’t very accurate, but at close range loaded with lead shot it was effective against a mob. He took the matchstick from his teeth then grinned.
“The Cleave to you all!” he shouted.
He lit the powder as the beasts leapt at him. The powder exploded and the shot tore into their flesh, the power of the blast throwing them back into their cohorts. Omari dropped the hand cannon, charging into the pack through the smoke with sword and dagger, slaughtering the wounded and dazed beast. The smoke slowly cleared, revealing his grim work. Omari stabbed each animal a final time to make sure they were all dead before moving on.
He entered another patch of woods. According to the map, what he sought was nearby. The stench of death reached his nose as he progressed but he pressed on. Something told him that the scent would lead him to his prize.
He was right. The bush opened to a solitary tree surrounded by a pile of human remains in various stages of decomposition. Omari took a kerchief from his pouch then tied it around his mouth and nose before stepping into the pile to reach the tree. He looked about the base of the tree but saw nothing; it was when he looked above that he spotted his prize. It dandled from the lowest branch, a woven bag with a yellow and blue pattern common among the fetish bags of the sonchai he’d met during his travels. Omari was reaching for the bag when the terrible yet familiar scream broke the morbid silence. He turned to see the Frog Hag scrambling toward him faster that was humanly possible, her arms raised as blue light danced between her fingers.
“You have failed!” she screamed. “I will send your burning body back to that Matamba bitch!”
Omari snatched the fetish bag down then ran. The light between the Frog Hag’s fingers coalesced into a broad beam then streaked from her hands, striking Omari in the back. His cries of pain mingled with the Frog Hag’s cries of glee as the power consumed him. But a strange thing occurred. Through the unbearable pain Omari sensed the healing powers of his ngisimaugi. The energy grew stronger and stronger eventually matching that of the Frog Hag’s attack. He was enveloped by a sphere of competing forces, his senses paralyzed, his body suspended mid-air by the battling forces. The Frog Hag’s malevolent energy finally conceded. Omari fell, landing on a hard surface. As the ngisimaugi mended his skin, Omari heard cries of shock. Someone moved him, rolling him onto his back.
“Is it him?” a woman asked.
“Yes!” another woman replied.
“How did he get here?”
“It’s like the last one. The Frog Hag sent him. But this one is alive!”
“Does he have it?”
There was a pause.
“Yes! Yes! He has the fetish bag!”
Omari’s ears filled with ululations and words of praise. A familiar voice whispered in his ear.
“Can you hear me, Omari?”
It was Izegbe. Omari grinned as he regained his full strength. He sat up suddenly, wrapping his arms around her then kissing her full on the mouth. She struggled for a moment then gave in, kissing him like she did numerous times during the night. When they let each other go, they were both smiling.
“You have done well,” Mikijen.”
Omari turned to see the Ngola sitting upon her throne, flanked by her guards. The monarch smirked while her guards glared at Izegbe.
“It seems not only have you retrieved our fetish bag, but you have also added to our ranks.”
Omari looked at Izegbe and she looked away.
Omari stood. The Frog Hag’s attack had burned most of his clothes away. He was healed yet still needed rest. Never had he seen the ngisimaugi protect him as it did. He shouldn’t be alive, yet he stood half naked before the Ngola and her audience.
“You have done what was demanded,” the Ngola said. “For that I grant you your life and your freedom. What you have brought back is something most sacred to us. What more to you wish, Omari Ket? Ask and if it is within my power, I will grant it to you.”
Omari grinned then turned toward Izegbe. The warrior’s eyes went wide.
“No! No!” she said. Her sisters howled in anger then advanced on Omari, their spears lowered. The Ngola raised her hand and they halted. Omari walked up to Izegbe, standing so close their noses almost touched.
“Do not do this,” Izegbe pleaded. “Do not make me a slave.”
“Great Ngola,” he said. “I want two baskets of cowries, three bags of gold dust and…one riding nyati.”
He winked at Izegbe before turning away and approaching the Ngola.
“I would have never let you have her,” she said.
“I know. But it was worth it just to see her reaction.”
“You are an annoying man, Omari Ket,” the Ngola said. “I hope your daughter is different.”
Omari glanced at Izegbe. “She will take after her mother; beautiful and fearless. Of that I have no doubt. If Eda’s allows, I will see her one day.”
“If you return to Matamba you will be killed,” the Ngola said. “Goodbye, Omari Ket.”
The rewards and the nyati were waiting for Omari when he exited the palace. So was Izegbe. She watched in silence as he secured the cowry baskets to the bull. Omari mounted the bull then smiled at Izegbe.
“Where will you go?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” Omari replied. “Wherever it is, I’ll be more careful about who I gamble with.”
“You are not as bad as most men,” Izegbe said. “Maybe you should find a wife.”
“I already have,” Omari teased. For the first time since he’d met her Izegbe smiled.
“Goodbye, warrior,” she said. “May Daarila walk with you.”
“Goodbye Izegbe,” Omari said. “Tell our daughter about me.”
“I will,” Izegbe said. “I will.”
Omari reigned the bull then set off down the road leading away from Matamba.
I hope you enjoyed The Ngola's promise. For more Omari Ket adventures, check out Eda Blessed on sale at MVmedia.