Enemy Call by Emem Bassey
(Sequel to Bond Call by Emem Bassey, featured in Enchanted: Volume One anthology)
Defeated warrior chieftain Aku seeks help when his people are terrorised by the stench of decaying corpses and apparitions of the dead. However, the solution to his problem comes in the form of a dreaded, mythical water-nymph, a mamiwata, who also happens to be his fated mate.
Amina is a powerful healer who runs from home, determined to prevent her uncle’s decimation of peaceful villages. Except, her fated mate is a chieftain of one of those villages who needs her help.
Is their bond strong enough to overcome the obstacles of a blood feud and an existing betrothal?
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Aku, great warrior and chieftain of Ukuku, had been defeated by the infidels.
It was the first of its kind, that he’d suffered so many losses. His chief wife, mother of his first seed, had lain beheaded by the bamboo prison that had corralled Sese, the warrior maiden, twenty days ago. Not that he was fond of the woman, but she’d been his wife, albeit a forced marriage seeing as she’d been his father’s wife. Ironically, she’d been the first to conceive and birth a son.
Perhaps, if he had not been obsessed with being the most powerful chieftain ever heard of in the east, if he’d not been obsessed with producing a crop of warrior maidens; if he’d been thinking sanely and stayed to defend his village, Aku would have had a kingdom to return to.
However, he’d been incensed when one of his warriors had intimated him of the disappearance of, not just the warrior maiden he’d been coveting, but also the sacred stone. It didn’t matter that he’d no idea how the stone worked or that he’d been slightly sceptical about the prophecy of siring female children with warrior bodies, Aku had gone after Sese because of pride.
She’d had thousands of fight claps on them as his tracker had discovered she’d fled on one of the beasts the infidels rode, far faster than running through foliage. Nevertheless, Aku was furious, which meant he was madly determined to conquer her. Without prior planning, he left in the middle of the battle and went after her.
He’d not been thinking. How, by the gods, had he thought the remaining warriors would defend Ukuku?
It had taken him and his five warriors seven days to catch up with Sese, at the edge of Abedeng forest. It wasn’t that the maiden warrior was hiding her tracks, far from it. Signs of her sojourns were quite visible. Aku wasn’t an excellent tracker but he’d seen and known when she’d been thrown from the beast. His tracker had said she was tired and hungry from the shape of her foot in the shrub and sand, however, so were they. Aku had left in haste with no water or sustenance. To worsen the situation, it was as though the warrior maiden had chosen the most barren parts of the forest to travel. There were no edible fruits in sight, so they’d travelled hungry, chewing ugwu, pumpkin vegetable leaves whenever they came across a wild batch in the forest.
By the time his tracker had an epiphany and advised they branch off into the thicker part of the forest to cut her off before she reached her village, a plan that had worked, Aku was in a murderous rage.
Nothing about her was covetous any more. He’d wanted to watch her bleed to death and still get the stone from her. However, the strangest thing had happened. A white-haired warrior had dropped from the sky. He could have dropped from the trees but Aku doubted that, not when his voice came out like a gurgle of mismatched voices and his eyes flickered from that of a man to those of spirits.
It was undeniable that he was of the spirits – diviner, the voices had called him. It was the season of firsts for Aku as the landing of Sese’s mate, no ordinary man or warrior, had stoked a fever of fear in his broad chest. By the gods, his staff was a boomerang! He’d laid out his men with only one throw, raising them back with a flick of his wrist. Nothing could have stopped his lips from slacking in wonder. The diviner would and could have killed all of them without breaking a sweat. He would have still killed Aku even after he’d confessed that he hadn’t touched the warrior maiden, after all, he’d been about to bury his spear in her chest.
However, bafflement remained with him as he returned to Ukuku, wondering why he’d been spared and even commanded to return as a friend of Abedeng to thank the diviner. Defeat weighed on them, sucking all energy, added to the injuries they’d garnered while fighting the infidels
Aku and his warriors had reached Ukuku after eight days of trekking through the forest. They were so tired they’d been unable to make it to the sacred hut, the only accommodation standing in the village. It was as though the gods had preserved that one shelter, defying the fire that had razed the rest of the village.
The infidels had brought ruin to Ukuku, the most prosperous village of the east. And he’d allowed that decimation by being arrogant. However, Aku had yet to understand the extent of the destruction because fatigue and his injuries had left him paralysed for five days, being cared for by the wife of one of the elders.
He’d vaguely wondered why not one or two of his twelve wives had catered for him as he slipped in and out of the comforting emptiness of unconsciousness. On the third day, he’d been helped into a sitting position with his back against the mud wall of the sacred hut. It’d not been a healing sitting, as he’d been forced to confront the steely gazes of some elders and the forlorn ones from the people of Ukuku.
“Where are my wives?” he’d asked the old woman.
She’d lowered her head and muttered what sounded like they were all dead or taken by the infidels.
“My sons?” he’d choked.
The old woman had tried to hide her tears, but managed to say, “Gone to be with the gods.”
His three sons. The first son had been from his chief-wife, a woman inherited from his father after his death. The boy had been in his seventeenth twelve moons. The second son from his sixth wife had been in his thirteenth twelve moons and the last boy from his seventh wife, had been in his eleventh twelve moons. They’d been his pride. He could have had more children, but since hearing the prophecy of birthing warrior maidens and his search for a warrior maiden, he’d ceased impregnating his wives. He’d made them drink a warded portion from the chief-priest that prevented them from conceiving.
He’d been one to dismiss the postulations of the priest, however, when it had led him to the exact location of the maiden warrior, a rare sight, a myth, he’d begun believing. Yet, it seemed all the prophecy had brought him was loss. His wives and sons were gone and all Aku wanted was to disappear too. He couldn’t though. He could only shed tears in plain view of his people, adding shame to his failure to protect them as he’d often boasted.
Aku had thought that it was better to return to his sealed eyes and as though his body communicated with his mind, he’d slipped into darkness again. On the fifth day, he was strong enough to rise to his feet and step out of the crowded space of the sacred hut. The stares from his people, their hopelessness suffocated him. He’d also been escaping from the elders who looked ready to pounce on him and demand a way forward. Aku had no way forward. Loss had crippled his chi.
The stench that slammed into his nostrils had him staggering and grabbing the wall to steady his stance.
“Abeh!” he barked, calling his trusted second.
“Odogwu,” Abeh hailed his usual praise of him as his chieftain, but with little enthusiasm as expected. Aku ignored the slight.
“By the gods, what is this smell?” he asked, his words smothered by his large palms covering his nose and mouth.
Abeh cleared his throat and had to hold his nose to speak, even at that, he couldn’t help grimacing as he could taste the stench as he spoke. “Odogwu, thank the gods for your unsealed eyes and strength in your limbs.”
Aku eyed his second as though to say, that’s not what I asked you.
“Let me show you Ukuku,” Abeh said and looped forward in long strides that left Aku cursing his weakened body. But he gritted his teeth, hands still over his face and followed at a slower pace.
“By the gods,” Aku whispered when he rounded the wall of the sacred hut and was faced with the ruin that was Ukuku. The decaying bodies had been piled as far away from the sacred hut as possible, while the burnt huts remained as husks, testimonies of a village that once existed. Yet, the buzzing of the giant flies were so loud, he wondered why it hadn’t registered in his consciousness.
“Why is this still here? They should be burnt and sacrifices made.”
“The chief priest is among them,” Abeh replied, nodding towards the pile of corpses.
It felt as though his heart desperately dug into his belly for a place to hide when he heard the news. Without a chief priest, his village, his kingdom, his pride would soon...
“Villagers are speaking of apparitions in the night.”
“Tufiakwa!” Aku rounded his right arm over his head in a swift motion before making a clicking sound with his thumb and middle finger, away from his head. The exclamation and sign meant the gods forbid a bad thing; like warding off evil.
“That is coming late, Odogwu. Evil is here already. Just yesterday, Ijele swore she saw her dead child playing by the well with other children when the sun was high.”
“The woman is grieving,” Aku swiftly parried. Everyone knew Ijele was one for stories that left her the centre of attention.
“She was with Oge, who saw it too.”
Oge was one of the single maidens too ambitious and full of herself to ever collaborate on any crazy stories by Ijele. If Oge confirmed the fearful tale, then it must be true. Aku swallowed saliva and it felt like he was swallowing tiny spears. He knew what was happening. He’d never thought it would happen to him or his village. It was obvious they needed a dibia, another chief-priest, to perform sacrifices and especially, speak the incantation of peace to put the spirit of the dead to rest.
The dead bodies had remained with the living too long. Their spirits were beginning to bother the living. A scary thought.
He turned with a heavy heart to face the approaching elders; the three left of the five that had existed for Ukuku.
“We must have words with you,” Elder Ibe began. “What is the way forward for Ukuku?”
Aku vaguely wondered what they’d say if he told them he had no idea.