Saturday, August 7, 2010

Prisoner of Water: Chapter 4

“Welcome, my children! Welcome, all you of the villages upon the mighty mountains. Welcome, all who have gone out from Djarmond. Welcome, home!”

The crowds errupted into more cheering.

“And welcome to a very special guest, a traveler from the distant lands beyond the great sea, who has come to learn our ways. You are welcome at our ceremonies, Palo of Medea.”

I looked apprehensively at my comrades whom I had met several days before. They had been on a fishing expedition to the great inland sea when my ship landed there. After discovering that when I spoke old Umvatah they understood part of what I said, I explained my mission and they agreeed to allow me to accompany them to the celebration in the mountain. The chief had introduced me to the wisewoman earlier that day. Now, having announced my presence, they nudged me to stand and gave me a quick whispered phrase.

“Thank you, All-Wise. And thank you, people of Djarmond. May the Water Goddess smile on us today.”

The crowd broke into even greater ecstatic cheers and clapping and foot stomping at the words, impressed by my use of their language and grateful to see that the pale person before them was no some kind of demon. I did feel somewhat self conscious amidst the dark faces, however, as they seemed to adjust to my presence during the day of feasting and celebration had I adjusted to theirs as well.

“Today we celebrate the return of the Elders at the first snow.” the wisewoman called no longer able to quell the tide of the cheering, smiling, shaking her head and motioning to the village masksmith that they would begin the ceremony.

A lone figure slipped away from the crowd, taking a look at the sun, which was begining to lower in the sky. The festivities and food had taken longer than the mysterious figure thought, but now the ceremony would begin. And now would be the time. It seemed almost to float down the staircase towards the waiting mist, which reached up to envelope it. The time had come.


The sun was beginning to burn the horizon as the four horses charged into the courtyard, flanks foaming, nostrils flaring. As the servants quickly ran and helped their masters off the horses, taking them away, the four brothers walked hurriedly up to the massive doorway where the black linen fluttered slightly with the late afternoon breeze. Inside there were rows and rows of mourners on their knees, their bodies swaying back and forth in bowing motions like the grass of the savanna under the wind.

On the far side of the chamber was the massive pool, covered in black rose petals with small candles floating on the water and lining the sides. All the mourners were facing towards the pool, the final resting place of the chiefs.

“He’s already been entered?” asked Ngetsu, the older brother. “Why the hurry?”

Zuma who had seemed to materialize out of the darkness like a bird of ill omen right behind them and spoke “Highness, if I may, would it please thee to retire to the antechamber and ready thy persons in proper mourning attire?”

“Zuma. You’d better have a good explanation for this!” Ngetsu said as they followed him to the mourning antechamber.

Closing the door behind them, Zuma turned to the four possible heirs and spoke, “The end was not good for your father, his soul be at peace. He had expressed a wish that none see him in his undignified manner after his death. Only I and the healing attendant saw him entered. However, if your highnesses wish he can be exhumed...”

The thoughts of the dead, slippery wet naked corpse brought a shiver to all four and none pursued the question, as Zuma had planned.

“Also, his majesty did give this to me.” he said, revealing a sealed scroll. “I believe that it may be his will.”

“I’ll take that!” Ngetsu said, grabbing the paper.

His eyes scanned the page before he started quivering with rage, tearing the papyrus page in half.

“Lies! You deceitful wretch! You plotted against me!” he spat as he threw the scraps at Zuma, “How much did my brother pay you? How long have you been in his employ?! Ha! That Ngoso should inherit! That I, the eldest. The eldest!!! Should be passed over!”

“Highness, I assure you-” Zuma began.

“Silence, swine!” Ngetsu said, “You have sealed your own death warrant with this lie!”

“Ngetsu! Stop!” spoke Ngoso, “No gold passed between Zuma and I. We have barely met. If you recall all meetings between us and him were conducted through you.”

“Brothers, peace!” spoke one of the other. “There is an easy way to solve this. By test of blood.”

“Yes!” sad the other, “If the blood on the seal is not father’s then Zuma lies. But if it is, then we know it to be true.”

“Fine! Let’s get this done with! Expose the lie!” Ngetu said bitterly. “Then I’ll have proof of your deceit Zuma! And I will have your head!”


Anai finished the last of the patterns on the mounds of snow, looking at her grandmother who nodded with approval. Then, the masks were put in place and the marks began to glow, until the light was so bright that all had to cover their eyes. Then, it was over. Everyone slowly lowered their hands to see the large mounds of snow crack and churn as if someone was trapped within trying to escape.

The next moment, a large sparkling white hand broke from the center mound. It was amazing, completely made of compressed snow, the strange pattern of before visible in glowing blue lines on the skin. A head broke out from behind the mask, carrying the mask forward with it. The stone of the mask moved as if it were just skin, the mouth turning in a smile.

“Hello, my children.” spoke the deep aquatic voice, as more and more of the mounds burst forth with similar figures made of snow.

“Welcome, Elders!” everyone roared back in unison.


Zuma took up one of the scraps of papyrus with the blood seal on it, and walked it over to a small bowl full of lotus water. The four faces watched in anticipation as he dropped the papyrus in the water. He stirred it, then let it sit. At first nothing happened. Then the water took on a slight pinkish tinge, and Ngetsu smiled victoriously. However his victory was short lived, as the water changed to slight violet and finally to a faint shade of blue. All looked to Ngetsu whose eyes were shut tight as his nostrels flared in anger.

“Fine! Ngoso has the right!” he turned glowering.

“Hail his Majesty, Chief Ngoso of Belotha!” Zuma said, kneeling and motioning to a nearby servant.

The two other brothers shrugged, never having had a chance at the throne anyway, and bowed as well. The nearby curtain was pulled away, and a crier took up the call.

“Hail his Majesty, Chief Ngoso of Belotha!”

The mourners turned to face the now exposed Chief and bowed low with their foreheads to the ground, chanting in unison “Hail, Hail, Hail!”. Ngoso, smiled and turned to look at Ngetsu, who smirked and bowed as well, saying,

“Hail. Hail.... hail.”

Rising, Ngetsu turned and whispered to his brother, “Your schemes may have worked out brother, but there is something you have forgotten. Its the 8th year. The sacrifice will be required. And once you die, I will regain my title as chief!”

When Ngetsu walked away, Zuma walked up and whispered, “My lord, all has been done as you planned.”

“Well done Zuma, you shall be rewarded.” Ngoso spoke as they turned and walked down the darkened alebaster hallway.

“My lord, if the ruse is to be completed, the appearance of mourning must be continued to the fullest, as you yourself said,” Zuma spoke, his mind still playing over the image of Kiza’s gleaming black braids falling on her tan shoulder and sliding off before being whipped back again as she was bowing. “Yet, I noticed your daughter has not complied with all the customs. That could raise questions.”

“What?!” Ngoso said in anger.

“Kiza’s hair.” the name slid too easily over his lips.

“Well, go take care of it! There must be no loose ends!”


“And now that the Elders have been awakened, I have an announcement to make.” said the wisewoman. “This is my last year as wisewoman. At next year’s ceremony, my granddaughter Anai will lead the village in the ceremonies. She has been learning bit by bit, and this year she actually did everything but officially lead as wisewoman. And she had proved herself capable in everyway.”

Before more cheering could take place, Anai stepped forward quickly, raising her hands as her grandmother had done, and spoke, “And I too have an announcement!”

Everyone fell silent, curious to see what the coming wisewoman would say.

“As you all know, once I take the mantel of wisewoman I will be bound to my position, and cannot marry, unless I am already married. Well, before I take the mantel, I am happy to say that-” she stopped short.

All the villagers turned to see what she was staring at. At the edge of the village, between the two posts of the village gate, a person stood, the setting sun behind him burning the sky. A foul, putrid mist was rising from behind him, spreading out across the snow. The scent was nauseating, and may fell back covering their faces. The wisewoman nodded to several men who directed the small detachment of mountain warriors and hunters to step forward, their boots crunching omniously in the silence.

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