Sunday, April 17, 2011

African Epic

Around the Great Kraal none could make a stand, as the deft archers of King LeDongo took out all who came near. The glittering bronze flew through the air, the smoke-blackened iron arrowheads were soon to find their marks. Deep within the middle ring, where the lords of the armies stood in council, wise-eyed Shimaza looked at the gathering and scattered the truth-bones once more, and read their horrible omen the fates had chosen. That soon the mighty ring of the Kraal would fall and all would be scattered. And yet he did still keep hope. For as long as the palladium of the mighty Nkosi stood at the great kern, none would be able to break the wall, and so he might yet still divine a solution to break the barrackade. But as wise as the wise-eyed son of Magabe was, he did not see the shadow of Tokolosi creep through the cool stone halls in the middle ring. Then the Lord Tokolosi, having found the chamber of where slept Nemanga of the Fairhair, he took the shape of Nemanga’s sister, Nedamaba, and spoke to the sleeping warrior in his dreams saying, “Nemanga, my brother and son of my mother, you sleep while the armies advance on the stones of the Great Kraal. But even now, there is salvation to be had. Signal to the watchers on the Moutains of the Dragon’s Back, where your brother, your father’s son, Lethemoso is captain of the watch. Signal to him that even the Great Inner Ring of Painted Stone, Holy to Nkosi, will fall to the armies of the Serpent, if the Hidden City of Sheloza will not send aid.” Waking, Nemanga went to his mother and told her the dream. She wept bitter tears as she reminded her son that no pidgeons sent would be successful, as all were shot down by the smoke-blackened arrows of the armies of the serpent. “But, there is a way, son of my youth, that you may still reach your brother, your father’s son, at the outpost on the Moutains of the Dragon’s Back. We must burn a mighty fire, the greatest in the entire city, the entire land, so that the smoke will climb like the growing vine of the gord, climb until it has reached the doors of the wide heaven where Nkosi dwells with the Star-walkers. Maybe he will intervene on our behalf if our sacrifice to him is sweet. But even if Nkosi has made his heart hard towards us, the smoke will be terrible, an omen for your brother, Lethemoso, your father’s son, so that he might send a scout to see what has happend here at our Great Kraal, and having seen the armies encamped about us, he might send us aid from that Great City, Sheloza, the Hidden.” Then taking all his mother’s words to heart, Nemanga gathered all that was in the city that could be burned, the wooden chairs and reed mats, the thatch of the old houses and the clothing of the slaves. All this he gathered together in the center of the Great Inner Ring of Painted Stone, which is Holy to Nkosi, and offering a great bull upon it to honor the great Spirit, he set all ablaze. And the smoke that rose from the burning was massive, so that the armies around the Great Kraal all saw it and had great fear, so that they trembled. For to their eyes, the smoke did seem like a great, black mumba rising above the walls, as a mother serpent rises above her nest. And they drew back, fearing that the great lord Tokolosi had turned his eyes from them. So they gathered all their muthi and called all their wisemen to see what the spirits said. Meanwhile, as the great infero blazed, far away on the moutains of the dragon’s back, the brother of Nemanga, Lethemoso, who shot three arrows from his bow, saw the mighty smoke rising and knew it came from the Great Kraal. He immediatly sent his fastest runners, carriers of the cheetah totem, to see what was the matter. These were Kama of the Spotted Shoulder, and Regemana the Younger, who both calling upon their father the cheetah, ran with swiftest speed across the wide grasses to where the wall of the Great Stone Kraal had stood for centuries. And having seen the great army of the serpent, they returned to report to Lethemoso all they saw. The news troubled him and he himself went to the secret river in the moutains, where the water flowed up instead of down, and following it up in his fastest canoe, he reached the great stone doors that led to the vale of Nkosi’s blessing, where the ancient city of Sheloza was hidden. But as the doors could only open during moonlight, he camped at the gates and kept his watch. Meanwhile, the lord Tokolosi, seeing the great conflaration was still not large enough to his liking came as a shadow behind Nemanga where he stood at the center of the commanders of the armies, and spoke whispering words into his mind and soon Nemanga himself thought the fire too small. And being of the golden tongued ones, he convined the generals of the same. And soon all the bedding and all the doors of the houeses and all the clothing of the people, even of the rulers were added to the fire. Even the hair was shorn of and offered to the great Spirit Nkosi to make the fire larger. But Umshlanga the beautiful alone’s hair was untouched. For they said, surely she should be spared the ignobility of being shorn. But as the words of the Lord Tokolosi still burned within the heart of Nemanga he still saw the fire as too small. And demanding that Umshlanga sacrifice her hair as well, he said, “Come now, woman, lend your aid where it is due! Can’t you see we shall all soon perish, even you, with your glorious head covering, will die when the armies of the serpent rush through our walls and eat our flesh.” “Not I” she responded, “For my beauty shall spare me and my house and purhaps even the city. I have been blessed by the great daughter of Nkosi, she who walks in the deep savanna and shaves the hair of the mighty lioness for her own ornament. My beauty is not my own. Not to be given away. Not to be taken. Lay not a hand on me, son of Magebe!” And all the generals shook with terror that she would invoke the thought of the wild daughter of Nkosi, whose sharp ears like a gazell always alert for the hunter, turns this way and that at the mention of her name. Whose horns, like the mighty ox gores the hearts of hunters, whose tusks like the strong warthog, tears the heart to pieces, whose claws like the mighty tiger, slices the heart to shreds, and whose teeth, red like the lioness, devour both the heart and the soul of her prey. But Nemanga was not moved by the terror justly due, and spurred still by the whisper of Tokolosi, reaching out, sliced a handful of her luscious hair. Immediatly, a mighty growl, like that of the cheeta before it pounces upon the zebra, clasping its haunches and bringing it to the ground in its deaththrows, echoed across the savanna as the wild daughter of Nkosi knew one of her own had been touched. But Nemanga still headless of the warnings, threw the hair upon the great fire. None had seen, but the eyes of Umshlanga had changed and were like the eyes of a lioness, fierce and golden and terrible to behold. For the daughter of Nkosi is fierce and wild and mistress of all that is her own. And as mistress of all, she commands all, even those whom she has touched as her own. At that moment Umshlanga was not herself but was the daughter of Nkosi. “Foolish, Nemanga! You have undone yourself!” her voice was like the roar of the mighty lioness, “Look now, see the destruction you have brought with your pride! See! The hair you stole even now rises up in the smoke, bearing the flames you so worshiped higher and higher!” and it was true. The burning embers, like shooting stars, flew higher upon the night breeze towards the home of the Star-walkers. But the daughter of Nkosi turned to the son of Adamantos, the Storm Maker, and calling to him said, “Son of the Old One, look now at how these mortals have dishonored me! Do not think that if this goes unpunished they will not soon dishonour you as well. For al of our honor is tied together, and when one falls all of us will fall.” And the son of Adamantos, who flies upon the night, answered to her, “What would you have me do, Mistress of the Beasts?” And she of the golden eyes answered, “Let loose a bit of your breeze, and let the fires of Nemanga flie towards the palladium, that he may suffer for his hubrus!” And the son of Adamantos did as she asked, and let loose a bit of his winds, and they rushed the flying sparks away from their journey to the halls of Nkosi, and pushed them back earthward to the Great Painted Inner Ring, where the palladium stood. And no sooner had the embers touched the wooden palladium soaked in holy oils and jeweled with resin, then it took flame. And burned with a mighty red flame that stood like a spear up from the Great Inner Ring. And all the people of the Great Kraal began to wail. For without the palladium, all hope was lost. From outside the Great Stone Wall of the Kraal, the armies of the serpent gathered to hear the word that the augurs had read from the path of the flying red cranes. “Hear O People of Tokolosh and of the Great Mistress Isa the Warlike. What need have we of signs of birds? Look! See the great sign that the Lord Tokolosi has revealed. Over the stronghold unsurpassable now stands the sign of the spear. And the black sign of the serpent wraps about it. Tomorrow, the serpent will trust the spear into the heart of the Great Kraal and all will be laid to waste! Not even the palladium will protect them from the might of the Lord Tokolosi!” And all the armies beat their spears upon their shields, and the soldiers of the Mistress Isa the Warlike stood to the side, looking to their leader, the Undead Captain Enri. But he would not approve the sign, because he had not been visited by his Lady yet, to confirm in his heart whether the serpent was truly stabbing the city, or whether both serpent and city were both transfixed by the great spear of Nkosi.

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