It was a lazy evening. There were few stars on the bare chest of the sky, but the travelers wanted more. Though the earth enjoyed the presence of a gentle breeze, only time will tell if the luxury will not become a tragedy. The ship had anchored at the shores of Meden. Salis was the only person on deck at that time of the night. He faced the calm sea and seemed to be enjoying the beautiful earth. On the other hand, the soldiers had disappeared below deck for dinner.
Not long after, Kazeem appeared and sat on a piece of furniture. It seemed he had something to say but did not know how to set the ball rolling. At intervals, he would fling a glance at Salis who sat as if he had no business with the emissary. When it appeared that an idea had flown into his head, Kazeem adjusted and turned to Salis. “Captain, I see you like the weather,” he said and smiled.
“It’s a foul weather and the stars are gradually disappearing.”
Kazeem nodded. “You think it might rain?”
“Only time will tell.”
The emissary heaved and announced, “I have ordered for our meal. You will have the pleasure of feasting with me tonight.” A little smiled paraded his suntanned face.
Salis looked straight into the emissary’s eyes and returned a smile. “It’s an honor, my lord.”
Kazeem dropped his sword on the furniture. He flung a glance at the door and shouted, “Where is the meal?”
Not long after, a man with a large jaw, shaven and his head like an egg, he was weak, cowardly and treacherous, came in with a tray of drinks. He had barely ridden two steps or more when he cried out and fell with the tray. The man held his bowels, writhing on the floor. As Kazeem tried to help the attendant, Salis rose, he pinned him to the wall and put a knife to his throat. “Don’t move!” he growled.
By the time the man died, Kazeem was a nervous wreck. “What is happening here?” the emissary managed to croak.
Salis paraded smile on his face. “Who do you think I am, fat pig?” he threw out his question.
“Er, I can not answer yet. It might be disastrous to say anything on my feet. Please, I need time to mull over the issue,” the emissary replied.
“Didn’t I tell you that I won’t risk my life for nothing?” Salis lifted his eyelid and glared his eyes treacherously.
“You said so. But the king promised you freedom?” Kazeem replied as his knees knocked ferociously together.
“I am a free man!” Salis shouted, beating his chest. “Your king cannot decide my fate!” He brought out a rope and tied the emissary’s hands and feet to a pole. “You will remain here until I am through with your men. Then I will decide your fate!” He spat on Kazeem’s face. Salis moved to the furniture and grasped the emissary’s sword. He examined it. Happy that he had found a weapon that he could depend upon if a battle walks into the scheme of things, he flung a glance at the emissary and a wicked smile sat on his face. “You don’t need it, do you?” he muttered and turned toward the door.
Salis disappeared below the deck with the sword he held as if it was his birthright. He stumbled on what he had expected; gloom or the woeful state of misdemeanor aggravated by poor living conditions that had fallen below a respectable standard of living. No man bound by the desire to live and be in control over his own affairs would not certainly be glad to see his adversary rest in solitude for all eternity. He would be at liberty to reach out to the world without the grievous state of fear perpetrating its evil by whatever means it deemed fit.
Every space that a human’s feet could have comfortably trodden upon in the ship was completely taken up by lifeless bodies, which Salis was the architect of their misfortune. It was no sin to the captain that the poor souls had walked through the estate of peace into silence. His sword was yet to taste blood just as its bearer that had long awaited a chance to taste what freedom is like.
There was no better time to be aggressive than the quiet night when men ought to sleep and not to faint. Salis turned slowly from side to side with a streak of meanness, and there was no soul good or bad, beautiful or ugly, weak or strong that still have a life. If there were any, the fellow would pay dearly for skipping his dinner at such a perilous time. However, the tense atmosphere did not suggest that there could be anyone that had not been caught up in the wave of the massacre. Salis turned toward the store, where the tragedy had begun and his legs honorably carried him to that part of the world.
Apart from the old cook that Salis found languishing and writhing on the couch, nothing else had changed in the treacherous place. The cook must have taken very little of the portion to still be alive! “Please, help me. I’m dying!” the old man cried out with his arms held out as soon as Salis entered the room.
Salis frowned and sheath his sword. “Why should I help you? You don’t deserve to live, old man.”
The cook raised his eyelid and replied, “What do you mean? When we get to the Wall, you will be punished for this act of wickedness!” All of a sudden, the wave of madness in the liquor swept across his poor soul. He lamented and groaned as if his body seemed to hurt everywhere. “Help me! Help me! Why watch an old man die?”
Salis grasped the handle of his sword. “Look at me. Do you remember me?” Salis threw out his question and crossed his arm over his body.
“You look familiar but I cannot remember where we met.”
Salis nodded slowly and said. “Now listen, I don’t care about your misfortune. Surely this will be the last face you will see on this earth.”
The old man was taken aback as his heart jumped his mouth. He adjusted as tears gathered in his eyes. “I have been loyal to all the soldiers here. I fed them. I am their cook. I can’t remember offending any of them. What wrong have I done? Please, let me know. I am ready to make amends.”
“It’s a pity that I can’t help you. I must let you die a slow death. Then my life will have a purpose.” Salis turned to go. But the old man sat up. “Wait! Let us make a bargain. Fetch me a cup of water from the river. It is enough to stop the madness of this poison and I will repay you handsomely with some gold coins.”
Salis laughed. He stopped suddenly and looked straight into the confused eyes of the old man. “Panic will make your situation worse!”
“That’s why you must help me.”
Salis drew his sword. “I won’t. I was the prisoner that confronted you the evening you mixed a portion into the meals of two prisoners who fought over a seat in the cafeteria. Of course, they died afterward.”
The cook was stupefied. He was speechless as if he was under the spell of talking impediment. “Er, really, it wasn’t my fault that they had to die. They erred. And our tradition allows us to use portion against violent people like the prisoners.”
Salis swallowed hard. “I have nothing to do with a tradition that breeds murderers. I hope you also drank from the pot of alcohol?”
“I suspected my trouble must have come from there.”
Salis chuckled and nodded. “The evil that men do live with them!”
His eyes and mouth were widened in terror. “What have you done?”
“I stole one of the portions from your kitchen two nights ago. When I snuck in here a few hours ago, you were asleep. So I poured the portion into that pot of alcohol.” Salis smiled.
The cook was grieved. “Stealing is an offense that is punishable by hanging in our land!”
“Talk is cheap. You are free to say whatever you want.”
“Nevertheless, help me!”
“If you had spared the prisoners, I would have spared you, too.” Before the cook could blink, Salis exerted a mighty heave and zapped off his neck. His head rolled unto the ground. As his lifeless body fell on the couch, a piece of gold coin fell out from his pocket. Salis picked it. After he had carefully examined it, he placed it in his pocket and turned toward the door.
Immediately Salis got to the passage, he remembered Zak and the promise he made to the soldier. He paused and his countenance fell for he thought Zak had also been carried away in the wave of the massacre. To be sure if Zak was dead or not, Salis began to check the faces of the soldier one after the other. After concluding the search and Zak were missing from the congregation of the dead, Salis suspected that the soldier must be in one of the rooms. His guess was right. Zak and three other soldiers had withdrawn to a corner to gamble. They have not had the luxury of tasting the alcohol and were at ease in the solitude when Salis peeped through the keyhole in the door and was glad that the misfortune in the ship had not caught up with Zak. The captain was ready to spare Zak but only time would tell if things might not change.
As Salis gazed at the ceiling, pondering what to do to the men, he heard footsteps approaching the door. When he peeped again through the keyhole, it was one of the soldiers that were underway. Salis drew his dagger and took cover like a militia in the woods behind one of the doors. The knob turned, and the door was thrown opened. Salis tossed out his head and checked who the person was. He nodded and stole on silent feet to the other side with the dagger still in his grasp. The door slammed behind the soldier. As the young man turned toward the passage, he was alarmed by the terrifying sight of his soldiers that were lifeless on the floor. He drew his sword and made some cautious steps to one of the dead in a corner. But that seemed to be the last face that he saw before he was sent to the silent world. He had barely taken a step or more when Salis emerged from his hiding. Before the soldier could blink, Salis had pounced. He buried a flurry of blows into his soul before putting him to the sword. The dagger snatched the soldier from the world of the living. The man lay struggling for life as Salis took cover again.
However, the agonized cry of the soldier alerted the others and two of them rushed out of the room to see the misery. They found their man dead. But before they could make any move, arrows flew out of the belly of the present darkness and struck the helpless soldiers. They elicited agonized cry and breathed their last. As the men fell stone dead, Salis stood over them with his bow. He paraded smile over his face.
Zak seemed to have had enough on the table. He drew his sword and left the room. He maneuvered himself to the passage and rode into memories that may live with him forever. Broken and shattered, his eyes and mouth were wide open in terror. There was much to the look that sat on his face, but a man does not need a prophet to tell that Zak was a sad man. As he stood speechless in the passage, Salis appeared before Zak. He threw the bow away as Zak tightened his grasp on the handle of his sword. “Don’t panic. I won’t hurt you!” said Salis.
Separated by few recognizable faces on the floor, Zak replied, “I did not expect this from you! Why did you kill them?”
Salis chuckled and rode few steps nearer. He took a deep breath and looked straight into his confused eyes. “It’s one of those things that a man can do if he is pushed to the wall.”
“I don’t expect anything less from a man who has lived in the wild all his life. He can do anything to have his way.”
Salis stood with hands held out, and palms up. “I am not as bad as you think. If I was, I would not have spared you.”
“I have nothing against you. Maybe I would have done likewise if I am in your shoes. Life is worth nothing if you are not free to choose your own fate. But you would have spared my friends, Salis.”
“I pondered it. But I had to change my mind because I don’t trust them,” Salis replied. He placed his hand in his pocket and brought out the gold coin and handed it to Zak. “I remember I promised to put a smile on your face. You can keep this coin.
Zak smiled and rushed forward. He collected the coin. After examining the piece and showering Salis a million thanks, he placed it in his pocket. His face gleamed with pleasure as if life has been fair to him. Then Salis adjusted his clothes and turned to go. The captain seemed to delay his departure. He must have sensed danger and wanted to see where the wind would blow.
However, Zak saw nothing wrong in putting the captain to the sword as he faced the mirror that was carefully hanged on the door. But unknown to the soldier, Salis could see the machinations against his good soul from the mirror. “Zak, you are a good friend. You deserve more than a gold coin,” Salis said.
The man whom he had shown mercy had grasped the handle of his sword. But before he could strike, Salis ducked his head and Zak’s blow hit the wind. The soldier’s recovery was slow. Salis drew his dagger and drove it into his side. Zak groaned and coughed blood.
“I know you can never be trusted!”
Zak tried to fight back, but he was already too weak and his blows could not make any meaningful impact. Salis stabbed him repeatedly as the poor soul fought gallantly against the incoming blackness. Zak staggered and fell to his knees. “Salis,” he mumbled and fell on his face to the ground. The air was still and the captain threw the stained dagger on the floor. He searched Zak and recovered the golden coin. The smile that paraded his face was a man whose heart does not flow with the milk of human kindness. He placed the beautiful piece in his pocket and moved away.
Kazeem does not need a prophet to tell him that he was already on the wheels of fire. “What about my men?” his voice quivered as soon as Salis returned to him.
“Things have changed. I granted them the luxury of dying!”
“What luxury imbecile?” the emissary fumed.
Salis grabbed his neck with a knife to his throat. “Watch your tongue. If you challenge me, I will cut it out. You will return to your king at first light. You know what to tell him. I don’t want to instruct you so that I don’t sound as if I am blowing my trumpet!” He let go of him.
Kazeem breathed the air of salvation. It was providence to be spared in such massacre. He said, “I rather die at your hands than confront Fazil tomorrow. He will skin me alive, for he had toiled all his life to acquire what we came for.”
“I don’t care about your charge. I will throw you overboard and this ship will be mine.”
Kazeem’s heart sank. His knees knocked ferociously together. “Please, don’t kill me. You stand a chance of getting nothing out of this trip if you kill me.”
“Don’t deceive me, foul toad. Check my face and read my lips, you will see that I don’t kill for pleasure. You would have been the first meal to kiss my sword.”
The emissary coughed. “I had good plans for you and the soldiers. We would have defied the king’s order and spend all the rest of our lives in luxury. Now I doubt if that will ever be.”
“The king is selfish. He lied to you.”
Salis frowned and glared his eyes. “Then I should kill you to seal my faith.”
“Please, don’t kill me. I will tell you why we are here.”
Salis gazed into the confused eyes of the emissary. He wasn’t sure if what he had to say was the truth. “Why should I trust you?”
“I can’t deceive you, Salis. What we have in the forest is juicy. We can’t afford to let it go.”
Salis lowered his knife and made himself comfortable on a piece of furniture. “Talk!” his voice thundered.
Kazeem heaved a sigh of relief. “I was so happy that you took your destiny into your own hands by killing the soldiers. But the killing was untimely. I wanted to kill the soldiers myself after we have accomplished the mission. As things are, we don’t stand a chance against the devil in the cave!”
“Yes. The king’s brother is not trapped in Meden as you were told. There is an age long diamond stone hidden by a princess in one of the caves in the forest. Some say she still lives there. The diamond is guarded by a very old beast. The mythical creature spits fire at the sight of anyone.”
“What sort of creature is it? A dragon?”
“No! It’s a human. But three times your height. The cave is in the north. The king wanted the diamond for reasons best known to him. It is said that whoever is in possession of the diamond will have the luxury of longevity and will be rich.”
“What do you want to do with it?”
The emissary laughed. “You are not a novice in this part of the world. I have arranged with buyers from the east. They will be here tomorrow morning.”
Salis straightened his chin and swallowed hard. He crossed his legs and threw out his question, “Where does that leave me?”
“All things been equal, half of the fortune will be placed in your pocket,” the emissary replied.
“Do we have a deal?”
“Yes. But my fear is the giant.”
“I will take care of him,” Salis announced. He threw himself on his feet and turned to go.
“Wait! How did you kill the soldiers?”
Salis looked straight into the confused eyes of the emissary. He burst into laughter. All of a sudden, he paused and replied, “After our discussion in the common room, I infiltrated the kitchen and stole the portion from the cook.”
“Ah, I thought you stole it from me!”
“I will set you free tomorrow morning.” Salis' voice echoed as he walked away.
As Kazeem rested on the stake, Salis evacuated all the dead soldiers from the ship and threw them overboard. Exhausted, he sat in a corner and put the day behind him.
From the unpublished novel entitled, "Savannah Wind" by Omoruyi