There was a poor weather that wrecked havoc on the sea and upon the gray waters of Guzah. But just as the wandering clouds rested on the bosom of sudden death, a ship which had struggled all day on the sea, bubbling with Makundah pirates, anchored at the shores. Happy that they had survived the madness of the raging storm, they chanted victory songs and shot several bullets into the quiet hands of the night. A ladder was let down. One after another, the men clambered down and waded waist-deep through the water to land. Apart from weapons and ammunitions that they held, they had victuals and treasures. The night was cold and the multitude of glowing insects paraded the forest. An ambitious rider who is not conversant with the forest might take them for a wild cat waiting to walk a body to hell.
After they had gathered, they set off in a file into the forest behind their leader, Mukande, a wicked dwarf, whom they feared as a god. Carefully they were looking to every direction to make sure that they were not being followed. There were few stars on the bare chest of the sky. They happily gave their lights near the moon. When darkness began to tread the sun’s old path, going further would be a dangerous choice in this creepy kind of place.
The forest was old, and the stench of treachery hung in the air. Fruit bats made the forest and her fruits their heaven in the night. The human presence did not hinder them from moving from one tree to another to find their meal. Apart from dry leaves that paraded the place, the old feet of the pirates tormented the earth and crushed the leaves under their boots. There were dead woods and limbs here and there, and they hindered the travelers from maneuvering their pair of legs. The trees were in their rows, separated by inches and yards. Many fruits were not thoroughly eaten and rotted in the litter.
Unknown to the pirates, who were determined to get to their hide out in one of the caves, there were interlopers lurking, waiting for a chance to unleash their treachery and sniff the life out of any wanderer. The intruders were Oza hunters from the hinterland who occasionally venture south of the gray waters.
After covering a good distance, chanting and brandishing their weapons, one of the pirates behind was snatched from the troop and dragged into the forest. Before he could snatch a breath and raised alarm, the hunter drove a dagger into his neck. As he lay struggling for life, the attacker grabbed his battle-axe and exerted a mighty heave to zap off his neck. The body of the pirate rested peacefully on the bare chest of the earth as his head rolled into the bush path. Quietly, he collected all that was on the severed pirate. Rings, beads and all his belongings were placed in his pockets. The hunter flashed a menacing smile at the severed body of the pirate, and carefully looked to every side to make sure that no eye was watching before he disappeared into the waiting hands of the forest.
As the gang journeyed against all odds, and the movement of their legs displaced the leaves, the pirates were once again reduced by a cruel hand that emerged from the quiet night. One of the hunters hiding behind an old baobab tree fell upon one of the pirates. They had a fair struggle. The pirate fought back with his battle axe, but his blow came a bit late as the hunter had already driven his sword into the pirate’s chest. His agony drew the attention of others. Before they could save the situation, the hunter had disappeared into the forest, and the pirate surrendered to the incoming blackness.
They rushed to the scene, flashing their torch lights. As they examined the dead, one of the pirates flashed his light about and noticed a strange mask on a tree. He drew his battle axe and walked quietly to the tree to have a closer look at the mask. Immediately he got there and tried to figure out what it was, one of the hunters emerged from behind the tree and drove a spear into his belly! The pirate yelled up to high heaven and fought back with his axe and missed his aim. He staggered as the hunter stabbed him repeatedly with the spear. Before the hunter could take cover and mix with the air, arrows from the other pirates swept him off his feet. The hunter fell to his knees, but just as they rushed to vent their anger on him, the fiendish creature drew his knife and took his own life. He fell on his face to the ground.
“He’s a hunter from Oza!” one of the pirates said as they gathered around the dead soul.
“What is an Oza hunter doing here? They hardly go beyond the hinterland,” said Salis. He looked carefully about.
“Where does that leave us?” Moadab inquired and looked at Salis.
“We are in trouble. The hunters are tracking us,” Mukande disclosed. He turned around and gazed at the trees and back to his men. “Salis and Moadab will protect the treasure, and the rest of you will make sure they are safe.”
They nodded in agreement, grabbed their weapons with an iron grip and continued their journey. Not long after, five or more arrows flew out of the woods. Two of the pirates were sent to their early graves and others were injured. Rattled by the attack, and the disadvantage of not seeing their adversary, Mukande and his men decided to make the best use of their legs through the dark forest to their hide out in the cave.
The pirates tasted misfortune as their meal for that day. Tossed about by the cruel hands of an unjust fate, the men fleeing from the face of the unknown ran into the waiting hands of the hunters. The hunters fell on them and they fought massively all night.
The horror of death stared them in the face. Those who escaped the frenzied attack of spears and arrows fell by the sword and axe of the hunters from the hinterland. Many lay struggling for life like primitives that fell stone dead at the blast of muskets. The battered bodies of the pirates were about.
The hunters also suffered loss. Having few of the pirates to contend with, the battle took a new turn. Makunde, Captain Salis, Moadab and the few others that were still alive stumbled on a bush path. Before they could be sent to the silent world, they ran very fast. The hunters, chanting victory song and brandishing their weapons, gave them a hot chase. As they chased them through the forest, the hunters made life unbearable for the pirates. At the interval, an arrow would pierce the ugly darkness and rob a dear soul of his life. And the swift throw of javelins also snatched some people from the warm hands of the beautiful earth.
As the battle raged, Mukande and his men ran into a swamp, the home of crocodiles. But the night hindered them from seeing beyond their nose. Before they could come to terms with this reality around them, the three or more soldiers who tried to wade through the swamp to the other side were sent to their early graves. The crocodiles attacked and caused the pirates to mourn.
Mukande, Captain Salis and others coming from behind relieved the reptiles with their muskets and waded waist-deep through the swamp to the other side. As the hunters approached the swamp, they faded from the chase. Gradually, the creatures disappeared into the forest.
No longer hearing the crashing of branches or the sound of their pursuer, the pirates looked back to see if the Devils were still in the chase. Trying to keep their pace and looking back at the same time, they dashed into their cave and secured it.
Men were scattered about on the floor like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Groaning painfully as the horror tormented the camp. The few that were not badly injured, but had bruises here and there, made fire and offered treatment to those that were casualties. Mukande, the dwarf suffered a deep cut on his shoulder and was languishing near the fire. Treatment was offered to those they felt would survive, and others whom the pirates felt had little or no chance of survival, were killed and thrown out of the cave. Salis and Moadab only suffered bruises and were in the company of helpers.
As the dust settled, and the pirates were under the spell of sleep, the cruel hands of hell crept into the camp! Captain Salis was not under the spell of sleep when he heard footsteps lurking in the dark. He sat up and glared the balls in the socket of his skull about. The fire that dimly lit up the room made it difficult for Salis to see beyond his nose. His cohorts were fast asleep, snoring hard like the steam engine going through a deplorable road. Moadab was beside him with the sack of treasure. All of a sudden, a shadow appeared on the wall. It drew a knife and began to sneak on silent feet through the room. The captain’s heart jumped into his mouth as he alerted Moadab.
As they watched quietly from their corner, the creature that they could not figure out who it was faded out of sight. They were yet to figure out the next step to take when a loud cry from the other side of the room hit the air. One of them had been murdered. There was uproar and everyone seemed to be awakened. The hunters had invaded the camp and they had begun to unleash terror. The Pirates woke up to face the reality of death staring them in the face. So a bloody battle ensued in the cold night.
Moadab grabbed the treasure, Salis was there, and they snuck out of the mess. Holding a torch, they found their way to a passage where they contended with giant spiders and scorpions as they forged ahead. After covering a good distance, going through four or more bends, flinging glance back at the interval to make sure that no one was in the chase, the cruel hands of an unjust fate kissed Moadab. Captain Salis drew his dagger. He pounced and drove it into Moadab’s neck. The strike was enough to send his dear friend to the silent world. The big man lay struggling for life and rested peacefully on the bed of sudden death. Salis flashed a menacing smile at the lifeless body of his cohort. He searched Moadab and found a gold pendant, which he placed in his pocket. As the noise of an angry mob approached, Salis feared that he could meet a sad end. He quickly removed his dagger and slammed the sack of precious stones on his back and hasted into the waiting hands of the quiet night.
Captain Salis found his way to a little opening in the wall. Down there was a raft on the gray river that flowed to the part of the mountain. As the captain pondered what to do, the sound of the mob approaching began to grow, and their legs descended like wreckage. There were two men near a fire, roasting a fish. They were heavily armed and munching noisily when Salis dived into the water.
The hunters were alarmed by the movement in the water. One of them rose to his feet. He grabbed his musket and his torch and went to the direction. Immediately he got to the edge of the river, the hunter flashed his torch about and found nothing. Then he breathed deeply and decided to go for a piss. After relieving his bowels, and adjusted his belt, Salis emerged from under the water. He pounced and wrestled the hunter to the ground. They had a fair struggle before the hunter was overwhelmed. He fought gallantly against the incoming blackness and was sent to the silent world.
Salis took cover again when he saw the other hunter approaching. The man got to the river bank and flashed his torch about. He found his friend dead and almost died of fear. But before he could move, Salis rose from the water and aimed his chest with the knife. The hunter yelled and fell to his knees. As the man struggled with the incoming blackness, Captain Salis rushed to him, drew the dagger and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest. As the hunter walked side by side with his cohort to the silent world, Salis picked his sack of treasure from the water and dashed to the raft.
Immediately he mounted the raft and was paddling away, his pursuers emerged from the window, looking down at the river, flashing their torch lights that shone brilliantly like the starry sky. They found him and bedeviled Salis with arrows and spears, but he was out of range. Their leader ordered in their local dialect that they should apprehend him. So, three or more hunters dived into the river. As they approached him, swimming as if there might not be tomorrow, Salis grabbed one of the muskets he had inherited from his few minutes of the assault. He squinted his eyes and took his aim. His bullets found his adversaries. One by one, they rested on the bosom of death. Others watched in dismay from the peak as their cohorts drowned. Salis paddled the raft out of sight and proceeded to the ship.
He went on board the ship and set sail. Captain Salis had a competent knowledge of the rules of navigation that were needful to be understood by a sailor. Learned how to keep an account of the ship’s course, and take observations. Under normal circumstance, the sailor wouldn’t have ventured into the sea at such a perilous time. But for the fear of death and the truckload of misfortune that have haunted him, there was no way he could let the chance of knowing the world again slipped.
The ship was no sooner gotten out of the gray waters and was comfortable at the high sea when the wind began to blow with vengeance. Salis kept faith with the boat until hell was let loose! The waves rose in a frightful manner, and the sea reacted like a devil trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. Salis rushed to the cabin to have a view of the wickedness of the rushing wind. His heart sank when he saw the misfortune that was underway. The evil against his soul was taller than the pair of legs that carried him. Before he could blink, the sea went mountain high and broke upon him. Salis lost his balance and was almost swept overboard. He hung on the mast by the skin of his teeth.
As his distress mounted, and the boisterous wind drove the ship near the land, hopes of survival seemed inevitable. Not long after, the ship finally struck a rock and began to sink.
With nothing to fight for other than his own life, Salis tried to regain his footing and get into the ship to get the sack of treasure. But he could not find it because everything had been buried under the water. Nothing could describe the confusion that greeted the sailor. But just as he tried to swim to find the treasure chest, another blow from the cruel hands of the sea wrecked its havoc. To avoid what would have robbed him of his place in the scheme of things, he grabbed a pillar.
Wave after wave, the sea vented its anger. Hanging on the pillar only lasted for a while. Another bedeviled wave struck and dashed the ship in pieces. As for Salis, it threw him with a mighty force toward the shore. He was cast into the deepest gulf of human misery and his treasure was lost.
The ship finally sank into the bottom of the sea as Salis lay on the sand, slipping in and out of consciousness. By the time he regained consciousness, he was in a prison.
A few weeks later, Salis sank into his favorite chair. His face pale with sadness as if he had just crushed his thumb against the anvil. He exposed a bare chest that had no hair, although one could count a few. They stood like a monument in a vast land. The bald man had a strong square jaw, and beard and teeth that could be hardly noticed. He threw himself on his feet and walked to the window. He pulled up the blinds and looked out. He saw the turn in the paved road and the rich farmland lying beside it. There was the glint of water in the distance. He gazed at the beautiful earth that spread before him like an old balance sheet under the nose of a shrewd accountant.
There was a heavy knock on the door as captain Salis lowered his head. A lanky frail man who paraded tribal marks on his face, and innocence in the balls that sat in the sockets of his skull, broke into the room. He was a prison warden. He held a club that seemed a burden to maneuver. Salis raised his head and flung a disgruntled look at the warden popularly known as Waziri.
“Good morning, Salis. You are wanted in the common room by the king’s emissary to the west,” Waziri disclosed and turned toward the door. The captain joined him as they left the room. Waziri led Salis through a passage with rooms on each side. The occupants of the rooms on each side were prisoners and must have suffered the same fate as Salis. The rooms were guarded by grave and heavily armed soldiers. They went through three bends or more until they appeared before a door. The warden threw it opened and led Salis into the common room.
The court was flushed with soldiers who took their respective seats as their standings in the army implied. The emissary, a cunning fellow called Kazeem, threw himself on his feet and flashed a humble smile at the man his soldiers found at the shores of their land some months ago. The emissary stood like a majestic mountain, crossed his arms over his body and looked straight into the fearless balls that sat in the sockets of his skull. “We have decided to let you go, Salis,” the emissary said. “But you have one thing to do for us.”
“What?” Salis inquired. He frowned and flung a cold look about.
“The king’s brother is trapped in a cave on the coast of
Meden. We have enough men to combat whatever might come up against us in that creepy kind of place. But one thing we lack is a credible man who can maneuver our ship. Based on what you told me, I don’t need a prophet to tell me that you are the best man to take over from our sailor who died a week ago after a brief illness.”
“I have never been to Meden and I don’t want to go,” Salis sounded.
Kazeem frowned and took some steps toward him. “You have no choice, Salis. Will you leave the King’s brother to die in the hands of the Medens? I know how important it is for a man to be free and we are ready to let you go. When you return, you will have your discharge paper here. And you will be free throughout the kingdom!”
Captain Salis adjusted and hissed. “I don’t risk my life for nothing. Your paper doesn’t make me a free man. I am a free man!” he shouted, banging his chest. “I will choose my own fate!”
“I agree but don’t be rash. If you study my face and read my lips, you will see that I can be trusted. Forget about your welfare. I know how to make people like you forget their sorrow. I will put a smile on your face when we return.”
Salis took a deep breath. He looked at Kazeem and asked, “What proof do you have that the king’s brother is alive?”
Kazeem chuckled and looked around the room. His gaze met curious eyes as he turned to Salis. “The world is a small place. He visited Meden on a vacation. On their trip back home, they were attacked on the coast. One of the soldiers that escaped from the cave broke the news to us. Apart from that, it is forbidden for a royal son of this land to be buried outside this shore. Now we want to find him dead or alive. Salis, rest any further questions. You are in safe hands. The finest soldiers of this land will be on the ship with us. On your return, you will have the luxury of returning to wherever you came from or remain here and start a new life.”
Captain Salis pondered his words and seemed to be satisfied with what the emissary said. “When are we leaving?” he asked.
“At first light!” Kazeem replied and returned to his seat. With a wave of his bejeweled hand, Salis was led back to the prison.