j√$t like animals runn!ng to th£ altar for a slaughter, th£y came runn!ng; with fists clench£d t!ghtly and m!nds ready to desecrate th£ f|£$h of whoever had done ill to th£ir friend. Unfortunately, all th£y saw was Nnanna, stand!ng with h¡s [email protected]¢k to th£m, now silent.
“Nnanna! What is it?” Chukwudi asked immediately, th£ cry h£ h£ard was too pa$$ionate to speculate with th£ oth£rs what had happened wh£n h£ could ask th£ only witness pres£nt before h¡m.
“Did you see Adaku?” Obele !nquired of Nnanna immediately h£ arrived, !nterrupt!ng Chukwudi’s question.
Nnanna stared at th£m; h¡s face bore a mixture of apology and mischief, crowned with a smirk. “I’m sorry,” h£ f!nally spoke, and gave a gentle laugh.
“h£’s jok!ng with us,” Nanka announced, and let ©vt a loud h¡ss.
Obele charged at h¡m; h£ wanted to punch Nnanna for rais!ng h¡s hopes of see!ng Adaku, but was h£ld [email protected]¢k by th£ oth£rs !n plea and consolation.
“It is not my fault na! I thought it was someth!ng serious,” Nnanna spoke !n h¡s defense with h¡s thick Igbo accent drool!ng ©vt simultaneously with h¡s words; as h£ spoke, h¡s right [email protected] rema!ned firmly h£ld to th£ wrist of h¡s left; th£ spot was now noticeably bleed!ng.
“What happened to you?” Nanka was th£ first to spot th£ blood dripp!ng from h¡s wrist.
“Noth!ng.” A cold reply came [email protected]¢k.
“We are wast!ng time h£re with Nna nna and h¡s gimmicks… We need to report th¡s matter to th£ Igwe… Nebuchadnezzar must be found, now.” Chukwudi recalled th£ir attentions to th£ real matter at [email protected] Th£y suddenly rega!n th£ir muddled s£nses and started for th£ path through which th£y came !n. Th£y needed Nkoli to tell Th£ K!ng what had j√$t happened to h£r and Adaku, h£r friend.
Th£ one whom many had come to loath£ and despise, walked alone. s1©w and steady h£ m©v£d. All through th£ distance from th£ location th£ white-men dropped h¡m off to wh£re h£ stood now, no one spoke to h¡m, but everyone had seen h¡m. Far and wide, people came to catch a glimpse of th£ !nfamous Nebuchadnezzar: Th£ man-killer, but no one dared go close to h¡m, lest h£ took th£ir lives too, j√$t th£ way h£ did th£ one that made h¡m famous. While !n prison h£ h£ard a lot of th!ngs said ab©vt h¡m courtesy of th£ whites; some young men called h¡m th£ir h£ro – for show!ng th£m th£ light, and teach!ng th£m that it was possible to take anoth£r’s life !n th£ village with©vt suffer!ng th£ !nstant death b¡t£ of th£ gods as th£y were taught as !nfants. As h£ h£ard th£ good commentaries, so also h£ h£ard th£ bad – women cursed h¡m up to h¡s ancestors and generations, because of th£ desecration h£ had brought to th£ land. Th£ white men !n charge of h¡m dur!ng h¡s stay !n th£ir prison had good times taunt!ng h¡m with th£se k!nd of tales, because th£y saw how uncomfortable some of th£m made h¡m. Now, h£ was a free man aga!n, yet h£ wondered how h£’d live !n th£ village wh£re nob©dy wanted h¡m; h¡s lands had been tak!ng over by th£ K!ngship; th£ compound wh£re h¡s ancestors had lived, destroyed by th£ angry people of Umuchue, th£ only property left for h¡m was th£ hut h¡s fath£r acquired !n a forced deal many years ago, situated close to one of th£ paths that led !nto Akaziza forest. Th¡s property was wh£re h£ was now; hav!ng arrived, it was th£ only place h£ could call home at th£ moment. h£ h£avily considered h¡s option of leav!ng th£ village permanently; but someth!ng troubled h¡m m©r£ than stay!ng [email protected]¢k at Umuchue – wh£re would h£ go to?
Two palace guards stormed th£ frontage of th£ dilapidated hut h£ now called home; th£y yelled h¡s name with resound!ng fury and clear hatred.
“Who calls me?” h£ answered with pride and unshaken boldness; h¡s deep voice mu$h£d with h¡s thick Igbo t0Πge couldn’t be m©r£ unpleas!ng to th£ ear of a foreigner, if pres£nt.
“Igwe n’akpo gi.” Th£ first said.
“Th£ K!ng summons you.” Th£ second reiterated almost immediately !n th£ white-man’s t0Πge that had taken over th£ir community.
Nebuchadnezzar sprang up. h£ took a stance of confidence, and stared both men !n th£ eyes; clench!ng both fists t!ghter, as though ready for battle.
“Let us go!” h£ said, and immediately released h¡s fists. h£ led th£ way to th£ palace, sw!ng!ng h¡s [email protected] cont!nuously at almost 180°, as though th£y made h¡m walk f*ster
“Nebu… Th¡s is mak!ng how many times I have called you now?” Th£ K!ng asked h¡m.
“Three times now Igwe,” Nebuchadnezzar replied.
“If I f!nd ©vt you had anyth!ng to do with th£ disappearance of Adaku, Ichie Otito’s beautiful daughter, I will crush you myself.” Th£ K!ng threatened. h¡s words carried fire, but so did th£y carry familiarity and gentility.
Nebuchadnezzar rema!ned silent.
Th£ K!ng rema!ned quiet also, for a while and th£n cont!nued h¡s speech, “Or any oth£r person for that matter…”
“Igwe I understand you,” Nebuchadnezzar !nterrupted.
“Come on shut up!” Obele thundered at h¡m !n angst. h£ shook off th£ [email protected] of h¡s compatriots that tried to suppress h¡s need to speak, and walked towards th£ K!ng’s throne, even as Nebuchadnezzar and th£ oth£r young men looked on.
h£ stopped and prostrated !n veneration to Th£ K!ng. “Igwe, may you cont!nue to live forever,” h£ prayed.
“You may speak.” Th£ K!ng relieved h¡m.
h£ threw all cautions to th£ w!nd, and bared h¡s m!nd before Th£ K!ng regressed th£ chance given to empty h¡s thoughts before th£ throne of wisdom. “Igwe, th¡s man…” h£ po!nted at Nebuchadnezzar, “…is a killer. We are wast!ng time h£re, h£ should be arrested and tortured, till h£ tells us what h£ has dome with Adaku,” h£ said.
“Obele, ozugo… Rememeber you are before th£ Igwe.” Chukwudi cautioned h¡m from wh£re h£ and th£ oth£r members of th£ir pack stood and observed.
“Leave me alone!” Obele retorted.
Th£ K!ng muttered to h¡mself and kept look!ng. h£ beckoned th£ guard to th£ right [email protected] but had not given any command yet.
“Igwe! You had better kill th¡s man, before h£ kills us all !n th¡s village,” Obele let ©vt th£ last bullet !n h¡s ars£nal, and sat on th£ floor, by th£ side of an upright Nebuchadnezzar.
“Ajo nwa!… Evil child!” Th£ only elder of Th£ K!ng’s cab!net spoke !n rejection; to h¡m, Obele has said th£ abom!nable.
“Take h¡m!” Th£ chief palace guard gave th£ command; th£ two guards at th£ east and west entrances swiftly m©v£d and jacked Obele off th£ floor, away.
Obele’s pack murmured lightly, but no one dared take a step forward, lest h£ !ncur th£ wrath of Igwe Okpunobi – th£ first of h¡s name, and th£ first ruler to be !n b£d with th£ white men.
Th£ K!ng rose. h£ m©v£d forward by two feet.
“My word is f!nal! If I should f!nd ©vt you had someth!ng to do with Adaku’s disappearance, I will crush you myself.” h£ rea$$ured Nebuchadnezzar.
To be cont!nued
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