When the Nkpani warriors returned, they weren’t jubilant. Although, they brought back twenty heads, they were sad. They had lost eighteen men. They had planned to take the Nko people unaware and kill them in their numbers, but they hadn’t anticipated coming across a viper. They had seen the corpses of their fellow warriors with the wounds from snake bite.
Where could that snake have emerged from? They thought. It was hard to believe the snake was not supernatural. While they sat in the Obol’s palace with their human heads lined up in front of them, they brooded. A few of them had seen the viper attack their comrades and were lucky to run while they had the chance.
The Obol came out of his room, looking proudly at his warriors and the heads in front of them. He counted them mentally – twenty two heads. Then he noticed something. His warriors were not happy. There was no way he would not have noticed it. They all bowed to the ground. “Lions of Nkpani!” He hailed.
“Obol,” They answered, low spiritedly.
“I welcome you all,” He said. “You have gone and have come back with the heads of our enemies. But, even a blind man can tell that you all are not happy. What is the problem?”
One of the warriors looked up to speak. He was a young and heavily built man with a large scar on his forehead. “Your majesty, the Nko people were prepared. Though, the men could never have matched our strength, but they used diabolic means. There’s this viper that attacked and stung our men with devil’s fury.”
“A viper?” The obol asked, perplexed.
“Yes, your majesty. We were not smart not to have been fortified before going against them.”
The Obol suddenly turned flame red. He walked forward and asked in a very low tone, “did we loose any man?”
“Yes,” the scar-faced man answered. “Eighteen.”
“Eighteen,” the Obol roared. How could we loose eighteen men when you only brought twenty heads home?”
The scar-faced man just stared blankly at the Obol. How could he explain that most of the men were killed by a viper? He had seen the snake fly and sting his fellow men. He knew it wasn’t a common snake. The determination with which it stung was certainly unheard of.
While he brooded, he heard the Obol’s voice, “what’s it about the viper, anyway?”
The scar-faced man looked at the Obol, while taking his time to organize his thoughts on the viper. “It attacked us,” he said. “I guess the Nko people anticipated the attack and so sent the snake against us.
The Obol shrugged pathetically, obviously unpleased with the situation. He turned to one of his messengers and said, “Go and get me Obodo. Bring him right away. He has a job to do.”
Obodo was the greatest Dibia in Nkpani. He was a medicine-fighter. He had his own men whom he fortified. At the end of every battle, they would make a very large fire in the forest, gather the corpses of their fallen enemies together, roast and eat them. If they could not finish the meat, certainly they wouldn’t, they would share the remaining portion and take to their homes. That was a moment they always waited for. For most of them, especially Obodo, it was like remuneration for warfare.
When there was no war, Obodo got back to his native medicine.
He knew of the conflict between Nkpani and Nko and he expected to be called upon. But, to his dismay, the battle had gone on without him. He felt disregarded though, but what could he do?
He knelt in his small hut with his fetish objects scattered all around him. His eyes were wide open facing an object on the wall opposite him. While he released incantations, he shuddered like one possessed. He was actually in communion with his god.
All of a sudden, he stopped and looked around the hut. he had been notified of something. He stood up and spun several times and then came to an abrupt stop in front of the door. He walked slowly outside, while he recited incantations. He stopped and looked down the road. A man was walking towards him. All he had on was a tiny wrapper tied between his legs and around his waist like knickers. He looked like one of the Obol’s messengers.
When he got closer, he bowed slightly and said, “Obodo, I greet you,”
Obodo’s mood was far too spiritual to care about pleasantries. He stared hard at the messenger and asked, “What has brought you here? I know the Obol’s messenger doesn’t come here unless the Obol is distressed.
“You’re right. The obol seeks your presence.”
“What disturbs my king?”
“It is the battle, the battle with Nko. That’s as much as I can tell you.”
When obodo heard this, he jumped up and taped his chest, dancing ‘obam’. The time has come, he thought. For several years, he had waited for an opportunity to go to war again, and feast on human flesh. To him, it was the sweetest meat on the surface of the earth. He stopped dancing and said to the servant, “You may go. Tell the king that I’m on my way.”
The messenger didn’t move. He said, “the Obol insisted I come back with you.”
“Scram!” Obodo shouted and the vein on his face expanded. “I need to speak with my god,” he said and gave a vicious beam that sent the messenger on his heels.
* * *
Back at the Obol’s palace, the Nkpani warriors were lined up outside, waiting for obodo. The king had told them they would be fortified, and that Obodo would lead them into Nko village. That would be against the normal system of inter-village conflicts where confrontations were in the bush.
The yakurr people were known to be very reasonable during conflictual situations. They met and fought in the forest to avoid hurting vulnerable groups like children and the aged. So, for the obol of Nkpani to attack the Nko people in their village, it would be deviant to the unspoken tradition of conflict in the region.
The warriors were in two groups. The first was comprised of very fierce looking men with rifles, while the other group didn’t have guns. They held machetes, sharpened on both sides.
The men anxiously waited. They were more furious than ever. It was no more Eton’s battle or the king’s. It was now their battle. Their brothers had been killed and they needed no nudging to avenge them.
While they brooded angrily, an image suddenly appeared on the floor. It was very small and had a human shape. Before they could figure out what it was, it rapidly grew into a grown man with painted face, and a staff tied at the edges with red clothes. It was Obodo.
He spun around and did the traditional ‘obam’ dance while the warriors gaped, dazed.
It all seemed like the Nigerian home video. It was not unlike Obodo. He stopped dancing and looked at the warriors with scrutinizing eyes. While he was looking at them, one of the king’s messengers ran into the king’s room to inform him of Obodo’s presence.
Immediately the Obol knew Obodo was around, he came out. “Obodo!” he hailed
“O! My king,” Obodo answered and then moved closer to the king. When he got to him, he opened his palms for the king to breeze in them. Then he touched the palms on his chest.
“Thank you for honoring my call,” The king said.
“The pleasure is mine, your majesty,” Obodo replied. “How can I be alive and watch my people die in the hands of those swines?”
The king said with gesticulation towards the men, “Obodo, these are one thousand of our finest warriors and my personal guards. You’ll lead them into Nko. I want every man killed. I also want the head of their king.”
Obodo, who thought the battle would be in the forest, was surprised, though he preferred it that way. It would only mean more human meat. At the thought of it, his blood raced, his imagination grew wild, and in response to the king, he did a three-sixty spin and struck his staff on the ground.
The king was about to start talking again when Eton appeared. He looked handsome in his well turked-in, long-sleeved shirt. He walked up to the king and bowed. The king rubbed his back with his palm. Then, Eton stood upright back. He looked at obodo and then the warriors. It was obvious that he felt proud of them for their concern over his father’s death. He looked back at the king and said, “Your majesty, I appreciate the concern you’ve shown towards me and my family. May you reign forever.”
The king said nothing, but it was evident that he appreciated the compliment. He was a strong man who would hardly give in to sentiments. He said, after much delay, “Go back home, my son. You just got back from work, I presume.”
“If not for the fact that I need to look after my father’s company which meant so much to him when he was alive, I would have joined in this battle. But, I promise, I shall provide whatever financial assistance that is needed to sustain the war,” Eton said.
The king smiled and was about to say something, when a black police truck arrived. It parked some ten metres away from the warriors, and Sergeant Daniel alongside two other armed corps alighted. For sometime, they stared at the armed men in front of the king’s palace, unable to comprehend what was happening. Then Sergeant Daniel, followed by the other corps, walked towards the Obol with an inquisitive look on his face, “Good day, your highness,” He greeted.
“Good day, sergeant. What can I do for you?” The Obol replied, a little stiffly.
“We came in respect of the death of Agaba, your kinsman. We were at his house to speak with his son, but we were told he’s here. Sir,” He turned towards the warriors and asked, “What are they doing here?”
The king turned back and started walking towards his door. Abruptly, he stopped and turned back, looking straight into the eyes of the sergeant and said, “We’re going for war!”
“War?” Sergeant Daniel asked. “Why?”
“Don’t ask me why. Were you not here when the Nko people killed our son in Nko? Were you not here when they killed another of our sons in the bush? Were you not here when they killed Agaba?” his voice gained momentum as he spoke. His face made a vicious squeeze as his eyes bulged. “And today again, I lost eighteen men. What do…?
“Eighteen men?” Sergeant Daniel interrupted, struggling to comprehend. “How?” He asked.
“Go ask them!” The king fired.
“Sir,” Sergeant Daniel pressed on. “I still think it’s not right for you to confront them. Allow us handle the situation. I mean, with all these men, you’re planning a massacre. You may get charged for ‘mass murder’.”
“The last statement seemed to have aggravated the king more as he stared hard at the sergeant with sweat glistening on his forehead. He said, “If you don’t leave here right away, we’ll start the massacre with you!”
The sergeant noticed the seriousness in his voice and stepped back a little. Then said, recalcitrantly, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He removed his cap and bowed slightly, then added, “Your majesty.”
He turned and walked briskly to the truck, followed by the other two cops. When they settled in the truck, he blurted, “Absolute idiocy! They didn’t even bother to hear us out. The forensic result would reach us by tomorrow, and then we would be half way through this mystery. Nonsense!” he spat on the floor outside and accelerated with a screech of tires, leaving a cloud of dust behind.
Back in Nko, the men were on their way to the Obol’s palace. As soon as they heard the announcement, they picked whatever weapons they had and started running over to the palace. The Nko men were known to be strong in battle in yakurr. Although, there were speculations that spiritual dynamism was what they used.
A handful of men had already got to the king’s palace, waiting anxiously for the others to join them. The king was outside on his royal seat, anxiously brooding, while waiting for his warriors.
He had been king for over twenty years, during which he had fought and won several wars. Never had he lost in battle. His father who was king before him also fought several battles and never got defeated. He was called the lion of yakurr, and that inevitably placed the people of Nko in the leadership position in the region.
King Kobogo stood up and started pacing. He seemed to be running out of patience. The men kept coming with their machetes and rifles. Ten minutes later, there were over one thousand men in front of his palace – all armed. There were two groups; the medicine men and the physical fighters.
This was the technique king Kobogo always used. A part of the medicine men would stay back to protect the village while others would go with the warriors to give them spiritual back up.
Eko was with the warriors. He held his hunting rifle in one hand and machete in the other. He looked very much unlike himself with vicious combat-readynes spelt all over him.
Ojongbo stood beside Eko. He only held the small bag his father gave to him. Eko noticed he wasn’t holding a weapon, so he offered his machete saying, “Have this.”
“Don’t bother,” Ojongbo said and beamed confidently.
“Are you going to confront them without a weapon?” Eko pressed.
“Don’t worry. I‘ll be fine.” Ojongbo stood his ground.
Eko shrugged and looked towards the king who had stopped pacing and was speaking, “I got informed that we lost twenty two of our brothers and sons today – all beheaded.” At the mention of the last word, he held his chest like he had a stroke, and then continued, sounding hoarse, “We’ve never had such unreasonable killing before. The reason is not hard to know. The Nkpani people have always laid claim to the land on which the rubber plantation is grown because of the huge amount of money that we realize from the sale of its latex. So, they have decided to act.” He walked to the medicine men and said, “For the blood of our brothers and sons, we shall move on to Nkpani and destroy everything that exists there. We shall kill the men. We shall kill the women. We shall kill the children, and we shall kill the animals and make a burnt offering with them all to our god.” He stopped and turned towards the warriors and continued, “Yes, that’s what we’ll do, people of Nko!” He shouted. “Are you prepared for battle?
“Yes!” They roared.
“We shall move right away. We go through the forest. The gods have never forsaken us and they will certainly not forsake us now.” He looked searchingly on the faces of the medicine men and rested his gaze on one that looked horribly terrifying. “Ugbojon,” He called.
“O, Your majesty,” Ugbojon answered and stepped forward. He has a pitch-black complexion like one that was made of coal. The only medicine man that could be compared to ugbojon was Ogobolibo, Ojongbo father. But, he was dead. Nko would not go to war without him.
Ugbojon was over fifty years old. He was seventeen the first time he fought in a battle alongside Ogobolibo and his father who was a very diabolical war lord. Before his father died, he passed his powers over to him as was the tradition of spiritualists. Ugbojon walked forward to the king and bowed.
“You’ll lead the warriors,” The king said. “For five years, we’ve been at peace with our neighbors, but it appears the reverse is what they seek. You’ll do as I’ve said, destroy every living thing in Nkpani.”
“Yes, your majesty.” Ugbojon said and turned around to face the blood-thirsty Nko warriors. “Men of Nko, are you ready for battle?” He shouted.
“Hey!” they roared and lifted their weapons
“We shall march into Nkpani and avenge our brothers. They’ve killed twenty two of our brothers, but they’ll pay with thousands. Yes, they’ll pay with thousands.” While he spoke, his eyes turned flame-red. The vein on his neck bulged like it would pierce the skin. The histrionics in his voice was undeniably obvious.
The men understood him very well. They knew he was in his most lethal mood. He was hot. If someone put a cup of water on him, it would boil. “We move right away,” He said and turned to his fellow medicine men. They knew what to do. He turned towards the bush and started walking, releasing incantations no one understood. The men followed. In a few minutes, they had all vanished into the obscurity of the bush.
* * *
Back at Nkpani, as soon as the police truck drove away, the king dismissed Eton and went back to Obodo.
“Like I said, obodo, I want every man’s head and the head of their king as well,” He said.
“That’s what we shall do, your, majesty,” Obodo replied firmly, looking straight into the eyes of king Abang who was looking far beyond him. Obodo turned back to see what his king was looking at; it was the chief priest of obaselowi – god of the river.
He was moving very fast towards them. When he was like ten metres away from them, he stopped and stamped his staff on the floor and then shouted, “The gods have spoken! People of Nkpani, obaselowi has spoken! We mustn’t go to war! Blood! More blood will be spilled.”
“What do you mean?” The king asked
The chief priest moved forward, resting his staff on his shoulder. “The gods have spoken. The Nko people are still our friends. Innocent blood must not be spilled, my king.”
“That’s nonsense!” the king shouted. “That will be cowardice. The men of Nkpani are never known to be cowards. Obaselowi will never say such.”
The priest stamped his staff angrily on the floor and shouted back at the king, “You mustn’t blackmail the messenger of obaselowi. Do not doubt him. He has spoken and I believe you are smart enough to obey.”
“How dare you speak to me in such rude terms?” the king fired
“You’re king, but you are still subject to obaselowi. Be careful so you do not incur his wrath.” As he said this, he turned and started walking away, shouting behind him, “The gods have spoken! There should be no war!”
King Abang just stood and watched him fade away into the distance. He was extremely angry. If it were someone else, he would order for an immediate execution. But, he dared not try that with the chief priest lest he would be inviting the gods for a show down.
Obodo and the men watched the king in oblivion of what his next decision would be. Obodo was beginning to feel a tinge of disappointment settle on him. He very much craved the pleasure of the sight of blood once more; the excitement of being in control of the life of a captive. He wanted to perceive the enticing aroma of roasted human flesh, and taste its ‘lip-licking’ sweetness.
He went into momentary pensivity. He thought of the good old days, when they would gather the remains of their enemies in the forest and cut off all the juicy parts. They would then set a very large fire and roast the meat. When it’s ready, they would sit round the fire and eat slowly, as if salvaging the moment. He thought it was an experience worth reliving.
While his mind swam in this pensivity, he heard the king’s hoarse voice, “My people, do not pay attention to that nuisance. He only came to exhibit his colossal idiocy.” The king pursed and looked at Obodo who had refocused his attention on him, and said, “We have tarried beyond necessity. Obodo, lead the men. The gods are with you and my spirit is with you as well.”
Obodo repeated his three-sixty spin and bowed to the king. Then he beckoned to the men and started walking towards the bush in a hurry as though he wanted to be gone before the king changed his mind.
This is the irony of life; kings make decisions of war, while it is the ordinary man that will fight and die.