CHRONICLES OF THE GODS
(An excerpt from the novel)
By Victor Bade
[21st March 1368]
(This part of my journal has a very distinct feature about it that makes it quite unlike the previous ones. I know that I have earlier written words to that effect, given all the strange things I have encountered on this land since I came here. But I never imagined for a moment that there would come a time when that proclamation would be justified in so literal a sense. The entire duration of the following events is less than twenty four hours, though I have a vague suspicion that it will be exactly twenty four hours when I reach the end of this narration.)
After that disconcerting incident that happened on January 3rd, the next couple of weeks passed by rather uneventfully. And that is something I felt somewhat grateful for. During this time, I did not do much recording besides occasionally putting down mundane observations and musings at the end of the day on pieces of paper. There was not much else to do besides my daily work at the coasts. I had long given up any hope of learning how the other men at sea caught their fish. So I’ve just been using the same ways I’ve known since before my days as a sailor. But the fact that it caused me to take much longer gave me a way to while away each day and, thus, was a mixed blessing of sorts. Tiami had certain commitments at her home that had arisen during this period, and, thus, she was rarely at the tavern. I spent increasingly long periods at sea, often coming back home after dark. Yesterday, the 20th of March, was one of those days. Little did I know, when I got up that morning, that it would be my last day in a way that I could never have dreamed.
Having left home at dawn, I came back late in the evening tired and hungry. I hadn’t eaten before I left, and I only ate one meal at the dock at midday. (Due to my intention to marry Tiami once I got approval, I had instinctively developed an ascetic habit of spending as little as possible.) In my haste to sleep, I ate the simplest and quickest meal I could by grabbing a loaf of bread and pouring myself some cider. After eating, I went to the bedroom, took my clothes off and fell unto the pad, drifting into sleep almost immediately.
I was later awakened by a knocking on the door. It was a firm but cautious knocking. I stayed on the pad for some time, waiting to regain full awareness. Upon getting up, I looked through the window of the room to observe the state of the night. Judging by its darkness and stillness, I could tell it was well past midnight. I was baffled as to why someone would be knocking on my door at this time. I grabbed a pair of trousers nearby, put them on and left the room. When I reached the door of the living room, I stood next to it and asked sternly: “Who is it?”
A soft female voice answered: “It is Moji.”
That reply struck me like a flash of lightning; with feelings of unbelief, joy and bewilderment. Moji was supposed to be at her temple far away in Okta and she wasn’t due to return to the city for the next six months. Therefore what could she possibly be doing here? Yet, it was unmistakably her voice. But, then again, I also knew that some of these people had the ability to discipline their voices so as to sound like almost anyone they chose. Therefore it was likely that it wasn’t her and that this was a trick. Yet, the overwhelming desire I had to see her again and the daring spirit in me led me to open the door and face whatever I would encounter.
I opened the door and there stood Moji looking up at me, the delicate contours of her body and face faintly outlined by the moonlight. She wore a dark blue dress and headscarf. She also had a small black wrapper over her shoulders which she held around her upper body. I couldn’t tell if this was in order to keep herself warm against the cool breeze of the night or if it was a means of discretion. She gazed at me with a fascinating blank expression in her eyes that seemed to radiate innocence while at the same time sheltering abstruse knowledge.
“Moji, what are you doing here?” I asked.
“I had to come and see you,” she said.
Thoughts raced through my mind as to what the reason was for her stated motive for coming all the way from Okta to see me, in violation of the protocols of their temples. Then I suddenly remembered to ask her to come inside. But she shook her head, turning down the request, and saying: “No, Figo. I can’t. I have to return immediately.” She paused, looked sideways to her right as if to see if someone was coming, then turned back to me and continued:
“I came to bring you to the temple. You have to come with me.”
“Me?” I asked, baffled. “Why?”
“It’s something very important,” she replied. “I can’t explain right now. But you have to follow these instructions: Put on your clothes and your hat. Make sure you wear dark clothes. Then go to the spot in the forest where that sacred tree is. Follow the path from the tree straight down to the seashore. You will see a man waiting there for you. He will bring you to our temple.”
Bewildered, I peered desperately into her eyes. The deep sincerity in them assured me that I could trust her.
“What about you?” I asked.
“I’ll be returning right now. I’ll meet you there. Please hurry.” Then she stopped and added: “And one more thing; take your diaries along with you.”
“Why?” I asked in astonishment.
“You might need them,” she answered.
Before I could ask anything else, she turned and ran off, still clutching the wrapper around her torso. I watched her until she stopped just before a horse which I had not noticed had been standing inside the shadow of a house about twenty yards from mine. She mounted it and rode away until I could see her no more.
After closing the door, I lit the lamp in the living room, sat down on a chair right next to the table and thought about what just happened. My brain was reeling in confusion as I rested my head in my palms. I will confess that I had thought (and hoped), upon her answer to my initial question, that she was going to say that she had come to see me simply because she had been missing me, for that was how I myself had been feeling, not having seen her for six months. The very thought made me feel warmth and even a sense of flattery, even though it still seemed a strange thing for her to do. But then, I hadn’t known what else to think. Why else would she come here?
Her subsequent explanation and her anxious demeanor had left me in a state more mystified than any I had been in for quite some time. Try as I may, I could not think of any reasonable cause as to why her temple in particular would want me there, and in such a discrete and clandestine manner for that matter. It was just as well, I thought, for I had always wanted to visit there to see what it was like, and this was my chance. What really bothered me was the way I was to get there. The image of the man at the beach waiting for me in this late and dark night, in particular, haunted me. I raised my head and looked at the pile of papers at the other end of the table. I couldn’t help wondering why they had suddenly taken an interest in my diaries. But I was determined to go through with it and find out.
I put on the darkest clothes I had and strapped on my leather boots before strapping my sheathed hunting knife around my waist and concealing it underneath my garment. Then I went to the kitchen and picked the bow and quiver that were resting against the wall and swung them unto my back. I then put my hat on and went back into the bedroom to gather all the papers I considered were the most relevant account of my experiences on this island. Then I went back to the living room and added to them from the ones on the table. I did not want to take any bag with me. I wanted to be as agile as possible and therefore not have on my body anything more than what was necessary. I rolled up the bundle of papers and put it inside my inner coat pocket, then blew out the light and left the house.
Since I had to be discreet, I decided to walk all the way to the forest instead of making use of one of the few carts that were still operating at this time of the night. I walked along the edges of the roads and kept to shadowy paths as much as possible. The light from the moon and the lamps of some houses were enough to guide me through the town. Every once in a while, I would pass by people. Some were walking along the roads. Some were sitting in front of houses, usually smoking some kind of hemp. For the most part, they ignored me or didn’t even see me.
I finally entered Ariki road, the road that led to the forest that was its namesake. It was a long road that was flanked by bushes on both sides. I seemed to be the only one on the road. In spite of the sounds of insects and small animals I could hear, I felt it had a menacing quietness about it. I drew out one of the arrows from my back and positioned it upon the bow so that I would be ready to fire at anything if need be. Eventually, I reached the grassland at the side of the road that led into the forest. I stopped before the edge of the forest and looked to and fro along its length trying to gauge the spot that would lead me straight down to the tree. I tried to visualize it by taking my mind back to that moment eight months ago when Moji and I came out of the forest. [After we had left the Giant Ring that day, I had taken her through the forest to see the tree I had told her about. Upon her request, we left the forest by going straight through it from the tree in a manner that was directly perpendicular to the shoreline. Had we not done that, it would have been almost impossible for me to find the tree at this time of the night without any artificial source of light.]
After some time of walking along the edge, I finally settled on the spot that I felt sure would take me down the desired path and then proceeded to enter the forest. My heartbeat increased in its pace as I drew back the arrow in anticipation of having to use it. I could hear the sounds of owls, jackals and other larger animals at a distance. Yet somehow it was not the thought of animals that I feared but rather of something else I wasn’t quite sure of. The light of the moon was just enough for me to make my way slowly through the forest, taking care not to collide with any trees along the way. The place was quite dark and I had to strain my eyes to make as much use of the little light that seeped through the branches as I could. I still ran into a few trees along the way due to the way the branches and leaves of some of the trees blocked any light from coming through them. There were several occasions that I stopped voluntarily either because I thought I heard an animal approaching or to carefully make out the configuration of the trees to judge whether I had gotten to the location of the tree I was looking for. I had a sense of how far into the forest the tree was and how long it should take me to get to it. Thus, there came a point when my stoppages and examinations became more frequent because I believed I had reached the area where I would find it.
Of course, I could have just gone on directly to the sea without stopping, but I wasn’t really sure if the spot I had chosen to enter the forest was actually the right one. I had to find the tree in order to be sure. I was also aware that I could have ignored Moji’s instructions altogether and just gone down to the seashore and walked across it until I found the man that was waiting for me. But somehow I felt I simply had to follow her instructions. This whole situation seemed too strange for me to risk anything by deviating from the rules that had been prescribed to me.
I finally reached a spot where I felt very strongly, the more I looked around, that the configuration of the trees was the right one. I began to peer carefully at each of the trees around me, moving towards them as I did so. I was particularly drawn towards a tree at my left which I could only vaguely see. As I moved closer to it, all doubt that it was the one slowly evaporated from my mind as I began to make out the outlines of its shape. I stopped a few feet from it. The little moonlight that seeped through the branches allowed me to see the faint conformations of the bark-encrusted limbs and head that protruded from the tree. Then I felt a sudden rush of fear and quickly turned to the direction of the sea and began to stumble through the benighted forest as quickly as I could. I continued to hear the sounds of wild animals as I went, particularly the sounds of wild dogs. Once or twice, I again had to stop and listen carefully because it seemed as though a large animal might be approaching, and then I continued onwards when I stopped hearing the sound.
When I finally emerged from the forest, I found myself facing the skyline and staring in awe at the beautifully lit sky above the horizon. The void between the stars appeared to expand as I gazed at it. It seemed to usher my perceptions into the infinite realm of existence that Moji had told me about. The dimensions beyond this world in which their gods inhabited. Light from the sky sparkled radiantly across the waters as they bounced across the waves.
Then I suddenly remembered the man that was waiting for me at the shore. It was then that I noticed a small vertical dark figure that appeared to be floating on the water not far from the shoreline. I slowly walked down the shore towards it. As I approached it, I began to see that it was a man standing in a canoe that was swaying back and forth on the water. He kept the canoe in place with a long oar that he was holding which was thrust deep into the water and seemed to reach to the ground beneath it. The man was completely dressed in what seemed to be black clothing (but which I later saw was actually dark blue with dark red stripes across it). He had on a large hat and wore a scarf around his face so that it covered the bottom half of his face below his eyes. I stopped a few feet from the shoreline and stared at him for some seconds. Then he raised his left hand and beckoned me to come. I reminded myself what Moji had told me, and then, with a deep sigh, I began to walk into the water until I reached the boat.
After I climbed in, he told me to hand him my weapons and lie down on the floor of the canoe. I looked at him, baffled. I was still on my knees and was looking up at him. I tried to gauge his eyes, but the hat he wore cast a shadow over his face that made it hard to do so. Looking at me steadily, he repeated his instruction. I decided to do as he said. I handed him my bow and arrows and then unstrapped the knife belt around my waists and gave it to him. Then I put my hat in my pocket and lay down on my back, keeping my eyes on him. He placed the weapons in a corner of the canoe and then picked up a large black cloak that had been lying folded on the floor and began to spread it and cover my entire body with it.
“What’s going on?” I asked him. “What are you doing?”
He simply said: “You have to keep still and do as I say.”
I was bewildered as to the purpose of this but, nevertheless, remained silent. Since no one else was in sight, as far as I knew, I could not see the point of covering me especially given that it was dark? But I decided to trust him and resigned myself to the situation. After he had covered me, I could no longer see anything. I heard him pick up the oar and begin to strike it gently into the water. Soon, I felt the boat move further into the sea until we were above the deep waters. Then the boat did a turn to the right and began to drift swiftly along the ocean.
After a long period of time – what seemed to me like an hour – we finally got to a point where I could feel that we had embarked upon land. I could no longer hear the waves of the sea and the heavy breeze that came with it. The waters seemed to be more still and I got the impression that we had entered into a narrow body of water, perhaps a river. When the boat finally stopped, I started to raise my hands to pull off the cloak, but the man quickly stopped me and told me to remain still. Then, after some time, he stooped over and began to wrap the cloak around me, asking me to turn as he did so. At this point, I no longer bothered to ask anything. I just reminded myself why I was here and just corporated.
After completely wrapping me up in the cloak, he pulled me up to my feet. Then he brought me down unto his shoulder, straightened back up and stepped off the boat carrying me like a sack. As he marched on, I could hear him begin to step over twigs and plants and I could feel my own legs and head brush across low-lying tree branches and leafs. We seemed to be in the midst of dense woodland.
After a while, he stopped suddenly and heaved my body upwards and placed me onto the back of a horse. Even without the slight neigh it made, I would still have known it was a horse from the way it felt and the way my body arched over it. [That may seem an unnecessary thing to say, but I had to say that it in light of the fact that the last time I was placed upon an animal in such a manner, it was a lion.] I could hear the man walking away and I reasoned that he was going off to secure the canoe. Naturally, I felt very strange and somewhat humiliated in this position especially since I did not know the reason for it. I took comfort from the fact that I wasn’t tied and I could free myself from this position if I chose to. I realized that that was an indication that I could trust him, for he seemed to trust me. I listened attentively to the sounds of insects and animals permeating the place while the horse exercised its limbs, grunting occasionally as it did so.
Not before long, he returned, untied the horse, mounted it and began to walk it through the forest. After some time, I began to sense we were going up an incline and my body tilted slightly as we went. At certain times, we went along lateral planes and, at other times, we went downward before heading back up again. I was feeling drowsy but the nature of the journey and my situation discouraged me from the idea of sleeping. Yet, I felt increasing unease due to the pressure of the horse’s bony back on my body as we went across sloped planes. I finally decided to allow myself to sleep so as to alleviate the discomfort, and, after keeping my eyes shut for some time, I eventually drifted off.
When I woke up, I saw, from the dim light through the small opening at the end of the wrapper, that the day had begun to break. We had stopped moving upwards and we now seemed to be going steadily across a path that inclined slightly downwards.
After some time, I heard a young woman’s voice call out from a distance seemingly in greeting to the man riding the horse. Soon, we came to a stop. The man came down and pulled me down from the back of the horse unto my feet. He unwrapped the cloak from my body and, within a moment, I was gazing around me at the new environment.
We were on top of a mountainous region, and I could see the vast forest that sprawled below the mountain, stretching to the horizon. The air was pleasantly cool and fresh. There were large rocks and boulders not far from where we were. About twenty yards from the boulders, there stood a large, intricately shaped building that looked like a temple. Much of its outer surface appeared to be made of mahogany. Yet, one could see from its inner parts that it was largely built with concrete. The entrance door had the arched shape of the two dimensional image of a temple.
Then I saw the person that had called out to us. It was Moji. She was smiling and walking up to us. The clothes I had seen her wearing the previous night were gone. She was now dressed in the manner I had previously seen Shodo dancers dress. A wrapper covered her body from her chest to her knees. The surface of the wrapper was laced beautiful white feathers. Around her head was a metallic ring that was embroidered with tiny pearls. She wore white armbands that were made of circular layers of white beads. It was enthralling to see her like this. She looked so different from the simple maid in plain simple clothes I had been so accustomed to back in the city. I rushed over and hugged her. She asked me how I was managing with the cooking and house chores without any help. I assured her that I was quite familiar with the local way of life by now and that I was doing fine. We exchanged pleasantries as though we had just seen each other for the first time in months. For a moment, I completely forgot about what happened several hours ago.
Then something at a distance to my right caught my attention. In front of the temple, just to its left, was a long concrete pole that stood about twenty feet high and standing on top of a large paved circular ground. On top of the pole, there stood a girl of around Moji’s age. Her body was suspended on it by nothing other than her right toe. Her other leg and arms were suspended motionless in the air in such a manner as though she had been frozen in time during an act of dancing. Her eyes were closed. I would have thought it was a magnificently made sculpture if she didn’t look so real, and if I hadn’t already had prior knowledge of the kinds of things these people are capable of. She was obviously in one of those bizarre trances like the kinds I had seen at the Shodo festival rituals in the city. But this was the first time I had seen any of them in such a precarious position as this. Moving closer, I marveled as I looked down at the bare ground below her and wondered about the danger of her falling.
As though she could see what I was thinking, Moji said to me with a smile: “Don’t worry. She won’t fall.”
“But what if she wakes up from her trance?” I asked her.
“She won’t until it is time,” she replied. Then she turned and led the way into the temple. Just before I entered, I momentarily turned back just in time to see the other man walking the horse away and I noticed for the first time that the horse was painted dark blue with reddish stripes across it.
Upon entering the temple, I found myself in a large beautifully decorated hall. The floor was divided into two parts. The first, smaller, part lay just after the doorway and was bare floor. Moji and I removed our footwear and left them here. The rest of the hall was an elevated surface that was about a foot above the first part. It was beautifully carpeted with a fine reddish pelt. Lining the ceiling and walls of the hall were various phantasmagoric shapes. There were small figurines with bizarre postures. Along the left wall, there sprawled an enormous flat shiny black metallic shape that looked like some kind of lizard or dragon, but one could not tell what direction it was facing. On the wall at the right were abstract paintings of figures in meditative poses. There was a redolent odor about the place that tended to send my mind to the ocean as though I was flowing above it like a wind.
A middle-aged woman stood near the center of the hall and came towards us to meet us. She was wearing a flowing traditional gown and a silk blue headgear. Both the dress and headgear were dotted in various places with small shiny pearls and what appeared to be either tiny pieces of sparkling glass or diamonds. She had a pleasant smile, which her pulchritudinous features rendered all the more enchanting. When she stopped in front of us, she bowed and I bowed also. Yet, it was clear that she was the priestess of the temple.
She said to me: “Welcome, Mr. Madeira. Please come with me.” Then she led us across the hall towards a doorway at the left end. I noticed there were four other doorways at other parts of the hall. This doorway led into a passage that was lined at each side with several doors, all of which were closed except one that was at the very end at the left. She went through that door and I entered after her with Moji following behind me.
The room we entered had a blue carpet, and there were three large cushions placed linearly somewhere at the center. In front of them was a stool that had a soft red padding on its top. Two open windows were at the wall opposite the door. Through them, the dewy morning atmosphere could be seen, its grayish light illuminating the room. There were a couple of ornaments and odd looking objects that were positioned in several parts of the room, especially near the walls and at the corners. On each wall, except for the one that had the windows, there hung a small skull with incense vapor coming out of it. The skulls were disfigured in such a way that I couldn’t tell if they were those of apes or humans. But what captured my attention most was something that stood just a couple of feet from the stool. There was a long wooden stand that had a transparent glass top. On top of it was a glass jar that reminded me of the small roundish one I had once seen around the neck of a shaman at the city. This one was a large regular-shaped glass jar which had a tiny opening at the top. Inside the jar was a large snake and several eggs. The snake was completely motionless, but I couldn’t be sure if it was live or dead. Just like the one I had seen around the shaman’s neck, this jar also raised the mystery of how those things had gotten into it given that they were all far too large to fit through the small opening. I walked close to the jar and strained my eyes trying to see any sign of a lining that could indicate a fracture through which those objects could have been inserted, but there was no sign of any. The glass looked completely pure and without blemish. I looked for the head of the snake but it appeared to be buried somewhere within the curl of its body. I wondered if the eggs had been laid by the snake itself.
About the Author:
Victor Bade is an emerging writer based in Sierra Leone, primarily Freetown. He attended the universities of Fourah Bay College and University of South Alabama where he studied engineering. As a student, he worked for few years as an assistant editor at a local publishing company.