By Kamusiime Mugisha
As Labongo ambled to the mighty gates of the chiefdom that shielded Pubungu, flanked by his warriors, exhausted, starved, and clad in their full armor, the sight of home brought back a sense of serenity. His mind was troubled. It had been thirteen days and thirteen nights since he had left home. But for some reason this conquest had left him mentally consumed.
Labongo was a closed book. An expert at never revealing his next move, he had mastered the art of concealing his emotions. On most days Achola could not tell what he was feeling or thinking, and this seemed to rub her the wrong way at times. But it was on days like this that wearing his heart on his cheek served him well.
As they got closer to the entrance, relief set in. Almost like he felt he would never return. But before his battalion, Labongo had to maintain his composure. Even when fighting his own demons, his demeanor was stoic.
“This is why we fight.” He always told his men. “So that our women can rest well at night, knowing that we are out here with the sole purpose of keeping harm far away from them. So that our children can grow up safe in homes where they can go out and play and laugh and live their lives as children do. So that our elders can live long enough to see us bask in the glory that we were destined for. We were born for greatness and this is evident in the grandeur brought by the men who came before us. So every time you feel like what you are doing is not worth dying for, think about your wives weeping at the sight of your children’s corpses burning from the flames lit by our enemies.”
Yes. Labongo had to be ruthless with his words. On the field, he walked his talk. No man had ever doubted what he was capable of.
His father’s words danced about in his mind like the wind.
“There will come a time when despair, uncertainty and conflict will knock at your people’s door. The people will look at you for wisdom. For guidance. For protection. You must have answers to every question. As chief you must have eyes in all directions. You must know what to say when they are hopeless. Afraid. In times of triumph and prosperity you must not be complacent. To be chief of our people is an honor. It is a blessing that not every man is born with. It is something divine. But, it can also be a curse. A burden for a man who cannot strike the balance.”
At first glance, he could tell something was not right. The village that was always a beehive of activity looked empty. “Where is everyone?” He asked in a commanding tone. Looking to his side, one of his men next to him shrugged.
From a distance, he could hear murmurs. With every step he moved closer into touching distance of the voices, he couldn’t see who they were coming from. But as he got nearer, he started to make out the shapes of bodies. It was now clear that there was a crowd. The people stood, surrounding what he could not make out.
“What is going on here?” He bellowed. In an instant, everyone turned back to see where the authoritative voice was coming from. One man, quite elderly was the first to respond.
“Oh Rwot. It is good to see you. Oh how you missed this. You should have been here.” the old man said
“What happened?” Labongo’s tone now changed from authoritative to concern. “Who did this?” He said, pointing at the pool of blood. Whoever or whatever was injured went on to leave a trail that went further into the forest.
“Well there was a huge elephant that came into the village and had been terrorizing our people just after you had left. It had been eating our crops and destroying our gardens. It nearly killed a little boy who had crossed its path.”
“And all this blood?” Labongo asked, “Whose is it?”
“Your brother,” the old man smirked as though bragging of his own achievements, “He appeared and stabbed it right in its neck!”
Labongo couldn’t help but smile a little.
At that moment, he felt like a proud father. His little brother had finally come of age. The shy little boy had finally proven himself.
As he stood there in his thoughts, he caught a familiar face in the crowd. The sight for his sore eyes appeared and now he was elated. She smiled faintly as she got closer to him. “I hear my little brother was the hero of the day. How did I miss this?” Labongo said excitedly.
Achola grinned, but it was clear she did not share his sentiment. “Yes he did.” she responded, her voice a shadow of the certainty that he was accustomed to.
For a moment, Achola wondered as to whether she was the right person to break the news to her husband. She bitterly wanted to take it back. Lying was not an option. She paused for a moment and tagged at the chief’s arm from the crowd, leading him away from the crowd.
“The spear that Gipiir used to injure the beast,” she said, trembling.
“Yes. What of it ?” Labongo asked inquisitively.
“It was the ceremonial spear that your father passed onto you before he died.”
For a split second, Labongo felt like air was being drained from his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. All of a sudden, everything became a blur. His composure was now out of the window. He was in a state of shock. Labongo could see Achola’s lips moving but he couldn’t hear what she was saying.
“Labongo. Labongo” she said. Repetitively. “What are you going to do now?”
Labongo stood there, almost lifeless, but he had heard her question at the end. At that point, it had become clear to him that he had to act either as a father, or as a ruler. It definitely couldn’t be both.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEDNESDAY
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