Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, he thought. Shakespeare might be one of joys of Western education, he mused. Technically though, he neither had a crown nor wore one but the weight of his responsibility had never felt so great.
He turned and favoured the man another look. No, not just a man, an emissary from the past. This path was not one he would have chosen for himself. He had taken his crown at the age of one; the white man’s succession laws be damned. He couldn’t tell why the Council of Elders had seen fit to pass over the other heirs to the throne for a child. It might have something to do with his three regents that ruled for so long in his stead. Robbed from me is more like it. But that was not in issue now. He is king now. Nay, not king. That was their term for what the white men thought he is and quite inappropriate.
Kabaka Daudi Chwa had turned from the view of the city and future, to look upon a haunting past. A sorry sight. The city was his Capital at the heart of his Kingdom. Kampala. The White men had been busy in the short time they had acquired a foothold in his kingdom. The foothold having been given by the three green snakes in the Kampala grass. The self-styled regents. For all the betrayal though, he had to admit that the two cathedrals, sitting pretty on Lubaga and Namirembe hills made for a beautiful sight.
The town had started taking shape too. He could just about make out the High Court building that dispensed the White Man’s justice at his leisure. Ha! Did they think him a fool?
“I might not be my father but I shall have your tongue should I learn that you are lying to me. Say it all again and think not to spare a single detail. Lest you learn that I am my father’s son.”
The statement was made in a calm voice and yet the promise of malice was not lost on the emissary. If he was afraid though, he showed not a sign of it as he knelt before his Kabaka, forehead touching the Persian rug that adorned the floor of the Kabaka’s private audience chamber. If the tale he tells is true, I would not think any living man could sway him, he thought.
“Ssabasajja, I speak no falsehood.” He said in eloquent Luganda.
The Kabaka noted with concern that his own mind grappled to translate the words to English. Too much time with those white men. The emissary went on with his macabre news.
“The Abasezi are an elite squad of protectors, sworn to a life of secrecy. A thankless task assigned to us by your predecessor, Kintu. We serve at the leisure of the Kabaka. We practice a special art of necromancy that allows us commune with the dead and in so doing keep the dead at peace. Sekabaka Mwanga, the second, your father, was well aware of our existence and our duties. He extended our duties and it was by his leave that he extracted the Hannington brief.”
“And what was this ‘Hannington brief’?” He asked as he moved to stand behind his mahogany desk and look once more upon his lands.
“Sekabaka Mwanga, the second, knew of the fragile peace that his father, Sekabaka Muteesa, the first, had made between the witchdoctors and the early missionaries. The witchdoctors, or at least a dark sect of them, believed that the white man had come as the herald of the end of the world as they knew it and sought the help of the death god Walumbe to quell their approach. From Walumbe they were gifted the power to create the Abakalabanda. The Abakalabanda were reanimated dead bodies that the dark witchdoctors controlled, like puppets. When Sekabaka Muteesa learnt of this, he banished them to the Ssese Isles and forbade them to be spoken of. However this only took the strings and the puppeteers away. The puppets remained. Mindless corpses that plagued the realm causing death. They covered their tracks by taking the memories of the survivors. It was then that Sekabaka Muteesa assigned the Abasezi to root out the puppets and have the Kabaka’s peace return to Buganda. Many Abasezi were lost in the quiet war that followed, dubbed the Blood moon trials. We emerged triumphant.”
“Sekabaka Mwanga heard that the puppets still existed in the Elgon region. In a hope to better understand this threat, he in his wisdom, asked the missionaries for an explanation with the use of their ‘science’. That was why they sent for the Arch Bishop, Hannington. The Bishop was then murdered by the puppets long before he could make his presentation to your father. When Sekabaka Mwanga heard of the Bishop’s death, it was agreed that the realm would fall into disarray at the knowledge of these puppets. He was forced to take responsibility for the whole dirty affair and bring shame to his throne.”
Incredulous is what this was. A yarn that was skillfully spun no less.
“I expect that you’re about to explain the Namugongo martyrs in the same light.” He said dismissively.
“Actually. . .” The Kabaka whirled around to face this herald of doom. He remained bent over and his face to the floor. “Most of the supposed ‘martyrs’ were really sleeper agents for the puppets. They were about to be passed out as catechists to different parts of the country to spread the scourge. When the Sekabaka consulted his devout friends on the matter and a hard decision was taken. They agreed to sacrifice themselves in service of the crown, along with the heathens to keep the Kabaka’s knowledge of the puppets secret.”
The Kabaka sat down into his chair, thankful that he had been standing right in front of it. He considered the man and what he said. The Buganda Kingdom was old and it had its secrets. This would not be so farfetched. He had heard the legends, but this. . . “Say that I do believe these fairytales of yours, why now? What is it you want from me?”
“Ssabasajja, we have reason to believe that the scourge intends to make a bold move against your royal person and the people of this kingdom. Our intelligence shows that one of your regents is really a dark mage that seeks to rule through such puppets. And raise their society to prominence.”
“And what society is this?”
“Ssabasajja, they call themselves the true children. The Children of Walumbe!”
Fables and legends??! His regents? His Kingdom was more fractured than he could have believed possible. That is, if this man spoke the truth. “You are but a messenger. I must hear this from your chief. Along with the proof he has gathered to lay credibility to these allegations and stories.”
“Ssabasajja, the walls have ears. And that is why I was sent in place of. . .” but the Kabaka had already thought of that and was wrought to be interrupted.
“I know. He shall attend me at my tour of the counties. I shall make myself isolated and shall expect him to see me then.”
He said it in a way that brokered no argument and also dismissed the emissary.
“Ssabasajja Kabaka awangale.” He said and bowed even deeper.
The Kabaka looked down at his table, making to get back to his notes but listened for the departure but to no avail. He rounded on the emissary to express how thin his patience had been stretched and only found an empty space where the emissary had been bowed just a few minutes ago.Just as he came, thought the Kabaka.
The emissary kept to the darkness of the palace as he found his way out. Quiet as a shadow, just as his training had taught him. No matter. He thought, they, the Abasezi, had a way of fading from men’s minds as though they had never been. The Kabaka would of course be different. He had the royal blood.
He was proud of himself and his Kabaka. The Kabaka’s reaction was better than anticipated. They at least had a fighting chance. The Dark mages were preparing an assault on the Abasezi Order to have its significance and anonymity undermined. They had had no choice but to bring the Kabaka into the loop. He had to relay the information to his Chief though. The Kabaka needed further information and the emissary was far too young and insignificant to alleviate all the Kabaka’s reservations.
A sixth sense manifested as a tingle down his spine. He was not alone. Someone was following him. Impossible . . . he thought. Who could possibly . . . then it struck him. The puppets! That was absurd. They were not capable of stealth. Mostly because they made a clanking sounds they came nearer. So long as he didn’t . . . but even as he thought it, he heard the sound. “Clank . . . clank . . . clank”
It was them! The Kalabandas! They had found him. How could they have . . . unless they were having the Kabaka watched. Had they heard the whole exchange? He needed to get back to the Chief. He quickened his pace but heard the clanking quickened as well. They were getting closer. He had not anticipated an attack.
Not in the city.
There was no way of outrunning them. He needed to find a place to stage the fight. Somewhere outside earshot of civilians. He found a raised clearing in a thicket and turned to face the trees. He pulled out his knife. Inscriptions had been curved into the
blade. He made a small cut on his forearm and smeared his blood on the blade. He muttered the chant that gave power to the blade.
And then waited.
In his hunched stance, he saw the bushes to his left shake. One. Then those to his right. Two. A body flew out from the bushes in front of him. Clanking with every step. Covering the hundred metres between himself and the bush in an inhumanely fast way. Instinct and training took over as he rolled to the left on his shoulder and the Kalabanda scratched thin air. He swiped with the blade to his right plunging it in the thing’s side and heard it give a hiss. The victory was short lived as the other two darted towards him simultaneously from opposite ends. He wrenched his blade free and went towards the one on the left.
The white figure with the maroon eyes that glowed as though the dying embers of a fire expressed shock for a heartbeat. Or at least it would have been if they were alive. As his knife took it in the gut, he saw the ember like eyes go dark again. And felt the claws dig deep into his back. The third Kalabanda had reached him faster than he had anticipated. He felt his strength receding as his life energy was sipped out of him by the Kalabanda. He felt his memory begin to fade. The meeting with the Kabaka was already a distant memory. At this rate, they would have the location of the Abasezi and the Chief’s identity soon.
He struggled to free the knife and plunged it into his own heart. It was the last lesson taught in the Abasezi art of Buganda service. They couldn’t get his memory if he was dead. That was our gift. . . The blade had a reverse effect as well. It turned his blood poisonous to the Kalabanda. The world went dark and their forms became silhouettes in the dark and in history.
The sounds of ‘Numb’ by Linkin Park blared though the headphones Matiya wore as he examined the corpse. He needed the distraction from the actual disgust involved with the ceremony.
As he took her head into his arms, he concentrated on the closed eyes and chanted. Inaudibly at first and then gradually into a whisper. If someone walked in, they might think that she was an ex-girlfriend, he mused. Focus Matiya!! He felt the familiar out of body experience akin to the memory dump gift of his clan. He left the simple room in which he had been charged to prepare the corpse for the last funeral rights and joined the dead girl in her last memory.
She had left her university rather late that night. Her grades were slipping and she needed help getting them back up. The memory dump was routine. A precaution of the elders of the Abasezi ensure that the ghosts continued to rest. For Christ sake, the last Kalabanda citing had been a century ago.
A century ago the Abasezi had been thwarted by Kalabandas as they tried to inform the then Kabaka of their role in the Kingdom. The Kabaka had never gotten round to meeting the then Chief of the Abasezi. It had been concluded that the Dark Mage that played at Regency had gotten to the Kabaka and somehow wiped his memory. It was then that the Abasezi were hunted out and killed as enemies of the Kingdom. To date, the Abasezi were shunned by society and often beaten to death.
The Elders had sat and decided that the duties assigned to the Clan had not in any way ended. They agreed that the Clan had to evolve to meet the enemy on the new stage that had been laid
out. The Abasezi had taken to education and science. The role of resting the dead in modern world fell to Morticians and Coroners. The business of funeral homes was booming in the twentieth century and would only grow in the times to come. The anonymity it granted though was the gem of the whole arrangement.
Matiya had first shown the gift at his father’s funeral twenty-five years ago. Back then he was eight and unable to console his wailing mother. His father had died a polygamist. A fact only made known upon his demise. The other woman had come out of the woodwork to lay a claim to the small fortune his father had amassed.
His mother was a Mukiga and hated by his father’s family. They therefore preferred to have the second wife appointed as customary heir of his father’s estate and to manage it therein. His mother had wailed as she insisted that her husband had been a foresighted man and that there had to be a will somewhere about. Matiya had gone to the casket to pay his respects. Or rather to spit on his face, he thought. He had looked at the man’s face and the sheer disgust of him had made the unfamiliar dream state seem a mere daydream. He had followed his father’s last actions before giving in to the cancer that he never let anyone know of.
And had discovered that there was a hidden compartment in his room that contained the will.
Everyone had been puzzled as to how he had found it out. But they were of Abasezi blood and his uncle had surmised as much. The boy had been presented before the Elders for affirmation and the rest was history.
He snapped back to his current assignment. Memory lane could be strolled later.
She had opted to walk to the main road. It was rather late and she cut through a thicket. The path was plain to see evidencing its constant use. Argo safe, she had thought.
Was that she heard the clanking. Like a bell? A bicycle? Some blacksmith? More like none of her business.
Clank . . . clank . . . clank. Matiya near soiled himself. Thank God he wasn’t actually in his body. He wanted to leave but couldn’t. He had to confirm. . . He had to see. . .
She turned her smartphone flashlight on and pointed it in the direction of the clanking. Nothing. There was nothing there. Except that a chill had settled firmly in the back of her neck, the kind that scream run. Some primal instinct told her to find light and people.
All she had to do was find a brightly lit street and she might escape.
She turned back to run and found herself face to face with red ember-like eyes. The kind of ember from the dying glow of a log in a hearth. The Kalabanda smiled and said, “You’re next!”
Matiya clawed away from the memory dump and backed as far away from the corpse as he could. Not only had he seen a Kalabanda but it had appeared sentient, it seemed to know that he was there. No, that made no sense. More likely it knew that he would be there.
They had returned. The Dark Mages and the Abakalabanda. Matiya made to leave the morgue. He had to find his cell leader. He started for the door and realized with a start that it was night. He thought of the route back to the street and remembered that the damned way was pitch black. Not to mention that the Abasezi did not believe in modern technology and had never taken to phones. Secrecy and service were the mantra under which they served.
Matiya put away his headphones and ipod. He reached into a hidden compartment of his bag and smiled as he felt the handle he knew he would be there. He pulled it out and unsheathed the blade. He admired the seven inch craftwork imbedded with inscriptions in Luganda. He proceeded to cut himself on the left forearm and drench the blade in blood just as he had been trained to. Having excelled at physical combat, he had thought, woefully, that he might never actually use his blade.
Clank. . Clank . . . Clank . . .
“So be it”. It had begun.