WRITTEN BY NZEH UCHE
In a land very far away, lived a warrior king vastly known for his arrogance…
Night had finally won the day in the battle for domination and the bonfire in the middle of the crowd ignited like a sacrifice for gods. King Ajala and his people were close to Abaka forest as they rejoiced jubilantly—the minstrels played and maidens danced satisfying the king’s every whim.
King Ajala was exalted because it was his wedding with the beautiful young virgin, Abike and the day also marked three years of his rulership since taking over from his late father who died mysteriously by an unknown illness, which even the healers nor their nine gods could not cure.
Abaka forest, beside where the jollification took place, housed the most deadly predators in all the lands of Ajetodun kingdom but the people were far from fear because their warrior king was present.
King Ajala was barely thirty years when he assumed the throne of Ajetodun. He was the only son and heir amidst six children of the deceased king and was taught the salient things about a kingdom.
He grew to a very fine young man acquainted with power, women, and war.
Ajala and his father fought side by side in countless wars, conquering both men and demons with their unique fighting skills and the help of their kingdoms generational nine gods.
His arrogance had started immediately the crown rested on his head; Ajala stopped all votives to their nine gods, claiming they did nothing when his father needed a cure to the illness that took his life. He proclaimed that the nine gods spoke falsehood, and the diviners saw illusions.
Ajala banished the sorcerers saying that they related empty dreams and offered empty comfort. He gave no regard to the strategy his father had used to stabilise the Ajetodun kingdom. He made life unbearable for the poor, punishing anyone who dares prayed to their nine gods; but the people hid and prayed that the gods gave him a change of heart. He only thought of himself—his reign, an epitome of one at sixes and sevens.
The night continued mirthfully and Ajala and his new bride enjoyed the banquet of their wedding. She was lucky to have married a handsome, tall, well built, though arrogant king—he was all she wanted for a man. Marrying Ajala was the dream of every maiden in Ajetodun Kingdom, “The gods had blessed her with royalty for keeping her virginity; she was tailor made for greatness,” she thought.
As the ceremony continued, one of Ajala’s kinsmen came to him, telling him of the dangers of such feasting close to the great Abaka forest in a season when the wolf packs largely hunt, suggesting the venue be changed.
“What beast could I not tear to shreds with my bare hands? Am I not Ajala the owner of the whole Ajetodun? I’ll decide where to stay and when to leave.” Ajala boastfully replied.
Later that night, two guards came towards Ajala, bearing a man in rag clothing and forced him to kneel before the king.
“Your highness, we caught this worthless thief stealing a peek at your ceremony from behind a tree over there.” one of the guards spoke, pointing towards a direction.
Hearing this, Ajala was furious—he had told the town crier to announce to the people of Ajetodun on the eve of his wedding that the ceremony was only for the invited; party for the affluent and those with blue blood.
The singing and dancing came to a halt as the king stood with rage—silence took over the arena.
“Who are you?” The king inquired.
“I am Tayo the orphan,” the kneeling man replied, keeping his face away from the king’s view.
“Look at me defaulter,” Ajala commanded.
The man in rag clothing raised his head to the king.
“Are you the popular ‘Tayo the looser’, the orphan from an unknown land whom the gods cursed with epilepsy?” The king gibed.
The crowd laughed at their king’s jeering statements. They murmured; “Tayo was the same orphan that experiences episodes whenever he approached a woman. He endured mockery all his life after the death of the old woman who picked him up from Abaka forest and made herself his solace. He must have killed that old woman with his curse.” The crowd continued to murmur.
Rumour had it that Tayo was from Ajetodun but no mother wants to own up to giving birth to an epileptic son—it’s definitely an Ajetodun’s parent that dropped off the orphan in Abaka forest, but who can tell who did?
Ajala gestured the guards to take the orphan to the middle of the crowd and ordered the minstrels and singers to play Tayo an orphan song—they did; the crowd laughed at Tayo; he became the night’s laughing stock. Tayo ran off in anger, ridiculed by his people and outcasted amongst rich brethren.
Suddenly! Two glowing eyes came out from Abaka forest. It was a wolf and it approached the middle of the celebration; looking hungry with teeth that could pierce rocks and eyes with a delight of a sure meal. It gave a loud howl which led to series of howling. The lone wolf howled, for it found dinner and its pack did not hesitate. Their numbers brought turmoil to the scene and the throng in a stampede.
Ajala quickly moved Infront of the wolf pack, slowly drawing out his sword and brandishing it; as his guards followed suit.
“It’s my time to protect my people and prove myself worthy of the records and past glory. I will show to all on this very day that I’m the greatest warrior and nothing crosses my path and goes free.” Ajala said under his breath.
This was to be a brawl between the hunter and the hunted, but no one was sure who the hunters here were—the wolves jumped towards the men; the men dived in return.
Within seconds Ajala saw a bright light with rays giving his eyes hard penetration. He got up with bewilderment and saw two massive white bowls on a surface with clear waters.
Ajala was dazed; he was just face-to-face with a wolf pack, but now in a room with a very bright light.
“Where is the wolf pack? Where is this place? Who brought me here?” Ajala questioned in inaudible words.
His heart troubled—he was sure his appearance there was in the flesh but how the Ajetodun’s people became no more was puzzling.
Then Ajala felt the presence of another person in the room.
A white beard old man appeared, placing a palm on Ajala’s left shoulder.
“Ajala!” The name resounded like nine men had called him at ones; the echoes came from the old man like a ball of fire.
“With all your power and might, you were defeated by a mere wolf….”
“Defeated!” Ajala wailed in shock, interrupting the old man.
“I have conquered two bears and torn a tiger with my bare hands. How can a wolf bring me to my end?”
The old man ignored Ajala’s statements, continuing his:
“I am a messenger of the gods and I am here to show you your next path—where you join your father and ancestors. But before I let you off, let me show you your last activities of the life you lived.” The messenger of the gods said, taking Ajala towards the two bowls with clear waters.
With his hands, he rolled the water of the first bowl showing Ajala his village; his wedding ceremony, his conversation with the orphan boy— Ajala follow through to the wolf-pack-attack. He saw the wolf stretch out his throat with three claws.
The people of Ajetodun littered the place with ‘confusion’ as a helmet on their heads even more as the wolf brought down their king. The wolves retreated at the sight of more armed guards and took the rest of Ajala’s remains into the forest making many, especially Abike his bride drowning in tears.
Ajala saw himself die, but his anger was not solely on his death, but the unreasonable fact that he had never even touched his new bride. Her endowments to him had no comparison her beauty with no flaw. The more he looked at her weep, the angrier he became, cursing himself for trying to prove how true the records were, he wished he could right his wrongs.
“I faced a hungry wolf-like a brainless warrior,” Ajala lamented.
The messenger saw his agony and offered to help;
“There is a way I could still return you to the land of the living,”
This almost dried the tears that started building in Ajala’s eyes. The messenger then pointed to the second bowl, turned it and it began showing a young man heading to the river with a rope and a massive stone on his head.
The young man tied the rope to the huge stone and the other end to his waist. He threw the stone with his body so that as he drowned, his swimming skills would be futile. Ajala tried to know who the person was, but the face was a blur. The river in the scene was the one laying north of Ajetodun—but as king, he could not know all his people.
“I think I know who that is, but am not sure,” Ajala said.
“I can put your soul into the body of the man at the river and make you float to the river bank and remain in the land of the living.” The messenger uttered.
Without hesitation, Ajala agreed: All he wanted was a chance to be with Abike, his bride.
“There are two doors; the first leads to your old body, which now lies in Abaka forest being devoured by wolves. The second leads to the body of the drowning man at the river,” the old man explained. He continued;
“Whichever chosen path remains forever.”
Ajala knew he would now have a new look, tone, body and would no more be the king, but Ajala was positive that he would convince Abike that the new body housed her husband and king.
He chose the path back to the land of the living and in no time appeared laying on the river bank.
Ajala opened his eyes and saw himself on rag clothing, those similar to that of Tayo the orphan.
“What joke has the messenger played on me? Why would he give me this filth of a body?”
Well, that was least of Ajala’s problems as he ran off to where his wedding ceremony took place so he could tell Abike that he was back, but to his surprise, he found no one at the scene—it was almost dawn.
King Ajala dashed down to the palace. On getting to the entrance, he overheard the entrance guards discussing;
“Our king is truly brave, he killed the wolf that attacked him but the huge wolf took one of his eyes which left him unconscious,” one guard said, to the other.
Ajala taking in such information became perplexed—truly in a loss. He approached the palace entrance guards demanding the right to see the queen which they refused. The heated argument alarmed the troubled queen, who later came out and inquired what the issue was. She gifted Ajala the audience he demanded, but as he tried to utter a word, he had an episode— epilepsy slammed him to the ground.
Ajala was bundled from the ground and taken to his hut; where Tayo the orphan lived.
Tayo the orphan who now dwelt inside King Ajala’s body woke up in the palace with a very fine body, but with his left eyes gone—it was never to be compared to his old unkempt body. He woke up as the great ruler of Ajetodun, the arrogant warrior feared by all. Tayo immediately fits in his new self as taught by the nine gods of Ajetodun—it was all their plan.
Ajala woke up blue in the face—he was filled with regrets.
It dawned on him that the gods were far superior to men; it was crystal clear they were no match. Even the mighty are removed without effort; they die suddenly by what men cannot fathom.
His evil deeds were countless and the silent prayers of the poor took a unified stand—the outcry of the afflicted, getting the gods of Ajetodun more fed up. Ajala did the maths—it all came to him; Tayo the orphan running off after he was ridiculed at the ceremony was the cue for the wolves to appear from Abaka forest. It was also obvious that, if the old man had told him that the drowning man was ‘Tayo the orphan’, he would have refused the offer of returning to the land of the living, which would have made him return to his body—the gods played him and they didn’t play fair; they never do.
Not just his arrogance caused his dethroning, but he insulted both men and gods; his steps went astray. Ajala neglected the sacrifices his father gave to appease the nine gods; he thought only skills won them wars, his father’s death blinded the truth.
From that day onward, Ajala lived a miserable life, imprisoned by regrets and could never tell Abike the truth because he always had an episode whenever he came close to her and the new king of Ajetodun, Tayo never spilled the truth.
The people of Ajetodun extolled their gods as it seemed like their king took a new leaf—he changed, having his people as his first priority—stopped discrimination and the land was finally at peace.
The queen Abike enjoyed her marriage, albeit her husband having just an eye, but she always lauded the gods for her achievement of royalty. Tayo never really understood why the gods took one of his eyes since they never mentioned they would but he was sure of one thing; the gods never gave without taking and never collected without giving.
Tayo and Abike bore three children; a male and two female, and the orphan ruled over Ajetodun for fifty years before dying of an incurable disease.
The nine gods of Ajetodun always found a way to let them know that men are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.
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