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An Eye For An Isle

A Narrative Verse


By


Ikenna Chinedu Okeh





A Palm Publication


Smashwords Edition


© 2017, Ikenna Chinedu Okeh



Cover Design by Murni Hamza



This is a work of fiction. The plot and characters are a product of the author’s imagination. Where names of real persons, places or institutions are incorporated to create the illusion of authenticity, they are used fictitiously.



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Dedication

To all makers of good music, especially those whose lyrics keep our spirits alight and cast the light into darkened corners of our hearts. They include amongst others: Jude M.I Abaga, Jesse Jags Abaga, Djinee, Nico and Vince, Phyno and many others whom I’m not at leisure to list out.





Prologue

Once, in a distant past,
A little boy stole away in his father’s wooden boat
He paddled into the open waters until the noon was past
Wearied, he rested, afloat
The ebbs rose
The clouds turned grey with a sudden promise to pour
With fright and cold, the boy froze
Quickly, he paddled homewards as the sweat broke from his every pore
His weary arms groaned under the hasty strain
Yet on and on did he paddle towards distant safety
But soon, the skies let out torrents of rain
It poured, as though from vessels deep and hefty
The world grew misty and grey
It flashed and thundered
The dark clouds screened off the sun’s every ray
The waters stirred and shuddered
Maddened with fear, the boy paddled on and on
But his boat was soon filled with water
It threatened to go under, as though no longer willing to be borne
A prayer to the gods did the boy mutter
But he had brought along no vessel or pail
He had given the idea no thought
And so with his little palms he began to bail
The rains poured, the boat filled, but the boy fought
The water’s temper became unsteady
It cranked the floating poor bark
The rains lashed out, determined and heady
The boy cursed this course on which he did embark
But there was not to be any time for a rethink
Neither was there any to fret and bemoan
For soon enough did the poor boat begin to sink
The boy dove with a regretful moan
The waters felt chilled
It made his skin crawl and froze his every bone
But for survival had the boy strongly willed
With determined strokes, he swam towards home
But alas! he was miles away
And his were but a boy’s strokes
His strength eventually gave way
And thus under misfortune’s mean stroke,
He went under
The rain poured. Lightning streaked the grey skies now and again
But the elements were not to claim the boy over his blunder
It was not a day for them to count a human gain;
For soon, three boats pulled along
They were soldiers’ boats;
Rugged, large and quite long
Their commander sat musing in a great hide coat
He was lost to his men paddling against the begrudging weather
It was he who caught sight of the bobbing figure
In the distance, it appeared like a speck, a feather;
An unfortunate element in such a rigour
He urged his men to draw near
And he was glad that he did;
For it was a little boy he had sighted floating there
A little while longer and no good would have amounted of this deed
When the little boy opened his eyes,
They looked reddened and watery, like pebbles of coloured ice
He recognized the revered Arod, the army commander
“What’s your name, little boy?”
“Ankirrer”
“Ankirrer, we are taking you back to your parents”
The boy closed his eyes and slipped into an exhausted slumber
On and on poured the rains
The lightning flashed, to be replied by splitting thunders


The story does not begin here
It begins quite earlier ago
But here, did two souls draw near
Each was endeared to the other wherever they did go
But their paths were to lead onto opposing ends,
And in a time of treachery and subterfuge,
When men schemed and plotted to no end,
And in confidence of another was not one to find refuge,
Neither was one to find trust in what another did speak or do
This, I am about to present in a tale
So, without further ado,
I tell it without fail ……





Chapter One

The ancient oath


Far across the high waters of Africa,
In the vicinity of her creeks and marshlands,
And territories where surging rivers embrace the vast waters in many a delta,
There were four islands
Each stood a quarter of a day’s rowing distance from the other,
And ruled under its own king
Tarie ruled the hilly Southern isle where the sea does border
The Eastern isle was ruled under Janta, the one who valued luxury over everything
Dokiri was king over the Northern isle
His was blessed with the purest springs and lushest vegetation upon its sands
And then there was Arod, the master of guile;
He ruled the Western isle closest to the distant hinterlands
In the time of their fathers,
Strangers had traversed the waters in such great boats
Hence, the kings of the four isles had come together
They sealed an alliance with an oath;
One of the kings was to reign supreme in turn
And after ten seasons was another to take his place
Each was to complete his time except he is from life torn
But while he reigned in his time, all was to stand subject before his face
Thus had the four isles felt secure
Its people thrived in their dealings with neighbour and stranger
And not one of the isles had feared the envy of aliens to incur;
For there was confidence in the arm of their alliance at any time of danger





Chapter Two

The Western Isle

“…. Our duty to your reign presently denies us this rest…”


Swift winds rustled the palms on the beach
The foaming waves washed ashore fertile silt
Crabs crawl along, ready to dash out of reach,
And into burrowed abodes they had built
Some bird hovered above the water
It seemed to hold still and totter
And then it made a dash,
To ascend again with a fish that did writhe and lash
Poor fish!
The unlucky one amongst its kin of the river
All attempts at breaking free seemed but an ambitious wish;
For the bird seemed not intent on forfeiting an earned dinner
The evening wore on
The sun had tilted in the direction of the Western isle;
It looked radiant still, but worn
Silvery birds flapped across the high sky in a file
They reminded one of the orderliness of soldiers,
Just like the lone sentry perched on a rock with his gaze roaming afar
He must have sighted the approaching boat and the men with the branded shoulders
He lifted his horn to his lips and the mundane note resounded afar
The approaching party drew ashore
One could tell from their garbs that they were King Tarie’s men
Their boat was laden with fine store;
Grains, pearls, hides; taxes from their domain
They came ashore with the reserved assurance of protected folks
They each wore daggers, and hold only three spears amongst them
Each man hefted a burden from the boat and staggered inland under his yoke
Their swords they left in their boat which to a palm was secured firm.


Before King Arod, the men of the Southern isle were ushered
Their burdens, they laid before his royal stool
His men checked the goods. They tore open every parcel with some shard
They stabbed into the basket of fabrics with some spear-like tool
They overturned the baskets of pearls and grains
They spread out the skins and hides
All these they undertook with gleeful pains
And they cared not for the chagrin which their guests were not keen to hide
When at last they were done with investigating,
A train of slaves set upon the goods set in disarray
They went about gathering, piling and setting
And then in an organized order, they took the goods away
King Arod offered his guests food and drink
He had particular interest in one of them;
A lad who seemed to stare and never blink
His ever cold countenance told of some resolve that stood firm
And it was he who spoke for the rest;
“We are unbefitting of the honour, Supreme King
And our duty to your reign presently denies us this rest.”
With that, they each kissed in turn his glittery ring,
Turned on their heels,
And marched away
Theirs were the composure of hardy men of the rugged hills,
And it showed in every way.





Chapter Three

The Southern Isle

“What devil’s brew stews in the cauldron of your head!”


King Tare awaited his men’s return
Musing, he rubbed at his royal ring,
And cracked his knuckles in turn
He pined for what new information they’d bring
Presently, the court messenger came in;
Some noble citizen awaits at the door with a petition
The king’s patience wore thin
It mattered not if the waiting subject bore tidings of bliss or perdition
And so, he asked not to be roused,
Except with news of his men’s arrival
Shortly, the messenger returned again, this time, like a mouse
And he approached like one before a monstrous rival
The men have returned, he announced
“Bring them in at once!”
The king’s urgency had the messenger’s fright aroused,
For with unsteady limbs, he ushered in the expected ones
The king’s patience was brief
He spared not a frittering moment,
As he set upon the men, to debrief
They trifled over no pleasantry or comment,
For they knew as much as not to toy with their king’s flaming temperament
They told of the warmth lacking in their host’s reception
And the smiles and offerings of hospitality that were never meant
They told of how they were treated with glaring suspicion
And how keen eyes sought the movement of their every limb
King Tarie’s temper flared
He tossed away the horsetail which in his grip hung limp
“How has word of our scheme fled?
Who has been talking?”
None amongst his audience uttered a word
Each one had his tongue safely tucked in
To the wavering thoughts in their heads, none dared give word
It was the lad who broke the tension that did reign and lord
“My king”, he began
“Your throne rests upon the shoulders of many a disgruntled nobles and lords
In only a meager handful is one to find a faithful man”
“That cannot be!
My nobles and lords are rich and content”
For the sake of my king’s peace, I wish my sights did wrongly see
But a good number hold your peace in contempt”
“No. King Arod must have had his spies about
And they are surely sniffing the winds about this isle as we speak”
“If that be the case, my king, then I should be held to account,
For then would not spying folks been bloodied enough to keep this isle spick”
King Tarie treated the lad to a fixed stare
There was no telling the thoughts at play in his mind
Tempered was his spirit that was earlier astir
“You say it is my lord and nobles, eh?”
“It is a weight upon my heart,
But my loyalty to your throne demands I give air”
King Tarie gestured for the others to depart
Not even a messenger nor a servant’s presence did he permit
It was but he and the lad alone in the court
“If there is anything else you think I should know, I command that you say it”
The lad’s response was polite, yet curt;
“I’ve said all, as the gods of my fathers bear witness
And I said them without fear no favour”
King Tarie’s stare lost its meanness
He poured himself some wine of deep colour and flavor
He sipped and replaced his drinking horn
And then he took on a conspiratorial air
“Never does one pronounce guilty a new born
But only when it is man enough to err
I don’t want to concern myself with the sordid details
But I want no traitor walking this isle anymore”
“I shall ever follow your orders to the details,
Even if by the shores of yonder worlds, I’ll need to moor”
“Then away with it, Ankirrer”
But the lad had not moved a bit
“I believe you not to be the subject of some vile conjurer”
“Not at all, my king. A request but restrains my feet
I hesitate to make any demands on your favour
But then I deem one necessary if I’m to see your wish through”
“Speak as you have always done; without fear or favour,
That from your lips may your heart’s turbulent waters spill through”
“I need a few men, a little army of twenty, at my command”
King Tarie let out a snicker:
“The many ambitions the exuberance of youth does command”
The lad said nothing. He let his countenance hang like a dying wicker
“You should take your pick from the regular army, then”
“My king, soldiers are wont to question a civilian’s authority
And they’ll make reference to my being but your pet, every now and then”
King Tarie laughed. His form rocked with the effort in its entirety
“So, what then do you want? My secret army of elite soldiers?”
“I need the condemned, the denizens of the dungeons,
The very vilest with the weightiest sentences upon their shoulders”
King Tarie stared at the lad with a countenance that bespoke a calm horror
“What devil’s brew stews in the cauldron of your head?
Tell me, what do you need the condemned for?”
“The soldiers are a disciplined herd
There is no doubting where each soldier’s sworn loyalty does lie
But if sent to pitch a dagger in the heart of some lord or noble,
He may have been indebted to the one and thus render his sworn oath a lie”
“And a sentenced criminal would discharge such a task without trouble?”
“He’s but a field’s stubble
And lonely and rejected, he awaits no fate but the purifying fire
He will put no store to commoner or noble,
For as long as it is promised him a fate much less dire”
“I see you have thought this out”
“I live but to serve your throne”
“Then be out and about!
You have all who into the darkest dungeons have been thrown
But keep this new army of yours from sight and hearing
And I demand efficiency and stealth”
“I shall discharge my duties as worthy of an honourable bearing
And it shall be to your wealth and health”
He knelt before his king
And placed his palm on King Tarie’s right foot
The people of the Southern isle do not kiss the ring,
They paid homage to the royal foot as it’s thought to be their root
King Tarie watched the lad stride away,
And he thought of how he’d become endeared to him and in so fond a way.





Chapter Four

The Eastern Isle

“…Please, lay aside this foreplay; my nerves are already taut..”


The isle was not as hilly or luxuriant like her neighbours’
She was smaller and mostly flat
Her pride was not built with brutal labour
Neither was her riches amassed with conquest nor warring craft
Hers were the busiest shores
Merchants’ vessels arrived laden with goods and exotic crafts
They came from across the vast waters and distant shores,
To the Eastern isle whence the promise of fair profit did waft
Their wares adorned the many stalls,
That lined the water fronts and streets of the isle
And there were so many of them, large and small
They stretched and dotted every mile,
That the whole isle heaved with constant bustle;
The very absence of which was to portend some ill
Magicians, craftsmen and charlatans were not left out of the hustle
And there were minstrels and performers still
These found ready employment in the king’s court
But the others with less mastery of their art,
Hung about the streets, the public’s attention and purse to court;
With a hope that generous ones would with their purse’s contents part.


A crude ferry drew ashore
It was a fair day. The waters stretched like an endless mat
And the clear skies did assure
Her passengers were mostly merchants
They clung onto bound parcels and purses as they disembarked in calm disorder
Amongst them was Jubo, a fabric merchant
He was stout, with sharp eyes that seemed to bark some silent order
For shrewdness did he have a penchant
And with the utmost diligence,
Did he pursue profits in the trade in fabrics,
As in covert intelligence.
He hurried past the market stalls and the magicians plying their tricks
Here and there some merchant tossed a patronizing greeting his way
He replied with a quick nod here, and a cursory wave there
But his hurried steps never slackened in any way,
Along his path and the mission that beckoned there
He arrived the king’s palace
The guards recognized him, and waved him through;
It was he, afterall; the one who brings their king such gifts of silk and fine lace
Hence he was a favoured one, for as long as the day held true


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