The Oracle Files: Escape
☙❧ THE ROOT ☙❧
Malachai could still see her head. A round dark circle moving through tall green elephant grasses. The glint of Gambian sun reflecting off the Portuguese soldier’s metal helmet guided Malachai to the direction in which they were running. He prayed his sister, Nyima, would keep her captor in the open grasses.
Like a gazelle he cut through grasses mined with elephant dung. Tsetse flies joined the chase, clinging and pricking his body, hungry for his blood. The drum-pounding sound of his heart blended with the distant clanging of the armored Portuguese soldiers chasing him. He was thankful that the weight of their metal chests and helmeted heads slowed them down. They moved like a slow herd of water cows. Their heavy armor, the tall grasses, and the hot sun allowed him to widen the distance.
His eyes stayed focused on Nyima as the soldier pulled her through the grasses. Malachai gripped his spear. When he got close enough, he would send it into the heart of Nyima’s captor. He had no doubt that the iron tip of his spear and his perfected throw would be strong enough to penetrate the soldier’s metal chest, but he needed to be closer. He had only one chance to free them both and escape before the other soldiers caught up with them.
He caught a glimpse of Nyima’s eyes when her head turned back as she continued running forward, faster. Her free arm pointed to the left. She and the soldier disappeared into a dense brush, slowing them down. Malachai took his last strides through the grasses and ducked into the brush so he could run parallel with them. The shade’s coolness energized him. His eyes adjusted to the shaded darkness, and his ears listened for movement. In front, to his left, he heard them pushing and fighting through the entanglement of thick vegetation.
The pungent stench of lion urine punched his nose. Jatoo Jinoo, an oversize lion, terrorized their village since he could remember. Jatoo Jinoo had a distinguishable roar and his urine an unbearable stench. Its urine spray covered the surrounding brush around Malachai, forcing him to freeze. His eyes scanned the area. He could not see Jatoo Jinoo, but he could hear Nyima and her captor moving further away.
“Aaaaaeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiii!” Deemaa! Deemaa!” Nyima’s voice cried upward into the canopy of trees. The grunt, grunt, growling of Jatoo Jinoo punctuated her cry. Without thinking, Malachai rushed through the jungle with his spear raised and only one shot to save Nyima. Jatoo Jinoo’s grunts grew stronger as it prepared to attack. As Malachai ran, sharp rocks, broken stems, and branches pierced his feet.
He saw the soldier’s silvery chest, his drawn sword drawn, and Nyima pressed behind him. The massive bulk of brown fur, now just feet away, moved toward them. One shot to make, and only one target to choose: Jatoo Jinoo or the soldier. Jatoo Jinoo lowered its body and then pushed off into a leap. Malachai’s arm drew back and with all his soul he launched his spear into the air.
Thoomp! Thump! Jatoo Jinoo’s speared body fell to the ground within a foot of Nyima and the soldier.
A single gun blast exploded in the air.
Malachai turned and saw a flash of white light, which appeared to come from a soldier’s metal chest. The moment the light reached him his body trembled.
What kind of weapon is this?
Malachai jumped back out of the light and bolted into the jungle darkness to hide until it was safe to come out.
☙❧ ELIZABETH ☙❧
A large black bird flew over Elizabeth’s head and landed on the branch of a bare ash tree, causing it to bob as though waving goodbye. Black birds always appeared whenever something good happened to her, a good omen. They would make it to Canada. The wagon jolted, banging Elizabeth’s bottom hard against the buckboard seat, as its rear right wheel hit a rock camouflaged by a pile of horse manure.
Elizabeth gripped the side railing to keep herself on her seat, then twisted her upper body around to eye Belinda and her baby.
“How are they doing?” Simon’s eyes continuously scanned from one side of the road to the other, then scrutinized the road ahead.
“Baby sleeping?” Elizabeth whispered over her shoulder.
“He be just fine. Willie is taking to me like a tick on a dog.” Belinda spoke loud enough to be heard over the clomping of the horse and the creaking of the buckboard.
Even though she was uncomfortable with Belinda’s maternal surrogacy, Elizabeth understood it was a necessary part of their plan. However, she did not anticipate the level of discomfort and heightened anxiety for their escape. Where was the daring romance, adventure, confidence, and passion that Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice experienced?
She wondered if all those Saturday afternoons hiding in the barn with her best friend, Emma Butler, to read Pride and Prejudice to each other was a waste of time. She smiled. Not all of it was a waste. There were good memories of those Saturday afternoons: their intimate discussions, the dreams they shared, and their talk about their own Mr. Darcy. She also relished the boundary the barn created between her and her stepmother, Patricia, who hated the barn, farm life, and her.
Despite her burgeoning fear, Elizabeth decided it was good to have dreams. Elizabeth Bennet inspired her to dream and to take the necessary action to bring her dream to life. Unfortunately, less than an hour into their travel, on the dark, cold, and bumpy Ferry Road, Elizabeth’s romantic dream of slipping off into the night with the man she loved quickly became a nightmare of survival and the fear of becoming a slave again.
Elizabeth pulled on the sides of her woolen cape. The damp fragrance of the pine trees lining the road scented the cool October night air. The vapor of her breath against the moonlit sky warned her that tonight’s journey would be a cold one. She wanted to put on her gloves but decided her buttercream skin against her dark gray wool cape needed to be obvious and recognizable. She wished she’d brought the baby’s heavier bunting, but Simon said slave babies don’t have buntings, just lots of wrappings. Willie needed to play his role like the rest of them.
1846 Bucks County Pennsylvania crawled with slave bounty hunters who made their living kidnapping escaped and free Negroes and dragging them down south, where they were returned to their owners for a price or sold into slavery.
Elizabeth’s Quaker father, Jonathan Beeson, had warned her not to stray from the confines of their community, especially with Simon Carter. Simon was born a free man, and Elizabeth found him dangerously irresistible. His beautiful dark raisin skin evoked her desire to defy every law. Seeing sweat glisten on his back or bead up on his forehead aroused her in a way she could not explain. He possessed everything she wanted in a man: rugged good looks, industriousness, and he read books.
Loving Simon allowed her to love a part of herself the world forbade her to acknowledge. The Quakers would never understand the isolation she felt of being Negro on the inside and White on the outside, or the pain of not being allowed to hold her own Negro baby in public. They had to escape because she would never give up her love for raisins.
Elizabeth glanced at Simon. His head swayed to and fro with the rhythm of the wagon’s wheels. In a few days they would reach Canada where she would become Mrs. Simon Carter, and officially claim Willie as her son. In Canada, there would be no pretending. She would be able to carry her baby in her arms in broad daylight.
“Beth, you’ve got to sit up straight, hold your nose up, and look your part,” Simon quietly reminded her. “Remember, White women carry themselves in such a way, like they’re flowers that grow above the earth.”
Elizabeth stiffened her back and lifted her chin. But the banging of the buckboard seat against her tailbone made her hunch to absorb the pits from the rocky and rutted road.
They rounded a bend on Ferry Road as they neared the end of Amos’ cornfield. Elizabeth peered over her right shoulder over the tops of the corn stalks for a final look at plumes of chimney smoke billowing into the night sky. One of those plumes belonged to a place she called home for the last six and a half years. From across the field, she could see the amber eyes of lit windows glowing back at her. She bolted upright on the board and slapped her hand over her mouth.
“Uh, uh, don’t look back Beth. Those lights were never your home. Just a stopping station.”
“Simon, there are red lanterns in my windows.”
“Red lanterns?” Simon’s hands gripped the reins. They looked at each other.
“Beth? Who did you tell?” The whites of his eyes darted back and forth between her and the road.
Guilt pricked at Elizabeth’s heart. If it were not for Jonathan Beeson, she would not be free to meet Simon, experience love, and give birth to their son. She owed Jonathan a modicum of respect. The wagon’s rocking rhythm lulled her into a confession.
“I told Emma. I am sorry. Emma promised to wait five days before she told anyone. I did not want Poppa to worry ... After everything he did for me…” Elizabeth’s explanation came to an abrupt halt, as Simon gripped the reins and pulled back.
The silhouette of four men armed with rifles spread across the road in front of them.
“Simon, are they real people or am I seeing spirits?”
“I see ‘em too,” Simon responded with a shaky voice.
“Why we stoppin’?” Belinda asked in a hushed whisper.
“Belinda, hold my baby like you birthed him,” Elizabeth warned under her breath.
“Do like we practiced,” Simon cautioned through his teeth, and dropped his head. The biggest of the four shadows approached Elizabeth’s side of the wagon. Elizabeth sat up, gripped her crocheted bag, and smiled nervously.
“Where you headin’ Miss?” The deep gravel voice of the large shadow released small vaporous clouds of his breath that vanished in the moonlight, leaving his potent whiskey scent.
“I’m going to see my dying father, James Clinton in Clearfield. Why did you stop my wagon?” Elizabeth snapped her head in his direction.
“Watcha doin’ rollin’ through these parts at night with slaves? This is Quaker country. They ain’t partial to slave owners.”
“I told you I am en route to see my dying father in Clearfield. These are my father’s slaves. We have been traveling since sunup. Perhaps you can tell me if there is an inn for me and a barn for my slaves along this route. I don’t think it’s safe for me to stay on the road for much longer.”
“Grady, bring the lantern,” the large man called over his shoulder. One of the shadows lowered its rifle and stepped forward. The large man lit the lantern, then swung his finger in the air to point Grady to the back of the wagon.
“You will find my two slaves--and their baby.” Elizabeth straightened her back and lifted her chin into the night air.
“It’s just like she says boss. There’s just a female and her young’un in the back and a couple of satchels. Nothin’ else.”
“Your slaves got papers?”
“Of course.” Her hand shook as she opened her crocheted purse and removed a thick fold of papers. The large man snatched them before she could hand them to him. Simon lifted his chin to signal Elizabeth. She sat up straight and lifted her nose to the night sky. “I think you’ll find my papers to your satisfaction.”
Grady held the light for the larger man to read, revealing a gun holstered on the man’s right hip. On his waist, on the left, the handle of a smaller pistol wedged between his pants and belt conveyed his readiness for battle. Both firearms were easy draws. Elizabeth watched his eyes sail over their carefully constructed words, stopping occasionally to mouth a longer word. After the first page, he stopped out of frustration.
“Want me to read it fer you?” Grady offered.
“You my teacher now?”
“No, I meant nothin’ by it.”
“Don’t you forget you follow my lead. I make the decisions.” The large man grabbed the lantern from Grady and held it up to Elizabeth’s face. She thrust her face in his.
“Take that light out of my face and give me my papers back please. I would like to get to Clearfield before my father dies.” Elizabeth hoped her impatient tone would get the large man to obey her. Their horse whinnied and danced for a moment.
“Where are the papers for that baby?” The larger man’s right hand lifted to his waist to draw his gun.
How could she and Simon forget about Willie! He was the reason they were making their dangerous escape. The dream of their own freedom had bewitched them into a false sense of reality. They stupidly believed their child was immune from the chains of slavery. Elizabeth’s heart pounded so loud she could not hear her own words.
“She gave birth when we got to my Aunt Sally’s. When I received word of my father’s dire health, I rushed us out the door. My father’s overseer handles all that paperwork. He did not send the baby’s papers for my travel. This is an embarrassing inconvenience.”
Elizabeth lifted her nose for effect. She felt the grimy man’s eyes on her. Stale tobacco, eye-stinging liquor, bitter urine, and possibly weeks of an unwashed body assaulted her nostrils from beneath his long coat. Bile clawed the back of her throat, begging to be released. She wanted to slap his face with her vomit, but Willie’s whimper reminded her to stay composed. She swallowed hard to push the bitterness of life back down to her stomach.
“Move your men and let us by, or I shall report you to the law!”
Her mild threat forced him to take a step back. She made him believe she had the upper hand, just like she and Simon practiced. Elizabeth locked eyes with his for extra effect.
“When it comes to slaves, I am the law. No paperwork, no baby. Grady, take the baby,” the large man ordered and spat over his shoulder.
“No!” She reached for Willie. Without thinking, Simon touched her arm to stop her from breaking character. The moment Simon’s hand touched Elizabeth’s arm. Grady aimed his rifle at them.
“Ain’t no real White lady worth her breath would ever allow a slave to touch her, not less she be a slave herself.” Without warning, the large man grabbed Elizabeth’s right forearm and yanked her down from the wagon.
“Grady, get the damn baby, and that slave in the back of the wagon. It’s pay day!”
“Jimmy, we got us some easy money!” Grady howled.
A shot rang out. A fiery flash flew from the right side of the road. They all froze.
“Let her go!” a man’s voice called out. A large group of men armed with rifles stepped out from the cornfield and swarmed onto the road. They surrounded the bounty hunters. “Put down your rifles. Unlike you and your men, we have plenty of bullets to spare.” Elizabeth thought she recognized the man’s voice, but her ears were still ringing from the first shot.
“You Quakers got no call to be here. These runaways ain’t your business,” Jimmy growled.
“We’re not all peace-loving Quakers. No fear of using bullets or losing life.”
Elizabeth tried to break free, but Jimmy yanked her back like a yo-yo. Jimmy pulled his gun from his holster and placed its cold barrel to her cheek.
“Mister, I’m an especially good shot at night with a full moon. I can see there’s just enough space between your eyebrows for one of my bullets. I said put down your guns and let her go.”
Bang - Craaacccck!
The next shot knocked the hat off Jimmy’s head. Elizabeth’s eyes focused on the man giving the orders. It was Jonathan Beeson, her father. Her heart pounded wildly.
“Jimmy, all of them gots revolvers. Best do like he says.” Grady tossed his rifle onto the road.
“It seems Grady is the only one who has received decent schooling and has retained the basic elements of addition and subtraction. The odds of all of you walking away alive are nil. I suggest you all listen to Grady and lay down your guns. You’re outnumbered.”
The bounty hunters tossed their rifles onto the dirt road. Jimmy lowered his gun with disgust, then tossed it on the road.
“Now let her go.”
Jimmy released his grip on Elizabeth.
“Elizabeth, go to your mother,” Jonathan calmly moved toward Jimmy and kicked Jimmy’s gun away from his reach. Patricia stepped out onto the road from the cornfield.
Elizabeth would rather endure Canada’s harsh, cold, winters than run back to Patricia’s icy stares and cold heart. Elizabeth broke into a run toward Simon, praying her father would understand. Midway, Patricia grabbed her by her wrist.
“Elizabeth let’s go! Now!” Patricia gave Elizabeth’s right arm another hard tug.
“No, I’m going with Simon.”
“Horace, take the reins. Edmund, and Thomas, ride with Simon, Belinda and the baby in the wagon.”
“I’m not leaving without Beth,” Simon protested.
“Simon, I need you to trust me. Stay on the wagon.” Jonathan’s voice remained composed. He kept a steady aim on Jimmy.
“Poppa, you’re letting them leave without me?” Her father would not look at her. He kept his eye on Jimmy.
“Child, go home with your mother. Simon and your baby will be safe.” He spoke with the same calm voice he used when he requested her to feed the chickens.
“Poppa, they are my family,” Elizabeth cried.
“Difficult times call for selflessness and sacrifices. Save your baby and the man you claim you love and let them go!” Patricia pulled Elizabeth toward the cornfield.
“You damn abolitionists put on some fine theeeater,” Jimmy chuckled. “But I didn’t come up North to see no dang show. We all know how the show ends. You peace-loving white worms betray your own kind to protect a bunch of nig…”
The butt of Jonathan’s rifle slammed into Jimmy’s face, knocking him back. Before Jimmy could spit the blood filling his mouth, Jonathan pressed the barrel of his rifle against the side of Jimmy’s head.
“You of all people should know that word brings nothing but death, but this time it will be yours. I dare you to repeat it. This is the kind of justice I live for,” Jonathan threatened.
Grady’s mouth dropped open.
“I hear tell of only one man who uses those words, and he has a bounty on his head that’s worth more than a wagon load of slaves,” Jimmy proclaimed, looking Jonathan directly in the eyes.
“The Black Bird ...” Grady gasped.
A night wind rattled the dying leaves on the surrounding trees. Simon’s horse snorted. A crow’s caw echoed into the night, followed by an eerie stillness. The image of Jimmy’s smaller pistol popped in Elizabeth’s mind.
“Poppa, he has another ...”
Jimmy drew his pistol.
Pftzzzzz! A bullet flew over Elizabeth’s head as something pulled her to the ground. An arm pressed against her chest sent a warm buzzing vibration radiating through her body. The skin on the arm sparkled and flickered like the golden mica stones she and Emma found in Boynton’s Brook.
Elizabeth’s eyes followed the arm up to a shoulder that belonged to a beautiful Native American woman. The light from behind the woman’s stunning blue-green eyes let Elizabeth know that she was a spirit, a good one.
“Elizabeth, stay down!”
Elizabeth looked up to her father and saw him wrestle with Jimmy over his rifle.
Bang! Craaack! Jimmy flew backwards. Thomas Anthony owned the fatal bullet that spared her father from taking human life.
When Elizabeth turned back, the spirit had vanished. Elizabeth pushed herself up onto her knees to run to Simon. Patricia grabbed her right ankle.
“No! Let them go!”
Elizabeth kicked at Patricia to free herself.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Craccccccck!
“Elizabeth, get down!” Her father’s voice boomed over the gunfire.
An explosion of fire from Quaker rifles lit the road, sending Elizabeth back to the ground for cover. Through the blasts of gunfire, she heard her baby wailing, the spastic whinnies of Simon’s horse, and the quick clacking of its hooves as they did a frantic dance against the rocky road.
Gunfire emerged from a cluster of pine trees, hitting one of her father’s men.
“Two more in the pines!” Thomas Anthony called out.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Craccccccck!
“They’re running! To the pines! To the pines!” Thomas Anthony led a charge of men toward the left side of the road.
“Get Simon’s wagon out of here!” Jonathan shouted. “Get them out of here!”
Through the midst of the fiery blasts and smoky clouds, Elizabeth felt life leaving her. Horace pulled Simon into the back of the wagon with Belinda and Willie. Edmund climbed up onto the front bench and grabbed the reins. Simon’s horse reared up and then the wagon took off.
Bang! Craaaacccck! One final shot echoed from the grove of pine trees, followed by a deathly silence.
“All clear!” Thomas Anthony yelled from a distance.
Clouds of smoke and the fiery scent of gunpowder filled the air. Elizabeth clawed the earth as she scrambled up from the ground.
“Simon! Simon!” The air, thick with the smell of pungent sulfur from smoldering guns, cut into her nostrils and raked her throat raw. She tried to run after the wagon, but Patricia restrained her.
“They will be better off without you! Your selfishness will only get them killed! Is that what you want, a dead baby?” Patricia snarled in her ear.
Through the thinning gun smoke Elizabeth saw a fleeting glimpse of her dream. Simon, Belinda, and Willie looked like ghostly shadows floating away. The rumble of Simon’s fast-moving wagon trampled Willie’s final wail as they disappeared over the hill on Ferry Road.
“Noooo! Please don’t take Simon and Willie away. I will be good,” Elizabeth cried to Patricia. “Please, please, please …
“Enough with your caterwauling!” Patricia put a vise grip on Elizabeth’s right wrist and pulled her toward the cornfield.
“They are my family! They are my life!” Elizabeth screamed in Patricia’s face and wrenched herself free.
“Impudent child, you are still breathing!” Patricia blasted in her face. “We can’t say the same for these men. Look at what your selfishness, your so-called love has wrought,” Patricia scolded, pointing to the bodies on the road.
Elizabeth saw smoky swirls of gun smoke as they rose from the bounty hunters’ bullet-riddled bodies. Three of her father’s men had leg, arm, and shoulder wounds. Their painful moans, the metallic smell of burning flesh, and the nauseating sweet smell of blood heated by fiery bullets grated her emotions and churned her stomach.
“The smoke that you see is nothing more than their hateful spirits rising to the heavens to ask for forgiveness. God gifts every being with free will. They chose to die today. They chose death over your freedom. We only honored their choice.” Her father picked up Jimmy’s hat and placed it on Jimmy’s bloody chest. His eloquent words offered her a modicum of consolation that Patricia snatched away.
“Husband, you cannot release her from her sins!”
“Mrs. Beeson, love is not a sin. Is that why you fear it so?”
“I fear only the improper love you show her.”
“That is enough!” Jonathan’s voice shook the leaves on the tree branch above him. The quick burst of vapors from his mouth revealed his labored breathing. In her seven years of living with the Beesons, Elizabeth never heard her father raise his voice.
“No, I will not be silent! Love is not a romantic potion that makes all the hate in the world go away. The eyes of the world are not ready for Elizabeth and Simon to be husband and wife. Are you so blinded by her wiles you cannot see this massacre? Your gun may be free of their blood, but her selfishness has made us all murderers. This is not our way.”
“It is the only way. Don’t worry Mrs. Beeson, these men will receive a proper burial–with scripture.”
“Mrs. Beeson, am I not allowed to be loved, or have a family of my own because I am the daughter of a slave? Does the color of my skin forbid me the experience of love? Don’t you love father? Wouldn’t you drive away in the night with him, if a law forbade you from being together?” Elizabeth pleaded through tears.
More men emerged through the cornfield, carrying shovels and bloodied bodies past Elizabeth and Patricia. They placed the bodies side by side on the edge of the road.
“Husband, I begged you for only one thing to make me happy, a decent child to love. Instead, you fed your own needs. You brought a temptress into our lives, who spawns nothing but evil. She will kill us all!” Patricia pushed through her teeth.
Jonathan clutched his heart.
“Poppa!” Elizabeth rushed to him.
“I am fine, child.” Jonathan replied with winded breath. One of the men helped Jonathan to a nearby tree stump.
“Shall I run for the doctor?” Elizabeth’s fingers pried his neck scarf open to free his throat. His chest wheezed as it filled with air.
The bottom of Patricia’s dress flounced in front of them.
“Jonathan Beeson, your weak heart cannot withstand all this turbulence. I am begging you, send her away before she kills you.”
“Imagine if someone said the same about you,” Jonathan shot back.
Like bullets, his words struck an old wound. Her hands clutched at her heart. Before he could see Patricia’s tears, the hem of her dress sprayed his clothes with dirt as she whipped around and disappeared into the field. Elizabeth heard corn stalks snapping as Patricia plowed her way home. Jonathan pushed himself up off the stump. Elizabeth slipped under his arm to steady him.
“‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ Do not let Mrs. Beeson’s bitterness deter your heart from finding love. Love is not always easy, but when it is good, it is heaven on earth.
“Right now, I fear we are about to enter a hell of fire and brimstone that even your devil of a ghost has never seen. Fire and brimstone, fire and brimstone,” Jonathan wheezed.
Scrreeep! Scrreeep! Scrreeep!
Malachai pushed the stone along the edge of his spear.
Scrreeep! Scrreeep! Scrreeep!
The soldiers would be looking for him.
He needed to stay prepared.
He ran his finger along the edge of his razor-sharp spear and put the stone down. Too thin and the spear’s edge would crack, rendering it ineffective. A good spear sharpened properly, along with a good throw, could send its tip through the belly of a tree.
With one throw his spear had gone clean through the chest of the Jatoo Jinoo and left its body in a grunting furry heap on the jungle floor.
He slid the stone over both sides of the tip once more, then touched the point with his finger. It was sharp enough to go through stone. Malachai stood up and lifted the spear into a launch position. He wished his father could see him, but his people and village were gone. The men with the metal chests and hats took everyone away.
He could not return. It was bad luck to live in an empty village. Spirits now occupied the huts, and they would be hungry for his soul. His father would want him to protect the last blood of his people. One day his Mandinka blood would start a new village, but first he needed to gather the lost ones and bring them home. In his dreams he saw his people traded for gold kodicoroosoos, chained, beaten, and whipped like wild dogs. He had to save them.
His fingers fumbled over his trophy, a necklace he made with Jatoo Jinoo’s fangs and claws. His village feared the elusive lion. The villagers referred to Jatoo Jinoo as a beeyanjo, a ghost. It slipped into their village at night, unseen, and carried off their warriors one by one without a sound. Days, or sometimes weeks, later, someone from the village would find remnants of a warrior’s adornments strewn amongst his bones.
Right after killing Jatoo Jinoo, Malachai entered a mystical world where he could see others living their lives. To absorb Jatoo Jinoo’s spirit, Malachai made a necklace of the lion’s teeth. It empowered him with a magical vision of the soul beneath skin and a prowess for stealthily entering the world of the pale man and making their earth rumble!
He could also access people’s minds. He preyed upon the desperate and weak-minded and brought them to their knees. Or, with a blow of his breath, chased away those who would defy him. Like Jatoo Jinoo, he marked his victims with his signature scent comprised of his excrement and urine. and the rotted carcass of Jatoo Jinoo. Malachai found enjoyment in smashing dishes, rattling doors, and shaking homes with thunderous stomps of his foot.
He missed his family, his people, his village, and the life he remembered. He planned to reclaim his family first, then find and rescue the rest of his village one by one; an arduous task made for a king. The vision of Nyima being pulled away evoked a gut-clenching bellow.
“Gra gra Graaawwwww!”
He pounded the earth with the butt of his spear. He needed more warriors and had his eye on a woman in the pale world to do his bidding. Filled with jealousy, she would be easy to control. In the pale man’s world, jealousy was emotional kindling. He needed only to strike a stone once to create a fiery conflict.
He examined the lion’s hide, which he stretched carefully across a rack of stiff branches and the sinew from the animal’s body. The hot fire expedited the drying process. The time arrived for him to don his royal robe and demand respect from any animal or human that entered his lair. With the edge of his spear, he sliced through the sinews that held the hide in place.
The hide fell to the ground. He picked it up and flung it across his back, fastening it with a few loose sinews around his neck. But the cape’s weight pulled the sinew tight against his throat, strangling him. He retied the sinew beneath his left armpit to hold the hide in place.
Malachai lifted his spear and practiced a regal pose. The weight of the hide pulled on his neck and shoulders. A good Mandinka warrior never complained about the weight of his responsibility. He would grow into it. However, the hide’s heaviness on his left shoulder limited his arm movement for battle. He pushed the hide behind him with his elbow, passed his spear back and forth between his hands a few times, and stopped. He was ready to fight and conquer again. He wanted another fierce animal to add to his totem and to his powers. With his spear raised in the air, he released a grunting, growling, challenge to invite competition.
“Gra gra Graaawwwww! Gra gra Graaawwwww!”
A snarl answered from a cluster of bushes to his left, followed by a short bark-like growl and an angry hiss. Malachai’s eyes scanned the bushes. He recognized those sounds. They belonged to a panther, the perfect reflection of a Mandinka warrior. Dark and handsome, the panther was considered nearly invincible because it could not be seen until a second before it launches its deadly attack. Most importantly, the Mandinka men in his village considered it a virile animal that possessed powerful sexual energy. Its presence commanded female attention and guaranteed submission.
Another stomach-shaking growl rolled out from another section of brush. His eye caught the feral yellow glow of the panther’s hungry eyes. He thought of his plan for the pale-skinned woman. He could make great use of the panther’s sexual power. He pushed his lion cape behind him, gripped his spear, dropped his head back for an earth-shaking roar and summoned the spirit of the Jatoo Jinoo.
“Gra gra Graaawwwww!” Malachai released his roar. He saw a dark, black, blur rush through a clump of green brush. Malachai raised his spear.
The panther’s deep yellow eyes seemed to float in the air as its body slunk towards him. It hissed, bared its dagger-like fangs, slowly lifted its large right paw, then pressed it silently against the ground. Its growl rumbled the earth between them. The panther’s rope-thick tail whipped once before it leapt. Malachai anchored the blunt end of his spear into the earth and leaned its razor-sharp point toward the panther’s chest.