The 100 sons of Samia - Part 5 - The Quest of the fourth quarter
Beyond the outermost fringes of the dense, dark nameless jungle lay “The Vast Sands”, a great empty desert with a wide blue,cloudless sky and searing sun above it; home to the vultures,
vipers, spiders,scorpions, poisonous cacti and little else besides death.
To Shimakwa and his 24 younger brothers, it was the edge of the world. No Imekana man nor any from the other three tribes had ever traveled beyond the vast sands and so it was with terrible
trepidation that they followed destinies path, out of the jungle and into that wasteland.
“Whatever the great Chirimoya is”, said Kwashikwa, “It is surely not out there in that great emptiness; there is nothing out there but endless acres of cracked rock and sand. Why don’t we just turn back into the jungle that we know?”.
“And be the brothers who failed their test of manhood? The others would laugh at us. A son of Samia never gives up”, said Shimakwa.
“They would not dare laugh at me”, said Kwashikwa,picking up a small rock and crushing it into a fine powder with a squeeze of his right fist, “Or Kwashikwa would pound their skulls together”.
“Nevertheless, if we keep going we will have gone farther than any Imekana man has ever dared to travel. That, in itself, is a great achievement and Chirimoya may even be waiting for us on the other side of the desert, so, unless you are afraid to”, teased Shimakwa, “I suggest that we keep going, into the desert and beyond”.
“Afraid?!”, growled Kwashikwa,offended, “What have I possibly to be afraid of? Whatever waits in the unknown should be afraid of me!”.
And so Kwashikwa agreed to go forward but first the brothers picked twenty-five large pumpkins from the jungle and,hollowing them out, filled them with water from the Gwaranga river.
They traveled for seven miles and each mile seemed the same as the last; nothing but emptiness and wind and endless flat sand or cracked bedrock, their water was getting
low and so were their spirits and the sun seemed like a white-hot weight upon their backs but suddenly, far away, a dying giant fell into a great lake and caused a tidal wave which swept all the way to the desert and,picking the brothers up in its roaring white hand, carried them four miles east to a large dune field where the wind had shaped the sand into undulating slopes and, among the slopes, they saw that the wind had uncovered two human skeletons which were lying eitherside of a large, ornate ebony casket.
The human skeletons had obviously been there many years because there was not a trace of flesh upon their bones and they were bleached by long exposure to the intense desert sun but they were also clothed in the rags of rich, colourful, sequined robes which suggested that they had been people of some wealth or status.
Suddenly, one of the skeletons began to talk, “My name is Aglyka, the miser. I have been buried here, beneath the Azurian desert, for such a long time and only now has god sent a wind to unveil me. They say that every grain of sand in the desert has a destiny and that in the sphere of space and time we are nothing more than grains of sand but we are part of the great mother that is all and feels and knows all. I was the greatest miser in Zimektra, the great citadel that lies beyond this desert. I wasted my life accumulating money without knowing its true purpose which is to serve humankind and yet the great mother is loving and kind and saved me for this reason, that I would help you. The other corpse beside me was my simpleton brother Semtra, who followed me out here into the desert carrying all my possessions and died with me and now rests his head in heaven. I had no wife and no children and no relatives beyond Semtra and thus no descendents to leave my possessions to and so God has instructed me to leave them to you.
Within the box you will find gold and jewels and a thing called money; the metal discs which bear a profile of the founding king Nangaktra who built the walled city. Take the box, it is yours now, and go and enter the citadel, you have a purpose there. The language that they speak there is foreign to you but if you detach my skull from my neck and carry it, it will give whoever is touching it the ability to speak and understand any language fluently. I have said all that I was destined to say, now I must return beyond the veil of silence but if you need any help or advice, through god, I shall be listening and watching”.
Following the skulls instructions, Kwashikwa broke Aglyka's skull free from the rest
of the skeleton and carried it in his left hand while lifting the large ebony box onto his shoulder with his right and true enough, when he held the skull he could understand any language because he heard a vulture complaining about its rumbling stomach and laughed, “Let us hope you stay hungry, bird, atleast until we are out of the desert” and then the brothers marched onward until, just as the skeleton had told them, they saw the Citadel of Zimektra.
The city of Zimektra, which means 'Shielded Place', was enormous; covering one hundred square miles and had seven sides, each defended by a fifty foot high stone wall, upon which, armoured sentries patrolled, day and night, with long spears and broad swords.
Infront of the gates, also, stood two armoured sentries with spears and swords and it was these guards who greeted Shimakwa and his brothers as they approached the city.
“Halt and identify yourselves, strange travelers!”, called one of the guards.
“Our intentions are peaceful, my friend”, said Shimakwa holding the magical skull which allowed him to speak in the guards language, “We are the Sons of Samia from the Imekana tribe beyond the nameless jungle. We are the first of our kind to venture out this far from home and have never seen such a magnificent place as this. We have come to tour your city and have brought great wealth with us” and Kwashikwa opened the large box so that the guards could inspect all the gold,jewels and money that was within.
“Very well”, said the guard, and he called to one of the sentries upon the cities battlements, high above, “Open the gates!”, he said and the gates of the city were opened and Shimakwa and his brothers entered.
Within its walls the city of Zimektra was like nothing the brothers had ever imagined;
bigger than a thousand villages and crowded with so many people, all dressed in brightly coloured, flowing robes.
“One day”, said Shimakwa, smiling, “I imagine that the four tribes could unite and build a place as great as this”.
As they walked through the narrow streets of the city they were approached by street vendors on every side,offering to sell them all kinds of objects; clothes and food stuffs but the skull, that was once the skull of the great Miser Aglyka, said “Buy nothing. You are new to money, you are innocents and this city is full of greedy,
unscrupulous people that would try to cheat you out of all I have given you. Be careful”.
But the brothers found the beggars in the street harder to resist than the market traders
and there were so many of them, “I have never seen such poverty and such wealth side by side. Surely, in a city as great as this, such poverty should not exist”
“That is the fault of the cruel king Vratha”, said Aglyka, and tears seemed,magically
to pour from the skulls empty eye sockets as it started to weep, “Alas! I was, for a short time, treasurer to the tyrant king and was just as cruel and selfish as he. I could not see what a fiend he was. All I saw was the wealth that this new king was squeezing out of his people with his crushing taxes. The reason that I and my brother died in the desert carrying a treasure chest was because I was trying to hide my wealth from the tax man, I thought that I could bury it beneath the sands but, in the end, it buried me.
It is only thanks to the merciful mother that I have atlast been given a purpose which serves goodness”.
“But Aglyka”, said Shimakwa, “You have not told us yet what purpose the great mother has for us here”.
“My skull will lead you. Follow where it pulls, it will lead you to the temple of the sacred prophet Zirkrana where the priests will tell you all that you wish to know about the affairs of this city”, said the skull and, following the pull of the skull,they came to a great,tall building within the centre of the city which was supported by ten feet high stone columns carved into the image of Zirkrana and,entering, they
saw priests in lustrous ceremonial robes going about their daily rituals and they approached the priest which they thought looked most senior because of his long,grey beard and the skull spoke and explained all to him and at first the priest was shocked by the sight of a talking skull but, once the skull said, “They have come to help the temple defeat the king”, the priest relaxed and smiled, “Then, the eternal mother be praised”, he said, “Welcome friends to our temple. I will tell you all”.
The aged priest was named Krunus, the assistant to the high priest of the temple and he told them that the present king, Vratha, was not descended from the founder, Nangaktra, as all previous kings had been but had used a powerful magic orb to decieve the people of the city into overthrowing and executing the old king while placing himself upon the throne.
“The black orb makes people believe any lie told by the orbs owner. It is with this orb he controls the majority of the citizens here and with which he decieved the wife of the old king into marrying him. Her name is Aureoria and we believe that if the sphere could be stolen and the evil king destroyed, she could rule as Queen of Zimektra and the old lineage and the old order could return”.
At the centre of the temple was a great flame that changed colour constantly, the sacred flame
of the prophet Zirkrana, but though the flame gave out bright light it did not give out any heat and so could not burn.
“Under the sacred flame is a passage way with winding steps that lead down to a small tunnel which enters into the royal palace. This secret passage was built by the glorious founder of the city so that the Temple and the Palace would always be physically united aswell as spiritually united. The wicked King who sits upon the throne now does not know of all the old secret passageways and all the priests of the temple are sworn to secrecy about their existence. It is by this means that you will gain access to the palace.
The magic sphere is kept in a hidden room behind the kings throne which was also built by the cities great founder but the
room is protected by five gates, the first of these gates is opened by rotating the throne
anti-clockwise but each of the other doors is guarded by a magical sentry, this is why
a priest from the temple must accompany you because brute strength and skill alone will not overcome these sentries, their only weakness is greater wisdom. The first gate is called the gate of the king, the second is called the lions gate or gate of courage, the third gate is called the gate of reflection, the fourth gate is called the gate of patience and the fifth gate is called the gate of awakening, only by penetrating all five gates may you enter the room where the sphere is kept.
Further, you must remember, that
the secret room is also filled with the kings treasure,gold and jewels from far off lands but this gold has been enchanted so that only a king of the city or those who have his permission may touch it, if any others touch the treasure they will immediately be turned into a wild jackal”.
Only a few were necessary for the task and so Shimakwa and Kwashikwa picked two of their brothers, Wantwa which means “Hopeful one” and Zedikwa which means “Speaker of the truth” and Krunus selected a young priest whose name was Ujonus to be their guide and they all entered the iridescent sacred flame and climbed down the winding steps beneath and followed the tunnel which led into the palace of the king.
Destiny favoured the brothers that day because the King was not upon his throne but hunting antelopes in the forests of Adura which lay a little beyond the great citadel and, just as Krunus had told them, when the throne was turned anti-clockwise the first gate opened; a sliding door in the wall behind the throne and,warily, the brothers and Ujonus entered.
Infront of the second gate they saw a spear that seemed to hang in the air. “It is the first sentry”, said Ujonus, “The spear must pass through you but it is only real if you fear it. If you feel no fear the spear will pass through you easily as if it were an illusion”.
And Kwashikwa was chosen for this task since his courage was deemed greater than the rest, “Remember”, said Ujonus, “It is only fear that can kill you. If you do not fear the spear then it cannot harm you”.
And Kwashikwa stood infront of the spears head and the spear immediately flew forward and Kwashikwa felt the point of the spear against his heart but he stood firm and felt no fear and he thought of god and of his mother Samia and all the things which he loved and closed his eyes tightly so as not to look at the spear passing through him and it can truly be said that Kwashikwa was a man of supreme courage
because the spear did not solidify into wood and metal and kill him as it would have done to a cowardly man but stayed like a dream and passed swiftly through him and, when Kwashikwa opened his eyes again, he saw the second gate open and the brothers and Ujonus passed through.
As they passed through the second gate they saw a guard standing infront of them. The guard was entirely naked apart from a silver visor covering his face and held a silver broadsword in both hands. The brothers immediately set upon him with spears but to their shock and horror, though their blows never missed their target, only they seemed to be wounded while the sentry had not a scratch or a bruise upon his body.
“Do not fight him!”, said Ujonus, “This is the sentry of reflection,you understand? You are only fighting with yourselves and whenever you hurt him it will only wound you and if you were to strike him a fatal blow it would only be you who died. You must embrace the enemy at this gate and then he will surrender to you”. And Ujonus himself embraced the naked sentry and the sentry bowed his head and the third gate opened.
When they passed through the third gate they saw nothing but a yellow butterfly fluttering about their heads. “If you can catch the yellow butterfly”, said Ujonus, “Then it will open the fourth gate”.
Shimakwa was the swiftest among them and so the brothers chose him to chase and catch the butterfly but, however Shimakwa tried, he could not catch the butterfly and even when all the brothers tried together they could not catch it and Ujonus said to them “That is not the way to catch a butterfly. You must be still and open and the butterfly will come to you”, and, saying this, Ujonus held out his palm and the butterfly landed in it and the fourth gate, the gate of patience, opened.
Behind the fourth gate they saw three women, standing infront of them with their
right hand outstretched and open, the first seemed, to the brothers, to be very old,hairy and ugly with a face twisted and scarred, eyes covered in cataracts and back hunched; the second woman was atleast forty years old and seemed very normal but unexceptional and was, on closer inspection, slightly fat with a nose that was too big, knocked knees and crooked teeth, the third woman was the youngest of the three and the most beautiful and perfect woman that the brothers had ever seen.
“You must choose one and join hands with her. If you choose the correct one then she will open the gate for you but if you choose the wrong one then she will kill you,instantly”,said Ujonus.
“Do they speak?”, asked the brother called Zedikwa.
“They do not speak. They are not alive, they are like pictures, that is all”, said Ujonus.
The brothers were divided over which woman to choose, Kwashikwa immediately chose the most obviously beautiful woman but Shimakwa thought that, since it was a test, the most ugly of the three women must be the right choice because beauty lies within, however Ujonus said, “The middle way is the true path. The middle woman is life, with both ugliness and beauty and the wise man must accept both and love life for itself” and so Shimakwa took the hand of the woman in the middle and, for a moment, he saw her as being very beautiful and then the last gate opened and the brothers passed through.
Behind the last gate, they saw the sphere. It was a perfectly round,enormous and jet-black pearl and it sat within the centre of a large alabaster eye- shaped altar like a pupil and immediately Ujonus siezed it and placed it within a large pouch in his priestly robes, however, round about them the brothers saw piles of gold and jewels and, forgetting what Krunus had told them, the brother called Wantwa picked up a ruby that was as large as a mans heart, only to examine it, but the moment that he did so, he was instantly transformed into a jackal and, seeing his jackal face reflected in a golden cup which was piled among the kings treasure, he was terrified and began snarling,growling and whimpering and Kwashikwa, who thought that Wantwa might attack them,was about to spear the jackal but the brother called Zedikwa stood infront of Wantwa, shielding him from Kwashikwas spear,
“Don’t kill him. He is our brother. We must help him instead”, Zedikwa said.
And so Kwashikwa lowered his spear and they all went back through the five penetrated gates and re-emerged into the throne room of the king but, just as they did so the king,returned from his hunting trip, entered and,on either side of him,he had two large hunting dogs and when he saw the brothers emerge from behind his throne he immediately flew into a rage and set the dogs upon them but,loyal to his brothers, the Jackal that had been Wantwa leapt upon the two dogs
and tore out their throats and,when he did so, he was immediately transformed back into a human.
But the King then called to the palace guards to seize the robbers who had broken into his treasure room, however, when the guards arrived, Ujonus placed his hand upon the magical sphere and told the guards, “This is not your king, it is an impostor”, and,because the magic sphere made any lie spoken by its holder convincing to the listener, the guards seized the king and, though he struggled and protested loudly, they threw him into his own dungeons.
The brothers and Ujonus were now free to walk out of the front entrance of the kings
palace “but”, said Ujonus, “The sphere is too dangerous to leave intact because
anyone might use it to sieze power and become king and thus it must be disposed of”,
and Ujonus took the black sphere into the temple and placed it within the multicoloured sacred flame and the sphere melted into nothing.
“But?”, asked Zedikwa,confused, “When we entered the flame it did not burn us so why did it burn the sphere?”.
“The sacred flame of Zirkrana only burns what is evil. Since you and your brothers are mostly good within your hearts it did not burn you”, said Ujonus.
Now that the city was freed from the tyranny of the evil king, Vratha, the brothers were presented to his wife Aureoria who, for many years, had been under the kings spell but, now that she was free, she accepted the role of sole ruler of Zimektra and a great banquet was held in honour of the brothers and the skies above Zimektra were lit up with fireworks of many colours and the streets of the city were filled with revelers and while Kwashikwa gazed up in awe at the coloured lights that were exploding above him, Shimakwa whispered into his ear, “I know! I know what Chirimoya is”.