Home of Sword and Soul
“Hold your axe! I said stop!” cried a voice from the corridor.
Lamin opened his eyes and caught a glimpse of the axe-blade as it jerked away just inches from his neck. Everyone stared at the doorway, except for N’gara. His head faced the ceiling. It looked like he was thanking someone.
“Save your breath,” Lamin told him. “Your ancestors were never that strong or important.”
“Better than yours, ghost-eye” he said, sticking his tongue at him.
The Bronze commander had entered. His jaw muscles squeezed and clenched, as if he were fighting a pain stronger than he could bear. “That idiot merchant made a mistake. These aren’t the outlaws from Lohat,” he growled. “Put them in cells. I still don’t like the looks of them.” He was looking at Lamin, eyeing him – measuring him. A shiver shot through his spine as Lamin returned his glare with his blank eye. The Bronze snarled and quickly left the room. They could hear his feet hasten to the stairs.
The guards unlocked Lamin and manhandled him behind his friend. He could see N’gara struggle with his escorts. He was still squirming and scratching, doing everything in his power not to cry-out. The soldiers were unaware of his suffering and Lamin couldn’t help but crack a smile. “ Are you still having a good day?”
The cell door creaked open as they untied N’gara’s hands. He ran into his cell, stuck his now free hand into his loin-wrap and began to rake himself. He exhaled a sigh and eased himself down the cell wall and onto the hay-covered floor. Lamin’s cell was already waiting for him. He walked in and quietly sat in the corner behind N’gara’s cell. There were no windows deep within the tower dungeons. Piss and vomit lingered in the air, bearing its stench throughout the corridors. Lamin heard the guards ascend the stairs and he was left with the sounds of N’gara’s vigorous scratching and grunting. This was his sole amusement.
“Lamin?” grunted N’gara.
“I’m still here.” Lamin replied.
“I have a question? Now I’ve known you for quite some time now and I can say with all confidence that you are one of the stealthiest killers I’ve ever worked with. I’ve seen you sneak into the center of camps, bursting with warriors, kill your man and leave unseen. More ghost than man if truth be told. So tell me. How is it that some old Uda hag saw you steal our morning meal?”
“Maybe I’m getting old. And I did have a lot of sorghum last night. Losing my touch.”
“My ass you are,” N’gara replied.
“So they made it so far?” joked Lamin.
“You’re a true ass, ghost-eye. Unmatched in the annuals of assery.”
Night washed over the city, unseen by the prisoners. Its black coat sparkled with twinkling stars, ushering the land to sleep and dreams of fortune and nightmares. Along the once-busy streets crept five shadows. If anyone were awake to see, they’d have noticed them make their way from the Avenue of Yoon and cut through Ja Square towards the Tower of the Bronzes. Quick words passed between them and the shift-commander. He led them into the tower and down into the dungeons.
Lamin was asleep when rough hands yanked him up and bound him in heavy rope. Lamin kept his serene composure, giving them little fight. N’gara was wide-awake, but gave them little struggle, taking his friends lead. A burlap sack fell over his head and tied around his neck. The men shuffled them up the stairs and out into the night. Lamin and N’gara took in deep breaths of the crisp night air. They felt the breeze wash over them through their sacks. N’gara felt the soft texture of an aba cloak cover his shoulders. He took in the air and began to feel the itch again. Luckily for him, when they bound his arms he already had his hand under his belt, so he could scratch without interruptions.
They made their way within the shadows. Lamin and N’gara felt callous palms guiding them through the streets. They had no idea were they were going, but the smells from the day still blew in the air. First came the foul odor of the souk. Spoiled meat and rotting fruits stained the wind. Shortly after, the air was scented with a mixture of burning torches and incense. A raw pungent smell, used to keep away evil spirits from along the streets of the nobles and temples. After a few breaths, they were led up a wide staircase, through a threshold, and into a large room. They made there way up another set of steps and down a hallway. The smells were sweet with the fragrance of lilies and fragrant oils. Sandalwood and Aouzourian teak delighted his nose. N’gara took a long whiff and exhaled an easy sigh. The men stopped them and removed their sacks. And there, behind a long mahogany table sat Magistrate Leeyti of Tel. A few pelts covered the floor around the table and a large n’goubou skull hung on the wall behind him. A wide space flanked by pristine banco-plastered stone pillars separated them. Lami and N’gara took full account of the space and noticed that the only lit torches glowed over by the magistrate and over them at the threshold. The space between them was a blackened hall, a deep chilling black. One of the five men cut their bonds and shoved them forward.
They slowly sauntered toward Leeyti, keeping wary of surprises from the unlit path. A faint shuffle alerted Lamin and he barely dodged a knob-mace descending towards his skull. He grasped the wielder’s wrist with a quick hand and pulled him off-balance. The assailant felt himself stumble and before he could reach out his hand to catch himself, Lamin crashed his fist into his jaw.
N’gara saw his friend attacked and turned just as another man came running towards him with his club raised over his head. He caught the man by his forearm, and with a short swing, bashed his foe across his face. As the man fell to the ground, N’gara snatched the hardwood mace before he hit the ground. N’gara smashed the man’s skull with two quick cracks. Lamin turned and smiled; N’gara did all this with his hand still in his loin-wrap.
Four more men jumped out from behind the pillars and Lamin charged into them, N’gara close at his heels. Whoever got past Lamin received a crack from N’gara. Lamin twisted around one attacker, and as he dropped low, drove his fist in between another’s legs. The sound of two bodies hit the floor before another attack came from his blindside. But before the attacker realized it, Lamin jumped, closing the distance between them, and drove his knee up under the man’s chin.
N’gara saw the man’s head snap back. “Too old my ass!” he yelled, dodging an attack to his head and with unimagined grace, kneecapped the attacker before pinning him to the floor with a heavy crunch. He looked around and noticed no more attacks. But Lamin bent over hands on his knees and laughing. He approached Lamin, frowning at the strangeness that had taken over his friend.
“Your arm…” he laughed.
N’gara pulled and he winced at the needle-like sensation shooting up from his hand and along his arm. He placed the bloody mace between his knees and dragged his hand from out under his wrap and belt.
“And you were doing so well…” tears ran down Lamin’s good eye. “ You was fighting and being all-graceful… your arm… started whipping around like a limp snake fighting to get out of a hole.” He flayed his arms as if they were tentacles, hysterically flapping over his head.
N’gara chuckled, as a slow howl bubbled up from his belly, until he saw the five men who had brought them there now armed with bows pulled taunt. Lamin finally caught his breath long enough to see what N’gara was looking at and the laughter stopped immediately. N’gara dropped his weapon and went back to scratching himself with the good hand, sprinkled red from fighting.
“Very well done. I thought you may have gotten dull in your old age, Moon-Eye,” Leeyti said. He was still seated behind the table. He was raking his ringed fingers through his full beard. Lamin noted his well-manicured hands and neatly plaited rows rolling down his scalp and over his shoulders. “I heard about your misfortunes in Zinder.” He also noticed his weapons on the table with N’gara’s.
“Hello Leeyti. You look like you’ve done well.” Lamin approached the table and stopped just before his feet touched the leopard skin rug, N’gara followed and stood next to him. “I heard you were looking for me. You know how the assassins like to gossip.”
“And I thank you for considering my position. Can’t have notorious cutthroats calling for me at the front gates.”
N’gara shook his head and smirked. “Damn Xaftaangaas,” he shrugged and snarled. “We could have walked into a ma’an’s palace in Mbor and be received with the same respect as their nobles.”
“Barbarian courts do not count as palaces,” replied Leeyti. His men moved up with their bows, flanking the prisoners. His body slouched in his chair and he was now picking his nails with N’gara’ sword. “Plus, I doubt if even those ma’ans would accept a red-handed Kajanjuden in their borders. But then, barbarians are barbarians.”
Lamin stole a glance over to N’gara and felt the heat coming off his body. But, his friend kept a passive composure. His own face burned and he folded his arms, making sure that Leeyti saw his arms bulge – a promise of pain.
“Now if we are done, I have a mission for you, Moon-Eye. A favor really…”
“But first,” interrupted Lamin, running his fingers over the raised flesh of his scars. The rough grooves were a sensation he tried not to enjoy so much. “I need a favor from you. A small thing really. My friend has been suffering from a particular kind of pestilence.” He looked over to N’gara, who returned the look, his arm pumping franticly. Lamin pursed his lips, “If you have any…”
“I! Need! A! Shave!” shouted N’gara, slow and deliberate as if Leeyti had trouble comprehending. “Some of your whores are infested.”
“It was probably that fat juicy one you mentioned,” smirked Lamin.
“No! Never! She was a precious bird. A jewel from Da Famadjan,” he protested. “It was most probably that skinny thing from Zinder. True talk, brother. True talk.”
Lamin nodded his head, “True talk, true talk.”
Leeyti had to fight to keep from smirking. He stopped picking his nails and returned N’gara’s sword back into its scabbard. He was beginning to like this barbarian. Some of the attackers began to stir from off the floor. “Kaku, shake it off.” One of the men staggered forward, a blood-covered lump shined from the side of his head and a welt discolored his jaw. “Bring this man to Kuta. Tell her to assist him in whatever relief he needs.” The attacker bowed and stretched out his arm, inviting N’gara to follow him. “The rest of you. I want this hall cleaned before my morning bath. And take the dead to the Death Hut,” he commanded.
“N’gara! Don’t spoil the slaves. Remember, we are guests,” called Lamin.
N’gara shrugged his numb shoulder so that his limp arm waved high and then dropped to his side.
“So,” returned Lamin to Leeyti. “What’s this mission you need done?” …