30 November 2011

The Crystal River by Bee Ifezue (Book Excerpt)

Chapter Seven

Under the tunnels

When Bru and Mo got to the bottom of the hill, Mo got down on his knees beside some thick shrubs and moved a thick branch back to reveal the opening of a tunnel.

“I hope the moles don’t mind,” Bru said, nervously.

Mo laughed. “Don’t worry little brother; they are not home at this time of the year, they return only after the Haruvian summer is over.”

Mo crawled into the dark hole. He drew out a little ball that resembled a torchlight and tied it to his headband. The dark tunnel lit up. Bru followed closely not wanting to be left behind.

“That is a fantastic light ball. Where did you get it from?” Bru asked. “Your father brought it back from one of his trips, it is very useful,” Mo agreed.

“I never knew there was a tunnel in the village,” said Bru.

“I discovered it by accident. A curious Tiwoq chased a mole into here once and of course the Tiwoq got stuck. I had to pull it out.”

Bru laughed. “How far does the tunnel go?” he asked.

“I believe it goes as far out as the turtle rock,” said Mo.

They crawled through the damp tunnel for what seemed like forever to Bru, after which they finally stopped. Mo motioned to him to be quiet and pointed above the top of the tunnel.

“Are we there?” whispered Bru.

Mo nodded and they crouched, putting their ears closer to the wall of the tunnel. At the ceiling of the tunnel there were roots growing downwards and because the tunnel ran across the river, there were droplets of water on the floor.

They waited a while and nothing happened; everywhere was quiet. Bru wondered whether the Zulaqs had gone into the village. He sat down again because his leg was feeling cramps. Either they were not yet at the camp spot or they had passed it. He seriously hoped that nothing would go wrong this time; he wanted them to get it over and done with because the dark damp tunnel with the entwined roots was quite depressing, and it was giving him the creeps.

Mo tapped his shoulder and he quickly sprang up and re-positioned himself. He heard what sounded like heavy footsteps and grunts.

“We cannot delay any longer Tadamor, we have to make a move,” said a voice that sounded like a squawking bird.

“Calm down Nivaq. All is going according to plan. We have given out the Oron. I meet with Makaya later today and I shall inform him.”

“Tomorrow the new moon appears and the transformation is supposed to begin. If we miss the timing, all is lost,” Nivaq shrieked.

“We shall not miss it my friend. This is the time we have all been waiting for, and we shall not fail,” he reassured Nivaq.

Another voice was heard from the distance: “Lord Tadamor, your lady calls you.”

“Do not worry Nivaq. Prepare everything according to plan and we shall not fail.”

There was a long silence. The boys assumed that the Zulaqs must have either gone away or fallen asleep. Mo motioned to Bru and they quietly headed back to the grazing field.

They made their way through the thick shrubs and Bru breathed a big sigh of relief as he saw sunlight again and could stretch his aching legs. Mo covered up the mouth of the tunnel with the thick branches and they made their way back slowly.

The two boys slumped beneath a tree.

“What do you think they were talking about?” Bru asked.

Mo shrugged his shoulders. “I believe they are getting ready for something. I overheard them the other day talking about a ritual.”

“I heard that Zulaqs have some very strange rituals,” Mo began to explain to Bru. “The wife of the head of the tribe bears one offspring every half a century. This offspring is eaten by the Leader. Legend has it that it gives the tribe immortality and that is why many of them are more than 200 hundred years old.”

Bru stared at him in disbelief. “That cannot be true!” he exclaimed.

Mo carried on. “And it also gives them some magical powers. This rite is done every 50 years.”

Bru’s face was now turning quite pale. “Do you mean to tell me that Tadamor’s wife only bears babies for food? Why doesn’t she make food like other women instead of giving birth to food?” Bru said with a shiver.

“No one sees her. She is veiled and is waited on by only the female Zulaqs,” Mo added.

“These people are known to be a sinister and evil group of creatures, and Makaya should not have let them stay in the village. When I was a little boy my people would say that when you give a Zulaq a chair, he later goes on to take your whole possessions.”

Bru bit the bottom of his lip. “If all this is true, then they are not planning to leave tomorrow.”

Mo nodded his head in agreement.

“They have destroyed a lot of villages, leaving them in ruins.” Bru looked at Mo. “Although that was many years ago, they say Zulaqs don’t raid villages these days. But they do it in a different way”.

Bru agreed. “Only they are more scheming.”

“What can we do to stop them Mo? We can’t just sit and let them destroy Esrom,” said Bru.

“We cannot do anything but hope that they leave after tomorrow’s rite,” replied Mo.

“I must start heading home. It is almost sunset,” Bru said.

“Why don’t you take a Tiwoq; that would be a lot quicker?” Mo put his fingers in his mouth and whistled, and almost immediately, a Tiwoq came galloping towards them. He helped Bru on and bid him goodbye.

Bru held on tightly to the neck of the bird as it raced swiftly across the fields. They went past the sheep in the grazing field, and jumping over the fence they made their way along the course of the river till they finally got to the path which led up to Bru’s house. At this time the sun was disappearing over the horizon and lights had begun to appear in homes.

He got off the Tiwoq and made his way up the steps where Akiya was waiting on the veranda. When she saw him coming she ran to meet him.

“Where Bru go?” she asked.

“I was with Mo. Is father home?”

She shook her head as she went over to stroke the Tiwoq. Bru went into the house and brought out half a water melon and placed it on the ground for the Tiwoq, who gobbled it up quickly. Once the bird had finished its fruit, Bru smacked him gently on the side and it turned and raced back to the fields.

The children watched the bird go as they sat on the steps of the veranda.

Akiya looked at Bru and said, “The Zulaqs are not going to leave village”.

Bru nodded. “I know. They are having some sort of ritual tomorrow.”

“Do you know what ritual is about?” She asked.

“Mo said something unbelievable. He said that they eat their babies; I don’t believe it though.”

Akiya nodded. “It is true,” she said. “They do this to make themselves immortal.”

Bru looked at her in surprise. “How did you know that?” he asked.

“Leah,” she replied. “And they want to bewitch village.”

Bru shook his head. “You are listening to a lot of fables, little sister.”

Akiya stood up abruptly and tugged at his shirt. “Come, see,” and she pulled him along as she made her way to the back of the house and up the path that led to her little playhouse, cleverly hidden behind a thick shrub.

Bru followed her through. He had never really taken notice of the little playhouse; he thought it to be just a pile of leaves that his sister crawled under to play in. As he stepped inside the playhouse he was overwhelmingly surprised to find himself inside a roomy space. It was a little hut built out of twigs and Bansu leaves and was very well concealed by climbing plants. It looked like a thick shrub from the outside but the inside was really a small hut. Bru looked around the hut in complete amazement.

“This is wonderful, Akiya. I never knew your play house was anything like this.”

Akiya chuckled cheerfully.

Bru had to bend his head because the ceiling was a bit low. He gazed admiringly at the little pillows scattered on the floor with toys lined up neatly on the floor and a Haruvian light sitting on a lamp stand emitting a warm orange glow around the walls. “Now I understand why you disappear in here for hours.”

Bru sat on a cushion. This is a very good hideout, he thought to himself. It was very snug and inviting. Nobody would be able to find him in here.

“Come see,” Akiya urged.

Bru crawled to her. She was peering from the back of the hut. He could see what she was pointing at, because their house was built on the top of the hill. As his eyes followed the slope he could see a fire across the fields, yards from where the Zulaqs’ camp was.

“This is amazing,” Bru declared. “I didn’t know that you could see a bit of the camp from here.” He ruffled his sister’s hair fondly. “You are full of surprises.”

On the horizon Bru could see the three large pillars of the sanctuary. This was an open booth (it had three large stone pillars that stood on a large rock base with steps that led up to the stage) that was used during the festival of Rowhak. This was a thanksgiving festival that was celebrated once a year in Esrom in honour of `The Guardian of the village`. Bru remembered the excitement of that day as the villagers would bring different types of food and they would lay them out on tables around the booth.

There would be a lot of music and dancing and so much to eat. The booth would be decorated with colourful and deliciously perfumed flowers, their fragrance could be smelt for miles, and their petals would line the ground like colourful sand. Once it was sunrise, the village would be bustling with activity as cooking and cleaning would be going on and barbeque stands would be set up. Tables would be laid out with fresh juicy fruits, sweet desserts and different mouth-watering foods. Children who went on errands would be given gifts in return. In the middle of the pillars, a fire would be lit in a large chalice and the warm orange glow of the fire would burn throughout the festival, and this would normally go on from sunrise until sunset. This was a very exciting time in the village. Everyone would gather around the booth and would sing the `Song of Remembrance`:

I will look up towards the mountain
To the dwelling of the great Rowhak
That is where we shall find help

The Guardian of Esrom, defender
Keeper and great helper
Took Esrom from the hands of evil
Guided him through the great peril
Was a beacon of light along their way
Brought him to a wonderful land to stay
A land like no other, with all that they need
Esrom lived and made it home, he and his seed

The Guardian of Esrom does not slumber
Esrom’s descendants will forever remember
And keep close to their hearts the Guardian always
Rowhak the strength of Esrom
Rowhak will protect you from every evil and
He will always lead you by the hand
He will forever shield you, as you are going out
And when you are coming in

A song of the origin of Esrom, and the covenant he has with the Guardian. After the song was sung, the whole village would pledge again their loyalty to the Guardian.

As Bru and Akiya looked out from the playhouse, they saw a huge bonfire in front of the booth. Though it was dark, they could still make out the shapes of the Zulaq warriors as they walked around the fire.

“What are they doing?” Bru asked.

His sister shrugged her shoulders. The Zulaqs had been going round the fire for what seemed like hours to the children. As the darkness enveloped the village, the children went back into the house.

The front door opened and Navan walked in, looking quite worn out and slumped into a nearby chair. “Hello father”, said Akiya and she walked over to him and sat on his lap.

“How are you children?” Looking over to Bru, he said, “I hope you have kept out of trouble today.” Bru nodded with a dry smile. “When are the Zulaqs leaving?” Bru asked, knowing what his reply would be.

“Have you not heard that tomorrow is their New Moon Festival, in celebration of the Zulaqs’ New Year. It is a well-known rite of their people.” Navan took off his sandals and continued, “Many of us have been helping them in their preparations.”

“There is a big merry-making tomorrow, and everyone is invited.” He smiled broadly. “They have invited the Granks and the Tilypians from the south country. It will be a great day.”

The two children looked at each other.

“You can both come, providing you behave,” he said, sternly wagging his finger at Bru. He gave a loud yawn and stood up and gave a long stretch. “I better hit my bed. It has been a long day and will get busier tomorrow.” Picking up his sandals he made his way to his room.

The children sat quietly staring into the fire.

“I don’t want to go to party,” Akiya said, shaking her head.

Bru nodded in agreement. He didn’t want to be a part of it either. He wondered why the Zulaqs where using the sanctuary. He knew he didn’t believe the tales about Rowhak, but he felt it was something special to their village and he had always looked forward to the end of the harvest when the whole village would buzz in preparation for the festival. He wondered why everyone had all of a sudden been caught up in the excitement of the Zulaqs’ ritual. It was as if they were all under some spell. What were the Granks and Tilypians doing in the village? Everyone knew that they were known for black magic and sorcery.

There was that humming sound again, Bru thought to himself. Akiya raised her head and looked around the room.

“Did you hear that?” She asked.

Bru nodded. “I have been hearing that for days now and I thought it was my ears buzzing.” They both kept quiet and listened.

It was a light vibrating hum, a little bit louder than an insect. The two children looked around them, but saw nothing. Eventually they decided to go to sleep.

This is an excerpt of The Crystal River (TP Publications, July, 2010), written by Bee Ifezue.

Copyright © Bee Ifezue 2010.

Bee Ifezue is the auhtor of The Crystal River (TP Publications, July, 2010) her first Children’s novel. It has received an overwhelming number of positive reviews from readers. Ifezue hold a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine & Applied Arts from the University of Nigeria; and was the Chief Cartoonist at Outlook Newspaper before she returned to the UK and studied animation and website development. She now works as a Design Consultant, and lives in London with her husband and four children. Her first unpublished short story “The little Stone” featured on a London radio station for Children's Story hour. More information can be obtained from her website (http://www.esromchronicles.com).


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