How shall I ever forget that dreadful night. The stealthy walk down the path, taking advantage of every thorny shrub for cover, the occasional cry of a night-bird that roused my fears, the stars shining coldly in a cloudless sky. I snivelled as I frantically searched for my wife.
November 1885 marked the end of the tribal war between the Watante and the Huffs. The grief of losing friends and family overwhelmed me, like a bad dream that could not be shaken off. Those of us that remained had to serve and work for the Huffs. My musical abilities gained me a spot among the royal band, occasionally playing various instruments and composing rhymes for children. My wife was allowed to stay with our five year old son, but spent most of the day in the gardens. The incompetent Watante were tasked with building the palace wall.
The separation from my dear wife and son made me grow weary and haggard. I longed to have them by my side but that was against the rules. Watante families only gathered twice a month, a time too short to make merry. We rather used this time to nurse the weary and comfort the lonely.
During the month of May, 1887, at the second gathering, it occurred to me that my people had become accustomed to the way of the Huffs, putting aside their worries and making merry.
Late in the evening, with most of the revellers retiring into small groups, I sat on a three legged wooden stool beside a lit fire. I sank my face into my thin hands, listening to the conversations of those around me. Glimmered little red circles of light, now bright, now faint came out of the dark, with the smell of fresh tobacco in the air. The night skies were somber and starless.
My wife pattered towards me with a flame in her hands, she still had the brown veil over her head, she held the flame over her head, pushing her face forward and smiled. Her bright eyes twinkled in the firelight, her slim body a bright figure against the dark. As she drew closer, I noticed two figures behind her, their dark bodies matching the darkness in which they came. A huge figure, and another thin looming behind her. I strained my eyes to peer through the gloom but I couldn't make out who it was, so I eagerly waited to see my new companions.
I straightened my body as my wife approached, the two figures stopped a few paces from where I was. Both standing with their hands akimbo.
‘I want you to meet Jace and Norman.’ She said as she gently sat down besides me. ‘They have earnestly desired to meet you, and today seems like a perfect day with most of our kins happy and making merry.’
She beckoned the two men to come closer as she held the flame higher over her head.
‘This is Jace, he works in the mines, and Norman used to be among the builders of the Great Wall. Now he works with the Huffs who take care of the artifacts and treasures.’
Jace was a horsey looking man with a sharp face, a man of exceeding thinness, the skin of his cheeks drawn tense over his outstanding bones. Rangy as he was, his steps were steady and his emaciation seemed not be due to disease or the working conditions in the mines. His black curly hair had a touch of gray. He glanced around before he took his seat in front of me with the firelight showing his thin body and pointed knee caps.
Norman a stout man, thought it wise to remain standing. He stood with his arms wrung. He seemed a man in his forties rather than thirties. He stared into the crackling fire which showed his dark face seared with wrinkles, a large scar on the right cheek and a white blotche on his neck. My wife had told me about them. they were of great help to her when the barns caught fire.
‘I will go straight to the matter since I don't intend to take your valuable time. Two years ago, the king made some reshuffles, put me in dealings of the treasury(sorting, piling and dusting).’ Norman said choosing his words carefully as he stared into the crackling fire. ‘Every evening, we receive piles of gold, silver and other items from the mines and raids. A month ago, a golden chest box was brought in by three of the royal guards, it was glowing inside. I asked what it was but they told me it’s none of my concern. I was told to wait outside the chambers. While I waited outside, I saw that the flames inside were extinguished, the room pitch dark, on opening I couldn't see any of the men I left inside, neither the glowing chest box.’
‘So they vanished just like that?’ I interjected.
‘No.’ Norman continued. ‘I lit the flames and glanced around, everything was intact, no sign of struggle. I was about to move out of the room and call for help when I had a rattling sound behind the walls. Conversations that came in gushes with chuckles and slowly faded. Such an ominous situation, I closed the doors and decided to take the matter to the chief of the treasury.
To my surprise, the vanished men were there before my eyes, with faces that spoke their joy standing close to the giant silver figure that points to the Kings chambers.’
‘What did you make of that then?’ I asked as I glanced from my wife to Jace who supported his chin with his fists.
‘Well, I thought it was wise to confide it to someone.’ I took the matter to Jace, he advised me to take a closer look at what happened whenever these three men entered the treasure house before talking to the chief.’
‘A few weeks ago, after dusting the silver goblets, I hid behind a pile of the silver bags. Hours passed as I waited. All was quiet, the silence only broken by the my turning to release the tension in my legs. It seemed like days inside there. I had almost given up on my undercover mission when suddenly the door was opened. I peered through the stack of bags and there were my three suspects. Their eyes were cold and glanced around before opening the chest box. I have never seen something so bright and glossy like the orb they got from the chest box. It was shaped like a guinea fowl’s egg, their eyes glittering as they looked at it. Drawing closer to one of the walls that faces the east, they made a circular mark on the wall using the ball. The lights in the room were extinguished and a portal appeared. Sliding into it, it closed behind them, with the same laughter and chuckles, their voices slowly died away.’
‘What happened next?’ I asked after a long silence.
‘I was carried away by the desire to get hold of this orb, see where this secret passageway leads and what lay behind walls.’ Norman said with a sudden change in his tone, filled with a stammer and fear.
‘I carefully watched them on several occasions, mastering how they used the orb, and one day, out of curiosity I decided to give it a try.’
He glanced around before continuing his narration as I added wood to the crackling fire.
‘When I used the orb, I felt the world around me collapse, my body sucked into a void, weightless as I landed on soft ground. I was startled by what lay before my eyes, a dark path with a single light in a distance, a curved roof and rough walls with inscriptions in an alien language. I anxiously moved towards the light but it seemed like an endless tunnel. Further and further I went, breathing in dry air, palpitating, sweat flowing down my spine and my eyes dry.
Not knowing what to do, I sat down, leaning against the cold wall, my eyes fixed on the other wall. Moments later, I noticed that the walls were partitioned thanks to the light that the orb gave off. I sprang to take a closer look, numbers were scrawled on the walls, a number for each segment. I tried to think what the numbers meant but my efforts were trivial to crack the mystery. I held the orb closer to the wall and number started to glow. Even a man for my own strength, I was taken back, I gasped at what I saw, the segment opened to a vast green field, a stream of crystal blue water flowing, a gentle breeze, a canopy of pine trees in the distance with blue smoke curling into the sky.’
‘My adventure was cut short as the segment door slowly closed behind me, I dashed back to the dark path, with the orb in my hands. I expected to be back to the treasury but I landed in the barns. I quickly went to the treasury to return the precious orb, before anyone noticed that it had been used. I knew that I held the key to paradise.’
‘As I returned to the treasury, I found the three men inside. Their peculiar looks suggested that they were looking for the orb. But as I entered, they quickly left without a word. I placed the orb in the chest box and left. For the last three days, I have heard strange movements outside my residence with occasional banging. During the day, some of the guards are stalking me, and I assume it could be the orb matter.’
‘So you think, they know you used the orb?’ I asked.
‘Yes.’ Norman replied as he drew closer to me. ‘Since you have the favor of the King, I ask that I may speak to him through you.’
‘But this is a sensitive matter, what if these scoundrels are under the Kings orders! Either way you stand no chance, I suggest you ask immunity from the assizes.’
‘I think these men are doing this without the King knowing, if only I can speak to him it might be of help...’
A sudden bang threw me off the wooden stool. A fireball had been thrown where we were sitting. Heavy foot steps approached towards us and the ground vibrated. My companions had already vanished in the dark and I was alone on the ground. I sprang from the ground and ran as fast as I could towards the thorny shrubs that engulfed the aubergine plantation. I hid in the shrubs with no sight of my wife. What had been a peaceful night turned out to be a cold pursuit. I wished for one thing at the moment, to see my wife. But the fear of facing the guards kept me under the shrubs.