A PROLOGUE TO 15 DAYS
TO KNOW AS YOU ENTER: THIS IS FANTASY (AFRICANJUJUISM). IT HAS SHIFTERS IN AN AFRICAN SETTING.
Two weeks ago on Mt. China.
Men avoided marrying women from the Chipembere bloodline. The thought of having a woman physically more powerful than you was appalling and unnatural. But not for him.
Chenai sat by the edge of a boulder that jutted out a little on Gungwa Iro peak as she observed her husband below. She was tall and of large girth with firm muscles from her days working the fields. She had light brown skin like smooth rocks at the riverbed and a field of freckles from head to toe.
The wind was a cold breeze against her exposed feet and forearms. Her long, brown hair streaked with occasional silver blew with the wind. Her husband was just below her, walking with another man. Fambaneshumba hadn’t told her about this place until three months ago. This had been one of the few things that Fambaneshumba, whom she called Shumba for short, had kept from her. It was fine, she had her own secrets which he never bothered to know. At first, she’d thought that he didn’t ask because he didn’t care about her but now she understood why.
It was a wonderful place, both the people and scenery. China mountain was near the western border of Totem-Land. There were four peaks on it and people always joked that Musikavanhu could sculpt out a flat slab of rock and place it on the mountain, make the peaks legs for a table. Each peak had a name; Dombo, Gungwa Iro, Dererai, and Hamba. Each had a spring or arrays of springs which made streams that rushed down the slope. The mountain was full of life like a harvest celebration before reaping, both flora and fauna. There were klipspringers in the rocky parts, guinea pigs as large as piglets, and nests in trees, of eagles and buzzards, storks and herons nesting in the marshy parts near the rivers flowing in the mountain. Rodents and serpents crept on the floor, scorpions in crevices and spiders in holes. Trees tall as the sky, trunks thicker than Chenai’s torso. There were shrubs, like those with orange leaves, the branches chewed to give a fresh breath, thorny ones which had nests for small birds and others which looked as if they had been forgotten by Musikavanhu, overgrowing and creeping the ground like vines.
From where she sat, Gondo was visible in the distance, east, and so was Gavadzvuku, northward, and Dombojena too, her home in the south-east. If she looked behind her, she would see an array of brown, sand in the Gungwa Rerufu desert.
The two men below, her husband and the born-white man moved out of her hearing range, which was large. She’d enhanced hearing on top of her unusual strength. They both wore leopard-fur pieces about their waists, hiding their manhood and part of their buttocks. The born-white man wore a hat made of reeds and some kind of eye cover device. It was a piece of shaved wood with rectangles around the eyes with small slits. It had extensions which went to sit above each ear, helping them not to fall over. The two were walking, talking, using hand gestures and she saw Shumba throwing his hands in the air, forming fists. As if he were angry. Something had been off with her husband for the past three days. He had then suggested a trip here, making her more suspicious. She continued looking at them. Then they disappeared into the thick forest which covered most of the mountain side.
Chenai got up and stood there by the edge, eyes closed. She felt herself sway. She opened her eyes slightly to check if anyone was looking at her. No one was. Everyone was going somewhere, doing something. Here was a place she didn’t have to be constantly looked at or be restricted because of her gender or colour. Being female and light-skinned was a bad combination in the kingdom of Totem-Land. There were two men behind her, a few paces away on the same boulder. They had their backs to her, spear in one hand and a leather shield in the other hand. She walked up to them and was surprised to see that one of them was a woman.
A woman soldier? Chenai was intrigued, and yet her husband claimed she was the odd one. They bowed when they saw her. She put her hand on their shoulders and they stood straight. She wasn’t used to this. In Gondo, she mostly met men and they showed her spite a lot of times, but not enough to cause Shumba to act. He had wanted to do things, react but she had told him not to. “I can take it, love of my heart,” she would say.
“Imagine I run and jump off the edge, will you two be in trouble?” The man to her left shrugged. The woman said, “My queen, you may do as you like,” and bowed.
My queen. That was odd. A King’s wife was just a wife, a woman and no title was afforded her. They showed her the same amount of respect his husband received at home. She tightened her cloak around the waist using stripped, worked tree bark she’d grabbed from the one of the soldiers. She was wearing grey cloak with uneven edges along the hem. She ran towards the edge.
“Chenai, not again! You shall kill me woman!” someone shouted. She looked and found her husband near the edge of the forest, looking at her, eyes widened. She waved at him and smiled. Chenai continued to run and leaped off. She lost her footing and fell instead. Mid-air, she willed her skin to get thicker, and willed an increase in her weight, half that of a rhino. She landed on her shoulder and bounced a little, then sliding on the sloping rock to the bottom towards the soil ground where the forest started. She came to a halt near a tree by the edge. She felt fine but her cloak had been ruined around the left shoulder and at the hems. She got up and a servant girl ran towards her with a yellow silk garment, one of the colours of the fish eagle, the emblem of their chiefdom.
“No need,” she told the girl.
Her husband got to where Chenai was.
“Did you tell her to carry an extra garment along?” she said, pretending to frown. She was happy he’d been considerate regardless of him being always like that. She thought that by now it wouldn’t have such an effect on her.
“Yes,” he said. He shook his head, with a hint of a smile. “Musikavanhu. Once I saw you sitting there, I knew you were up to no good. You told me once you wished to jump off a cliff one day. This seemed the closest you could get and I saw it coming.” He started laughing. “That was a bad fall mistress. You should work on your jumping skills. It’s so unrhino-like.” He didn’t stop laughing.
Chenai laughed along with him then pushed him on the shoulder lightly. He fell backward and they laughed together. The man who had been with him helped him up. She’d forgotten people were around, that she was royalty and ought to act so. She was getting old already, not a child anymore. When she checked, no one was looking or making a fuss of them. Not a single person. Regardless, she willed her skin to be normal again and the folds disappeared. She felt lighter as the extra-weight waned.
She saw him staring at her.
“I spent a lot of time here as a child and most of them know me. They are family and ever since my brother died, they became my brothers. Here I’m not king. I’m just part of a bigger family. Mind you, they have heard stories of the ‘woman-king’ from the east. You are famous in these parts Chenai. They know you can be queer at times. So don’t let me stop you.” He was looking at her in a soothing way.
“That explains it. I asked one of my guards if they would get in trouble if I jumped off the edge. One of them literally just did this,” Chenai said, shrugging in an exaggerated manner. She saw the very same man in front of them. She got stiff, frozen with shyness.
“I didn’t hear that my Queen,” he spoke to them. He had a thick accent. Chenai observed that half his face looked as if it were drawn down. She hadn’t noticed it before. The man seemed to focus on something, as if listening to the air. He spoke up, “Lord, Lady, I am being told the food is ready. They have mice just like you like them,” he said, looking at Chenai. He bowed and paused again, head to the side. “They also roasted your squirrels with no salt. As always, lord,” he said bowing again, facing Shumba.
Chenai realized he was also a totem-man, but she had no idea of which chiefdom. But did it matter where? After all this was a sanctuary for the rejects, babies thrown away at birth, the diseased and uncurable.
“Thank you, we will dine when we get back,” Chenai spoke. Her husband folded his arms, and she grabbed his hand and started to walk. He resisted but it wouldn’t help with her. He gave in. He turned his head back, “I shall be with you shortly Bendewega. You know how she can be.” He was talking to the man he had walked with.
“I’m sorry. I was feeling shy after that, had to get away.” She held her chin. “So why have me guarded if you feel safe here?”
“They insisted,” Shumba spoke, “and I couldn’t say no. They love you. You should change.”
She realized the servant girl had been following, footsteps so quiet she had missed her. She wondered if she was also of shifter lineage too, a totem-woman, a very odd term since women’s use of abilities was suppressed in the three chiefdoms. The servant was a born-white and also wore a hat of reeds and the eye-protecting device. With Shumba, she could never be sure who was who. “No need,” she shouted at the girl in the distance. “I will call you when I need you. Go on now.”
Chenai faced her husband again. “What is it Fambaneshumba?”
“You are using my full name. This isn’t good, I believe. What do you mean?” His bald head was sweaty, and it had a sheen in the sunlight. His face was like a sculpture of stone, corners for jaws and his dimples seemed to remove all sense of maturity, especially when he smiled.
“You know what I mean. Your laughs didn’t fool me.”
“I’ll tell you,” he said, face sullen. Suddenly, he looked tired and weary. He looked older. His arm in hers got more tense.
They kept walking and they got into the forest and the ground wasn’t stone anymore. The trees here were tall and wide, with thick trunks like those of stout men and the leaves were mostly green. Some trees had red leaves, like those with the bloody-red fruit. She plucked some off and ate. She offered him some, but he shook his head. She then took her hand, stained red by the fruit, and rubbed it on his face. He smiled, kissed her, and became sullen again. They continued walking on the damp earth, full of foliage, avoiding the creeping vines. They saw two green long snakes slither away and one black puff-adder, locked in position under a muonde tree. Dry logs were scattered around and birds chirped. They came to a small clearing with rocks shaped like people with legs as places to sit on. Two of the sculptures faced each other. They sat.
“This place is clear. No one is listening.”
“I thought you said you trusted them. You could use your talisman” she said, folding her arms.
“I didn’t want to start a panic. I also don’t use my talisman here, I have just accustomed to it, like I do with you.” He touched the talon hanging by leather around his neck, the king’s talisman.
“I have a feeling something is about to happen. A premonition. And Dapiso killed a sheep after it cried a few weeks ago.” He was looking down.
She took his hands again. “You are worrying over some feelings and signs you think are omens. This isn’t like you. You keep outcasts and the cursed in this place and here you are worried because someone killed a bleating sheep?”
“They aren’t cursed. They are people too, just born looking different. I know they unsettle you, but show them some respect,” he said, grinding his teeth. “But yes my love,” Shumba said squeezing her hand, “You speak true. Usually, I don’t fuss. See, yesterday my grandfather came to me in my sleep. He said, ‘The eagle watches and a storm is coming.’ He said it was coming from the south and north-west. Even the east. Could it mean everyone is out for me?”
She didn’t know how to respond. This seemed to be more than a feeling and with his sympathy for women plus his firm rule on the kingdom, he’d acquired a large share of enemies. “We,” she said. Then she didn’t find the right words, her mouth went dry. There weren’t any words. “Well, I’m here. I’m with you. Whatever happens.”
She pulled him in by his face and kissed him passionately. He didn’t kiss back and she kissed him more. He responded and held her by the waist, arms stretched to reach her in her seat. Instead, she raised him off his seat and made him sit on her laps.
“If someone saw this, I would be deposed as king,” he said, giggling, trying to sound lively for his wife. She could feel it.
“Then perhaps you shouldn’t have married a rhino-woman.”
He smiled at her, a wide grin. They continued kissing and made love in that small clearing.