The tunnel was dark and dank and the smell resembled something akin to rotting fish. They didn’t speak but hurried along in a stride that was not quite a walk but not exactly a run either. Dare didn’t want to be surprised by a wall, or a body, or to take a wrong turn and he led the way.
The Chief had not appreciated people walking into a room he was in, uninvited. So chances were the guards would hesitate before they opened the door and checked on him. Dare’s kill had quick and quiet, so he figured that the time they had was in the reign of 30 – 40 minutes before the guards grew uncertain and decided to check on the Chief. At which point the alarm would be raised and the search for Lara would begin. 30 minutes could buy them a mile, maybe two.
Behind him, Lara replayed the look on the Chief’s face as his throat had been slashed, just before his life had expired. He had look startled, that’s all he had time for; all that fear and anger had been replaced by surprise. And now, she was on the move again. She had assumed she would grow old and die in the Kalu, but fate had other plans for her.
Two years ago, she was offered to the Chief as a peace offering, in the hope that this would sway the Chief’s decision to storm the village – it hadn’t. The Chief already had five wives at the time, so they offered him something he did not have, something rare – a dreamwalker. The Chief had latched unto his gift with greedy hands, but without cause to call on her talent, he soon went on to wife number seven, nine and eight and forgot about his promise to her people.
Her wedding night was the first time she had dreamwalked and manipulated the dream. She was not even sure it would work when she tried it:
They had spent hours preparing her for the Chief. She had been scrubbed and hair vigorously washed, then she had had to soak her body in goat’s milk for a while. After this, they had used all manner of oil on her body and perfumed her. Her disobedient afro was tamed into millions of tiny braids, so that it submitted to gravity and fell all the way to her back. They had painted her lips and used black kohl on her eyes before weighing her ears, throat, wrists and waist with jewellery.
The women had spoken to each other whilst they worked, in a tone that was harsh to her ears. Their words seemed to come out in short broken bursts and they did a lot of hissing. They didn’t look her in the eye, to them she was just another body but they marveled at her hair inviting each other to touch it and examine the colour before they began to braid it.
They used beads sewn together for her top and skirt but still she felt naked. Then she was led to the Chief’s room to wait for him. And she had been afraid. She had thought of calling Dare who she knew would have been hovering on the other side of the door somewhere, but what could he possibly do? Then it came to her.
The Chief burst into the room, his belly came into view first, the rest of him followed. He looked her up and down and grinned. Then he began to undress singing to himself as he did so. He was clearly drunk, which would make her job a lot easier.
Dreamwalking was only possible when a person was asleep. When he lay on the bed he tried to grab her but she stayed his hand and stood up
“Your highness, I would like to sing and dance for you.”
“Ah excellent, excellent.” He positioned himself on the bed so he faced her head on, and he waited.
Her voice was deep, hoarse. The song she told was an old traditional song that brides were taught to sing to their husbands on the wedding night. She sang it in the old tongue.
So long have I waited for your embrace
And now I am yours to take
To grace your body like a fragrance
To love you under the Iroko tree
To love you under the Iroko tree
As she sang, she gyrated. She emulated a dance she had seen prostitutes use to invite customers on the streets. Her hands she raised above her head and she twirled her wrists. She used her ankle, and knee to move up and down without moving her upper leg.
So long have I waited for your taste
Waited untouched and unafraid
The tropical sweetness of your lips
To love you below the hot moon
To love you below the hot moon
The Chief struggled to stay awake. His body was aroused but her voice was the voice of a dreamwalker and he was drunk. Soon he snored happily.
Her grandmother had given her the widow’s web when she said her goodbye. It was only a little and it would be her first time using it so she hoped she did it write. The spider’s yarn was in a spool and she drew it out gently with her fingers. It stuck to the air as she released it. Once it was all out, she tried to map the dream out with the yarn. It would glisten a faint gold when the connections were made and a faint red when it had not quite engaged. She could see the plots, the characters in the lines. Only a dreamwalker could manipulate the web like this.
When she was done she walked over to him and placed the web on his face, then laid her to fingers on his forehead. She closed her eyes and felt the room fade away. When she opened her eyes, she was in a desert. The Chief was in combat with another man who looked very much like him, she watched as the man fell and the Chief began to attack him with his axe. She walked away quickly. She was here to find the web.
It took her a while to locate it in his dream, but when she did it was ten times the size it had been in reality. It was strong and resistant. She pulled at its centre and released. A note played out and as the vibrations moved along the scenery of the dream changed. It now reflected the Chief’s room and he was having his way with his new bride.
She left his dream. The web was no longer on his face. He was muttering some obscenities and he looked very pleased with himself. She grinned.
In this manner she had deceived him for a week. He had believed that he had consummated the union and she had played along. But the Chief was best known for his fickleness and he soon found another plaything to occupy him and she was delegated to a quarter of the Kalu that was infrequently visited.
Without a pregnancy to show for her time with the Chief, life at the Kalu had moved on without her and this had suited her just fine.
Dare’s arm stretches out in front of her and forces her to stop walking. He listens for sounds until he is confident that he is hearing a stream. But there were other sounds.
There were three of them. Surefooted men. He had heard rumours that the Chief had his escape route protected day and night. These men were always on alert.
Coming out from below would have him at a disadvantage. If they were smart, they would pull him out by his dreadlocks. And slit his throat. If they were not as smart, they could kick him in the face, the throat. The best case scenario was that they would allow him to come up completely before they rushed him but he didn’t like to rely on best case scenarios.
But there was no going back.
The trap door opened. He pulled the feet of the man, his head bounced off the stairs as Dare rushed up and slit his throat. The other two followed suit, aware now of the threat below. He tripped the first to come through and stabbed the second before turning back to finish off the man who crawled away and towards Lara.
She had backed away, without going too far. He grabbed her hand and they ran up the stairs together.