Ascent Part 3

mountain in Brian Ewuzie's Ascent

 

He made it sound like it was the easiest thing to do. Like I could prick myself, drain a few drops of blood into a bowl and hand it to him.

“They need it to rebuild your city,” the giant said.

“They? Who are they?”

“Do you want to see your father or not?”

“I want to see him. But I don’t want to bleed.”

“Alright. Tell them when we get there.” He started walking toward the northern mountains.

I thought of running away in the opposite direction.

He could catch me with a few steps.

But even if I escaped, what would I do on my own? Go to Miri Lake and hope for the best?

I followed the giant. At least he knew where Father was.

“You never even asked for my name,” the giant said.

“You have a name?”

“Okunoshimili.”

“Fire in the ocean?”

“Fire and the ocean.”

What kind of name was that? I thought.

I guess giants have special names to match their enormous sizes.

We arrived at the foot of the mountain.

I held my breath.

Don’t go to the mountain, I was told from the moment I could walk.

Okunoshimili was a giant.

He could meet the gods without fear.

I was an ordinary boy.

Meeting the gods could end my life.

The mountains had a rugged look.

Apart from the boulders strewn along the base, there was nothing strange to be seen.

Then why was I nervous?

The ground shook.

I looked up and saw six giants approaching from the left side of the mountains.

Okunoshimili turned towards me. “Do you still want me to tell them you don’t want to bleed?”

The giants surrounded me.

One of them wore an iron cap.

“Didn’t you tell him?” the iron cap giant asked Okunoshimili.

“I tried to, but he wouldn’t give blood.”

“Blood is the first step. Knowledge is the second. You can’t have one without the other,” Iron Cap said.

The other giants grunted their approval.

A frail figure approached us.

She walked with stiff steps.

Belinna.

The day Belinna was marched off to the northern mountains, Father and I were harvesting yam at our farm, close to the city gate.

Belinna had been in the midst of soldiers and priests.

Just before they passed the city gate, Belinna stopped and waved.

I waved back.

Father turned away.

“Why didn’t you wave?” I had asked Father.

“The dead and the living have nothing in common.  Belinna was picked as the bride of the gods this year. She would soon join the dead,” was his reply.

Seeing Belinna, I wondered if she had returned from the land of the dead.

“Don’t lie to the boy,” Belinna scolded Iron Cap. “Knowledge may come before blood. And you can have one without the other.”

She smiled at me. “Did the fire burn down every single house?”

“I don’t know.”

“The day I was offered for sacrifice, I wanted you and Ogadi to follow me,” she said.

Ogadi was Father’s name.

But few in Obodo used it.

Father was called Onyeozi, the messenger.

He was known for relaying difficult messages: the death of a family member, the punishment of elders, the loss of position and power.

Father made bad news easier to accept.

“I wanted us to leave together,” Belinna continued. “To start a new life right here in the mountains.”

“With you? But you’re a…” My voice trailed off.

“A witch?” She sneered.” Is that what you wanted to say?”

She laughed.

The giants grinned at each other.

Belinna stopped laughing and pulled me close to her body, hugging me tightly.

I caught the scent of fresh lily on her body.

“My dear, you’re a wizard too,” she whispered in my left ear, then let go of me.

“That’s why you survived the destruction of Obodo.” Her fingernails grazed my face. “That’s why the giants need your blood.”

I touched my face. Blood covered my fingers.

“I thought you said he had to give it willingly?” Iron Cap asked Belinna.

“I don’t need his permission,” she replied,” I’m his mother.” She lifted her white cloth and pressed it against my wounded cheek.

The pain subsided.

“This should be enough,” Belinna told Iron Cap, holding up the blood-stained cloth. “Let’s go.”

I waited for them to leave.

“Duru, I’m talking to you,” Belinna said.”Let’s go.”

I hesitated, then followed her up the steps cut on the mountain.

The sun’s rays got harsher the higher we climbed.

Sweat covered my face.

I became weary.

Belinna offered me a vase of water.

I took a sip.

“Feeling better?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Do you want me to carry you?”

I was on the verge of manhood, how would I look if a woman carried me up the mountain?

“I’ll walk by myself,” I replied, even though my legs ached.

The sky hung low with crisp blue clouds.

I peeked below.

“Don’t look down,” Belinna cautioned.

She took my hand and held it tightly.

We trudged up.

The mountain was harder to climb with each step I took.

I could hear myself panting.

I wasn’t sure I could continue.

My strength was failing.

Belinna carried me to the top.

The top of the mountain wasn’t what I expected.

It was dreary and cold.

A lone figure stood there.

Father.

I ran to him.

We embraced.

“You were here all by yourself?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied.

He looked subdued.

The clouds darkened.

Circular shadows appeared in the sky.

“They’re coming,” Belinna said.

“Who?” I asked.

“Who else but the gods,” she replied.

She seemed excited.

I was scared.

“Are they coming for us?” I asked her.

She put a finger across her lips. “Shhhh, they can hear you.”

The shadows grew bigger.

“Father, let’s go back down,” I pulled him towards the mountain steps.

He shook his head. “We stay here.”

I wasn’t sure I was ready to meet the gods.

I ran.

Father got to the steps first, grabbed and dragged me back to Belinna.

He held me as Belinna tied my hands and feet with twines.

She placed the blood-stained cloth on my chest.

I was terrified.

“Help me!” I shouted at Father.

He looked away.

The shadows descended on us.

I closed my eyes, expecting death.

Several moments passed.

I could hear the thumping of my heart.

I opened my eyes a bit.

The shadows had disappeared.

The sun was visible again.

I gazed at my hands and feet.

I was free of the twines.

I stood up, taller than I had ever been.

My hands were big and muscular, my legs as huge as tree trunks.

Bits and pieces of clothing were scattered around me.

“Wear this.” Belinna held an oversize gown.

I slipped into the gown.

“Follow me,” she said and went down the mountain steps.

“Where’s Father?”

“He’s gone.”

“To?”

“I’ll show you.”

We descended the first ten steps.

Belinna pushed a rock by the side of the mountain, revealing a walkway.

She entered the walkway.

I followed her through a labyrinth and arrived at a wide enclosure, illuminated by a circle of torches.

“Meet the future of Obodo,” Belinna said.

I saw a giant huddled in a corner of the enclosure.

A female giant.

She stood up and approached me.

We faced each other.

She ran a finger along my forehead and giggled, “He’s handsome.”

“I told you,” said Belinna.

“I’m Amara,” the giant said to me.

I faced Belinna. “Where’s Father?”

She sighed. “You see your future wife and you only think about your father?”

“I want to know where he is.”

“He left with the gods. It was an exchange. They took him and made you a giant.”

“I didn’t ask to be a giant.”

“You don’t understand, do you? You’re not just a giant, you’re a human with the size and abilities of a giant. You have the strengths of both races and none of their weaknesses.”

I exhaled.

I couldn’t tell if I was happy or sad.

“Amara is a crossbreed like you. Both of you will start a new life in Obodo. You will have a family and rebuild the city. Okunoshimili and the other giants will assist you.”

A thought lingered in my mind.

“Who destroyed Obodo?” I asked Belinna.

“The gods,” she replied.

“The gods? Or you?”

“Does it matter? I asked the gods for a favour and they granted it. Just like they granted me a second chance when I was offered as a sacrifice.”

“So you’re the last human,” I said.

She laughed. “I am.”

Maybe Belinna was my real mother.

Maybe her dreams of a new Obodo would come to pass.

But she took Father away from me.

And I just couldn’t stand losing him.

I took one of the torches and threw it at Belinna.

She ducked.

I threw another.

The hem of her dress caught fire.

Belinna scrambled to put it out.

I threw two torches at her.

Belinna was aflame.

“Why did you do that?” Amara asked.

“I hate her.”

We both watched Belinna burn.

I was surprised at my lack of pity.

Amara looked frightened.

She held my hand.”What’s your name?”

I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.

Duru? Or someone else?

I gave her the first name that came to my mind. “Onyeozi.”