Award winning historical fiction
Melenoc is the high priest of the god Kepharra. But he is also a man tormented by an intense fear of death, which is only matched by his love for power; a dynamic that drives him into a ruthless quest for immortality.
In his search it becomes obvious that the high priest will stop at nothing to fulfill this macabre obsession, even to the point of crossing lines that will compromise the well being of a great kingdom and put the people’s survival into question.
Then there is Abou Bakar, a legendary fifty-year old General who ends up becoming the kingdom’s last hope in a time of serious trouble. But in order to deliver, he must find a way to rise above personal trauma and self-doubt, born two decades earlier from an accident that took the woman he loved.
And as the General races to undo the tightening noose, he learns that an army, led by a long forgotten archenemy is now on the move, - a fact that quickly complicates an already complex situation. The pressure and confusion is overwhelming. Who should he trust? The mysterious new vizier in charge of the kingdom’s borders? Or a King who may well have been betrayed by his secret lover?
Powerful forces collide, creating twists that will catapult the plot into a four thousand year journey that spills over into the contemporary age; from the forest camp of a bitter African rebel leader to the concrete jungles of Los Angeles, spawning characters who have no idea that their lives are under the influence of a four thousand year old quest.
THE VISION OF THE BLIND KING is a historical fiction/fantasy novel that is based on a true event(The Hykso invasion of north Africa in 1720 BC). While drawing close parallels with our own societies, it is also a story that serves as the vehicle through which the classic themes of corruption, fear, destiny, war, racism, patriotism, God, etcetera, are examined as factors that contribute to either the fall or rise of all states, nations, empires and civilizations.
Cameroon, Central Africa
I have heard it said before, that if you are aware, I mean really aware, you can sometimes tell when your own death is not too far away. Like many, it is a saying to which I had never given much thought, because I had never had a reason to, -that is, up until now.
I had known that there was going to be some danger to everything. Of course. But the certainty of death? That was a different issue altogether. It was something for which nothing had prepared me. And the un-preparedness turned the minutes of dreadful anticipation into a barely controlled panic attack. I really did not want to die.
But no matter how hard I tried I could not shake the nagging feeling at the pit of my stomach that the end had come. Death, it seemed, had found me in spite of myself and in spite of my love for life.
Just thinking about it filled me with dread and frantic desperation. But what could I do? What was there to do? Jump out of my own body and run? The facts of the matter were that I was exhausted, aching, and try as I might, I could not go any faster. Every step had become an ordeal, made more difficult by the mass of Jean’s unconscious form on my shoulders. Is this how I had imagined my death? No. But the noose was tightening all the same.
With great effort, I shifted the position of the bleeding body as I sought relief from the burning that Jean's weight was inflicting on my tired muscles. But it was in vain. The pain seemed to intensify.
It was a pain that had started as a dull and manageable ache. But five hours of fleeing, carrying the bleeding, gently breathing body, and plodding through dense tropical undergrowth, had slowly evolved into this sharp, biting sting that was now torturing my whole torso. Simple breathing was now a problem. It felt as if my lungs were being squeezed down into my stomach. I could not continue like this. Something had to be done. But what?
It was a question that I had refused to consider up till now, a question that seemed to defile the person that I believed myself to be. And it was a simple enough question:
Should I leave Jean behind? Should I drop his body and move on although he was still alive?
It would make everything easier. All I had to do was lean to the side and his warm, though inert body would slide effortlessly to the ground. Without his weight on my shoulders, maybe I would stand a chance of eluding the men and getting out of this jungle alive.
So, should I leave him behind and move on? Why not? What was the point of trying to save him if I was going to die in the process? And he was not even African.
Forcefully, I tore my mind away from the thoughts that were shouting in my head and limped on into the windy night. This was not the time to give in to such a thought, I told myself. “But why not?”, another thought shouted. “Do you want to live, or do you want to die? Is this how you want to end?”
I did not want to die. More than anything, I wanted to get out of this jungle alive. With voices screaming in my head, I pressed on.
By the time I reached the Crocodile infested Manyu River, my whole body was screaming, the moon had disappeared and it had started to rain again. Huge fat raindrops that were coming down on the rainforest leaves with a surprisingly noisy onslaught. Ratatatatatat the pelting went, wetting everything and transforming the dark, moist earth into a mushy, slippery paste that rendered progress more difficult.
As I began navigating the slippery incline to the banks of the flooded river, it suddenly became insufferable and I had to stop. Careful now, I told myself, this is definitely not the time to fall. But neither is it the time to be standing around.
My pursuers were not far behind and at the pace I was going, they were sure to catch up soon, that is, if the hyenas did not find me first. I knew they were around as well, and Jean’s bleeding was probably leaving an aromatic trail that would lead the creatures right to us.
I peered into the darkness but it was too dark to really see. Everything was a blur and the rain was not helping. I could barely make out the huge stems of Iroko, Ebony, and Sapele trees that went towering high into the night.
I cocked my ear and listened, hoping to penetrate the windy rain and hear beyond it. What was that noise? Was it real or was it just my mind? The mental strain was becoming intolerable as well. Maybe I should find a good hide out by the river to rest and consider my options. Who knows? The men may go by without seeing us. It was desperate thinking and highly unlikely, but what other options did I have? Leave Jean behind? That seemed to be the only one. I could drop him right here. Why not? Why was I so concerned with the fate of a French national when his government had caused and was causing so much pain for my people?
So, was it wrong to leave him behind although I believed that trying to save him would kill both of us? Did it amount to abandonment? What if I abandoned him? Did that make me into a coward, or a realist? And if somehow I survived could I live with the fact that I had turned my back on a helpless man to save myself? Why not, I reasoned. He was just a man of white skin that Chance had seen fit to throw into this whole mix and...
Wait! Chance? Was it Chance? Was that what it was? Was it the same thing as Destiny? Did that mean it was my destiny to abandon a helpless man in the depths of an unforgiving rain forest? Maybe so. Do the sages not say that everything that happens was meant to be? Does the holy book itself not say that God saw my substance, being yet unformed? And in his book were written the days fashioned for me when as yet there were none of them? Was that not what Destiny was all about? If not, then what was it? Fate? What about all the many, different, seemingly unconnected circumstances and events that had had to come together for me to find myself in this predicament? Was it Chance as well? Or was it Destiny?
My name is Abanda, Son of Dar, and my father told me that in this life, everything happens for a reason. He also told me that his own father died on the very first day that he was to begin school. At the time he was six and needless to say, his young life took a drastic turn for the worse. You see, his mother, my paternal grandmother, did not have the means to support him and his siblings, so it was decided that he would leave the little village of Obang, and go to the township of Mamfe, where he would find a family to serve in exchange for food and a place to sleep. That meant fourteen hours of work everyday. No time to play.
It was a tough life for a little boy who had recently lost his father and was now forced by circumstances, to live in servitude a long way from home and family. The life was far from steady and he was tossed from home to home, at the whims of factors that were not within the comprehension of his young mind.
As he grew older, he began wondering about himself, about life, about other children... Why was he always serving other people? Why could he not live with his mother and family like everyone else? Why had his father died? Was this all he was going to be? Why wasn’t he going to school like other children? Was he fundamentally different? Was something wrong with him?
Out of these questions was born a powerful desire to better himself. And somehow he figured out that the accumulation of knowledge was essential to achieving this dream. But first, he had to learn how to read. So he taught himself. Then, he began entreating his guardian, at the time a Nigerian from the Ibo tribe, to let him attend school. Surprisingly the man accepted and my father proceeded to earn a long overdue standard six certificate, which qualified him to sit examinations for an entry-level position into a local bank! He passed, got the job and his life changed.
With a job he got a little place that was all his own. For the first time he did not have to come home to one thousand and one chores, there was no one to scream at him or beat him up if he made a mistake or became too tired to finish a chore. His mother and siblings could visit him any time and even live with him if they choose. But most importantly, he now made enough money to buy a few books at the end of every month. And he did.
From his meager salary he began reading voraciously, so that by the time I was born twenty years later, entire walls of my father’s house had been taken up by bookstands that were struggling to contain an ever-increasing library.
As a toddler I would spend hours and hours poring through these books, searching for beautiful pictures, paintings and drawings. I would stare at the beauty of the lines and marvel at the ingenuity of the artists. I would see myself in dreams, drawing beautiful lines, objects, images, and illustrations like those in the pages of my father’s books. The pencil became my best friend as I went about drawing on whatever surface was available to be drawn upon. I could not get enough of the line. I would draw things and my friends and schoolmates would be dumbstruck. Teachers from other classes would send for me if they needed an illustration on the chalkboard. I was soon doing comic books and storyboards and my life was slowly, but surely, being taken over by art. And there was nothing, I, or anybody, could do about it.
Then in June of 96, I earned a bachelor’s degree in history. It was a moment of truth, especially for my mother who had made all kinds of sacrifices so I could go to college. It was time to get a job and make a living. But guess what? There were no jobs. Absolutely none.
You see, Cameroon is the classic archetype of a contemporary African nation; extremely blessed in countless natural resources, but exploited and mismanaged into abject poverty, a status quo that gave me, an unemployed graduate, many things about which to be distressed. Being an artiste, I began submitting political cartoons to the country’s biggest, privately owned, bi-weekly English newspaper. The editors liked my work and I became the official cartoonist.
All of what I have told you so far is important because, now that I think about it, I realize that without my father’s books, my imagination may never have been triggered into the world of art. Without that, I would probably never have become a cartoonist. If I had never become a cartoonist, there is no way I would have met Jean. And without that fateful meeting, I would not be in this predicament where I was wondering if I should abandon him in the jungle or not.
Kingdom of Kemet, 1720 B.C
Although the sun was almost at its highest point in the sky the King had not yet appeared. Like everyone else Ridissi was not certain as to why the monarch was taking so long. No one alive could remember the last time that a celebration dedicated to the sun god had started this late. Ridissi was certain that it had never happened. At least, not during his lifetime and certainly not during the Forty-one rains that he had served as the first royal announcer of the King’s court.
Was it not common knowledge? Did children not sing about it? Who in the Kingdom did not know that the celebrations of the sun must always start at sunrise? Had the King somehow forgotten? That would be impossible! The priest of the sun god was a man that Ridissi knew personally. He was not the kind of man who would let the palace forget something as important as this. The King was usually alerted well in advance of such events, and Ridissi was certain that this one had not been an exception.
For the thousandth time, he wondered what the Monarch’s excuse could be. Maybe he’d just overslept! But what can one expect? The new King was nothing like his father before him. He was different and in some very unsettling ways.
Since Neferhotep, the last King, went to be with the gods five rains ago, the Kingdom had suffered one setback after another: The nation-wide irrigation system needed a lot of repair work, dams were broken, agriculture was suffering, food was getting short, crime was on the rise, the trans-Saharan trade routes were not safe anymore, public infrastructure needed repairs; the list went on and on.
During this time, the new King had been busy with his group of select friends who were always hovering around like an extension of the royal shadow. Nobody outside of this circle could say what they were about. The word was that even the distinguished council of elders that deliberated on all major issues, did not have the King’s ear anymore, which was impossible to imagine. But if there was any truth to it, then a major line had been crossed, and Ridissi wondered for how long it could go on before something bad happened. The council of elders was not a group that a man could hide away in his pocket. Not even the King could get away with it. Not unless he was extremely popular and well loved by the people.
With that thought, Ridissi raised his eyes and surveyed the scene in front of him, the sea of faces that were looking up at him and creating a stark contrast to the whitewashed buildings of the city in the background. The turnout was impressive and he estimated that up to Twenty thousand people were present for this Ceremony. There were men, women, and children from all walks of life. Some of them were still standing, but most had given up and found a place to sit on the bare earth, in small family groups, under the shade of date palms.
From experience Ridissi knew that the size of this crowd was not a reflection of the King’s popularity. It was more an indication of how worried the people were getting. They could tell that things had not been going well. In fact, some things were going rather badly, and by showing up they felt as if their presence was not only a reminder to the King about his responsibilities, but also an indication of the urgency in the situation. So like obedient children, they had all come into the presence of their father, hoping to hear about a solution to the problem, a solution that would cause sleep to return to the eyes of the men, and bring back food to the stomach of the women and the children.
Suddenly, a wave of excitement swept through the crowd and a cloud of dust rose as thousands of people, simultaneously, rose to their feet. From his vantage point, Ridissi used his hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he attempted to make out the reason for the excitement. He glanced to his right, where the huge, highly decorated royal platform had been erected. He noted that this particular construction had been raised just high enough to be out of the people’s reach.
The platform was filled to capacity and had been so for hours. The chief priests of all the different gods, counselors to the Palace, Nomarchs from all the provinces, Generals of the King’s army, ambassadors from distant lands, scribes, praise singers, and the hundreds of uniformed servants that was the trademark of royal events, were all present. And all of them were seated in order of importance, with the lowliest delegations, placed furthest from the raised throne of solid gold, which as yet, was conspicuously vacant.
To Ridissi’s left was another raised platform, somewhat bigger and equally decorated. And it too, was filled with fat, oily looking dignitaries and ‘friends of the court’, who were all accompanied by their own friends, family members, hangers-on and servants in waiting.
On both platforms, everyone had turned out in full ceremonial regalia. There were even matching insignias that served the purpose of identifying the different delegations by function. Most were enhanced with precious metals and stones, displayed for all to see; a symbol of how much power they wielded at court. Indeed, it was raining gold and precious stones.
Finally, Ridissi could see the reason for the excitement. It was coming from the platform to the right, where the Chief priest of the sun god, had risen to his feet. It was an indication that after six hours of waiting, the King was finally ready!
As Ridissi watched, the priest, dressed in shimmering black silk, walked to the edge of the stage and raised both arms, first upwards towards the sun, and then outwards to the crowd. It was the royal salute, and the crowd heaved a small, but audible sigh of relief.
It was also the signal that Ridissi, fifth son of Ngoma, first royal announcer to the King’s court, and honorable member of several councils, had been waiting for. He cleared his throat. Then in a rich and powerful baritone that belied his size, he lunged into the royal recitation that would welcome the King onto the platform.
“A long, long time ago,” his voice boomed, “far up in the Hutu and Tutsi hills where the great Aur River begins its journey, a great Kingdom was born. It was a Kingdom that was created by the heroes of old, and so from the very beginning it was blessed with great Kings and rulers. These great men expanded the Kingdom, building city after city along the lengthy river, all the way to the sea. People of the Kingdom,” he continued, “By the laws of our tradition, we must therefore, always thank and celebrate the gods in honor of all the blessings that we enjoy,” he paused. “Today is the day of the sun, and every man, woman, and child in the Kingdom has been celebrating since sunrise,” he shouted, pointing in the general direction of the platform. “The sun priest himself, honorable eyes and ears of the sun god, keeper of the sun’s secrets, he on whom we all depend for solar transmission, is here. And as expected he will lead the people in the ceremonial rites that will open the heart of the sun god, so that blessings can be poured out onto the land.”
From the corner of his eye Ridissi saw the black-clad priest briefly raise the gold staff in his left hand in acknowledgement, as his office was mentioned.
“But before this can happen,” Ridissi continued, “We must first welcome the one whose presence is essential to procure the attention of the gods, the blessed one, he who was divinely chosen, he whose word is power, upholder and keeper of our laws, owner of vast uncountable wealth, great warrior whose heart fears no foe, General of a thousand armies, conqueror of endless Kingdoms and ruler of all the world.” He paused to catch a breath. “Men, women and children gathered here today, I, Ridissi fifth son of Ngoma, first royal announcer to the King’s court, have the honor, to present to you KING NEHESY AESARE, Son of Neferhotep, guardian of Kepharra’s right hand, and lord of the great Kingdom of Kemet.”
Ridissi had come to the end of the recital and he bowed to thunderous applause as the King, surrounded by a thick phalanx of bodyguards, stepped onto the stage through a side door that had been made especially for the occasion.
Now, with the ceremony underway, Ridissi sat down and turned his full attention to the platform. He had a clear view of the king as he lumbered over to the huge golden throne, and lowered his massive bulk into it.
He was late by six hours. It was a sacrilege that could never be overlooked. But the announcer could not say it aloud. Not if he wanted to live. At this point, no one knew as yet what the gods would decide. It was a prerogative that was theirs, and theirs alone. What Ridissi was certain of, though, was that there would be serious consequences with far reaching ramifications. The sun's wrath would be terrible to behold.
In the blistering afternoon heat, he shivered at the thought.