Zamba pinched his eyes shut straining to remember; willing himself to unearth some particle of recollection. He rubbed his hands over his faced and shook his head in frustration. “I awoke in a hut. I was chained. A girl named Zuri asked my name and told me Matwanda brought me to her. She helped me escape, but I don’t know why. This is what I remember. Everything previous is washed from my mind.”
“Zuri? Matwanda’s sister? She knows your value, she would not have let you go without reason.” The woman’s eyes darted around the small group of onlookers. They were nodding in muted agreement; their faces were lit with intrigue and concern. “She is a healer. Zamba…did she give you anything? Food, or drink or trinket?”
“Yes. She fed me the night I left and gave me a flask of water to travel with. The remaining food is in the pouch she snuck to me.” Zamba looked at the woman with wide, perplexed eyes silently asking the relevance of the question she posed. She was biting the corner of her lip and lost in thought. She paced slowly around Zamba muttering something under her breath.
The woman knelt by Zamba, and reached for his hand. There was a kindness in her eyes, a look that calmed Zamba. “Where is the bag Zamba?” She asked.
“I left it there…by the entrance…” Zamba pointed to the overhanging rocks that he had passed under only a short while ago. He looked down, feeling ashamed and added, “In case I needed to run…” The woman sent a man she called Musa to retrieve it. He quickly heeded her request and recovered the pouch far faster than Zamba thought possible. Musa gingerly laid the bag in front of the woman and bowed slightly. She waved him off and turned to Zamba.
Curiosity flickered in her dark eyes and she dumped the contents into Zamba’s lap. The rock and flask clanked together and the small melon thudded as it rolled off his lap and onto the soft dirt. The last thing to fall out was a crumbling biscuit. Zamba watched as the woman inspected each of the items carefully. She turned the melon in her hands searchingly and sliced it open with the rock. “Nothing.” She clicked her tongue and mumbled as she handed the pieces to hungry villagers. She shook the flask and peered inside. “Empty.” She shook her head and pursed her lips. She eyed the biscuit and cautiously lifted it up. Her lips moved silently as she uttered an inaudible prayer. She closed her eyes and crumbled it slowly between her worn, cracked fingers. Bits of bread littered the ground and a soft warm breeze lifted them up and made them dance before carrying them away. Zamba looked to see where the breeze could have come from, but the wind was gone as quick as it came. The woman wore the same soft smile she had offered when she first found Zamba sleeping. She extended her fisted hand towards Zamba. Anticipation swelled within him inexplicably. One by one, she peeled her fingers from her palm. Zamba’s eyes widened as she revealed a tiny vial of an odd colored liquid. Something stirred in the darkness of Zamba’s mind. A memory he could not surface…but he knew what the woman would ask of him before she spoke the words.
“Zamba, you must drink this.” She pressed the vial into his shaking palm and looked at him with reassurance. Zamba tipped his head back and poured the serum down his throat in one quick shot. He looked at the woman and tried to speak, but the words seemed thick and would not flow. His eyes grew very heavy and the woman caught his head as he slumped forward. “Sleep, Zamba. The wind is blowing the fog away. You will see clearly when you wake.”
Zamba’s eyes darted under his closed lids as pictures filled his mind.
A boy playing stickball with a smile too large for his small face…men carrying torches and shouting…a mother and father screaming for him as their hut catches fire…the boy again…older now, missing the smile…he sits with an old shaman practicing his trade….the shaman shows him three small coins and places a seed in the boys left hand and a mature plant in his right…the old man places the coins next to the seed and whispers quietly…it blooms instantly….he places the coins next to the fully grown plant and whispers again…the plant turns to ash….the boy makes an oath to protect the coins with his life…the men with torches return…the boy swallows the coins as voices near…he is pulled from the shaman’s hut and carted off to be sold as a slave…he hears a man demanding the coins from the shaman…the boy watches smoke fill the sky as he is carted away….
Just before dawn, Zamba bolted upright in a deep sweat; his heart racing. He groped in the darkness for his sandals and for the rock Zuri had given him. He quickly tied his sandals to his feet and snuck past the woman with the sweet smile-Notori, the shaman’s wife. He was thankful to once again remember the woman who took him in after his parents died.
Zamba descended the mountain as though the devil himself was chasing him. The sun was rising and the air was thick and heavy. A soft breeze was stirring the dust around Zamba as he raced to the olive tree. The relief he felt as he reached the tree was only temporary. The leather band swayed gently above him, but Zamba gasped as he looked down. The earth around the tree was full of holes. Zamba fell to his knees and sifted through the loosened clay.
“Have you lost something slave?” Matwanda laughed as he shook the coins in his hands.
Zamba turned to face the man who had killed his parents. “I have taken an oath. I am the guardian of the coins and only I know how to harness their power. They are simply trinkets in your hands.”
“You are an insignificant boy. But you are correct. I haven’t found the secret words to speak.” A sinister smile spread across Matwanda’s face as he motioned for one of his men. The brute drug a heavy bag behind him and threw it at Matwanda’s feet. “But…you will tell me. I’m sure of it.” He reached into the bag and pulled a young girl out by the hair.
Zuri’s eyes met Zamba’s and she shook her head frantically. She tried to spit out the gag that was in her mouth but Matwanda shoved it in further and dropped her to the ground. “I have no tolerance for betrayal but I will trade her life for the incantation.”
Zamba looked at Zuri’s battered body. Tears filled her eyes, but she continued to frantically shake her head; warning him to not agree to Matwanda’s terms. “You would kill your own sister?”
“Such innocence. I would kill my own mother if she betrayed me. Zuri has defied me and there are consequences for such behavior. Now…do we have an agreement boy? Or would you like to watch as I behead her?”
Zamba’s heart raced. “We have an agreement.” He sighed heavily and knelt before Matwanda.
“I expected as much. Now tell me the words that I must speak to give these coins power.”
Zamba pulled the rock from his pocket and weakly said “Hold out your hands Matwanda and I will show you.” Matwanda narrowed his eyes but complied. Zamba placed the rock in Matwanda’s left hand and told Matwanda where to place the coins. He closed his eyes and hesitantly whispered the words that his mentor and friend had taught him. The rock shattered in Matwanda’s hand leaving hundreds of small diamonds in its place.
Matwanda screamed in delight. “I will be the most powerful man in existence!”
“There is more Matwanda. I will show you if you vow to never harm Zuri.”
Matwanda paused for only a second as he carefully chose his words. “More than this?! If you are promising me more than riches then yes, I vow to never harm Zuri.”
Zuri lay sobbing at Matwanda’s feet, her eyes still pleading with Zamba. He looked at her apologetically and said,“Zuri, forgive me.”
Matwanda seemed to enjoy watching the pain he was inflicting on both his sister and Zamba, but was growing impatient. “I have agreed to your terms, now fulfill your end of the bargain,” he boomed.
“Hold the three coins in your right hand and clutch your heart Matwanda. I will teach you more, but you must not move.” Matwanda’s lips curled into a proud, devious smile as he waited for his reward. Zamba hung his head and whispered the ancient words again.
Matwanda began to laugh as he felt the power surge through him. It flowed slowly, powerfully, from the coins he clutched in his hand, up his arm until it reached his heart. “I feel stronger! Invincible!” he exclaimed. But as the sensation continued, his smile faded and his eyes grew wide. He gasped for breath and begged for help. Matwanda’s followers fled out of fear and Zuri covered her ears as he wheezed his final pleas.
Zamba felt the weight of his calling as Matwanda slowly turned to stone and then crumbled before his feet. He had never wanted to be the cause of someone’s death. Even someone deserving of it. It was a bitter-sweet victory.
His eyes were wet and his heart heavy as he combed through the rubble. Small diamonds littered the ground amid the debris. Zamba made a mental note to have the displaced villagers come and collect them. They could rebuild their village with the proceeds, but Zamba could not bring himself to linger longer and collect them. He brushed through the debris quickly until he found what he was looking for. Under Matwanda’s stone heart lay the three small coins. They shined as bright as the diamonds and were warm to the touch. Zamba ripped a strip of fabric from his shirt and wrapped them up carefully before putting them in his pocket.
Zuri stood up slowly and wiped her tears. “It is done. His reign of terror is finished.”
Zamba offered a weak smile. “Yes. But there will be others.”
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