The Lion-Hearted

Once upon a while back, the world as we know it was made up of different people, different races. Majority of them had come together and formed a kingdom called Aiye, where they were under the rule of Oba-Aiye and his Henchmen.

There was a particular race, however, that had refused to become part of the coalition. They were called the lion-hearted, renowned for their bravery and beauty. The men were able, and the women virtuous, remember this is folktale so try to keep up.

Eledumare was the father of the race, his son Agu ne jemba was fearless, and his praise name Eya-Judah was well known. Myth has it that he could take on the form of a lion, as could everyone born of the loins of the great one. It was something to do with the talisman of faith given to every member of the tribe at birth.

The tribe was situated in Odi, surrounded by mountains so they were protected. They had many enemies because of their refusal to become a part of the coalition, but they had fought hard to have peace and guarded it jealously. Eledumare never failed to remind them to keep their talisman of faith on, and to ensure they did not trade it for anything, because only by faith could they defeat the forces they were up against.

It was his mark on them, how they were identified. A time came when Eledumare had to be away, because the coalition wanted to meet with him and see if they could persuade him to join them. He knew his answer would remain the same, but accepted the offer to meet them.

On his departure, he left his first son Agu in charge and gave stern warning to keep within the boundaries of Odi, not allowing any strangers in. As the days progressed, the warnings were forgotten, and in forgetfulness, danger gained a foothold.

Seven of the daughters of Eledumare, sisters and friends, headed to the river together to fetch water for the home, as they walked, a song with a haunting quality called for them to leave the path. Imo the oldest, felt the heat of her talisman as it glowed against her skin, and so did 5 out of the other 6. A sense that danger was close by filled her, quickly she moved her sisters, but noted Ayanfe the youngest hesitate.

Wondering why, she pulled her arm and asked, “Where is your talisman?”

“At home” replied the young one.

With a sigh, she said, “you know father has warned us to keep the talisman of faith on at all times. Resist the pull of that song, there is something evil about the strains.”

Ayanfe the youngest would not hear of it, she stayed a while longer, taking in the song until its words and melody were ingrained in heart and mind. They returned home, and it became a part of her daily routine, she would sing it as she did her chores. Before long she began to toy with the thought of going in search of the owner of the charming voice.

The day came finally when Ayanfe went to the stream on her own, as she walked the path she sang the song, suddenly she saw a figure move from behind a tree. He was tall, bright-eyed with white teeth. He smiled and offered to help her carry her pot and fill it; initially she resisted remembering the warning of Eledumare to be mindful of strangers. Then the stranger opened his mouth and began to sing the melody that had consumed her heart, she smiled and relaxed.

“So it was you” she said. “Your voice is beautiful.”

His hand still extended, he asked to help her with her pot, she didn’t recall other details, but knew that he had the pot in one hand and led her to the river bank with the other. Had she been mindful, she would have realized that not until she agreed to take his help did he cross the faint boundary line into Odi. He filled her pot, and then placed it on her head.

He introduced himself as El’ete during the walk to the river and asked if she would come tomorrow. He claimed he was a traveling nomad going from town to town entertaining the folks, and he was on the way to another town, but needed to rest. He said he was tired but could not access Odi, try as he might, because he needed an invitation from a child of the land to enter it unharmed.

“Oh you are most welcome” Ayanfe said, but then her face fell, “my brother will not be too happy though. I will sneak you in tonight, if you wait here so you can eat, sleep and be refreshed for the journey”.

He thanked her and said he would wait where they met. She went back as promised, brought him in under the cover of night, fed and gave him a place to rest his head before she retired. Once all was quiet, this young man crept out of the house and walked the length and breadth of the land, bright eyes recording the lay of the land, and the points of entry.

Before anyone stirred, he was gone, like a mist broken by the light of day. Ayanfe went that morning to the hut, but the young man was gone and an unease filled her, quickly she went to grab her talisman of faith but her talisman lay lukewarm in her hands, barely warm, the unease became a full blown fear.

At that moment, her brother Agu came in and saw her. “What is the matter he asked?” but was met with cold silence, and a look of fear in his sister’s eyes.

A week later, Agu was out hunting with his brothers, when a scout came running as fast as his feet could carry him from the southern border. Hot on his heels were the three other border scouts, the four reached the center of Odi, and began to hit the drums signaling that war was coming.

Ayanfe and her sisters ran out as the town suddenly became a blur of movement. Agu and his brothers returned with the speed of lightning. Quickly everyone assembled. He looked at his sisters and brothers, and said to them “the hedge is broken.”

Coming to a standstill in front of Ayanfe, he smiled sadly and said “the serpent has come looking to bite, will you speak to your brother now?”

Tearfully she recounted what had happened and the part she had to play in it. She held her Talisman of faith with the glow now barely a flicker, as she confessed the misdeed. She expected him to fully chastise and have her excommunicated, what he did next amazed not just her, but the entire gathering.

He blew on the talisman gently, and it blazed to life. The elders said in annoyance “he doesn’t deserve that.”

He responded “the reason Eledumare left me in charge is because that which is bruised I bind not break, and that which is smoking, I fan back to life instead of quenching.”

“Ayanfe I saw you bring in the young stranger, and I saw him stake out the land, but what he doesn’t know is that Odi is called the place of sanctuary for reason.”

Quietly he looked at the assembly, and said “they have brought a fight to Odi, because they want to know why we are the lion-hearted, are you ready to show them?”

The resounding yes from the gathering shook the land. Quickly men and women went to prepare for the coming war, in one accord. Like the ancient ones had done before them, they knelt through the night, and communed with one another, strengthening and sharpening each other’s spirits.

The next morning they went to meet the approaching enemy, men and women alike warriors. Built for battle, they stood shoulder to shoulder and before Ayanfe’s eyes, her brother took on the form of a massive lion as he led his people.

One glance in the direction of the approaching army was enough to tell Ayanfe that El’ete was in the lead. Fear initially gripped her heart, but strength surged through her when she remembered that her brother had stood for her and would continue to do so. She looked towards him, he nodded, and she went into the battle.

They fought fiercely, with Agu in the lead, they began to gain ground over the enemy, but in desperation El’ete snuck through the fray, his one aim to kill ayanfe, for he knew that striking her down would be one way to get at Agu.

Agu saw him move towards Ayanfe and understood what his aim was, quickly he moved to intercept. Standing between El’ete and Ayanfe, he roared, and fear filled El’ete but he quickly recouped and asked.

“Why do you fight for a woman who betrayed and opened you up to destruction?”

Agu sent Ayanfe to the top of a hill, as El’ete continued. “We will take this land right before your eyes since you have refused to join us in servitude to Oba-aiye”

“This is Odi, the place of sanctuary, we will not cower before any coalition”

Laughing El’ete responded “also the place of you death.”

Suddenly Agu felt a sword pierce his side, and heard Ayanfe scream his name, One of El’ete’s men had snuck up and stabbed him. El’ ete laughed and raising his sword plunged it straight into the heart of the wounded lion. Then the ground began to shake and the earth split open right before El’ete’s eyes, screams filled the air as the hoards that had come to attack Odi were swallowed up.

He looked up at the hill where Ayanfe knelt, crying and groaning, darkness had covered the land like a cloak. With almost his entire army wiped out and the warriors of Odi in disbelief at the death of their commander in chief, rage filled El’ete. He needed to strike hard at the heart of Eledumare, but before he could act, a horn sounded in the distance and suddenly radiant light poured forth.

Eledumare and his entourage had arrived, and chased the remaining motley crew away. Odi was secure, but on the ground lay the lion-heart. Ayanfe woke up on the evening of the second day after the battle, the following morning would be the burial procession, the lion-heart would be given a befitting home going ceremony. She felt that Eledumare had come too late. He was all knowing, why didn’t he come a day sooner, with him there, the story would have turned out so differently.

She carried her water jar as soon as dawn came, and went to fetch water with which to wash the body of the dead prince. He was once again in the form of a man, with a wound in his side and in his heart.

She sat with his head in her laps, regret and pain etched in her face, and whispered “Agu you should not have given your life for me?”

“Why not ?” he responded

She screamed, unable to move, the lips had moved, she knew they had, but he was dead. Laughing, the young prince sat up and put his hand to the side of her face.

“Peace be still Ayanfe, you are mine and I am yours. Eledumare is me and I am him, in my death, the law died.”

“What law?” she asked.

“The law that left Odi and you vulnerable to attacks from the enemy, the law that would have rendered you his. I live and so do you, this is the mystery of faith, that I died in order that you might live and live abundantly.

The wounds in his side and heart had healed leaving faint scars, Agu sat up.

“It is finished” he said, “it is time to rejoin the assembly.”

Needless to say instead of a burial and the sound of weeping, the sound of rejoicing emanated from Odi.

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