by Favour Joshua Bill
Rainfall was a sign that a good harvest was underway. Every farmer in Koforidua looked expectantly to the sky each planting season.
This rain however was no good sign. In fact, it would never be fondly remembered by the people of Koforidua years to come.
Kofi Ananse was a very hard-working man. Whenever barns of yams or flocks of livestocks were mentioned, he was sure to be mentioned alongside, for he was one of the few noblest of the most noblemen in Koforidua. It was well known that he inspected his farms himself; hence no worker of his dared laze around.
But as Kofi inspected his farms this morning, nothing prepared him for what he saw. Littered around his poultry pens were carcasses of his precious birds. Not one, not two, but masses of carcasses scattered about, some half eaten and others squashed to death. The entire pen was emptied.
“Nyame ooh! What is this? My enemies must have started again,” he reasoned aloud.
Boiling with fury, he marched outside the remains of his beloved pen, heading straight to the palace.
“It is enough,” he spat out angrily. He must lodge his complaint first as the law demanded, later would come his revenge.
Aboagye Osei was a man of few words. He seldom spoke to his wives, children or servants unless he had a reason to summon them. His household believed he never slept because he was up even before the sun rose. Nursing a weird moustache, his poker face was a mystery to read as no one except the King dared look him in the eye. His favourite items were his hip dagger and crossbow, for he was the Chief Bodyguard of the King, a position he had had held for years even before Nana Obiri Boateng II was born.
Aboagye had just been summoned to the palace. There was nothing strange about that, or so he thought, until he neared the palace gates. Wailings could be heard from afar and Aboagye hastened his steps for nobody wailed in Koforidua for good. As soon as he could, Kofi Ananse joined the group of noble men granted entry into the palace halls. His status granted him rare privileges like this, for he could not bear to join the wailing crowd forming outside the palace gates.
“So this was no enemy attack,” Kofi mused aloud. Everyone outside the gate had something to complain about. For their chickens, goats, pigs and almost every domestic animal available had been massacred. Ha! This was no random tale; he had to see the King, for he must have something to say.
Aboagye did not expect to see the King weeping as soon as he entered the royal chambers.
As soon as he had given directions to the Asafos, the palace guards, he returned back to the King. “May you live long Nana!!! Longer than your fathers before you!, May your enemies be cu….”
“Aboagye, do you think I can live long with all these wailings by my people,” Nana asked, cutting him short. The noble men are all seated in the palace hall awaiting my speech. But what can I tell my people, for even I, their King has never seen such great terror in my life until now? What can I say Aboagye?”
For the first time in his life, Aboagye had no answer to his King.
The noblemen were quieted by the Chief Bodyguards’ announcement of the King’s entry. Now seated on his golden throne, Nana Obiri Boateng II faced the apprehensive faces of his council. “We can all agree that this is certainly not the rainy harvest we prayed for,” he began.
Seeing that the comment drew nods from the men seated before him, Nana Obiri continued calmly, “I wish to assure the good people of Koforidua, by the stool of my forefathers, I swear to you that no more losses shall be incurred again. As we speak, the Akwansrafos have been deployed to ensure that the travel routes are secure so that trading can still go on. As for the rampaging monster, the Adonten army will be led by Aboagye himself to comb the forests and streams of Koforidua. They shall search until that monster is found. And they shall kill it and bring its carcass to the square.
“The Asafos shall be subdivided into units. The palace shall remain guarded while the remaining units of the village shall be guarded by volunteers, men, able-bodied, who shall be hand-picked by Aboagye himself. They shall serve as night guards for the village until this monster is no more. The royal town crier shall be summoned this instant.
“I am Nana Obiri Boateng II and this is my decree. All able-bodied young men, from 21years upward are to volunteer to serve alongside the Asafos. T hey shall serve unless Aboagye says otherwise.”
The council bowed their heads in support. Nana was wise. They would be safe again. Aboagye was a fearless warrior. He would lead the army to victory, they were sure of that.
Kweku Frimpong Jnr was still helping his mother tie the last bundle of her firewood before she went to the big market when the town crier hit his gong.
“Maame! Maame! It’s a message from the King,” he cried running towards the sound.
Maame Efua was forced to take her son seriously when she saw a little crowd forming around the royal news bearer. “Kweku! Kweku!,” she yelled, “What did he say?” She could not keep up with the pace of the growing crowd. She had things to do.
Aha! Her wood. Sighing deeply, she turned back to the compound. She would tie her woods quickly and head to the market. Kweku would bring the news back home.
But, the news did not come back home. Neither did Kweku.
So When Maame Efua returned home from the market late at night to find Kweku’s room empty, her heart did a thousand flip flops. She raised a scream so loud that neighbours immediately hurried over.
“Efua, what is it?” some chided. Efua did not mind at all.
“It’s Kweku, my son. I haven’t seen him since I returned. Kweku never stays out till this time”, she said in between sobs.
“He is no more a child Efua”, another retorted. “The boy will come home”
Their exchange was distracted by a loud shriek in the distance. The women eyed each other in fear. Maame Efua’s apprehension only grew. The men hurried towards the sound as the women dispersed back to their huts. Efua made up her mind. She would waste no more time. She would go to the palace and lay her complaints.
Nana would assign her a guard. Kweku would be found.
Kweku knew all the military ranks by heart. Ever since he was a boy, he had dreamed of nothing else but crossbows, daggers and swords. Papa had been the only one who cared enough to build him a wooden sword. He had still been the one to give him his first arrow bar. The best and last gift he had ever gotten from him.
He still remembered that day clearly; Maame had been so mad that she had threatened to break the arrow bar. Maame and her threats. She had done nothing though, up until Papa had died. Maame couldn’t hurt a fly. He had given up his dreams. Even the sight of the mere arrow broke Maame apart.
Now though as he stood in line amongst almost 60 able-bodied men, he felt his heart lurch as he thought of what Maame would say if she saw him here. He could already hear her soft voice waver. This was why he had run away. He couldn’t bear to break her heart.
Aboagye had expected the people to respond, but this was too much. From the hot afternoon he had interviewed more than 50 men, yet the queue seemed unending. He had to take a stricter step, raise the bar. Whoever fell off, fell out.
The moon was almost out. The sooner he ended this, the sooner they could begin training. If the rumours were true, the monster was bound to attack tomorrow night. If he did not take its head, he would lay down his sword. It was his time to quit.
Kofi Ananse heard the shriek before anyone else.
The servant who stood guard at the rear of his house had run inside to quickly report the matter. Kofi Ananse decided to investigate himself. He suspected it came from the Osei’s compound. Adoa Osei was a loud woman. He wondered what could be wrong this time of the night. Mentally preparing himself to sternly advise her, he was met with a wailing crowd. The news, Agyei Osei did not return from his farm this evening. One of his sons had organized a search party, his carcass had been found torn along the village trail. Agyei Osei had been massacred! He was a noble man.
Aboagye looked up to find a thin looking teenager in line.
“Did you not get the message clear?” he asked, feeling his irritation growing.
“I’m no teenager, my Lord,” the lad replied, looking him straight in the eye.
Nobody dared look him in the eye. This lad was up to something.
Aboagye had served long enough to know there was defiance in those eyes. It could either be a good thing or not. Someday, if he had time to spare, he would like to train this lad. But tonight was not one of such days. He needed men who would cower to his orders. Men who never dare raise their eyes to their Commander. So turning his face away, he ended the staring match. Disqualified! He stated rather briskly.
The boy’s face crumpled. Obviously he had never seen this coming. He had guts, he could see it clearly. He was thin yet muscular, a fine young man. He would make a good warrior. But good wasn’t what Aboagye sought. He wanted an obedient soldier. This one didn’t seem like the type to take orders. His eyes spoke volumes and Aboagye was too smart to ignore that.
Kweku felt an overwhelming sense of loss. He had stood face to face with the one man he respected the most and he had been turned away. “Disqualified!” those words still rang in his ears. He had done everything right. He even passed the physical test. He had no illness or disability. So, why? Why?
Maame Efua would be relieved.
Kofi Ananse did not wait for the sun to rise before he made his way to the palace. He was accompanied by Osei’s widow. She had gathered a huge crowd of mourners. Kofi couldn’t tell if her tears were more of a show. Maame Efua had come to his house the night before. Her son Kweku did not return home. He knew Kweku, for his father Frimpong had been his best friend for years before he died.
Kweku was an honest lad. If he didn’t come home, there was trouble. He had reassured Efua that all was well. After seeing Osei’s corpse, he wasn’t so sure. They would go together to the palace. He could only pray, they found the boy before the monster did.
Over 60 men were recruited to stand guard alongside the Asados. Aboagye himself would lead the Adonten army. As he raised his militia headdress in mock salute, he watched the battalion of soldiers eagerly awaiting his command. Some were fathers, husbands and sons. He was responsible for each of their lives, brave men who knew nothing of what lay in wait.
Aboagye suppressed a sigh. “One thing must kill a man,” he mused.
Outside the palace gate, Kweku watched the new army prepare. He was so engrossed that he did not hear the wailing crowd approach. It was Mama’s scream that jolted him.
“Kweku eh! Nyame ooh!” She sang.
Maame Efua spared no drama when it came to her son. Soon, a tear-soaked Kweku was explaining to the crowd that he had simply followed the town crier back to the palace. Kofi Ananse did not care for the details. The boy was safe, bless his soul.
He had bad news for the King.
The monster did not just hunt animals. It hunted Man too.
Aboagye was the first to see him.
He barked a few orders and followed Kofi. He had a small crowd behind him.
“Aboagye eh!” he had never heard Kofi raise his voice that loud. “The monster eats Man too! Agyei Osei is dead. I saw his corpse myself.”
Aboagye turned his head towards his training battalion. Word had travelled to them, their faces betrayed their fears. “Ha ! Nana!” He must hurry to the King.
Kweku Frimpong watched the Chief Bodyguard break into a run. He knew the palace was in panic. The training battalion had started to retire. No amount of training prepared them to face a man eating monster. A beast that feasted on animals was one thing; one that devoured humans was another.
Suddenly an idea struck him. If he played his cards right, he would get his dream. Aboagye would keep his pride, the King would win back his people. Cornering a guard proved easier than he thought. Soon, he was sneaking into the King’s chambers disguised as an Asafo.
Nana Obiri Boateng II had given up.
They would send troops to Kumasi, the capital to beg for help. He would pay the price. He would step down from the throne that was his rightfully. Aboagye bowed his head low. If the King stepped down, he would too. For what use was a warrior who couldn’t defend his King?
Kweku eyed the two men carefully. Aboagye was smart and very observant. If he sounded too desperate, his plan would fail. He needed to calm down. But his musings were caught short.
“Who are you!” Aboagye growled, pinning him against a door with his dagger inches from his face.
“Kwe…ekuu,” he stammered. “Kwe..eku Frimpong.”
He watched Aboagye’s sharp intake of breath, the fury gaining in his eyes. He recognized him.
“How dare you?! After I sent you out, how dare you sneak into the King’s private chambers?” Stubborn, yes, he had seen the eyes. But cunny, he hadn’t seen that coming. “I sent you home,” he began “Now I shall send you to jail”.
The lad wanted to speak, Nana could tell. As a boy, Nana had learned to rely on his instincts a lot.
Right now, every bone in his body was screaming at him.
“Let the lad go Aboagye! Let him speak. Since he came all the way here, we shall hear him out.”
Three days later, the monster hunt began. The villagers had fed their entire livestock sleeping potion as Kweku had instructed unknown to the beast. It had taken the bait and devoured the livestock as usual only to fall into a slumber so deep.
Together with Aboagye, Kweku, the new captain of the Asafo army, led the troops down the village trail to capture and kill the “Sleeping Beast” without any war.