‘Are you just saying this because you don’t want to see him die here?’ Annan replied. ‘ In that case, my )brafo) can kill him in the execution compound.’ Two )brafo) walked menacingly towards Boadu.
‘Takyiwaa tells me he’s been loyal to you all these years. Perhaps there’s a way he can still serve you?’ Safo insisted.
Annan rubbed his chin in thought. He motioned for six asafo to stand before him. ‘Take him to the mines and make him work day and night, without rest or sleep. If he complains or whines, cut out his tongue. If he sleeps, make it permanent. The asafo bowed before him and dragged Boadu away.
‘Perhaps you would like to take his place, Safo. I need loyal asafo and not thieves. Your company is not in the most pleasant part of the village’.
‘Perhaps when I gain more experience, Great Annan’.
‘Perhaps’. That’s not why I summoned you, though’ smiled Annan. ‘The elders have been very vocal in their disapproval of my style of rule. So all the elders will be sent to the mines near the forest till they see the error of their ways which is why I’m entrusting five companies with this task’.
Later that night, Takyiwaa and Safo exchanged meaningful glances as soon as clouds began to cover the moon. In tow were the elders, their children and wives, bound. The 8TH, 9TH and 10TH companies suddenly stopped moving and brandished their akodze at the remaining two companies.
‘Company 9, we will escort the civilians to Amoawa’s home’ ordered their asafoakyer, Asafoakyer Sarpomaa . Companies 8 and 10 covered their run as Companies 1 and 2 lunged at them. The Supi, distinguished by two large armbands on her arms swung her afonanta (machete like sword) at Takyiwaa, missing her eyes by inches.
Takyiwaa drew out her ndar and swung repeatedly at the Supi, forcing her back. With one swing, Safo slashed through 6 afena, wielded by asafo who still lunged at him. He punched the throats of two asafo and tackled two more with low sweeps of his legs. He kicked the remaining two in the chest and twirled his spear to deflect the arrows shot at him . The remaining asafo of companies 8 and 10 forced the few asafo Safo had not touched back.’
‘Let none of them escape’ warned Safo, knowing that time was needed to tackle the other companies who might be sent to follow up on Annan’s orders. He pushed away an asafo who lunged at Takyiwaa from behind. Together the two fought the Supi, each one attacking from different sides of the head of all the companies.
The Supi sank to her knees, defeated, just like the two companies. She was bound and gagged along with the others.
‘Where do we keep them?”
‘In one of Annan’s special forest prisons’answered Takyiwaa. ‘They’re used whenever the prisons are being rehabilitated. The remaining companies will stay with the chief until he completes his hunt.
‘And how do you know this?’
Takyiwaa stared at the trees around them. ‘You can come out, Yawa.’ A thin dark woman stepped out of the shadows of the forest.’ This is Yawa, the only nkwansrafo I trust in the village’ she explained.
‘Give us your report, Yawa’.
‘Yes, Asafoakyer Takyiwaa’ . ‘Annan is believed to have had no kills in this year’s hunt. As a result, he may even extend it to a few more days before the next Founder’s day’. The other companies may stay put until then’.
She turned her attention to Safo, ‘I’m sorry, Safo, but on the day she trained you, Amoawa was abducted and forced to participate in the hunt.’ Hopefully she may be the reason why Annan has not killed anyone this time. The forest reserve where the hunt takes place is secret, which will make tacking her difficult’.
‘We will keep the elders in Amoawa’s home for the night. ‘ Takyiwaa decided. When the other companies head to the village square to demand the location of the elders, we will ambush them along the way’.
Whenever Amoawa was alone, she practiced her art of self defense,sharpening her skills to the point that when one )brafo) shot an arrow at a rabbit, she snatched it before it could hit its target. The )brafo) went into the forest to retrieve it and was tackled by Amoawa who held her in a chokehold. When the )brafo) was unconscious, she dragged her to a nearby stream and lay in wait for a search party.
None arrived. She heard panicked orders ’ the chief has fainted. Get him out of the heat’. She went back to the others, each one fit and capable of self defense. ‘They’re moving the chief and his people out rather early.’ She reported.
‘I’ll need a volunteer to help me find the route they’re taking out of the forest back to the village’
‘I’ll do it’ said the market woman.
In the afternoon, Yawa met the asafo companies lying in ambush for the companies.
‘There’s one company heading towards the market ‘Apparently something’s happened to the chief and they’re going to suppress any rumours about his condition with excessive force.
The 3rd company marched towards the market, with akodze drawn. On seeing Safo and Sarpomaa’s company, they halted only for the three companies to suddenly charge at them at all sides. Safo drew out his spear and struck down several asafo with its blunt edge. Sarpomaa slashed through several asafo blades and spun away from their attacks. When Safo attacked from the left, Sarpomaa attacked from the right and when he attacked those in front, she attacked those behind him. Takyiwaa’s company restrained and kept the company in the bushes.
‘We have taken care of three companies. However four companies remain. Gaining the support of any one of them could determine the outcome of the battle between the companies and us’ Safo observed.
‘Yawa, find the red herbal concoction of the priests and slip it into the 4th company’s water supply” ordered Takyiwaa. ‘You can find it at their shrine. ‘It won’t kill them but it will cause them to hallucinate, giving them ‘visions’.
As Yawa slipped into the shadows of the approaching evening to carry out the deed, the three companies began to set up barricades separating the chief’s end of the village from the peasant’s end. By the time night fell, the three companies lay in wait for the four other companies. The fith, sixth and seventh companies arrived shortly to meet part of the village covered in thick smoke. They split up into separate groups as they vaulted over the barricade. Hidden by the charcoal smoke, these groups were quietly taken down, one by one. Panicking, they fired their arrows into the thick smoke cover at the least noise, their arrows making a dull thud as they struck wooden figurines.
The smoke began to clear and they found themselves surrounded on all sides. Desperately, they fought back, but the smoke and the fatigue resulting from their fight took their toll on them. Safo sprung towards an asafoakyer, sheathing her akofena in his scabbard the second she thrusted it at him. He flicked it once, sending the akodze into the clay wall of the elder’s hut. He struck her over the head with the empty scabbard, defeating her. As the asafo companies were restrained, Yawa spoke to Safo, ‘Most of the fourth company were unable to fight due to their hallucinations but the safohen (asafo captain) and a few of his men refused to fight.’ ‘Something about you appealing to Annan to spare the brother of their safohen from execution’.
‘How is Boadu’? Safo asked
‘Alive and recovering from his ordeal’ replied Yawa. ‘As soon as the three companies left the chief’s domain, they went to the mines to get him. Boadu’s brother said he wouldn’t fight us, but he wouldn’t help us either’.
Safo turned to Takyiwaa, ‘Since the chief’s military might has been reduced, we should go to the chief along with the elders’ . ‘Maybe now he’ll listen to them since he doesn’t have several asafo companies to threaten the people with.’
‘I’m afraid that will not be possible because a great tree has fallen’ sighed a bound asafokyer.
Suddenly every asafo became very silent. Whilst Annan was known for his cruelty, no-one wanted him dead. Takyiwaa took off her straw hat and sighed, ‘He was very old, perhaps it was simply a matter of time’.
‘How is his son taking it?’ she asked the asafoakyer.
‘Annan died in his arms. He demanded that the steps for the burial be taken immediately in accordance with the old ways. He …..’
‘Safo’ Takyiwaa suddenly cut in, ‘You and the other two companies should go down to the southern part of the village now’. ‘During our fight with the companies, the )brafo) and priests were absent because they’re going to kill the )d)nk) (sacrificial slaves) in order to let them accompany the chief to the afterlife and Amoawa’s father is one of them.’
Amoawa and the other woman had followed the route taken by the asafo through the sacred grove and past the abandoned gold dust mines into the village. They had heard the wails and mourning from the chief’s palace and guessed at what might have happened and beat a hasty retreat. Now in the cold night, they headed back toward the village, lurking in the shadows as patrols of asafo hurriedly rushed past them. She heard a group of asafo speaking about the literal sacrifice of her father as an )d)nk) and sped off towards her hut.Several )d)nk), including her father found themselves surrounded by the priests and )brafo), led by the very )brafo) and priestess who had confronted Amoawa .
‘Rejoice, the priestess smiled, ‘today you will accompany Annan to serve him in the afterl…’
There was a dull thud as the baby faced )brafo) was flung over her shoulder, and into the ground. She turned around only to notice Amoawa grab an asafo by the neck and slam him into the ground. Five )brafo) let off arrows at her but she smacked them away and tackled them with low sweeps of her leg. Two asafo swung their akofena at her but she caught them between her fingers and kicked them in the chest. Snapping their blades across her knees, she advanced toward the other warriors and priests, relentlessly punching and kicking them out of her way with an eerie calm. The priestess drew out her poisoned akodze until Amoawa kicked her throat and smashed her knee into her face as she sunk to her knees.
The last thing the priestess saw before she lost consciousness was Amoawa’s foot coming down on her face. Slowly, ten other sacrificial slaves and their families along with those she led from the forest followed her as she led them past 18 unconscious priests and warriors and into the thickness of the forest. However, Takyi, the elder chose to stay behind. Nearby, an )d)nk) lay on his knees, his hands raised to block the swing of an )brafo). The blade swung downwards but it was blocked by Safo’s spear. He then swung the wooden end against the hand of the )brafo) and then against her head. A priestess threw four poisoned daggers at him, which he snatched in mid-air and snapped in his fist.
She blew a thin spray of poisonous powder but he held his breath and tackled her with a low sweep of his foot before dispelling the powder with two swings of his afena. He struck several priests and executioners in the throat and in the face as he hurried towards Amoawa’s hut. He slashed through the blades of anyone who attacked him and struck them down until 18 )d)nk) were saved from the executioner’s blade. He also realized with great dread, that at his current speed, he would not reach Amoawa’s father in time. He reached her hut, seven minutes later, sweating profusely and brandishing his afena in readiness. He lowered his afena and stood very still.
Takyiwaa run towards him, stopping slowly on noticing the relieved look on his face. He walked past the unconscious bodies of the )brafo) and the priests. ‘Safo, what happened here?” she asked in surprise.
‘Amoawa was here’ he replied simply.
‘There are more than 10 )brafo) and priests here’ she said as she examined them. ‘Most of them need extensive medical attention’. One person could not have done this’.
‘I trained with her for weeks, Takyiwaa, so believe me, when I tell you that this is her handiwork’.
Safo tracked her trail to the edge of the forest and then stooped. ‘She rescued several of the slaves and fled with them deep into the forest and since she doesn’t want to be followed, it would be wise not to pursue her, especially after what the asafo tried to do to the father’.
‘Safo, we must leave now’ noted Takyiwaa. ‘The elders are expecting us in their huts. ‘They want to talk about the future of the royal family’.
The next morning, all of the villagers , for the 1st time in 5 years, walked towards the chief’s palace. Any asafo who attempted to stop them were quickly taken down by Safo. The elders and the asafo went into the palace, as the people waited outside. Five minutes later the elders stepped out, declaring that Annan was merely comatose and that the royal family had abdicated. According to the laws of Annakrom, if the royal line was deemed to be unfit to lead the village, a council of elders would be set up to lead the people.
Panin Takyi spoke to Safo after the people had dispersed. ‘The first thing we will do is return the people’s lands to them and close down the gold mines’.
‘And the practice of sacrificing the slaves?’ asked Safo.
‘Abolished along with the other negative cultural practices we’ve got that go against the belief that life is sacred. It’s my understanding that some of the )brafo) have led into the forest. ‘If they surrender, they will be rehabilitated but if they resist, you and the asafo will detain them, keeping them in the same prison with the other asafo and Annan’s family’
‘Amoawa will speak to you tomorrow, Safo and show you the location of her shelter.’ I think we should reconcile with her as soon as possible’.
‘Like you, she was betrayed by her village’ noted Safo. ‘Reconciliation will take time’.
Takyi turned her attention to Takyiwaa. ‘The panin council has decided to appoint you as the new Supi. This week, we will visit the other villages and convince their chiefs that their position is not in danger, that is if they’re doing the right thing.
‘Very well’ she said quietly. ‘I order that Safo should aid the 8th company in finding the )brafo) and keep the village safe and secure’
‘A wise decision’ Takyi noted. ‘Hopefully, his life will inspire others to join the asafo and fill up the vacancies in the asafo companies to make them complete once again.’
Five weeks later, the rainy season began in earnest, causing rainy days and nights in Annankrom. On the first day of the sixth week, the rain fell in torrents and the wind blew furiously, uprooting young trees in the forest reserve that used to belong to Annan. Oblivious to the weather there, two armed groups faced each other, one clad in the blood-red battledress of the asafo and the other, clad in the somber black attire of the )brafo). Without warning, two of the )brafo) dated towards the asafo and swung their ndar at them only for one lone asafo to block it with his afena. He swung it twice, breaking their blades in an instant before striking one’s head with the hilt of his akodze.
He spun to his right, his left foot swinging upwards into the chin of the second. Even as they fell to the ground, he was already darting towards the remaining five. The remaining asafo watched as he felled two )brafo) with quick punches to the head, grabbed one by the neck and slammed him into the ground. The remaining )brafo) darted towards him but he slashed through their blades, sheated the afena and struck one with his scabbard. He spun around the outsretched leg of the second, dodging the foot aimed at his neck and wrapped the rope attached to his scabbard around her neck and tugged, sending her flying over his shoulder and face first into the dirt.
The asafo slung the scabbard over her shoulder and watched as the low ranking asafo quickly rushed forward and bound the fallen executioners. ‘Panin Yawa, what did you find?’ he asked the shadows formed by the trees. Five ladies noiselessly stepped out of the darkness led by Yawa.
‘Five different groups of )brafo) were present at the four corners of the village borders, semmingly awaiting further instructions, Safohen Safo.’
‘And this was the last group’ Safo sighed, his brows furrowed in thought. ‘Which means that the brains behind whatever is going on is still out there’
‘Double your search, Yawa, after I drop off the )brafo) at the prison, the rest of the asafo will join you”
‘Mo (excellent) , said Yawa softly before she and the rest of the nkwansrafo left as silently as they came’
‘A few weeks ago, it would have been a taboo to lay a hand on an )brafo), as they were one of the asafo. One of you” said an elder eyeing Safo suspiciously.
Safo sighed deeply. Like most of the village, he and some of the panin of the panin council had a deep mistrust of the asafo because of the conduct of asafo like Boadu and the events of the night of sacrifice, the night in which the asafo led by the priests and the )brafo) sought to execute the )d)nk). Things were slightly better now though. The priests and )brafo) had been cut off from the asafo companies and all parts of village life and Safo had personally cleared the ranks of the asafo of traditional extremists. After 5 weeks, the asafo were finally the force of law and order they were meant to be. But their mistrust of the asafo was justified because Safo knew that in a village without a royal leadership and the council being newly formed, the asafo could be tempted to take that power.
‘Go and continue the search for the troublemakers’ Ntim ordered. You have till tomorrow morning to get us results’.
Safo and the other nkwansrafo marched through a thick forest until Safo stopped abruptly, sensing that an attack on him was imminent. Five low ranking asafo sprung from the bushes at him, machetes raised. Had they been quieter, more experienced, Safo would have died on the spot. However he drew his machetes and leapt to his right, away from their swings and the fatal, silent thrust of Yawa’s blade. He swung his machetes , keeping back the spies and the asafo on both sides. He swung his legs in long arcs, delivering high and low kicks to the nkwansrafo. Three asafo shot their arrows at him but he snatched them in mid-air, aiming each one at the string of their bows, tearing them.
Three nkwansrafo swung their daggers at him as he blocked their attacks and swung once, breaking their akodze. One swung her afena at him but he sheathed it in his own scabbard and with a flick of the hand, sent it flying into a nearby tree. He struck her over the head with the scabbard, struck another in the abdomen, causing her to bend over and spun once, kicking the third one in the head. Before she fell, he tossed her into an approaching nkwansrafo and kicked them both back. He caught the fist of one nkwansrafo and struck her neck and the side of her head hard, causing her to collapse on the ground. Yawa drew out her ndar and gave orders for the asafo to surround him.
Safo suddenly flung his afena at the nearest asafo’s sandals, halting his movement for a brief moment. A moment Safo used to knock him out with one punch. The others rushed at him, unnerved by his tactics. He swung once breaking their ndar and took two down with kicks to the face. The third went down with a low sweep of his foot against hers. The fourth jumped at him, ndar raised and an asafo on the floor clutched his leg tightly. He blocked the attack, barely budging an inch. He swept his left leg and brushed the asafo on the floor away and swung at the other asafo so fiercely that the akodze was knocked out of her hands. He struck the necks of two asafo with the hilt of his ndar, causing them to fall away as he crossed both ndar at Yawa’s neck, their tips inches away from her skin.
He heard a rustle of bushes on his left and struck her down before darting off into the night. Minutes later, more asafo appeared, and while two carried Yawa away, the others began to search the forest for Safo. At midnight they still could not find him. Safo watched them from the trees and sprung at them silently, breaking their blades and knocking them out with his scabbard. He searched the forest for hours determined to find Sarpomaa and the other asafoakyer. He ran into two more groups of asafo and struck at them repeatedly till his scabbard broke and his clothes ere drenched in sweat. He spotted two groups of asafo in combat and struck the lower ranking asafo from behind.
Seven asafoakyer brandished their akodze at him until he streeped into the moonlight and sheated his afena.
‘There are seven more asafo groups searching for us’ he informed them. ‘We need to find Amoawa’s shelter, rest and come up with a strategy’.
The Asafoakyerefo) hesitated. ‘We have to leave now. We’ll be fine if you do exactly as I say’ he assured them.
Hours later, they arrived at a grove in silence with five white boulders in the centre.