Early the next morning, Ifeatụ woke up to an empty house; there was no sign of Akwaugo. He thought she must have gone to fetch water but when it was past her normal time, he got worried and feared she might have left him. He quickly got dressed, and went in search of her. When he could not find any trace of her in the vicinity, he decided to go home, freshen up and prepare to search for her in neighbouring towns and villages. But on getting home, there she was, selecting herbs that were scattered on the mat on the floor.
He heaved a sigh of relief, “Where have you been Akwaugo? I have been all over the place looking for you,” he said expressing his displeasure with her.
“Good day papa. I went in search of healing herbs for Igwe Ọnọchie’s son,” she replied innocently, “I am sorry I did not tell you before leaving but that was because I did not want to wake you up. I felt it was too early to disturb an old man resting his weak bones,” she teased.
“I was worried about your whereabouts, Akwaugo. I thought you left because of the talk last night,” he expressed his concern.
“No way papa, you taught me more than that. I have this burning desire for the Igwe’s condition. Waiting for Ikuku could be disaster; nobody knows when he will return,” she explained.
“You really think you are doing the right thing?” he asked pointing at the herbs.
“Absolutely, papa, I do. Whether they accept my offer is up to them. But I won’t sit here and assume they will throw my genuine help back at me without my trying,” she replied and continued with her selection.
“And when do you want to go over?” he asked as he drew his cane chair close to the mud wall and sat on it. His legs were aching from the long tiring walk he just returned from.
“As soon as I sort the possible combination that I would use,” she replied.
“That would be after you have given me my food. I am hungry.”
“I will check if the food is warm enough now,” she replied and went to the kitchen.
Ifeatụ noticed some herbs he had not seen before and put them aside. He knew a lot about herbs and what they did and wondered where she got those ones. He drew her attention to them as soon as she came with his food.
“Oh those? They are not from our forest but from the Amaogu forest. They have a lot of medicinal herbs in their forest so I helped myself with some. I am even considering raising some here so that I would not be making long journeys when they are needed,” she finished as she sat on the mat and continued with her selection.
By the time Ifeatụ finished eating, she was ready to embark on her uninvited trip to the palace, the same Igwe that banished their family years ago. She wished he would give her this chance to save his son’s life. She packed the herbs and roots in her raffia bag ready to go.
“I shall be back before you know it papa. Pray for a successful mission for me.”
“May the gods grant your request,” he said, placing his hands on her two shoulders.
Akwaugo left that afternoon for the Igwe's palace with hopes raised high. It would be her first time of walking boldly in the day time into the Ụmụogu square since she was born. Prior to this, she often visited when there was communal village farming and every member of Ụmụogu village had gone to the farm, otherwise, she stopped at hidden location to peep.
Walking in her brilliance and elegance, she passed the village square and was aware of the stare she caused. People pointed fingers and made derogatory comments. They whispered and talked in low tones but she heard them loud and clear. Those who did not know her asked questions, taken aback by her beauty. They gazed with hands akimbo and mouth agape but she matched on; she was there on an important mission. News of her identity spread immediately like wild fire, getting to the Igwe before she reached. As soon as she made her final bend to the palace, the crowds were already gathered
“My elders, I greet you,” she began as she stood some distance away from them. She recognised most of them from the times she peeped in her hidden location.
“You are the daughter of …” Ichie Ụzọ began but was interrupted by her.
“I am Akwaugo, daughter of Urenna who was banished many years ago. I am here to speak with Igwe Ọnọchie in connection with Obielumanị’s health,” she explained.
The elders exchanged surprise gestures at each other and looked at her in disbelief. They were amazed that he knew about Obielumanị’s health.
“What are you talking about?” Ichie Mbata asked, baffled that she knew about Obielumanị.
“It is the Igwe I wish to speak to and him alone, if he would kindly grant me audience,” she explained adjusting her raffia sac hung loosely across her chest.
“You are a taboo to our village, or do you not know it?” one of the men asked in fury.
“How dare you come here to place your curse on our land, you evil child?” he barked standing up and moving towards her.
“I am sorry my elders to show up like this, I did not mean to cause any problem. I simply came in peace because of the Igwe,” she maintained, not moved by the name she was called. She knew that would happen and so had prepared her mind for it.
“Peace! You are cursed and an abomination here. Carry your curse and go back the way you came,” and turning around he said, “Let the youths sweep away her defilement.”
“Please my elders, I will leave as soon as I have spoken to Igwe,” she pleaded on her knees.
“Who allowed this thing into Ụmụogu?” another elder asked angrily, “We are having serious deliberations concerning our land and this abominable child walked in. I hope this is not doom for our land ooo,” he said. At that statement there was uproar.
“Please, my fellow elders, let us hear her out first. If the Igwe wishes to hear her speak, so let it be. She seems harmless,” Ichie Njọkụ said trying to calm the crowd.
“Harmless? How could you speak like one who does not know our customs and traditions concerning outcasts? Let the strong men carry her out before thunder struck us,” another elder said.
Just while the youths were about to carry her out, Igwe Ọnọchie came out and there was dead silence.
“Igwe!” they all hailed and with the wave of his hand they became calm. Akwaugo bowed on her knees while the Igwe ascended his throne.
“Igwe! The Chinyereugo IV of Alaukwu land, protector of his subjects, I greet you,” Akwaugo said still on her knees with head bowed. This further surprised the crowd that she knew the Igwe’s title name.
“Rise my dear. Are you who they said you are? You seem fearless and have the guts to come before my throne requesting audience with me,” Igwe Ọnọchie remarked.
“Igwe! I am the daughter of a maiden of this land banished many years ago. I have come on a noble mission about your son, the only heir to your throne,” she said looking up at him.
“Yes, my son is sick and Ikuku is nowhere to be found. Nobody has a clue to when he would return. By the way how did you know about my son?” Igwe Ọnọchie asked. He has become very slow in speech since his son took ill.
“Igwe there is nothing hidden under the sun. The walls have ears and the winds carry what people say to distant lands. I know Obielumanị is very sick and I also know that the Igwe and his people are devastated because Ikuku is nowhere in sight,” she replied.
“May the people of Ụmụogu return to their homes, the Igwe has everything under control,” he commanded and the subjects were dismissed. Turning to Akwaugo he asked, “What has my son’s health got to do with you?”
“I can treat his rare illness.”
At that very instant all the elders were thrown overboard by her utterance and looked at her in total disbelief. The cabinet was made up of elders from Ụmụogu, Ụmụọka, and three other kindred that form Alaukwu village.
“Are you trying to mock Ụmụogu or what?” Ichie Ndụka from Ụmụogu queried.
“No my elders, I have not come to mock you. I am just trying to be of help,” she explained.
“Help? Who says Alaukwu or Ụmụogu needs the help of an outcast?” another blasted. This same elder had always spoken to her with animosity and hatred.
“Please Egwuatụ, go softly with the girl and reduce the name calling. Let us hear her out; there is no harm in trying whatever solution is available now. We should be more concerned with Obielumanị’s recovery rather than who it comes from,” Ichie Mbata stated.
“I agree with Mbata,” Igwe Ọnọchie said. “What is your name, my daughter?”
“Akwaugo,” she replied.
“To what do I owe this gesture?”
“I seek nothing of you, Igwe. I just want to perform an act of humanity in Alaukwu.”
“Are you sure you can save my son?”, he asked. He had suddenly become interested in what she can do for his dying son. His brother Egwuatụ was obviously not pleased with the interest showed by the reigning Igwe.
“It is Chukwuolisa that heals and saves, I only care through herbs,” she replied in all humility to the admiration of all.
“This looks so unreal for you to show up with an offer to save my son. How long have you been doing this?” he asked, not very convinced of her abilities. To him she looked so young to know so much.
Akwaugo saw the doubt registered in the eyes of Igwe and his cabinet. She needed to convince them to give her a chance. “Igwe, since I could utter a word as child, I was taught herbal medicine by my grandfather. I grew up with this act and have practised my skills in distant lands. With my interest in herbal medicine, I have excelled in this area more than my mentor. People in distant lands can testify to my capabilities. I heard about the prince’s predicament and could not help my desire to ask for your permission to prescribe some medication that can save his life,” she explained.
“Are you aware that many powerful dibia failed in identifying what is wrong with my son, and you stand in my presence to say you are greater than them?” the Igwe queried.
“No my Igwe. Surely, I am nothing compared to dibia. I am just an ordinary girl that understands herbs and healing. I do not communicate with the gods like the dibia does; I only speak to trees, plants and herbs. Somehow, they lead me to herbs I need for any kind of ailment,” she explained.
Just then Lọọlọ Ọbịageliakụ the Igwe’s wife rushed in and fell down before him in tears, “Igwe, Obielumanị has got worse ooo. He cannot speak and his body has become so hot. We will lose him if nothing is done,” she wept.
“Calm down, woman,” he replied trying to hold his wife.
“Igwe let me see him, I beg you.” This was an opportunity she needed.
“Igwe, please, allow the girl. This is our only son, the heir to Alaukwu throne. Please, Igwe, give her the chance you gave other people that failed,” Lọọlọ Ọbịageliakụ pleaded tearfully. The Igwe could not refuse any more.
“Follow me,” he beckoned on her to the amazement of his entire cabinet and elders.
“Abomination!” most of the elders shouted, spitting out and shaking their heads in disbelief; but he ignored them and went on to show her where the son lay.
The moment she set her eyes on him and touched his body, she knew what could possibly be wrong. Empting her bag on the ground she set to work. First, she took the akarakara root and requested that it be pounded immediately. Next she brought out already prepared dogoyaro leaves and bark, uriekhue stem, and ihumibo leaves and placed them on the table. When they brought back the pounded contents she squeezed the juice into Obielumanị’s mouth. While waiting for him to respond, she ordered everybody out of the room. But within her, she silently prayed that Chukwuolisa would heal him.
Minutes later he responded.
“Water!” Obielumanị muttered. He was beginning to regain his speech even though it was slow and barely audible.
She rushed out and called the Igwe and his Lọọlọ inside to see their son.
“He wants water but I am going to give him these portions prepared from the herbs,” she informed them. She administered the bitter contents of the herbs, which he barely managed to swallow. She laid him back on the bed and just watched in silence.
“Ok, I cannot keep silent any more,” the Igwe began. “What miracle did you perform to get him talking?”
Akwaugo gave her explanation. On first the sight of the frail lifeless body, and as she felt his body temperature and examined his eyes, she felt it was typhoid fever and acute malaria. Because it had been in his system for long, there was the possibility it might have damaged some organs in his body. That could be the reason why he was too weak to even speak. Therefore, she had to get that sorted out before proceeding with other things. The akarakara root cures partial paralysis of the tongue and lips,. Uriekhue cures typhoid fever, dogoyaro cures malaria while ihumibo cures high fever.
“I will stay for a while to see how he responds to these and I will leave some of the herbs with you,” she finished.
“How did you know all these?” Igwe asked, amazed at the young girl’s knowledge. By this time, Obielumanị had drifted off to sleep.
“Igwe, I have been doing this since I was a baby,” she said smiling, exposing her beautiful dentition.
“And how long would it take for him to respond?” Lọọlọ Ọbịageliakụ asked, sitting beside her son and feeling his body temperature.
“It depends on how bad he is. It could be minutes, days or weeks. But he seems brave and would recover soon,” she assured them.
The next three hours were spent monitoring his breathing and temperature. When it seemed danger was out of the way, she packed up her bag and got ready to go, leaving them with the instructions on how to administer the medication.
“I shall be back at sunrise to see how he is doing. He should eat more of vegetables and water to replenish the lost blood due to typhoid,” she said, as she made her exit, followed by the Igwe and his Lọọlọ.
The Igwe’s cabinet and elders stared as she left without saying a word to her. She knew they thought the worst about her but she was not bothered. She had done what she came to do and was leaving.
By the time she got home, the sun had gone down. Ifeatụ was standing by the pathway looking out for her. On sighting her, he heaved a sign of relief and returned home waiting to hear her story. In excitement, she rushed into his waiting arms and told her whole story without catching a breath.
“I am speechless, my daughter. The gods are with you,” he said, rejoicing over the fact that she was able to achieve her aim.
The next day, they were woken by the Igwe’s guards who had come to fetch Akwaugo and her grandfather. The duo was terrified and when the guards refused saying the reason for the early morning summon, they felt something had gone wrong with the medication she administered. They were even more terrified when they got to the palace and met almost the whole village gathered in the palace, with the elders seated in their usual position, but neither the Igwe nor his Lọọlọ were present. The looks on the faces of the people gathered did not tell them anything. They all seemed worried and were further uncomfortable when Akwaugo and Ifeatụ showed up with the guards.
Few minutes after they arrived, the Igwe made his entrance and was greeted by the entire subjects before he took his seat. He took a look at all of them, his cabinet and elders, and finally settled on Akwaugo.
“Welcome, my people,” he began. “I am sorry to call you out from your peaceful sleep but like our forefathers used to say, there is no smoke without fire,” he was still focused on Akwaugo who was fiddling with the helm of her waist cloth.
He continued, “I will not waste your time but I had to wait for her to arrive before saying anything,” he said pointing to Akwaugo who bowed her head to avoid eye contact with any of them. She could feel peering eyes on her which seemed like balls of fire thrown at her.
“I wanted to say this in the presence of my able council and the people who handed the sceptre of kingship to my ancestors,” he paused for effect before he continued, “We all know what happened yesterday with this young girl and her claims to save Obielumanị,” and the crowds gaze was directed at her as they began to murmur audibly. But the Igwe continued, “Well, Igwe Ọnọchie, the Chinyereugo IV of Alaukwu village gathered you all to say that the sceptre of leadership will remain in my family because of this young girl standing before all of us,” he beamed with smiles as he walked towards Akwaugo and embraced her.
Alaukwu and Ụmụogu in particular were thrown into joyful uproar of rejoicing. The elders and cabinet looked at each other in disbelief before they joined in rejoicing, except for Egwuatụ who nearly fainted. Just then, Obielumanị made his first appearance before his people after several weeks of serious illness, and the crowd was agog and frenzied. The drums were heard and there was instant celebration; Ifeatụ and Akwaugo could only stare while tears streamed down her beautiful face. She looked at the excited crowd and the elders as they embraced and shook her hands. She finally managed to get to the prince who though still looked frail was able to move about. She immediately whispered to him to take a seat so she could examine him further. She was more than delighted that Chukwuolisa had answered her prayers and healed the prince.
“The people of Alaukwu, can I have your attention once more?” the Igwe interrupted the celebration. “Following this noble deed performed by our own daughter, I wish to lift the ban on her family and have them returned to their rightful place, with the permission of my cabinet and elders” and they all concurred without questions. The crowd went crazy at this pronouncement and instantly lifted the girl on their shoulder.
“That is not all, your house shall be rebuilt and we shall make her our herbalist, and you will work with Ikuku in serving the gods, if he deems you fit,” he finished.
At that instant Akwaugo indicated her wish to speak. “Igwe!” she greeted as she prostrated before his royal majesty. “I do not know what to say at this point. Please, Igwe, know that I did not bargain for this restoration. I was merely burdened that I should do for my people what I do for others. My grandfather and I are happy where we are; please do not feel indebted to us. This is only what we do for humanity,” she said. Her humility and respect got the better part of them as they marvelled at her wisdom.
“My daughter, we did you wrong many yeas ago, but today the gods of our land have vindicated you,” Igwe Ọnọchie said remorsefully.
“What can we say? Please, Igwe, I do not wish to serve with Ikuku. I prefer the little acts of kindness,” she said looking at Ifeatụ.
“If the gods found your mother guilty, surely you would not be able to perform this deed. We do appreciate,” he said.
“Yes, yes, yes,” most of the elders, cabinet and crowd agreed.
“Ifeatụ, we owe you a lot for what you did on this girl,” Igwe spoke for the first time to him. He came down from his throne and shook his hand, “You are a true son of the soil,” he asserted.
“I promised my brother that I would bring his granddaughter up like my own child. What I did was for her late mother, who I was convinced was never guilty of the accusations, and her grandparents who believed in their daughter’s innocence,” he replied.
“We misjudged her and the whole of Alaukwu and Ụmụogu apologise for our injustice,” he held his shoulders and looked at his elders for support. They all nodded in agreement.
“We bear you no grudge; you did what you felt was right at that moment,” he replied in all honesty.
“We shall talk more about the past but for now, let us celebrate Akwaugo, our heroine. She succeeded where people we regard highly failed. She is the proverbial belittled small pot that quenches the fire. The gods are with her,” he affirmed as he went back to his throne, with Lọọlọ Ọbịageliakụ and Obielumanị seated to his left and right respectively.
Then Alaukwu youths carried her on their shoulders and began chanting
Bleak was the future of Alaukwu,
Until a friend in disguise, thought to be a foe,
Came in wisdom and love, counting nothing,
Came in wisdom and love, counting nothing,
But brightened our darkness with her dazzling light
Giving with a radiant smile what she took with painful tear
The gods are with her.
She excelled where great men failed, a thing never heard;
A maiden saves Alaukwu,
A maiden saves Alaukwu,
A maiden saves Ụmụogu, an innocent maiden,
Therefore the sceptre of leadership shall remain with the people’s choice
This is the voice of the gods; the gods are wise,
Akwaugo is vindicated, Akwaugo is our heroine
She had saved them from the wicked wishes of Egwuatụ, the Igwe’s wicked brother, and so has become their heroine. And there was dancing, singing and celebration.
... The End