The Gate: A Before The Safari Adventure – Part One

dhowMombasa slumbered under a sliver of a moon, the eastern monsoons blowing a warm wind across the waters. The beaches were empty save the dhows, the baharia that sailed them either gone to their homes in the stone town or country town or sleeping below their decks. The stone warehouses bordering the beach landings were empty as well, all save one small warehouse near the water’s edge. In a cramped room on the second floor a wax candle burn on a writing table, illuminating the space with its wavering light. A heavy set man sat at the table, reading numbers scribbled on the yellowed pages of his journal. He turned the pages with one hand while scratching his bearded chin with the other.

Changa closed the journal then leaned back, raising his chair onto the back legs.

“Belay, you taught me many things, but not everything,” he whispered.

The day Changa learned his mentor Belay had bequeath his shipping business to the young BaKonga was a joyous day. Never before had a Swahili merchant done such a thing. It was well known among the other merchants that Belay favored Changa and treated him as a son. But to deny his blood sons the business for a non-Swahili was unheard of.

Changa’s joy soon became worry. Many of Belay’s old business partners were not happy with his choice and refused to do business with Changa. He still retained the ivory trade, but other business disappeared. He could barely pay his men and his bills, let alone afford the basic necessities for himself. Belay’s true sons circled him like scavengers, ready to pounce in and take the business if he failed. Changa was determined not to do so.

Still, he could not continue as he was doing. He needed to find new customers and he needed to find a new source of revenue. Creditors were out of the question.

Changa pulled open the desk drawer then removed a map, spreading it on the table.  It was a map of the coast with each Swahili city-state marked. His eyes rested on one particular island to the south, close to the mainland city of Sofala and the Kilwa Sultanates.

“Kilwa Malikiya,” Changa said. “Could you be the answer to my troubles?”

Belay had talked often of the island. The legend said it was one of the few Swahili cities ruled by a woman, her name lost in the annals of time. It was said that she was the first to trade with the Benematapa, gathering a vast treasure of gold and ivory. After the mysterious queen died her son gained control of the island. His reign lasted only ten years. The people of Kilwa Malikiya abruptly abandoned their island, founding the cities that now made up the Kilwa Sultanate. No one knew why they left, but the rumor was that they left all their possessions behind.

Changa took out his instruments, confirming the route to the island. Belay’s map was the only map that revealed the location of the island. It was an heirloom passed down through his family and the last item the old merchant gave to Changa before his death.

Changa yawned. The night was finally getting to him. He would sleep, his mind finally made up. In the morning they would sail for Kilwa Malikiya.

Changa met his crews with the sunrise. The mabaharia went about their normal maintenance duties, with Yusef yelling at them every step of the way.

“Yusef!” Changa called out. “Gather the men.”

Yusef waved then hurried about as fast as his large bulk would allow. Moments later the men stood before Changa, curious looks gracing their faces.

“I don’t have to tell you that my business has not been well,” Changa said. “Many of Belay’s friends have chosen not to do business with me. Because of this I must forge new relationships. But that does not help us now. The dhows must be maintained and we all must eat.”

“What must we do, Kibwana?” Yusef said. “We will starve before we leave you.”

The looks on the others faces told Changa that they did not agree with his bulky friend.

“There is a place that may hold the answer to our dilemma,” Changa said. “Kilwa Malikiya.”

One of the baharia stepped forward, a short man as broad as he was tall.

“What’s on your mind, Niko?” Changa asked.

“Every man here has heard of Kilwa Malikiya, bwana,” he said. “It is not real. It is a myth.”

Changa reached into his bag then took out Belay’s map.

“I was given this map by Bwana Belay before he died. It is a map that shows the location of Kilwa Malikiya. I plotted a route to the island last night.”

The men gathered around him, staring at the map. Niko shook his head.

“Many maps are wrong, bwana,” he said. “Just because this one shows the island does not mean it exists.”

Changa nodded as he rolled up the map. “I’m not asking anyone to come with me. I plan to set sail this afternoon. I would love to have my crew around me, but I will not ask you to risk your lives on a safari that may not bear fruit. Each man makes his own decision.”

“They say other things about Kilwa Milikiya as well, bwana,” Niko said.

“If you believe the city is a myth, why would believe anything else said about it?” Changa asked.

“I am with you kibwana!” Yusef announced.

Changa grinned. “Thank you, Yusef.”

One by one the baharia joined Changa and Yusef. Soon only Niko stood opposite them.

“I can’t,” he said. “I will not follow a myth.”

Changa approached Niko then placed a friendly hand on his shoulder.

“I understand, Niko. Go be with your family. There will be a place for you with my crew when we return.”

“I hope that you do,” Niko said.

Niko walked away, peering back at the others until he merged into the Mombasa crowds.

“Yusef, you will come with me to the market. We must gather supplies for the journey,” Changa said.

“Yes, kibwana.”

“The rest of you prepare the dhow.  We set sail as soon as Yusef and I return.”

Changa visited his counting room before they visited the market. He opened his chest then frowned. There was enough for supplies to take them to and from the island. If there was no treasure on Kilwa Malikiya he would be ruined.

Yusef entered the room.

“Kibwana, are you ready?” he said.

Changa closed the chest then lifted it.

“Yes, Yusef.  I’m ready.”

The Damel’s Man: The Epic Fantasy Begins

Talk about a long time coming. This story begins 7 years ago at the National Black Arts Festival. I had just released Meji BooRushing_t500x2821k One and I was checking out the artwork with  my wife, hoping to find a painting or African artifact to purchase.As I was looking about I came across some of the best paintings I’d ever seen in my life. Not only were they amazing, they were Sword and Soul. I’m talking about black people in amazing castles with regal clothing and postures and everything. As I looked with awe the artist approached. His name was Andrea Rushing. I told him how much I loved his worked then told him about my books. The connection was instant; there was no doubt in our minds that we would work together. Andrea was ready to start immediately, but I had already commissioned work for my upcoming projects. And honestly, I couldn’t afford him. As a matter of fact I promised I would write a series of books specifically for his work.

Then life got in the way. I had my head buried in project after project, neglecting my promise. At some point I began working on the background to this story, adding more and more details along the way. Andrea began his own art studio, sharing his amazing talents with others in San Diego. I finally lifted my head long enough to commission Andrea for the cover artwork for Griots: Sisters of the Spear. He showed up and showed out.

Projects came and projects went but still no book. But this year I decided it was time to tie up loose ends and complete all the projects that had been waiting in the wings. So I pulled out all my notes, contacted Andrea and said in so many words, ‘Let’s do this.’

The Damel’s Man tells the story of two men of vastly different backgrounds that become powerful friends and create an empire. It’s a story that explores a unique situation that occurred in many ancient kingdoms, one where some of the lowliest people became the most powerful and held the future of such kingdoms in their hands. For those familiar to my work this series will be on the level of Meji One and Meji Two, but takes place in an entirely different world. The story will not only be told in words, it will be illustrated by Andrea’s skilled hands. As a matter of fact, the story incorporates many of Andrea’s sword and soul images, painting that when seen in sequence tell an exciting story on their own. The story is planned to be told over four books, at least that’s the plan. The background developed over the years might lend itself to more volumes. Not only will Andrea do the cover images,Kidamel two he will also draw interior images. The result will be a series that we hope will take Sword and Soul to another level, an epic fantasy series that will read as good as it looks.

If all works as planned the first novel should be available late 2016/early 2017. This is the collaboration I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. Stay tuned.