“Is the gift acceptable, Wendifa?”
“There is no way of knowing before, Ntomo. If it is not, the wendo will not guide you. If it offends, they may attack you.”
The cargo hold is empty, most of the crew asleep a deck away. The gentle creaking of the ship fills the silence, punctuated only by the footsteps of the patrolling Nguma Oku.
Ntomo shakes his head disdainfully. They still think of silent steps as an action, not as the natural way. This must be reminded in training tomorrow.
“You are distracted. You will fail if your mind is not fully in this moment. It is a battle just as real as any you have fought, mpiganaji. Ruwa would understand this.”
“The Dancer sees it as a game, not a battle. But this one understands. Have you seen a wendo attack?”
“Only once, back on Mgange Cove. A ben kudu captain watched a ritual from hiding. Donma Goku separated their ban from maha in mere moments. Are you sure you want to do this? Already, for one who is not wendifa to demand their attention, it is an affront.”
“It must be done.”
Ntomo bows forward, and places his kukri before the metumbe. The words, long familiar, feel strange to hear in his own tongue. The Nguma Oku surrounding him and Hekima stand impassive, ready to repel any threats which may appear.
“Mfuello, this one asks for your eyes. Journeyer, show the one called Ntomo what must be seen, to know what must be known. This blade has saved this one’s ban, but has saved even the maha of those meant for the Vile Trade. It has killed the worshippers of devils and is one of the last items this one has of the Winye.
It is yours, if you show this one other worlds than these.”
He waits, silent, eyes trained upon the metumbe. In the distance Ntomo can hear footsteps again. Each step grows longer, the pauses between longer still, and the creaking of the ship begins to extend into a continuous drone. Time itself begins to slow.
Then there is silence.
Ntomo looks up to see Mfuello where the kukri once was. A strange voice speaks within his mind.
“You are not wendifa.”
A statement, not a question. Ntomo nods, and begins to speak.
“Yes, this one means no-“
“Silence. You are dafran, and known to Mfuello. Favored of Kindo Kane, or perhaps the only maha The One Who Stands at the Gate believes has a chance. You ask to see the planes to know them, but you offer only a dagger. Mfuello would use it to cut out your eyes if you were any other, but even a dafran must give more. ”
Hekima’s voice, hard and uncompromising, comes back to him in this moment. The wendo are not superior to you. They will prey upon your awe, or your lack of standing. You must not accept a poor trade.
“No. It is no common blade, and The Journeyer knows this. Accept this trade, or leave and this one will find one who will.”
Another pause without end. Though the wendo has no mouth, Ntomo can hear a grin in its voice.
“It seems the wendifa has counseled our poor shujaa. It usually takes a few exchanges before a maha believes itself equal to the wendo. The deal is acceptable. Now leave this wretched ban, and if you value existence, stay close to Mfuello.”