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Muezzinland: Ouagadougou

an extract from the novel
by Stephen Palmer


The first draft of Muezzinland was written in 1996, inspired in part by a TV series on African cooking, and in part by my love of African music and the varied musical instruments hung around the walls of my study.

The novel follows the tale of two royal sisters, daughters of the Empress of Ghana in a near future Africa (circa 2130) that, owing to the optical/transputer revolution, has become very decentralised. When the elder daughter Mnada abruptly vanishes, ostensibly to search for the mystical Muezzinland, her sister Nshalla and a friend Gmoulaye also depart Ghana, to seek her out. They make north, but their tyrannical mother follows...

During the first few chapters Nshalla has to find out about Muezzinland and deal with a sly guide, who may not be all he seems. But after some weeks they stand in Burkina Faso, at the forest-shrouded city of Ouagadougou...

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Muezzinland, chapter 5

Ouagadougou, one time centre of the old Mossi state of Ouagadougou, now capital of the remains of Burkina Faso, lay hidden amidst a dense forest created by the spirits of the afterlife. As they walked through the forest's chill interior their heat dazed minds began to notice ephemeral shapes darting from leaf to leaf, from twig to twig, and from branch to branch in a dance of misty light that seemed like a horde of moths. These shapes were inhuman. They were nothing like those of the savanna greenhouse children. All were symbolic; baroque pictsym evolved in those teeming complexes of abstraction that constituted the aether, others simple geometric shapes glowing with unearthly light. These symbols were the exuberant mental effluvia of fetishes left in the forest by the peoples of Ouagadougou, many of which had transputer origin. Because they were left in self-energising statuettes, or in lizard skin pouches retaining their optical strings, and so remaining on-line, they evolved after the deaths of their owners in symbolic unison with the local aether, thickening Ouagadougou's electromagnetic ocean like fowl bones thicken a soup, until a necromantic environment appeared. This environment then acted in a strange loop upon the minds and culture of the town, in order to survive as a dynamic entity.

Most of these fetishes were born of fear, some of evil, and so all exacted a price for their existence. Usually this price was energy in the form of blood red light, sent in pulses down the matted optical webs of the region, but some fetishes, those more powerful by reason of the exalted intellect or frenetic creativity of their makers, required a higher price. Those made by adulterers demanded precise descriptions of sexual dreams, including accompanying video footage, and these fetishes were especially active at dawn, entering the minds of susceptible men and women in the guise of these victim's real spouses. Some of these victims, however, had made fetishes of their own and deposited them in the forest, and so occasionally a self-reinforcing struggle would arise as if from nowhere, taking the form of an orgy, on one side the symbolic sexual desires of one person, on the other the equally vivid lusts of another. These symbol groups would wheel through the forest like glistening pink storms, until they became exhausted and disintegrated into wisps of cigarette smoke.

Other symbol hierarchies were of a more exalted nature, reflecting the austere characteristics of their root fetishes. Most of the town's academics were suspicious of the theories of their colleagues, and almost all of them had fetishes made, usually in the form of transputers with animal characteristics. These fetishes engaged in symbolic jousting of a mathematical nature. Occasionally, while strolling through the forest, people would be surprised by flocks of equations, as the source transputers battled it out in search of ultimate wisdom. Some of these symbol hierarchies were dangerous; it was commonplace for traps to be laid in the form of regression codes. An unwary walker with a sufficiently sophisticated outlook could accept these codes into the mind by way of their biograin hierarchies, never then to return from infinite cycling. A few fetishes were so sophisticated they were themselves environments, aethers within the aether, though, without sensory equipment, lacking a self-symbol. Such abstractions achieved personality. They were the first entities to be born after death.

So as the trio walked in wonder through the forest of Ouagadougou they felt they were assaulted by an arcane ecology, split into a myriad of sensory forms, blurring reality, flickering in front of it, tinkling behind it. This made movement tricky. Often they tripped over twigs or brushed into branches, but at length they got used to the phantasmagorical display and found themselves able to sift reality out of the chaos.

It was with complete surprise that Nshalla discovered a personal element to Ouagadougou. As they walked along the track leading to Chemin du Gourounsi, the road to the centre of town, she felt a presence at her side. At first she thought it was an attacker, and she tried to mentally swat it, as she might a mosquito. Yet the presence continued to buzz her, and she began to notice that its voice was familiar; and its smell. It smelled like home.

She stopped, letting Msavitar and Gmoulaye go on. They paused a hundred metres on, watching her, Gmoulaye with a suspicious frown, Msavitar nonchalant.

Nshalla tried communication. "Hello?"

Ruari O Braonain. It was her father.

"Is it you?"

"It is three quarters of me," he replied. The fiery, bearded contours of his face floated in front of her, translucent, ejecting symbols like a fire spits sparks.

He had died some years ago in mysterious circumstances. Nshalla, a child, had not understood.

"But how can it be?" she asked.

"I am a metaframe," he replied, "a self-perpetuating vortex of the aether. You have heard the term, I believe."

Vaguely, Nshalla recalled her education in Accra. "I think so," she said, nervously swallowing.

"I am an electromagnetic fossil of your father's public memories. I am not all of Ruari O Braonain. But he was so intense a character that he left permanent traces in the Accra aether, and when he died various transputers around the globe automatically began to coalesce all those public memories, so creating a personality - me. Of course, no metaframe can access private memories. They are dead and gone. But I am, by my very nature, a symbolic imprint with much of Ruari O Braonain's character." The image paused in its declaration. "How can I help you, dearest daughter?"

Nshalla felt like crying, but shock held back her tears. She understood that this aether creation could assist her, just as a father would a daughter. What interfaces would such an entity have with the global optical network?

She replied, "Mnada's vanished. I'm trying to find her. Any clues you could find, any sightings of her... And there's Msavitar. I'm sure he's an agent of mother's. Could you find out? He had an enemy on a riverboat, an enemy from Accra."

"I will find out these things," Ruari replied. "When you leave Ouagadougou, I shall reappear. I only manifest at the edges of the forest, where it is quieter."

"And try to find out where Muezzinland is. I don't think you'll have much luck, but please try. It's where Mnada said she was going. It's supposed to be to the north."

"If the name is recorded anywhere I may be able to help."

Nshalla sighed, remembering the Golden Library. "I've a feeling it's a modern name, a local name communicated orally. But try anyway."

Ruari nodded. "The dawn of the optical age and the demise of radiated electromagnetic waves used for communication fragmented the world. That's what you think, isn't it? But I know different. You would be surprised what information still exists from earlier centuries. Particularly in the remains of the West, there are ancient devices hooked up to the optical web. Have hope in that shattered place."

"All right."

"One final piece of advice. Learn the language of the spirits."

Nshalla shivered. Ruari disappeared like smoke up a chimney. She stood alone.

Rejoining the others, she said little about her encounter, describing it as a dream. They proceeded down the Chemin du Gourounsi, making for the centre of town, the forest thinning to a few jujube and whitewood trees. They passed the Kamsokko quarter on their left, with its vibrant market, the Pallemtenga to their right, this the abode of craftsmen, until they were in central Na-iri at the crossroads of four roads. With thumping heart Nshalla saw an old rusty sign pointing north, upon which was pictsymed 'Tombouctou.' Nobody had bothered to pull it down.

Gmoulaye seemed to deflate when this was pointed out to her. Perhaps, Nshalla thought, she had hoped Timbuktu was too far. Perhaps she hoped to return home. Msavitar, by contrast, was interested, adding the information to the scroll of papyrus that he had kept ever since the loss of his transputers.

"We need a friendly inn," Nshalla said.

People were staring at them. Amongst the negroes she noticed brown-skinned men, possibly of Tuareg or Berber origin, although if they were they were very far from home. Of course, their appearance was more likely an aspect transmitted by the aether. She decided to get off the street as soon as possible.

"A friendly inn, here?" Gmoulaye asked. Troubled by the ubiquitous presence of the spirits, she seemed shorter - arms folded - as if preparing for some physical attack.

"Just follow me," Nshalla said. She walked down an alley of stone buildings running parallel to the Chemin du Kibirisi, noticing that many houses had flags above their doors embroidered with the pictsym sigils for hostelry and cosmopolitan. Clearly, even in these piecemeal times, some people travelled. She stopped at the Inn Founi Kouni, then led the others inside.

Once again her education had led her to make a good choice. The inn was clean, tidy, with no evidence of rats. No dung lay on the floor, nor could Nshalla see even one blade of straw. A young woman, pale, yet with frizzy hair and a negroid nose in which gold rings were set, approached. "I'm Mmwo Ogbegu Ndjock. Do you need rooms?" Her New-Oriental was stilted, but comprehensible.

"Two," Nshalla said.

"Follow me."

They were led to the top floor. Msavitar was offered a tiny closet, which he accepted, while Nshalla and Gmoulaye accepted a large room overhanging the road. Nshalla handed over her bank.

It was empty.

"Your line must be down," she told Mmwo Ogbegu. "This must be an error. I'm rich."

"No... it is clear."

Gmoulaye said to Nshalla, "Check through another line."

Nshalla shook her head, embarrassed by Gmoulaye's naivete. "The global network is a myth, don't you know that? Most of it is local traffic. Imagine a billion cobwebs each linked by a single silk thread."

Gmoulaye shrugged, turning away to look at the wall.

But with no other option Nshalla was forced to find a pathway to Accra, a task taking half an hour. She was rewarded with a red shut-sigil. She realised that her mother had traced her bank and closed it. Cursing, she asked Gmoulaye for her ear-ring to complete the transaction.

The interference of her mother brought the reality of her situation closer. Despite the distance she had been traced; virtually traced, through countless optical webs, doubtless aided by her mother's transputer shaman, the dreaded I-C-U-Tompieme. Her mother might now know that she had been in Burkina Sude. Danger would follow.

They spent the evening mulling over events. Gmoulaye had realised that some entity had manifested itself in the forest, and she tried to coax the information out of Nshalla, but without success. Eventually the pair retired to bed. Msavitar had gone out, artlessly telling them he needed a prostitute.

Next morning Gmoulaye decided she would have to make a sacrifice to cleanse her aura, which was becoming soiled and distorted by the necromantic air of the town. Nshalla reassured her that soon they would depart. Secretly, Nshalla intended walking out to the edge of the forest that night to meet her father. They could leave next morning.

They strolled along the Chemin du Haoussa into Zang-ana, the supernatural quarter, where Gmoulaye, nosing amongst the stalls and rickety huts, located a herb seller, and then a plump chicken. Nshalla followed as her friend located a suitable fetish. Eventually she purchased the horn of a goat that, she was told, had died during birth and was thus suitable for cleansing.

Then Nshalla noticed her golden ring had gone. Some pickpocket had spirited it from her little finger. She cursed and stamped her feet.

They walked on until the houses began giving way to trees. In a glade Gmoulaye prepared her sacrifice. A smoky fire burned; she mumbled and threw herbs upon the flames, then drank a potion of spinach and roselle, a natural intoxicant. Nshalla watched, both repelled and fascinated. Her city background made her shun these rituals, but something, perhaps some deep African root, attracted her. Gmouolye cut the throat of the chicken and let the blood drip upon the horn, until it was crimson. Then she threw the struggling fowl upon the flames, causing the fire to leap up, until, in just a few seconds, it had died, and so had the flames. Unsteadily, Gmoulaye stood up.

Nshalla did not see where the man came from. He was real, but he appeared suddenly. Perhaps he had hidden behind a tree. He took Gmoulaye's arm, steadying her.

He was dressed in a black cloak and a shiny top hat. His other clothes were of brown, mud-stained cotton, contrasting with his blanched face. In one hand he held a cora - the large harp attached to a pumpkin gourd, popular throughout Africa. It had been wired to an electric amplifier so that when it was brushed the pure sound of its strings became a metallic thrum.

"I am Massamba Kouyate," he said. He let Gmoulaye go and played a few power-chords in his cora, thrashing his head up and down in time to the rhythm. Oily dreadlocks fell from under his top hat.

"They call me the Baron."

Again he strummed his cora, leaping about now, head thrashing, legs jerking, holding the musical instrument at his groin, his face a contorted grimace.

"You will never be Empress," he said. "Accra will one day be a ruin. You have been through the forest and you listened to the spirits there."

Nshalla decided it was time to return to the town. Grabbing Gmoulaye's hand she ran off. Glancing back she saw the Baron playing a solo, fingers a blur, the cora's neck raised, the gourd between his legs, his tongue pushed out from between grinning lips and wriggling in an obscene gesture.

Back at Inn Founi Kouni, all was quiet. Too quiet. On the top floor they noticed the door to Msavitar's room open. Nshalla poked her head around the door, to see him lying motionless on his bed.

She squealed and ran in, Gmoulaye following. He lay unconscious, or dead, on his back, sheets a rumple around him. He was naked. Without touching him Gmoulaye examined the body.

"He is not dead," she said. She sniffed at his loins, which were damp. "He has been with a woman, recently." She examined the rest of him, then made her diagnosis. "He is a magician, an illusionist. His soul has been removed and put into some external object. If we cannot find his external soul he will stay like this forever, in a deathly trance."

Horrified, Nshalla put her hands to her mouth. "But... but what can we do?"

Gmoulaye's eyes narrowed. "Is it our job to save him? He is suspicious, an agent of your mother's as you have yourself admitted-"

"I only suggested it."

"-and not worth the effort."

Nshalla covered the body with the bedsheets. "We've got to find his soul," she said. "We can't leave him."

"He's a vagrant, a thief, a con-man. His soul is probably some wrinkled little toad with bad breath. Let him go! Is this not what you wanted, Nshalla, to be free of him? We can leave Ouagadougou tomorrow and be on our way."

"No," Nshalla said. "I have to save him. He saved us from the greenhouse children."

Gmoulaye spat upon the floor. "With his own static-box."

Nshalla shrugged. "It might not have been one."

"Do not be so naive, girl."

"Don't call me a girl!"

Bristling, they confronted one another. Then Gmoulaye said, "You can sleep in here tonight to protect him. I shall sleep in the other room."

Nshalla collected her belongings without a word. Locking Msavitar's door she departed the inn, making down the Chemin du Gourounsi until she stood in the forest where her father had spoken.

"Ruari!" she softly called. "Ruari, it's Nshalla."

His face appeared before her, so real she had to remind herself he was just dynamic software. "Daughter. You are in difficulties."

"I'm in trouble. Msavitar's soul has been stolen by a prostitute. I have to save him."

"A prostitute? No, only a powerful magician can make an external soul."

Nshalla considered the events of the day. "D'you know a weird man called Massamba?"

"I am searching. Hmmm... Massamba Kouyate?"

"Yes. He called himself the Baron. He frightened us."

Ruari nodded. "Baron Samedhi, perhaps. Yes, he would be a sufficiently powerful man. Doubtless he was gloating over you. The prostitute must be his assistant."

"He said I would never be Empress and that Accra would be razed."

"We are following a dangerous path," Ruari said. "Have you lost anything?"

"Yes. How did you know? My ring. And all my money, though that was mother's doing."

"The agency is unimportant. You must lose four other-"

Nshalla had put her hands to her belt. "My dart pistol! My dagger! Gone."

"You must lose two other things. You must sacrifice two precious items, my daughter, and then you must steal the lute of the Baron. Msavitar's soul is inside. Somehow, I don't know how, you must transfer the soul from the lute to Msavitar's body."

"D'you know what's going on?"

"I have an idea. Do what I say, then leave the town. I will speak with you once more concerning this matter, and also about your earlier questions. Now hurry!"

Nshalla ran. All she could think of was the cora. She must steal the cora. But she did not know where Massamba Kouyate lived.

Perhaps her transputers could help. If she accessed the local webs, she might find information. In Msavitar's room she picked up her belt transputer, but saw that her backpack had been moved... and the analytical transputer was gone.

Five sacrifices. One remaining.

The room's eyes were set into the wall by the door. Nshalla linked her transputer up, accessing local data, addresses, names, descriptions, but finding nothing. After an hour she gave up. Evening was approaching, so she went downstairs to take a leisurely meal, which she washed down with millet beer.

Mmwo Ogbegu Ndjock knew of Massamba but would say nothing more. Her expression indicated that she considered him a bad man, not to be dealt with. Nshalla departed the inn and walked to the central crossroads, where she sat to consider her options.

She heard footsteps behind her. It was evening, not dark, but gloomy; she turned to see Massamba Kouyate and an expensively dressed woman. Nshalla knew who this would be.

She decided not to initiate conversation. The couple walked away, turning into a passage off Residence du Naba in Maouema quarter, and Nshalla, desirous of information, followed. They stood a few metres away, in silence.

Massamba plucked a pistol from the sound hole of the cora gourd. Nshalla froze. He pointed it at her and laughed. The woman approached, looking Nshalla up and down. Then she took off her dress. Underneath she was naked, though her navel was pierced by silver rings. She trampled her dress in the mud, then ripped it with her teeth, all the time smiling, chuckling to herself, as if this were a bizarre theatre. Then she pulled at Nshalla's dress, until it flopped upon to the ground. Nshalla stood shivering in her underwear. But she understood that this was part of an enactment, perhaps the final sacrifice. She must hold her nerve.

The woman put on the dress, then returned to Massamba. The pair strolled off, chatting to one another.

Nshalla stood perfectly still. How could she continue to follow them? If they saw her they would lead her astray.

Her father had told her to learn the language of symbols. The street was dirty, muddy in places. Nshalla looked down and saw that next to the dainty prints of the woman's bare feet lay a row of coffin shapes.

Massamba Kouyate's boots were not coffin shaped. The aether was altering her perception, despite the inorganic nature of the evidence. This was the first time Nshalla had ever experienced such a transformation. She realised that the sheer complexity of Ouagadougou's aether was altering her vision. Here, it was not a neutral electromagnetic ocean to be tweaked by the biograin hierarchies of conscious individuals, it was itself a manipulating entity with a semantic agenda of its own. Massamba Kouyate was linked with death. Black. Coffins. Perhaps he could be found at the cemetery.

Nshalla ran back to Inn Founi Kouni, where she grabbed spare clothes from her backpack. Gmoulaye watched her, but said nothing. In minutes she was out in the street, making for the cemetery, her heart thumping.

It stood nearby, close to the ruins of Maouema's mosque. A great concrete wall surrounded it, set with wooden masks bearing a striking similarity to Massamba's face, and this made Nshalla wonder if a cultural identity was being promulgated by the aether. Massamba in reality could be anybody. He could be weak. This thought made Nshalla feel more confident.

She walked into the cemetery and looked around. The moon was high, waxing, illuminating the gravestones. Nobody in sight. She began to follow the path leading into the centre of the cemetery, until after some minutes she heard a thunking sound. From the safety of a tree she saw a man digging a grave; Massamba, his woman at his side. She scanned the vicinity. The cora leaned against a bush on the opposite side.

Nshalla crept around the pair, giving them a wide berth. It was easy to lift the musical instrument, but difficult to move silently. They did not notice her. Once out of earshot she returned to the cemetery entrance and slipped out, first ensuring that there was nobody in the street to spot her.

Gmoulaye followed her into Msavitar's room. Nshalla shut and locked the door, then said, "You know what this is."

Gmoulaye was frightened. "That man's cora."

"Inside this lies Msavitar's soul. We have to transfer it into his body."


Nshalla did not know. She shook the cora. It rattled. Wriggling her right hand through the hole she felt around, to discover a number of objects. One by one she pulled out her dented gold ring, her bank, which had been cut in two, a fragment of her dress, the smashed pieces of her analytical transputer, a pistol butt, and a blade. But there was nothing else.

"These are all your possessions," Gmoulaye said. "Leave them be. They may have evil upon them."

Nshalla hardly heard. Her thoughts were bent elsewhere. If there was nothing else inside the cora, the instrument itself must be the external repository of Msavitar's soul. In that case, she must play, play music to bring him back to life.

She settled the cora upon her lap and tried a few chords. A warm, buzzing thrum emanated from the speaker of the cora's power amp. Immediately she disliked it.

"He moved!" Gmoulaye said, rolling her eyes.

Indeed he had. Nshalla played more. Msavitar began to roll and turn, murmuring in some foreign tongue. Nshalla played more chords, but received the impression that Msavitar was in pain. On impulse she disconnected the solar batteries. The cora was now a pure, acoustic instrument, and when she played shimmering chords a smile came to Msavitar's face and he began to breathe deeply. Nshalla strummed for a few minutes, then put the instrument down.

"I cannot play the cora," she told Gmoulaye. To her surprise there were tears on her friend's cheeks.

"It was the most beautiful music."

Nshalla knew then that she had not played the cora. The music had been composed by the aether of Ouagadougou.

They slept through the rest of the night.

At dawn, Nshalla was woken by a hammering on her door. A babble of voices brought a presentiment of trouble, but she dressed and opened the door. Twenty or thirty people stood outside, and they shook their fists and shouted when they saw her. At their head was Mmwo Ogbegu Ndjock, an expression of anger on her face.

"You have brought shame upon the town," she said. She waved her arms, and continued, "Begone from here. You are not welcome. Pack your belongings and go."

Nshalla said nothing as they did as they were bid. Msavitar had been woken by the noise. He seemed his usual self. Quickly, they checked their belongings, few though they were, then hastened down the stairs to the front door of the inn. In the street a hundred or more town residents were waiting. They ran to Chemin du Yatenga, the road that led north, suffering shouts of abuse, a few clods of soil, and some rotten yams. Nshalla had no idea what had turned their mood but she was not going to argue. In ten minutes they were able to pause, standing at the margin of the forest. A few boys had followed them, but Msavitar chased them off. As he did so Nshalla caught the strains of music, heavy, yet melancholy, played with virtuoso skill on a distorted cora.

At a slower pace they walked into the coolness of the trees. Expecting to see her father's face, Nshalla dawdled, stopping occasionally to look up through the leaves at symbol flocks ascending into the blue sky. As before, Gmoulaye and Msavitar went on ahead.

Then Ruari was with her. She stopped, said, "Father?"

"I'm here, daughter. So, you have been chased out of Ouagadougou by the mob?"

"Yes. Why did they turn on us?"

"You were part of a tale. Even I was caught up in it for a moment."

Nshalla nodded, remembering the incident outside Ashanti City.

Ruari continued, "Because you are the daughter of an Empress your life briefly followed the pattern of Gassire, son of King Nganamba of the dynasty of Faso. An old sage told him he would never be king, and that his city, Jerra, would one day be ruined. He was told to go into the savanna and listen to the woodcock, then learn the language of the birds. In this way he was to hear the first refrains of that epic song, the Dausi. Then the sage told him to buy a lute, which he did, but when he went to collect it, it was silent. The lute maker pointed out that he had only made the body of the lute. It had no spirit. It was up to Gassire to provide that spirit, so as to make music. Gassire had to sacrifice blood to make it sing. Later Gassire went to battle, losing six of his seven sons. He carried their bodies home, allowing them to bleed over his lute. But then Gassire was exiled from Jerra. He became a herdsman. As he watched over his flock he heard distant music, the music of the Dausi."

Nshalla said nothing.

After a while, Ruari said, "Doubtless you have made the equivalences. The Baron stole Msavitar's soul, possibly by means of deep hypnotism. Since the focus of events was the cora, there was only one way to return that soul to Msavitar's body. Even I was dragged in, telling you, as the sage told Gassire, to listen to the voices of the birds. Had you not made those sacrifices you would never have gained power over the Baron's cora, and thereby released Msavitar's soul."

Nshalla looked upward again. Symbols flitted between branches like birds. She felt that she had been through a storm. Her mind was confused. The twittering, pattering, flickering symbols seemed a pale imitation of the deeper chaos in her mind. She felt that, though she was wide awake, she urgently needed sleep, deep sleep, like that after a long bath, or sex. Her mind had been disturbed like the contents of a pond by a stick, and it would take time to settle.

She understood that all visitors to Ouagadougou felt like this. Used to a neutral aether, they would here be battered, bruised, just as she had been. In a sense, she had suffered an invasion.

"Do you have any information for me?" she asked.

"I have," Ruari answered, "and it is not good."

"Tell me the worst."

"Msavitar is an agent of your mother's, as you suspected. He was sent to capture you when she returned from Lagos. She read your letter, and was furious. He was given a static-box, which he used to attack you at Ashanti. It was the failure of that attack that made your mother sack him. Released from service, he had little option but to ingratiate himself with you, hoping for reward, hoping perhaps to slit your throat at some time suited to him."

"But the enemy on the riverboat."

Ruari's ghostly head nodded. "That was another agent of your mother's, sent after Msavitar had been sacked. His task was to eliminate Msavitar and collect you, then return you to Accra."

"So mother wants me back?"

"Indeed. Of course she wants you at the palace, almost as much as she wants Mnada."

Nshalla sighed. "I shouldn't have used my bank. She'll trace me."

"She traced you to Daboya in Burkina Sude, but there the trail will go cold, unless she hears of the riverboat battle. I think you are truly out of her clutches, now, although there is one agent still unaccounted for."

"A third agent?"

"Yes," said Ruari. "I can find no trace of him. He will be the cleverest, the slyest, and the most devious of them all."

"More devious than Msavitar?"

"Be careful."

This was pertinent advice. Nshalla wondered for a moment if Gmoulaye was her enemy, but then she pushed the silly thought from her mind. A third man after her...

Then Ruari said, "As for Muezzinland, I can find no trace of it. But that in itself is evidence. It must be a land that appeared during the fragmentation, since its existence seems to have been sustained, and passed on, by oral means alone. So it can be only a few decades old. You must ask after such a country, a young country, yet fabled."

Nshalla thanked him, then stood silent for some minutes. "Will I ever see you again?"

"I can only exist in this form around Ouagadougou. No metaframe has the freedom of the global web. So for now, we must part. But of course you can return to Ouagadougou."

There were hot tears in Nshalla's eyes as she said, "Goodbye, then. And thank you. I'll come back when I can."

"You are my true daughter, my only daughter. Goodbye."

Nshalla turned and ran away. Neither Gmoulaye nor Msavitar asked what she had been doing, though both noticed her tears and, Nshalla presumed, drew their own conclusions. In silence they walked through the forest, until some time later it began to thin, and the sun began to shine through and warm their skin.

They began the long walk north: next stop, Ouahigouya, six days away.

© Stephen Palmer 1997
Muezzinland by Stephen Palmer
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