The JRB presents an excerpt from Langabi: Season of Beasts by Christopher Mlalazi.
Langabi is the first book from Mother, a new imprint of Jacana Media dedicated to fantasy, science-fiction, Afrofuturism and horror.
Langabi: Season of Beasts
Jacana Media, 2023
Read the excerpt:
At that moment I happened to look towards the left of the cattle pens. I caught my breath. Smiling at Father, I whispered, ‘Something is hiding behind the zuza bushes.’
He didn’t look. Instead, he leaned down and rubbed his knee. When he straightened he had turned his back towards the bushes.
‘I’ve seen it,’ he whispered. ‘Careful, don’t touch your spear, and keep your eyes on me.’
I watched him closely, waiting for his next move. ‘Mpendulo!’ He cupped his mouth, calling out towards my brothers.
Mpendulo was to the west, waving a straying calf back into the herd, with Mazwi running behind him, his sagila raised as if about to throw it.
‘Grandfather Nanzelelani is calling!’ Father had raised his voice.
Of course we have never had a grandfather by that name. The key word was in the name—Nanzelelani. Watch out. All our family, including the herdsmen, are trained to know what it means—get inside the palisade of our home as soon as possible if you are near, close the gate, and fasten it until further instruction. But do not make the action obvious.
Father followed the call with a piercing whistle—three sharp bursts of a fish eagle cry. Mpendulo took Mazwi’s hand, and together with Bandile and the herdsmen they all headed towards the gate of our homestead, slowly, deliberately, the dogs following behind them, indicating they had not caught the scent. It seemed like a long time before they got there, but as soon as they were inside the gate swung closed. Although we appeared to be ignoring the zuza bushes, our senses were attuned to them. So far there had been no further movement.
I looked towards Ensimbini, just as our troop of guards, the Abaviki, burst out of the mopane tree line in that direction, to the left of the zuza bushes. They were running hard, seven men armed with battle-axes, feathered headdresses bobbing.
Father immediately turned towards the zuza bushes, and called, ‘Whoever you are, we’ve seen you. Come out!’
Three figures leapt into view from behind the bushes. I felt my heart miss a beat at their sight. They had human bodies and the heads of hyenas.
‘It’s the Mihlolo!’ Father cried out.
I’ve heard of them before. In fact everyone has many a tale about the Mihlolo, as stories about them are told around our firesides. But until today I thought they only existed as myths to scare children from straying into the bush at night.
As soon the three figures leapt into view, their fangs bared, they charged towards the watchtower, each of them armed with a pair of spears, one in the right hand held low and ready for throwing. The intention was clear—they were not here to pay us a friendly visit.
On the other side, the Abaviki approached at an angle through the bush towards the Mihlolo still running hard. They looked up at the watchtower for instruction. Father pointed at the Mihlolo. Without hesitation, the Abaviki veered that way. Clearing bushes, they broke into view of the target. But the Mihlolo’s charge towards the watchtower didn’t falter, their feet a blur. Startled cattle scattered everywhere, birds burst into the sky, and the morning sun held its breath.
Halfway to the watchtower, the Mihlolo hurled their first spears at us. We ducked as they flew past, missing us, but too close. Still at full charge, they got their second spears ready, but before these could be thrown, the Abaviki, like a furious whirlwind, tore into them with their axes. Quick and agile, Father climbed down the narrow ladder of the watchtower as the battle raged below, his sagila in one hand. I was ready to follow, waiting for him to get all the way down as the wooden rungs couldn’t take the weight of both of us.
One Mihlolo, huge and hideous, managed to escape the Abaviki, weaving out of the battle. It ran again towards the watchtower, blood streaming down its chest, now so near I was looking down at it. Its eyes were on Father, bloodshot, and there was froth at the sides of its mouth.
‘Stay up there, Owethu!’ Father cried out. Halfway down he jumped, landing in front of the Mihlolo, swinging his sagila at its head, but missed as it dodged. He swung it again in a backhand before it could recover, hitting it on the shoulder. The Mihlolo fell, rolled and sprang to its feet, snarling, raising its spear to strike, with Father off balance from the backswing. I leapt from the platform, landing with both feet on the Mihlolo’s back, and we both fell. I jumped up, but Father was already pounding the fallen Mihlolo on the head with his sagila, just as one of the Abaviki reached them and struck a hard blow to its neck with his axe, almost severing its head.
At that moment, tense, crouching, I expected more Mihlolo to appear. I looked towards the zuza bushes. Another one stood behind them, lower body concealed by brush, watching. Our eyes met. It turned and plunged at a run into the undergrowth of tall grass beyond, and disappeared.
The fighting was over. The Mihlolo were all dead, their bodies dragged by the Abaviki to the foot of the watchtower, leaving trails of thick blood on the ground. We stood over them. A few of the Abaviki were nursing wounds from the fighting, but none were serious. Father stood beside Findo, their captain, both their chests heaving.
‘I don’t think they were after the cattle,’ said Findo, heavily bearded under his feathered headdress, and about Father’s age. ‘It seems you were their target, Ngalo.’ He has been working for a long time for our family, ever since I was a child. He used to be a warrior for the kingdom and, when he has the time, has many a story to tell about past battles. Ngalo is our family name. Father is Jwabheni Ngalo.
‘They were not,’ Father said, letting out a deep breath. ‘They were here to kill us.’
‘Somebody clearly sent them,’ Findo said. ‘They don’t go around trying to kill people without instruction.’
‘One of them escaped,’ I cut in. ‘It was watching from behind the zuza bushes.’
‘I saw it too,’ Findo said. ‘Should we chase after it, Ngalo? If we go now we might catch it.’
‘If we do, we can make it talk,’ said Mangena, Findo’s deputy in the Abaviki. ‘It might tell us who sent them.’
‘I don’t know if they speak a human language,’ Father said. ‘Let that one go. It saw what happened to its accomplices, and that should be a lesson for it, or whoever sent them.’
- Christopher Mlalazi is the author of three novels, Running with Mother, which has been translated into German, Italian and Spanish; They are Coming; and The Border Jumper, as well as the short story collection Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township. He is the co-winner of the 2008 Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Award for the play The Crocodile of Zambezi, and is an alumni of the Caine Prize Workshop, Iowa Writers Program, Feuchtwanger Fellow, Nordic-Africa Institute, Hannah-Ardent Scholarship, and Casa Refugio. Langabi: Season of Beasts is the first of a trilogy.
A kingdom in crisis, a brutal king and a mystery surrounding the missing ruler, Queen Sukumani. Owethu, a young man from a family of ironworkers is thrust into a battle for his kingdom and the lives of his family.
in the village of Somizi,
in the shadow of the Ntokozo Hills,
within the Kingdom of Langabi,
during the reign of King Diliza,
the cousin of Langabi’s founder,
the late Queen Sukumani,
there comes a hero.
King Diliza, sun of the sky and leopard of the many markings, Babengabuzang’ elangeni.
Owethu knows your secret.