In honor of Black Speculative Fiction Month, eight SFF authors share stories that honor forebearers and memories of the past, fight the legacies that underpin the brutalities of the present, and demand a future that’s freer than today.
The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the morning of October 19. They are collected here.
To the king across the Blue Sea, in his Hall of Stone.
Your Insufferable Majesty,
I know this letter did not find you well—it being in the excavated abdomen of your emissary. You should know that disembowelment is a savage punishment Great Nubia abandoned 600 years ago, but one we thought to revisit to best illustrate our point.
Your governor-generals are dead. The insolent lot lie now in their various estates and keeps with bellies yawning open and brimming with ungodly humor—a state not dissimilar to that of the emissary sprawled on the impeccable floor of your throne room. I imagine you find this knowledge worrisome. Are you incensed, your majesty? Do you tremble with rage?
Do you feel the urge to unleash your righteous army upon us “godless heathens”?
Good. Very good.
But first, a lesson in what these heathens can do.
Look out your window—or have one of your lackeys do it. (I hear merely turning your neck causes you to pant and lather with exertion, and nothing but our own elephants can draw your chariots.) Are you looking? You must see the vast white vessels darkening the skies of your capital. They aren’t rain clouds, Your Insufferable Majesty, but bone ships constructed from the fused bones of felled giants in the Horn of Ethiopia. Yes, giants. Do not think you are the first to come slavering over our lands. The giants are dead, every one of them, felled by the ten thousand battalions of Ikhossa Warriors, a portion of whom now lie in the belly of those bone ships, come to blot out the warmth of the sun from your empire.
We opened our lands to you and delighted in a genuine exchange of culture and values. But you always wanted more, didn’t you? You, who’ve glutted yourself on the spoils of conquest. You saw the might of Abyssinia and coveted it; you saw the gold of Mali and lusted after it. You saw the ivory of Ghoshaland and harvested it.
Quite frankly, we are angered by your lack of respect and impertinent actions. You’ve nibbled like sewer rats at the edges of our empire, forcibly removed rightful kings, and laid claims to lands and resources not yours. What is more, we found the burning and looting of Benin abhorrent; sacred masks and sculptures pillaged and put up for gawking in your museums. You thought your cogs and wheels and weapons of steel made you invincible. You thought wrong.
I know how your culture values fairytales as tools of instruction, so here is one:
Once upon a time there lived a wicked king. He took and took and thought himself unstoppable. He called on a map of the world and pointed to the sun lands of the south, ripe and unspoiled and brimming with fertility. Those who opposed him he slaughtered, until the soil ran red with their blood and roused the wrath of sleeping gods. They wailed of injustice and demanded retribution. And retribution, good children, lovely children, when it came, was absolute.
Your Pompous Majesty, is your breathing fast, your chest tight? Do you find your dreary castle even more draughty, your kingly robes sticky with cold sweat?
You’ve heard of the Greeks and how they smuggled their soldiers into Troy in a wooden horse. The cold bodies of your governor-generals are our Trojan Horses, the fluids sloshing in their bellies our weapon. Already, it is too late to rid yourself of the corpses. While you read this letter, the liquid has become vapour and seeped into your lungs, filled your air and water, and began the process of calcifying everything it touches.
By the day’s end, every being that draws breath in your land will be a crystalline statue. Your streets and rivers, temples and abbeys, livestock and the grass upon which they graze, the birds that sail your skies—everything will be glazed in an everlasting frost, to stand as long as the sun kindles the sky, a museum for posterity.
And you, Ignoble Ruler, will be carved from your throne and put at the entrance to our empire, a lesson to would-be conquerors of the dire fate that awaits them. And in your stiff, frozen hands shall be a plaque with the following words for all eternity:
Here sits His Ignominy, the king and doom of the Northlands, last of his name.
“Here Sits His Ignominy” copyright © 2020 by Tobi Ogundiran
Art copyright © 2020 by Eli Minaya
Tobi Ogundiran writes dark and fantastical tales inspired by his Nigerian roots. His short fiction has appeared in periodicals such as The Dark, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shoreline of Infinity and FIYAH among others. He currently resides in Penza, Russia where he’s studying to become a doctor. Find him at tobiogundiran.com and @tobi_thedreamer on Twitter.