Deba, after making her way down the hill, walked gently through the bush paths leading up to the spot Makeni had pointed out the last soldier.
"Distract him." He had said. And to her, distract him meant seducing him. How in the name of the gods was she going to do that? She had never been interested in men before. She never learnt how to attract them. She had never even been aware of the opposite sex, until she met him. And now she was out to seduce a warrior?
What god or goddess was she going to pray to for assistance? Olokun? Yemoja? Oya? Deba sighed. She would do what she can. But if things didn't go well, Mekani could go on and hit his head against a tree. She wouldn't care. She winced as the image of Mekani hitting his head against a tree flashed before her eyes. Of course she would care. So like it or not, the plan had to work.
Her face was blackened with charcoal from the fire place where Mayo prepared breakfast. Her hair was a scattered mass and rid of all bridal adornments. Mekani said it was best that way. She had to been seen as one of the slaves, not a princess. But there was nothing she could do about her clothing. A good thing she had cut it into a different style. It was a good disguise for her too.
Down at the village, Almost every where she turned, there were dead bodies in twos or threes. Dead animals were not left out. The entire village smelt of smoke, blood and death. How could people be so wicked? At one spot, a man's headless form lay. Blood oozed out of the neck. At another spot, arrows pinned down several children. Some mothers lay on top their children in a fruitless effort to protect them. A mother's love. She thought, remembering her own mother. Pawo would die before seeing her in a place like the one she was in, let alone dying because of some stupid distraction plan Makeni and the men had in their heads.
Taking her mind off her mother, she walked steadily until the warrior of their interest was within sight. But she didn't dock. She stood and let his eyes rest on her. The man's ebony skin shone under the blazing sun. Up close, Deba could see he was light bearded, had bushy hairs and carried with him huge muscles underneath taut skin. Upon sighting her, he pulled out his sword and started in her direction.
"Ngakho wena bazifihla?" He spoke in a tongue she was not familiar with.
"Please, please don't kill me. I only want water." Deba begged.
"Izimpethu abafana nawe akufanele bavunyelwe ukuba baphile." His pace increased.
When she saw he wasn't backing down, she turned and ran. So much for seducing a warrior who looked determined to kill her. He chased her. Of course, she was only a girl. It would be stupid for him to call the attention of his men over a girl. So he carried on with the chase alone.
Deba ran toward the east wing of the hill and started to climb. The warrior reached the foot too and was about to join her when two strong hands seized both his hands from behind. The warrior struggled, but Dogo disarmed and slammed him hard against the hard ground. The man yelped. Before he could regain himself and draw out another knife, Several swords pointed at his head and neck.
"I won't think twice before cutting you." Mekani threatened
"Idiots." The man spat. "Abanye ngeke ningithole futhi abulale nonke. Awazi ukuthi ubani wena obhekana nakho."
"General, Basuke kade laphela futhi wena ekupheleni kude iphiko entshonalanga." Makeni replied.
The warrior looked a bit surprised that a stranger would speak his language.
"You speak his language?" Deba asked, descending the hil again.
"Yes. It is Zulu language. I wonder what Zulu warriors are doing here. They've never brought their fight this way before. This is new." Mekani examined Deba with his eyes. Are you ok?"
"Thanks to your timely intervention, I am fine."
"What did he say?" Kubu asked, still looking at the warrior.
"He says the others will find him and kill us all. We've messed with the wrong man."
The men chuckled at the threat. "You should tell him we'll kill him first." Dogo said after he recovered.
"I already told him that. But all the same, before his threat comes true, let us leave this place."
Dogo took out twines from his pouch and tied the prisoner's hands to the back. He was then shoved as they made their way further east, the opposite direction of the rest of the Zulu warriors. They had absolutely no more need to climb the hill.
It was well after noon. The sun was setting at the horizon. Red patches of clouds had taken over the sky. Evening was here. Night was to follow soon. The party had walked many miles, from hills to forests and rivers. Along the way Mayo caught a rabbit that had gotten stuck in a trap, close to a farm.
"Is that necessary?" Deba had asked, wondering why a rabbit was so important at the time.
"For dinner? Yes it is important." He smiled, admiring the animal.
After a long time under the scotching sun, and with sweat streaming down their bodies, evening had arrived. The party stopped at the banks of the third flowing river they came across. It bordered a small village on the other side of it.
Mekani strained his eyes across the wide river, trying to make out activities in the small village. There were activities alright; children playing in circles and women at the banks washing clothes. Some hard looking men, probably the village's warriors, guarded the river as the women worked. Colourful kentes hung from their shoulders and wrapped their bodies. As soon as they noticed the small party at the other side of their home, they stood up and walked to the edge of the bank, looking across with stern faces and calculative eyes. They talked among themselves.
"We rest here." Mekani announced, after watching the village people a while longer.
"It is an open spot. We're exposed." Mayo remarked. "And from the way those warriors look at us, I don't think they like our presence."
"When I said here, I didn't mean in the open." Mekani corrected. "We find a hidden spot in the forest behind. The important thing is we are close to the river. We need some cleaning up. Try to ignore the villagers. We are not trespassing."
They moved away from the river bank and into the forest. Kubu found a spot under the tall trees. It was still open though, but not as exposed as the banks.
"What will you do to me?" The captured Zulu warrior asked Mekani as Dogo sat him at the foot of one tree and tied him against it.
"Whatever pleases me. But first, I want to know why you bring your war here. You murdered a whole village. The women and children too. Have you and your warriors lost your hearts?"
The warrior's hard eyes stared at Mekani with disdain. Then he spoke and he spoke harshly.
"What is he saying?" Deba asked, coming to stand behind Mekani.
"Let's talk later. I'm not done with him yet."
Deba nodded and stepped back. Mekani continued his interrogation. A short distance away, Mayo set up a camp fire, cleaned up the dead rabbit with water from his drinking bag and started to prepare dinner. Kubu stood close by, watching the interrogation. While Dogo patrolled the surroundings, ensuring there was no danger lurking in the forest.
With nothing to do, Deba joined Mayo. Although her eyes were focused on Mekani and the Zulu man.
"If you are going to cook, you should focus on the food." Mayo smiled knowingly at her.
"I'm just trying to follow their discussion." She defended, wondering why he was smiling the way he did.
"No. You're not." Mayo sighed and returned his eyes to the rabbit roasting in front of him. Again, it was a big rabbit and Deba noticed. "Your eyes haven't left him since the journey started." Mayo finished.
"And who are you talking about? The warrior? You can't blame me, I don't trust him."
"I'm talking about Mekani."
Deba froze. She wondered why Mayo would say something like that. What was so good about their leader that she couldn't take her eyes off him? Anyway, maybe he was gearing up for an argument. She wouldn't give him the pleasure. "How come the rabbit is big?" She changed the topic. "When we saw it at the farm, it was not so big."
"I use my special ingredients on it, so it is big enough to go round everyone. A handful of roasted rabbit with the left over yams, and you will see we will all be well fed."
"In other words, your ingredients are not normal ingredients. You use magic to cook?" Her brows shot up and realization hit her. "How do you do it?"
"Observe." He said, then unwrapped one leave from his pouch, scooped a few of the powdered ingredients and sprinkled them on the roasting rabbit. Gradually, its size increased.
Deba's surprise knew no bounds. She went on all fours and crept closer to inspect the rabbit. "Wow!" She exclaimed, unable to hold her joy. It was the first time she was witnessing magic. She had only heard of it in folktales before. "Mayo, you should have said something right from the beginning. This is like an invention."
"Yes. Juba's invention." He smile broadened.
"Juba" she said the name, tasting it and trying to decided what next to say. "He must be a very useful god. He has a lot of qualities, I can see. And inventions too." She admired the robust rabbit.
Mayo chuckled. "Yes. Don't worry. One day, soon, you will meet him."
"So I was told."
They all sat around the camp fire later that night, eating the roasted rabbit and left over yams. Mekani offered some to the Zulu prisoner. But the prisoner wouldn't eat. Mekani tried to convince him that the food was not poisoned, by taking a few bites from it. But still, the prisoner wouldn't eat. He then retuned to the others by the camp fire.
"What next?" Dogo asked, having observed what transpired. "He won't eat and we can't have a man die in our camp."
"He hasn't given me any useful information." Mekani sighed. "I know abit about the Zulus. They don't bring fight for no reason. And to have come all the way here, something big is really happening."
"Must we make their business our business?" Deba asked. "We could let him go."
"That, is risky." Kubu countered. "He can easily get his men and bring them after us."
"But we can't kill him either." Deba argued. A short silence followed.
"You do what you think is right." Dogo said to Mekani before taking a drink and getting up.
"And where are you going?" Mekani looked up at him.
Mekani nodded and faced the fire again. From across, where Deba sat, she observed him. He looked thoughtful, like he was seriously trying to decide the next best move. He ate his meat quietly, and his eyes remained on the flames from the camp fire. Her eyes traced the lines on his face, down to the muscles of his shoulders and chest. Mayo was right. She had spent most of the day watching him, memorizing every part of his body. And now there she was, staring again, shamelessly. How he had showed up from nowhere and stolen her heart was a mystery. All he had said was that he dreamt of her too. She didn't even know if he was telling the truth or lies. But still, she had taken to him so easily.
"Maybe I'm going crazy." She thought.
As if in response to her claim, Mekani looked up. His eyes caught hers and he smiled; a warm smile that reached his eyes. She smiled too, although she wasn't certain why they were smiling at each other.
Later that night Dogo, Mekani and Kubu patrolled the environs. As far as Deba knew, Mayo was the cook in the team, not a fighter. She wasn't too comfortable with the fact that she and Mayo were left alone with the Zulu warrior. What if he tried to escape? What would they do? She decided she was going to stay awake and watch him. If he loosened his binds and attacked them, then she would scream. It is the best she can do.
Not long afterwards, she wasn't going to do anything. Sleep came and carried her on its wings, even before she realized it. Her red cape hugged her body, keeping the cold away. It was a wet sticky sensation on her right foot that woke her up. It was dark, although streaks of moonlight invaded the forest.
She was about to take a sitting position and look around, when she felt the wetness and stickiness again. Something or someone was licking her foot. Slowly, she raised her head to take a look at her visitor. The fear started from her heart and spread to her head. She opened her mouth to scream, but firm hands closed them from behind.
"Shhhhhh... Just watch." Mekani said against her ears.
Glad it was him, she calmed down abit and watched the white hound licking her foot some more.
"Do you have any injury on your feet?" Mekani asked, also watching the animal.
"Good. As long as it does not taste blood, it won't sink its teeth into your foot. Just breath. Try to relax."
It was a while later that a distant cry of another hound in the forest caused the one before her to abandoned her foot and run off. Mekani chuckled lightly when he felt Deba sigh in relieve.
"You should have thought it was me. Then you wouldn't have been so scared." He said.
"You're a black hound, Mekani." She said. "Not white."
"Yes. That is true. Come, I want to show you something."
"What about Mayo?" She was worried, "We will be leaving him alone with the prisoner. It is risky."
"Mayo is the last person you should worry about. Worry about us instead." He smiled. "Come."
He led her away from the camp and further into the forest. They climbed several steep parts before emerging at the edge of a rocky cliff, the forest standing behind them. The night sky was clear and the twinkling stars surrounded the bright moon in their thousands.
"When you stand here and look below, you see a whole kingdom." Mekani said in awe.
"Yes. But it is dark below."
"Not entirely. Look." He pointed at a small village where camp fires were set up. Some huts had their lamps on too. "They might be celebrating a festival."
"It is nice" She tightened the cape around her shoulders. The cold was getting to her.
"It is nice? That is all you will say?" Mekani asked, the moon light revealing his raised brows accompanied by a smile tugging at his lips.
"I don't believe the view is all the reason you brought me here, Mekani." She smiled back. "Is it time for us to start acting out your dreams?"
His brows went even higher. He loved her boldness. Some other girls in his kingdom would shy away and pretend not to notice any thing. "I would love the entire dream acted out. But Juba will strike me dead before we even begin." He laughed.
"Will he strike me too? I need to know how soon I'll die."
"Stop it. Don't joke with such things." Mekani took her left hand and pulled her to him. His other hand slid around her waist, holding her firmly against his frame. He bent low and planted a soft kiss on her bare shoulders. She shivered. "You are right. The view is not the only reason I brought you here." He whispered against her cheeks. Her nearness had caused his breathing to become rapid.
"I thought you are scared of Juba." She whispered back, pressing her bosom to his chest and enjoying the bulge she felt against her abdomen.
"No. I'm afraid of what I might do to you." Her actions had caused him to hardened some more "You should be afraid too."
"Of your love making?" She chuckled.
He inhaled deeply. Even her chuckle was affecting his reasoning. "I want you everyday Deba. Every time." His hands moved to rest on the swell of her back, and then squeeze. "I want you." He whispered, before his lips descended on hers. She kissed him back. Her passion surprisingly matched his own as her hands slid up and found their way through his dada. She pulled him closer. Pleasurable currents flowed between them. To her, this was heaven. No man would ever have been able to make her feel like this. Besides, if his kiss was this wonderful, she wondered what having the rest of him would be like.
Mekani knew he shouldn't push things. But home was far. How long would he wait to marry her and claim his prize? Her softness, her passion, the power she had over him were driving him nuts. If he didn't do something, he knew he was going to go crazy with unfulfilled desires.
He scooped her into his arm and carried her a short distance away where an animal skin cape lay on the ground. He put her on it and joined her. Lips remained locked. His hands went for her upper covering and with some gentle tugging, it loosened and started to slide down. Deba caught it and pulled back, pressing the red velvet wrapper to her almost exposed breasts. Mekani swallowed.
"I will understand if you have second thoughts." He said.
"Not second thoughts. I want an assurance that this is real. Not a mere physical activity for you." She needed to be sure. For some unknown reasons, ever since Mekani made mention of his dreams, she had found herself drawn to him and yearning for him in ways she never thought possible. If what he felt for her was not real, she had a right to know she was about to throw her dignity off a cliff.
"Deba." His voice was hoarse and his eyes glittered as they peered into hers. "You are never just a physical exercise to me. You're my heart. And if I don't have you, then I don't have a heart. And if there is no heart, then there is no me."
Deba chuckled. "You sound like our palace historian when he's narrating a love story."
Mekani laughed. She joined him. They never thought they could laugh about anything when passion and desire was about to consume them. Silence followed. They stared at each other, wondering what the other was thinking and how they would continue what they already started. Mekani wasn't so sure anymore, if making a move on her at the moment was the right thing to do. She was scared he was a fake. She had every right to. But what was going to happen to his already hardened length?
Deba wanted him to continue. She wanted him to take the lead, just as he had done earlier. She would have taken a bold step to continue, but she didn't want to come across as cheap. One bold step at a time was enough. Too much boldness could scare him off.
They had only said their names when distant cries of hounds greeted their ears. Mekani's head shut up. His senses were alert and he cursed.
"Relax." Deba placed a hand on his shoulder. "It could be the other normal hounds."
"No." He disagreed. "I recognize my men when I hear them." He sprang to his feet, trying to shake off the haze that had formed in his head. Deba tied her cloth back and joined him. "The camp is under attack. We need to go back."
To be continued.....
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