The men surrounding the Zulu camp were turban wearing riders, armed with spears, sword and shields. Sure, they were from up north. But how they had found the camp, despite careful and protective measures, baffled everyone.
It was during an early morning patrol of the forest surrounding the camp, that the riders were discovered. It could have been worse if the riders had decided to attack while they slept.
Deba panicked. Terrible thoughts flashed through her mind as she muttered prayers to Aganju and Ogun, to Osun and Oya, to Shango and Ori. She knew all was as not well. She knew because of the looks Mekani and his brothers exchanged. Surely if they were going to survive, they needed more than physical help. They needed the gods and ancestors on their side.
Deba tried to shake off the fear. But its hold on her grew instead. Mekani and the men weren't helping her condition. They kept exchanging looks as if this was their end.
"What is it?" She asked. "I know you know something. Tell me!" She demanded when they tried pretending not to know anything.
"The battle is closer to camp than we thought it would be." Kubu answered, not looking at her.
"Yes I know. But that can't be the reason you're exchanging sad looks." She frowned. "Do we have any chance against the riders?"
"That is what we are yet to know." Mekani answered. "We've sent more men to spy on the riders closely. We can't really say for now what we are up against."
Silence followed. Everyone was deep I thoughts. It was Mekani who broke he silence. "The riders will be upon us soon. We need to prepare. Come princess," he stretched out one hand to Deba. "I will show you the path to follow into Gor. You go ahead. Your father awaits you."
Deba frowned. "I am not a coward. I'm not leaving you alone in battle."
"You have to! You have no battle skills yet. You cannot be here."
"You cannot send me away either. I'll wait in my tent and pray to the gods to help you get rid of the riders. You cannot do this to me."
"We will get rid of them." Mayo spoke. "We will." There was something in his voice that caught everyone's attention; something not pleasant.
"What are you thinking?" Kubu asked.
I'm thinking that the Zulu queen needs to get into my head again." He replied, without looking at any of them. "It is the only way."
"I was going to suggest that too." The queen said, walking up to them. "My spies are back. But the news is not good. Without Mayo and some additional help, I'm afraid we won't survive this. There are 200 riders up in the surrounding hills. About 200 foot warriors are already descending. They are coming on to us. And then there are archers. I think they followed us quietly." She finished.
"But why will they?" Deba reasoned. "We have made no trouble with anyone."
"They wanted to find Gor too." She explained. "Isn't it a coincidence that the minute we find Gor, they show up?"
"It is possible." Mekani said, thoughtfully.
"Why will they be interested in Gor?" That was Deba.
"It is no time for questions. Come princess. You should stay in your tent." The queen took Deba's hands and started to lead her away. She didn't argue or struggle. "I'll put two guards in front of your tent."
As they walked away, she looked back at Mekani and the men. They looked at her too, briefly, before turning around and heading into the forest.
Time passed. The camp was quiet as all the men, including the queen, had gone out to battle. The Zulus were only one hundred in number. Plus Mekani and his brothers, that was one hundred and four. How in Ogun's name were they going to fight over 400 men?
Deba felt frustrated. She felt terrible for the first time in her life, because she did not know a thing about combat. She should be with them, fighting side by side. But no. She was in her stupid tent being protected by other warriors; two of the best Zulus, the queen had said. But she knew their skills were needed more in the battle field.
She couldn't sit or stand still. Deba paced the length of her small tent and images of what could possibly be going on out there filled her head. It wasn't long after that she heard raised voices in the distance. It gradually got louder and louder. It was so close when she realized that the fight had been brought to camp. Their attackers had gained grounds and pushed back the Zulus.
Deba stepped out of her tent. The fight was before her. Zulus against Tuaregs. And yet, she couldn't tell why they were fighting. Why would these people appear just as she was about to go home? "You have to join them." She told the guards.
"But our orders are to protect you." One of them said.
"I'm giving a new order. Join them." She ordered. But the men only drew their swords and stood guard as a charging horse rider approached their position. With skills only known by well trained warriors, they dismounted the rider and pinned him against the earth with a sword. More riders and foot warriors approached, as well as what was left of the Zulu impi. There was a sudden burst of activities in camp. The battle was now before her eyes. Both Zulus and turban wearing riders fought and fell. Mayo emerged from the forest, a fire giant. He had been fighting the others in the forest, but had returned to fight those in camp. He was a great help. But the turban men didn't seem to be reducing in number. They kept coming as much as they kept dying. The Zulus on the other hand, greatly diminished in number. Mekani, Kubu, Dogo and the queen were not in sight. She wondered what had happened to them. Why weren't they in camp? Knowing fully well the war had been brought to it? Were they alive or dead? What will Juba do? Would he stand by and watch enemies slaughter his people?
The questions were too much and Deba thought she'd go mad if something wasn't done. "Papa. Please." She whispered, "Please do not allow more slaughter. In anyway possible, help."
It happened in a flash; a rush of wind and a sudden electrifying energy taking over her body. All she knew was that she was going to take out all the Tuaregs. Suddenly, the battle was hers to fight and hers alone. She grabbed from the ground, the swords of dead warriors; one in each hand. A blue light encircled her aura and from that moment on, the battle changed. The first man who came her way got a blow to his face before a sword was driven into him. More men approached her with raised weapons, the fight intensified. Every turban wearing man fell by her sword amidst yells and screams. Her warrior dance was of bashing, blows, kicks, thrusts with the swords, slashing and yelling.
Deba cringed at the site of blood, but she couldn't stop herself. It was a long while later the last Tuareg warrior fell by her side. She looked around. Heaps of dead men surrounded her. She was covered in their blood.
A short distance away, Mekani stood, covered in the enemy's blood too and mouth agape. He was not alone. Dogo, Kubu and the queen were equally surprised and dumb struck. Mayo remained in his burning giant form, but he was not yelling. He was silent and his eyes also rested on Deba. She didn't know when they returned to camp. But she was glad to see them alive.
Slowly, she walked towards Mekani. He walked towards her too, carefully. They met at the middle. "More of them will come." She spoke, but couldn't recognize her own voice. "It is better you're long gone before they do. My daughter's strength is used up. Once I leave she will collapse. Take care of her. And bring her home."
"Juba!" Was all he managed to say before Deba started to collapse. She was weak and had passed out as soon as Juba evacuated her body. He quickly moved to catch her. Holding her against himself, he looked at her in awe. Her eyes were closed but her breathing was steady. If anyone had told him Juba would save them through his daughter, he wouldn't have believed.
"Juba knows you love her." The queen said, coming to stand by him.
"He does." Mekani replied without looking at her, not when his eyes were still glued to the woman he loves. "But he shouldn't have used her. What if something went wrong?"
"You dare to question Juba?"
"I only ask a reasonable question."
"For a man who knows, first hand, what Juba is capable of, you surprise me. We have to go now." She reminded him and then walked away to check on her son. She too was covered in blood.
"We will start preparing." Kubu said, walking past his brother. "You take care of her."
Mayo remained rooted, observing as Mekani caress Deba's cheeks. He was obviously still awed by what had happened.
Around the camp. Most of the tents had been destroyed and only few warriors remained. They went about seeking their dead from the pile of bodies.
"No need." the queen called out to them. "Let Mayo burn all of them up. Cremation is the best rest for them."
Moments passed. While Mayo gathered the bodies and set them ablaze, the warriors gathered what was left in the camp. With Mekani leading and Deba slung over his shoulder, they made their way to Gor.
They lay under the canopy of an old banyan tree. Birds chirped on it and streaks of sun rays warmed their cheeks. The environment was quiet and peaceful. Pawo rested her head on Duefe's chest, enjoying the steady rise and fall of his breathing. It hadn't been long ago her husband was in his body. They made love throughout the night. The weeks that passed had been like that. Duefe didn't run away, he stayed. In fact, he was beginning to like the idea of being with her.
Since the night at the old woman's place, they had been closer. The old woman, a lovely soul she was, gave them food from her farm and meat to take with them for their journey. They thanked her and left.
The nights that followed were eventful. They made love for long hours. Duefe had started to get used to it. So much so he would have an erection just by looking at her.
It was two weeks after they left the old woman's hut that Ezodo finally spoke with him. Pawo was bathing in a river they came across and Duefe was watching her from a distance when he heard the voice of his former master. He looked around, but saw no one.
"Don't tell me you're afraid." Ezodo's voice mocked him.
"I am not." He replied, his heart beating fast because he had been caught spying. "If you were going to kill me, you would have done it from the first day I laid with your wife."
"Yes. I would. But why should I when you have been very loyal? You are the right man to take my place in her life."
"Yes. I am no longer the man you once knew and if you notice, I have steadily directed your path away from Nala. I need you to take her to my kingdom."
"Your kingdom?" His brows raised and his jaw dropped open. All sort of images flashed through his head. Ezodo was dead. If his spirit was here, then he was dead. "You want us to visit the land of the dead?"
Laughter erupted from the unseen man by his side. It was a hearty one; so much so Duefe was almost forced to laugh too. "No, Duefe. I am not dead. But I am not living either. I'll lead you to the kingdom that will be your new home. But you must take care of Pawo. I have given her to you. She may bear you children. She may not. But you two belong together now. Unless you don't want her."
Duefe's heart beat doubled. He turned back to the river and looked at her again, bathing. The sun reflected beautifully on her ebony skin. She was elegant, beautiful, and just the type of wife a man felt privileged to have. "I do love her." He confessed, finally. "And I am happy you gave her to me."
"But I am a guard. I was your servant. Now I'm hers. How can a queen accept a servant?"
"Let that be her choice."
It was the third week, and Ezodo still came around to be with his wife, like he had the previous night. They had been so into each other, they didn't realize morning had long arrived.
It was some time later that Ezodo sensed danger. Deba had called to him. She was in danger and so were his adopted sons.
"I have to go." He told Pawo. But he didn't say why because he didn't want her scared.
And now that he was gone, she was with Duefe - her head resting on his broad chest. So far, she wasn't sure if he was still uncomfortable with her closeness. She didn't mind being with him. After all, it was his body making love to her. It was his lips that kissed her. It was his hands that caressed her. It was his thrusts she felt in the v of her thighs. Ezodo only used his body. But still, she had to respect his decision.
She stirred, making moves to get up. But Duefe's hands around her shoulders tightened.
"Don't go." He whispered, pulling her closer.
"I thought you didn't like this?" She asked, resting her head back on his chest.
"I like you. I..." He swallowed. "I don't even know if I'm falling in love with you. But I'm used to you...to us... If it's ok with you."
"It is ok with me." She smiled. "I won't be with my husband forever. It is why he wants you and I to be."
"He talked to you about it?"
"Yes. And I accepted. But I wasn't sure you would."
"Phew!" He sighed and hugged her closer, as if scared she'll escape. "After we left that old woman's abode, I was a confused wreck. I felt terrible. I felt I had betrayed you and him. But since he continued, I'm used to it and besides, you're a very beautiful woman. It is mighty hard not to want you." He planted a kiss on her head. She snuggled closer.
"So what does this mean?"
"He talked to me. He wants us to seal our bond with marriage and be a family. I fear you may not like me as much as him. What both of you share is deep. I feel it when you make love. I may not be able to give it as he does."
She chuckled and pushed herself up slightly to look at him. "Is that what you are scared of?"
"Yes." He admitted, caressing her cheeks.
"My husband uses your body. But remember, it is your body. You have been the one making love to me. Don't you think we have already blended? Don't you think that deep love I have with him is now your?"
"Will you let me pleasure you without him using me?" Duefe asked, not sure what her response would be.
"Yes." She whispered, smiling. It is what she had wanted, for them to learn to accept each other without Ezodo's presence.
Duefe raised himself and took her lips. His hands wrapped around her delicate form and crushed her softness against his hardness. He had been scared to ask her if it was alright to touch her without Ezodo using him. He wasn't sure what her answer would be. Now that he knew, he was 100% sure Ezodo really wanted him and his queen together.
He tugged at her wrapper. It came loose. He teased her senses with caresses, using both lips and hands. She did same to him. They were going to take things further when, to her dismay, he suddenly stopped.
"We have to go now. Deba is out of danger. But I fear the war is coming faster than I thought."
Pawo frowned. She wasn't sure who she was with now. "Koning?"
"Yes my love. It is me. I am sorry I had to spoil your time. But we have to reach my kingdom and I have to lead. One never can tell what dangers lie ahead. Duefe alone wouldn't be able to battle them."
"What happened to Deba?" Her eyes widened in horror as she remembered the first thing he had said.
"She was in danger. Now she is fine." He calmes her, "Those Tuaregs didn't succeed."
She relaxed a bit. At least her daughter was safe. "These Tuaregs, who are they?" She asked, remembering that Izogie's in-laws were Tuaregs.
"They are people that have eyes on my throne."
She nodded, while wondering where his kingdom actually was. He had promised to tell her all that happened to him and Ere once she arrived at the kingdom. She was going to have to listen carefully. At least Deva would be by her side. As for her new found love, she was not completely happy that Duefe had been sidelined, again. She hoped he wasn't cursing her husband for interfering with their love making.
Few minutes later the duo got up, got dressed, put their belongings together and continued their journey through the forest. The earlier they arrived at Gor, the earlier they planned and prepared for what lay ahead.
To be continued....
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