The grey patches dotting the sky increased in their numbers and began to spread out in the direction of the wind. Their movement obstructed the moon, causing the surroundings to be a shade darker. Tree branches waved restlessly and some of their leaves fell off.
While they advanced deeper, with Deba still screaming and begging, they heard several distant howling in the forest. The howling seemed to be coming from all angles. Deba's assailant, a big dark man with bald head, long chin beards and an earring in one ear, stopped briefly at the sound of the third howling. His free hand moved to the hilt of the sword resting peacefully in a gold platted scabbard. A dagger sat next to it and a big leather pouch hung from across his right shoulder. He was dressed in a simple white cotton shirt and black bogus pants, the type mostly worn by the Tuaregs.
"Please just let me go." Deba struggled against his tight grip. "Please, we can still go our separate ways and avoid the dangers in this place. Please, I..."
"Shut up woman!" He barked, shaking her vigorously
"Please..." She made to move away from him
"Don't you dare!" He let go of the sword hilt and forcefully landed an open palm against her face. Her cries increased. But the wind and howling drowned it. "Better be quiet." He grabbed her by the hair and continued toward his destination. The howling got closer and louder "Hounds." He said, looking around. "Will there be any need to kill you? I could just feed you to them."
"No. Please no." Deba begged again, still trying fruitlessly to free her hair. "You don't have to do this. Just leave me here. The Tures will never know you didn't kill me."
"I don't want to kill you, lady. But if you force me I will. Killing hasn't done me much good these past weeks. It hunts me in nightmares; terrible dreams of my own death. And this? This is exactly the scenario in those dreams. So thank the gods they sent the hounds. Come here."
He forced her to a tree. While pinning her against it with one hand, the other searched inside the leather pouch slung across his shoulders. He found two chains. Swiftly, he moved to chain her hands to the branches of the trees flanking them.
While he worked, Deba bowed her head and silent sobs shook her body. This was it. This was certainly her death. This was the same dreams she had been having. Now it was coming to pass; the only difference being that her assailant was a bald man, not a dada wearing man. Besides, he had said the hounds would help him do the killing. She thought about her mother. Where could Pawo be? What was happening with her? Was she in danger too? Would Duefe betray her? Why hadn't she followed her to Nala, instead of being a stupid chief maid? Or better still, why didn't she find ways to get rid of Oba Ezomo, so she could live in peace with her mother? Deba closed her eyes and drew her nose. She only hoped that her mother would take the news her of death well, that is, if she was still alive. As for Izogie, only the gods knew what plans Prince Daoud and his father had for her. And only the gods would be able to save her. But how? She was being taken to a far away land where other gods ruled, gods who did only what pleased them. Izogie was lost and no one back home would know.
The rain had started to shower and the wind got stronger, making the trees even more restless. The howling of hounds continued to draw closer, not in the distance like it was in her dreams.
"There." The bald man said, after locking the chains together in front of her. "It is long enough. In case the hounds don't come and you feel like resting, you can sit on the ground." That said, he turned to leave.
"Please," Deba's weak plea stopped him, her head still bowed. It was her last attempt at trying to draw sympathy from him. "Please don't leave me like this. Don't you have a sister? Or a mother? How would you feel if they are treated so?."
"Askia Ture has given his order, and his order is law. It must be done."
"I see he is an abusive king," her head slowly came up. "For only an abusive king will want his words to be law. What will happen to my sister?" She asked.
The answer to her question was temporarily delayed as the heavens opened and drops of rain poured heavily to the earth. Thunder and lightening followed. The forest was alive with different sounds as night creatures ran about, seeking shelter from the rain. But not the hounds. Their howling continued. The bald man looked up and closed his eyes, allowing drops of rain splash on his face before looking back at Deba. "What will happen to her is totally not your business. I will come and bury your corpse by morning." He turned and walked out of sight as Deba burst into fresh tears. She dropped heavily to her knees and wept bitterly. She was still at it when she heard a very loud scream coming from the direction her captor had taken. But it ended, almost as quickly as it started. Deba's fears doubled. Certainly, he was dead. But by whose hands? She looked about her and even strained to look further into the darkness, but there was nothing and no one in sight.
I'd rather fight for my freedom than stay here and die like a fowl, she reasoned and began to struggle vehemently with her chains. But they wouldn't come off so easily. The man did a thorough job.
With the sound of heavy rain all around her, and being too distracted with her continued struggles with the chains, she didn't see it approach. Besides, it was dark, with only three white stripes. One from the forehead, down to the nose. The others stripes were on both sides of its body. It wasn't until she heard its growl that she realized she had been found. Whatever attacked the big man was now in front of her. Straining to look into the darkness before her, she eventually saw it; a very huge hound carrying the big man's gold platted scabbard with the long sword, between clenched jaws. Thanks to the grey clouds that moved aside a little, allowing the moon little time to show her what was in front of her.
Deba's breath caught. Surely, she was dead. But something else happened. The hound won't move closer, only watch her. After a while, it dropped the sword and raised itself to stand on its hind legs. Gradually, it transformed; a head, then a hand, the body and finally the legs. Long fat threads of hair fell to his shoulders as his transformation continued.
Deba was wide eyed and speechless. She watched the hound transform into the very man she had seen in her dreams. She shivered and her heart beat tripled. Like nature was in tune to her heightened distress, the rain increased in strength. The night air was suddenly icy cold against her skin. The moon had hidden once more behind a moving curtain of thick dark clouds. Thunders rolled and lightening flashed across the sky, striking down several trees within its reach. The wet cold night had become silent, save for the heavy rain and the distant howling of other hounds in the dense woods.
Deba looked down at herself. She was kneeling in the rain, clothed in her red velvet wrapper, cape over shoulders and hood off her head. The cold ate into her flesh, causing her teeth to rattle.
The man picked up the scabbard he dropped earlier and pulled out the sword. Holding it in one hand, he let the tip touch the huge stone resting a short distance to his side. As he walked, the metal scraped the body of the stone.
"No, no no please." She begged.
The man stopped in front of her. She raised her head slightly to look at him. He was exactly the same in her dreams. Tall, bare chested and had rippling muscles underneath his dark taut skin. His dada fell long over his shoulders. A loin cloth covered his nakedness and his feet were bare.
"Please don't kill me. I'm not a sacrifice and I haven't done anything wrong."
"No you haven't." His baritone was cold. "But then, I wasn't told you did. Just let this be a lesson. Don't trust anyone." He raised the sword. Deba's eyes widened in horror. She passed out as it came down.
Deba felt cold as soft wind blew over her, accompanied by faint distant sounds of chats and laughter. A sweet smell, like something being roasted, invaded her nostrils, causing her mouth to water. True, she was hungry. But do spirits get hungry?
She stirred and turned and grew increasingly restless. The talking and laughing continued but the smell changed. It was like burning herbal leaves were brought close to her nose. Inhaling it set her smell organ on fire, like pepper was inside her nose and the smoke accompanying it almost chocked her. Her eyes flew open then and rested on a stalk of burning dry leaves held close to her nose. She coughed while slapping off the hand that held the leaves.
"Arrggh!" A male voice cried out as a few burning sparks flew to his arm. He started to dust them off.
It was day break. The sun was overhead and the sky was a clear blue. After recovering from the cough, Deba looked up to see the same man from the night before. "You!" She quickly sat up, her senses alert. Definitely, she was scared and confused at the same time. She started to pull back but he only threw aside the rest of the burning stalk and got to his feet.
"Good to see you alive and well. I was beginning to wonder when you will wake up" He said.
He was a young man with neatly trimmed beards, not more than 30. He was about 6 ft tall and had very broad shoulders accompanying the muscles of his arms and body. His thighs and legs were not left out. His loin cloth was all that shielded him from complete nakedness. But in all, he was appealing. He was the type of man she knew Yuwa would jump on, naked or not. Her cousin had always had eyes for hulky men. Deba had eyes for them too. But she was Yuwa's opposite in such matters. She was never bold enough to openly admire a man.
"Good?" She managed to shake off his effect on her. "I thought you were supposed to kill me?"
"Was I?" His brows shot up, making him even more appealing.
"Won't the person who sent you get angry at you for disobeying his order? And how come we speak in the same dialect?"
The man chuckled, revealing a set of white teeth. "For someone who has just woken up from a very deep sleep, you ask too much questions. Come. Food is ready." He offered his hand, she reluctantly took it and he pulled her to her feet. It was after she turned around that she saw the source of the raised voices and laughter. They were other men, three of them, dressed exactly like the man beside her. But their hairs weren't dada. Just a clean shave, a low shave and an unkept afro with beards. Deba remembered the howling in the forest the night before and thought that the men must be the other hounds. They sat around a fire, roasting a big fish, bigger than any she had ever seen. Looking around, she noticed they were close to the bank of an over flowing river, thanks to the heavy rain. Small canoes lined up on one side of the shore, while the forest stood tall behind them.
"Hope you like fish?" The man asked.
"I do, as long as its not poison. But..." Her stomach chose that moment to grumble loudly, a clear sign she was very hungry and could not pretend about it. Her hand moved to pet her stomach.
"But what?" The man asked, bending slightly to look at her stomach. He was confused at what she was doing. Since when did petting a hungry stomach make it less hungry?
"I need to know what you will do with me." She spoke, ignoring the hunger. "Surely you didn't save me just to offer me fish."
"No, I didn't." He confirmed, straightening up.
"I thought as much." She nodded. "So what is the deal? Are you going to sell me off to slave masters? Are you going to sacrifice me to your gods? Are you going to make me your own slave or are you going to have me around just for your pleasure?" She frowned at him.
"I like the last option. A woman as beautiful as you shouldn't be left unattended to." He smiled. "So, would you allow me have you for pleasure?"
Deba threw caution to the wind, stepped forward and landed her open palm against his left cheek. It's sound was like a whip against horse back. The force of the slap turned his face the other way, but he quickly looked forward again. As expected, the slap caught the attention of the other men. They stopped laughing and looked, wide eyed, in their direction.
"Just know that before you rape me, you'll be receiving lots of that." Deba told him.
"I don't rape women." He frowned and took a few steps closer. She tried to slap him again but he caught her hand. She raise the other but he caught it too and then pulled her closer. "You know arrrrrrgggh..." he cried, letting go of her hands and holding the bulge between his legs as he fell on his knees. This time, the other men laughed. "You're wicked!" He managed between clenched teeth as he finally dropped on the sand, writhing in agony. Thanks to her for using her knees against his delicate organ.
"I'm just keeping my word. Its not going to be so easy to rape me." Deba said, standing over him. Hands on hips. After observing his suffering a while longer, she turned to walk away. But he put aside his pain, reached for both her legs and pulled. Deba crashed face down, to the sand. The men laughed even harder. They were obviously having a nice time watching the show.
The man moved over Deba and pinned her firmly to the ground. "In as much as I respect women and royalty, I won't tolerate this nonsense next time."
"Who told you I'm royalty? And what will you do next time?" Her chin was set in defiance.
"I'll skin you alive." He got up, one hand protecting his delicate part. He moved to a safe distance and then he staggered towards his men. Of course, they were still laughing at him.
Deba remained on in her position, back against the sand. Her clothes were still wet and felt very uncomfortable. But she had nothing else to change into. Putting her discomfort out of her mind, her eyes silently watched two hawks circling overhead. Whoever the men were, they were not her enemy. What she had done was enough to earn her some severe beating. She knew. Some others would have killed her. She just had to be patient and find out who they really were and why they helped her. Who sent them? She had always thought her dreams meant her death, but it wasn't so. Whoever sent them knew her. The person knew she was in danger and sent help ahead.
"You better hurry up and eat something before it gets finished." The dada wearing man said, interrupting her thoughts. "After this, you eat nothing till night fall. And the journey ahead is very long."
To be continued.....
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