Eye balls moved under eye lids, as Izogie slowly regained consciousness. And when her eyes flew open, the first thing they settled on was the rotten ceiling above her. A short distance from where she lay, water dripped rhythmically from the ceiling to a puddle on the floor.
Sudden fear slowly crept into her heart. She looked around, straining her eyes to get accustomed to the small, not-so-dark room. Indeed, her environment was strange. The only source of light were the golden rays of the sun streaming in through a round hole in the wall, wide enough to fit a baby's head.
The exposed parts of her body itched terribly. Mosquitoes buzzed in her ears and continued their feasting on her. Her head hurt badly, and so did her entire body. She remembered quite well all that happened during her journey. She remembered being forcefully unveiled, along with Deba. She remembered being punched. She didn't realize she passed out until she woke up the following morning with Prince Daoud by her side. He fingered a black bead in one hand while looking out the cart window. He didn't know she was awake until she stirred. He looked at her wearily, then turned back to his window.
Izogie's eyes roamed the cart, but her cousin was not in sight. Her fear doubled. "Deba?" She asked the Prince.
"Go back to sleep." Daoud replied without looking at her
"Where is my cousin?" She demanded, straightening up. Deba had never been her favourite friend or cousin, but they were related by blood. She was family and to Izogie, family was all that mattered. "I demand to know where my cousin is."
"If Akhu is not so stupid," Daoud looked back at her. "She should be dead by now. If he is stupid, he must have kept her as his sex slave; raping her whenever he feels like it."
"What?" She asked, almost breathless as images of a dead Deba or of her cousin being raped flashed through her head. "Deba." Her cries started soft, but soon erupted into violent sobs. "Why have you done this?" She grabbed Daoud by his shirt, pulling, cursing, raining slaps and blows on him.
"Stop it, woman!" He ordered. But Izogie wouldn't stop.
"Give me back my cousin, give her back!"
"I thought I'll let you remain awake for a while. I guess not." After a hot slap that sent her crashing back on her seat, Daoud took out a white folded cloth from his robe and unfolded it. He blew out white powdery substance from it to her face. Izogie inhaled. And that was it. She passed out again, only to wake up a day later in a small dark room. She was certain that the headache she felt was an after effect of whatever herbal medicine Daoud blew on her.
"Daoud. Prince Daoud." The name rolled off her lips like a bitter taste. The thought of her husband made her sick and more scared. How could she have celebrated her marriage not knowing what she was getting into? Her father in-law, Askia Ture, was worse. He had no respect for life. But why? Why did they marry her? What was their motive? Why did Deba have to be killed or raped? Why did she have to be drugged? What sort of problem had she gotten herself into? How would she ever go home? And how would her parents ever know she was in distress, if she couldn't find a way to send them a message?
Slowly, she sat up and moved to rest her back against the wall. She wrapped her hands around her knees and hugged them to herself. The mosquitoes continued their buzzing and blood sucking, coupled with terrible songs from house flies. Izogie slapped and scratched and wished the mosquitoes would stop. One flew to her neck and began to feast. She slapped it. Her hands lingered a while longer and that was when she realized her beads and other gold jewelries were gone. Not even her head bead remained. Thank the gods she was still dressed in her marriage attire.
But why would Prince Daoud take away her jewelries? Was he so poor a prince he had resorted to stealing? Was it not possible she had married an imposter, thinking he was a prince?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of sandaled feet approaching from the other side of the door. She listened quietly, ignoring the buzzing and drops of water splashing in the puddle, until the footsteps stopped in front of the door. She heard bolts pulled back from the door. A gentle push followed and the door opened. Prince Daoud stepped in. He was casually dressed in a blue princely shirt with the buttons undone, revealing his hairy and very muscular chest. The dark blue of the shirt reflected beautifully in the rays of sun light, thanks to the precious stones used in the design. His hair was scattered and very unkept. However, he didn't seem to mind about that. He was more concerned with the lady on the floor before him, and the one who followed from behind.
Prince Daoud gestured at Izogie. "This Is her." He said. The lady observed Izogie's curled up figure before moving towards her. She moved with grace typical of a lady of high birth. Her red gown hugged her slim figure and reached the floor, dragging behind her. She was veiled. But thanks to the sun rays, Izogie could make out a fair skin around brown eyes. She stopped in front of Izogie and looked down at her like she would an object; something she felt belong to her. Izogie's heart raced. If this elegant lady was Prince Daoud's wife or mistress, why then did he have to marry her? Her questions were soon thrown to the background as the lady ordered in Izogie's native tongue,
"Look in my eyes."
Izogie did look at her, surprised that she could speak her language. Not like she had a choice. The lady was right before her, even obstructing the view of the prince. "I think it is you who should get out of my view. I don't care if you're royalty. I am royalty too."
Ignoring her outburst, the lady squatted and moved to touch her. But Izogie warded her off and pulled away from her reach. Satisfied with the reaction and whatever else she saw, the lady stood up and walked back to where Prince Daoud stood, watching his prisoner.
"She will do just fine." Her soft, cultured voice filled the small room. "Instruct the servants. They should prepare her for tomorrow."
"You evil doer!" Izogie said with a low but firm tone. "What are you preparing me for? What do you want with me?" She shouted at them this time. "Isn't it bad enough that you took my cousin away from me? And I who is supposed to be your wife is locked away like a common prisoner?"
Daoud's eyes regarded her briefly in a not too friendly manner, before he spoke. "I may have married you, Izogie. But love was not part of the deal."
"To hell with your love." Izogie yelled, getting to her feet. "I should never have trusted you. I should never have married you."
"Well, its too late to cry over what's done. Isn't it?" The lady asked.
"Shut up!" Izogie faced her. "I am taking to the thing I call husband. You have no right to say a word."
"True." She frowned. "But I will prefer you address us with some respect." She stretched open palms at Izogie. A great force seized and pulled her forward until the lady's out stretched hand was clasped around her neck, squeezing at it with a strength that was certainly not normal for a woman her size. She squeezed. Izogie choked, slapped, kicked and when she couldn't anymore, she passed out. Her body fell with a thud.
"A very stubborn one you got." The lady said to Daoud, but her eyes remained on Izogie. "But still, she will do just fine for the ritual. Our plans are in tact."
"Yuwa! Yuwa!" Yetu called from her kitchen.
"Yes mama." Yuwa appeared at the entrance of the blackened kitchen hut.
"Are you set for your journey?" Yetu looked up from her pot of yam porridge still cooking over the fire. Her daughter was properly dressed; red velvet wrapper around her chest, royal beads around her neck, head and wrists.
"Yes mama." She replied. "I have put my things together. I was coming to tell you that when you called."
"Good. Come and eat first. I specially prepared porridge with my best fish and spices" She smiled
"Oh, mama." Yuwa smiled fondly at her mother. The woman was never tired of ensuring she was well taken care of.
It had been two days since Izogie's marriage. The people of Utho Era were still recovering from the celebration and more from the heavy feasting. But not Oba Ezomo. His daughter's oronmwen had ended on a sad note for him. The night of the marriage, he had visited his brother's quarters so as to act out the scenes that had played in his head for so long. Of course Pawo was to be part of the act. But no one was home. He had asked the two guards he met why Pawo was absent. All they could tell him was that she went to the farm. After all, that was all she told them.
"To the farm? This night? And you let her go?" He landed thunderous slaps on the face of the guard closest to him. "You're useless. Totally useless!"
He stormed out of the compound a very worried man. What was Pawo thinking? Did she have a death wish? How could she go to the farm so late at night? A farm that was almost three villages away from Ede? He feared for her. But most importantly, he feared she wouldn't be around long enough to bear him sons. She could be attacked and killed.
Not wanting to leave things to chance, Ezomo sent men to the farm that night. But they returned, saying she couldn't be found. It was the following morning the other guards brought to his notice the fact that Duefe was missing too.
Duefe had been a loyal guard to his brother, Ezodo. After all, he was brother to Enoma, Ezodo's personal guard. Ezomo had taken Duefe away because he felt he was more needed at the palace. However, he knew for sure that Duefe secretly spied on Pawo and Deba. He never went to their quarters, for fear of suspicion or of being accused of trespassing. But the few times Pawo came to the palace, Duefe's eyes followed her. He looked like he owed her something, but couldn't give it. Ezomo had called him aside and warned him to keep his eyes to himself or face persecution. As things stood, it was clear Duefe didn't buy the threat.
If Pawo was gone and Duefe too, it was possible, very possible, they had eloped together. The thought of Duefe in a compromising position with Pawo hunted him and almost drove him mad. But then he remembered that his own daughter was very close to Pawo. It was possible she knew where Pawo was.
So that morning, Oba Ezomo demanded Yuwa's presence in his private chambers. She was his last hope and he wanted to make the best out of it.
"You sent for me, Papa." Yuwa knelt down, her head bowed.
"Stand up." Her father commanded. "You know you're a child after my own heart. Don't you?"
"I know papa." She replied, getting to her feet. But her head remained bowed
"Then tell me. Did you see Pawo when she left?"
"No papa. But she told me earlier about some yams ready for harvesting."she lied. "Maybe she stayed back at the farm over night."
Ezomo shook his head. "She didn't."
"Are you sure papa? Maybe the warriors you sent didn't search well.
"She is not at the farm." Ezomo repeated with down casted head.
"I'm worried for her too. I pray the gods find her.
"The gods won't." He sighed.
While he drowned in sorrow, Yuwa laughed inwardly.
"You may go." He dismissed her.
Ezomo knew it was no coincidence that Duefe would go missing at exactly the same time Pawo was. He had either kidnapped her, or Pawo was in league with him. He wouldn't allow it. She was to give him sons first before jumping on a foolish adventure with a servant lover. He needed sons and nothing more. She could sleep with the lowest servants and even slaves, that was her business. Determined to get what he wanted, and angry that Duefe beat him to it, he called his chief warrior and asked him to disperse 20 riders. They were to be well armed and sent to look for the duo in every part of the kingdom, up to the bordering hills. A crime as serious as that was not to be taken lightly. Duefe would be hanged for betrayal and Pawo, after having his sons, would be cast out of the kingdom for good. He would only spare her life because she was his late brother's wife and would be his sons' mother.
But Ezomo knew better than to leave things to chance. There was a possibility Pawo would be found. There was also a possibility that she wouldn't. To ensure he didn't lose out completely, he sent for Yuwa, again.
"You have to go to Bini." He told her. "You cannot marry from the royal family because we are related. But you will marry form one of the wealthiest and most respectable families. I have sent a runner to Chief Izua, to tell him about you and our possible union. You will stay with him and he will watch over you as his eldest son courts you. I have told him his son will rule by my grandson if you two get married and produce a child. I mean, a boy child."
A brief silence followed before Izogie spoke. "Papa, I know you're desperate for a son. And I will give them to you. But please allow me choose." Yuwa pleaded, her head bowed.
"Are you deaf? Or have you decided to defy me too?" Ezomo barked.
"It is not so papa. My point it, why waste time courting Chief Izua's son? When Ehi, Chief Eweka's son, is willing and ready to marry me. He is eager to plant his seed in me already."
Her father sat up and eyed her closely. Chief Eweka was the second ruling family in the Bini kingdom and being married to his son was a higher honour. "Are you sure of what you speak?"
Ezomo sighed. He didn't want any distant prince coming for his second daughter, especially as the rest of his daughters were not yet ripe for marriage. Izogie, to him, was a lost cause. No way was he going to accept her son; a Prince who would grow to be a turban wearing man. What's more? He would learn the ways of his father and not the traditions of Utho Era. The people would never accept him as their king and he would never know their ways. If Chief Eweka's son was ready, being a wealthy and distinguished family among the Binis, then he would gladly accept.
"Gather your things then, you are still going to Bini. But to Eweka. Spend sometime and tell Chief Eweka I await his arrival and gifts for the asking of your hand in marriage. You will spend only a week there. Ensure his son's seed is planted in you before you return."
"Yes papa." She smiled and bowed lower. When he said nothing more, she turned to leave. But he stopped her.
"Yes papa." She turned back to him.
"Get his seed planted in you does not mean you should disgrace me. Be discreet. I'll have your head if you make me a laughing stock."
"I won't papa. I will do as you have said"
"Good. Go and pack your things."
She did pack her things. But not before telling her mother. Yetu was overjoyed. She had told Yuwa this day would come and that was why, even before Izogie's oronmwen, she had encouraged her to secretly court Ehi, Chief Eweka's eldest son. Izogie was lost. Her marriage to the Songhai prince made it so. People had started to whisper. They wouldn't accept her sons. So Yetu was pleased that Yuwa's son would ascend the throne. With her son on the throne, Yuwa would be established as Iyoba. She would have a voice in the running of the kingdom and in palace meetings. Yetu had wished for this position herself, but the gods had not blessed her with a son. All the same, her dreams were coming through for her daughter. She prayed that as the dreams unfold, olokun would grant her and Yuwa their heart's desires.
So there Yuwa was. Parked. About to eat and soon to be on her way to the Bini kingdom. Her travel party had already been assembled; 4 body guards, one hand maid and a royal carrier. The throne Izogie so longed for and fought her for was soon going to be hers and her son's.
To be continued...
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