It was morning. Sun rays crept into the open cave, accompanied by the sounds of chipping on nearby trees. By the time her eyes flew open, Deba was alone. The men had all woken up and gone about their duties.
She raised her head up slightly, trying to look outside the cave. Having her hands tied behind made it impossible for her to sleep well or move easily. Talking about impossible, memories from the night before came flooding back. How was she to know that Dogo was on patrol? He saw her running, and for a man of his size, he was a fast runner too. He caught her and tied her up, while complaining of her foolishness.
"You want to alert the riders to our presence and get us killed!?" He barked.
Mekani was still in great pain when they returned. He spoke angrily and asked Dogo to untie her so she could run off. He had suddenly decided he wanted nothing further to do with her. It was Kubu and Mayo that took him aside and calmed him down. She didn't know what they told him, but whatever they said worked. He asked them to take her back into the cave.
"You have to stop being childish." Kubu said to her once they were in the cave.
"I am not." She screamed in her head. She couldn't reply him out loud, thanks to the cloth over her mouth.
"Mekani only cares for your safety. He has risked everything to be here. He normally shouldn't. But he did." Kubu lectured her. "There are things you don't know yet; things you have to learn and understand. You're not being punished or maltreated. You're undergoing a training with us. This training is necessary for the work that lies ahead. The longer you take to learn, the longer we remain in the forest and hills. We will never make it home. We will never find it. We all risked our lives for you. The best you can do is stop acting childish and learn fast. I have three wives and 12 children to return to." He ended his talk, stood up and returned to his corner.
Deba tried to make sense out of all he had said, but she couldn't. It was like he had spoken in an unknown tongue, not what she was used to. "You're not being punished or maltreated. You're undergoing a training. He had said. But what training? Why would anybody want to train her on anything? From a death sentence to training?
"The longer you take to learn, the longer we remain in the forest and hills. We will never make it home. We will never find it. We all risked our lives for you. The best you can do is learn fast." Kubu's words repeated in her head. She spent the night pondering on his words and as such, didn't sleep in time. She had a feeling that whoever they were taking her to had insisted on the training. Maybe the person had also banned them from returning with her as a liability.
Deba sighed. Liability indeed. She blinked. Whatever happened, she was sure the men were risking their lives for her. It wouldn't hurt to calm down a bit and understand them better. Mekani had suffered more. She owed him and Dogo lots of apologies.
Just as she thought about the best possible way to apologise without sounding too patronizing, the aroma of something delicious roasting on a fire wafted through the open cave and filled her nose. Food. That was all she could suddenly think about. Her belly grumbled then. They had eaten only fish throughout the day before. Struggling with her binds, she managed to make it on her knees. Then she crawled out of the cave.
To her right, Mayo sat by a fire, roasting two yam tubers. The tubers were large, and she couldn't help but wonder were such a large tuber was gotten from. In all her farming years, never had she seen such large tubers, not in her late father's farm and not in anyone else's. She would have asked where he got them from, but her mouth was gagged and tied too. She remain on her spot, watching Mayo take his time roasting the peeled tubers. Occasionally, he sprinkled spices from his set of unwrapped leaves. The aroma was enticing and Deba knew she was in for a great breakfast.
The other men were nowhere in sight. It was possible they had gone out again to inspect the hill paths and the villages. They were always security conscious and deep down, she admired them for that.
Putting her discomfort aside, she continued towards Mayo, on her knees. She had to get his attention. She did. Her movement caught his eyes and he looked up.
"Princess." He called, a worried frown on his face. She was moving with her knees against the hard ground. "You will hurt yourself."
In response Deba turned her back, slightly, to him and communicated her plea with her eyes.
"I'm sorry Princess. It is not my call to make." He said, feeling uncomfortable. "I cannot untie you.
She sighed in disappointment.
"But I can help in other ways." He stood up and walked over, scooped her in his arms and carried her back to the fire place. "This way, we can cook together." He smiled. She smiled too, but her gag didn't make it seem so.
The other men chose that moment to return. They carried five skin bags filled with water. Kubu handed one to Mayo, while Mekani offered one to Deba. She sat still, looking at him.
"I'm sorry." He apologized, then moved to undo the binds around her month and hands. "We don't want to treat you badly," he said. "But you haven't given us a choice. Here. Drink." He opened the skin bag and handed it to her. After taking her fill, he covered and kept the rest by her side.
"Thank you." She said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
Mekani had turned to leave, but her words kept him rooted on the spot. He turned back to face her. "Thank you?" He asked, looking alarmed. He wanted to be sure he heard right.
"Yes. Thank you." She raised her chin, proudly.
Mekani smiled and shook his head. She would always be a proud woman. Even her thank you had pride written all over it. He moved on to get other things done.
Breakfast was soon ready. Mayo took down the roasted yams, peeled the black parts off and sprinkled more spices on them. He then sliced one tuber into sizeable pieces and passed them around. Dogo joined the men and they all ate silently. No matter how silent though, she couldn't help but notice Mekani's eyes on her. She wondered what he was thinking.
After breakfast, they started to pack up. It was time to continue the endless journey. At least, she now knew that was what it was.
Mekani moved over to her side and started to undo her foot binds. At first, she watched him work expertly with his hands. But then her eyes moved to other parts of his body. His dada was surprisingly neat, even though she was sure he hadn't had a good bath since the day before. None of them had. His beards were well trimmed and she couldn't help but think what an attractive man he was. She was still admiring his features when she felt her binds come off.
"Now you're free." He said, getting to his feet.
"Aren't you scared I'll run away?" She teased.
Mekani looked at her wearily, "I'll only tell you this" he began. "We were sent to find you. Not for evil purposes, but we can't tell you for what purpose either. At the same time, you have your free will. If you choose to run, we won't stop you."
"And if I don't run, will you treat me badly again?"
"No one is treating you badly. You brought this on yourself. Since after the night at the forest, all you have done is fight us. I don't remember getting even a thank you."
She frowned and pouted. "But I did when you gave me water not long ago."
"That was for water. And it didn't look like a sincere thank you to me."
Deba looked away. He was partially right. She had been everything but grateful to them. But all the same, she wasn't sure she could completely trust them. How could she when she had spent several months dreaming of him? In her last dream he spoke. He told her not to trust anyone. He said the same thing the night he rescued her. She looked back at him, remorseful.
"Its just that, you told me to not trust anyone." She reminded him of his words. "And you told me that in the last nightmare I had before leaving Utho Era."
"I'm your nightmare?" His brows creased. Just when he was thinking the drama will end. Now this? A nightmare?
"You have been my nightmare for many years." She said, looking up at him.
"That explains a few things. So you have seen me before." It was his turn to pout "Hmmmmm. Strange, because I have seen you too."
"You have seen me in your dreams before?" Her brows shot up. It was her turn to be surprised.
"Yes. But not as my prey." He confessed. "I wonder what tricks Juba has up his sleeves." He muttered
"Juba, our god. You will meet him soon."
Her eyes widened. "Meet a god? No mere man or woman meets a god."
"But you will. And you won't be a mere woman when you do."
"You mean I will be like you? Half man, half hound?"
"I don't know." He sighed "Only time will tell."
She nodded. And then looked away slightly. Her dreams definitely meant more than she had thought it did. They were taking her to meet a person who wanted to see her. And now, a god too. Like that wasn't enough, here she was, sitting and gisting with her own nightmare. And to think that he dreamt of her too.
"I need to instruct the men." Mekani said and made to leave, but her question stopped him.
"What did you dream about me?" She raised her head to look at him. His brows shot up. Was her eyes deceiving her? Or did he really look uncomfortable because of her question?
"You first." He turned the tables. "Describe what your nightmares were like."
"Oh, well, it wasn't different from the night you found me. That was all I always saw. Me chained in the forest, under the rain, dressed as I am now. Then you showed up with a sword. But I never saw you as a hound. You got to where I was and said I should trust no one. Then you raised your sword and as it came down, I screamed our of the dream." She finished. "I've always thought you were meant to kill me."
"I have hunted you badly, haven't I?" He smiled, wearily.
"You have no idea." She chuckled, softly. "Your turn. What did you dream?"
He sighed and looked away. She wouldn't understand. How could she? When even he didn't understand what games Juba was playing. How could he have the kind of intimate dreams he had about her, while she had nightmares about him? What was the relationship? In his dreams he adored her, he loved her and he made her his in several ways pleasurable to a man's heart. So much so that he couldn't love any other girl in the real world and he always looked forward his night's sleep. For in his dreams, she awaited his love making and thrusts. Sometimes he moaned out of his dreams, only to find his fluids all over him and sometimes his bed. Every night, for more than two years, those were his dreams. He went to the oracle everyday and prayed to Juba. At first he feared that a sex spirit was hunting him. But he was told there was nothing wrong with him or his dreams.
"Hello" she waved five fingers before his eyes when his silence lingered. She was on her feet. He didn't even realize she had stood up. He looked at her all over. True, she was the spiting image of the woman in his dreams. But her wild ways in the real world was a big contrast to the soft, understanding and friendly woman he knew in his dreams. A woman who drove him wild with pleasure and at other times, comforted him.
"You won't understand." He swallowed.
"Try me." She challenged.
He couldn't speak. The dreams were too intimate. But his eyes moved from her eyes to her lips, then her neck, shoulders and the mould of her breasts, taking in the familiarity of her body in a way that revealed what he was thinking. The lust was back in his eyes. The visible rise and fall of his chest suggested his breathing had doubled too.
Deba blushed. Even though it was morning and the weather was still cool, she felt the heat creep into her body. Her heart skipped. Mekani's eyes spoke volumes and for the third time since their encounter, she was aware of him as a man, a real man. She wasn't the only one aware of anything. He was fully aware of her too, for he had a bulge in front of his loin cloth just by remembering his dreams. He carefully covered it with the pouch hanging from his shoulders.
"I understand." She cut him short. "Your eyes speak volumes." She said, when she saw the question in them.
He sighed. "Yes, I'm sure they do. In each of my dreams, our meeting was unpredictable and fierce. But nothing compared to the real life experience. You almost severed my chances of fatherhood, twice."
She winced. "I'm sorry about that."
"Its Ok." He laughed lightly.
"How intimate were we?" She couldn't help but ask. She believed too much in dreams and she just needed to know everything.
"Very, intimate. In some dreams you had my babies, or you were pregnant with them."
She nodded, then looked away.
"I'm sorry." Mekani said. "I shouldn't fill your head with rubbish."
"Its not rubbish to me." She placed one comforting hand on his arms. "Dreams do happen. Mine has. And if yours is going to happen too, then I should prepare my mind for it. Don't you think?"
"No." Mekani chuckled. "Don't pay attention to me. Juba will strike me dead if you're not prepared by the time we reach my homeland. You should prepare for what lies ahead instead."
"What lies ahead?" She asked. Kubu hadn't said much the night before. But from his tone, she knew it wasn't something rosy.
"Juba will tell you, as soon as we can go home."
"And from what I've heard, that lies on me too."
She nodded. "So where is home?"
"The middle east kingdom. Gor."
"Gor?" She frowned a little, then laughed. "What kind of name is that?"
"You will understand the name when we arrive."
"OK. But is it a very large and powerful kingdom?"
Mekani smiled. "Like I said, you will understand it better when you see..."
"Mekani! You need to come." That was Dogo. He had emerged from the bush path without their notice.
Mekani looked up. He saw the urgency in his eyes and heard it in his voice. He looked around, Kubu and Mayo were no where in sight. He hadn't seen them leave. He turned to Deba.
"You go." She said before he could speak. "I want to clean up a bit."
"Fine." He agreed. "But clean up as fast as you can. Then meet us at the west wing of the hill. Just follow the path."
She nodded her understanding. "Can I please have your dagger?" She asked with out stretched palm. Mekani eyed her wearily. His brows furrowed. "I'm not planning to stab you or anyone else. I promise."
Reluctantly, he pulled out the small blade hanging from his waist line, took two steps back before handing it to her.
"You don't trust me."
"You're fierce and unpredictable." He said. She smiled. "Just hurry up."
She nodded and he left to join Dogo. They soon disappeared through the bush path. Deba felt relaxed, more relaxed than she had been before. The men were not her enemies and whoever this Juba was, she definitely wanted to meet him. She had to know what he wanted and why he thought it wise for her to train. She didn't believe the gods were always wise. If they were, Esu wouldn't go about killing innocent people. So this Juba, whoever or whatever he was, would have to prove he was wise. It was the only way she would take his words seriously.
While she thought about everything else she had discussed with Mekani, she undressed. It felt good to be free of her binds and of such heavy clothing. Pouring water from the skin bag Mekani left behind, she washed her face, neck, armpits and the V of her thighs, before washing her foot. Once done. She picked the dagger in one hand and her wrapper in the other.
"Let's see what I can make out of you." She said to the red velvet cloth.
At the west wing of the hill, the men squatted behind tall grasses and looked out at the village below. So engrossed with what they were doing, they didn't see Deba approach.
"Boo!" She scared them. They jumped, turned around and prepared to defend themselves, only to have their eyes grow wider and their jaws falling open. Their eyes roamed the length of her body.
"What?" Deba asked, looking down at herself. She had cut her wrapper in half. One half was tied it at the top, from her breasts to a little above her abdomen. The other half was wrapped around her waist and underneath her legs, just as the men had theirs wrapped. Of course, her thighs were exposed. "If I'm going to keep up with today's walk, I should be free, right? Its not easy to walk or climb high hills with a wrapper that reaches the ankle." She frowned, standing at akimbo.
"Understood." Mekani swallowed and managed to tear his eyes away from her thighs, back to the village below. The men followed suit. There were more important matters at hand.
Deba joined them and looked down the hill. Two hundred foot warriors dressed in raffia that covered their arms down to their elbow, waist to a spot above the knees and knees to ankle, marched. They were armed with long spears in one hand and big shields, the shape of a canoe, in the other. A tight leather strap around their waist held a scabbard in which rested their swords and small daggers. They weren't marching into the village, they were marching out of it. Behind them, thick black smoke from burning houses rose into the sky. On the streets of the village dead men, women and children, as well as dead animals, lay. Blood painted their bodies and vultures were already circling overhead, waiting for the stench. It was indeed a gory sight. Deba was shaken. And to think she almost ran away from the people who were protecting her the night before.
"But why? When?" She asked, her emotions getting the best of her.
"Not too long." Kubu replied. "It seems someone wanted to get rid of these slaves as a way of forcing their masters into submission."
"Or stopping them from building an army." Mekani spoke.
"And since when did a master bow to another because of a slave?" Deba reasoned. "They'll only go out and hunt more slaves."
"Exactly my thoughts." Dogo supported.
"We need to find out what is happening." Mekani said
"We can't." Mayo finally spoke. "We're out numbered, fifty to one."
"Who said anything about fighting the whole army. Look" he pointed at the far west. Only one warrior remained, inspecting each farm land and shelter, just to ensure no one was left alive. "He is the only man behind. The warriors are far ahead. And you, princess" he turned to Deba. "You're a beautiful woman."
"And what has beauty got to do with war?" She frowned at him.
"Distraction. I need you to distract him."
Deba's eyes widened in horror. She became dumbfounded as a thousand and one thoughts raced through her mind. Now she knew her dreams were right. Mekani really had plans to kill her.
To be continued....
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