Tradition demands that after a marriage ceremony, the bride must return to her family. And the groom must return to his home. Thirteen days later, the wife and all her belongings would be brought to her husband's house amidst songs of praise to the gods, prayer for fertility and several rituals to ward off evil spirits. However, it wasn't going to be so for Izogie.
The journey from Utho Era to the Songhai, and then the capital, Gao, would take nothing less than 3 moons on foot, but one moon and a few days on horse back. So waiting a week plus before making the journey meant arriving after 3 moons and 14 days of marriage. There was just no way an impatient man like Prince Daoud was going to wait that long.
Askia Ture discussed his concerns with Oba Ezomo. If they were from neighboring kingdoms, it would have been a different issue. But it was not so. They were from the home of the Tuaregs, sharing borders with the desert kingdoms. Surely, Oba Ezomo would have to bend tradition for them. And he did, after the sacrifices made to Olokun for the success of the marriage.
While the servants rushed into Izobgie's room in Yetu's quarters to put together all her belongings? Yuwa went over to Deba's room in Pawo's quarters to also put together a few things for her cousin.
Deba and Izogie, having sat on Oba Ezomo's laps and the counting done, were then placed on Askia Ture's laps. The Songhai king then placed the girls on the laps of his son after a count of five. They were later placed on separate benches, decorated with expensive kente and royal beads.
The people cheered, the music got louder and the dancers danced harder. Those gathered continued their feasting and merriments. Food was surplus, drinks followed too. While Deba sat still and nursed thoughts of where her mother could be, what was happening with her and what happy reunion they would have, Izogie looked about, trying to make out faces of people she might know. Yuwa chose that time to return.
"And the she devil shows up." Izogie said, eyeing her sister with pouting lips.
"Only a devil knows another," Yuwa replied, totally unaffected by her sister's words. "I have gathered everything you'll need. The servants will help arrange them in the cart" She said to Deba.
"Thank you, Yuwa. I don't know what I'll do without you."
"I will miss you, Deba."
"I am already missing you." Deba stretched out her hands for a hug. "I promise I'll see you after all this. Then we will have all the time in the world to play together and visit everywhere together."
"And I too will be waiting. I pray you come back in one piece."
"I will, sister. I will."
After pulling away from each other's embrace, Yuwa turned to Izogie. "I wish you bliss in your marriage sister, and a safe trip to the Songhai."
"Hmmmm... not even a hug. I see you won't miss me." Izogie chuckled wickedly. "Please do me a favour and keep your half hearted wishes to yourself."
Yuwa smiled. "There is nothing to miss about you, Izogie. You're more like, good riddance to bad rubbish. Safe journey." She turned and left.
"You see how she talks? She is jealous." Izogie said, after her sister had gone. "She wanted Prince Daoud for herself. But I got him, just like I will get the throne."
"How can you be so sure?" Deba asked, shaking her head.
"The one of us who first produces a male child will be given the position of Iyoba and our eldest son will rule the kingdom. Haven't you heard? I am now married. I am going to start having my boys right away. Yuwa won't get this. She's not even married yet..."
Deba smiled, then chuckled. But as Izogie continued her rants, she burst out laughing.
"What is funny?" Izogie was angry.
"What is funny is that you think you've won." Deba replied, after recovering from the laugh. "Tell me, why will Prince Daoud give up his first child to be Oba of this kingdom? Doesn't he have a kingdom of his own to rule with his sons? That aside, your son will be a turban wearing prince who will know absolutely nothing about the traditions of our people. How is he going to rule us then? Even the king makers will reject him. If you had married from one of the rich families of Utho Era, or from the royal family in Bini, just maybe, maybe, your plan will work. But as of now, its not happening. Your son will be prince, and then king of the Tuaregs. But never of Utho Era" Deba finished.
"You are the worst person I ever met, you know." Izogie made a fist beneath her cape, wishing she could rain blows on her cousin. "You're even worse than Yuwa."
"No. I'm not. And you leave Yuwa out of this. You're the one who is always feeling too big, always raising your shoulders and always being mean. I pity the Prince. One year won't be over before he dies of heart attack and your stupid tantrums."
"Arrrgh!" She clenched her teeth. "If not that we are to remain under cover before everyone, I would have slapped you black and red before pulling your hair off. You stupid witch born by a prostitute of a mother."
"Well, if not that we have to remain under cover, I wouldn't only drag your hair and slap you, I will beat you till you're full of sores. I will drag you on the streets leading to the palace. Then I'll tie you to a tree and flog you until every evil spirit is out of your body. You're the one who is a witch..."
"Will you atop that nonsense." Oba Ezomo's baritone cut in as he came to stand before the ladies. They had not seen him coming. "You fight like this during a marriage ceremony?"
"Papa, she's the one who started it." Izogie spoke up.
"Don't mind her, my daughter." Ezomo said. Then turning to Deba, he frowned, "I haven't seen your mother throughout the ceremony. Where is she?"
"Locked in her room." Deba eyed him angrily from behind her veil. "She's sick, or maybe hiding from you."
Ezomo smiled, viciously. "She won't hide for long. Tonight is her night." He turned and left.
"What does he mean by tonight is her night?" Izogie asked.
"You should ask your father. And while you're at it, tell him to stop molesting my mother." She turned away, relieved that her mother was long gone. Who would have thought that the stupid man had plans to pour all the palm wine he has taken into her poor mother at night. Talking about her mother, it was late afternoon already. Sunset would soon approach. She and Duefe must have gone far. She only prayed that Duefe took proper care of the woman she loved so much and that her grand aunty at Nala would treat her even better.
Three royal horse carts made of the finest metal and decorated with gold, ran along the open road. They were flanked by armed horse men in armour. Askia Ture and Prince Daoud occupied the first cart, while Deba and Izogie occupied the second. The third contained their luggages.
The journey to the Songhai had started just before sunset. Thanks to the servants, they were able to put all of Izogie's things together quickly, including gifts from her mother, father and other well wishers. The pace with which they started the journey was the same. Like the Tures were in so much hurry. The horses pulling the cart were made to move fast, ignoring the bumps on the way. Apart from the fast ride and the running view of the forest, wild animals in groups and hills, the journey was quiet and dull.
Since after their argument just before the journey, Izogie had refused to talk to her cousin. All Deba's attempts to start conversations met a dead end. So she let Izogie be, rested her head against the pillowed seat and slept off.
It was very dark when she opened her eyes again. The moon was overhead, but she noticed patches of grey clouds dotting the sky. It could rain. She thought. She turned to look at her cousin. Izogie was sound asleep. Deba sighed and turned to rest her head again when the cart suddenly to pull to a halt. Voices shouting out commands rented the night air and the armoured horse men stopped too. Wondering what was happening, she peeped out her window. The horse men remained on their horses, so obviously, it wasn't a stop for rest, something else was up. She had heard stories of bandits and slave catchers setting up blockades to stop travellers and capture them or steal from them. Once stopped, these bandits or slave catchers came out if hiding and attacked.
"Izogie!" Deba shook her cousin vigorously. "Izogie!"
"What?" The bride barked, waking up.
"Aren't you worried something is wrong?"
"No. My husband and father in-law have a large army outside to defend us." She cleaned her eyes and sat up. "There must be a good reason we stopped, nothing more.
Izogie had just finished speaking when the cart door opened and Askia Ture stood outside, holding the door apart. "Get down, both of you." He ordered. His tone was hard and very unfriendly. His expression was no different.
"Get down now." He barked. "We have no time to waste."
Izogie got out of the cart and Deba followed. Prince Daoud stood a short distance away but as soon as both ladies were down, he approached.
"Which one of you is really my bride?"
"I'm sorry, we can't tell you that. It is against our tradition." Izogie spoke, tightening her veil around her head.
"Your tradition works in your home land, not in the forest and certainly not in my homeland." The prince said. "We have better traditions there and you will come to learn them. That is, if you are my bride."
"Please, let's just get to your home first." Deba spoke. "It is for safety. Once safe, you can immediately kick the second of us out if you want."
"I want the second kicked out now." Askia Ture said, his lips firm. He signalled to two of the guards and they approached. "Unveil them." Ture ordered.
The guards, amidst slaps and a rough hand, unveiled the screaming and struggling ladies.
"This is not right! You can't treat us like this. I am of royal blood too." Izogie quarrelled, tears running freely down her cheeks. She never expected to face such humiliation.
"Izogie." Prince Daoud smiled, moving to stand in front of her. He touched the back of his left hand to her tear stained cheeks. "I'm going to enjoy having you in my team." He had only finished talking when his hands moved, giving her a hard blow to the head.
Deba screamed as her cousin immediately passed out and fell into the waiting arms of her husband. "You've killed her, you've killed her!!!" She rushed toward the prince and rained slaps and blows on his bent form, due to holding Izogie.
Askia Ture intervened by pulling her off his son and pushing her forcefully on low shrubs. "Take her!" He ordered one of the guards. "She has done enough protection for one day. Let's help the people of Utho Era bring their crazy superstitions to pass. Take her into the woods and kill her. We won't wait for you though. You join us later."
"Yes your majesty." The guard bowed before moving to grab Deba. He picked her off the ground and started towards the woods. Deba remained wide eyed and her screams rented the night air as she fought fruitlessly against her assailant. All the while, Izogie was carried back into the royal cart. Prince Daoud got in after her and Askia Ture returned to his own cart. The travel party continued their journey as Deba's cries rang into the night. Her assailant determined to carry out his orders
To be continued....
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