The not-so-dark cave was quiet and looked very unfriendly to the innocent. Crude white and black drawings of people at war, about to be killed or dead, covered the cave walls.
In the middle of the room, well arranged woods burned underneath a giant pot. Daoud's Priestess, Tira, ignored her flowing red gown and cape dragging against the sandy floor, as she walked over to a wooden shelf by the right. Among the many bottles of herbs and concoctions, she picked up one, opened it and poured the content on one slender palm. She retuned to the fire and turned the powder into the boiling water in the big pot. Green smoke instantly rose from the pot as she chanted incantations. The smoke turned into a foggy screen. In it's screen, she watched how Mekani, his brothers, Deba and the Zulus fought bravely and eventually defeated the Tuaregs.
Tira remained emotionless, even after watching Prince Daoud's men slaughtered like goats and chickens. She was more interested in Mekani carrying Deba over his shoulders and leading the men into the bush path at the west wing of the camp. They walked for a while, crossed a river, before disappearing into a cave.
At this point, a smile gradually parted her lips. "At last. I have found you, Juba. Now there is no escaping what I'm bringing to you."
Foot steps approaching from the cave entrance caught her attention. She turned around to face her visitor. He was dressed in a princely robe covered by a blue coat that reached his ankle. A cream coloured turban graced his head. His beard were a bit rough and his clothings smelt of sweat.
"Prince Daoud." She smiled, wearily. "I wasn't expecting you back so soon."
"You should." He walked to stand in front of the green smoke screen. But there was nothing to be seen. Just a scattered Zulu camp and dead bodies being burnt. "So? what do we have?"
"You should be more concerned with gathering your allies and their armies. Discuss the plan with them and leave the rest to me."
"I will leave the rest to you after you tell me how my men fared."
"They're dead," she faced the smoke screen, "all of them."
"What? How?" He frowned and took two steps towards her.
"Juba, their leader. A sort of god king. He rules the kingdom."
"I don't care about this god king." He barked, "you promised me Gor! You know very well that without Gor we won't be claiming the rest of the kingdoms in the middle belt and down south. Besides, those animals have to pay for their crimes"
"We have the caliphate on our side. Don't you trust in their swords?"
"Don't mock me, woman!"
"Then leave me to my business! Your men were a needed sacrifice. If only you had listened to me and sent a few warriors, so many wouldn't have died. I won't say I knew they were going to die like chickens, but their death has shown me what we've been looking for."
"You found the entrance to Gor?"
"Yes! Surprise," she smiled and strolled half way around the fire to stand at the opposite side. "Besides, whether we lost this initial battle or not, we still have our element of surprise, your wife."
"Talking about her, how did she respond to the rituals? Its been three weeks already."
"Very well. But she's still recuperating."
"I want to see her."
"Since when did you care?" Tira frowned.
"Since she became our element of surprise." His jaws were set.
Tira's eyes narrowed as she observed him briefly. He was her prince but she only chose to serve him because she needed to take revenge on Juba. After all he had made her go through, she wanted him and his kingdom destroyed. At the same time, if Daoud tried to do anything stupid, she wouldn't think twice about getting him off the picture once and for all. She had plans of her own. "Come." She said at last. "I will take you to her."
She turned and led him down a narrow passage, to another section of the cave. A small window was carved out of the cave wall, allowing sunlight in. On a bed against the left side of the wall, Izogie lay, looking up at the ceiling where symbolic markings were drawn. She was dressed in a simple red gown and cape, just like Tira's. Her hair was simply packed up with a red ribbon.
"Hello my dear." Tira called. "Your husband is here to see you."
Izogie closed her eyes briefly and opened them again. Then she sat up straight, without the support of anything. Within seconds she was off the bed, looking straight at her husband, but saying nothing.
"Hello." Prince Daoud greeted. Although he wasn't sure hello was the right thing to say. "Hello?" He asked again, when she didn't respond. Minutes passed and she still remained quiet. He turned then to Tira. "What is wrong with her?"
"Nothing. She just doesn't respond to anyone but me."
"That was not the agreement."
"I don't care what we agreed on. You married her, you've gotten what you asked for and now, she is going to help us destroy Gor. Once Gor is down, Idanre, Oyo, Bini, Utho Era, Nri, Aro and all other kingdoms from east to west, middle belt to south, will be yours to control. I still have my personal score to settle with Juba. So yes, I will control her."
Prince Daoud frowned. He moved closer to the priestess and grabbed her neck. Izogie moved to defend her new mistress. Her eyes were beginning to take on a fiery glow. But Tira stopped her with a wave of hand. Relieved that Izogie had backed down, Daoud looked straight into Tira's eyes.
"I hope your personal score with this Juba won't be the end of us and all our plans?" His grip tightened.
"You don't need to bother about that." She choked, trying to free her neck.
"I won't. As long as she does exactly what we want."
"Good." He let go of her neck, pushing her against the wall in he process. She inhaled sharply, glad to be free of his grip.
"When do we march?" Tira rubbed her neck to sooth the pain away.
"March?" His brows shot up.
"I have found Gor's entrance. Your queen will be the one to lead us in."
"Good. Then we march in a week." He took one last look at Izogie, then back at Tira. "I will alert my father to the new development."
The Prince turned and walked out of the cave room, the sound of his heavy metal boot echoed through the passage. After he was gone, Tira turned to Izogie.
"Rest, my baby." She commanded, softly. Izogie obeyed and went back to bed. Tira sat by her side and stroked her hair backward, rhythmically.
"I swear to you, my dear. When we are done, you will have your own revenge on the prince. That is my promise to you."
Her eyes flew open. The ceiling was not the normal mud or thatch one she was used to. It was made of something solid and designed in a zigzag manner. She looked to her right. At the far end, two blinds were drawn together. The windows by the side were open; the white blinds pulled apart and the rays of the sun streamed in. Looking at herself, she was dressed in cream coloured clothing and covered with a white sheet. The bed felt really soft against her skin, not the usual feather stuffed bed.
Deba wondered where she was. The luxury in the room was something she had never imagined before, let alone experienced.
She tried to sit up, but winced at the pain she felt in her limbs and entire body. Her head ached terribly and she was scared it would explode. Where am I? She thought, making a second attempt to sit up. "Ah!" She cried out.
"You should not be in a hurry to get up." Mekani advised. He quickly got up from the wooden rock chair at the foot of the bed and came to stand by the side, briefly, before sitting down and taking her hands in his. He was dressed in an expensive blue robe that glittered in the sunlight. A fat silver rope rounded his waist, making the robe fitting. His dada was not left loose. A silver chord held it in place behind his head.
"Mekani," she whispered, still propped up on one elbow. For her, it was a glorious way to wake up. If not how do one explain waking up to see the love of their life looking all dashing and attractive? "Wow! You look....., you look different." She managed.
"Neater, you mean." He smiled, kissing her hands.
"Not neater. Handsome and really princely. But I still prefer the bare chest though." She managed a sheepish grin.
He chuckled. "You don't expect me to go about in only a loin cloth and bare chest, do you? What will the servants think?"
"I thought it was your style?" Her brows shot up in mock surprise.
This time, Mekani laughed. "Even though you're up from a one day pass out, you still have your sense of humor." He bent low to plant a kiss on her forehead, her nose, then lips. "Welcome back from wherever it is you were?"
"Hmmmmm.... A one day pass out?" She asked, after he pulled back to look at her.
"Yes, my love."
"That is a serious one." She stroked his beards, gently. "I'm I badly hurt?"
"Not really. Nothing that Juba can't take care of.
"Oh. Thank the gods." She relaxed a bit but raised voices filtered in through the open window, bringing her back to her earlier question. "Where are we by the way?"
"Gor?" She struggled to sit upright, ignoring the pain.
Mekani helped her to sit up and nodded afterwards. "Yes. Gor, my love. Welcome home."
"Gor?" Her eyes widened as she realized what it meant. They were no longer on the run and she was closer to her father. All the questions she needed answers to piled up on her tongue, ready to roll off. The men had talked about her father. They said he lost his son at the fighting pits. In other words, Ere was gone. How about her papa's personal guard, Enoma? Was he alive or dead too? "Can I see my father now?"
"Not yet, Deba. You need to rest some more."
"I have rested enough." She rubbed the ache building at her temple. "But I feel terrible, Mekani. I'm in so much pain. What happened to me? I suddenly found myself fighting those warriors and killing them off. Then I fainted."
A light smile tugged at his lips, mixed with worry. He caressed her cheeks, lovingly. "Your father. He used you to defeat the Tuaregs. Although I was angry with him, he explained himself."
"Angry? I don't understand. If my father used me, what's wrong with that? Those warriors were at the verge of over powering us."
"Yes. But you were at risk. Even he agrees that you could have been hurt in the process. Maybe stabbed. Although he was in you and you were strong, he wouldn't be in you forever. Look how you collapsed after he left your body. Your energy was drained."
"Is that why my body aches?"
"You exerted energy. Your body was used in a way you have never used it before. Sure, you'll feel pains."
She bit her lips and nodded in understanding. "So... When..." She began when her stomach grumbled loudly.
"Oh! How inhospitable I have been to our stomach." Mekani apologized, rubbing her belly.
"Our?" She eyed him
"Yes." He bent low to kiss it. "It is where our babies will stay for nine moons. That makes it ours."
She chuckled. He smiled.
"Besides, you have been out of consciousness a whole day and without food. I will send word to the chief cook. She will bring you food." He stood up to leave, but her hand caught his wrist, making him stop. "Yes my love?"
"Will you come back?"
"I will. But I have to get you food first. Then I'll send the maids to bathe you and finally, alert your father that you're up. He asked that I let him know when you regain consciousness"
"Ok." She smiled. "Please tell him I'm eager to see him".
Mekani nodded. Although his countenance changed slightly, like he was torn between saying something or not saying it. He proceeded to the door. At the door, he stopped briefly. "Deba" he turned to face her again.
"Yes?" Her eyes had not left him
"You should not expect to see your father as you knew him eight years back."
"No. Absolutely not. He should be older now."
"Not just older."
"He has changed, a lot. He is different in many ways. I think you should prepare your mind that he will never be the same again.
She swallowed, nodding her head. "Ok." She didn't know what else to say. "I will keep that in mind."
"Good then. I will get the cook." Mekani said and left, shutting the door behind him.
She was alone now. Although she still felt pains all over her body, she threw her discomfort aside and wondered about what Mekani had said. What could have happened to her father? So much so that Mekani had to tell her he wasn't the same man she knew eight years back?
"What happened to you, papa? What happened?" She rested her head against the wall and sighed. The earlier she saw him and discussed with him, the better.
To be continued...
Hey guys, the next chapter of Deba Ezodo will be up tomorrow. Don't miss it.
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