Night approached faster than expected. Crickets chirped and owls hooted. Night birds sang as their silhouette flapped wings across the brightness of the full moon.
Peace and quiet settled over the land below. The people of Utho Era were already fast asleep, save for the border guards who took turns to keep watch. Other guards were on patrol within the city, while more of them were on patrol at the palace. However, it didn't stop strangers from sneaking into the land unnoticed.
Yuwa had gone for an evening stroll with three of her loyal guards. Her destination was the Uleh river. Ignoring the deadness of the night and finding comfort in the full moon, they walked casually. They were well away from the palace and had just turned into the lonely path that led to the river when she sighted movements in the bush. Before she could raise alarm, the men jumped out of the bush, swords drawn. The royal guards tried to ward them off but paid with their lives. The scared Yuwa made to run but was caught by the arm and pulled roughly into the bush. They went on for a long while before stopping under a banyan tree.
"What do you want?" Yuwa yelled at her captor as soon as he let go of her arm
"Is that anyway to talk to your partner?" He unwrapped the clothe from his face and the moon revealed his features.
"Daoud!" She suddenly realized who her attacker was. Surprise took over her expression. "What are you doing here? In the middle of the night and disguised? You killed my guards. My father will not be pl......"
"To the pits with your father." Daoud interrupted her. "We had a deal. I've come to collect. The war has started and we need your warriors to join us. I am sure you've heard that there Is strength in numbers."
"You can't be serious. Yes we had a deal but have you forgotten I have to be Iyoba first? I haven't even married yet. Preparations for that are still on going, let alone give birth to a son".
"That is none of my concern. The war has started. It is either you are with us, or against us. I don't intend to leave any stone unturned.
"You know I am with you?"
"Then I give you till day break to surrender your kingdom to us and have your warriors join our cause. If your people submit peacefully, there will be no slaughter. If they don't, they die. And that includes you".
"This was not our deal" She said through gritted
"Really?" He turned around slightly, "Tira, bring my wife forward".
The sorceress spoke in Arabic and the lady with her stepped forward. She gently removed her veil to reveal her identity.
Prince Daoud had brought along Tira and Izogie, as he didn't want to leave anything to chance. They were two powerful women whose presence gave him courage. Izogie was dressed exactly as Tira was - red flowing gown and a red shawl wrapped around their faces, leaving only the eyes, nose and mouth to be seen.
"Izogie!" Yuwa gasped, "you brought her back?" She questioned Daoud
"Yes. To remind you we had a deal. If broken, this girl you so wanted to get rid of will be the one to get rid of you and your people". He turned to Izogie, "Say hello to your sister".
"Hello, sister" she said, locking eye balls with Yuwa. Her face was void of emotions.
"You must be mad!" Yuwa insulted. "For you to bring her here, you must be really mad! You can't threaten me like this".
"No, you can't" Yetu spoke, emerging from the shadows with three of her own escort guards. She was to meet with her daughter secretly by the Uleh river, to discuss some pressing issues. However, she was a short distance away when she saw Yuwa being attacked. She had followed the trail and that was how she found them. "We had a deal." Yetu continued, "but my daughter's part can't be complete until she is crowned queen mother. For that to happen she must be married and have a son. To top it up, my husband must die, in order to be replaced. That has not happened yet".
"I can't and won't wait for that to happen." Daoud countered. "As we speak, five kingdoms from the south east have fallen into my hands. Two more will fall tonight. Then we will start with kingdoms in the south south. Before we get here, ensure you have the throne ready for me. Swear your loyalty to my father and no harm will come to you".
"And if we don't?" Yetu asked
At the threat, her guards drew their swords, preparing to protect their queen. Tira gave them no chance to think things through. She snapped her fingers and Izogie moved, swiftly disarming the guards before pointing the sharp end of two blades at the throat of her supposed mother and sister.
"Izogie, my child, don't listen to them." Yetu persuaded
"She has no choice", Tira spoke. "If I tell her to kill you, she will. And make no mistake, she's powerful enough to take down every warrior in this land. You heard the Prince. By tomorrow, Utho Era should have surrendered and pledged their loyalty to the Songhai and the house of Askia Ture. I am sure you do not want a blood bathe".
That said, they turned to leave. Izogie left last, after ensuring the guards were all killed.
"You evil thing! You didn't have to kill them". Yuwa shouted at her
Izogie looked on, her expression suddenly taking on hate and anger. "Your turn will come, sister. I have been promised". She left.
Yuwa clinged to her mother. "You heard her. They have the mind to kill us".
"They won't." Yetu consoled her. "Not as long as we find a way to do what they want. We can't sleep tonight. We have work to do".
The long walk out of Gor and towards the northern kingdoms was finally to come to an end as darkness covered the land. It was night and the full moon was a spoiler, as it easily gave away their positions.
"We make camp in the forest". Juba instructed.
They headed for the next forest and began to set up camp. The servants went about setting up camp fires to prepare the evening meal. While they worked, a man, dressed in a long robe, a turban resting on his head and a sword in the scabbard around his waist, came into camp. The warriors apprehended him and probed, wanting to know who he was and how he found them.
"He is with us". Juba said, walking up to them still clothed in Deba's form.
Upon hearing his words, the men let the man be. "Speak to me." Juba commanded.
The man bowed, touching his head to the floor. "Our ruler, Sultan Adul Somaya, chief speaker of the council of the seven houses in charge of the seven Hausa city states Daura, Kano, Katsina, Zazzau, Gobi, Rano, Biram or Hadejia, as well as other members of the council of the seven houses are here to see you. They are camped at the bridge leading down south. Sultan Adul Somaya, requests your immediate presence so you can both discuss the way forward in this battle".
"Thank you. Please rise, so you can lead us to them". While the messenger rose, Juba called on his generals, including Duefe. Together, they followed the messenger through bush paths that led away from the camp.
"Papa, where are going?" Mekani asked
"To meet our alliances".
"Did you think I'll fight a war of this magnitude without them?"
".... Yes and no. But who are they?"
"I sent men to the seven Hausa city states up north. They are a strong force to have on our side. Apparently, they were not aware of Askia Ture's evil plan. They promised to join us after they sent out spies to confirm what we told them. And now, we will join forces".
"This is great news". Dogo's baritone seemed too loud for the quiet night.
"Indeed it is." Mayo confirmed.
They eventually reached the camp of the northerners and were led straight to the Sultan's Tent. Sultan Adul Somaya was a middle-aged man with long chin beards. His turban was gold and so were his clothing -royalty in full glare. He ate fruits from a silver tray placed on a stool at his side. On his other side six other men, old and middle-aged, sat. They were dressed as royalties too. Upon seeing the new arrivals, they sat up, pushing the tray away from them but finishing the fruits in their hands.
Two huge men in royal attires stood behind them, hands on the hilt of their swords.
"Juba?" Sultan Adul asked as his servant and the men approached.
The servant prostrated "Yes, your highness".
"Good. You can go".
The servant left and the Sultan turned to face the men. "Who amongst you is Juba?"
Deba stepped forward, "Your grace." She bowed, slightly. "Thanks for honouring my call. I am Juba."
Abdul temporarily paused his chewing. He looked at Deba, from head to her chest area, then her hips and down to her slender ankles. Her bogus trouser certainly failed at hiding her curves. Hence, he looked at the other men behind her, before looking sideways at his own brothers and council members. He burst into a hysterical laughter and his brothers couldn't help but join him. For they too were surprised at how womanly Juba was.
"What is funny?" Mekani questioned, although he knew why.
"I am," Juba replied, nonchalant
"Yes, you are. So this is Juba?" Sultan Adul finally asked, after recovering from his laughter. "The almighty Juba I've heard so much about is only a beautiful woman in bogus trousers."
"Does that bother you?" Juba asked, this time using his own voice, not Deba's.
The baritone that emanated from her throat caused the Sultan and his brothers to sit up. The laughter completely died on their lips. And Juba continued. "Appearances can be deceptive. You should not base your judgement on them. Standing before you is my daughter. She will lead the war against the armies of the Songhai. Standing inside her is me, Juba. For you wouldn't be able to see me even if I stepped out of her."
"Hmmmmm......" the Sultan sat back on his chair. "I'm impressed, but not enough. If you know all and do all they say you can do, how come you don't know that the war has started?"
Juba frowned. Mekani's eyes narrowed to a slit. The other stood alert.
"I don't understand." Juba said
"The war didn't start from up north as you said in your message. It started down, down east. South east, precisely. My men have confirmed it. Five kingdoms have fallen, the others are under siege as we speak. Prince Daoud will face the kingdoms in the south south, starting tomorrow morning. Prince Daoud is a wise man. He knows it will be difficult to defeat us. Allah is on our side and we have the numbers, my brothers and I. My spies tell me Prince Daoud started from the south, conquering kingdoms and using their enslaved men as part of his demon possessed army. And you did not know any of this? Because if you did, you wouldn't be marching up north, instead of down south".
"Tira." Juba spoke, as if remembering something
"Who?" One of the brothers asked.
"Tira. Askia Ture's sorceress. She is the only one who knows how to manipulate my visions."
"Aha! I see. You sold your soul to a woman?" That was Abdul
"It is not what you think"
"I don't need explanations about your dealings with any sorceress. I only need accurate information. You are supposed to have that information. But as it is, I am more informed than you are. You have to know I won't send my men to their slaughter."
"You won't. There's another way to do this".
"And what way is that?"
"Let us talk privately". Juba said, stepping out of Deba's body. She felt dizzy a little, but was able to steady herself from falling, thanks to all the training. "You can excuse us". Juba said to his men and Deba
The Sultan scratched his beards as he looked on at what had just happened. "You're truly the man they say you are. Invisible". He turned to the tent guards and servants. "Leave us".
Mekani lead the men away to a corner of the camp where they sat, watching the activities of the Sultan's warriors and the level of security in the camp.
"You think the Sultan is right?" Deba asked. She sat beside him on the ground, under a huge tree.
"About what?" That was Mekani
"That Prince Daoud and his men have conquered the south east and are now moving towards the south?"
"I don't know. He may be right. He may be wrong. But you heard Juba call her name. Tira. That woman is capable of anything."
"Who is she. And why does my papa think she has so much power?"
Mekani sighed. "Tira is the daughter of the real king of the Songhai kingdom. Askia Ture is her Uncle. But he doesn't know it. When he over threw his brother, Tira was just 11 years old. She escaped the palace that day with the help of one of her father's loyal servants. But on the way, they were attacked. The servant was killed and she was taken as a slave. She was whisked to the communities across the desert and spent many years there. She managed to buy her freedom and then returned to take back her father's throne, but she chose to be sneaky, to act as Ture's sorceress instead. Although he fancied her for his bed room. She's a young beautiful woman. The Tures do not know who she is. Or what she is up to".
"If she's after her throne, what business does she have with my father? Why manipulate his visions? That is, if what the Sultan said is true".
Mekani sighed, pouted and then looked away. "You shouldn't be hearing this from me. Tira was your father's mistress during the days he spent in the desert. I don't know the details. Only what he told me".
"Incredible". Deba threw her hands up in frustration. "I resented my mom for being with Duefe, and my dad was with a mistress?"
"It was the only way he could be close enough to her, so as to get the powers he now has. They journeyed in the desert for days, with other companions. Then they found mysterious caves. The powers Juba now have was what Tira wanted. But he deceived her. Not out of bad intentions, but to protect her. He learnt from the other travellers that the source of the power only accepted men. Any woman who touched it would die. He tried to convince her otherwise. But she wouldn't listen. She already mapped out her plans to get the crystals and transform. Your father seduced her and made love to her that night. While she slept, he sneaked back into the cave room housing the crystals. Using the plans Tira drew up, he acquired the crystals and their powers went into him. What he didn't know was that with time, he would fade away".
Deba nodded. A brief silence followed before she spoke again. "And Tira?"
"She never forgave him for stealing the one thing that could help her take back her throne without so much sweat. She refused to believe Juba did it to save her life. She is bitter and while she pretends to be helping the Tures, before she claims her throne, she's also out to take revenge on Juba too. She knows those crystals well. The ones Juba took from her. And because she went on to practice as a sorceress, she's able to block or manipulate his visions, when he's not watching."
"So she has blocked it before" Deba said, rather than ask
"Yes. But he corrected it. I don't know how. I'm hoping he corrects this too".
"Phew!!!" She sighed. There was still so much she didn't know about her father. "I wish everything will just end so I can be at peace. I am so weary of this war already. Revenge? What do I need that for? If not that the Tuaregs are after our homes and lives, I won't fight this battle. I'll just go find my sister, get her back and return to normal life".
Mekani smiled lightly, taking her hands in his. "The war won't be so bad if Juba frees you for me once in a while."
Deba rolled her eyes and shook her head. "I don't believe you are talking about that now".
"Of course I am. This is the first time he has left your body. And we are not even in a quiet place, else I'll have my fill before he returns. So what say you? Can we share a little kiss?"
"Not while the whole camp can see us". She protested
"If both of you are going to get all mushy, you can as well beg the warriors here to lend you a tent" Dogo complained. Mayo chuckled
"Like you won't do what I'm doing now if Ife was here with you".
"He's just jealous". Kubu laughed. "All the same, Meky, try to keep it low. We don't want to hear anything".
"You see? We are disturbing the peace". Deba pouted
"Pay no attention to them. They are jealous. You only have to close your eyes and let it happen." He slanted towards her and took her lips. She didn't resist. She kissed him back, knowing he was right. When her father takes over her body again, they would have no alone time. This wasn't even an alone time, but it was just ok at the moment. Her hands slid up the back of his head, pulling him closer. His hands found her breasts and squeezed. Passion was beginning to well up and little moans had started to escape Mekani's lips when the unbelievable happened.
"Ahhhhh!" Mekani cried out. Her teeth sank into his lips, firmly, refusing to let him off easily. It was a while later she let go. Mekani touched his lips with one hand. There was blood. "Deba?" He was surprised
"Keep your head and your emotions in check." Juba spoke through Deba. He had taken over her body while they were kissing and thought it better to teach his son a lesson. "This is no bed room, and this is no Ijefaji."
Dogo was the first to burst out laughing. The other men soon understood what had happened and joined Dogo
"Papa?" Mekani asked, cleaning the blood off his lips
"Yes. Papa." She stood up. "Let us head back to camp. We have a new plan to work on for tomorrow, we start down south".
"And Tira?" Mekani asked.
"I will take care of her. For now, you're my oracle. You and Mayo. Its the only way she won't be able to manipulate things. So keep your thoughts straight and stop running after my daughter at every slightest opportunity".
The other men laughed at him while giving him friendly pat on the back
To be continued......