The days and weeks that followed was full of activities. It was one training after the other for the warriors of Gor - combat, lectures, charm making and so on.
Deba was not exempted from activities. She spent most of the day underground with Juba, meditating, learning combat skills and mind games. She was being trained to withstand Juba's strength while using her body for battles.
Juba understood that time was not on their side. He also understood that what he had learnt over the years could not be learnt by another, in only a few days or weeks. But he was sure that with more practice, Deba would be strong enough to accommodate him and his excesses. So whenever it was time for practice, he took over his daughter's body, teaching her the warrior's dance from within and filling her mental body with the necessary knowledge of administration, combat, mind reading and sorcery. It was a lot to teach and to learn within such a short time.
At the end of each day, Deba went to her room and dropped heavily on her bed. Her thoughts went to Mekani during such nights. They hadn't been together again since their first night. She wanted to see him. She wanted to be with him again and share passionate moments with him. But her tired body wouldn't let her get up, let alone walk to his bed chambers.
The following mornings the maids came in to clean and dress her up. Then they served her breakfast, as it was all she would eat, until after her training sessions. Juba wouldn't allow food during trainings. It was during one of such mornings Mekani sneaked in to see her briefly. He hugged and kissed her like his life depended on it. They were happy to have that moment before he ran off to join the others at the training camp.
During her training sessions with Juba that she learnt the Zulus were away, finding other slave villages owned by the Tuaregs and burning it down. It was their way of killing off and reducing the demon possessed slaves from the army put together by the Tuaregs.
A short distance away from the training camp, there was another camp strictly for female warriors. They too prepared for the war.
It was three weeks later Juba announced they would be joining Mekani and the other warriors at the training camp. It was necessary to test her strength and stamina with worthy adversaries. And so on that morning, Juba possessed her body and marched her down to the camp ground. Her clothing was a simple cloth firmly wrapped around her breasts, and a bogus trouser, the type worn by Tuareg men. Juba picked it out for her.
The first thing Mekani noticed as she approached camp was her grim expression. She looked nowhere close to the woman he made love to a few weeks back. The softness and allure was gone from her. He knew she wasn't herself and he knew what he had to do. He broke away from his men and went forward to receive them into camp.
"My father." He greeted, although it was odd, referring to Juba but looking at the grim expression of the woman he loved so dearly.
"My son." Juba replied, acknowledging him. "Assemble the men. We are having a challenge fight right away. I need to test my daughter's strength."
"Her strength?" Mekani sighed in displeasure.
"Don't worry. She's safe. Trust me".
Mekani nodded once, acknowledging that he trusted his adopted father. He turned around to face the men. "Form ranks!"
Dogo heard the order and re-echoed it. Kubu and Mayo joined him, while assembling the warriors placed under their command. Soon all the warriors, both male and female, had come together to form a wide circle. Juba, clothed in Deba's body, stood in the middle of the circle, wooden sword drawn and wooden spear set for action.
"I know you've all been training. I get your progress report daily. But today, we test our strength. I need you all to come at me in fives", he instructed, calmly. "After the first 10 fives, increase to tens. After the first five ten, increase to fifteens and so on, until the last man. Understood?"
"Yeah" they chorused, raising their spears up in one hand and jeering. To the warriors, it was a welcome change from the usual training routine. They set about pairing themselves up. And so the challenge started.
They attacked in groups of fives, then tens and then fifteens, all against Juba. At the end of the rigorous dance, Juba looked around him. All the men lay on the ground writhing in agony, except a few others who had gotten up and moved away from the circle to nurse their hands or legs. Juba frowned before raising his eyes to his four generals.
"Both of you!" He pointed at Dogo and Kubu. "Attack."
They were reluctant, but they did. Just two men they were, but they fought better than the others before crashing to the ground.
"You!" Juba pointed at Mekani.
Mekani's eyes widened. "No papa!
"Draw your sword!" Juba ordered, already charging at him. He had no choice but to draw his sword and fight. Yes, he fought bravely and even lasted longer as he resulted to his wolfish hound form and attacked without mercy. But he too was defeated and Juba turned to Mayo.
"Don't just stand there. Come for me".
Mayo got up and charged. He roared as his form grew larger and harder, before bursting into flames. He went after Juba. Their fight was the toughest. Several times Mayo got hold of Juba and slammed him hard on the ground. A series of fiery punches to the face followed, forgetting that Deba was the one to bear the after effect. It was Mekani's raised voice that caught his attention and made him soften, as he realized what he was doing. At his moment of distraction, Juba magically produced a big hammer which he swung in Mayo's direction. The force sent him flying back into the forest behind.
"Lesson number one. Don't be distracted in a battle field." Juba said, getting to his feet. He rested angry eyes on Mekani. "Lesson number two. Do not distract anyone in a battlefield. I told you she's safe. You have to trust me".
"No buts. I love her too. She is my daughter and she has been training for this purpose."
As he spoke, all the wounds and bruises Deba sustained during the fight gradually healed completely. Not even a scar was left. Then Juba turned to address the men. "Your fighting skills have improved. I'm not too impressed though. The people we are up against are deadly. They have nothing to loose and would gladly fight to the death." He then turned back to Mekani. "Double the training hours. Let the Zulus teach them a new trick too".
Mekani bowed in acknowledgment. That done, Juba stepped out of Deba's body. She fell instantly on her knees, panting.
"That is a relief" Juba said, observing her. "At least you didn't pass out".
"I feel like I ran to the end of the world and back." She said, still panting. "I feel like I fought all the warriors in the world too." She said, coughing and gradually rising to her feet. She staggered.
"Look around you, my daughter. You only fought the warriors in Gor. We need to intensify your training. Take some rest now and return to my chambers by evening".
They didn't know when Juba left, for they could not see him. It was a while later, Mekani walked up to her. "Are you ok?" He started to inspect her body
"I'm fine." She let him inspect her, just so he could see she was fine. "I only feel like I have exerted a lot of energy".
"Juba saps energy. It's needed if the fighting must be thorough".
"Has he used your body before?" She asked, searching his eyes.
"Yes. A lot of times." Mekani admitted. "For every time he used me, he left a part of himself in me. That has made me understand him better. I almost know what he thinks. almost"
"That means I will too." Deba said, realization hitting her on the face.
"You, you will be him." Mekani said, "Because you're taking the last of his qualities and thinking"
"Mmmm...." She sighed, favoring one hand, "And can you marry our father?" She asked
"Marry our father? I'm confused."
"Since I'm going to be him and you are going to be marrying me, isn't that like marrying our father?"
Mekani chuckled. "No, because you won't be muscular with a mustache. Neither will you be half dead and half alive. You will only think more like him and posses his powers. End of story."
"I have a feeling the story is only just starting".
"But it will end one day. And then we will be free to be together without interruption".
Deba stopped what she was doing and looked at him. He looked so ruggedly handsome and too sure of his words. Maybe it was because he had been to many battles and had come out unscathed. Maybe it was because he believed so much in Juba. Hers was different. This war was a first for her and even though her father was taking charge, she was scared what the out come would be. Would she die? Or would she live? Deba looked away. Be together without interruption. So he said. Was that even possible? She thought, then asked "Have you ever thought about what will happen if one of us don't survive this war?" This time she raised sad eyes to him. "I want Ezomo and Yetu and Yuwa to pay for everything done to my family. But this war is bigger than revenge, Meky. It is about our existence as free people. The Tuaregs won't rest until they succeed in conquering us and taking over our land".
"And you fear we both might not survive it." He moved closer
"Or that we may survive but never be the same, physically or mentally."
"Oh, Deba. Come here", he pulled her into his embrace. She hugged him back. "Let us promise each other now, that we will make it out unscathed".
"I want to promise, my love. But promises are just words."
"They won't just be words if taken seriously", he pulled back slightly to look into her eyes. "We will make it through. Then we will come back home, get married and have all the children we want, boys and girls".
She smiled at him, and then chuckled. "Yes, boys and girls...."
"Errggg ggh," Someone cleared his throat. The duo turned around to see Duefe standing a short distance away with Pawo. She was elegantly dressed in a blue off the shoulder robe that reached her ankle. Gold sandals graced her feet, matching with the gold chord around her waist. Duefe was simply dressed in the warrior's outfit of bogus pant below bare muscular chest. He held his spear in one hand and a sword in the other.
Deba's heart skipped when she saw her mother up close, and with Duefe. It had been over two weeks since their quarrel. But then, Deba had secretly watched them when she had the chance. From afar she watched the love, commitment and understanding they shared as a couple. Mayo caught her spying on them once and advised her to let it go, not like she was planning to attack them again.
As the days progressed, Deba longed for her mother, but her heart was still fighting to overcome the issue with Duefe. He was a fine honest man, true. But she still needed to accept him first. It would normally take her weeks or months to accept such, but because they were at war, and no one knew what the outcome would be, she was scared. She thought more about Pawo and wondered what would happen if she went to war, still quarreling with her mother and then never returned alive.
"My queen." Mekani's voice interrupted her thoughts as he bowed to Pawo. "Please what can I do for you?
"Please rise" Pawo spoke. "My husband asked that he joins those under your command". She gestured at Duefe, but her eyes kept moving from Deba to Mekani.
"Yes, your highness". Mekani replied. He turned to Deba briefly and whispered. "I have to return to training, my sweet. Will you come to me at night? Or should I come to you? I have missed you."
Deba managed a smile. "I'll leave my bedroom door open."
"Great then". He pecked her cheeks and turned to Duefe, "welcome to the camp, brother. Please follow me". He started to lead the way.
Duefe paused briefly and moved to kiss Pawo's lips. But seeing how Deba looked at them, he pecked her cheeks instead and managed a light hug before going after Mekani.
"My presence stopped him from kissing you." Deba said, as soon as they were left alone.
"I guess so." Pawo replied, "your expression isn't exactly friendly you know".
"I know", she sighed and looked away briefly. "Too much has been on my mind of late. So much so I have no time for anything else. Please tell me, what happened? What exactly led to this?"
"To the both of you?"
"I thought you said you weren't interested in explanations?" Pawo asked, brows raised.
"I am now. It is over 2 weeks since we last saw each other and talked".
Pawo chuckled." I won't classify that as talk, more like quarrel." She moved to stand directly in front of her daughter. "I just want you to know one thing, Deba., I never cheated on your father. He started the whole process because he wants it so. But I've been thinking too. I can't loose you. After your father has left, you're all I will have. I don't know if your sister will survive the war. "
"Papa has told you about Izogie then"
"He has". She sighed, and then moved a short distance away to sit on the huge rock resting under a tree. The shade of the tree helped to keep the harsh sun at bay. "If we get her back, thank the gods. Then I'll have both of you, and I will do my best to make up for lost years. If not, I'll have only you. If being with Duefe will make me loose you, then I prefer to not be with him".
"Ma...mama" Deba's jaws slowly dropped. She moved to stand in front of her mother under the tree. "Do you realize what you're saying?"
"Yes. I'm choosing my daughter over an affair."
"I've watched you two secretly since the past weeks. You love him, he loves you. This is not just an affair."
"Deba," she looked into her daughter's eyes. "I just want you back in my life. I have missed you a lot. Ever since I set out from Utho Era, this is the first meaningful conversation we are having. I miss you, your laughter, your pranks and your seriousness. I will let go of Duefe, if you agree to be close to me again. I can't bear you being far from me."
Deba sighed and took the free space by her mother's side. She felt guilty, for her mother was only speaking that way because of her actions earlier. "I have missed you too, mama. Duefe came as a shock. And I know I didn't handle things well."
Pawo placed a hand over Deba's shoulders. "Anyone would have reacted same way. Seeing us the way you did didn't help matters."
"No" she chuckled. "It didn't.".
"So? Will you be close to my heart again? I don't want to loose you." She patted her daughter's hair.
"I don't want to lose you either, mama. So yes. I want to be close to you again."
"That's my baby." She threw her second hand around Deba and pulled her closer into her embrace
"There is a but...." Deba confessed
"Oh my child, what but again?" Pawo pulled back to reveal her confused expression.
"You can't leave Duefe because of me. He loves you sincerely, I've noticed. And you love him too".
"What are you saying, my child?" She stood up and looked down at Deba.
"That I don't want to spoil your happiness. And Duefe makes you happy. I don't want you to end your relationship with him".
"Oh Deba. Are you sure about this?"
"I am mama. I am." She got up and hugged her mother. Her father was right. Mekani was right too. Her mother had suffered enough. If Duefe was her new source of happiness, then she had no choice but to accept him. Time was too short for quarrels and disagreements.
The morning of the new week saw the warriors, men and women alike, preparing for battle. The day had finally come to march out of Gor and meet with their adversaries.
Each warrior was dressed in bogus pant and a fitted sleeveless top. Armors made from hard metal covered their abdomen, up to their necks. The shoulders were not exposed either.
Shields and assagais graced their hands. Swords, orinkas, bows and arrows were surplus. A few Zulu warriors were sent by their queen mother to join the army, while the others continued in the field, hunting and destroying villages with possessed slaves.
Before they left, Pawo came around. She went to Duefe first and made him promise to return to her in one piece. Hen she went to Deba and hugged her.
"I'm fine mama. Papa will use my body. No harm will come to me"
Mekani chose that time to join them. He bowed before Pawo, but she raised his head up to look at her. "Take care of my daughter."
"I will, my queen" Mekani promised
"And take care of yourself. My daughter needs you alive, and I need grand children after this is over".
"Mama!" Deba protested. Mekani chuckled
"I will, my queen". He winked at Deba.
As they marched out of the city, in a single file, the residents hailed them. Some raised war chants, others bowed and said silent prayers for their brave warriors.
Juba, in Deba's body, Mekani, Dogo, Kubu, Mayo and Duefe, were ahead, leading the men and women to fight for the fate of the kingdom.
To be continued.....
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