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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Eki: The Prince's Bride (Book Excerpts) 3






“What?” he prompted. “Because I’m the Crown Prince? That should not be a problem.  I’m still the same person you knew before you found out about my status. You don’t have to change towards me; just treat me the way you did before.”

She glanced at him, a look of doubt in her expressive eyes. “I don’t think that’s possible, Your Highness.” 

“Why not?”
“Because you’re high up there by virtue of your position. While I’m too insignificant to...”

“I like you, “he said suddenly. His declaration was so unexpected, it made her momentarily confused.

 “Your Highness!” she said softly, looking at him quickly in a wondering manner.
He smiled.

“You look shocked! I like that! I like to surprise people!” he said in an amused tone then paused briefly.  He then told her about how she had made such an impression on him at their first meeting on the river road and his desire to see her again.

 “I knew from your dressing that you were a maiden, not yet married. So, I planned sending my men to seek you in your village after the “Uyere’ ceremony.  So, you can imagine my surprise when we met up again yesterday in the palace. I was about sending someone this morning to enquire where you were staying in Okor when you showed up with your father!”
Another pause.  “Anyway, as you might be aware, my wife the Crown Princess died nearly a year ago.  And tradition dictates that the position can’t be left vacant for too long.  My father and his courtiers have been pestering me to remarry or promote one of my concubines to that position.  But I don’t think any of them is suitable for that role.” He paused. “I believe, you my dear will fill that position perfectly.”
    “This is really surprising and so sudden your Highness and... I don’t know what to say…”  Eki said hesitantly.
    “I know.  That’s why I won’t rush you! I’ll give you time to think about it whether you can accept someone like me as a husband!”
She laughed, a little laugh that burst out from within her.
    “Now, that’s better! You look more relaxed! Less scared!” he said.” “I’ll talk to your father to get his permission so I can start courting you according to tradition. That way, we can get to know each other better. Hope that’s okay with you?”
She nodded slowly, not believing what was happening to her. Everything was moving so fast; meeting the Prince, his unexpected proposal...It all made her feel a bit confused yet strangely excited at the same.
It was exciting being with the Prince; she felt strangely drawn to him and being in his presence made her heart beat erratically...




 “Good,” said Prince Obaro. “By the time, you get to know me better, you’ll come to realize I’m not as bad as people paint me!” he said with a smile.
She smiled too, showing white, even teeth, her eyes sparkling in amusement.
Sometime later, Eki asked him: “Your Highness, why didn’t you introduce yourself to me properly yesterday? I even wanted to know your name but you left before I could ask.”
    “As I said, I like to surprise people. I intended doing that after I had searched for you and brought you to the palace. So, were you surprised when you found out who I was?” he said in an amused tone.
Eki nodded. “I was shocked and confused, Your Highness! After the casual and even rude way I had spoken to you earlier only to find out you were...! I wanted to disappear from the hall!”
    “Ha, Ha, Ha!...” he threw his head back and laughed heartily. Then, taking her hand in his, he said: “All that is in the past now, my dear. I think we are fated to meet. Because, anytime I wanted to go search for you, our paths always crossed unexpectedly.”
He gazed fondly at her, his fingers caressing her soft hand slowly...

By the time, Esiso and his entourage returned to Ukrakpor’s house at the other end of the town, the chickens were returning home to roost from their endless wanderings and search for food.

 His host wanted him to sit and chat with him in his reception room but Esiso declined. He needed to rest, he said, having had a long day at the Palace.

The truth was he wanted to have a long talk with Eki to get the full details of her meeting with the Crown Prince earlier at the Palace including his desire to court her. They could not talk much on the journey back home as there were many people around. 

 As he sat in his room, waiting impatiently for Eki to come, he marveled at the speed things were moving. What luck that Eki and the Prince already had a connection before the meeting today, he thought happily.

 “Everything is working out even more than I planned,” he said softly to himself nodding his head with satisfaction.

 “Father I’m here!” Eki said as she entered the room, softly lit by an oil lamp.
 “Sit down, my daughter,” said Esiso. After she had sat on a low stool he said:
  “I want you to tell me every detail of your meeting with the Crown Prince; what  he told you, his plans for you.”

 “But Father, I suppose you already know what he wants.  He wants to start courting me.”
 “Yes, yes! He asked me for permission and I granted it. When we return home, he will send his people to make a formal proposal of marriage to our family,” he said, then paused. “What else did he say?”
Eki shrugged.
 “He said he likes me… that I’ll make a better Crown Princess than any of his concubines.”
 “Is that so? I’m happy things worked out this way.”
  “I’m very proud of you, my child, for bringing such honour to me and our family. Now I know I made the right choice when I picked you among your sisters.”
  “Right choice of what Father?” asked Eki, quizzically. Then she looked suspiciously at her father.
  “Father, is this what you’ve been preparing me for?  The special diet, the grooming, the outfits?  Were you preparing me for … for the Prince?”
Esiso nodded his large, greying head.

 “Yes. Now, you understand why I was so strict with you! I’ve been getting you ready for a day like this for a long time when I’ll become an in-law of the royal family, to be linked with the seat of power.  Do you know what that means for our family?”

 “But Father, is it right what you did? What if the Prince finds out this was all a set-up?”
 “What set-up?” her father said sharply. “I didn’t do much! You two were meant to meet.  It’s fate and the gods that brought both of you together. I only prepared you so you’ll be ready when opportunity knocks.  It’s your destiny to be with the Prince!”

 Eki gazed intently at the flickering lamp, wondering about the future, what her life would be like being married to the Crown Prince of Otumara Kingdom.

                                                                      ***

Two days later, two messengers from the Prince arrived to escort Eki to the Palace.
At his private quarters, she was taken to one of the inner rooms which overlooked a small vegetable garden.

When her escort left, Eki stood at one of the large windows and watched a blue and golden bird skip playfully from a cocoyam plant to a small bitter leaf shrub, its incessant chirping the only sound in the still morning air. Eki smiled, wishing she could capture the bird in a cage so she could be admiring it daily.

 “So pretty,” she said quietly to herself.
 “It sure is,” said a voice close by. Eki turned quickly to see the Crown Prince standing next to her, a genial smile on his face as he gazed down at her.

 “Greetings, your Highness!” she said, with a courtesy, feeing flustered at his sudden appearance.  She had been so engrossed in watching the pretty bird’s antics, she had not seen him enter the room.
“How are you, Eki? And hope your father is fine.”
 “He’s doing well, your Highness.  He sends his greetings.”

 “Good,” he said, nodding. “Come, my dear, let’s sit down. There’s something I want to show you.”  He took her hand and led her to some chairs at the other end of the room.




    When they had sat down, he clapped twice and a man-servant came in bearing a small wooden box. Deep brown in colour, it was intricately decorated with animal motif carvings. On the top was a crouching leopard, the emblem or totem of the royal family.

 The servant opened the box, bowed and left the room silently.
Eki gazed at the contents of the box, in wonder. It was filled with all kinds of jewelry made from precious stones: diamonds, rubies, gold, onyx, and coral beads. 

 There were large bead necklaces and bracelets, the type worn exclusively by royalty.  The Prince searched inside briefly and brought out a bracelet made of a mixed set of small and medium sized coral beads with a gold clasp.

 “This was one of my late mother’s favourites,” he said taking her left hand and slipping it on her wrist. “She wore it nearly every day till her death.  She wanted me to give it to the woman I love.” 

Eki glanced at the bracelet then up at him and her heart began thumping fast at the look in his eyes. His dark eyes bore intensely into hers, making her feel as if he could read her mind and soul.

She felt suddenly hot, though the room was well ventilated, with cool breeze blowing in through the open windows.

 “It’s lovely.  But I don’t think I can have it.  I…”
 ”Why not?” he cut in.  “You’re the one my mother referred to though she never met you.  The woman in my heart.  So you deserve it.  And everything in that box, “he added with a wave of his hand.
 “What?’ Eki exclaimed, clearly surprised.

 “This is too much, Your Highness! What am I going to do with all these?”

 “Wear them of course!” he said, smiling broadly. “You’re going to be the Crown Princess and you have to dress in a way befitting your status. These will come in useful.”

He took a ring from the box and studied it for a moment.  “This belonged to my mother too.  Now, it’s yours.  As my bride, more of these are coming, so be prepared!” he said, a crooked smile curving his lips.

“Thank you, Your Highness! I feel touched that you found someone like me worthy of such precious jewels. And your affection too.”

  “You’re not just anybody, Eki.  You are my woman now. You’re precious to me so you deserve the best!” he said. His hand reached out to caress her smooth round cheek then he drew her to him and embraced her.

 “And no need to thank me, Eki. You’re now my responsibility so I’ve to take care of you.”
He drew back and looked at her keenly.

 “I hope your father has told you the tradition,” he said.
Eki nodded.

 “Yes. He said since I’ve accepted your proposal, no other man in the Kingdom can propose to me or marry me.”

  ”You are mine, Eki. Now and forever,” he said picking up her left hand to gaze at the coral beads. “Hope you’ll wear this everyday for me. So that even when we are apart, I’ll feel close to you. This”, he said, kissing her wrist then her cheek and lips. ”Will be the symbol of our love. Even when we’re separated by circumstances, no matter how long it takes, we’ll find each other again through this bead bracelet!”
She glanced shyly at him, a small smile curving her sensuous lips...





Monday, May 28, 2018

Love Beyond Reason (11)



They took up the challenge and immediately began following Ikem. It was not as easy as they thought it would be though. 

They did not put into consideration other things that might put a demand on their time, and they did not figure they would have to follow him every day and all the time so as to get the exact time he went to visit his parents.

 By the time, they had followed him around Ibadan city for a whole day, amidst traffic and all, they were tired of running after him.

Ugochi finally came up with a plan. She suggested Fredrick followed for a part of the day while she did other things and she would take over at a particular time. 

Of course, she was able to do this at all because she took time off work after the altercation she had with Ikem and Fredrick also had time because he took a leave of absence from work to find out his ancestry. The second plan worked out beautifully.

It was Ugochi’s turn to follow Ikem when they finally had a break. She had followed him all afternoon, went with him to a barber to have a haircut, followed him to lunch, and followed him to what looked suspiciously like a booty call. 

She did not want to believe he had started seeing someone else already, but that was definitely what it looked like. That finally put to death whatever leftover feelings she had been harboring for him.

At about 6pm, when she was ready to quit and call it a day, he finally visited a venue that looked very promising. She remembered Ikem speaking to her about his parents one day and he had mentioned they lived at Ikolaba in Ibadan. 

His next stop was a gated house at Ikolaba and something told Ugochi they finally hit the jackpot. She quickly put a call to Fredrick.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Fredrick. I think I’ve got the place. He’s at a house in Ikolaba and he once told me his parents have a house there. Can you come quickly?”

“I’m on my way. Where exactly are you?”

“It’s a street called Romeo Avenue. I’m parked directly across the street from the house he entered. It’s the third house on your right with a red gate.” After giving him directions, she hung up, praying he would get there in time.

She had been there for about thirty minutes when Ikem suddenly stormed out, slamming the pedestrian gate and stalking to his car. 

Before long, an older woman came out and ran towards him, pulling his arm. She was talking, but Ugochi could not make out her words.

 Ikem’s face was turned away and he finally jerked his arm free and got into his car. He started the engine and drove away, leaving her by the road looking after him.

For a split second the woman turned her face towards Ugochi and Ugochi was stunned by the resemblance between her and the twins.

 She finally wiped tears from her face, turned and walked forlornly inside her house. Ugochi knew she had just seen Fredrick and Ikem’s mother.

She dialed Fredrick’s number again. “Where are you?” she asked

“I’m almost there. I encountered a bit of traffic at Ring Road. What’s up?”

“Ikem just left now and I think I just saw your mother.”

“What? What happened?”

She gave him a brief description of what she just witnessed. “He obviously went away angry.” She concluded.

“Okay, I’m like two minutes away. You’ll see me soon.”

“Okay.”

Ugochi kept watching the house nervously, crouched in her seat. She felt so conspicuous sitting there, furtively looking out her window. She hoped nobody would challenge her.

 Before long, she saw Fredrick’s car in her rearview mirror and got out of hers to wait for him by the side of the road.

“What’s happening now?” he asked as soon as he got out of his car. He looked anxious.

“Nothing since I spoke with you last. What do you want to do?”

“Go in there and introduce myself, of course.”

“What? Just like that?”

“Yes, Ugochi. That is what this is all about. Besides, I think my credential will speak for itself.” He indicated his face.

“Okay. What’s the plan, then?”

“No plan. I knock on the door, ask to see the people living in the house and go from there.”

“Okay.”

“Shall we?”

“No. I don’t think I should come with you. You should do this on your own.”

“You sure?”

“Yes. I’ll wait here for you.”

“Okay.” He gave her a quick hug and kiss. “Which house?”

She pointed it out and he walked quickly to the gate and knocked. Ugochi watched as someone opened the gate, and after a while Fredrick walked in. He didn’t look back.


 To be continued



Thursday, May 24, 2018

Love Beyond Reason (10)



They sat down and stared at each other for two full minutes. Ikem could not talk, he was incapable of any action. 
He just sat there staring. Fredrick watched him as he stared, giving him time to absorb the bombshell he just dropped. 
After all, he had been aware of the situation of things for a while now. He also wanted to take his time too as he had been looking forward to this very moment for a long time.

Ikem finally found his voice. “What the hell did you mean by what you just said? I don’t have a twin. I’ve never had a twin.”

Fredrick nodded. “Calm down, will you? Let me start from the beginning.”

“I’m listening and I assure you heads will roll if this turns out to be an epic waste of my time.”

“I’m sure we can rule that out. After all, you can see for yourself.” Fredrick replied, indicating his face.

Ikem finally relaxed a bit. He called for a waiter and ordered a bottle of beer. Fredrick was surprised but he hid it well. He ordered for a bottle of soft drink instead; he needed a clear head to do what he was about to do.

Their drinks arrived and Ikem took a sip of his before he signaled Fredrick to go ahead. He was acting cocky and very rude. Fredrick was not impressed.

“I got to know about this a few months ago.” Fredrick began. “I was as surprised as you are now to say the least. I couldn’t fathom the idea that I wasn’t born of my parents and they hid it so well. Let me start from the beginning.

“I got sick a few months ago. I was diagnosed with kidney disease and I needed a transplant urgently. Suffice to say none of my so-called relatives could help out. 

It was then the truth came out. When I got stronger, I demanded the full story from my parents and they told me an elaborate story I would not have believed if it was not coming directly from the source.

“My mum told me the story of how they had been childless for many years. They had tried all they could to no avail. 

After speaking with their family doctor, a plan was set in motion to steal the baby of another couple who frequented the clinic they used. They had promised the doctor a huge amount of money to get it done.

“Your mother had twins and they told her the other baby didn’t survive. She never knew what happened. I am the other baby.”

“This tells a lot like a Nollywood story. Why didn’t they just adopt?”

“I assure you, it’s not. Things like this happened all the time many years ago. You can’t be that na├»ve. And you know the adoption culture in Africa is very poor. Nobody wants to be seen as barren and people would rather know the source of their children. That is why such situation as ours was unfairly common.”

“My mother never told me I was a twin.”

“She probably was not willing to resurrect all the painful memories. You can ask her now if you are in doubt.”

“Of course I’m in doubt. This is such a super story.”

“Then, can you explain the resemblance? You look like the exact replica of me.”

Ikem waved it away. “Things like that happen. We can look alike and not be related at all.”

“Not as much as this, I’m afraid. Look, why don’t you ask your mum? What could it hurt? And why will I be here if it wasn’t true? Believe me, I did my research very well. I searched for the doctor who committed the atrocity all those years ago and threatened to report him to the police if he does not tell me the identity of my real parents. He coughed it up very fast.”

Ikem ignored all those facts and just held on to a point. “Oh, I can think of a reason you would concoct this ostentatious story. How about to hide the fact that Ugochi had been cheating on me with you and you both needed a cover story to make me take her back.”

Fredrick looked at him, aghast. “Seriously? And why would she want you back? After the way you treated her, disrespected her?”

Ikem just grinned stupidly. His cavalier attitude infuriated Fredrick.

“You have such an inflated ego. You believe I would go to such lengths to get your woman? Come off it, man. Ugochi came into the equation because I needed an in. I didn’t want to come in your face all of a sudden and since she was your woman, I felt you’ll be more inclined to listen to her. She was never meant to be hurt in the process but of course you bungled it all with your insecurities.”

Ikem froze. He slowly lowered the bottle of beer in his hand. “What did you say to me?”

“Did you have to hit her? It’s only an imbecile who hits a woman and I really do not think much of you after the way you treated that poor lady.”

“What did you say to me?” Ikem repeated. He was furious.

Fredrick didn’t care. He had been looking for an opportunity to put the smug idiot in his place. “I said you are an imbecile for treating Ugochi that way. You had no right to hit her.”

Ikem slowly stood up. He wanted to hit Fredrick so badly but he refrained because of where they were. “Stay away from me.” He pointed before storming out.

Fredrick watched him go with a little bit of regret. I finally bungled that up, he thought.

To be continued



Sunday, May 20, 2018

Eki: The Prince's Bride (Book Excerpts) 2






Soon, they passed through a wide intricately carved door into a cool room with a high ceiling.

 It was filled with artefacts and artworks of different sizes and shapes: sculptures, statues, busts, vases, animal skins, elephant tusks and other objects of art.

 “This is one of the treasure rooms in the palace where valuable objects are kept,” he explained, his hand waving over the room.

Eki gazed at the artworks in astonishment. She had never seen such beautiful objects in her life; they were like a feast for the eyes. Her bright eyes glowed with excitement as they alighted on one object after the other.

She lingered in front of a bronze sculpture of a woman dressed in the style of Bini royal women.

 “That is Queen Isoken, the mother of the present Oba (King) of Bini. It was a gift from him to the Ovie during his coronation two seasons ago,” the man explained.

The sculpture showed her elaborate bouffant hairdo, intricately decorated with red coral beads and bejewelled combs.

Her eyes stared at Eki, clear and penetrating making Eki feel as if she could read her mind.
 “It’s beautiful,” she said.

 “Not as beautiful as the woman herself.  I heard she was a famed beauty in her youth,” he said, turning to point to another art piece.

 Sometime later, they emerged from the Hall of Treasures into the afternoon sunshine. 

She had been so immersed in looking at the artefacts, she had lost track of the time.  Her father might be through with his meeting with the king and would be searching for her.

 “Thanks for showing me round. I’ve to leave now to meet up with my people,” she said.

 “You’re here for the ‘Uyere’ ceremony,” he noted as they walked in the direction of the large courtyard at the entrance of the palace.

“Yes,“ she replied. “But how did you know?” She looked up, puzzled at him.

“I know you’re not from these parts. From the location of the place we met the last time, you must be from Igodi village,” he said.

“You are correct. I came here with my father.”
He stopped and turned to her.

“I’ve a meeting somewhere so I need to leave. It was nice meeting you again, Eki,” he said.
 “You know my name? “she asked, surprised.

“I heard your friends call you that at our last encounter,” he said, smiling down at her.
Then with a little bob of the head, he left her, his men in tow.

 “What’s your name?” she said, but he had gone too far to hear her.
Eki walked slowly away, deep in thought.

Her mind was full of the objects in the Treasure room and the man who had shown her round.

“He must hold a powerful position here to be able to have access to such a high security place,” she muttered to herself. “I don’t even know has name. Maybe he’s the Chief Bodyguard in the Palace.”

She wondered if she would ever see him again or the Treasure Room. She would have loved to see those beautiful treasures again and again but she knew it would not be possible since her father said they would leave for home once the festival was over.

A short distance away, she saw her father and Brume talking. Her father was looking around as if searching for someone.
She took a deep breath, and prepared herself for the scolding she knew she would get for wandering off…






Meeting the Prince

Before leaving for the Palace the next morning, Esiso conferred with his relative Ukrakpor on the matter of Eki’s marriage.  He was someone he could trust so he opened up to him about his plans for his daughter.

He listened attentively, not speaking till Esiso was done.
 “It sounds like a good plan to me,” said Ukrakpor.  “But have you discussed it with your daughter?”

Esiso shook his head.
 “Not yet.  I’ll do that after she has met the Prince and he shows interest in her.  She’s just a woman; she doesn’t have any say in the matter. She does what she’s told,” he said firmly.

Ukrakpor hoped things would work out well so, ”our family can become in-laws to the King,” as he remarked.

 Esiso concurred, silently noting that if the Crown Prince reacted the same way as his father had done earlier on meeting Eki, then all his efforts would not be in vain…

At the Palace, the different dance troupes from all corners of the Kingdom were already gathering in the large courtyard. 

There were fierce-looking masquerades with ropes tied round their waists to restrain them, bare-chested maidens with coral beads strategically placed on the hips to cover their nakedness were at one end of the yard practicing their dance steps, drummers checking the sounds of their instruments, the ikenike (stilt walkers) looking arrogantly down from their majestic heights on the proceedings below.

The sounds, colours and smells were part of the ‘Uyere’ activities, to entertain the king, his court, ministers, chiefs and the visitors from the different communities that had converged on Okor.

 Eki, who found the whole scene fascinating stood and watched, an excited look on her face. But, Esiso hustled her along, impatient to meet with the Crown Prince.

 “But Father, I thought we were here to watch the dance?” Eki protested as she walked with him and the servants bearing the gifts for the Crown Prince out of the courtyard.

 They passed through the entrance Eki and the Palace guard whose name she did not know had taken the previous day.

    “Yes, yes!” said Esiso. “But the ceremony won’t start till the King appears in the early afternoon. In the meantime, there’s somebody we need to see.”
Eki gazed up at her father.

    “Who is it, Father? Is it the King?”

They had passed through two inner gates and were heading towards a cluster of buildings fenced round by a low mud wall.

Some yards from the wooden gate in the centre of the wall, Esiso stopped and turned to his daughter.

 “That’s the Crown Prince, Prince Obaro’s residence. He’s the one we are meeting,” he said, pausing. “Listen, my daughter. This meeting means a lot to me and our family.  So, I want you to be on your best behavior while we’re there.  Is that understood?”

Eki gazed up at her father curiously, wondering why the meeting was so important. Was her father in any kind of trouble with the royal family, she wanted to ask. 

But Eki, having been trained all her young life to always obey her elders, simply nodded and kept her thoughts to herself.
    “Yes, Father.”

Esiso passed through the gate manned by two guards who greeted him with deep bows.
Standing a short distance away by the door of a building was a young woman who welcomed Esiso and his group.  

After ushering them inside, she excused herself and left.  It was a small hall, a kind of reception area where the Crown Prince received his guests and visitors. 
 A large chair, nicely carved with leopard and eagle motifS was at the far centre of the hall on a slightly raised platform.

Arranged in front of this were wooden chairs upon which several people were sitting when Esiso and his small group entered the hall. 


Esiso and Eki sat down on the front seats facing the large chair which was empty.
His servants who had dropped the gifts by the side of the room, now stood, at the back of the hall, near a couple of bodyguards at the door. Soon, the woman who had  ushered them in earlier emerged sometime later and announced loudly:

 “His Highness, Prince Obaro!”

Everyone in the hall stood up and bowed as the young Prince and his entourage of bodyguards, courtiers and servants walked briskly into the hall.

Eki slowly raised her head to finally see what the Crown Prince she had heard so much about but had never met, looked like. She almost fell back on the seat again at the sight before her.

 What was going on?  Why was the bodyguard she had met earlier the previous day dressed as the Crown Prince who was now seated on the large chair flanked by two bodyguards? Why was…

Her father was speaking.

 “Greetings Your Highness.  It is I, Chief Mudiaga Esiso of Igodi community at your service!”

The Prince smiled genially at him. “You are welcome, Esiso! You’re one of my father’s closest friends and advisers and I hope you’ll extend the same friendship to me when the time comes for me to ascend the throne of my fathers!”

Esiso smiled happily at the Prince and nodded.

 “You can count on me anytime, Your Highness! Any time!”

The Prince then turned his attention to Esiso’s right and a look of surprise came on his face.

“Eki?” he said, his eyebrows raised in surprise. Esiso looked on in confusion, first at his daughter who looked as if she wanted to run away from the hall, and then at the Prince. 

 Then, he quickly got himself together.
 “Your Highness, let me introduce to you, my daughter, Eki!” he said at the same time, pushing Eki gently forward so she could stand closer to the Prince.

    “Your daughter? Ha!  It’s a small world indeed!” the Prince said, an amused look on his face as he gazed down at her from his seat. Eki, who looked uncomfortable with a scared look in her eyes, stood still a few feet away, her eyes firmly fixed on the ground.
    “Come closer, my dear girl.  And you can look up at me. You’ve looked at my face before so you can tell I’m not a spirit who bites!” he said, and burst out laughing.

Esiso, who had been keenly watching this exchange with trepidation, unsure of the outcome, now relaxed and laughed with the Prince.

Stepping forward a little, he said: “Your Highness, it looks as if you’ve made my daughter’s acquaintance before. I can’t remember such a meeting, but...”

 “You can’t Chief Esiso!” the Prince cut in. “Let’s just say your lovely daughter and I had met much earlier than now under certain circumstances. Is that not so, Eki?”

Eki stole a quick glance at the Prince’s smiling face then quickly looked down again at the floor as if searching for something.

 “Yes, Your Highness,” she said in a barely audible voice.

 “And I hope we’ll get to know ourselves better as time goes on,” he said and turning to Esiso, added: “What do you say to that, Esiso?”

Esiso beamed, bowed and quickly said:
“As your Highness pleases!”

Later, Esiso presented the gifts he had brought for the Prince, who looked visibly pleased at the gesture.

As the Crown Prince attended to the other people in the hall who had come to seek audience with him, Esiso and Eki were taken to an adjoining room.

There, they waited for the the Prince who wanted a more private meeting with Esiso after his engagement.

 “Eki, why didn’t you tell me you had met with the Crown Prince?” said Esiso as soon as they were alone in the room.
 “But Father, I did not know he was the Prince!” she said.“I thought he was just a  palace worker, a palace guard or something!”

Esiso looked quickly at his daughter.
 “I hope you didn’t do anything stupid like being disrespectful.”

 Eki frowned.

 “Actually Father," she said reluctantly, "Our first meeting wasn't too cordial,"she said and went on to narrate the incident of the broken pot on the way from the river and the meeting the previous day in the Palace.

Eki thought her father would be angry with her for her rudeness to Prince Obaro at their first meeting; instead she saw his lips stretch into a wide smile.

“To think I put in so much efforts trying to bring you two together, not realizing that fate had taken matters into its own hands!” he said with a shake of his head.

 “Father, what are you talking about?” Eki asked, looking puzzled.
 “I’ll explain things to you later, when we get home. But you need to do this for me.  From now on, you have to be very respectful to the Prince; he’s not someone you can talk to any how... like you did when you didn’t know who he was. He’s high up there”, he said, his fore finger pointing to the rafters of the room. "Are you hearing what I’m saying, Child?”

Eki nodded slowly.
 “Yes, Father.”

The Prince came in shortly after and he sat with them to chat.  After thanking Esiso again for the wonderful presents, he said: “I’ll like to speak to your daughter alone for a while.  So…” 

Esiso glanced at Eki then got up.

“Of course Your Highness.  I’ll wait outside,” he said, bowed and headed for the door.
 “And Esiso, have no fear about her reputation. Some of my people will be outside by the door to act as chaperons,” said the Prince.


Esiso smiled a little to himself as he exited the room, closing the door softly behind him.


As her father walked out of the room, leaving her alone with the Prince, Eki felt her heart beat quicken. She always felt that way when she was anxious about something or nervous. She kept twisting her fingers on her laps as she sat demurely, her eyes fixed on the floor.

The Prince moved his chair closer and took her hand in his “Relax, Eki.  I don’t bite as I said earlier,” he said, smiling at her. “Are you scared of me?”
    “Not really, Your Highness.  It’s just that…”

    To be continued



Friday, May 18, 2018

Eki: The Prince's Bride (Book Excerpts) 1






         Beginning this week, we will be running excerpts from our latest ebook "Eki: The Prince's Bride' prior to its launch next week. It's the sequel to 'Tomorrow Never Ends' so if you've not read the first book, you might need to do so, so you can understand the story and plot better.

  Happy reading!



Along the river road

The three young girls walked single file along the village path that led to their village, Igodi. 

They were returning from the river, where they had gone to fetch water for their 
mothers. Placed on their heads were clay pots of different sizes with Edafe, who was at the rear of the small group having the smallest pot.

   Edafe, who was as vain as a peacock about her looks, hated carrying heavy loads on her neck which she considered one of her best features. The said neck was a nicely shaped one with lovely ‘rings’, that gave her an elegant, gazelle like look.
   
She believed that objects on the head would ‘deform’ her neck and diminish her beauty, thus reducing her chances of marrying Enifome, one of the sons of Etaghene, the rich merchant whom she was in love with.


She walked with slow steps so as not to spill the water, trailing behind Eki, who was in front and Johwo, in the middle.

The girls chatted and laughed gaily as they walked, their chatter startling the birds, squirrels and other small animals on the dense foliage that bordered the path.

   They had passed a major junction and the path that led to Okuetchi, a neighbouring village and were heading towards a bend on the path when a group of men suddenly appeared on the path.

   The girls were so engrossed in their chatter that they did not see the men on time. These walked straight into Eki, who was in front and she fell by the pathway with a cry.

    Her friends, unaffected by the accident, quickly placed their water pots on the ground and gathered round her.

   “Ah! Eki! Are you ok? Can you get up?” they asked with concern.
 The men, four in number, stood watching the girls at first. Then one of them, who wore a strip of gold-coloured woven clothe round his neck and a string of coral beads on his right wrist, drew close. 

   “Are you alright?” he asked in an anxious tone, bending down.
    Eki tried getting up but a sharp pain shot up her leg making her stagger. His arm shot out to support her back, breaking her fall.

    She gazed up at him, her curious eyes nothing the clean lines of his face, his clear eyes that seemed to look deep into her soul.

She blinked and straightened up, putting her weight more on the uninjured left leg.
   “I’m fine,” she said shortly. “Why don’t you men look where you’re going? Barging around like wild pigs in the forest!” she said scornfully, glaring up at the man who had helped her to her feet.  He seemed to be the leader of the group.

   “Watch your mouth! How dare you…” said one of the men who took a menacing step towards Eki.

Their leader held up his hand. “It’s ok.” Then he turned to Eki who was now flanked by her friends as if to protect her against any attack from the men.
   “Where’s your village?”

   “Why do you ask?” Edafe retorted, a wary look in her eyes. She could tell the men were not from Igodi, neither did they look as if they were from any of the neighbouring villages. 

They looked like strangers from a faraway place so one had to be careful. Who knew, they could even be slave hunters! Neither Edafe nor any of her friends had seen one before but there were stories in the village about people being captured from their farms, in the bush and even homes in communities near the coast and hinterland and taken away by sea in big okor (ships) by strange looking white people, who spoke in a funny way through their noses.

    “So, we can escort you home because of your injury,” the man explained.
    “No need for that... I’m alright,” Eki said.

     He did not look convinced.
    “The broken pot. It needs replacing.”
He made a sign to one of his men who brought out a small pouch from the raffia bag hanging on his shoulder.

He stretched his hand towards Eki who glanced at the pouch, then up at the man. “What’s this?” she asked curiously.
 “Payment for the pot,” said their leader.

 Eki turned towards him.
 “It’s not necessary. I…” Before she could finish, Edafe snatched the pouch of money from the man.

    “Thank you! We’ll get another pot on the next market day,” she said, ignoring the glowering look from Eki. “You know what your mother will do to you if you return home with a broken pot. The money will be useful,” she whispered into Eki’s ear.
The men made to leave.

“I wish you a safe walk home. Good bye!” said the leader. His eyes lingered for a moment on Eki, then with a slight wave of the hand, he turned away.

The men walked quickly away, soon disappearing round a bend on the narrow path enveloped by thick bushes, trees and shrubs.

   Back home, Eki’s father, angry that she had left the house against his orders, treated the injury that evening with some herbs and hot ointment as he did not trust Equono or any of his other wives to treat it properly. Esiso did not want any blemish on his beautiful daughter’s smooth skin.

   “I’m sorry, Father.  I was bored staying at home, that’s why I went to the river with my friends.”

   “We are leaving for the capital after the next edewor (market day).  You must rest at home so the leg can heal well.  No more gallivanting all over the place. Is that clear?” he said sternly as he rubbed her leg with the concoction.

“Yes, Father.” Once again she wondered why she had to accompany him to the capital, since that was usually something done by the sons of the family…

 At the capital
The Uyere ceremony or paying homage to the King was the annual gathering of all the chiefs and village heads in Otumara Kingdom. It was held just before the big ‘ore’ or festival, that took place after the harvest.

   It was a busy time in the capital, Okor with the influx of the chiefs from near and far-flung places in the kingdom. Esiso, Eki, Brume one of his many sons and their large encourage took up residence in the home of a relative of his Ukrakpor who lived in the capital.

 The following morning, before Esiso left for the palace to attend the meeting of the chiefs, he inspected Eki’s appearance.

 The months of pampering and special diet had paid off.  Her brown skin glowed with health and youth and her clear, luminous eyes sparkled like the sea on a sunny day.

 He had given her a new set of coral waist beads which now hung enticingly on her round hips around which was tied a brightly coloured wrapper.
He nodded with satisfaction.

She was ready.

 “Let’s go,” he said, leading the way as the group, carrying different packages, made its slow way to the palace.

 “How long has it been now, Esiso? You should come to the capital more often! You know I always enjoy your company,”  Ovie Agbogidi 11, the King of Otumara Kingdom said as Esiso stepped forward to pay homage to him in the large Audience Hall.

 “Your Highness.  Please forgive me. The harvest and other concerns of mine kept me too busy this period,” said Esiso.

 After the greeting, and the presentation of gifts and tributes to the King, Esiso stayed a while to chat with the King. They were old friends who had known each other long before the king had ascended the throne, when he was the heir.

 As they spoke, the King’s glance fell on Eki who stood quietly behind her father with the others in their group. “And who’s this beautiful damsel?  Come forward, my dear,” he beckoned on her.

Eki genuflected, then stood before the monarch, her head bowed demurely, her eyes not meeting his as it was forbidden for women to look directly at the king’s face.
Esiso did the introductions.

“This is my daughter, Eki.”
“Hmm.  Lovely,” said the monarch, his eyes inspecting her from head to toe like one would look at a very interesting object.

“Is she betrothed yet?” he asked Esiso.
“No, your Majesty. I’m working on it, though,” Esiso, said, uncomfortable at the direction the conversation was going.  He did not like the look in the old monarch’s eyes as he stared fixedly at his daughter.  It was a look of desire and lust he did not like.

“You should. She’s at the right age. Just ripe enough for plucking,” the king said, with a smile that revealed his tobacco-stained teeth.

“I do not see the Crown Prince in the Hall.  I hope he’s doing well,” said Esiso, trying to steer the conversation away from his daughter who had returned to her former position.

The King, whose eyes had been fixed on Eki as she walked away, turned to her father.
“He has been away to Ijere village to mediate in the land dispute between it and the neighbouring community.  He returned early this morning. He will be present during tomorrow’s ceremony,” he said.

 “That will be nice. I have a special gift I want to present to him.”
The ‘Uyere’ ended and the King together with the visiting Chiefs, and the King’s ministers, settled down to hold a council meeting. It was held at this time of the year to deliberate on matters pertaining to the Kingdom’s affairs and general wellbeing.

Eki and her older brother Brume, a strapping youth of nineteen, left the Audience Hall to wait for their father in the large courtyard.
Brume, who had just spied a friend of his from their village, said.

“Eki, wait for me here. Don’t go wandering about or Father will be cross with you!”  And he walked away. 

Sometime later, bored with waiting, Eki decided to take a walk round the palace grounds.  Near a large mango tree, its branches heavy with fruit, were some statues and sculptures of different figures and sizes.

 She stood in front of one of them, a bronze statue of a young girl carrying a clay pot on her head, her slim elegant waist bedecked with large coral beads.
It was so life-like, Eki felt water would splash from the pot onto the beautiful girl’s shoulders any minute and…

“Looks familiar, doesn’t it?” said a deep voice.
Her expressive eyes widened in surprise when she saw him.  It was the man she had encountered on the river road about a week before when her water pot had broken.

“You!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?“

Behind him stood three young men that looked like palace guards.

He smiled and drew closer. “I should be asking what you’re doing here in my…”    He paused. “Nice meeting you again.” He glanced down at her leg. “So, how’s your leg? Better I hope?”

She nodded, swinging her right foot a little. “Yes.”
 “That’s good.” He paused briefly.

 “Anyway, you like the statue? You were so engrossed in it,” the man said.
 Eki, her gaze fixed on the statue, said: “It is so real. It looks as if she would start walking any minute.”

 “You’re right. That’s the work of Igbinosa, the master bronze caster of Bini Kingdom. There are more of his works inside the Palace. Will you like to see them?” he asked.

“Is it allowed? I mean, there are some exclusive areas in this palace outsiders can’t enter…”

 “You can go anywhere here as long as you’re with me,” he assured her.
She looked at him a bit sceptically, then at the encouraging smile from him, shrugged and followed him.

They left the large courtyard and walked through a second gate on both sides of which were guards. These bowed to the man respectfully as they passed through.

Eki looked at him curiously.”Do you work in the palace? Are you a bodyguard?” she asked.
He gave her an enigmatic smile. “Something like that...”


  To be continued on Sunday. Watch out! Do have a lovely weekend.
 

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