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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...

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