Adaora froze. She couldn’t breathe. She had never seen anything to horrifying in all her years on earth. Even though her village had been raided, the slave traders had respected the dead bodies.
“How can I get this out of my mind? What did they do that deserved this cruel death?” Adaora clenched her nostrils with her fingers and stepped away.
Uli smiled. This was the opportunity that she had been waiting for.
“The people of Ezeudo and Amabara have always been one. But there was a great betrayal and this caused them to split. The people of Amabara and the land itself is cursed. This is the reason that we do not drink from our numerous rivers. It is the reason that fishes fail to thrive. Our farm lands are not productive. So we survive in slave trading…we take people from other lands and trade them. This curse can only be broken by your marriage to my brother…”
Adaora didn’t react. Uli hadn’t answered her question.
“Who are these people and why were they killed?” She pressed on.
Uli blinked the tears in her eyes away.
“For many years, my brother sent his men to search after the true moon virgin, the goddess of the sun and moon that would release us from the curse. Many of those girls were simply possessed by water and forest spirits. They had no power to set us free. He needed to kill each of them so he could marry the next one…He also killed the elders that stood in his way and my mother assisted him.”
Adaora felt sick. Fear welled up in her gut. Blood rushed in her veins. Blood pumped in her ears. She found it difficult to believe that a man like Chiemiele could do something like that because he had been so nice to her. But she brushed her thoughts aside, if he was such a nice king, why did he send his men after her?
“Are you saying that I will marry your brother?”
“Yes. You will marry him. It is your blood that would break the curse. You are to be sacrificed and thrown in this pit. Your death would be the last sacrifice. After a ritual of mourning for seven market days, the pit will be covered and the land would be free again.”
“No, no…that cannot be…” Adaora stepped away from Uli.
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“I know it is difficult for you to believe, but you must find a way of escape. My brother doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Do not be fooled by his charms.”
Unknown to the women, they were being watched. Efuru, the queen mother had eyes and ears in the palace. The spy crawled back to the palace to reveal her discovery.
“But the gods brought me here for a purpose. I will not leave until I find that purpose…”
Uli was appalled by Adaora’s stubbornness.
“Suit yourself then. But I will not shed a tear for you when you end in that pit.” Just as Uli was about to walk away, darkness covered her mind and she was immediately plunged into the spiritual realm. A golden dagger floated midair. Her mind’s eye regarded the dagger in a confused manner. She had never seen this knife before. Why had the spirits shown it to her?
“Uli?” Adaora called her gently.
When she heard her name in the physical, the vision disappeared and she was brought back to reality.
“Are you alright?” Adaora noticed the confused look in her eyes.
“Yes I am,” Uli whispered.
As they both returned to the palace, Uli couldn’t stop thinking about the golden dagger. What was that vision about?
Ikemba had called his chiefs to gather while they waited for Adaora to be presented to him. From the prophecy, she was the woman in his dreams. And by the gods, she was a very attractive woman. He couldn’t wait to set eyes on the woman that would break the curse that make him a mockery among men. He leaned against his iron throne and placed his legs on a little footstool.
While the chiefs engaged in a discussion about the king’s upcoming marriage to the special woman, all he could think of was her lovely face. How could he be so connected to someone that he had never seen before? He closed his eyes and was about to fantasize about her when the sound of wailing drew everyone’s attention away from Adaora to the direction of the wail.
It was the queen’s mother that reacted first. She rose to her feet and peered towards the entrance of the palace.
“It is Oriaku’s voice that I hear. She comes with your cousin, Chinedum.”
Without waste of time, the King rose from his throne and stepped outside the large hut with his guards closely behind him.
Chinedum, Oriaku and Okeke all bowed before the King.
“What happened? Where is my son’s wife?” The queen mother asked.
Ikemba ran his eyes over their faces carefully. His eyes touched with Chinedum’s, Oriaku’s, Okeke’s and his guards. He didn’t need the oracle of the gods to tell him that something had terribly gone wrong. He held his breath and controlled his emotions like he was supposed to. A king was a god. A king had no tears to shed.
Oriaku’s lips jittered as she sobbed. She blamed herself for Adaora’s predicament. If she had allowed the slave girl to live with her, maybe she wouldn’t have been kidnapped.
“I am so sorry my King, please forgive me.” She fell at his feet.
Ikemba didn’t move. He asked no questions.
“Chinedum…” He called his cousin calmly. He couldn’t let his voice betray him. He was terribly afraid of what could happen to Adaora. He knew it was weird to feel this way about someone that he had never seen, nevertheless he cared for her.
Okeke stepped forward and threw the pieces of the broken pot before the King. Ikemba’s hawk-like dark eyes gazed over the pieces, he couldn’t help but notice the blood stains.
“What happened to her?” He faced his cousin.
Chinedum felt horrible. He could see how disappointed the King was.
“Adaora went to the stream to fetch water. Okeke here had been around the stream as well. According to his account, she has been kidnapped by men in strainge loin apparels. From his description…”
Chinedum had not yet completed his narration when a fierce female voice joined.
“From his description, the men are warriors from Amabara.”
The voice was followed by jingly sounds which came from the shells and udala seeds attached to the staff of the oracle. The mouthpiece of the gods had arrived the palace with a sudden message. All eyes turned on her when she said this.
“Amabara?” Ikemba’s heart skipped.
He knew that Chiemelie hated him with a fierce rancor. Their fathers had never been friends. Ikemba was aware of the rift between the two kingdoms. It terrified him to know that Adaora was now at the mercy of Chiemelie.
“We must get her back!” Ikemba thundered.
“Yes, we have to…” Chinedum supported his decision.
The elders were quiet and so was his mother.
“No, we must not interfere with the ruling of the gods…” The oracle said.
The King’s brows rose up in question.
“Do the gods will us evil instead of good?”
“The gods will do what they please. She has gone to Amabara for a reason. Chiemelie is more dangerous than you see. He is more powerful than you are. He will win this battle through the blood of the virgin and the dagger of Ituri, the goddess of the moon.”
When they all heard this, their faces paled, for they had always considered Chiemelie a weak man.
“He has sold his soul to demon gods and he sates their appetite with blood. The moon virgin’s life will be taken for him to gain more powers.”
“I am tired of your negative prophecies. Show me something positive!” The King snapped at the priestess.
She dared to smile, “Your destinies are entwined. You and Adaora are meant to be but you are both cursed. It is only you that can help her. It is only she that will help you…”
Ikemba bit his lip angrily. Why couldn’t she go straight to the point?
“How do I rescue her and conquer Chiemelie?”
The oracle stopped laughing and began to read the stars in the sky. When she was done communing with the sky spirits, she lowered her eyes to the earth crust and observed. Her lips moved in sacred communication. Quickly, she dug a hand into her pocket and cast seven cowries upon the ground.
“You!” She pointed at Chinedum.
“You have a traitor in your bosom! But the gods shall reward you with someone loyal, only be patient and wise.”
Her eyes were filled with pity as she stared at Oriaku, for her end was near.
She packed the cowries and held them at the King’s face.
“You must find the dagger of the moon goddess before Chiemelie gets to it. He already has the moon virgin. With her blood and the knife, he will create a dark spell that would plunge Ezeudo into darkness and for the release of Amabara. With this dagger dipped into Adaora’s blood, you will be rendered powerless.”
Ikemba clenched his teeth, “What is this dagger and how do I find it?”
The oracle laughed, “Once there was a time that the gods walked upon the earth. The goddess of the moon, Ituri, had chosen to inhabit these paths with Idemili, the river god. When humans became much and grew to wise, the gods began their ascent and descent to the godly places. Ituri left her golden dagger behind. It is only the moon virgin that will lead you to the dagger…this is the reason that Chiemelie had searched desperately for her.”
“Does it mean that he knows the location of the dagger?” Chinedum asked.
The oracle swirled round and turned her back to them.
“If he knew, he wouldn’t need the moon virgin. And I wouldn’t be here.”
To be continued…