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Wu.Z

Ireland

Hello there! I'm a seventeen year old aspiring author or screenwriter and as curious as a new born kitten.

Hope

December 15, 2018

 
I heard the news that morning. More than half the nation was in mourning because the King of Xavia had passed away in the night. In other words, my father passed away.
    The king's guards had arrived at our door at around six. They took me into the kitchen and told me what happened. It had been in his sleep. The doctors were called and tried to do everything they could but it was too late. His heart had stopped. They offered their condolences and allowed Ma Osa, her daughters, and David who had arrived from the next room to come in and see me. Ma Osa took me in her arms holding me, Judith and Winter held my hands and stroked my hair while David, my personal guard, talked silently to the other guards who were looking nervously in my direction.
   In all of this, I didn't seem to feel anything. Sure there were a few tears in my eyes from the shock of it all but they quickly disappeared. I suppose you can't feel that much about a person who you haven't seen in almost ten years.
"Your mother wished to come and tell you", said one of the guards fiddling with a letter in his hand, "But she realized the danger."
I nodded in understanding. These were dangerous times. Even more so now after what has happened. He handed the card to me his eyes filled with sympathy. Now the tears began to surface.
"I want to read it alone please", I breathed holding the letter to my chest.
"Of course your highness", replied the guard bowing and nodded to his partner to leave with him.  Your Highness. I hadn't heard that in ages but I recognized the writing on the card instantly. I'd seen it so many times before. I turned around and saw that I was alone. They were all in the sitting room.
 I heaved in a breath and sat down on a stool. I traced the cursive writing on the envelope, tore it open then pulled out the letter...

To my dearest Imotenya,
By the time you get this, you will have probably heard the news about your father. I'm so sorry you couldn't be at his side during his final moments but you know how the situation is. Why you couldn't be with us in the first place. He spoke of nothing but you. I know from your letters that Ma Osa is treating you very well and that David is keeping a firm eye on you but it's time for you to come home now. I wish I could put it off but the advisers said that we demonstrate a show a power to the rebels.
  
  I froze at the mention of the rebels. The reason why I couldn't be with my family. The reason why this kingdom was in turmoil. I swallowed then continued with the letter…

They need to see that the kingdoms new hope is unafraid. I'm so worried though. They were as far as the city just last week and if they breach the palace, God knows what could happen. But I hope for the best and count my blessings. I will get to see you again. I suppose you've grown so beautiful. Will you still recognize your dear mama?  I've entrusted you to the king's own guards for protection and of course, you have David, for your journey to the palace. Have a safe journey home my love and I'll see you soon. I love you.
From Mother

That's when the floodgates broke out.I pushed it clumsily back into the envelope for fear that my tears would wash off the ink. I loved my mother and from what I read from her letters, she loved me too but did she know me. I hadn't seen her or the palace in almost 10 years, not counting the time Ma Osa took us to Beni City for the annual parade near the palace.
   Ma Osa, Judith, Winter, David. They were the only real family I'd known for most of my life. This was the only life I'd known. Now I'd have to leave it for some palace under threat to take a role that I wasn't even sure I was prepared to take.
  "Aria?" I turned to see David peering round the door. "We need to speak with you." I certainly did not want to speak to them. I already knew what they were about to say.
"We have to leave now", I said, "Don't we." My guard's silence spoke volumes. "Well tell them we're not going."
"Ria, we have to …"
"No, we don't !", I snapped locking eyes with him. He made a few steps towards me and reached for my shoulders. A gesture that always seemed to quell me out of my foulest of moods but not today. I jerked back almost falling off my stool. "Have you not heard of the threats in and around the palace and you all want to throw me into all that!"
"Aria, the kingdom needs you!", David yelled back. Then he backed away slightly. I was a little stunned at that outburst.  Not because technically I outranked him but because there were only two times when he really yelled at me. Once was when I lay down in the middle of the road and tried to see how quickly I could get up before I got ran over. The second time was when I almost stabbed myself while fiddling with his ceremonial sword. The things those two had in common was that I was doing something really stupid.
He took a breath and ran a hand quickly through his short hair. "I'm sorry your highness", he said calmly, "But people everywhere are worried. Right now nobody is sure who is the heir. Many believe you're dead."
I shivered. And many more want me dead.
"They need to see that stability can resume for the kingdom. They need to see that there's hope for us still." Hope. New hope. That's what my mother had called me in her letter. That's what I had to be. It was my duty. Whether I wanted it or not.
I sighed and got up. "Okay. We'll go."
David looked relieved as if he knew that if I didn't agree he would have to drag me out of the house pulling and screaming until we got to the palace.
"Hey", he whispered stooping down to my level which even at 15 going on 16 was quite low. "Security been increased and I'll be with you just I have been all these years little dove." I chuckled a little. That endearment which to me was an oxymoron was a favorite of David's from the moment when I was thrust into his arms for protection at age 5.  I began to feel a bit guilty. For all my tantrums, stubbornness and rebellious nature, David had always been by my side. A part of me knew that this was his duty as a guard but another part felt like he actually liked me. Not as a monarch, or protectorate but as a friend.
  He smiled too but then his expression grew slightly somber. "I'm sorry about your father", he said looking truly sorry for me, "And I'm sorry that I'm only telling you that now." I chuckled again.
"It's alright, you had things to discuss. I understand."  He nodded and moved to hug me but the kitchen door opened with the guard almost falling in.
   "Your Highness", he breathed quickly, "It is best that we leave as soon as possible."
I and David nodded and made our way out to where Judith and Winter were sweeping and Ma Osa was sitting down but got up once she saw me. She looked stricken. I ran into her arms again, my face pressed against her chest. I hadn't even considered how Ma Osa would feel at my leaving. She had basically raised me alongside her own children. She was strong, so loving, I almost felt bad at leaving. I turned to the door and saw Judith and Winter standing there, brooms in hand, with the same expression as their mother. Ma Osa let go of me and dried her eyes with the edge of her apron. "Winnie find a bag for Aria."  Winter ran in towards the cupboard while Judith came in and pushed me towards the bathroom. "Wash quickly", she said then made her way to our shared bedroom.
  I brushed my teeth and poured water from the shower into the bucket. It was cold as we didn't have time to boil water. Not many had hot water in Sapele. I used a bowl to splash water over my body. I wanted to forgo the soap but then I remembered I was going to the palace. I suppose I was to make a decent impression. I got out and wrapped myself in the nearest towel then rushed to our bedroom.
  Judith and Winter were there Judith pulling out some of my clothes and Winter holding an old suitcase. " Winnie, you found it", I gasped looking at the little black thing. It was the same suitcase that I brought with me ten years ago.
"Yes", giggled Winter, "I'm sure it can hold everything you have." That was a no-brainer. I had a scare number of clothes, some trinkets and a few books on politics and history that I had never read. "I can't believe you're going to the palace!", she continued excitedly.
"Of course she is", snapped Judith, "It's where her family is."
I pulled Winter towards me softly. She's a sweet little thing and was just a baby when I first met her.
"We're your family too", she said indignantly looking at Judith then turned back to me with her wide eyes. "Right?"
I laughed. "Yes, you are. You're the daughter of my mother's father's third wife's sister's daughter."
"And what's that in English?", sniffed Judith suppressing a smile. She had seemed so cold and grown up in the last few years so I was glad when she still engaged in our inside jokes.
 There was a knock on our door. Winter answered and Ma Osa stepped in. "Are you finished?", she asked and noticed our sheepish expressions and the empty suitcase. She just ignored us and I noticed she had a  clothing wrap. "It's for you Aria."
I took it, unzipped it and gasped with what I saw. It was a black dress. A mourning dress.
    I sighed a little. I had almost forgotten the actual reason I had to go to the palace. I fingered the black tulle that billowed at the ends with velvet roses at the sleeves.
"It's beautiful", whispered Judith, "Even though it's black." Winter stared at the dress utterly awestruck. It was probably the most opulent thing she had ever seen in her life and this was just a mourning dress. I put it on and relished the feel of it against my skin.  Ma Osa, Judith, and Winter looked at me sweetly. "You look like a princess", she said rushing to hug me. "No my dear", said Ma Osa fondly, "She is a princess."




                        




 
                                                                Chapter 2

I didn't really have to pack anything as I'd be measured for new clothes when we got to the palace and all books and other things I might need would be provided but I packed a scarf given to me by Ma Osa, my bundle of letters and my sun necklace, a gift from my mother. Ma Osa had packed me some food for the journey as well.
 I dragged my suitcase out with the help of Judith as Winter came out behind us.
  We were met with a limousine flanked by two Bentleys. We gasped. Even though I came here in a limousine I was still thrilled to see one right outside my door. The guards stood by one Bentley and David against the sleek vehicle. It brought back how real the situation was now. I turned to my foster family. They embraced me in an intimate hug that I didn't want to leave. We pulled back eventually but Winter held onto my hand.
 "Promise me", she whimpered, "That you'll write, tell me everything won't you?"
"I will", I said to her and to Judith who tried to hide the tears in her eyes. She, like her mother, was tough. She squeezed my shoulder and bent down towards my ear. "I'm sure you can do it", she whispered, "Be a princess I mean."
 My shoulders tensed a bit. "I hope so." She let go of me and smiled.
  I moved towards the car giving the driver my suitcase then looked at the house that had been my home all these years. The small windows with the homemade curtains, the soot-stained walls, the stray nails that stuck out at odd places and small grasses that grew by the doorway. I'd miss this place.  
"Your Highness." I heard a voice behind me. It was the driver holding open the door of the limo to me. I breathed slowly. Here we go. I stepped into the limo and David slid into the seats opposite me. They were made of soft black leather with golden threads. I looked out the window and watched my foster family waving at me. I waved back as the driver slipped into his seat and the guards got into their car.  
 We began to drive out of the compound while Winnie ran after the limo her little legs looking like they were flying until she and the house and Judy and Ma Osa were far in the distance but I continued waving as if that would keep them closer. We drove through the sandy streets where shops were starting to open and people were sweeping their storefronts and the fronts of houses. Some people looked up and gave us some waves and cheers at the prospect of seeing a royal entourage. It was probably the most interesting thing they'd seen since palm wine. A man in wrapper with a toothbrush still in his mouth came running out of a backyard shouting after us. "Long live the king."
    I sighed sadly. Did anyone else not know yet?
"I don't think the newspapers have been sent out", said David probably reading my mind, "Besides it's Sapele they'd probably be the last to know if the world was ending."
I laughed. That was true. If not because of my distant family being here Sapele was a good place to hide. It was a small rural village where everyone was happy in their small corner of the world and almost could afford to be oblivious to what went on on the other side of the ‘Goodbye Sapele' sign that we had just passed.  
"There are bread and mineral in the cooler", the driver said looking at us through the mirror.
"Thank you", I replied remembering that we had skipped breakfast.  He smiled putting up the glass between the driver's seat and the passenger seats.
 I pulled a small lever and out popped a selection of fizzy drinks and bottles of water. I took a bottle that said ‘sparkling water' then looked at David staring pensively out the window then took out another one.
"Here", I offered him the bottle. He took it silently with a grin.
"Thank you, your highness."
I sighed. "It's just me."
"Well, it won't be when we're at the palace, so we better start getting used to it."
That alerted me to something.  
"You'll still be my guard right?"
"Of course", he answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, "It's what I was trained to do wasn't it."
"Was herding cattle and farming part of your training too?", I quipped.
While in Sapele, David had worked on our neighbor's small plot of land to be close to me.
"Not really," he shrugged, "Just something I picked up along life."
   David's family was well off enough and I think was in business, not agriculture. That job was reserved for him as the youngest of eight brothers. Most of them went into the business field while others joined the army. David was only fourteen as he'd told me when he arrived at the palace to be the king's attendant.  After a few months, he got assigned to be my guard. He had confided to me himself on how he didn't understand why I was not assigned someone older and more experienced but he said that with what he had demonstrated, he was the best candidate not even mentioning the fact he would not be recognized as being from the palace.
   The road was wide and open with an abundance of trees and red sand, hitting potholes constantly. We passed the tiny village of Mosalgar where we had gone swimming last summer. Ma Osa's oldest son Koda came as well with his wife and children and Uncle Philip we made a whole day of it. I began to feel nostalgic. With all the prestige at the palace would I be happy there?
"David, did you like being at the palace?",I asked looking at him intently. He turned to me and smiled. "You've lived there for five years", he said but then his face fell a bit when he saw my expression, "You don't remember it ?"
"Not really. We don't talk about it that much", I said, " But I suppose things would have changed by now anyway."
"You're right", he replied, "Unless the rebel attacks have been understated."
"Have you ever been involved with the rebels?" David bit his lip and looked out the window again.
"Yes. There were attacks when we were there. Ever since the law change."
The law change. Where all our problems began.
David looked relieved as if he knew that if I didn't agree he would have to drag me out of the house pulling and screaming until we got to the palace.
"Hey", he whispered stooping down to my level which even at 15 going on 16 was quite low. "Security been increased and I'll be with you just I have been all these years little dove." I chuckled a little. That endearment which to me was an oxymoron was a favorite of David's from the moment when I was thrust into his arms for protection at age 5.  I began to feel a bit guilty. For all my tantrums, stubbornness and rebellious nature, David had always been by my side. A part of me knew that this was his duty as a guard but another part felt like he actually liked me. Not as a monarch, or protectorate but as a friend.
  He smiled too but then his expression grew slightly somber. "I'm sorry about your father", he said looking truly sorry for me, "And I'm sorry that I'm only telling you that now." I chuckled again.
"It's alright, you had things to discuss. I understand."  He nodded and moved to hug me but the kitchen door opened with the guard almost falling in.
   "Your Highness", he breathed quickly, "It is best that we leave as soon as possible."
I and David nodded and made our way out to where Judith and Winter were sweeping and Ma Osa was sitting down but got up once she saw me. She looked stricken. I ran into her arms again, my face pressed against her chest. I hadn't even considered how Ma Osa would feel at my leaving. She had basically raised me alongside her own children. She was strong, so loving, I almost felt bad at leaving. I turned to the door and saw Judith and Winter standing there, brooms in hand, with the same expression as their mother. Ma Osa let go of me and dried her eyes with the edge of her apron. "Winnie find a bag for Aria."  Winter ran in towards the cupboard while Judith came in and pushed me towards the bathroom. "Wash quickly", she said then made her way to our shared bedroom.
  I brushed my teeth and poured water from the shower into the bucket. It was cold as we didn't have time to boil water. Not many had hot water in Sapele. I used a bowl to splash water over my body. I wanted to forgo the soap but then I remembered I was going to the palace. I suppose I was to make a decent impression. I got out and wrapped myself in the nearest towel then rushed to our bedroom.
  Judith and Winter were there Judith pulling out some of my clothes and Winter holding an old suitcase. " Winnie, you found it", I gasped looking at the little black thing. It was the same suitcase that I brought with me ten years ago.
"Yes", giggled Winter, "I'm sure it can hold everything you have." That was a no-brainer. I had a scare number of clothes, some trinkets and a few books on politics and history that I had never read. "I can't believe you're going to the palace!", she continued excitedly.
"Of course she is", snapped Judith, "It's where her family is."
I pulled Winter towards me softly. She's a sweet little thing and was just a baby when I first met her.
"We're your family too", she said indignantly looking at Judith then turned back to me with her wide eyes. "Right?"
I laughed. "Yes, you are. You're the daughter of my mother's father's third wife's sister's daughter."
"And what's that in English?", sniffed Judith suppressing a smile. She had seemed so cold and grown up in the last few years so I was glad when she still engaged in our inside jokes.
 There was a knock on our door. Winter answered and Ma Osa stepped in. "Are you finished?", she asked and noticed our sheepish expressions and the empty suitcase. She just ignored us and I noticed she had a  clothing wrap. "It's for you Aria."
I took it, unzipped it and gasped with what I saw. It was a black dress. A mourning dress.
    I sighed a little. I had almost forgotten the actual reason I had to go to the palace. I fingered the black tulle that billowed at the ends with velvet roses at the sleeves.
"It's beautiful", whispered Judith, "Even though it's black." Winter stared at the dress utterly awestruck. It was probably the most opulent thing she had ever seen in her life and this was just a mourning dress. I put it on and relished the feel of it against my skin.  Ma Osa, Judith, and Winter looked at me sweetly. "You look like a princess", she said rushing to hug me. "No my dear", said Ma Osa fondly, "She is a princess.”
                        




 
                                                                Chapter 2

I didn't really have to pack anything as I'd be measured for new clothes when we got to the palace and all books and other things I might need would be provided but I packed a scarf given to me by Ma Osa, my bundle of letters and my sun necklace, a gift from my mother. Ma Osa had packed me some food for the journey as well.
 I dragged my suitcase out with the help of Judith as Winter came out behind us.
  We were met with a limousine flanked by two Bentleys. We gasped. Even though I came here in a limousine I was still thrilled to see one right outside my door. The guards stood by one Bentley and David against the sleek vehicle. It brought back how real the situation was now. I turned to my foster family. They embraced me in an intimate hug that I didn't want to leave. We pulled back eventually but Winter held onto my hand.
 "Promise me", she whimpered, "That you'll write, tell me everything won't you?"
"I will", I said to her and to Judith who tried to hide the tears in her eyes. She, like her mother, was tough. She squeezed my shoulder and bent down towards my ear. "I'm sure you can do it", she whispered, "Be a princess I mean."
 My shoulders tensed a bit. "I hope so." She let go of me and smiled.
  I moved towards the car giving the driver my suitcase then looked at the house that had been my home all these years. The small windows with the homemade curtains, the soot-stained walls, the stray nails that stuck out at odd places and small grasses that grew by the doorway. I'd miss this place.  
"Your Highness." I heard a voice behind me. It was the driver holding open the door of the limo to me. I breathed slowly. Here we go. I stepped into the limo and David slid into the seats opposite me. They were made of soft black leather with golden threads. I looked out the window and watched my foster family waving at me. I waved back as the driver slipped into his seat and the guards got into their car.  
 We began to drive out of the compound while Winnie ran after the limo her little legs looking like they were flying until she and the house and Judy and Ma Osa were far in the distance but I continued waving as if that would keep them closer. We drove through the sandy streets where shops were starting to open and people were sweeping their storefronts and the fronts of houses. Some people looked up and gave us some waves and cheers at the prospect of seeing a royal entourage. It was probably the most interesting thing they'd seen since palm wine. A man in wrapper with a toothbrush still in his mouth came running out of a backyard shouting after us. "Long live the king."
    I sighed sadly. Did anyone else not know yet?
"I don't think the newspapers have been sent out", said David probably reading my mind, "Besides it's Sapele they'd probably be the last to know if the world was ending."
I laughed. That was true. If not because of my distant family being here Sapele was a good place to hide. It was a small rural village where everyone was happy in their small corner of the world and almost could afford to be oblivious to what went on on the other side of the ‘Goodbye Sapele' sign that we had just passed.  
"There are bread and mineral in the cooler", the driver said looking at us through the mirror.
"Thank you", I replied remembering that we had skipped breakfast.  He smiled putting up the glass between the driver's seat and the passenger seats.
 I pulled a small lever and out popped a selection of fizzy drinks and bottles of water. I took a bottle that said ‘sparkling water' then looked at David staring pensively out the window then took out another one.
"Here", I offered him the bottle. He took it silently with a grin.
"Thank you, your highness."
I sighed. "It's just me."
"Well, it won't be when we're at the palace, so we better start getting used to it."
That alerted me to something.  
"You'll still be my guard right?"
"Of course", he answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, "It's what I was trained to do wasn't it."
"Was herding cattle and farming part of your training too?", I quipped.
While in Sapele, David had worked on our neighbor's small plot of land to be close to me.
"Not really," he shrugged, "Just something I picked up along life."
   David's family was well off enough and I think was in business, not agriculture. That job was reserved for him as the youngest of eight brothers. Most of them went into the business field while others joined the army. David was only fourteen as he'd told me when he arrived at the palace to be the king's attendant.  After a few months, he got assigned to be my guard. He had confided to me himself on how he didn't understand why I was not assigned someone older and more experienced but he said that with what he had demonstrated, he was the best candidate not even mentioning the fact he would not be recognized as being from the palace.
   The road was wide and open with an abundance of trees and red sand, hitting potholes constantly. We passed the tiny village of Mosalgar where we had gone swimming last summer. Ma Osa's oldest son Koda came as well with his wife and children and Uncle Philip we made a whole day of it. I began to feel nostalgic. With all the prestige at the palace would I be happy there?
"David, did you like being at the palace?",I asked looking at him intently. He turned to me and smiled. "You've lived there for five years", he said but then his face fell a bit when he saw my expression, "You don't remember it ?"
"Not really. We don't talk about it that much", I said, " But I suppose things would have changed by now anyway."
"You're right", he replied, "Unless the rebel attacks have been understated."
"Have you ever been involved with the rebels?" David bit his lip and looked out the window again.
"Yes. There were attacks when we were there. Ever since the law change."
The law change. Where all our problems began.
Ever since the start of the monarchy, only a male heir could take the throne. That's why in the past kings had many wives to increase the chance of having a boy.  When I was a born my mother demanded that the law be changed. She thought it unfair that because of my gender I'd lose my birthright. There was a lot of disputes and agreements but eventually, Princess Imotenya Aria Accra was the heir apparent.  
 Of course, this revolutionary action split the nation. Literally. Many Chiefs left the council and started rebellions against all that Xavia stands for not to talk of the nearest male relative, my Uncle Lucky that was cheated out of his chance of the crown. So basically my so-called birthright has put a blazing target on my back especially after the time my nursery in the palace mysteriously caught on fire. Everyone suspected it was Uncle Lucky. That was why I had to live away from the palace. For my own protection. Until today.
I was starting to feel a little sleepy even though at this time of the day everyone would be awake.
"You can lie down if you want", said David kindly, pulling out a blanket from another compartment.
"Can I move next to you?", I asked looking earnest. David didn't look so sure at this.
"I don't think that would be appropriate…"
"Please."
He pursed his lips then motioned to the seat next to him. I took off my seat belt and moved beside him. I leaned my head against his shoulder as I had done so many times before and he tucked the blanket up to my neck. Soon after that, I fell asleep.



                                            



                                                                Chapter 3
"Ria? We're almost there."
My eyelids fluttered at the sound of David's voice. He removed his arm that had been around my shoulder for a while and that was enough to prompt me to sit up, the blanket falling to the floor.
 I looked out and saw that we had finally entered Beni city. The sand was redder, the buildings were taller and everything seemed much more elaborate. As we drove through the city I sensed a somber atmosphere throughout. I caught sight of some newspaper vendors. The story must be out now. The king's death.  We drove past the Oba's market and the museum then there it was.
 The palace.
It's high orange gates stood out amongst the cream walls. There were gold images along some of the walls of lions. The gates opened and we drove inside. I saw that the sand inside the gates seemed lighter than that on the Beni roads. There were other buildings inside the grounds as well. I recognized them vaguely from what I saw on tv and from memory.
There was the administrative building to the left where all the offices were and where the king received visitors and in the past made judgments.
  Further down was a post office, a school, and even a zoo. I wondered if I had been raised in the palace would that school be where I got my education.
 We came to a space that was bound off by red rope marked ‘Royal'. The other car stopped in a space beside us. The driver got out and opened the back door.
"Your Highness", he bowed with an outstretched hand. I took it. This would take some getting used to. David followed and looked around cautiously. Once he was sure we were safe he nodded to the driver.
"Have a good day your highness", he said with a humble smile.
"And to you", I replied. With that, he walked towards the direction of the administration chambers.
 The other guards had gotten out as well and were standing still as if awaiting orders.
"Let's go", David said authoritatively to the guards. Without a word, they positioned themselves right in front of us and we moved in the direction of what I remembered as the royal family living quarters. My new home.
  Two bronze lions were perched on either side of the door, bronze being our country's national stone. Inside there was an abundance of silver ornaments as well as wooden masks, ivory tusks and ornate jewelry pieces. If this was the main hall, I wondered what the actual rooms would look like. Some guards were on patrol through the hall and a few maids were sweeping and polishing the decor but all activity seemed to halt as soon as they saw me. The maids bowed down low and some of the guards saluted. It felt strange being in a room where everyone was paying homage to me. I just smiled and followed the two guards in front of me. I heard a maid behind me say "She's so little" while another hummed in agreement. I wanted to turn around but then thought that would make things more nerve-wracking than they were already.
 We approached a parlor at the end of the corridor. Potted hibiscus stood on either side and  I could hear the sound of chatter from inside. I turned to David and he gave me a look saying ‘it's alright'.  
One guard knocked at the door and an almost inaudible ‘enter' came. He pushed open the door and he stepped inside saying "My queen, she's here." He gestured for us to follow him when he and his partner stood on either side of the door as if they were there the whole time.
  The room was not as embellished as the main hall but there was a touch of class that made you stare in awe. But I didn't. I didn't because standing in front of me was a woman in a black dress like mine only more ornate. Her hair was held up by black beads as well that under normal circumstances would be a deep orange.
A silence passed between us before she ran to hug me.
"Imotenya", she whispered her voice breaking holding me tight, "You're home."
 I breathed in her soft vanilla scent and exquisite soap that put my homemade lump to shame.
"Hello mother", I squeaked into her shoulder relishing this moment. Sure, Ma Osa gave me hugs occasionally but it wasn't the same as having the person who gave birth to you, who was meant to love you unconditionally hug you. It just felt natural even if you haven't seen them in almost forever.
 She pulled back almost reluctantly as if realizing that we were not alone. She caught sight of David and reached out for his hand. He came over and went down on one knee reverently.
"Thank you", mother said sounding more queenlike, "For my daughter."
He just bowed his head in such a humble and sweet manner.
"It was my honor to be of service to the king", he replied then looked at me, "And to be in the company of such a charming young girl."
I would have blushed if my checks were light enough.
Mother just nodded and gestured for the guards and David got up to leave.
"David wait", I called before he could walk out the door. He turned and I walked towards him giving him a hug. He returned it almost as tightly as mother had to me.
"Tell me I'll see you around soon", I pressed. I might have had my mother but that didn't mean I wouldn't want a more familiar face around.
He quirked an eyebrow. "Do you want to see me?"
"Yes."
"Then you will little dove." He let go of me with a wink and one final bow to the queen and left the room.
I turned to my mother who was seated on a chaise. I noticed that there were two other women in the room who had remained silent throughout our reunion. One sat on a stool in dressed in mourning robes that almost swallowed her up. Tiny glasses were perched on her nose and she was sewing what looked like a quilt. The other seemed about my mother's age also in black clothing but hers was more form-fitting and would be suitable for everyday use if the color black wasn't banned at the palace. She smiled at me with a glass in her hand.
"So this her", she said putting her glass down and came up to me giving me a hug.  
Who was she? I didn't recognize her at all.
"Welcome home my dear", she said kissing my cheeks. I stepped back a little. "You don't remember me do you?" She smiled cheerfully dragging me to the chaise mother had gotten up from.
"How could she",  gruffed the other woman still not looking up from her work, "She was still being carried when she last was here."
So Madam smile and Madam quilt somehow knew me when I was last here.
Mother sat down next to me while Madam smile took a sip from her glass. "Imotenya", she said stroking my hair, "These are your aunties."
   She pointed to Madam quilt and introduced "Auntie Osoye" who just grunted turning over her quilt. She gestured to Madam smile and said: "Auntie Ayela"  who grinned taking a longer sip of her drink that I began to notice was wine. Maybe that was what was causing her to smile so much under the circumstances.
"So", my mother began, "How was your journey, my love?"
"To be honest I was asleep for most of it."
"Eh? You didn't eat?", Auntie Ayela squeaked raising her hand and spilling her drink, "She must have something!"
As if on cue my stomach growled then she stepped into the hallway shouting "Maid maid! Ask the kitchen to make lunch!"
  She flounced back in and sat down eventually on another stool that was positioned right beside me. There was something on my mind that had been nagging on me from the moment I stepped into the palace.
"Mama, baba is he…?"
She stiffened slightly and looked away from me.
"He's been washed but he's still in his room", said Auntie Osoye solemnly looking at me with a sorry expression, the only bit of emotion I had seen in her so far.
"Can I see him?", I asked already getting up. Mother tried to hold me back.
"I don't think so. Not after your journey."
"Please mama."
 My aunties were giving her the same imploring look. She sighed and got up and took my hand. My aunties got up in respect as my mother and I left the room. We went up the stairs to the first floor where the royal chambers stood. A red rug was on the ground its tone contrasting the ombre color of the walls. It was beautiful.
  As we came to baba's room a line of guards stood outside their brown khaki pants and red shirts similar to those worn by the guards that brought me to the palace.
  They nodded solemnly in turn before we went inside.
The room was huge. Kingsized I expect with a large dining table and a rifle cabinet on the wall. A large canopy bed stood in the middle where my father lay.
 He was wearing a white agbada which was sewn with gold and green treads. There was a were emerald beads around his neck with a gold pendant at his chest. There was a white hat on his head and the simple brown sandals on his feet gave off an old-school vibe.
 He looked so regal. So strong. Even in death.
 I couldn't stop myself. I wanted to be strong and if I couldn't be at least I should look strong like baba always did.
But I couldn't.
 Instead, I wept. I clung to the bedpost as mother came over and held me. I heard her own muffled sobs as she whispered "It's alright, it's alright. We're going to find."
We're.
In all this, I hadn't even considered how she must be feeling right now. She'd lost her husband at a time of complete uproar. She needed me almost as much as the kingdom did.
I wouldn't think of the kingdom or the rebels or anything right now.
All that mattered now was being here to support my family.



















                                        

                                                            Chapter 4

Lunch was in the dining room. The one in the living quarters that was only used for members of the royal family and close personal guests.
  To be honest I don't remember ever being in this room. Perhaps I was too young to sit at a table which I wouldn't find hard to believe. Even now I still prefer something quick rather than actually sitting down for a meal but that didn't mean that I wasn't absolutely relishing the egusi soup and iyan.
   I always took part in making meals in Sapele. I knew that the fluffy clumps were the main attraction in egusi so that's why I always added egg whites and fried the seeds beforehand.  Another thing I'd miss about Sapele was cooking. Here there were servants for that.
 "How is Ma Osa?", mother asked causing to drop my freshly rolled iyan into the soup.
"They're well", I replied,"but they seemed sad that I had to leave so soon."
"They're sad because of the money they're losing so soon", scoffed Auntie Osoye taking a sip of  water, "They're not expecting more I hope, now that the girl is gone."
"Money?", I asked.
"You think taking care of royalty is cheap? If you couldn't live in the palace you might as well have certain standards."
  "They spent the money on you right?", mother asked worriedly, "They didn't use it to buy stock for that shop of theirs?"
"No."  Not that I had a clue. As far as I was concerned I had three meals a day, had clothes on my back and had weekly tutoring sessions.  I was satisfied.
  "When's the burial?", I questioned mother determined to change the topic from my foster family.
 "I haven't organized that yet", she said and I could see a few tears at the corner of her eye and almost felt guilty, "but I suppose it will be sometime next month."
 I nodded and we continued the rest of the meal in silence, Auntie Ayela getting tired of wine and downing water.
  "Would it be alright to go to my room to rest for a bit?" I asked mother.
  "Of course", she said, "I'll take you there myself."
   She got from her seat and me and my aunties followed. I wondered what it was like having your every step mimicked by those deemed beneath you.
  My Aunties went back to the sitting room while I and my mother went back upstairs.
Winter always wanted to live in a house with a staircase so she can slide down on it like they do in those old movies. I'd have to include the staircase in any letters I write to her.
 We were on the third floor and we came to a mahogany door. "Here we are", mother announced opening the door and my mouth dropped open.  I thought baba's room was large but this was mine.
A large bed stood at the corner with a lampstand on either side. A set of double doors which led to the balcony was at the right. I had a desk and table with an adjacent bookshelf.  
  The room had a bathroom as well as an actual bath.
Forgetting all decorum, I ran inside and opened a red tap. I couldn't believe it.
Hot water from the tap! I laughed looking around at the water closet and the cabinet above the sink. Most people in Sapele used a room with a hole in the ground and even if they had a toilet, it was broken. I tried this one and the swirling water astounded me.  
 Grinning like an idiot I turned to my mother who just smiled sadly. "Oh Imotenya, you would have had so much."
"I have so much already", I bounded back into the room. I'm definitely including this room in my letters.
"It was only cleaned a few days ago but if you want to change anything, the paint, the bed you just ask your maids."
"My maids."
Mother turned as if forgetting something and pressed a button near the door. No sooner had she done that, three girls scurried into the room bowing before the queen.
"Ma'am", they greeted in unison.
"Imotenya", mother began, " These are your maids, Hanah…"
She pointed to the one whose hair was tied in a bun and her face boasted years of experience who for some reason, I seemed to recognize.
"S
"Miracle…"
She pointed to a pretty girl with braids who seemed to bounce on her feet.
"And Petal."
She pointed to a slight thing with a measuring tape in her hand who smiled shyly at me.
"We were working on her highness's new wardrobe ma'am", said Hanah, "But we didn't know her size..."
"But we found some temporary outfits", interrupted Miracle brightly and she bounced to the wardrobe.
Some was a bit of an understatement. Sure a few of the outfits were black for the mourning period but there were bright colored blouses and flowing skirts and a couple of dresses.  There was a drawer for shoes which were some version of heels and even one for jewelry namely the ceremonial orange beads. I was so entranced by it all that I almost didn't hear Petal's tiny "Your Highness? May I take your measurements please ?"
I shrugged, "Sure."
She nodded holding out the measuring tape around my waist, along my shoulders and arms and then measured my height all while calling out the numbers to Hanah who jotted them down in her notebook while Miracle re-arranged the pillows on the bed. These girls seemed to be very familiar with their work here. I wonder if they were trained especially for this like I was trained to be a princess.
 "Okay we're done", said Petal placing the tape measure in the pocket of her uniform.
  Mother got up from her place at my desk and came to kiss me on the forehead.
 "I'll see you later my dear", she whispered stroking my hair then inspecting the unruly curls.
 "Something will have to be done with your hair of course."
    I wrinkled my nose at that. My hair seemed fine to me if a little long. It was mother who was so opposed to me having it cut in the first place. I felt like a Nazarite.
"We'll come up with something your majesty", said Hanah looking over my hair picturing what would suit me.                                                                                                                                                                         
"Well I should get back to work", mother announced walking towards the door, "I will come to check on you later but your maids will assist you with anything you need."
"Thank you mother," I said getting onto my bed. So it didn't just look soft.
 Mother smiled and left down the hall leaving me alone with my maids. They were just standing there patiently and I had almost forgotten that they were probably expecting me to order them around.
  "Is the room to your satisfaction princess?", asked Hanah.
 "Yes it's perfect", I replied relishing the silken sheets.
"Would do like to change into something more comfortable princess?", questioned Miracle already making a beeline for the wardrobe.
"No, I'm alright."
"Is there anything else you need princess?", squeaked Petal.
I was seeing a pattern here.
"Um, no need to call me princess."
The women turn to each anxiously and then curtsey saying "Sorry your highness."
"No, no, no." I get up from my bed. So much for getting to relax. "You can call me Aria."
"Mistress Aria?", said, Miracle.
"Just Aria."
"But that wouldn't be proper", scolded Hanah. She definitely was at the palace for a long time.
I sigh, "I'm just Aria when we're alone okay?"
Hannah looked uncertain but Miracle and Petal seemed quite receptive to the change.
" You may go now."
"But her majesty said we were to make sure  at least one of us stayed with you at all times."
For pity's sake!
    "Well there are guards outside and I'll lock the balcony door." Providing it actually locks.
    "Aria I don't think…"
    "What if I'm ordering you leave?"
     They looked at each other again before curtseying. "Yes Mistress Aria", said Hanah. It was a start. "We'll go work on your outfits."
I nod politely before they leave closing the door behind them.
Finally, I'm alone. My eyes scan the room in disbelief, the cream walls and white wood furniture demure and elegant. Still, it needed a personal touch. I got up and checked around for my suitcase wondering if it was still in the car but then I saw it's worn out handle peeking from under the desk.  
   I opened it up on my bed pulling out my necklace. I didn't want to put it in the drawer yet and so decided to put it on. I pulled out the scarf and lay it across one of the pillows. Maybe now it will smell like my old house for a while. Lastly, I took out an old cake-tin that held my letters. I wondered if mother and father kept the letters that I sent them. If when they felt alone or missed the sound of little feet around the halls, she would pull out those letters to let herself know that I was okay, I was safe.
   I took out each bundle from the tin. I'd tied the letters from mother in pink thread, the letters from father in blue and the few ones from others in white. I took one from the white bundle. The handwriting was atrocious but it had been familiar to me for some time.
  It was from my cousin Best.  I received the first one when I was eight years old.

To cousin Imotenya,
How are you? My mum says you won't remember me so she made me put in a photograph.
 I looked at said photograph and saw a younger me in a frilly pink dress and tiara staring in awe at a huge cake in the shape of a ‘1'. A boy in a suit stood beside me and he looked as if he was going to jump head first into my cake. That must have been Best.

Mum says that you are living in Sapele. I've never been there but I hope to some time to see you.  Maybe you could come over. It must be really boring over there but I guess it's safe for you. In history, we talked about the law change. Our teacher said it's very bad to break tradition but I think some traditions have to be broken. I mean they used to kill twins in Calabar and that was bad.
 I hope to hear from you soon. What class are you in? What do you do for fun in Sapele.? What's your favorite food?
 I have to go now. Patience is crying because I won't let her write my letter. Maybe when she can actually write she can be sending you letters too. Bye.
                                                                            From cousin Best.

I can't remember much of what I wrote back. I must have told him that I was homeschooled and liked to run and play tennis. I think I told him that my favorite meal at the time was noodles because he wrote back telling me that I should fry them.  
  The letters continued until a couple of years ago when he started preparing for his exams. After that, I never heard from him again. I thought I had lost the only friend I had outside of Sapele. The only person who reminded me of my life before.
  I found the last letter that I received from him mixed with the letters from my father. So much for trying to be organized. The handwriting was so much better that I didn't have to turn it to the side to see some words when I first got it.

Dear Imotenya,
 I can't believe it! You haven't changed a bit from your last photo but you still look very nice though. You do not know how lucky you are that you don't have to go to school. The BECEs are coming up and I feel so unprepared. Mum got me a tutor for maths and business. Those are my worst subjects.  I am definitely dropping business next year.

He never replied to the letter I sent back to him. I never tried sending another letter. I just didn't see the point at the time but the truth was I didn't want to seem too desperate. I couldn't. I was a princess which meant I had show strength and dignity which I at least tried to do.
 I put the letter back in its bundle and flopped back unto my bed. I wasn't going to sleep again, not if I wanted to sleep at night so I got up and went to my balcony. It had gold railings in the pattern of a whale and vines were wrapped along them.
  As if that wasn't enough, the view from the top was amazing. Below were the royal gardens which were in full bloom this time of year. I could see the patches of orchids and roses. Beyond the wall, I could get a glimpse of the city. I couldn't hear the traffic but I could imagine the flying taxis, the cries of bus conductors and the shouts of street vendors. The whole city bright and vibrant even in the midst of death yet there was still that stillness in the air. Suddenly my maids came bursting in through the doors. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw their frazzled looks.
 "Mistress we're sorry to disturb you", gasped Hanah already shuffling me to the vanity, Miracle having free range of the wardrobe, pulled out a black dress while Petal took out a makeup palette, "But we have to get you ready."
"Ready? Ready for what?", I asked surprised. I had just gotten back what could be so important right now?
"Your uncle", breathed Miracle, "He's coming."


 
   






                                                                 Chapter 5

I couldn't believe it. Sure he would come to pay his respects eventually but on the exact day his brother died and the day his niece returns to the palace. I almost fell out of the chair. The man my parents wanted to protect me from was coming today. Then I remembered that I was the heir now. I was older and stronger now. I was the kingdom's new hope. I had nothing to be afraid of.
 "Smile", said Petal with a blush sponge in her hand. I did as she powdered my cheeks.  I put on my new dress and looked in the mirror. Hanah insisted that I tie my hair up to make it look somewhat presentable. I looked ready. "Thank you", I said to my maids. They looked extremely grateful as if for all the work that they do no one ever thought of giving them any thanks at all.
 "You're welcome, princess", replied Hanah with a smile.
     "Oh, my dear!", came a voice from the door. I turned to see that it was mother clutching her heart. I couldn't tell if it was at the sight of me or the thought of my snake of an uncle coming to visit. "You look beautiful."
    "Thank you mother", I said bowing a little. I would have kneeled if the dress wasn't so tight.
She came up to me quickly putting her hands on my shoulders just like David used to do.
It wouldn't hurt to see him right now.
     "Imotenya", she began, "Your uncle Lucky is coming from Lagos with his son. It would be rude to prevent him from seeing his own brother and he hasn't said anything about staying at the palace."
That was a relief.
"There will be guards around the room and I will be there myself to make sure that nothing funny goes on." I nodded before she took my face in her hands and looked me in the eyes. "Do not be afraid of him okay?" I had a feeling that she was talking to herself rather than to me but I reassured her nonetheless.
  She straightened herself up and gave me a quick inspection.
"Shall we?"
"Lets."
 I smiled in thanks at my maids who gave me encouraging looks. I think uncle dearest has a bit of a reputation.
  I stepped outside and saw a two guards standing outside my door. They bowed their heads in respect to us. I turned to see another guard coming towards us.  I didn't know any of the guards at the palace, but this one seemed familiar. He came closer and saw that it was David. It hadn't occurred to me before that I hadn't ever seen him in uniform. I guess it was part of helping me stay incognito but still seeing him now he looked more mature somehow.
  He bowed to us and his eyes met mine for a second. "My queen, princess", he said before acknowledging the guards at my door. "Are you ready to go down?"
"Yes", mama replied her eyes steady and not betraying any uncertainty. Could I ever learn to do that?
  We went back down the stairs, David following close behind. I kept stealing discreet glances at him but that wasn't possible so I recreated what I saw a few minutes ago. The way his shirt clung to his arms, the high collar drawing attention to his taunt neck, the confidence in his walk. That stirred something inside me. When had he gotten so desirable?
   I shook my head. In only a couple of hours I had gone through several emotions: shock, grief, sadness, fear, whatever it was compelling me to turn around and look at my guard. In other words, I had to get control of myself.
  We came to the ground floor and it looked like the maids had finished cleaning that area when a woman in a black skirt and blouse and exceptionally high heels came striding towards us. She was on the phone but stopped completely and bowed before my mother.
"Your Majesty, I was just on the phone with his Highness's man and…" She saw me and the curious look on my face and her eyes bulged "Oh my. How are you, your Highness?" She gasped taking me in. "I'm sorry but she's so beautiful."
"Um, thank you", I managed. I didn't need to turn around to know that David was laughing at me. I had never been good with compliments. Then she took my hands.
"I am so sorry about your father. I can't even begin to imagine how you are but don't worry. If you have any trouble just come to me Auntie Aisha okay?"
"Okay." Just how old did she think I was?
"Aisha what is happening with his Highness?", my mother said in a stern voice. This Aisha must have had a habit of drifting off topic.
"Oh yes, your Majesty. Well, he and his son are arriving at the airport in a couple of minutes and a car has been arranged to collect them."
A few minutes? That meant that my uncle was probably already on the plane when he let us know that he was coming or mother knew and just wouldn't tell me.
"Well, we must be ready to meet him. Did his man say if they plan to stay at the palace?"
"No my queen he didn't but I can call to ask if you like…"
"No that won't be necessary. We'll deal with the matter when he arrives."
"Alright my queen", she chirps but that doesn't stop her from going back on her phone after a quick bow and then going on her way down the hall.
"And that was one of my attendants."
"Does it feel tiring?", I ask.
"Having people wait on you? I don't suppose so but that doesn't mean life isn't busy."
"That's true." I thought of what it would be like if we had servants back in Sapele. We didn't even have a house-girl. Not that we couldn't afford it with funds from the palace. Judith told me a lot of stories of house-girls who beat the children and stole from the house and even one who began an affair with her mistress's husband. I guess we were saved the trouble of all that.
  We went back to the sitting room which was now empty. I wondered where my aunties had gone. Mother went back to her chaise while David stood in the corner. Would he ever get to sit down?
 I went back to my seat and just wrung my hands. My uncle and my cousin were arriving any minute now. I caught David's eye and then looked at my mother who was engrossed in a set of papers. I wished that we were alone so I could tell him all that was going my head about the situation at hand.
 I got up and made my way to a bookshelf that was close to where David was standing. As if on cue, he turned to me slightly and whispered: "Is everything alright your Highness?"
"You heard the attendant. My uncle is coming today."
My eyes scan the books so as not to arouse suspicion from mother.
"You have nothing to worry about. Specific instructions were given to keep an eye on him and his son."
I nodded. I could trust the palace guards. And if I couldn't, I could trust my mother. And if I couldn't trust her...I stopped. Why was even considering that I couldn't trust her?  I didn't know but in the hopefully rare case that I couldn't trust her, I always had David. He'd stuck with me up till now.
"Thanks and by the way: nice uniform."
He chuckled and whispered back, "Glad you like it, your Highness."
"Imotenya", my mother called. Our moment was over so I picked a random book and went to sit back down.
"Yes mother", I said opening the book which then looking at it, I found was a romance. How ironic. There was absolutely nothing romantic about the situation I was in.
  Mother smoothed back my hair and rearranged my dress. Then she took my hand in hers and gave me a reassuring smile.
 I didn't know how much I needed that because a few minutes later there was a knock on the door. We all straightened up as my mother said in her calmest voice "Come in."
 A steward came in and said, "Your Majesty, His Royal Highness and his son have arrived."
 Mother took a breath and stood up. "Send them in."
    He nodded and went back out leading a  tall dark man into the room. He had a full beard and walked with a cane. His eyes were intense and clouded, which I was sure were hiding something. He was wearing a black suit instead of the traditional agbada. I guess life in Lagos was pretty modern compared to Beni.
  His son followed behind him a little uncertain of himself. He like his father was wearing a suit with a navy blue tie.  His hair like David's was short but a little stood out on top. He had light-brown eyes that held none of his father's shiftiness. On the contrary, he seemed to be as curious about me as I was about him. Somehow I thought he wasn't Best. Best from his letters sounded more lively than the boy standing in front of me.
  They both bowed and mother gave me a look as if to say ‘They may bow to us now but that doesn't mean they don't want the throne for themselves.'
  "Your Majesty, my dear sister", said Uncle Lucky taking mother's hand in his own looking so remorseful, "I can't tell you how sorry I am for what's happened."
"Thank you", mama replied icily, "It was very kind of you to visit us in our distress."
"Not at all." My uncle was smiling now evidently taking pleasure in all of this, "I was coming to Beni anyway when I heard the news."
What a coincidence!
 Mother turned to my cousin who quickly came over and knelt at her feet.
"Auntie." He said. He even sounded unsure of himself.
"Rise my boy", she said gently. He did and gave her a hug. Then he saw me and bowed.
"Cousin Imotenya", he greeted coming closer and I saw David stiffen a little, "It's so nice to finally meet you." He gave me a firm handshake, the only show of power I'd seen from him.
"Nice to meet you too", I said. I had no reason to be unkind to him. We had no quarrel. This was all between our parents, one of which was coming my way with open arms and a sinister looking smile.
"Teny!", he calls out joyously wrapping his arms around me.
"Hello uncle", I mutter, praying to every single deity that I don't stay in his embrace a moment longer than I have to.
  He finally pulls back but looks me over making my skin crawl.
"You're so big now",  he said almost in thought as if he didn't expect to live this long.
"I'm turning 16 next month." I don't know why I said that. Probably to show him that I was not as young as I seemed.
"Really, I thought you'd be older."
I smiled automatically. "You're shorter than I expected uncle." Both David and my cousin had trouble stifling their laughter while my uncle was taken back.
 "Sister Osoye and Ayela are here", interrupted my mother grabbing my uncle by the shoulder, "Would you like to see them?"
A pleased look came upon my uncle's face as he offers my mother the crook of his arm.
"Yes, I would." Then he nodded his head towards his son. "Keep the princess company and for the love of God don't slouch!"
  My cousin managed to straighten himself up as he went to sit on the chaise. My mother gave David a ‘keep her safe look' before leaving with my uncle. A silence ensued when I went back to pick up my book.
"What are you reading Teny?", my cousin asked before quickly adding: "Do you mind if I call you Teny?"  
Yes, I minded. I minded very much.
"It's just because you're so small, it suits you."
He had better watch his mouth. I clutched the book harder in my hand. for what it's worth this day just got interesting.


 









 

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2 Comments
  • Wu.Z

    Thank you so much Ryder :)


    7 months ago
  • Ryder

    Holy Wow! This is Fantastic!


    7 months ago