LAUGHTER echoed through the palace horse stable.
It was a sudden burst of uncontainable shriek of laughter. One that sounded like that of a tickled party, when it was just that of one man.
It was the crown prince having a really good laugh. And his stout, sturdy build came quivering beneath the overpowering influence of a hilarious scene.
It was early morning and Prince Àlà made a routine check on the royal horses at the palace stable.
The prince went with Shao, one of his retainers. And he also took along six other retainers with the young man.
But Shao was more than a palace slave, or a servant, or an attender to Jaiye kingdom’s crown prince.
Shao was also a close friend to the prince. He was the closest of all the prince’s servants.
After Àlà confirmed the state of the royal horses that early morning, he decided to leave with the servants he came with.
But the prince was still in the vast, big ranch when he realised he hadn’t taken enough look at Ga. The choicest steed among his own horses.
Àlà decided to make it up to Ga right then. He decided to ride the ever so lively horse around the ranch and exercise the big, burly thing.
The prince spanned his gaze around the servants surrounding him. He contemplated sending someone to hastily bring up Ga.
He decided to send Shao.
Shao immediately left for the stables. But he didn’t get back for a long while.
Àlà waited and lost patience in waiting. The prince wondered if his servant had simply gone to sleep at the stables.
‘What on this earth could be taking him so long?’ he blurted. His glance spanned around the quizzical faces of the rest of his servants.
Prince Àlà decided to find out himself what Shao could be doing at the stable that took him so long. He matched down to the stable at once; his servants hurrying after him.
The prince soon got to the stable and walked up to the stall where Ga was kept.
As Àlà’s feet approached the quiet stall in a quick match, his footsteps soon slowed down into a gentle saunter.
For the young prince’s eyes fell on something hilariously amazing. Right there at Ga’s stall.
The sight was Shao sitting in a squat… as silent and still as an obedient little lamb, in front of a sleeping horse.
Poor Shao had been endlessly hoping for Ga to rouse itself from an early morning nap, so he could bring the royal horse to its owner.
Àlà’s feet dragged to a sudden halt right at that moment. And he burst out in a long, hysterical fit of giggles.
Laughter echoed through the palace horse stable.
It was a sudden burst of uncontainable shriek of laughter. One that sounded like that of a tickled party. But it was just the prince laughing.
The royal servants cowered behind the crown prince; entirely lost about what sort of trouble they must have caused.
Shao slowly raised himself up, embarrassed altogether.
The prince’s laughter soon softened into some quiet, little chuckles… as he tried to pull himself together.
Àlà was about to utter something at last when Shao hurried to his own defense.
‘It’s the royal horse, Your Highness,’ retorted Shao. ‘That’s why I didn’t want to disturb its sleep,’ he finished; bowing his head.
Àlà’s quiet chuckles faded at the instant and the radiant shine in his face dimmed out. He got what the servant was saying and could see where he was coming from. And he pitied him.
It saddened Àlà that Shao considered the royal horse of greater worth than him or its owner in fact. The prince felt angrier than he felt sad.
He blurted out. ‘Isn’t it the rider who makes the horse, Shao? Come on, a horse is just a beast without the horseman, huh!’
But Àlà could only feel his words dissolve into nothingness as they reach the slave boy’s ears.
The prince imagined how lowly Shao must have felt to wait for a sleeping animal.
He reasoned the fact remained that Shao was a slave boy from the outcast outpost at Koje…
In spite of how close Shao lived to the crown prince in the palace courts. And in spite of how closer a friend the prince had made of the young man.
Well, he was sadly still a Koje outcast.
Right there and then, Àlà decided to place Shao on one of the royal horses to make him understand.
‘Ride with me this moment,’ offered the crown prince.
The prince’s words didn’t sound in Shao’s ears like a suggestion to be deliberated on, or something.
It was the royal offer. Nobody ever dared to turn down the crown.
Àlà was the fiercest warrior Shao had ever known; with stories of his mighty conquests filling every talker’s lips and every listener’s ears.
Yet Àlà was the warmest heart Shao had ever met. The brave conqueror had got a tender, love shaped thing beneath his brazen chest.
Yes, Prince Àlà sometimes fed Shao with his own food in the palace courts. The royal heir also talked with his servant friend in his own chamber and over a board game of ayo.
But now that the prince was demanding that Shao rode with him, the young servant was certain he was crossing the line with the noble prince of Jaiye.
It was the case of a slave boy launching out a battle of freedom against an invincible master. Or, so it seemed.
Shao crumbled down to his face.
He cowered at the royal feet and begged the prince. He promised never to keep wait for a sleeping horse ever again.
If only the prince could spare him from riding on the royal horse, Shao swore he’d even give his entire life and future family for the prince’s service.
He cried pitifully. ‘Have mercy on your poor slave, Your Royal Highness!’
Àlà only turned away and faced the other servants, who were already cowering in fear.
The crown prince spoke out, addressing the standing party.
‘Let every eye bear witness to it. That my slave Shao didn’t place himself on a royal horse. I, the Crown Prince of Jaiye, set him on the horse.
‘Again, let ears listen and let lips tell it if need be. That I, the Crown Prince, placed my own lowly servant on the royal horse!’
The servants thundered in response. ‘Yes, Your Royal Highness!’ And they all bowed, trembling with fear.
Prince Àlà turned back to Shao all sprawled out on the floor.
He bent forwards and reached out a hand to him.
‘Raise yourself and mount one of the horses. Let’s ride together.’
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