SHAO frightfully clutched onto a royal horse as the big, massive beast trotted through the ranch that early morning.
It was the first time in Jaiye that a slave would be made to ride.
Prince Àlà observed the rare sight with a sweet smile from the back of another horse. He himself was riding behind the servant boy he’d chosen to favour.
Shao was scared just as his horse trotted along. And the young man’s tensed frame shook to the rhythm of the horse’s gentle trots.
Yet Shao really wanted to enjoy the unmerited privilege that couldn’t come to a slave boy twice.
He’d never in his life dreamt of such a moment as this one. Not even in his wildest fantasy.
It was no exaggerated thing after all, that old saying in Jaiye. That sons of the soil had four legs with which they walked; and slaves had only two.
In any case, Shao was only a slave. Whether or not he served the crown prince. And whether or not he was the closest retainer to him.
Shao was a minion from Jaiye’s outpost community of slaves at Koje. So, the young man never even hoped to be that honoured by the prince.
A stream of tears flowed down the young man’s eyes now. There was no way to express what Shao felt.
It was an avalanche of rapturous emotions that cascaded down the heights of his feelings. Like the splash and the roar of lofty waterfalls.
It felt like he was afloat in the waves of the winds. Yet it felt like he was being carried on the shoulders of a giant… as the robust stallion raced its pace into a gentle canter.
Shao’s exhilaration was absolutely expressionless. And the feelings flowed out in streams of overwhelming tears.
Àlà knew his servant was absolutely delighted, even as he watched him from behind his own horse.
He smiled. That was what he wanted for Shao.
Prince Àlà hoped Shao would be able to look back on that beautiful morning any day and cherish himself. He felt he’d achieved something for the boy. And he smiled again.
But then, Shao’s emotions suddenly cascaded into the terrains of fear. And an unspeakable fright gripped the young man’s palpitating chest.
If I’m on a horse right now, he thought – if I’m still a slave and I’m on the royal horse… that means death has come! Aargh, heaven knows it… Death has come!
It was as though the big, hefty thing heard what its rider thought just now. For the horse suddenly charged forwards in a mad, galloping race.
It sped along the ranch with a frightening pace; leaping over blades and bales of grass… as well as over wide trenches.
Shao cried out a wild, frightened scream. And he desperately latched himself onto the galloping horse in the height of dread.
Prince Àlà was alerted. He immediately raced after Shao with his own horse.
But Shao’s horse didn’t appear like something anyone could catch up with or tame now.
For before anyone could know it, the huge stallion came to the tall wood fence that bounded the palace ranch.
And in a quick, giant spring, the light-footed steed leapt over the barrier; leapt over the palace walls, too…
And it galloped into the vast, open city.
Shao held firmly to the horse that’d gone wild.
Just a while ago he’d thought death was near. But he never expected a gruesome death to be so near.
Well, it seemed poor Shao didn’t really mean to die after all. He’d wished for death when things went awry, but never anymore.
When the horse he was set upon suddenly went wild, Shao had thought he could jump off.
But before the young servant could process the emergency measure, the royal horse itself had jumped over barricades, and into the olden city.
Shao feared that jumping off the speeding horse now simply meant suicide – with the incredible galloping pace the horse was racing with.
The young man had wished for death; but now he was desperate for life.
He feared. He screamed. He cried.
There were many frightening thoughts in Shao’s mind. But the thought of what the citizens would do when they saw a slave boy on a horse frightened him the most.
And to make matters worse, it wasn’t just any horse. It was a royal horse.
Shao was terrified to his bones.
The wild horse galloped through a long, lonely lane. And it seemed not ready to halt yet.
In a sudden moment, it turned at a broad crossroad and took the narrow turn which led down to the Ta river.
Shao knew if the royal horse should cross the river, then they’d soon be at the big market square bursting with a multitude of people.
The young man’s eyes bulged out. In every way, death was bent on having him.
Shao’s entire life flashed before him in that instant.
The moment he mounted the ill-fated horse that early morning came back to his head like an ominous recollection.
He could see the instant the crown prince set him on the honourable horse to ride along with him. He knew he was not even in the position to blame the noble prince for his own miserable fate.
And right at the moment, it dawned on Shao that the crown prince had chased after him on his own horse a while ago.
The young servant now took a desperate, hopeful glance around. But Prince Àlà was nowhere to be found.
His heart was sore that he was all by himself eventually. But he tried to understand that the noble prince must have lost his way.
Shao thought about his unlucky fate that was simply sadder and uglier than that of a battlefield horse.
Death was eternally at the road’s end. For a mere slave like him.
But Shao thought to not give up still until that final end.
He thought to hold on still… even when the overflowing river had come up in sight already… and was even coming closer with every passing breath.
Shao thought to desperately call for the prince to help.
He hoped in faith that Prince Àlà would hear and quickly trace him by the sound of his voice. He hoped that the prince would come to his rescue.
And as the horse galloped down to the gates of hades, Shao screamed out loud with all the might he’d got.
‘Aargh please save me, Your Highness!’ he cried tearfully. His blaring voice tore through the moist early morning air.
Shao kept yelling out his call for help as he desperately wished for life.
The royal horse charged onto a vast, receding overflow of the Ta river; splashing water as it galloped its sprightly steps.
And as the horse came into the river with the dashing speed of a thunderbolt, it suddenly pulled back with a loud sounding screech. And it halted just then.
Interestingly, the water level had lowered considerably.
Shao gradually opened his eyes, curious about what had just happened. For the young man had recently closed his eyes in an unspeakable fright.
Shao saw the fast receding water level. He was absolutely at loss at what manner of wonder dream was happening in broad daylight.
Of course, he understood why the horse stopped. He knew the royal horses had been trained to respond to changes in the water level, for reasons known only to the royalties.
But Shao was dead curious to know how and why the water level suddenly receded like a daydream…
Just when he got to the mouth of death.
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