SHAO was tongue-tied for three days and three nights, following the spectacular experience at Jaiye’s Ta river.
The palace retainer had narrowly escaped death on that unbridled race down to an overflowing river. It was almost fated to be a race down to the grave on the back of a royal horse.
Until the water level suddenly started to recede. And the trained horse responded accordingly.
The horse halted at the riverbank and started out on a gentle trot to the palace complex.
Shao had been too shocked for words since that day. His questions had been about why and how the water level lowered… just when he got near death.
The young palace attender had returned to the crown prince that day without a word about his ordeal with the horse that suddenly went wild.
He’d been embarrassed on behalf of his noble master who had chosen to favour him with a ride on a horse.
And he kept quiet about it as if everything was in control eventually.
But Prince Àlà knew Shao had a lot to say about how things turned out. Yet he decided to indulge his awkward servant friend and not prod him for details.
He knew Shao was going to turn around a full circle and come back asking to know something he couldn’t figure out. Or how wouldn’t he know such a dear retainer just as much?
Shao was by himself since that day. And he nursed a sort of impossible, yet desperate hope. A hope to not see his master or be around him for as long as possible.
And even though Shao knew his wish was absolutely impracticable, he hoped to avoid his master for days and nights on end.
But Shao wouldn’t know he was an open book. So, Àlà didn’t bother summoning for his closest attender at all.
Shao couldn’t be more surprised that his impossible wish was becoming possible. It felt absolutely mysterious to the young, little thing.
The young man couldn’t hold back some refreshing tears. That his most daring desire was effortlessly coming to pass. That the impossible could happen just because he wished it so.
He cried and it was comforting.
Yet Shao turned his full circle sooner than the crown prince had anticipated.
And it was even much sooner than Shao himself had planned.
For after just three days, Shao walked straight to his master to ask him what he couldn’t figure out. And Àlà wore a knowing smile.
When Shao broke down everything that happened to the prince, he noticed the confident smile in the prince’s face. A smile that could only mean the crown prince knew something that he himself didn’t know.
Suddenly it struck the young servant that the crown prince may probably be somewhat connected to the miracle that happened to the overflowing river.
But that seemed like a strange, unlikely possibility. The crown prince was no mystical being, after all.
Yet Shao couldn’t help the thought that Prince Àlà saved the day.
He gazed at the prince. ‘Please forgive my asking, Your Highness,’ he said in a weak, low voice. ‘But was it you, sire? Was it you who…’
Shao could barely finish his words; afraid he was spewing out some tactless nonsense.
Àlà looked at him and smiled. ‘What do you think?’ he breathed.
Shao’s mouth gaped wide open; a low grunt escaping his throat in a state of daze.
He just stammered. ‘How… well, well… how so?’
Àlà came close to him where he stood a step away. And he just wrapped his hand around the young man’s trembling shoulders.
‘I blocked the source,’ he whispered.
Shao couldn’t hold himself anymore. He broke down in tears and fell at the prince’s heroic feet.
‘Ah, Your Royal Highness!’ he gasped.
He raised his teary eyes in a moment.
‘Of what value is my life?’ he asked. ‘Of what value is Shao’s life that you dried a river to save a slave… Your Royal Highness?’
Shao didn’t know his curious question ever had an answer. Nor did he ever expect a response.
But Àlà bowed down low and raised up his young servant, as he responded.
‘Of what value, then, were the lives of some foot warriors who deserted their troop during the Battle of the Heirs, some hundreds of seasons ago?
‘Of what value were the lives of those deserters who came together then to become our mighty kingdom today?’
Prince Àlà words poured into Shao’s ears and heart. Like a mighty east wind tearing through a dungeon’s west gate, and jangling together shackles and manacles on its way.
Àlà took an embroidered napkin from a breast pouch hanging down his neck. And he gave it to the young man so he could wipe his tears.
‘Get yourself together fast, Shao,’ said Àlà. ‘We’ll be heading somewhere together soon, on my usual tour. We’ll be heading to Koje.’
Shao lost it when he heard the word Koje. He’d hadn’t been to his people in ages. It had been many seasons he couldn’t accurately number since he visited his hometown.
Shao was delighted he’d once again tread on Koje’s earth. Once again feel Koje’s sunbeams touch his forlorn skin. And once again breathe the scent of homeland.
He had become hopelessly homesick. And he’d longed to even see his kindred.
But more especially his dearest kin, Iyun.
Yet Shao reasoned the prince would have a busy schedule touring through Koje with him. And so, the young man found it somewhat out of the question to ask the prince to allow him stop by at home.
At least, not when His Highness had done more than enough favours for me, he said to himself.
But the servant boy never knew. That fate was leading a charming crown prince to a beautiful little daisy in the wild…
In Shao’s humble household.
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