IYUN’S heart bled with hurt.
It was so unbearable to imagine that the man she’d hoped for all day, eventually wooed her on blatant lies and bluff.
The young maiden pondered a puzzle, as she continued the walk with Àlà with some slow, reluctant feet.
Iyun’s mind charted back through the paths she’d walked in her search for answers. Answers to the mysteries surrounding Koje people’s peculiarity.
Her wandering mind soon perched on a notable stop. It was the recollection of a memorable evening.
In Iyun’s quest for answers, the young woman had doubted the veracity of tales and fables in revealing truth.
She’d found folklore to be a deliberate way of playing down the truth of whatever happened in history.
It was a quiet nightfall that day. And Iyun put her thoughts across to her grandmother, who used to tell her twilight tales when she was a little girl.
That quiet evening, her grandmother decided to tell Iyun the original oral account of how they mysteriously became a low caste people among Jaiye nation.
Iyun’s grandmother told her the original account of their ancestor Koje. How he was among the founding fathers of Jaiye. How Koje committed the abominable. How he and executed and his descendants sentenced to slavery forever.
And how all the future generations were cursed with the irredeemable Animal Curse by the olden Jaiye community…
While Jaiye herself became plagued forever by a mysterious Death Curse.
It wasn’t a legend that so many people in Koje knew about, Iyun’s grandmother told her. The account seemed to be fading in Koje’s consciousness.
But then, Jaiye people would never forget the history, she said. As the elite people had got the legend scribbled down since as long as they developed their writing.
‘Daughter,’ said the grandmother, ‘we are in an eternal maze with no possible way out. That is why no one in Koje can tell what it means to smile, what it means to laugh or what it means to dream like you’ve said.’
She patted her granddaughter on her cheek. ‘We don’t know what they are. And we can’t know,’ she finished in a sober voice.
Iyun remembered her grandmother’s words now as she walked by Àlà. And she couldn’t but let out a burdened sigh.
She decided to speak after a while of thoughtful silence. She decided to give a response to Àlà’s proposal.
Iyun began in a quiet, solemn voice.
‘We don’t join man and woman in marriage in Koje, they join each other. They swear under the sun and under the moon to be one and to be true till death comes.’
She glanced up at an attentive Àlà. ‘But when you people from Jaiye wants to join yourselves in marriage, you invite the entire world. And even come as far down as to Koje here to fetch us to serve.’
Iyun paused a bit as she gazed down again. Àlà had no clue where Iyun was headed with her earnest words.
Iyun resumed in a bit. ‘The last time I stepped my feet into Jaiye was a few seasons ago. I was fetched to serve at a grand wedding ceremony.
‘But when I returned here and asked our elders on the essence of a wedding ceremony, our people said a wedding ceremony is a meaningless waste of time. That horses don’t waste time.
‘When I asked about dreams and about smiles, I got the same response, too. Horses don’t do this. Horses don’t do that. But then, I probed further, and I found out why Koje is always likened to horses.’
Àlà couldn’t help wondering at Iyun’s response to the proposal he’d just said to her. He wondered what all those things she said had got to do with his sweet proposal.
But Àlà kept his eyes on Iyun still, listening to every little thing she hadn’t even uttered.
Iyun went on. ‘I asked you about smiles and dreams because I wanted to know how you do it in Jaiye. I already know it is impossible for anyone from Koje to have these lofty things.
‘I know about the Animal Curse. And I know there’s no way out for any Koje son or daughter.
‘Even if we slaughter horses like you do in Jaiye every year, I know the blood of hundreds and hundreds of horses won’t still wash away the curse on us.
‘Not to even consider the fact that we’ve got no hundreds of costly horses to sacrifice for the Sin of our birth! The sins of our forefather.’
Iyun looked up again at Àlà with a rueful gaze. ‘So sir,’ she said in low, defeated voice, ‘you don’t have to make vain promises to me.’
Àlà didn’t miss a word all along. And it met him by surprise that his lovely little damsel already knew so much about the mysterious Animal Curse plaguing them.
The prince let out a breath and looked back at Iyun, into her melting little eyes. Iyun avoided his piercing eyes straightaway and looked down right then.
Àlà whispered his next words. ‘What if I really mean it? Will you love me like I love you?’
Iyun didn’t bulge at all. She wouldn’t bulge at his sweet nothings any longer.
Àlà insisted. ‘What if I have the power to change things for you?’
Iyun stopped in her steps. She raised her gaze and shot him a startled look. She blurted. ‘For me? Just you?!’
Àlà stopped and looked into his lady’s pretty eyes. ‘Yes for you, Iyun,’he replied. ‘What if I can erase the Animal Curse? What if I am the crown prince of this entire Jaiye Kingdom?!’
Iyun stared with an astonished gaze at the man standing in front of her. Even her startled gaze was pregnant with an avalanche of feelings. Feelings beyond mere amazement, in fact.
Iyun was absolutely sure she heard him right?
What if I am the crown prince of this entire Jaiye Kingdom?! The question had left a resounding echo in young woman’s mind.
And now, she desperately wished this royalty of the realms of Jaiye would have been just an ordinary citizen. Like she’d thought all along.
It was a conflict of emotions for the young Koje maiden.
She felt helped and yet mocked. She felt grateful and yet cheated. She felt low and downtrodden altogether.
Iyun gathered her words from the rubles of her shattered emotions… as she picked up herself again, turned around and headed back where the two had started.
She spoke up as she walked ahead. ‘You want to transform me from a horse to a human and you made a fool of me first!’
Àlà hurried to her side at once and held her hand.
‘No, Iyun! I didn’t tell you about my identity only because I wanted to win your heart as just me Àlà, and not as the title holder. Believe me, I didn’t want to fool you. I truly, truly love you…!’
Iyun cut him short. ‘What say do I have in this, Your Highness?’ she snapped.
She glanced a moment at the crown prince.
‘Koje is your horse,’ she continued ruefully. ‘If you want a new servant girl, you can use your power, sire. I am the fool for desiring something out of my world!’
Iyun’s eyes were wet. And she fixed her gaze in the distance straightaway and doubled up her pace.
Àlà chased after the young beauty, begging her for an audience. But he couldn’t catch up with the fire in her hasty, galloping sprints.
The young prince begged and begged. And it seemed his entire world had finally come to a stop.
Iyun glanced back at her gentleman as he jogged up towards her in the far distance.
She glanced back and saw him sweating and panting heavily. Right before she lost total sight of him, due to the undulating valley slopes.
But then, Iyun wouldn’t bulge still.
It wasn’t Àlà fault, she told herself. It was entirely hers.
She was the joker to reach for the high, high heavens…
And right from the humblest parts of earth, for that matter.
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