WHEN the crown prince saw his beautiful damsel, he could see the change in her eyes.
As Àlà came visiting his lady again in Koje, he had wondered if Iyun was still bitter. Or if she would at least give him a chance to convince her of his sincerity.
The gentle prince had wondered where their talk would start from, and at what direction it would head. He’d wondered if he would win the heart of the beautiful damsel today.
But then, as Iyun appeared where Àlà waited in the woods at noontide, the charming prince could see that his lady had come back to him.
Shao didn’t wait for the crown prince to dismiss him this time. He quietly disappeared into the woods further away and left the lovebirds to freely nest there.
The lovely twosome decided to walk through the peace and quiet of the woods, interspersed every once in a while by the whispers of nature.
An awkward silence passed between the lovers, with each of them quietly deliberating on what to start the conversation with. And just when Àlà gathered up his thought to speak, his lady beat him to it.
‘Your Highness,’ Iyun began with a soft, humble voice. And the crown prince calmed himself to listen.
Iyun spoke. ‘I apologise for being rude to you in the past, sire. Please pardon me; I was only ignorant, sire.’
Prince Àlà wished the conversation didn’t start from there. He didn’t want Iyun to be so formal with him. He wished his lady would be so comfortable with him like a significant other.
Iyun paused awhile and waited for the crown prince to accept her apologies in the awkward silence that followed.
When the young woman didn’t hear Àlà’s response, she made to continue talking. But the crown prince beat her to it this time.
‘Iyun,’ called Àlà. The prince halted in his steps at that moment and held back his lady by the hand; his eyes searching Iyun’s as she glanced back at him.
‘Iyun,’ repeated the prince, ‘I’ve thought of the great wall between us. It is the Animal Curse. And I’m trying my best at the moment to rid us of this dividing wall.’
Àlà’s eyeballs were kindled in the instant. ‘If I have to tear down the wall, I will. If I have to break it through, I will. I will do anything and everything for your love, Iyun!’ he blurted.
Right then, Iyun felt a peaceful assurance of a future she never knew of its existence. Her head felt lit up and her night felt like day. It was a new feeling. It was like spouts of water on desert grounds. Patched deserts that weren’t ever aware how so thirsty they were till their palates were wetted.
Iyun felt like a vacuum she never knew existed was filled up in that instance. She felt bright and new. It was a moment the young woman wished to continue living in. But only then, she was called back to reality by the biting ray of sunlight that tore through the woods down to her face.
Iyun came awake to her status right at the instant.
The beautiful young woman gathered the thoughts in her head and tried to speak. But the words couldn’t flow on her lips. Not when the blissful assurance of the future was abruptly truncated in her thoughts.
But then, Àlà’s words came up as a reassurance. In a calm, gentle voice.
‘I need you to believe in me, Iyun,’ whispered the prince. ‘I need you to wait for me no matter how long it takes. I need you to trust in me.
‘I will find the answer and you will be the royal bride. I just need you to put your faith in me.’
The prince looked into Iyun’s eyes with an intent gaze. ‘Can you do this for me, please?’ he queried. ‘Can you hang on for me? Can you wait for me to tear this wall down… this dividing wall?’
Iyun knew she couldn’t deny the peace and tranquility she felt from the prince’s words. And she hoped this wasn’t going to be like a mere dream.
Everything in the moment told the young maiden to trust in the man in front of her. But reality was louder in her ears than the whispers of her tiniest hope. She couldn’t get herself away from its resounding echo.
‘I’m just a Koje slave regardless,’ she mumbled under her breath.
For everything about Àlà seemed too grand for her to deserve. It was certainly what people call Daydream.
It can’t be that simple, Iyun thought to herself. Hundreds of seasons have passed and generations have lived and died. What can a mortal prince do with the eternal curse? Can he redeem a cursed caste?
What will the prince do? Will he elope with me to create a different world beyond these lands? Will he become a slave and join me down here to make me his? What can he ever do?
As much as Iyun wished to believe the prince’s words of assurance, she couldn’t understand how it would happen.
And just because she couldn’t fathom how it would play out, the young woman withdrew into her quiet, little shell.
‘Your Highness,’ Iyun muttered as she slipped her hand off the prince’s gentle clasp, ‘I don’t know how you will do it,’ she moaned and resumed walking.
Àlà rushed up to her. And his reply came in an impassioned little voice.
‘It’s not for you to understand how, Iyun!’ he whispered. ‘Just trust in me, trust me please and I’ll do everything for you to be mine!’ he cried.
But the look in the pretty damsel’s eyes was an indifferent stare, cold like a lump of stone in a frosty weather.
Àlà was bent on winning his woman this time. He decided to chase some more.
He nudged her. ‘Iyun, tell me. Do you know the crown prince would fall in love with you just a moon ago? Do you know if it will rain tomorrow?’
The woman’s look was askance now.
‘If you don’t know these things,’ said the prince, ‘how do you expect to know everything I could do for you?’ he asked.
‘I am the crown prince of Jaiye Kingdom,’ continued Àlà – ‘and I’m madly in love with you. What more do you need to believe my words, Iyun? What more do you need to believe in me?’
The air between the two lovers was tense. Iyun’s hearts raced miles within her chest. And she desperately latched herself to the sides of logic, even when her heart screamed otherwise. And the crown prince was becoming frustrated already.
Just then, the bright sun in the sky above crawled under a thick, wide cover of clouds. And the noonday heat soon entertained a calm, quiet respite.
And so was the tension in the lovers’ talk, too.
The twosome suddenly went quiet. As quiet as the sun hid beneath the heavenly sheets for a brief repose.
In the passing silence, Iyun pondered on the crown prince’s questions?
Do I know if it will rain tomorrow? she asked herself. How would I know tomorrow? she replied.
Iyun admitted she didn’t know the morrow. That she didn’t know what the future held.
But that’s more reason why I shouldn’t place my hope on a tomorrow I don’t know, she told herself. That’s why I can only think of now… I’m the slave, low as the earth. And he is the prince, high as the heavens.
The beautiful damsel heaved a light sigh, as she concluded her thoughts.
It isn’t love, to begin with. It can’t be love.
For she was very sure the heavens and earth cannot meet.
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