‘WELCOME to the first of the most significant days before us!’ Jakan thundered.
‘Welcome to a day like no other. When we must pick a human replacement for our sacrificial horses.’
The chief priest’s company of several auxiliary priests were gathered to him already. At the vast priestly courts in Jaiye’s central temple.
The old man was to soon leave for Koje Outpost with just a smaller group of his assistant priests. To fetch the person that the Heavens would show him as the first human sacrificial offering in Jaiye.
Jakan reminded the gathered priests about the significance of the sacrifice. An all-important sacrifice to be offered at the coming festival of earth purity.
And that great, momentous day was now only five days away.
Everyone’s race to that day had started on a day when the moon in the sky turned blood red. As Jakan’s father and predecessor had predicted only days before his demise, several many seasons back.
Yet the marvel of the moon turning red didn’t linger long in the hearts of Jaiye’s priests. So much that the rare wonder hadn’t required small talks on their lips.
The sight of the bleeding moon was only beyond a marvel for the priesthood in Jaiye. For as soon as the signal appeared in the sky, everyone galloped on a nervous race towards the responsibilities of the inevitable day.
Upon the red moon appearing few moons back, Jakan started out with a briefing to the nobles. As well as an announcement to the general assembly of Jaiye citizens.
Now, Jakan and his pious company were fully set for an expedition to Jaiye’s outpost community at Koje. To find the human sacrifice for the oncoming sacred festival.
After a brief address to his priests about the ritual’s significance, the chief priest quietened a moment.
He gazed at his young grandson in the congregation of priests. The youngest and newest man in the company.
It was the first time Jawon was gathering with the priests here. And Jakan’s eyes only glistened with utter fulfillment as he watched his grandson preparing to wear the mantle of the chief priest.
The old man now felt more than delighted and fulfilled that he could raise his grandson like his own father had raised him, too.
In that moment of quiet, Jakan remembered his dying father’s words about this significant time. The words echoed in his inward ears. As clear as though he was hearing them anew.
There’ll soon come a day like no common day. When the moon will turn as red as the blood of sacrifice.
When that fateful day comes, horses will no longer bleed for man; but man shall bleed for himself.
The blood of white horses will no longer be used for the earth purity sacrifice. But instead, each year, the blood of a young pure beauty from amidst the outcast slaves of Koje, will be shed to cleanse the entire kingdom.
Jakan heaved a thoughtful sigh.
His father’s foretelling had been borne on the wings of time and carried into this far-flung future. Where the young Jakan had become an ageing chief priest. And when Jakan was beginning to raise a successor from his own grandson Jawon.
Jakan resumed speaking, concluding his brief address.
‘The High Heavens have shown me overnight a little of the great mysteries of the oncoming sacrifice,’ he said. ‘And it is what we mortals can only understand as those mysteries unravel before our eyes.’
Jakan had chosen seven top priests out of the many gathered priests to go on the sacred expedition to Koje. And among those seven was Jawon his grandson and heir.
‘And so, we are heading to Koje now,’ finished Jakan. ‘May the Heavens guide our paths to the very one they have chosen.’
The chief priest mounted a regal white horse and Jawon rode a young brown one. And the two men led a large horse cart conveying the other five men.
Without another moment of delay, the expedition launched to the roads that early cockcrow.
And with the wild, mad speed of galloping horses.
Both Iyun and Shao were on the roads again.
The frightening sight of the owl Iyun saw made it impossible for the two to continue sleeping in the open square at the city outskirts that early dawn.
They’d been journeying on foot from Koje and the journey had been long and tiresome. The two had arrived at the outskirts of Jaiye already. And they decided to get to the main city before they would take their rest and go on sightseeing.
As the two youngsters walked on in the moonlit dawn, they talked about the owl they saw staring at Iyun when she was sleeping. They also talked the large falcon. How it swung there at once and carted away the ugly bird.
Amid their lively talks, Iyun looked up to her cousin. ‘But why weren’t you able to scare it away?’ she asked.
Shao’s rejoinder came so fast. ‘Come on, as if you were able to yourself!’ he smirked.
Iyun spanked his cousin small. ‘Come on! When will you grow up to be a man, Shao?’ she joked.
‘You’re supposed to be my hero here, uh?’ she whispered and nudged him with an elbow.
Shao’s counter was instant and forceful. ‘But I scared it, huh? It just wasn’t scared!’
Iyun glanced at him. ‘Yes that’s what am saying, too. The question is, why couldn’t you scare it away?’
Shao halted and his cousin walked past and mumbled. ‘You’re just not the type to scare it away; admit it,’ said Iyun.
Shao rushed up to her. And he yelled his words with an angry fervour.
‘Did I argue that, huh? Did I say I can? D’ you think am anything more than a mere mortal? What’s your point that you can’t just be grateful that I’m caring for you like your kinsman? Huh?!’
Iyun sulked in herself as a strained silence passed between the two.
After a brief moment of silence, the young woman mumbled, glancing at her cousin. ‘I’m sorry, Shao. Thank you for being you. Thank you,’ she muttered.
She looked down, a little awkward. ‘I’m missing the crown prince so, so bad,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I’m sorry to be taking it out on you. I’m the naughty girl, uh? Pardon me…’
The crown prince had been away on a fifteen-day journey to the distant empires of the Ashias, where he’d gone to purchase oxen for the merriment of the oncoming Jaiye festival. And Prince Àlà wasn’t yet back.
Shao brightened up and nudged Iyun. ‘Come on, that’s nothing,’ he quipped. The young man found his cousin so cute just now and he was eager to brighten up her mood.
Shao taught to tell his cousin the story of how Prince Àlà placed him to ride on a horse. And how he saved him from dying when the horse went wild and headed for the overflowing Ta river in Jaiye city.
Shao glanced at Iyun. ‘You know the crown prince once dried up a river in Jaiye to save me from drowning along with a horse?’ he queried.
Iyun was surprised.
Shao told the dramatic story of how the heroic prince rescued him from drowning at the Ta river. And Iyun listened in a dazed silence.
Iyun couldn’t fathom it out. Shao’s experience looked more like the peculiar experience she had herself at the Kojala pond in Koje.
But what Iyun saw that day was something that would in future be described as a trance.
For she saw a glorious man descend a dazzling white horse to rescue her when she was drowning in the deep pond. But it was the people in Koje who rescued Iyun.
Iyun was pretty sure her lover the prince keenly resembles the figure she saw in the trance that day. And the young woman was both shocked and amazed at what Shao was telling her.
But Shao wouldn’t know his cousin, too, had experienced a life-saving encounter with Prince Àlà. He only thought to lighten his Iyun’s mood.
The two youngsters were now headed towards the big market square from the outskirts of Jaiye. Meanwhile, the Ta river around which Shao’s experience revolved sat in the jungles beyond the market square.
As the two cousins neared the market square in Jaiye city, Jakan’s horses were hastening down to Koje through the ways of the square.
And neither Iyun nor Shao knew that a group of priests were hunting for their kinds.
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© 2020 by Kayode & Tola Olla