SHAO’S story had thrown Iyun into a thoughtful silence… as the two cousins now approached Jaiye’s crowded market.
Shao went on to reinforce the story of his rescue with a solemn remark.
He began in a low, quiet voice. ‘I gave my life and all to the prince who saved me. I know I’m a mere slave and the prince owns me already.
‘But you know, a master might own hundreds of slaves but not their will. The crown prince won my will that very day.’
Iyun breathed a low sigh.
‘Iyun, I’ve given His Royal Highness all of me!’ continued Shao. ‘And I hope you also can find it in your heart to love the prince who’s so in love with you.’
Shao’s eyes were imploring now. ‘My master is a true heart,’ he said; ‘and He won’t open his arms wide for you, and then go on to turn his back. He will stand with you till the end, Iyun!’
Iyun sighed again. Ever since the young maiden had reunited with her cousin, the latter had always found one reason or the other to scold her. Especially over the crown prince.
Yes, Shao had always fought her over his master the prince. Over the prince’s ‘royal lips,’ over his royal time and so forth.
But today, the young man wasn’t fighting about anything. He was simply appealing to his cousin to love his master and her lover with all she’d got.
Iyun could only imagine how much Shao had yielded himself to the prince for saving his life. And she found it in her heart to understand him.
She thought within herself. Well, it isn’t his fault. If the glorious horseman who rescued me from drowning were to appear in front of me, I’d have also given my life to serve him. I’m sure I’ll do that.
The sun was fast rising in the eastern skies. The two cousins now walked into the big market square, and which was already overflowing with lots of city people.
Iyun stared around at the flamboyant display of luxurious merchandise across the vast market. She stared at the sophisticated people, too.
Shao couldn’t help staring as well. Like a stranger in a new town. Although Shao had been here and about the kingdom with his master the prince, he barely saw the glories of Jaiye city. The slave boy had only been through the border territories of Jaiye kingdom with his master.
The two youngsters hopped around the peopled market square, their hearts thumping fast at the breathtaking sights right in front of them.
The young cousins were simply exhilarated. Their feet wouldn’t feel patient enough to carry them through the exciting place. They leapt around like little kids; their widely gaping eyes struggling to capture everything at once.
As for Iyun, this was like the first ray of light to her sombre world. The beautiful girl hadn’t seen the city this much. Not even in a passing glance. Nor in a peep from a distance, like Shao would have.
Iyun had only seen the dark and dreary world of Koje her entire life. And no, she was literally electrified with an indescribable thrill.
Like that of a free flying bird.
Jakan and his men had galloped through Jaiye city… from bends to corners, and streets to streets.
And now, their galloping fleet of horses came down to the big market square. But no, the crowd today was something else.
‘Oh goodness, not today!’ moaned Jakan. The chief priest knew that riding through the populated market would really slow them down or cause some accidents if they charged on regardless.
Jakan was frustrated. There was no way they could go now. He thought of getting down from his horse along with his men, and slowly walk their horses and carts through the congested square.
‘That’ll simply be a sheer waste of time!’ he grumbled.
A quick thought came up now. He reasoned he could even ask one of his men to get down and clear the way for them.
But the crowd here today was a bustling multitude. Too impossible to control. ‘Oh good Heavens, why today?!’ he groaned.
Just then, Jawon’s voice interrupted Jakan’s worrisome thoughts.
‘Grandfather!’ the boy called.
And Jakan looked back.
Iyun was tired out already. So she suggested to Shao that they leave the crowded market and take some rest anywhere close.
Just then, Shao remembered he wanted to show his cousin the Ta river, and the river was just down there. At the west side of the market.
The young lad was tired out by the crowd too, anyway. And he wouldn’t mind resting in that safe haven, bringing back memories of his heroic rescue.
The two cousins crossed to the west side of the square
And their weary feet trudged down to Ta.
Jakan saw his grandson ride closer to him from behind.
The old priest was worried they’d come to an inevitable standstill. But here was his young heir riding up to him with tidings of hope and a way forward.
The young voice came up blaring. ‘Grandfather, Grandfather! We can take the Secret Waterpath! We’ll avoid the market and the entire city; we can take the Waterpath!’
Jakan’s countenance brightened up right away. He never thought of that at all. How could he have forgotten the emergency pathway?
In order to channel underground water from the Jaiye city’s river springs to the outpost township of Koje, Jaiye scholars had mapped a straight, hidden route through which the spring will run without going through the city.
Running over the direct, underground tunnel that linked Jaiye to Koje through the forest, was the hidden pathway constructed for the time of war and emergencies.
It was called the Secret Waterpath. And it was only Jaiye’s noble houses that had the knowledge of its existence.
Jakan exhaled a puff of breath. He was relieved at last. How could Jawon be so quick and alert? He was proud of the successor he would be leaving behind.
Now the old man was so sure nothing would stop their mission. They would first ride down to the Ta river, cross the wooden bridge over it, and head up to Koje through the Waterpath.
‘Very good, my son!’ Jakan remarked. ‘Very good idea!’
The chief priest signalled to the men. And the hunt party headed down to Ta.
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© 2020 by Kayode & Tola Olla