TWO men bore the masked crown prince to the temple’s outer court, where the devotees were gathered. And they laid the bruised and wounded Àlà on the cold, hard floor.
The congregation went up in a wild outburst of curses yelled at the intruder. The desecrater of their hallowed temple.
The chief priest came out now with Iyun their sacrifice in his firm grip, accompanied by the large company of priests in the house.
Jakan removed the blindfold on Iyun’s eyes and took off the gag in her mouth; but he left her bounded still. The girl whimpered when she gazed down and saw her hero already laying weary and badly wounded.
The old man stood in front of the congregation and motioned for silence.
He spoke. ‘Here lies the fool who thinks himself a rescue king!’ announced Jakan. For the chief priest had thought that the masked young man was the slave boy Shao.
And he yelled: ‘Here lies the impudent desecrater of our sacred altar of slaughter!’
And just then, King Obade walked into the gathering, his subjects’ cheers greeting his return. ‘Long live the king! Long live the king!’ the people chorused.
Obade walked to the captured infiltrator lying there in agony.
‘Remove his mask!’ he shouted. But the voice that yelled the order only trembled with fright. For the old monarch desperately prayed that it wouldn’t be his son in front of him now.
Àlà’s heart sprinted in a heated race at his father’s burdened voice. He parted open a blood-shot eye and peered his grief-stricken face from beneath the mask.
Two men matched towards the prince and Obade looked away.
As the men yanked off the mask from Àlà’s face, they leapt backwards and with the force of a shocking sight.
‘Aargh!’ the men cried. They saw the face of the desecrater of tonight’s sacrifice. The man that had risked his life for the sake of a mere slave girl.
It was the crown prince of the kingdom. It was Prince Àlà.
Àlà gazed at his priceless rosebud amid the thorns here. He muttered her name in a pained little voice. ‘Iyun… ah Iyun!’ he moaned.
The damsel fell on her knees right then.
‘Ah… my prince, my prince!!’ she cried.
King Obade turned around in a hasty spin and stared down at the image of him lying wounded. He staggered in absolute shock.
The king’s lips mumbled something but the words couldn’t find their way out. He stuttered through in a low, trembling voice. ‘Àlà… Àlà… what have you done?!!’
Jakan rushed down there at that golden name. And he was too shocked to process anything. The chief priest trembled and stammered. ‘Wh… wh… why…?!’
Àlà looked up at the old man’s bewildered face. And he spoke in a small weak voice.
‘Because I love her!’ he said, aiming a finger at Iyun.
Jakan turned to look and there she was, their sacrificial offering tonight. He was shocked to his inner core as a deafening stillness filled the house for one grave moment.
Soon the temple hall began to rumble with a quiet murmur of curiosity rising from the congregation.
Now Jakan wished he’d removed the prince’s mask before deciding to bring him out to the people. The old man regretted it.
If only I haven’t concluded it was a slave boy! If only I’ve removed the mask! Ah, maybe… maybe I would’ve covered him…
But then Jakan had a rethink. The crown prince erred. He sinned to the High Heavens. But a sin to the Heavens cannot be covered up by mere mortals!
Yet it wasn’t only Jakan who considered covering up for the crown prince, if it could have been possible to. King Obade also wished for such a possibility that never came to them.
The murmurs among the worshippers were heightening into a louder burst of temper now. The quiet moment of shock was too soon done with, and the ardent devotees were clamoring for judgement already.
‘Judge him now! Judge him now! Judge him now!’ The chorus was a wild, unstoppable clamour. And it was shocking to Obade.
The people that had warmly welcomed the king just a while earlier were now demanding that the father judged his own son with the capital sentence.
They wanted the royal decree there and then. They wanted the desecrater of the holy altar of sacrifice to be slain on the spot.
Obade withdrew to a seat now amid the deafening outcry. And he pondered a troubling thought.
How will I judge my own son?! How… just how will I sentence my only son to death?!
The monarch looked ahead and gazed at the prince as he whimpered in pain and bleed from his wound. Àlà was at the verge of losing his life. But his helpless father was in a great dilemma.
Suddenly, a loud voice roared from among the crowd.
‘Let the high heavens be the judge!’
The sudden yell instantly stilled the house. Everyone was thrown off balance at that demand. The words seemed right, yet they seemed like an insult.
There was dead silence. And just when the people looked around for where the call came from, Zenas the evangelist matched out from among the devotees. He took the stage and faced the sacred gathering.
‘Let the high heavens be the judge of the man that desecrated their altar!’ Zenas reiterated in a bold, clear voice. And the house was quiet as though it was their king speaking.
The young missionary went on.
‘This man has not sinned against any man, has he? He didn’t kill anyone, did he? He has only sinned against the high heavens! And you all believe the heavens are greater and mightier than any mortal!
‘Then rather than judge him according to our standards here in Jaiye, let the high heavens do their own fight, will you! Or don’t we trust that the heavens can judge him?!’
Everyone murmured quietly. Zenas words sounded right. They sounded absolutely reasonable and the people had nothing against them.
The speaker charged on. ‘The worst the heavens will do is to kill the crown prince for desecrating their altar – and that will be all!
‘But my people… even a man that doesn’t offend the heavens will someday die! Everyone dies!’
The evangelist’s last words drew a quiet grumble after it.
A voice spoke up from amid the congregation. ‘Are you mocking the high heavens?! What are you saying?’ The lone voice stirred up quite a commotion.
Zenas raised a hand now. ‘Listen to me, my people!’ he yelled.
The entire house quietened right then and they were curious to hear the man out. Even the king and the chief priest weren’t ready to speak up, especially when the prince’s life was at stake.
‘Listen to me,’ continued the missionary. ‘I’m only telling you the reality. What man or woman will not die? Aren’t we all plagued with the Death Curse in Jaiye? What differs us from one another in death?’ he asked.
‘Because of the Death Curse we go down to hades once we die,’ continued Zenas. ‘We perish body and soul forever. And in spite of our sacrifices every season and our worship rites, don’t we all still die and go down to hades after all?’
Silence filled the atmosphere as everyone agreed with the young man.
Zenas went on. ‘You see, the heavens Jaiye serves has stopped demanding precious white horses. And for the first time they are demanding a slave girl that is as cheap in Jaiye as the grains of sand.
‘If animals will not die for man again, why do Jaiye think the blood of slaves we’ve always compared to horses will be enough to cleanse our sins. A mere slave we don’t pay for in Jaiye!
‘What makes us think a mere slave we got so cheap will be precious enough to wash away sins?!’
At this juncture Jakan couldn’t take it any longer. He felt the young man had begun to trespass. The old man reasoned within himself.
If this boy wants to save the crown prince from death today, I’ve got no problem with it; I want to do that too! But I won’t take anyone insulting these sacred rites to my face!
The chief priest moved to order the young man to shut up and forcefully get him out of the temple. He wondered if the strange man was really one of the devotees, with the things he was blurting out of his mouth.
But it was too late to ask about the stranger’s identity. For he saw that the people were absolutely attentive to the young speaker; they weren’t even agitated.
Jakan reasoned that, if the young man had the people’s interest that much, an abrupt stop would only trigger an outrage from his ever so volatile people.
The gentle priest decided not to forcefully shut the young man up. He chose to engage him in a debate. A debate to gag his mouth with.
Jakan didn’t know where to start. He thought to start from the base right up. ‘Young man, have you ever seen the moon turn blood?’ Jakan interrupted the speaker.
‘The moon turned as red as the blood of sacrifice,’ he continued. ‘And that sign is what the heavens gave as the time to change our sacrificial offering from animals to man?’
Zenas turned around to face the chief priest.
He replied. ‘Sir, if the heavens have been demanding animals all these seasons and suddenly they asked to be given humans, are the heavens growing up like mortals who gets weaned from breastmilk to taking solid food?
‘You elders are the ones who say the heavens are constant. Why will the high heavens suddenly change their food?’ asked Zenas.
There was a burst of laughter among the people. But in a brief moment the devotees came back to their senses and continued listening.
Jakan felt insulted. He decided to wave it for now, and he resumed with a question.
‘Well if you say slaves are too cheap to be worthy of our offering, do you want us to sacrifice our own selves instead? Do you want us to kill ourselves on the altar of slaughter?!’
Zenas turned around and addressed his response to the congregation now.
‘Indeed, man will die for man!’ he shouted. ‘But I ask: can a Koje slave redeem another Koje slave?
‘If the prince of Jaiye choose to lay down his life for a slave girl tonight, should his life be equated in value to that of the slave girl?
‘Should the future of the kingdom, the heir to the imperial throne of Jaiye, be equated to the life of a single slave? Answer me you people!’
There was silence. An absolute silence.
Zenas charged on. ‘This dying man is Jaiye himself!’ he cried, a desperate urgency in his strained voice.
‘If the noble prince chose to shed his blood to save this slave girl from dying the death tonight!’ continued the young, bold speaker.
‘If he chose to offer himself in her stead… it is not for the slave girl alone! The crown prince’s life is worth more than scores and scores of the Koje born!
‘The prince has chosen to redeem the entirety of Koje slaves from the animal curse plaguing them – and with his own blood!
‘Should the noble prince die tonight, will the Koje born still be regarded as mere slaves? Answer me!!
‘Should he die tonight, will the slave girl he gave his life for be regarded as an outcast in Jaiye kingdom any longer?!’
Zenas desperately cried: ‘Can’t you see the prince has come to lay down his own life for the sake of Koje?! For the liberation of Koje itself?!
‘How many Koje slaves can we put together that will worth the value of the crown prince of our great Jaiye Kingdom?! Tell me! How many slaves?!’
The entire temple hall rumbled with murmurs of agreement.
Now Jakan got what the young man was saying. But he was still stuck on something else. Yet before the old priest could ask a question, the king spoke up.
‘I agree with you on that, young man!’ said Obade. Zenas turned to the king and curtseyed.
The king went on speaking. ‘But tell me friend, what about the liberation of the entirety of Jaiye Kingdom? What man will sacrifice himself for us?’ he enquired in desperate low voice.
‘If the crown prince is redeeming our outpost at Koje from the Animal Curse,’ concluded Obade, ‘what prince will give his life to redeem the kingdom from the Death Curse plaguing us? Tell me please!’
And just then, Àlà mustered the last fibre of strength left in his aching muscles… as he raised himself to sit up where he had laid down.
And with all the breath left in his weary lungs, the prince took over the speaking floor.
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© 2020 by Kayode & Tola Olla