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Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) - Literature (4) - Nairaland

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Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 2:19am On Sep 12
14

“What kind of ignorant nation hales you as untouched?”

I smirked at the grumpiness in Tiwo’s voice. My gaze darted over his face, the narrowed eyes, the pouting frown, before returning to the mirror. I admired the bulky shift I had on. The gown was baggy, like a sack hewn over my body. It was long-sleeved having arms that extended far beyond my fingers and bottom fringes that swept the ground with at least two inches of material. The cloth the gown was made of was fine silk, a grade so fine that it was as slippery as water between my fingers. My veil was made of a slightly rougher material. It covered my entire face and was sewn with edges like a diamond so that the short ends reached midway down my upper arms, and the long ends fell all the way down my back and front, stopping at my knees.

It was a largesse of cloth so conservative that even the most devout could find no issue. This much cloth shouldn’t show skin. And if it was anywhere other than the Bono nation where the flesh of the pure was honored, it wouldn’t.

But, alas, it was the Bono nation and so the cloth was made of material so sheer that every inch of my body was visible through the layers of cloth, leaving me practically naked.

“After all that I’ve endured in this nation, I’m denied the reward of an Eyo festival,” Tiwo lamented, with an exaggerated woe is me expression coloring his features. This was our last night in Bono. We were leaving the next morning, and Debisi had agreed to come with us. The only person not overly joyed by our departure was Taiso, which was further evidence, if I needed one, that I was making the right decision.

I stretched out my hands and twirled, displaying myself to my audience of two, Tiwo and Mede. The light material billowed around me.

“How do I look?”

Mede kept her gaze on my face. Her chin was tipped upward, her gaze professionally trained away from my body. “I do not like that you will be going alone, revered.”

“Only the untouched can witness the Eyo masquerade.” I couldn’t keep the mocking contempt away from my voice. In this one instance though, I did not mind being considered a Bono virgin. I had heard many things about the Eyo festival but I had never really thought that I’d have the opportunity to attend one. Now, I thought of the people who would be dressed as I was, and I couldn’t help but salivate at the sight that awaited me. Only virgins would be allowed out of their rooms this night.

“The images I summoned to mind when they tested me. I thought of the orgy, Tan, of naked pleasure slaves touching, sucking, fucking, everywhere. It didn’t matter how depraved I got, I still couldn’t pass their test. The test is impossible. No one can get an erection that quickly.” Tiwo recited the complaint he’d been making ever since he’d taken the Eyo masquerade’s test of verdure, and failed it. He’d desperately wanted to witness the Eyo festival.

“Debisi can,” I teased.

He murmured something unintelligible underneath his breath and flicked his gaze upwards, to the ceiling. I couldn’t help smiling at his sullen display. I walked over to him and knelt on the bed, beside his prone form. His eyes turned to me then. I kissed him on his cheek, through the smooth obstruction of my gauze veil. “I’ll tell you everything that happens.”

Still pouting, he managed to say, “do you promise?”

I nodded.

He sighed. “I guess I’ll have to settle for that then.”

A loud sound tore through the room, quick and unexpected in its sudden arrival. The glass cups on my table shuddered and the transparent liquor in the tall bottle swayed. Tiwo lurched up from his lying position, and even I startled a little. My gaze snapped around me, scouring for signs of danger even as my brain provided a delayed explanation for the jarring sound that was repeated, seemingly playing on a loop. Only Mede remained composed. My gaze rested on her face and from the direction of her gaze I could tell that she’d been staring at my body, my butt to be specific. I blinked and her gaze was back ahead of her, her profile as straight and unflustered as it had been before. It made me question the look I’d thought I’d seen.

“It’s time for me to go,” I climbed down from the bed. The sharp bang filled the room, again, for the tenth time. It would strike ten more times, one stroke of the gong for each of the mami watas set to accompany the Eyo masquerade on its tour of the palace.

This night I was one of those Eyo mami watas, or at least a body for the mami wata to inhabit. We’d been chosen by the oracle, whispered into the oracle’s ears by the spirit of the Eyo masquerade.

I swerved around Mede, eyeing her unflinching statue-like pose curiously, as I retrieved my hat, the last part of the costume. The hat was made entirely of green vegetation, leaves, stems, roots and a band of green berries. The brim was entirely flat, and the crown a conical frustrum with a rounded top. I put it on and looked at my reflection in the mirror for the final time. Then I blew a kiss at Tiwo, which he slowly accepted, before walking out of the room.

By the time I stepped foot on the empty corridors, the final strike of the gong was done. I made my way towards the staircase as notes of cultural Bono songs drifted through the hallways, filling the palace interior like a puff of smoke. Beats from a full contingent of drum sets punctuated the air with their forceful rhythm. I could clearly hear notes from a talking drum, and lighter sharp notes from an agogo much quieter than the gong that had been struck before. But there were also bass drum notes, and drumbeats from tarp skins struck with wooden sticks. The shekere joined in the cacophony lending the harsher sounds with the calming swish and clap of beads against gourd.

I drifted downward, puzzled at the volume of the sounds. I was indoors travelling throughout the palace, and no matter where I went, I could distinctly hear the music and the notes of the singers, just as clearly as I’d heard the bang of the gong.

I stopped outside the front door of the palace.

It was raining.

The Eyo masquerade only came out twice a year, both times during the rainy season. There was no prescribed date, no way to know when the masquerade would take on its human form and wander about the land that it watched over. The oracles only got warning a day in advance and in that day they made all preparations for the night of the masquerade’s visit.

A virgin attendant stood behind a white plastic table. She was an albino, dressed in the formal iro of the Bono, which set her apart from those dressed as I, mami watas who would participate in the festival. All virgins were invited to watch, to cheer on the masquerade and add their voices to the unseen choir.

I walked over to her. She caught the edge of my veil and bowed to kiss it, whispering prayers as she moved. When she rose, her eyes remained fixed downwards. I had been briefed on the logistics of the festival, and so I knew to reach into the glass bowl and pick up a piece of kola nut. The nuts were all peeled, exposing white skins. They were bitter kola nuts, I could tell from the length and slender girth. These ones were called Orisa nuts, opium hallucinogenics that prepared mortals for the possession of mami watas.

I threw the nut into my mouth, and chewed, swallowing down the bitter moisture that coated my tongue and gums.

Then I stepped out, away from the shade provided by the palace roof, underneath the heavy stream of falling rain. I had never felt rain like this before, it was warm without the pungent scent that usually followed rainwater. It drifted across my skin like a lover’s caress and I stretched my arms out, opening them wide to embrace the rain. I felt the presence of the masquerade in the rain, in the air that accompanied the rain, teasing the folds of my costume into dancing for it. The music too, music played by an unseen choir, music that echoed through the palace just as loud in there as it was out here, in that music too I felt the touch of the masquerade.

We had nothing like this in Isan. Only the Bono and the Nuri believed in masquerades who took on the form of humans to visit the people. In Isan we believed that the Egbabonelimwin masquerade lived in the tumblers, in those with the calling of motion. Through their skills, their grace and art in fighting, parts of our Isan masquerade lived amongst us and protected us. We had nothing like this Eyo festival.

In my drug-altered state, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were missing out.

I’d taken Orisa nuts before. According to the oracle, twenty were required before a person’s body was fully purified enough for a mami wata to enter. My maximum was five, after five I lost all conscious awareness of my surroundings.

The unseen choir played a song that was shared amongst Nulin nations. It was a story of the promise of reunification. One that the five masquerades had held in agreement when the Nulin nations broke apart several millennia ago. Every child in the Nulin nation knew the tale. I did not like to sing much in public, but I could already feel the effect of the Orisa nuts. They loosened my tongue and I found myself singing along with the virgins who stood in the edges watching. The wind and the rain combined together, beating their own rhythm against my skin, through the sheer material, that even though wet, did not cling at all to my body. The elements urged me to dance. I heard whispers in the winds, urges from the masquerade itself, and I danced. I jumped up when the bang of the bass drum demanded it, and spun when the swish of the shekere beads cajoled. The talking drum spoke its own language to me, urging me in its fast and slow, warring rhythms, to bend a little, bend to a squat, which I did, swivel in the squat, which I did, jump on one foot, which I did, dance, be merry, the agogo chimed and I smiled. I obeyed.

The song spoke of the heralds of reunification. Of war. Corpses scattered over pristine grounds. A peacemaker warmonger. A loveless love match with love true. A ferocious fragile flower. Lost items whose locations were known. Chaos and confusion amidst the longest calm. They were all oxymorons, things that I’d scoffed at before, but this night, as I sang the heralds of reunification, I felt a chill run down my spine, and I shivered. I could hear it in my head, the sounds of war, the neighing of horses rearing backwards away from the danger of an outstretched spear. The sight and smell and taste of spilled blood. The cries of pain. Those cries were mine. I felt powerless hatred and all-consuming fear, alien things I had never truly known. Powerlessness was an unfamiliar experience and fear was never something I could not face. Yet the feelings clung to me and it wasn’t till I swallowed, that I noted the rawness in my throat. My ears rang, but it was from my own screaming, not some vision of the future.

I closed my mouth and the shrill sound ended. My vision cleared and my thoughts were free of the heralds. The unseen choir was singing something new.

Others, costumed as I was, had joined me. Six Bono, all were natural albinos with their bodies showing through their clothes just as clearly as mine did. Three of them were males, three females. We danced together in flowing white garments, towards the next table and the bowl of Orisa nuts that sat there. The onlookers had grown. They were all young, all dressed in virgin iros. There were many children, more children than I had seen since stepping into the palace. They all stared at us in awe. The path in the middle of the compound was cleared so that we could dance along it. The onlookers made sure to stand away from the path. As we drifted by, they reached out to grab the edges of our garments and place kisses on it.

We’d just reached the table when the dark sky lightened with veins of electric pulse. We all stopped and froze. Even I, Isan and largely uninformed on the matter of the Eyo festival, knew that the Eyo masquerade only came on calm rainy nights. Its arrival was unaccompanied with celestial wonders. In fact, the presence of such were bad portends, signaling the withdrawal of the Eyo masquerade’s spirit. Collectively, our gazes lifted to the sky and we watched waiting, perhaps hoping that the lightning had been a mistake. Then the air crackled and the roar of thunder struck, blowing through us with the jarring shock of an icy bath.

The music reached a hasty end. No more notes were heard from the unseen choir. The only sound that punctuated the silent night was the thunder. The calm wind turned furious, whipping up dirt and tiny rocks and bashing them against our skin. The previous warm rain was cold and inundated with the natural pungency of rainwater.
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 2:19am On Sep 12
Those of us in sheer white, dressed for the Eyo festival, knew deep down that it had been cancelled. I saw my emotions mirrored in their faces. The despair of wanting to cling to that feeling, the promise of possession by an Eyo mami wata, the desire to be in the presence of a masquerade, of such a great deity. Then there was a sense of hopelessness, an emptiness felt in the deepest crevices of my being, as if that which had filled me was now gone. Then the sorrow, the aching, profound, grief of loss.

“This has never happened before.”

“The Eyo masquerade has withdrawn.”

“Spirits displeased.”

The whispers broke into the silence, robbing us of our precious moment of shared grief. The others turned away. They moved quickly, and then broke into runs once the chill of the rain seeped in through the sheer materials they wore. I just stood there, alone amongst a dwindling crowd, shivering from the cold, but unable to move. Unable to make sense of this. I stared up at the dark sky, momentarily lit with the white lines of lightening. Thunder followed quickly after, but it bore no answers for me.

“Revered.”

I heard Mede’s voice and turned slowly to look at her. She was with Eghe. He gaped at me, but it was nothing new, he always looked like that when he saw me naked. No matter how many times we’d been together. Mede wrapped me in a thick velvet cloak, similar to that which they wore. I must have been standing there for a while, because my feet felt numb. I had to bend my toes a few times before the feeling of numbness went away.

“Eghe,” she snapped at her partner. He shook his head and came towards us, shielding us all with the large umbrella he carried.

Mede rubbed my arms beneath the cloak, as if she was trying to force warmth back in. I wondered vaguely if my skin felt as cold as I did. My mind felt muddled. I removed the green hat and the veil, which Mede immediately snatched from my hands. Then I stepped out from underneath the umbrella, ignoring their cries for me to return. I let the cool rain splatter across my face and clear my mind of the muddling remnants of the Orisa nut. One was usually not enough to make me feel this disoriented.

When I felt more settled, I walked back underneath the shelter of the umbrella.

I turned to Mede.

There were lines on her forehead, and something else in her eyes. It took me a while to name the sorrow I saw reflected in the shimmer of her orbs.

“What is it?”

She glanced at me and her gaze dropped. “I’m sorry revered,” her voice was low, shaky even.

“Someone’s dead. Who is it? Mother?” But no, Mede wouldn’t be this affected by my mother’s death. No. “Tiwo?” My lips quivered and a sudden well of tears flooded my eyes, blurring my vision.

“No, no, revered, Tiwo is fine.”

The ripping pain in my chest eased. I heaved in a deep breath. “Who is it?”

“I’m sorry.” She repeated. I wanted to slap her, to shake her until she just yelled it out. I probably would have too, if Eghe’s flat tone didn’t stop me.

“The Iyo contingent.”

That ripping pain returned and tore straight through my heart.

“They sent a messenger with the corpses.”

“Where?”

“The welcoming tent, revered.”

I took off before Eghe was even done speaking. My thoughts were filled with images of Ayisha, my sweet Ayisha. The sight of her in the bathroom, standing with her hands on the pillars. The collar that I’d gifted her, settled on her pretty neck. “I like him, I like him more than most men, but I have only ever loved once.” The love in her eyes when she said it, looking up to me, trusting me. I knew that I was crying and I didn’t care, my sweet Ayisha, my beautiful girl. A guttural cry came out of me, torn out from my lips, and spilling into the ether. I would kill them all. Whoever it was that took her from me, I would kill them. I ran, my bare feet slapping angrily against the white stone grounds. I heard footsteps behind me, my tumblers, no doubt, but I couldn’t find it in me to stop or slow down.

I didn’t slow until the tent was in view. The white tarp roof stood out to me like a siren calling me to my doom. Still knowing what was there, I didn’t stop, I couldn’t. I had to see it for myself.

Charred corpses.

I saw Debisi bent over one of the bodies. He had a frown on his face, the look he had whenever he was trying to solve a puzzle, and a strong wave of hatred flowed through me when I saw it. In that moment I hated him for trying to decipher the corpses, for studying them, for puzzling over them. He showed no sorrow, no grief, he was completely emotionless. He stood around corpses, one of which was most likely my sweet girl’s and he did not flinch. He studied it with a scholar’s detachment.

“Tan!” Tiwo slammed into me. He wrapped his arms around me and wept into my shoulder. I held him close to me and wept too. My tears dampened his velvet cloak as his did mine. But I pulled away. I had to see her for myself. It would be painful, but I had to see her.

“Where is she? Where is Ayisha?”

Tiwo pulled back. “She isn’t here, Tan, he took her. That monster took her.”

All I heard was ‘she isn’t here’. Which meant she wasn’t dead. She wasn’t among the corpses that littered the floor. The ache in my chest eased. I could breathe without shuddering in pain. The tears dried in my eyes, I had to think. I forced myself to remember all that Tiwo said. Someone had her. Someone took her. If someone took her then that someone was about to feel my wrath.

I extricated myself from my brother’s tight embrace. I noticed the guards first. They surrounded the tent. Taiso was there, looking grim. The Ooni was also present, he was the only one sitting. He looked at the corpses and I saw the sorrow etched into the tired old lines on his face, and I loved him deeply for it. His right fist was clenched on the knob of his walking stick.

“Uncle,” I moved over to him, “what happened?”

His face tilted upwards and his scowl lifted. “I’m so sorry, my dear.”

I nodded, trying not to be impatient, but I needed to know. I needed to plan. “Please tell me what happened.”

“Of course. Taiso, send the messenger over.”

I noticed the man standing beside Taiso. He was part of the Iyo contingent a guard that had been with Ayisha. He’d had both hands then, but now he only had one. His left hand had been cut off his limb. He carried over a golden box in his right arm. Then he approached us and held the golden box up. He bowed.

“What happened?” I couldn’t help the snap in my voice. I needed to know.

He lifted his head. “The Nuri soldiers the Eze sent to escort us caught the princess sneaking out with the Sehzade. They tortured the Sehzade until he confessed to their plans to wed before the princess could marry the Eze.” I clenched my jaw. “Then they held us prisoner and sent word to the Eze. The Eze’s justice was swift.” He lifted his right hand, a single twitch that drew attention to the gilded box he held. It was an unspoken signal to open. I reached for the golden box and lifted the lid. The Sehzade’s dead eyes stared up at me from a severed head. I gritted my teeth and closed the box.

“As you’ve seen, revered, the Eze ordered the Sehzade beheaded and had every other member of our party burnt to death. His soldiers took the princess back with them to the palace and sent me with this head to express the Eze’s displeasure to the emperor. They said that no one could be left unpunished, and so they cut off my hand.”

I couldn’t believe it. “Is he insane?” I yelled.

“Nuri law,” Taiso’s voice dripped with disgust. “Women are possessions to them, and it is considered theft if a man tries to marry a woman already betrothed to someone else. The punishment for stealing from the Eze is death.”

“But it was a love match!” Tiwo yelled.

“The Eze of Nuri is a deranged animal!” The Ooni screamed. “Did you really think that he would honor a love match?”

I stepped back.

“They hadn’t been married yet when they were caught.” Taiso said. “Maybe it would have been different if they’d succeeded in getting married. A sworn love match cannot be broken, but there is no law preventing anyone from stopping a couple before they swear the match.” He sagged, as if suddenly unable to bear the full force of his weight. “I cannot help but feel responsible. When Debisi told me what you all planned, I should have known that something like this could happen, I should have foreseen it.” His words were delivered with the arrogance of one who truly expected to be capable of foreseeing all eventualities. Still, I couldn’t help but see him differently. There were not many who would willingly shoulder the blame for things out of their control. It was the mark of a good leader.

But it wasn’t his blame to take. It was mine. “I should have known better.” I should have done more. I did not think that there was any leader who was capable of this sort of carnage. To slaughter so many because a woman had tried to jilt you? What kind of monster would do something like this? “The Eze underestimates the emperor’s love for his daughter. The emperor will burn Nuri to the ground.”

Taiso breathed out deeply. “Will he really? The Eze might be an animal, but no one has ever accused him of not being smart. The emperor will not risk marching on Nuri while his daughter could be harmed. By the time the emperor marches his army to Nuri, Ayisha and the Eze will be married. If the Eze manages to get her pregnant, I think the emperor will be amenable to forgiving the Eze. It wasn’t his son the Eze killed.”

I was floored by the cold logic of it. It was hard for me to imagine anyone being as ruthlessly logical as the Eze. But the proof was right in front of me. Even the one man he’d been willing to spare, he’d only let him go after cutting off his hand, because he had to punish him. What kind of person would do something like this? Someone desperate, maybe, someone preparing for war, who needed an alliance with the Iyo empire no matter the cause. But he could have taken Ayisha and still let the rest of the contingent live. He didn’t have to kill them. The Eze of Nuri was my neighbor, but I’d never before bothered to wonder about the kind of man he was.

“I’m going to get Ayisha back.” I stated without inflection. “Then I’m going to lance a spear through the Eze’s heart.” I believed very strongly in putting down dangerous beasts.

“I will help you.” Taiso’s offer took me completely by surprise.
I knew a lot about Taiso. I knew about the squabble between him and his brother, about the nobles he’d killed to secure his rule. The nobles that Debisi said he killed. I didn’t like it, that nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me that everything I knew of Taiso came from Debisi. I had one person’s story, and that was never enough to learn the full picture. I knew this. I turned to find Debisi, to look into the eyes of the man I’d come to know and respect. He’d moved closer to us, but he was still starring at the corpses with the thinking expression on his face. His father and his brother had shown genuine emotions, but not Debisi, he was still staring at the bodies as if they were a puzzle.

I turned back to Taiso. “How?”

“We can go to Ikeja, Ikeja is the closest border village to the Eze’s palace. Once we get there, we’ll sneak into Nuri and get Ayisha out. Then we let the Eze face the wrath of the Iyo empire without their princess to hide behind.”

“We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”

“As you wish, revered.” Taiso replied.

My gaze rested on the corpses. They were people, members of the Iyo contingent that I had shared a roof with. They had families, loved ones, but I couldn’t help but feel relieved at the fact that Ayisha wasn’t amongst them. She was still alive, which meant that she could be saved. And I was going to save her. I swore it by all the masquerades. I would save my sweet girl.

I had trouble sleeping that night. I tossed around in my bed, my thoughts filled with images of charred corpses that had Ayisha’s sweet face and the collar I’d given her wrapped around her neck. I imagined the Eze of Nuri instead. I knew his age, he was in his late twenties, a sadistic monster. What did a monster look like? It didn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter with my spear lancing his neck.
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 2:20am On Sep 12
A soft knock on my room door stopped me in the middle of my tossing. I sat up and called out in response. My guards knew me well. If I was asleep the knocking wouldn’t wake me up.

The door creaked open and a low voice inquired into the darkness, “his royal highness, the Alake of Ibadan, requests your presence.” It wasn’t Mede. I don’t know why I wished it was her soft voice reaching out to me. I imagined it would be easier to sleep if I had her in my arms.

“Let him in.”

The door opened wide, and Debisi walked in, carrying a lantern with white light streaming from it. The dim light got considerably brighter after the door closed.

“Couldn’t sleep,” he said. I watched him as he drew closer. I was still angry with him. His apathy in the face of that horror somehow made him less to me. “May I?” he asked when he was standing by my bed.

He waited for my response, even when minutes passed and none came. That was so Debisi. He placed his lantern on the ground and just stood there, waiting. He wore his casual white galabia, but he’d left the glasses behind.

I nodded.

He sat at the edge of the bed. He scratched the side of his head, then I saw him reach with two fingers pinched together towards the side of his eye, and then pull the fingers away, as if just then remembering that he had no glasses to fidget with.

“Are you angry with me, Tan?” his soft voice stirred something in me that I couldn’t name. “I tried to talk to you, but you walked away.”

I sat up, leaning back against the solid bed post. Perhaps it had taken this night for me to be candid with myself, but I saw now, that there was so much more to Debisi. Perhaps I’d always seen, always known. He pretended he couldn’t fight, pretended to use glasses, pretended to be whatever version of himself that best suited his needs. His chameleon tendencies scared me. It made me feel like I could never fully trust him.

“Tan?” he kept his gaze on his hands in his laps, even when he called out beseechingly to me. Was that an act, a submissive posturing he put on to get to me?

“I’m tired,” I said, “it’s been a long day.”

“Oh.” He didn’t move.

I waited for him to leave but he didn’t. His gaze eventually lifted from his hands, but not to me. He looked around the room, studying each fixture as if it was the first time he’d seen it. “I haven’t been in here since the night I found Lola’s body.”

I didn’t know that, that he’d been the one to find her body. I realized there was a lot I didn’t know. I didn’t even know how she’d died. So I asked him.

He swallowed. I saw his throat work, watched the contraction of his skin, the movement of the muscles beneath it.

“She killed herself.”

I gasped. I couldn’t help the sound. With the way they’d spoken of her, nothing could have led me to suspect this. Suicide was a last resort, the desperate action of someone who felt as if they had no one else to turn to. From listening to Debisi and the Ooni speak about her, I couldn’t imagine that she felt that way. She was a beloved only daughter, an admired older sister, what led her to do something like that. I didn’t realize I’d voiced my thoughts until I turned to find Debisi staring at me, his mouth working as if he was struggling with speaking. Then he cleared his throat and turned away from me.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories.”

He shook his head, but he still didn’t speak. It took a long time before he finally said, “they’ve been up all night. It’s why I couldn’t sleep.”

“Can you talk to me about it? I mean, if it’ll help.”

“You should probably know.” His voice was low, tight. “I thought your father would have told you.”

I frowned at that. Why would my father have told me? And, for that matter, why would Debisi think that I should know? “My father didn’t tell me.”

“I’ll tell you then.” He said, but no words came after that, just the haggard sound of rough breathing.

I’d just about given up on ever hearing him speak when he finally cleared his throat and delivered the words to me in a deadpan manner.

“I was fourteen the first time that the Eze of Nuri visited Bono. He was sixteen then. Tall, already obscenely muscular, with royal arrogance stamped onto every feature on his face. There was an afternoon feast to celebrate his visit, which I was allowed to attend. But the party later that night, I was barred from, I was too young. Lola was seventeen then. She was so excited because Kola was coming in from Ikeja and the both of them planned to attend the party together. She’d driven everyone crazy trying to find the perfect dress to stun Kola.” I smiled at that, imagining a young love between Lola and Kola, who I remembered was the Alake of Ikeja’s son. But while I smiled, Debisi was completely emotionless. He delivered the words flatly, as if he was reading a dry science book.

“I wasn’t there, but from what Kola told me later, the Eze fell in love with my sister that night. He became infatuated with her. Lola, playing the role of hostess, was always courteous to him. But she was that way with everyone. Smiling, cheerful, kind. He was supposed to visit for a week. He stayed for three months. Then, one day, he asked for my sister’s hand in marriage. After talking with Lola, and learning of her true feelings for the Eze, our father refused. The Eze was enraged. I wasn’t there for most of this, but I was there when our father turned the Eze down. It was during an intimate dinner, just me, my parents, my siblings and the Eze. He threw his plate to the ground and shattered it. Then he stormed towards my father. Lola started begging him to stop but the Eze, for some strange reason, took that as Lola begging our father to reconsider.

Our father was furious that the Eze would dare threaten him. He threw the Eze out of our palace and banished him from ever returning to Bono. Lola had such a good, soft, heart, that she blamed herself for the rift between our nations. She would scheme with me and Kola on ways that she could repair it, and I was young, stupid, I thought, if he really loved her, then if she asked, he would apologize to our father. I was so naïve, and Lola was too. She agreed with me. They snuck out of the palace, Lola and Kola, and went to Nuri to confront the Eze.

They shouldn’t have done it.

The Eze took that as proof of Lola’s love. He came back a few weeks after they returned, but he came disguised in a mask. He kidnapped Lola and took her to a shrine where he forced her to swear to a love match with him. Then he raped her. After that, he brought her back to the palace and blithely announced to our father that they were married, and the wedding had been consummated in the presence of an oracle. He boasted that there was nothing our father could do to undo the union. He was right. Lola killed herself that night. I found her hanging. She was dressed in a Nuri slave dress with a slave brand carved on her body. He used a knife to carve it into her. She must have been so scared of him. She chose death over a life with him.”

So many things snapped into place. Their hatred for the Eze for one. I’d always known that it was personal, from the way they spoke of it, but I hadn’t imagined that it was this personal. I knew that this was where Debisi had gotten the idea for a love match for Ayisha from. He was trying to use the Eze’s own trick against him. If only it hadn’t gone so awry. He was still as detached as he’d been before. I understood then that this was how he coped. This emotionlessness, the same one I’d hated him for before. It was how he dealt with the horrors. I shimmied over to him and sat behind him, wrapping my arms around him.

It took him a while then he leaned into me and I cursed myself for ever doubting him.

“It was my fault Tan, I told her to go to him. I encouraged her. I was so foolish, so quick to believe in love.” I rubbed my hand over his arms to calm him. “He carved a slave brand into her skin.”

“Shhh, he’ll pay for all that he’s done.” I promised.

He shook within my arms. “We already tried to make him pay. Father sent troops to Nuri. The Eze slaughtered them. Then he marched on Ikeja.”

How did I not know this? I knew of every squabble between the Nuri and the Bono mostly because they’d tried to involve us in it. Still, it was shocking that I’d never known of this, arguably the most important one.

“What happened?”

“You really don’t know?” His voice held an unfeigned note of wonder.

“Would I ask if I did?”

“No. Your father interceded, Tan. He met with the Eze, then with my father, and a bargain was struck. It was meant to be a peace deal, a marriage bond to unite our nations. But it wasn’t possible, not after what we’d endured.”

I frowned. My father was smarter than that. Why would he think that a simple marriage could solve the issue? In fact, why would the Ooni agree? Neka was the Eze’s cousin, I didn’t need to be told that she was the one given in marriage. I had thought Taiso and Neka an unlikely pair, now I understood why. Still, it made no sense that my father would sue for peace in such a situation. It was he who’d taught me that monstrous beasts should be put down. By suing for peace by marriage, he authenticated the Eze’s marriage to Lola. But my father would never do a thing like that, he would never allow for rape to stand, it was just not in his nature. I tried to explain all of this to Debisi.

“You can never really know a person’s true nature,” he said. It was oddly prophetic, seeing as I’d been thinking the exact same thing about him only a few minutes ago.

“But I knew my father.”

“Maybe he was ashamed of what he’d done. Maybe that’s why he never told you.” There was something harsh in Debisi’s voice, a rumbling undercurrent that I couldn’t place or explain no matter how hard I tried.

Could he be right about my father’s feelings on this issue? I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. There had to be more to this, for my father to have made the decision he did, there had to be more. But Debisi was not in a place to hear me defend my father and so I didn’t. I let the thoughts percolate through my mind, instead.

3 Likes

Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by Fazemood(m): 8:27am On Sep 12
obehiD:


I have a better understanding of what you're saying now. I think Nnedi Okarafor did something similar with technology in African themed literature in Who Fears Death...I think that could have been cool here. I don't know if I'll be able to incorporate that into this book, but I'll think and see if there's a way to put it in. Thanks for the inspiration grin
You are always welcome cheesy
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by Elvictor: 8:32am On Sep 12
i wil modify when am back from church
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by doctorexcel(m): 10:09am On Sep 12
Wow. Getting more intense. Thanks Obehid
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by GeoSilYe(f): 10:24am On Sep 12
I was expecting that Debisi had something to say about the bodies though seeing how he kept "examining" them.
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by PenHub: 11:41am On Sep 12
Thanks for the update Obehid. This story just justifies my reason to be an author
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by cassbeat(m): 1:06pm On Sep 12
GeoSilYe:
I was expecting that Debisi had something to say about the bodies though seeing how he kept "examining" them.
Me too, Buh I'm sure the subsequent update will tell... Thanks obehid
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by millieademi(f): 3:29pm On Sep 12
So this is African fantasy at its best.

Really, it's like GOT and Black Panther got married and this is their bouncing baby.

Can't wait to read more.

kiss kiss kiss

Kisses ObehiD.

This is amazing.
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 3:38am On Sep 19
@doctorexcel yup that's the plan, slowly turn up the intensity

@GeoSilYe you may be right about that...who can say...

@PenHub wow, that means a lot thank you cheesy

@cassbeat thanks for reading!

@millieademi WHOA this is huge...thank you, I can't believe that this story makes anyone feel like this, like wow, you made my day grin

1 Like

Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 3:46am On Sep 19
15

We rode off at dawn the following morning. We didn’t tarry. My mother and the Ooni stood underneath the white tarp, and watched as we rode away. The Ooni assured me that the presence of both of his sons would ensure that all the nobles we encountered on the way, gave us whatever aid we requested. So, we took our leave, leading our horses on a gallop down the white roads of the Bono capital. I left the nobles who’d accompanied me in the palace, taking only my tumblers and the warriors who’d found lodgings outside the palace gates.

We travelled across the official trade routes. They were roads for nobles and wealthy merchants, Taiso informed me. For some reason I was yet to decipher, he’d appointed himself my tour guide. I had too much on my mind to pay close attention to his prattling. Neka accompanied us. Her company made absolutely no sense. We rode without servants or lady’s maids, without luxuries, why would she choose to come? It was a minute anomaly I had no time to dwell on, and as such became nothing more than a bleep on the edges of my consciousness. Most of my thoughts were focused on Ayisha. She was sweet, my girl, and she could stand up for herself, but she also frightened easily. I didn’t think that she would have the will to deny the Eze when he attempted to force her into marriage, especially not when it was her father’s wish. Surely, she knew that her father would not want her to marry the kind of man that could cause the carnage of death that had been visited on the Iyo delegation. Burnt bodies, decapitated heads and limbs. Ayisha had to trust in her father more than that. What if she did refuse to marry the Eze? If he was psychotic enough to behead the Sehzade, he was evil enough to force her into marriage.

My fine Bono horse galloped beneath me, flowing effortlessly from hind legs to front legs and kicking up grains of white sand in the process. It was travelling at a good pace, but I itched to move faster. We travelled with guards, mine and several dozen of the Bono’s, who marched on foot in our wake. Travelling any faster would require them to run to keep up, and that would be cruel, not to mention unsustainable.

“We’re moving too slow,” Tiwo was frustrated. It wasn’t the first time he’d made the comment since we left the palace. Each time he said it, his voice sounded more and more strained.

“We’re going as fast as we can with our entourage.” I tried to console him.

Bonnie, his Bono dog, ran ahead of us. She turned around as I spoke and barked her disapproval at me.

Tiwo continued his litany of complaints, too distracted to pay much attention to Bonnie. “Do you know what that monster could have done to her by the time we reach there? Why do we need such a large contingent?”

I groaned. “Do you think that we’ll be able to sneak into the Nuri’s palace without assistance?”

“Yes!” he said stubbornly. His chin was jutted out and his face carved into a thoroughly uncompromising profile. His gem-sparkled braids bounced on his head as he rode.

“Just you and I?” I teased. “And what happens when I need aid?”

He turned in his seat and glared at me with such deep animosity that I cringed. For a long moment I could do nothing but stare back at the hard profile that my brother showed me. My mouth grew abnormally dry. There was more hatred in Tiwo’s face than I’d ever seen him direct at anyone, ever. It left me speechless. He snapped his head away, his braids ripping through the air, then he dug his legs into his horse’s side and lurched forward. Bonnie vaulted after him.

“I was only teasing,” I said, finding my voice much too late. My soft words fell unheard in his wake, swallowed by the plume of dust kicked up by his horse’s spurs.

I pulled sharply on the reins in my hands, and made to follow after him, when I saw two tumblers racing off in his wake. One of them was Eghe. Mede drew to a stop beside me.

“Don’t revered,” her voice was calm. “I will go with them, we’ll find him and make sure no harm comes to him.”

I shook my head. Mede’s gaze was warm and compassionate when I turned to meet it. “I can’t.”

“Yes, revered, you can. We will ride with him, till he’s ridden off his bad mood, then we will slow and wait for you to catch up with us. No harm will come to him. I swear it.”

My eyes scoured her face, digging into the deep brown irises, the long lashes that framed them, the heart-shaped lips that curved only slightly as she smiled. I sighed. If I rode off, my tumblers would race after me, and so would the soldiers traveling on foot. I nodded at Mede. She bowed and took off.

I watched the back of her horse till it disappeared.

“Your brother does not seem to respect you very much.” The voice that spoke was high-pitched and rung with a note of ill-concealed glee. Neka.

I didn’t bother turning to meet her gaze. Tiwo was right. The slow pace was killing me. We had to go faster, each moment we wasted was another one that Ayisha would suffer at the hands of her tormentor. I turned to face Taiso, instead.

He did not look pleased. He levelled a warning glance at his wife, one that wiped the smile off her face. Then he turned to me and made a fine sweeping bow from atop his horse. “Please forgive my olori, revered.”

I could not say that I had ever been the subject of such catty comments, at least never any made to my face. Still, I remembered that Neka was the Oza’s daughter and I remembered the tale that Debisi had told me the night before. My father was responsible for her marriage to Taiso, if she was unhappy in it, it was my father’s fault. Why? The question resurfaced in my thoughts. Why did my father seek to heal the breach through marriage? It had put an end to outright war between the nations, but it did not end the perpetual border skirmishes and the Nuri thieving of Bono nobles. The thoughts went away, replaced by others more pressing.

“Your highness, my brother was right about our pace. If you know of a place we could stop to provision as many of my soldiers as possible with horses, I would appreciate it. I will cover all expenses, of course.”

“Nonsense, we will cover the cost. The Ooni promised you whatever you needed. Lekki is ahead, we can stop there for the night and commission as many of their horses as they can spare.”

“I am grateful.”

He gestured for one of the Bono guards on horseback and sent the soldier off with a message for the Alake of Lekki. I smiled in gratitude and turned my attention back to the roads we travelled. Debisi had chosen to ride at the back of our contingent. I thought of Debisi and I couldn’t help but remember his reaction to the charred corpses and the doubts that it had raised. I trusted Debisi, I knew he was a good person, but I realized, the longer I rode with Taiso, that I had never really given him a chance. I’d hated him almost at first glance, when he’d tried battling wills with me, as if an Oba would give first bow to an Alaafin. And the way he’d treated his wife.

“He thanked me, and then in under a month all the nobles I’d mentioned to him were dead.”

Debisi’s words drifted into my thoughts. I caught a glimpse of Taiso out of the corner of my eye. He was much older than I was, in his thirties, but I couldn’t help but wonder at it all. He’d been willing to come so quickly to Ayisha’s aid, was he really the kind to kill nobles because they opposed him. And could I judge that. There were more than a few Obas in my lineage who’d silenced dissenters with assassinations. And who was to say that Taiso had actually killed those nobles. Debisi had implied, but he hadn’t said it. The worst crime against him was the way he treated Debisi. The way he’d laughed at him, made a mockery of him, beat him in front of his peers. That was what I couldn’t forgive. Why did he have to try so hard to win a throne that wasn’t even being contested?

I shook my thoughts free of Bono politics and focused on the journey ahead. It took four hours of riding before we caught up with Tiwo and the three tumblers who’d left with him. The tumblers melted back into their ranks, but Tiwo chose to ride beside Neka. I didn’t understand why he was so angry. Did he think he cared more for Ayisha than I did? It wasn’t as if he’d never been teased before about his inability to fight. Why was he so prickly all of a sudden? He ignored me and I chose silence to be the wisest course and did the same.

We rode for another hour and stopped for a quick lunch of meatpies and palm wine. The meatpies were big, more than enough for a single meal, with a minced meat filling so succulent I was loath to take the last bite. I washed it down with a cup of palm wine. Tiwo spent the entire meal ignoring me, prancing around with only Bonnie for company. Eghe kept an eye on him. Debisi was preoccupied. He had worry lines on his forehead, grooves that quickly disappeared the moment I asked him about them. He smiled off my concerns and chose to make small talk instead. I had too much on my mind to delve deeply into his. I left him with his secrets, more than happy to jump onto my Bono horse after the respite was concluded.

We continued our journey.

There was still two more hours of sunlight left in the day when we came upon the village Taiso had mentioned. We swerved off the straight trade road, weaving our way amidst a slight trail made to connect the village to the main road. Taiso explained that it was a small village.

“Why are we stopping?” Tiwo snapped at me. “We still have hours of sunlight!” His voice was loud enough that it caused a lull in conversation. I turned around and was met with eyes that did not quite reach mine. Only Mede looked me in the eye. I couldn’t blame the rest. Yelling at the Oba just wasn’t done. Even Tiwo usually didn’t cross that line. In private he spoke as he liked, but in public he never yelled at me so loud that it could be heard kilometers away.

I frowned at him, but I replied. My tone was cooler than it usually was when I spoke to him. “Horses. We’ll move faster with everyone on horseback.”

Tiwo grunted and then jerked his gaze away.

We rode on. I felt my braids drumming against my back as we moved over the bumpy trail. Any other time I would have been delighted by the landscape. The trees were dazzling. I had seen trees painted white in the palace, but these trees had green stems. I did not know how it was done, but the tree barks were covered completely in moss. It left an entire forest of green, with soft, inviting, green grass, and green leaves, and the occasional green fruits. It was beautiful and it felt surreal. I wished I had more time to gape at the view. But I didn’t, and so I took in as much as I could with Tiwo’s sulking chafing at me, while my concern for Ayisha filled my thoughts.

It was in the midst of this pensive mood that I rode into Lekki proper.

It turned out that the forest was on a hill overlooking the village. From the edges of the forest, we could see the entirety of the village sprawled out before us. There was a combination of mud and brick houses, all assiduously painted white. The village grounds were covered with white sand, and what spots not filled with white were green. Acres of farmlands filled with lush green. The people in the village all had white skin. From the distance I couldn’t differentiate between bleached and albinos, all I saw was a beautiful white and green village with walking white dots drifting about.

It wasn’t until we descended into the village that I learnt why Debisi had chosen to ride at the back.

The villagers assembled in clumps in front of their houses staring at us. They were all dressed in white iro wrappers, tied casually in various positions about their bodies. I caught sight of a group of elders seated on a white bench in front of a large square mud house, with chewing sticks hanging lazily from their mouths. They stared at us with narrowed eyes, while the younger ones standing, stared with wide eyes filled with wonder and slight notes of fear.

It wasn’t long till the first burst of ‘the Alaafin’ sounded. One by one, the villagers picked it up. They smiled, waved, and cheered, screaming welcomes to their Alaafin. The elders on the bench pulled their chewing sticks out of their mouths and smiled, showing unusually white tooth. They waved, some of them stood up, most couldn’t be bothered. I watched the reception idly as we forged ahead.

It was clear the moment that Debisi was spotted. Perhaps it was only clear to me because I’d been studying the reception so avidly. I heard the shouts of ‘our pure prince’ and ‘Alaafin Debisi’ punctuated through the cheers of welcome Taiso received. I turned around and noted that the villagers’ faces had grown warm. They’d gaped at Taiso in awe, but Debisi they loved. It was there in the shimmer of tears that appeared in their eyes and the children that ran into the lines to touch Debisi’s horse. Debisi hid himself in the middle so you had to be looking at him to notice that the children were running to him, the pointers pointing at him.

It was the kind of thing that was easy to miss when you rode in front. The people in front screamed for Taiso so loudly that when the screams of ‘pure prince’ arose, it was muffled by the cheers for ‘the Alaafin’. But the cries for the ‘pure prince’ were present, and if one listened for it, it could be heard.

Taiso sat straight in his horse, his proud gaze pointing ahead. He was dressed finely, in his adults iro with a silver sword belt that had a white-gold sword hilt pointing out of it. There was nothing in his profile to show that he heard the cheers for Debisi, but I knew he did.

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. It was sickening to think that the only reason he wasn’t given the kind of unearned love Debisi received was because he’d been born with brown skin. Still, the color of his skin was no excuse to bully his brother. I was starting to think I understood why he did it now. It was driven by this love, the love that Debisi would always receive from strangers because he was born albino. I looked around and spotted a few people with bleached skin. They stood separate. There were huddles of albinos and then there were splashes of those with bleached skin standing apart, as if their skin made lepers of them. Even after we passed, those ones cheered for Taiso as fervently as the albinos cheered for Debisi upon sighting him.

I watched it all and somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered. Debisi was kind. He was sweet. I liked him for all the reasons I’d never liked Taiso. But I’d had a chance to get to know them both and then decide. I couldn’t imagine being judged and found wanting for no other reason than that I’d been born with dark skin. I knew that they bleached for their tenet of verdure, to be as pristine as it declared, but I couldn’t help but feel sad for them. I was suddenly extremely grateful that I was Isan.

It took us under an hour to get to the Alake’s compound. When we arrived, the Alake was waiting outside with a small group to greet us. The Alake was a plump woman of medium height, with greying hair. She looked to be in her late sixties. She had three old and married daughters, all of which were present, with their children, and in one’s case, grandchildren. The entire group that had come out to greet us was her family. She bade us welcome and assured us that the horses we’d requested were being assembled and would be ready first thing in the morning.

After a long day of riding that was fraught with Tiwo’s moodiness, I eagerly accepted the Alake’s hospitality. She boarded Tiwo, Taiso, Debisi, Neka and me in her mansion and pointed to outhouses and neighboring inns for the bulk of our guards. Ten of our guards were giving bunks in the servants’ quarters.

It wasn’t until I sunk into the large bathing tub that a servant had filled with warm water, that I let myself relax. I’d had one of my boxes unpacked and brought in. Two servants went through my clothes while another washed my back. I picked up a bar of soap and made quick work of the rest of my body. I knew that a single bathtub passed for luxury here, but I couldn’t help but miss the actual luxury of my bathing room. They at least had a pit toilet attached to the room with an elevated seating base. It was better than a bucket.

Light giggles drifted from the corner of the room where the servants saw to my clothes. They did not know of the Isan customs and so they knelt with their backs to me, giggling at whatever it was they’d found amusing in my box. The girls were all young, about fifteen, five years younger than I was. They had pretty faces, with yellow-white hair pleated in a cornrow on their heads. If I’d known what this trip would turn into, I would have brought my own servants. It was probably for the best that I hadn’t. The extended stay in the palace might have been a pleasure jaunt, but the rest would not.

I stepped out of the bathtub and accepted the towel that a servant handed me. Then I dressed and endured giggling bouts as they whispered to themselves and arranged my sleeping clothes on the bed. Once I was fully attired, in a simple form-fitting maroon gown, I went down for dinner.

1 Like

Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by dawno2008(m): 11:55am On Sep 19
Hmm what could be eating Tiwo up?
Why is he so edgy?
And why am I having a feeling of betrayal from within.
The revered should be at high alert, I'm having doubts about the rescue mission.

Thanks @obehiD, for the update, I don't know if the election in Edo state today is affecting or creating part of the fear within.
Cos I fear for the future of Edo state

Are we to expect more update today? Cos this one small unlike the normal full fulfilling dish grin
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by tunjilomo(m): 1:12pm On Sep 19
The story is just about to begin in earnest.
Was that a prophecy you gave us with those oxymorons?
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by Elvictor: 2:09pm On Sep 19
Obehid, this one this episode is like this are you rushing to go and vote?
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 6:51pm On Sep 21
@Elvictor Lol, no, the length has nothing to do with voting. It was short because last week was pretty busy for me, but the next one is longer so you can look forward to do that grin

@tunjilomo I agree, the story is indeed about to begin in earnest...I'm so excited for it to begin wink

@dawno2008 As in, Tan is asking herself the same question because Tiwo is not usually this on edge. Betrayal from within? That is a very serious concern, hopefully Tan is careful. Yes, that was it for the update, but next one will (hopefully) be a more fulfilling dish lol
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 2:45am On Sep 26
16

Dinner in the Alake’s mansion was unexpectedly charming. The dinning hall was a simple white room with a long rectangular table. Servants, dressed in white tunics, lined the walls, filling our cups with ogogoro and our plates with wraps of pounded yam and ladles of ogbono soup, which I inferred from the Alake’s pointed look in my direction, had been cooked in my honor. While pounded yam and ogbono soup was one of our Isan cultural meals, it was not my favorite. Still, I was touched that they’d chosen a meal in my honor and I made sure to say so.

I washed my hand with the water proffered by one of the servants and carefully pulled apart the leaf-wrapping covering the mound of pounded yam. Then I cut off a chunk of it and immersed it in the brown draw-soup, all too aware of the eyes watching me with silent anticipation. When I swallowed, the spicy morsel slipping easily down my throat, its passage greased by the soup, I made sure to release an audible rumble of pleasure. The Alake smiled. Her grandson, who’d positioned himself beside me, let out an ear-splitting roar. Then the dining hall erupted in a blaze of cheerful conversation and hearty laughter. The meal began, and I felt at ease in the casual environment that followed.

“I have long since dreamed of visiting Isan. Now that I’ve seen the beauty of its women, I know that I will earnestly endeavor to make that dream a reality.” The Alake’s grandson, Toju, teased. He was an albino, as was every member of the Alake’s family. Toju looked to be about as old as I was, maybe a few years older. He was big, with muscles that told of a living derived from physical exertions. It was a look he shared with his father, the husband of the Alake’s second daughter.

I turned to face him, smiling slyly at his comment. Debisi who’d been seated opposite me, had a slight crease on his forehead. “What exactly do you think you could do with an Isan woman?”

“A great deal,” he winked at me. There was no blush. He may wear the virgin iro, but something told me that chastity was not a tenet he truly practiced. His voice lowered to a whisper. “I have heard a great many things about your…inclinations, revered, would it be too forward of me to ask for the pleasure of your company later?”

The laughter burst out of me. I leaned closer to Toju. “And what exactly have you heard?” my tone matched his.

“That no man who walks into your bedchamber walks out the same.” There was a twinkle in his eyes when he spoke. “That your calling of guidance gives you the gift to see through to a person’s innermost yearnings and you bring it all to life.” It wasn’t the words that stirred me, but the undercurrents of longing I heard beneath them. He reminded me of Eghe. It had been a long, exhausting, day and playing with Toju would at least be cathartic. I was stopped from considering it further, when Debisi called my name.

“Tan.”

It wasn’t really a snap, not really, but it came damned too close to one for my liking. I pulled further away from Toju and turned to face Debisi. He was jealous. He glared at me, through eyes narrowed to slits behind his faux glasses, and his jaw ticked, counting off the seconds we stared at each other. Ah. I should have expected it, the fact that I didn’t troubled me. I had pleasure slaves, ‘an Alake’s mansion’ filled with them, in his own words. I would not give them up for anyone and I could not marry any man who expected me to remain faithful to only him. The thought made my skin tingle with dread, because I already knew that a part of me would hurt to hurt Debisi. But if his vision of marriage was one where he was the only one in my bed, then either his vision would change, or the prospect of our marriage had to. Either way, there was hurt coming.

The food no longer seemed so inviting.

“Forgive me for my forwardness, revered, I was at fault.” Toju spoke, but his gaze was directed at Debisi. When he turned back to face me, his solemnity had given way to a wicked humor evident in the twist of his wry grin. “Do you think your bodyguard would be more amenable to my request?”

His attention was on Mede. I stared at her, smiling when her eyes narrowed. She didn’t like men in general, but she’d been known to make a few exceptions. “Well, you can try,” I replied.

He laughed, then turned his attention to his young cousin who poked impatiently at his side.

I turned my gaze back to Debisi and stared his anger down. His shoulders slumped, but when the anger went away, it was replaced by so much sadness, I almost wished for the anger to return. For once, I was happy to hear Taiso’s voice, tearing my attention away from Debisi and his pain.

“The Alake has found fifty horses for us to take, revered, exactly enough for your soldiers. Our guards will return to the palace tomorrow. Debisi, Neka and I will be placing ourselves entirely in your protection for the duration of our travels.”

“Would that I could be so luckily as to claim the privilege of placing myself entirely in the protection of you, revered, and your beautiful warriors!” Toju announced cheerfully. He winked at Mede.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. The man was incorrigible, and the masquerade be praised, I appreciated that in him. His humor was like a nice cooling balm at the end of a day rife with unpleasantness.

I lifted my glass of ogogoro up to him, in a silent toast, then I drank a little from it, before turning to face Taiso. Neka sat beside him, eyeing me with all the hostility she kept concealed from others. I had another fleeting thought that her presence on this trip was illogical, but I kept my focus on Taiso. I’d earned Neka’s animosity. First in my own right, by accepting the responsibility for her father’s death, and second by being the daughter of the man responsible for trapping her in what was obviously a terrible marriage.

“We are flattered by your trust, your highness.” I tipped my glass in Taiso’s direction. He bowed to me. “How about we split it? Take twenty-five each of both of our guards.”

“You are the soul of generosity, revered, thank you.”

The conversations resumed then and Toju regaled us with a tale of his first trip to a Bono den of Iniquity. Tiwo, with his sulking, had chosen to sit as far away from me as possible, too far to hear Toju’s descriptive recounting of the terror of sneaking out at night and riding alone from his village, to the large neighboring village where the den was located.

“Tah!” Toju’s mother snapped at him, cutting him off. “My own son! You speak of it as if it is a great lark, when all it is, is your own stupidity! What if the eshu had caught you and taking you away from me?” The older woman’s voice quivered on the word ‘eshu’, and as soon as she mentioned it, the hall fell silent. It was so quiet that if Toju spoke up now, even Tiwo, sitting as far away as he was, would hear every word Toju said.

“Eshu?” I asked.

One of the Alake’s granddaughters sat on my other side. She explained in a voice shaky with terror. “The eshu are Eyo mami watas. Whenever they visit our land during the Eyo festival, they choose virgins, pure of heart and body, to take back with them.”

“Only now, the eshu don’t just visit during the Eyo festival, they are always here, always on the prowl for virgins to gift to the masquerade.” It was one of the Alake’s many grandchildren that offered up this information.

“Nonsense.” The Alake’s oldest son in-law snapped. “It is not eshu stealing away our young nobles, it is the Nuri.”

Rumors of this had reached me in Isan, but I had not known that there was conflict amongst the Bono as to who the perpetrators of the kidnapping were. “Are the Nuri truly so bold that they come this close to the palace to kidnap people?”

My question met with silence. Then the Alake’s oldest granddaughter, the one with children of her own, pushed her chair back and ran out of the room. I’d noticed that the woman was quiet, and appeared reserved and inexplicably sad, which stood out in a family so exuberant. Toju explained why.

“Her eldest child was taken from the Oko-orisha forest.”

The Oko-orisha forest, we’d been told earlier, was the forest we’d come through, with trees covered fully in moss. The villagers believed the forest was sacred, given to them by the Oko-orisha another Eyo mami wata. According to them, the Oko-orisha touched their land whenever it came down for the Eyo festival.

“And the Ooni did nothing about it!” The man, who’d been seated beside the woman who left, screamed. I assumed he was the woman’s husband, the father to the stolen child. “The Nuri brazenly walk amongst us, stealing noble children and what does the Ooni do? He hides quivering behind his high marble walls.”

“Silas!” There was a clear warning in the Alake’s tone. “Be mindful of our guests.”

All eyes turned to the princes, the Ooni’s sons. Debisi’s gaze lowered towards his plate, his face filling with red. Taiso sat with his head high. His hard gaze caught and held the man, Silas’s, till he stammered out an apology. Then Taiso’s gaze softened.

“I am sorry for your loss, my friend, truly. But you are wrong if you think my father does not care for your plight. He is grieved by this rash of Nuri stealing Bono nobles, but without proof, what can he do? Even amongst our own people, there are many who say it is the eshu responsible, and tell grieving parents to rejoice.”

“But there is proof, your highness,” Toju said, “eye-witnesses who’ve seen children taking by the Nuri. One even swears that he saw the Eze’s uncle, Oza Onitsha himself, brand and rape a Bono nobleman.”

The Oza that I’d killed? My eyes widened at the news. “Then there is sufficient proof of the Oza’s guilt.” I cast my gaze towards Tiwo, happy to see that he’d laid his anger at me aside, long enough to lock eyes. I saw his relief, whatever doubts we’d had about the Oza’s guilt was cleared.

“He wore a mask.” Debisi said. “They cannot know that it was him.”

“Lies!” Silas screeched. “Of course he wears a mask, but he wore no shirt, and the identity of a shirtless Nuri man is as plain to see as one with his face uncovered.”

“What does he mean?” I asked Toju.

“The Nuri adherence to their tenet of stratum dictates that they portray the tribal mark of their stratum on their chest. It is their aha, no free citizen of Nuri walks around without one, and each one is unique. They have a large mark, right below the space where their collarbones meet. The aha shows their strata, by virtue of gender and family, and a personal, unique, insignia beneath that, that shows their strata by virtue of position within the family. Everyone knows Oza Onitsha’s aha, just as everyone knows the Eze’s.”

“Can it not be copied?”

Toju shook his head grimly. “Think about it, revered. The Nuri wear their masks for prayers. Sometimes their prayers require them to make pilgrimages, to walk amongst commoners. They value their strata too much to allow lower stratums disrespect them. That’s why they expose their aha when they cover their faces, so even though their faces are covered their worth remains known. A person bearing the Oza’s aha would be giving the Oza’s respect and his word followed precisely. They would not allow anyone take the risk of violating that.”

The silence that followed his words was broken by a small voice. Neka’s. “Not only is it illegal, a crime punished by immediate execution, it is the gravest sacrilege to wear another person’s aha. It is damnation beyond death. No Nuri would do it.”

I frowned at her. “But you said your father was no rapist.”

Her head was bowed and her eyes downcast. I saw nothing of what lay in them, and her body was relaxed, showing no emotions I could see. She spoke softly. “I know my father. The eyewitness was mistaken. It was night and the only light from a moon, under a heavy tree shading. I am sorry for what was done, but it was not done by my father.”

I could tell that Silas was about to speak, but the Alake cut him off. “It’s enough. We will speak of better things.” She pronounced. Then her gaze turned to me. “If it pleases you, revered.”

I nodded.

“Just let me say one thing, olanla,” Debisi spoke up, his voice gentle, his face hard with determination, “before we close the topic.” I looked around and saw the eyes fixed on Debisi. They bore hope, a silent anticipation, an eagerness to devour his words. “The Oza is dead, killed by the Oba of Isan when he tried to profane a Bono nobleman on Isan soil.” A loud cheer erupted at that, from the younger nobles, and the older ones nodded with grim satisfaction, even the old Alake. They turned to me and smiled their approval. I could see it on their faces, that Debisi had just won me their loyalty. Though why I would need it I could not say. Nobody mentioned that the Bono nobleman had later been killed by my brother. Debisi rose his hand for silence, and the hall quieted. “Every time my father hears this news of Bono nobles disappearing, it grieves him. He’s as pained by your loss, as he was by his own, when his own daughter died because of the Nuri. Let no one ever say that the Ooni does not care. Let no one ever say that. There will be a reckoning, no evil done to the Bono will go unpunished.”
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 2:46am On Sep 26
Debisi’s words troubled me. I turned to Taiso and he was smiling, nodding approval at his brother, but his eyes told a different story. I saw a hate so profound in those orbs that I found myself searching for my brother. Tiwo was studying Taiso too. I could feel his brain working, putting it all together. He wouldn’t need to know Debisi’s story to understand everything happening between them. He would pick it up in the undercurrents. In the way the nobles now cheered Debisi. In the way several of them reached to touch him, to clap his back, to squeeze his shoulders. The older man seated beside him leaned in and whispered into his ears. He was swearing loyalty to Debisi. I could tell, and I noted that Debisi didn’t pull away until he noticed me watching. In the moments before he pulled away, he nodded, only a fraction, a minute bobbing I caught because I was studying him. Then he shook his head when he caught my gaze, smiled and whispered something back I couldn’t hear.

I felt like an idiot.

How hadn’t I seen it before? Debisi played the game. He was not quite as opposed to ruling as he’d have me believe.

We stared at each other.

“Thank you, Alaafin.” Silas said. “Thank you.”

Debisi fidgeted with his glasses, his sign of nervousness. But was it feigned? He hadn’t looked nervous. Yet he ducked his head shyly, and mumbled some words out about how he was only speaking for his father and that it was nothing. That last part sounded like the Debisi I’d come to know. But, by the masquerade, I could no longer tell if it was sincere or an act.

“The Alaafin is very humble,” Toju whispered to me. “I’d heard it before, but I’d also heard that he was weak, unlike his brother who was strong and sure. But there is strength in Alaafin Debisi, isn’t there? And compassion.”

“What does Alaafin mean?” I asked Toju.

He frowned at me. “Heir.”

“I thought there was only one.”

Toju colored, chastised. His gaze turned back to his meal. The conversation that arose in the wake of Debisi’s speech was subdued, lacking the previous careless gaiety, but there was a fierce sense of purpose underlying it. They believed Debisi.

“Forgive me, revered, I did not mean to offend. I thought you were on Alaafin De…I mean Alake Debisi’s side. I heard that you were betrothed.”

I turned to Toju. Sides? Debisi had shown me quite a bit this night that I wasn’t certain I liked. First his jealousy, then his anger, now this subtle powerplay. I shoved it to the background. Right now, my focus had to be on Ayisha. Bono scheming and politics would wait until I got Ayisha back.

“There’s nothing to forgive.” I told Toju. He smiled, completely at ease with the world again. “Can you tell me Toju, what is the Oza’s aha?” I was curious.

He excitedly described the lines and swirls, loops of circles, that outlined the second strata which Oza Onitsha belonged to. The conversation drifted towards his nephew and the Eze’s aha. In the end, we both laughingly came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to describe the personal insignia of the crown underneath the marking of first strata the Eze bore. He promised to send me a book of aha markings, a duplicate of one he had. We spoke some more about how the aha could have been copied and Toju told me that it wasn’t just the aha they went on, but the Oza’s body. The Oza’s body structure was known. His height, his girth, that combined with the aha, pointed at it being the Oza’s guilt. He thanked me silently for ending the Oza’s life and swore himself in my debt. I shook my head and told him it wasn’t necessary, but he just smiled and turned back to speaking with his cousin.

I spent the rest of the meal filled with unease. The discontent between the Nuri and the Bono had reached a boiling point and I did not want Ayisha caught in the middle of it. It was clear that I would be. The Nuri and Bono could not go to full-fledged war without the Isan being involved. Honestly, I couldn’t say I minded. The Nuri treated their slaves abominably, treated their women only slightly better, and now they were stealing nobles from the Bono. How much longer till they decided to steal my own Isan nobles for their slaves? They had to be stopped. But I had to take care of Ayisha first. I had to make sure she wasn’t caught in the crossfire.

By the time the meal ended, I was only more than happy to go to my room and sleep.

“Tiwo!” I called out, hoping to have a quick word with him before we went to bed. I did not like the idea of us fighting. Especially not when I was not fully sure why. But Tiwo had other plans. He ignored me and stormed out of the dining hall.

I made to follow him.

Taiso intercepted me.

He looked thoughtfully at the door that Tiwo had just walked out of. “If I may be so bold as to offer some advice, revered, you should not let your brother act that way, especially not in public. It undermines your rule when he disrespects you like that.”

“Tiwo is my twin, your highness, my flesh and blood. My pride is nothing in the face of that. He can act whichever way he wants towards me whenever he pleases. And no, you may not be so bold in the future.” I turned to move around him, he moved a little to the side blocking my path.

He clasped his hands behind his back, fixing a level stare on me. “I want us to be friends Tan, is that too much to ask?”

I glared at him. “Call me revered, just as I call you highness. We are not friends.” My gaze moved towards Debisi, who stood off to the side watching us. “I doubt we could ever be.” Toju was right, whatever doubts I had about Debisi, I had already picked sides.

Taiso followed my gaze and his jaw clenched. Then he exhaled and I could not doubt the sincerity of the sorrow I saw in his face. But all he said was, “I see.”

“If you will excuse me, your highness.” I began walking away, so fraught with emotions that if he’d tried to stop me, I would have put him on his ass.

Taiso made no moves to stop me but his words did the job for him. “There is more than one side to every story, revered. Please do not judge me until you’ve heard mine.”

I was tired of the bullshit. I turned on him. “What could you possibly say to defend you trying to have your brother killed?” I did not actually know that he’d done it.

“He tried to have me killed many times before that. You don’t know Debisi, revered, you only think you do. My brother is a brilliant actor.”

Taiso was admitting it. I couldn’t believe it. He’d actually tried to have his brother killed. I looked into his face, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was sad. So sad. Something about his last sentence sounded oddly familiar to me, as if I’d heard it before, used in a similar context.

“Please, revered, do not get involved in the politics, do not try to buy my throne for Debisi. Debisi and I have reached an agreement. Ask him about it and honor it. I’ve come to admire you a great deal, and I will always consider you a friend, revered, even if you do not return the sentiment. You can always count on my support.” Then he bowed to me and walked away.

I gaped at his retreating back, completely at a loss for words.

“What did he want?” Debisi joined me.

No, I shook my head. I was tired, too tired to get myself muck-deep in their family squabbles. I needed time to process all of this. I needed time to sort out the doubts I couldn’t help but feel towards Debisi. I needed time, and I needed to know that my girl was safe.

“Revered,” Mede came to my side. “Would you like to retire for the night?”

I nodded. “Goodnight Bi.” I kissed him on his cheek and left him standing there, too tired to care about the confused worry I left him with.

Once we’d left the hall, Mede handed me a book. “From Toju, revered. Apparently, you told him to seduce me.” She sounded amused.

I smiled and accepted the book from her. It was really just a collection of sheets fixed together with hemp. I skimmed through, glancing at the different ahas portrayed inside. “Was he successful?”

She scoffed.

I laughed, then I turned to her and my smile widened at the sight of her smirk. “I hope you didn’t break his heart. That wouldn’t be very nice, not after the Alake has done so much to make us welcome.”

“He’ll survive.”

Her comment had me laughing all the way back to my room. There were already two tumblers standing in front of the door. I frowned at that. Why were they guarding an empty room?

“Do you need anything, revered?” Mede asked.

I heard a strain in the word ‘anything’. That question coming from anyone else would only mean one thing. But with Mede, I couldn’t even trust that the strain I heard wasn’t my own wishful thinking.

“Anything like what?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Anything.”

I was so tired, worried about Ayisha, troubled by Tiwo’s behavior, and reeling on the wheel between Debisi and Taiso, that it would have been so nice to be able to forget for a night. I would have given anything to be able to take what I needed from Mede. But we’d been down this road, and she’d said, ‘no’ in every way possible. I shook my head at her, suddenly angry and irritated at her for making such a vague offer. I stormed into my room.

Tiwo was seated on the ground, his back resting on the bed with Bonnie curled at his feet, sleeping. He idly stroked the dog’s fur. The door closed and Tiwo’s head jerked up. With the braids that had been hiding his face pulled back, I could see that he’d been crying. I rushed over to him and sat by his side. Then I drew him close and rested his head on my shoulder. He wrapped his hands around me and wept. I soothed him, running my hand through his braids.

We stayed like that for a long time. Long after he stopped crying and simply leaned on me.

“What is it, my love?” My voice was entreating, it was a tone I used with my pleasure slaves, a tone I’d used with Ayisha. My heart twisted, but I pushed the ache away, covering it up with determination. I would find her. “You’re scaring me.”

“I love her Tan.”

“What?”

“Ayisha, I love her.”

I froze. The ache in my chest returned with a vengeance. “Oh, Tiwo, why didn’t you tell me?”

He shook his head, his hair scratching softly against me. “I have never been the one she wants. Besides, I know you love her too, and I could never take love away from you. I just…I’ve been blaming you for this Tan. But it’s my fault. I’m the one who sent her away when she wanted to marry you. I’m the one who said no. I was jealous. I’m so sorry.”

“Stop it,” I kept my voice soft, “it’s not your fault. You’re right, it’s mine. I shouldn’t have sent her away. I shouldn’t have agreed to the plan of her marrying the Sehzade. I was selfish, Tiwo, she gave herself to me and I allowed her to get hurt. I won’t be able to forgive myself if anything bad happens to her.”

Tiwo forged ahead, ignoring my words, determined to take the blame. “It was the pettiest thing I’ve ever done Tan, pushing her away from marrying you. I wanted to say something then, but I have little prospects, certainly not enough to impress an emperor, and she didn’t want me anyway. In the end, I wanted what was best for her. Which was you, it’s always been you. I shouldn’t have gotten in the way.”

It was time to put an end to his pity party. I firmed my voice. “You didn’t, and you couldn’t have stopped us from marrying if we wanted to. This isn’t your fault Tiwo.” I wove my hand through his braids. “I just wish I’d known how you felt about her.”

He shook his head. “How I felt doesn’t matter, I’m just sorry that I’ve been such a pain today. I’ll be better, I swear.”

I kissed him on his head. “You can be a pain whenever you want.”

He chuckled. “Can I sleep here tonight?” he yawned.

“Of course.”

“Good, cause I was going to anyway.”

I shoved at him. He chuckled.

He loosened his hold on me and rose. “We’ll get Ayisha back, right?”

“Yes.” I said.

He nodded. Then he slipped off his shoes and climbed into bed. “Bonnie will probably join us when she wakes up.”

I glared at his lying form, but then I just shook my head and laughed. Knowing Tiwo, he’d be snoring off in a few minutes.

“Tan,” he said.

“Yes.”

“Be careful with Debisi. I think there’s more to him than he shows.” Then he predictably dozed off a few minutes later, snoring the way he always did when he went to bed after crying. He’s snoring was light, though, and it relaxed me, so I wouldn’t complain.

I prepared myself for bed, all the while thinking about Ayisha and how I’d let her go off to marry the Sehzade. It hadn’t bothered me. I’d never been a jealous lover. I’d known that I would see Ayisha again, and those little dozes would have been more than enough for me. I would be a hypocrite to think otherwise. Even when I’d had her for a year, I’d still had pleasure slaves and neither of us had denied the other pleasure from others. Then I thought of Debisi’s jealousy and I felt a knot in the pit of my belly. Debisi and I had to talk, and I had a feeling he wasn’t going to like what I had to say.

Later. We’d talk about it later, after I rescued Ayisha, after I’d taken him to Isan and he’d seen my pleasure slaves for himself. If he couldn’t share me, then he couldn’t have me. I had to tell him. It was the last thought I had before Tiwo’s snoring lulled me to sleep.

1 Like

Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by dawno2008(m): 12:17pm On Sep 26
Bravo grin grin
The story is getting more interesting with every new updates, I like the twist in the story, I've never really trusted Debisi,in fact after his confession to the revered, my doubts about him was confirmed.
Though Taiso may not be as guilty as he was portrayed, but he certainly no angel too.
With so much power play,the revered should be careful and face her own Kingdom,all the same ,@obehiD you are so awesome, and I'm addicted to your writings, thank you so much and more ink to your pen.
Last word, from all the power play,I'm so open to anything, never gonna judge a book from it covers.
Weldon @obehiD let roll stronger.
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by NoChill: 2:12pm On Sep 26
You are doing well
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by cassbeat(m): 7:21pm On Sep 26
Obehid with the twist and turns....
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by PenHub: 8:46pm On Sep 26
Thank you @Obehid. The twists keep adding colour to the story. As for me, I'm yet to decide between debisi and taiso. As for tiwo and neka..... We keep watching
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by monalicious(f): 12:25pm On Sep 28
Gaun gaun. Nice one. It's about to get more interesting
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by Goldenfinger: 11:12am On Sep 29
monalicious:
Gaun gaun. Nice one. It's about to get more interesting
.pls can u mention me anytime dis story is updated.

1 Like

Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by tunjilomo(m): 6:36am On Oct 02
Have you ever sat down and read your own book?

If it is yes. How did you feel the first time?
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 4:13am On Oct 03
@dawno2008 Thank you so much! I'm soo happy that you're enjoying it and I love all the twists and turns that's why I try to keep them coming wink

@NoChill thank you smiley

@cassbeat yes, yes, that's me, lol

@PenHub We're watching Tiwo and Neka? Okay oh, if you say so, I watch them with you grin As for Debisi and Taiso...anyway let me just hold my lips

@monalicious Yes indeed it is...well at least I think so, lol

@Goldenfinger I try to keep the updates regular, to Saturday mornings.

@tunjilomo Yes I have, I always do, I read and re-read everything I write. Mostly when I read if I'm enjoying it it's because somethings are funny. I never feel any suspense when I read my own work, since I know what's going to happen, so it's always about which characters and scenes make me laugh. If you don't mind my asking, where did this question come from? Just curious...
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 4:20am On Oct 03
17

I captured an image of the oko-orisha forest in my head as we rode out of Lekki. The leather pouch of dried oko-orisha moss in my trunk assured that I left with a little reminder of the small village and the short respite it had provided. According to the Alake, the moss was imbued with the oko-orisha mami wata’s graces of good health and longevity, when taken in small dozes. In large dozes, they warned that it was quite a powerful laxative. I took the moss, not for the charms it was rumored to have, but for the memento of the picturesque green forest.

After that stop, the rest of our journey proceeded without incident. We rode hard for hours on end, stopping twice each day to rest our horses, and then finally at night, when we made camp on the roadside.

I was troubled throughout our journey, plagued by worries for Ayisha. I couldn’t help but see her face, frozen in terror, pleading to no avail with the monster who’d kidnapped her. I wondered how much damage would have been done to her with each day that we spent travelling. Each time the fear took root in my heart, I dug my heels into my horse and it ran faster, but it was never fast enough. I tried to distract myself with conversation, but sleep came harder for me each night that we spent on the road. I dreamt of Ayisha and the horrors she endured and woke sweating.

It was on one of those nights, when sleep eluded me, that I walked out of my tent and found Debisi sneaking away from the campsite. He rode off on his horse and none of the guards stopped him. I spoke with one of my tumblers after and found out that Debisi had snuck off every night that we’d been camped out, and that he’d return a few hours before dawn. When I questioned him about it, he smiled at me, looked me in the eyes, and said he was having trouble sleeping in his tent, and he rode to exhaust himself. He’d said it so calmly, his features so open, that I couldn’t find even the slightest hint of a lie in his expression.

Yet, I couldn’t help the feeling that he was lying to me. There was no way that he went out riding for over six hours to exhaust himself. Maybe there was some truth to the tale he told, but he wasn’t telling me everything, and it worried me.

Still, we kept going. It took us five days to reach Ikeja. The village was not quite what I had expected. Right off the bat I could see what my mother meant when she said it was provisioned as a garrison. It had a wall around it, a large white wall, smooth and circular, that appeared to be sculpted from marble. There were soldiers on that wall, armed with crossbows trained at us. I noted that the village was better protected than the palace. It did make sense, being a border village, that it would be so well guarded.

As we drew closer to the wall, Taiso explained that the only other way into Bono from Nuri, was by sea, across the Nulin river, or through the Oro forest. According to Taiso, no one had ever successfully made it across the forest from one nation to the other. He said there were no guards in the forest, just Oro mami watas that turned people into wild animals. It was the kind of fanciful tale that I would have expected to hear from anyone but Taiso. But I could tell by the way he crossed himself after speaking that he truly believed in it. I found that interesting, but I made no comments.

Tiwo and I shared a look after Taiso spoke. Even he refrained from teasing. It was not smart to make fun of the servants of a masquerade. We rode quietly towards the main gates into Ikeja. By the time we arrived, a line had formed in front of the gates. One of the Bono guards blew on a horn and the people fell away. There were no warm cheers and shouts of praises for the princes. No teary eyes filled with wonder or shock. Just silence and cold eyes that showed neither love nor hatred. They simply watched our entourage with apathy.

The gates opened to welcome us in, and I caught my first view of Ikeja, or rather, what Taiso termed the ogiri of Ikeja. The wall we’d seen was just an outer wall. There was an inner wall, one about fifty kilometers away from the outer. In the space between the walls, the ogiri, there was a thriving hamlet with markets and buildings of varying colors. If the rest of the Bono nation was white, the ogiri of Ikeja had all the color that those places lacked. The color was in the brown mud that our horses kicked up. In the paintings on the walls of the buildings that filled the ogiri. It was in the people too. There were brown skins as dark as the Isan, and those as light as the Nuri. I caught sight of a few albinos, but they were vastly outnumbered by those with dark skin.

We rode past a half-dressed man, pulling out buckets of water from a well and filling the drums of those queued up for the service. They handed him a copper kobo, the lowest denomination of Nulin money, and he continued his labor, his body soaked in sweat. I spotted a small space between two houses where three little children, two boys and a girl, took their evening baths. The ogiri was packed full of houses, one built almost on top of the next. Where there was even the tiniest space, someone erected a tent and sold something underneath it. We passed by a woman roasting bole over an open fire. She called out bargain prices to us as we moved on.

The most colorful thing about the ogiri, as far as I was concerned, was the smell. It reeked of a cocktail of foul odors. I was almost certain I caught the whiff of excrement in one breath and rotting food in the next. I had never smelled anything so fetid.

“Believe it or not,” Taiso remarked, “Ikeja is actually one of the most verdant villages in Bono. It is as fresh behind those walls as it is foul out here.” I couldn’t begin to imagine a level of freshness that could counteract the dreadfulness of the ogiri, but I anticipated the promise of clean air.

It was evening, a few hours after the sun had set, and yet there were still so many people moving about. I found it hard to imagine my mother ever living here. Knowing her, she would have kept herself closeted behind the inner walls and travelled in a closed carriage whenever she had to leave.

My heart lifted when at long last we reached the inner walls. Five soldiers stood in front of the large stone doors. These doors were as white as the rest of the wall. If not for the hinges, it would have been hard to spot that they were indeed the halves of a door. The soldiers standing in front of it barred our entrance. They were all male, all dressed similarly to the palace Bono guards in white shirt and trouser sets, with white leather sword belts on their waists. The frosty white of their hair made it clear that they all had bleached skin.

“Your highness,” one of them approached and bowed to Taiso. “The Alake was not expecting you till tomorrow. I’m afraid we will not be able to welcome you into the village till then. We will lead you to suitable ogiri dwelling.”

I just barely kept myself from gaping at the guard who’d spoken. When I was just a child in Isan, running around and getting lost in the border villages, whichever Enogie whose village I fell on, immediately welcomed me in as an honored guest. For an Alake to turn princes away because he was not ready to receive them, was unheard of.

Taiso’s hands tightened on his reins. “Surely, the Alake can hasten his preparations.”

The soldier shook his head. “Those are not my orders.”

Which implied that orders had been given. The Alake was purposefully making us wait outside the inner gates on his pleasure. I jerked my head back and looked up the walls, at the soldiers on guard there and the crossbows held idly in their hands.

Taiso’s jaw ticked. “If he cannot receive us in his home, then we will find accommodation somewhere else in the village. Open the gates.”

“Those are not my orders, your highness. There is a suitable inn, in ogiri township. I will lead you there.”

“You dare defy me?” the words came out low and filled with cold menace.

The soldier did not flinch at Taiso’s tone. “I have my orders, highness. Will you fight your way through?”

I looked up at the wall again and the soldiers with their crossbows. The wall was smooth, too smooth to climb all the way to the top, and we had no way of breaking down the stone doors. We had no choice.

The soldier took Taiso’s silence as an answer. He nodded slowly. It was obvious he took no joy in his job. “Then I will lead you to the inn.” He whistled and a young boy, jogged up to him, leading a brown horse by the reins. The boy gaped at us, but he moved quickly, hurriedly tossing the reins to the soldier and dodging out of the way. The soldier jumped seamlessly onto the back of the horse and began riding. We followed silently in his wake, Taiso fuming with each trot.

“Tan.”

I turned when I heard Tiwo calling out to me, and then tipped my head back in the direction he inclined his in. One of the soldiers was speaking with Debisi. We were too far away to tell what they were speaking about, but not so far that I couldn’t see Debisi hand the soldier a money pouch.

“What do you think that’s about?” Tiwo asked.

I shrugged, then I turned back around. Neka was staring. I wondered if she’d tell Taiso what she’d seen, but she said nothing. There was a calculating gleam in her eyes as she turned her focus away from Debisi.

“I hate this place.” Tiwo whispered to me.

For some reason, the comment made me laugh. Bono scheming. It did not surprise me to see it, what surprised me was that Debisi was in the middle of it.

The Ikeja soldier led us to a part of the ogiri that was much cleaner than the parts we’d ridden through. The houses in this area were spread out, the ground paved with concrete. We were led to a large inn, three stories tall. I noticed as we rode by that a particular building held the Bono guards attentions. They murmured as we passed it, snickering and making bawdy jests. A glance in that direction showed a two story building painted the red of Isan clay soil. It was a den of iniquity, one furnished with Isan pleasure slaves.

I smiled at Tiwo. He smirked at me and rolled his eyes. “Really?”

“I need recalibration.” The words were scarcely out of my mouth before it occurred to me how callous they might sound to him. We hadn’t spoken of his confessed love for Ayisha since the night we left Lekki. I wasn’t sure how he’d take my interest in a den of iniquity.

“You should go.” Tiwo said.

I couldn’t help guarding my expression. “You think so?”

He chuckled. “It calms you, Tan. You’ll be better off for it. Besides, could you deny him?” Tiwo jerked his head sideways. I followed his gaze and chuckled when I saw the hopeful pining on Eghe’s face. When I turned back to my brother, he winked at me, and smiling, turned his gaze back ahead.

The Ikeja soldier bobbed a curt nod to Taiso, as soon as we reached the inn, then turned back around and galloped off. His meaning was clear, whatever lodging we found at this inn would be at our own expense. The Alake of Ikeja was sending a message, I just wished I knew exactly what the message was, and who it was intended for. Considering what I imagined must be a fraught relationship between the Alake and my mother, seeing as my mother was currently pregnant with the Ooni’s child while being married to him, I could imagine a number of reasons for the Alake’s discourtesy. And if I was alone, it would make sense. But why would the Alake think it was okay to treat the future Ooni in this manner? I remembered that there was some history between Taiso and my mother’s husband, a secret Debisi had told me the Alake had on Taiso, but the Alake had to know he was taking a very big risk antagonizing Taiso this way. Whatever he had on Taiso, had to be something extraordinary.

The thoughts drifted through my head as we dismounted, surrendering our horses to the inn’s stables. A dark-skinned man ran out of the inn bringing two dozen servants with him. He bowed and made obscenities to Taiso, fussing over the Alaafin, while his servants saw to our trunks.

“What do you think mother’s husband means by this?” Tiwo whispered to me as we were ushered into the inn. “Are we being punished for her infidelity?”

“The Alake is a fool.” Mede deadpanned.

I ignored them, filling my nostrils with the sweet smell of perfumed air.
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by obehiD(f): 4:20am On Oct 03
“No,” Tiwo’s forehead creased, “the Alake of Ikeja is no fool. For some reason, he doesn’t believe he has any reason to fear you.”

“Me?” I asked, only listening with half an ear. Most of my attention was on Taiso, who was still so angry at the Alake’s treatment that he was snapping at the proprietor. “Negotiate our fees and see to it that the Alaafin’s mood does not cost us these fine accommodations.”

“Revered.” A guard bowed and withdrew to carry out my orders.

“Why are you not angrier, revered?” Mede asked

“This insult wasn’t meant for me. Besides, I’m too on edge to be angry.” And the Alake hadn’t really prolonged our journey. It was already evening, we would have spent the night in Ikeja anyway. What did it matter where we slept? Now, if the Alake tried to delay us tomorrow, it would be a whole different story. Not that he would, not even the Alake of Ikeja could be foolish enough to interfere with me getting to my girl.

“It may not have been meant for you, Tan, but the Alake had no issues subjecting you to it. Why is that?”

I leaned towards Tiwo and kissed him on his temple. “You worry too much.”

“You’re just eager to go to the den of iniquity,” he grumbled.

A sharp intake of air drew our collective attentions to Eghe. He was suddenly unable to meet my gaze. I just laughed and followed along when we were led to our rooms.

“You do not really mean to go to the den tonight, do you?” Mede had waited till I’d stripped off my clothes to ask me that. It was cute how she made sure to stare far away from my naked body. I ignored her, twisting the ends of my braids into a knot behind my head. I picked up a washing cloth, wet it and wiped the dirt of the road off my body. The proprietor had explained that there was a public bathhouse in the ogiri township we could use, but I was too impatient to wait.

I recognized how out of sorts I was. I was on edge, worried, not sleeping well…harried in a way that I had rarely been before. Ayisha needed me to be stronger, to be in control, and there was only one place I could go to recalibrate.

“What was wrong with…” Mede’s voice trailed off. She wasn’t staring at the wall anymore. My nipples pebbled at the attention her avid gaze gave them. Her mouth parted.

In an instant, my mind darted through every moment of the decade we’d spent together. My infatuation with her the first time I saw her. All the many ways I’d tried to prove myself to her. My endless flirting and her constant rebuffing. My chest tightened, and my body came alive under her relentless stare.

“Mede.”

A single word, a name delivered in an alien voice shaky with wishful hope, and the moment ended. She looked away. I sighed, laughing and cursing myself for the foolish pining. Mede didn’t want me, she’d made that much clear. Well, looking on the bright side, she’d done a good job of preparing me for this evening. Just one look and I was wet, the woman had magical powers.

“Forgive me revered,” the words came out awkward, “I did not mean to stare.”

“No apologies necessary. I should be thanking you actually.” I brushed the washcloth between my legs and wasn’t too surprised to find that my clit was already starting to swell. I made quick work of the rest of my body.

“Thanking me?”

“For turning me on. You have one devilish look girl. Now I’m more than ready for a night of iniquity.” I expected her gasp and winked at her when her shock predictably brought her gaze back to me. Sadly, she kept her eyes trained above my neck. I turned my back on her, walking to retrieve a simple tunic. The boubou dress reminded me of Ayisha and the gown she’d been wearing when I saw her in the Bono palace. It brought me a pang of pain, but not enough pain to dull the arousal Mede had awakened. I slipped into the dress, mindful of Mede’s gaze as I turned back around.

“We should go down. I’m famished. Arousal does that to a person you know.”

She groaned. I laughed.

“Why was Eghe so flustered?” She asked, reaching for the door handle.

“Who do you think I’m going to be playing with in the den?”

She froze. An indecipherable look crossed her face. Then she chuckled. “Very funny, revered.”

I frowned at that. “If you say so.”

The dining hall was unusually quiet. The proprietor had sealed it for our benefit so that only the five of us dined in the spacious room. Taiso was notably absent. I sat beside Tiwo, enjoying the simple fare of jollof rice and fried turkey, with a renewed appetite I hadn’t felt throughout our trip. Tiwo watched me eating, his eyebrow lifted up, but he said nothing. He made light conversation with Neka instead.

It was obvious that Neka liked Tiwo. After a few shots of what appeared to be ogogoro, she was shamelessly flirting with him. It seemed that Taiso’s absence had done a lot to improve her mood. I don’t know what Tiwo said to her, but whatever it was apparently made her think he was ‘trouble’. She was laughing so hard I wondered how I could have missed out on the fact that Tiwo was such a comedian.

Debisi frowned at her, but she was too drunk to care. Two glasses of her drink later and she had her hand wrapped around Tiwo’s arm and her head resting on his shoulder.

“Neka,” Debisi’s cool voice cut one of her laughing fits short.

She flicked her fingers at him, as though she were shooing away a fly.

“Behave yourself, Neka, you are a married woman.”

She eyed him and hissed in reply. Tiwo chuckled.

“Oh relax, Bi, let her have a little fun.” I jabbed him playfully in the side.

His straight face showed he wasn’t having any of that. “It’s shameful. She’s making a fool of herself.”

“I don’t think she’s a fool, and neither does Tiwo. She’s drunk. There’s nothing wrong with a little harmless flirting.”

“Of course, you would think so.”

I stared at him.

“Forgive me, I’m not very good company right now.” He stood up and stormed away from the table.

I was in too much of a daze to react. I just gaped at the empty seat he’d just vacated. Debisi and I had just had our first fight. Not that it was really much of a fight.

“Tsk-tsk,” Tiwo whispered into my ear, “have I taught you nothing sister? Your trust in him is blinding you. Look.” I frowned at his cryptic words, even more confused when he reached for my chin and tipped my head in the direction of the door.

It turned out that my attention landed on the exit just in time. Debisi was being led away by a man in soldier’s garb.

“It’s the soldier from the wall,” Tiwo whispered to me, “the one he paid. What do you think your princeling is up to?” Tiwo turned his focus back to his meal, and to the woman who pouted for his attention. I couldn’t help but note that Neka’s drunken flirtations had stopped the minute Debisi left the table. Her attention had been fixed on the door, watching Debisi just as we had. Now she was back to chattering and flirting outrageously with Tiwo.

My gaze remained on the doorway, staring into the empty space and pondering Taiso’s allegations that Debisi had tried to have him killed. He’d freely admitted that he’d tried to have Debisi killed. The admission had bothered me then and it still bothered me now. Why would he admit to it? I thought about Debisi and the conversation we’d had after I confronted him about his sneaking out of the campsite at night. There’d been nothing on his features to show that he was lying, but his story hadn’t matched up with the details. I couldn’t help wondering if there was any truth to Taiso’s allegations.

Tiwo stood up. He got behind Neka and pulled her chair back, extending his hand out to help her to her feet. My brother, playing the role of gentleman. I watched without comment, as Neka swayed on her feet. Tiwo called to one of our female guards to help her to the toilet.

“Your princeling is very interesting.” Tiwo slumped back into his seat. “Almost as interesting as the princess. But your princeling is better at it.” He waited till Neka was out of the room, then he reached for her glass and took a cautious sip.

“Water?” I asked.

He nodded, his eyes gleaming. “Maybe she’s so in love with me, she doesn’t know any other way to express her feelings than to act drunk and throw herself at me.” He looked so innocent and hopeful when he said it, that if I didn’t know him better I would have actually thought he believed that filth.

“Was the soldier standing there before Debisi left the table?”

The humor faded from his face. He pulled my hands between his and held them tight. “The soldier was there before he chose to chastise Neka.” My jaw clenched. “He’s playing games, but I don’t think he’s a bad person, Tan. I just think there’s more to him than he wants you to know.” He kissed the back of my hand and pulled away. “I think he’s still a good match for you. You’ll just have to work on his jealousy.” He squeezed my hands before releasing them. “Which shouldn’t be a problem. The man is so in love with you, he’ll do anything to marry you.” He picked up his glass and sipped. “Now, what should I do about Neka?”

I wasn’t surprised that Tiwo had picked up on Debisi’s display of jealousy in Lekki. I considered his words and added them to the information I was gathering on Debisi.

It wasn’t till I heard the click of shoes that I remembered Tiwo’s question. “Make her laugh, but don’t sleep with her.”

He pouted. “Why do you get to have all the fun?”

“You could always come with me to the den.”

He shook his head. “My appetites are not quite as dark as yours. A simple Bleep will do for me. One of your fledgling tumblers has been flirting with me. I think I’m finally ready to take him up on his offer.” Tiwo rose and gallantly helped the ‘drunk’ Neka back into her seat. He continued to charm her effortlessly while I watched, contemplating. She was Nuri. Nuri by birth, raised in Nuri, but she’d been married to Taiso for a decade now. She’d obviously learnt a lot about Bono scheming in that time. To what end did she scheme though? And why did Debisi?

I couldn’t have been happier to leave the dining hall and all the knowledge it now held. Perhaps the den was darker, the release I sought in it more complicated. But in that moment, my desires seemed like the simplest part of this day.

3 Likes

Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by Elvictor: 8:11am On Oct 03
wink grin

always sweet like Obehid.

I think I will pot for the devil that admitted that he is a devil which is Taiso, Debisi be forming angel since Adam.
he had my girlie's heart already sha..
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by tunjilomo(m): 10:11am On Oct 03
To your question, "where did that come from?"
Just wanted to know the feeling you get from it.
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by PenHub: 11:59am On Oct 03
Thank you obehid. After coming this far, i think I've got to pick sides buh i just cant. Both debisi and taiso have their good and dark sides so i prefer to be neutral here. Neka and Tiwo well....
Re: Masquerades Of The Nulin Nations (18+) by doctorexcel(m): 8:09pm On Oct 03
2daful updates from the stable of obehid. Weldone op

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