“White silk… or lace?”
Tade looked from one to the other. She couldn’t seem to make up her mind. “I…”
“I will go with the white silk. It has this soft feel and really dazzling look. You will radiate in it.” Sade seemed more excited than her sister over the coming wedding.
“Well…” Tade looked confused. “…If you say so.”
“I say so. I’ll go and tell mother you’ve picked. The dress maker is here.” She grabbed the bundle of clothing materials and bundled them into the hands of the waiting servant girl and signaled to another. “You go fetch the woman.”
Tade raised both eyebrows. Her room which was usually neatly arranged and clean was a mess of different materials, boxes, sandals, presents, fruits and other wedding items. “I don’t know why you bothered with the sandals, Arogun people hardly wear any.”
Sade placed her hands on her waist and rolled her eyes. “With all their elegant look. Well if you won’t wear them, I will and so will Fade and Teniade.”
Tade was quiet. Though the elder of the two and the one usually in charge, her sister seemed to be doing all the talking and planning lately and she didn’t mind at all. She sighed as the dressmaker from Arogun came in along with three assistants and bowed low.
Tade managed a smile. “You are welcome.”
“We’ve been expecting you. She chose the white silk. I can’t wait to see you make your village trademark elegant wrap.” Sade gushed fusing her hands together. “I hear it is quite beautiful.”
“A very excellent choice…” The lady stood before the princess and directed her girls to clear the room a bit and set up for measurements and fittings. “Our bride will look absolutely stunning. We plan to match it with a royal blue tie under the bosom. I’ve been dressing Arogun brides for years and I am the best, just leave all to me.”
Sade beamed back at her sister. “You are going to look great! The King won’t even know what hit him.”
“Really?” Tade murmured drily under her breath as she slowly got up to prepare for the measurements.
“Really…” Sade helped her up and grinned at the dressmaker. “Don’t mind her at all. Underneath it all she is ecstatic.”
The woman beamed back. “The princess has a fantastic, lean and perfect shape, it brings out the beauty of Arogun dressing. I was at the betrothal you know. She was looking so lovely.”
“Get on with the measurements.” Tade said sternly.
There was a flurry of activity at the ante room to her bedroom.
“Who asked for bean cakes?”
“Mother is that you?” Sade called out.
“More and more presents have arrived.”
Their mother walked in with a palace kitchen girl carrying a bowl of freshly made bean cakes while others carried more presents into the room.
“We had better divert them to our my room or yours as there is no more room in this place. The palace is big enough; surely we can spare a room for presents.”
“Put them in the ante room.” Tade frowned as she held out her arms while an assistant dressmaker pieced the cloth against her from armpit to floor. She sighed as her mother and sister chattered on and on, occasionally asking the dressmaker a question. Tade quietly faded into her thoughts and tried to drown out their voices in her head. Everyone was excited about the wedding, everyone that is except her.
It had been a month since her engagement to the King of the Arogun Empire, Lisabi Oromiyan after the events of the ‘almost war’ which had put all the villages in the region under the Mountainous Arogun village. The young but valiant King now controlled all the little villages Ofe, Ikenne and Ajasi as well as Ikojo under a single empire and he was enchanted by the Crown Princess of Ikojo, her, Tade.
She had been given a month to go home and stay with her family whom she had not seen in a long time having been imprisoned in the Arogun palace during the period now commonly reffered to as the ‘Almost War’. Tade felt like a prize, a tradeoff between her father, the Olu of Ikojo and the Arogun King for the right for Ikojo to be labeled a Protectorate while the people ruled themselves. The Alliance was good for her village as it retained its identity and heritage but it also meant that she would be sold into marriage with a King who she knew would be amused with her for a while and then find someone else when he lost interest. Tade winced as they pulled tight trying to find her right waist size.
“Are you ok my dear?” Her mother peered worriedly into her face. “Is it too tight?”
Tade glanced down at the women. “I believe I will be unable to eat anything that day if it is any tighter.”
“Finally, my baby will have a body. I am tired of seeing you look like skin and bones. You need some flesh on you. A bouncing baby will do that for you.” She continued.
“Mother…”Tade frowned while her sister giggled.
“And perhaps the King will prevail on you to stop all this warrior nonsense. You are a girl and your place is in the home.”
Tade rolled her eyes. She was sick of it all and wanted everyone to leave. She wanted her room back to herself, she wanted to bury her head under the covers of her bed and chase everyone out. She wanted to go back to the days when things were simple and Balogun was there and he had not made the erroneous choice to switch sides and change the course of their history forever.
“We are done.” The dressmakers announced to Tade’s relief. “It will be ready by this evening. The wedding is two days away, I gather.”
She bowed to Tade. “I wish you a happy day, my princess. You will steal the attention of the King. He will never be able to take his eyes off you.”
“Thank you.” Tade said, though that was the last prayer she wanted answered.
“We will be here tomorrow morning so you can try it on and have your hair made. The King requested strictly Arogun.”
“As his highness so desires.” Tade murmured rolling her eyes.
“Tade! Hush.” Her mother flapped her arm.
The dressmakers prepared to leave and began to pack up while Sade busied herself rearranging the room and redirecting presents to another room through the servant girls.
“Mother! Do I have any choice?”
Her mother gave her a stern look and Tade wandered over to the window to sit on a high stool and stare out at the tops of other palace rooms into the village below. She tried not to think about the King but she did. It wasn’t that he was a bad idea for a husband. He was handsome and rich and controlled enough power to keep her village safe. For those three things her family felt he was more than the perfect choice for her as husband, she being the heir to the Ikojo throne. Though what would happen when she eventually ascended the throne was yet to be determined. She would be queen in Arogun and therefore unable to lead but then Ikojo was now a protectorate of Arogun and thereby part of the Empire. Her time in the Arogun palace had afforded her some brief time with King Lisabi whom she had found to be extremely kind, charming, funny, and generous but also a terrible flirt. He would have difficulty keeping to one woman. Already there were rumors of a concubine in the palace. Tade didn’t want to think about that. He was very tall, strong, athletic and a good swords man and in Sade’s opinion, that was the fourth thing that made him an ideal choice. How many kings had that combination?
Tade turned to see her mother sending everyone away including Sade. Though she was finally grateful for the privacy, she knew it meant the talk they had skirted around a couple of times in the last few days could not be avoided any more. “Thank you mother, I need to be alone.”
“I know, but we have to have our discussion.”
Tade pursed her lips in a smile and gazed out the window. Her mother, the pretty and aging queen of Ikojo pushed the nearest chair closer and sat. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine.” She managed a weary smile for her mother. “I really appreciate everything.”
“But you are not happy.”
Tade looked away and shrugged. “The alliance is important for us.”
“At the cost… of your happiness.”
“I’ve quit mourning Balogun if that’s what you are implying.”
“I know that.” Her mother replied. “But I can’t help wondering. Is there someone else? Someone you met perhaps at Arogun.”
For a second the shadowy figure of the King’s half-brother, the Crown Prince of Arogun who was also their Chief warrior, filtered into her memory and vanished just as quickly as it came.
“No.” Tade frowned quickly. “It’s no one. I’m just nervous that’s all. I mean, I hardly know him; I’m leaving all of you, everything I’ve known. It’s kind of a lot to swallow right now.”
Her mother sighed. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Tade grinned. “You are not going to tell me the story of about when you first met father are you?”
“I am.” Her mother answered. “”I was a shy, naïve and young girl and I was very nervous, especially about the first night.”
“Mother, do I really need to hear this?”
“Who else will you talk to about it if not me?”
Tade swallowed further objections.
“Your father was very gentle as I believe the King will be. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with him at first sight and I was definitely not in love with him when we married but over the years he won me over.”
Tade exhaled “Lisabi and father have very different personalities and I can tell you that I am nothing like you.”
“I know.” Her mother said. “And that is what worries me.”
Tade turned to stare at her mother.
“You were raised to be a queen, to be strong and independent and bold and outspoken and fearless, and sharp and to fight… all the things a man should be. However there cannot be two men in a relationship only one or there will be no relationship, no marriage as it were. You have to unlearn these things somehow, if this marriage is to survive.”
“Mother, unlearning who I am will be very difficult. No, make that Impossible.” Tade said quietly. “I am, who I am!”
“Yes you are, and more but you don’t need to be that person anymore. You now have a head. Your father raised you that way so you can be strong enough to hold the village together. But now you don’t need those qualities. The King will protect you and the village. You don’t need to be strong anymore.”
Tade laughed. “Mother, that’s like asking a leopard to remove his spots. How am I ever going to do that?”
Her mother stood and came closer. She turned Tade’s head towards her and said. “Omotade, you need to let him know that you need him. You need to let him lead you and you need to let him love you. That is all.”
Tade raised both eyebrows. “The wise words of one queen to another?”
“I am serious Tade.” Her mother replied shaking her briefly. “And you need to reduce the sarcasm too.”
“Okay, Okay.” She smiled at her mother. “I know you mean well.”
“I mean seriously.” Her mother replied. “This marriage cannot afford to fail. You must try your possible best to be all that you can to make it work. We need this alliance.”
Tade nodded and turned her face back to stare out the window. She understood what her mother was saying. As for its possibility, that was an entirely different matter altogether.