It was in the 2nd century AD at the time Emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus was the emperor of the Roman Empire. A king of a small island under the empire announced to everyone that he was giving out his beautiful daughter to whomever that correctly identified his daughter’s second name and why it was given to her, within 2 days. He announced it in excitement as a result of their victory in the ‘just-ended’ war.
It was a hard task to the people of that island. They didn’t know where and how to find the answer, even the princess’ lover, Benjamin didn’t know the answer. The princess was barred from seeing anyone until the two days were over. She was a very beautiful lady no man would ever resist her hand in marriage.
There was a man named Zadie, who was cunning and dangerous. He had a hunch back which couldn’t make him walk upright. It was said that his greed gave him the hunch back. Zadie was interested in the task since it could fetch him the princess as his wife and a seat of power as the second in command to the king.
Zadie sat with his stone face and hunch back and thought on how he would arrive at the answer. He knew that the easiest way was to spy on Benjamin, the princess’ lover.
“If Benjamin can’t get the answer, then who will?” Zadie thought. He was able to dog Benjamin up to the king’s palace as he discovered that Benjamin was trying to have a clandestine conversation with the princess but stopped at the queen’s dressing room, a room before the princess’ room, for he knew nothing to tell the queen in other to make advances for the princess’ room. His plan was to hide somewhere close to the princess’ room where he could hear all they had to say.
“Your majesty, the queen,” he said as he came up with an idea.
“Sorry to interrupt you but it seems you haven’t heard.”
“Haven’t heard what, Zadie?” the queen retorted.
“Haven’t heard that his majesty, the king, is about heading to meet the three old witches?”
“What?!” the queen interrupted and in a moment, she rushed out of the room. Zadie knew that the queen was against every visit the king paid to the three old witches. Those three witches were those that gave Zadie a hunch back in return for his greed. Zadie was a frequent visitor to those witches and there he frequently saw the king seeking prophesies without a ‘go-ahead’ from the queen. The queen saw those witches as prophetess of doom.
As the queen left, three of her maids followed her and only one was remaining. Zadie saw this as another obstacle to get close to the princess’ room so he smartly spoke straight to her and said, “What are you still waiting for? I thought you ought to follow the queen until she’s through with her dressing.”
“Yes, that’s why I’m still waiting. Still has to wear this dress lying down there. Besides I ought not to leave you alone in this room,” the maid answered.
“Oh, I know you were a smart girl. Anyway, it seems you have to wait to see how she will feel when that dress you want her to wear stains her with that red stain on it. What’s that stain? Is it blood or red wine?”
“Oh my god, I’m finished,” the maid spoke in fear as she rushed out with the stained cloth. Zadie intentionally made that stain by cutting the skin of his palm. He must have outsmarted the maid.
In a jiffy, he went and hid close to the princess’ room and listened to what was left of the princess’ conversation with Benjamin. Luckily, he didn’t miss the part the princess told Benjamin the answer to the king’s question. He smiled and sneaked out as soon as he got what he wanted.
The day came when the king was expecting the answer the day the princess will know her groom and the day the groom will ascend to the seat of the second in command. Everyone gathered and was merrymaking until the king called on whoever that had the answer. Sixteen men came out including Zadie and each of them had to murmur the answer into the king’s ear.
The king smiled as Benjamin murmured his own answer and that was the only smile he made which was overwhelmed by a scowl as Zadie murmured his, too. Finally, the king addressed the crowd. He told everyone that only two men got the answer – Benjamin and Zadie, who gave the same answer (Britannia as his daughter’s second name and it was because they defeated the invading barbaric tribes from the northern Hadrian border of Britannia)
He said in remorse that the two were qualified to marry his daughter but will become more qualified after a second task. He said that because of Zadie. He wished Zadie got it wrong or wasn’t part of it at all. So he gave a second task among the two in order to make Zadie lose this time, but Zadie was still smarter than the way people thought about him.
The king told them to go and find a parrot that could pronounce his daughter’s second name correctly and he gave them another two days to find it, so they left to find it.
“Why are you following me? I thought this search was an individual search, so why don’t you leave me alone?” Benjamin scowled at Zadie who was following him as he was leaving the city in search of the parrot.
“Oh please, stop acting like a child. Grow up! What makes you think that I don’t know that the princess told you where you could find such a parrot?” Zadie said which caught the attention of Benjamin. Zadie saw them in another clandestine conversation but heard nothing on what they talked about.
“See, I know pretty well that the princess loves you dearly and wants you to win this task but your greatest enemy is the king. He loathes us so much and wants both of us to lose so that he will say no one from the island was qualified to marry his daughter and then he will give it to the Prince of Gaul in compensation on how they helped in the battle, not knowing that we the Irish patriots fought strongly with our hands to make sure peace and security was retained in our homeland, Ireland. The king told the princess because he knew she was going to tell you but I forbid you not to go there for you shall die. I can assure you that many have travelled through that valley and never returned. I’m not going with you so bear it in mind and I don’t even need that parrot to be sincere, because my lips can’t even come in contact with the princess’ lips. What am I going to do with a princess I can’t kiss? How will our wedding look like?”
“Then what do you want? Cut it straight, what is the point?” Benjamin retorted
“Now you’re talking. All I need is to get rid of my hunch back”
“Then how is that going to be possible and how’s that got to do with me?” Benjamin asked.
Zadie was able to con Benjamin into following him to the three witches, so that he will mislead him into a pit that was hidden on the way. He knew that Benjamin was going to disclose the place the princess told him he could find the parrots out of fear of being left inside the pit to die. He successfully did it and Benjamin fell into the pit. Then Zadie stood close to the pit and said, “Benjamin, I’m sorry. I never knew there was a pit here but I’m only going to help you if you tell me where the princess told you to go and find the parrot.”
Benjamin knew that without Zadie he won’t be able to come out of that pit and the pit was so scary, one might not live up to three hours in that pit. He was afraid of death so after much reluctance, he disclosed where to find the parrot but Zadie still left him to rot away in the pit in the eyes of the witches which he informed and went ahead in search of the parrot. Zadie was wicked and deceitful. He found the parrot and brought it back to the king. The king had no choice than to give his daughter’s hand in marriage and the seat of the second in command to Zadie.
Thereafter, Zadie paid another visit to the three witches. He came to get rid of his hunch back and this time he came with the princess as demanded by the witches. The three witches deceived Zadie into believing that his hunch back was a blessing to him. They told him that the more the hunch back, the more his power, wisdom, long life, and above all more beautiful women, which gave Zadie a smile on his face.
Out of greed, he changed his mind and demanded for more hunch back and more was given to him. He left with the princess but half way back home, he discovered he couldn’t survive with that hunch back. The three witches had betrayed him after all he had brought to them – money, blood, handsome men including Benjamin. He returned back in vengeance but unfortunately collapsed in the same pit he threw Benjamin and the princess fled back home, free.
To be continued…Part 2
Culled from: “Once Upon A Time In Umuaka” by Emmanuel Aghado