Akanbi made towards the location. Fast like a frenzied cobra. Ewatomi was following behind, also confused.
There lay Abeni writhing in pains amidst the shrubs, sobbing in silence.
Shocked to realize it was her, he flinched to a halt, then crouched to part the trap.
Abeni broke into tears once freed, her weight on the left hand, right leg outstretched. Chain of bloody cuts lay boldly above her ankle. Gasping and weeping, she stared resentfully at Ewatomi who was behind Akanbi, ablaze in silent fury.
Akanbi had set the trap for the bush meats. He praised the gods within him. It wasn’t the largest trap. Otherwise, the wound would be more terrible. He hurried into the inner bush, plucked three different leaves, and mashed them together until the resin had stained his fingers.
Meanwhile, Ewatomi was scowling at her, cursing under her breath, “Stupid girl. I don’t know what she’s looking for,” she paused, glancing left and right, “So you think you can snatch Akanbi from me? Your trouble has just started….”
She muted at the sound of approaching feet.
Akanbi rushed to the leg, rubbed the secretion on the wound, before tying a frond rope. He stood her up. She felt stinging sensation, but less aches.
“You need to take a rest.” Akanbi was pointing at a thatched-roof tent afar off.
“No, I’m going home.” she moaned.
Limping away, she fell abruptly, rescued by his hands in one sweeping motion, half way down..
Ewatomi stood still, stomach whirling in rage, right arm across breasts, the other supported her jaw.
Finally agreed to rest, Akanbi began to lead her gently, like a blind beggar. His arm across her back, soothing her skin like early morning dew. Yet she was moaning and wriggling as if by his touch the pain was growing. “Sorry, you will be alright.” He said.
They soon arrived at the shed. The place was his zone of comfort, where he sometimes roasted yams and bush meat. In the middle, two black crocks lying beside a fireplace. Flanked by long bamboo benches.
This moment, Ewatomi was signaling to her maids, taking her leave without uttering a farewell.
Late in the night, Abeni lay on the mat, thoughtful, her mind muddled like overcrowded market. She could not tell her parents where she was truly trapped. Severally, her father had admonished that she shouldn’t defy the princess. But she couldn’t let go. Losing Akanbi seemed to be her greatest fear.
‘Please come to my rescue, the gods of my ancestors,’ she thought. ‘What if we are banished from this land? I will end up losing…. No…never… may the gods forbid such!’
Earlier in the afternoon, when she finished resting at that shed, Akanbi bothered not asking if his request be granted, perhaps because of her condition. Fadekemi had appeared from the bush when the princess was gone. Fadekemi, likewise Abeni, was in royal bondage. The day before, after delivering a message to Akanbi that Abeni would not accept him due to Ewatomi’s threat, she had stumbled across Ewatomi at Akanbi’s compound.
“Oh, so you’re also among them?” She’d said, “I will make sure you never go unhurt when next I see you here.” Fadekemi had trembled in response, trying to give a false excuse (like saying an elderly man had sent her to deliver a message to him) but Ewatomi didn’t care to listen. Fadekemi could not put herself in further trouble. Besides, she was the sole child of her parents.
Abeni sighed, staring at her sleeping mother on a mud bed covered in raffia mat. Her siblings too. One was snoring, as loud as a croaking frog. The lamp was waving from the corner, on a bamboo stool, shadows dancing across the brown wall, to the tune of the wind from the small window. Yet Abeni could feel cold sweat running on her temple. Paranoid.
At daybreak, she roused to see Fadekemi, seated beside her. She’d felt a gentle tap on her thigh.
“How are you feeling now?” She asked.
Abeni yawned, rubbed her eyes, and caressed the wound. “It’s much better. Thank you.” She slurred.
“Oh, praises to the gods,” she spread her palms upwards.
“This object,” she began, paused, peeking around to ensure nobody was approaching. She produced a knotted white fabric from inside her wrapper, “This is one of the reasons I came early. It’s a message from Akanbi. A few moments ago, he sent somebody to give it to me, with a warning. No one should reveal it except you. According to the messenger, the content is a bracelet. You start wearing it henceforth.”
“What for?” Abeni asked as she extended her hand, hesitant.
“The same question I asked the messenger. The purpose not identified. But why should you doubt anything from Akanbi?” Fadekemi smiled, “I think he’s truly in love with you. Just do as he said.”
Abeni tied the object to her wrapper.
“I will come and play with you at noontime. My pot is outside. I’m off to the stream,” she stood to her feet, wished Abeni could follow her. They almost never missed fetching water together over the seasons— ever since Abeni and her parents had settled in Oloyade about sixteen seasons ago.
Abeni’s father, Ayandele, was supposed to be the king in his fatherland, Elekuro village. He was the choice of the gods. Meanwhile, he was not related to the royal clan. And yet Ifa, the oracle, had declared him the king after the demise of the then king who was never survived by a male child.
“How could Ifa choose an ordinary drummer as the next king?” was the song of the villagers, especially the royal chiefs and corrupt elders. Anger and indignation had seized the royal family. Despite their wealth, none of them was chosen?
Ayandele went to consult a priest on hearing the joyful but dangerous news. The old man had shaken his head after his divination. “My son, there is a disastrous augury. Praise your personal god that you have come at the right time….For now, you need to leave the land before sunrise. Or else, you and your family may not see the next twilight. Here is a piece of advice. Drum it to your wife and children. They must not reveal their true identity. It’s dangerous.”
On their way, the journey across bushes and mountains, they came across a gourd floating in mid-air, hovering over them. Ayandele was not so shocked, unlike his wife, Ayinke, who began trembling and wailing after she cuddled her three children. The sage had prophesied that Ayandele would come across something terrible. It was the work of his enemies. So he had given Ayandele a white powder. When he blew the powder, the gourd had vanished once. Like smoke in the storm. Ayinke had cried out almost immediately. Her sight was gone. The little Abeni burst into tears.
Three days later Abeni had recovered the ever-glowing leg, but with a faded bruise. And she had started wearing the red bracelet. It was made of a circled rod, shrouded in red fabric. Most times, she wore the bracelet with several colourful ones in order to disguise it. Akanbi had gone hunting in a remote forest for the past two days. Whenever Abeni fiddled with the bracelet, a smile would sail across her cheeks. For having a gift from such a man of valour.
Now the sun was already retracting into the dusk clouds. Abeni was at the fireplace, gathering some hays and firewood in between the triple stones. She struck fire from two little stones. The flames, like infant serpents, crawled across the hays, then stick to stick, before leaping to the bottom of the water-filled pot. Her mother was seated at the threshold of their hut, a two-roomed, staring at the sky that only existed in her imagination. Her father would soon be back from a palmwine joint where he played three days weekly. And her siblings were in the market selling palm oil.
Abeni was about to enter her mother’s room, when a voice as loud as gunshot struck her from behind.
“Come back here!” The warrior repeated.
Three royal warriors standing a bit far away, bare-torsoed, in batik shorts and charm-embedded necklets. Their eyes red and their chests rippled as much as their muscles.
As if the earth was shifting under her, Abeni’s feet began quaking in terror.
“Abeni! Who is that? Who is that?” Her mother began wailing, groping around, grabbing the air.
Abeni ran to assist her mother who was about stumbling over a stone. Then, one of the men, fast like a catapulted stone, lounged towards them, a whip in his grip.
Abeni started screaming, clinging to her mother.
The whip ascended in a dash.
And when it was descending, close to her body, his hand froze. A strike of blue lightning, visible to other warriors, stood from Abeni’s hand. And like a cobweb it entangled their comrade. He began to whirl round and round the compound, like tornado. Then slumped to the ground.