Wuxiaworld > Broken Cloud > 13 THIRTEEN

"My Prince, something is wrong and I want you to tell me everything now. Do not attempt to hide anything from me, my dear Prince," Sarie was saying as she reentered the room.

"Something is always wrong inside the King's palace, we will be fine." The prince held her hand and led her to his bed side.

"I was sneaked in through the roof. Obi said the Queen has eyes on you and me."

"The Queen suspects something but knows nothing. We only have to be careful for a while."

"We shall always be hiding. We are forbidden by the gods. They would have me hung by the river..."

"Ssssshhhh...be quiet, my love," he placed a finger on her lips. He was seated on his bed and she on his left lap, "she is my mother. She won't let that happen to us." He knew how misleading that was but he could think of nothing else to say and he must say something to keep her from dying from a panic attack. It was a common saying in the palace that the punishment of the gods is a blessing compared to Queen Lorren's wrath.

"She won't let that happen to you."

Ikan swallowed and faced the ground. He would admit to himself there was little he could do to keep her from being so terrified.

"She must not find out about us."

"She wants me to be married to the princess from Wazou. She will not rest till she gets me to do as she wishes."

"Then you must do as she wishes."

"No. I must find a way around her if I want to be reckoned as a man."

"You need her to be happy with you."

"You are all I need."

"I am a secret. That is all I will ever be. Everyone in this kingdom is asking the question of the reason behind your delay in taking a wife and that is dangerous for me."

"You have no need to be worried about my people's questions of me."

"When you are the answer that must remain hidden, then you have everything to be worried about when so much people are asking the same question. Their questions will lead them to us. My Prince, look at it this way, if you marry the princess, we can continue to be a secret because no question will be searching for us. To the public eye, I shall remain your loyal and favorite servant. Your mother will have her wish as usual and you and I will have each other."

"It is way more complicated than that. I have to fight, yet I do not know how."

"Then do not fight, my prince." She touched her warm palm on his left cheek, "when I came into your quarters as a new servant girl, I was more than pleased to be seen by the other girls as your favorite servant. I was beyond satisfied with that. Now to become your lover is, it, it is unthinkable already. It is more than what an Urle can wish for, let alone a lowly Otte," she paused for three seconds as she fixed her gaze on the stitched end of her gown then she slowly returned it to his eyes, "we should not put this beyond what we can guard."

He pulled her close. He searched but could not find a word to say to her.

He pulled her closer.

* * * * *

Omta had requested for an urgent meeting with the Queen but it took up to an entire work period for him to get his chance. As he was going up the stairs at the entrance of the Queen's quarters, he met Obi descending. Each man flung an indifferent glare at the other without a real salutation. It was true that Obi was one of the four most senior palace guardsmen and one of the three most highly ranked swordsmen in the King's army, nonetheless, familiarizing with royalty was a step too far that disturbed Omta. Not only because it had made Obi less bothered about saluting him, but because now he had to compete with Obi for the attention of the Prince and the Queen.

"Just when I thought I would never hear from you again," the queen sneered at his direction.

He genuflected, "My Queen, may your servant be pardoned from the abundance of your mercy."

"What have you come for?"

"I have information you could find interesting, my Queen."

"Concerning what? Is it about my son and his secret lover?"

"Yes, my queen. It is about the Heir Apparent Prince and the Otte."

"I have all the details I need," she said, tilting her head gracefully away from him towards the entrance of light through the faint blur glass of the window. She had no lamp lit inside her visitor's chamber but she left all the window curtains pulled apart so that the light from the blazing flame outside her quarters could filter in. In an effort to recreate the daylight of the lands beyond the Mighty Waters, the queen would occasionally order soda salt to be burnt in a large flame. This made the flame a bright white light as long as the stream of air over it was abundant and steady.

"You do?"

"You do not seem to have realized with whom you deal. That is a shame because you have stayed too long inside this palace to know better. I do not depend on just one lame source for information I seek. As I did not hear from you at the banquet I decided you were too unreliable for me."

Omta bowed, "Fairest of queens, I am grieved inside my soul to have disappointed you."

"Sarie is not the Otte my son is having the taboo with."

Omta's forehead wrinkled and he leaned his head forward.

"Ikan perhaps brought in Sarie to make a disguise but he can only fool the rest of you, not me. It is her friend he is romancing with. An Otte called, Maril."

"Maril? Are you sure about this?"

"A Royal horse assigned to the Heir Apparent Prince is seen every night by the hut of this Otte's parents. And only a few moments after, the Otte leaves the hut. Ikan should have known he would never be able to trick me. Perhaps it never came to his baby mind that he would have me to hide from."

Omta could feel his face stiffen.

"And there is no way you can tell me that the Prince has such routine and you do not know of it. You have chosen to help him hide this taboo from me. You should feel sorry for yourself already."

"My Queen. I, I..."

"How else do you need me to tell you what magnitude of mistake you will be making by offending me? Oh foolish Omta, you have chosen the wrong god to follow and I promise you, you will not be spared when the time of punishment comes. For now, I have a poisonous Otte to deal with. After that I shall give you the right retribution you are asking for."

Omta could still feel his facial muscles stiffened. He would have liked to say something but his lips formed a small O and stayed that way. All he could do was to fall on his knees in a speechless plea.

"Did you get him to tell you what the king told him that was troubling him?"

He blinked twice, "He refused to say."

"Or you failed to make him say?"

"But he also said he no longer thought it relevant enough to bother him. He insisted that what is most important to him now is his love for..."

"That is to be left in my care. I have my way of dealing with the stupid Otte."

"Great queen. I have evidence to the contrary about your findings on the Otte. If you only allow me..."

"Listen to me," she snapped, "you had better not let your desperation to impress me tempt you into telling me lies. That will only make things worse for you."

"Yes, my Queen."

"Now depart."

He stood, genuflected and left.

Once he left the presence of the queen there was only one place he knew he should be heading to. While he made no mistake about the general knowledge that there was practically nothing anyone in Iluji can do to protect anyone from the wrath of the queen, he hoped he could have a slim chance if he moved ahead of the queen. He did not bother to use any of the Royal horses because the attention could be fatally costly. He went running on foot without even taking a torch along. That too was too much attention than he could afford. He was not going to take chances. Not of attention and certainly not of wasting time. Once he gets to the hut of her parents, he would order Maril to come along with him immediately. He was almost certain her parents would not resist him. He was completely certain Maril would not hesitate one bit.

The queen put a veil over her head and face and left her quarters. She was going to see the king. She had sent a messenger ahead of her to inform the king she was coming for a matter that needed urgent attention.

The king, seeing her approach from his uppermost balcony ordered his guards to go tell her to return to her quarters. He would join her shortly. She stood there where the King's guards met her for a while before she turned around.

She stood in her innermost chamber pacing, hands on her hips and lips tightened. The chairs were not prepared for the king; the air wasn't even scented for his entrance.

"What is so urgent?" The king said huskily as he entered alone. He had a casual stare on her, convinced inside that he was uninterested in whatever she had to say.

"It is a crucial matter for the throne."

"I think I have heard this story before," the king said quickly, "my son has refused to marry a Wazou princess and it means doom for the future of my throne and for this kingdom, waza, waza, waza...I have grown too weary of hearing this thing all over..." He was approaching the door already.

"You need to call for a grand sacrifice urgently." She said that within just a twinkle of an eye before he pulled the door open.

A King's grand sacrifice meant an offering presented to the gods in the caves at their shrine intended to make the gods bring sunshine to the land of Iluji.

An ancient prophecy had said;

Only a grand sacrifice of the king

Along with witnesses

That before the cave mouth they humbly bring

Chases out nemesis

And cause the sun like rivers men to drink

For centuries since that prophecy, kings have tried in many different ways to outdo their predecessors and their own previous grand sacrifices. There was yet another declaration by the gods through the mouths of the witnesses thus;

No one from the cave lives

When upon the gods he has struck eyes

Whether he takes or gives

Oh king, offer your grand sacrifice.

As a matter of fact, no human who had entered the cave had ever come out. Hence, for the king to offer his grand sacrifice to the gods inside the cave, the grand sacrifice was put inside a calabash or an earthen pot and handed to an Otte. The Otte would then take the sacrifice into the cave. Of course as expected, the Otte never returns, yet to their continuous disappointment, none of the grand sacrifices had brought sunlight to Iluji.

The tradition of using Ottes began when there were too many of them in the kingdom and there was too little usefulness they were of to their masters. They were considered to be the least needful humans.

In recent decades, the exercise had become less of a sacrifice to bring sunlight and more of a death sentence execution for offending Ottes or the ones just despised by the Royal family.

The king took his hand from the door handle, and then he turned to her. "Which Otte have you decided to kill this time?"

"This is for the good of your dynasty. You know it is what I always seek. You might not realize it all the time and you might not want to admit it, but I always plan to do and mostly do that which brings strength and fortune to your throne and to your kingdom. I swear by the..."

"Lorren, what is it you plan this time?"

"Ikan is dancing beside his open grave. He is getting drunk on his own blood. He has taken an Otte for a lover."

"And how sure are you about what you say?"

"You know my eyes are by the clouds of Iluji. Nothing is hidden from me."

The king swallowed hard and looked around. "How many people know about this?"

"I would not be certain about that, but I think very few."

He looked at the chair, unprepared for a king to sit. He walked to it, and he sat. Then he sighed heavily.

"You must now call for a grand sacrifice instantly and the Otte should be locked in a dungeon here in the palace meanwhile."

"No. We send the Otte away. To another kingdom."

"Ottes do not cross the Mighty Waters and remember you must not be caught defying the gods."

"There is always a way to make her disappear without being known to the public. Or we hide her within the kingdom but away from his knowledge."

"The grand sacrifice is the safest and surest answer to this."

"It would devastate him."

"She must be made to pay with her life. We must make Ikan see that life is at stake when he goes the wrong way. Otherwise he will only find another Otte."

"How strong is their love?"

"Too strong to break."
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"That means if I take her away he will not easily begin to find another."

"It also means he will never give up until he finds where you hid her."

"How did you find out about it?"

"It was easy. He visits her every bed time."

The king pounded a fist on his right thigh. "How could he be so foolish?"

She shrugged, "Call for your grand sacrifice now."

"No. I have to think of another way."

"Why can't you see the priceless opportunity here?" She gasped, "Given how much he loves her, if we make him present the grand sacrifice...I mean, this might just be what the prophecy meant by grand sacrifice after all," she threw up her hands, "this is so easy to spot. Why am I not the king?"

"Offering someone deeply loved to the gods for the sake of the sunlight," the king muttered softly and slowly.

"The recent prophecy of the Witnesses begin to make sense." He began to nod and did not stop.

"There is no time to waste. Go assemble your Council."

He stood and said to her, "I will go now to make preparation for the sacrifice. You shall find Ikan and convince him of this."

"Me? Why me?"

"It was all your idea. I hate to compete for the credit."


"You will communicate it better than I."

"You are the one he listens to these days. And do not forget that you have to hold the Otte secured in a pit before he is even made to know of this. You do not want him doing something foolish before public eye." The king left without another word.

* * * *

All the while he was sneaking around their hut to signal their daughter, Omta thought Maril's parents would have suspected something and gone ahead to confirm what he was up to with their daughter. He was wrong. They were so alarmed and much more terrified when he stormed into their hut ordering their daughter to follow him at once. Being a Url who had connection to the Royal family, they had nothing to do to stop him.

Maril was left with such little time and enormous responsibility of explaining the presence of Omta in their hut.

"I am sorry, papa," her lips were trembling as she stood at the door and facing her parents who stood frozen in mortification by their bedside. Omta was standing behind her and tugging her by the wrist. "We, we are lovers."

"Oh furious gods." Her mother exclaimed. She fell to the stone floor and began to pull her hair. She sank her head between her legs and screamed. Her husband realized that causing a scene was not in their best interest and forced a hand over her mouth.

He looked up at Omta, "What have we done to deserve this disaster you have brought on us?"

Omta glanced at Maril as if to say she was the answer to his question, he made no verbal response but pulled her out of the hut and ran into the lampless outdoors, leaving the mortified man to tend to his over mortified wife.

Maril had to run ten times faster than she ever ran in her life to avoid stumbling over from the pull from Omta.

"Are they going to hang me?" She was asking between breaths, "What will they do to you? I am dead...I am so dead."

"Right now, only the queen knows about us."

"Is she going to kill us?"

"I have no idea what she will do. I only want to put you in safety before she decides on what to do to you."

"To me? What about you?"

Omta sped up his sprint, which meant he pulled her harder.

"What will she do to you?" He did not respond.

"What will she do to you?"

* * * *

King Chuka paced the length of wooden floor between two lamp posts inside his inner chamber. He clutched his bronze cup as if he was meant to squeeze out his wine from it. He made a fist with his left hand which he kept pounding into the air below.

"You sent for me." Prince Ikan entered.

The king stretched his arm to place his cup on the tall table and began to approach the prince with angry stomps. The wine cup could not find adequate table top to cover its base. It tumbled over, allowing the wooden floor to drink from its content before it struck an unpleasant metallic note with the floor.

For three seconds that the metal-against-wood note played out, the king stood three feet from his son. His chin was tautened and his eyes were shooting darts of fire. Then he whipped a steaming slap across the boy's left cheek. The prince did not see that coming but he did not move a single muscle in reaction. He did not even blink an eye.

"How could you be so silly?" Chuka cried, "How could you be this stupid?"

"What are you talking about, father?"

"Oh. You must be thinking no one would find out. Everyone in the kingdom and even the palace will go blind and deaf for you. Because you want to have you abomination with the Otte, we will all go blind, uhm? That is the way you thought of it? Sorry, son. It is a foolish man's thinking."

Ikan moved away from his father's shadow and found the nearest chair he could reach to sink himself into. He held his head with his left palm so that he covered his left eye and the other one, he shut.

"Ikan, what have you done?" King Chuka moved closer again so that his shadow still covered Ikan. "Are you not going to deny it?"