Chapter 12: Twelfth Phase

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 72

One late afternoon, Emeravwe confronted Mudiaga as they left the Bureau of Court Affairs on an errand. Aye Chioma had asked her to retrieve some documents from the Bureau of Departmental Affairs, another division of the Department of Court Inspections, and Mudiaga insisted on tagging along.

She narrowed her eyes at him as they treaded the halls of the Bureau of Court Affairs. “Mudiaga, why do you persist in pestering me?”

He attempted a frown, but his light brown eyes were laughing, and the corners of his mouth twitched. “Pestering! That’s harsh, Emeravwe. As an officer of the crown, isn’t the noble thing to do to offer my assistance to a Maiden?”

“No. Your assistance becomes inappropriate when offered too frequently.”

He opened his mouth to respond, but there was nothing to contend in her statement, so he grinned, instead. “Alright, I’m just having a little fun, is all.” She scowled. “And you’re not, so why don’t you drop the pretense?”

She furrowed her brow, lifting her chin. “What pretense?”

“That haughty attitude and semblance of propriety.” He narrowed his eyes. “I’ve seen your true colors,” a kind smile softened his look, “and I like them.”

Emeravwe rolled her eyes. There he goes again.

“Don’t roll your eyes, I’m serious!” he said, truly frowning now. “You’re a bit more daring than most Maidens I’ve encountered—you call me by name easily enough when no one is around. And for all the effort you put into ignoring me when people are around, you fail miserably half the time.” He shook his head. “More like you give in.”

They stopped to pay respects to two senior officials who passed them in the hall, then turned a corner and headed for the front entrance.

Mudiaga continued, “I get along well enough with everyone in our office now, but that’s because I’ve given them no choice but to put up with me for the past three years.” Emeravwe could only imagine how his persistent, unorthodox ways had worn them down, and crossed Eunuch Otase. “When I was first assigned to the office, though, they all treated me like a molting worm—like you tried to do. But I see right through you, Emeravwe. You don’t have an ounce of disdain for me, do you? So why put up a front?”

Emeravwe faced him and he smirked knowingly. She was surprised at how perceptive he was; or perhaps she had not been as subtle as she had thought with her gradual acceptance of him. She could not scorn him. Because I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end, she thought as they exited the bureau, the heat of the late afternoon sun bearing down on them.

She paused on the landing, turning to him with a placid expression. She said obstinately, a bit peeved that he had read her so easily, “You are mistaking, I do hate you.”

He squinted doubtfully at her, and as they held each other’s gazes the corners of her mouth gave way. Mudiaga broke in his own crooked grin and Emeravwe’s smile grew as she watched him. His dimpled smile was altogether boyish and charming—how could anyone disdain him?

He began descending the steps of the bureau, his eyes still on her. “I hope there’ll be no more games between us, then.” His grin turned mischievous. “Well, there might be games of a different, more enticing nature. I’d welcome that.”

Emeravwe followed after him, saying pointedly, “I am a Maiden. Unless you are the Orodje, I can play no games with you.”

Mudiaga raised a brow. “So that’s your aim?” He waved a dismissive hand. “Forget some stiff-necked Orodje you’ll probably never meet. Hang with me, instead.”

Hang? “Uh, no, I would rather stay alive.”

He burst in laughter. “‘Hang’ doesn’t mean we should die together. It’s slang used in the marketplace meaning we should play together.”

Emeravwe’s face heated with embarrassment as he continued in mirth. How was she to know what slang was used in the marketplace? She turned sorely from him with a smack of her lips and spotted two Eunuchs at the bottom of the steps. Both looked gracefully tall in their brown Eunuchs’ robes, the taller one standing slightly behind the other. Their heads were wrapped in identical yellow headcloths, and though the day was calm with no wind to stir up dust, the ends of the cloths were wound around their faces so only their eyes were exposed. They stood watching Emeravwe and Mudiaga, who respectfully bowed their heads as they approached the two Eunuchs. When they reached the bottom of the steps, they bent in a butu and digwe, greeting, “Miguo, Ogas.”

The Eunuch in front answered jauntily, “Agaenaye Emeravwe, Vrendo.”

Emeravwe’s head snapped up at the sound of the voice, her eyes locking with the amber gaze. Reaching up, the Eunuch loosened the cloth from his face to reveal the familiar gentle smile, and Emeravwe’s heart leapt.

“Aslan!” she gasped, for she had never seen him anywhere other than the Eunuchs’ Compound, much less in broad daylight!

She looked long at him, shocked at his sudden appearance, then surprised as she took in his presence. Even under the light of the moon she had thought Aslan quite handsome, but as she regarded him now, she saw she had not done him nearly enough justice. His thick, neatly arched eyebrows, high cheekbones, and sharp jawline alone were amply stunning. But his long lashes scintillated with such a metallic copper hue in the light of the sun it was like a shimmering red veil shielded his eyes, and his amber eyes, too, sparked with a hypnotizing golden glow, his bronze skin shining softly beneath the sun. His bearing seemed more imposing in the open light of day than in the comfort of their garden, his aura more dignified.

Vrendo,” he said to Mudiaga as he extended a hand to help Emeravwe from her butu. “Rise.”

She obliged, but continued to stare, a strange anxiety washing over her. She had always met Aslan surreptitiously, under the cover of night, because her days were filled with work and it was by no means acceptable for a Eunuch and Maiden to meet so frequently. She never imagined she would run into him like this. Their meetings had been secretive for so long that seeing him now in public daylight felt odd. He had warned her he would pay Mudiaga a visit, but… Her heart drummed, yet a corner of her mind wanted to urge him to retreat, to remain hidden in their secret garden. What is wrong with you? She had also felt this way when she first introduced him to Akpokene.

Mudiaga cleared his throat beside her, drawing Emeravwe from her thoughts. She faced him and saw he studied her with lowered brow, his eyes suspicious. Her face warmed. Why is he looking at me that way? He cannot know what I was just thinking. She turned to Aslan and he smiled—that sweet, tender smile he had given her countless times over the years, and which seized her heart of late. Now, as it softly tugged at the corners of his full lips and his long lashes drooped down to curtain his mesmerizing amber eyes, Emeravwe realized just how devastating it was. Her heart lurched, and she tore her gaze from his.

“I have some time to spare this evening,” he explained, “so I thought I might stop by the Bureau of Court Affairs.”

“Oh,” she managed, staring at the ground.

Her eyes shifted to the Eunuch beside him. He looked to be in his early thirties and stood silently with hands folded in the sleeves of his robe. He had loosed the headcloth which masked him, and Emeravwe observed a long face with low, dark eyebrows and a sharp nose. Especially of note were his hazel eyes and air of respectability. Emeravwe stared at the Eunuch. She had never seen him before, yet a vague sense of familiarity persisted in her as she studied him. What was more inexplicable was the feeling of unease the Eunuch’s presence gave her.

Her head twinged, and she flinched.

Aslan swept a hand to his side, indicating the Eunuch. “This is my attendant, Iroro O-Jiban Odirin.”

The Eunuch bowed his head in greeting, and Emeravwe dipped her knees in a butu. She continued to stare at him until Mudiaga cleared his throat once more. “Oh, yes, this is Oga Mudiaga, an officer of the Palace Guard. Oga Mudiaga, this is Eunuch Aslan.”

“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Oga Mudiaga.” Aslan remarked affably, “I see you are of the Beliko tribe. We are brethren.”

Emeravwe looked from Aslan to Mudiaga. “How do you know he is of the Beliko tribe?”

“Just as those of the Imodu tribe are recognized by their olive skin, so can you identify those of the Beliko tribe by their red hair,” Aslan said, shifting his gaze from Emeravwe to Mudiaga’s coiled tufts of apricot-orange hair.

Emeravwe glanced at the deep olive skin of her hands. The Imodu tribe? No—she would not wander in that dark abyss.

Mudiaga snorted. “The era of the Four Tribes was more than nine centuries ago, but even then, tribe members betrayed and killed one another.” He eyed Aslan’s yellow headcloth. “If a high-ranking Eunuch I just met calls me brother, I can only be afraid for my life.”

Oga Mudiaga!” Emeravwe reproved.

Mudiaga shrugged. She glowered at him and he faced Aslan with a slight nod, “Be at peace, Oga, I meant no offense,” then turned back to her with a wink.

Aslan studied them a moment. “No. In truth, my ties are not to the Beliko tribe, for it is my mother who is of the tribe, not my father. But surely, in our united kingdom, we are all brethren.”

This earned him another snort from Mudiaga.

Aslan turned to Emeravwe. “What business were you about? Might I join you?”

“Ah, yes. We were just on our way to the Bureau of Departmental Affairs.”

Aslan and Eunuch Iroro loosely replaced the ends of their headcloths about their faces, and Mudiaga took the lead as they walked the wide flagstone paths of the Compound of the Ministry of Justice, Eunuch Iroro trailing silently behind. Emeravwe walked beside Aslan. She had known him for eight years yet felt as if she was truly seeing him for the first time. He walked with his head held aloft, shoulders squared and hands to his sides, their swing minimal. His steps were measured, and with each step the sun glanced off his eyebrows and lashes, the strands of hair flashing with a brilliant metallic red.

“What is the matter?” he finally asked when she continued to stare.

She turned away, embarrassed. “Nothing.” Her voice was timider than she had expected. She cleared her throat. “It is just, I have only ever seen you at night…”

“Indeed.” Aslan leaned over, his voice playful, “You look as lovely beneath the sun as beneath the light of the moon.”

Emeravwe’s heart fluttered.

Mudiaga’s brow was scrunched tightly, his lips pursed in a tart expression of disbelief, when he turned to face them. “What kind of conversation is this? Between a Eunuch and Maiden!”

“You seem unsettled,” Aslan said with a teasing smile, moving closer to place a hand on Emeravwe’s shoulder.

Mudiaga’s brow soared, and he laughed incredulously. “Oh, excuse me, it’s not every day I meet a Eunuch with such a sweet tongue for Maidens.” He stepped forward, inching himself between them to separate them. “But Oga, you’re forgetting that I’m an officer of the Palace Guard. Take no offense when I report you to the Bureau of Corrections, okay?”

Emeravwe found herself smiling at this, coming from Mudiaga.

Eunuch Iroro stepped forward with a look of outrage, but Aslan raised a halting hand, responding, “You must spare yourself the trouble; your efforts will prove futile.”

Mudiaga looked inquisitively to Emeravwe.

She shrugged, stating, “He is the Onóturode’s son.”

Mudiaga smirked wryly. “And we’re definitely not brothers.” He drew back immediately from Aslan, bowing dramatically, his tone flippant, “Please forgive my insolence, Your Lordship Oga Onóturode’s Son! I didn’t recognize who you are, but now I do, so I won’t be insolent anymore!”

Aslan chuckled, turning to Eunuch Iroro. “Quite an insincere apology for so great an offense.”

Eunuch Iroro glowered at Mudiaga. “If only he knew.”

Mudiaga straightened from his bow, inclining his head. “That’s odd. A chuckle isn’t the typical Onorogu response at this point.” He looked to Emeravwe with a playful grin. “I’d better prepare my will.” She, too, glowered at him, and he quickly turned serious, but the dimpled grin broke through again a second later. 

Aslan continued down the walkway. “What is the typical Onorogu response?”

Mudiaga shrugged as he and Emeravwe fell in step with him, Eunuch Iroro following behind. “Putting me back in my place, demanding that the Palace Guard demote me. Ah, you could slash at my face with your sword.” He looked to Aslan’s side. “Oh, you don’t have one.” He placed a hand on the hilt of the sword at his waist. “Wanna borrow mine?”

Aslan frowned. “I suppose that is how you received that scar? Is it really so strange for an Onorogu and Ehwoéki to get along?”

“If the previous isn’t the master and the latter the servant, then, in most cases, yes. As strange as a Eunuch making eyes at a Maiden.” He squinted, mumbling, “That is, if you really are a eunuch with that deep voice.”

Aslan glanced at Emeravwe, who had not heard Mudiaga’s mumbling. “If that is the case, then it is nothing strange at all. Eunuchs and Maidens have been involved in illicit relationships long before we were born, and it will most likely continue.” He questioned Emeravwe, “Am I right, Agaenaye Emeravwe?”

Emeravwe gaped, Mudiaga laughing at his suggestive comment.

“If you want to change Xxene, you might start by changing your outlook on society,” Aslan remarked. “A relationship between a Eunuch and Maiden might be surprising, but it is not unheard-of. It can be so with all the castes.”

Mudiaga was silent, then turned gravely to Aslan, his eyes flinty. It was the most serious Emeravwe had ever seen him, and the look unnerved her. “Oga Onóturode’s Son, maybe you’ve forgotten since you’ve been chatting so leisurely with an Ehwoéki; Xxene is a kingdom built on the backs of the lower castes but run by the nobles for the nobles. Those of the lower castes are hardly considered as citizens. When we are recognized, it’s to be treated like crap underfoot or milked for taxes. And you know the sickly, ironic twist? The ones who hold the power to change this are the very ones who deem us worthless by the gems, or lack thereof, on our foreheads.” Mudiaga’s voice rose slightly, his look deepening to a scowl. “You want me to change my outlook? Then will you change the caste system? There isn’t much I can do when everything around me tells me from birth that I’m worthless!”

Emeravwe’s chest constricted. She knew exactly how he felt. But she also knew he did not believe there was nothing he could do—he would not have spoken of change otherwise. He could fight against all opposition, as she was attempting to do. And maybe he is already doing so in his own unorthodox way.

“Yes,” Aslan said solemnly, “that is a problem.”

Submitted: July 27, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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