The Moon of Xxene

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic


[Miguo – A respectful greeting which can mean “Hello” or “Thank you”] [Onori – Title used for fifth and sixth rank officials] [Onótu – Minister] [Orodje (“Oh-roh-jeh”) – “King.” Orodje is a title
usually combined with a court name and can be used to refer to any king, past and present.] [Ovye (“Ohv-yeh”) – “King.” Ovye is a stand-alone title used to address the reigning king] [Ovyeraye
(“Ohv-yeh-rah-yeh”) – “Queen”] [Onorogu – Noble caste] [Vrendo – The response to “Miguo”]

Chapter 16 (v.1) - Sixteenth Phase

Submitted: August 13, 2019

Reads: 17

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Submitted: August 13, 2019

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Emeravwe, Mudiaga, and the officers of the Bureau of Investigations continued to keep surveillance on the son of the Director of Palace Courtyards and Gardens, a man who worked at the local civil service office. The Bureau of Investigation’s analysis of the interviews Emeravwe and her team conducted revealed that Okémeh targeted Onorogu who exploited the lower castes, and the son of the director was known to extort unlawful sums of money from them. Emeravwe and her team escorted the official each morning to his office, after which a few of the officers took turns watching him during the day, then all returned in the late afternoon to escort him home again. As they lurked through the marketplace, the officers scattered about, attired inconspicuously rather than in their palace uniforms. Emeravwe stayed close to Mudiaga, for he was not only to assist the other officers but also serve as her protector. 

They kept watch over the official for four uneventful weeks, and during this time Emeravwe’s mind focused more on her dreams than on the case. Since the night of the protest in the marketplace, her dreams had come to be invaded not only by the man with hazel eyes but the murderous scene, as well. These visions stirred in her an unrelenting feeling of dread, so she tried to push them aside and forget them but could not. They recurred in her mind, especially the horrifying murderous apparition.

When she first had the dream, she had been so panicked that she focused only on the image of the woman being impaled. It was after she had calmed that she recalled the orange-clad forms surrounding the woman and thought they seemed like officers of the Palace Guard. But it all remained unclear. Who was the woman and the lifeless form she held? Why was she stabbed? Whose arm was it holding her in the dream? And most of all, why did she have such a dream?

Though she tried, Emeravwe found it difficult to dismiss the dream as just that—a dream. It had been too clear and too terrifying. Even now, she shuddered at the thought of it. What was even more disturbing was that the visions drew to the forefront of her awareness the fact that she had no memories of her life before entering the palace, and this loomed over her mind, a black menacing void.

“What’s got you so dazed?” Mudiaga asked as they trailed a distance behind the son of the Director of Palace Courtyards and Gardens, whose sedan chair wove through the market. He leaned over, flicking the furrow in her brow. “You’ve been glaring at that camel’s butt for the past three minutes. What, you don’t like the way it sways?” he teased, sashaying his hips.

Emeravwe brightened at his goofiness, chuckling softly as she looked from him to the camel walking in front of them—led by its owner—whose butt was moving in a lazy, strutting fashion.

Mudiaga smiled his dimpled smile. “That’s more like it. You’ve been out of it lately.”

“Out of what?”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “I mean distracted. Something on your mind?”

“Well…” She peered through the crowd to spot the official’s sedan a short distance ahead. “I have been thinking about the protest we saw. The speaker mentioned something about an injustice that occurred ten years ago. Could it have been—”

“The Insurrection of Nobles? Yes.”

“What was the Insurrection of Nobles, exactly? And why would the lower castes protest it?” It bothered her that the incident occurred ten years ago, for that was when she entered the palace, and her most recent dream had occurred after she witnessed the protest. Could there be some sort of connection?

Placing his hands on her shoulders, Mudiaga guided her from the path of an oncoming cart. “I don’t know the details—I was only twelve when it happened—but it was also around that time that Orodje Otaroghene died, so the incident might be related somehow.”

Emeravwe’s eyes grew large. “You mean the Orodje was assassinated?”

“Keep your voice down!” Mudiaga scolded, “That’s not the sort of thing you wanna go around hollering. No one really talks about the Insurrection of Nobles—you saw what happened when those protestors tried. I suggest you stop thinking about it.”

Emeravwe furrowed her brow. So the Insurrection of Nobles is related to the late Orodje’s death? The image of the orange-clad officer plunging a sword through the woman’s back flashed before Emeravwe’s eyes and her heart shriveled with dread, a chill coming over her.

She shook her head, focusing again on the official’s sedan just as it turned into an alleyway. A group of men dispersed inconspicuously around the entrance suddenly rushed in after it and Emeravwe gasped. Before she could sound an alarm the officers around the market sprang to action. Mudiaga took off as well, and Emeravwe dashed after him. When she turned into the alley, she found the official’s sedan bearers had deserted him and he huffed indignantly in his chair, surrounded by the assailants who faced off with the officers. They were a group of ragtag men—a couple seemed no older than twenty years old—with worn tunics and trousers and hard, determined eyes. The screech of metal chilled the air as the officers drew their swords.

“We must capture them alive!” The commanding officer ordered, “Shield your swords and beat them to pulp if you have to!”

Mudiaga turned to Emeravwe, gesturing for her to back away, and as she did the officers let out a cry and charged with blows. His assailants occupied, the official scrambled from his open sedan, tumbling over one of the poles and abandoning a sandal in the dust as he sprinted away with curses. The would-be kidnappers shrank back as the officers attacked, defending themselves with nothing but their bare hands. As she watched closely, however, Emeravwe saw that though the officers attacked with brutal force, the kidnappers met them with little resistance, putting their arms up only to shield themselves from the blows. The scuffle was over in a short minute, and the officers tied and herded the criminals toward the palace.

Mudiaga grunted as they made their way from the market, rubbing his fists. “I feel shittier than a hippo spraying crap pellets.” He turned to Emeravwe, unsettled. “They were just punching bags—didn’t even put up a fight.”

Emeravwe looked nonplussed. “You thought it odd, too?” He nodded, and she mused, “It was almost as if they wanted to be captured.”

“If that’s true, then they’re idiots. They should know only death awaits them.”

“Why do you say that?”

His tone was sober. “The punishment for harming an Onorogu is severe, yet Okémeh has kidnapped several, and we don’t know if they’re dead or alive. It actually doesn’t matter because the bottom line is that a bunch of peasants dared to touch the nobles.”

“Will they get a trial?”

He scoffed, his smile bitter, “Oh, they’ll get a trial—torture and interrogation. Either way, the sentence will be the same.” Emeravwe looked upset but he shook his head. “The law does little to protect the lower castes, so we often have to find ways to protect ourselves. I wouldn’t doubt that’s what Okémeh’s doing.”

Emeravwe stared at the ground as she considered his words. “It is rather strange.”

He asserted grimly, “Extremely. It’s one of the reasons I decided to join the Palace Guard though my family was against it. I’ve seen a lot of injustice and thought just maybe I could do something. But I haven’t been able to do anything—I can only follow orders. If I overstep my bounds, well,” he traced the thin scar running down his right cheek with a dispirited frown, “I’ll get cut down. Pathetic, huh?”

Emeravwe’s chest stifled with guilt. She had truly misjudged Mudiaga. She felt wretched for the prejudice she held against him upon their first meeting. When he had spoken of change, she had had no notion of his aims. Compared to his motivation, her desire to improve her own status by wooing the king seemed scornfully frivolous. She voiced quietly, “No. At least you are trying. And you have not given up, right?”

His grin was broad, shining anew with confidence. “Right.”

Emeravwe’s heart warmed at the dimpled smile, and she could not help but feel admiration. She did not completely understand the strife of the lower castes but thought if, on her way to the king, she could also lend Mudiaga a helping hand, then she would be glad to.

****

“Minister of Defense Odafe Beliko Efetobo!” the Eunuch announced.

“Enter,” allowed the matriarchal voice.

The Aya drew apart the drapes and Minister Odafe entered the glossy pink marble parlor. On one side stood a curved glass wall overlooking a pond where a flamboyance of flamingos honked and waded in the waters, and on the other were broad bowed windows that opened onto a vibrant garden. The pink marble walls and ceiling of the room were engraved with dendritic flourishes, and a wide, tiered crystal chandelier hung low from the center of the ceiling, the crystals reflecting rainbows around the room as sunlight streamed through them. Large vats of ice were placed at each corner to stave off the afternoon heat, and in the center of the room sat the Queen Dowager’s attending ladies amid cushions and floor pillows, an assortment of refreshments and pastime games surrounding them, as well as Maidens who cooled them with fans. Among them was Odafe’s own wife, and his daughter chased a small yapping Pomeranian heedlessly around the room, an Aya trailing her reckless path, saving this precious vase or that jade figurine.

At the head of the parlor, a semicircle of steps led to a canopied dais hung dramatically with layers of silken drapes in stunning violet accentuated with gold thread. Here, the Queen Dowager sat upon a great velvet floor cushion, its curved backrest flared out widely and embroidered with a magnificent phoenix with gleaming alexandrites for eyes. She lounged leisurely on the throw and bolster pillows surrounding her while an Aye fanned her and an Aya fed her small pieces of carambola.

Upon the minister’s entry, the Queen Dowager nodded to her Head Maiden who fanned her, and the Aye stood, announcing, “Ladies, the Bureau of Music and Royal Performers has arranged an afternoon show and should be finished with their preparations. Please allow me to escort you to the back atrium.”

As the Maidens ushered the ladies out of the room, Odafe’s daughter, a skinny child with his light green eyes and curled red locks held in two puffy pigtails, ran up to him, the Pomeranian glommed to her seven-year-old frame. “Look, Baba! Sovereign Grand Aunty bestowed me this puppy! It is a gift from the Queen of Qaiar.”

“Oh! What an honor, Mine!” Odafe humored the child with an expression of awe. “Have you thanked your Sovereign Grand Aunty?”

The girl rolled her eyes. “It is not the first time I have received a gift from Sovereign Grand Aunty. If I thanked her every time she gave me this or that, I would sound like a broken parrot!”

“All right, come along,” his lovely wife guided their daughter toward the door, “your father has business with Her Majesty. You will have plenty of time to show him your puppy later.”

Odafe waved his daughter out the door as she complained, then crossed the room and knelt to one knee in a digwe before the steps of the dais, greeting, “Miguo, Your Majesty.”

The Queen Dowager straightened in her seat. “Vrendo. Rise, Odafe.”

Though now aged at forty-eight, the Dowager boasted, still, a shapely figure and was dressed in a sleeveless silk blouse, an embroidered chiffon shawl draped around her shoulders. Her neck sparkled with an exquisite red beryl and white gold necklace, a princess-cut ruby gleaming in her forehead. She sat cross-legged, voluminous pleated silk skirts sprawled regally, arms resting on her knees. Her back was straight, her copious, satiny copper curls pulled from her face so they fell gloriously around her, framing her head like a fierce lion’s mane. In her youth, her beauty had been even more devastating, and as a boy Odafe had found it difficult to believe she was his aunt and not some goddess felled from Heaven. His father once told him she had been the desire of every young man. It was no wonder his father and grandfather took full advantage of this, forcing their daughter and sister to marry Orodje Otaroghene and attain the position of queen, though she had loved another.

Odafe frowned. He did not know the full detail of the events leading up to his aunt becoming Ovyeraye, but he had heard enough from his father to know it was a sad tale. What made it even more ironically tragic was the fact that Orodje Otaroghene, himself, had been in love with another, a Maiden, who he promoted to the rank of Honored Lunar Petal, and then Grand Princess Consort, not long after wedding his queen. The Queen Dowager had lived essentially in desolation for nearly three decades as a result. Odafe paused in thought, Well, she is not entirely without blame in this matter. But even so, she remained a pillar to the Efetobo clan through it all, covering it with her umbrella of power and authority. Odafe had the utmost respect for his aunt, but he often felt pity for the Queen Dowager who seemed to replace the love she lacked with power. Whenever he was in her presence, however, he found this feeling immediately dissipated. Her bearing made no allowance for pity, her amber gaze blazing with both allure and superiority.

As he rose and faced her, this gaze narrowed. “Have you seen to the matter?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Odafe affirmed, “They will breathe not a word. I personally made certain of it.”

“Do not be so cocksure!” the Queen Dowager’s voice rose, her eyes taking on a cold and domineering glint. “Okémeh should have been eradicated two years ago, yet they have managed to spread into the capital! Just how is your father overseeing the province?”

Odafe blanched. Though the Queen Dowager often addressed her officials with sweet tone and feminine attitude, it was well known that her temper was something to be reckoned with. “Dearest Aunt, please be at peace,” he supplicated, climbing the steps to sit on the dais. “Father did, in fact, uproot the essence of Okémeh in the Efekodo Province, but it seems some members survived.” He took up the fan the Dowager’s Head Maiden left among the pillows and gently weaved it through the air, hoping to cool both her body and her mind. He put gently, “Father is doing all he can to find the remnants of Okémeh in the province and would be grateful if Your Majesty handled things in the capital.” The Queen Dowager’s glower was one that could send wildebeests into stampede. Odafe bore it with brave perseverance, lowering his head beneath the daunting stare. “I intended to escort the military provisions to the Efekodo Province this time, but I shall remain at court and aid Your Majesty with this matter.”

“Your aid will be of no use once Ovye learns of this! You have seen at court how he resolutely dismisses anything we propose regarding the Efekodo Province. He intends to wipe our clan’s influence from the court; must we personally give him the means to do so?”

“Dearest Aunt, none but Okémeh dares to speak against the Efetobo clan. But this immediately ceases to be an issue,” Odafe’s light green eyes looked purposefully at the Queen Dowager, “if they are all dead.”

The Queen Dowager was silent a moment, and though her red lips remained pursed in a frown, her amber eyes softened to a charming glow. “How will you make this come to pass? There are many fractious groups among the lower castes within the capital, ferreting out Okémeh will not be an easy task.”

Odafe smiled devilishly. “Why ferret? We shall simply cleanse the streets of the capital.”

The Queen Dowager’s expression was inscrutable, but she nodded her approval, then stretched out a manicured, jewelry-bedecked hand. “Come, Odafe, escort me to the back atrium. The show cannot begin without me, and you know how Mine hates to be kept waiting.”

Odafe took her hand, helping her rise. “Oh, yes. I daresay she takes after her Sovereign Grand Aunty.”

The Queen Dowager smiled, for though she maintained familial relationships at a distance, Odafe knew she favored him and his endearing child.

****

“I beg Ovye,” Eunuch Iroro besought, stepping between Aslan and the door to one of the underground chambers of the Bureau of Interrogations, “please return to the Inner Palace.”

“Yes,” the Director of the Bureau of Interrogations concurred in a timorous voice. A squat man with a broad nose and thick beard, his eyes darted anxiously between Aslan and the entrance, his demeanor flustered. “Such squalor is unbefitting of Ovye! Please return and I shall send a report direct to the Hall of Solar Reflections!”

Aslan intoned, “How bold of you, Iroro. Do you block our path?”

Eunuch Iroro bowed his head. “May Ovye forgive me, but I am charged with safeguarding his well-being.”

“And we are charged with safeguarding Xxene’s citizens. You know this case is of interest to us. Now, we shall not repeat ourself. Step aside.”

Eunuch Iroro reluctantly obeyed and Aslan descended the stairwell into the underground chamber. It was a dingy, cavernous room lit by torches, the ceiling hung with chains and instruments of affliction. On one wall blazed a furnace from which sultry heat smothered all, a tub of water rested beside the far wall, and on the wall opposing the furnace was a line of chairs with restraining devices. The air was leaven with the onerous taste of iron exacerbated by the oppressive heat and atmosphere of trepidation. Six men sat bloodied and inanimate on the chairs lining the wall, their hands and feet bound, their heads lolled heavily upon their shoulders. An officer was removing stacks of asphyxiating wet paper from the face of one of them, while other officers worked on unbinding the deceased men.

Aslan stopped short at the horrifying sight. His stomach lurched and he whirled away, covering his mouth and nose with the scented handkerchief Eunuch Iroro quickly handed him. When he recovered, he fixed a fierce glower on the Director of the Bureau of Interrogations. “What is the meaning of this? Are these not the members of Okémeh who were recently captured?”

The distraught Director dropped to his knees, bowing deeply. “May Ovye forgive me! Onótu Odafe came to the bureau while the officers were conducting the inquisition and insisted on undertaking the task. I could not resist him. The prisoners were unable to withstand his methods and…” The Director deepened his bow, his hands cupped before him. “May Ovye have mercy!”

Ovye, please, let us leave this place,” Eunuch Iroro pleaded.

“Be still, Iroro!” Aslan commanded, his temper lapsing at the mention of Minister Odafe. He looked ruefully at the bodies, his spine chilling at the cruelty those of the Efetobo clan were capable of. He turned gravely to the Director. “You have failed your responsibilities, Onori Gbeta. You cannot escape the ramifications. Minister of Justice Onomine will see to your discipline accordingly.”

The Director looked stricken, but humbly bowed his head, “Ovye’s servant dutifully receives his judgment. Miguo, Ovye.”

 “Rise,” Aslan commanded, asking once the official straightened to his feet, “Tell us, did the prisoners disclose any information?”

“No, my Lord. They revealed nothing regarding their organization, but throughout the inquisition they maintained that they must have an audience with Ovye.”

Aslan’s brow rose. “An audience?”

The Director scoffed scornfully, “Yes. Quite ridiculous, really, for such rabble to think they might gain an audience with Ovye. The fools might have spared themselves from being captured.”

“What do you mean, Onori?”

“Yes, my Lord, it was noted in the report of their arrest that during the confrontation with the officers they showed little resistance, nor did they try to flee.”

Aslan pondered the man’s words. Okémeh were criminals guilty of kidnapping Onorogu. Surely, they knew what the consequences would be were they ever captured. Yet, they came willingly? He glanced at the six men whose bodies were now laid on the ground. Why has Onótu Odafe concerned himself with this matter? Emuvoke had reported to him that Okémeh also showed signs of activity in the Efekodo Province…

Aslan turned abruptly, storming to the stairwell. “Iroro, summon Emuvoke! Inform him that it is regarding his father.”

Eunuch Iroro was close at his heels. “Yes, Ovye.”

“And immediately send messengers to inform the ministers that we require their presence in the Great Hall. We shall reconvene the court!”


© Copyright 2019 OE. All rights reserved.

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