Chapter 17: Seventeenth Phase.1

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

Reads: 85

Beyond the four pillars marking the entrance to the Great Hall of Solar Radiance, the sky was streaked with ribbons of gold, coral, and magenta. The soft glow of dusk streamed into the Great Hall accompanied by a mild breeze, but the quiescence of the warm light was disturbed by the agitated officials. Lined in two columns on either side of the brocatelle rug stretching from the entrance to the dais, their silken white stockings were silent upon the polished white marble floor, but their robes whispered softly. Each was dressed in an ankle-length garment brocaded with minuscule gold and silver motifs of the Heavenly Bodies, over which they donned sheer outer robes. Their heads were covered with neatly wound headcloths, rubies sparkled in their foreheads, and around their shoulders were stoles stretching as long as their robes and embroidered with the phrase, “May Oghene guide your steps and thoughts, honored servant of king and kingdom.”

Though their robes were all the same standard, each wore a different color according to his ministry: khaki for the Ministry of Personnel, silver for the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sky blue, the Ministry of Rites dark blue, Ministry of Defense orange, Ministry of Justice red, and the Ministry of Domestic Affairs green.

“The Grace of Solar Luminance!”

The officials ceased their burble, each bending to his knee.

Draped in a striking silk ensemble of brilliant purple and gold, Aslan emerged from the curtains shrouding the northern wing of the hall. The rich purple raiment was brocaded in gold and silver with the same design adorning the ministers’ robes, but on the back, as well, was a greater embroidered pattern of the symbol of Xxene surrounded by the crests of each of the Four Tribes. Over this he donned a sheer golden robe, and upon his head was a crown of starched headcloth wrapped in gold leaf, the hem dotted abundantly with small jewels, at its center an impressive black opal the size of a small guava. Around his neck lay a wide collar necklace of intricately carved gold bands. Gold earrings dangled from his ears, and on his right index finger was his golden full-finger ring.

Aslan alighted the dais to settle majestically in the center of his throne. Splaying his robes around him, he crossed his legs, resting his hands on his knees in a meditative fashion, his back as erect as the marble columns of the Great Hall. Beside him the Queen Dowager sat on her throne, the gauzy gold-lace curtains hanging from the canopy obscuring her likeness. The image of the six lifeless bodies flashed before his eyes, but Aslan pushed down his aversion and faced the Queen Dowager. He had once yearned for her affections, and then he was afraid of her. Now, though he was still wary, he was more determined than ever to put an end to her reign. He bowed his head in acknowledgement then faced the restive officials.

He was not surprised that they were disquieted, for he rarely assembled the whole court more than once a day. “We now commence the court,” he announced, his voice echoing slightly in the great hall.

The court recited, “May Oghene guide our thoughts, our king and blessed kingdom!” and the officials rose to their feet.

Aslan began, “We have reconvened the court in order to discuss the recent disappearances of Onorogu in the capital. It is believed that the perpetrators are a group known as Okémeh.” He glanced covertly to the Queen Dowager, seeing through the veils of her throne that she gripped the armrests, her back growing rigid. “We presume you are all aware of this?”

A murmur rose among the ministers. The Minister of Personnel, a lanky man with a long, braided black beard and voluminous afro that forced him to wear his headcloth crooked, stepped from the right column of officials onto the violet rug. “Indeed, we are aware, Your Grace, and it is an outrage!”

The Minister of Domestic Affairs, a portly man with a round, distended belly, stepped out to contribute, “It is clearly an exhibition of hostility against Onorogu. We must not allow such inordinate behavior to continue!”

Aslan raised a hand, addressing the two ministers respectively, “Onótu Mitaire, Onótu Onajite, we are in agreement with your opinions, but we fear you have yet to perceive the enormity of the situation.”

The two ministers bowed their heads, “Please enlighten us, Your Grace,” and stepped back into their places.

“It seems there have also been other disappearances elsewhere in the kingdom. We received a report that many citizens of the lower castes in the Efekodo Province have also gone missing.”

The court stirred.

The Queen Dowager turned to Aslan, her voice laced with shock and solicitude. “Is this true, Your Grace?”

 “Yes, Sovereign Mother,” he answered measuredly, facing her.

“Your Grace,” Minister Odafe called, stepping out onto the rug, “I have also heard rumors of disappearances among the lower castes in the Efekodo Province. But I assure Your Grace that they are unfounded. The residents of the province enjoy both the benefaction and protection of the Efetobo clan. If anything were amiss my father, Irikefe Beliko Efetobo, as the former Minister of Defense and one who holds dear the life of each citizen, would surely take steps to rectify the problem. I pray Your Grace will dismiss such groundless rumors and lose no sleep over apocryphal contrivances.”

Aslan addressed the minister, unable to repress the image of the deceased men as he regarded him, and barely able to filter the contempt from his voice, “Indeed, we shall not worry, Onótu Odafe. For we shall task Minister of Justice Onomine with the investigation of both the disappearances in the capital, and in the Efekodo Province.”

“Your Grace!” the Queen Dowager interjected tensely, lurching forward in her throne. She paused a moment, composing herself, then continued in a mellifluous voice, “Onótu Onomine must be overwhelmed with the responsibilities to which you have already appointed him. Not to mention that dealing with the constant pillaging of the Erhinyoja Province by marauders has caused him quite the headache. Perhaps it would be best to delegate the task to another minister?” She faced the court as if scrutinizing the officials. “Ah, yes, Onótu Odafe is quite familiar with the Efekodo Province, and would doubtless conduct a thorough investigation.”

A low buzz of voices rang in the hall as the ministers turned to one another, nodding their agreement. Aslan felt a blow of disappointment, seeing so many of them still supported the Dowager. He glanced at the Prime Minister, a tall slender man with dark chocolate skin, full goatee, and calculating deep brown eyes. He was the only one dressed in white, and he stood silently observing the proceedings. An ambitious man who had garnered the favor and support of the court in the ten years he had been in office, he was the foremost supporter of the Queen Dowager, so Aslan breathed with relief when he saw he did not intend to speak up. As a fellow Onorogu and official, he could move the ministers in a way even the Queen Dowager was unable to, so Aslan could not afford to isolate him. It was for this reason that Aslan tacitly agreed to the engagement with his daughter though he had no intention of wedding her.

Aslan turned gently to the Dowager, his voice loud so all could hear, but tone soft. “Sovereign Mother, it is because Onótu Odafe is so familiar with the province that we cannot allow it. The Efekodo Province is home to the Efetobo clan. If Onótu Odafe, who is an Efetobo, leads the investigation, we fear there may be doubts cast on the integrity of his inquiry. Thus, we appoint Onótu Onomine, who is sure to be impartial, in order to prevent any suspicions that may besmirch the Efetobo name and ultimately bring disgrace upon you. Surely you understand our concern.”

The ministers’ voices buzzed in the hall once more, concurring to the sense in his words.

The Queen Dowager looked long at him through the sheer curtains of her throne, then said dryly, “I see Your Grace has put much thought to this. I am honored by his consideration.”

Aslan smiled mannerly and turned back to the court. “Onótu Onomine!”

The minister stepped from the column of officials on the right and knelt to the rug, hands cupped before him. “At Your Grace’s service!”

“We hereby charge you with the task of investigating the disappearances in the Efekodo Province and in the capital. You are also to uncover the forces and motives behind the group Okémeh.”

Minister Onomine bowed his head. “This servant dutifully accepts Your Grace’s command.”

“Very well. You will attend to us in the Hall of Solar Reflections before leaving court.” Aslan addressed the officials, looking over the hall, “If there are any more pressing matters, let them be known now.” There was silence, and he announced, “We now adjourn the court.”

The officials kneeled and recited, “May Oghene guide our thoughts, our king and blessed kingdom!”

Aslan rose and descended the dais. Eunuch Iroro stood at the bottom of the flight of stairs.

“Have you summoned Emuvoke?”

“Yes. He awaits Your Grace in the Hall of Solar Reflections.”

“Then let us go.” As he made his way to the northern exit, Aslan looked back on the court. He noticed the Queen Dowager’s Chief Eunuch crossing the hall, making a beeline for Minister Onomine.

Submitted: August 17, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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