Chapter 17: (v.2) Seventeenth Phase.2 (Continuation)

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

Reads: 62


At the Hall of Solar Reflections, Aslan found Emuvoke standing patiently before the open doors. The glow of dusk had evanesced, replaced by the shroud of night and glimmer of stars. A pool of light flooded the entrance from the brightly lit hall, enveloping the official who, along with the attendants present, bent to his knee on seeing Aslan.

“You may all rise. Voke, why do you stand outside?” Aslan questioned as he climbed the steps of the hall. “You might have taken a seat inside. Edewor, how remiss of you!” he accused Eunuch Edewor who stood beside Emuvoke.

Eunuch Edewor looked flabbergasted. “Of me? I coaxed and begged Oga Onomine to wait inside precisely because I knew I would be arraigned just so! I tried to bribe him with wine—I even offered to show him the monkey-shaped birthmark on my buttocks!”

Aslan raised a brow, looking to Emuvoke who nodded. He turned skeptically to Eunuch Edewor. “Do you truly have such a thing?”

“I speak the truth!” Eunuch Edewor proclaimed proudly. He said haltingly, “I would offer to show Ovye, too, but…it may cost me my life.”

Aslan laughed. “Most likely. Come, Voke.” He said, leading them within the hall, “Henceforth, be sure to wait inside.”

Emuvoke shook his head. “It is not proper.”

Aslan raised a dismissive hand. “We shall allow it.”

“Please have a seat, Oga, Ovye will be with you in a moment,” Eunuch Iroro instructed Emuvoke, indicating a wing chair.

The Grand Maiden emerged from one of the private rooms on the right side of the hall, and Eunuch Iroro escorted Aslan within. When they appeared again, Aslan had changed out of his court attire into a royal blue tunic and gray trousers, his crown replaced by a blue and gold damask headcloth.

He beckoned Emuvoke as he crossed the hall with Eunuch Iroro to a meeting room on the left side. “Did you acquire the account books from Efemuaye?” he asked, referring to Efemuaye Iwaka Efemini, son of the Minister of Finance, who worked in the Department of Taxation. He was among the individuals Aslan had invited to join him in his studies many years ago and had tasked to secretly audit the ministers’ records.

Emuvoke produced two books from the folds of his robes which he handed to Eunuch Iroro. “Yes. Although he is still working on the accounts of the other ministers, he finished that of my father’s. I have also obtained his personal account book from our home.”

Aslan looked surprised, receiving the books from Eunuch Iroro. “Indeed?” He flipped briefly through the pages then turned to Emuvoke. “You cannot be counted a filial son.”

Emuvoke smiled, his blue eyes bright. “On the contrary, Ovye, I believe it marks me exceedingly filial to right my father’s wrongs, especially for the benefit of my country.”

Eunuch Iroro opened the door to the room, and Aslan beamed as they entered. He indicated the long table. “Sit. Let us look through the books before Onótu Onomine arrives.”

Minister Onomine reported to Aslan not long after he and Emuvoke finished poring over the books. A man in his late forties sporting a characteristic short stubble beard, the minister had the distinctive blue eyes and sand-colored hair of the Iwaka tribe. His eyes were an alluring aquamarine like his son’s, the ruby in his forehead an oval cut. Though he supported the Queen Dowager, he had once studied with and championed the late Prime Minister. Circumstances had compelled him to change his alliance, but he was still one of the more moderate officials, and Aslan knew he could be penetrated.

When the minister entered the room and paid respects, he looked surprised to see his son, who stood beside Aslan at the head of the table.

“Emuvoke, what are you doing here?”

“We have required his presence.” Aslan indicated the chair to his right. “Have a seat, Onótu Onomine.”

The minister gave a digwe in thanks and took the seat. “How may I be of service to Ovye this evening?”

“Ah, yes.” Aslan sat forward, folding his hands on the table. “Through our inspection of the departments, we have been able to build a rapport with many of our officials. But it came to our attention that we are still quite estranged from our ministers.”

“Not so, my Lord!” the minister protested. “Ovye’s ministers hold him in high regard.”

“We do not doubt it, Onótu Onomine.” He held the minister’s gaze. “Just as we do not doubt in what regard you hold the Queen Dowager.” A wary look flashed across the minister’s features. “But of course, she is deserving of such reverence. She took control of the kingdom in a time of upheaval and led it to a state of stability. Not to mention, she took the ministers under her wings, that they may flourish as well. You owe much to the Queen Dowager, including your position as Minister of Justice. Are we correct?”

The minister was hesitant, his eyes searching Aslan’s face as if to ascertain his intention. He answered cautiously, “Yes, Ovye. Her Majesty has bestowed me with boundless grace though I am undeserving. I can repay her favor and Ovye’s mercy only with wholehearted service to the kingdom.”

Aslan nodded, stroking the iridescent black opal on his ring. “It is reassuring to know you are so dedicated to serving the kingdom.” He looked to the official, amber eyes keen. “It follows to reason, then, that your allegiance is to the crown?”

“Of course, my Lord!” the minister answered disconcertedly. He glanced warily to his son but Emuvoke averted his eyes.

Aslan looked chagrined. “We would not doubt you, Onótu Onomine, but it has come to our attention that your actions have not always been in fidelity to the kingdom.” He beckoned Emuvoke, who placed the two books before him on the table. He rested a hand on them. “One of these is a copy of your tax record from the Department of Taxation, and the other is your personal account book obtained from your home.”

The minister’s blue eyes enlarged. In his shock, he gripped the edge of the table, his back becoming visibly more rigid as he stared at the books, then turned disbelievingly to his son. Emuvoke lowered his head, avoiding his gaze.

“You have been involved in quite a few transactions with other ministers and officials through the years. But apart from these unsanctioned exchanges, these books also reveal that tax amounts recorded in the palace’s records do not match those recorded in your personal account books.” Aslan fixed the minister with a steely stare. “Must we ask for an explanation?”

Minister Onomine sat forward, flustered, beads of cold sweat forming on his brow. “M-my Lord, I—”

Aslan raised a hand. “Onótu Onomine, we understand that in her benevolence the Queen Dowager has often indulged our officials. But now, we shall call them to task.” An air of panic surrounded the minister, and Aslan gave a relenting smile. “Yet, we do not think you can shoulder the burden of imprisonment, as well as thousands in fines for years of bribery and tax evasion. And we know Emuvoke would be greatly distressed were you to be detained.” He looked fondly on Emuvoke. “You see, we hold Voke in high consideration. He has sworn devotion to the crown, thus we bestow him our confidence and entrust him with many tasks. If you are at odds with us, however, this places him in an awkward position, indeed. Just as he is in now.” Aslan looked intently at the minister. “Surely, you would not put your son in the disastrous situation of having to choose between his father and his sovereign?”

Minister Onomine studied Aslan’s staunch gaze, agitation etched on his face. He looked from Aslan to the books, then to his son, whose blue eyes were now compellingly fixed on him. Emuvoke gave a slight nod, and after a moment of deliberation the minister rose from his seat, bending contritely to his knees. He said remorsefully, “I have transgressed against the crown and kingdom. May Ovye grant me his judgement.”

“You will, of course, pay the fines. But we shall allow you to retain your position and grant you pardon from a prison sentence.” Aslan leaned forward, amber eyes relentless. “Now, what will you do for us?”

Minister Onomine met Aslan’s sharp gaze with his own. “May Ovye issue his command. His servant shall serve him wholeheartedly.”

Aslan stated gravely, “Report nothing to the Queen Dowager as you conduct the investigations on the disappearances.”

The silence was tense between them. The minister’s gaze shifted, but when he faced Aslan again his expression was resolved. “I met briefly with Her Majesty before coming here, and she ordered that I conduct a cursory investigation and close the case quickly. I assumed her request was because the Efekodo Province has been implicated.”

“It is for this same reason that we give you this command. We cannot allow for any interference with the investigations. We require, too, that you give particular attention to the group Okémeh. It is our understanding that it is also active in the Efekodo Province.”

Minister Onomine bowed his head. “Ovye’s servant dutifully accepts his command. The Bureau of Investigations has already begun an inquiry on the group.”

“Very well. You may rise.”

The minister stood and bowed in a deep digwe. “Miguo for such gracious mercy. If Ovye has no further commands, I shall take my leave of him.” Aslan nodded, and with one last glance at his son, the minister backed away and turned to leave the room.

Onótu Onomine,” Aslan called, “you have known us a long time.”

Minister Onomine stopped at the door. “Yes, since Ovye’s birth.”

Aslan locked his fingers, placing his elbows on the table. “And what do you think of us?”

There was an unsure silence as the minister studied him, then answered, “Ovye has always been kind and diligent since youth, just as our late Orodje Otaroghene was, and the ministers praise him for this. It is our blessing to have so compassionate an Orodje.”

Aslan mused on the minister’s words. Compassion was a desirable quality, but he also knew that too much would cause the ministers to underestimate him. “Keep in mind, Onótu Onomine, that for one who safeguards millions of lives, clemency can be afforded but sparingly, lest people take advantage of it. With this,” he placed a hand on the account books, “and this,” he indicated Emuvoke, “we extend our compassion to you. If you refuse it there will be no other offer, for there are millions more to whom we must show compassion.”

Minister Onomine turned fully to face him, bowing in a low digwe. “I understand.”

“Then you are dismissed.”

Once the minister exited the room, Emuvoke released a slow breath.

Aslan faced him with an affectionate smile. “Were you nervous?”

He assumed a somber attitude, but his blue eyes and the quirk of his mouth belied his high spirits. “Terrified! I shall have much to answer for once I arrive home.”

Aslan laughed. “We are sure you will find a way to mitigate the situation.”

Emuvoke’s expression grew inquisitive. “Once Ovye obtains the records of the other ministers from Efemuaye, will he use the same method on them?”

“Nonsense!” Aslan dismissed the notion. “The ruler of a nation going about and begging his ministers’ loyalty would be unseemly.” He used this method only because he knew, with Emuvoke’s assistance, that it would work on the temperate Minister of Justice. “No, we shall give them no choice but to yield to us.”

Emuvoke grinned. “But it certainly did not seem as though Ovye was begging. Ovye’s exchange with my father sounded more like a threat, and with me as lure.”

Aslan returned the grin. “We must be flexible in our position, Voke, and make room for certain allowances. And what are friends for if you cannot put them to good use every so often?”

Alarm washing over him, Emuvoke dropped abruptly to his knees. “I dare not presume to be Ovye’s friend—it is an order too great! May he retract his words!”

Aslan looked dismayed at Emuvoke’s instantaneous rebuff. He said peevishly, “We do take it back. You are too stiff to be any friend of ours. Now rise and report on the previous task we assigned you.”

“Yes, Ovye,” Emuvoke answered uneasily. Standing, he straightened his robes and folded his hands before him. “The records I have reviewed thus far recount that Orodje Otaroghene suffered from a chronic disease. This is well-known, as it was one which ailed him since his youth. The disease worsened in the weeks before his death, and the records list the symptoms he experienced. However…”

Aslan’s tone was apprehensive. “However?”

“In the few days before his passing, there were symptoms recorded that he had not previously suffered. For instance, trembling, loss of speech, and before he passed, convulsions. These must have been the effects of the poisonous nightshade.”

“You believe, indeed, that the poison was nightshade?” Aslan asked lowly.

“The symptoms Orodje Otaroghene experienced correlate to its effects.”

There was a long silence. “Voke, it is not these details that we are interested in.”

Emuvoke bowed his head. “I shall continue my investigation. But it would help immensely if Ovye could direct me. Is there something in particular he wishes that I examine?”

Aslan’s expression was dark. His throat clenched to recall the days leading up to his Sovereign Father’s death. He had never voiced his suspicions to anyone but Eunuch Iroro and hesitated now. “Voke…” A look of torment flashed across his features and he turned away. “You are dismissed.”


Submitted: August 18, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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