The Moon of Xxene

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


[Agaenaye ("Ah-gay-nah-yeh") – third rank of palace Maidens]* [Butu (Boo-too”) – Female greeting; curtsy with hands cupped before the chest]* [Digwe (“Deeg-weh”) – Male greeting; bow with the hands
cupped before the chest]* [Dou – Informal greeting meaning “Hello”, “Thank you”, or expressing sympathy and regret]* [Miguo (“Mee-goo-uh”) – A respectful greeting which can mean “Hello” or “Thank
you”]* [Oga (“Uh-gah”) – “Sir.” Title used for eighth and seventh rank court officials/officers]* [Orodje (“Oh-roh-jeh”) – King]* [Vrendo – The response to “Miguo”]* [Onorogu – Noble caste]*
[Ehwoéki – Third lowest caste]

Chapter 18 (v.2) - Eighteenth Phase.2 (Continuation)

Submitted: August 23, 2019

Reads: 16

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Submitted: August 23, 2019

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They stepped into a narrow hallway which extended the short length of the home, the back door visible and propped open. At the front, to one side of the hallway, was a small parlor with a low table surrounded by colorful floor cushions. A broad window looked out onto the street and stalls, a multitude of verdant potted plants arranged around the room: on the windowsill, the table, in corners, hanging on pegs on the walls and hooks in the ceiling.

On the opposite side of the hallway was what looked like a workstation, for it was occupied by a large table strewn with baskets of beads, wires, strings, small carvings, paint and paint brushes. This area, too, was nearly overrun with greenery, plants occupying every available space. Here, a slim woman with the same orange coils, yellow apatite, and brown eyes as Mudiaga sat on a stool, the tools which she used to bend and set jewelry frozen in her hands as she observed Akpokene and Emeravwe. An elderly man with paler red hair entered from the back door accompanied by Mudiaga’s little sister. He wore gloves and an apron stuck with tiny wood chips, and walked silently toward the front of the home, his eyes and bearing grave.

“Mama! Babo! Miguo!” Mudiaga greeted loudly before an awkward silence could settle around them. He strode to the worktable, pushing aside a few baskets of beads to unload his bag of garden eggs and sugarcane, then wrapped his mother in his arms. “You missed me, didn’ you? Good, ‘cause I missed your cooking! Feed us before sendin’ us back ta the palace.”

 “Mudiaga,” his mother said in a warning tone as she stood, pushing him away. Her eyes were narrowed sharply.

“Babo!” he called suddenly, rushing to his grandfather to escape his mother’s stare. “You were workin’ in the back? Did you get an order for a dresser or table?”

“Stop your bab’lin’ an’ introduce your guests,” his grandfather commanded. “Tha’s wha’ your gettin’ at, aint it?” He stepped forward, his grave bearing replaced by impassivity. “Atare.” Mudiaga’s mother looked up, catching his intent gaze.

She faced Emeravwe and Akpokene uneasily, managing a tight smile. “Introduce your guests, Mudiaga.”

“Yes!” He walked over to the girls, indicating them respectively, “This is Agaenaye Emeravwe who works in the same office as me in the Bureau of Court Affairs. An’ this is Agaenaye Akpokene—she also works in the bureau.”

His mother and grandfather bent in a digwe and butu, his grandfather prodding his sister to do the same as they greeted, “Miguo, Agaenaye. We’re honored by your presence.”

Vrendo,” Emeravwe and Akpokene answered stiffly. “Thank you for having us.”

There was an awkward silence in which Mudiaga’s family remained bent in their greeting, and Emeravwe and Akpokene looked tensely to him.

He chortled, whispering, “You have to allow them to rise.”

The two girls turned back with panicked realization. “Please rise!”

Mudiaga burst in laughter as his mother and grandfather straightened. “See, you don’ have ta be so honored by their presence! They’re jus’ low-level Agaenaye who aren’ even used ta receiving greetings.”

Onorogu is still Onorogu!” his mother spat.

“Please have a seat, Agaenaye,” his grandfather interjected, indicating the parlor. He began taking off his gloves and apron, instructing Efemena, “Efe, clear the plants off the table.” He turned to Mudiaga and his mother, “Mudiaga, seat your guests, an’ Atare, prepare some ’freshments.”

The individuals mentioned moved to accomplish their tasks. Upon completing hers, Mudiaga’s sister was sent back outside to watch the stands, and the rest settled around the table in the parlor with cups of coconut milk and balls of peanutty kuli-kuli.

“I asked you ta feed us, Mama, not give us snacks!” Mudiaga complained.

His mother glared at him across the table and he quickly turned to Emeravwe and Akpokene, launching into a commentary of how his grandfather was a carpenter who was also very skilled in decorative carvings. Their conversation was stiff and consisted mostly of Mudiaga explaining his family’s occupation, and his grandfather asking first how their work was in the Bureau of Court Affairs, then inquiring about Mudiaga’s comfort with the Palace Guard. His mother gave only an occasional response, remaining mostly silent and severe. It was not long before Mudiaga announced they must leave, and his grandfather thanked Emeravwe and Akpokene for their visit, asking them to bear with his grandson, for he knew what sort of troublemaker he was. As Emeravwe and Akpokene stepped out, he asked Mudiaga to remain, so he and his mother could speak with him.

Stepping into the warm afternoon, Emeravwe and Akpokene breathed with relief; the atmosphere around Mudiaga’s mother and grandfather had been stifling.

But they were barely outside before his sister cornered them, guiding them over to the stall of accessories with a bright smile. “Choose whatever you like. I’ll give a discount because you’re Mudiaga’s friends.”

Akpokene corrected, “You mean free, because we are Mudiaga’s friends.”

She replied smartly, her nose wrinkled disdainfully at Akpokene’s suggestion, “Free is for beggars, not palace Maidens,” and Emeravwe recognized her for the seasoned salesgirl that she was.

The stand displayed a variety of accessories including carved trinkets, embellished wire and beaded necklaces, bangles, and anklets. Looking over the array, an ornament caught Emeravwe’s eye. It was a miniature carving of the symbol of Xxene made of mahogany, the round sphere at the center painstakingly engraved with tiny patterns of plumeria, the national flower, and flanked by thin slivers shaped like crescent moons. The handsome ornament reminded her of Aslan; the deep, burnished mahogany shone like his rich bronze skin, the plumeria engravings making her think warmly of the sweet smell he always emanated. She decided to purchase the trinket for him, she and Akpokene selecting bracelets with matching charms for themselves.

Presently, Mudiaga emerged from his home and, with a quick farewell to his sister, they began the trek back to the palace.

“Were your mother and grandfather vexed that you brought Onorogu home?” Akpokene asked as they made their way once again through Esiri Market.

Mudiaga gave an uneasy laugh, rubbing his neck. “Oh, yes, I got an earful. But I expected it—and enjoyed throwing them off balance. They’re way too stiff when it comes to Onorogu or anything having to do with the palace.”

“You once said that they were against you joining the Palace Guard,” Emeravwe recalled. “Why is that?”

He paused, his expression sobering. “Because of my father, I guess. He worked as a botanist in the greenhouse of the Royal Pharmacy…”

“So, that is why your home is overrun with plants!” Akpokene exclaimed. “But that is strange. How did your father become a botanist in the Royal Pharmacy? I mean,” she looked abashed, “you are only Ehwoéki.”

Mudiaga shrugged. “Don’t look so embarrassed, Akpokene, it’s true we’re Ehwoéki. My father had a stroke of luck, is all.” He explained wistfully, “He always loved working with plants and didn’t give up his interest even after marrying my mother and learning carpentry from my grandfather. He grew different herbs at home and often went to the hills outside the city to dig up new plants to study. It was on one of these trips that he met an elder of the Omamerhi clan of the Imodu tribe.”

Akpokene looked awed. “The Imodu Omamerhi clan?”

Mudiaga nodded. “He was impressed with my father’s knowledge of plants though he had no formal education and took it upon himself to educate him. After meeting the elder my father focused solely on plants, and the elder, acknowledging his skill, got him a position in the Royal Pharmacy’s greenhouse.” 

“So you were able to become a palace guard because your father also works in the palace,” Akpokene commented.

“Yes, and no. My father no longer works in the Royal Pharmacy, he…” Mudiaga stiffened, his face stoney, “…passed away.”

Emeravwe and Akpokene were silent as Mudiaga stared ahead, his bearing grim. She still did not understand why his family was so against Onorogu, but Emeravwe saw she should leave the matter be. She had no idea what sorrows his family was shrouded in and did not want to upset him. But her stomach sank, her throat constricting. Even if it was one full of sorrow, she wished she had a family. She wondered what her parents were like. Did she have any siblings? The woman sat on the ground, a body sprawled lifelessly in her arms, a pool of blood growing around her. A twinge shot through her skull and Emeravwe shuddered as the image waltz past her mind’s eye. She desperately strove to forget the vision, letting it fade into the dark recesses of her consciousness, but every so often the images recurred, distressing her.

When they arrived at the palace, Emeravwe and Akpokene returned to the Bureau of Court Affairs while Mudiaga reported to the Palace Guard. Because it was October and they had just finished a quarterly inspection, Emeravwe’s office was not overly engaged, and she was excused a couple hours earlier than usual. After her outing and visitation to Mudiaga’s home, however, she found herself in a trodden mood. Mudiaga had seemed so happy to see his family, and though they were shocked by hers and Akpokene’s presence, she was sure they had been equally glad to see him. Her heart ached when she thought of it.

Then, she thought of Aslan. Though she had no family, she had him, so she decided to go and see him. He had once made a surprise appearance at the Bureau of Court Affairs, and Emeravwe’s mood began to lift at the thought of surprising him in kind and presenting him the gift she had bought. She had never been to Aslan’s office, but she was sure he worked in the Royal Secretariat because of the yellow headcloth he wore, and so made her way to the compound.

The Compound of the Royal Secretariat was the largest of all the offices in the Outer Palace, containing five departments; the Department of Records, of Court Records, of the Royal Archives, of Records of Xxene’s House of Nobles, and of the Royal Library. It documented and stored records on Xxene’s noble clans and Royal House, and of activities in all parts of the kingdom and in the Sun’s Court. Thus, the compound was patrolled by both Eunuchs and palace guards, and Emeravwe had the frustrating experience of being stopped several times as she made her way through the premises, the Eunuchs and guards wondering what business she was about, for no Maidens were employed with the Royal Secretariat.

Emeravwe went to each department in search of Aslan but was informed repeatedly in their Office of Inquiries that no Eunuch by that name worked in the department. She was baffled because Aslan surely wore a yellow headcloth, the standard for the Royal Secretariat and Inner Palace. Both were esteemed places of employment, so it was fitting that Aslan, as the Prime Minister’s son, would be employed in one of these locations. But if he did not work in the Royal Secretariat, that could only mean he worked in the Inner Palace.

The revelation came as a blow to Emeravwe. She discussed her every intention with Aslan—he knew how she endeavored to gain access to the Inner Palace and the king—yet he had not been bothered to tell her he worked there! True, he made it clear he would not aid her in her pursuit, but she never imagined he could be so spiteful and felt bitterly betrayed. She went to their garden early that evening, her chest choked with emotions and head burning with anger, and it only worsened as she reflected on how he fooled her all these years.

When she finally heard the rustling of Aslan’s entrance, she erupted off the bench, accosting him, “Why did you not tell me you worked in the Inner Palace!” 

Aslan started, not expecting such an impassioned welcome. For a moment, he considered her guardedly, then that sweet smile spread across his lips. “I have missed you, too, Eme.”

“Why did you not tell me?” she maintained her glare as he approached.

He placed the lantern he held on the ground as he sank to the bench, touching the yellow cloth around his head with his free hand. “I thought you might have guessed.”

“How could I have guessed?” she burst. “Is it so common for Eunuchs of the Inner Palace to have such freedom to move between the Inner and Outer Palaces as they please, especially at night? Of course, I assumed you worked in the Outer Palace!”

 Aslan studied her, his bearing shifting to seriousness.

“Did you think I would insist that you help me into the Inner Palace to meet the Orodje if I knew you worked there? You think so little of me?” her voice trembled, her eyes stinging. Her temperature had risen, a slight headache pounding at her temple. She did not mean to get so worked up, but emotions bombarded her, and she knew it was not just because of Aslan.

His face was drawn in concern as he stood, lightly touching her arm. “Eme, what is the matter?”

She forcefully pulled her arm away, annoyed because he did not seem to be asking about the issue in hand. “The matter is that you have deceived me! You have disappointed my faith in you!”

Aslan flinched, consternation washing over him so instantly that Emeravwe felt a pang of guilt. He moved to touch her again but hesitated, the look in his eyes pained and melancholic—that mournful look he had often given her over the years. Emeravwe’s heart twisted, “Why do you always look at me that way!” and she finally broke in tears.

Without a word Aslan wrapped her in his arms, holding her close. After a moment, he whispered in a stifled voice, “It has never been my intention to deceive you. Forgive me, Eme.”

Emeravwe cried in exasperation. She had wanted to surprise him but had instead taken her frustration out on him. It is not because of you, she thought. It is all because of this headache and seeing Mudiaga’s family and those damned visions that will not go away. Ugh! Now I am even swearing like Mudiaga—damn it!

When her tears subsided, Aslan sat her down on the bench, producing a handkerchief from his sleeve which he used to gently wipe her face. “Has something happen to you, Eme?”

She shook her head. A lot had happened, and many questions raced through her mind that she had no answers to and doubted Aslan had solutions for. She replied in muted tone, “I have been a bit stressed with my duties at the bureau. I am sorry for my behavior.”

His own tone was dour, “Do not be. You have every right to be angry with me.” He asked, “How did you learn that I work in the Inner Palace?”

“I went to the departments of the Royal Secretariat to look for you.”

The handkerchief paused, a small smile touching his lips. “You were searching for me?”

Emeravwe nodded, feeling a bit at ease upon seeing the smile, and reached into her skirt pocket. “I went to Esiri Market with Akpokene and Mudiaga today,” she looked up briefly at her slip, but Aslan did not look disturbed, “and purchased something for you at Oga Mudiaga’s family shop.” She pulled out the ornament packaged in a small brown paper box.

“Eme, you are free to call Mudiaga as you are comfortable. Do not mind me.”

Her face warmed with guilt as she recalled her interaction with Mudiaga in the market earlier that afternoon. She wondered what Aslan thought of her relationship with him. She presented the box, saying timidly, “It reminded me of you.”

Receiving it, he pulled out the small mahogany ornament and his face lighted with a warm smile on seeing the representation of the sun flanked by crescent moons. “Ah, the Heavenly Bodies, Keepers of Xxene.” He turned the affectionate smile to her. “Dou.”

“You like it?”

“Of course.” He looked fondly at the ornament. “It suits me well.”

“It cannot compare to a pearl pendant,” she said abashedly.

Aslan faced her. “It truly cannot compare.” He held the carving aloft. “This is the proof that you were thinking of me. You cannot imagine how much it means to me.” He watched her tenderly and Emeravwe’s stomach fluttered with nerves. Replacing the ornament in the box, he set it to one side of the bench and drew closer to her, his solemn airs returning. She lowered her gaze bashfully, her heart beginning to palpitate. “Eme, do you recall what I said to you the night you became an Agaenaye?”

“That you would always be on my side?”

“Yes. Eme, look at me,” he said lightly, and she lifted her eyes to his. “Regardless of what you learn or what you think of me, or even the decisions you make, I want to make this clear. Emeravwe, my heart aches only for you.”

Her breath caught at Aslan’s declaration, her stomach dipping queasily as his deep gaze drew her in, taking on a heavier intensity; one that completely captured her and sent her heart racing. All thoughts were vanquished as she looked into the amber eyes, their mesmerizing depts seeping into every corner of her mind. She did not see Aslan lift his hand, but suddenly his fingers caressed her cheek, cool and gentle, the sudden touch sending shivers through her. Then his lips brushed her brow. Light, soft. He looked at her and she could not breathe. He began leaning forward again and the thundering of her heart in her ears was like a blaring distress signal, yet she was frozen where she sat. The compelling golden eyes remained locked on hers, pinning her. The erratic racing of her heart threatened to drive her mad as Aslan gently brushed his lips against hers, her stomach fluttering violently when he pushed even closer. In what seemed like aching slow motion, he cupped her cheek in a grasp ever so tender, molding his mouth more firmly to hers, then he pressed his tongue softly against the seam of her lips. Emeravwe sucked in a shocked breath. At her reaction, he gave a small titillating smile. She panicked. She tore her gaze from his and leapt to her feet, dashing from the garden.

She ran as fast as her legs would carry her; until she could not remember when her heart began pounding or when her breath first caught in her throat. That smile. It was as if he had seen through her. Emeravwe covered her face in embarrassment, stumbling as she ran. She had been caught up in the moment—she had not even been able to make a sound! How humiliating to have been so completely helpless under Aslan’s stare. And now he knew how vulnerable she was! She had always told herself that Aslan would be nothing more than a friend to her, but she thought of him as more than that—it would be even harder to deny now.

Yet how could her heart race for a Eunuch! She was a nameless Maiden with no family, no place in the world to call home; she could not give her heart to a Eunuch and be forever lost in the Outer Palace. She had a feeling it would not matter who she was in Aslan’s arms, but this scared her the most. She might disappear forever in the embrace of a forbidden love that could never be revealed, and when she died it would be as if she had never even been there. A Maiden with no past or future, an empty existence that had simply passed through the palace. She could never accept that.


© Copyright 2019 OE. All rights reserved.

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