Chapter 3: Third Phase.1

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

Reads: 87

Emeravwe remained in the Palace Infirmary a few days after regaining consciousness, and the nurses tended to her headaches while Agaenaye Uche, upon Aye Omojewe’s instruction, stayed with her to soothe her anxiety. But her distress did not relent. She could remember nothing beyond the moment she awoke to see the four women at her bedside. The Rode Aye had told her her name and how they discovered her, but she was unsettled. She longed for a warmth she could not remember and was frightened because she could not comprehend all that had happened to her. She was fearful and confused, everything and everyone around her strange and foreign. Yet there was no one she could speak with, no one to console and relieve her fears. Emeravwe could only keep her anxiety to herself and cried herself to sleep each night.

Once she was discharged from the infirmary, she joined the other Omote and Maidens of the Maidens’ Compound. They were on the last legs of refurbishing the apartments and offices of the compound, and Emeravwe was quickly put to work alongside the Omote. The Agaenaye who supervised them explained that all the cleaning and rearrangements they did was not only because they had just entered the New Year, but also because of their young king’s coronation. For each time a new king was enthroned the palace was thoroughly cleaned and refurbished to welcome his reign.

It was when the palace began to settle down that the official education of the Omote began. Each morning after breaking their fast, the Omote assembled on the cobbled courtyard before their living quarters and were led by their supervising Agaenaye to the other side of the compound where the Maidens’ offices and schoolrooms were located. The Omote attended four classes each day; two in the morning and two in the afternoon. In their morning classes they were taught to read and write in Xxenen characters, and in the afternoon, they were taught computations and attended the class, Etiquettes of the Court, in which they learned of the Seven Ministries and Seven Offices of the royal court, the different levels and ranks of court officials, Eunuchs, and Maidens, and how to recognize them by their attire and properly greet and address them. They were taught the varying degrees of the female obeisance, called a butu, and learned of the male equivalent, a digwe

Emeravwe learned that girls like herself, who wore light green garments, were officially titled Égodo Orodje Omote, the older girls in pink were Égodo Orodje Agaenaye, and the women in deep blue were Égodo Orodje Aye. She also learned of another rank of girls, titled Égodo Orodje Aya, who resided in the Inner Palace, were equal to Aye of the third order, and wore garments of pastel blue. The Rode Aye, who were also title the Honored Maidens, she discovered, oversaw all palace Maidens and normally reported directly to the queen, but as the young king was unwed, they currently had complete autonomy over matters concerning the Maidens of the palace.

The Omote’s education continued for two years, and during this time Emeravwe found herself either shunned or harassed by the other Omote and Agaenaye. They called her a “valued child” because of the ruby in her forehead and ostracized her.

“We cannot share a table with a valued child! You might accuse us of lowering your dignity and have us sent to the Bureau of Corrections!” a girl would say when Emeravwe asked if she could sit with a group of Omote for supper. They would laugh as she found her way to an empty table, but then a group of Agaenaye would arrive only to sweep her food away and send it crashing to the floor with, “Valued child or not, a Maiden is simply a servant in the palace, and there are ranks among servants! These are the tables of the Agaenaye—do not think you can sit wherever you please because of that jewel in your head!”

Emeravwe came to learn that though all palace Maidens and Eunuchs were from noble families, their foreheads were unadorned because, as servants of the palace, they were not to consider class or wealth, but serve the king wholeheartedly. The majority, however, had siblings who were jeweled and had not been sent to serve in the palace. Emeravwe saw this through the years, on holidays when family members were permitted to visit the palace. On such days she lagged behind the Maidens, following them to the palace’s entrance courtyard, the Court of Permeance, where they welcomed their families, and where she had supposedly been lost. As she loitered at the back of the immense courtyard, looking hopefully onto the crowd of people who streamed in through the palace gates, she overheard many conversations between Maidens and their families.

“As Onorogu, it is our duty to serve and support the Orodje,” she once heard a father with a ruby in his forehead say to an Omote-in-training. “I do so as part of the Sun’s Court, and it is an honor to our family that you do the same as a Maiden.”

“But I miss you and Mother and our home! There are so many rules and so much work here,” the Omote sobbed. “Why did I have to be the one to come to the palace? Can I not switch places with one of my siblings? Do you not want me home?”

The Omote’s parents looked anxiously around the courtyard. “Nneka that is not true,” the mother said as she reached down and tried to calm the Omote. “It is your fortune that you were chosen by birth to serve the Orodje. Now hush, before anyone hears you—it is an honor to serve in the palace!”

Emeravwe came to see that the Maidens took their frustrations out on her, but even so she could not understand. Though she was a “valued child,” she was still a palace Maiden, and her life was no better than theirs. If anything, it was worse, for though she would wait for hours at the palace gates, no one ever came to visit her. She tried to remember where she came from and who her family was, but her mind remained blank. And though she looked hopefully at the faces that walked through the gates, she was never recognized. As the years went by Emeravwe stopped going to the gates on holidays, for she always left with her heart in a knot and tears in her eyes.

Her only reprieve was her studies, for studying kept her mind off the Maidens’ teasing and distracted her from her loneliness. She did well in her classes and enjoyed them because they were the only places which allowed her a bit of freedom to express herself. After some time, she also became better at avoiding the other Omote. Because she would always run into other Maidens no matter where she was in the Maidens’ Compound, she looked for places in the Outer Palace where she could rest undisturbed. Exploring the enormous grounds, she finally found such a place in the Eunuch’s Compound, in the form of a small garden in an isolated corner the Eunuchs did not frequent. She often went to this garden whenever she felt lonely or dispirited, and its peaceful surroundings soothed her.

During the two years of the Omote’s education, many were sent home upon failing the biannual examinations. At the end of the second year and final exam, a ceremony was held on the Pavilion of Offerings, the central pavilion of the Maidens’ Compound, for the Omote who remained. At this ceremony, each Omote-in-training was officially titled an Égodo Orodje Omote and presented with the gold and silver sun and crescent moons brooch all palace Maidens used to fasten their outer robes in place. They were also given official appointments of where they would serve in the palace. Emeravwe was appointed to the Bureau of Halls and Chambers, a subdivision of the Department of Cleanliness, which fell under the Ministry of Rites.

That night, after the ceremony, Aye Omojewe called Emeravwe to her room. She sat dejectedly before the Aye, barely listening as she was informed, “As part of palace personnel, Maidens are awarded a stipend. It is usually the case that an Omote’s wages goes to her family, but since…”

Emeravwe looked up, her heart knotting at the words Aye Omojewe did not say. During the ceremony that night, when each Omote had been called upon to receive their appointment, they were addressed by their given name, their tribal name, and the name of their clan. Only she had been addressed by her given name alone, and this aroused whispers among the Omote. She looked desperately at Aye Omojewe now, unable to mask the pain in her voice. “My lady, do I not have a family?”

Aye Omojewe regarded her with a look that made her shrink inside. Then she said, her tone like ice pressed to Emeravwe’s heart, “Whether or not you have a family is something even the Rode Aye do not know. But they have ordered that we Aye who oversee Maidens keep this fact to ourselves. It is already your good fortune that you can remain in the palace though your origins are unknown. If you ask no questions, we can all live peacefully.”

Emeravwe did not completely understand what the Aye meant, but she understood her cold attitude toward her. It was the same as other Maidens’; she had no place in the world and they would not let her join them. Aye Omojewe informed Emeravwe that she would keep her monthly stipend for her until she came of age to manage it herself, then dismissed her. But all Emeravwe thought of that night was her family. She wondered why they had brought her to the palace and left her, and why did they not come back for her?

Submitted: July 06, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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