Chapter 4: Fourth Phase

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

Reads: 110

“What is a Maiden doing in the Eunuchs’ Compound at this time of night?” the boy asked as he walked around the pond, unwrapping the ends of his headcloth, which were loosely wound around the lower half of his face and neck.

Emeravwe quickly stood and wiped her tears, turning slightly from the boy.

“Oh? Were you crying?”

She dropped her hands from her face and stared silently at the ground though tears continued to prick her eyes.

“What is the matter?” the boy asked, settling on the white stone bench before the pond. When Emeravwe still did not answer, but continued to stare at the ground, he said gently, “It is all right. You may tell me.”

Emeravwe glanced at him. He was dressed in the brown robes of a Eunuch and looked to be about fourteen years of age, six years her elder. The orange glow of the twilight sky revealed his skin to be a radiant golden bronze, and it shone softly like the finish of a neatly polished marble bust. Around his head and forehead was wound a rich yellow cloth, and the boy himself looked quite fine with high cheekbones and clear golden eyes of amber. Emeravwe recognized the yellow headcloth as the color worn by high-ranking Eunuchs and bent her knees in a butu of the second degree, uttered a choked “Miguo,” then turned quickly away again.

“Omote,” the boy called gently to her, and Emeravwe weakened at the kindness in his voice, the tears brimming in her eyes overflowing.

She had been taught, in her Mannerisms of a Maiden class, that palace Maidens must remain composed at all times; they were not to lower their dignity in any way and were not to complain about anything. She knew all this, but Emeravwe could not help herself. The lump in her throat seemed to grow, throbbing so painfully she could hardly breathe, and no matter how hard she tried her tears would not stop flowing.

“I-I do not want to be a palace Maiden. I do not want to stay in the palace, I hate it!” She sobbed, “I do not understand the Four Classics—I do not want to study anymore! And I hate the Bureau of Halls and Chambers. The Omote all hate me and force me to clean the halls by myself and it makes my hands dry and they hurt! They tease me about being a valued child, but Omote Oluchi said I am not valued at all because I was abandoned in the palace! And… And… Ugh!” She cried in frustration. She had so much more to say, so much that had been weighing on her all these years. But she was unable to force the words past the lump in her throat and cried miserably before the pond.

By the time her tears subsided, the blanket of night had settled across the sky and a delicate crescent moon reflected itself in the waters of the pond. Emeravwe was too ashamed to face the young Eunuch who had wordlessly watch her cry her heart to pieces. She stared silently at the moon’s reflection in the pond, her breath disturbed by silent hiccups, her head throbbing. 

“Dear Omote,” the boy called softly, and Emeravwe turned meekly to see him holding out an embroidered handkerchief. “Dry your tears.”

Emeravwe slowly approached the bench, invited by the boy’s sympathetic gaze. Taking the handkerchief, she bent her knees slightly in a butu. “Miguo,” she greeted and rose, bringing the handkerchief to her tear-streaked face. The silk cloth was luxuriously soft against her skin and emitted a sweet smell that soothed the headache beginning to pound in her temples.

The boy asked gently, “Why do you believe you have been abandoned?”

Emeravwe looked up, surprised by the question. “I…” Her face heated. That she had disgraced herself in front of a stranger was embarrassing enough, but that the boy took an interest in her condition was even more disconcerting. She knew she should tell him to forget her earlier ranting, to forgive her for disturbing his ears with her complaints, but his eyes focused on her through the night, awaiting a reply, and the intent look told her he would not be satisfied with such a response. She squeezed the handkerchief to her chest, lowering her gaze. The subject was one which brought tears to her eyes simply at the thought of it. And though she knew her meeting with the boy in this remote garden and at such a late hour was inappropriate, she wanted to finally unload her worries to someone instead of keeping them locked inside.

She said quietly, her voice quivering with tears, “On holidays like the Day of Birth and Day of Rebirth, and even sometimes on the Day of Rest, the other Maidens are visited by their families, but no one ever comes to visit me. No one knows who I am or where I came from. I have asked the Aye if they know the name of my clan or even my tribal name, but they said they do not.” She finished tearfully, “No one knows who my family is.”

The boy was silent a long time, his brow knitting as he contemplated Emeravwe. When he spoke again, his voice was harsh. “The palace is not a place where parents can abandon their children! Such an act would be an insult to the Orodje. If anyone dares to utter such nonsense you must report them to the Bureau of Corrections. Do you understand me, Omote?”

The sudden severity of the boy’s tone unnerved her, and Emeravwe answered shakily, “Y-yes, I will make sure they do not say it again.”

His voice was softer as he said, “See that you do.”

Emeravwe shifted uncomfortably, still rattled by the sternness the boy had displayed. She squeezed his handkerchief in her hands, the action alerting her that it was still in her possession. She presented it to the boy again, bending her knees and intoning politely, “I shall take my leave of you now, Oga, if you please.”

To her surprise, the boy took her hands as well as the handkerchief. “Excuse me,” he begged pardon, nodding reassuringly at her shocked look, then examining her cracked hands. “Indeed, they are dry.” He released her hands and stood, tucking his own and the handkerchief into the sleeves of his robes. “Come here again tomorrow night and I shall have some oils for your hands. Good night, then, Omote,” he urged her on her way.

Emeravwe returned to her chamber in the Maidens’ Quarters in a state of confusion. Omote Oluchi and Ngozi were already in their beds, and she collected her blankets and quietly prepared for bed herself. It was then that the full force of her encounter that night hit her, and she could hardly sleep for excitement. She had not expected that the young Eunuch would invite her back to the garden—as she was not supposed to be there in the first place—and had expected even less that he would offer to bring her oils for her hands! But just as much as the prospect of acquiring oils, the thought that she might possibly be able to make a friend in the palace made Emeravwe restless, and her heart raced with anticipation for the coming day.


The Aya pulled apart the sheer violet curtains woven with shimmering silver fibers and the amethyst beads that dangled and chimed behind. The young king sauntered into the room, the large robe draping his body trailing ceremoniously on the floor behind him like the line of attendants that followed. It was a spacious room of gleaming blue-gray marble, brightly lit by a multitude of candles in high sconces on the walls. Two-thirds of the room was occupied by a large tub cut into the floor and filled with water covered with petals of yellow plumeria. The room, too, was imbued with the heady scent of the flower, and from an adjacent room separated by a rich satin curtain, the gentle chords of stringed instruments mingled with the scent. The young king closed his eyes, listening to the tranquil music, breathing in the sweet fragrance, and he felt his mind soothed, his tensions calming.

He made his way to the head of the marble tub, watching as the Aya in the room poured in vials of oils and scents.

“Iroro,” he called his Chief Eunuch, standing with arms opened to his sides so he could be undressed.

“Yes, Ovye,” Eunuch Iroro answered, removing the young king’s robes and handing them to the Aye to hang neatly on the racks in the room.

“We cannot help but feel ashamed when we think that there are people in the kingdom who cannot afford oil for the foods they eat, yet we take such lavish nightly baths filled with the richest nourishing oils.” The issue of the disparaging gaps between the castes of the kingdom was something his late mentor often lectured him on, stressing to him his role as mediator. But on this night, especially, the young king felt heavy-hearted as he watched the Aya exit the room with their vials of oil, leaving him with the older Aye who raised him.

Eunuch Iroro smiled, unwinding the embroidered headcloth about the king’s head and gently letting down his copper locks as he said, “It is Ovye’s duty to preserve the dignity befitting the Orodje, just as it is Ovye’s duty to care for his people.” Bowing, Eunuch Iroro respectfully offered a hand and the young king placed his own on top, allowing the Eunuch to lead him down the wide marble steps into the cool bath. The attending Maidens followed behind, carrying various soaps and accessories.

“But one must wonder, what is the worth of dignity if the people are starving…” …and I am left alone? the king questioned dolefully as the Maidens began to meticulously wash, oil, and comb his hair while Eunuch Iroro carefully cleansed his body.

Eunuch Iroro bowed his head. “Forgive my impudence, my Lord, but if, in his sympathy, Ovye chooses to starve to death because the people are starving, who, then, can the people look to for deliverance? Ovye must remain firm and live on to lead his people.”

“And he must be clean, so the people will not be repulsed by his odor!” remarked Grand Maiden Inene, the gentle Aye with adoring brown eyes who had nursed him.

The Maidens in the room tittered and the young king laughed, his spirits reviving. “Yes, you are right, Nene. And we must do so especially for your sake, Iroro, as you must remain at our side at all times.”

“And as long as I am at Ovye’s side, I shall ensure that others perceive only this sweet smell from him,” Eunuch Iroro said, sweeping up petals of plumeria from the bath.

The young king gazed appreciatively at his loyal servant. Eunuch Iroro had been by his side for as long as he could remember and even before that, caring for him, guiding him, much like an older brother. He remembered another he had looked up to as a brother but pushed back the dark memory. Yes, I shall remain firm.

The king nodded, coming to a decision. “Though we cannot yet rely on the ministers’ support at court, it would not be too soon for us to start building our own foundation of reliable retainers. What better support is there than one you build and fortify yourself?” He smiled at Eunuch Iroro. “Dear cousin, our relationship is the very proof of this.”

Eunuch Iroro returned the smile. “What does Ovye have in mind?”

The king leaned his head back, closing his eyes and relishing the comfort as the Grand Maiden carefully massaged his scalp with scented medicinal herbs, the other Aye combing his hair with precise strokes. “An invitation to the ministers’ sons. Emuvoke Iwaka Onomine, son of the Minister of Justice. Efemuaye Iwaka Efemini, son of the Minister of Finance. And Ejaita Beliko Onajite, son of the Minister of Domestic Affairs. We shall have them join us in our lectures with the Royal Tutors.”

Eunuch Iroro looked bemused. “Ovye will build his foundation with the sons of the Queen Dowager’s strongest supporters?”

The young king opened his eyes, his innocent boyish grin belying his acumen. “We shall also include Prince Etegah and the sons of other ministers. And it is true that we have grown awfully bored with the lectures; a change of pace is in order. The late Onóturode always advised us to welcome multiple perspectives to broaden our view. What do you think?”

Eunuch Iroro regarded him with admiration. “Brilliant. It is only a shame that Onóturode Onovughe’s son is still just a babe, Ovye might have invited him, as well,” he said as he continued to cleanse the king’s body.

“Which reminds us,” the king instructed, “do send notice to the Onóturode’s home tomorrow requesting Lady Oyoyovwi to enter the palace. We promised Princess Ada the visitation.”

Eunuch Iroro bowed his head. “As Ovye commands.” After a silence, he continued, “Ovye has been rather silent on the subject of his betrothal to Onóturode Onovughe’s daughter. I thought Ovye would surely protest when the Queen Dowager brought it up before the court.”

The young king’s expression waxed austere. “You yourself spoke of the dignity befitting the Orodje. Why protest something whose conclusion is already clear to us? The four years of mourning Sovereign Father’s death precludes the occurrence of any major celebrations that are non-religious, including royal engagements and marriages. Once these four years are over, we shall be of age to decide our own marriage matters.” He closed his eyes to enjoy his bath. “When the time comes, we shall give the court our answer.”

Submitted: July 07, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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