Chapter 6: Sixth Phase.1

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

Reads: 92

The Wuhwuh, Emeravwe learned in her studies of the Four Classics of Xxene, were a group of people who lived scattered on the lands of the Four Tribes long before the establishment of Xxene. They had no land of their own, and thus lived at the mercy of the Mik-Jiban, Imodu, Beliko, and Iwaka tribes, by whom they were scorned and enslaved even after the Four Tribes came together to found Xxene. It was not until the reign of the twenty-first king of Xxene—the most esteemed of the ruling Onomavwe clan of the Mik-Jiban tribe—that slavery was abolished and the Wuhwuh were granted freedom after over five hundred years of enslavement. Still, Aslan told Emeravwe, they lived on the fringes of Xxenen society as outcasts, given only menial jobs as laborers.

Omote Akpokene confided in Emeravwe that her mother had been a worker on her father’s estate, and that they had married upon the death of his first wife. Her father was nearly disowned for marrying a Wuhwuh, but for the fact that he was the family’s only son. When Emeravwe asked why she had not fought back when the other Omote assailed her, she responded that her mother taught her it was in a Wuhwuh’s best interest not to retaliate, and that it was their lot in life to be scorned. Emeravwe soon discovered, however, that Omote Akpokene was not resigned to this fate.

Omote Akpokene was not as meek and gentle as she evinced upon their first meeting. She was in fact quite sharp and spoke with biting bluntness. Emeravwe saw this as she spent more time with her, for whenever they were assigned to clean halls together, she fought tirelessly with the other Omote.

“I will not argue with a puny Wuhwuh,” an Omote berated Omote Akpokene when she refused the Omote’s proposal that the older girls would clean the floors of the hall, while the younger Omote cleaned the walls and pillars.

“You are right, Omote Fola,” Omote Akpokene responded. “I am short and skinnier than a starving stick bug. I can barely reach the top of my head; how do you imagine I can scrub tall pillars and walls?”

“I am older, so you will do as I say!” Omote Fola commanded.

“Shame on you! To be so old yet have less brains than a puny Wuhwuh,” Omote Akpokene sneered. “Naturally, the taller Omote should clean the walls and pillars. It would save us all time and effort!”

Emeravwe was surprised to find that such a small cute girl could have so fiery a personality, and admired Omote Akpokene’s bravery to stand up to the Omote. They soon became fast friends and did as much together as they possibly could; taking their meals together, working together whenever they were assigned the same halls to clean, and spending most of their time together on the Day of Rest when they did not have to work. Days in the palace became less dull for Emeravwe, and she continued to spend her nights in Aslan’s company.

Each night, she went to the Eunuch’s Compound to await Aslan in the garden, though he did not always come. He advised her that on such occasions she should not wait too long but return to the Maidens’ Compound. Emeravwe at times did as told, but most nights she lingered in the garden, enjoying its peacefulness. Her favorite part of the day was coming to the garden to see Aslan. It felt to her like an escape—the garden a paradise in the rigid ocean of the palace, and Aslan her hidden treasure. When they met, they talked about all sorts of things beneath the night sky, including the night sky, and the more time they spent together the closer and more familiar they became.

Emeravwe was glad to see Aslan become more at ease with her, for in the first few months they were together he remained mostly distant. He sat stiffly, addressing her with a formal air and, often, an authoritative voice. She attributed this to his higher rank, so she did not mind. In fact, instead of feeling intimidated by his dignified carriage, she was filled with admiration and felt privileged to be able to call him friend and have him so attentive to her. What did unsettle her, though, was the mournful way he regarded her at times. On more than one occasion he had even seemed close to tears, but each time he quickly reassured her with a smile. Emeravwe did not understand what brought about his sadness, so she was relieved when Aslan began to relax around her and regarded her less often with grief.

Two years passed in this manner, and Emeravwe continued to work as diligently as she could manage in the Bureau of Halls and Chambers, Aslan replenishing her vial of oils whenever she ran out. But if there was one thing in the palace she still could not stand, it was the endless work. It seemed to her she scrubbed halls and offices from dawn to dusk each day, repeating the same motions but in different locations. It came to the point where she began to dread each coming day, wishing each night that she could spend forever in the garden with Aslan, instead.

Emeravwe had never thought much about being a palace Maiden. She had hated it because the other Maidens shunned her, but she could not remember living anywhere else but the palace and knew no other life than the one she currently had. The more she considered it, though, the more discontented she became, and the thought that she did not want to be a Maiden became even more grounded in her heart as the years went by. She was no longer lonely because she had Aslan and Akpokene, but she was still looked down upon by other Maidens, the work she did was thankless and punishing, and the thought that she would have to do it for the rest of her life filled her with despair. These thoughts, however, only engulfed her in hopelessness because she was a palace Maiden, and there was nothing she could do about it.

In the past, Emeravwe had often wondered why so many of the Maidens seemed bitter and quick tempered. She understood now, for whenever she saw a large hall before her—a bucket of water and scrubbing sponge in one hand, polishing can in the other—and thought of the long days yet ahead, she could not help but be in a foul mood.

She was in such a mood one day as she scrubbed the main meeting hall in the Compound of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs with Akpokene and other Omote, including Omote Oluchi and Ngozi. If she had said her two roommates’ presence contributed nothing to her gross disposition, she would have been lying, so she kept her distance from them as she furiously scrubbed the floors. She worked by Akpokene’s side, but because of who they worked with, the small Omote was in no better mood than she was. They worked peacefully for most of the day, ignoring as best they could the loud remarks Omote Oluchi and Ngozi made about two nameless Omote who did not belong in the palace. By mid-afternoon, though, when the Xxenen sun was hottest and its heat caused even a saint’s blood to boil, Emeravwe had had enough, and by the looks of it, so had Akpokene.

They had finished scrubbing the floors and were adding the last touches of polish when Omote Oluchi and Ngozi crossed the hall, having completed their side. As they passed, they pretended not to see Emeravwe and Akpokene kneeled in their path, and each took turns crushing the girls’ hands underfoot. Akpokene shot to her feet with a howl of pain, her large brown eyes blazing like the Xxenen sun.

“Oh my!” Omote Oluchi and Ngozi turned around, sounding apologetic, but Omote Oluchi’s face twisted in disgust as she looked on Akpokene. “Oh. I thought I had stepped on a human being, but it was just the little Wuhwuh beast. Come, Ngozi, let us—”

The slap flung the rest of Omote Oluchi’s words from her mouth and resounded around the hall. It was followed by a cry like a banshee signaling death, and before Emeravwe could process what was happening, Akpokene had lunged at Omote Oluchi, tackling her to the newly polished floor and mercilessly assailing her with slaps as she simultaneously pulled the hair from her scalp. Omote Ngozi jumped on Akpokene shouting, “How dare you!” and trying desperately to pry her off Omote Oluchi. But pugnacious little Akpokene would not budge even as Omote Ngozi slapped, kicked, and assaulted her with curses. Seeing the unfair match, Emeravwe’s hands shot out to defend her friend. She grabbed Omote Ngozi’s headscarf along with a handful of hair, yanking her hard off Akpokene. Omote Ngozi whirled around with a yelp and slap that bit into Emeravwe’s left eye, then immediately caught hold of Emeravwe’s headscarf and the hair at her temples. Emeravwe could not think for the pain that rippled through her eye and scalp, and she did not quite remember what followed save that she landed blows and pulled hair, and the hall was filled with the tumultuous din of yelling Omote.

Submitted: July 10, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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