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]* [Aye (“Ah-yeh”) – first rank of palace Maidens]* [Omote (“Uh-muh-teh”) – fourth and lowest rank of palace Maidens]* [Ovye ("Ohv-yeh") -
“King.” Ovye is a stand-alone title used to address the reigning king]

Chapter 7 (v.2) - Seventh Phase.2 (Continuation)

Submitted: July 14, 2019

Reads: 29

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Submitted: July 14, 2019

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Three more years passed Emeravwe by as she worked in the Bureau of Halls and Chambers, life in the palace resuming its characteristic monotony after hers and Akpokene’s fight with Omote Oluchi and Ngozi. But though these years were mostly peaceful and uneventful for Emeravwe, it was not so for the rest of the royal palace.

It occurred slowly at first, but more and more the Outer Palace came to be filled with news of a power struggle between the king and Dowager Queen. Emeravwe, of course, knew of the king; he had been enthroned the same year she entered the palace. He was crowned at the age of twelve, upon the sudden death of the previous king (a topic which was forbidden and which the Maidens only occasionally whispered about) and was said to be the youngest king in Xxenen history. Thus, the Dowager Queen took control of the kingdom while he was educated. According to Maidens’ gossip, however, now that the king was older and wished to take part in the governance of his kingdom, the Dowager Queen was ill-disposed to relinquish her control, and this caused much dissension among the ministers and officials at court. Some argued that the king was still too young to handle the nation’s politics and that the Queen Dowager should continue her vicarious rule, but others disagreed and were for the young king taking the helm of the kingdom.

While the effects of this dispute and the divide it created were not strongly felt in the Bureau of Halls and Chambers, Emeravwe heard it caused much disruption in departments in which official government work took place. She witnessed the toll it took on others in the palace mostly through Aslan, for she saw him less frequently throughout these years. When she did see him, he often looked as weary as the priests of the Palace Chapel when they stayed up fasting and praying for three days and nights in the days leading up to the Day of Rebirth. On these nights, Aslan did little more than lie on the bench in the garden and listen as Emeravwe spoke of her days and the goings-on of the palace. Still, she preferred such nights to those in which she did not see Aslan at all, for as the years went by, she found more and more things to talk to him about.

When Emeravwe turned thirteen, she reached the age at which Maidens of the Ministry of Rites were permitted to visit the marketplace outside the palace. They were allowed this pleasure only a couple times a year, and when she came of age, Emeravwe was among the Maidens chosen from the Bureau of Halls and Chambers to go on the outing. They were divided into small groups chaperoned by the Aye and guarded by officers of the Palace Guard. Emeravwe was placed in a separate group from Akpokene’s, but even this could not stanch the overwhelming giddiness she felt at being able to leave the palace for the very first time. They visited Joyovwi Market, the main market at the center of the city, with its sprawling malls and neat shops. There, Emeravwe and other Omote who had never left the palace went about wide-eyed, at first, following meekly behind the Agaenaye and Aye who deftly avoided animal droppings, carts, and people alike.

Emeravwe found the noise and bustle of the marketplace baffling compared to the monitored order of the palace. All about was the din of activity; of shop owners proclaiming the goodness of their wares and patrons haggling prices. People milled about the crowded streets; most on foot, but others riding on camels, horses, or in carriages and sedan chairs. Women and girls strolled in long, colorful skirts and blouses topped with diaphanous flowing outer robes, some with headscarves settled at their hairlines and others without. Men and boys were garbed in long garments and vivid, loose trousers and headcloths.

All had various gems embedded in their foreheads: rubies, emeralds, yellow apatites, tree agates, and carnelian stones. Emeravwe had seen officials and guards in the palace with rubies and emeralds in their foreheads, but this was the first time she saw so many people with all the various gems mingling in one place. For once she did not feel like an outcast in her surroundings and, instead, was filled with a strange sense of assurance and belonging. She had a strong urge to remove her headscarf from her forehead, reveal her own ruby, and join in their silent communion.

As she and the Maidens and guards moved through the market, people cleared the way for them, recognizing their palace attire, and shop owners paid them the utmost attention and respect. In no time at all Emeravwe and the other Omote in her group eagerly rushed to stalls and shops, sampling foods, trying on headscarves, and admiring crafted jewels, powders, and perfumes.

At one shop they came to, she removed the plain green headscarf she always wore and tried on one of rosy pink woven with dazzling blue topaz. She settled it above the jewel in her forehead and, to her surprise, received a multitude of complements from the Omote and Agaenaye who shunned her for years as a valued child. She could only attribute their sudden kindness to the excitement of being in the marketplace, for they commented on how pretty she was and how the scarf suited her perfectly. Emeravwe was embarrassed when even the shop owner chimed in and brought over a mirror.

Indeed, she was quite pretty, with deep olive skin and large, luminous gray eyes. Her face was small and round, her lips thin and eyebrows dark. Her hair was a thick, wavy dark brown beneath the pink headscarf, the blue topaz of the scarf offsetting the spectacular ruby in her forehead. A round brilliant cut, the ruby’s deep vermilion shimmered clear and vivid beneath the bright morning sun. The Omote encouraged Emeravwe to purchase the scarf, and when she agreed the shop owner sold it to her at a discounted price.

Though palace Maidens and Eunuchs were allowed to dress up during festivals and New Year celebrations, they were not permitted to have jewelry and other accessories inside the palace for the same reason their foreheads were not adorned. Yet many of the Maidens purchased just such items, and the Aye scolded them but lightly, acquiring small powders and ornaments of their own when they thought no one was looking. Over the years, Emeravwe had come to notice that though such things were prohibited and often confiscated by the Department of Court Inspections when not adequately hidden out of sight, the Aye were not overly strict about this rule.

When they returned to the palace Emeravwe immediately found Akpokene and they talked at length about each of their experiences at the marketplace that day. Even so, she could not wait to tell Aslan all about it when night fell. On nights on which Aslan appeared exhausted, however, she often tried to allow him rest, though he assured her her conversations did not bother him in the least, and that he rather looked forward to them. Hearing this warmed her, but still she thought it best not to disturb him, for she enjoyed simply sitting in his presence as much as she did speaking with him.

They were sitting just so one night, Aslan lying on the garden’s stone bench while Emeravwe sat on the ground beside it, admiring a waxing crescent moon, when Aslan said, “Eme, do you know that the sun is always out?”

“Hm?” She turned to the glow of Aslan’s face, illuminated by moon and lantern.

He stared up at the moon, reaching a hand toward the sky as if to capture it. “It is simply that you do not always see it, especially at night.”

“But it can rest at night since we have the moon,” she responded, folding her arms on the bench beside him and resting her chin on top.

Lowering his hand, he turned to her with a smile that flashed like the sun itself, just inches from her face. “But you see, the moon gets its light from the sun. Thus, even at night, the sun gets no rest.”

Emeravwe clicked her tongue, rolling her eyes. “The sun should not complain since its role is an important one. But regardless,” she stated firmly, “the moon’s beauty is its own and its role is no less important!”

As he watched her, a tender smile spread across his face, softening the look in his eyes. “Indeed.”

Emeravwe’s heart flutter. Of late, she often caught Aslan gazing at her with just such a look, but she did not quite understand it. She wanted to ask why he looked at her so, but a sudden rustling in the purple fountain grass startled her and she jumped to her feet. “What was that?”

Aslan turned his face back to the moon, closing his eyes. “Just a curious cat, I am sure; I know a couple in the palace. They are quite harmless.”

But Emeravwe did not think the noise had been made by a wandering cat—a cat would not have caused the grass to move as it had—and wondered if someone might have entered the garden without their notice. She looked to Aslan who lay calmly on the bench, then took a cautious step toward the fountain grass.

 “Leave it!” Aslan called suddenly, springing to a sitting position. Emeravwe started, turning a surprised look to him. He paused a moment in awkward silence, then, “You see, cats are delicate creatures. Though they bear much affection, they do not always know how to express it. Perhaps it simply wishes to watch over us for now and will make itself known when it feels the need.”

Emeravwe eyed him puzzeledly. “What?”

He smiled enigmatically, motioning for her to return to his side. “I am sure it is nothing.”

Emeravwe felt there was an encrypted meaning in his words, but she settled beside him again, her eyes lingering on the fountain grass. There was no further disturbance from it, and she soon relinquished her suspicions.

****

“BAHAHAHA!” Eunuch Edewor burst in laughter as he led the way through the dark corridors of the Palace of the Lunar Bloom, the vacant queen’s palace, holding aloft the glass lantern.

“Quiet, fool!” Eunuch Iroro reproached, glancing at the king as he struggled to suppress his own smile.

Seeing his mentor’s failed attempt at gravity, Eunuch Edewor burst again in laughter. “Even Grand Eunuch Iroro cannot keep a straight face! Hm-hm,” he cleared his throat, proceeding to imitate, “‘You see, cats are delicate creatures!’” He laughed. “It is only before Omote Emeravwe that I can witness Ovye’s charms falter!”

Aslan glared at Eunuch Edewor, masking his embarrassment with feigned annoyance. “Edewor, you do realize that it is due to our regard for Iroro that we tolerate your insolence.”

Eunuch Edewor turned sideways as he walked, bowing his head with a chortle. “Of course, my Lord. It was Grand Eunuch Iroro who appointed me as one of Ovye’s personal attendants, that I might serve to lighten his moods. Even if Ovye is offended, do try and bear with me—I am only doing my job. If Ovye chops off my head in a moment of passion all my efforts will be wasted, then no one will have the last laugh!”

Aslan exchanged looks with Eunuch Iroro, shaking his head at Eunuch Edewor’s usual glibness. A second cousin of his, Eunuch Iroro had taken Eunuch Edewor under his wing as an apprentice, and when he saw his lively personality, he appointed him as one of Aslan’s attendants. Eunuch Edewor had fair features, curled brown locks which he only partly covered with his yellow headcloth, the loose ends of the cloth hanging down one shoulder, and cheerful brown eyes. Though he was two years Aslan’s elder, Aslan had grown quite fond of him in the three years he had been in his service.

“If you had managed to deter Etegah as we instructed, we would not have been placed in that predicament,” Aslan accused. “But not only did you fail to hinder him, you personally led him all the way to the Eunuchs’ garden in the Outer Palace. Tell us, Edewor, how much more must we bear with you?”

Eunuch Edewor ducked his head, shrugging his shoulders as if to hide. “Ovye misunderstands, I did not deliberately disobey his orders. Prince Etegah threatened to inform Princess Ada of Ovye’s nightly disappearances if I did not tell him where Ovye was!” He nodded with confidence as he said, “I know Prince Etegah’s curiosity stems from genuine concern, but Princess Ada is more self-serving. Given the choices, I chose the less troublesome.”

“He is right,” Eunuch Iroro remarked. “Prince Etegah has been suspicious for some time now, and it is only due to his patience and no skill of Edewor’s that we have deterred him thus far. Princess Ada would not be so meek.”

“And she surely would not keep Ovye’s relation with Omote Emeravwe in secrecy as I am sure Prince Etegah will,” Eunuch Edewor added.

Aslan’s brow furrowed. His feelings for his younger siblings had always been tinged with guilt and unease. They had all been very young when their Sovereign Father passed away, Prince Etegah nine years old and Princess Ada only seven, and after his death they lacked the warmth and guidance of a parent. Aslan did his best to make them feel comfortable and cared for, arranging music and sport coaches for Prince Etegah and occasional outings and meetings with friends for Princess Ada. What worried him, though, was that his dispute with the Queen Dowager would involve his two siblings. As his conflict with the Dowager deepened, so had their concerns, though Prince Etegah appeared more deeply affected than their younger sister. He had taken more interest in court matters and sought to assist him any way he could, but this troubled Aslan.

“You judged correctly, Edewor,” he admitted. “We knew Etegah would overcome your efforts sooner or later. But though he means well, his concern is often misguided. This is what troubles us.”

“For now, let us put aside these troubles,” Eunuch Edewor said. “Prince Etegah escaped the garden without Omote Emeravwe’s detection, and Ovye can continue to keep his identity from her. All is well, and a bath awaits Ovye in his palace. Afterwards, Ovye might enlighten me on how he encountered Omote Emeravwe and came to disguise himself as a Eunuch. I imagine I have gained some of his confidence after three years.”

Aslan raised a brow. “Edewor, is it not your job to entertain us?”

Eunuch Edewor’s eyes widened with realization and he laughed. “Oh! That is right!”


© Copyright 2019 OE. All rights reserved.

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