Chapter 9: Ninth Phase.1

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

Reads: 86

“How fortunate that Ovye prohibited Edewor from accompanying him to the Eunuchs’ garden,” Eunuch Iroro commented. “There might have been no end to his insults tonight.”

Aslan was silent as they tread the dark corridors of the vacant queen’s palace. He had not uttered a word since leaving the Eunuchs’ garden in the Outer Palace, but his expression grew increasingly severe.

Seeing this, Eunuch Iroro ventured, “Ovye’s shock must have been greater than I thought. He has never faced such rejection.”

“Iroro,” Aslan’s tone was dark, “we are in no mood for jests.”

Eunuch Iroro bowed his head. “Forgive me.”

Eunuch Iroro was right, Emeravwe’s response had shocked him, but it was not this alone that caused Aslan’s mood to sour. It upset him that she wished to approach him with such frivolous intent, but what right did he have to feel this way? Even if she asked him to give up his throne, he could hardly refuse her. Long before she entered the palace and became his responsibility, he gave her his heart and intended to grant her whatever hers desired. Now, more than ever, it was her prerogative to demand of him whatever she might. He was much indebted to her, and nothing he did could ever repay that debt. Even so, he did not want their relationship to be so quid pro quo. He wanted to be more than just a friend she leaned on, or a means for her to rise up the ranks.

“If I may ask, why did Ovye tell Lady Emeravwe that he is the Onóturode’s son?” Eunuch Iroro questioned. “Did Ovye hope—”

“We were wrong!” Aslan interjected, berating himself rather than answering Eunuch Iroro. “We should not have mentioned the Onóturode. It is too soon.” If she learns the truth…when she learns the truth, I may not be able to keep her by my side.


Emeravwe thought a lot about Aslan after that night. Granted, she often thought of him as he was one of her only companions in the palace, but now she thought about him differently. She noticed long ago that he was not like other eunuchs she encountered in the Outer Palace, most of whom were lean of build and had boyish voices. Aslan, however, had grown quite a bit since she met him; his shoulders had broadened and his voice, too, had deepened. She had not known what to make of these changes in him and thought simply that perhaps different eunuchs developed differently—she dared not pry into the details of a Eunuch’s body. Now, however, she thought perhaps he was different because, like her, he was not always meant to serve in the palace. He was a valued child, and not meant to be a Eunuch.

But he is a Eunuch, she thought, and I am a Maiden. Having lived her whole life among gossiping palace Maidens, Emeravwe knew that eunuchs were not wholly men. She had heard that though high-ranking Eunuchs were allowed to retire from the palace and granted partners if they wished, they could never have children. But Emeravwe did not care about this; whether he was a eunuch had never affected the way she regarded Aslan. All she knew was that he was a Eunuch and she was a Maiden, and relationships between Eunuchs and Maidens were strictly prohibited. Moreover, though she looked up to Aslan and depended on him through the years, she had never considered their relationship in such a way. And she would not. Being in a relationship with Aslan could not help her escape the life of a palace Maiden. Rather, it would cause her to be shamefully thrown from the palace, and as a nameless disgraced Maiden, her life would doubtless become more difficult than it already was.

Emeravwe decided to focus only on the king. He was the only person with whom a Maiden could legitimately have a relationship—as he could be with whomever he pleased—and that was also the only way she would be free of an anonymous life of servitude. It all, however, depended on her ability to attract the king, and whether she could do so depended on if she was ever able to see him. As a lowly Omote in the Bureau of Halls and Chambers, Emeravwe knew there was no way on earth she could ever meet the king unless Oghene performed a miracle in her life. But since miracles did not seem immediately forthcoming, she concluded she would have to find her own way and could think of no other means to encounter the king except to gain access to the Inner Palace.

The only departments that employed Maidens in the Inner Palace were the Department of the Royal Kitchens and Department of Court Ladies. The Maidens of the Royal Kitchens, though, were trained in culinary arts since they entered the palace, and Maidens of the Department of Court Ladies were chosen based on familial background and connections. Emeravwe could neither cook nor had any family background to speak of, so she quickly ruled out the Royal Kitchens and Department of Court Ladies as possible places of employment.

She confessed her intentions to change departments to Akpokene, telling her only that she could no longer withstand the Bureau of Halls and Chambers. Akpokene shared her sentiments, as Emeravwe knew she would, and revealed to her that she had also been inquiring into other departments she could transfer to. Like Emeravwe, she lacked the familial background and connections to enter the departments in the Inner Palace (her father was only a provincial magistrate and her mother a Wuhwuh), but she had also ruled out the Department of Ceremonies and the Weavers’ Department for they, like the Department of the Royal Kitchens, required specialized skills. Together, they continued their inquiry. They sat with Maidens who worked in different bureaus when they dined in the Hall of Abundant Blessings, asking about their various duties and listening in on conversations.

After several months of such inquiry, Emeravwe and Akpokene’s search proved unproductive. Still, Emeravwe refused to give up, for there was surely a department that would enable her to meet the king. She was almost tempted to ask Aslan for help but decided she would not after the previous incident. And though he often asked her how her plans were progressing whenever they met in the garden, he was not particularly thrilled with the idea, so she was not sure he would help her even if she asked.

Then one night, in the Hall of Abundant Blessings, as she brooded over the fruitless search with Akpokene, Emeravwe overheard some Agaenaye at an adjacent table talking about the king. They spoke in low voices so the Aye in the hall would not hear them gossiping but burst with squeaks of excitement.

“Did you see him? Did you see the Orodje?” one of the Agaenaye at the table squealed, her voice rising.

“Shh!” another shushed her sharply, looking around the hall. She turned back to the table and said wistfully, “No, but, oh! How I wish I had! Agaenaye Emeka, did you see him?” she asked another Agaenaye at the table.

“I caught only a fleeting glance of his lustrous copper locks as he left the bureau with his battalion of attendants and officials,” Agaenaye Emeka crooned dreamily. “But fleeting though it was, I feel as if I have been struck by the hands of Oghene Himself!” At this, the Agaenaye at the table let out excited squeaks and giggles.

“Truly! Truly!” another concurred. “I was outside the meeting hall as he spoke to the director of the bureau and all the division heads, and his voice alone seized my heart!”

“Oh? Was your heart failure not because he was at the Bureau of Court Affairs to reprimand the lot of you for your lack of organization?” an Agaenaye teased.

“Even if it is just to scold, I wish Ovye would visit the Bureau of Toiletry!” another sang.

“And why would he scold you? You already practically worship his royal fece—”

“Indecent!” the Agaenaye admonished and they all burst in laughter.

Emeravwe turned to Akpokene, her eyes bright with realization. She saw Akpokene wore the same look and grinned. Of course! One of the circumstances involved in the dispute between the king and Dowager Queen was the fact that their young king had begun to take it upon himself to inspect departments of the Outer Palace which carried out governmental functions. One of these departments was the Department of Court Inspections and, consequently, the Bureau of Court Affairs.

The Bureau of Court Affairs, as part of the Department of Court Inspections, conducted quarterly inspections of both the Eunuchs’ and Maidens’ Quarters and, thus, was the only governmental office in the Outer Palace which employed both Eunuchs and Maidens. If she could enter the Bureau of Court Affairs, Emeravwe reasoned, she would not gain access to the Inner Palace, but the king would come to her, instead! She would be able to see him whenever he came to the bureau for inspections and from there…well, things would take their course!

A broad grin was plastered on her face when she broke the news to Aslan that night, and even the frown that pursed his lips could not perturb her.

“And how do you plan on entering the bureau?” he asked.

“In fact,” she began hesitantly, “I have been wondering the same thing.” She sidled up to him on the bench, offering an innocent smile. “I was hoping you might know.”

He raised a brow, chuckling. “I thought you would not seek my assistance on this matter.”

Emeravwe’s tone was a mix of apprehension and impertinence. “You will not refuse me, will you?”

Aslan’s look softened. “How can I?”

Emeravwe diverted her eyes, pretending to clear her throat. She had been finding it difficult to hold his gaze whenever he looked at her thus. When she glanced back at him the look had passed, and she quickly steered the conversation back on track. “How can I become a Maiden of the Bureau of Court Affairs?”

He explained, “Every two years the bureau holds a qualification exam for Eunuchs and Maidens who wish to join. The exam was to be administered this year, but the arrangements have been cancelled.”

Emeravwe leaned forward. “Because it did not pass the Orodje’s inspection?”

“Oh, so you have also heard?” She nodded, and he said, “It seems Oghene smiles upon you. Pending another inspection, the exam may take place next year.”

Emeravwe’s mood soared; she had a whole year to prepare until the next exam. Surely, by then, the bureau’s organization would have met the king’s expectations.

She looked determinedly at Aslan. “What must I know to pass the bureau’s exam?”

He studied her resolute gaze. “It is not generally known, but the Bureau of Court Affairs manages much more than palace inspections. To be considered a candidate by the bureau, one must have at least a minimal knowledge of Xxene’s history, politics, and economy.” Emeravwe’s face fell and Aslan smiled. “You often complain of how weary you are of your studies though you are only required to study the Four Classics.”

And what formidable volumes of books they are! she thought. She still rose every morning before dawn to attend her classes on the Four Classics of Xxene and Mannerisms of a Maiden, then worked daylong. Moreover, these courses were designed to continue until a Maiden turned sixteen, when she became an Agaenaye—that meant two more years for Emeravwe. When would she ever find time to study Xxene’s politics and economy? She did not even have access to materials that might help her.

“You already know much about Xxene’s history from your studies of the Classics,” Aslan said, “but are you also willing to study subjects such as politics and economics?”

Emeravwe’s instinctive response was No! She set her mind on the king because she wanted an easier life, yet it seemed winning the king was going to be more trouble than she anticipated. But if she wanted to enter the Bureau of Court Affairs, she conceded, then studying was a necessary evil. So she said, instead, “Maidens are not instructed on such topics as politics and economics. I have no means to learn these.”

Aslan scanned her face for resolve, then said, “I can help you gain access to the Eunuchs’ Library. There are books there on these subjects.”

Emeravwe’s eyes widened. “But Maidens are seldom allowed in the Eunuchs’ Compound, much less the Eunuchs’ Library!”

Aslan tilted his head. “Yet you continue to visit me in this garden each night without fail. We need but proceed in the same manner.”

A grin spread across her face as she saw his meaning.

He stood. “We shall waste no time. I shall meet you tomorrow night at the first hour of the guard exchange, within the gates to the Eunuchs’ Compound facing the Court of Celestial Wonders.”

“Oh, Aslan! Miguo! Miguo!” she jumped to her feet and thanked him.

Vrendo,” he answered. “But do not misunderstand. I am helping you not because I support your plans to win the Orodje, but because as a servant of the kingdom, it is imperative that you are aware of its state.”

Emeravwe could care less about being a servant of the kingdom! But she thought it wise to keep this sentiment to herself.

That night, she found herself in a dilemma. Having learned how they could enter the Bureau of Court Affairs, she knew she should inform Akpokene, but this strangely seized her heart. She did not want to withhold information from Akpokene, but hitherto she met with Aslan alone and had revealed their relationship to no one. She felt if she disclosed their arrangements now, she would lose something special and secret. The thought of telling Akpokene about him surprisingly upset her, yet Aslan was the only one who could help them, and she could not bear to deny Akpokene this help.

“Truly?” Akpokene whispered when Emeravwe told her a Eunuch friend of hers was willing to help them study for the Bureau of Court Affairs’ qualification exam.

“Uh-hm,” Emeravwe nodded as she polished a table in one of the offices in the Maidens’ Compound. She whispered, “He will meet us tonight in the Eunuchs’ Compound.”

“The Eunuchs’—!” Akpokene looked alarmed, then a mischievous grin took her features, and Emeravwe knew she was excited at the thought of sneaking into the Eunuchs’ Compound. “And where did you meet such a kind Eunuch? I daresay it is hard to meet anyone while bent over scrubbing floors!”

“I met him when I was still an Omote-in-training,” she lied. “He helped me one day when the other Omote were harassing me.”

Akpokene sighed. “Yes, those were difficult days.”

Submitted: July 19, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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