Excerpt for Royal Cowries (Cowries Series #1) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Royal Cowries


(Cowries Series #1)





STELLA EROMONSERE-AJANAKU



Flirty & Feisty Romance


Feel the passion









Royal Cowries

(Cowries Series #1)


Copyright © 2015 Stella Eromonsere-Ajanaku

All rights reserved.


No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


This book is mainly a work of fiction and some facts. Some names, characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious. However, there are references to real places and real persons, who are no longer alive.


Dedication


My gratitude to you, O Lord is eternal. You are worthy O Lord.


appreciation


Endless thanks to my handsome, generous and romantic husband, ‘Sere and my brilliant children. You are my beloved and I’m blessed to have you in my life. God bless you time and time again. I love you forever.


Thank you to my cover designers, Charity Chimni & Maria Lazarou. My editor, Maria Lazarou, thank you. What a delight I find in working with both of you.


Thank you Dariel Raye for your feedback on the original blurb. I’m grateful to you, Dorothy for your feedback on the MS and for the amazing formatting work. Your help as always is invaluable.


To every reader of Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels, thank you. You are precious to me.




Dear Reader,


In the ancient city of Igodomigodo land, the present Benin City, Edo State, in South West Nigeria, Uvbi’s life is intertwined with Nagudia’s, a skilful bronze caster and a brave warrior. The journey ahead is rough and tortuous.


Uvbi and Nagudia’s path collide with unexpected outcome.


You have to read Royal Cowries to find out if fate deals Uvbi and Nagudia a fair hand.


Your comments on this title will be highly appreciated. Please write to me at:


flirty.feisty@gmail.com


Love,

Stella Eromonsere-Ajanaku

Buy Links for Stella’s Books



Loitering Shadows: http://amzn.to/1TFsU5J

Husband to Rent: http://amzn.to/1SisexH

Stolen Valentine Kiss (Holiday Series #1): http://amzn.to/23hbJgP

Kiss My Lips (Holiday Series #2): http://amzn.to/1qbgnLp

Royal Cowries (Cowries Series #1): http://amzn.to/1qz0Vtc

Forbidden Dance ~ Steamy Novella: http://amzn.to/1UVQw7u

Holiday Series (Books 1 & 2): http://amzn.to/1Wh0zmR

Tempting Desire ~ A Toe-Curling Romance: http://amzn.to/23hbulS

Seduced Hearts ~ A Body-Tingling Romance: http://amzn.to/1qz0zTj

Red Velvet Rose ~ A Valentine Romance: http://amzn.to/25KW34c

Wild Whispers: http://amzn.to/23ZuTD1

Indecent: http://amzn.to/2bUNpvH

His Ring: http://amzn.to/2bEafdn

His Choice: http://amzn.to/2dZzPFJ

Lust: http://amzn.to/2fUIWfh

Love at Christmas: http://amzn.to/2fz3PwE

Short & Fun Stories: http://amzn.to/29i1WkE

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2bKussf

OkadaBooks: http://okadabooks.com/search?term=Stella+Eromonsere-Ajanaku


Author Bio

Stella loves to write Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels that are intriguing, toe-curling and skin-tingling with compelling characters who have heart and soul and jump off the pages. The stories are dotted with unexpected twists and are set in fascinating Africa, enticing Europe & enchanting America. To experience and enjoy an intensely emotional ride or to relieve stress, just cuddle up, grab a copy of Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels and sail away with the characters to Pleasure Island.


In 2010, Stella created Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels. Her first contemporary interracial romance novel; Loitering Shadows was published in May 2010. Others are; Husband to Rent, Stolen Valentine Kiss (Holiday Series #1), Kiss My Lips (Holiday Series #2), Forbidden Dance (Forbidden Series #1), Holiday Series 2 ~ Books ~ in ~1, Tempting Desire, Seduced Hearts, Red Velvet Rose (Forbidden Series #2), Wild Whispers, Indecent, His Ring, Lust and Love at Christmas.


Royal Cowries (Cowries Series #1) is her first historical/suspense/mystery romance. And His Choice ~ A Sweet Paranormal Romance (Cowries Series #2) is now available.

A luxury home by the sea is on Stella’s wish-list.



Praise for Stella’s Books


“I have read Loitering Shadows, and am planning to read it again! Congrats, you really got my adrenalin running hot–” ~ By Orby.


Stolen Valentine Kiss–I enjoyed the romance story that developed, from a lingering look. I loved how two hearts became one and there were moments that I was scared–Lorna and Logan are prefect for each other. It is through loving one another that the healing process for their own painful pasts was able to start. Well done Stella.” ~ Rated 5 stars by Deborah Brandon.


Kiss My Lips is filled with steamy passion, sensuality and yearning, the characters are well defined, humorous, colourful and sometimes crafty.” ~ Rated 5 stars by Vivienne Diane Neal.


Royal Cowries –Believe me, there are twists and turns in this combination of historical life, star-crossed lovers, enchantment, mysticism and intrigue. I think it is safe to say you will not have read anything quite like this wonderful novel.”

~Rated 5 stars by Dorothy May Mercer.


Forbidden Dance is a breath-taking romance novel. The author knows how to hold a reader’s attention–the reader is taken on a whirlwind affair filled with pleasure, lust, sensuality, desire and sweltering sex–a well-written, remarkable page-turning read”. ~ Rated 5 stars by Vivienne Diane Neal.


Tempting Desire is everything a romance novel should be.” ~ Rated 5 stars by Deborah Brandon.


Seduced Hearts: Outstanding book! Excellent read. It's so nuanced, it sparkles. It's definitely worth reading!

~ Rated 5 stars by Russell Mebane.


Red Velvet Rose: What a sweet and tender and passionate story. Two people magnetically drawn to each other from two different worlds and fireworks happened. I loved it. Thanks Stella!!” ~ Rated 5 stars by Lhill.


Wild Whispers: Wild whispers is a beautiful story and…once I picked it up to read I couldn’t put it down until I got to the end… True love as discovered by Adaora and Gary is spontaneous and not bound by time or space.

~ Rated 5stars by Gharriluc.


Indecent: Reading Stella's stories is like a breath of fresh air. This was such a wonderful story about finding love in an unexpected way. Tonye and Elna's story was such a sexy and beautiful read. I couldn't put it down!

~ Rated 5 stars by Layla Morgan


His Ring:Truly loved this story. It's such a sweet love story to read!! I fell in love with Yomi and the story itself held my attention to the very end. I laughed, I cried and I loved the ending!!!” ~ Rated 5 stars by Layla Morgan


His Choice:I love the beautiful love story between Prince Osula and Obigho. Prince Osula is an example of true love, selfless and sacrificial. Stella's first attempt at paranormal is outstanding.” ~ Rated 5 stars by Fisayo


Lust: This was such a wonderful story! I loved the relationship that grew between Jordan and Faye. Their relationship is put through so many 'tests'. I cried, I laughed and I didn't want to put it down.” ~ Rated 5 stars by amazon customer


Love at Christmas: What a fun and sexy Christmas story…this is just a great story to start off the holidays”. ~ Rated 5 stars by Lhill


Chapter One


Uvbi looked over her right shoulder as she dodged the unbending, hardwood branches of the thorny shrubs that dotted the well-worn, bush path. The bed of dried fallen leaves provided little comfort for her fleeing feet.

Her heartbeat pounded like war drums. The fingers gripping the basket on her head started to shake and sweat. So she quickened her steps.

From behind, the approaching footsteps grew louder, masking the chirping sound of the absconding birds. Uvbi knew every twist and turn in this tree-lined path. She had walked through this dense trail often enough without fear. The afternoon sunshine slashed through the hole between two Iroko trees. Uvbi blinked and shielded her eyes with her free hand.

Blades of grass whipped her bare arms but she ignored the slight itch on her skin.

The thought of getting captured, beheaded, and fed to the wild birds by enemy warriors kept her feet running, stumbling and galloping. How could she forget the recent stories of how two maidens were captured? The gods intervened when two Igodomigodo warriors found them in the outskirts and got rid of the enemy warriors.

Her parents had warned her and her stepsister, Ododo, never to walk through this bush path unaccompanied.

If I get beheaded and buried in the bushes, it would serve me well for not listening to my parents’ admonition, her conscience cried.

With one hand resting against her thumping chest, Uvbi marched ahead, her neck turning back to take a cursory look. Tempted to hide in the deep bushes to her left, her feet slowed.

Trees whistled, urging her to carry on.

The beads round her waist jiggled.

Beads of sweat slashed her backbone, soaking the cotton cloth covering around her breasts, while heavy footsteps thundered behind her.

Uvbi swallowed, rubbed her sweaty palm over the white cotton wrapper tied around her hips, and pulled up the matching cotton cloth covering her breasts.

If I were to die here, I would die with dignity, she thought. Still, Uvbi grabbed her basket and broke into a run. A long-tailed rabbit scuttled towards her. She kicked out one leg in front of her and the small animal dashed out of sight.

What a hearty delicacy the rabbit would have provided, if my life wasn’t under threat.

The footsteps now sounded so close.

Uvbi jumped over the wooden stump blocking the path, but her right leg tripped over another smaller rotten tree stump and she fell face down. The woven basket bounced around, scattering the pepper and vegetables she’d bought.

"Ah!" Uvbi screamed, as if her frightened cry could shower her beloved Igodomigodo land with the long awaited rainfall to dispel the suffocating heat of the dry season.


Ω Ω Ω


‘I can’t keep the truth away from Uvbi any longer,’ Uvbi’s mother, Eniye muttered. Her worried black eyes fixed on the bronze plaque on the wall. The plaque of the Oba of Igodomigodo, attired in full war garment appeared larger than a mere man.

Leaning against the wall, Eniye watched her husband carefully remove his protective helmet, and place it on the wooden table by the door to his inner chamber. He had just returned from his usual training in target and field archery as the sun disappeared behind the tall trees.

Her husband, a well-decorated spearman, like every true warrior in Igodomigodo, served the Oba with a sincere heart and unquestionable loyalty.

‘What do you mean by that, Eniye? Do you not have regard for my ambition? Have you no dreams, woman? I have an ambition to be the head of the Oba’s army.’ Her husband’s anger flared, as he removed the long spear from his waistline. He placed the weapon on its resting place at the top of the door ledge. The coveted position to be the head of the king’s army was all her husband cared about.

Eniye swallowed.

‘We’ve kept this away from Uvbi for twenty long years. When do you think is the right time my husband? Uvbi needs to know the truth,’ she insisted while loosening and re-tying her blue and white striped wrapper with more force than necessary, not giving in to her husband’s vague wish to keep the matter secret.

Breathing in and out noisily, Idehen paced the cemented parlour floor, his steps restless.

‘Woman, it is not your place to reveal the truth to Uvbi. I’m her father. When the time is right...In fact, you’ll keep your mouth shut, Eniye until Chief Ubebe’s ready. No one is going to stop me from achieving my goal. Not even you, Eniye. And by the way, where’s Uvbi? I hear she goes to the stream and market unaccompanied. I have warned her to take her brothers with her if she has to go anywhere.’ Her husband’s voice grew sharper and his eyes narrowed perceptibly.

Grumbling under her breath, Eniye sighed. ‘Changing the subject will not work again, my husband,’ she protested. ‘Uvbi went to the market to get some peppers and vegetables.’

In the hope Uvbi listened to her every instruction, she should be back safe and sound within a short time.

‘What happened to the stretch of land in the backyard? Can’t you plant peppers and vegetables on the land? Why must Uvbi go and buy from the market?’ her husband queried, jerking his thumb towards the back door.

Eniye almost laughed but she swayed her head away in time. The backyard already housed yams, corn, plantain, banana and okra waiting to be harvested. Still, her husband expected her to plant every crop sold in the market.

Wearing his trademark frown, Idehen barked at his wife. ‘Woman! Get my food. I have just returned from training under the hot sun, I want to eat pounded yam and ohere.’

Eniye sighed. ‘My husband, I’m not happy with the way you are handling this matter. Every time I bring up this problem, you change the subject. I hope you don’t leave it too late. Uvbi is no longer a child.’

‘A woman should just concern herself with preparing her husband’s food, and taking care of the house. Your daughter’s future lies with me,’ Idehen stressed as his finger poked his bare chest. ‘I’m the head of this house. I make the decisions. You are the problem that I have, a fish bone in my neck. Eniye, let this be the last time you bring this up, or I will spit you out.’

With his temper ignited, her husband strode into his chambers.

Shaking her head and clapping her palms, Eniye walked to the backyard. She scattered the firewood, and blew out the last embers of flame that had kept the cooked food warm. She lifted the lid, stirred the soup in the large pot and served ohere soup with cowhide, snails, bush meat and smoked fish in the black earthenware bowl her husband preferred. Eniye unwrapped the cotton cloth around the pounded yam. With the back of one palm, she touched the pounded yam wrapped in banana leaves. It was still very hot.

She smiled and carried her husband’s food to the wooden stool near the hand carved chair in the parlour. There was already a bowl for Idehen to wash his hand beside the stool. She placed a jar of calabash filled with water by the bowl of food.

A frown whipped across Eniye’s face as she stood at the entrance to her husband’s chamber. How in the name of her notable forefathers was she going to convince her thick-headed husband their daughter was now a full grown woman? Her thumb and forefinger clutched her chin.

‘Why are you standing there like an abandoned statue, Eniye?’ Idehen charged as he stomped out of his chamber.

Eniye stumbled backwards.

Before Eniye could utter a word, Nagudia rushed in with dishevelled-looking Uvbi hot on his heels. The basket in Uvbi’s hands looked as if it had met with an unfortunate wrestling accident.

Oba ghator kpere,’ meaning, long live the king, greeted Nagudia with the quiet dignity of a Prince. No one knew Nagudia’s true heritage, but he carried himself with the grace of royalty and the attitude of a commoner.

Hands behind his back, Idehen’s eyes filled with worry as he responded, ‘Ise,’ meaning, Amen.

‘What brings you here, Nagudia? Did you return my broken spear?’

Nagudia shook his head.

‘No, our father. I haven’t completed the repair of your spear.’

Pointing at Uvbi, he voiced his concern. ‘I heard a loud scream in the bush on this hot market day. When I went after the noise, it was that of Uvbi. She was trapped in the bush.’

Her parents questioning eyes strayed to their daughter’s.

‘I only took the short footpath to the market. Then I heard footsteps as I was rushing along and I fell down,’ Uvbi confessed, while she darted a stern look at her rescuer. ‘He scared me without cause,’ she grumbled.

Eniye hissed and clapped her hands together in disbelief, as she faced her husband.

‘My husband, I have told Uvbi never to take the bush path to the market, or to the stream or to anywhere else.’ Turning to her daughter, Eniye placed both hands on her head and wailed.

Nagudia stared at her parents.

‘Our enemies lurk around those thick bushes, lying in wait to take our people captive.’ Then, he faced the woman he rescued. ‘Why didn’t you listen to your mother, Uvbi?’

Nagudia’s eyes drifted from the young maiden’s head to her well-endowed chest, then to her dusty bare feet and back to her breasts, staring, as if in a trance.

Uvbi’s body shook with a strange vibration and she immediately clamped her thighs together. Why is Nagudia staring at me in that particular way? Uvbi, asked as she searched her heart.

Her breasts danced with excitement to the drum beats of her dizzy heart. This tall man, blessed by God with shoulders as wide as a palm tree, and a body as strong as an Iroko tree made her blood sing in the bush when he lifted her up. Pushing away the stirrings in her chest, Uvbi dropped her gaze.

The room stood still, but only for a moment.

I have never felt this urgent need for my body to be touched before, Uvbi’s heart wondered.

Her father cleared his throat loudly. ‘Thank you, Nagudia for your kindness. Your children will also find help in their hour of need.’ Pointing his stubby fingers at his daughter, he flared. ‘Uvbi go to your quarters. I think I know what I must do to help you behave yourself like a young maiden should.’

Uvbi’s guilt-stricken black eyes darted to her father’s.

‘Why are you staring at me as if you have never seen an Igodomigodo warrior before?’ her father asked in a derisive tone.

‘My father, I’m sorry.’ Uvbi pleaded. ‘I never set out to disobey my mother. I wanted to go and come back quickly. It’s not my wish to cause you grief. Forgive me, my father.’

Idehen caught Nagudia staring at Uvbi.

Nagudia swung his gaze sideways. But his eyes flew back to Uvbi’s as if drawn by a spell before he squeezed his eyes shut.

‘Uvbi, since you want to ruin my good name in this land by going unescorted to the river, and to the market, against my orders, I have the cure for your particular disease. I must tell Chief Ubebe to proceed at once!’ her father pronounced in his most authoritative voice, his head upturned, glaring at the thatched roof.

Uvbi’s expression shifted from remorse to confusion. Wanting clarification, she raced to her mother’s side.

‘What have I to do with Chief Ubebe, my mother? Is he going to take me prisoner…to…to punish me for my bad deed?’

Eniye turned her back on her daughter.

‘That will be all, Nagudia. Thank you.’ Idehen said to his daughter’s rescuer with a curt nod.

Nagudia stood rooted to the ground under his feet. His blood boiled within him when he heard Chief Ubebe’s name.

Chief Ubebe was a notorious warrior on and off the battlefield. He resented everything the head of the Oba’s army represented. With his curiosity inflamed, Nagudia marched out of Idehen’s house with a single contemplation on his mind. What business did Chief Ubebe have with Uvbi?

Nagudia hoped on his late parents’ grave, it was not the wicked business his mind conjured. The trouble was, Chief Ubebe was capable of generating only sinister plots.

As he pivoted on his heels, his gaze caught Uvbi’s. She had both hands on her head as tears streamed down her round face. Her lips wobbled, but her eyes dug holes in his flesh.

‘Father, what have I to do with Chief Ubebe? Tell me now.’

Even as she spoke to Idehen, her eyes trailed Nagudia’s.

Heat and guilt scarred Nagudia’s face as he walked out.

Once Nagudia was out of earshot, Idehen railed. ‘Shut up your foul mouth, you foolish maiden! How can I stand back and watch you ruin your reputation and drag my family’s hard won name in the mud? The gods forbid. I will marry you off to a man who can discipline you.’

Eniye sucked in her breath, unable to hide her fear for her daughter’s impending plight in the hands of Chief Ubebe.

‘What?’ Uvbi cried, her hands on her head. ‘My father, how can you do such a thing? Of all the men in Igodomigodo land, why have you chosen a man who maims, and kills at will to marry your eldest child? If I’m of no value to you, send me to my mother’s people, I beg you.’

Her father marched to the small window, grabbed the wooden frame, and tapped his stubby feet against the wall.

‘I will only marry that evil man over my dead body,’ Uvbi professed with quiet conviction, twisting her right arm over her head to drive home her point.

‘Woman, caution your daughter before I curse her!’ her father roared. Idehen let go of the wooden window frame, and charged across the room. ‘How dare you speak to me in that manner, Uvbi? You will marry Chief Ubebe while you are still alive and able to bear him children. He will teach you what your mother failed to teach you.’

Eniye stood in front of her husband before he reached where Uvbi stood.

‘My husband, where did I fail in my duties concerning my only child? I brought her up the way our mothers taught us. Where did I fail? Uvbi has a will of her own.’

Her husband huffed, his beefy shoulders bounced up and down. ‘Listen to yourself speak, woman! You ask me, where you failed. Every young maiden in Igodomigodo abides by the orders laid down by their fathers. They marry the men chosen by their earthly fathers. Your daughter, Uvbi, has the guts to argue with me. Where are the guards?’

He shoved his wife aside, heading towards the front door.

Eniye fell on her knees. ‘My husband, please forgive Uvbi. She’s foolish and immature but Uvbi will do as you wish,’ she promised on her daughter’s behalf.

Uvbi brushed away her tears with the back of her hand, stood up and squared her shoulders. ‘The battle line is drawn, father. Prepare for a fight, because I will not marry, Chief Ubebe, while blood flows in my body.’ She knocked the wooden stool out of her way, and dashed out through the back door.

Uvbi’s feet rushed through the side of the mud house. She stuck her head round the front to check if anyone was about. There was no one, except the retreating back of the nosy, strong, dark man who scared her in the forest. She ran out of her father’s compound, casting sharp glances over her shoulder. Sure she was not seen, Uvbi followed Nagudia’s footsteps.

‘Do you see the trouble you have brought upon me?’ Uvbi accused the man with broad chest, and narrow waist wrapped in cow hide.

Nagudia stopped and swivelled on his heels, his frown deepening. As tall as she was, this man still looked down at her.

‘What trouble do you speak of, young maiden?"

Uvbi pressed her lips together.

Is Nagudia, such an old oaf as to refer to her as a young maiden? She mused.

‘My name is Uvbi,’ she corrected. ‘After scaring me to death in the bush, did you have to bring me back to my father’s house? Let not your good deed be evil spoken of!’ she rebuked, her chin jutting out, hands akimbo.

Nagudia folded his arms across his chest and stared at her. ‘Are you admonishing me for saving your life? I see you do not consider your life of great value,’ he reprimanded. ‘But your parents do.’ With one hand on the dagger slung at his waist, Nagudia pinned her with his hard stare.

Waves after shock waves reverberated across her body. His presence, the angry posture, his dismissive words, and sharp stare raked her bare shoulders and hips. The breeze from the east blew hot air through her legs, setting her body on edge. Uvbi stepped back, glared at him and warned.

‘I will hold you responsible if my father carries out his threat,’ adding, ‘throughout my life, I have never seen a man so wise in his own eyes!’

His jaw worked up and down and his palm tightened on his weapon.

‘What threat?’ Nagudia asked, alarm in his eyes, but she slipped into her father’s compound without a backward stare.

Ω Ω Ω


As Uvbi’s unforgiving words hit Nagudia with a thud, one hand flew to his chest.

Uvbi’s scream in the bush had driven a rush of chilly wind up his backbone. He had never known a dread so great. Motivated by instinct, he had pulled out his dagger, because he thought an enemy had captured one of their maidens. Little did he know the maiden was running away from him.

When he’d discovered Uvbi sprawled on the red earth, intertwined with dried branches and fear engraved in her eyes, he had almost cursed her.

How could a maiden of Igodomigodo be so careless? Nagudia’s inner voice yelled, but his soul whispered something else, this young maiden is yours. Just as quickly as the thought swept into his head, Nagudia discarded the immoral thought.

The fear in Uvbi’s eyes and voice lasted only until she saw him. She had immediately scowled at him as if he was the offender. Then his anger had ignited into a wildfire.

How am I going to find out about Idehen’s threat? Nagudia worried as his gaze remained on Idehen’s large compound teeming with crowing cocks, laughing hens, bleating goats and sheep.

Nagudia’s throat tightened at the scent of impending trouble.


Ω Ω Ω


Back in the parlour, Idehen wagged his forefinger at his daughter, her defiance hard to understand. ‘Uvbi’s daring me, a celebrated warrior of Igodomigodo Kingdom!’ he boasted, slapping his bare chest three times.

‘My husband, please eat. Your food is getting cold. I beg you, don’t harden your heart against the first child of your loin.’

Turning his head to glare at his wife, he hissed. ‘I don’t wish to eat your food, Eniye. Your disobedient daughter has robbed me of my appetite. Give the food to the goats in the compound.’ With that outburst, Idehen took long strides towards his chamber.

 Eniye sobbed, ‘I prepared your desired meal, my husband.’

Uvbi wished her mother would not allow her father to walk all over her. If he did not want to eat, Uvbi could find use for the food.

‘Ah! My husband, so you’re back from work.’

Idehen’s head turned to acknowledge the greeting from his second wife, the flutter of a smile working its way to his lips. He trod across the small room to the thatched door where his second wife stood with her arms folded.

‘The crown on my head, I have made your favourite dish, just the way you want it.’

‘Thank you, Noredia. Serve the food, and I’ll join you in your quarters.’

Noredia danced her way out of her husband’s quarters, but not without a sneer for Eniye.

Uvbi could swear Noredia listened to the conversation in her father’s quarters, and took advantage of their husband’s anger to wrest her mother out of her turn to cook, serve and be with their husband.

‘Get your daughter ready, Eniye,’ her father barked. ‘On the next market day, Chief Ubebe will come to marry Uvbi. Nothing, and no one will stop the ceremony. I have to secure our future.’

Her mother nodded vigorously in agreement. Eniye did not want to irk her husband further.

‘It shall be as you have said, my husband. I will get Uvbi ready.’

Idehen hooked his first wife with a glare, as if he did not believe her.

‘Don’t let Uvbi step out of this house before the ceremony. Do you hear me, Eniye?’ he asked, holding his ear for emphasis. ‘If you have to tie her hands and legs to keep her in the house, do it!’ he ordered.

‘Yes, my husband. Uvbi’s looking forward to the marriage rites. After all, being Chief Ubebe’s third wife is a coveted position,’ his wife said through gritted teeth.

Marrying her only child off to an evil man was not her mother’s wish. But who would listen to the voice of a mere woman in Igodomigodo land?

Eniye lifted the wooden stool Uvbi knocked down and sat on it. With jerky fingers, Eniye loosened one edge of her wrapper and wiped her tears as she watched her husband’s retreating back.

When Idehen disappeared into his second wife’s hut, her mother slipped to the cold floor. Crossing her legs at the ankle with her hands cupped around her wobbling chin, Eniye’s sad eyes roamed the many carvings and bronze castings dotting the walls. When her sorrow-filled black eyes fell on the covered, untouched earthenware dishes, she sighed in defeat.

‘Once again, I have lost the on-going matrimonial war to Noredia.’

‘I wish men didn’t rule in Igodomigodo land. How in the name of our forefathers, is it fair for a man to have two wives living under the same roof?’ Uvbi asked in a dry tone. ‘And father wants me to marry a man who already has two wives.’

‘This is the world we live in, Uvbi. Each time my husband abandons my well-cooked food for that thoughtless intruder he calls his second wife, my soul shrivels up. To think that the same fate will surely befall you in the hands of Chief Ubebe’s two wives sends raw fear down my bone.’

She held her mother’s trembling hands. ‘My father underestimates me. Fear no more, mother. I don’t have your weak spirit and loving soul. Where my heart is, lies a solid rock.’

Both women smiled.



Chapter Two


Outside his bronze casting workshop, Nagudia stomped his boot-clad feet on the ground, scattering red dust into the humid air.

Anger, like a defiled veil bubbled to his dark skin, oozing from his sinewy flesh. Every inhabitant of Igodomigodo knew how Chief Ubebe mistreated anyone, who was not of royal blood, including his beautiful wives and children. It was rumoured that Chief Ubebe’s heart was as black as charcoal, and as dead as nails. He hoped to God, Uvbi’s ambitious father wasn’t planning on selling his daughter into perpetual slavery.

Dread clawed his guts.

‘Why does your face look like an antelope running away from the king of the forest?’ The voice of the elderly woman, who owned the stall bordering his, reached his troubled ears. Sarcasm dripped from each word the meddling old lady uttered.

Nagudia stopped and smiled.

He dropped the tarnished scrapped pipe joint he had been mindlessly twisting in his palms.

‘Our mother, I greet you. I have a full heart. Forgive me, for my thoughts were distant.’

‘You’re blessed, Nagudia. I hate to see you troubled. Can I help?’ she asked kindly, her worried gaze stretched to his eyes.

He bent to pick up the pipe. Sometimes, Nagudia wondered if she could read his mind. Shaking his head, he wheeled towards the entrance to his workshop.

‘Our mother, I can handle my affairs. Thank you for your concern. Did you want anything?’

Allowing this woman inside his stall, would mean endless chatter he couldn’t entertain.

Her crooked fingers worked the chewing stick up and down, the handful of tobacco stained teeth in her wide mouth.

‘Two things brought me to your shop. Did you make out time to solder my grandfather’s sword? I want to give it to my grandson, Ifidon, who was called into the Oba’s army. It is his inheritance.’ Nagudia nodded.

‘Wait here, our mother. The repair has been completed. I’ll get it for you.’

He walked briskly to the entrance of the inner smaller room where he stored mended weapons.

‘Aisosa, bring me the sword I kept on the second shelf, near your head. Handle it with great care.’

Aisosa, his former apprentice, completed his bronze casting apprenticeship two full moon ago, but he chose to remain with Nagudia instead of starting his own trade.

‘Yes, master.’ Aisosa replied with the zeal of a young man. He reached forward and brought down the artfully crafted, sharp edged sword.

‘I have told you my name isn’t master. Call me, Nagudia. It is my birth name. Don’t change it,’ he scolded in a gentle voice, as he retrieved the mended sword from Aisosa.

The enthusiastic, skinny young man scurried back to the inner room to complete his task of polishing the ceremonial swords.

‘Nagudia! How can a young man call you by your birth name in our land?’ asked the prying old lady who had stepped inside his shop.

‘That would be disrespectful!’ she chastised, clicking her tongue.

Nagudia groaned. ‘It doesn’t matter to me.’

‘Aisosa will call you master, because that’s what and who you are,’ said the old lady as if he had not spoken.

‘He knows our culture. Don’t feed his young mind with strange ways.’

Now and again, Nagudia opposed her views. The elderly woman was always quick to set straight, anyone who trivialized traditional values.

He wiped his damp brow with a cloth.

‘Our mother, my ways aren’t strange. Far from it. Rather, it is the way that gives me joy. My name, Nagudia reminds me of my humble beginning and keeps me grounded.’

With her lips curled in slight approval, she prayed.

‘May your days be prosperous, Nagudia. You’ve come a long way from your days of sorrow. Look at your shop.’

Her eyes swept across the large area demarcated into four sections.

‘There’s no bronze caster in the whole of our land that cast such beautiful works.’ Pride echoed through her words. ‘Down the whole of Igun Street, your works stand out. Your work is sold beyond our lands, to the land of the white man and you teach young men your trade. You are a master! Always remember that, Nagudia,’ she added in a voice that brooked no argument.

Knowing it was fruitless engaging in endless conversation with this old lady, who had firm opinions about everything, Nagudia moved to the main door.

‘I thank the God of our forefathers. What was the other thing you wanted, our mother?’ he asked in a tone, which suggested he had other things to do.

Carefully spitting out the chewing stick coated saliva out of her wiry lips, the old lady leaned on her wooden stick.

‘Day and night, I watch several mothers bring their young maidens to you. When are you going to pick a wife? You’re a virile warrior, noble and of good character. Is there any reason you have refused to marry one or two of the young maidens?’

A frown as deep as iya - the moat round the city, sank across Nagudia’s face.

‘Our mother, thank you again for your concern. At the moment, my mind is filled with more important matters.’

The old woman’s frown shamed Nagudia’s in length and depth.

‘Do you think your late parents would sing our praises, if we sit by and watch you grow old, without taking a wife to bear us children to fight wars, and till our land? Nagudia, it is time you took a wife. There’s a good woman I know that would suit you.’

Walking ahead, he carried the spear to the woman’s shed and waited for the old woman to join him. Many fellow bronze casters shouted greetings to him across the street, and others waved as they passed by. He returned their greetings.

Nagudia was thoroughly fed up with the way the women of Igodomigodo interfered in his personal affairs. What he really wished was for this aged woman to leave him alone to carry on with his work.

‘My parents, God bless their souls, would have respected my decision to defer marriage, till I’m good and ready. Our mother, I have a particular cross bow that Chief Ekpen plans to send his guard to collect in a short time. I have to get back to work.’

Without a backward glance at his intrusive neighbour, Nagudia took long strides to his workshop.

‘I wonder why a strong and hardworking man like you would refuse to take a wife.’

Nagudia stopped, but he didn’t look back.

‘Don’t think I don’t see the way you stare at the fair maidens who pass along this street. Listen to me. Marry a woman whose skin is as dark and shiny as the raven, a fertile woman of Igodomigodo.’

Tucking away a sly grin, Nagudia moved into the repair room. As he began mending the flight grove of the crossbow, his finger got trapped in the latch. He pulled his reddened third finger out of harm’s way.

The angry, dark as raven eyes of the young maiden with skin, the colour of a matured coconut husk, swam into his thoughts.

Nagudia sucked his finger, while he recalled the strange heat that seared his limbs when he untangled Uvbi’s legs from the sharp claws of the forest branches. He could liken her legs to well-formed tubers of yam. What worried him more was that he knew he wanted those legs around his waist. He shook his head to clear the mad images.

Just like the old woman said, he was never in short supply of maidens wanting to trap him for life. Only his need for freedom and success kept his manhood secured in his garment.

But he had a bad feeling about Chief Ubebe’s name being linked with Uvbi. I have to keep my ears close to Idehen’s compound.

By the time Chief Nekpen’s guard appeared in front of his shop, the crossbow was well and truly mended and polished.

‘Take your fee, master. Chief Nekpen sends his greetings,’ the guard announced and handed over one cowry.

Without a word, Nagudia exchanged the weapon for his payment. It seemed each time he made a fuss about the irritating title, more people called him master. The only family who abided by his wish to be called by his birth name, was the Idehen family. For that reason, he held the family close to his heart and kept an eye out for them. Although Idehen was a strong warrior who needed no help, his wives and children needed his unsought protection when Idehen went for training or battle.

For four sunsets since he rescued Uvbi, Nagudia fretted, sensing trouble in the days to come. For some unknown reason, the great demon, fear, has once again reared its ugly head.

When he had found himself in the Wandering Forest at the age of nine after his parents’ death, he had come to know the cold and wicked hands of fear. But that was a long time ago. Udo Otoghile, a humble hunter with a generous spirit had rescued him, brought him to Igodomigodo and he owed Udo his life.

‘May today bring you good tidings from our forefathers,’ declared Osaevbie, one of Uvbi’s stepbrothers.

Nagudia set aside the flintlock musket in his grasp.

‘That’s a good wish from your mouth this sunrise, Osaevbie. I hope all is well. You have missed your bronze casting lessons for two market days.’

In the past twelve market days, Osaevbie had shown tremendous interest in learning the revered trade of bronze casting from Nagudia. As he was a fast learning apprentice, Nagudia often joked about teaching him the sought after secret of the trade.

Uvbi’s stepbrother’s eyes squinted at him, his jaw tight as a conga drum.

‘Greetings, Nagudia. I have come here with a heavy heart.’

The young man said, his words sounded forced from his pressed mouth.

Nagudia swung his head round and caught his apprentice, Aisosa stretching his long neck in their direction.

‘Can we speak without an audience?’ Osaevbie asked, frowning at the intrusion.

Nagudia took in a deep breath. When he judged the young man had a lot to say, Nagudia cleared his throat and called out.

‘Aisosa, I want to go for a short walk. Tell anyone who stops by, I’ll be back in a little while.’

‘Yes, master,’ his giraffe-necked apprentice answered.

Nagudia frowned at him, and Aisosa bent his head, taking a deep interest in his well-worn woven slippers.

After wiping his hand on a soiled rag, Nagudia walked down Igun Street, with a stiff-lipped Osaevbie by his side.

Nagudia greeted the palm wine tapper, who delivered large calabashes of palm wine at the door step of the Palm Wine Bar. Several bronze casters gave him a nod and he nodded in return.

Still, Nagudia waited for his companion to speak.

After a while, the silence worried Nagudia.

‘What troubles you? Osaevbie, speak. I’m all ears. Bare your mind,’ he urged as they strolled past the herbal medicine kiosk.

‘It is my father. He plans to...to punish Uvbi in the cruellest manner in this kingdom.’

Nagudia halted under the large pear tree by the junction. His head weighed a ton, as though a huge coconut cut open his brain.

The scorching heat and hot breeze blew away the dread that plagued him. For a long time, he rocked on his heels as blood rushed here and there in his chest.

Nagudia’s worst fear had been confirmed.

Outside her father’s compound, Uvbi had mentioned her father’s threat, saying, ‘I will hold you responsible if my father carries out his threat’. And she had laid the blame at his feet.

When he had rescued Uvbi in the bush path four sunsets ago, and marched her to her father’s compound, he hadn’t meant to cause her grief. Since then, her piercing dark eyes have tormented him day and night and her angry words followed him everywhere.

Oh, her heaving chest left him breathing too fast now, and again. Not to mention her generous hips and legs, that could turn a man’s good heart into a sinful cave.

When he turned round, the grief-stricken look on Osaevbie’s face almost broke his stony heart.

‘Nagudia, Uvbi has sworn to die rather than marry Chief Ubebe.’ Osaevbie spat on the red earth on pronouncing Chief Ubebe’s name, indicating his disgust for the dreaded warrior.

Nagudia’s hand reached for the young man’s expanding shoulder, and guided him to the shade, provided by the naturally woven branches of the pear tree. He didn’t want anyone to overhear their conversation. ‘When is the marriage rite, and how does she plan to escape your father’s wishes?’

Bile rose to Nagudia’s throat and his teeth chattered to the point he thought they would fall out of his mouth. The sheer injustice in Igodomigodo was enough to kill a full grown man.

‘Within the next market day. Uvbi tells me she would think of a plan. Nagudia, time is running out. The marriage rite is in four sunsets. I can’t sit and watch my elder sister become enslaved under the shackles of Chief Ubebe’s iron fist. I hate that man with every drop of blood in my body. Is he the only man with two legs in this kingdom? How my own father can give out his daughter to the devil baffles me. He must hate his flesh and blood so much.’

Osaevbie folded his arms on his chest and hunched his shoulders.

‘The heart of man is desperately wicked. Who can understand it?’ Nagudia surmised.  

‘I need your help, Nagudia. There’s no better man I can think of to help my sister out of this trouble. I trust you, Nagudia. Will you help me save my sister from the hands of evil Chief Ubebe?’

Nagudia admired the courage and principles Osaevbie displayed. As happy as he was that he came to him for help, he wondered how Osaevbie imagined the help would materialize.

Chief Ubebe is known to callously crush every opposition. He killed to maintain his position, as head of the Oba’s strong army of eighty thousand men. The punishment his wives and children endure with the lash is well known. His servants are mistreated like slaves. His animals are not spared. Although his barns are full of food, it is measured out to his family.

Oh, how hated Chief Ubebe is in the land, but he carried out the Oba’s military instructions with precision and, he was always victorious in battle.

‘Let me sleep over this matter, Osaevbie. We’ll speak tomorrow.’ But I shouldn’t be colluding with Osaevbie against a Chief of this land.

‘Are you going to help Uvbi escape? Please say you will?’ Uvbi’s stepbrother pleaded earnestly, clutching Nagudia’s elbow, pain distorting his handsome face.

Nagudia waved his forefinger.

‘I have said no such thing, Osaevbie. I have promised to think it over. Remember, young maidens must obey their father’s wish. They have no say in the choice of a husband in this kingdom.’

Eyes widening in shock, Osaevbie grumbled. ‘I hope you don’t believe that should be the case with my sister. Uvbi deserves a man who would take care of her, not one who would eat her alive, and make her miserable. It would be better for our enemies to capture her.’

With one hand at the back of his neck, Nagudia spoke through clenched teeth. ‘Don’t speak about things you don’t know, Osaevbie. The enemies are more callous than Chief Ubebe.’

‘Not from what we have been told. I pray for the gods to strike Chief Ubebe dead, if he lays a finger on my sister. May he go blind, and may his manhood not rise,’ Osaevbie swore fiercely, his eyes looking at the bright sky.

Pain wrenched Nagudia’s chest.

‘Osaevbie, enough swearing for one morning. Your lips can’t bring forth blessing and curse. Chief Ubebe will suffer the fate that befalls evil men. You need not curse him. Go home. Let me sleep over this trouble.’ His mind raged afresh, thinking of how best to approach the delicate matter.

‘If you don’t help me, I will fight to keep my sister out of Chief Ubebe’s greedy hands. The man has two wives and nine children.’

Laying his right hand on the young man’s left shoulder, Nagudia spoke on. ‘Our God will help Uvbi. Let not your heart be troubled, Osaevbie. Do as I say. Don’t speak about this matter to anyone. The walls have ears.’

Nagudia looked over his shoulder. Then, he bent his head towards Osaevbie’s ear. ‘As you know, the punishment for helping Uvbi escape is beheading.’

With his head bowed down, Osaevbie clasped Nagudia’s hand on his shoulder. ‘Thank you, Nagudia. Until this matter is resolved, I can’t come to learn how to cast bronze. My sister’s freedom is uppermost in my mind.’

Nagudia nodded.

‘I understand. On the other hand, you need to keep your mind and your hands busy. I will suggest that you come back to the shop with me. You can mend the three arrows, just as I showed you last week.’

For the first time in half an hour, Osaevbie smiled. ‘I think you’re right, Nagudia. I need something to keep my mind off my sister’s impending problem. My mother’s driving me out of my mind. She desires that Uvbi be married off to that wicked man as quickly as the next sunrise. I don’t understand the jealousy that works among women.’

An ache, the size of Ikpoba River lodged in Nagudia’s neck. ‘For a man so young, you sound very wise. Women are different from us. Who can understand their ways? Remember, jealousy is as cruel as the grave.’

‘Not all women are as heartless as my mother,’ he disagreed.

‘Uvbi’s mother has no evil streak. Sometimes, I wish she were my mother. A woman with no jealous bone in her body.’

Nagudia made no comment.

However, the remarkable statement about Uvbi’s mother remained in the pit of his stomach, as they walked back to his workshop.


Chapter Three


‘Idehen! Idehen! Mark my words, you’ll pay for the humiliation you have put me through today.’

Chief Ubebe roared. His grey-haired chest thumped with fury, at the outrageous sacrilege unfolding before his eyes. His starched white garment grazed the cemented floor, as he charged back and forth across Idehen’s crowded parlour. With the height of a giant, Chief Ubebe scared the life out of any man.

Bile rose up Idehen’s throat. He wanted the earth to open up to swallow him, to save him from this shame. Perhaps, if he ground his teeth hard enough, he may wake up from this pain.

‘How can I come to your house, to marry your daughter as agreed, and you say, she’s nowhere to be found?’ Ubebe’s voice rung with disgust. He clenched and unclenched the fist bearing his Eben - his emblem of authority.

‘No man, born of a woman dares Ubebe, and goes free, Idehen,’ he boasted.

There was commotion inside the parlour, and the compound, as men scurried outside to escape Ubebe’s notorious wrath. Within Idehen’s tree-lined compound, packed with erected palm frond, shed of different sizes, women and children placed their hands on their heads at the unbelievable news of Uvbi’s disappearance.

‘Uvbi has escaped the wicked clutches of her aged suitor,’ many bystanders murmured. While some women secretly cheered the unusual turn of event, many men wanted justice for Chief Ubebe, who had been publicly scorned. They feared that the young maidens of Igodomigodo, may suddenly borrow Uvbi’s sacrilegious attitude, to reject suitors chosen by their fathers.

‘My Chief, I will get her from wherever she’s hiding. Uvbi has brought me shame, and she will pay for it. I swear by my ancestors, Chief Ubebe, I will find her.’ Idehen’s shame could not be described with mere words. With his beefy shoulders drooping, and his head nodding back and forth, he looked like the returning prodigal son instead of a distinguished father.

With his staff lifted upwards, Ubebe barked, ‘Idehen, you haven’t kept your daughter for me as we agreed, so you have failed to fulfil your promise. Therefore...’

Idehen quickly spread his palms to plead for mercy. ‘My Chief, I promise, I will find her and bring her to you, bound hand and foot. No daughter of mine defies me, and gets away with it.’

He swore. Idehen’s humiliation competed with his sweating, receded headline.

At this turn of event, Idehen’s seat at the respected elders’ council was threatened. A man whose words were like ashes, would not be dignified with a seat among noblemen.

In his parlour, the seated elders shrugged their shoulders in disbelief at the scene playing out, before their aging eyes. Idehen tried to catch their eyes. One after the other, they shook their heads and cast their eyes down.

‘This is an abomination in Igodomigodo land, Idehen,’ the respected Chief Izekor declared, as he rose to his feet.

‘You have fourteen days, I repeat, fourteen days to find your daughter, and bring her back to this land. She will do as you wish. She must marry Chief Ubebe! This is our tradition,’ Chief Izekor pronounced sharply and hit the ground with his Ada, as a seal of his pronouncement.

‘The elders of our great land never embark on a fruitless journey. It is not done.’

After Chief Izekor’s final outburst, the elders rose up and filed out, sympathy for Idehen’s plight far from their befuddled minds.

Never in the history of the land, had anything so deceitful happened.

The seven elders shook their bald heads in unison, while their wobbly hands struggled to hold onto their wooden walking sticks.

‘In fourteen days, we will gather here again to conclude this ceremony. Find Uvbi!’ Ubebe ordered.   

Still, Ubebe lingered in the room.

‘Idehen, I’m not as forgiving as the elders. If I find out that your daughter escaped with the help of anyone in this kingdom, disaster will visit their wretched doorstep. And if Uvbi isn’t my wife in fourteen days, I will burn down this house!’

With that threat, Chief Ubebe charged out of Idehen’s house with his three fearsome guards following closely behind.

Men didn’t cry in Igodomigodo.

Right now, Idehen wanted to fire a few bullets at the head of the person who aided his daughter’s escape. His head swung around the empty room he had decorated elaborately for the traditional ceremony.

‘Eniye! Eniye! Your blood will flow if you don’t bring back your disloyal daughter!’

Idehen cursed and swore at his first wife. Eniye rushed into the parlour, her head gear tied loosely around her waist, and her wrapper left a clean path on the dusty floor, as she mumbled. Her plaited and beaded hair stood on ends. Tears coursed down her face.

The once gorgeous blue and gold wrapper around Eniye’s wide hips, was now a dusty, orange colour draping the cemented floor. Her coral beads hung raggedly around her neck.

Even though Eniye had hated for her daughter to be given in marriage to the horrible Chief Ubebe, she could not summon up the courage to put a stop to it. Because of the humiliation and stigma associated with defying the men of the land.

Falling on her knees before her husband, she prayed to wake up from this ruthless dream.

‘Did I not instruct you not to allow Uvbi’s bent legs out of this house, two sunsets before this ceremony? Did I not?’ Idehen growled, pacing the parlour.

His wife nodded, her eyes full of tears.

‘A worthless mother that is who you are! You have brought me nothing but disgrace. After all I did for you and your good-for-nothing daughter, you pay me back with dishonour and ridicule.’

He had his fingers pointed at Eniye’s forehead.

With her heart heavy with pain, Eniye sighed. She tried to recount the number of occasions she had brought disgrace to her beloved husband. None came to mind. Except the truth, she could not bear him a male child. But children come from the gods. Is it my fault I cannot bear my husband a male child?

Eniye wailed so loud her cry was heard in the village square. ‘Uvbi has killed me, my husband.’

She wept, sorrow stung every bead of tears. Then she threw herself on the floor. In her distressed state, her arm hit the leg of the wooden table and toppled the bowl of untouched kola nut.

‘My husband, do with me as you wish.  Our ancestors bear me witness that Uvbi ran away without my knowledge, and consent. I can swear at the shrine…I’m innocent.’

Idehen’s heart hardened against his first wife. Eniye had been his sole joy for many years, before his wandering eyes strayed upon Noredia, his second wife, when she hawked mangoes near his compound.

He huffed and puffed for a few minutes. ‘If you don’t find your daughter, and bring her back here in seven days, I will send you back to your father’s house. I’m sure your wretched room awaits your return.’

Eniye sat up and clasped both hands on top of her head. Do you want to kill me, my husband? I will stay out of your sight until I find Uvbi.’ Sniffing loudly, she wiped her tears with the edge of her dusty wrapper.

‘After twenty two years in your house, you want to send me back to my father’s house? Uvbi has finished me!’ She ran her trembling fingers through her thick, black hair, pulled out the beads and left it in a further state of ruin.

Marching away in fury, Idehen stressed. ‘Crying will not solve the mess you, and your useless daughter have put me in. Wipe your eyes and find Uvbi. You’re playing with our future, Eniye. Do you have any idea how long I have waited for this day to secure my position? You know how badly I wanted to gain an upper hand in the Oba’s army. I told you when your daughter was born.’

Idehen sat down on the carved wooden small stool positioned by the door, an overwhelming feeling of defeat shrouded him.

‘This isn’t the time to admit defeat.’ Consoled Edeki, his bosom friend who remained quiet throughout the fiasco. ‘I suggest we gather the youth of the land to go into every house, and the surrounding forests, to find your daughter. Then, we’ll arrest your two guards and torture them. Where were they when Uvbi left this compound? There must be an accomplice in this house.’

‘A man’s enemies are members of his household. You’re correct Edeki. Who will gather the youth, seeing that I have lost my honour? I have no dignity left in the eyes of our vibrant youth.’

Edeki tapped his friend’s shoulders. ‘You’re a brave warrior, Idehen. Prepare for battle. We have less that fourteen days. There’s no time to waste.’

‘Naru! Ude! Where are the deceivers I call my guards?’ shouted Idehen, as he sprung to his feet once again with the speed of a lion.

Only one guard appeared.

Naru trembled from his head to his foot. ‘Yes, my master.’

‘Where is Uvbi?’

‘My master, I slept at night. When I heard a sound, I quickly woke up.’ His head remained bowed down. Naru knew his end was near. He had fought sleep on and off till dawn.

‘You slept on duty?’ Idehen rushed to grab his machete from the top of the window ledge.

Edeki caught Idehen’s wrist, and firmly held his friend’s raised arm in mid-air. ‘Idehen, we need to listen. If you kill him, we’ll lose any clue he might give us.’

After giving his friend’s words deep thought, he returned to the stool.

Edeki signalled for the guard to continue.

‘My master, I woke up at sunrise, and didn’t find Ude. As I went in search of him around the compound, for the reason of the noise, I saw long and short shadows. My head felt as heavy as freshly harvested palm kernel. I believe Ude added something to my drink at sunset. I swear, I have never slept on duty before.’

Idehen jumped to his feet. ‘May our ancestors smite you for this shame you have brought to me. I did you and Ude no wrong except to give you work, clothes and feed you.’

Facing his friend, he instructed. ‘Edeki, gather the youths.’

At the blast of the whistle, twenty young, able men, wielding swords gathered inside Idehen’s compound, chanting war songs.

‘Youths of Igodomigodo, thank you for honouring our call. First of all, throw this rascal into the city’s notorious jail. He’ll remain there until I find Uvbi.’

At the brief instruction, three young men seized Naru by his shorts. They pummelled him with blows and kicks.

Soon, blood dripped from Naru’s cut lips. He brushed it aside.

War chants continued until Edeki lifted his right hand. Like a well-trained choir, they fell quiet.

‘Young men of Igodomigodo, we want you to go into every house and hut, check the roof and latrine for Uvbi. Others will go into the surrounding bushes and forests. She cannot have travelled very far.’

‘Yes!’ the crowd chorused.

‘Anyone who finds my daughter will be given my cocoa land near the river.’ Idehen promised the eager looking men.

His promised reward elicited a strong chant.

‘We will find her and kill her captors!’

‘Go, may our ancestors be with you.’ Idehen prayed.

They dragged Naru along.

But Edeki stopped the crowd.

‘Wait! Where are your sons, Idehen? Surely, they must join the search for Uvbi.’

‘Noredia? Where are my sons? They are the pride of my life.’

His second wife dashed outside and hastily knelt down before her angry husband.


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