|Traditional Igbo family compound|
The sun was high in the cloudless azure sky when they left Jide’s lodgings. The ruby clay earth scorched Oma’s bare feet.
She walked beside Jide, her wrists bound loosely. He’d suggested it as a ruse to trap her uncle. She’d accepted that his plan could work.
Yet now, her skin prickled with unease at being bound and unable to defend herself.
Earlier, their intense kiss and Jide’s overwhelming response had confirmed his words and her hopes—they were fated to be together. When he’d pulled away from her embrace and started making plans to snare her uncle, she’d been disappointed. Untouched as she was by other men, she craved physical contact with Jide. Desire inappropriate for a young unwed maiden.
He could’ve taken advantage of her forwardness. Still he remained honorable. Decent. A huge contrast to the fearsome uncaring man everyone thought he was.
Jide had also given her a dagger. It was strapped to her thigh, under her skirt within easy reach.
He’d shown her how to wield and stab with it to defend herself. Previously she’d observed the warrior training. In private, she would rehearse the moves he’d enacted.
However under his keen tutelage she’d quickly corrected the errors she’d made previously.
Now she was more confident handling the knife.
“Don’t let anyone see the weapon,” he warned before they entered the palace courtyard.
The penalty for a servant carrying a weapon was the whip and sometimes even death. Assassins had been known to infiltrate the palace as servants.
A knot tightened in her stomach, her nervousness increasing.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” she muttered under her breath.
They’d initially agreed to confront her uncle at his home in the village. However, Jide had discovered that Ichie Ude was in the palace today visiting the prince. He’d changed his plans.
“It’s the best way to unveil the man’s treachery,” Jide replied.
His hand on her wrist tightened possessively as they walked past the guards. Oma kept her gaze forward and neutral. Her skin prickled from the watchful stares of the warriors.
In the chamber, she sighted her uncle sitting close to the prince who sat upon his throne, a man of strength and power. Perhaps Prince Emeka had lived through twenty five festivals. Yet he had an air of resolution and fairness. A guard stood alert behind him. Another waved a multi-colored fan, stirring and cooling the hot muggy late morning air.
“Why are you here, Jide?”
“My prince,” Jide knelt in deference, and then stood when Prince Emeka commanded it. “I discovered a spy in the palace last night.”
The prince’s lips twisted in displeasure. Ichie Ude sat straight in his chair.
Jide’s mouth was set in a grim line as he drew Oma forward.
Fear seeped into her stomach as Jide pushed her to kneel before the prince. His eyes remained locked on Emeka as though she didn’t exist.
Anxiety speared through her, her worry that he’d broken his promise increased. Perhaps he’d lied to her to get her to reveal the truth to him.
The memory of the kiss they’d exchanged this morning vibrated through her.
Oh gods, what have I done?
She stole another glance at Jide and found his expression to be as stony as a judge’s. A man bent on delivering justice.
The prince waved his hand. Two guards appeared and dragged her forward.
Jide didn’t react. His denunciation hurt worse than any physical pain she’d known.
“Maiden, what is your purpose for spying? Do you not fear the repercussions?”
The taste of betrayal soured her mouth preventing her from replying. She bit her cheek so hard she tasted blood.
“Take her to the holding pen while I determine her punishment,” Emeka pronounced. The guards dragged her out. Jide didn’t even look in her direction. “Well done, Jide.”
For a moment, she couldn’t breath as her chest tightened. Tears stung her eyes. Yet none dropped. Jide had used her for his own purposes. To curry favor with the prince.
Now she would become a prisoner with the possibility of death hanging over her.
As the men dragged her out, she saw the gleam of lust in their eyes as they made lurid statements. She was now fair game for them.
Remembering the knife strapped on her thigh, she closed her eyes briefly. She would fight them. Death was better than being violated.
In the holding pen, one of the men groped her bare breast.
“Get your hand off me,” she warned as she struggled to wrench her hands from the ropes.
“You are now the barrack whore and I will have you first,” the guard replied placing his other hand on the other breast.
Oma pulled again at the ropes that bound her hands.
“Guards, I want a moment with the maiden. Then you can have your fun.”
Oma recognized the owner of the voice as Ichie Ude and turned around to face him. The men released her immediately and backed away leaving her alone with her uncle.
Jide gritted his teeth to control the fury coursing through his body as he watched Ichie Ude excuse himself from the prince’s receiving chamber.
He couldn’t believe the man could remain reticent while watching his niece being dragged away. He hadn’t been expecting the man to openly confess his crimes. Yet, he’d expected to see some compassion at Oma’s predicament.
As Jide watched Oma being taken away, he’d struggled not to show any sign that she was of value to him. He didn’t want her uncle to detect any ploy.
She had the dagger. She could protect herself.
Yet the rush of possessiveness engulfed his sense of reasoning. His hand curled around the hilt of his machete as he waited for the chance to defend her. He needed to keep her safe, by his side.
“Are you in a hurry to depart?” the prince’s voice drew his attention back to his surroundings.
Jide hadn’t realized he’d taken a few steps backward. He was torn between going immediately to Oma and following his plan through to its conclusion.
“My prince, the maiden revealed that her sponsor is Ichie Ude,” he replied, choosing his words carefully.
“I cannot believe that. Ude is a respected member of the ruling council,” Emeka shook his head in disbelief.
Jide’s knuckles tightened on machete.
“He is also her uncle. He threatened to sell her little brother into slavery if she didn’t comply with his wishes.” He knew how much Emeka hated slavery and had worked on abolishing its practice from Umunri.
“This is serious. I must see her immediately.”
“I will bring her to you.” Jide sprang ready to see Oma again.
“No. I will come with you,” Emeka stood and walked toward him. He turned to the guard behind him. “Find Ichie Ude and bring him back to the palace.”
A noisy commotion erupted as they approached the holding pen. Jide quickened his pace.
Oma stood in the middle of the pen. In her hand she held the dagger he’d given her against Ude’s throat. Her eyes were wild. The guards surrounded her with their weapons raised.
Jide’s heart caught in his throat.
One of the guards swung his machete at Oma. Jide blocked the blow before it could hit her. The collision of metal echoed down his arm.
Oma shoved Ude to the floor. Jide dragged her behind him.
“You left me to their mercy,” her anger and hurt were evident in her voice.
“I told the prince about Ude. I was trying to unveil his treachery.”
He swung his machete at the next guard that attacked.
“You said you would protect me and my brother. My uncle said he would be sold tonight.”
His machete cut into the flesh of another guard as he defended another blow.
“I couldn’t do anything to risk your death. And now I’ve shed the blood of my own men. For you. What more do you want me to do?”
The warmth of her back pressed against him. She understood he’d put his life on the line for her sake. He could be put on the stocks and whipped for defending her.
Abruptly Oma left him. Distracted he was nearly sliced in two by a descending machete. He turned in time to deflect the blow.
Ude had picked up a machete and aimed it at the prince who had his back turned. Oma ran to him, burying her blade in Ude’s back. The man dropped to his knees.
“Cease fighting!” Prince Emeka lifted Ude’s machete and raised it above his head.
The men halted, machetes and spears poised mid-air.
“So it’s true, Ude! You committed treason,” Emeka said in a lowered voice filled with disgust.
Ude spluttered blood from his lips before collapsing on his face on the earth.
Jide lowered his weapon and moved to Oma’s side pulling her to him.
Emeka would sentence her to the lash of the whip for spying and carrying a weapon. The thought of watching her suffer was like a knife ripping his stomach. He couldn’t let it happen.
“My prince.” He dropped to his knees and lowered his head. “Let whatever judgment you pass upon Oma fall upon me instead.”
Oma knelt beside him, clinging onto his waist as her body trembled. Her skin became ashen. He wrapped his fingers around her nape, inhaling her scent perhaps for the last time.
“Even if the sentence is death?”
“I will gladly go in her place,” he replied before lowering his head again. “She has a younger brother to care for. I have no one.”
He gripped Oma as if he would never let her go.
“You cannot do this,” she whispered to him, her voice choked with emotion.
He grazed her soft cheek with his callused palm. He looked deep in her eyes telling her he had no regrets. He was doing as he promised, protecting her.
She seemed to have come to a resolution because she looked at him with serenity in her eyes.
“If he dies, I want to go with him.”
Worried, Jide opened his mouth to stop her. She placed her fingers against his lips, stopping him. “You will not be alone in this.”
Emeka who watched them silently spoke.
“You are my most loyal guard. And would never defy me in haste or jest. As a man who has recently been blessed by the love of a woman, I understand how it can distort your view of life and push you to do things you never dreamed of.”
Jide raised his gaze to the prince.
“This maiden means a lot to you?”
Jide nodded. “She does.” When Oma looked into his eyes, he knew she saw the intensity of his feelings.
“For the life she took, she will pay by training with the warriors. I have never seen a woman with her skills with a knife. War is upon us and I would rather have people with her loyalty equipped to defend our Kingdom.”
Jide was stunned to speechlessness. Oma’s wide-eyed expression told him she felt the same way too.
“In return for saving my life, she is pardoned for her crimes. Rise, both of you.”
Jide remained kneeling and held onto Oma’s hand.
“My prince, since her uncle is no more. I would like to request that you grant us permission to wed.”
He smiled at Oma who lifted her lips in a returning glorious smile.
“Granted. But I want my two loyal warriors ready when it is time for battle.”
“You have it.” Jide nodded.
As the prince walked away, Jide lifted Oma into his arms and kissed her with a promise of more to come.
Copyright Kiru Taye 2012
If you enjoyed reading this story, I hope you'll pick up a copy of HIS PRINCESS (Men of Valor, 3) to find out about Prince Emeka and Ezinne's journey to love and why war is brewing in Umunri.
After writing this story I'm curious to know if you'd like to read a full-fledged story about Jide and Oma or see them make an appearance in one of the next books in the series. To help you decide, here's how I pictured Oma at the end of this story.
|Inspiration for Oma (Artist unknown) Source: Facebook|
I found this image on Facebook and it screamed Oma to me. What do you think. Do you want to read about a female warrior in Ancient West Africa. What are the conflicts you envisage? Leave me a comment. Thank you.