I flew through shortcuts, nooks and crannies with my dega fastened at my back, readied for the draw. Chaos waxed around me as villagers jumped in through windows and popped out from behind hidden doors and ventilation gates like daisies, madly destroying everything around them. The goats’ numbers never seemed to let up, and they became too massive for the palace guards to deal with alone. Well, once the palace defense team takes control, the rebels won’t stand a chance. Our men were trained to kill from the age of eleven.
As I made my way to my master’s chambers, I paused from a top outer hallway and peered down to the open space of the main greeting hall. Never had the palace been under such duress. Men with slings and arrows hanging from chandeliers; men fighting with degas, boughs, bloody axes, stones and large branches, using dead bodies as shields; men with severed limbs using whips and chains; men with torches on horseback in the dining rooms; men fighting with wheelbarrows, baby carriers and kitchen cutleries; everyone fighting desperately until they fell upon their ill-fated destination: death.
One of the sling-shooting chandelier dwellers, a young Moudera boy, struck every guard or defenseman he targeted. He couldn’t have been any more than eight years old. He’d been taught Davidian shooting tactics, for he targeted big men and struck them directly between the eyes. Like finger-snapping, the boy decimated ten to twelve unsuspecting victims in a row, using bits of chandelier glass, killing his victims upon impact. He easily claimed more lives than anyone else in the palace, and he could have attained legendary numbers if the young assassin hadn’t died by his own tactics. As blood dripped from his eyes, he pulled out a gory piercing arrow from his back before falling from the ceiling to the floor.
During every meal he stood there watching us, stiff as a post, waiting to attend to us. Asking him to sit and join us would go against years of unspoken tradition. But today I felt bold.
“Saab, join us,” I said loud and clear, pointing to the empty chair beside me. I think the word ‘join’ may have been a little too inviting. Low tense murmurs broke out around the table as most guests shifted uneasily in their seats. A junior councilman sitting not too far from me flushed red and looked to the senior councilmen to say something. Saab rightly remained perfectly still.
“How dare you insult your own rank of royalty like that, boy?” the junior councilman snapped as he rose to his feet. Wait a minute. Who was this guy? He can’t talk to me like that, right? For all intents and purposes I was part of the royal family.
“Actually, I prefer to stand, Master,” Saab muttered, looking at the junior councilman apprehensively.
“Sit,” I repeated to Saab in a more commanding fashion with a curt nod.
“You will not sit!” ordered the junior council- man harshly, causing a gasp or two among the other guests. The situation began to catch Uncle Pan’s attention. His dark eyes lifted slowly and heavily from his plate.
“Don’t mind him, Saab,” I chuckled, waving a hand at the junior councilman.
“Don’t mind me?” the councilman bellowed, his hands now claws facing his chest and his narrowed eyes flickering with anger. “You’d better mind me, damn it!” Everyone looked up at him bewildered, but I wasn’t going to be bullied by some junior councilman. Saab was going to sit, no matter what. The senior councilman and the lanky official rested their backs against their chairs. Though they likely agreed, they were not going to go down with him now that the Mutaro was obviously paying attention.
“Saab, you deserve to sit with us. It’s your right as a human being,” I assured with a nod towards the chair. I was surprised at how cool and collected my words came, especially considering that my heart now raced heavily in response to Uncle’s indecipherable gaze.
“Who are you to talk about this man’s rights?” the junior councilman asked me crossly.
“Saab,” I began calmly, again ignoring the councilman, irking him all the more.
“Hey!” he yelled, slamming his fist hard on the table, causing nearby silverware to bounce in protest. “Are you listening to me, foolish boy? You don’t know the first thing about—”
“Enough!” interrupted Uncle in his rotund voice, the type of voice that commanded a room without having to be raised. Finally. He spoke with comfortable authority whenever addressing people that weren’t me. He nodded at the junior councilman to sit, and the man abruptly obliged with a smirk in my direction. All eyes flew to the head of the table. The Mutaro kept his eyes on me and took a long slow sip of his wine, his brain working mercilessly. After a bite and another slow sip, the Mutaro motioned for Saab to join us at the table, particularly at the seat I’d indicated. I beamed. Saab took his seat and began fixing a plate.
The junior councilman shot up to his feet again. “I will not dine at a table with that…that…goat!” He folded his arms again. Uncle curled a brow up at him.
“Sit down and enjoy your meal,” Uncle exclaimed with good nature in his voice.
“I will not sit,” was the councilman’s calculated response.
Was he insane? Everyone seemed to look down at their plates simultaneously. The man overtly disobeyed the Mutaro in front of honored guests and did not address him properly. Not a smart idea. The King could have had him killed for banging so brutally on the royal furniture.
“Hear me well,” Uncle began with a strained pleasantness. “Not only will you sit, but you will enjoy the meal with a smile on your face. Do I make myself clear?” The councilman remained standing there for a moment longer, sat down for a minute, then threw down his napkin and left the room without being excused. Uncle raised a hand to hush the worried whispers. “Kiron,” Uncle called to the lanky military official after another bite.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Have the dungeon boys bring me his ears.”
We entered the big white–walled kitchen and sat at a table of pure silver. Three West African girls glared at us as they washed the dishes. I ordered one to fix something for me and Samiyah, who felt uncomfortable having some- one else serve her. She’d have to get used to it here. The girls gave us water and pounded yam with slimy okra soup and goat meat. They had acquired a good deal of fame for their cooking, and I sure was hungry. I didn’t like that they had a rude habit of staring.
After we prayed to our God to bless the food, I waited a moment to see if she’d begin eating be- fore me. The West African women gave a daunting look that made the girl shiver. I ordered them to go about their business, but they simply stepped back a few paces and continued watching. Samiyah attempted to touch her pounded yam with her hands, and before I could say anything, one of the West African girls stepped up and brutally slapped Samiyah’s hand away, spitting out harsh words in her foreign tongue. Samiyah winced with panic, looking to me.
“You must wait for me to begin before you can begin,” I informed her as she frightfully nodded her head. I slowly took my spoon, scooped up some yam, dipped it into the soup, and ate it. As expected, it was delectable. Samiyah raised her hand to the food and took a chunk of it in her fingers. The West African girl slapped her hand again, spitting more harsh foreign jargon at her. Samiyah jumped out of her chair.
“What did she say?” she shrieked, betraying a look of fear. The other two girls laughed hysteri- cally.
“Here, in the house of royalty, we use these utensils.” I held up my spoon and smiled with delight. This was fun.
“Oh,” she exhaled and sat back down. She then picked up her spoon and prepared to gouge into the yam. The West African girl darted towards her again, yet Samiyah jumped out of the way before she could get slapped again.
“What did I do wrong now?” she whined dread- fully as she stared down at the food.
“No one dares to eat with their left hand,” I said. “I know,” she replied breathing heavily.
“Then why did you lift your spoon with your left hand?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know the customs here. I don’t know anything!” She wanted to cry, and the West African girls didn’t blink as they stared at her. My previous frustrations with Samiyah vanished completely by now, and I couldn’t help but laugh heartily at the situation.
Ali wasted no time with formalities. He took his dega in his left hand and swiftly slashed upward diagonally from right to left, leaning into his left hip. Stepping forward with his right leg, oriented himself for the stance of his second strike. See, to parry with the dega is an art, a dance, and when it is taught to young boys, it is taught as such…as a series of dance phrases and ballet clauses held together by two-step conjunctions to create different choreographed sentence structures.
I blocked his blows accordingly, only fighting defensively, for I served Ali just as much as I served Chad and could never forgive physical harm to either. I also improperly clenched my dega with both hands for much of my tango with Ali, since in all my experience I’d never come across a skilled left-handed combatant. It also did not help that Ali was far sharper and quicker than me in the dance of the dega.
We clinked and clanked against one another with strained agility, but my noble attempts did not last as long as I would have liked. Ali succeeded in ramming the sensitive part of my knee against the bedpost, ripping skin and cracking bone. He also did well in nicking me deeply just below my left ribcage. A white-hot current of agony boiled from the small of my back to the base of my neck. Stunned by the vicious blow, my dega slipped to the floor. I hit my head against the wall with a loud clack and could not get up for the life of me. Just like that, I was out of commission.
Ali’s feral green eyes flew over to Chad, who’d honorably stayed out of the dance, bracing himself from any stray blows. “Tell your people to bow to me, and I may spare your life.”
[End of Excerpt]