Written By Sher Trott-Bailey.
“Hey Zolokhan are you coming to the Wengua River?” Cousin Kitabı asked the young prince.
“I’m not feeling like going today Kitabı.”
The young prince who had recently been scolded by his Father was still upset in his young heart. Ever since his mother died and his aunt became the new queen, everything just felt colder. He tried to like his stepmother, he wanted so much to feel the warmth when she embraced him. However, he knew in his heart, that even if everyone said he was young and grieving, he knew that woman did not love him. Oh, she made a fine show of coddling him and favoring him but it was all an act. The prince just wished his father could also see.
Lost in his tumultuous thoughts, his young heart heavy, he remembered the heated words exchanged between his grieving father and him.
“Zolokhan I expect you to be a great king and that starts with you being a great son!”King Titan said coolly to his young son.
“How can you contradict the Elders so openly especially at your age? It was your mother that reported it to me or else I would have some unknown grudges festering amongst the Elders.” King Titan said and continued staring down at his son.
“That woman is not my mother! And if I am to be the Great King that you want me to be one day it will not be by licking the boots of our Elders father” Zolokhan replied heatedly.
“You already want to make me into a tamed king father” Zolokhan replied
“What are you saying? Are you insulting even me now? Am I a tamed king? King Titan asked seethingly.
Though Zolokhan knew this was his father’s nature, to become extremely calm when he was fumingly angry, still…something in his gut forced him to answer on, even knowing the consequences.
“The answer to that you know within yourself father” the young prince stated.
“Get out, Get out! Get Out! Get out now! I don’t want to see your face until you have learned some respect for me and the Elders!”, King Titan shouted.
“Maids, Prince Zolokhan shall live on a diet of bread and water for the next three months, he is to have no delicacies and at the upcoming festivities, he is to be served bread and water in front of everyone. All slaves, servants, and warriors shall be served an extra helping of meats and delicacies on those days. This is my punishment for the impertinence of Prince Zolokhan!“ King Titan shouted.
With an angry look at his father, Zolokhan shook his head and left.
Kitabı saw the look of anguish on the Prince’s face. He had been standing outside and heard what happened between the King and the Prince. Kitabı loved and admired his cousin and in his heart, he wanted to cheer him up.
“Come on Zolokhan, come with us to the Wengua River. You will have so much fun! We might get to see your future bride, Chieftess Katya of the Mwebele tribe. Even if you don’t want to see her at least let’s go see her pink elephant” Kitabi cajoled his cousin
“Mhmm..ok“ Zolokhan answered.
The two cousins ambled away shoulder to shoulder, each step brightening Zolokhan’s mood a little bit more.
“Sometimes I wish I were not the heir to the Kezmizi kingdom.” the young Prince thought within himself.
He looked over at his cheerful and chubby cousin Kitabı and envied him his light-hearted nature. Prince Zolokhan knew that in many ways he was like his father, but they were far apart on their visions for the tribe. Though he was only fifteen, yet the Prince was vastly intelligent and wise at his age. He was a constant source of intimidation for the Elders. Not only was he wise but he was capable in all sports, hunting, and fighting. He was well respected amongst the warriors for he had bravely rescued their men from two male lions, had tamed many wild Rhinos, and frequently rode the backs of the Elephants.
The Kezmizi men were usually built tall and thin with fit bodies. However, the Prince at fifteen was tall and muscular. In short, it was obvious to even the blind that Zolokhan was unusually blessed and gifted. The Kezmizi tribe even had a saying that the ‘golden cub outdoes the bronze Lion’. Meaning Zolokhan outdid King Titan.
King Titan was secretly very proud that his son was so magnificent. He was after all the only son from the only woman he really loved, Queen Lovela.
The King had watched his son grow before his eyes and he had always been a delight. It pained him that they had become so at odds since the death of the Queen. It always seemed these days that no matter how often he made plans to spend time with his son, there was always something more pressing that would come up. This was gradually starting to cause an even wider rift between them. The King’s heart was heavy too, he sighed as he looked over the new weapons and machines that Zolokhan had drawn up and given to the blacksmiths and skilled craftsmen of the tribe.
“Hey, Zolo how come your always avoiding the Wengua River? You know that’s where all the young people of the three tribes meet up. Lots of beauties to see…Plus you never want to see Katya? What’s the big deal? Everyone knows you two are to marry.“ Kitabı labbered on and on.
“Anyway, I hear it’s rare that anyone sees her at the Center spot where we meet up…. but some say she frequents the swirl pool part of the Wengua River a lot,” he informed Zolokhan.
Kitabi always prided himself on knowing all the social happenings of the three tribes and took the opportunity to show off in front of Zolokhan.
Zolokhan listened to his rambles and chuckled within himself. He remembered when he was three and had been at Katya’s trial with his mother. She had told him then that the baby in the basket was to be his future wife. He had been reminded throughout the years but had never been really interested. That was until a few months ago when he had turned a man on his fifteenth birthday according to his tribes tradition. Suddenly he wanted to see her more than anything in the world.
Throughout the years he had only heard tales about her great feats and adventures. He had heard a few of the visiting relatives who married Mwebele men gush about the Chieftess’ growing beauty but all his information was second hand.
So about a week after his manhood initiation ceremony, he had packed some supplies and took off into the wilderness. He feared none of the wild animals and was already intimately aware of many of the geography of the territories. He told no one of his departures but left a note to his father explaining that he would be back in about a week’s time.
He travelled two nights to reach the swirl pool of the Wengua River and camped in the territory of the Elephant clan.
On the evening of his third day out, he saw the most amazing thing! A girl dove off the cliffs of the waterfall right into the heart of the swirl pool.
He remembered for the first time in a long time feeling so helpless. He was so stunned that his mind could only wonder why the girl wanted to kill herself ohhh?
Everyone knew the swirl pool was a place of death for anyone or anything that got caught in it. As he saw her body disappear into the deep depths, the terrifying swirl engulfing flesh, Zolokhan snapped to action. He remembered he had a rope, he screamed out while grabbing and throwing the rope to the mouth of the sweeping water. He peered his eyes out looking for even a glimpse of the girl’s figure but nothing. Stunned he fell to his butt on the river banks completely speechless from what had transpired in what felt to him like a lifetime… but was in fact only a short minute.
“What’s that tapping on my shoulder” his brain tried with might to prod him to think a few more minutes later.
Slowly coming out of his stupor he realized that someone was standing in front of him and tapping him on his shoulder. Never in his wildest thought would he think to see the same girl standing in front of him.
“Have I gone mad?” He wondered. “Am I seeing a Sartu (ghost)? Pull yourself together Zolokhan, Pull yourself together!“ he mumbled.
“I am not dead my friend, I simply went for a dive” a confident and matter-of-fact statement slapped Zolokhan back into himself.
“Are you crazy? You are crazy! No man much less a girl has ever thought to dive into the swirl pool! I thought for sure you wanted to kill yourself! How did you even survive such a thing?“. Zolokhan was so astonished and confused at the same time that his rapid-fire questions came out in a loud accusation.
“I think you should calm down first and then we can talk young warrior. I am very cold after my swim can you make a fire for us? “The young girl calmly replied.
He could not explain it fully but hearing her talk filled his soul with such peace. He quietly got up and went to gather some wood and dry trash. After the fire was built, the young girl unpacked a wrapping of goat meat and milk and passed it to the prince.
She then glibly introduced herself and began her story.
“Hi, I’m Katya and that elephant over there is Quanza. I dive into the swirl pool all the time, ever since a year ago. I would always come exploring here and one day a frightened gazelle threw itself off the cliffs into the swirl pool and was quickly sucked under. After the sight I went on about my walk, about a ten minutes walk down the river I saw the same gazelle pop up its head at the river banks, tired but unharmed. I thought over it for weeks and one day I decided to drop a log tied with red cloth into the swirl pool. Then I went to the spot where I saw the gazelle had washed up and sure enough there was the log with the red cloth.“
She paused to cut some more goat and eat. She then patted her friend Quanza behind the ear and scratched the side of her leg. Zolokhan watched in silence, waiting to hear the rest of her story.
“ I kept trying and dropping other things and there were only two times that I did not see those things come up by the river bank. So one day I just dove in, holding my breath not fighting against the current. I found out that the swirl pool smoothly carried me through a wide underground cave and flushed me out at the river banks.“ Katya animatedly told him her story using her hands and body to make the movements.
When she swirled her body to show how she went through the swirl pool Zolokhan couldn’t help but chuckle. She was so into telling her story. Zolokhan looked at Katya quietly trying to absorb her wild story and also the fact that this was the Katya he had come looking for.
He remembered they ate their meal by the fire as she told her story, then told him she had to leave before it got dark or else Chieftess Dedoka would worry about her. That was the first and last time he had seen her since then.
He remembered as he watched her and her pink Elephant ride away, she cheekily stood upside down on her hands with a big grin on her face and said.
“Bye bye young warrior”
He laughed, a big hearty laugh and shouted, “we will meet again Katya”
“I hope so young warrior, let’s dive together next time” she called out. Zolokhan nodded as she disappeared.
He stayed by the river for three more days but she never came and he eventually returned home to his tribe.
Caught up in his memories, he brought back his mind to the present here and now with Kitabi. The prince wondered if he would really see her today? His heart jumped at the thought. All thoughts of the fight with his father were gone and replaced with the thoughts of the brave girl.
It took them an hour to reach the center of the Wengua River. When he and his cousin arrived there were already plenty of young tribe members there..
Now the Kezmizi, Mwebele, and Mabutu tribe were all neighboring allies. The marriage alliance between Mwebele and Kezmizi tribe would cement the continued unity of the two tribes even more. Both ancestors had agreed that the tribes would accept the governance of the King and Queen of the Kezmizi tribe as long as the queen was always the Mwebele Chieftess. Both tribes shared many common customs and traditions so the integration would be fairly easy.
The Mwebele tribe was considered very powerful because of their Chieftess and their vast army. Since the existence of the tribe only males were born to the wives of the Mwebele men. Which made their army very large. With this constant supply of males the army had young men always ready to train and work, middle aged men to lead and older heads to impart wisdom.
The only female born into the tribe was the next Chieftess and this only happened once every forty years at the time of the Kendu storms. The Chieftess was revered and honoured amongst the tribe. She was believed to be the symbol of peace and prosperity for the tribe. All members of the tribe were ruled by the Chieftess.
Hence the Mwebele men married women from neighboring tribes. They were renowned for living long lives and being great hunters. Thankfully they were a people of peace and happiness. There was a popular saying ‘if Mwebeles feet don’t move or their drums don’t beat you can come prepared to sleep’ meaning that no celebration was complete without Mwebele dancers and musicians.
The next neighbouring tribe was the Mabutu tribe. They still carried the stigma of King Agwele’s treachery and we’re treated as servants to both the Mwebele and Kezmizi tribe. Kezmizi tribe refused to marry any of their girls or boys to the Mabutu tribe. Hence only Mwebele tribe would intermarry and even then it was a rare occurrence that needed the approval of their Chieftess.
So when all the young people met up at the centre of the Wengua River, the girls from the Mabutu tribe could only cast longing glances at the handsome Kezmizi boys and prince. A group of Mabutu boys grumbled amongst themselves when they saw Zolokhan arrive. This group included the three Princes of the Mabutu tribe. The firstborn and heir to the Mabutu throne was Vulcan, and then there were his twin brothers Darjan and Warsax.
“Vulcan, this Kezmizi prince struts in here, and everyone acts like he is some god! I can’t stand the sight of him! Why must we bow our heads to him in the future!”
“Warsax, keep your anger hidden! This is not the place for you to talk so loosely” the older Vulcan replied.
“But brother is right Vulcan!“ An adamant Darjan jumped in.
Prince Vulcan sighed internally, sometimes these two really got on his nerves. Being born twins they had a closer kinship with each other than with their older brother. They were also notoriously quick tempered and always covering for each other. Despite his attempts at several “accidents” throughout their lives they had managed to escape each time. Where there was one their was the other. So for a time Vulcan decided to cool it with his murderous plots and instead befriend his brothers. The time would come when he would deal with them again.
Why would he want to kill his brothers you might ask? The reasons are obvious, they are children of a slave woman his father had impregnated causing his Queen mother to kill herself. His father always loved and favored them more while he was viciously stern with Vulcan. This had brewed hatred in his heart. But most importantly he did not want these two buffoons to have desires for his future throne. He was already biding his time with their father, two more years and he would set his plans into motion to get rid of all of them- one by one.
Vulcan knowing how to appease and reel in these fierce hyenas smirked and told them to come closer
“I never said we couldn’t have some fun with the Prince, I’m sure a broken arm or leg won’t kill him” Vulcan whispered
“Brother your too good, what is the plan?” Darjan asked.
“Let’s watch him for now, if we can get him to stand by the shrouded river banks, then you two can roll some rocks over the cliff’s edge but don’t get caught,” Vulcan answered.
“But brother how will we get him over there?” Warsax interjected.
“I hear the prince loves being a hero, get that girl in the red, Kadija, to run to him for help claiming that a crocodile has grabbed a child, but tell her to be discreet and only do it when he is alone. I will overhear and volunteer to go with him to help.” Vulcan ordered.
“Yes sounds good let’s teach this proud buffalo a lesson!” The twins slapped hands in agreement.
“Go and tell that girl Kadija, remember to be discreet. Tell her to quickly disappear while we’re looking around for the child” Vulcan whispered
“Ok brother” they answered in unison, always happy to do mischief.
Vulcan watched as they rambled towards Kadija stopping at a couple of other groups first and chatting before joining Kadija’s group. At least the two idiots knew not to be obvious.
Vulcan slowly made his way towards Prince Zolokhan, the two were hot competitors at the yearly festivals. Zolokhan however would always manage to best him at more events. Even in the debates, he was no match for Zolokhan. This was a bitter, soul-angering feeling for Vulcan. He was already three years Zolokhan’s senior with his 18th birthday arriving three full moons from today. How could this boy be of a match to him in size and mental wit!
Kadija watched the dark thoughts rolling through Vulcan’s mind. She loved everything about him but he only remembered her it seemed when he needed her for one of his schemes. He was so focused on beating Prince Zolokhan at all things it was like a mad fire within him. She knew within herself that it was a losing fight. All could see that Prince Zolokhan stood head and shoulders above all men. The only way to take down such a mighty foe were through lots of collusion and foul play. Even then it was a dangerous game that could lead to sure death.
When the twins explained the plot she had already agreed years before. She thought back to when Prince Vulcan had rescued her from an angry warthog. That day she had been so scared. As a Mabutu woman she knew how to fight but no amount of stones would dissuade the angry mating male hog. Bloody and running she had sought the refuge of tree but there was none in the thick grassland. She remembered stumbling her legs tired from running, her heart burning in her chest, out of breath but high on adrenaline; her last thought
“is this how I’m really going to die, I haven’t even loved Vulcan”
It was then that a powerful spear went straight through the belly of the charging warthog. Stunned it reared on its hooves and collapsed to the ground. Kadija could hear it taking in its last heavy breaths, then it was dead.
That’s when she turned to see him, Prince Vulcan. She watched as he removed the spear from the animal, and cut its neck. Using ropes he tied the legs together. The Mabutu tribe used tamed Zebras for transport and the prince hoisted the heavy hog on the backs of two yolked zebras.
“Have you gotten back your nerves?” The prince asked.
Nodding was the only reply Kadija could give.
“Can you walk?“ He asked next.
Kadija got to her feet, her ankle a bit sore.
This she did not tell the Prince, but bearingly walked forward, sweat immediately gushing down her forehead from the pain.
“If you walk on it all the way home it will only get worse. Come lean on my shoulders and take the pressure off the foot.” He gestured for her to come closer.
She did not know when or how she had passed out. She just remembered feeling soothed by the scent of him, the feel of his arms against her cheek, and his strong arm around her waist as he helped to support her weight. It was her mother that excitedly told her the news of his arrival with her in his arms. He had sent the Zebras ahead with the meat as they knew their way home.
There were no predators in the area so Vulcan had no qualms about his pets. Carrying Kadija bridal style he looked down on the beautiful girl and hated what he felt in his heart for her.
How could he be just like his father! he thought.
“Why?Why?” he asked within himself,
Why of all the beautiful girls in his tribe… why was it only her that he loved? Why did he even love her in the first place? She was from a poor family in the tribe. He needed a queen who could handle the burdens that would come with placing the Mabutu tribe in the most honorable position once more. Breaking the union between the Kezmizi tribe and the Mwebele tribe would be no easy feat, how could a mere slave girl help him.”
As it was he had begun to send out secret envoys to gather wild men for hire to be secretly trained and sustained by him.
“I cannot get distracted by this girl.” With these thoughts in mind, he delivered the girl to her mother and quickly told the story of what happened.
Later on he returned personally with meat from the warthog and gave to the old woman. While she thanked him happily and rushed about to begin smoking the meat for preservation, he went into the tent to look at Kadija.
“A life for a life, I have repaid you my debt. You rescued me from drowning when we were kids, yet neither you nor I ever told anyone” a loud sigh escaped his lips.
“I hope I don’t need to rescue you again beauty” with those last words on his lips he left her presence.
Coming back to the present task at hand, Kadija blocked the memories. Today with so many gathered at the Centre Kadija wondered at the timeliness of the plan, but she quickly buried her thoughts and looked for her opportunity to approach the Prince.
In her heart, she did not hate Prince Zolokhan but she did feel hatred for the way Mabutu tribe was being constantly looked down on. She felt hatred for the Mabutu tribe having to pay homage to the other tribes and for them being treated as pariahs for intermarriage.
She hated being looked down upon even here when everyone gathered at the Center. Prince Vulcan looked down on her, her tribes people looked down on her and her mother for their poverty. All her life it had been like this, she wanted it all to stop.
She ambled towards the shrouded area of the river and waited. She spotted a chance to approach Prince Zolokhan as his fat cousin had left to flirt with a girl. Searching out the crowd her eyes met with the blazing silver irises of Prince Vulcan. With a nod the plan began, Kadija watched as Prince Vulcan approached Zolokhan. She briefly overheard Vulcan jesting about the upcoming archery contest at the festival. It was then that she approached not to hurriedly so as to alert others but with enough concern on her face to convey urgency.
“Prince Vulcan, Prince Zolokhan can you please help me… I went to the river with Zenana. I turned around to look for some dingleberries and when I looked up I couldn’t find her. I know there are crocodiles by the river I’m really nervous. Can you please come and look.”
Kadija spoke softly her chin wobbling and her eyes watering.
Prince Zolokhan immediately told her to lead the way. Vulcan took the chance to signal to the twins with a nod to begin their part of the plan