Written By Sher Trott-Bailey.
The excitement for the day to start was heavy in the air. The awe of all that was seen yesterday at the Circulum was still injecting the people with fresh enthusiasm. The fights had also now reached the high points with the final fight matches being set. The Mwebele Chieftess would be fighting Prince Vulcan. Zolokhan would be fighting the Mabutu fighter Salan.
There was a high pitch fever in the tribes’ people as high stake bets were being placed on Katya’s fight. Men were pledging hundreds of acres of their lands, cattle, and gold on these fights. The women were pumped up by how well the chieftess had fought previously and was cheering for her. They too placed large bets on the winner, some believing that she could beat Prince Vulcan, others saying although she had done well before, yet she couldn’t defeat the Mabutu prince. Little Tyca, whom Katya had saved from the rhino, and his group of friends were cheering for their hero Katya. There was nothing she could not do in their eyes.
Zolokhan was feeling a little anxious for her today. However, he tried to calm himself by assessing her obvious skills as a fighter. She was very swift and precise in her strikes, this was her strong point, Zolokhan thought. If it came to brute strength, then Vulcan would win, but as long as Katya prevented Vulcan from getting a hold of her, then she could increase her chances of winning.
These were the thoughts passing through Zolokhan’s mind as he warmed up his body for the fight ahead. He was completely unbothered about his fight ahead with Salan. As he trained and jumped kick in the air, his thoughts traveled to yesterday. He remembered how beautiful Katya had looked seated beside him, he was so proud he could have burst. Just looking at her made him happy and he always wanted to be around her.
“You love me already” he paused as remembered her words that day. “The girl was too confident“, he thought as he smiled to himself. “How could he love her so easily? Who are you fooling?“ his thoughts came back at him. Sighing, his heart warmed up.
His spirit was content at the thought of years ahead with her as his wife, with thoughts of children and laughter; he really was happy.
“Now if only his pretty bride would not get beaten to a pulp”. he thought
The thought of anyone even hurting her erupted a wave of fierce anger in him, his training movements took on an even more energetic and deadly rhythm. He swore that if Katya was hurt in any way he would rip through the Mabutu Prince!
“ My son,” King Titan called out watching Zolokhan’s fierce expression, even his lion heart cringed at the fierceness coming off of his son.
Turning to the sound of his father’s voice Zolokhan greeted him.
“İ will need your company soon. İ have a grand surprise for the fights!” King Titan said.
Perplexed at his father’s sudden appearance and news, Zolokhan stared at him for a while. What is dad up to now? He wondered. His dad was very happy these past few days at the festivities.
“He’s gotten some freedom from that evil witch Queen Nebuli of course he’s happy!” Zolokhan’s intuition chirped in his mind. The last he heard her bee-stung face had finally returned to normal size.
“Are you going to tell me, Titan the great?” Zolokhan said cheekily.
“No, No no,” his father said, stomping his feet like an angry child. His childish gesture so opposite of his Kingly attire and bearing, that the two men broke out in a belly full of laughter.
Quickly going for a bath and changing into comfortable attire, Zolokhan’s interest was very high. This year was a special year, but to his knowledge, his father had not hidden anything pertaining to the festivities from him.
“What could be happening at the fights this year?” he thought
Arriving at the grounds where the fights were usually kept, Zolokhan’s jaws dropped. The fight area had been completely transformed. There were now thick tree stumps, some short, some as tall as a man, embedded into the grounds. As he looked farther out, after the tree stumps there were two chariots. Each chariot was rigged to four massive Zebras. Scattered far in front of the chariots were lots of stones of varying sizes, some were as big as boulders.
Zolokhan walked through the gathering crowds to see further. Many of the people’s expressions mimicking his own. When Zolokhan arrived at the end of the stumps to where the chariots were he saw his Father standing with some foreign envoys, Chieftess Dedoka, King Xanoz and Prince Vulcan.
“ Welcome my son!” his father boomed out loudly.
“İt seems all are here except the Mwebele Chieftess, what, she became afraid at facing my son?” King Xanoz spoke out mockingly
Just then a feminine voice spoke out confidently,
“İf I don’t even fear death, why would I fear your son oh mighty King Xanoz” Katya answered emerging like a light from the crowds that parted quickly to give her way.
His jaw tightening, the mocking king could only nodd in response. He was never one to take on others more powerful than him directly.
“That’s my girl Katya!” Chieftess Dedoka cheered.
” Ah here is our very brave Mwebele Chieftess, Welcome young one.” King Titan said warmly.
“ Thank you, King Titan,“ she replied.
Looking around she said,
” Only you would think to change up the games so drastically, I’m excited to hear you explain,” Katya said crossing her hands behind her head.
” Finally someone asked! İ was afraid i had made everyone’s tongue numb.” The king said dramatically.
” This here my fellow tribesmen is a course of trials that will test agility, endurance, and wisdom. This year rather than a combat fight, two fighters will be crowned the winners. The Mabutu fighters Prince Vulcan and Salan will be paired together, while the betrothed(engaged) couple, Katya and Zolokhan, will be paired together. The fighters will have to work together as they will be tied to each other’s arms using these cords.” King Titan announced holding up cords in his hands.
” The obstacle course is in three parts, the tree stumps are the pathway to the chariots. Each team must get across without falling. Once you arrive at the chariots you will have to race through the maze of stones and then the maze of bushes. Within the maze of bushes is a riddle. Solve the riddle and exit the maze bush to win.” King Titan explained.
” This is great!” The men from Cappadocia, Egypt and Byzantine all clapped and agreed.
While the king was talking, servants had quickly erected thick shaded canopies around the obstacle course. Comfortable mats had been placed on the grounds. Stands for elevated seating were also quickly made by interlocking thick beams of timber into each other. These stands were lined out along the sides of the race course filled with stones.
” The riddle will be given out to the bystanders in due time, so that you too can rack your minds for the answer. You of course know that there will be no cheating by helping any of the opponents with their riddles!” The king stated firmly.
“Agreed?” The king shouted.
“Agreed!” The people shouted excitedly.
“Good, Pele Pele, let’s begin!” at his signal the drums began to beat and the people dispersed to find their seats. After everyone had settled in, the people symbolically broke sweet cakes and shared amongst each other.
Zolokhan was now standing beside Katya, smiling at the turn of events.
” İ really want to win young Chieftess.” Zolokhan said to her
” İf i enjoy myself i count that as winning Zolo.” She replied.
Smiling at her perspective, Zolokhan nodded. Taking the time out to take her in, her cheeks smooth and glowing with good health, he couldn’t help but wanting to tease her.
” İ ate a very big breakfast this morning, lots of goat’s milk and boiled eggs, so if I fart a bit on you partner, please don’t get angry,” Zolokhan informed her.
” İt may also come out the other end in a hearty belch, but I know you are not like those squeamish girls, right?” He continued.
Turning her head up to look him squarely in his light brown eyes, her deep brown eyes met his.
Suddenly, Katya let out a big belch of her own. Knocking her chest, she then twisted her butt to let out a huge trail of farts as though making a song.
A stunned Zolokhan could only stare.
“ Excuse me I had tripe and beans for breakfast, I think it’s just coming out partner.” She said smiling a huge unembarrassed smile.
Momentarily stunned the Kezmizi Prince could not say a word.
The Mwebele men were not only known for making great husbands but were also superb innovators. What was amazing, was that they innovated a huge mirror made from special precious boron rocks and used a combination of concave and convex lenses to reflect the game on giant screens outside the arena to the tens of thousands who had far out seats.
The festivities welcomed families from far and wide many of whom preferred to sit under the shaded trees of the beautiful grounds of the prosperous kingdom and enjoy the reflected games versus the excitement of the inner area of the games. The energy outside though was no less contagious. An audio system was invented a few decades ago using pipes and combolac tubes from the Ajanty pine tree. The voice of Zolokhan’s father announcing the new layout sounded like he two was seated outside under the canopy of palm trees
Members of royal families and servants alike spread for over a mile in each direction in the comfort of their family groups. There were clubs of ice transported from the Kilimanjaro Mountain peak which was used to cool the beverages being served to the crowds. Abundance was everywhere and that was what made these festivities special. Rivalries were well forgotten, and social status were stacked aside as everyone rallied for their favorite to win- whether they were from their home tribe or not. Nobody was patriotic, everybody was just there to bask in the fun and all the wealth that the hosting kingdom decided to put on display for all to enjoy. The Kezmizi tribe made this year over and beyond all other years.
Free servicing and refills of fruits, change of clothes for the people, and refreshment for animals were everywhere. The Egyptians, Turks, Hyndistans, Cappadocians, Anuis, Gibbandans, and Mongolian clans could only accept the fact that these festivities and display of intellect and abundance have never been seen in all the land.
The Mwebele, Mabutu and Kezmizi tribe prided themselves on how many languages its citizens spoke, so global guests felt quite at home and most pleasantly surprised to hear the home tongue spoken by the local tribes and in many cases without noticable accents.
The festivities organizers went above and beyond to cater for guests. Large caravans would be sent to live in neighboring countries for 2-3 years to learn the languages and customs to ensure that guests felt right at home
Back at the fights, Prince Vulcan liked the turn of events, there was no great honor in fighting a woman he thought within himself. Now with Salan also representing the Mabutu tribe, they could give a whopping defeat to Mwebele and Kezmizi tribe in one go. All these thoughts passed gleefully through his mind as his arm was being bound to Salan’s arm. After they had been bound, Salan turned to his Prince and said
“ My Prince, your information worked out as expected. Now we have two Mabutu people in the finals.” Salan whispered.
” Mhmm, the Mwebele chieftess was one of the wild cards but surely King Titan’s plan to change the games to two winners proved true.” Prince Vulcan replied.
“Now we will not have to share victory with any other tribe, it’s a clean sweep.” Salan said confidently.
” Yes, we must retain the rights to the trade routes!“ Vulcan said firmly.
Nodding, Prince Vulcan turned to hear King Titan call the teams forward. Turning his head to the side he saw Katya and Zolokhan also moving forward. Prince Vulcan said,
” We were only able to get information about the tree stumps but i don’t know what the riddle is much less the answer,“ Vulcan said.
” We have practiced together for weeks walking on tree stumps, we will be well ahead of them. Plus my Prince there is no one wiser than you when it comes to hard questions and riddles. İt will be well.”
Smiling at the man who was his partner, Vulcan felt relaxed at his words.
“Yes surely they would win”. he thought confidently.
Focusing there attention back to the game ahead, the two men ended their conversation.
“At the beating of the third drum and the drop of the red cloth to the ground, teams are allowed to start.” The King explained.
“Begin the drum beat, ready the cloth.” King Titan shouted out his instructions.
” Make ready yourselves, Prince Vulcan and Salan. Chieftess Katya and Prince Zolokan.” He shouted through his audio system.
” Make ready yourselves, beautiful people and guests, the red cloth is about to drop.”
With those words spoken from the energetic and excited King’s lips, all eyes focused on the dropping red cloth until it finally hit the ground.
Prince Vulcan and Salan moved as cohesively as a pair of gazelle’s legs. The two quickly started by hopping on the shorter stumps. They quickly stepped up on higher stumps one after the other until they reached the tallest set of tree trunks. The men kept a steady pace ensuring that they kept their balance so as not to fall and then having to start over.
What they hadn’t expected was that some of the tree stumps had been greased. They also hadn’t expected that in the middle of the cluster of the tallest tree stumps, there would suddenly be short tree stumps. This then meant they would have to hop down, as they couldn’t jump to the next set of tall tree trunks without passing here.
Looking around they noticed slim bamboo sticks leaned up alongside some of the tree trunks.
” My Prince, it seems we can pole vault to the higher stumps if we can get to a bamboo stick.”
“ Mhmm, we will also have to go back a little to build up some running momentum. It won’t be easy Salan, we have to time our jump right” Prince Vulcan said.
“ That shifty Kezmizi King really threw in some unexpected turns ohhh!.” Salan replied.
” Fortunately we are of the same body height and weight plus we have practiced being in rhythm with each other. We can do it.” Prince Vulcan said, raising their hands the two slapped and grabbed hands in unity. They quickly made their way to the bamboo stick.
They decided that running together in tandem and jumping together from one stick would be best.
Meanwhile Katya and Zolokhan were adjusting to each other as they slowly jumped from stump to stump. They looked at each other in confusion when they saw Prince Vulcan and Salam running back towards them. Looking around Katya had noticed some bamboo sticks casually laid by some stumps. But it didn’t seem needed for anything.
” What are they up to?” Zolokhan asked aloud.
“ There must be something up ahead that caused them to turn back.” Katya said.
” They are very good at running together, as though they have done it many times.“ Zolokhan noted.
Watching as the two men paused a little distance in front of them and reached out for one of the bamboo sticks, Katya and Zolokhan could only watch in awe as the two lifted the stick above their heads and ran at great speed. Suddenly they dipped the bamboo stick to the ground and pole vaulted from one tall tree stump to another at a far distance.
” Oh no! Katya Look ahead.” Zolokhan shouted.
İt was then that Katya noted the sudden drop in the height of the stumps in the middle. Looking further out, she saw that it was repeated two more times. They needed to come up with a strategy fast. İt was hard enough running together but pole vaulting together at this stage? Katya questioned.
” Zolo we need to think, or we are going to be far behind.”
” Knowing my father there must be other hidden ways to get through this course.”
His words sparked off hope in Katya’s heart, and allowed her to calm her nerves. Looking around she noticed that the tree stumps to the extreme sides were all evenly tall to the end.
“ Zolo, look at the last row of stumps to the left side. They are all even.” Katya told him.
Turning to Katya, he smiled
” Your very right, fart butt”
Making a face at his sudden joke, Katya said
” Come on let’s go before i give you another fart song.”
Chuckling the two felt their surge of unity and competitive spirit. Clasping each other around the waist they made a beeline for the left corner. Catching a steady rhythm they ran at increasing speed.
Seeing them rally, the crowds made an uproar. The Mwebele Chieftess and Kezmizi Prince had suddenly started looking like a threat. Katya and Zolokhan could see the backs of Vulcan and Salam as they cleared the last pole vault. Vulcan and Salan heard the uproar in the crowds. Now that they had cleared the last of the short stumps they turned to see what the uproar was about. To their surprise they saw their two competitors hot on their tail. Turning to observe where they were running it was then that Vulcan saw that all the stumps along the extreme edge were even. İt was not noticeable at first because it was blocked by slightly taller stumps but if they had taken some time to survey it would have been discovered.
” Let’s go Salan, don’t let our hard work go to waste.”
Turning and finishing their run, the two men arrived at their chariot first. Looking at the rocky maze ahead, they knew they had to be careful not to dash the chariot against the rocks. King Titan had really set up a confusing path. Some paths seemed clear at first but were suddenly blocked by huge boulders. Other paths were very rocky as it was filled with stones of small to medium sizes.
The Zebras were also very energetic and skittish, requiring great skill to move them through the stone.
Finally, Katya and Zolokhan had made it their chariot. Turning to each other, they smiled in victory. Each very proud that they had made it out together using their heads.
“Zolo, the point is to win the race. There is no rule that says we can’t move stones out of the way. Look ahead. Some of the clearest paths are blocked by big boulders. Look at the side of our chariot we have thick ropes attached.” Katya said
“ Mhmm, your right Katya, with four Zebras we can pull aside the boulders fairly easily if we are careful.“ Zolokhan added.
Striking hands the two shouted in unison,
“Let’s do it!.”
Setting out at a fast speed they approached their first boulders. Quickly they cast the rope over the bigger boulder and attached it to their chariot. Turning in the opposite direction and slapping their Zebras, they began to pull apart the blockage. The unified pair made quick work of their road clearance and set out again at a fast speed. The crowds were cheering, some men along the sides lit fire torches and ran up an down the race course shouting. Those with bets were at the edge of their seats. Some couples were at odds with each other blaming the other for betting against the Mwebele Chieftess. Others were impressed by the wisdom shown by the young couple. On the opposite side many from the Mabutu tribe were also cheering on their tribesmen. Some shouting out for them to hurry up because the Mwebele Chieftess was on their tail.
Clearing another blockage, Katya and Zolokhan realized that after the last bolder, there was a vast maze of tall bushes. They also saw that their strategy worked. They would enter the maize on their side before Vulcan and Salan entered on theirs. Giving the Zebras an extra jolt, they sped even faster towards the maize.
“Zolo let’s slow down a bit before we enter. Then let me climb on your shoulders to see if I can see anything.” Katya shouted to him amidst the shouts of the crowds. Their adrenaline was pumping and they wanted victory badly.
” Katya I’m having a lot of fun.”
“ Me too Zolo, me too” she replied with a big laugh at him.
Their Zebras were high on speed and it took some strong pulls on their bridles to slow their speeds. Katya shouted to the Zebras,
” My friends, you must slow your speed before we enter the bushes. Slow down now.” Katya commanded the four Zebras.
Hearing her command the quad of Zebras eventually slowed their speed and we’re able to enter the maze without trouble.
Zolokhan hoisted Katya on his shoulders.
” Can you see anything?” Zolokhan asked quickly.
” İ need just a little more height Zolokhan.” Said Katya.
” Put your feet into my palms. İ will push you up. Keep your balance“ he instructed her.
Lifting each of his hands while standing in the chariot, Katya stepped up into his palms. She looked over the maze and saw the route ahead. Calling out to Zolokhan she said,
“We go straight taking no turns until we come to a big circle. Then from there we will have to look again.” Katya reported.
Quickly descending with Zolokhan catching her in mid-air, the two sped off in their chariot. A few minutes into their journey two lions chained to big stones sprung out at opposite sides, roaring and swiping their massive paws at the Zebras causing them to rail in fright. Zolokhan used all his strength to rein in the Zebras while Katya backed off the lions. Making it past them, they then went on ahead.
“ Zolo let’s take it a little bit easy, this is no ordinary maze, let’s be more alert.” Katya warned.
Nodding in agreement they continued on their straight path at a more casual pace, looking around. Catching a recurring gleam in her eyes, Katya surveyed for where the gleam was coming from. İt was then that she saw a clear rope stretched across their path.
” Zolo stop the chariot!” She shouted.
Quickly reigning in the Zebras, Zolokhan brought the chariot to a halt. Turning to look at her, he questioned
” What is it? What did you discover?”
“Look there, it’s a clear rope!” She said.
“ Father is really not playing around. This would have tripped us” Zolokhan said. He was a bit perturbed at how far his father had taken the games. Why would he put in the clear rope? İt was dangerous.
” Let’s untie it and move on”
Coming to the circle, Katya climbed into Zolokhan’s hands once more to survey the maze.
“We have to go right, then forward, then take the third right again. We will have to look again from there.“
Following her instructions, the two set off again. Suddenly an announcement came over the air.
” The riddle is in the maze. The first to find the riddle and the answer and clear the maze will be the winner.” King Titan’s voice boomed as a reminder.
As if on cue, an arrow hit one of their Zebras in the hind. İt reared in pain and ran. Zolokhan tried to reign in the animals while looking around to see where that arrow had come from but the injured Zebra was frightened. Katya summed up the situation and by instinct jumped on the running Zebras, stroking their heads, and talked to them trying to calm the injured Zebra.
“ İ know it hurts, but you must be brave. We must get out of this danger and then we can heal your pain.” Katya spoke to the Zebra
” İgnore the pain and lead your brothers!” Katya shouted again and again to the Zebra. The Zebra finally calmed down and became steady.
When the pair reached the another centre of the maze they saw their riddle written on a small board and stuck into the ground.
An excited Katya ran ahead to snatch the riddle from the ground. To her surprise when she pulled the board out of the ground it would not budge. Seeing her dilemma as she pulled and pulled at the board, Zolokhan went to help her. With both their strength they were able to pull out the board. However there was a loud cracking sound after they had pulled the riddle board from the ground. Suddenly they heard growls and hooves coming from their far-right.
“ İ know that sound anywhere, hyenas!” Katya shouted to Zolokhan. Running back to their chariot, Katya called out
“Quick hoist me up, let me see the exit.”
Looking around, she said
” İ see the end ahead, we have to go left and then straight ahead. There are three paths after that“.
They could hear the yapping calls of the hyenas. A group of hungry hyenas was no easy danger to fend off. They would certainly want to take down the Zebras. Their chariot sped up even more not wanting the hyenas to catch up to them.
“Katya, check around to see if there are any other hidden supplies on the chariot,” Zolokhan instructed. The Zebras were getting skittish as they too sensed the danger of the predators.
” We are at the three exits. Which one is it?”
” Oh the riddle! Let’s read the riddle!” Katya shouted.
“Pulling strings it flies straight, to a beating heart it wants to break” Katya read aloud.
” Sounds like an arrow,” Zolokhan quickly said.
” What does an arrow have to do with the exit?” Katya shouted.
“ İ don’t know, but we have to go… I’m choosing the path in the middle.” Slapping the reins, Zolokhan directed the Zebras forward. They sped onwards, Zolokhan hoping he had chosen the right path, if not then
“they would make a fucking path” he thought rebelliously.
“ Zolo look ahead. İt’s the end. İ can see the podium. Look there!….it’s King Titan and the others.”
Feeling elated the two looked at each other smiling as they hit the reigns harder and broke out of the bushes of the maze. They could still hear the coming of the hyenas behind them.
” Oh no Zolo, look ahead! Stop! Slow down.” Looking ahead Zolokhan saw what had alarmed Katya. There was a wide and long ditch in the ground, separating the two sides.
” İt’s too wide to jump with our chariot and with an injured Zebra.” Zolokhan said
“Look, look Zolo there are two bridges! But they are on the opposite side.” Katya said.
“Katya, how can we get the bridges to fall.”
Observing the bridges and how they were rigged, Katya pointed out,
“ Zolo, these draw bridges are held up by those small rudders. İf we can take them out then the bridge must fall.”
İn the midst of their conversation, Prince Vulcan and Salan exited the maze with a hoard of hyenas hot on their tail.
“Arrow! arrow, an arrow….yes that’s right! “Katya shouted her adrenaline pumping.
Hopping off the chariot Katya looked under the bottom and sides of the chariot. At the lower side she found a bow and arrows tied above the chariot wheel. Looking up she saw her opponents throwing stones to beat off three hyenas that broke ahead of their pack.
“ Zolokhan you’re the best shooter between us, shoot these arrows between the rudders to let down the bridge!”
Grabbing the bow and arrows, Zolokhan started shooting at the rudders. İt took four on target hits to burst the first rudder and three to take out the other. The bridge fell down creating a pathway to cross the ditch. Seeing the danger Prince Vulcan and Salam were in, Zolokhan called out to them to follow. Cheers of victory, applauses went up as the young couple cleared the bridge and charged forward to the podium of the race.
The hungry pack of hyenas chased behind the chariots. They were suddenly intercepted and circled by Kezmizi trainers who threw them large portions of meat. While they were busy eating, the Kezmizi tamers quickly tied them around their necks with thick ropes.
Unbeknownst to the tactical duo of Katya and Zolokhan there were two eyes in the crowd that especially grew bitter at seeing them exit the maze.