Story: Queen of Queens

    Episode 1

    The forest was thick with the cries of ravens; the lush vegetation bore witness to the lovers that perched on the African Oil bean tree that grew her empire of leaves in the middle of the forest.
    His voice was low and comforting as he tried to comfort her. His words were soothing, it was balm to her wounds and she wished she could be with him forever, she wished she could be with this man that she loved.
    ‘Mma, I have told you to stop crying, everything is for a moment, soon, I would have enough cowries to come for your hand in marriage and I will take you out of that prison’ he comforted her.
    ‘Ono, I too, I pray for the gods to favour you, I pray for the day they will bless your palms with cowries, I want to be yours forever’ tears rolled down her supple cheeks.
    Mmaffiong was the love of Onoitem’s life, her mother died while giving birth to her and she had grown up with her grandmother who had later died leaving her to the claws of her wicked stepmother and half-siblings.
    Her father showed no concern for her as he believed her mother had cheated on him with another man and that was why the village deity, Ekpo Nka owo, had decided to kill her during childbirth.
    “I wonder why you did not die along with her, you cursed child” those were the words he used on her whenever she made a mistake but he was careful not to use such words on her half-sister and brother, Eka and Ekpo.
    The only thing that brought her joy; the only reason she lived and had hope was Ono, the love of her life. He was the kindest man she had ever known; his kisses were sweet and so where the touch of his hands anytime he caressed her neck.
    ‘She used the whip on me today again, she treats me like a slave in my own father’s house, I haven’t had anything to eat all day; I get so fed up with life and I contemplate suicide sometimes, but then again I think about you, my star, the man that I love and I find consolation’ she looked up into his face and smiled. It was the smile of a woman in love.
    ‘I know, I feel all your pains and I knew she would starve you again and that is why I brought this’ he lifted his raffia bag and fetched two calabashes and a guord from it.
    He loved Mmaffiong with the whole of his heart; she reminded him of his late mother; the way her hands soothed him when he was worried, the way her words found their paths to his comfort when he was anxious, everything about her filled the void the death of his mother had created.
    And that wasn’t everything that had attracted him to Mma, she was very beautiful; the smoothness of her dark skin was exceptional; it was fine and spotless, perhaps that was the reason her step mother was quick to use the whip on her hoping to scar her beautiful complexion.
    Her face was round and well shaped like the crescent of the moon; her eyes were little white pebbles that had a relaxing softness in them; her nose was round and smallish and her lips were soft, red and plum and when she smiled, a set of clean white teeth and her dimples could melt a man’s heart.
    Mma was not tall, she was short but very round at the bosom and her legs were well shaped like the tubers of the new yam.
    Tears of happiness and satisfaction welled up in her eyes as she stared at the calabashes before her; why did he have to be so kind?
    ‘Ono, my love, you brought me food’? She had lost count of the many times he fed her when her stepmother failed to.
    ‘I am a farmer, though I cannot gather cowries to marry you, you would never go hungry’ Ono caressed her cheeks and fetched a wrapper from the same raffia bag and spread it on the forest floor.
    ‘Eat Mma, eat my love. All your suffering shall end one day’ he placed a soft kiss on her lips and opened the calabashes.
    ‘This is lovely, my favourite’ a smile creased her fine lips as she stared at the fresh and greenish face of the Afang soup and cassava Fufu.
    ‘Here, wash your hands, you must hurry before night falls on us’ he reached out for her hands and poured some water from the gourd on them.
    ‘Thank you’ she smiled and begun to eat.
    The palace of Obong Ayang was crowded with the inhabitants of Ajop Kingdom; the people had gotten wind of the fact that Edidem Okopisong, a wealthier and much bigger regal was paying homage to their king and so they had come to prepare the palace for the visit.
    The youths were to build a new throne house where the two Kings would stay and engage in conversations bothering their lands; they were to fetch mud from the river and raffia from the palm trees.
    ‘As for the women, the Nka Iban, your duty is to fill all the water pots in this palace and you will come every morning to sweep till Edidem Okopisong and his family return to their land, is that clear’?  Obong Ayang’s wife instructed the women carefully.
    “Long live your highness” they all bowed their heads and dispersed to carry out their various duties.
    ‘My priceless jewel, my Ndoko, I love the way you spoke to the women, you’re such a powerful and confident woman’ the King praised his wife as she returned to the throne house.
    The Palace of Obong Ayang, King of Ajop, was a large expanse of land that covered almost half of the Kingdom. There was a throne house which stood separately from the rest of the palaces; it was here the King met his chiefs, his subjects or guests from other lands. A number of seven well-built guards always stood in front of the throne house with machetes, ready to block intruders.
    The rest of the palace stood behind the throne house which included the King’s chambers, the Queen’s Chambers and twenty other rooms as well as the rooms where the servants stayed.
    ‘Thank you my husband, you know how important this is to our family and to this land. We both know how powerful Edidem Okopisong has grown within the years; the Kingdom of Obodom fares better than ours and it is a wise thing to have an everlasting alliance with them’ the Queen replied.
    ‘You are indeed a wise woman, I am blessed to be your husband, why do you think I insisted that his son, Prince Iboro be betrothed to our daughter, Obot, from childhood’? The King laughed.
    ‘I knew a time would come when Obodom would be more powerful than us, I tapped into that opportunity’ he said.
    ‘You are right my King. It is only this marriage that would stop Edidem Okopisong from turning against us like he crushed other kingdoms, I can’t wait to see my daughters get married’ the Queen rose from her throne made of primarily feathers and begun to wiggle her waist.
    The Princess, Obot was their only child and heiress to the throne of Ajop; Obong Ayang loved his wife very much and refused to get married to another woman even when his family and chiefs mounted so much pressure on him.
    ‘Where is your daughter by the way? I hope she is preparing herself to meet her husband’ the king winked.
    ‘What preparation does she need again? Princess Obot has been going to Obodom for visits, I think those two lovebirds just want to be married so they can make love to each other’ the Queen laughed.

    Episode 2

     ‘True, that would be the subject of discussion once Edidem Okopisong comes here’ the King replied.
    ‘Saika’! The Queen called to one of her slaves.
    ‘Yes my Queen’ the girl rushed and bowed before her owners.
    ‘Fetch me the Princess, I need to speak to her urgently’ the Queen instructed.
    ‘I am sorry my Queen, but the Princess left the Palace in the company of her maids and her best friend, Afiama’ the slave replied.
    ‘Why didn’t she go with one of the guards? Why does she have to be this reckless’? The Queen complained.
    ‘Relax wife, she wants to see her father’s Kingdom, she is very free to do that’ The King grabbed his wife’s hand and caressed it.
    Obot was the most beautiful maiden in the land and no woman could rival her beauty; she was tall with slender legs; her eyes were green and clear like the color of the stream when untouched; a reason many thought she was a living goddess.
    Her nose was sharp and straight, it travelled down to a pair of delicious pink lips. Her breasts were not too big neither were they too small, they fit her body perfectly.
    Her belly was flat like that of a starving lizard and her hips were slim but that didn’t make her less womanly; her hair flowed to the middle of her back and when she was not tying it in regal fashion, she would leave the strands of black to cascade down and she would pivot her mane with her crown.
    ‘Your skin is so beautiful my princess, what do you apply’? Her best friend, daughter of one of her father’s chiefs, Afiama asked.
    Afiama was as tall as the princess, but she wasn’t much of a beauty; men only desired her for her large and supple breasts which threatened to fall out of her upper wrapper piece that was meant for the breasts.
    ‘Uri and Mmayang, Shea butter and Kernel oil’ the princess smiled at her friend.
    ‘Your skin glows like the stars of the night and your green eyes twinkle so beautifully’ Afiama praised her friend.
    The Princess’ milky white skin was unbeatable, and she laced it with glorious praise.
    ‘I am tired of walking round the land and answering greetings, we should go to a place I have not gone before’ Princess Obot turned to her friend for approval.
    ‘Would you like to go to the shrine’? Afiama suggested.
    ‘No. I pray to the gods’ everyday in my chambers, what if we go to the forest? I hear it is really beautiful’ a smile warmed her beautiful face.
    ‘Go back to the palace’ she quickly turned to her maids.
    They were hesitant at first but knowing how hot the Princess’ fury was when she was angry, they had no option than to obey.
    ‘So tell me friend, how do you feel about seeing the love of your life again’? Afiama engaged her in a conversation.
    ‘Prince Iboro, I cannot wait to set eyes on him; he is the right man for me, I tell you; my parents did the right thing by betrothing us when we were children’ Obot replied.
    ‘Good for you. You’re very lucky; do you know other princesses from other Kingdoms desire him as well? He is very special and you must cling to him tightly’ Afiama advised.
    ‘You don’t say, I can’t believe my Prince is being desired, may the gods protect him from husband thieves’ she raised her hands to the sky.
    ‘May it be so’ Afiama replied.
    They continued to talk about her last visit to the Prince’s Kingdom and how nicely his mother treated her; she bragged to her friend about the many gifts the Prince had showered upon her.
    ‘He gave me hundred wrappers and twenty colorful waist beads; Iboro is such a generous man’ she smiled as she thought about him.
    ‘I am truly happy for you, friend’ Afiama folded her arms and stared at the princess in awe.
    Suddenly, a loud scream filled the air and she realized the scream came from the princess.
    ‘Obot, what is it’? She hovered over her friend, who had fallen to the ground.
    Blood dripped from her ankle as she realized an arrow had pierced her skin.
    ‘We are in trouble Afiama, we have to get out of this forest now’ she wailed but it was too late as five men jumped out from the bushes and surrounded the two maidens.
    ‘What do you want with us? Are you aware that this is the Princess’? Afiama fired at the men whose faces were painted with charcoal.
    ‘Take off your clothes, both of you’ their leader, whose face was clad by leaves said.
    Her face was radiant with satisfaction as she swallowed the last morsel of cassava Fufu; with Ono around, she would never go hungry, he had promised her that.
    ‘Sometimes, I wish I could just run away from home’ Mma wiped her hands on the dry grass after washing them.
    ‘We could run away my love, we could run away together’ Ono placed his hands on her round face; he cupped it in his hands.
    ‘Yes, maybe then we would find peace’ she licked her lips nervously as she stared into his dark eyes.
    There was no man aside Ono for her, he was charming, he was caring, everything she ever wanted in a man.
    He fought with the urge to plant a kiss on those beautiful lips; he was torn with desire, but desire conquered at last as he shifted closer to her on the wrapper.
    ‘Ono…’ her breath was hot against his’ as her eyes travelled from his bushy dark brows, to the apex of his nose and the valley of his sensuous mouth.
    ‘I love you Mma, I cannot do without you’ his voice was husky with emotion before he covered her lips with his’.
    A soft moan escaped her as he explored her mouth with his tongue; her lips were burning; a sweet sensation filled her lower belly, she felt the rise of her nipples and tingling of her skin.
    He loved the taste of her mouth; it was warm and sweet; he yearned to take her clothes right there and make love to her, he wanted to show her how much he loved her.
    But he wouldn’t. Ono was a man of dignity and respect for the gods and tradition, so he wasn’t going to defile her.
    It took him great restraint and courage to tear himself away from the passionate kiss.
    ‘I cannot wait for the night you shall sleep in my arms’ he caressed her hair and pulled away from her.
    ‘Me too’ she smiled shyly and avoided his eyes.
    ‘What’s that’? She noticed the fire of confusion in his dark eyes.
    ‘I sense we are not alone in this forest, did you hear that’? He quickly jumped to his feet and fetched his machete.
    ‘No…I don’t hear anything’ Mma joined him.
    ‘Stay here, if I don’t return, hurry back home, I don’t want anything dangerous to happen, okay’? He caressed her face.
    ‘But I want to come along, it is lonely here’ she started after him.
    ‘Mma, wait there’ his voice was stern and commanding, she had never seen him that way and so she decided to obey.
    He clutched tightly to the handle of the machete as he combed through the thick vegetation of the forest; trees sprouted up at the oddest places; vines curled themselves like lovers would; the canopy of trees blocked full sunlight from entering the forest but he was still able to see through.

    Episode 3

    He heard it clearer now, it was the voice of a woman, and she was wailing and screaming for help.
    ‘Or two women’ he paused; he followed the direction of the voices till he found them.
    He saw five hefty looking men whose faces were painted with charcoal, his eyes travelled to the females and his heart stopped as he beheld the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
    ‘This must be the Princess’ he said to himself, for he saw the crown on her head and had heard tales of her great beauty.
    “Take off your clothes, I would not repeat myself” the leader of the gang moved towards the Princess.
    “Please don’t do this wicked thing, ask me of anything, I promise I would give it to you” Obot cried and tried to move backwards but her leg was badly hurt.
    ‘Get away from the princess’ Ono jumped out from his hiding place. He had weighed the men carefully and he knew how to defeat them.
    At the appearance of the strange man, Obot and Afiama turned towards his direction.
    ‘Where is this dog coming from’? The head of the gang chuckled as he scanned Ono.
    He was a tall man but lanky and couldn’t be compared to their hefty and muscled structure.
    ‘Who are you and what do you want’? Another member of the gang asked.
    ‘That is inconsequential, I warn you for the last time, step aside’ anger bubbled inside of him as he stared at the men.
    What kind of man would force himself on a woman? It was  abominable and wicked; and what made them think they would get away with their evil action?
    He was not scared of their size, he was going to defeat them, one way or the other.
    His confidence did not pass the Princess and her friend; they were both awed by the braveness in his voice.
    ‘Is either you are really stupid to challenge us or you are not human? Tell us, are you a spirit’? The leader of the gang mocked.
    ‘I am half man and half spirit’ Ono replied coolly and without warning launched his machete on the leader of the gang.
    ‘Arrh’! A scream escaped the princess as she watched the man’s head roll.
    ‘Who next’? Ono asked, killing the man came easily, he had fought wild animals on his farm more than once and he wasn’t terrified of anything.
    He had killed a huge boa snake that had swallowed his goat and a leopard that terrified his younger brother when he left to fetch firewood.
    He could see the shock and fear written across the other men; their hands were shaky as they stared at him with trembling.
    ‘What if he is the god of war in human form? He killed our leader before our very eyes, what makes you think we will be spared’? One of the gang members whispered to the rest.
    ‘I think we should run this man is not human’ another whispered.
    ‘Who next’? Ono took calculated steps towards the men.
    ‘Who do you think you are’? One of them wouldn’t cower. As he approached Ono, the rest of the men fled from him and when he realized he was standing alone, he dropped his club and dashed off.
    A triumphant smile curved his handsome face as he watched the men scurry like little squirrels running from a trap.
    ‘Fools’ he cursed and then turned towards the princess and her friend.
    ‘Please don’t harm us’ the princess had to side with her attackers, what if he wasn’t human?
    ‘I am sorry they did this to you Princess, I promise not to hurt you. I am a human being’ Ono smiled kindly and reached for her wounded ankle.
    ‘Thanks so much, you saved our lives and our reputation’ Afiama released the breath she had been holding for a long time.
    ‘You need to hold your friend, the arrow cut deep through her ankle and from the look of it, these men must have poisoned it, I would remove it and suck the poison from her blood.
    ‘That wouldn’t be a problem, please hold still Obot’ Afiama moved to her left hand side and pressed her down.
    Ono tore the wrapper from the dead man and slid it into pieces, he wrapped the first piece on Obot’s ankle to prevent more bad blood from circulating through her system.
    Obot was awed by his kind gesture. She stared at her savior with adoring eyes and she suddenly realized why those men had thought him a god, he was a very handsome man.
    He was tall and lanky; his dark skin was covered with weeds of hairs; his brows were bushy and serious; it was his gentle eyes that caught her attention and his seducing lips.
    She watched his hard arms as they tied the rope firmly to her ankle.
    ‘I promise you will be fine’ Ono suddenly looked up and found the princess staring at him.
    Her eyes were green, the rarest shade he had ever seen; Obot was really a living goddess. She was a mermaid.
    ‘Thank you’ she offered him a smile.
    He was a bit lost as she parted her red lips and revealed a set of well arranged teeth, but he quickly recovered himself and focused on the matter at hand.
    ‘Take a deep breath’ he commanded and firmly he reached for the edge of the arrow and pulled it out.
    Tears ran down Obot’s cheeks as pain shot through her; no blade had ever scarred her and neither had any flame scourged her. This pain was novel and she couldn’t handle it.
    ‘Do not cry, it is over’ he found himself patting her shoulder, even to the surprise of Afiama.
    Didn’t he know she was the Princess and betroth of Prince Iboro? Jealousy shot through her as she watched him pour all his attention on the princess.
    What about her? Why didn’t he ask after her well being?
    ‘I have to suck the poison out’ he lowered his lips on her ankle and dipped into her blood.
    A warm sensation filled her as his lips met with her skin; she had never felt this way before, she liked the sensation he drove into her.
    When he was done, he spat into the bush and helped the Princess to her feet.
    ‘You must take her to the healer immediately and report this case to the King’ Ono advised.
    He stared at the skies briefly as it was about to rain; he suddenly remembered Mma in the bush.
    ‘I have to go now, take care of you Princess’ he waved at her, fetched his machete and made for the bush.
    ‘Wait! At least tell me your name; you deserve a great reward for saving I and my friend’ Princess Obot called after him.
    ‘I didn’t do it for any great reward, my Princess; I did it because those men were wrong to attack you or your friend; you have to go now, it would rain soon’ he lifted his eyes to the thick black clouds that had gathered.
    ‘At least let me thank you properly’ Obot fiddle with her hands, she felt shy as she stared at him and this surprised her, she had never felt nervous or anxious around any man, not even her husband to be, the prince.
    ‘No, I saved your life for free. I need to go now’ he bowed before her and disappeared.

    Episode 4

     ‘No, I saved your life for free. I need to go now’ he bowed before her and disappeared.
    ‘We have to head back to the palace, Obot’ Afiama said to the princess but Obot was too lost in thought as she stared after the man that had saved her life.
    ‘He is so handsome’ the princess smiled as she watched his back. His legs were firm and hairy and she yearned to have a feel of them.
    ‘Princess, we have to go now’ Afiama repeated.
    ‘I am truly sorry for what happened, I put us in danger by leaving the palace without my guards’ Obot apologized to her friend.
    ‘You don’t need to, we have to report this incident to your father, the men must be found and brought to book’ Afiama suggested.
    Obot agreed with her friend but there was something odd about the men, their Annang dialect was different from that of the Kingdom of Ajop.
    ‘I agree with you friend, but I don’t think those men are from our Kingdom’ the princess replied.
    ‘What took you so long my love’? Mma had grown a little worried but she had not taken his advice, she decided to wait for him.
    ‘It’s a long story, we must hurry now, before the rain traps us in the forest’ Ono quickly gathered the wrapper and the calabashes into his raffia bag.
    ‘I really enjoyed your soup, thank you very much’ she smiled and touched his shoulder.
    ‘I am glad you liked it, now hurry, we must go’ he pressed her cheeks with his hands.
    He decided in his heart to tell her about the event with the Princess and her attackers when next they met; he didn’t want to terrify her by telling her he had killed a man.
    Once they reached the entrance of the forest, they kissed each other and decided to part ways.
    ‘When shall I see you again my love’? She smiled at him.
    ‘When the moon shines on the morrow, I would come and take you away’ Ono returned her smile.
    They gazed at each other, reluctant to part ways, but they needed to.
    ‘I’ll miss you’ she gave his hands a squeeze.
    ‘I love you my darling’ he kissed her hand and walked away abruptly.
    All the pain that her step mother had inflicted on her returned as she neared home; now Ono, the light in her dark world had left her, she was left again with the pain of reality.
    She engaged herself in a song he had thought her, a song he told her to sing whenever she felt sad.
    As she neared her father’s compound, she noticed a lot of people were gathered, her heart raced, had something bad happened to her father? Had something happened to her step siblings?
    She quickened her pace till she reached the large compound.
    Immediately she stepped into the compound, all the people that gathered turned on her, she could see hate and grave judgment in their eyes, what was happening?
    ‘There she is! There is the shame, you call daughter’ her step mother jumped to her feet and pointed an accusing finger at her.
    Mma’s heart raced, had they discovered her relationship with Ono? What was really happening?
    Her eyes strayed to her step siblings, Eka and Ekpo, but they avoided her gaze.
    ‘Good evening father’ she bent her knee.
    Her father ignored her and snapped his hands at a little boy ‘come forward Unwana’.
    ‘Is this the maiden that stole from you’? Her father asked the boy.
    ‘Yes. On my way to the market, she beat me up and seized the cowries that I was given by my mother’ the little boy replied.
    ‘I said it! I knew she was a thief, but not this big a thief’ her step mother hissed angrily and dropped a clay pot she had found in Mma’s room, filled with cowries.
    ‘You are such a disgrace Mma, from this moment, you cease to be my daughter’ her father released a myriad of curses upon her.
    ‘No! Father please, hear me out, I am innocent, I can explain where the cowries came from’ she sobbed and rolled on the ground.
    ‘Explain? Oh, you cannot even deny it’ her step mother drew nearer to her and launched her a  resounding slap.
    Mma quickly jumped to her feet, dazed by the pain that stung her cheeks, even more confused by the accusation; how could they accuse her of theft?
    ‘Unwana, please tell them the truth, I did not steal from you, why are you lying’? Tears streamed down her cheeks as she stared at the little boy.
    ‘Shut up! You cursed child, you stole from my son, now I must have my cowries back’ the boy’s mother came to his defense.
    How could she explain to them that the cowries belonged to Ono? He had dropped every penny he had saved for their marriage with her and she had kept it in her little hut?
    She scanned the faces of the men and women that had gathered and she saw that none was willing to vindicate her; she had no one to speak for her.
    She wished Ono was here, maybe he could say something to absolve her of this accusation.
    Fear gripped her as she stared at her father’s merciless eyes, she knew the punishment for theft; thieves were always buried alive or left in the evil forest to die off.
    If her own father could abandon her, then there wasn’t any hope for her.
    ‘If you are not a thief, where did you get the cowries from’? Her step mother asked.
    She couldn’t tell them, they wouldn’t believe her; her response was silent groaning and a river of tears that splashed down her cheeks.
    “She is guilty and must be reported to the King for judgment”! One of the men cried in an angry voice.
    “Yes! All thieves must be brought to book, last night, my farmland was raided and all the tubers of yam were uprooted, no thief should be shown mercy” another added.
    ‘Very well then, take her to the King’s palace, I renounce her as my blood, you’re free to do to her whatsoever that you please’ her father rose to his feet and retreated into his hut.
    ‘Father please!  I am innocent! Please have mercy’ Mma cried but it was too late, the people dragged her and attached leaves to her wrapper.
    ‘Please’! Tears poured down her face as she stared at her step mother and siblings.
    “Thief! Thief’! The people chanted and dragged her towards the king’s palace.
    ‘Mother, are you sure we are doing the right thing’? Eka moved closer to her mother.
    ‘Yes. Now she is out of the way, you both can inherit all your father’s vast lands and properties’ a mischievous smile crept on her lips.
    ‘And the boy? How sure are you that he wouldn’t spill our secret’? Eka asked.
    ‘I’ll take care of him’ Ekpo struggled to his feet.
    ‘You seem hurt, are you okay’? His mother noticed her son was limping.
    ‘No, I hurt myself while working on the farm, I really have to sleep now’ Ekpo yawned and left for his hut.

    Episode 5

     ‘No, I hurt myself while working on the farm, I really have to sleep now’ Ekpo yawned and left for his hut.
    The Princess was well taken care of; her maids had prepared a warm bath and the palace healer had been invited to treat her wound.
    ‘That man that saved your life should be adequately rewarded’ the old healer said and straightened.
    ‘My daughter is yet to tell us everything that happened back there’ the King stared at his daughter carefully.
    ‘The arrow with which she was shot was poisoned, it was meant to kill her’ the healer continued her analysis.
    ‘Abasi! How could you be so careless Obot? Why did you leave the forest without the company of your guards or maidens? What if those men succeeded in doing something to you; and your marriage to the Prince has finally drawn closer than we thought. You have to be more careful next time’ her mother warned.
    ‘I am sorry mother, I was just curious about the forest, I have never been there before; immediately I and Afiama arrived, five huge men jumped out from the bushes and asked us to take off our clothes and then my leg was pierced but the gods wouldn’t abandon us, they sent that man to rescue us and he killed their leader. The rest of them fled’ she narrated all that had taken place in the forest to her parents.
    The Queen was shocked and terrified by her daughter’s story.
    ‘Who would dare to defile my daughter’s body? Who would dare to attack the Princess of the land? You must do something about this’ the Queen turned to the King.
    ‘This is the work of our enemies, I suspect  king of Eboho land planned this; whoever was behind this attack, clearly does not want my daughter to marry Prince Iboro, they do not want an alliance between I and Edidem Okopisong’ the king replied thoughtfully.
    He was greatly infuriated at the thought that someone would want to harm his daughter.
    ‘I must take my leave now, the potions would make her drowsy; I would be back in the morning to finalize the dose. Long live your highness’ the healer bowed before the King and Queen.
    ‘Thank you for treating our daughter’ the Queen showed her gratitude.
    ‘I would get to the root of this matter, but I must first reward the man that saved your life. Tell us the name of this man, my warriors shall find him’ the King beckoned to his daughter.
    The scene of how he had rescued her replayed in her head, he had been so gentle, he treated her like an egg and this pleased her very much. She imagined him by her bedside, kneading her skin with his hands, caressing her hair and whispering sweet words to her.
    ‘I do not know his name, he wouldn’t tell me and he says he doesn’t want any reward’ Obot replied the king.
    ‘Nonsense! He must be rewarded for his good deeds, let him be an example to others; give me a vivid description of the man and my warriors would find him’ The King called to his chief warrior.
    ‘His eyes are dark and kind…’ she paused as a warm feeling filled her heart.
    She was about to continue when a loud singing and wailing filled the palace.
    ‘What is going on’? The Queen wondered.
    ‘That is why I came here’ the Chief warrior bowed his head.
    ‘A young maiden has been accused of theft, there is strong evidence against her’ he reported.
    As both men were still speaking, their voices and that of the people slowly faded, everything happening was whisked away and she was propelled into another world, a world of dreams. A world where she found her savior right where she first met him.
    ‘Make love to me, I cannot wait to feel you inside of me’ she moaned and clung to his naked arm.
    ‘I miss your touch my darling, what took you so long’? He caressed her face and stared deeply into her eyes.
    ‘Kiss me first, we’ll talk later’ she caressed his face; her eyes were filled with longing, with yearning. She wanted this man; she couldn’t get enough of him.
    The sun had set the clouds had deceived the land of Obodom, they had threatened to flog the people with rain, but no rain came.
    The moon had fought with the sun and conquered; slowly, darkness covered the land but the brightness of the moon and stars wouldn’t let darkness triumph over her.
    Close to the bank of the river that separated the two kingdoms, lay two naked bodies entwined and wrapped up in the wet sand underneath the watchful gaze of the moonlight.
    Iboro took her soft lips slowly, he kissed her like his whole life depended on it; he let his hands roam all over her body especially to her large and succulent breasts.
    She moaned and pressed his hand firmly to the tip of her breast; only he could unleash all her desires; only he could quench her fire.
    He dipped his tongue into the soft layers of her mouth; her tongue met his and together, they kissed deeper; tasting each other.
    He stopped the kiss abruptly, an action she did not like; she was about to protest when she realized what he was about to do; he was about taking her to another world of pleasure.
    He found the knot that held her wrapper piece together and loosened it in a hurry; he was hungry for her, hungry for her flesh, for everything.
    Her naked breasts fell free and his eyes were awed at the sight of them.
    ‘As beautiful as ever’ Iboro nibbled her ears and gave her nipples a gentle squeeze.
    He trailed his tongue from her slender neck to the middle of her breasts, teasing her, luring her to what was to come.
    ‘I can’t wait any longer, you’re burning me with desire’ she moaned and parted her legs, she could feel her wetness, she could feel her insides screaming for the first and only man she had fallen in love with.
    ‘I love you, my prince’ she whispered as his lips covered her breasts.
    Maybe he was too engrossed in the act or maybe he was yet to feel the same way, but Iboro said nothing. His lips clung to the dark circles of her breasts till he was satisfied, only then, did he stop.
    He took off his royal robe and laid it on the wet sand; she was awed by the length and size of him.
    ‘You’re a well-made man’ her eyes twinkled; she couldn’t wait to have a taste of him.
    With no words spoken, no resistance, he bent over her and prodded her legs apart with his’ and before he started the ancient dance of lovers on her, he kissed her slowly and for a long time.
    Her moans warmed the surface of the river as he rode into her, driving her mad with pleasure.
    ‘Careful, we don’t want to get caught’ Iboro laughed and quickly covered her mouth to prevent her from moaning.
    He increased his pace as he sensed her satisfaction.
    Her hands cupped his firm and hard buttocks and urged him on; she had fallen in love with the prince, she loved him more because of his expertise in lovemaking.
    ‘My prince…’ she moaned his name as they both landed on the bright side of pleasure.
    ‘So tell me, how is my Princess’? He sighed and rolled over to her side.

    Episode 6

     ‘So tell me, how is my Princess’? He sighed and rolled over to her side.
    Afiama felt hurt that he would ask after Obot after what they had just shared.
    ‘Fine’ she replied curtly. She decided not to tell him about the incident at the forest, he had annoyed her greatly.
    ‘Fine? What does she think of my coming, I miss her so much’ Iboro’s face was dreamy as he thought about the woman he loved with his whole being.
    ‘She cannot wait to see you’ Afiama replied.
    ‘I must return to the palace now, thanks for coming to see me. Here, I brought you some cowries’ he fetched a warp of plantain leaf from the pocket of his rope and threw it on her laps.
    ‘I am not your whore, I only did this because…’ she trailed off. Tears stung her eyes as she realized he didn’t value her as much as he valued Obot.
    ‘Afiama, don’t make this affair difficult, I never said you were a whore; you have rowed yourself all the way from your land, you deserve this’ the Prince replied.
    ‘Thank you, when shall I see you again’? She asked eagerly. She was in love with him, all her thoughts were consumed by him but sadly, she could never have him for herself.
    ‘When I come to take Obot’s hand in marriage. I must return to the palace’ he kissed her goodbye and left without turning back.
    ‘I love you’ she pressed a shaky hand to her chest. Why could he not see that? She had offered him her body whole heartedly; she had not refused him anything? Why couldn’t he share her feelings?
    With a heavy and bitter heart, she fetched the paddle and climbed into the boat she had come with and she was leaving with determination in her heart.
    ‘I must have the Prince by all means’.
    Ono couldn’t stop thinking about her the moment he had reached home; his heart was heavy as he pondered on his inability to save enough money for her marriage; how long would she be maltreated and how long would he fold his hands and do nothing?
    He loved Mma like no other; she was his mother, his lover, his everything and it hurt him that she was going through all that pain.
    ‘What is this mark on your body elder brother?  Onoifiok his younger brother touched his back.
    ‘Maybe one of the vines in the forest bruised me’ he turned to the little boy and ruffled his bushy hair.
    His late mother had died while giving birth to him; he loved his brother very much and was always there to watch over him.
    ‘How is Mmaffiong’? The boy asked.
    ‘Very fine. We spent a lot of time today in the forest’ he winked at his brother.
    ‘Someday, you will grow like me and you will fall in love with the woman of your dreams, don’t you wish for that’? He asked.
    ‘No, I wish for something else’ Onoifiok replied.
    ‘Let me hear it’ Ono prepared himself, knowing that his younger brother would say something that would tickle his insides.
    ‘I want to marry the Princess because she is the most beautiful maiden in the land. She has long black hair and very beautiful eyes, I want to be her husband’ Onoifiok sounded so confident and so it really hurt him when his brother laughed.
    ‘But you have never seen the princess before, how do you intend to marry her’? Ono asked.
    It was a rare thing to see Princess Obot and meeting her at the forest, was something he could never forget. She had left her mark on him and he understood why her father, the King, practically worshipped her.
    ‘Guess what? I met the princess at the forest today, she is really beautiful’ Ono said to his younger brother.
    ‘Really? Would you let me see her? I really want to marry her’ Onoifiok jumped to his feet excitedly.
    ‘You really like the princess Onoifiok, but we must focus on supper tonight, father would soon return from his meeting with the family. He likes to eat his food directly from the fire’ Ono fetched his machete and led his brother towards the kitchen.
    ‘What are we eating tonight’? Onoifiok asked.
    “ Abasi akan! Abomination!” The man screamed his son’s name as he strode into the compound.
    ‘Welcome father, you sound distressed, what is it’? Ono stared at the old man.
    ‘I knew it! I knew that maiden of yours was cursed like the villagers said. You must never see her again; you must never speak of her name in this house, is that clear’?
    ‘I don’t understand father, Mma is a nice and respectful girl, why the sudden hate’? Ono was alarmed by his father’s tone.
    ‘I know and I agree that she is nice and respectful but she is not good for you. If you must remain my son, if you want your marriage to be blessed, then don’t get married to her’ the man replied and strode towards his hut.
    ‘You cannot just say things like that without offering me adequate explanation, I deserve to know the truth, what have you heard’? Ono was uncomfortable about this.
    ‘As I speak to you, Mmaffiong is in the King’s cell awaiting trial and judgment. She was found guilty, she is a thief! A disgrace! An abomination! You must never see her again lest you taint the good name of this family’.
    A laugh escaped him, how was that possible?
    ‘Mma is not a thief, I know her very well, I can vouch for her. She is not a thief’ he felt hurt as he realized she had been framed. This kind of allegation could lead to her death.
    ‘Stay out of this Ono, forget the girl and move on with her life; she is cursed’ those were his father’s last words before he left the house.
    ‘Elder brother, is Mmaffiong truly cursed’? His younger brother sauntered close to him.
    ‘No. I would get to the root of this’ he murmured. Just then, the princess’ beautiful eyes flashed in his face; maybe this was the reward he needed for saving her life and that of her friend’s.
    She made sure no one else was at the river when she arrived; she hid the boat safely in the nearby bush as she did not want to raise any suspicions.
    Her steps were light and fast; she needed to meet with her father and discuss the latest developments with the Prince.
    Her heart yearned for him, melted at the thought of him but all would be futile except she fought hard to win his love.
    Her father was one of the King’s most trusted chiefs, so she had no worries; he was the King’s adviser and had made enough plans that would cover them both.
    ‘Welcome, mistress’ one of her slaves greeted as she arrived the compound.
    ‘Where is my father’? She stared at the slave in disdain.
    ‘In his hut’ the slave replied.
    Afiama hurried straight to the man’s hut, it was going to be a long night as they had a lot to talk about. When she arrived, she tapped her hands together awaiting a response.
    ‘You may enter’ he groaned in a low voice.
    ‘Are you alright, father’? She rushed into the hut. Her mother was late and all she had left was him, so she was always scared anytime he felt weak or complained of the slightest headache.

    Episode 7

     ‘Are you alright, father’? She rushed into the hut. Her mother was late and all she had left was him, so she was always scared anytime he felt weak or complained of the slightest headache.
    ‘I am fine, just a little belly ache, how are you child’? The elder straightened on his bamboo bed, he opened his snuff box and threw the tobacco into his mouth.
    ‘Not fine’ she wiggled her nose at the sharp smell of the tobacco.
    ‘Why are you not? How did it go with the prince’? The elder asked.
    ‘Not good. He still doesn’t share my feelings, I love him so much father and I would die if he isn’t mine’ her voice was shaky.
    ‘Enough of the stupid talk! You are more focused on your feelings with Iboro instead of all the power you could hoard from becoming his wife; we are not talking about love here, maybe that is why you keep failing’ the man snapped at her.
    He wasn’t a weak man and he had not expected her to sound so weak and chicken minded.
    ‘Why would you say that I have failed? I should be saying that to you’ she hissed angrily and jumped to her feet.
    ‘And why would you call me a failure’? His eyes were angry, his forehead creased as he focused on her, trying to see what demon had possessed her to address her father that way.
    ‘The Princess is still alive’ she replied.
    ‘Abasi! That is not possible, those men assured me they would kill her, what happened’? He dropped his snuff box.
    ‘Everything fell in place as planned, I encouraged her to come to the forest with me but a man came from the forests and butchered one of the men thereby aborting the mission. I was so disappointed they will give up so easily’ she relayed her experience to her father.
    ‘I can hardly believe this, does the princess suspect you’? He asked eagerly, he needed to cover their tracks.
    ‘Not a chance but the king would investigate, I hope the men would not be found’ she replied.
    ‘No, most of them came from far away, now we must create a new plan. Before the Prince comes for a visit, we need to work together and bring up a well crafted plan that would lure him to you’ he rubbed his hands greedily.
    All his life, he had wanted the throne of Ajop, but since he couldn’t get it, he would use his daughter to get the throne of Obodom, he yearned for power and control.
    ‘No father, you called me a failure once, I would not want a repetition of that, I have my own plans and I swear to you, the prince shall be mine’ she was confident this would happen.
    ‘And how do you plan to achieve that’? The elder asked.
    ‘If I tell you, it would cease to be a plan. May the day break father’ she bowed her head and stepped out of his hut.
    She needed to rest her head after his thorough lovemaking; it was going to be a long night of rest and planning.
    Her hands were bound and so were her feet, her wrapper had almost been taken off but the King’s guards had stopped the people from tearing her clothes.
    Her face was hot with burning tears; was she born to suffer a cruel fate?
    Her mother had died the day she was born; her father and step mother hated and maltreated her, everything and everyone was against her and now she was being framed for something she did not do.
    She cried as she remembered the conspiracy by her family against her; she cried as she remembered the betrayal, even those villagers she had thought liked her turned their back against her.
    They  had thrown stones and sticks against her and called her names.
    It was over for her, her reputation was over. Death was approaching.
    She closed her eyes and let the water drip from her eyes as she thought of Onoitem, it hurt her that all the money he had saved for their marriage had been taken away. Would he ever forgive her?
    Would he stand up for her?
    Time passed in the cell where she was being locked; it had no meaning to her, only the crowing cock assured her of the break of day which propelled her into uncertainty, would she live or would she die?
    A rue smile crossed her face at the thought of death, well, even if she died, she had one reason to be happy while she lived: Ono, the love of her life.
    The petals of insomnia vanished before her eyes and sleep started to cajole her; she had only shut her left eye when she heard heavy thuds approaching her cell.
    ‘Get up’ a fierce looking warrior opened the cell where she was being locked.
    ‘Asierie, Good morning’ she bowed her head hoping to curry some sympathy but he ignored her gesture and turned his back towards her without looking back.
    ‘Come with me, the King wants to see you’ he replied.
    Her heart raced, her hands trembled, was it time for her death? How could she die without seeing Ono’s face, just once, even for the last time?
    She followed the lead of the warrior, her hands were still bound and so her feet; they passed a number of huts still within the palace till the King’s throne house, which was a separate mud house was in view.
    Mma scanned the large hut where the King received both subjects and nobles briefly; from where she stood, she could see some chiefs, the Queen, the Princess.
    She took a deep breath and released it as she saw the other face seated amongst them, he came! He came for her! Her heart stopped.
    ‘Mmafiong’! Ono rose to his feet as he spotted her close to the throne house but recollected himself briefly as he remembered he stood before the king.
    The Princess saw the pain that flashed in his eyes as he called the accused maiden. She felt a sharp pain in her heart as she stared at him. He was in love with her.
    ‘You ask a difficult thing of me’ The King cleared his throat.
    He had asked his warriors to find the man that had rescued his daughter from her attackers, but that was no longer necessary as the man already showed up to claim what was rightfully his; only that his request was difficult to grant.
    ‘Please my king, let your pardon be my reward. Mma is not a thief, the cowries they found in her hut are the cowries I gave to her; I have been saving them for marriage’ Ono fell on his knees.
    The Princess was greatly touched by his show of love and the words he spoke; it made her respect him the more.
    When he had come to the palace, her father had sent her guards to rouse her from sleep so she could identify the man; how could she forget his handsome face?
    ‘But the little boy called her a thief, he was absolutely confident’ the Queen chipped in.
    The news had travelled like wild fire.
    ‘Father, please, he saved my life and my respect. Without his help, I would’ve been dead by now. He sucked the poison right out of my bones; he was ready to die for me at that moment, please grant him this request’ the princess rose to her feet.

    Episode 8

    He sucked the poison right out of my bones; he was ready to die for me at that moment, please grant him this request’ the princess rose to her feet.
    She couldn’t bear to see him that desperate, though she felt jealous of the way he cared for the girl, he seemed to be truthful and honest and she wanted her father to see him in this light too.
    ‘Obot…she was accused of theft, that is a serious offense. What kind of king would I be should I let her go without a trial’? The King was adamant.
    “You must let her go if you do not want to incur the wrath of the gods” a loud voice sounded.
    ‘Wise one’ the King acknowledged the entrance of the priest and so did the other people present.
    ‘You heard me, King, she is innocent, the gods revealed it to me’ the priest repeated.
    ‘Are you saying she was being framed’? The King’s beady eyes shot up.
    ‘I only said what the gods asked of me. Release her, in due time, those who seat on the throne of wickedness shall be exposed’ the priest stamped his staff on the floor; bowed three times before the King and stormed out of the palace.
    ‘May you live long great King’ Ono who had been rendered speechless by the entrance of the priest suddenly found his voice.
    He rushed out of the throne house and scooped Mma up in his arms.
    ‘You came for me’ she cried and clung to him.
    ‘Yes. I love you and I will never abandon you no matter what happens’ he sealed his promise with a light peck on her face and then carried her out of the palace and begun to shout “She has been vindicated”!
    ‘How do you feel now Princess’? The Queen stared at her daughter but Obot wasn’t paying attention to her mother, she watched with jealousy the two lovers that had just left the palace.
    ‘Fine’ she replied abruptly and walked out of the throne house, feeling confused and overwhelmed by the growing attraction that she had for the stranger.
    Obodom was  larger and richer than Ajop Kingdom in natural resources and manpower.
    Their rivers were wider and out of them came a lot of fish, crayfish, periwinkle and oysters.
    The palm trees blossomed with fruit and in season, oil flowed in the land.
    Edidem Okopisong, the ruler of this great Kingdom was a ruthless and ambitious man; hence he had a lot of enemies.
    ‘It is important that we seal your marriage with Obot before someone else takes her away from you’ the King said to his son who had just joined him in his throne house.
    ‘How so? All other Kingdoms know she is my betroth, who would dare to rise against us’? Prince Iboro settled in his throne that was beside his father’s.
    ‘The Kingdom of Ajop remains our strongest ally and we must seal that marriage. Our enemies grow as the trees in the woods, we must be watchful and we must be careful that is why we would be leaving  for Ajop in seven days time, we are going to take her hand in marriage’ the king said to his son.
    ‘I totally agree with you father. We need a powerful Kingdom like Ajop to strengthen us’ Iboro agreed with his father.
    ‘Yes, once the King of Ajop dies, the kingdom would fall under his daughter, as she is the only child of the king and that automatically makes you the King. Tell me, who would dare stop a King who has two powerful Kingdoms under his rule’?
    The Edidem’s face glowed with pride and expectation; he had not been a fool to enter into an agreement with the King of Ajop concerning his only child.
    ‘I have to go now, I want to train with Udo’ Prince Iboro bowed his head and left to meet his younger brother, Prince Udo.
    He and his brother’s had faced a lot of battles that motivated them to train the more.
    ‘Do you remember when the Nkuku cult group attacked us on the way to the Mkpa Eyong Kingdom’? Udo asked his elder brother.
    ‘How could I forget’? Prince Iboro scoffed.
    The Nkuku cult was a secret cult group that was paid by nobles to haunt or kill other nobles; they were utilized to wreck havoc for a heavy fee.
    ‘One of the reasons we must train hard should we ever face them again’ Udo said in a determined voice.
    Iboro wasn’t paying much attention to his brother; he was more focused on the princess whom he will marry soon.
    His heart was gladdened as he thought about her beautiful face; her sparkling green eyes and her attractive lips. He couldn’t wait to make love to her finally after years of not touching her, after years of waiting.
    ‘Long live your highness’ one of the palace guards bowed prostrated before him as he moved towards the area of the Palace that was meant for training.
    ‘Where is Udo’? The Prince asked after his younger brother.
    ‘He left to bring some weapons from the war room’ the guard replied.
    ‘Very well then’ Iboro replied and lowered himself upon an ancient stool on the training ground.
    ‘What took you so long’? Prince Udo came along with two machetes and two wooden spears.
    ‘I was with father…’Iboro replied and stared at his younger brother who resembled him all around except that his voice lacked the baritone that he was known for.
    ‘You look excited about  something; tell me, are you finally getting married to your sweetheart? To the most beautiful woman on earth’? Udo winked and launched a spear at his brother.
    ‘Exactly, how did you guess’ Iboro dodged the spear and jumped to his feet.
    ‘I eavesdropped’ Udo replied.
    ‘Bad manners’ Iboro fetched his spear and launched the sharp edge at Udo but he missed it.
    ‘I am happy for you brother, you would be the envy of other princes for Obot’s beauty is not to be compared. She truly stands out’ Udo advanced towards him.
    ‘What can I say? I am a lucky man’ Iboro chased after his brother.
    ‘Yes, indeed you are, for the gods spared your lover’s life. She was almost raped and killed at the forest yesterday’ Udo dropped his spear and surrendered as Iboro’s spear found his chest.
    ‘What are you talking about’? Iboro threw his spear on the ground and called out to the servants for water.
    ‘When father called you into the throne house, I assumed that was the message he had wanted to relay’ Udo was surprised his brother had not learned of the news.
    ‘But how could she not tell me? I asked after the princess last night’? Iboro bit his lip and crossed his hands together. He had been with Afiama her friend and he had inquired about her.
    ‘Don’t tell me you’re still sleeping with that whore’ Udo rose to his feet angrily.
    He was the only one that knew about his brother’s affair with the daughter of Elder Nkwo, a noble man of Ajop, who was also their King’s adviser.
    ‘I can’t help it, would you rather I sleep with the servants? A King must have honor, or would you want me to take a concubine? We both know the Princess would hate me for that’ Iboro sighed.
    ‘But sleeping with her friend is not acceptable, you promised you would end things with Afiama’ Udo felt disappointed as he realized his brother was still having an affair with the Princess’ best friend.

    Episode 9

    ‘But sleeping with her friend is not acceptable, you promised you would end things with Afiama’ Udo felt disappointed as he realized his brother was still having an affair with the Princess’ best friend.
    ‘I will end things with her after I get married to Obot, I promise. It’s not like I have feelings for her, I just enjoy sleeping with her’ Iboro confessed as Afiama was good in bed.
    She knew how to give and receive pleasure; his attraction towards her was purely lustful and he wished his younger brother would understand this.
    ‘Still, that is not excuse enough. I think you should end the affair before you both are discovered; something about Afiama tells me she is not as harmless as she looks. If she truly cared about the princess, why didn’t she tell you about the attack in the forest? Word spread that she was also there when those men attacked’ Udo returned.
    ‘No, she couldn’t be. Why would she keep something like that from me’? Iboro pushed the thoughts away from his mind.
    ‘End things with Afiama before it becomes too late’.
    Tears streamed down her face as Ono carried her in his arms back to his house; people came out from their huts to see where the noise was coming from as he kept shouting: ‘She is innocent, she had been vindicated’.
    ‘Ono…’ she called him weakly.
    ‘Yes’? He paused and stared into her face.
    ‘Take me home’ Mma jumped down from his hands.
    ‘Home? No! you can never go back there, those people framed you up, do you know what they will be planning next’? Ono was startled by her suggestion.
    ‘Have you asked yourself why the gods did not require their blood for accusing me wrongly’? Mma asked.
    ‘No, but that doesn’t mean you should be foolish, you cannot go back there’ Ono gripped her hands and drew her closer to him.
    ‘I know you are worried about me, but if the gods chose to spare their lives, it means the gods would protect me from them. I cannot follow you home’ she dragged her hands gently from his’.
    ‘Why’? He felt sad she would object to his request.
    ‘We are not legally married and that is an abomination’ she replied.
    ‘I know, but I just want you alive; I don’t want anything evil to happen’ Ono said.
    ‘I promise, I would be fine, thank you for believing in me, thank you for standing by me when everyone turned their backs on me. Thank you, Ono’ tears rushed down her cheeks.
    ‘Don’t cry my darling, I love you Mma, I am willing to lay down my life for you’ he wiped her face with his bare palms.
    ‘I must go now, I love you’ she looked into his eyes, amazed by the depth of his love for her.
    ‘Promise you will pay me a visit tomorrow’? He smiled. He couldn’t wait to spend time with her again.
    ‘I promise, what would you keep for me’? She felt excited.
    ‘Roast plantain and oil, your favorite’ he winked.
    ‘Thanks, Ono, greet little Onoifiok for me’ she sent regards to his younger brother.
    ‘Surely, I would’ he waved at her, watching her as she left for her father’s house.
    ‘My heart’ he pressed his shaky hands to his chest. He couldn’t wait for the day Mma would finally be his’.
    As he was about leaving for his own house, he heard footsteps approach him and he quickly turned around.
    ‘You’! One of the rough looking men pointed fingers at him.
    ‘Me’? Ono paused, they were from the palace.
    ‘You must follow us back to the palace’.
    ‘Why? My business with the palace is over’ Ono replied defiantly.
    ‘The Princess wants to see you and you must not deny her request’ another guard spoke.
    ‘The Princess’? Ono wondered why the princess would want to see him. He decided to go along with the guards, whatever reason she demanded his presence, he was going to find out once he got there.
    Princess Obot had fully recovered from her attack and she felt really strong now.
    She sat by her mirror and brushed her long hair; her raven black hair slept with the comb as she brushed through it; when she was satisfied that it was well combed, she placed her crown on her head.
    Thoughts of Ono consumed her whole being, she had never seen a man so adorable; he was a complete Adonis and she was interested in knowing him more and more.
    Not even the Prince, her betroth had touched her the way Ono’s eyes had melted her heart; her growing desire for a total stranger confused her but she couldn’t let her desire for him to wane; she was prepared to explore this.
    ‘How do I look’? She turned to Afiama, her best friend.
    ‘Magnificent, where are we going today’? Afiama asked her friend.
    The Princess looked all dress like she was about to tour the village again or she was expecting another visitor.
    ‘Nowhere, we both know that my parents wouldn’t let me leave the palace after my attack’ she replied.
    ‘Yes, about that, has the King heard the word of the rest of the men that fled’? Afiama made inquiries.
    ‘No, but we are sure that my attackers are not from the Ajop Kingdom, they are from somewhere else. I wonder who would want me dead, what would they stand to gain’? Obot wondered.
    ‘Well, there’s a lot they could gain’ Afiama said.
    ‘There’s the prince, for example, maybe one of the princesses of another kingdom is envious of you and the alliance your kingdom would have with Prince Iboro’s own’.
    ‘You make a really good point, all I know is this, we would get to the bottom of this’ Obot waved the matter aside.
    ‘You seem really happy these days, have you heard a word from the prince’? Afiama inquired.
    ‘No’ Obot looked away as blood crept to her cheeks.
    ‘You’re blushing, you only do that when you are hiding something from me, what is it, talk to me’ Afia straightened on the bamboo bed.
    Obot knew what she felt for Ono was abominable; for it was a crime to crave for another man when she was still betrothed to the prince but could she help it? He had saved her life when no other had.
    ‘Nothing’ she replied.
    She didn’t want her friend’s disapproval and criticism.
    Afiama wasn’t convinced her friend was telling the truth, was the prince coming earlier than planned? Her heart raced as she realized that would hasten his marriage plans towards the Princess and infringe on her plans as well.
    She would watch the princess steadily; the prince was hers and she would win his love at the end.
    ‘Who is there’? The Princess called as somebody rapped on her door.
    ‘My Princess, we brought him’ the gruff male voice replied.
    ‘Stay here Afiama and that is a command’ Princess Obot fetched her staff and rushed out of her chambers.
    She didn’t want her friend to know what she was up to.
    Afiama opened her mouth to protest but quickly shut it as the princess’ stern eyes silenced her.
    That was strange, she thought, the princess never hid things from her.
    ‘What are you up to’? She murmured and rose towards the only window in the hut.
    Her eyes landed on the handsome stranger that had rescued them both back at the forest; she sighted Obot walking towards him, she was all smiles as she approached their savior.
    Afiama took a closer look, the way Obot’s eyes brightened while she smiled and scanned her eyes on the young man reminded her of how she usually spoke about the prince, her betrothed.
    A glimmer of realization waved past her eyes as she realized that the princess was in love with the man.
    ‘This is so perfect’ she laughed and returned to the bamboo bed where she once laid.

    Episode 10

     ‘This is so perfect’ she laughed and returned to the bamboo bed where she once laid.
    She wasn’t afraid to go back home; she felt no longer hurt that she had been set up by her own family; she suddenly felt better that the gods who rescued her from being killed would save her from her family.
    As she walked past the neighboring huts that crowded her father’s compound, people came out and stared at her with shock written all over their faces; they were speechless and surprised that the King had not passed the verdict.
    She ignored their stares and went on towards the house; Ono was right, staying with her family was not the best, it was not really safe but she had no option but to live with them.
    As she approached her father’s compound, she noticed her stepmother and her step-siblings who were all seated by the frontage.
    ‘What have you come here to do? You daughter of a thief’ her stepmother, Nkoyo, jumped to her feet immediately.
    ‘There is no place for thieves in my father’s house’ Ekpo joined her on his feet.
    Tears welled up in Mma’s eyes as she sensed great hatred and opposition emanating from them; she watched the trio quietly and wondered why her stepsister, Eka had not joined them in harassing her.
    ‘Mother…’ Eka dragged her mother’s arm gently.
    ‘What’? Nkoyo turned and glared darkly at her daughter.
    ‘We should tell her’ Eka replied.
    Mma took a deep breath, what were they whispering about?
    ‘You have no business here Mmaffiong, go back to wherever you came from; this compound and everything in it belongs to me and my children’ Nkoyo pounded her hand against her chest.
    ‘I am not here to struggle, I came here to live; this is my father’s house too’ tears poured down Mma’s cheeks as she spoke.
    ‘How dare you? How dare you talk back to me’? Nkoyo was infuriated by her insolence.
    ‘You accused me falsely, yet the gods rescued me from the King’s wrath, I fear no one; not even you or father for the gods shall protect me from you all’ Mma sobbed.
    ‘I wonder if they would protect you now’ Ekpo moved towards her and launched her a heavy slap.
    She gave a loud scream and fell on the muddy earth as she stared at her half-brother.
    ‘That serves you right, now get up and walk away from this compound, never you come back’ Nkoyo warned sternly.
    Her tears were mixed with the sand of the earth; she was totally helpless; where would she go? She couldn’t go to Ono’s house, that was an abomination; besides he had done enough for her; she didn’t want to bug him anymore.
    ‘Mother’! Eka cut in.
    ‘If you call me another time, I shall throw you out of this house especially now that your father is dead; I am answerable to no one’ Nkoyo replied.
    Mma’s sobs lightened as she heard the strange news; was her father dead?
    ‘Father is dead’? She rose to her feet and searched their faces.
    ‘That is not your business, Ekpo fetch her baskets and all her calabashes, I don’t want to see her again’ Nkoyo instructed her son.
    ‘Please I beg you in the name of all the gods that we serve, don’t do this thing; I beg you….where do I go from here? I have no one’ Mma fell on her knees and begged.
    ‘Mother…’Eka felt horrible as she stared at her half-sister begging to live in their father’s house.
    ‘One more word from you and you will join her’.
    ‘Here are your baskets and your cowries, don’t ever come back here; there is no place for you’ Ekpo threw her belongings to her.
    She saw that they had already made up their minds to inflict her with so much pain; what was the point of begging? She wiped her face and packed all her baskets.
    ‘The gods will judge you all for your deeds’ she wiped her face, stared at them one last time and decided to go where her legs led her.
    ‘That is a wicked thing to do mother, I am not in support’ Eka cried.
    ‘You don’t have any choice; now your father is dead, this house and his farms are ours; take it or leave it’ Nkoyo replied defiantly.
    ‘You forced me to join you when she was being accused; now you force me to take sides with you while sending her away; when will your wickedness end’? Eka asked.
    ‘Father died in a mysterious way; there was a strike of lightning before he screamed to death; don’t you think the gods are really fighting for Mma? If I were you, I would repent’ Eka advised her mother and then ran towards her hut.
    ‘You are as weak and foolish as your father was! Useless child, you will come back to me soon’ Nkoyo hissed angrily.
    ‘Don’t let her words affect you mother, we are doing the right thing’ Ekpo squeezed his mother’s hand reassuringly.
    ‘You are the son of my womb and you always make me proud’ she smiled.
    ‘So, what do we do about father’s corpse’? Ekpo asked.
    ‘We bury him in our backyard, if we tell the villagers what happened; the mystery surrounding his death would raise brows and I don’t want that; we would bury him together tonight’ she instructed.
    ‘Okay then, I have something for you’ he fetched a wrap of dry leaves and handed it to his mother.
    ‘Where did you get this? May the gods enlighten your path and enlarge your coast’ a wide smile appeared on her face as she unfolded the leaves and they gave way to cowries.
    ‘I don’t have to tell you that; your son is very hard working’ Ekpo replied.
    ‘Yes he is’ she laughed and hugged him excitedly.
    At the sight of his brooding dark eyes, her heart stopped; waves of excitement overwhelmed her; she felt alive as their eyes met at that instant.
    ‘My Princess…’Ono took in her beauty, he was breathless.
    ‘…Tell me your name’ she stuttered.
    ‘Onoitem’ he bowed his head.
    She looked like a Queen, of course she was a queen; royalty hovered around her like a canopy of trees in the forest.
    He loved the clean scent of her as she approached him; her hair flowed down to her back and her crown sat proudly on her head.
    He noticed her green eyes had a seductive tint, she lined her eyes with Tido and her lips were reddish; he had an odd feeling as he stared at those cute lips.
    ‘Thanks for saving my life’ she smiled and stared into his face. A warm feeling enveloped her as their eyes met. She felt lost in him, lost in this moment.
    ‘I should be thanking you’ Ono replied. It was the princess that had convinced her father to consider releasing Mmaffiong.
    ‘For’? She laughed, it was low and it tingled his ears.
    ‘The gods rescued your lover and not me, you are yet to have your reward’ she suddenly felt jealous as she remembered how he had carried the accused maiden in his arms.
    He was in love with her, love couldn’t be hidden; they had stared at each other like no other person was there. Like the whole Kingdom of Ajop belonged to them.
    ‘Ah, but you played a part in it’ he smiled.

    Episode 11

    He was in love with her, love couldn’t be hidden; they had stared at each other like no other person was there. Like the whole Kingdom of Ajop belonged to them.
    ‘Ah, but you played a part in it’ he smiled.
    ‘Come, sit’ she guided him to some ancient stools beneath a large Oil bean tree that spread its leaves like tentacles all over the place, shielding the sun from those that  took refuge under it.
    Ono obeyed her command and  sat on the stool, wondering what this was all about.
    ‘Tell me all about you’ the princess asked.
    ‘There’s not much to tell’ he was reluctant at her odd request. He was a poor farmer who had to work twice as much to provide for his old father and his younger brother.
    ‘I must hear it, it is a command’ she replied firmly.
    This made him laugh, the Princess was different from the many stories he heard about her.
    She wasn’t arrogant or shrewd; she was simple and down to earth and he liked this about her.
    ‘There’s nothing grand about me, I am a simple farmer with a father and a brother to care for’ he replied flatly.
    ‘And your mother’? The Princess was more curious.
    ‘She died while giving birth to my brother’ he felt a sharp pain as he remembered the day she had breathed her last.
    She saw the flash of pain in his dark eyes, she felt like reaching out to him and warming his hands with hers, but she fought for control.
    ‘Tell me about your lover…’ she switched the topic; she didn’t want him to feel pain.
    Ono smiled as he thought about the woman that gave him the reason to live; the reason to carry on; whose love was like a pillar that held his whole life together.
    ‘Mmaffiong…that’s her name’ Ono said.
    ‘Mmaffiong, she is named after the moon goddess, Affiong’ the Princess chipped in, she felt an ache in her heart as she watched his face light up at the mention of her name.
    ‘She has a very beautiful soul maybe that is the reason the gods chose to spare her life’ he continued.
    ‘That’s really nice, so when do you plan to take her hand’? Princess Obot asked.
    He felt embarrassed to tell her the truth; he had not saved enough cowries for her hand.
    ‘Soon’ he forced a smile.
    ‘I have to go now; my father must be worried about me’ Ono rose to his feet. He felt uncomfortable opening himself up  to the princess, he felt vulnerable and he hated what he saw glowing in her sea green eyes: pity.
    ‘Wait, I could help you’ she blurted out without thinking.
    ‘Help me? I don’t understand’ he scoffed.
    ‘A reward, your reward for saving my life’ she smiled, this was the only way she could get him closer to her and she had to take it.
    ‘I want you to be a royal gardener…’ she paused as she watched him decline with a shake of his head.
    ‘No, I don’t mean it that way, you wouldn’t do it for free, and you would do it for a fee of cowries’ she chipped in.
    ‘I don’t even want to do it, I saved your life for free, I don’t need any reward. I must go now, my princess’ he bowed his head and walked briskly away from her presence.
    She lifted her hands in wave, but her fingers faltered as her eyes strayed to the firmness and hardness of his bag and his hairy legs. For the first time, she desired to be with a man other than Prince Iboro.
    ‘Princess’ someone crept up behind her.
    ‘Afiama? I asked you to stay in the room’ Obot snapped at her, scared that she had been startled.
    ‘I was tired of waiting, I grew curious…your savior came’ Afiama observed.
    ‘His name is Ono, a very humble and hardworking soul’ Obot avoided her friend’s eyes the whole time.
    ‘Am I wrong to note that you desire him’? Afiama decided to play her part.
    ‘Stop it! How dare you speak such abomination, if you were not my friend, I would ask my guards to throw you out of the palace’ Obot wrecked.
    ‘I am sorry…I was only…’ Afiama stuttered, she was surprised at her friend’s outburst. She had not expected the princess to react that way.
    ‘Keep your observations to yourself’ Princess Obot hissed angrily and walked away.
    The mischievous smile returned to her lips as she watched the princess go, she couldn’t wait for the prince to arrive Ajop land.
    ‘All I need is time to work my way around you’ she rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
    She thought of no other place but Ono’s house, but what would people say about them? It was an abomination for two to stay together if they weren’t married.
    She had no relatives and the people were not ready to accommodate her; most of the inhabitants of Ajop avoided her and she understood why.
    Her mother had been accused of adultery and her step mother, Nkoyo had gone around the whole place spreading false messages about her.
    ‘Where do I go from here? Whom do I call? May the gods that spared my life, help me’ she wiped her face and let her feet lead her.
    She had not passed the tenth hut after her father’s compound when she heard loud footsteps running towards her and the all too familiar voice of her half sister Eka: ‘Mmaffiong’!
    ‘Mmaffiong! Wait’ Eka hurried towards her.
    Mma was surprised to see her sister, what was she doing here? And why was she with her own basket of wrappers and a cutlass?
    ‘Have you come to inflict more pain on me? Please be gone’ Mma hissed angrily. She had no fight left in her, she was stuck in a confusing maze right now and she didn’t need people to remind her of her situation.
    ‘My sister, my blood, please forgive me; mother lured me into lying against you; you know how difficult she could get, please have mercy’ Eka dropped her baskets and fell at Mma’s feet.
    ‘Why are you here’? Mma ignored her cries.
    ‘Forgive me, tell me you have forgiven me’ Eka begged.
    ‘I already forgave you all, the gods have spared my life and I have no business holding grudges’ Mma replied and she was being honest about it.
    ‘Thank you sister’ Eka wiped her face and jumped on her feet.
    ‘Can I go now’? Mma  sighed.
    ‘I can help you’ Eka replied.
    ‘How and why would you want to stand against your mother’? Mma folded her hands and regarded her steadily, she needed to be sure that this was not another ploy to endanger her life.
    ‘I swear to you, I come with pure hands and a clean heart; do not turn me away’ Eka raised her hands upwards.
    ‘Go on, what do you want’?
    ‘I want us to live together, I am tired of abiding by mother’s rules, I don’t want to die the way father did for the gods are really with you’ tears welled down in her eyes as she remembered their father’s mysterious death.
    ‘How did our father die’? Mma was broken hearted. Though the man never treated her like his daughter, though he never showed her love like he did her siblings, she still cherished him and revered him like her father.

    Episode 12

     ‘How did our father die’? Mma was broken hearted. Though the man never treated her like his daughter, though he never showed her love like he did her siblings, she still cherished him and revered him like her father.
    At the setting of the sun, there was lightning and then thunder, he was struck by it’ Eka narrated how it all happened.
    ‘The gods…’ Mma was startled as she remembered that was the exact time the priest had come to her rescue.
    ‘We don’t have time, we must hurry; soon mother would notice I have eloped, come with me’ Eka fetched her basket and placed it on her head.
    ‘Where’? Mma wondered.
    ‘There is a house father built at the edge of the forest, close to the boundary between Ajop and Obodom; it is a very large hut and would be good for two’ Eka explained.
    ‘Why would father build a hut there? And what if your mother finds us there’? Mma asked.
    ‘Not to worry, she wouldn’t. It was a secret. My father made me swear by his gods never to tell her’ Eka frowned as she remembered the incident.
    She had followed him to the farm and had gotten lost in the large forest, but the moans that came from a lone hut at the edge of the forest attracted her and she caught her father red handed with one of the village maidens, making love.
    ‘Why would he make you take the mbiam? Those gods are ruthless and vile’ Mma was terrified for her sister.
    ‘He was cheating on mother but not to worry, the charm would no longer affect me; his death broke their powers over me’ Eka patted her on the shoulder reassuringly.
    ‘I pray so’ Mma was still not convinced.
    ‘We must head for the forest now’ Eka replied and led the way.
    Mma had many reservations about this hut but she kept it to herself and prayed the gods would keep her out of danger.
    Prince Iboro sat on the large wooden table in the throne house where all members of the royal family usually ate; his mind was far off in Ajop as he thought about the woman that he loved.
    ‘Iboro’! The King called him sternly and he jerked out of his thoughts.
    ‘You seem lost? Are you alright’? The King of Obodom stared at his son and heir apparent to his throne.
    ‘Yes. I am very fine’ Iboro smiled.
    ‘He is actually thinking of the night he would get to deflower the princess’ Prince Udo chipped in and the King burst out laughing.
    ‘True, true. I had that same feeling too when I first met your mother’ the king laughed and started towards the Queen and her daughters.
    ‘I don’t have time for your carnalities, I must leave now’ she rose to her feet and her daughters trailed behind her.
    ‘Father, you sent mother away from the dining table’ Prince Udo laughed.
    ‘Women! Such complicated creatures’ the King grabbed a gourd and poured himself some palm wine.
    ‘Father, there was an assassination attempt on the life of my princess, who do you think could be behind it’? Prince Iboro reported to his father.
    ‘I know son! Word travels fast, the King of Ajop sent word when it happened to thank the gods that the princess was not raped and defiled’ the king wiped his mouth with the back of his palm.
    ‘I am amazed by the audacity of those criminals; why would they dare to attack my bride to be? It is an insult to me and the whole of Obodom. We must do something father’ Iboro was ready to fight for Obot’s honor.
    ‘I totally agree with you; I have a feeling, one of the Annang rebel kings is behind this; I support every decision you will take. Princess Obot is your bride and you must do everything to protect her’ the King nodded his head in agreement.
    ‘I want to go to Ajop with my warriors and help with the investigation’ Prince Iboro said.
    ‘And I am coming along with you’ Prince Udo raised his hand in the air.
    ‘What about your marriage plans towards her’? The King raised his brows.
    ‘It can wait. I must solve this puzzle and bring to end our enemies’ Iboro replied fiercely.
    ‘Go well then sons, may the river gods and goddess  ferry you safely to the Kingdom of Ajop and send greetings to the King. I shall give you gifts to take to him and your princess too’ the king offered.
    ‘Thank you father, I promise to make you proud. Once I solve this puzzle, I shall send word for you to come and grace our marriage’ Iboro rose to his feet.
    ‘As you wish son’ the King replied and watched his first son leave.
    ‘Udo…’ he quickly turned to his younger son.
    ‘Father’ he dropped the piece of meat he held and stared at the king.
    ‘I am troubled about this journey, swear by the gods that you will never lose sight of your brother’ the King fetched a bundle of tiny carvings of ten idols and presented it to his son.
    ‘I swear by the mbiam, I shall watch my brother and no harm shall befall him’ Udo took the oath. Only there, did the King feel relieved.
    His encounter with the princess had opened him up to reality and he decided it was time to start saving up once again for Mma’s hand.
    He was flattered that the princess would offer him such a position as her personal gardener.
    His thoughts briefly returned back to Mma; he wondered how she was faring now; he felt her pain and humiliation but was more glad that the gods had exonerated her.
    Whenever he approached his father’s Compound; it wasn’t the bleating of goats or the miserable looking raffia roof that welcomed him; that portrayed that people were leaving in such a poor looking hut; it was his younger brother, Onoifiok that would welcome him.
    Onoifiok was always outside playing in the sand, building castles or he will play with stones and scraps like other children his age.
    Ono’s forehead narrowed in confusion as he drew nearer to the house, where was everyone? And why was the compound so quiet?
    ‘I am back brother! I met with the princess, your future wife’! He yelled atop his voice.
    He laughed briefly as he imagined how excited his brother was going to be.
    He thought about the Princess’ job offer, it was a lifetime guarantee of wealth for himself and his family; working for the princess could afford him more cowries to marry Mma, but he wouldn’t. He was a man of dignity and pride and he wanted the princess to know that he had not saved her life because she was a princess.
    He would’ve done it for any other maiden he had found in such a predicament.
    ‘Ono’! He heard his father groan.
    ‘Father’? Ono quickened and stepped into his father’s hut.
    ‘What is it’? Ono noticed the man was weeping.
    ‘Your brother…he…he’ the man stuttered.
    Ono was too impatient to listen to the man; his eyes strayed to the lifeless body of his younger brother.

    Episode 13

    Ono was too impatient to listen to the man; his eyes strayed to the lifeless body of his younger brother.
    ‘No, no, this cannot happen’ Ono pushed his father back and moved closer to the boy’s body.
    It was all like a dream, one moment ago, he had been thinking of how excited he would be to hear the news about his visit to the princess.
    Tears rolled down his cheeks as he scanned his brother’s body.
    ‘What happened’? He managed.
    ‘I found him foaming at the mouth as I returned from fetching goat fodder’ the older man replied.
    Ono’s eyes flickered all over his brother till he found something strange, his ribs were moving, his heart was still beating.
    ‘Get the healer! Get the healer, we could save his life’ Ono pointed at the rise and fall of Onoifiok’s beating heart.
    With wobbly legs, the old man fetched his walking stick and rushed out of the hut towards the healer that lived nearby.
    ‘I would do anything to save your life; I promise you that’ Ono whispered gently, knowing how painful it would be if his father, after witnessing the death of their mother would also witness the death of Ono.
    ‘I cannot allow that to happen. I must find a way out of this’ he sobbed.
    ‘She is here’ his father returned with the healer.
    ‘You’re welcome, Abia’ Ono bowed his head in reverence.
    ‘Move away, let me have a look at the boy’ the healer ignored his greetings and made for the lean and frail looking body on the mat.
    She was a stout middle-aged woman, who was neither married nor had children; she devoted her lives to curing people of all manner of disease.
    She dropped the raffia bag that contained herbs, seeds, potions and charms which she used in treating her patients.
    Her short and rough-edged fingers traveled Ono’s body, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot.
    ‘He would’ve died, the gods spared his life’ she stood to her feet after her examination.
    ‘May the gods be praised’ Ono released the breath he had been holding.
    ‘Yes may the gods be praised, but the gods cannot do for man what man can do for himself’ the healer scoffed.
    ‘What is it you want Abia’? Ono’s father asked.
    ‘The boy is epileptic, it starts later in some victims’ she replied flatly.
    Ono exchanged glances with his father, epilepsy was an abominable disease and he was sure no one suffered it in their family.
    He was about to question the healer’s diagnosis when his father cut into his thoughts.
    ‘How can we treat my son’? The older man asked.
    ‘I can cure him totally, but the cure is very expensive’ she replied.
    ‘Expensive? How many cowries’? Ono’s heart skipped at the mention of money.
    ‘A hundred cowries and seven live tortoises’ she gestured with her fingers.
    ‘A hundred cowries? That is too much’ Ono was gravely scared at such a high price.
    ‘Go on, ask around, I am the best healer in the Ajop Kingdom; I treated the Princess when she was injured by her attackers; if you really want your brother alive, find the means to get the cowries’ the Abia replied in a stern voice and moved towards the door.
    ‘Please, you cannot leave him this way, I promise to give you the money once you commence treatment’ Ono fell on his knees; he couldn’t just fold his hands and watch his brother die.
    ‘Swear by the gods that you will not go back on your word’ she dug a hand from her medicine bag and brought out a charm.
    ‘Ono…’ his father moved to stop him, the old man’s heart was broken; by swearing to the gods, Ono was putting his life at risk and he didn’t want to lose two sons at the same time.
    ‘I can do this’ Ono replied confidently and took the oath.
    Once he was done swearing, the healer dropped her medicine bag and moved to work on the boy who was growing stiff.
    ‘Get me some hot water’ the healer instructed.
    Ono quickly rushed towards the kitchen to start a fire, not before his father had interrupted him.
    ‘Where do you plan to get a hundred cowries? You don’t even have up to thirty cowries, the price for Mma’s hand’? The man was greatly shaken.
    ‘Don’t worry father, the Princess offered me a job, I think I will accept it’ he reassured the old man of his safety as the Mbiam gods were very deadly.
    Night had fallen upon the Kingdom of Ajop; leaves were carried upwards by the gentle night wind that breathed upon the land.
    The sounds of night birds, evil and good resonated throughout the land. The eyes of the stars searched out the silhouette of men and women that had not retired to their huts.
    The moon stood still, smiling her silver smile and watching all who walked underneath her full glare.
    She was lost in the beauty of the night; she was lost in the beauty of his eyes as she stared at the moon.
    ‘Mmafffiong’ she whispered his lover’s name and became jealous once again.
    As she stared at the silver moon, her hate for Ono’s lover budded. He seemed so devoted to her; their bond was so strong.
    No man had ever resisted her charms; no man had ever turned down her offer, not even her father the king.
    How then could he turn down her request for him to work in the palace? She had it all planned, with him around in the palace, she would never grow lovesick, but he had turned her down.
    She felt hurt and humiliated but she didn’t show it; she was lost, was she to give up on him? Was she to stay?
    She heard a loud tap on her door, she hesitated at first, what servant would dare knock on her door? She wasn’t expecting anything or anyone.
    ‘My Princess open the door, I have come to beg your forgiveness’.
    ‘Go away, you belittled me’ Obot drew a deep breath and steadied her voice. She couldn’t let anyone know about her feelings for Ono.
    ‘But I can help you out; you cannot deny what is in your heart. You were only enraged because I spoke the truth and the truth is not sweet, it is like bitter cola’ Afiama replied.
    ‘And what is the truth’ The Princess moved majestically towards her door and pulled it open.
    ‘That you are in love with the man that saved your life’ Afiama spoke in a whisper and bowed her head.
    Princess Obot’s face lit up as she heard her friend voice out her innermost thoughts.
    ‘How did you know that my heart craves his attention’? She pressed her hand against her chest.
    ‘I felt it from the first day we both set our eyes on him, I can help you out; just trust me’ Afiama offered.
    ‘But it is wrong, it is abominable, what if Prince Iboro finds out? His father could declare war upon our land’ She replied.
    This was what she needed, the opportunity and chance to play out her plans.
    Afiama broke into laughter, she laughed till the dim lantern of the hut picked the light traces of tears on her cheeks.
    ‘And what is funny’? The Princess raised a brow.

    Episode 14

     ‘And what is funny’? The Princess raised a brow.
    ‘Don’t let any man fool you, what makes you think the Prince has been faithful to you this whole time’? She scoffed.
    ‘Yes, of course, Prince Iboro is in love with me and I can swear he has never cheated’ Obot was sure of this.
    ‘Don’t be naïve princess, Iboro is a good looking man and sleeps with his serving girls; he unleashes his passion on them’ Afiama moved closer to her friend.
    ‘So are you saying his love for me is not real’? Obot began to doubt his love.
    ‘His love may be real, but that is not the point. The point is that he is not as faithful as you think; maybe you should enjoy yourself too’ she bit her lip and focused on the light.
    ‘But Iboro would kill me if he finds out I am not a virgin’ Obot was amazed by her friend’s boldness.
    ‘Don’t worry, when we get to that river, we shall cross it together’ Afiama replied.
    ‘I feel so much better talking to you, swear my secret is safe’.
    ‘I swear by my mother’s grave’ Afiama replied.
    ‘I love him so much; I even offered him a job here in the palace but he rejected it and I felt so hurt’ she relayed her feelings to her friend.
    ‘I want him Afia, I want him so badly’ tears welled up in her eyes; she had never desired anyone in this way before,; she had never wanted a man like this.
    ‘From the little I heard earlier, he has a lover’ Afiama replied in an icy voice.
    ‘Mmaffiong’ the princess eagerly offered.
    ‘They must be greatly in love, that is the reason he cannot realize how beautiful you are; you, whose beauty transcends the world we live in; whose beauty is beyond what has been seen; how can a man refuse that’? Afiama was equally shocked herself.
    Ono was a rare gem.
    ‘So what do I do? How do I get him for myself’? Obot was restless.
    ‘Get rid of Mmaffiong, only then shall his heart turn towards you’ Afiama was sure of this, this was the only way her own plans could work out.
    ‘Get rid of her’? Obot was startled.
    ‘How much do you like Ono’? Afiama stared at her friend intently.
    ‘With everything in me’ Obot confessed.
    ‘Then be willing to get your hands dirty if you must find love’.
    Her face was bright, brighter than the moon; filled with expectation and hope for great things.
    Obot had finally played into her hands and she would make use of this opportunity, to turn things around for herself.
    She ran all the way from the palace towards her father’s hut to discuss her latest discovery; they needed to create a plan, one that would serve them well.
    ‘Why does my daughter come home so late’? Chief Nkwo, the king’s adviser heard her light footsteps approach his hut.
    ‘Father…our dream has finally come to pass’ tears of joy streamed down Afiama’s face as she joined her father in the hut.
    ‘Did you meet with the prince? Did he propose love to you’? He rose to his feet, he could see the excitement written all over his daughter’s face.
    ‘No, but I have means with which to achieve that’ she replied.
    ‘Tell me your plans child’ he returned to his wooden seat.
    ‘She has fallen in love with the man that saved her from her attackers; she confessed it to me’ Afiama narrated in detail all that the princess had told her.
    She saw a glow of satisfaction in her father’s eyes; she felt happy he was proud of her for seizing this opportunity.
    ‘So what do you plan’? He asked.
    ‘To gain her trust, to manipulate her and to blackmail her’ Afiama replied with determination.
    ‘You are free, I am solidly behind you. The throne of Obodom belongs to us and no one can take that away’ the chief replied.
    ‘Yes, first I must get rid of her opponent that is the only way to make her trust me’ Afiama replied.
    She had many men that worked for her and did all her father’s dirty jobs; she would find one of them and end Mmaffiong for good.
    Mmaffiong became a stumbling block to her plans because if she were still alive, Ono would never fall in love with Princess Obot; and she needed that to happen by all means.
    ‘Death to you Mmaffiong’ she rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
    ‘Mmaffiong’! Eka shook her sister at the sound of the cock’s crow.
    ‘It is morning, we must find something to eat, I came with some spices and yams but it wouldn’t be complete without fish’ Eka shook her gently.
    ‘You want us to go the river’? Mma raised her brow.
    ‘Yes, it is not too far from here, I know a route that would take us closer to it’ Eka replied and moved towards her basket to fetch the hook and the net which they will use.
    ‘I am surprised father kept this hut away from your mother, does Ekpo know about this hut’? Mma rose to her feet.
    She had thoroughly enjoyed her sleep on the bamboo bed her father used for his mistress, but she still needed to be sure that they were safe.
    If her stepmother found out she was with Eka, all hell would be let loose and she was going to be sent away, she didn’t need that now.
    ‘I don’t think he does’ Eka replied, she alone knew about her father’s hut.
    ‘Now come, it is always good to fish in the early morning or late at night’ Eka moved to the door and called to her.
    ‘After you’ Mma smiled and fetched a mirror from her basket of wrappers.
    Her eyes seemed weak and sad; they were black rings beneath them; there was no glow on her skin; she had totally changed overnight.
    ‘I must see him today, I must show him gratitude for everything’ she smiled at the thought of Ono. Once she was settled, she would tell him everything that happened including her father’s death and secret burial.
    She fetched her soap and decided bathing in the river would be a good way to refresh herself.
    Two rivers flowed through Ajop, one that was at the center of the land and the other, close to the boundary that separated Obodom and Ajop.
    One could use the latter to travel to Obodom, and from Obodom to the other Annang lands.
    ‘You look so happy, what’s the secret’? Eka glanced at her sister’s pretty face. It wasn’t a hidden thing that Mmaffiong was much prettier than she was but she never felt envious. She had always loved and pitied her sister when her mother ill-treated her, but she had no choice but to stand back or face Nkoyo’s wrath.
    ‘Sister, I have much to be happy about. I have a roof over my head and here we are going fishing? It is only the hands of the gods that can do this’ Mma replied.
    ‘Are you sure’? Eka laughed, she could swear her sister was thinking about someone she really loved.

    Episode 15

     ‘Are you sure’? Eka laughed, she could swear her sister was thinking about someone she really loved.
    ‘You can trust me with anything; when we broke into your hut and found your cowries, I knew a man must have given them to you; fifteen cowries is not that easy to come by, where would a jobless maiden get that from’? Eka scoffed.
    ‘Alright! You got me, I am in love’ Mma laughed as they neared the river.
    ‘In love? With’? Eka pressed on, she was curious to know.
    ‘Onoitem’ she replied proudly.
    ‘Onoitem? I don’t think I know him’ Eka shrugged. The Kingdom was more than large and a lot of people dwelt in it.
    ‘You will meet him when the time comes’ she laughed and dashed towards the river.
    The rare scent of sand and clay mixed with water lilies slapped her nostrils as she approached the river; the surface of the water was green and weeds grew underneath. The water rushed and flowed unhindered. It was really beautiful to look at.
    ‘This is so beautiful’ Mma dropped the calabash that contained her soap and body scrub down.
    ‘I hear the princess has eyes like the river’ Eka let down her fishing net.
    ‘Yes. It is true, Ono has met her before, he speaks of her great beauty’ Mma smiled and loosened her wrapper.
    ‘Ono has met her’? Eka’s tone was mocking. The beauty of the princess was legendary, it traveled across town; across kingdoms. People that had seen her called her the “Living Goddess”.
    Mma couldn’t miss the mockery and taunt in her sister’s voice.
    ‘Is there a problem with that’? She scooped some water and poured it all over her body using her calabash.
    ‘What if he falls in love with her and forgets about you; men hardly resist beautiful women. I know you will say the princess is already betrothed to Prince Iboro, the heir to Obodom throne, but anything is possible. Do you remember the story of Princess Ekom and Nwonkpa’? Eka asked.
    ‘Who wouldn’t’? Mma felt weak as she thought of the possibility of Ono falling in love with the princess.
    The folktale had it that, there lived a princess, who was the love of her father and the beauty of her land; Princess Ekom was engaged to a very wealthy and young king.
    One day, while taking a walk around the village, she saw a very handsome drunk; whose stench was horrible; whose clothes were torn but something about Nwonkpa drew her to him.
    ‘Just be careful, don’t get your heart broken by any man’ Eka advised and stepped into the river, towards the side where fish was plenty.
    ‘He loves me’ Mma whispered to herself. Even her own voice betrayed her; she was afraid as she pondered on her sister’s words.
    ‘I caught a big fish’! Eka yelled happily and rushed out of the river.
    ‘That is so big’ Mma replied happily.
    ‘We must go now, we have to cook and eat’ Eka wrapped the net firmly around the fish.
    ‘I am not through with my bath; can I meet you at home later’? Mma asked she wanted to be alone; she wanted to think about her lover.
    ‘Out here? There is no one here Mma, I cannot leave you’ Eka was hesitant.
    ‘Go. I promise to take care of myself’ Mma was resistant.
    ‘Alright, may the gods watch over you’ her sister smiled and left for their hut.
    She scooped more water into her calabash and was ready to pour it down on her body when she heard a loud noise. It was the sound of warriors approaching with drums and songs of war.
    Was Ajop under attack?
    She rushed to where her clothes lay and quickly slipped into them but she wasn’t fast enough, one of the warriors spotted her and gave a loud command:
    There were three ships on the river: one was the royal ship that was carved out of the finest wood and it was made specially for the royals; the second and third were filled with warriors from the Kingdom of Obodom.
    ‘It looks so beautiful out here’ Prince Udo was awed by the beauty and rushing strength of the river.
    ‘It is even more beautiful when we land’ Iboro replied. He was greatly excited; he couldn’t wait to set eyes on his princess.
    His eyes had scanned the whole river; he was a warrior and had to watch out for any attack from the forest.
    ‘Isn’t she beautiful’? Prince Udo’s eyes fell on the dark-skinned maiden, whose beauty he had never imagined. She was simple but sophisticated.
    ‘Stop’! He screamed in a loud voice as she was about to run off.
    ‘Brother, are you sure about this? She may be a mermaid’ Prince Iboro grabbed his brother firmly by the hand.
    ‘Let go of me, Udo fears no one; fears nothing; man or spirit’ he yanked his hand away from his brother and jumped out of the boat that had already neared the beach.
    ‘Please do not kill me, I have done no harm’ Mmaffiong fell on her knees and begged.
    She had never seen these men before but from the way they were dressed, they were royal and had come from a far kingdom.
    ‘Rise up, beautiful one, you didn’t do anything to offend me, your beauty attracted me’ Prince Udo smiled kindly and helped her on her feet.
    ‘Thank you’ she replied and bowed her head.
    ‘Tell me your name’ he pressed on, his eyes raking her whole form.
    ‘Hmm…hmm’ Prince Iboro jumped out of ship and moved towards his brother and the girl.
    He too was stunned by her beauty; little wonder his brother had grown impatient on the ship; he particularly liked her smooth and dark skin.
    ‘I…’ Mma stuttered, suddenly feeling afraid as two tall men hovered above her. She cried in her heart, wishing she had listened to her sister.
    ‘Don’t you have a name? Pretty maiden’? Prince Iboro asked.
    ‘Mma…’ she replied in a low voice and then scanned their faces.
    They seemed to be brothers; the resemblance was striking. The dark skin; the hairy body and their brooding eyes. It reminded her of Ono’s eyes; she needed to see him. Her heart cried out for him more than ever.
    ‘I must go now, please’ she begged.
    ‘Where do you live? Tell me, who is your father’ Prince Udo asked.
    ‘My father…my father is dead’ she stuttered. Why was he asking her all those questions?
    ‘You can go maiden, farewell’ Prince Iboro gave her a command and she took it.
    Anger rose in his chest as he stared into his elder brother’s face; he had just destroyed the opportunity he had to know the girl.
    ‘Why did you do that? Why did you let her go’? Prince Udo glared darkly at his brother.
    ‘She is a low life, not befitting of a prince; you must focus on other things; we didn’t come here for love; we came to fight’ Prince Iboro replied.
    ‘You’re such a hypocrite; all my life, you have never seen me with a maiden; now I find this one attractive enough, you call her a lowlife, who made you a god’? He lashed at his brother.
    ‘Watch your tongue, don’t insult me before the men’ Iboro warned.
    ‘I am sorry brother, but next time I see a maiden I like, stay out of it’ Udo replied and moved towards the ship.

    Episode 16

    ‘I am sorry brother, but next time I see a maiden I like, stay out of it’ Udo replied and moved towards the ship.
    ‘Hide the ships in the forest! Ten of you should follow me to the palace of the King, while the rest of you would make camp here and watch out for any strange movement’ Iboro announced.
    ‘Brother, you are coming with me to the palace’ Iboro’s command was not negotiable.
    ‘No, I would stay with the men, go over’ Udo declined.
    ‘Are you still angry with me? Is this about the girl’? Iboro scoffed.
    ‘I am sorry’ he apologized; he didn’t know his dismissing of the girl would hurt so much.
    ‘I would join you in the palace when I forgive you’ Udo replied and then moved closer to his brother and whispered: ‘End things with Afiama before it gets too late’.
    ‘I promise, I will’ Iboro replied and together with his men, left for the palace.
    Mma did not stop running till she reached the hut. Her legs gave out and she fell on her knees panting.
    ‘The gods saved me’ she breathed hard.
    ‘Eka’! She called to her sister who had been busy roasting the fish at the back of the hut. Smoke rose from there and travelled down to where Mma was, infiltrating her nostrils and reminded her that she had not eaten for a long time.
    ‘I heard you scream, what happened’? Eka rushed to the front door.
    ‘I…I saw some strange men’ Mma begun…
    ‘Yes? Did they do anything to hurt you’? Eka inquired.
    ‘No, no but I have never seen such ships before; what if we are under attack’? Mma wondered.
    ‘Calm down sister, tell me, how many ships did you see from the river and what was the peculiar thing about these people, about these ships’? She inquired.
    ‘They seemed very expensive; there were three ships. One was occupied by two men whom I think are brothers and the rest by fierce-looking men that seemed like warriors’ Mma explained.
    ‘The Princes of Obodom are here’ Eka stepped backward. She had heard stories of their handsomeness and their bravery.
    ‘You saw them! You saw Prince Iboro and Udo, sons of the ruthless Edidem’ Eka was excited at this thought.
    ‘So…those men were’? Mma’s throat fell dry.
    ‘Yes. Princes. Tell me, did they set eyes on you or you just fled at the sight of them’? Eka inquired.
    ‘Why would you ask that’? Mma was irritated as she knew Eka’s line of thought.
    ‘Well, what if one of the princes picked interest in you, wouldn’t you go for it’? Eka winked and poked her sister on the belly.
    ‘No! Ono is mine and I am his’’ Mma replied firmly, nothing and no one could come in between them.
    ‘The way you champion this “Ono” cause, I hope he feels the same way for you’ Eka snorted.
    ‘You hurt my feelings, why can’t you support me on this’? MMa moved away from her.
    ‘Support? Let us face this, Ono, is not a high born and so are you; if he were a rich man, he would’ve come for your hand now, why wait? If any of the Princes approach you, don’t relent. You are a very beautiful maiden sister and you deserve a man that can take good care of you’ Eka advised.
    ‘I’ll ask for your advice when I need it’ Mma hissed angrily and rushed out of the hut, wondering why her sister was so negative this morning. She had to see Ono; she had to look into his eyes; only his eyes could calm all her fears.
    ‘May the gods open your eyes to the right man’ Eka muttered to herself as she watched her sister leave.
    She was about returning to the fire hearth where she roasted the fish when she heard a loud thud in the house. An object must have fallen.
    She quickly rushed into the house to see what it was but to her amazement she didn’t find it. All the baskets were in place and so were all the clay pots and cups.
    She shrugged and decided it was nothing. She turned towards the door but was still hesitant to leave; she had this feeling of being watched.
    ‘Show yourself’ she called her fears to order but there was nothing, there was no one.
    Without warning, a man leapt from behind the door with a machete.
    ‘Ah’! Eka screamed and hurried towards the door but she was not fast enough.
    ‘Mmaffiong’! The masked man screamed and drove the sharp edge of the machete into her belly.
    ‘No….’ Eka fell on her knees and clutched to the handle of the machete but it was too late. Her blood splattered on the floor, her eyes grew wider and her face was drained of blood.
    The faceless man hurried out of the hut into the forest where his gang awaited him.
    ‘Have you done it? Have you killed Mma’? Ekpo rose to his feet.
    ‘Yes. Your descriptions were accurate, how did you know of the hut at the edge of the forest’? The faceless man asked.
    ‘My father, he made my sister swear to keep it a secret. I eavesdropped’ Ekpo replied.
    His mother had panicked when she couldn’t find Eka’s things in her hut and Eka herself, but he had reassured her that his sister was okay.
    He always knew his sister had a soft spot for their half-sister, Eka, and he had a strong feeling they were both hiding out in the hut.
    ‘Go and fetch me the body, Afiama would like to confirm it before paying us’ Ekpo ordered the men.
    He and some other youths from the neighboring kingdoms had formed a cult which was being used by Kings and Queens to fight their opponents, to do their dirty work.
    After the stranger beheaded their leader when they had attacked the Princess, Ekpo had assumed his position as the new leader of the group.
    Moments later, a body which was covered in a large wrapper soaked with blood was brought before Ekpo for inspection.
    ‘Open it’ he commanded, they did.
    ‘No…’ Ekpo took a deep breath, maybe he wasn’t seeing well.
    ‘Leader? Are you alright’? One of the men asked.
    ‘You killed my sister’! Ekpo gave a loud wail and fell beside Eka’s lifeless body.
    ‘I…but’ the faceless man tried to explain.
    ‘Don’t speak. Don’t you dare give me excuses; my descriptions were brief and apt. How come you found the hut and not Mmaffiong? You were distracted and you must pay for the blood of my sister’ Ekpo scowled at him.
    ‘Forgive me leader but please spare my life’ the man begged.
    ‘Spare his life Ekpo, we all make mistakes. You cannot blame him, he had never met your sister before’ Asuquo, the closest in rank to Ekpo begged.
    ‘Blood for blood, life for life’ Ekpo spewed angrily and rose to his feet.
    ‘You failed me, now you must die’ without hesitating, he pulled out his machete from the scabbard and dismembered the man’s head from his body.
    Blood trickled on the ground; blood splashed on the faces of those that stood near. The earth was pregnant with blood.

    Episode 17

    Blood trickled on the ground; blood splashed on the faces of those that stood near. The earth was pregnant with blood.
    Ono busied himself in the kitchen hut, boiling lots of water which the healer had asked for. He was slightly happy that his brother had returned to life. Onoifiok was now able to sit up and eat, though lightly but his strength had not returned fully.
    “His strength shall be fully restored when I place him on the herbs, I will need cowries to do that” the Healer had said to him.
    ‘May the gods favor me before the princess’ he sighed and stared at the crackling fire.
    ‘And why do you seek favor before the princess’? Mmaffiong stood at the entrance of the kitchen hut.
    She had walked in on him soliloquizing, at the mention of the name she feared most, her heart leaped and she started to wonder if her sister had been right after all. What if Ono was falling for the princess?
    ‘No, he cannot betray me’ she thought in her heart.
    ‘My darling’ Ono leaped to his feet at the sound of that sweet voice.
    ‘My love…’ Mma was happy to see him and wondered why he looked really tired.
    ‘You look refreshing, you look beautiful’ he scanned her lovely golden brown eyes and her hair that was packed into one.
    ‘Thank you’ she smiled, still not sure whether to repeat her question about the princess.
    ‘Onoifiok is ill, that is why I am here, boiling this amount of water as requested by the healer’ he pointed his hands at the massive black pot on the hearth.
    ‘I am so sorry, where is he? Can I see him’? Mma asked she loved Onoifiok like her own younger brother. He was respectful and nice, just like his elder brother, the man she had fallen in love with.
    ‘No, only the healer can be with him now’ Ono replied and moved towards her.
    Though he reeked of smoke and sweat, she wasn’t repelled by his raw scent; tiredness marked his eyes and something else, it was a worry.
    ‘You are so lovely’ he fingered her supple cheeks.
    ‘What is wrong Ono, are you not happy to see me’? She asked.
    ‘No. Far from it, tell me, how did your family receive you’? He asked, and then fetched two chairs from the hut.
    ‘Badly. My father died mysteriously and Nkoyo had buried him without informing the chief priest; she sent me out of the house’ Mma expounded to Ono everything that happened to her.
    ‘If not for Eka, I don’t know where I would’ve taken shelter’ she sighed.
    ‘Here, of course, I don’t care what people would’ve said, what matters is the love that we share’ he reached out and grabbed her hands.
    ‘Do you really love me Ono’? She asked.
    ‘Yes, more than everything’ he replied.
    ‘Would you ever break my heart’?
    ‘Why all these questions? Have I ever given you a reason to doubt me’? He scoffed and let go of her hands. He had never seen her this way.
    ‘I am sorry if my questions offended you, I just want to be sure’ she still wasn’t satisfied with the answers she had gotten. Ono seemed to hide something away from her, he seemed really evasive and she had never seen this part of him.
    ‘I need the cowries I gave you to keep for our marriage back’ Ono blurted out, he didn’t know how to tell her. He didn’t want her to be so disappointed in him.
    ‘Why? Don’t you want to marry me again’? Tears welled up in her eyes.
    ‘No. The healer that is treating Ono wants A hundred cowries and seven turtles, I need to gather all I can before my brother’s state worsens’ he replied.
    ‘Okay…’ she quickly wiped her face and dispelled her fears.
    ‘I shall bring it to you this night’ she replied.
    ‘The Princess offered me a job at the palace, I had rejected it at first, but now, I’ll take it; she promised to pay handsomely’ Ono said to her.
    At the mention of Princess Obot, her heart raced; what if Ono had already fallen in love with the princess? What if he was only giving her lame excuses?
    ‘I don’t want you to work in the palace’ she said coolly.
    ‘Why’? Ono raised his brow, wondering where she was headed.
    ‘Please, don’t’ she begged.
    ‘So you want my brother to die’? He raised a brow.
    ‘No, not at all, you can sell your yams and grains; don’t work in the palace if you love me’ she begged.
    ‘I cannot believe this’ Ono rose to his feet. He had not seen this side of Mma before; this insensitive side that lacked care and love for his younger brother.
    ‘How much yams do you think I will sell to make much money? I need this job and I will take it with or without your consent’ he replied sternly.
    ‘That is a measure of how much you love me’ she hissed angrily and walked away from him.
    Ono felt hurt she would treat him like that; why was she in such a foul mood? What demon had possessed her vessel?
    ‘Abasi! What has come over this girl’? He stared at her.
    ‘She must have found herself another lover’ his father strolled towards him, the old man had listened in on their conversation.
    ‘Father? Don’t say that, Mma cannot do something like that’ Ono replied coolly. He trusted her with his heart.
    ‘Don’t delude yourself son. I am your father and you are my son. Be wise. Why would she ask you to risk your only brother’s life for love? And why would she hiss at your presence? She has lost it, she is no longer worthy of your love, let her be’ the old man advised.
    ‘But what could provoke such a change’? He wondered.
    ‘Mma is a black beauty; surely other men have eyes on her. The way I see it, a richer man has asked for her hand and she is reluctant to tell you; instead, she is trying to manipulate you not to work in the palace, so that if you say no, she would use that as the basis to break upon you’ the old man explained.
    ‘No, Mma cannot cheat on me’ Ono replied coolly and walked away from his father.
    ‘May you live long father’ Afiama bowed her head before the chief.
    ‘Where are you off to’? He asked she seemed to be in a hurry.
    ‘I sent the men to take out my greatest threat, Mmaffiong and I have faith she has been killed; I must go now to the palace and convince the princess to go ahead with her plans’ Afiama replied.
    ‘Go well then, I shall join you in the palace too, a meeting with the king’ he replied.
    ‘Alright father’ she bowed and hurried out of her father’s hut.
    She needed to convince Obot to march forward with her plans to have an affair with Ono; now Mmaffiong was out of the way, he would be hers.
    She took a short route to the palace and was surprised at the activities that went on there.
    ‘What is going on here’? She asked one of the guards.
    ‘The Princes of Obodom have arrived, we prepare to welcome them’ he replied.
    ‘Prince Iboro is around’? Her heart leaped, the excitement laced with her voice was thick. She missed her lover, she couldn’t  wait to see him again.
    She couldn’t wait to kiss him, to embrace him and to make love to him.
    ‘Where is the princess’? She asked.
    ‘In her chambers’ the guard replied and then she took off.
    She drew a deep breath and knocked twice ‘It is I, Afiama, your friend’.
    ‘Come right in’ Princess Obot replied in a low tone.
    ‘What is it my friend? You don’t look happy’ Afiama noticed.
    ‘You can all go out now, leave us’ Obot snapped her fingers and her beauticians rushed out of the room.
    ‘Your hair is really beautiful’ Afiama scanned the tiny balls of periwinkles that her hair had been knotted into.

    Episode 18

    ‘Your hair is really beautiful’ Afiama scanned the tiny balls of periwinkles that her hair had been knotted into.
    ‘Thank you’ Obot smiled briefly.
    ‘Talk to me, what is it’? Afiama could read the princess like a book. She knew when she was happy and when she was sad or when she was to be left alone.
    As she stared into her face, she realized that her friend was worried and greatly bothered about something.
    ‘Are you aware that Prince Iboro is in town’? Princess Obot rose to her feet and walked towards the window of the hut.
    ‘Yes,’ Afiama nodded, knowing where this led.
    ‘I don’t know what to do. I can’t keep Ono out of my head; why can’t I get over him? Maybe what I feel is just infatuation, maybe it is not real. I wish I never met him; my life would’ve been much easier. Now Iboro is in town, I mustn’t see him again’ tears welled up in her eyes.
    ‘No, don’t say that….’ Afiama had not expected this if the Princess went back on Ono, it meant she had no chance to win the Prince for herself.
    ‘It’s the truth and it is glaring me in the face’ Obot cried.
    ‘No. If you really like something, you pursue it, you go after it. It may not be love, but you should explore it. Remember I told you the Prince sleeps with servant girls, you’re free to enjoy yourself at least before your marriage to him’ Afiama advised.
    ‘But Ono doesn’t even like me, he does not tremble at my beauty; that Mmaffiong girl has possessed his entire being. I hate her, I hate all of her’ she spat out.
    ‘Mmaffiong would no longer be a problem’ Afiama moved towards her and placed a calming hand on her shoulder.
    ‘How? Why’? Obot swirled round.
    ‘She is dead’ Afiama replied.
    ‘Really? You kil..led her’? Obot asked.
    ‘I am ready to do anything to make you happy; now Mma is out of the way, Ono is yours. Fight hard for him and win his love’ Afia advised.
    ‘Thank you so much, you’re the best friend in the world’ she threw her hands and hugged her.
    ‘You’re welcome, now you must wipe your tears. The Prince is here’ Afiama saw her warrior walking into the palace with his men.
    ‘Why is he not with his father’? Obot wondered she had thought he had come to marry her.
    The entrance of the Prince and his men was marked by loud beating of drums and singing of the people; it was garnished with the Ekom bi and Abang dancers.
    Women ululated with their smooth voices; men in the palace and the throne house all rose to their feet, acknowledging the majesty of the Prince; all men were up except the King and Queen of Ajop Kingdom.
    ‘Stop’! The King halted the drummers and the dancers.
    ‘Welcome to my land, Prince Iboro of Obodom’ The King stepped out of his throne room.
    ‘My father…’ Iboro bowed his head before the king.
    ‘Son, where is your brother, I heard you were two’ the King asked.
    ‘Udo is at the bank of the great river, he is with some men. He would join me later in the palace’ Iboro replied.
    ‘And your father? He promised to be here for the marriage rites’ the King felt a little bit disappointed.
    ‘He will. I did not come here for the hand of the Princess’ he replied.
    The King was startled by this statement, had he come to break the engagement with his daughter?
    ‘No, I came to solve the puzzle hovering round her attack’ Iboro quickly chipped in. He had read the fear in the man’s eyes and he knew where that fear came from and what that fear meant.
    ‘You are a fearless man, just like your father. I am proud of you’ the King smiled.
    ‘You see, those behind her attack have not yet been found; we have questioned the gods; offered sacrifices, but they have been silent. It is really a puzzle Prince’ The King said.
    ‘My King, the gods are always silent when we need them most and so at that point, man must rise to defend himself, with or without the help of the gods’ Iboro returned.
    The King simply, nodded, all the more marveled by the wisdom of the Prince. He was extremely happy, his daughter would end up with him.
    ‘Say a few words to the people and join me in the throne house’ the King whispered to him and left.
    He scanned the faces of the people that had come to welcome him. Truly, the people of Ajop were hospitable and it pleased his heart and soul that they will welcome him in their numbers.
    ‘I send greetings to you all from my father and the people of Obodom. I came here with my younger brother, Prince Udo who will join me later here. I am very pleased with your dancing. Ajop is blessed with culture, with color and beauty…’ he paused as his eyes landed on the maidens that had danced.
    ‘I came here to find those that attacked my princess and I would not rest till I find them’ he raised his staff.
    ‘May your days be long’ The crowd cheered and applauded him.
    He felt elated by this gesture, his happiness knew no bounds as his eyes fell on the Princess, who had just stepped out of her chambers in the company of her maids.
    He clutched firmly to his staff to settle his shaky hands; he wanted to hug her and kiss her breathless but he had to be in control before the people.
    She had taken in all what Afiama had said, all she needed was to wear a mask and act like everything was okay.
    ‘My love…’ she grinned widely as she reached where he stood.
    ‘My darling…’ The Prince bowed before her.
    ‘You are welcome to my palace’ Obot smiled and knelt before him.
    ‘Rise’ he commanded her and then snapped his fingers at his men.
    The men came along with gifts for the Princess and her family.
    ‘I came bearing gifts’! The Prince raised his staff once again and the people cheered.
    His smile faded easily as he spotted Afiama among the crowd; his brother’s words begun to ring in his ears: “You must end things with her before it is too late”.
    Her heart was heavy as she returned to the hut where she now lived with her sister Eka. She had never seen Ono that way, he seemed determined and wouldn’t even consider her plea.
    She knew how important saving his brother’s life was, but she was afraid her sister was right; what if he actually fell in love with the princess? What if he abandoned her when she needed him the most?
    Tears welled up in her eyes as the scene of them arguing replayed in her mind; she had never argued or had cause to be upset with him. No, it had never occurred before. They were always happy and should any misunderstanding arise, they would settle it immediately and not afterward.
    Something had changed about Ono, she noticed this; she had expected him to run after her while she was leaving his compound, but he didn’t; he simply watched her walk away and this troubled her greatly.
    ‘Eka? I am back home’ she wiped her face with the back of her hand, she couldn’t let her sister see her this way; she didn’t want to give Eka the satisfaction of knowing she had been right.
    ‘Sorry I took so long, I had to go see Ono, I found out that his brother was ill’ she continued but she heard nothing.
    ‘She must have gone to the river for more fish’ Mma sighed, knowing how much of a fish lover Eka was.
    She walked to the back of the hut where Mma stayed to roast fish and fetched a stool back to the frontage of the house where she decided to settle.
    She recalled Mma’s statement about the princes, about one of them falling for her; this caused her to chuckle.
    ‘Impossible’ she muttered to herself. Princes were meant for princesses, not that she cared though; she only hoped that Ono realized this and stayed away from Princess Obot who would never be his’.
    The heat of the sun rose from the clouds and reached where she stood, casting a shadow behind her. That was it, she had waited enough for her sister, she was tired of the scorching cruelty of the sun.

    Episode 19

    The heat of the sun rose from the clouds and reached where she stood, casting a shadow behind her. That was it, she had waited enough for her sister, she was tired of the scorching cruelty of the sun.
    She rose to her feet and moved towards the door, but paused immediately. There was something odd about the way the door was, it was slightly parted; Mma couldn’t have left the door this way.
    Her heart raced as she wondered if Nkoyo, her stepmother had found out that Eka had been sheltering her; what if she was right there in the house?
    ‘May the gods protect me’ Mma pushed the door open at once.
    She felt glued and greatly shaken by the scene before her; there was a dark patch in the middle of the hut, reddish and in plenty.
    ‘No’ her legs gave way and she fell to the ground.  Something bad must have happened to her sister.
    ‘No…Eka’ her lips trembled as she realized the red patch was indeed human blood.
    She was greatly shaken and afraid; she felt confused, was Eka still alive? Where was she?
    ‘Abasi ooo’!!! She wailed and the loneliness of the trees spread her loud voice through the forest and beyond it.
    He had chosen to stay behind not just because he wanted to keep watch with the men; he yearned to see her again; to see the maiden that had left a mark on his heart.
    He hoped she would visit the river again, he needed to see her; he had never felt this drawn to a woman.
    ‘Don’t tell me you’re still thinking about her, my prince’ Emana, his closest friend, and warrior stepped into his tent.
    The warriors had built tents with raffia and the floors were covered with dried goatskin They had enough food supplies to last them for two market weeks before they would move to the king’s palace.
    ‘Who’? Prince Udo sat up.
    ‘Don’t play with me, I saw the way your eyes ran all over her’ Emana replied.
    ‘I still do not know who you’re talking about’ Udo replied.
    ‘Okay then, food is ready, are you hungry’? Emana asked.
    ‘What’s for “food”? Udo scoffed.
    ‘Our men fished. So it’s roast yam and roast fish’ Emana replied.
    ‘I’ll eat ….’ he had not yet completed his words when a loud and piercing scream filtered his tent.
    He quickly jumped to his feet, the warrior in him came alive.
    ‘Did you hear that’? He turned to Emana.
    ‘Yes, it seems like a maiden is in trouble’ Emana replied boldly.
    Her face flashed in his mind; he could see her right now, looking so helpless and weak; he didn’t know why but he felt it strongly that the girl that occupied his thoughts was the one screaming.
    ‘I have to go’ He quickly fetched his machete.
    ‘Not alone, I’ll come with you; the rest of the men would keep guard’ Emana said. His job was to protect the Prince with all of his heart and strength.
    ‘As you wish’ Prince Udo replied and rushed out of the hut.
    ‘Stay here all of you and be alert, we would be back’ Emana instructed the men before leaving with the prince.
    ‘What do you think happened’? Emana felt nervous, he didn’t know what lay ahead and talking would make him feel better.
    However, the Prince was not in the mood to talk; he was in the mood to find out who was screaming and why.
    They moved a good distance away from the camp towards the forest, it was really confusing, what would a maiden be doing in the forest?
    ‘My Prince, don’t you think we should turn back? What if it was the voice of an evil spirit’? Emana suggested. He had heard stories of that nature, where evil spirits would lure people into a trap and kill them.
    Once again, the Prince ignored him.
    As they neared the edge of the forest, Udo paused and bent on the ground. They were footprints on the sand and he decided to follow them.
    ‘They could be your brother’s own, he followed this path too’ Emana said.
    ‘No. My brother left with ten men; so if they had treaded this path, I would’ve seen a lot of footprints around here; come with me’ Udo’s hand firmly guarded his machete as he followed the footprints.
    ‘Besides, those prints belong to someone who is not very tall, we both know we don’t have short people in my family’ Udo continued.
    This provoked a laugh in Emana, a dry and nervous laugh but with the stern look of the Prince, he shut his mouth and focused on what was to come.
    ‘Do you see that’? Udo pointed at a large hut a few miles from them.
    ‘Yes. But why would there be a hut at the edge of the forest, isn’t that suspicious’? Emana wondered.
    ‘Of course, it is, keep moving’ Udo ordered.
    Her sobs grew lower as both men reached the hut; the sound of her cries had mellowed into groans.
    ‘My Prince, are you really sure about this’? Emana knew there was no going back once they both stepped into that house.
    The pained sound of her groaning and sobs really touched him and he immediately rushed into the house, he felt more shocked as he realized that he had been right.
    ‘What are you doing here’? Mma jumped to her feet as she spotted the Prince she had earlier seen.
    Suspicion was written all over her face; what if his men had come and attacked her sister while she had been away. She felt horrible; she was mad at herself for leaving Eka alone in the first place.
    ‘I am sorry, I heard you screaming’ The Prince could see she was suspecting him.
    His eyes strayed to the deep red patch in the middle of the hut, he was a warrior and he knew blood even before feeling it with his hands. Something bad had happened here.
    ‘Please go, leave me be’ she moved towards the door, she didn’t know who to trust or who to turn to right now.
    She was in deeper trouble than she could ever imagine; how was she going to explain this to the land? To Nkoyo and Ekpo? What if Eka was dead?
    ‘Please, tell me what happened here, I could help you’ the Prince could understand why she was weary of him. He was a stranger to her and it was not advisable to trust strangers.
    ‘My sister…’ she paused and looked into his eyes, she found genuine concern and care for them and for a fleeting moment, he reminded her of Ono. They had the same dark and brooding eyes.
    ‘Yes, what happened to her? Is she injured or something’? He focused on the ground.
    ‘I don’t know, I went out and I returned to an empty house; I kept calling her name but she wouldn’t answer me’ tears poured down her cheeks as she explained all that had happened.
    ‘Where did you go’? The Prince moved away from her, he couldn’t bear to see her cry, it hurt him.
    ‘I…I went to see someone’ she quickly wiped her face.
    ‘Who’? He asked.
    ‘Why are you asking me all these’? She was getting irritated, she had thought he had come to help her; why then was he asking her questions?
    ‘I am a warrior and I came here to find the attackers of the princess; I am also here to help people that are in trouble’ he replied.
    ‘Then stop asking me questions’ she snapped at him, even more, surprised at her outburst.
    ‘My Prince…’ Emana who had been quiet all along stepped into the house. His eyes had been focused on the red patch since he walked in; he noticed something there; something was buried in the blood.
    ‘Yes’? Udo turned to him.
    ‘I think I have found a clue that may help us solve this puzzle’ He drew out his machete and lifted the tiny object that was buried in the dry patch.
    ‘A wrist bead’ he fetched a piece of cloth from one of the baskets he had found in the room and wiped it.
    Mma stared at the red beads in surprise; she had never seen Eka wearing it.
    ‘That does not belong to my sister’ she replied.
    ‘I thought so too’ The Prince nodded.

    Episode 20

    ‘I thought so too’ The Prince nodded.
    He had thought of all sorts of stories he would tell his mother when he reached home; his conscience pricked him as he realized that his sister had died by his own hand.
    He would never forgive himself as long as he lived and this made him more determined to carry out vengeance on Mmaffiong. It was her fault that his sister died.
    Eka was not supposed to die; she had not been the one to fall but Mma and now this happened.
    ‘You are back from the farm early’ she said as she shredded the pumpkin leaves.
    ‘Mother…’ Ekpo called in a broken voice.
    ‘My son…what is it’? She sensed the pain in his voice.
    She had discovered that her daughter had eloped from the house but she had not really been bothered as she thought she must have gone to hide at one of her friend’s house.
    She dropped the leaves in a basket and stepped out of her kitchen hut towards her son.
    ‘Ekpo, nsido? What is it’? She stared into his eyes.
    ‘Eka…’ he licked his lips nervously.
    ‘Yes? What happened to Eka’? She wondered.
    ‘I found her body in the forest where I went to collect firewood; she was attacked by a wild animal’ He broke down into sobs.
    ‘No, that is not possible, are you saying that…No’ Nkoyo laughed, she didn’t want to imagine it.
    ‘Mother, I am so sorry but you have to accept this….’ He clapped his hands and his gang members dropped her body which was wrapped in a mat before his mother.
    ‘No! Abasi mbok! Why? What is happening to me? What is happening to my family’? Nkoyo threw herself on the ground and sobbed.
    ‘First, it was your father and now Eka, truly, the gods have shown me hatred’ she sobbed in a loud voice.
    ‘Go, we’ll meet later’ Ekpo said to his men.
    ‘I am so sorry mother’ Ekpo moved towards her and held her in his arms.
    ‘No, this is my fault. I shouldn’t have sent Mmaffiong out of the house, Eka was angry with me and that was why she ran away’ Nkoyo cried.
    ‘Mother, don’t cry; everything would be alright’ Ekpo whispered.
    ‘Alright? You don’t understand do you’? Nkoyo laughed, grief had really embraced her this time.
    ‘I am finished’! She began to weep.
    Mma’s eyes dwelt on his’, she noticed the way he encircled the bead in his hands like he had seen it before.
    ‘Have you seen this before’? She asked.
    ‘Yes. When my father sent I and my brothers on a mission to one of the Annang lands, we were waylaid by a group of men wearing this’ he tossed the bead in the air.
    ‘What does this mean’? Emana asked.
    ‘The Nkuku cult is in this land and we must find them’ Prince Udo replied. He had a strong feeling that these same cultists were the ones that attacked the princess.
    ‘Is this were you and your sister live? Do you have parents’? Udo asked.
    The Nkuku cult did not just attack anyone; they were hired by well-placed people in the society and were highly paid in cowries for their services. If Mma’s sister was attacked by a member of this cult, it meant someone wealthy was involved.
    ‘My father…’ she paused, not knowing where to start, how could she pour out her life’s story to a total stranger? She did not need his pity.
    ‘You must tell me everything that would help us save your sister and your life’ The Prince sensed her hesitation.
    ‘I…was sent out of the house by my stepmother. So my half sister, Eka followed me, she found this hut which used to be our fathers. He built it here for personal reasons and we have not lived here for two days’ she replied.
    He scratched his beards thoughtfully.
    Her heart raced as he watched him do this, Ono did that every time he was bothered about something.
    ‘How wealthy is your father’? He asked and found her staring at him.
    ‘We are not wealthy, just average’ she replied and tore her eyes away from him. He had caught her looking at him.
    ‘I promise to get to the bottom of this’ he could see the fear in those brown eyes and all what he yearned for was to calm them. To make her trust him, to make her like him.
    ‘Thank you, your highness’ she bowed her head.
    ‘No need for that, call me Udo’ he offered her a smile which she couldn’t resist.
    His smile gave her hope and assurance that everything would be fine.
    ‘I cannot disrespect my prince’ she replied.
    He shrugged and decided to let the matter rest, ‘Tell me your name’.
    She almost laughed as she remembered how startled she had been when she had seen him earlier but decided it was the wrong time for that.
    ‘Mmaffiong’ she bowed her head.
    ‘What do we do next, my prince’? Emana quickly cut in.
    ‘We have to go to your house and see if your sister is there’ he turned to Mma.
    ‘But she cannot be there, her things are still intact’ she gazed at the baskets.
    ‘It doesn’t matter, let us go’ he grabbed her hand without her permission and together they left the hut.
    Her hands felt warm by his touch; she wanted to pull her hands away but she quickly reminded herself that he was a prince and she couldn’t disrespect him by that action.
    ‘He would be better if you pay half your debt, getting those herbs from the forests is not an easy task; you must show me commitment’ the healer said to Ono as she strode outside to meet him.
    ‘You have done so much for me Abia, I promise to gather some money today; you are too kind’ he was delighted that the woman had agreed to treat his brother first, without asking for pay.
    ‘I did it because that little boy reminds me of the children I never had, but you must show me commitment’ she warned and strode off.
    ‘I will. I promise’ Ono dropped the calabash he held, it was filled with hot water.
    Where was he going to get money so easily? He had not even gone to the palace to meet with the princess; he drew a deep breath and lowered himself into the stool next to him. He was lost, this situation felt hopeless.
    ‘You must see the princess son, even if we sold all the yams and grains in our store, it wouldn’t add up to the healer’s fee and if we do not do this, we both know how angry she could get. She may even pull out from treating your brother’ his father said.
    ‘No, I cannot let that happen. I cannot let my brother die. I promise you father, I will think of something’ Ono jumped to his feet.
    ‘There is not time for thinking son, this is the time to act’ the old man replied and returned to the hut where he stayed and watched his younger son.
    He sighed and thought about Mma, he knew she would be angry with him if he asked her to return the cowries he had saved for her hand but he had no choice. That was the exact thing he was going to do.
    Once he got the fifteen cowries, he would add it to the five he had with him; maybe later he would go to the palace and ask the princess to help him out.
    ‘I am off to the palace’ he told his father.
    ‘May the gods favor you there’ the man replied.
    But he wasn’t actually going to the palace, he was going to the forest; just as Mma had described, he would go to the hut and find her.
    Though they had fought earlier, he missed her so much and couldn’t wait to see her again.

    Episode 21

    Though they had fought earlier, he missed her so much and couldn’t wait to see her again.
    He loved the feel of her smaller hands in his’, it was a perfect fit; this was the perfect moment he had experienced and he could do anything to hold her hands for the rest of his life.
    ‘Were you close with your sister’? The Prince asked.
    ‘Not quite, we just became close recently’ she replied, leaving out the part where she had been accused of theft.
    ‘Really? What changed’? He wanted to know everything, nothing was to be left out.
    ‘Well…I don’t really know but she had been really sad when her mother sent me away. She packed all her baskets and chose to go with me, she told me about the hut my father built and we moved in together’ she replied.
    ‘Tell me about your stepmother and why she is so mean to you’? He had briefly wondered if her stepmother had sent the assassins after Mma but had killed Eka instead, but it didn’t make sense.
    That was not how they operated; they dealt only with the members of the higher echelon of the society.
    They killed and maimed for kings and chiefs.
    ‘Very mean…’ Mma paused and looked into his face; she now understood why he was asking her all those questions; he suspected Nkoyo.
    ‘I don’t think she hates me that much; she would never plot to kill me or her own daughter for that matter. She just wanted me out of the way so her son and daughter could have all of father’s properties’ Mma replied in a sad voice.
    He felt really bad as she spoke, her beautiful eyes showed signs of pain and neglect; why would someone want to harm such a beautiful soul?
    ‘I know, I guess my suspicions are wrong; I must send word to my brother, he needs to know about this’ The Prince called Emana to his side.
    ‘Go to the Palace and meet with Ekpo, tell him what we have discovered though it is just a hunch; the Nkuku Cult group may be in Ajop; tell him to be very careful. He must not trust anyone and he must not tell anyone not even the king about our findings till we are absolutely sure with what we are dealing with.
    ‘It shall be done, My prince’ Emana bowed his head and took a different route towards the palace.
    The Prince walked hand in hand with Mma as they stepped out of the forest into the mainland.
    ‘Which way do we go’? The Prince asked.
    ‘This way’ she pointed a finger at the path which led to her father’s hut.
    ‘Wait’ the prince dragged her backward.
    ‘What’? She gazed into his dark eyes.
    ‘You have to be strong, we don’t know what happened to your sister so we have to assume the worst; if she is dead, you must accept it and don’t put the blame on yourself. I am here with you. Everything would be alright’ he looked straight into her eyes, he felt the sea of brown calling him, drawing him closer.
    ‘Thank you’ she replied in a shaky voice. No man had such great influence over her like this; no man save for Ono.
    She felt safe and secure as she looked into his eyes. She felt assured by his kind words; there was a strong pull, a magnetic one that drew her into the angelic darkness of his eyes.
    ‘Mmaffiong’ he spoke her name in a whisper, so she couldn’t have heard him.
    His heart soared as he found her looking into another man’s eyes just like the way she had always looked at him.
    Tears welled up in his eyes as he stared at Mma and the strange man; his father had been right, another man had won her heart.
    He had been on his way to the Forest when he had spotted Mma in the company of the strange man; now, he felt too weak to go there; too weak to draw near.
    A tear slipped from his eyes as he hid himself at the bark of the huge Oil bean tree that placed itself at the entrance of the large forest.
    ‘You are so beautiful’ The Prince adored her with his words.
    She was lost momentarily but not completely; she remembered Ono, the man that loved her with his whole being; the man that could sacrifice his life for her.
    ‘We must continue’ she pulled her hands away from his and quickened her steps feeling more confused by what she had felt while staring at the Prince.
    What was happening to her? Her sister was either dead or missing and there she was getting seduced by a prince who cared less for people like her.
    She knew the criteria that Princes used to take their lovers; they were always from a noble home and had been trained since birth for a nobleman. She reminded herself that she was the perfect fit for Ono as they were not of noble birth.
    He stepped out of his hiding place once they had both left.
    ‘My father was right, she has fallen in love with a wealthy man’ Ono muttered to himself.
    A jealous rage filled him as he stared at their backs; what had Mma seen in him that she will stare into his eyes with so much longing? So much desire?
    ‘Cowries, she is no different than her mother. Whore’ he spat angrily and decided to ask the princess for help.
    Jealousy started a fire in his heart; a fire so strong that it turned to hate; hate quickly burnt the love he had once felt for her. Jealousy and hate burnt everything and all that was left of his love for her was ashes.
    The prince and Mma arrived her father’s compound moments later.
    ‘You need to be strong’ he grabbed her hand.
    Tears welled up in Mma’s eyes as she heard Nkoyo’s loud wailing and crying. She desperately prayed and hoped that her thoughts were wrong; she loved her sister very much and wouldn’t forgive herself should any harm befall her.
    ‘Abasi o! gods of Ajop land, how have I offended you’? She wailed and rolled on the floor.
    ‘I am sorry I accused Mma wrongly, she did not deserve it’ Nkoyo cried.
    ‘Were you accused’? Prince Udo looked into her face.
    ‘Yes’ a tear slipped from her eyes as the memories of that horrible day glared into her face.
    ‘Of theft but the gods vindicated me and promised to send their wrath to my accusers’ she added.
    ‘No’ she pressed a shaky hand upon her chest.
    ‘What is it’? The Prince asked.
    ‘What if…what if all these is happening because I was wrongfully accused by them’? Mma asked.
    ‘Only the gods know the answer to that, be strong, my beautiful one’ Prince Udo held her firmly as they walked deeper into the compound till they were faced with the corpse of Eka.
    ‘Mma, you’re here’ Nkoyo dried her face and jumped to her feet.
    ‘I am sorry for what happened’ Mma cried.
    ‘No, don’t be. I should be telling you that I am sorry. Please beg the gods to spare I and Ekpo; truly we are paying for our sins’ Nkoyo knelt at her feet.
    Anger welled up in Ekpo as he stared at Mmaffiong; he still held a grudge against her as she was the reason he killed his own sister; if she had been in the hut at the time his men appeared; then maybe Eka’s life would’ve been spared.
    ‘What do you want here’? He scowled at her.
    ‘Who is he’? The Prince whispered in her ear.
    ‘My brother’ she replied.
    But he wasn’t curious about the blood relationship she shared with him; he felt the red bead in his left palm; the young man before him was wearing the exact same bead, but this time not on his hand. It was placed on a necklace, round his neck.
    What if he was their leader?
    ‘Don’t speak to her that way, come let us beg’ Nkoyo beckoned to him.
    ‘It is not her fault that Eka was attacked by a wild animal, come on…’ She kept calling to him.
    ‘A wild animal’? Mma was stunned by this version. She was very sure that Eka was attacked by a human being owing to the quantity of blood that she had lost.
    ‘Yes’ Ekpo cut in, he noted the suspicion that was written all over her face. He had another reason to end her life.
    ‘Come, we must leave’ the prince took her hands.
    ‘But’ she was about to argue.
    ‘I am your Prince’ he replied and she had no other option but to obey him.
    Together, the both strolled to where they usually met in the palace; their special love grove was underneath the oil been tree that provided shade.
    ‘You never said anything about the gifts I bought you’ Prince Iboro said to his betrothed.
    ‘I…I liked them’ she looked away, she couldn’t stare into his dark eyes anymore, there was nothing left there for her; her heart yearned for another man; it craved for another man that wasn’t Iboro.
    ‘You look so beautiful my love, tell me all that has happened while you left Obodom; it has been a long time since we last saw each other’ he drew closer to her on the bench they sat on.
    ‘I have been fine, thanks to the gods’ she replied.
    ‘Tell me more’ he wasn’t satisfied with her answer.
    She paused and licked her lips feeling nervous as she looked into his eager eyes; she wasn’t feeling the attraction and the love she once felt for the prince. He was a different person to her and she was a stranger.
    ‘There is nothing to tell…’ she blinked and evaded his gaze another time.
    Iboro felt something was missing, this beautiful woman that sat before him was entirely different from the cheerful and happy princess he knew; that he had fallen in love with.
    Her eyes were distant from his; they did not meet with his’; they spoke a different language; of disinterest and unhappiness.

    Episode 22

    Her eyes were distant from his; they did not meet with his’; they spoke a different language; of disinterest and unhappiness.
     ‘Why are you sad my princess? Tell me, who has offended you’? He showed concern.
    ‘No one’ tears welled up in her eyes but she fought with them. Her heart ached because she was in love with another man, one she could never keep to herself. She even felt more hurt as she remembered what Afiama had told her about the prince.
    All her life, she had adored him; she had found happiness in his embrace only to find out that he wasn’t different from the other princes of the Annang Lands. He was just as promiscuous as the lot of them.
    She had thought she was special; she thought she was the only one in his world not until she discovered he was sleeping with his servants.
    ‘But you aren’t happy my love, talk to me’ he cupped her face gently in his hands.
    He wanted to kiss her pain away; he wanted her to be happy again; he wanted her to pour out her heart to him.
    Their eyes were glued to each other; he felt the intense passion as he stared into her lovely orbs; he was drawn to her perfectly shaped lips and felt a strong urge to kiss her.
    ‘I love you…’ he leaned forward so he could a kiss on her face but she pulled her hands away from his grip and rose to her feet.
    ‘I am sorry…I cannot do this’ she hurried away from the prince, leaving him pondering on what he had done wrong.
    ‘My princess’! He rose to his feet towards her when a familiar voice called his name, she felt the urgency in the manner he was being called.
    ‘Emana, what are you doing here? Is my brother alright’? The prince swirled round and faced the warrior.
    ‘My Prince, your brother is alright. He sent me to you’ Emana bowed his head.
    ‘Go on’ Iboro urged him.
    ‘The Nkuku cult group members are here and we think they were behind the princess’ attack; he warns you to be careful and alert till we find out who had hired the cultists to attack the princess’ Emana relayed the message.
    Iboro didn’t like the sound of this message; though he was a trained warrior and he feared nothing; the mention of the Nkuku secret cult brought a feeling of despair over him.
    He and Udo had encountered the cult group on a mission which their father sent them; they were dreadful and ruthless. They maimed their victims and slew them without mercy. They raped women and children without pity. They were a budding evil and had to be wiped out.
    ‘Tell my brother to meet me in the palace soon. I have my own part to play, I shall question the princess and Afiama about their attackers; we need a vivid description of the men they had seen…’ the Prince paused as Emana was about to say something.
    ‘Your brother, the prince, also asked me to tell you, that you shouldn’t discuss this with anyone, not even the princess. He wants this to be a top secret between us as we don’t know who is our friend and who is our enemy’ Eman quickly chipped in.
    ‘Go on then, tell him I shall keep it a secret. I trust his judgment’ The Prince dismissed Emana as he caught sight of the Princess strolling towards her chambers with a strange looking man.
    ‘May you live long’ Emana bowed and hurried away from the palace.
    He felt a jealous rage pour over him? He was surprised to see her smiling with the stranger. Wasn’t this the same woman that had acted up for him? That was suspicious indeed.
    ‘My Prince’ a female voice drawled his name.
    ‘Afia…’ he forced a smile and stared into her face, his eyes traveled down to her huge breasts.
    ‘Why have you been avoiding me’? Afia blinked seductively.
    ‘Meet me in my tent tonight…’ lust cradled his loins. He was going to taste of her, just this one time. This was the distraction he needed to get over the princess’ strange behavior towards him.
    ‘You came’ her face lit up as she led Ono towards her chambers. She felt joy the moment she set eyes on him; his presence brought her sense of fulfillment that she had never felt even with the prince.
    ‘Yes…Princess’ Ono bowed his head.
    He had come to seek her help to enable him to pay the healer; he was determined not to ask Mma for the cowries he gave to her, she could keep it. He was no longer interested in being with someone that was unfaithful to him. How blind he had been to her behavior earlier.
    ‘Princess, please you must help me…’ Ono fell to his knees, he needed the cowries urgently.
    ‘Rise…no, don’t ever kneel before me’ she raised him up, now, they were in front of her chambers.
    Didn’t he know how special he was to her?
    ‘Tell me…what shall I do for you’? She could see he was greatly troubled and she would do anything to help him.
    ‘My younger brother, Onoifiok is ill, the healer demands a bag of two hundred cowries for treatment else she would pull out from his case; I don’t have that kind of money, but if you give it to me, I’ll be willing to work for you as repayment’ he said to her.
    ‘Is that all’? Tears brightened her eyes as she stared into his face.
    He looked so hopeless and pained, he seemed greatly troubled. That was when she remembered what Afiama had told her, Mma was dead, maybe this was part of the reason he looked so sad.
    ‘Yes, please help me, I have no one else to turn to’ he begged.
    ‘Don’t beg me; you saved my life Ono; now I must save your brother’s’ she reached out and caressed his face.
    The feel of her warm hands calmed his fears; it drove away all his worries. He found peace as he stared into her eyes, but he quickly pulled away. No one could touch him this way, only Mma was meant for him.
    Why would the princess make such a gesture towards him? He quickly moved backwards as he realized the emotion that clouded her emerald eyes.
    ‘Ono…’ she called his name gently and moved closer, this was the time to tell him what she felt.
    ‘My Princess’ his eyes ran suspiciously all over her.
    ‘I will give you the cowries but you must give me something in return’ she paused.
    ‘What shall it be’? Ono wondered and hoped it wasn’t what he was thinking.
    ‘Meet me by the edge of the forest at midnight, I shall bring the cowries to you there; I will tell you what I need’ she replied. She could sense the reluctance in him and she didn’t want to drive him away.
    ‘Why can’t you tell me now’? Ono wondered.
    ‘Let it be at midnight, will you come’? She asked.
    ‘Yes’ he nodded. He was ready to do anything to save Ono.
    ‘You may leave now, wait until midnight’ she dismissed him.
    ‘Thank you princess’ he bowed his head and hurried back home.
    He almost bumped into the Prince on his way out of the palace; Prince Iboro was accompanied by six fierce looking warriors but he wasn’t intimidated by them.
    ‘Stop’ the princess called to him in a stern voice.
    ‘May you live long’ Ono hurried back towards Prince Iboro and his warriors. He didn’t need a soothsayer to tell him that was the prince; he had a strong semblance to his younger brother, Udo, the one that had stolen Mma’s heart.
    ‘What business do you have with the Princess’? Jealousy ripped the Prince’s heart apart.
    Ono was baffled by this question; he raised his head up and looked directly into the angry black eyes. What was the prince implying?
    ‘I saved her life your highness, I came to seek help from her, my brother is dying’ Ono decided to tell him the truth.
    All at once, his anger and envy fled, Iboro suddenly felt stupid as he stared at the innocent young man.
    ‘You may be on your way now’ he dismissed him.
    Ono continued walking without a word to the prince or looking back as he felt insulted by Iboro’s question.
    ‘Why didn’t you show me to the man that saved your life’? Prince Iboro asked.
    The Princess had observed him questioning Ono and she was a bit bothered, so she had stuck around, watching both men. The prince could never know about her attraction to the man that saved her life.
    ‘He is a very humble man, he didn’t even want to be rewarded at first, till his lover was accused wrongly and he came seeking for my help’ she replied.
    ‘A man of repute he is, I must go rest in my chambers, we will talk later’ he moved towards her and planted a swift kiss on her temple before walking away.
    His kiss meant nothing to her; it was cold and lacked passion; all she yearned for was Ono.
    ‘So, have you finally confessed your feelings to Ono’? Afiama asked as she crept behind the princess.
    ‘By the gods! You startled me’Obot swirled round quickly.
    ‘I am sorry’ Afiama laughed.
    ‘Well, I have not told him about my feelings yet’ the princess replied.
    ‘Why? Why can’t you tell him that you love him? That you need him more than you need the Prince’? Afiama asked with a worried look on her face. If the princess failed to confess her feelings then her plans wouldn’t work.
    ‘Isn’t it too soon’? Obot was nervous.
    ‘No. It is not, you must confess your feelings’ Afiama replied.
    ‘Well, I would be meeting him at midnight at the edge of the forest; I need to give him some cowries to treat his brother. I plan to seduce him’ the Princess whispered.
    ‘That is a good idea, now we’re talking’ Afiama curled her arms around her friend.
    ‘Now that Mma is dead, he is all yours’ Afia reassured her.

    Episode 23

    ‘That is a good idea, now we’re talking’ Afiama curled her arms around her friend.
    ‘Now that Mma is dead, he is all yours’ Afia reassured her.
    ‘You should come to my tent where I can protect you’ Prince Udo still held firmly to her hands as they reached the edge of the forest.
    ‘Why? I can stay alone in my hut’ she replied, though she felt uncomfortable as she imagined staying in a hut alone, a hut where she once shared with her sister.
    ‘No, I saw the way your brother looked at you, his eyes were filled with rage and hate; I do not trust him’ the prince explained his reason for asking her to come along with him.
    He had seen the bead on Ekpo’s neck; he was very suspicious of the young man and he had a strong need to protect Mmaffiong.
    ‘He would never harm me. I must go now’ she drew her hands gently away from the prince’s.  She missed Ono, she was greatly devastated by what had happened to her sister and she didn’t have anyone to talk to, she didn’t have anyone to pour out her feelings to.
    She needed to be with her love, she needed to see her angel.
    ‘Where are you going’? The Prince asked. He was worried about her, he didn’t want to let her go.
    ‘To see a friend’ she replied and walked away.
    ‘To see her lover, more like’ Emana chipped in, he had met up with Ono after delivering his message to his elder brother, Iboro.
    ‘I never asked for your word’ Udo snapped at Emana. He had never felt this drawn to a woman; he had only met her and he felt this great need to shield her from impending gloom. This need to wipe her tears away and bury her head in his chest.
    ‘You look jealous’  Emana cut in, he was teasing his friend.
    ‘Enough! Let’s focus on finding the Nkuku cultists’ Udo cautioned him.
    ‘The death of Eka is meaningless, she is not of noble blood, so I don’t understand why the cultists would kill her’ Emana switched the topic.
    ‘What if they were after Mma and killed her sister instead’? Udo offered a different argument.
    ‘Why would they be after Mma? She is also a low life…I mean not of noble birth’ Emana quickly corrected himself as the prince’s stern eyes landed on him.
    ‘That is the problem; that is why we cannot move forward. It doesn’t make sense when I look at it. The Nkuku cultists are hired by noblemen to kill other noble men or women and children of noble blood’ the prince was getting frustrated.
    ‘Are you saying Mma or Eka have royal blood? Maybe the King had an affair with either of their mothers and wants to kill them to protect the secret’? Emana raised a brow.
    The Prince was silent for a while as he pondered on this possibility.
    ‘No, that is not it. But you have given me something to ponder on’ a smile curled on Udo’s lips.
    ‘What is that my prince’? Emana asked.
    ‘I think we should investigate the King’s chiefs first; who would stand to gain much should the princess die? We both know the king does not have other children? So it would make a lot of sense if someone was trying to kill her, that way they will take the throne…’.
    ‘The King’s adviser, Chief Nkwo, Afiama’s father. If the King and the princess are no more, he would be the next in line’ Emana offered.
    ‘But how do Mma and her late sister fit into all these’? The Prince sighed.
    ‘This puzzle is really difficult to crack’ Emana sighed.

    Mma was eager to see the face of her lover again; she had come to apologize for the way she had left him earlier.
    Who could blame her? She was a woman in love and women in love were always jealous.
    She thought of the Prince of Obodom, the way he clung to her hands and the way he stared at her with desire.
    ‘I must focus on what is ahead’ she thought to herself as she approached Ono’s compound.
    There was no other man for her except Ono and she had realized this; no other man could love her and care for her like the way he did.
    ‘Ono’! She called his name sharply as she spotted him with another calabash of hot water.
    Anger shielded his heart towards her as he recalled how she had treated him earlier; he felt enraged as he remembered the way she had laughed and smiled at another man.
    His hands trembled and he lost grip of the calabash, it fell from his hands and split into two.
    ‘My love…’ a wavering smile played on her lips.
    He didn’t return her smile. He said nothing but simply stared into her eyes. Why was she mocking him with her adoration? When had she already paved way in her heart for another man, for a nobleman?
    ‘What are you doing here’? He asked in a gruff voice.
    ‘I…I came here to see you’ she stuttered and wondered why he addressed her in that manner. She had never seen Ono like this; she had never seen him so angry.
    ‘Who is that man that held your hands so affectionately’? Ono asked.
    ‘A man? No man has ever held me affectionately’ Mma was perplexed.
    So she now lied? What was her game exactly?
    ‘I brought the cowries you asked for, you must use it and save your brother’s life’ she fetched a little pouch from the edge of her wrapper where she tied it.
    He saw the eagerness in her eyes, the eagerness to return the money he had saved for her hand; his father was truly right! Mma had fallen in love with someone else.
    ‘Are you not happy to see me? I am really sorry for the way I left in the morning’ she felt uncomfortable with the way he was staring at her.
    ‘You daughter of a whore, the people were right about your mother and here I was thinking that you were of different blood’ the words spewed from his mouth angrily as he snatched the pouch away from her, leaving her shock and despaired.
    ‘How could you say such words to me? What demon has gotten into you’? Her lips trembled, tears ran down her face as she never imagined he would treat her like this.
    ‘Crocodile tears get out of my father’s compound. I don’t ever want to see you again. Whore’! He yelled angrily at her.
    His voice was so loud that his father was drawn to it and therefore rushed out of his hut to see what was going on.
    ‘Ono…please don’t do this to me…What is my crime? Why do you want to leave me when I need you the most’? Mma sobbed and fell on her knees.
    This is not what she asked for. She had sought for his comfort, for his love and not for his insults and abandonment.
    ‘It is over between us Mma, go back to your prince’ he spat on the floor, close to where she knelt before leaving for the hut where his younger brother lay.
    ‘Ono, what prince? What are you talking about’? Mma rose and ran after him.
    ‘Stop there! Twak da! You wayward maiden’ Ono’s father called her in a stern voice.
    ‘Father…how can you call me such names’? She felt broken.
    ‘I am not your father. My son has found out your true nature; you must never see him again; I warn you, don’t set foot in this compound again’.
    ‘No…this is not happening’ she watched as the old man left for his hut and banged it loudly.
    She sobbed quietly as she stared at the compound she once used to enter freely. Why had Ono mentioned the prince? Why had he deserted her when she needed him most?
    She felt lost and alone in the world; where would she go now?
    ‘Ono! Please, don’t leave me’ she ran back to the hut where he stayed.
    ‘Ono’! She kept screaming his name, how would she survive without him?
    ‘Do you want to wake my brother up’? He stormed outside.
    ‘Ono, why have you forgotten so easily the love that we shared? What is my offence? At least tell me that’ Mma asked of him.
    He clearly saw how manipulative she was; perhaps the prince had carnal knowledge of her and had dumped her that was the reason she had come back to him.
    ‘This is your offence’ he raised his hand and launched it on her face.
    ‘Stay away from me Mmaffiong’ he scowled and retreated into the hut.
    Her cheeks burned, Ono was now a total stranger; this was all she needed to know that he had fallen in love with someone else. Eka had been right after all.
    ‘You sent for us’ one of the cultists said to her as she arrived her hut.
    ‘Yes, where is Ekpo’? She asked after their leader.
    ‘He couldn’t make it, there was a problem with the last mission’ one of the men answered.
    ‘What problem exactly’? Afiama inquired.
    ‘I killed my sister instead of Afiama’ Ekpo strolled towards them, the rest of the men lay flat on their faces before him.
    ‘What? That cannot happen? Why? You have ruined everything’ Afiama was horrified. This was yet another flaw in her plan.
    ‘I would still kill Mmaffiong but you will double our fees’ Ekpo replied.
    ‘Good. I have a new mission for you’ she stared at the faces of the men.
    ‘The Princess would be meeting a man at the edge of the forest tonight; do not kill her or the man, I just want you to bundle them up; and wait there for me’ Afiama carefully instructed.
    ‘How much will our fee be’? Ekpo asked.
    ‘A bag of four hundred cowries and more’.
    ‘If it is successful’ she quickly added.
    ‘It shall be done’ Ekpo replied.
    After Afiama had walked away, he called to one of his men and whispered some instructive words.

    Episode 24

    After Afiama had walked away, he called to one of his men and whispered some instructive words.
    Just like the sun had departed from the skies, so was her heart without Ono; she didn’t still take in what Ono had done to her. She buried her face in her hands and cried.
    She felt numb, alive yet lifeless; two very important people had left her life that day and she was alone, filled with emptiness and loneliness.
    As she approached the hut where she had stayed with Eka; she stopped at the entrance as visions of her sister’s blood in the middle of the room came running into her brain.
    She had thought herself courageous, but now she stared at the lone hut in the middle of nowhere, she realized that her courage was gone.
    ‘I cannot be here’ she started to move back.
    Fear gripped her as she imagined what had happened to her sister; her killer had not yet been found and he could return at any time to hunt next for her.
    She saw in her mind’s eyes the way Eka was dragged from the fire area into the house; the way she fought and struggled with her attacker and the way he slit her throat.
    Blood poured on the floor like rain would wet the land; Eka’s eyes grew wide as she realized she was no longer alive.
    As the vision faded, she suddenly felt she wasn’t alone. It was a feeling of being watched.
    ‘I must find the prince, he can save me’ she muttered to herself, feeling more stupid that she had not listened to him in the first place.
    But she found it difficult to move, almost like she was trapped.
    She was greatly petrified as she imagined what would happen next; would the killer show up and slit her throat?
    She mustered courage and moved away from the hut, towards the bush path that led to the river; maybe she would find the prince there.
    ‘May the gods be with me’ her lips trembled.
    The feeling of being studied became stronger and she broke into a race; she needed to survive but she was not fast enough as she felt a hand clasp over her mouth.
    ‘No’! She screamed. Tears welled up in her eyes, she was lost forever; her only thoughts were focused on the prince now, how she wished he could hear her.
    She fought hard as her attacker dragged her deeper into the thick vegetation; she struggled with his hands as they bruised the mark on her face, the place where Ono had hit her.
    She cried out for help, she cried out for the gods to help her.
    ‘Please…let me go’ the words were rough, they weren’t clear but she was sure he heard her.
    ‘Please…’ she groaned but he said nothing.
    What had she done to the man? First, it was her sister and now her. What if the prince had been right? What if Ekpo blamed her for the death of his sister?
    ‘Ekpo…please’ she called his name as she had not seen the face of her attacker.
    ‘Who is Ekpo’? A familiar voice asked and suddenly, her attacker released his grip over her and turned her around to face him. The man she had started to like.
    ‘My Prince’? Her eyes grew wide in surprise as she stared into his face.
    ‘I am sorry Emana was rough on you, I just wanted you to be safe’ he replied.
    Anger rose in her chest as she stared at Emana, the man that had bundled her roughly; she felt humiliated and annoyed that the prince had played tricks on her.
    ‘I am sorry, Mmaffiong’ he moved closer to her.
    She was about to say something when she noticed a crowd of flies and a man who was being bound by thick ropes sitting next close to a carcass.
    ‘Is that a dead body’? She felt nauseous as she stared at it.
    ‘Yes. That is why I asked Emana to fetch you, we may be in danger as we caught this man trying to steal the body from the forest’ the prince said.
    ‘I am so sorry for not listening to you earlier’ she bowed her head, the prince had meant well for her.
    ‘It’s okay’ he rubbed her face.
    ‘Emana, take the prisoner along, when he is ready to talk we shall feed him’ the prince gave an order.
    Mma was curious to know who the prisoner was and who the dead man was.
    ‘I think we found your sister’s killer’ the prince could read her thoughts and this amazed her. Only one man had that power especially when he stared into her eyes: Ono.
    She quickly looked away from the prince’s penetrating gaze, so he wouldn’t notice the mark on her face.
    ‘What makes you think he killed her’? Mma asked.
    ‘He has an identical bead on his other hand. I believe it strongly and it confirms my suspicion that the Nkuku cultists were behind Eka’s attack’ he replied.
    ‘And the prisoner’? She urged him on.
    ‘I and Emana came to fetch firewood for our camp when we found him trying to lift the body from the forest in a very suspicious manner and then we noticed the same bead on his wrist. That was all we needed to know he is a member of the cult group. We would torture him till he speaks’.
    ‘You fetch firewood’? She chuckled at that part, she wasn’t listening to anything else.
    ‘Yes, is that a bad thing’? He grinned, knowing where she was going.
    ‘You are a prince’ she reminded him.
    ‘So? If princes eat and excrete, then princes must also help in the cooking’ he smiled at her.
    ‘You are funny’ she laughed.
    He stole a glance at her beautiful face at that moment; her smile meant everything to him, it brightened the dull expression on her face and made him feel alive but not for long. He found a dark patch close to her eyes; it was a mark that someone had attacked her.
    ‘What is it’? She noticed the prince now wore a frown, he was no longer smiling. Had she done or said something to annoy him?
    ‘Mmaffiong, who did this to your face’? Udo felt enraged as he wondered the vile creature that would lay his hand upon a woman, upon Mmaffiong.
    She opened her mouth to speak but words fled. How could she tell him that Ono had bruised her face with his slap? How could she tell him that the man she loved and trusted with her life had jot turned his back against her?
    How could she?
    ‘Talk to me, I shall have his head’ he glared darkly at her.
    ‘Please…’ she fell on her knees and crouched at his feet.
    ‘He is my lover’ she broke down and cried.
    Slowly, twilight settled upon the palace; the once bright skies were overtaken by indigo clouds and the once scanty atmosphere was overcomed by blackbirds which had just returned from daily feasting.
    She stared out of the window towards the route that led to the forest; she was sure of it, he felt something for Ono and she would pursue it. With her friend’s support, she was going to gain his love.
    Her breasts itched as she imagined his mouth on them; her nostrils flared as she imagined Ono dropping kisses on her soft lips; her heart raced as she imagined him making love to her.
    She had saved herself for the prince, but he had failed her by being unfaithful and she would treat him the same.
    ‘My Princess, open the door’ a knock sounded on the door.
    ‘Come in…’ she said reluctantly as she knew the one behind the door.
    As Iboro stepped into the chambers, it was right there on her face that he wasn’t needed.
    He was suddenly filled with rage at this behavior of hers; what had he done to get her upset? He had paid her a visit and he had not come empty-handed
    ‘Won’t you at least offer me a seat’? Iboro asked.
    ‘Sit’ she replied curtly, still backing him as she stared outside. Iboro was interrupting her lustful thoughts; why couldn’t he stay alone?
    ‘And you have your back to me’ he complained. She was starting to irritate him as she had never showed him this side of her.
    ‘Do you love me’? He asked.
    ‘Why would you ask me that’? She turned sharply and faced him, had the prince known about Ono? She couldn’t lose him.
    ‘You have been acting funny since I came here; you don’t talk to me; you don’t want to kiss me; what have I done wrong’? He rose and walked towards her.
    ‘I…I still do love you but…’ she faced the window and turned her back to him.
    ‘But what? What is it that I cannot handle’? He could see something greatly troubled her and he wanted to be a part of that.
    ‘I feel traumatized’ she blurted out.
    ‘After those men attacked me, I feel trapped in a cage; I find it hard to concentrate on other things apart from that day’ she lied smoothly.
    He felt her pain instantly; he understood why she faced the route that led to the forest.
    ‘I swear to you today, I will find those men that attacked you and who sent them’ he replied.
    ‘From the way you sound, you already have a lead’ she turned and faced him again. Not that she cared, she just wanted to talk and make him leave.
    ‘Yes. We do have a lead’ he nodded.
    ‘We’? She raised her brow.
    ‘Yes. Udo sent word to me that the Nkuku cult group was behind your attack’ the words rushed out of his mouth before he could stop it but he needed to say anything, do anything that would get her attention.
    ‘Nkuku cult group’? She was now interested. Why would a cult group attack the princess of the land?
    ‘They are hired by noblemen to attack other noblemen and Udo has a feeling that whoever sent them after you stands to gain a lot’ the prince replied.
    ‘Who could that be’? She rolled her eyes. She couldn’t think of anyone at that moment.
    ‘I promise, we would get to the bottom of this’ he placed a hand on her face.
    ‘Thanks to my Prince, I must sleep now’ she smiled, leaned forward and placed a kiss on his face.
    ‘Sleep well, my love’ he returned her kiss and walked through the door.
    ‘Abasi! I was almost exposed’ she took off her crown and her royal dress. She needed to appear as an ordinary maiden as she would sneak out of the palace to meet Ono.

    Episode 25

    ‘Abasi! I was almost exposed’ she took off her crown and her royal dress. She needed to appear as an ordinary maiden as she would sneak out of the palace to meet Ono.
     ‘Come and make love to me’ she parted her legs and wiggled her waist slowly and seductively.
    He drew a deep breath and knew deep down that it was an invitation he was too weak to turn down; but what about the princess? He couldn’t continue hurting her.
    ‘Afia…’ he called her name as he sat at the edge of the bed.
    ‘Yes, my love’ she sensed his hesitation. Something had changed in her prince.
    ‘Wear your clothes and leave’ his tone was commanding and very much princely.
    ‘I don’t understand, have I done something wrong’? She was startled, she had never seen him this way.
    ‘No, I want you to leave’ he replied and moved towards the door.
    The clothes she now wore would make her unnoticeable as she slightly veiled her face, so no one would recognize her.
    She noticed that the Prince had forgotten his royal horn, a horn of a cow which most heirs carried along with them. How could he forget something this important?
    She decided she would drop it with the warriors that she found by his chambers but to her surprise, she found no one by his door and had assumed that he had gone out for a walk and so she decided to drop it in his room.
    “Why are you doing this”? She heard a female voice.
    Tears welled up in her eyes as the princess realized that Afiama was right; the prince was not a faithful lover; he had promised to be with her forever just like her father had married only her mother.
    “I love Obot, I cannot jeopardize our relationship, we are getting married soon Afia, you must understand this” the prince replied.
    ‘Afiama’? The princess thought she had heard wrong, she almost pushed the door open but she held herself.
    “I thought what we shared was important, I love you Iboro, please don’t leave me” Afiama replied in a broken voice. She had planned her whole life to be a queen; he couldn’t ruin her plans now.
    “I am sorry, my mind has been made up” Iboro replied.
    She quickly wiped the tear that slipped from her eyes as she realized she was about losing the prince forever if she did not tell him about Afiama.”‘I accept your rejection but promise you’ll grant me this last request” she asked.
    The gravity of his rejection had not hit her yet as she had another mission for the night; a very special mission that would secure her place in the kingdom. Her father had sanctioned this new plan of hers; though she hated it at first, she would still go ahead with their new plan.
    “Tell it to me” he urged her on.
    “Meet me by the edge of the forest at midnight; I have something important that I must show you”.
    “Why do you want me to meet you by midnight”? Was she trying to lure him back to her?
    “I don’t want to seduce you at all, rest your mind. I want you to see something that would help you find the princess’ attackers” she lied knowing this would get the prince to come.
    “Okay then, we shall meet by the edge of the forest at midnight”.
    Tears rolled down Obot’s cheeks as she let the words she had just heard sink into her whole being; she felt greatly betrayed; trust shattered into a thousand pieces before her and she felt helpless.
    So Afiama had been sleeping with the prince all this while? She was the enemy and yet she couldn’t see it?
    The Princess wiped her face and quickly rushed towards her chambers to absorb the shocking revelation.
    ‘May the gods punish me if I ever listen to you’ she tore the clothes she wore and fell into her bed crying as she imagined Iboro making love to her best friend.
    All the love she had for him fled; all the feelings of infatuation she had with Ono vanished; was this why Afiama was supportive? It was all making sense now as to why her friend would encourage her to cheat on the prince.
    She had planned to use it against her. What had she done to deserve this hatred and betrayal?
    She suddenly stopped crying as she remembered Afiama’s last words to the prince,
    What if she was behind the men that had attacked her? But it didn’t make sense as they had attacked Afiama too. But why had they pierced her ankle with an arrow and not Afiama’?
    She suddenly stopped crying and rose to her feet, she knew what she needed to do; Afiama would pay for this unforgivable betrayal.
    ‘Where are you going brother? Please tell me a story about “Ekpe” (lion) and “Ikud”(Tortoise)’ Onoifiok stared at his elder brother with weak eyes.
    His heart flared as he stared at the pale and rail structure that was once his buoyant and vigorous younger brother.
    ‘I shall be back soon and I would tell you a story’ Ono assured the boy.
    ‘Where are you going? It is almost midnight, the evil birds have started their song’ his father said.
    ‘I want to get the cowries for Onoifiok’s treatment’ he replied and fetched a machete.
    He still couldn’t understand why the princess had chosen this ungodly hour for a meeting.
    ‘Where’? The old man asked with concern evident in his voice. He had almost lost his younger son, he couldn’t lose Ono too.
    ‘The palace’ Ono lied, knowing quite well that if his father knew the truth, he wouldn’t approve of it.
    ‘I take it she agreed to help you’? He referred to the princess.
    ‘Yes. She promises a bag of two hundred cowries’ he replied with a bold voice.
    ‘May the gods go with you son’ the old man replied and fed his eyes on the mat where Onoifiok lay. He didn’t know why, but he felt uneasy as he watched his son walk away.
    ‘Are you alright father’? Onoifiok asked.
    ‘Yes little one, would you like me to tell you a story’?
    ‘Yes, very much’ the little boy grinned and so his father begun: ‘Once upon a time…’
    The sky was naked and blue; stars dotted her beautiful body and the moon sat upon her like a crown; midnight had arrived.
    He went through the events of his day as he approached the edge of the forest where he was to meet the princess.
    He suddenly felt guilty for the way he had treated Mma; he was ashamed of himself as a man; no man full of dignity and honor could hit a woman.
    He had no right to slap her even though she had cheated on him by being with another man; he had no right to hit her and call her names.
    He was still in love with her; he felt jealous and that was the reason he had lashed out at her.
    He made a choice as he stared at the moon which reminded him of the beautiful moon goddess which Mmaffiong was named after; he would find her and apologize when morning came. Even though she was with the prince now, he still cherished her and wanted them to end things on a positive note.
    He felt more relaxed now he had reconciled with Mma in his heart. What bothered him now was the princess; he had seen the desire for him clearly in her eyes; what if she planned to seduce him under the moonlight?
    ‘I would never do such an evil thing in the eyes of the gods’ he muttered to himself as he approached the edge of the forest.
    If the Princess planned to seduce him for the cowries, he would forget about helping his brother as he wasn’t the type of man that sold himself to a woman.
    As he reached the edge of the forest, he gently dropped his machete and moved closer to the wild plants to urinate.
    Unknown to him, he was being watched by unseen eyes.

    Episode 26

    As he reached the edge of the forest, he gently dropped his machete and moved closer to the wild plants to urinate.
    Unknown to him, he was being watched by unseen eyes.
    He was cleaning the spot where Ono had hit her; he dipped a piece of cloth into a calabash filled with hot water and pressed it against her skin.
    All her life, she had heard stories of how pride and cruel princes and princesses were but Udo had changed her perspective; he was very down to earth and kind.
    She wondered if he did this to everyone that he saw or he did it because of something else.
    ‘Tell me about your lover’? The Prince asked, he knew she was uncomfortable talking about the man that hit her, but maybe she would open up to him if she focused on the positive side of the man.
    She licked her lips nervously and stared at the bright sky, they had not yet entered his tent.
    A smile covered her face, one that could not be easily hidden in the dark as all the good memories of her and Ono flashed through her mind and she had no option but to gush about the only man that had ever loved her.
    ‘He made me feel so special; when my stepmother would maltreat and starve me, he was the one that usually gave me food and drinks; he loves me so much and I feel the same for him…’ she stopped and rose to her feet.
    She was deeply in love with Ono and it would take a long time to heal from his rejection.
    ‘Mma….’ He walked up to her, he sensed the love she and her lover shared was very strong and nothing could separate them.
    ‘What did you do to upset him’? The prince asked.
    ‘Nothing…he suspected I was cheating on him; she stuttered and quickly dried her wet face with the back of her palm.
    ‘That’s ridiculous, why would he say such a thing’? The Prince had not known her for long, but he was confident she wouldn’t do something like that.
    ‘He must have seen us together’ she said.
    She remembered she had been holding hands with the Prince when they had gone to see Nkoyo and Ekpo.
    ‘My prince’ Emana interrupted the conversation.
    The prince quickly tore his eyes away from her and faced Emana.
    ‘Is the prisoner ready to talk yet’? Udo asked.
    ‘No. This is not about the prisoner, your brother sent word from the palace; he wants you to hide in the bushes and wait for him at midnight; the Nkuku cult may attack again tonight’.
    ‘How did he know this’? Prince Udo wondered.
    ‘He wouldn’t say, I have delivered his message’ Emana bowed his head.
    ‘Kill the prisoner, we have no need for him’ Udo ordered Emana in a gruff voice as he was assured they would finally bring to an end the activity of the Nkuku cult.
    ‘I am coming with you’ Mma said to the prince, she had heard everything that was being discussed.
    ‘No, it would be too dangerous’ he dismissed her request quickly.
    ‘Please, they killed my sister; I want to witness their deaths, besides when all the men are gone, and who would be left here with me’? She asked.
    He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and realized how smart she was.
    ‘Fine, you shall come’ he replied and was rewarded by that smile that she had offered him earlier; that smile that could bring the world to a pause.
    Regret filled his heart as he stared into her face; her heart yearned for someone else, her heart belonged to someone else and he could never own it.
    ‘Mmaffiong’ he called her gently.
    ‘My Prince’ she wondered what it was that bothered him.
    ‘If Ono was really prepared by the gods for you, you shall have him’ he replied and left for his tent to fetch his weapons.
    It was going to be a long night.
    His words meant everything to her, and for the first time she questioned the gods.
    Was Ono meant for her? Or was there someone else?
    He could tell by the retreat of the moon back into the skies that time had passed yet the princess had not showed up.
    He was greatly troubled as he leaned slightly on the African Oil bean tree that stood proudly at the edge of the forest.
    Where was she? His heart raced as he imagined that something had happened to her.
    The wind rustled the leaves of the enormous tree; it caressed it and caused the branches to dance in unison. It was going to rain.
    Thunder clapped and sang in a loud voice; lightning twinkled and blinked occasionally.
    This was it, he would return home; maybe the princess had changed her mind. He struggled to his feet as he was immensely tired, he felt like he needed to get some sleep and so he straightened his entire body and gave a loud yawn but suddenly stopped as he noticed a movement behind the bush.
    Maybe he had not see well, maybe the night was playing tricks on him and that was why he had started to see double.
    He quickly fetched his machete and attacked it underneath his arm while heading back home.
    Out of the darkness arose three hefty figures.
    He was afraid at first, why had they showed up at this dark hour? Where they human or spirit?
    But his fears were quickly dismissed as he recognized one of the faces; it was familiar and he realized where he had seen the men.
    Had the princess set him up? Had she lured him into a trap? His heart was a whirl of thoughts as he did not know what to make out of this.
    ‘Stand right there’ Ekpo said in a stern voice.
    ‘Where is the princess’? He stared at the man who had killed their former leader and disrupted their first mission, which was to kill the princess. He recognized him instantly.
    ‘I have no time for your kind, get out of my way’ Ono snapped at him. He scanned their faces and realized fighting them wouldn’t be a problem; there were just three men.
    ‘I guess she is not coming after all, get on your knees’ Ekpo commanded.
    A feeling of shock overwhelmed Ono as the words came from his attacker; how had they known he would be meeting with the princess at that very hour? His heart raced as he thought about the princess, he hoped she was okay.
    ‘I would never bow to you or anyone else, now get out of my way before I cut your head off’ Ono drew his machete from the scabbard and raised it upwards.
    ‘You think you can scare us this time? You are human and no spirit and tonight shall be your end’ Ono reached for his spear.
    He knew how important his mission was to Afiama but vengeance for their leader was more important, besides he wasn’t answerable to her as he had pay her debts.
    Ono moved closer to the men, he launched his machete at the first man but he dodged successfully.
    ‘Surrender now you still have the chance else we will kill you like a dog’  Ekpo rained down curses upon him.
    ‘You curse your mother and your whole generation’ Ono replied and launched his machete closer, it almost landed on Ekpo’s chest but he dodged.
    Ekpo’s eyes scanned Ono briefly and noticed his ankle was an easy target. He plunged himself closer to him and directed his spear towards Ono but he noticed his plan and moved backward.
    For some moments, the men battled; hitting their machetes together; dodging, breathing and groaning but no one was killed.
    ‘Run like you did the first time and I shall spare your pathetic lives’ Ono said in a confident voice as he retreated backward.
    ‘I guess you prefer dying like a dog’ a mischievous smile appeared on Ekpo’s face as he stared at Ono.
    Ono noticed his smile, even the moon was afraid of it; he quickly turned around and found two men behind him.
    He felt a sharp pain in his chest as he realized he had been surrounded? How would he get out of this alive?
    Without hesitation, one of the men raised his machete and plunge it into Ono.
    The pain he felt was immense; he was in agony as he felt his own blood flowing to the earth.
    Tears welled up in his eyes as he thought of Mmaffiong and how he had hit her; was this the way he would depart from the world without making peace with her.
    ‘My blood shall haunt you’ he whispered and fell on his knees.
    ‘Your blood shall not haunt anyone’ Ekpo came up from behind and struck the base of his kneck with the spear; Ono fell on the ground but not before screaming with everything that was left in him.
    ‘What next master? Okon has not returned from bringing, Nkwaette’s body, what should we do next’? One of the men asked Ekpo after they had successfully conquered Ono.
    ‘We disperse, tomorrow we shall find him’ he replied.

    The prince and his warriors were almost at the edge of the forest when a loud scream filtered towards them and had everyone halting.
    ‘My prince, are you sure about this, there’s still time for us to turn back’ Emana moved towards the prince. He wasn’t sure of what was ahead and his job, foremost, was to see that the prince was unharmed.
    Mma clutched tightly to the prince, she felt afraid as she heard the loud scream; the hairs on the base of her neck tingled as she stared into his face.
    ‘We continue, we must get rid of these cultists, once and for all’ he grabbed Mma’s hand firmly and they both continued walking.
    He loved the feel of her soft palms; he loved the way she held unto him like he meant everything in the world to her; a sad feeling creased his chest as he stared down into her beautiful face.
    She was truly a moon goddess, for her dark beauty was further enhanced by the light of the moon.
    She could sense his eyes over her; her skin tingled just like the way Ono made her feel. Slowly, her eyes traveled up to meet his. They stared at each other for some moments and then looked away briefly; each to their own thought.

    Episode 27

    She could sense his eyes over her; her skin tingled just like the way Ono made her feel. Slowly, her eyes traveled up to meet his. They stared at each other for some moments and then looked away briefly; each to their own thought.
    ‘Shh, quiet now’ the prince placed a hand against her mouth.
    ‘You are not coming with us, can you stay here? I don’t want anything to happen to you’ the prince whispered to her as they arrived the edge of the forest.
    ‘No…I must come along, you cannot leave me here’ Mma protested.
    ‘She may come, my prince, I promise to watch her’Emana knew she wouldn’t change her mind.
    ‘Fine’ the prince replied and marched forward.
    ‘My prince! Look’ one of his men ran towards the corpse on the ground.
    ‘A dead man’ the warrior pointed at Ono’s body.
    ‘Watch the bushes carefully, they are around’ Prince Udo hurried towards the body on the ground, Mma followed him closely.
    The moonlight was really bright and so she could make out the face; it was really familiar.
    She held her breath and hoped it wasn’t what she was thinking.
    ‘My prince…’ she started in a small voice as she recognized his loincloth.
    ‘Yes’? He sensed the fear in her voice.
    ‘Ono…Onoitem’ she stuttered and pointed at the body.
    The prince ignored her cries and focused on the man; he had lost a lot of blood as his attackers had pierced him.
    ‘He is still alive, if we can get him to safety, he can be revived’ the prince rose to his feet, having finished with his assessment and pulled out the machete that was stuck in his flesh.
    Ono groaned in a weak voice; he was no longer conscious of his environment, he was gradually slipping away from reality.
    ‘Do you know this man’? He found her crying and sobbing against the body.
    ‘Yes, my love’ she buried her head on his chest and cried, she could still feel his heart beating.
    ‘Emana’! The prince screamed, he couldn’t watch the man die.
    ‘Take this man back to our tent and treat him, make sure nothing bad happens to him’ the prince ordered.
    Emana was about to argue but he decided the Prince knew what was best for him.
    ‘You must go along with him’ the prince turned to Mma as he sensed danger.
    She was hesitant, she had not known the prince for a long time but she didn’t want any bad thing to happen to him.
    ‘What about you’? She asked.
    He stared into her eyes briefly and was happy that she was concerned for him.
    ‘I have fought more dangerous battles, I promise you I shall be back’ he reached out for her hand and squeezed it.
    She suddenly had the urge to show him her gratitude; he had helped her solve the mystery surrounding Eka’s death and he had saved Ono’s life.
    She moved closer to him and threw her arms all over him in a warm embrace.
    ‘Mmaffiong…’ he called her name, he had not expected this.
    ‘Be careful’ she pulled away from him and hurried behind Emana.
    Now she was gone, he could focus; he wondered where his elder brother was; what if the prince was in danger?
    ‘My prince, there is no one here, maybe we should go back to the camp’ one of his men suggested after moments of waiting.
    ‘Patience, that bleeding man we found here did not get stabbed on his own, patience is a virtue’ the prince replied.
    Unknown to the Prince, the Nkuku cultists were high up on the oil bean tree and had been watching everyone from there.
    Ekpo scanned the men beneath him and decided they could win the battle since they were not greatly outnumbered.
    It was going to be a battle of five against eight.
    ‘I sense we are being watched’ Udo released his machete from its sheath and stared around but there was nothing except the moonlight and plants.
    Suddenly, there was a loud cry from above and before they knew what was happening; the Nkuku cultists threw themselves now and begun to attack Udo’s men without warning.
    ‘Fight to the dead’! The prince screamed and launched himself at one of the cultists.
    Tears streamed down her eyes as she peeped from the window and found the silhouette of the man she thought she knew leaving the palace.
    Afiama had betrayed her; Afiama had set a trap for her but she wasn’t going to fall into it, instead, she would ruin Afiama and everything she held dear, starting from her father.
    The Princess wiped her face and rose to her feet. She knew it was late but she had to tell her father, the king what she had heard.
    Surely, he would believe her; he wouldn’t turn her away as she had never lied to him before.
    The palace was quiet at midnight with guards standing at every door; the servants were deeply asleep; nothing was in motion, nothing except for her.
    The chambers where her father slept was always guarded heavily with ten men who took shifts daily to protect the king.
    ‘What are you doing up so late princess’? One of the guards asked. They were all startled to see here there.
    ‘I must speak to my father’ she moved towards the door, even though he was sleeping, she didn’t care. All she yearned for was to see Afiama burn for her sins; all she wanted was to get the burden off her chest.
    She pushed the door open and stepped inside.
    ‘Father’? Her heart stopped as she found him in bed with another woman aside her mother.
    ‘Obot? What are you doing here’? The King struggled for his robe.
    Tears stung her eyes as she stared into the eyes of the person she had trusted with her whole life.
    ‘So you’re sleeping with my father too’? Tears ran down her cheeks as she stared at Afiama who fell on her knees.
    ‘What is she talking about’? The king faced Afiama who was confused and lost between the two.
    ‘I…I can explain’ she stuttered.
    ‘I want her dead’ Obot said through clenched teeth.
    Her eyes met her fathers, anger and disappointment brew in hers.
    ‘Else I tell mother what I saw tonight’ Obot spat on the ground and rushed towards her chambers.
    She was deeply hurt as she had not realized that Afiama was a slut; she had trusted her with her own life; how naïve she had been to think that true friendship existed.
    ‘So you also slept with my daughter’s husband to be’? The King scoffed and called to his warriors.
    ‘Please…he forced himself on me’ Afiama cried as she realized her game was up.
    ‘Take her away and lock her up’ the king ordered in a gruff voice.
    ‘No’ she stammered as the guards dragged her away.
    Her father had encouraged her to seduce the king as that was the only way to get the prince finally.
    If she was able to sleep with the King, it would make him weak and effortless when she finally got the prince for herself.
    What better night to seduce him that now?
    She had planned to sleep with the king and meet up with the Prince at the edge of the forest but things had turned sour.
    Everything she had carefully strategized for years had been blown away like plants without firm roots.
    Tears rolled down her cheeks as she imagined what fate would befall her now that princess had discovered the truth.
    Fear gripped her as she remembered the princess’ shocked expression.
    How had the princess known about her affair with the prince?
    If the Princess had not gone to the edge of the forest to meet Ono, then all her plans would surely backfire on her.
    ‘Abasi! Show me mercy’ she wailed as the men dumped her inside a dark dungeon.
    Machetes clashed, blood was spilled as the men battled under the full glare of the moon.
    Ekpo’s men had fallen and so had the Prince’s men but no party was ready to surrender.
    ‘We need to run master, we are outnumbered’ one of two men left shouted to Ekpo.
    ‘Abasi Akan! May the gods forbid’ Ekpo grunted like a wounded animal. Even if they fled, the prince had seen his face and would come looking for him. He was determined to fight with all of his strength. He was determined to fight to death.
    ‘You seem tired my prince, let us turn back’ one of his men who were close whispered.
    ‘No, we have come face to face with the men that attacked our land, we cannot give up now’ the prince replied.
    Though he felt weak; though he felt exhausted from the fight, he was willing to lay his life for this cause. He remembered the promise he had made to his father to protect his elder brother, this was part of it.

    Episode 28

    Though he felt weak; though he felt exhausted from the fight, he was willing to lay his life for this cause. He remembered the promise he had made to his father to protect his elder brother, this was part of it.
    The prince screamed in a loud voice, he was enraged and fueled by bloodlust as he launched forward towards Ekpo. He was so swift like a torch of lightning that Ekpo could not resist the edge of the machete that cut into his stomach and had all his intestines pouring out like a fountain.
    ‘No…’ he groaned and fell on his knees.
    ‘Master’! His two surviving men screamed.
    ‘Run! Keep our fire burning…’Ekpo’s eyes grew pale as he stared at the man that had taken his life, a mischievous smile curled his lips as death overtook him.
    ‘Run? Kill them all’ the prince said to his men, who all rushed to have their share in the flesh of the remaining cultists.
    ‘May the gods be praised for this great victory’ the prince fell on his knees.
    He had not expected the battle to be that tough but he had been surprised; the Nkuku cultists were well trained and had fought very hard.
    A bright smile appeared on his face as he thought of Mma, he had kept to the promise he’d made her. He was still alive.
    However, the smile slowly faded from his face as he felt a sharp pain pierce his neck.
    It was sharp and agonizing; his brain swirled, trying to absorb what had just taken place.
    ‘The Prince has been wounded’! One of the warriors noticed the arrow that had descended from the Oil bean tree and had found its way into the prince’s neck.
    ‘You can kill me now you are done with my brothers’ a remaining cultist jumped down from the tree and surrendered his weapons. The Prince’s men did not hesitate, he was beheaded immediately.
    ‘Mmaffiong…’ he groaned, the pain was too much for him to bear.
    ‘He is dying, we must take him to Emana before he loses much blood’ the men gathered themselves round the prince.
    Prince Iboro had arrived the edge of the forest with his machete clearly stuck out; he had heard sounds of groaning and screaming and had increased his pace.
    He wondered if Afiama would show up like she had told him. Maybe she had been right after all about the warriors who would meet up at the edge of the forest.
    ‘What is happening here’? He moved towards the men once he recognized their loin cloth.
    ‘The Prince…’ one of them tried to explain as Iboro pushed them away.
    ‘No…Udo…’ he felt weak as he stared at his wounded brother.
    ‘Mmaffiong’ Udo groaned. He knew he wouldn’t survive it, but he still yearned to see her beautiful face for the last time.
    ‘Udo…I must take you back to camp’ tears filled Iboro’s eyes as he stared at his brother who was losing life gradually.
    ‘No, no…’ the pain grew worse, there was no more time for him.
    The gods were calling him to the other side of the river, and he had no other option but to reply.
    ‘Tell…Mma..ffiong’ he struggled to breathe.
    ‘I love her’ as the last words fled from his pale lips, darkness veiled his face and he died.

    The bleeding had now slowed down but his temperature was high; fear gripped her as she stared at his weak face; he was dying, slowly and there was nothing she could do except to pray to the gods.
    Tears poured down her cheeks as she remembered all the good times they shared when he was healthy and still in love with her.
    ‘It’s of no use crying, he seems like a strong man; if he makes it through morning, then he will live’ Emana dragged himself from the tent where Ono was being treated outside, once his job was finished.
    ‘Thank you very much for your help, for treating him’ Mma followed him outside.
    ‘I did as the prince commanded’ Emana replied. Now he was done treating Ono, he quickly fetched his axe and decided he would find the prince and protect him from the Nkuku cultists.
    ‘Did you hear that’? Mma called Emana to the loud footsteps that approached the camp.
    ‘Go inside and hide’ Emana swallowed deeply, afraid of what was ahead.
    He clutched tightly to his axe and advanced towards the entrance of the camp that was blocked with heavy and long bamboo sticks.
    He could hear the sound of crying and sobbing; his heart raced; what had gone wrong?
    His hands trembled as he realized Prince Iboro was carrying another person in his hands; the person seemed unconscious.
    What was happening?
    ‘Get the boat, we are sailing home’ the prince commanded in a sad voice.
    Emana’s eyes strayed to the limp body of Prince Udo; he felt like screaming; he felt like clawing out the hearts of the men that did this thing.
    ‘As you wish my lord’ Emana took some men with him and hurried to the place where they had hidden their boats.
    Mmaffiong had been peeping through the tent where she hid; she rushed out screaming as she realized the prince was dead.
    ‘Calm yourself, he has been avenged’ Iboro said to her.
    ‘How could he die like that? He promised…’ the rise of fresh tears clogged her throat. She was hurt, she was deeply broken.
    ‘You must be Mmaffiong’ Iboro stared at her with tears in his eyes; he felt weak as he gazed at Udo’s young face; how was he going to explain this thing to his father?
    ‘Yes’ she nodded.
    ‘His last words were to you, he loved you’ the prince relayed his message and resumed walking as Emana returned with the other men.
    ‘He loved me’? Her lips shook as she cried.
    ‘He loved me’! Her knees gave way and she fell on the floor weeping. Her tears were mixed with the sand of the earth as they were mixed with fear and despair.
    What if the same fate awaited Ono? What if he never opened his eyes when morning came? How would she survive without him?
    If the gods could not spare a good man such as the prince, whom would they spare then?
    Her shoulders shook as she cried; Ono was her soul; though he had hurt her she had forgiven him; she didn’t want him to die, no, she wanted him here with her.
    Slowly, the moon traveled back to the clouds after watching all that had happened that night; slowly, she blinked her eyes and went back into the sky and assigned another for a duty.
    Dawn crept in after.
    The cock crowed three times as he awoke from his bed shivering from the nightmare he had.
    ‘Afiama’? He climbed out of his bamboo bed and trotted towards the hut where his daughter stayed, but there was nobody.
    ‘Daughter, where are you’? He folded his arms across his chest and stared at the bright clouds, morning had come.
    She was supposed to return after she was done with the king like they had planned.
    He had asked her to sleep with the king to provide them with leverage, something to back them up when they finally conquered the prince.
    What if she had been discovered? What if the King had turned her down in anger and had decided to throw her into the dungeon?
    Surely, no man could turn his daughter away, though she wasn’t much of a beauty; men loved her huge breasts and she was perfect in the art of seduction.
    He checked the kitchen hut and the bathroom, but she was no were to be found.
    ‘Chief Nkwo’ a sweet voice called to him, he quickly turned around and was amazed to see the princess.
    ‘Princess? What are you doing out here so early’? He was surprised to see her.
    ‘I came here to see you’ Obot smiled at the man.
    ‘Welcome, but this is not really a good time, I am looking for your friend, Afiama’ he replied.
    The princess rarely visited him, and whenever she did, she was always in the company of his daughter or her maidens; he found her lone visit rather strange.
    ‘Friend? Or enemy’? The princess scoffed and walked closer towards the man.
    She was no fool, Afiama wasn’t working alone and she wasn’t working without purpose.
    She knew her betrayer was working with someone more intelligent and one with a higher purpose.

    Episode 29

    She knew her betrayer was working with someone more intelligent and one with a higher purpose.
    She remembered the words of the prince about the Nkuku cultists; they were hired by noblemen to kill other noblemen.
    She could think of no other person than Afiama’s father; surely he had to be aware of his promiscuous daughter’s activities.
    ‘Excuse me’? The man scoffed and moved closer to his hut.
    ‘You vile old man, you serpent in green grass; show me your true self and I will spare your life’ the princess was enraged by his hypocrisy.
    ‘Have you lost your mind princess? I am still the King’s adviser and you have no right to talk to me like that’ he waved a finger at her.
    ‘King’s adviser or King’s betrayer’? Obot laughed as she advanced towards him.
    Anger welled in him as he watched her mocking eyes; his fears stared at him in the face as he realized that Afiama must have been caught in the process of trying to seduce the king.
    ‘Confess’ she hissed sharply and snapped her fingers.
    ‘I have nothing to confess and you would pay for this insolence’  he yelled angrily as five palace guards showed up from nowhere and bundled him away.
    ‘Set this house ablaze’ she said to her guards.
    ‘No! You cannot burn down my home, you evil child’ he screamed as the men bundled him away.
    ‘You and your evil daughter shall burn the same way’ Obot yelled back.
    As the flames consumed the hut, she traveled back in time and recalled her encounter with the men at the edge of the forest; surely Afiama had planted them to attack her.
    She felt guilty for plotting against Mmaffiong and hoped the girl wasn’t dead for her shameful wanting.
    How could she have ever thought of leaving a man like Iboro? Afiama must have seduced the prince just like she had seduced her father. She was willing to forgive Iboro and take him back as Afiama’s ploy was to separate them.
    However, her plans had crumbled just like the fire had crumbled her hut.
    ‘You failed’ the princess muttered to herself and returned to the palace with her men.
    The golden sun had shown her lovely face and had brought light to the whole earth.
    Her tears had now dried up; she had finally accepted the will of the gods for Prince Udo but she still prayed in her heart that their will should favor Ono. She couldn’t deny that she felt something whenever he stared into the eyes of the prince, but now he was gone, she knew and believed in the man the gods had chosen for her.
    She caressed his pale face and wondered when his eyes would flutter, when they would open eagerly to behold her face.
    ‘Please wake up Ono…I love you so much’ she whispered weakly.
    Emana had left her some herbs which she was to apply to his stomach wound, the place where the cultists were spared; she couldn’t wait to see the faces of the men that had attacked and killed her sister; finally, they had been destroyed.
    They had almost taken away her Ono and had to pay for their cruelty.
    His breathing was slow and steady; there was still life inside of his bones but that had not given her any reassurance. She wanted him to be alive and full of strength, just like the man she had known.
    Did she think about his father and his younger brother briefly? And then she wondered for the first time since she found him wounded, what had he been doing at the edge of the forest?
    ‘Mmaffiong’ someone called her name.
    She was frightened at first as she stared at the sleeping Ono, who could it be?
    ‘Do not be afraid’ Emana returned to the tent where he had left her.
    ‘I thought…’ she paused as she noticed the prince behind him.
    ‘I couldn’t leave the princess high and dry, there are some things that I must settle’ Prince Iboro drew a deep breath and stared at the wounded man, his face was quite familiar.
    ‘Wasn’t this the man that saved the life of the princess’? He wondered.
    ‘Yes, my prince. He did save her life and his reward was my freedom when I was wrongly accused’ Mma quickly rose to her feet and bowed before the regal.
    ‘The Princess mentioned this, how come he fell by the hands of the cruel men’? The Prince rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
    ‘I ask myself the same thing’ Mma replied.
    ‘I must leave for the palace now, I must gather all the bodies of the cultists and take them to the king; their families deserve to know their true identity’ the prince said.
    Mma was curious, even though the cultists had been brought to book, how about those that hired them? How about those that had been sent to kill her sister.
    It was as if the prince saw the questions that ran through her head.
    ‘Bring the prisoner forward’ Iboro snapped his fingers and one of the cultists Udo had caught was pushed forward.
    Mma felt surprised to see the man as Udo had given Emana a command for him to be killed.
    ‘He said he would talk if we would spare his life and defeat his brothers’ Emana said.
    ‘Please do not kill me, I would tell you everything and whom we were working for’ his lips trembled. His face was bruised; his ribs were gnawed by the markings of the whip.
    Mma’s kind heart went out towards him but she quickly reminded herself of how evil he was, just like his brothers that had killed Eka and Udo; and had wounded Ono deeply.
    ‘We have to go to the palace at once’ the prince announced and hurried away with Emana. After they had exposed those behind the dreadful cult attacks, they were to return to Obodom to break the sad news of a dead prince.
    ‘It’s just you and me now…’ Mma sighed and glanced at his body.
    She suddenly felt very thirsty and decided to step out and search the other tents; in case they had water there else she would have no other choice but to go down the river.
    She knelt close to Ono and dropped a soft kiss on his forehead before moving out of the tent.
    Luckily for her, she found a keg in one of the tents; she quickly drew out the ruffled palm leaves that covered the keg and drowned her mouth with the content.
    ‘Pwah’ she spat out as she realized she had gulped in fermented palm wine but she had swallowed a great deal of the liquid.
    She suddenly felt drowsy and was amazed by the power of the wine; she dropped the keg and quickly rushed back to where Ono lay; she couldn’t leave him alone.
    Her brain swirled; her legs wobbled as she reached the hut. Fear gripped her as her eyes went over to the place where he was supposed to be but he wasn’t there.
    ‘Where are you’? She crawled towards the place she lay, but the stale palm wine that now settled in her belly slapped her cheeks and propelled her into a deep sleep.

    Episode 30

     ‘Where are you’? She crawled towards the place she lay, but the stale palm wine that now settled in her belly slapped her cheeks and propelled her into a deep sleep.
    As the Princess neared the palace with her men, she found her servants and some of the people that had gathered wailing.
    ‘What could this mean’? She increased her steps and moved closer, her eyes met directly with the man she loved, but this time, she felt him pull back and it hurt her.
    She almost rushed to ask him why he pulled his gaze away from her but she kept herself in check as the king strolled out of his throne house to address the people.
    ‘Thank the gods that my daughter is here, please, prince, tell her what you just told me’ the king’s voice was sad.
    ‘My princess…’ he stared directly into her face.
    ‘I lost my brother in battle to the men that had attacked you, we found them and we destroyed them, just like I had promised you’ he said to her.
    ‘Udo is dead’? She was shaken, she now understood why he had looked so sad.
    ‘The gods understand why’ the prince tried to stay strong.
    ‘Bring the prisoner Emana, let him confess’ the prince called to his guard.
    The princess stared at a malnourished young man who was bound by ropes and dropped before the King and the people.
    Just then, her guards brought the king’s adviser closer to her and whispered: ‘What should we do to him’?
    ‘Take him to where that prisoner is, let the people see him for who he truly is and fetch his daughter from the dungeon, let her see shame’ the princess replied.
    ‘Speak’! The prince ordered the boy.
    “I…belonged to the secret cult, Nkuku cult and we were usually hired by highly placed men in the land to assassinate or rape other nobles” tears streamed down his hungry face.
    The king stared across to his daughter in shock, not really because of the words of the prisoner, but because of what had happened the night before. His eyes found his adviser next to the prisoner and he wondered what his daughter was up to. But he couldn’t dare to ask else she would expose him.
    The people booed as they listened to the confession.
    “Abasi akan! May the gods judge you as they please” some women screamed, visibly shaken by the cultist’s revelation.
    “It was we who attacked the princess…” he paused as the crowd shouted and cursed.
    ‘Silence’! The King called the people to order.
    “We were hired by Afiama and her father…’ he paused and looked at the man who was placed close to him.
    This did it, the king could not bear it anymore; Obot had been right to call Afiama, a traitor.
    ‘Nkwo, why would you do such a wicked thing to me’? The King rose to his feet.
    ‘My husband, be patient, let us listen to all he has to say’ the Queen rose to pacify him, her magic worked as he returned to his throne.
    “But a man jumped out of nowhere and saved the princess. Afiama had hired us to do another dirty job; she asked us to kill Mmaffiong for whatever reasons known to her but we ended up killing a wrong person. We killed her sister instead” he paused as a woman broke down into sobs on hearing this.
    The woman was Nkoyo; she sobbed mainly because Ekpo had deceived her. What reason did he have to lie?
    “Afiama’s plan was to kill the princess and to lure the prince to herself. That is all I have to say”.
    The words cut deep through the prince; he found it very difficult to believe that someone as harmless looking as Afiama could be this callous.
    He was greatly ashamed for his actions of sleeping with her.
    ‘You were such a wise prince’ he muttered to himself as he remembered his younger brother who had always warned him to end things with Afiama.
    Shame covered the princess as she realized she wasn’t the only guilty one; though the prince had cheated on Afiama physically; she had also cheated on him mentally as she had grown lustful desires that had no root or bearing for Onoitem.
    She felt peace now she had killed the feelings; she felt peace now everything was over but she still needed her vengeance against her wicked friend.
    ‘I have listened closely to the young man…what do you have to say, Chief Nkwo and Afiama’? The king’s eyes found Afiama as the guards fetched her from the dungeon.
    ‘You lured me into all these because you wanted power’ Afiama spat against her father.
    ‘How dare you? You little whore; you were the one that always wanted everything the princess had. What was I supposed to do’? He yelled angrily at her.
    He was a cursed man. He couldn’t wait to die as the shame was too much for him to bear.
    ‘I see, you two have owned up to your guilt. Slit their throats’ the king ordered.
    Afiama’s brown eyes grew wide as fear filled her; she stared at the princess and then, the prince.
    Her eyes were pleading; crying; begging for mercy but her heart reminded her that she had not shown the princess mercy and deserved whatever punishment there was for her.
    ‘May my soul find rest’ her father muttered as they dragged him up.
    ‘You mock yourself, we are both doomed’ she mocked her father for the last time before their faces were covered in a sack cloth. Even the prisoner who had confessed was not spared amidst his pleading.
    ‘You have done well, Prince Iboro, I do not know how to thank you for this great thing’ the King was happy and sad at the same time. He was drinking from the calabash of sweetness and bitterness.
    ‘I have not finished my work here, I brought the bodies of the men that attacked my brother; the members of the Nkuku cult group’ he replied.
    She felt proud as she stared at him; what kind of man would go through this trouble just to find those that attacked her?
    At that same instance, his thoughts focused on her. He had fulfilled his promise of finding her attackers, now he had to confess his affair with Afiama; he loved her and she deserved the truth.
    His eyes bumped into theirs; desire was ignited, a fire burned. They were in love once again and it felt perfect just standing there and looking into each other’s eyes.
    A shrill cry that pierced the air unsettled their special moment.
    ‘No, my son cannot be a cultist. Ekpo has killed me. I have lost everything’ Nkoyo rolled on the floor and wept bitterly.
    ‘Mma…’ his hands gently caressed her angelic face as he watched her sleep.
    The wound had not been so deep yet he had bled so profusely from it; his blood had clot now and he felt stronger than before; life and light had returned to his bones.
    The only face he saw in the place of darkness where he had found himself was her face; the only name his lips could manage was her name.
    He felt terribly stupid for the way he had treated her; for the names, he had called her. Jealousy was madness, now he had sanity.
    He remembered everything now, everything as it had been the night before.
    He had been wounded by the cultists and the prince had come with the company of his warriors and Mma, they had rescued him from the chords of death.
    ‘I am so sorry…’ tears fell down from his eyes.
    He had hurt her deeply; he had bruised her with his words and torn her soul apart by his rejection.
    The power of the drink was slowly fading from her eyes as she heard someone call her name. Her eyelashes fluttered and found his face. She thought she had been dreaming at first but then his lips moved and she heard her name again.

    Episode 31

    The power of the drink was slowly fading from her eyes as she heard someone call her name. Her eyelashes fluttered and found his face. She thought she had been dreaming at first but then his lips moved and she heard her name again.
    ‘Ono! My love! You are awake’! She rose up and embraced him tightly but quickly pulled away as he groaned.
    ‘Where did you go’? She asked and rubbed her head, it throbbed like it had been pricked with a thousand thorns.
    ‘I went to urinate’ he replied.
    ‘I am so sorry for the evil names I called you, I am so sorry for the way I hit you. Will you forgive me’? He begged.
    Tears brimmed in her eyes as her hands caressed the side of his face.
    ‘I could never hold a grudge against you. You were there when I was hungry when I had no clothes to wear; you have always been there for me and the gods chose you for me’ she cried bitterly as she remembered the dead prince.
    ‘What makes you so sad’? He felt her pain.
    ‘The prince is dead. He was killed by the cultists’ she wiped her face.
    He paused for a while. He felt horrible that such a good man who had saved him was slaughtered.
    ‘I am sorry, what can I do to alleviate your pain’? He asked.
    He realized he had misunderstood her relationship with the prince; looking at her now, he could still see the love that she felt for him was genuine.
    ‘You know what was funny? He reminded me of you in so many ways. He was really a kind-hearted person and sheltered me when Eka died’ she narrated all her experiences and how the prince saved her during each occasion.
    ‘He was truly anointed by the gods’ Ono loved the story he heard about the prince.
    ‘I thank you for being there for me. The princess had asked me to meet her up so she would give me a bag of two hundred cowries; that was the reason I had gone up to the edge of the forest’ he replied.
    Her eyes lit up as he answered her unspoken question.
    ‘I am so sorry for misjudging you, I was only jealous that you had found love in the eyes of the princess’ Mma felt ashamed to admit her jealousy.
    ‘Why would you think that? I wouldn’t deny the fact that the princess’ beauty is exceptional but you still remain my moon goddess. My heart beats only for you’ he reached for her hands and fondled it.
    ‘You shower me with too much praise’ her heart was delighted in him.
    ‘I would shower you with more. You are the woman that I truly love’ he leaned forward and enveloped her mouth in a sweet kiss.
    She felt free; she felt happy; she felt peace and she felt satisfied.
    After all, was confessed and exposed; the princess quickly moved towards the prince and dragged him towards her chambers.
    ‘I am so sorry for the way I treated you; I am so sorry for the loss of your brother; I am so sorry’ words fled from her mouth as the prince went down on his knees.
    ‘Please do stand up; you are never to kneel before any man’ she tried to pull him up but stopped when she noticed the fear in his eyes.
    ‘What is it’? She asked. Was he ending things with her?
    ‘Princess…’ he licked his lips nervously, not knowing how to start his private confession.
    She still felt hurt as she remembered his conversation with Afiama but she had already forgiven him and had decided that was their past.
    ‘I know you were sleeping with Afiama, I overheard you two when I came to drop your horn in your chambers’ she blurted out.
    ‘You did’? He felt annexed.
    ‘Yes, why were you sleeping with her? Were you in love with her’? The princess asked.
    ‘No’! He jumped to his feet and grabbed her slender hands in his large ones.
    ‘I didn’t love her; I was stupid to cheat on you with your friend; please forgive me Obot, I am so sorry and I promise never to cheat on you again’ he begged.
    She was silent for a while as she searched his eyes. She needed to be sure that this man was telling the truth that he would never cheat on her again.
    ‘Swear by this’ she quickly pulled one of her royal beads and offered it to him.
    ‘I swear by the gods that I shall never sleep with any other woman till I get married to princess Obot; the most beautiful woman in the Annang lands’ entire he spoke the words.
    ‘Wear it’ she commanded him.
    He did wear it. He was ready to do anything that would satisfy her that would make her love him.
    ‘I can only forgive you if you forgive me’ she fiddled her hands. She didn’t want any secret to dwell with them, so this was her chance and she was going to take it.
    ‘I could never hold anything against you’ he waited eagerly to hear her confession.
    ‘I had lustful desires towards Ono, the man who rescued me but I realize my mistakes and it is you that I want. I was to meet him at the edge of the forest at midnight to give him a bag of two hundred cowries that he desired which I have already sent to his house. I swear to you and the gods, I did nothing physical with him and I would never’ she apologized.
    ‘Is that all’? He almost chuckled, he felt slightly relieved.
    ‘You know what? Ono almost lost his life’ he informed her of Ono’s critical condition.
    ‘Abasi’! She gasped at the news.
    ‘When he recovers, give him an everlasting reward’ he bent towards her and kissed her face.
    ‘Does it mean you have forgiven me’? She smiled as their eyes met again.
    ‘Yes. I love you with all my heart Obot, but we may not marry now’ he sighed.
    ‘I understand and I am willing to wait’ she replied. She knew he had to mourn his brother for a period of time.
    ‘After I mourn Udo, I shall return for your hand’ he explained.
    ‘When I think about you, time means nothing’ she stared at his lips and wished he would kiss her once before he sailed home.
    ‘I love you, my beauty’ he drew her closer to him and pressed his lips to hers.
    They kissed each other with a passion that with great intensity. This was love. This was fulfillment. They had found each other again.
    Two market weeks had passed since Ono had been attacked but he had recovered fully with Mmaffiong there to care for him and with the encouraging voice of his younger brother who was always there to give him support.
    ‘I was very surprised my son when one of the palace guards arrived here with a bag of cowries, I was reluctant at first but then I took a bold step and collected the money’ his father explained how the princess had saved Onoifiok’s life.
    ‘Thank the gods you did not reject the cowries’ Ono stifled a laugh.
    ‘The palace guard would have had a filled day’ Mma joined.
    Ono’s father had apologized a hundred times for treating her so badly; he had been influenced by the lies Nkoyo had cooked up about her late mother which had not been fair to her.
    They all laughed after Mma chipped in.
    She now lived with them, though she slept in a different hut from Ono’s; he insisted that he would only sleep with her under the same roof whenever they got married.
    ‘Brother! Can you tell me a story about the tortoise and the hare’? Onoifiok rushed to his brother’s side.

    Episode 32

     ‘Brother! Can you tell me a story about the tortoise and the hare’? Onoifiok rushed to his brother’s side
     ‘Boy, allow your brother some rest’ his father cautioned him.
    ‘What if I told you a different story of a prince and a princess, who fell in love, would you like that’? Mma smiled at the little boy.
    ‘Yes! Maybe it would give me tips on how I will marry Princess Obot’ Onoifiok smiled as Mma led him away towards the kitchen where she was heading to prepare their lunch.
    Ono stared at her with so much desire; her skin seemed smoother; her legs were more finely shaped; everything about Mma glowed and he wondered what the reason was.
    ‘She is a good woman, better than I thought’ his father commented and Ono quickly tore his eyes away from the sway of her hips.
    ‘You must marry her’.
    Ono nodded his head. Now that he had fully recovered, he would farm twice as much and save up for her hand; he couldn’t wait for the day he would be with her as her husband.
    ‘I cannot believe the events that have taken place in this land; who would believe that the son of Nkoyo, Mmatim, and Odoro were in a cult’? The old man initiated the gossip that dwelled heavily on the lips of the people.
    ‘I found it difficult to believe myself’ Ono said.
    ‘My son, it is the will of the gods that you live and marry a woman as beautiful as Mmaffiong’.
    ‘I only wish the prince had not been killed by them; it such a disgraceful thing that Afiama and her father plotted against the king’ Ono switched the topic.
    ‘The earth received their blood; that is a lesson to all betrayers’ the older man yawned and rubbed his belly as Mmaffiong returned with a large calabash of  Cassava fufu while Onoifiok followed her closely with another calabash which contained freshly prepared Edi Ka Ikong soup.
    ‘I love that smell, you are such a lovely cook, my angel’ Ono began to shower praises on her as she dropped the calabash on a long wooden bench carved out of the Iroko before them.
    ‘Let me bring water, for drinking and washing’ she started to the kitchen.
    ‘No, let me do that. Sit, I will feed you today’ Ono pinched her cheeks and rushed to fetch the water.
    Mma felt self-conscious and shy as Ono’s father kept looking at her.
    ‘You must not be an ashamed child, love is a thing of pride. It is pure and I feel glad that my son chose you’ the man smiled kindly at her.
    ‘Thank you father…’ she looked away shyly.
    ‘Father, I want to marry a princess when I grow up like prince Uko in the story Mma just told me’ the boy said to his father.
    ‘If I were you, I would learn how to address her respectfully, soon your brother shall make her his wife’ the old man replied.
    Shortly after the correction, Ono returned with a keg filled with drinking water and some gourds and a calabash for washing of hands.
    Moments after, they were all eating; molding large morsels of white fufu and dipping it into the greenish face of the delicious soup that was garnished with periwinkles, snails, shrimps and lots of dry fish.
    Suddenly, the beating of loud drums accompanied by singing and dancing was heard close by.
    ‘Can you hear that’? Ono was the first to observe.
    ‘What could be happening’? Mma wondered.
    ‘Let us wait and see; the drums are not for war or sorrow’ the older man advised them all.
    They had not finished eating when the royal family- the king, queen and the princess along with some chiefs and people processed into Ono’s compound.
    ‘My gods, the king is here’! Mma whispered sharply and rinsed her hand in the calabash.
    ‘What do they want’? She wondered.
    The princess had hearkened to the words of the prince; Ono had almost lost his life because of her on two counts and he deserved a special reward.
    He was a man  full of dignity and honour, why else had he been able to register her beauty? How else was he able to stay faithful to his Mmaffiong?
    ‘Do not be afraid, I have come to honour the man that saved my daughter’s life’ the King raised his staff and the drum beats came to an end.
    ‘Come forward’ the princess beckoned to him but noticed his resistance.
    ‘Go’ Mma whispered and quickly bowed her head as she was in the presence of the great king.
    ‘But…I did not do any of those things for reward’ he said to her.
    ‘Ono’! The king’s firm call propelled him forward.
    ‘Get on your knees’ the king commanded and he did so.
    ‘You saved my daughter’s life and this means so much to me; you are a man whom the gods have chosen to honor; you are blessed by the gods and so is the woman that you have chosen’ the king paused and beckoned to Mmaffiong.
    ‘Come forward Mma’ the princess called her name.
    She was surprised as she heard her name from those royal lips, how had the princess come to that knowledge?
    ‘By the powers placed upon me as the King of Ajop; I pronounce you my new adviser, and I state in the open that this position would be passed to your first son and your son after. What do you say’? The King snapped his fingers and one of the elders presented him with a bead.
    Tears of joy welled up in Ono’s eyes as he stared at the king and then beside him.
    ‘Say yes’ Mma whispered to him.
    ‘Anything for you’ he smiled.
    ‘Yes, I shall serve my king as long as he wants me to’ Ono replied.
    ‘So shall it be’ the King moved towards him and placed the bead of office upon his neck.
    At this gesture, the drummers resurrected their drumming; the dancers wiggled their waist to the drum beats; the crowd cheered and clapped. Joy was present in this gathering.
    Ono had never felt this happy; his destiny had turned overnight; from a farmer to a nobleman but that wasn’t what pleased him the most.
    ‘I am happy that you are still by my side’ he looked into Mma’s eyes.
    ‘I love you’ a tear slipped from her eyes.
    ‘You may rise’ the king commanded.
    Little Onoifiok was not left out of this great occasion; he danced happily and in a very funny manner that caught the princess’ attention.
    ‘Who is that little boy’? Princess Obot walked up to Ono.
    ‘Oh, that is my brother’ they both laughed as they watched Ono.
    ‘I am happy he has recovered, he should join the royal dancing group’ she suggested.
    ‘That would be a nice thing’ Ono smiled and pulled Mma closer to him for recognition.
    ‘This is…’ he was about to say her name but the princess quickly supplied it.
    ‘Mmaffiong…you are well suited for each other’.
    ‘You are indeed very beautiful’ Mma was awed by her appearance.
    ‘Thank you. I must leave for the palace now. The king shall send you cowries to change your home and your clothes’ the princess said to him before strolling away in her Oyonyo and her crown.
    ‘Can you believe this’? Mma jumped excitedly; at last, all her sorrows were over.
    All their pain was gone; the sun had finally found them; the moon had shown them grace; luck had smiled upon them.

    Episode 33 (Final)

    All their pain was gone; the sun had finally found them; the moon had shown them grace; luck had smiled upon them.
    All Ono could think of was how her face glowed when she was excited and how her lush lips parted for a smile; his desire for her grew and he quickly dragged her towards him and planted a kiss on her lips.
    She wanted to struggle with him at first but the sweetness of his mouth tore down her defenses, ate her strength and fed her with a taste of his passion.
    Her tongue found his; they sucked and caressed each other; she felt a sweet ache in her belly as he pressed her firmly against his body. He had never kissed her this way before.
    ‘Hmmm’ Ono’s father cleared his throat and they both released each other.
    ‘Kneel down both of you, let me bless you; you have both made me proud’ the old man was speechless by the honor he had received.
    ‘May the gods bless your union; may the gods water your hands; may you have children like the stars and may your palms never go dry’.
    “Yak ade ntere, let it be so’! They chorused happily.


    Thunder clashed with lightning; the sky was pregnant with a secret that poured down as rain; the gods had been kind to the lovers and had held the skies during their wedding ceremony.
    After the wedding, they had been allowed to have some privacy; privacy to explore themselves and release all their built-up desires.
    He waited patiently in the hut for her; she had been so beautiful at noon.
    Her hair had been curled up in the most sophisticated fashion; she had worn the Oyonyo gown and a crown had been placed on her head.
    Her feet had been adored with white and pink clay and her eyes with antimony which made her look very seductive.
    He stared at his hands and wondered what it would be like to make love to her; he had never been with a woman before as he had saved himself up for her.
    ‘Come in’ he sat up as he heard a knock.
    Mma had never felt this nervous and shy around Ono; she didn’t know why she was feeling this way.
    ‘Come, sit here’ he beckoned to her.
    From the look of her, she had taken a bath and changed her cloth. She now wore a white gown which signified purity.
    ‘You look adorable’ he cupped her face in her hands and kissed her.
    ‘Thank you’ she said, not able to meet his eyes.
    ‘I want to make love to you, what do you say’? He winked.
    ‘Yes,’ she nodded slowly.
    Something else had weighed him down and he decided to ask her permission about it.
    ‘I need a favour from you’ his hands now focused on her neck.
    ‘Yes’? She found it hard to concentrate.
    ‘I want to name our first son after the Prince of Obodom, Prince Udo; he saved my life and yours; let us do well to remember him’ Ono suggested.
    His suggestion further confirmed that this was the right man for her; he was so selfless and generous that she almost wept her unworthiness of him but she held herself, tonight wasn’t for tears.
    ‘I accept, you are a man of dignity’ she praised him.
    ‘And you are a virtuous woman’ his hand cupped her mounds and gave them a shallow squeeze.
    Her lips parted open as she moaned at the sweetness of his touch.
    ‘Make love to me’ she pulled off her dress and stood naked before him.
    His eyes took in her form; her firm and perky breasts; her flat stomach and what he liked most, the swell of her soft buttocks.
    ‘You are very special to me’ his eyes were clouded by want and passion as he lifted her and dropped her gently on the bamboo bed.
    His wet mouth covered hers while his hands explored her entire body.
    Her soft moans encouraged him; hardened him and had him releasing the loincloth that had suppressed the weight of his passion.
    He kissed her belly to her laps and stopped at the opening that lay between them; he parted her legs and brought in his member and slipped it into her sacred core.
    ‘Arh’ she gasped at the pleasure of him inside of her, but the pleasure was quickly replaced by pain and she felt blood trickled down her laps.
    She almost pushed him away but the pain was no more and she was left with nothing else but pleasure.
    He loved the feel of her soft mound; he loved how close they and warm their bodies were; he stared into her eyes the whole time that he made love to her.
    Her moans became louder as she arrived the peak of pleasure; her grunts were primal as he fell next to her in sweet surrendering and conquering.
    ‘I love you’ he held unto her.
    ‘I love you…queen of queens’ he added.
    She had nothing more to say at that moment; only a look into his dark eyes brought her satisfaction. Ono was the man, Ono was her man.

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