“I thought they would have some slaves drive you in some royal chariot or carry you on a litter my princess!” Otheris gagged.
“You can call me Thakina, and I am not your princess!” she answered. Thakina led the way on her black horse as Otheris and the rest of the men trotted along behind her, “by the way, if I am ever going to marry anyone from Moughdug, it certainly won’t be you!”
“Oh! I am falling in love with you every step of the way…princess!” he said, “the more I hear your voice the deeper the ship that carries my heart sinks! I am not a proud man! I am just a boy who happens to be in love with the most beautiful girl in the world!” winked from his own horse, “Pride? Hmm!” he turned, “Look at Karim on that horse,” as he pointed at the huge warrior among the seven men traveling with them, “now that is a man who’s got pride written all over him! I heard you slain thousands when you served under the former king, Karim!”
“I have slain more than a thousand,” said Karim as he drew his sword from its fully decorated scabbard, “in battle, to me a thousand men are like a woman’s heart! Already stolen without even thinking of wooing!” answered Karim, “that is why king Ikaneziah gave me this beauty as a gift!” lifted his sword up high for the rest to see, they all cheered.
“You’re all unbelievable!” said Thakina as she neck reined her horse to push Otheris away from her side, “imbeciles!” She whipped her horse leaving the men behind.
“Easy princess, don’t talk to your knight in shining armour like that!” joked one of the men as they laughed.
“She’s mine boys! You know that, so beat it!” Otheris said.
Otheris, Thakina and the seven men journeyed through the hot desert sand and ran out of drinking water but were lucky to come across a beautiful orchard. Otheris tried hard to get Thakina’s attention but she stubbornly ignored all his efforts.
“The king has more than thirty beautiful daughters, I do not know why you waste your effort picking the arrogant one Otheris!” shouted one of the men as they mounted their horses to continue their journey.
“Just in case you’re blind my brother, it is called love!” Otheris replied.
“Yeah! Brothers, Otheris is right! He is in love…because he is blind!” said another laughing hysterically.
“Half-wits!” said Otheris as he dashed his horse, Karim stood next to his horse admiring his sword.
Otheris rode away and caught up with Thakina, “Hey princess!”
“Ugh!” she exclaimed, “I’ve told you several times stop calling me that!”
“Oh I am sorry! I thought girls like it when a boy calls them princess,” he japed.
“Well, I don’t deal with boys and I am not a girl…I am a lady!” she shouted, “and so should be treated like one…by a real man that is but, as you can see my friend, you’re a boy so I understand!” she teased.
“Whoa there! How many times are you going to talk about the boy-girl thing? I am a twenty six year old male and that makes me a man!” he said, “Look at these? See?” raised his arm and showed her his biceps to impress her.
“Yes you are…a man who still lives with his aunt!” she mocked, “You think you’ll win a woman’s heart acting like that?”
“Hey! When we get back I am going to own a beautiful garden, the best of all the gardens in the kingdom for that matter and I heard it has got a beautiful fish pond in the middle of it!” he said, “and the good Lord has bestowed me with a beautiful woman!”
“My father will never give you that garden, trust me! Even if you slay the devil himself!” she said, “By the way, why would you choose something like that? Of all the things a man would ask a king, you chose a garden!? Gosh you’re way more boyish than I thought!”
“Well, I did swap it with the most precious thing in the world, didn’t I? Still the generous king offered to give me both the garden and his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage when I return?” he giggled, “So who’s wiser now?”
“Stop fooling yourself, I am not beautiful. You haven’t seen my sisters yet, have you?” Thakina said, “And stop telling me you gave it all up simply because I am beautiful!”
“I’d give up the world itself just for you!” he replied.
“Only a foolish boy would do that, do you know what a real man would do?” she asked.
“Oh here we go again!” he injected.
“A real man would go for the world so the girls would rush for him!” she added.
“Well, I don’t want to be a man then, I want to remain a boy…who loves you!” he blew a kiss in the air for her but she acted as though she caught it then bent towards her horse’s mouth and fed it the symbolic kiss, then drew her hand from the horse’s mouth to its tail and threw it off like the horse just dropped some dung.
“What? You did not just do that princess,” he said.
“Aargh!” she exclaimed.
“Ha-Ha! You’re so going to make a fun companion, and a great mother too!” Otheris winked.
“I hate it when you wink! I hate it when you address me as a princess! Stop it already!” she said, “why are you so annoying?”
“Only on one condition!” he answered.
“Which is?” she asked.
“If you will sing for me on the day of our wedding?” he teased.
“I am dead! Yep, I am definitely dead!” she replied, “Do you even know why I came along with you on this journey?”
“Well, maybe your father wants you to go see the world and probably expects that you’d learn a lot about life and maybe meet the man of your dreams!” he joked.
“There is no such thing as the man of my dreams but you may be right; father did want me to go out and interact more but then…you and my father had already struck a deal so if his problem was for me to get a partner he would’ve told me to just stay home and wait for you to come back, then we marry, don’t you think?” she replied.
“Aah! So she does like me!” he said.
“You’re pathetic!” said Thakina.
Otheris started to whistle a sweet song.
“What song is that? You got the tunes wrong!” she added.
“Then teach me!” he replied.
“I won’t whistle, I’ll sing it so move your horse from my view and listen to a professional sing,” prided Thakina, and as she opened her mouth to sing, Karim and the others galloped through.
“I think we should rest beneath the mountains and camp there for the night!” Karim insisted.
“Unbelievable! This is so not fair! I can’t believe this!” Otheris deplored.
“What did I do?” Karim asked, “I was only trying to save your life! You should thank me!” he stared at Thakina.
“Save my life? Ugh!” Otheris emphasised life, “On this journey, I am the one doing the saving!”
“Did you hear that boys?” said Karim, “our young-wanna-be hero here thinks he will save the day when this all ends!” the men laughed.
“Not only is he going to save the day, he’s taking home your swords along with the heads of the serpents of Qhudrus…boys!” said Thakina as she flogged her horse leaving the men with nothing but dust.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Princess!” mocked one of the men, “very funny!”
“Let’s not forget boys! Thakina here is the all mighty Oracle! Oracles have foresight, right?” said Otheris. The men didn’t find it funny as they stared at him.
Otheris walked his horse passed the men, “I thought so!”
“This woman I don’t like the way she talks!” said one of the men.
“She’s a princess, that’s how they talk Zuka!” Karim responded.
“Well, I don’t like princesses! And this Otheris I say we cut off his head after we are done with the serpents of Qhudrus and fabricate a story of how he died heroically!” Zuka added.
“The princess will tell the king!” said another.
“Who says her body must return home with its heart still beating?” Zuka suggested.
“That’ll do boys! Let’s not waste our time scheming on silly things! Don’t you just love the drama and entertainment they put up? Imagine how boring this trip would be if these love birds weren’t with us!” said Karim.
“You think she loves him?” asked Zuka.
“She likes him alright!” answered Karim, “let’s go make a camp for the night men!” he moved his horse in front of the men and turned, “by the way, this talks about cutting heads and taking a lifeless body home!” he cleared his throat, “let it die here and now, unless you want to choose a new leader but if you still trust me to lead this mission I say no one should even dare to think about what my ears just heard! We’re on this journey for one thing, and that is to help the young man here bring back the heads of the serpents of Qhudrus to King Ikaneziah!” Karim turned to look at where Otheris was headed, “I don’t know how he intend to do, but ours is to follow the orders of the king!”
“I’m starving!” said Zuka.
Karim led the men and by the time the seven of them got beneath the mountains, it was sun down. Thakina and Otheris had gathered some sticks to set up a fire.
The men got a nice spot and tied their horses to the trees in order to rest for the night. Zuka and two of the men went up the mountain.
“We should be at the gates of Qhudrus by dawn!” said Thakina.
“I heard there’s a shortcut up these mountains!” Otheris responded.
“Well, it’s best we go through the gates. It’ll be less suspicious, we don’t want any of the serpents alerted before we even make any move, do we?” she said, “let me see your sword!” as she turned to Otheris.
“My sword?” Otheris asked posing like a warrior.
“Yes! Your sword, might I have a look at it?” she said.
“Why not! Here!” as he handed it to her.
“Hmm! I kind of like it,” she drew her own sword, “let’s see!” Thakina threw his sword back at him and as soon as he grabbed it, she charged towards him faster than he’d think; Otheris used his sword to protect himself, and as their swords clanked, half of Otheris’s sword went flying in the air.
“What the hell!? What was that all about?” Otheris asked, holding to his broken sword while lying with his back to the ground panting.
“I thought as much!” she stretched her hand and lifted him up.
“Here! Take this, you may find it more useful than that cucumber you carried!” as she handed her sword to him.
“Hmm!” he exclaimed, “light and sharp! Where did you get this baby from?”
“Forged in the mountains of Ghunakog by the legendary Jheet of Sunthai himself,” she replied.
“Jheet of Sunthai? The great blacksmith from the east who got killed by his apprentice with a wooden sword?” he laughed, “I heard the story!”
“Did you? Well, probably contrary to what you must have heard; after killing his arch enemy Zugthak, the leader of his rivalled tribe, whom Jheet believed ordered the killing of his entire clan. Jheet fled up the mountains of Ghunakog. The rivalled clan known as the Oaturans made several attempts to kill Jheet but failed. Well, actually his skin was impenetrable to metal…that was wield by any man. He one day welcomed a young orphaned girl into his house up the mountains, and after some years she discovered his secret. Well, actually he spilled the beans after he got drunk one night.”
“Wait, are you saying…” Otheris interrupted.
“Why don’t you let me finish? Well, he let his guard down and told her his deepest kept secret of secrets. So, she killed him in his sleep…with a wooden sword!” Thakina sighed, “The girl Jheet welcomed into his home was actually Zugthak’s daughter!”
“Hmm! Sounds like good bedtime story for children!”
“Whatever, but if you deny this occurrence then the story of you killing the great witch of Moughdug is but a fairy tale as well. I am hungry!” she responded.
“Ha! You wish!” exclaimed Otheris, “I’ve got something in my small bag, my aunt prepared some…”
“Go get it already!”
“Okay! Okay!” Otheris put the new sword into his sheath, left Thakina and moved to his horse as Karim walked towards her.
“You should call your men back, this place is not a place to wander!” said Thakina.
“They’ll be fine Princess Thakina!” Karim answered.
“How many times do we have to go through this Karim?” she said in a soft voice.
“Forgive me Princess Thakina! It is my duty to protect you!” he replied, “This is how I am able to put the food on the table.”
“Doesn’t serving me also mean you should have respect for my words?” she asked.
“Yes it does Princess Thakina! But my services to you require I constantly remind my heart and my sword whom I live to protect and serve!” he answered, “Is the young man an eyesore?”
“No! He’s just too stubborn, just like my father. Once I am away from my father’s sight it’d please my heart if you’d all stop calling me princess!” she said, “I know what the hearts of your men emit, this mission is a failure without Otheris so you must protect him as much as you so passionately-desire to shield me from harm.” she said.
“Your wish is my command princess Thakina!” answered Karim as he bowed.
“Where we’re headed is no place for men who put their trust in swords Karim! Your men may need a special kind of knowledge if they intend to face and defeat this particular enemy!”
Karim smiled, “We have faced men who terrorised great kings, encountered and have killed lions so fierce the jungle…”
“These are not lions, they are no ordinary animal Karim! Your swords cannot save you from their deception! They do not devour the flesh of men, they raven destinies!” she said, “my father just wants you to protect us along the way, when we reach the gates of Qhudrus you must stay back and let us go in alone and if we return then you escort us back to Moughdug!”
“My instruction is to protect you with my life and I cannot perform my duty with you out of sight princess Thakina. The king did not utter such thing to me. He said I should protect you with my life and bring you back home without a scratch!” he replied.
“Do not rub my face with songs from the lips of my father!” she shouted, “if you follow what my father told you then you would not go home alive. If you want to return home to your wife and children you must listen to me and do as I say!” said Thakina.
Karim lowered his head, “But princess…”
“There is no but Karim! If you allow that to have a comfortable spot in this journey it is your sword that shall return home, and not you on that horse! If you have never honoured my words, I beg of you to make sure you stay outside the gates of Qhudrus!” she added.
Karim nodded, “And what is this special knowledge you speak of?”
“I do not know of this knowledge, but I know one who does! And I believe it’d help us all not only in this journey but the ones we’d take after this,” she said as she turned and looked at Otheris coming back with something in his hand.
“The son of Delial?” asked Karim, “they say no good thing would ever come out of the house of Delial!”
“Yes indeed…they thought wrong,” said Thakina as she turned her face towards the fire, “just don’t go through the gates of Qhudrus!”
“Hey beautiful, look what I have got for us!” Otheris panted as he knelt before the fire with some fruits, smoked fish and loaves.
“Yeah!” said Zuka, “Look what we’ve got princess!” he threw a slaughtered sheep next to the fire.
“A sheep? Are you crazy?” said Otheris.
“Yes! It’s just one sheep it’s not like we captured and killed a whole herd! Besides, when a sheep strays away from the herd and the shepherd did not notice it in time to come looking for it…finders, keepers!” he laughed.
“A good shepherd would leave his ninety nine in order to search for the one that’s lost!” said Otheris.
“Well, in that case, we’d steal one and hide it, and as the so-called good shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep, we’d come steal the ninety nine, right boys?” Hollered Zuka as the rest of the men exhorted.
“I can’t believe I’m stuck with a bunch of saps!” uttered Thakina.
Karim drew his sword, “Who’s there?” as he sensed some movement in the woods.
The rest of them became mute and those that were seated stood to their feet and drew their swords too.
“Show yourself?” he said as he stepped forward.
“We mean no harm!” replied a sweet untoughened voice as two young beautiful ladies appeared and walked toward them.
“Stop right there!” commanded Karim as he took some steps further, “who are you and what do you seek?”
“I am Emerald and this is my sister Golden!” said one of the ladies.
“Emerald and Golden…what brought you two out at this time of the night?” Karim asked.
“Our father sent us to look for his lost sheep!” said the one referred as Golden.
“Lost sheep?” Karim asked, “There’s no lost sheep here!”
“Well, it’s cold out here and we’ve been searching for hours, can we come sit by the fire, please?” said Emerald.
“Sure!” Karim turned to the men, “Why not? Please come!”
“You don’t need fire to get warm my lady! I am here,” said Zuka soaked in the thick pool of his pride. The rest of the men cheered.
Emerald held her sister’s hand and led her near the fire where Otheris and Thakina were standing. As the women made their way through, their beauty beamed as the fire shone on them and stole the hearts of the six men.
“Whao! I feel like drowning in my own saliva!” said one of the men.
“Ewww!” Thakina exclaimed.
“Hi! I am Emerald and this is my sister Golden,” Emerald said as they both squat to get warm around the fire.
Otheris knelt as Thakina squatted next to him, “Yeah I heard your names when you first introduced yourselves!”
“So what’s your name?” Golden interjected with her eyes gazed at Otheris.
“He’s taken!” Thakina interrupted.
“Taken? What kind of name is that?” responded Emerald.
“I meant to say, he’s mine!” Thakina replied, “Yes! Taken! Get it?”
“Oh! I am sorry, he doesn’t look entangled to me!” said Emerald as she stood up and moved closer to Otheris, “I love your eyes!”
“The rest of the men look strong and well built, your hauteur will find unmerited affection in their sight! Like I said; this one is taken!” Thakina protested as she left where she was and stood between Otheris and Emerald.
“In my village we have tons of young men just like him!” replied Emerald.
“Well, staying away from this one shouldn’t be a problem for you then!” replied Thakina.
“Hey! Hey! Ladies, come on! No one fights over an unripe apple hanging on the tree when lots of well ripen ones are scattered on the ground, my sweet loves!” said Zuka as he approached the fire, “Fakal! Bring the wine and let’s make a merry out of the night!”
“Yeah!” the rest of the men cheered again.
The men brought wine they carried along on their horses and made merry of the evening as proposed by Zuka. While Otheris, Thakina and Karim sat not far from the fire enjoying the amusement, six of the men got drunk and danced around the fire singing battle songs and laughing hard at one another as the two strangers danced seductively.
“I love my life!” Zuka voiced out, “things are getting better and better by the day from where I’m standing boys!” as he pranced and staggered.
“I don’t like them! I don’t trust them!” said Thakina.
“Ah! You’re just a little jealous!” Otheris said.
“No I am not! Jealous?” she replied as she reclined her head on a headrest and drape herself with a blanket turning herself away from Otheris.
“Don’t touch me!” she said as Otheris made an attempt to say something, “good night.”
Karim, Otheris and Thakina slept off before midnight while the rest of the men along with the two strangers enjoyed the evening.