Part Two: Advancement
“How does a farm boy like you end up joining us selected few?” Opar says with furrowed brows or brow. His excessive hair and the thick muscle ahead his eyes are intimidating. He and Fakusha’s eldest brother are traditionalists, never speaking a word to me instead giving me a limited range of growls and grunts.
However, I envy his position—the king’s guard, no everything about this cold glaring man I covet, a life by the king’s side and his advisor for all things military. His father, Joroar is next in line to the Aykotah throne.
Musicians exuberantly play as guests sing and dance to their melodies. Festive powders and paints are thrown at the G’yote royals to promote passion and blessings. The fire is stoked for flames taller than me.
“Especially after that stunt you played.” Fakusha’s eldest brother adds. “Her secrets should not be kept from the king—”
“Since you have delayed our search for a new ruler, Torajamaku was furious, yet you gain promotion after promotion.” Opar adds. “Why are you here, dirt digger?”
I bite my lip. My armor still seems loose after mornings training and evenings assisting with the fields. My brother’s muscles aren’t quite developed yet for the task, yet mine seem overworked. I don’t know. Why am I at the new G’yote king’s wedding?
“Opar!” The Aykotah queen hisses. “Smile, be happy for Huan Ni’guaro and his new wife.”
Aykotah do not share the same enthusiasm, though he masks it well with a stoic expression. “A G’yote queen…” Opar mumbles. “Oh king, not that I should question your motives, for I am sure there is valid reasoning to why you attend, but why is he here?” His head jerks to my direction.
“Wives.” Fakusha’s eldest brother blurts glancing over the dancing crowd to his grinning brothers. “Huan Ni’guaro has many sisters.”
The king’s lip curls upward. He too faces the crowd. Motioning me to him, he snags my borrowed cloak with a strong grip of my shoulder. “Perhaps not wives, but husbands for you know who.”
“You are her closest friend, are you not?”
My startled eyes quiver from his commanding glare.
“We could meet each prince individually through formal invitation, or send them a friendly greeting tonight.” He chuckles, “And maybe find you a wife.”
“It was a joke. A tribal princess would not marry a harvester’s son like you, though with your swordsmanship skills you show promise under my reign.” He strokes his chin, “A servant perhaps, but the G’yote people are garbage. You may as well cling with one from our tribe.”
“Oh king, did you just… give me marital advice?”
“You’ll grow to be a good man, Ridwiqu’Mar. I wouldn’t allow you near my daughter’s presence if you were as distasteful as…” he clears his throat while G’yote tribesmen pass us by.
Our queen winks to her husband, inviting him to a dance.
“I value your insight. Weed the uninspiring princes out for me will you?” I raise my brow perplexed by my role. “Find us a prince which appropriates with her trait.”
I scratch my scalp, baffled. Do I truly believe there is a man among this crowd that would make Fakusha a better husband than I? Hush, Ridwiqu’Mar, you should not hold such arrogance. She is royal, you are not!
In the distance, our shaman speaks shoulder to shoulder with the G’yote’s facing me. Through the smoke and tunes before us, their voices seem inaudible.
Fakusha’s brother bumps into me. “Matchmaker huh?”
Opar crosses his arms. Veins bulge through the knotted muscle. “Don’t mess up.”
I shake my head. “Never.” One failure and I am back to mulching the earth for the rest of my life. Avoiding them, I enter the dancing crowd wishing for Fakusha’s presence.
“Look at that soldier.” A maiden snickers to her a friend. “Me… oh no. I can’t.” She glances back. Friendly, I wave. She covers her mouth giggling. “Fine. It’s a fluke he noticed. I mean he’s Aykotah so there’s no chance he will ever want—”
“Go already!” Her friend nudges pushing her into my chest.
She makes amusing accompaniment while I scope the guests.
A scrawny tribesman dark as midnight in elaborate gown swings his arms for the crowd’s attention with a roulougri in his right hand. Very few have the patience to learn the complex windpipe instrument. His comrade snickers next to him with a drum slung around his hip.
Huan Ni’guaro lifts his hand from his betrothed’s hip, stepping away from a passionate spit-swap from her—awfully jovial for a man whose father died less than a season ago. “What is it brother?”
Brother? That runt is a prince? Though he may hold a year or two above me, his figure is dainty. The maiden rests her head on my shoulder, wrapping her arm around my back. I grip my sword’s hilt as precaution. Never trust the enemy.
“Ah-hem.” A wide grin spreads to both cheeks. “For you and your new wife… a song of everlasting love, suiting for a marriage. For this one woman you will cherish for…” I snicker from his crackling voice.
Huan Ni’guaro’s eyebrow twitches with a foul expression of irritation. “One verse, Ni’guah guah.”
His comrade rolls his eyes drumming the hide with two cushioned mallets. This Ni’guah guah lifts the roulougri to his lips. A few notes in, the instrument squeaks like his voice. A darkened blush fills his cheek. He tries again, though it appears he needs more practice.
Having enough, Huan Ni’guaro walks over rips it out from his hands and snaps a pipe off the instrument, throwing it all into the fire. Close enough, I hear his whisper, “You’re an embarrassment.” The prince rushes to retrieve it. Nothing about this runt says ‘War-lord’, especially if he can’t defend his honor. Here I thought I was pathetic.
The maiden next to me gapes at the man over my shoulder. Another prince, by the symbols scarred on his chest, I recognize him from the Heir’Kurmaka tribe. Though his people worship demons, he holds the attributes my king looks for.
He pinches Ni’guah guah’s robe then points to our king, mortifying the runt with embarrassment. I grin craftily pondering Fakusha’s reaction if I were to recommended this runt as her betrothed.
Torajamaku approaches them first.
“Why is the Aykotah king...” My dance partner plays with her necklace ogling the charmer next to my king.
“Our king seeks a prince for his daughter. Who in this crowd would you choose?” My eyes travel to the Wek’Wek prince conversing with Yoluku and Wu’Wu Suoluangah royals. She shakes her head at my suggestion. “Why not him?” I ask. The maiden’s attention remains fixed on the thick arms of the Heir’Kurmaka prince.
“Haven’t you heard? He’s engaged to one of your Aykotah.”
“He is?” I raise my brow. “Who?”
Pointing to Opar she replies, “His sister.”
“Where were you!” Fakusha shoves me with both palms, furious. I catch myself on the mossy tree behind me in this thick lush jungle. Stars line the sky. Neither of us should be here alone far beyond curfew. Yet here we are catching up for lost time. Between training and harvesting a bountiful crop, it seems I see less of my friend and more a royal in recent days.
“Serving the king, Lady Fakusha.”
She groans. “Don’t Lady Fakusha me, Ridwiqu’Mar. Serving my father in what capacity, huh? How could you go to the wedding I couldn’t. It’s not fair. You get to travel, meet foreign women, consume wine, and I’m trapped here cleaning after my baby brother.”
I lean up against the tree exhausted. She called for this meeting, I could use the rest. Threatening to leave I pat my yawn.
“It’s all your fault, you know. If you had tied that basket shut, I would have been free to join the celebration…”
Before she can finish that thought I interject, “Your brother was towering over me. I barely had a moment to scrub my pits.”
“Anyone can tower you, runt.” She plunks her fist over my head to remind me of our height difference.
“Hey, finding you a prince that won’t break his neck to look way up at you will be a challenge.”
“Finding a prince?”
“Nope. I said nothing!” I press my hand over my mouth.
“Ridwiqu’Mar!” She slides her fist down and makes another to prop on her hips. “I don’t want to get married. I’m going to be king remember? You will be my soldier.”
I shrug. “Well I am a soldier, so…”
Wandering off a few steps, she peeks through the bush to the moonlit waters. “It’s just… if I were to marry a stranger. We’ll have to kiss.”
I press both hands now over my lips acting out a violent gag. Her kissing another man? No. I won’t have it. Fakusha rolls her eyes at me, unimpressed.
“Grow up. Aren’t you old enough to be attracted by girls? Shouldn’t kissing be interesting to you now?” Her eyes widen with a snap of her fingers. “You have kissed other girls…”
I snigger, rubbing at my nose faking my confidence, though the answer is just once and it was odd.
“I should be… what if…” Pivoting on her heel, her approach is slow. One, two, three steps and we’re a hair apart.
“Don’t Lady Fakusha me.”
“You’re right. You’re not much of a lady.”
She growls, smacking my chest. I grip her wrist, meeting her gaze with hooded eyes. “I’d be an embarrassment to the tribe if I were to fail at such a task… and you being my closest friend and all…”
“Closest…” I murmur, my heart racing, pounding violently against my chest. Her fingernails tap my leather armor. You’re the reason I train. I dreamt of serving the king to be closer to you. Is it terrible to share a lifetime in want, hungry yet never satisfied?
“Yes! Great! If you do not mind—as friends of course… helping each other, yes? Yes,” she says with a glint of determination in her eyes. “Two friends helping each other out. Perhaps, this skill could persuade our future partners. No one will have to know, because we’re simply doing each other a favor…” rambling with such enthusiasm her words loop.
“For us to kiss?” I clarify, bewildered by her enthusiasm.
“Platonically, of course.”
“Fakusha?” Each word to follow my voice softens. Should she worry whether a man will wish to kiss her or not? I doubt so.
“You are beautiful.” Suddenly the cool evening air seems searing hot like the midday’s sun.
“I know.” She rolls her eyes as-matter-of-fact.
“And… this is what you truly wish from me?”
“Could you kiss me?”
“Could I or should I?” We need to clarify this before I’m caught in the act and exiled to a distant island. I swallow, the saliva thick down my throat, my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth. She stares down to my hand. I release her wrist.
“I’ll make it quick.”
A smirk curls up my cheek. “Of course you would.” I shake my head. “Nothing comes out of haste, my…” I clear my throat. “…friend.” A platonic kiss? Is there such a thing? Though, if she declines one of true intent and tattles to her father, it’s off the island for me.
She snuffs hot air onto my face. “Fine. I’m going to kiss now, okay?”
“Okay?” Frantically she rubs her sweaty palms on the sides of her multi-fringed skirt, looking away.
“Are you going to kiss me?”
She picks a blade of grass off my armor. “Aren’t you supposed to close your eyes… first?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never kissed a princess before, let alone one who acts entitled to kiss my mouth albeit completely forbidden to do so.” Silence boy, you’ll ruin this moment.
“Well I’m going to kiss you on the mouth.”
She squints. “Okay! I’m going to kiss you now.”
Fakusha tilts, eyes slit at mine, biting back a growl. Is this it? Are we going to become each other’s secret, betraying the next king all for the sake of love? It would not be fair on behalf of our people, however, when have they been fair to me? No prince will understand her like I, here in this moment, friends… almost more.
Her breath is warm as my cheeks. I brace my hands on the top of her hips, soft—womanly. It won’t be long before men will desire her womb.
The tip of her nose scrapes mine sensitive against the new metal, though I refuse to complain. Bitter cold skin taps mine. I part my lips then…
“Lady Fakusha?” calls the distant voice. “Lady Fakusha, are you there?”
Our eyes widen. She pushes off me then darts deeper into the woods. My back pounds into the tree once again.
“Ridwiqu’Mar?” a fellow soldier asks, “Were you just with… was that… have you seen Lady Fakusha?”
He holds a bouquet of wildflowers in his hand. I squint. “Stay away from her. You know the law.”
“I uh… yes, only a friendly gesture.”
“Like your wagers on who can disrobe her first?” I rest my hand on my sword. “Try again and I’ll dismember you.” His face pales. Perfect, he understands. “Goodnight.”
With a nod, he drops the flowers and scurries off to the village. I sigh with relief, wiping the clammy sweat beading off my forehead then squat down to inspect the flowers, all various blossoms in white though one peaks my interest.
Three cones per stem, safe to smell yet toxic to burn. I twirl the stem between my fingertips. Often this bloom is mistaken for its golden ancestor used as an active ingredient in perfumes. However this variety is not native to this island, so how could he have found them? I pocket them for safe keeping—for the king.
Will Ridwiqu'Mar follow Torajamaku's orders or his heart?
Find out in the final segment of his story in "Part Three: Status"