The Greater Lion

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The day was as alive as the children running through every nook and cranny of the city. The sky, the clouds and every other symbol of good fortune graced the valley city of korongo as its people waited impatiently for the most exciting festival of their tradition.

The valley city was the capital of the mighty urumi kingdom which had several territories across the western part of the continent. The city sat behind a mountain range that formed a sturdy geographical barrier that shielded it from any possible siege. On the other side of the city, was a river adjacent to the entrance to the city. Anyone could get their by boat but it was still a strategic area during a siege. Probably the most strategic.

The citizens were mostly high-spirited all year round, and they lived their lives without much to worry about because of the trust they had in their king and his army in protecting their safety and ensuring their prosperity. From time to time, yearly, they observed several festivities and celebrations to strengthen their bonds and enjoy the bounties that life had given them.

This year was the year in which they held the sunset festival which occurred once in a ten year cycle to celebrate the addition of a new generation to the working ranks. During this festival, they had some of the strongest soldiers and a general, go out to the deserted areas to hunt a rare beast.

The rare beasts, as their name would suggest, are animals that are a lot more rare and monstrous than what anyone would imagine. They were more evolved and more fit to survive hasher conditions, some of them could hold their own against average hunters. The elders knew this, and they decided that offering one of these animals as a sacrifice would serve as a great sacrifice to the Gods, and it would also serve as an example for the younger generations, the might of the soldiers.

Great general Mbah, the leader of the first army, was charged with the year's hunt. It was a role which he did enjoy taking given the kind of character he was. He was much more than the average man, and by more, one could be referring to his gigantic size which was well above seven feet, or his inhuman strength equalling that of about ten men.

On that faithful afternoon, Mbah and his men returned to the city with the game from the hunt, a saber tooth bear. Himself and his soldiers came down from the boats that transported them back to city's gates. They marched with their heads held high and their hearts full of pride. Everyone cheered for them and songs of praises upon their arrival.

The soldiers who were already celebrated as the hunters of the decade returned the welcome in kind, with cheerful laughter and joyous chatter, they waved back at the citizens. All but Mbah was excited about their return.

Apart from his terrifying strength and appearance, he was also a very enigmatic character. He marched through the city showing a mood of indifference in his facial expression. He was not one to smile or display much besides his anger, it was that way ever since Shaka was chosen instead of him.

Soon after their arrival, they trooped down to the palace to receive the King's blessing before retiring to the barracks to celebrate. They were received by as group soldiers standing uniformly on opposite sides of the entrance. They stomped their feet hard on the ground and gave the general and his retinue an honorary welcome. They marched up to the central palace where Shaka was on his throne waiting for their arrival.

"May you live long, my king." Mbah said, prostrating to greet Shaka.

"You are welcome, general," Shaka said. "I heard the hunt was a success."

"Yes it was, my king," Mbah replied. "We came back with a saber tooth." He slightly raised his head up to look at Shaka and the tension between them was unmatched.

The palace remained on a standstill anytime those two saw each other. Although they showed no hostility towards each other, there was an obvious animosity between them. It made people wonder if anything happened between them during the selection, and if something did happen, why did Shaka not kill or banish Mbah as a possible opposition.

"You may rise," Shaka said after giving him a pat on the shoulder. "You may all return to your barracks, we have your rewards waiting for you." He said looking towards all the other soldiers in front of him.

"Thank you, my king." Mbah said, his very profound voice echoed through the the walls of the palace.

The other soldiers gave their due courtesies and followed Mbah's lead out of the palace. On his way out, he gave Amina a sudden glare as he walked by her. She responded equally by throwing her gaze towards another direction, anything else was better than him, she thought.

As soon as the meeting came to a close, Shaka moved down to the training arena to watch Akin train his swordsmanship. Watching the others swing their weapons with sweat and zeal under the scorching heat of the sun raised an urgency within to go back to training. As much as he wanted to go back, he could not because of his current responsibilities.

He heard strong footsteps creep on the dust from behind, he carefully tilted his head to see what it was and he noticed his sister approach him.

"Hello, brother," she said.

"Amina, I can see you are doing well."

"Skip the pleasantries," she said. There was a sudden wave of silence as Shaka innocently obeyed to skip the small talk. "There is tension between the two of you," she said abruptly.

"Of course. I'm surprised it isn't palpable," he replied, trying not to laugh at himself.

"Do you dislike him?" She asked.

"I do not," he replied. "He is my most useful general," he added.

She frowned and looked at him as he laughed to his not so funny joke.

"That was a joke. I would never leave Mbah carelessly, he will make me headless."

The joke seemed funny this time and they laughed together.

"I heard you rejected his marriage proposal," he said.

"Why would I not?" She replied.

"So the rumors are true."

"I would rather not find myself in the household of men who only know about war."

"So that's the reason you don't have any children. That and that stupid armor you never take off," he said, expecting a certain reaction from her.

She looked at him with several forms of rage. He successful pressed that button in her ego.

"There was as time you wouldn't dare speak to me like this," she said

"Times change, sister. We are in different times now."

She rolled her eyes at him this time and giggled. She usually disagreed with him at every turn, but this time she could not agree more. Things had changed a lot, he had a new aura of confidence around him, almost so that she didn't recognise him. He was different from the boy that she once knew.

"Why are you always hard on him?" Shaka asked, abruptly interrupting her moment of thought.

"Do you mean Akin?" She replied

"Yes," he said

"I treated you worse than this. Besides, if I wasn't this hard on you, you wouldn't have had the courage to face Mbah in the tournament."

He nodded in agreement.

"What happened between you and Mbah In the tournament?" She asked.

"The walls have ears, sister. I would rather not talk about it, he replied

"So there is something between the two of you."

"That is none of your concern," he said, turning around and preparing his legs to get moving. "I'll be on my way now, sister. Please go easy on our brother."

"That is none of your concern." She said, completely trying to mimic him.

Shaka held back a sudden outburst of laughter as he walked out of the arena. He could not stop thinking about the pile of work that was waiting for him in the palace, it was only natural after days of absence. But there was no room for excuses in his philosophy, he was going to get them completely done.

A week quickly went by and there was only a day left before the festival. Shaka was held up in a council meeting, talking about related affairs at the central palace. He sighed and turned left and right when the elders were not looking, hoping to magically see his sister close by so that he can run off and leave her to handle them, but that seemed as unlikely as it was magical.

Amina on the other hand, was enjoying her free time. Although she found it quite boring sitting in one place, she could not risk making herself available in the palace else Shaka would take the advantage and leave his duties.

She looked around her room and thought of something she could do to overturn her current feeling. She stood up from her chair and walked around until she got the idea of looking at some of her jewelry. She took out some of her beads from a box and held them to admire them. They were finely arranged and well preserved, just like the old one around her waist. They were a gift from her mother which had stayed with her through many years, and she never once felt like losing them.

The thought struck, and getting new ones did not seem like a bad idea to her anymore. She decided to go into the open markets to see if she would find anything interesting. She sent for Nana, who always went to the market for her to take her to a trustworthy merchant in the market. Nana already knew where they would go without a second thought.

The market was far more busy than they had imagined. The citizens went about the market activities as usual until they saw Amina coming through. The sight of a general in that area was rare and they natural cleared a path for her out of fear.

Nana on the other hand, was free with the citizens. She warmly greeted the vendors and most of the women in the market. The people admired her fore her outstanding beauty and respectable character. She met everyone with a smile and so much humility despite being so close to the most powerful people in the kingdom.

They stopped in front of a rundown bamboo shed deep in market. It was nowhere near Amina's expectations since they had skipped all the nice stalls with good looking merchandise. Amina almost didn't trust Nana's judgment on this one, she was about asking why they were there when Nana greeted the young merchant. He was quite handsome and simple looking with his kaftan. He had long dreadlocks which he tied at the back of his head, he was the most exotic looking person Amina had seen.

"Hello there, I hear you are looking for something that would would suit a warrior like yourself," the merchant said. "Come over. Don't be shy," he said, observing that Amina did nothing but glare at him. He spoke so casually that no one would believe it was a general he spoke to like that.

She walked forwards to the shed. She observed the little trinkets and antiques on the table, he seemed even more suspicious to her now.

"What's your name?" She asked him.

"Khaled," he replied quickly.

"Khaled, you don't look like you are from here

"Of course ma'am. I am not from here".

"Then what brings you here?"

"I'm here to see my cousin". He said as he smiled and looked at Nana. Amina quickly got the message and decided not to ask further questions.

"So, what do you have for me?" She asked.

He quickly went under his table and brought out a box. The box was filled with different kinds of necklaces made with coral beads and cowries. She examined them carefully and she wasn't impressed. They were the same as the ones she had seen all over the market. Nana quickly noticed her displeasure and she whispered something in his ear.

"I see," he said after hearing what she said. "You are interested in the rare, something not from around here," he added. "For a special customer like yourself, I will bring exactly that which you want, if you can wait till the festival."

Nana tried her hardest to assure her that she would get what she needed and to remain patient. She took Nana's words and decided to be patient, it gave her something to look forward to during the festival.

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