Chapter 4~•~ The sunset festival
The sky became golden in the west as the sun met the horizon. Rhythmical beating of talking drums dominated the air, while the singing and clattering of cowries at the feet of the dancers became the order of the evening. Rapid shuffling of their feet on the ground so filled with sand raised enough dust to cloud the area and blur their visions. But they did not care, the clapped and cheered on the dancers while they shakes their hips, backing the crowd.
It was the peak of the festival and the high pitched sound of the butchers' sickles sliding over their daggers gave signal to the men who brought in the carcass. Heaved by four thick-built men, the sweat on their dark skin reflected light and exposed their muscular definition. Cheers became increasingly loud as this was the part that they all waited for.
An animal of its class was hardly seen by any ordinary man. Each one with its own unique features and its own complexity. Those who explored the outside and the forsaken areas try to avoid them. The soldiers tried not to cross their paths when marching to the battlefield. They had the opportunity to watch a beast, butchered and sacrificed to the Gods, no one could resist watching.
"Excuse me! Excuse me!" An indistinct voice in the crowd exclaimed. His voice, loud enough for the majority to hear, but not clear enough to tell what he was saying.
"Would you please let me through," he said, trying to clear a path through so many people which proved to be very taxing for him, given his small and weak build. The further he went, the more he felt like giving in to his arthritis, but he rode on his motivation to take a piece or two from the carcass that laid at the center of the celebration.
Bamba was easily the most knowledgeable man in the kingdom when it came to artisanal craft, and now, more than anytime in his very long career, he had the freedom to exploit and use any material and substance of his choosing. Shaka gave him such permission in hopes that he eventually discovers and creates something of immeasurable importance in the future. After a successful raid of event, he ran back to his workshop ignoring the persistent throb in his spine. He thought of a thousand things he could do with what he obtained and he could not keep his excitement down like his aging body.
Meanwhile, somewhere deep in the open markets where green light splattered on the cloud the cloud of dust from the dancers, Amina and Nana were at Khaled's stall for their appointed meeting during the festival - an appointment which he almost did not keep.
"Where did he go to?" Amina said indignantly.
"Allow me, princess. I'll look for him." She spoke confidently, but quietly she prayed to the stars above that he was not lost somewhere when he should be meeting with the princess - the princess she knew should already be threatening to drink wine from his skull if he wasted any more time.
"Looking for me?" He said with mirth after coming out a dark corner.
"Khaled!" Nana said with so much shock. "Do you have any idea how long we waited for you?" She barely resisted the urge to give him a jab on the shoulder.
"Sorry… I'm sorry. I had to quickly take care of something." He was clearly enjoying the feeling of being wanted by a huge presence like Amina's. "You look as stunning as ever, princess." He said turning to Amina which felt eerily inconvenient because Nana was the only one who still addressed her in that manner
I will gut you. She wanted to say but held back, thinking she could do better. "Show me what you have," she saud
"Okay, let's going inside," he said feeling a little worried about his safety. He opened the lock on his shed and led them both inside.
While his guests sat on the dusty wooden benches, he took out a fine silver box that had some a strange emblem engraved on it. He opened the box and showed its contents to her.
"What kind of beads are these?" She asked, looking closely at the eerie glow of bright pink.
"These are not beads. They are called pearls," he said nonchalantly.
"What are they?"
"These are a very kind of jewel found in the ocean by very experienced swimmers. Just as they are hard to obtain, they are very very expensive."
His brief explanation made her want to ask how he got them, but her curiosity to see more like the pearls and hear stories about them got the better side of her. "What other amazing jewel do you have?" She asked with much enthusiasm.
And like that, for the most part of the festival, they sat there listening to exotic stories of his unique merchant adventures across the continent. It was certainly not something Amina saw her herself be interested in but she enjoyed her time.
Several seas and oceans away the western kingdoms on the continent, beyond the horizon and the edge of the world - as it was imagined to be - a mighty empire existed. The land was deserted, the soil was dried and withered like autumn leaves, and the cities built behind giant walls to keep out the animal ridden outside world. In spite of all of this, the people lived peacefully, oblivious to most of what was happening all thanks to their leaders' ploy to maintain order.
Somewhere in the city of Rhode, some of the people who ranked high in nobility gathered for a meeting invoked by the duke of the very city. He walked to the large conference room where they waited for him to explain why he used an emergency measure which could only be used by a duke to summon them. They were without a doubt, a difficult group to deal with, so he had no other choice.
He traversed the room, ignoring the formidable gazes of the nobles, and stood in front of the round table. "Good day to you all. I am sorry for calling you all here on a short notice…"
"You better be, we don't have the time now." One of the dukes interrupted, his voice profound, reverberating across the perimeter of the room.
"Yes… I understand, Duke Crowley," Alister said confidently and continued. "I wonder if some of you have noticed the intoxication of the outside seep through the city walls and barriers as shown in the image." A large image suddenly dropped down behind him and he turned to it. "These are images of our soil getting contaminated near the walls, and we have found that we cannot keep it out much longer." There was indistinct chatter amongst the audience for a moment and then they went silent again.
"Assuming what you say is true for the rest of us," Crowley said, speaking for the rest. "How long do we have to keep it out?"
"We can't say for sure," Alister replied. "It might slow down and it might accelerate. But I am sure, the next generation is not going to survive it."
"Does the emperor know about this?" A somewhat high pitched voiced said behind the loud voices.
Alister almost held his breath as he wasn't expecting to hear that voice in the meeting at all, he almost asked what she was doing there instead of answering her.
"Uhm… No… I have not told the emperor," he faltered.
"So you do would choose not to inform the emperor of the pending doom of his empire," she said.
"Wouldn't it be best I consult you all first?" He replied.
The room went back to noise and everyone was communicating amongst each other until Crowley's voice towered above all others.
"Well then, Alister. We will leave the task of settling this matter to you since you seem to be more aware of it than most of us. We will decide on what to do next depending on what you find," he said.
"Of course, it will be my pleasure." The dukes seemingly agreed to let Alister work freely - they were more happy to not be bothered by the topic if anything. Either way, they all had their eyes on Alister, he was, among them a prodigy who had not fully reached his potential. A potential which none of them wanted to see him reach.