By Samuel S. Bunnya, Uganda
The great river Nile in all its blue majesty was snaking out of the Nalubaale. The vast green plains that lined the beautiful shores extended for miles. Nambi could see some of the crops the farmers had planted the previous season beginning to bear fruit. There were many small children and men in the fields harvesting. The women were collecting the crops in one place at the sides of the road. They were all too busy to notice the approaching company. It was how Nambi wanted it.
No one is to know I am coming here.
It was why she had moved with a small company of men; her best friend and chief lady, Naki, three guards. But if she had had her way, it would have been just the two of them. The three guards were dressed as traders. They hid their burly sizes in the bark cloth cloaks thrown over their shoulders. They had carried two javelins inlaid with Zaabu, which they hid with zebra hid on the large stallions. The Zaabu bracelets on their forearms could form a protective shield if needed.
Naki was dressed in a simple green kaftan. She had tied a bark cloth over her head and looked the part of a trading lady. She wore a simple Zaabu necklace too. Nambi had also seen the Zaabu knife that Naki had hidden on her thigh. Naki was good with the knife, javelin and bow, which made her more formidable than she appeared.
Nambi too had dressed like a simple lady. She had not put on the garments of royalty, which she had become accustomed to. She wore simple cotton pants with a silky blue kaftan. Only the thin Zaabu anklet showed her true royalty. On the pommel of the saddle in front of her, Nambi had put her two javelins that she could combine into one long spear. To anyone, she would look like some important lady or trader, but not the queen.
If her tribesmen knew the queen had come home, they would forget their work. Many would run from the villages to see the flower of Nalubaale who had wed the great Kunda. If that happened, it would reach her brother who had been away from Ganda for little over a month. And Nambi wanted to know what Lumbe was really up to. She had sent spies when Lumbe had been away for more than a week.
Some had returned without a single thing to report. Others had come by with whispers of the white man trading along the borders. But the one she trusted the most had told her that her brother was up to something sinister. The way the man had spoken had frightened Nambi. He had told her of Lumbe’s alleged plot.
Nambi had fought with herself as whether to go to Kunda or not with the news. She had held herself back knowing that such news would mean death for Lumbe. And despite everything, Nambi still loved her brother. To her, Lumbe still had the good part of him inside his soul. That was why she had decided to visit her home secretly. If there was proof of Lumbe’s treachery, it would be in Bujagali.
Nambi had not been home in years. She had avoided the gentle rolling plains of the Nalubaale tribe. She was not one of them anymore. She had not been the daughter o the tribe for the longest time possible. All she knew was that she was queen. She was married to the king and his tribe was her tribe. Her children belonged to the royal tribe. That made her more than sure that she would not ever be part of her tribe.
Nambi sat on the small horse as they made their way along the road. They were soon at the crossing, which would mean she would be in the lands of her tribe. Nambi felt afraid for the first time in years. Something was going on in the shadows of her home. The words of her spies came back to her as she kept her eyes on the crossing. She had to investigate his words. It was the only way that she would be able to keep her children safe.
“Lumbe is a fool,” Nambi muttered to herself.
“Is there a problem my queen?”
Nambi looked up at her oldest friend Naki. Naki was the daughter of the Mabira tribe, the tribe whose lands stood between Ganda and the lands of Nalubaale. Naki’s tribesmen were forest men and women. They tended all the forests in the kingdom. They were the ones with the knowledge of all forest life. They made sure all the wood that was needed by Kitara was there. They made sure that Kitara would never lack for wood. The Mabira guarded the great rainforests with their lives because the rainforests were part of the façade that Kitara held to the rest of the world.
Many in the world think that we only have wood. Nambi could not help chuckling. Kunda’s forefathers had done a great job in building a false perception about Kitara. Their neighbours knew that Kitara had a lot of forest land. Those that had dared to make war on Kitara had been utterly annihilated because of the Zaabu advancements enjoyed by Kitara. Kunda had continued the great façade and Kaikuzi would too when his time came.
“My lady,” Naki probed once again.
“There is no problem Naki,” Nambi answered automatically.
“Is that my queen answering or my friend?”
“That was your queen speaking to you.” Nambi kept her voice down as one of the women along the road looked at their company.
“Fine.” Naki’s tone was one full of displeasure. “Like thirty years of friendship mean anything to you.”
Nambi could not believe her ears. She looked into Naki’s large almond shaped brown eyes. There was no fear there. Only sincere concern. Nambi had almost forgotten just how beautiful her friend really was. There was a time that men in Ganda had fought for Naki’s hand; only for a common trader to win her hand and heart. But that was years ago when both of them were just girls who pestered their fathers to visit the Nalubaale and Mabira lands.
A part of Nambi envied the gracefully aging beauty who sat on a horse beside her. Naki had no fears for her children. The four boys and two girls were growing into fine specimen. Unlike Nambi’s own children, Naki’s brood had no destiny of royalty. The boys were close companions to her sons, but they knew they would be traders. They would never be worried about state affairs.
Naki’s girls were already part of the healers in the kingdom and enjoying the life of travel. They would not be wed to some tribal chief to placate them. They would never have to be ready to defend the realm in the absence of their brothers. They were daughters of a trading man and queen’s lady. Nambi wished her own children had such mundane lives to look forward to.
“Your friendship is one of my most treasured possessions Naki,” Nambi said on a sigh.
“Then you know you can tell me whatever troubles you,” Naki shot back.
“Nothing troubles me.” Nambi smiled at one of the women on the road who waved at her. She turned back to Naki. “I only wanted to see home.”
“After all these years Nambi?”
“Are you sure my lady?” Naki insisted.
“I said there is nothing wrong,” Nambi snapped. She did not like Naki’s persistence sometimes.
“Very well, majesty.”
Naki turned away and started looking at the vast plains. Her thick brows were furrowed as she was lost in thought. The way her slender fingers gripped the leather reins of the horse were enough sign for Nambi. It was obvious that Naki was furious. Although Nambi had been queen, she had never treated Naki like a servant. More often than not, it was Naki who had insisted on calling Nambi ‘my lady’, ‘majesty’ and ‘great lady’ during formal ceremonies.
“I did not mean to snap at you Naki.”
“Sure you did not,” Naki responded with sarcasm.
Nambi chuckled knowing that Naki was not happy about leaving Ganda on the eve of Kintu’s festival. “You know that if I did not have to come I would not have come.”
Naki let out a heavy sigh. “I am not blind to the fact your majesty.”
“Then cheer up.”
“Why bother?” Naki asked.
She was right. Nambi knew that if things happened the way she expected them to, her visit home would not be a happy one. It was eating her up inside. Nambi had not told anyone what the spy had told her. Nambi blocked out her fears and thoughts. She concentrated her thoughts on the sound of the cantering horses. She closed her eyes knowing that the steeds knew where they were supposed to go. They were over the bridge and heading towards the village some miles from the Bujagali.
Nambi opened her eyes and looked at the village she had visited with her father countless times when she was a little girl. She could make out the road that run through the village. On one side of the road were huts made of mud and wattle with thatched roofs. On the other side were small fields and gardens for some of the villagers. Around the village was a fence made of Zaabu. In the centre of the huts was a small square where an old man was sitting with children from the huts.
“My lady, should we head to your father’s homestead?” one of the guards asked.
It is Lumbe’s homestead now, not father’s. “First of all, as long as we are here, I want none of that my lady or your majesty nonsense. No one should know who I am.” Nambi pulled her horse to a halt. “We shall spend the night in the village.”
“Are you sure they have enough space for us?” asked Naki.
Most villages in the kingdom were not like the cities or towns. They were closely knitted and did not easily open their doors to strangers. Only the chiefs were welcome openly and they often stayed in the village headman’s hut. Nambi did not want to use her status. If she did, there would be a great chance of her not finding out what brought them.
“If they do not, then we will stay out in the open,” Nambi responded.
“Are you sure…” The guard trailed off when Nambi gave him one sharp look.
“I do not want to be recognised.”
“Don’t dare say my lady,” Nambi insisted.
The guards nodded their heads. After a few moments they bowed their heads and touched their hearts with their right hands; a sign of respect among the people of Kitara. Nambi urged her horse forward past the fence of the village. The company followed her silently. Nambi noticed the two guards giving the village a quick look. There were few villagers in the village. Most of them were out in the fields harvesting.
Nambi stopped her horse near one of the huts. A few of the villagers looked at her as she got off her horse. Nambi took in the fresh air and observed the village. She approached an elderly woman who was sitting by one of the huts cooking. Nambi bowed her head and touched her heart with her right hand. She knelt down before the elderly woman and waited calmly for the woman to say something.
“A trader showing respect to an old woman like me,” the woman said.
“It is our way nyabo,” Nambi said. She offered a smile to the woman. “Respect the elders who have more grey hairs than you have teeth.”
The elderly woman laughed uncaringly. “Well with the way things are going here, I doubt it will remain like that.”
“What do you mean?” Nambi turned and looked at Naki and the guards. She shook her head as they assumed she wanted them to approach.
“Our dear chief seems bent on changing the ways of this place,” the woman said sadly. “Picking more and more from the cursed white man.”
“Your chief?” Nambi asked. “Lumbe of the Nalubaale. Yes?”
“That boy. That foolish boy is going to be the reason Kitara loses its place in the world.” The woman was bitter. “Maybe it is what our king wants?”
“Do you know what the chief is up to?”
“You are a trader and do not know what is happening?”
“I have been far away in the west,” Nambi lied.
“Well the east is where the sun rises and the sun sets,” the old woman said.
“What is your name nyabo?”
“Did your mother ever tell you to be so blunt with old women?” the woman said angrily.
“Forgive me,” Nambi said remembering her lessons when she was younger.
“Anyway, the old ways must give way to the new ways.” The woman put the potatoes in the small mud oven and looked at Nambi. “So, what do you want to buy from us trader?”
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