“Miriam! Miriam!” Ella picked up pace, trying to catch up with Miriam as she walked along a corridor in the palace.
Miriam slowed down her stride and turned to look at the overly excited Ella.
“What’s wrong and why are you shouting my name like that?”
Ella giggled. “Have you seen the Prince? God have you seen how good looking he is? Good looking is even an understatement. Girl, he is gorgeous!” Grimacing, Miriam continued walking.
“Ella, I am really not interested in what the Prince looks like so please stop.”
Ella’s giddiness melted away, leaving a stern look on her face.
“Is it just me or are you avoiding him?”
Ella’s question hit home. Stunned, Miriam could only gape at her, wondering how she had noticed she was avoiding Michael like a plague. Had the others noticed too?
“Thank God I saw you guys here,” Chioma said, walking toward them. She held a moderate pile of neatly folded clothes which she presented to Miriam. “Miriam, please take this to the Prince’s room.”
Ella snatched the clothes before Miriam could even look at them. “Miriam should rest. I will deliver them to him.”
Without giving any of the girls a chance to react, Ella ran off. Chioma stared at her as dashed out of sight.
“What is wrong with her today?” Chioma asked, shaking her head in confusion. “Ella going for an errand without being asked to. Hmm. Heavens must be praised.”
“I think it’s because of the Prince,” Miriam said. “She has been acting strange ever since the Prince came back.”
Chioma mused over Miriam’s words. “Hmm. I hope this her behavior will not put her in any trouble o, especially with the Queen, because she seems more protective of her son these days. Anyway I’m leaving.”
She walked out of sight, leaving Miriam to drown in her sea of thoughts. Something was wrong, and she could feel it. Calamity raced toward Ikemba with the speed of a cheetah, and although she wished she could do something to avert it, she could only sit back and watch the darkness engulf them.
Queen Jaja, dressed in a pink night gown, walked to and fro the length of her chamber. On her lips was the same prayer she’d been reciting since her son’s return.
“Gods of our land please save my son,” she muttered.
Michael stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. He crossed the room to meet his mother. “Mum, you sent for me.”
“Yes, son.” Arms folded, she turned to face him. “Your doctor called. He told me he asked you not to come back until the surgery was done, but you insisted on coming back. Why?”
“Mum, they have been looking for a donor for years and my heart is getting worse day by day,” Michael said. “I can’t stay there until I die. I just had to come back home so that even if I am going to die, at least I am at home.”
“Son, you are not going to die, stop saying that,” the Queen retorted.
Wearing a weak smile, Michael put on a false composure so his mother would be oblivious of his vulnerability. But although he did a great job at concealing his true emotions, his mother could read him like an open book.
“I know,” Michael said. “I will try my best to live, even if it costs me all I have. I will live for you, mum. But we should not let down our guards. We have to prepare for the worst in case anything happens.”
“Son, please stay alive for me,” Queen Jaja said, touching her son’s arm. “And don’t worry, I have already told the Chief Priest and he said the ritual will be done during the Alaga festivals.”
Michael shook his head in disbelief. How could his mother even think like that? ”
“You will do no such thing,” he said, stepping away from his mother. “I have told you already that I won’t partake in that ritual, and neither will I allow you do it for me. How can you kill someone and give me their heart simply because you want me to live? That’s not fair. It’s unthinkable!”
“But she will be celebrated,” Queen Jaja said. “Even when she’s gone, her name will live on. The whole village and the generations to come will honor her.”
“Mum, I still say no. I can’t accept it and that’s final!” Simmering with rage, Michael stormed out of the room.
Queen Jaja’s eyes watered as she watched the door slam shut. “I can’t let you die. Not when I am still alive. As soon as the Chief Priest finds the perfect blood to be poured on my son’s behalf, the sacrifice will take place in this village and in this palace. This is my promise to you, my son.”
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