The Slave Prince Chapter 5
They had been walking for quite sometime when a group of men appeared from across the footpath they were following. They ran to them excitedly.
“We found your horse so we came looking for you. What happened?” one of the men asked Ubo.
He told them about Anson and Masami’s failed plot against him. He ordered them to find the two men and bring them to him immediately.
The men sped away while Ubo and Agawe continued walking. They followed a trail down the hill and another winding path before they came to a wide road. They crossed the road to the largest abaca plantation Agawe had ever seen. It went as far as his eyes could see.
They walked through the plantation and came to a wide clearing surrounded by fruit-bearing trees and flowers of all kinds. In the middle was a huge two-storey wooden house.
“Stay here,” Ubo instructed him as he entered a large door.
Chickens walked around the yard freely. Agawe was amused by piglets walking with their mothers and then he saw the horses in one side of the spacious yard. If the man owned all of these, he was a rich man, Agawe thought. He smelled the aroma of coffee. When was the last time he tasted coffee? When his innà picked some red coffee beans along the road. She roasted them and pounded them in the mortar.
The man’s voice brought him back to the present. “Come inside.”
He followed him into the door which led into a large room. In the center of the mud floor was a long wooden table with wooden benches on each side. On his right was another door which he assumed led into the kitchen because it was where the smell of coffee wafted from. On the left were open windows allowing the sunlight to flood the otherwise dark room. Agawe noticed a short flight of stairs going up to an elevated flooring that held several rooms. On one side of the elevated flooring was a set of agong prominently displayed.
“Sit down,” Agawe was ordered.
Agawe became aware of an old woman, a little younger than his Apô Ugay, sitting at the far side of the table with an open betel box in front of her. Agawe could tell it was a bronze betel box. His Apô Ugay had one like it and he had been wondering how his Apô came to have such an expensive betel box.
Now I understand, he thought, it’s from my real mother.
Agawe sat down and Ubo sat opposite him in the long table. Agawe assessed the man. He exuded power and confidence. The sheath of the sword he placed on the table was heavy with beadwork. Agawe did not miss the elaborate design on the brass handle of the sword.
“Who are you?” the old woman asked.
Agawe turned to her and replied, “My name is Agawe...”
“I know your name. My son told me. I ask who are you?” The shrill voice scared Agawe.
Agawe thought his answer could mean life or death for him. Would he tell the truth or would he lie? He was scared but did not show it.
“I am from Uguis. My ammà is dead. I left my innà and apô because … I want to know what life is in other places.”
“Is your ammà al-lang? Or are you a poor tribesman?” she asked.
“My ammà is al-lang…” he told the truth.
Ubo stared at him. “I did not think you’re al-lang when I saw you in the woods…” he creased his brow, “but it doesn’t matter... Innà has this notion that al-langs are more loyal than relatives…” Ubo said.
“Relatives will plot against you … I told you that but you did not believe me…” the old woman said.
“Innà …” he sighed, “What happened today proves that you are right… as usual.”
The old woman whispered something to herself which sounded to Agawe like a prayer.
“Innà, I have asked Agawe to work for me. If you say that he can be trusted, he stays but if you say he is not fit to work in my household, he leaves after his meal.” Then he stood up and left.
“Are you here for a purpose?” the old woman asked, her eyes never leaving his face.
Agawe looked at her and answered, “No, Apô… I was just passing by.”
“Where are you off to?”
“Wherever my feet take me.”
“Do you want to work for my son? He needs someone he can trust.”
“But you don’t know me, apô…” He called her grandmother, the tribal respect for old women.
“I can tell a bad man from a good man ... even if his back is turned to me.”
Agawe stared at the old woman. That’s what his Apô Ugay used to say.
“You are a good man,” the old woman said with finality in her voice. “Do you want the job?”
Agawe could not make up his mind. “You will be paid half of what he is paying his half-brothers working in the plantation. Like them, you will be given a hut to live in. Since you are going to go where Ubo goes, you will eat in his household the same food the staff eat.”
Agawe couldn’t believe his ears, “I will be paid?”
The old woman nodded. She stood up and disappeared into the kitchen. Like his Apô Ugay, the old woman’s hair was brushed back and tied in a knot, into which a decorated comb is inserted. The rows of bells around her ankles produced a tinkling sound as she walked barefoot.
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Agawe works for Datu Ubo
She came back and signaled Agawe to follow her. In the large kitchen, he saw a narrow table pushed against the wall and he was asked to sit on the wooden bench next to it while a younger woman placed in front of him some boiled cassava and grilled meat neatly arranged on top of banana leaves. Another woman placed a tin cup of steaming coffee next to it.
The white cassava looked appetizing and Agawe was so hungry… but he dared not start eating.
The old woman saw his hesitation. “It’s not poisoned. My son is a datu and it will not look good if an al-lang dies in his household.”
“Apô… “ he wanted to ask questions but the old woman interrupted him, “I will leave you to eat… then I will talk to you.”
Agawe wanted to trust these people but his Apô Ugay said “trust no one” so when left alone, he fished the stone from its pouch, pressed it under the coffee cup. The hot cup did not burn his palm. Nothing changed. He then slowly ran his palm with the stone on it under the banana leaf and nothing changed. What did I expect to happen anyway, he thought.
He gobbled the cassava and gulped down the hot coffee. He took big bites off the meat. It was deer meat and it was good. It took him only a few minutes to finish his food. He had always been a hearty eater. He loved deer which he and Egul used to hunt. They used to make a game of it. Everything was a game for him and Egul. Who could chase the deer and disable it with a rock? Agawe always outran his friend but Egul was clearly the stronger one. He could knock a wild boar down with a rock and his aim was good, too. The wild boar had no chance when Egul wanted to get him.
The woman who brought the coffee told Agawe to wait for Apô in the large room. Agawe went back to the room and stood waiting. The old woman appeared, told him to sit down and sat opposite him.
“Have you killed anything?” she asked.
“Animals… for food….” Agawe answered.
“Did you kill a man?”
“Would you kill a man if I asked you?”
Agawe’s eyes grew big and he swallowed hard.
“Would you kill a man who wanted to kill you or a member of your family?”
“I would kill him first if I could….”
The old woman squinted her eyes as she looked at Agawe. “There is something about you … I can feel it…”
“They are here!” a woman announced with urgency in her voice.
The old woman stood up. “Agawe… go and wait outside. Hurry!” She pointed to the kitchen door.
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