The Fiuri Realms (Shioni of Sheba Book 5)

BOOK: The Fiuri Realms (Shioni of Sheba Book 5)
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Book 5: The Fiuri Realms

By Marc Secchia

Text and images copyright © 2015 Marc Secchia

Cover image © Shutterstock

 

Illustrated by Senait Worku from Addis Ababa

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher and author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

www.marcsecchia.com

Chapter 1: No Slaves Wanted

T
he BLACKSMITH LINED UP
his chisel at Shioni’s neck. “Ready?”

Shioni knelt next to a workbench in Castle Hiwot’s courtyard, just a frog’s hop from the well and the baobab tree’s inviting shade. Captain Tariku, the tall warrior in command of the castle, grasped her slave-necklet in both hands–the circlet of metal which had been locked around her neck since she could remember. His firm grip made the side of her throat press painfully against the rough wood.

The blazing noonday sun beat upon her fair head, the only fair-haired head in that courtyard. Everyone else–the Sheban warriors lining Castle Hiwot’s walls, Princess Annakiya and her father, the King of West Sheba, General Getu, the one-armed veteran, Mama Nomuula, the beaming head cook, and Captain Tariku–had dark hair. A few were slaves like her, but none had her blonde hair or fair colouring.

Azurelle peeked at her out of Princess Annakiya’s tunic pocket. She whispered something to Shioni’s best friend. Since their last adventure, the tiny Fiuri, all of four inches tall, had completely changed colour from green to blue. Her hair, the Fiuri patterns on her arms and legs, and even her wings now suited her name–and it was all Shioni’s fault. Thankfully, Azurelle was patently delighted with her change to a more respected colour. That reminded her, they were soon to enjoy a royal visit from Prince Dawit of Gondar. Azurelle would doubtless conclude that the Prince had travelled all the way from ancient Gondar to be her foremost admirer. Only a Fiuri could be that vain.

Clang!
The hammer walloped the chisel.

Shioni’s body jerked. Despite the wooden brace Captain Yirgu had carved and affixed to her right wrist, the broken bone twinged as though she had a needle stuck through her skin.

This was either a reward, or another sneaky form of punishment for a slave-girl.

Nearby, Mama Nomuula heaved a sigh. Coming from her, it was an enormous sigh, because she was an enormously fat woman, bigger than any four ordinary Sheban women rolled together. Mama was beautiful, especially her smile, which reminded Shioni of the sun rising over the Abyssinian hills.

“It’s fused together,” said the blacksmith, examining the metal with his calloused fingertips. “Let me try again.”

“Don’t hit her neck,” worried Annakiya.

“Maybe you can chip a bit of the cheekiness off her while you’re at it?” suggested Mama Nomuula, with a hearty chuckle. “Chisel off a few sharp corners?”

Shioni gasped, “Mama!”

“Hold still, girl,” ordered Captain Tariku.

“I think she wants to stay a slave,” suggested the King of West Sheba, looking on from the cool shade of a gold-fringed umbrella being held aloft by a sweating Nubian slave. “Whatever was I thinking, signing that scroll? Can I take it back?”

“Take back the law?” Princess Annakiya sounded scandalised.

“Chisel in the groove,” muttered the blacksmith. “Captain, can we get more padding? Better still, could I use your belt?”

Leather rubbed Shioni’s skin, passing between the metal slave-necklet and her neck. Scabby hyenas, what if the necklet didn’t come off? Shioni didn’t want to think about that. The blacksmith adjusted her position against the table, making doubly sure that when he struck the chisel, the necklet would be firmly braced against the work surface.

Mama called, “One last thing.” Everyone stared at her as she waddled over. She swatted Shioni’s backside firmly. “Last time, as a slave. Ah just had to do that,” explained Mama, as laughter rippled around the castle courtyard and across the battlements.

Shioni could also blush more rosily than anyone else at Castle Hiwot.

The blacksmith raised his stubby metal hammer. “One, two … three.”
Clang!
The clean ring of his hammer-stroke echoed between Castle Hiwot’s ruddy sandstone walls. “Done.”

“And thus was the history of West Sheba written,” said Princess Annakiya, sounding as though she were reading from a scroll, her favourite pastime.

A huge cheer rose from the warriors on the walls. Mama Nomuula led the ululating, a high, rising and falling cry of exultation taken up by the women. Mama was so excited that she started dancing, her bare feet thumping up clouds of reddish dust.

The blacksmith twisted the metal torc off Shioni’s neck.

Shioni was the first slave ever to be freed in the Kingdom of West Sheba. She loved the people, all of her friends gathered around her, but the slave’s metal necklet stamped with the Lion of Sheba had always weighed far more heavily than metal upon her mind and spirit.

Now, the hated symbol of her slavery fell away so easily.

A hand half-concealed by a richly brocaded sleeve grasped her fingers. “Arise, warrior of Sheba,” said the King. “May I be the first to congratulate you on your freedom?”

“Thank you, o King,” said Shioni.

The blacksmith pressed the silver torc into her fingers. “Keep this as a reminder of where you came from,” he said. To her surprise, the muscular blacksmith’s eyes were wet with tears.

Princess Annakiya flung herself into Shioni’s embrace. “I’m so happy!”

“Oof,” said Shioni.

“Mind the Fiuri,” squeaked a tiny voice between them. Mama Nomuula gathered all three of them into her tree-trunk arms, weeping so copiously that Azurelle began to complain about a sudden rainstorm. They laughed until their sides ached.

General Getu patted her on the shoulder. “Well, then,” he said, wiping his good eye surreptitiously. “I always said you were the biggest troublemaker in this kingdom, didn’t I?”

“And, to continue my tradition of troublemaking …” said Shioni, winking past Mama’s elbow at the blacksmith.

“Oh?” Mama’s eyebrows crawled toward her hairline like two large black caterpillars munching their way toward each other on the same leaf. “What’s you doing, Shioni? I’s still your Mama. Don’t you be starting your ways with me.”

“Because she’ll clonk you over the head with her frying pan, Shioni,” said Annakiya, with a broad wink at her former slave.

Mama cried, “What’s all this winking, eh?”

“Silence!” commanded the King, raising his hands.

“Just you be spitting it out, you two rascally baboons, or I’ll–”

“Who’s next?” asked the blacksmith. “You? Come on, Mama Nomuula. My hammer’s warm and waiting.” He seized Mama’s hand and tugged her toward the workbench.

“Hey!” squeaked Mama. But with Shioni and Annakiya pushing from behind and the blacksmith pulling from the front, she stumbled forward a few steps. Then Mama planted her legs, stopping in her tracks. “Shioni? Anni? What you doing?”

Princess Annakiya struck a dramatic pose. “Just you get over to that workbench, Mama Nomuula, before I put you over my knee. That’s a royal order.”

Mama’s face was a picture, her eyes bulging like a goat stung by a wasp. She glared at Annakiya, who was unable to keep a straight face. The Princess burst into a fit of giggles. That set Shioni off until she was laughing so helplessly that tears streamed down her cheeks.

“You girls!” cried Mama Nomuula. “General? General Getu–there’s mayhem in your castle, there is. Rebellion, says I.” Her hands flapped aimlessly toward the baobab tree. “Craziness. Hyenas howling at the moon. Ha!” Mama folded her arms across her massive chest. “You can’t do nothing without the King’s say-so, so there!”

Mama had been bought as a slave from the southern coast, where she had lost her family, to the Kingdom of Sheba. Her skills in the kitchen and many others besides had quickly won her a place in the King’s household–and in everyone’s hearts. But Mama had always been a slave. She was also the only mother Shioni had ever known.

Shioni poked Mama in the ribs. “Too late for that. My troublemaking has already sailed so far down the Nile it’s halfway to the Red Sea.”

“Wrong geography,” Annakiya whispered loudly.

“I’s got you now, Shioni,” declared Mama. But then her eye fell on the King, who had produced a small scroll from his sleeve. He held it out to her.

Shioni recognised the exact moment it dawned on Mama Nomuula that this was no joke. Her hand flew to her chest. Her face paled. She stared at the scroll as though she had been offered a cobra. Mama knew what that scroll meant. Freedom.

Great, crocodile tears began to roll down her cheeks.

Now Shioni felt guilty about making Mama Nomuula cry. The huge African woman moved over to the bench as though she were dancing through a dream. The blacksmith examined the necklet and declared it easily removed. Shioni helped Mama kneel alongside the workbench. A strange roaring resounded in Shioni’s ears, as though the river ran past Castle Hiwot in its full rainy season spate. The castle was named ‘Hiwot’ for life–a new life that Shioni realised was also wrapped up in her journey from slave to free person. It was special. So magical.

The throng of watching warriors fell silent. The blacksmith raised his hammer toward the burning African sky.

“Wait!” cried Shioni. “One last thing.”

Mama’s gasp carried clearly to everyone in the courtyard.

Reaching out, she swatted Mama Nomuula on the backside. “Last time, as a slave. I just had to do that.”

The blacksmith’s hammer fell, but the ring of metal upon metal was drowned out in laughter. Mama’s slave-necklet sprang free and dropped next to Shioni’s foot.

General Getu hobbled over, having to move carefully on the new peg-leg the carpenters had carved for him. He grasped Mama’s elbow. “Arise, free woman of Sheba.”

“Ooh,” said Mama, gathering Shioni in one arm and the General in the other, “I’s so happy, I could kiss you.” She planted a kiss on top of Shioni’s head. “You’s getting too tall. Like a young giraffe, you rascal. How long you been planning to surprise your old Mama? Cheeky monkey.”

General Getu smiled his famously wolf-like smile. “Mama Nomuula, I’m waiting for my kiss.”

“Slaves don’t kiss Generals,” Mama returned tartly, before chuckling at herself. “But I’s not a slave no more, is I?”

And then Mama Nomuula had nothing more to say. She could not. The General made certain of that.

“Ew, go kiss behind the baobab,” complained Azurelle, fluttering over to Shioni to pop a tiny Fiuri kiss on her cheek. “Did you see how my new, so very blue wings shimmer in the sunlight? Congratulations, even if you did your best to make us all sweat. So, how does it feel? Similar to the time you released me from Kalcha’s bottle?”

Shioni chuckled at her little friend’s chattering. “Exactly, Zi.”

After that, Mama retreated to her kitchens to stir up her great pots of
doro wot
, her special, spicy chicken stew, while a small army of slave-girls prepared for the celebration. A drummer took up residence beneath the baobab tree. A cheerful hubbub filled Castle Hiwot’s courtyard. Princess Annakiya howled with laughter when Mama Nomuula chased Shioni out of her kitchens, twirling a large wooden spoon above her head.

Mama yelled, “And stay out! You ain’t no slave no more!”

“I was just trying to help, Mama.”

“Stealing my honeyed sweets, more like,” grumbled Mama Nomuula, far from cross. “Shoo! Go chop up a few hyenas, or chat to the elephants …”

After Shioni had seen to it that her friends the elephants–Shifta, Chief, Dusky, Beauty and Beauty’s baby, who was called Little Chief–had received a double portion of the freshest and tastiest leaves, she returned to the feast. Then they ate, and ate, and ate still more, until their stomachs groaned with Mama Nomuula’s delicious cooking. As the sun vaulted high above the dark peaks of the Simien Mountains, the Kingdom of West Sheba celebrated the freedom of its slaves and the King’s return to full health. There were speeches and dancing, followed by exhibitions of swordplay and wrestling and poetry.

When General Getu rose to deliver his speech, he began by proposing marriage to Mama Nomuula. For the second time that day, Mama’s squeal of delight echoed around the courtyard.

Shioni went to bed that evening thinking it had been the best day of her life.

BOOK: The Fiuri Realms (Shioni of Sheba Book 5)
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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