The day before her wedding, Oyinade and her three maids got permission to go out one last time. Iluope was a border town, and so on market days, traders came from the surrounding villages to buy and sell. It was usually a busy day with many strangers in the town, it was easy to get lost in the crowd. Knowing this might be her last chance to see Iya Adigun, Oyinade tricked her maids into looking for a special herb that she knew they might not find. The heavily pregnant woman who sold them had told her the previous market day that it was very likely that her baby would have come before the next market day. As her maids went towards the herb sellers, Oyinade went in the opposite direction, out of the market and toward the outskirts of the town.
Stripping herself of her royal adornments and hiding them within the folds of her ipele, she hurried on to Iya Adigun’s house and found her clearing a portion of land behind her hut.
The woman stood up straight and wiped her forehead.
“Please do not be offended that it has taken me so long to come.”
“I am even surprised that you are here today of all days.” She shook her head sadly. “You don’t appreciate my warning…”
“I do Iya, I just wanted to be careful. If my father knows that I am here, not only would he punish me, I am certain that he would punish you as well. I was trying to protect you…”
“I don’t need your protection. Your father can do nothing more to me.”
Oyinade stared at the woman, not sure what to make of her words.
“What is in the calabash you keep asking me to come and see?”
Iya Adigun put down her cutlass and smiled cryptically.
“We don’t have much time. Stay where you are, I’ll be back in a short while.”
Oyinade watched the woman walk into her hut and wondered how long this would take. By now she was sure that her maids would be cooking for her. The woman returned after a while with two pots, one was black and covered with a red cloth. It very much like the one in her dreams. The other was equally black but covered with a white cloth and decorated with a string of cowries. The woman walked towards the bush behind her hut and set the pots on the ground.
She removed a white horsetail that Oyinade hadn’t seen from under her armpit and pointed it at her.
“Your father has shed innocent blood and he has done it in a most vile manner. And I swore that he and his people would pay, but you have shown me kindness so I will spare you. Everyone else will suffer.”
Oyinade merely looked at the woman in wonder, wanting to ask her for more details but knowing that it wasn’t the right time to ask.
“There are two pots here. I will wash your head with this one first.” She pointed at the pot with the white cloth. “It will guarantee your life. The other one will make sure you escape from harm. Remove your head-tie.”
As if in a trance Oyinade removed her gele slowly.
“Do it quickly, we do not have time for this sluggishness!”
Oyinade bowed her head and the woman held it firmly, then, she dipped a sponge into the first pot and began to wash her head with the water in it.
“As I wash your head, I wash death off it!”
“Amen!” Oyinade responded rubbing her palms together in supplication.
“Your life is spared.”
The prayers continued and the girl couldn’t help but wonder what exactly what was going to happen to warrant such serious prayers. The woman finally released her head.
“Throw the sponge away as far as you can.”
The girl did as she was told.
“You asked me what was inside the pot. Now I will show it to you but you must be brave. It is not something that will make you happy.”
She nodded her head, too nervous to speak. Iya Adigun carried the pot in her hand and made to open the red cloth on it when she heard the voices of the palace guards calling out for Oyinade.
“They’re coming!” Oyinade said nervously.
“You have to see this!”
“They will kill you if they find me here.”
“Don’t worry about me, let us quickly wash your head!”
“Princess! Princess!” they could hear the guards approaching.
“Iya, I must go. I will come back after the wedding. I don’t want you to be killed because of me.”
“I’m trying to save you, your life is more important than mine!”
“Nothing can happen to me Iya, I’m the princess. I will come back after the wedding, I promise. Let me go now.”
And with that she was gone. Iya Adigun watched her walk away briskly, she was sad for a very long time.
Oyinade came out of the bush with a bunch of leaves in her hands and saw four of the palace guards and her three maids looking anxious.
“Oh good!” She said in mock relief. “I was wondering what I was going to do. There is a big bush rat trapped in there. I saw it as I picked these leaves.”
“Princess,” one of the maids said with frustration. “We have been looking for you! Why didn’t you tell us that you were going to leave the market?”
“Don’t be offended, I saw a woman who told me that the herb seller was not in the market but she told me that I could get them in the bushes. I didn’t know where you were and I didn’t want to waste any more time, so I thought that I should just come and get them myself.”
The guards and the maids looked at one another, not sure whether to believe the princess or not.
“Why are you all looking at each other like that? Do you doubt me? Where else would I have gone? Do you think I have a lover in the bushes?”
“No princess, we didn’t say that!” one of the guards said, embarrassed.
“So why do you doubt me? Where else could I have gone?”
One of her maids mumbled. “We thought had gone to her place…”
“The witch, Iya Adigun…”
“Why would I do that? My father has told me not to go there and I will not disobey him. I am surprised that you think that I would disobey my father. Please go and get the animal in there, I want to eat it with my father tonight before my wedding tomorrow.”
As they walked back towards the palace, Oyinade breathed a sigh of relief and thought to herself that she ought to go back to Iya Adigun’s hut soon.
“So I want you to relax when it is time, don’t panic. Just lie still and it will be over before you know it.”
“Yes mother,” Oyinade said.
They were seated in her mother’s hut. Olori Folasewa had just given her daughter the most important talk about the wedding, the wedding night. This was the most important moment for her. It was the one in which her duty as a mother would be judged. If the princess was found to be a virgin, then she would be seen as a responsible mother and the king would reward her with several gifts but if she wasn’t, heaven only knew what would happen to her.
The queen observed her daughter.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing, wife of the king.”
“Then why are you so quiet?”
“I’m pondering on what you have said.”
The queen didn’t believe her, the girl looked like she was far away from her room. Dread filled the queen, what if her daughter was not a virgin and was too afraid to say it?
“There is something you’re not telling me, what is it? Talk to me, I’m your mother!”
Oyinade sighed, could her mother be trusted? On this last night as a spinster, could she open up to her mother for once? Oyinade was burdened by all that Iya Adigun had told her, especially about the rest of her people being in danger. Even though Iya Ajike had told her not to trust anyone, she felt that she owed it to her mother to at least warn her about the coming events. What if Iya Adigun had only put a curse on her in the guise of saving her? Shouldn’t her mother know it?
The queen studied the conflict of emotions on her daughter’s face and became convinced that something was definitely very wrong with her daughter, and she feared that it had to do with the intactness of her virginity.
Oyinade took a deep breath in. “Mother… I want to tell you something… and I don’t know how you will take it…”
The queen could no longer be patient. “Ah! Oyinade, you have disgraced me! Who took your virginity? Tell me now, we can still find a solution…”
“My mother, no one has taken my virginity.”
Olori Folasewa slapped her daughter’s cheek. “You are lying! Tell me the truth now before you disgrace me tomorrow!”
“I swear I am a virgin! I have not been intimate with a man.”
“So why are you looking guilty?”
“I am telling you the truth, I was going to tell you something else. Do you want to examine me? Examine me! I am telling you the truth!”
Mother and daughter stared at one another.
“What did you want to say?”
Oyinade had no desire to share her burdens with her mother anymore. “I just wanted to say that I was afraid of getting married.”
“Is that it?” the queen asked doubtfully.
“Yes, wife of the king. That is it.”
There was an awkward silence between them in which Oyinade rubbed her cheek.
“There is nothing to be afraid of. Just relax like I told you.”
“Yes, wife of the king.”
“Don’t tell your father that I slapped you.”
“Yes, wife of the king.”
While the town of Iluope prepared to retire for the night, the border guards known for their fierce strength and alertness gathered in a circle, and planned for the wedding the next day. Their leader, Akinrinade, the fair skinned man with a hairy skin, held his axe in one hand and addressed his subordinates.
“We need to be at alert, the king told me that he had a frightful dream yesterday night. He has promised us the best food and drinks from the wedding tomorrow so he wants us to do our best and be vigilant.”
“We have never failed our king and we won’t fail him now,” said Fagbayi, his second-in-command.
“Very good. I will take twelve of you to the east, the rest of you should maintain your positions here with Fagbayi and be suspicious of anything. Igbin! Ejo!” he pointed at two of the guards who stood at the back of the crowd. “Quickly, serve the food, I know most of you are hungry. But don’t eat too much so that you don’t get drowsy. We will see in the morning.”
Akinrinade and twelve of his guards walked away towards the east of the town, close to the river.
He woke up with a start. He had drifted off to sleep for probably a few minutes but he got the feeling that something was wrong. It was almost dawn, he rose from the tree where he had been resting and moved towards the four of his men who were keeping watch and beckoned to Lagelu, one of the guards.
“I hope there is no problem?”
“No my Lord, there is no trouble.”
“I am suspicious, my skin is crawling, and I think something has happened.”
“I don’t know.”
Akinrinade paced the ground, chanting incantations to himself.
“Let us go to the west.”
Lagelu knew better than to argue with his superior, the man was seldom wrong about anything.
They found them lying on the floor, writhing in pain, all twenty three of the guards at the east border. There was a strong odor of feces and vomit in the air. Akinrinade hurried to Fagbayi and shook his shoulder.
“Fagbayi! What happened? What happened?”
Lagelu had walked over to the other guards who were in too much agony to be coherent.
“Fagbayi! I said what happened?!” Akinrinade shook his shoulder again.
“I don’t know… we all came down one at a time… the food…”
Briskly, Akinrinade walked towards Igbin and Ejo who were equally writhing in pain.
“Who gave you the food?”
None of them responded, they lay weakly, watery feces seeping out from between their legs, mouths drooling with vomit. Frustrated, Akinrinade got up and searched the camp for the bowls of food. Under a tree, tucked between two roots he found the empty pot of soup. He sniffed it, stared at it for a while and then began to make incantations. Suddenly, he stopped.
“Ah, taboo! Taboo! Crayfish! Who did this?!”
“My Lord what is it?” Lagelu asked, running over to him.
“There was crayfish in this food, somebody has revealed our taboo! Quickly, go and ask Igbin and Ejo who in Oyemakin’s household gave them the food.”
By the time Lagelu got back to Igbin and Ejo, they had breathed their last.