The next evening Nyasha went out to hunt, while the Mazaza went to make his bulls graze. Zimatha was sharpening her blades on a rock.
"Why didn't you run when I told you to yesterday."
"And leave you there?" I glanced down at her.
"Yes. You are the elder's protégé. You matter more than me."
"You are the herbalist here, if we go to Songani you could actually help out. While me I could easily be replaced by another protégé."
"Both of us staying in that ambush yesterday was a bad tactical move. You should have left."
"And left you there? What sort of person would that make me?"
"The person you wanted me to be, when you asked me to leave. We split up the mwaluve so one of us can get it to Songani."
She propped her head with her elbows, her eyes boring into me. "Then next time leave when I tell you to."
I held her gaze. "I am not doing that."
"I am not leaving either."
"This is pointless, Amanda almost never sends more than ten men for a bounty so I doubt we will be in that situation again." I said.
"What is pointless?" Nyasha asked.
Zimatha told him. He just chuckled. "There is no way that Aya could have left you."
"Our elder protégé has a hero complex?" Zima sniggered.
Nyasha nodded his head jerking with laughter. I sighed.
"I killed a hippo grazing nearby. I can't bring it up back on my own. Come help me carry it." Nyasha said after he finished laughing. It was a tedious task bringing it to our camping ground.
"Why do you keep calling her Zimatha?" Nyasha asked.
I looked at her. She drew her breath in and told him why.
His jaw dropped. After collecting himself, he said. "It must have been a rough week for you."
"It hasn't been easy but it's getting better." She said.
Only Zimatha could enter Songani. Since the rest of us were not immunised against Ebola. We set our tents at a safe distance and watched.
"How was your time with her?" Nyasha asked. Mazaza who was lying down on his mat, threw his gaze at me.
I focused my eyes downward at my dusty feet.
"I noticed you two have grown closer." Nyasha said. "Usually she would seat on the opposite side of the cart from us. But ever since your time together she has been seating on your side and yesterday she napped while resting on your shoulder.
"We are good friends." I said.
"It's more than that. She has strong feelings for you." Mazaza said.
"And you for her," Nyasha finished.
I could feel the crunch of my furrowed brow. "Yes I do. And finally I understand the emotions that made my father want to avenge the beast that killed my mother." I glanced up at both of them. "But I am an elder's protégé. My life is not my own."
"Maybe you could ask for an allowance." Nyasha said.
"I swore an oath to abide to these rules no matter what."
Both of them silently gazed at me. I could not read their expressions. Was this my fate to care for a woman who would never be mine? Zimatha returned at dusk.
"It was horrible." She said, when Nyasha asked how it was. "I am just glad they have a cure."
Nyasha added sticks to the fire in preparation to reheat the hippo meat.
"Ayamba, could we spar?" Zimatha said.
I pulled myself off the ground. "Okay."
I let her lead me to the west of our camp, through some trees. I looked around, this place was crowded with trees. Hardly the ideal ground to spar in. Zimatha whirled around, placing her head on my shoulder.
"Oh Ayamba it was horrible. They have funeral every day. Funerals of dozens of people." Her tears ran down my robe. I placed my hand on her waist. "The whole time I was there, I kept thinking: I helped start this suffering."
I stroked her back. "Now you are helping stop it."
"After how many have died?"
I pulled her close not knowing what to say.
"When Father started this, I did not think this many people would die. I really didn't. I would have never participated in such a massacre." She pulled away, sinking onto the grass. "Oh father, how could he be okay with killing this many people just go get his aims?"
I sat next to her.
"He deserves to die a horrible death." She lay her head on my shoulder. "There was this little girl, maybe two or three, she kept asking why her mother would not wake up. How many children has Khataza orphaned? How many children have I helped him orphan?"
I pressed my back to the tree behind me, placing both my arms around her. "It will be over soon."
"I will never be able to forgive myself for participating in destroying the cure. Never."
My hand cupped her chin, my thumb stroked her cheek. "If Chauta, our creator, forgives us of all transgressions, why should you hold this against yourself?"
"Because, the effects of what I did will always be there. Oh how I wish I killed Khataza in his sleep. I wish I had died with my parents."
I let go of her face. "Khataza will soon be caught and punished for what he did."
"What of me? Do I deserve the pardon I will receive? I wish I was not immune to Ebola so I could die like those that I have made to suffer."
"Don't think like that. You are not the same girl who started this journey."
The tears stopped but she did not pull away.
"We should head back, we have been here a long time."
"Do we have to head back now?"
I ran my fingers through the ridges in her hair, then slowly pulled her away from me. "Yes."
"Okay," she sighed and got up. She wiped the tearstains on her face. I looked down at my robe, the patch where her tears had dropped was still wet. They won't notice with the darkness, I told myself. I turned away from her, began heading back to our camp. She clasped my hand and pulled me to face her.
"Thank you." A small smile clasped her lips.
"You are welcome." I opened my arms and we embraced once more. I was the first to pull away.
"That was a long sparring session." Nyasha said when he saw us. Was he teasing me? I could not tell.
"Well you know some of us never tire when we spar." Zimatha retorted. How was she smiling in the midst of all this?
Nyasha chortled. "So who won?"
"Such un-enlightened views, sparring is not about winning mlenje." She said. Soon after eating, Zimatha slept.
"We know what you were doing." Nyasha said. "I came to watch you spar and saw that you were comforting her."
My eyes moved away from his to the fire.
"For someone like her, being vulnerable is difficult. For her to open herself up like that to you, it means you have something special." Mazaza said. I glanced up at him.
"Something that is reason enough for you two to marry." Nyasha continued.
Zimatha looked peacefully asleep.
"I fail to see what you hope to achieve by this talk." I told them.
"They could be a way to make sure she is your bride." Nyasha said.
"Get her pregnant. They will be forced to make her your bride." He retorted.
"I can't believe you would suggest such a dishonest thing."
"I feel no shame." Nyasha replied.
"I don't agree with Nyasha's suggestion. Chauta makes us in pairs," Mazaza pointed at Zimatha. "She is your pair. Surely they must be a way around your betrothal."
"You believe in the Council don't you?"
They both nodded.
"Then believe that the wife they find for me will be my pair. Despite how I feel about Zima."
Zidana was standing at the door of his house. When he saw me walk into his compound, he rushed out to meet me. We embraced.
"I feared you would not return." He said releasing me from the embrace and holding my shoulders with his hands. "And I would have to spend another ten years training another solemn boy."
I chuckled. He let me to go. He greeted Zimatha with a handshake. His wife embraced me too and embraced Zimatha. Nyasha and Mazaza had left to report to their superior. They led us into their house. Zimatha sat down on a stool next to me. After telling him of our journey, I handed him two Mwaluve plants. So that he could plant them here in case another maniac decided to start an outbreak.
"My maid has prepared a bath for you Zimatha. Your living quarters are being sorted." Shamiso, the elder's wife said.
Zimatha got up and followed her out of the room. Zidana led me to his study.
"You remember when Ndhlovu attacked Mdhulo's territory three years back?"
I nodded my head as I sank into the chair across from his desk.
"My investigations have found that Ndhlovu carried out that attack because someone in the council assured him they would be no repercussions. When that person broke that promise, Ndhlovu let all the blame fall on his general Khataza. That's when Khataza ran away and stayed with the Vukutu. Khataza had no idea about all this politics. A year ago, this person met with Diminga who is the leader of Ulalo the organisation attacking us. Diminga told him to persuade Khataza to start the outbreak. Diminga promised this person that they would be regent of the new Utawaleza. When this person spoke to Khataza he promised him that he would be his deputy."
I placed my elbows on the rectangular arms of the chair I was on. "Who is this person?"
"I am still investigating."
I nodded my head.
"Elder Atusunje is helping me with my investigations. She is there only one I trust right now. Her twin sister Sigelele is in KUA. She warned Atusunje about Ulalo. So Atusunje arranged for Sigelele to keep Fantchika safe and train him how to withstand torture incase he was caught. So that he would not tell Diminga where the EMP is."
"So that's why he hid it."
Zidana nodded. "Agents against Ulalo have located where Fantchika Gwengwe hid the EMP. I am sending you to aid these agents in bringing it here and ending this war."
I nodded my head again. "When do I leave?"
"At dawn tomorrow."
After lunch, I escorted Zimatha to her new quarters.
"After I get my immunity. I will head back to Songani and try to help out. They need all the herbalists they can get." Zima said. My eyes kept wandering around the peach one shoulder-less robe she wore. It was almost the colour of her lips. The belt around her waist showed off her lithe figure.
I pulled my eyes from her robe to the multitude of stone compounds before us.
"I am leaving for the war front."
She stopped walking and grabbed my arm. Her wild eyes were ablaze with fear.
"I have to go."
"What if you don't return?" she squeezed my arm.
"It's important that I go."
She slid my fingers into the crevices of my hand. I squeezed her hand.
"Take care of yourself." She said.
I let go of her hand. Why did I let her hold it? What if my future wife saw me?
"You take care too." I said glancing down at her. We had reached the tall building that would be her home for her time here. It housed refugees. She turned, rose on her toes and gave me a hug.
"In case you don't return."
My fingers stroked the hair hanging down her back. I pulled away.
"See you." I waved.
Her lips were tight, she opened to say. "Return to me."
I nodded and turned to leave. Why did she say return to me? Why to her in particular?
I travelled to the war front with Mazaza and Nyasha. It pained me when I asked them about their wives. Both of them, in a better mood than the previous day, told me that their wives were okay. "My youngest insisted on coming with me, actually latched herself to my legs this morning." Mazaza chuckled. Would I have that happiness? Why did they have this stupid rule of choosing a wife for us?
What do you think Ayamba should do about his arranged marriage?
What is your favourite subplot in this book?
Do any of you draw? I could not find art of a girl/woman with albinism? If you could draw something like that for me, i would be ever so grateful. Please send it to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org