Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Arkaz By Barakat Akinsiku - Book Excerpt [African Fantasy and Adventure]

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ARKAZ is an ancient African adventure eBook that has been published by Barakat Akinsiku.
Barakat lives in Lagos with her husband, twin sons and pretty daughter. An avid writer, she relaxes by reading a good book, watching documentaries and sketching. In her writing, Barakat has a bias for all things romance and fantasy. So if you want some African flavoured fiction, she's your guy. Check out an excerpt from Arkaz below...

Blurb: Princess Kaella of Yatz's serene world comes to a grinding halt when her tiny village is invaded by forces of the Great Sol, an arch rival of Arkaz, under whose rule her village falls. Fleeing for her life and from a forced betrothal, she teams up with unlikely allies, searches for her kidnapped sister and hopes to bring back help for her village.

It was mid-morning, but the sun was already high up in the sky, scorching the desert landscape below. Gusts of occasional breeze blew up particles of sand and dust with a distinct whirling sound and the bustle and noise of the town filtered down as the two girls followed their uncle to a stationary elephant, which was loosely tied to a stake just outside the palace courtyard.

The elephant was decked in embroidered red coloured linen, showing the affluent status of its owner. Two very dark skinned men sat on a stone beside it and stood up as soon as they saw Master Uzar. A small piece of tanned hide tied about their torso and covering their genitals was the only piece of clothing they had on.

They, however, had a bow string and a quiver of arrows strapped to their backs, with their well-formed, bulgy biceps glistening off the rays of the sunlight and circles of white paint drawn on their chest. Their faces were also streaked with white paint, indicating they were no mere servants, but well trained warriors. They silently came forward and bowed in greeting.

“Take the princesses on a ride around town,” The young chief instructed them.”See to their safe return afterwards.” He leaned forward and gave further terse instructions to the two of them.

“De Fi, Master Uzar,” The taller of the two guards replied and, bowing slightly in front of the princesses, gestured that they both come forward to the waiting elephant. He uttered a command and the elephant bent its front heels slightly, its frontal body somewhat lowered and Kaella, who was experienced in elephant climbing, clambered onto the elephant’s forehead, steadied by the guards’ hands.

She was levered up onto the embroidered linen on the elephant’s body when the mammal stood to its full height. She scrambled up into a sitting position, pulling down over her lap, her safaar, a modified form of the safoor, which was worn by the village maidens and little girls. The fabric had bunched around her waist when she clambered up, and she straightened it out, partly covering her exposed thighs.

The safaar consisted of a two piece gaily embroidered linen, one a short piece of narrow cloth tied around the bosoms and the other a shorter version of the long dress-skirt worn by the older women, which covered her lower torso starting from her slim waist to her ankle.

“Carry me, carry me!” Shaella shouted and one of the guards lifted her up to Kaella’s waiting hands. She placed the little girl in front of her.

“Now, you sit still,” She growled in warning to Shaella, who merely giggled and wriggled her back against Kaella’s body in mischief.

“All right, Kaella and Shaella, do have a lovely ride,” their uncle called, turning to make his way back to the palace.

“We will, uncle, thanks!” Shaella shouted in reply, waving her hands whilst leaning back into her sister. The elephant began to move leisurely with a slow, measured gait, the two guards strolling on either side of it.

They trudged on at a slow pace, heading away from the palace region until they got to a widened pathway, passing by mud huts, most of which were being painted with white plaster lime relief. Geometric and figurative images were also crafted on them in an attempt to beautify and add splendour to the dwellings. Every household was trying its best to look charming and welcoming for the potential new guests and additions to their families—the new brides. As the elephant passed by some huts whose decorations were still in progress, the men doing the decoration paused briefly to bow in greeting to the royal procession, while the girls watched keenly as the men chiselled with a piece of rock the outer part of the mud-brick dwellings, carving out some geometrical patterns before colouring them in with a dried cake of white limestone.

“I think it’s a very interesting process,” Shaella remarked, absorbing the scene before her.

“Yes. It is.” Her sister agreed.

“And I know what I’d like to be when I grow up,” Shaella continued gaily.

“Really...” Kaella intoned, her eyebrows raised.

“Yes. I’d like to be a sculptor and a painter!”

“This is aside from the professional dancer and bead-maker and farmer and elephant tamer you once said you’d like to be, uh?” Kaella asked drily and the little girl scrunched up her face, deep in thought.

“Oh, well... I guess I’m just so gifted it appears there’s not one thing I am not able to do...” she said finally, her hands on her chin in a show of frustration.

“Or, you mean, you just can’t make up your mind?” A fleeting smile played about Kaella’s lips as she watched her kid sister, amused.

“Well... Perhaps when I grow up I shall know the one, won’t I?” Shaella craned her neck backward, turning towards Kaella, a serious expression on her face. “Grownups have a way of knowing such things, don’t they?”

“Well, I do know one thing for certain... you are going to a bride and a wife someday.”

“Oh yeah... The coming of age ceremony... That’s not even the least bit interesting!” Shaella scoffed, while Kaella smiled. The coming of age ceremony was a yearly ceremony where girls who had reached fourteen years of age were betrothed off to approved suitors in the start of what was to be a weeklong marital rite. After the betrothal ceremony, where the matched couples were publicly announced, the suitors were required to go on a hunting spree to search for game to be presented to the bride’s family as well as purchase clothing items and gifts for the bride. Seven days later, an elaborate marital ceremony was held, after which, each bride would be escorted to the suitor’s home. Painting and decorating the houses was therefore favoured by many families to show off their wealth and ability to take care of a new bride.

“When you get up to my age, it would be interesting.” She told the little girl, who merely shrugged her shoulders, already bored with the topic and clearly not interested in discussing it further.

The elephant moved away from the cluster of gaily painted residential homes to a rowdy market square, which was some distance away. The market was a large area of open space characterized by mostly merchants, squatting on raffia mats on the bare floor with various wares displayed or sitting by wooden rigged out stalls. It was also occasionally dotted with some crudely rigged tents made from animal skin and home to some beer parlours, where the local rum ooti was sold to labourers and other local men. Loud chatter and babble could be heard coming from within the tents and Kaella looked on, wondering what the inside of such tents would look like. It was a forbidden place for young maidens to go into.

Once at the market square, the procession paused for the girls to take in the scene before them. Traders squatted on raffia mats with their wares which ranged from farm produce, fish and wheat to household items like stools, linen clothing, jewellery, perfume boxes and the like in front of them. Buyers thronged by and were called on by the traders. They haggled at the top of their voices and the girls watched, fascinated, as they rarely came to this part of town.

“Ladoo sweets!” Shaella shouted, pointing at the merchant of a sweetened snack for kids made from beet cane.

“Hang on, I’ll get some for you.” Kaella said, swinging her leg from the side of the elephant. “Help me down.” She instructed one of the guards who hesitated.

“I do not think it is wise, Zi Kaella.” He muttered an apology. “Tell me what you like and I get for you.”

“I said help me down. I am not a kid.” Kaella replied in a stern voice and, looking once at his colleague, who merely shrugged his shoulders, the guard came forward holding out his arms to steady the princess as she clambered down amidst cheering from Shaella. She straightened down her safaar and walked in slow, measured steps towards the Ladoo sweet merchant, who looked up, pleased to have attracted a buyer.

“Ladoo sweets, Ladoo sweets,” he chorused in a sing song fashion, “for your little ones at the home. What shall you be exchanging for a full batch, my pretty young lady? Your bracelet? Toe ring or perhaps you are in possession of some cowrie shells?”

“Actually, I didn’t bring any back with me from the palace...” Kaella started an explanation, embarrassed she hadn’t thought about the payment angle of making a purchase and was cut short by the merchant.

“Oh, my goodness, of course...! Zi Kaella. I hadn’t recognized you. It is an honour to have you shop here. You can take as much Ladoo sweets as you want...”

“I only just want a couple for my sister...”

“Of course, of course. Here you go,” the Merchant hurriedly packed some sweets into a goatskin wrap and thrust the bag of Ladoo sweets into her hands, “For the little princess...”

“Thank you so much. But about payment...”

“You no worry about payment, Zi Kaella. I feel plenty honour to have you in front of my wares.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you. I shall inform my mother about your generosity, master...?” She paused, hoping he would supply his name, determined to mention him to her mother, but didn’t hear his reply as she was suddenly jolted by the shock of hearing her name called by a distinctly familiar voice.

“Kaella!!” She heard the voice again and looked up. Deep, sonorous and distinctly masculine, the voice was one she knew too well. She looked up, scanning her eyes about the noisy and rowdy market square for the caller, certain she knew who it was and the assumption leaving her dizzy with excitement. And she was right, for she soon saw him—Yassir of the House of Tabir, her proposed suitor and lover!

Sturdily built like a rock, with broad shoulders and sinewy hands, he stood a few feet away, sweat mixed with dust glistening off his ebony brown skin under the sweltering sun ray. He held onto a mid-sized jeobar, which hung limply from his hands, indicating he must have been on a quick hunt and was at the market to sell or barter his game. He stared at her, squinting his eyes and studying her from afar, his brows knitted together with a look of wonderment on his face as he tried to ascertain if she was indeed the one he was looking at. His woolly hair was cropped low and he was decked in an armless tanned brown hide, which was cut open in the middle, barely covering his chest and exposing his burnished, well-formed abs to view with another hide tied over his lower torso like a short skirt. His hunting gear, a bow and a quiver of arrows, was slung onto his back. He was not very tall compared to most boys his age, but still stood a head taller above her.

He was four years older than her and his father, Master Tabir, was a close friend of her father’s as well as the king’s chief war strategist. As she had heard, the two had been fast friends’ since their growing up days and upon her birth she had been instantly matched by her father to master Tabir’s oldest son, Yassir. She had been privy to that fact since she was ten seasons old, but Yassir wasn’t allowed to pay court to her until a year ago, when she was almost of age and she had found it quite easy to fall for the charming, honourable man he had grown up to be. Her father had also taken a liking to the young man and took him like the son he never had; it was a sad thing both fathers’ wouldn’t be around for the betrothal ceremony tomorrow.

“My goodness, it is you,” Yassir said, his face breaking into a wide grin and he turned to rapidly chat with the merchant whose stall he had been standing beside, gesturing at the animal in his hands, whilst nodding his head in the direction Kaella stood. The merchant nodded and he dropped the dead jeobar on the latter’s stall before running towards her. “This is such a pleasant surprise.” He remarked when he got close to her, his chest heaving from the slight exertion, “What are you doing here?”  She hardly ever went into the market, so his question was not out of place and his surprise understandable. As a matter of fact, her last recollection of going to the market was a very faint one when she was a kid and was in her father’s royal procession going to a neighbouring village for some function. She could remember the trip because her mother had been pointing out various landmarks to her. Shaella was just a babe then, cooing away in her mother’s arms.

“I... er...” She attempted a reply and suddenly saw one of the guards materialize beside her with a menacing look on his face. “It’s okay. He’s my friend.” She told him, but the guard did not budge. “I said he’s my friend. You may go back to wait by the elephant.” She repeated through gritted teeth, but it made no difference as the guard stood still beside her, arms akimbo and steely eyes glaring at Yassir in a sort of dare and warning.

“No worries,” Yassir smiled good-naturedly, having noticed her attempt to get rid of the guard. “He’s only doing his job.”

“I find it rude, him eavesdropping on our conversation!” Kaella pouted angrily and Yassir laughed.

“Come on. Do you really think he’s the least bit interested in whatever you’re talking about?” Yassir chuckled, scrunching up his face as he studied the guard who looked stonily back, “Can’t say I’ve met him before, though.”

“He’s one of my uncle’s personal guards.”

“That explains it. We’ve never met and he doesn’t know me. So, what are you doing in the market?”

“Actually, we were just passing by on a sightseeing trip and Shaella wanted sweets...”

“Shaella? Where is she?” He asked just before spotting her on the elephant a few yards away. He immediately started walking towards the elephant in long purposeful strides and Kaella kept up, the guard in tow.

“Yassir, Yassir, Yassir,” Shaella chanted bumping up and down on the elephant which stood patiently still, flapping its big ears and swishing its’ tail whilst observing shrewdly through tiny eyes, Yassir’s approach.

“My charming little princess, how are you today?” Yassir called out as soon as he got to where she sat.

“I’m fine! See I have pretty paintings on my hands and legs.” Shaella held out her hands and lifted her foot midair.

“Really? That’s nice.” Yassir pretended to inspect them. “They are very lovely indeed.”

“Thank you! Kaella has some too.” Shaella continued, to which her sister slapped her wrists while Yassir chuckled.

“I bet she does.” He said, slanting a sly glance at Kaella who looked away shyly.

“Yes, she does. And she also went to get Ladoo sweets for me too. Would you like to have some?”


“Okay.” Shaella turned meekly to Kaella. “So where are my Ladoos, sweet Kaella?”

“I have a good mind not to give them to you. You talk too much.”

“Come on...” Shaella cajoled and leaned closer, saying in a light whisper loud enough for Yassir to hear. “Yassir wants some too. He’s your fabuu you know.”

“You... are one naughty, naughty child,” Kaella said, throwing the bag of sweets disgustedly on the little girl’s lap while Yassir laughed out loud. The rude guard stepped up, clearing his throat loudly.

“I’m sorry to interrupt Zi Kaella but we really must get going so the master is not kept delayed.”

“In a moment, I’m not ready yet!” Kaella replied curtly and in a huff clasped Yassir’s hand, pulling him away from the guards and the elephant while Shaella leisurely dug into her sweets. The guard knew better than to follow this time around, having seen the fire of fury in her eyes.

“Really trying to show who the master is, huh?” Yassir began with a chuckle when she finally stopped for air. “I really fear for my head, thinking how you would hit it with the pan anytime I erred after we were married...” he continued and Kaella stopped short, a horrified look on her face.

“Of course, I would never do that...” she began indignantly, but Yassir cut her short, placing his index finger on her lips, smiling.

“I know.” He said softly. “I was just teasing you. You look really pretty when you go off like that,” he continued in a low husky voice. “The sparks in your eyes come alive, smouldering and yet inviting. I find myself like a moth drawn to a flame.” He smiled down at her, the action softening his features, with fine creases forming about the sides of his mouth and showing off the dimples on his cheeks which made him look incredibly handsome. His deep set eyes framed by thick straight brows twinkled at her as he stared intently into her eyes while she stood mesmerized. He seemed to stare into her soul, going past the limpid brown sea of her pupil into her innermost core and she stared back, speechless and spell-struck, before finally tearing her eyes away, feeling most uncomfortable. She couldn’t explain it, but she felt somewhat squishy and weak when he stared at her like that.

“I...” She began weakly, turning her face away to avoid his gaze, fidgeting.

“I know. We should go back.” He placed his hands on her back, gently steering her in the direction of the elephant. “In Seven morrows we shall be man and wife and be together forever.”

“Yes,” she nodded slowly, still feeling strange and they set off, walking slowly towards the elephant. She was silent on the walk towards the elephant and when they got there, he helped her up it and waved as the huge mammal began its leisurely stroll with Shaella frantically waving back, hands covered in sticky goo. Kaella kept her head low, still trying to analyze her feelings, but turned once to look back at him. He smiled at her and she found herself blushing and smiling back. The elephant moved farther away, leaving a wide distance between them and he turned, making his way back into the market. Kaella watched his back until he disappeared amongst the crowd of people and she had to strain her eyes. Then she turned to the expansive view in front of her.

 The elephant was approaching a hilly slope and, as the animal descended down the hill, Kaella allowed her imaginations take over, her mind drifting away and conjuring up images of what the ceremony would be like the following day. She imagined being dressed up in the new masterfully embroidered safoor her mother had gotten her. The outfit would be paired with a long, gaily decorated head covering, complete with carefully coiffured hair and red hair beads. A row of trinket dangling anklets would be tied onto her ankles so they would chime as she danced and jiggled to the beats of the drummers.

 Next, she visualized herself and the other maidens –nineteen of them, this season; who took dance classes from Ma Jaideye, the town’s dance instructor, file out and perform for the entire village before finally going in search of their beaus amidst the crowd of villagers with a cup of royil, a sweetened variant of the local rum. It was usually a fun event, as the maidens would dance amidst drum beats into the crowd of onlookers, scanning the faces of the men for that of their beau, who had to drink from the cup before they both came forward to be blessed by the Queen; a job hitherto performed by the village priestess, who had since been banished by her father. Usually, some of the older men tried to trick the maidens into handing the cup of sweetened rum, over to them, promising to take them as second or third wives and lavish them with gifts, but, of course, such entreaties were ignored!

Kaella was suddenly jolted out of her reverie by a shout, followed by the elephant stopping suddenly and trumpeting loudly. They were in an open grassland area dotted with densely packed shrubs in an isolated area with no single dwelling in sight. She looked about her to see five bandits file out from the sparse, nearby shrubs. They had obviously been lying in hiding, and came up, all the while speaking rapidly with their arrows drawn.

Instantly, one of their two guards made a grab for his bow, but the sound of an arrowhead whizzing past his ear disoriented him, while the second guard, standing by the elephant, just in front of the princesses, attempted an aim, but a couple more arrows rapidly directed at them in a sporadic manner made them all duck for cover. Kaella used her body to shield Shaella who was already shaking from fear.

The arrows were being sent from all directions and their elephant trumpeted loudly, attempting to make a dash for it, but an arrow aimed at its front heel dug in, tearing into its thick flesh and the elephant stopped mid-motion, letting out a pained cry. Three of the bandits closed in on them, knocking their two guards to the ground and unceremoniously dragging them away from the side of the elephant, while the other two pulled at Shaella’s leg. Frightened, the little girl let out a horrified scream, kicking and holding onto her sister who held her tightly. The elephant trumpeted loudly, stomping its feet menacingly in an attempt to scare their attackers away, but the action only further frightened and disoriented the two girls who were on the verge of falling off it. Trying to hang on, Kaella dug her heels into the elephant’s side, pulling on the linen which had been fastened round the elephant as decoration for support, but it came undone, offering no leverage whatsoever and gliding smoothly to the ground below. Next, Kaella tried to use her hands to work her way to the mammal's forehead, where she could get a better hand grip, but Shaella was in the way, screaming and leaning back into her.

“I need you to try to move forward,” She instructed the little girl tersely, but the only reply she got was a piercing scream as Shaella screeched from the top of her lungs. Four of the armed bandits had come forward again, brandishing their spears and Kaella wondered just how they intended to overpower the huge elephant. She didn’t get to wonder for long though, as the elephant, in turn, trumpeted loudly, heaving off the ground and swinging its trunk. This time, Kaella found herself losing her grip due the enormous mammal’s sudden movement. She fell off its back with a loud thud, Shaella in tow and her last recollection was a feeling of sharp pain in her head and then... nothing.

She had blacked out.

To read the whole book, buy from Amazon or Smashwords

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