The Twelve Brothers (Part the Final)
"We must return home," he said. Without a question, his convoy obeyed, turning their horses.
Back at Castle Obsidian, the sun was just clearing the horizon. The guards marched to Talitha's cell and roughly snatched her awake from a deep, long-awaited sleep. Minkah, looking on, said, "Hurry! I want fires to be lit well before the sun is too high."
Talitha, from force of habit, reached for her sack. One guard raised his arm to strike the bag from her grasp, but Minkah, laughing, stayed his hand.
“Her evil arts,” he sneered, “can harm no one who has seen through them. Let her have her trash!” Talitha was allowed to take her needle-grass shirts to the courtyard, although her wrists were bound. A guard lifted her up to the bier, which already had wood underneath it ready for a fire. As the guard was leaving, Talitha wordlessly caught his eye, reaching out her hands. It was plain that she wanted to be untied. Knowing that the young woman would not be able to escape the bier without help, the guard looked into her eyes, shrugged, and loosed her wrists from the ropes. Talitha pulled her bag to her lap, but sat quietly, waiting.
Meanwhile, Minkah had reached the center of the courtyard, which had quickly filled with spectators. He paced and prayed while the guards coaxed the fire, stubborn because of the dew that hadn't had a chance to evaporate. As the fire finally caught and began to devour the wood, Minkah was lifting his hand for the attention of the crowd. He wanted to make a stirring speech. But something else had caught everyone's attention.
Riding with furious speed, Kamau and his convoy appeared in the courtyard. As they reined in their rearing and snorting horses, Minkah, furious himself, demanded, "What is the meaning of this? Nephew, you were to inform this woman's family--"
"I might well ask you the same question, Uncle," Kamau interrupted in a low, barely controlled voice. "'This woman,' as you so rudely call her, is a guest of our house and become my kinswoman. What means this fire? Extinguish it!" Kamau beckoned to his uncle's henchmen. After a moment's almost imperceptible indecision, they complied.
Minkah swallowed his fury and replied quietly to his nephew: "I will forbear the accomplishment of my duty long enough to explain. But I cannot allow your ignorance to become the downfall of this house. You should know that at your birth, there was a prophecy--"
"I already know of this prophecy. It is a matter of record. When I was of age, my father the king required that I read and understand it-- or as much of it as he could understand, in the way that he understood it." At the word prophecy, Talitha stopped rubbing the circulation back into her legs, which had gone to sleep as she knelt on the bier, watching the skies.
"What do you mean, ‘in the way that he understood it’? Do you question your father's interpretation of the prophecy?" Minkah's voice rose a little in volume with this question.
"The prophecy, as I recall, states that after the appearance of the woman with the star, my reign ‘will never be the same,’" Kamau patiently explained. "I think that my father's interpretation was precipitous and narrow. There are any manner of ways in which a reign can be changed."
"And what about the twelve ibis? Are there ‘any number of ways’ men --warriors-- can be changed? Is there any doubt in your mind that this woman is a sorceress whose evil purposes remain hidden to us?" Minkah's voice had now risen so that all of the spectators could hear.
"Of course there is doubt, and more than doubt. She is a stranger to you. But I know Princess Talitha as well as I know myself," responded Kamau. He looked at Talitha, now sitting up on the bier, reaching for her sack. "While there may be evil in her circumstance, there is no evil in her purpose or in herself."
"You are a bewitched, besotted young fool!" Minkah was saying with anger and sorrow, when their argument was interrupted by a sound of wonder from the crowd. Minkah and Kamau looked up. From the lake behind the courtyard flew twelve iridescent black and white ibis, safe and unharmed. Talitha sobbed with joy and began to pull cloaks from her sack. The birds flew straight for her, one by one, and as each of the twelve reached Talitha, she stretched up and draped one cloak about each of the sinuous necks. After receiving a cloak, each bird lit upon the ground --and became a man. So Jabari, Jawhar, Chinelo, Harith, Akil, Liu, Nizam, Fadil, Chijoke, Masomakali, Shawki and Adisa regained their original states as Talitha's beloved brothers.
"Seize them!" shouted Minkah. "Destroy them!" But as Minkah's men moved to obey, Jawhar spoke.
"Is it the custom in this kingdom to punish where there is no crime? To defend where there has been no attack? In my father’s kingdom, even a proven criminal is given a chance to speak in his own defense."
"Hold!" said Kamau. "Talitha's brother is right. Although I have an idea of how the story goes myself, you, uncle, you need to hear." And alighting from Montsho, Kamau strode over to the bier, reached up for Talitha and swung her down.
"Now I may speak," said Talitha, and told the story of her brothers from beginning to end. Everyone in the courtyard hung on her every word. (And as she spoke, far away in the wood near her brothers' cabin, unknown to anyone but God at the time, violets bloomed --but more than twelve this time: this time, scores of violets carpeted the wood with fragrance and color.)
At the end of Talitha's story, Minkah Chafulumisa fell to one knee and pressed his forehead to one of the Princess' ruined hands. "I beg forgiveness, Highness, although I deserve to take your place on that bier. Only speak, and I willingly offer my body to the flames."
"Rise to your feet, Minkah Chafulumisa," replied Talitha. Tears stood in her eyes. "A kingdom could ask for no guardian more faithful than you."
"Yes, Uncle," echoed Kamau. "Facing what you thought was a powerful evil, facing accusations of rebellion and treason, you valued the kingdom more than your safety. You took your life in your hands to keep a promise you made to my father the King. He is dead, but your word lives, and that is the mark of a man of integrity and honor. Still," Kamau added sternly, "You should not have hidden your heart from me --however bewitched you believed I was."
"And never again will I, Majesty," replied Minkah, his eyes shining also with unshed tears. "Today, I see your father in you. With joy I quit my position as your guardian. I realize that the house of Kamau is in good hands." And he knelt again --to his King.
"Long live the King!" Minkah cried, and the people echoed his cry.
"I hope," said Kamau, who felt full of emotion as well, "that you will stay on as my closest advisor. You have proven yourself worthy." Then Kamau turned to Talitha. "Dearest lady," he was beginning, when Talitha sank to her knees, nearly fainting with exhaustion. Kamau ran to her side and carried her to his uncle's chambers. "Dearest lady," he quickly changed his speech, "now is the time for some much needed rest." The waiting women again bathed and ministered to Talitha, finally leaving her to rest in Minkah's bed.
Princess Talitha slept for twenty hours. She opened her eyes to behold the face of Kamau, who had been looking in on her, off and on (along with her twelve brothers) while she had slept.
"Abayomi," she whispered.
"It's good to hear my name in your mouth again, Talitha," he answered. "How do you feel?"
"Much better. For a long time, I have felt so heavily burdened, so guilty, so alone--"
"I was here."
"You were," Talitha agreed, and touched his cheek. "But you were not as close as I wanted you to be. I couldn't explain to you. I felt that you were trying to understand me, that you were committed to help me, that I could depend on you, but I felt you were giving me so much, when --when I could give you so little."
"But I understood." Kamau stopped Talitha from interrupting by touching her lips. "I don't know how I understood. I don't know why I was not frightened or driven away by what you were doing. I only knew that you were a good woman --remember, I had met some of your brothers --and that a good woman only works to undo evil, not create it. You were beautiful and good and courageous, and I wanted to be a part of your life. I wanted to help you."
"God sent you to us," Talitha said fervently. "God sent you."
"God sent us to each other," Kamau corrected her. "So it seems only fitting --I wanted to wait until your father –until your parents --Talitha, suddenly, I can't say what I want to say."
"Then say what you can."
"I've loved you since you came out from behind that tree. When I saw your tears of joy, I felt it was my joy, too. When you wept in sorrow, I felt my heart breaking. Now --I feel like a dog to say it --your sorrow is over, and my heart is breaking again: you'll be leaving me. You don't need me any more."
"I don't need you, but I love you, Abayomi. How could you not know?"
"Then will you have me as your husband?"
"When my parents come, I'll tell them that I will have no other man." Kamau's face lit up from within.
"Everyone knows that he will have no other woman," said Rachael, who was coming in. "My brother, you must leave now. This visit is on the verge of becoming very improper."
"I don't see why I can't stay, now that you are here, to keep things proper," Kamau protested.
"Well . . . for a little longer, then. But when I leave, you leave."
"You don't make a very impressive chaperone, Rachael," said Talitha.
"You're saying I should call Umm?" At Kamau and Talitha's expressions, Rachael burst out laughing. "Oh," she sighed then, "I'm so ashamed --I missed all the excitement!"
"Everyone knows it wasn't your fault, Rachael," reassured Talitha.
"And Uncle has apologized at least a thousand times since I woke up. The women believe they'll all be exiled! Now, brother, release the princess' hand!"
"I wonder if they'll ever be whole again," sighed Talitha.
"They'll always be the most beautiful hands in the world to me," said Kamau. "And I know your brothers would say the same."
When King Abdu and Queen Rukiya finally arrived, they were very charmed by Prince Kamau, and awed by his, Talitha’s, and their sons’ adventures. But Abdu, Talitha and her brothers were most surprised by Queen Rukiya’s revelation.
“I blame myself for your trouble,” she whispered.
“But how can you--?” began Abdu, when the queen interrupted.
“Let me tell you. Remember long ago, when I was carrying Adisa, Moyo, told us that I was carrying my twelfth son? Remember how disappointed I was?”
“I remember I made some thoughtless remark, and you ran off somewhere,” said the king. The queen related her story to the young people.
“You did all of that, expecting a baby?” interrupted Rachael. “You two” -–indicating Rukiya and Talitha—-“ must be the sturdiest women I know!” The queen laughed.
“Well, Adisa wasn’t due for months yet. Just because a woman is expecting, it doesn’t mean that she’s disabled!” Rukiya looked at her daughter and Rachael. “I want you to remember that,” she said, to the distraction of them both. “I suppose,” she continued her story, “that violet drank some of my tears that day. It was fate that you would pick those violets, Talitha.”
“So you think it was your fault –that ‘ridiculous fate’ you and Father told me of?” Talitha asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Rukiya covered her face and shook her head.
“And I don’t know how my brothers were linked to that plant, Mother,” said Talitha, “but I see now that my destiny was far from ‘ridiculous.’ What happened to me in that wood helped to deepen my spirit. It found me the man I love -–a man I know now to be steadfast and wise. And—-“
“And it bound us to our sister in love and trust. Your prayers were answered, Mother,” added Adisa. His brothers looked at each other and nodded.
“And what man would give up the opportunity to know the ibis from the inside out?” asked Chinelo.
“Imagine the poetry I will write!” exulted Jawhar. All of Talitha’s brothers could see, whether they said so or not, how going through their ordeal had richened their lives.
“It’s plain that this experience has somehow been worthwhile for everyone involved –especially me,” said Kamau. “But -–if you will indulge me, your majesty -–I must disagree with the King.” The King raised a dark eyebrow.
“Disagree? With what?” he asked.
“That a daughter -–simply because she is the thirteenth heir—-cannot gain a kingdom. I think, your majesties, that if you can grant your blessing upon our -–Talitha’s and my—- union, you will find you have two kingdoms.”
“You are willing to give up your own for the hand of my daughter?” King Abdu asked facetiously. “Notice, my dear,” he added to Queen Rukiya, “they aren’t asking for our consent.”
“Did you notice her asking our consent to this quest?” exclaimed Rukiya.
“And, Father, Mother, I tell you now, but with love, honor and respect—-“
“Well?” came from the King, whose eyes were sparkling with mirth.
“-—that I have chosen this man, Kamau,” finished Talitha. “I could choose no other.”
“I can see that you have talked this young man into going along with your choice,” said the Queen.
“Oh, please!” interrupted Rachael, laughing. “Do you really think she had to do much persuading?”
“My own heart persuaded me, your majesties, once I looked upon the face of your daughter,” said Kamau. “Please, majesties, grant us your blessing.” Abdu squeezed the hand of his wife. She met his eyes and nodded solemnly.
“It pleases us,” Abdu said. “May heaven bless your union -–with fourteen daughters!”
The union of Kamau and Talitha was the birth of one great kingdom, for King Abdu, his first son, Chinelo, and Kamau, agreed to unite the houses of Abdu and Kamau. The Kingdom of Abdu-Kamau became great and full of power in many ways, and their enemies could find no means to overthrow it. All over the world, this kingdom became renowned for its wisdom, might, and integrity. And Kamau and Talitha lived in joy to the end of their days, raising seven sons and seven daughters in the nurture and admonition of the great God who formed all things.