The bell tolls; the king has just died. Kairo, the crown prince, a weakling boy of sixteen runs through the castle. The castle is a stone monstrosity in Kangema, the capital of Murang’a. A rich and fertile land of plenty that never runs out of rain or food. The castle has seven towers. The first four for each of his sisters, then his, the queens, and lastly the seventh, the tallest and biggest among them, belonging to the king.
Kairo stops to suck in air. At sixteen he should be strong enough to join his father’s army and on track to being groomed to be a king commander. Instead, he is hunched over, sucking air, his prince garb hanging loosely on his frail body. He goes to get up and sees his reflection in the pool at the main square of the castle.
He has a mop of black hair. The most defining character of Mbaari ya Agacikù. It has grown into an afro and he has braided parts of it with flowers. He stares at the pool. The braids fall on his eyes, making him resemble a girl, not a king fit to rule. He quickly removes the flowers and undoes the braids then looks into the pool. He looks more like a boy now. A worried and uncertain boy, not an arrogant and confident prince about to be crowned.
The bell tolls again. The bell started tolling yesterday and it will toll for seven days as a sign of respect to his father. Kairo gets up from his hunched position and runs up the stairs of the first and second tower, then takes a break on the third. He sits down on the steps fatigued and wonders why he did not get servants to carry him. Then he remembers why he did not. Being carried into his father’s tower would have confirmed his weakness to the cabinet which is already murmuring about his unfitness to rule.
He sucks in air; he could have gotten a horse but he is yet to learn how to sit one. His best cause of action would have been punctuality but he had gotten carried away in the garden of flowers, playing his wandindi. The bell tolls again as if calling him by name and he gets up and runs through the fourth, fifth and sixth tower before storming into the seventh, almost collapsing on the floor, as all the eyes turn to him.
The whole cabinet is in the assembly room of his father’s tower. His sisters and his mother are also there. They are dressed in long black frocks and their faces are sullen and turned to the floor, except for Princess Waceke who has her head held high even though the sadness in her eyes betrays her. They are all grieving his father. He is yet to understand why he hasn’t felt sad for his death all this time. Perhaps it was how he treated him, like an unwanted pimple instead of his son.
“If you’re done being late, boy, we can continue.” A voice booms at the apex of the assembly from Munene, the commander of the army of the king. The villagers say he wants to overthrow the monarchy. With his three wives and sixteen sons, they would rule forever. He is an insatiable man and even now there are talks that arrangements are being made by Kairo’s uncle, Njogu for him to wed one of his sisters.
“How dare you start this assembly without the king,” Kairo coughs out of breath.
“Can someone help the boy find his tongue? No one can hear him,” Munene says and the whole cabinet laughs. His three sisters and the queen’s faces remain on the floor except for Princess Waceke.
“My brother is the king,” she says with her head held high. Princess Waceke is well known in the kingdom of Murang’a as a great warrior. At twenty-one, she can fight as well, if not better than any soldier in the king’s army. She sits and rides a buffalo the way a man sits and rides a horse.
“The king is dead and you’re out of line,” her uncle, Njogu, the king’s brother, seated on the right-hand side of Munene says.
“I’m out of line, yet I’m not the one on the wrong side of the table uncle,” she storms back.
“You disrespect the memory of your own father, woman,” her uncle says, mortified.
“It is you who dishonors your own brother, uncle, even before his body goes cold,” Waceke replies. Njogu starts to speak then stops.
“Perhaps you should be the king, Princess Waceke,” Munene barks, “seeing as you have bigger balls than your brother.” The entire cabinet laughs again.
Munene stands up. He looks big when seated and as mighty as Mt. Kenya when he stands. The candle lights on the ceiling of the tower illuminate him and cast a long shadow on Prince Kairo, who looks like a twig standing before the Mugumo tree.
Munene slams his fist on the table and the cups and scrolls on it go airborne for a split second and the whole assembly quiets. “You all know I have no love for the boy. He is weak, but even the weak can be made strong.” His voice booms throughout the tower. “I have no use for the crown, it is not mine. The boy will sit in the cabinet and learn about governance as I groom him in the arts of war, the arts of manhood,” he pauses, “even those of love.” There are chuckles in the assembly. “Until he comes into his own,” Munene stops then continues, “Until he is strong and can rule with wisdom like his father before him.”
“And who will rule while the boy learns,” Princess Waceke asks with sarcasm on her lips. Even as he spoke, Munene knew that it went without saying that he would rule in his stead but he would not want to outrightly say it because it would contradict his spiel.
“The cabinet will rule, while the boy learns how to piss in the bowl without spilling on his shoes.”
There is stumping of feet, murmurs of agreement, and laughter, even though Waceke knows Munene has no intention of letting the cabinet rule nor grooming her brother.
Munene’s household is vast and treacherous. The crown prince could trip and fall. He could spar with one of his sons and die, go to fetch water in the river, and drown. So many natural misfortunes could befall Kairo in a household that has three wives and sixteen grown sons. And Munene knows that all too well.
“It is decided then,” Munene says finally and adjourns the assembly.
Waceke climbs the steps to the fifth tower, lithe and nimble without skipping a beat. She is a beautiful woman with big eyes and soft curves. Her hair touches the bottom of her back in true Mbaari ya Agacikù style. She ties it with a chicken bone into a ponytail to get it out of her way. She’s wearing black pants, a black jacket, and black boots. Even in her dull grieving clothes she still looks womanly.
At twenty-one, it is raining men in her life. After hearing songs of her beauty and bravery they come from far and wide to ask for her hand in marriage. She has vowed that she will marry the one who defeats her in single combat and none has claimed that title yet.
She gets to her brother’s tower. A chariot is waiting outside to take him to Munenes household. She pushes the big mahogany door and lets herself in. Kairo’s wandindi is against the wall. A servant is clearing the table from that morning’s breakfast. A meal of eggs, ndùma, and ndùbia. For a boy of sixteen, he does not eat much and the plates seem untouched.
Princess Waceke goes from room to room looking for him. “Kairo!” she calls. She climbs the stairs and pushes the door to his bedroom. She finds him in the toilet with his trousers around his ankles getting ready to piss.
“Make sure you don’t spill on your shoes,” she teases.
“What are you doing here, Waceke,” Kairo asks, startled?
“I’m here to bid you farewell.”
“You should be bidding father farewell. I will be back.”
“It might as well be farewell if you’re going to Munene’s.”
“It’s high time I sat on the cabinet and learned how to rule. Munene is giving me that courtesy. Father never did.”
“You think you will sit on the cabinet?”
“I am the king, I will and I shall.”
“You can’t sit at the table of men when you can’t pull your own weight. Even if you sit at the table, you will sit there as an errand boy for Munene. To sweep the floor he walks on and wipe the asshole he shits from.”
Kairo looks back at her sister as if seeing her for the first time.
“Look at you, you can’t even piss while I’m standing here, what do you think that pack of wolves will do to you in the cabinet? They will rip you to shreds and God knows what awaits you in Munene’s household.
“What counsel do you advise, sweet sister?”
“I advise caution.”
“Caution won’t make me a king.”
Princess Waceke gets close to her brother. “Let me teach you how to be a man, Kairo. Munene is big but even mountains bleed. Everything he says he will teach you I’m better at it than he is.”
He looks back at her with doubt in his eyes, and the piss still in his bladder.
Princess Waceke gets closer and breathes into his ear. “Who are you going to trust, little brother? A man trying to take the crown from under your nose or your own flesh and blood?”
Kairo turns and nods without conviction.
“Piss little brother. Lessons start tomorrow morning in your garden of flowers,” Waceke says while leaving the toilet to go and dismiss the chariot that is waiting outside the fifth tower. As she’s leaving, she hears a strong stream hitting the toilet bowl, and a smile curls on her face.
‘The Crown Prince – a fantasy novel, coming soon.’
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If you have insights on the nine clans of Gikuyu, i.e. Agacikù, Ambùi, Aceera—their stories and defining features inbox me or share in the comments. The Agikuyu have ten clans but we don’t count all our children. Tugaga nì kenda mùiyùru.