The Rose of Oyo

The Rose of Oyo

By: Omokehindebegbon Ayoka Opo

(mka T Johnson)

In my homeland, there are no roses. We have no ballads, no poems, no dances for them. There are no roses in Oyo. Save one. This is her story.

There was once a great queen in the southern forests of my country. she was renowned for her cunning and skill in battle, but was not invincible, and one day found herself a prisoner of a northern king. After openly displaying her as a prisoner of war for weeks, the king began to desire her as much as her kingdom.

One day, he approached her and demanded her hand, saying, “You have three days to agree or I cannot prevent your execution.”

The queen decided quickly that she’d have her own challenge for him and said, “I am an honorable woman and cannot be expected to marry a King that does not know his Queen or his Kingdom. If you learn of me, I will accept your proposal. If not, I shall consent to my own execution.” And she added, when his mouth dropped to protest, “How old was I when I conquered my first army?”

Well, the king did not care for this at all. He ranted and raved well into the night, but the queen held firm. Exhausted, he took himself back to his chambers and knelt at his bedside, preparing to ask assistance of a higher power. Normally for this problem, you would inquire of orisha such as Yemoja, mother of men and spirit of union. The northern king would prostrate himself before no woman, mortal or otherwise. So, he chose the trickster Exu.

“Oh, lord Exu, keeper of the way. I have need of guidance with a…difficult woman.”

“The southern queen?”

Oh! How the god had startled the king! The northern king straightened himself and smoothed his robes, while the withered, old god beside him puffed at his pipe patiently.

After the king explained to the orisha what the old god no doubt already knew, Exu told him, “Fear not. I will help you twice at no charge. Here is what you shall say to the southern queen.”

The next day, the king returned to his royal captive. Without giving her a chance to speak, he said, “This is a trick. When you were seven years old, two armies attacked your father’s kingdom. You disguised yourself as a water boy and slipped powerful laxatives into the water supply for two weeks. The dehydrated armies surrendered to your father shortly after.”

If she was impressed, the queen did not show it. “How many men and women serve my council?”

The king left her and, as he had the night before, summoned his lord, Exu. After listening carefully, the orisha told him what he had to say.

“Remember, this time may be without charge, but the next time will cost you dearly.”

When the king returned to his captive the next morning, he told her, “When your father died, you dissolved the council that would have forced you to marry to keep your throne. Now you listen to your people directly and solve their grievances yourself. You have no council, for all of your people are your councilors.”

The queen thought long and hard a moment and the king knew in that moment that if he could not pass the last challenge he would surely die as well. Finally, she spoke. “I was told once that women were made to be beautiful only, not to defend. We are to be gentle, not intended to protect. Find me another creation such as I, beautiful and dangerous by nature, and you shall have your queen.”

This was the hardest challenge yet, but, as it was his last, the king summoned Exu again that night. He begged and pleaded with the orisha. Exu merely laughed, taking long drags on his pipe.

“If I help you, you happiness will not last a year. I will come for the thing most precious to you.”

“I don’t care! A year with her is more to me than a lifetime without.”

Exu nodded and gave him what he needed. The pact was made.

When the king saw the queen the next day, she looked as beautiful to him as the moon on the sea. He held his gift out to her, fingers trembling.

“Are we children, that you bring a flower to buy my love–AH!”

At the sight of the blood drops on her fingertips he knew he;d won, but still he picked it up and told her, “In the far north, they sing of this flower, of its beauty and tenacity, of the pain of gaining it. It is the queen of flowers and its thorns are as renowned and precious as its beauty. A rose without thorns is merely any other flower.”

The queen, who had feared love as much as death, accepted the rose again, tenderly. They were married and a year later, the queen was so ripe with child that they were expected any day. Through sacrifice, the priests had divined it would be her only child and at the feast to celebrate, Exu arrived for his payment, scattering panicked guests like leaves in the wind.

“I’ve come for that most precious to you. Your child or your wife.”

The king looked to his queen who stood to address the orisha. “My lord, the king is a noble man. He will not marry again and I will bear no children after this.”

“That makes no matter to me. I’ll take you or your child.”

The queen looked thoughtful. “Our future son is most precious.”

“Then I shall take your son.” Exu approached and set his palm against her belly. Instantly the triumphant smile became a scowl and he backed away, balling fists.

“May she be as cunning as her mother,” he growled, and left the kingdom to thrive in peace and prosperity thereafter.

This was written for the Tourney of the Foxes XXX Rose Bardic Competition. Roses aren’t exactly native to Oyo and a Yoruba noblewoman wouldn’t really know any stories about them, so I gave a shot to writing my first competitive piece. It was a great experience. I’d like to thank Mistress Dervila of the East and Master Lorenzo of Meridies for their critiques and support. I received a request to write the story down so that it could be shared. My only request is that there be some form of credit given if it’s performed at bardic circles (“This is by Kehinde of Meridies” is all that’s really needed).

Happy adventuring!

~ Kehinde