Akka’s laughter rumbled Dôdi out of his reverie. “Little brother, you have done our queen a disservice!”
In his arms, Raya turned to consider the big man even as Dôdi responded defensively, “How so?”
“Yes,” his wife pled as she detached from his arms. “Do tell.”
The wine barrel of a man approached and extended a hand to Raya. She took it and he pulled her to her feet, her mantle falling into a warm purple pile by Dôdi, still emanating the rich spice of her perfume. Akka took a couple steps back and bowed to her, then intoned, “Your majesty, if I’m not mistaken, the king has spent many moons courting you with well-chosen words to flatter you. Is it not so?”
She crossed her arms and nodded. “It is so.”
Akka continued. “His majesty’s use of such fluid words succeeded in wooing you not only into our humble family but also into his bedchamber, has he not?”
“My king has indeed,” she said, casting a flirtatious wink at Dôdi.
Akka went on. “Despite the implied promise of ongoing poetic praise for your royal personage, the man-become-king has spent his few days of reign clumsily combining words. The festival’s end comes in mere days, and his majesty’s reign concluded, and yet his queen remains unhearing of worthy words.”
“‘Favorite flower’,” Allup quoted again, triggering snickers from everyone listening, including Raya’s girlfriends and Akka and Yada’s wives who were apparently listening intently from nearby. Even Raya barely held back a grin.
“Grazing among his favorite flowers, I’m told he said,” Akka said, shaking his head sadly. “Allup could do better to praise our queen with words.”
Yada nodded in agreement. “Too true. And a sad state, that.”
Gathering up a regal air, his wife played along, nodding at the slow-witted man leaning on a rock. “I’m certain you could, noble Allup. ‘Tis a shame my king has so little to offer me now that I’ve offered him so very much so many, many times these few nights.” No shortage of chuckles followed this.
“Perhaps Allup could help him pick intelligible words,” Yada suggested. “Give him some tips on eloquence.”
“I help,” Allup offered.
“I think he could use all our help,” Rheha noted, gaining more snickers from Raya’s girlfriends.
Annoyed, Dôdi spoke up, “That won’t be nec —”
“Thank you all,” Raya interrupted. “I’m flattered that you feel I deserve this attention, but my reign is almost over, too. Such efforts might befit a queen, but it might take weeks to help my king find where he left his tongue.” She paused a moment to let the chortles pass. Dôdi missed the innuendo, but he wasn’t too dense to notice there must have been one. Raya went on, “By that time, I’ll have long since been a mere wife of a farmer, and unworthy of such grand accord.”
“Nonsense, Raya,” Yada countered, as usual ignoring the occasion’s traditional royal treatment. “We’ll all pitch in and give him a lesson. Maybe he’ll figure out where he left his tongue once he sees how it’s done. We don’t need to get what he gets in order to see what he sees and give you the words you deserve for your wedding feast.”
Issa and Bat’a — Akka and Yada’s pregnant wives — cheered at this suggestion. “Yes!” Issa cried. “Leap for them, and let your mute husband learn to us his tongue in the daytime, too.”
Amid the roar of laughter at this, Dôdi finally got the innuendo. He spoke up. “I’m not mute, you know.”
Ignoring Dôdi as if he were mute, Yada shouted his agreement. “A dance would certainly work. Leap for us so we can see all your beauty.”
Rheha sounded his mind with applause. “Dance! Dance, o queen!”
Allup stood and shouted, too. “Dance! Leap for us!”
Raya’s face blushed, trying to reach the crimson tone of her mantle piled at her feet but falling short. She motioned to the still-dancing women behind her. “Why see a temporary queen dance when there are over twenty beautiful women dancing already? I’m nothing compared to them.”
Akka ignored the question and began chanting in his thunderous voice and clapping his meaty hands. “Dance! Dance! Dance!”
Yada took up the chant immediately. “Dance! Dance!”
Bat’a, Issa, and Raya’s other friends joined in. “Dance! Dance! Dance!”
In moments, Allup, Rheha, and even Dôdi himself had been enlisted in the chant. Despite the teasing jab at him this all represented, Dôdi certainly had no qualms with seeing his wife dance. He rather enjoyed her body. And this would mean he could spoil his surprise, so he enthusiastically joined his voice to the chorus. “Dance! Dance!”
Soon, the drummers and harpists were drowned out by the sheer noise of the people shouting their request. The music disintegrated, and the dancers, brows perspiring from the exertion and heat, happily lifted their voices, relieved that they might sit down and rest. “Dance! Dance! Dance!”
The drummers were soon beating along, the harpists lifted their voices as well. Even Raya’s family enthusiastically shouted along.
Issa came forward and began pushing a befuddled Raya, and the dancers made their way to their blankets among the men, leaving open the flattened ground near the monolithic rock formation that separated their celebration from much of the nearby orchard. Raya tried to resist, but Issa was well-practiced in handling big Akka and had the extra weight of pregnancy to solidify her frame; a short young woman posed no real difficulty.
Raya gave in and began walking of her own volition, leaving Issa to return to her blanket. The whole crowd broke the chant and began cheering and clapping.