It is two days before the wedding. Women of the Ntuli clan ululate every time they pass by the royal household.

“Lilili! Lilili!”

The royal household is packed with relatives from far and wide who have come to celebrate Princess Thobile’s wedding. Royal families from nearby kingdoms have sent their servants to help with preparations for the wedding.

Female dancers are packed in the big royal hut where they practise their routines. Male dancers practise in a field by the entrance of the royal household. During intervals they eat freshly slaughtered goat meat and sip the sorghum beer that has been flowing freely since the beginning of the week.

Princess Thobile has suffered from a persistent headache since the beginning of the week. The royal doctor has been giving her snuff to sniff to alleviate the headache but it has not worked. The headache grows in intensity throughout the week. With only two days to go, Princess Thobile falls so gravely ill that she can no longer speak.

The king sends for his inyanga, Nzimande. Nzimande is a true healer. People from far and wide travel to consult with him. Most people sleep over for days at Nzimande’s home before they get a chance to see him, because he attends to many patients. Nzimande arrives quickly in the royal household. The royal family is summoned to the king’s main house. Nzimande throws his bones on the floor in front of the king. He studies his bones for a while.

Vumani bo!” Nzimande bellows.

Siyavuma!” the royal family replies in unison.

“Your Majesty, my bones tell me that whoever did this to the princess lives in your household! The princess stepped over potent muthi!” says Nzimande. “Vumani bo!”

Siyavuma!” the royal family replies in unison.

“Nzimande! Do you know who that person is?” inquires the king.

“I can’t see clearly! It is dark, my king! But I can see that this person has a dangerous muthi!”

“Will my daughter ever recover?” asks a tearful Queen MaNgema.

“Yes, I will heal the princess. The problem is that this wicked person will continue bewitching the princess. That is why I suggest that I need to do a ritual for the royal family. I want to point out this person in broad daylight!”

Nzimande examines Princess Thobile. Sadness is heavy in the air because Princess Thobile lies motionless on her bed. Her once beautiful toned legs have become bloated and grotesque. She is so still it is hard to see if she is breathing or not. Nzimande boils water in a large pot. He puts a combination of tree bark and leaves into the boiling water. He then dips a long porcupine quill in the boiling mixture. Nzimande pricks Princess Thobile’s legs with the porcupine quill. Thick black blood oozes where Nzimande has pricked with the porcupine quill.

“I want you to perform the ritual as soon as possible, Nzimande. I want to find this person who has bewitched my daughter,” says the king.

The king summons his wives, children and everyone who works in the royal household. Nzimande burns incense. He throws a mixture of leaves and tree bark into the burning incense.

He runs around the room, tapping everyone with his ishoba. He does this three times until he suddenly stops at the king’s second wife, Queen MaMsweli.

“She is the witch,” says Nzimande.

There’s a collective gasp in the room. Then everyone begins to murmur at once.

“MaMsweli I want you out of my household right now! Go this very minute before I change my mind and decide to kill you,” says the king.

Queen MaMsweli kneels in front of the king. The king points to his messengers.

“Get this witch out of here,” says the king. “I never want to see her again.”

Queen MaMsweli is chased like a stray dog out of the royal household.

Nzimande’s great work produces quick results. Thobile starts to speak. After a day she can feed herself. An hour after that she is literally up and running. She is fitter and more beautiful than before.

*****

The sun is out, birds chirp in the trees. Bhekani’s heart is empty, his head heavy, his soul lost. He is getting married today. He lies awake in his sleeping mat, his thoughts floating above a frozen field of loneliness. His cousin, Themba, calls out a greeting and comes in.

“You are still asleep, Bhekani? Wake up! Otherwise you’ll be late for your own wedding!” Themba shakes his shoulder.

“Bhekani I know that the death of your best friend is still fresh. But you have to be strong, my brother. Today is your day. Smile and show the world you are happy that you are getting married!”

“It’s not easy, Themba.”

“Be strong, my brother. You are not the first and won’t be the last to lose a best friend.”

“I hear you,” says Bhekani. “Let me get up!”

The pain is back as soon as Themba leaves. Bhekani sobs but he knows that his tears won’t help him. There’s no turning back. His body and soul doesn’t want to go ahead with the marriage but his bride is waiting.

***

Tell us: Do you think Bhekani is doing the right thing?