The midday heat shimmered off the tiled roof tops of Kassar, adding to Soshetâ€™s growing discomfort. She hurried down the road, cooling herself with a makeshift fan that had once been a useless notice. Cursing her thick formal clothing, she hoped that the coronation ceremony would soon be in the past. The image of her cool office formed in Soshetâ€™s mind and spurred her to pick up the pace.
Upon entering Muâ€™at square a new concern took precedence. Two large crowds had gathered: one arrayed at the base of the Ziggurat where the coronation would soon take place, the other around the Tomb of Dmitriev on far side of the square. A life sized statue of the man himself stood in the centre of the square, glaring along with the rest of his followers at the spectacle about to unfold.
Soshet nervously surveyed the crowds, now fearing that a riot might break out. Several of Dmitrievâ€™s supporters had climbed atop his small pyramidal tomb where they apparently hope to get a better view. While distracted by the gawkers Soshet walked headlong into a bystander. Shocked from the impact, she fell sideways to the cobblestones.
â€œAre you hurt madam?â€
â€œNot particularly,â€ She replied, looking up at the speaker.
In a flash, Soshet shot to her feet, extending her hand to him. The man was dressed in a dark coat with polished black shoes and spectacles. A foreign dignitary, she realized, now more embarrassed than ever.
â€œIâ€™m sorryâ€¦â€ she began awkwardly, blushing. â€œSirâ€¦â€
â€œLayton Howell, I am the Union Ambassador,â€ he replied.
â€œSoshet Letal, third ranked translator and filing clerk,â€ she said quickly. â€œIâ€™m here to represent my department.â€
â€œThen I believe your place is up there,â€ Layton said, bowing out of her way.
â€œUnfortunately,â€ she murmured, pushing into the crowd.
The spectators made room for her, recognizing her clothing. She ascended the side steps to the top of the plinth and took a spot with the rest of the ministers. With the midday heat bearing down on her wool clothing, Soshet no longer thought it was an honor to be her departmentâ€™s representative.
The priestess leading the coronation swept past, lighting the sacred flame in a central brazier. Kinnut was dressed in flowing tan robes, her long dark hair carefully braided into a long ponytail for the occasion. Above the flame stood an imposing statue of Muâ€™at, the goddess holding a scale in her hand.
The crowd cheered as the royal carriage approached the prepared pathway. The driver pulled on the reins bringing the horses to a stop. The Kinnut approached the carriage followed by The Crown Bearer. Jassir, captain of the royal guard, stepped down from the running board. The other Knights rushed to form a line, their wicker armor shining from a new wax coat.
They clapped their spears against their shields as the wooden door opened revealing the tall slender figure of the widowed queen. She stepped down the ladder in her soft leather shoes. She glided silently before her guardsmen, the sun shining slightly off her light brown skin. Her cloth robes trailed on the ground. She wore the Golden Pennant of the Queen, a trinket she would soon leave to another.
Taldumu, the youngest prince followed his mother out the door. He stepped off a bit too fast, nearly stumbling to the ground. In a flash Captain Jassir pulled the prince upright and returned to attention with a single motion. Taldumu turned to offer thanks, but a quick motion across the lips from the guard captain silenced the child. He continued forward, his long hair trailing behind him.
At last, the final occupant emerged. The crowd began clapping, beckoning him forth. He did not want to be here today. Hashemel, the late kingâ€™s eldest son, did not want the throne. Not like this. He gazed at the ring, the ring that had been his since birth, the ring that would one day shine around his own sonâ€™s finger. He had known this day would come, but this was too soon. He could still see his fatherâ€™s pale face, pocked with dark lesions; could still feel the tears flowing down his face. But he could show no tears this day.Â With a deep sigh he stepped down and walked forward through the haze of his own thoughts.
He felt the light cotton cap on his head, realizing that it would be the last time he wore it. He started forward, and Kinnut fell in behind him as the carriage drove off. As he slowly advanced up the steps to the raised edifice a strong westward breeze blew through the square. Strange, he thought, the wind usually blew from the east.
High above the crowds, through his spyglass, Argider watched the royal carriage ride off. He let out a sigh of relief.
â€œFinally,â€ He wheezed, feeling good to be inaction.
The officer placed a small dark box against his face. The bound and gagged former occupant of the space stared in disbelief as a voice emanated from it.
â€œAre we ready to move yet? Over.â€
â€œThe stallion is in position, over.â€ the spy replied. â€œNow do what you do best, Lagunaren, over.â€
â€œExcellent,â€ came the reply, â€œJust sit back and relax. Weâ€™ll take care of the rest. Over.â€
â€œI am glad to hear it, over, Argider over and out.â€
With that taken care of he returned to the spyglass and gazed down at the expectant crowd. A wide grin formed across his pale face.
Hashemel sat beside the flame, trying to resist wiping the sweat from his brow. Beside him knelt the crown bearer, the priestess slowly beginning her incantations over the lump of gold.
A murmur passed through the crowd. The prince looked up, trying to see the source of the disturbance. A group of six foreigners had ridden up on horseback, all in disheveled cloaks and dirty pants. They jumped from their mounts, producing swords from beneath their cloaks before advancing on the crowd. A cry echoed as the people dodged out of the way.
A lone guard raced to stop the intruders, thrusting his spear at the nearest. The blow struck a plate of concealed armor, causing the attacker only mild annoyance. The grizzled foreigner swung his cutlass, cutting through the guardsmanâ€™s thin cloth and wicker with ease. At the sight of his blood the crowd began to panic. As fear gripped the crow Jassir and the other guardsmen raced towards the murderers.
More than twenty guardsmen surrounded the six assailants, relieving prince Hashemel. They didnâ€™t stand a chance, he thought. The intruders produced wheellock pistols and fired, killing five of the knights were they stood. Before the remaining guards could react, another set of pistols emerged.Â In a flash six more knights fell dead. Moments later more than a dozen more men raced in from both sides of the road, bearing muskets and pikes.
Several shots downed the last pair of guardsmen, the two writhing on the sun warmed stone paving; blood drenching their dark yellow cloaks. With the armed men now surrounding the ziggurat, the crowd now cowered in a hopeless terror. As the horrific stillness spread over the area, Hashemelâ€™s cries could be heard.
â€œWho dare strike at this crowd during thisâ€¦sacred time!â€ he hollered, barely able to hold back his horror.
Almost on queue more hoof beats could be heard, accompanied by another racket. The royal carriage came roaring back into view, the driver accompanied by a new escort: a grinning man missing his front teeth, greasy hair dropping to his shoulder. One of the assailants broke rank and rushed to the carriage as it came to a screeching halt.Â The door flew open, a tall man emerging from within.
His skin was darkened from a lifetime under the sun, his frame wrapped in a dark blue storm cloak. Grey and black hairs protruded from beneath a faded composition cap. The gaunt faced man stepped lightly through the carnage, kicking one of the fallen victims with his black leather boot.
â€œHow dare you!â€ the prince called, shaking with fear and shock, â€œI, Hash-Ash-ashmle, of the Kassari line command you toâ€¦â€ He stammered, words beyond him now.
The man shook his head, advancing through the demoralized crowd. Two of the larger men took position behind his shoulders, keeping the crowd at a safe distance. The old man locked his gaze with Hashemel, his cruel grey eyes boring into the princeâ€™s soul. The man walked straight up the zigguratâ€™s steps stopping atop the main plinth. For a moment he simply stood in silence.
â€œNow, Iâ€™m going to tell you whatâ€™s going to happen,â€ he said in a grim voice. â€œYou, Prince Hashmel, shall become king, and then you will do exactly as I tell you.â€
â€œHa,â€ the Prince stated unnaturally, sweat running down his face. â€œNo Royal will bow to your will.â€
â€œI highly doubt that,â€ he uttered, snapping his fingers.
One of the brutes approached the terrified prince Taldumu and wrenched the boy from his motherâ€™s grasp, dragging him before his brother. The old man produced a sharp knife and held it to the boyâ€™s throat. Kinnut grabbed the princeâ€™s arm to stop him from lunging forward.
â€œLet me explain this to you, so we are absolutely clear,â€ the man intoned, â€œI control your life now; your family will live and suffer by your decisions and actions. Now, will you obey me, or does your line end in blood here today?â€
Powerless before the conqueror, Hashemel looked into his brotherâ€™s eyes, then down at the cowering crowd before finally hanging his head in defeat. Satisfied, the old man motioned to his nearest accomplice. The young prince was taken down the steps towards the carriage.
â€œHe shall be safe onboard my ship, now, please continue the ceremony.â€
Terrified, Kinnut continued the ceremony, feeling utterly helpless. With his task half complete, the old man turned towards his contact and waved the signal of victory. Within moments the radio on his belt crackled.
â€œYou did good admiral, that was a fine show, over,â€ Argider said triumphantly, â€œNow, Montague, after youâ€™ve secured the rest of them, thereâ€™s some more business we need taken care of, over.â€
â€œOh, where are you sending me now? Over.â€
â€œDown south, not all of this country is going to care about the royal family, over.â€
â€œIndeed,â€ Admiral Montague said, looking over the other crowd still gathered on the opposite side of the square. â€œThis is not going to be easy.â€