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Lost and Found
June 5, 2012
Previously on Heiress of the Nile
To calm her mind after reliving the fateful day when her mother died once again in her dreams, Lostris took a relaxing swim in the Nile and went fishing to procure some breakfast for Taita to make amends after their argument the previous night. However, on her return, she bumped into Tanus, who had stripped down to take a swim as well. Flustered, she hightailed out of there. Meanwhile, the Shrikes were having a party to celebrate the good profits of that day's slave-sale. However, Seraphine found out that Hahn was up to no good with the remaining slave girls, and got into a fight with him, during which he informed her that her father had accepted his offer to marry her. Back in Thebes, Tanus had told his encounter with Lostris to his best friend, Meren, who passed it on the rest of the Red Tiger regiment, causing much hilarity during that night's drink. However, trouble was lurking in the shadows.
You Win Some
A soldier ran quickly past the marching column and nervously pulled up at the head and saluted the army commanders. "General Apepi, C-Commandant Seraphine refused to come. She said that if you wish to treat her like a slave, she would ride in the back with the rest of them."
Apepi's expression remained his ever calm self as he dismissed the messenger with a wave of his hand, but his eyes were smoldering with rage. Severely offended by his daughter's public defiance of his direct order, he turned to his son. "Tegan, go tell Seraphine that she is required at the head of the column immediately. If she dares to refuse again, she will know what it truly means to be a slave!"
The young colonel hastily nodded and rode off. His gaze briefly traveled over the bobbing heads of the marching soldiers before locking onto Arrow, Seraphine's dark-gray stallion. Tegan sighed and shook his head as he noticed that she was indeed riding with the slave column. Moving further along, the troops parted to make way for their commanding officer, and Tegan soon pulled up beside his sister.
"Dad requests your presence at the head of the troops instead of ..." Tegan glanced around; the slave girls were all cuffed and bound to each other with one long rope. Dressed in shaggy, brown, unwashed rags, they posed a saddening sight. An older woman carried a young girl with black pigtails whose slim neck was neatly covered with a beautiful silk scarf, an object Tegan immediately recognized as a gift of his father to Seraphine for her birthday last year. "... here. If you refuse again, he threatens to officially make you a slave."
Without deigning herself to look at her brother, Seraphine coldly replied. "Tell him he must do as he pleases. He likes to plan out every step of my life anyway, so why stop now?"
"Hey, I'm no messenger boy; I'm only here because of you." Tegan's voice softened. "Come on, Sera, what do you hope to accomplish with this? You know this is a battle you can't win."
The first slave girl bumped against Arrow when Seraphine suddenly halted the horse. She stared at Tegan, addressing him with a lethal voice, each syllable spewed out like poison. "You're kidding me, right? Tell me you are joking, cause if not, you are just as archaic and blind as Dad! 'What do I hope to accomplish with this?' Oh, I don't know, my freedom perhaps? My body? The right to choose for myself whom to marry? You want more reasons, cause I can still go on for a while."
"You know that's not what I meant. You know I don't support him in this, but openly challenging him, embarrassing him in front of the men by defying his orders will not solve anything; it will only make things worse and you know that."
Seraphine shrugged and spurred Arrow on again; Tegan sighed and gave chase. "Sera, don't do this. You know Father. His pride will not let you get away with this. Why don't you come to the front, get on his good side again, so you can talk this out in private?"
"I already tried talking to him!" Tegan was taken aback by Seraphine's sudden outburst, as the tone was not the usual anger-fueled comeback he had been expecting. A saddened and pleading look donned Seraphine's fair features, prompting Tegan to feel like he was talking to a vulnerable girl, rather than a seasoned warrior. "I already tried, yesterday evening." Seraphine lowered her head. Her voice was like a soft spring breeze: you could see the trees waving, but you could barely feel the wind. Tegan saw his sister's mouth move, but he could hardly hear a thing as her words choked up in her throat. "It didn't matter. He wouldn't listen to me. Hahn has offered him a small fortune, enough to pay the troops for at least half a year." Tegan thought he saw the shimmer of a tear in her eye; however, as he blinked, it was gone. He wondered if it was a shadow or if it had really been there as he had never seen his sister shed a tear. Even when they were children, he could not recall a single moment in which she had cried. His thoughts were brushed aside as Seraphine resumed talking. "Nothing I said mattered, not even when I told him what kind of man Hahn truly is. So what difference does it make whether or not dad officially makes me a slave? He's forcing me to marry a monster. I already am a slave."
A weird feeling overtook the colonel. "What do you mean with 'what kind of man Hahn truly is'?"
Seraphine took some seconds to respond, but when she raised her head, her normal brash fighting spirit was back. Without saying a word, she looked over her shoulder. Tegan followed her cold stare to the young girl wearing Seraphine's scarf. Feeling a bit queasy, he held his horse back, letting the slave girls gain on him. As the older woman carrying the girl pulled up beside him, he immediately noticed the bruises on her fragile jaw line. He swiftly removed the fabric with a fluent movement and growled in anger upon witnessing the dark red patches and teeth marks on her tender neck. With a strong arm, trained by war and earthbending, he hoisted the girl in front of him on the horse and rode up to Seraphine.
"When?" Tegan's voice trembled with underlying anger.
Glancing at the frightened girl, Seraphine pried the scarf out of Tegan's tensely curled fingers and draped it around the child's shoulders again. Every trace of friendliness disappeared, however, when she faced her brother. "Yesterday evening. I caught him and his buddies groping all the girls." As Seraphine gestured at the slave girls around them, Tegan's knuckles turned white as he tightened his grip around the reins. Seraphine briefly smiled comfortingly at the girl, before looking at her brother again. "This little one managed to let out a scream; that's how I knew something was wrong. I had a feeling something like that would happen; that's why I placed guards, but clearly that was not enough. I arrived just in time to pull that pervert off of her before he could really do something and kicked the living daylights out of him; he's going to be sore for a couple of days, and not in a good way." While Seraphine recollected the previous night's events, her brother remained silent. When she was done, she could feel Tegan's anger boil inside of him. Knowing her brother well, she grabbed the reins of his horse just as he wanted to take off. "Don't."
"Let go, Sera."
"No. This is not your fight. Whatever it is you're planning, don't. This thing between me, dad, and Hahn is already ugly enough without your foot in the middle. Just ... stay out of it. It will be okay." Seraphine saw her brother's body relax, and judged it safe to release the reins. "I'll figure something out with Hahn and dad; I have gotten out of tighter scrapes than this before." Upon witnessing Tegan's arched eyebrows, Seraphine let out a chuckle. "Granted, I can't think of any right now, but you know me, I will land on my feet. I always do."
The ensuing silence during which they both wondered how this would get resolved was finally breached by Tegan. "So ... What will you do now?"
Seraphine remained silent for a few more seconds. "First, I have to set something right." She looked at Tegan's incomprehensive look, and then at the young girl riding before him. She reached out and gently took over the child. "I am a soldier. I go where I am told to go, and I do what I am told to do. I never stopped to think about the consequences or the reasoning behind orders; it was never my place, nor did I care." Her gaze traveled over the marching soldiers in front and then over the slaves behind her. "However, we ... I, should've never taken her from her family in Palm Spring. She's too young for a life of slavery." Seraphine fell silent again.
In this brief moment, Tegan could not help but smile with a hint of pride in his eyes. "Do I detect a crack of softness in your impenetrable shell? What happened to 'compassion is for weaklings'?"
"That statement got a taste of its own medicine." Absentminded, Seraphine carefully untied the little girl's pigtails and braided her hair. "Her brother is still alive. I let him go that day, and I am sure that he has been scouring every corner of Thebes for every possible slave market to find her."
The girl sitting before Seraphine suddenly stirred and looked at the siblings, her gaze traveling from one to the other. Her innocent, hope-filled voice rang crystal clear through the air. "You know where my brother is?" Seraphine locked on to the girl's bright blue-gray eyes, and for the first time ever, she was overcome by guilt and remorse. "Where is Kun?"
The pleading tremble in the girl's voice shook Seraphine awake as if it had been an earthquake. Ever so softly, she brushed a tear off the girl's cheek. "Your brother is likely in the city we're heading to now." To her own wonder, Seraphine found herself having trouble to keep looking at the girl. She did not know why, but there was something about those eyes that stared right into her soul, and Seraphine was surprised to discover that she still had one. She had never truly felt sympathy for others before. Then again, her captives were usually older than this. She could no longer bear that blue-gray look resting upon her, and drew the child close while resting her head on hers and closing her eyes. The raven-black hair of both girls flowed over in each other. Tegan only barely heard what his sister whispered to the child, however, with every word that he caught, his surprise grew bigger, as he had never expected those words to come from his sister.
"I am sorry." Seraphine remained silent for a moment, but then suddenly raised her head and faced Tegan, a determined look playing on her face. "Let's go. Dad's undoubtedly already seething with rage, wondering what's taking so long."
Taken aback by this sudden change of tone, Tegan could not follow his sister's thoughts. "So ... do you have a plan?"
"Still working on that. First I have to find Tacq though."
Still not catching on, Tegan nodded anyway and the two siblings spurred their horses without wasting any more time and made their way back toward the head of the column. Nearly in the middle of the marching soldiers, they found Seraphine's regiment. Tegan rode on while Seraphine quickly located her captain among the men and descended beside him.
"Commandant." Tacq briefly saluted his superior. The quick passing of a look of insecurity over his face did not go unnoticed for Seraphine.
"What is bothering you, Tacq?"
"Pardon my directness, Commandant, but are the rumors true?" Slightly uneased, wondering whether or not he would be out of line by asking it, Tacq looked at his commander. "The rumor about you and Captain Hahn."
Seraphine snorted. "Depends on which rumor you are referring to. 'Has Hahn bought me off?' Then yes, that's true. 'Am I actually going to marry him?' Not in a million years." She turned back to the little girl still perched on Arrow; however, as she reached up to take her down, the child suddenly froze in terror. Seraphine followed her gaze and saw Hahn and two of his soldiers approach.
"Seraphine, babe, there you are." All the fibers in her body tensed up in anger; she hated everything about the man, from his slick smile to the perverted twinkle in his eyes as he recognized the little girl on the horse.
"What do you want, Hahn?" Seraphine snapped at the man while placing herself ostentatious in his path, blocking his way to the horse and the girl.
"I just wanted to know where my future wify-to-be was," he stroked Seraphine's cheek with the back of his hand, "see why she hadn't come to visit me yet to take care of the wounds on my back and to ... cater my needs." Predicting her movements, Hahn was just in time to retract his hand; Seraphine's sai flashed by, blue fire trailing the weapon, but it only struck air. "I see you are still hot for me, such a turn on." Hahn winked and his friends chuckled at the sight of the angered faces around them. However, their smiles turned into a growl as Hahn was forced to duck under several fire blasts.
"How dare you speak to our commander like that?! You better show some respect, or I will teach it to you!" Tacq assumed a fighting stance, steam emerging from his stretched out hand.
"Stand down, Tacq!" Seraphine placed a hand on his shoulder while sheathing her sai. "He's not worth it. Let him be." She turned again to her horse and took the little girl off. "Come on, I have a task for you." Reluctantly, the Fire Faction Captain relaxed his stance and gritted his teeth at Hahn's pleased expression, before walking toward his commander. "Take care of her. I don't care who comes for her, you keep her sa–"
"Oh, I see you brought me a gift. Darling, you shouldn't have."
Hahn's remark pushed Seraphine's patience to its limits. Ignoring him, she went on; however, her voice was strained under the forced calmness. "Keep her safe. I will come for her later, but until then, no one, and I do mean no one is to touch her, because if they do, if there is only one hair out of place, one dirty smudge on her body, that person will have to answer to me."
With a short nod, Tacq took over the whimpering girl. Seraphine briefly draped the scarf a bit better, and then signaled to three surrounding soldiers to follow Tacq and to the others that they should head out. However, as Tacq passed Hahn, the Captain of the Water Faction grabbed the girl's chin between thumb and index and turned her face to him. "Don't cry, beautiful, I'll be there soon to dry your tears."
Hearing the comment, Seraphine stopped dead in her tracks and turned around. She trembled with anger and the air around her slowly started to heat up as she clenched her fists. She softly, but threateningly spoke. "No one interferes. No matter what happens, no one interferes." The surrounding soldiers did not understand why Seraphine gave the order, but nodded in acceptance anyway. "Tacq, take the girl out of here, now."
When Tacq and the three soldiers moved away, Hahn's friends attempted to block their paths, but found themselves halted by a wall of crackling blue flames. The duo turned to see Seraphine direct two fire arcs at them followed by a powerful blast. With a soldier's reaction, one of the men extinguished the fire with several lashes of a water whip he conjured from the water pouches on his back. Meanwhile, his friend attempted to thwart Seraphine's advance by sending an earth fissure at her. As the earth rose underneath her feet, she used its momentum to push herself off. Airborne, Seraphine somersaulted several times and used the extra speed to charge her attack. The earthbender raised an earth tent for protection, but the cindering hot blast instantly reduced it to rubble. The shreds of rock were flung in every direction; one of them hit the inattentive waterbender against his temple, and he immediately sagged down, a trickle of blood welling up from the wound.
As Seraphine landed, she unsheathed her sai and ran toward Hahn, who had not moved at all. Enraged even further by his confident look, she noticed the movement of the earthbender too late and was struck in the shoulder by a heavy rock. The force of the blow spun her out of her path and she only barely managed to maintain her footing. The agonizing pain of her dislocated shoulder swiftly spread through her entire arm, draining it from its power. Seraphine cried out in pain as she threw her sai with that arm at the earthbender, where the weapon embedded itself in his chest.
The feel of her own warm blood running over her arm soothed Seraphine. She looked at Hahn and was pleased to see that his smug expression had turned to one of shock and anger. Weaving her way through his attacks, she nimbly avoided his water blasts and made her way up to the Captain of the Water Faction. With every step she took toward him, she felt his desperation to stop her grow. She ran the last few meters straight at him and could see the surprise in his eyes as they widened. Ducking under his wide swing, she lashed at the water pouches on his back. The water gulfed out as her sai cleanly cut through the fox antelope hide, and with a quick blast to the ground, she evaporated the spilled water.
"I guess waterbending's off for now." Seraphine ostentatiously stepped on the scorched patch. A droplet of blood fell off her fingertip.
Clenching his teeth and squinting his eyes, Hahn took on a fighting stance. "Bring it, pretty girl."
He tried to swoop Seraphine's legs from underneath her, but she easily avoided the kick. As he stood up again, however, he threw a handful of dirt at her. The grains of sand stung her eyes and effectively blinded her. Frantically trying to clear her eyes, she cried out in pain as Hahn's kick landed on her dislocated shoulder. Still blinded, Seraphine lashed out, showering her surroundings with fire. However, uncontrolled as it was, Hahn effortlessly ducked under the blast and planted his fist in Seraphine's stomach. As she doubled over in agony, he pushed her to the ground with a powerful kick to her chest. Seraphine rolled over a few times and ended up face down in the sand, coughing heavily.
"Not so tough now, eh missy?" Hahn walked over to the moaning girl. However, noticing the reflection of the sun in a sword being drawn, he stopped and turned to a soldier. "Ah-ah-aa-ah, don't forget your orders: 'No one interferes. No matter what happens, no one interferes.'" Hahn amusedly mimicked Seraphine's voice to near perfection.
"That's right, no one interferes."
Shocked, Hahn turned around to see Seraphine on her feet again, rubbing the last of the sand out of her eyes. "What?! That can't be! You should be out by now!"
"Oh, Hahny, there is so much you don't know about me. For one, I will never marry you." Hahn was flung back when he was hit full in the chest by Seraphine's flying back kick. "And secondly, you will die at my hand." Hahn managed to lessen the blow of the landing by rolling along. However, as he pushed himself back on his feet, he was immediately forced on the defense by several quick jabs and thrusts of Seraphine's sai. Two strikes struck his chest, forming a bloody cross over his heart. Ducking under his roundhouse kick, Seraphine lashed out and went for Hahn's throat, all her strength focused on the weapon firmly gripped in her hand.
The metal scraped hard over the rock. The power behind the slash was so grave that cinders flew of the rock until the blade of the sai eventually gave way and broke under the strain. Panting heavily, Seraphine turned in anger to see who had dared to intervene with her kill.
"What in Seth's name is going on here?!" A fuming Apepi still stood in an earthbending stance. "Seraphine! I explicitly forbade you to engage with Hahn in a fight ever again. You will stand down, right now!"
"Or what, father? What are you going to do to me that is worse than what you have already done?"
"Don't dare to disrespect me! You are to do as I say. Put down your weapon before I have you arrested for treason!"
"You want me to put down my weapon? You want it out of my hands?" Furious, Seraphine turned around and hurled it at Hahn who emerged from behind the rock shield. The weapon struck the center of the cross that was formed on his chest. Luckily for Hahn, the blade of the broken sai was not long enough anymore to pierce his heart, and the stump of metal was halted on the bones of his chest. Seraphine turned back to her father as Hahn sagged to the ground, wailing in pain. She sarcastically bowed and then ostentatiously showed her open palm to show she was unarmed. "I put down my weapon as ordered, General." Without giving her father another look, she stumbled toward her horse.
"This is no way to treat your general, nor your father! How dare you disrespect me like that?" Apepi's voice rumbled like the thunder of the first spring storm and brought down the wall he had conjured to save Hahn's life.
"How dare I?" Seraphine turned half way. "How dare I? How dare you?! How dare you preach respect when you don't even know the meaning of the word? You always said that the two intertwined flames of my necklace represented the way to live, the two things that you always told me: never give up without a fight and aid those in need, though you ask the exact opposite of me. I have made it abundantly clear that I don't want to marry that skunkfish, and yet you sell me to him like the first moo-sow that comes along. Where are you to aid me now? This is no way you treat your soldiers, let alone your own daughter. So how dare you!" Seraphine hoisted herself on Arrow and without awaiting a response of the General, she rushed out of there, engulfing the scene in the kicked-up dusts from Arrow's galloping hooves.
You Lose Some
The small rowboat slowly swayed up and down and joyfully knocked against the tiny dock once and again. Hidden by the papyrus beds a small distance away, Lostris finished setting up the Pai Sho board while Taita stacked his scrolls.
"So ... when are you going to tell me what you brought in these sacks?" Lostris curiously squatted next to the bags and inquisitively poked one of them. "What is this? Feels so ... squishy."
Taita checked the lines of the fishing poles to make sure everything was secure. He smiled at her as he waded out of the water. "Aren't we nosey today?"
"I'm not nosey," Lostris pushed over the other bag. "I just like to know a lot. Are those nuts?"
"You know, patience is a virtue."
"Yes, and knowledge is power."
Taita laughed at the girl's persistence. "Very well then, I'll show you." He grabbed the pushed-over sack and took out a handful of nuts. Out of the other one, he withdrew some ochre-colored, little square bags.
"Ha, I was right!" Lostris triumphantly raised her hands. "But err ... what do we do with them? Eat them? And what are those yellow sacks for? Are they –"
Taita cut her off by placing his hand over her mouth. "If you'd allow me, I'll explain." Amused to see Lostris's curiosity and urge to respond battle each other for supremacy, he gave her one of the nuts when her inquisitiveness prevailed. "This is a leechi acorn, but you better know it in its processed form, cause when you heat them, they pop open and become fire crackers. Go on, try it."
Lostris placed the nut in the center of her palm and conjured up a small flame. After a few seconds, the hard shell cracked and the nut sprung open with a pop.
"Now this is cool." She tossed the cracker in her mouth. "Ah, hot, hot!" Quickly chewing it down, she cooled her tongue with a few gulps of water. "So ... are we going to crack those and eat them with those bags that contain some sort of sauce?"
"Not quite, Princess. I'd advise you not to eat these." Taita took two of the squishy bags and hurled one against a nearby tree. Upon contact, the sack burst open and colored the stem yellow. "It's paint."
Lostris looked suspiciously from the colored tree to the bags and nuts to Taita. "Yeah ... I don't get it."
"It's easy. The nuts are for offense and the sacks of paint are for defense." Lostris arched her eyebrows. "I am going to throw these at you."
He smiled upon seeing her baffled expression. "You are going to do what now?"
"When I throw these bags at you, you need to dodge them, be able to change direction at a moment's notice. If you fail, well, you'll be yellow. When I toss a nut, you are to hit it with a fire blast before it touches the ground. However, make sure that your aim is true and your power correct, because if the heat is too low, the nut will not pop; if it's too hot, it will be reduced to ashes."
Lostris stared at Taita for a moment and then started to search the area.
"What are you looking for?"
"I am looking for my ammunition. You know, the objects I get to throw at you."
"Well ... There are none, as this is not my training, it's yours." He splashed the paint bag he was still holding open on Lostris's head and the yellow paint quickly ran down the side of her head. The girl's surprised and offended scream was met with loud laughter. "You better start dodging."
Taita stepped a few paces back toward his ammunition and with an amused twinkle in his eyes, he threw another bag at Lostris. She evaded the sack with a quick backflip and dodged two more by cart wheeling out of the way and seeking cover behind the nearest tree. As she peeked around the stem, a leechi acorn flew by. Lostris ducked under and rolled out of the way of several sacks and shot the nut. Before it reached the ground, a pop signaled that she hit it well. However, she did not have long to enjoy her first success as three more sacks forced her to push herself up. By directing a fire blast to the ground, she managed to fly horizontal between two of the bags. As the training continued, Lostris succeeded to avoid the sacks while popping her targets, using the surroundings for cover.
"Nicely done!" Taita dug with two hands in the sack of nuts and threw the acorns at her. As she focused on the nuts and set them ablaze one by one with swift fire blasts, he quickly tossed three bags at her and subtly hid a forth one behind his back. Taita watched Lostris evade the first two sacks by jumping up and performing a straddle midair, and the third one by falling on the ground and let it fly over. She turned on her hands on the ground and swiftly stood up again, ready to attack and evade anything that would come at her. However, Taita raised his hands in the air, signaling he was not going to throw anything anymore. Welcoming the break, Lostris bent over to catch her breath while Taita approached and looked around at the fire crackers spread everywhere. "Very well done, Princess. Three burned acorns, six unopened ones, and," Taita walked around Lostris. "only one mild yellow smudge on your shoulder. Excellent!"
While she was still facing the ground, Taita saw his chance to splash the last bag open on Lostris's head again. However, he found his plan thwarted by a proudly smiling Lostris. "Did you really think that would work a second time?" She twisted his wrist while she twirled toward him. Adjusting her grip, she forced Taita drop the sack. She moved her leg behind his and pushed him off balance. Lostris swiftly snatched the bag out of the air before it fell open on the ground and grinned at her friend. "Hehe, payback time." She raised the sack above his head and was about to squish it, when she suddenly froze.
"Shhh ... The elephant parrots ... Someone's coming!" Lostris threw the sack away and pulled Taita on his feet. The two quickly ran toward the Pai Sho board while voices reached them from the small dock. Taita sat down, took one of the scrolls he had prepared and looked at Lostris who hid the bags with paint sacks and nuts in the surrounding shrubbery.
Lostris ran her hand through her normally brown locks and looked at the yellow paint, now on her fingers.
"Here, use this to conceal it." Taita tossed her a silk scarf, which she quickly wrapped around her head. The moment she sat down opposite him, three men appeared from between the papyrus plants.
"Ah, there you are, Princess Lostris." The council page stepped forward and bowed toward her. "I've been send by the Phoenix Council to escort you back to the palace immediately."
"Why?" Lostris and Taita stood up. "I have an agreement with the Council that Taita may escort me outside the palace ground for my education." She gestured at the scrolls and the Pai Sho board.
"Lord Naja has summoned an emergency meeting of the council and your presence is required."
Lostris briefly tossed an unsure look over her shoulder and Taita unnoticeably nodded at her. "Very well then, I'll be right there. Leave us now."
The page and the two soldiers exchanged some awkward glances and the messenger bowed again before Lostris. "I am sorry, Your Highness, but Lord Naja explicitly ordered that we were to escort you straight to the council once we'd found you."
"Do you doubt my word? I said we'd be right there. Now wait for my arrival on the dock."
Although uncomfortable by going in against Naja's orders, the three men did not dare to contest a direct order of the Crown Princess and retreated back toward the dock. Lostris sighed and turned to Taita while removing the scarf from her head. "What do you think the Council wants?"
Taita swiftly packed up the Pai Sho board and put the scrolls away. "I don't know, but whatever it is, be on your guard. Naja isn't one to needlessly call for your presence. Come on, let's get you cleaned up. We don't want them to know what we were truly doing here."
After Lostris had washed out the paint, Taita carefully modeled her hair to fit that of a princess, intertwining two small, elegant braids with the royal tiara. He looked at her for a moment. "Hmm ... something's missing." He plucked a nearby standing flower and placed the fire lily in her hair. "Perfect, now you're ready to appear before the Council." Taita hugged her. "Go on, but be careful."
While her mentor rowed back in their little boat, Lostris returned to the palace in the galley the Council had send for her, and was swiftly guided through the large hallways toward the Council chamber. Slightly nervous, she waited in the hall, flanked by two soldiers, while the Council page announced her arrival. She deeply breathed in and out before entering through the big, double doors.
"Ah, Princess Lostris, thank you for joining us on such short notice." Naja briefly bowed toward her and took her hand to lead her to her seat at the head of the table. His slick smile and upbeat attitude sent an alarming tingle down Lostris's spine. Choosing the direct approach, she stared down the councilmen. "Would the Council be so kind as to enlighten me for what I am summoned?"
"For your safety, Your Highness, and that of the nation and the monarchy."
"My safety? What are you talking about, Na–, Lord Naja?" Lostris's uneasy feeling of danger grew more apparent with every step he took in her direction.
"I am referring to the event of yesterday morning, My Princess." His lips curled to a satisfied grin upon seeing Lostris's eyes widen in shock. He turned around to face the other three Council members, containing his joy with difficulty. Menset and Talla were aged and past their once formidable prime, and Cinka had always been weak and vacillating. "Noble lords, it has come to my attention that the Princess snuck out unguarded yesterday morning to consort with a man outside the palace. I believe I don't need to point out the dangers to us all of this foolish and childish act."
The Council members gawked at each other and started muttering while shooting Lostris looks of disapproval. Quickly catching on to Naja's schemes, she stood up in protest. "What? I did not sneak out to 'consort with a man'! I merely –"
"So you deny that you ventured down to the river without guard supervision, and that you were there with a man? A naked man, I might add, while you yourself were rather scarcely dressed as well." With the confidence of a hunting tiger leopard who knew the kill was close, Naja walked toward Lostris.
She briefly squinted her eyes in annoyance and took a moment to breath in and out to calm herself. "I was at the river without guards, but not with a man." Naja crossed his arms and looked smugly at her. "I mean, yes, there was a man, but I wasn't there with him. He was never even supposed to be there. It was just –"
"You see, fellow councilmen?" With a swift movement, Naja turned back to the other members. "The man was never supposed to be there. See how easy it is to run into our Crown Princess? Luckily, the spirits were on our side this time and we got away with it, but what if someone with ill intentions would venture down the riverside next time? What would happen to our great nation if its princess, the last member of the royal bloodline, were to perish? No, my lords, we can no longer take that risk. With only a few months away from Princess Lostris's coronation, we should be extra thoughtful about her wellbeing. Only on the palace grounds and under constant soldier supervision can we be certain of her safety."
"What? That is preposterous! You cannot do that, I am not a prisoner!"
"Princess Lostris, we are merely looking out for your safety." Naja's supposedly concerned voice irked her, and when he turned toward her once again, she was the only one who could see the malicious smirk on his face. "We have nothing but your best interest at heart."
"You ..." Lostris's voice trembled with outrage. "How dare you! You care nothing about my safety, you just want the thro–"
Menset knocked with a hammer on the table to rise above Lostris's outburst. "Princess, please, keep –" However, the moment she heard the sound, Lostris diverted part of her rage at him.
"Will you please all just let me finish?! At least hear out my side of the story as well, dammit!" The moment the words left Lostris's lips, she knew she had crossed a line. Anxiously, hoping with all her heart it was not so, she looked at the councilmen, but as soon as she saw their expressions, she knew everything was lost.
Menset put down the hammer and stood up, a shimmer of his former prowess playing in his eyes. "That is quite enough, Princess. Your own father has erected this Council with the country's best interest at heart. When you were born, he made us swear that we would forever protect his family. We have been empowered to make decisions for the benefit of the nation and its populace, and right now, that mainly means keeping you safe. As Lord Naja pointed out, you are the last remaining member of the royal House of Tamose. Losing you would be a devastating blow to the nation. Your safety is our top priority. As such, you are from now on confined to the palace grounds and are to remain under constant supervision. Your excursions outside the palace may only continue when at least two soldiers are present. This Council has decided, so shall it be. Meeting adjourned."
Lostris felt like Menset's hammer did not strike wood, but dealt a direct blow to her heart. Her spirit crushed, she could not move and stared blankly before her while the Council members all slowly shuffled out of the room, except for Naja, who strode toward her with big steps.
"You should've asked your precious Taita to teach you the dance of politics instead of those pathetic martial arts moves." For a second time, Naja reveled in Lostris's shock.
"How did you –"
"There is a lot I know that you are not aware of, little girl, you can't even begin to imagine. Just remember, this is only the beginning." Naja hissed out the words like a viper cobra before smiling broadly at her while his eyes traveled up to Lostris's tiara. "You better hold on to that crown, Princess, while you still can." He mockingly spread his arms as he exaggeratingly bowed for her and proudly walked out of the room.
Lostris did not know how much time had passed since the Council's verdict that had stripped her from every shred of freedom she had. She could not remember how she had made her way back to her own chambers and onto her balcony. The cool evening breeze coming from the Nile should have fazed her, but instead it washed over her like she was not there. It all felt unreal. She closed her eyes and the scene of the meeting instantly played again before her like it was stuck on repeat. She could not believe that she had fallen right into Naja's trap. If only she had remained calm. If only she had kept her mouth shut and explained everything rationally. She sighed. It would not have mattered; Naja knew. Naja knew everything. How? How could he have known about her training? How could he have known about the river? Lostris's eyes shot open as the sound of the end of the change of guard ceremony reached her, and a deep frown adorned her face. Tanus.
She ran through the hallways and did not slow down to apologize when she nearly knocked over one of the servants. She reached the courtyard as Tanus and Meren were walking away at the other side. As she came into hearing distance, the sound of them laughing was like oil on the fire of her rage. Not stopping, Lostris jumped along on one leg while removing her sandal and hurled the shoe against the back of Tanus's head.
"Aww, what the –" Tanus grabbed his head and turned around to see what had hit him, but before he could turn completely, Lostris smacked him across the face. The two soldiers stared dumbfounded at the enraged girl before them. "Princess, what –"
"How could you?! How could you do that to me?" Lostris pushed Tanus back. "I hope you are happy now. I hope that your ego has been boasted thoroughly. You know, I don't even know why, but I always thought you were different; nicer; kinder. I couldn't have been more wrong! You are just as selfish and disgusting as the rest of them!"
Seeing his friend in distress, Meren came to his rescue by drawing Lostris's rage away from him. "Your Highness, please, what's wrong?"
"What's wrong? What's wrong?" Lostris turned to Meren and threateningly poked his chest with her index. "I'll tell you what's wrong. Due to your idiotic friend here, Naja was able to convince the Phoenix Council to make me a prisoner in my own palace! Thanks to his bragging, I am to remain under constant soldier supervision and am not allowed to go anywhere without two nannies to escort me, that is wrong!"
"What? How can that be?" Tanus stared at her in bewilderment.
"Don't play dumb with me, boy." Like a raging saber-tooth moose lion, she turned to him. "If you just had kept your big, blabbering, ignorant mouth shut, nothing would've happened!"
"I'm sorry, but I really don't follow."
Lostris deeply breathed in through her nose, and slowly released the air again through her mouth in an effort to calm herself, but to no avail, as her voice still trembled with rage. "Naja knew about our run in at the river. Now I sure as hell didn't tell him that, so that leaves only one other possibility: you. Did you tell anyone any details about what happened?" Lostris did not even need to hear the words out of his mouth as Tanus's guilty look betrayed him. Growling in anger, she turned and walked a few steps before reconsidering and smacking Tanus again. "Fool! I ought to rip that captain's insignia of your chest and burn it before your eyes, but I probably don't even have the power to do that! Thank you for ruining whatever freedom I had, just ... thank you." Lostris mockingly saluted Tanus and promptly left the courtyard.
- Another round of thanks at the address of Wilbur Smith for providing me with the names of the three council members.
- I had written this chapter and sent it to my editors long before the airing of "When Extremes Meet", so I would just like to point out that similarities between Naja and Tarrlok are purely coincidental. What is it with dirty politicians?
- This is the first chapter that I have published without TAD's stamp of approval, I hope it will not be too noticeable.
- The Shrikes are a complex army. To shortly give an overview: General Apepi stands at the head of the army as the general commander. Right under him is his son and second in command, Colonel Tegan. From there on, the army splits in four factions, the Water, Fire, Earth, and Air Faction, with each their own commander and sets of captains. The commander of the Fire Faction is Seraphine and Tacq is her captain, and the commander of the Water Faction is Hahn's father, and Hahn himself is the captain of that faction.
- Tacq is the last name of a friend of mine -who does not know I borrowed her name ^^.
- Of course, not a chapter can go by without a Disney reference, now can it?
- When Seliah proofread this chapter, she said that "if [Hahn] has perfected talking like a girl, he /must/ scream like a girl too soon ^^", and then she started chanting like a cheerleader.
- Another memorable comment of her, now of Taita's squishy paint sacks: "I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my squishy ^^." Aren't both Dory and Seliah adorable?
- Lostris really is a skilled hand-to-hand combat fighter, don't underestimate that fact, Naja.
- For the attentive readers, there was some major foreshadowing in this chapter for an important plot twist that will arrive in the next chapter or the chapter after that.
- This chapter counts 6956 words.
|Heiress of the Nile|
|Book 1 - Lost and Found|
|☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥|
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