Mistress of the Household
was laughing breathlessly as he burst through the "Bab-i-Sadet",
The Gate of Felicity and entrance to the hareem. Behind him, Shikha
leapt marble benches and used the intricately tiled lip of a huge
fountain to bypass a huddled group of nobles. She lithely darted
through the openly staring nobility, foreign dignitaries, and High
Priests of the royal temples.
His sprint through the
Consortium, the second courtyard of the royal palace, in his sweat
soaked undergarments and battered leather baldric, left a wake of
pointing nobles and a burst of muttered conversation. Shikha
hurriedly closed the doors on the Consortium, cutting off the
eruption caused by their mad dash through the subdued and dignified
gathering. They had just set a fire that would rage throughout the
palace in hours. Whispered rumors and innuendo would carry it high
and low. The Azata (nobility) and diplomats would be abuzz for hours
as they lay about on marble benches, or lounged on priceless carpets
from the far east. Secluded, upon well manicured lawns nestled
amongst small glens of fruit trees, tinkling fountains, and flowering
garden beds, they idled their morning away whilst visiting with their
wives and daughters living in the hareem.
a form of protection, Kedor had adopted as unthreatening a persona he
could dream up. To all in the palace, he was Kindatu's foppish and
wastrel son. Always he wore the latest fashions, done in the finest
silks and the most expensive jewels he could acquire. Always he
projected a cultured, yet vapid facade. As such, he presented little
or no threat to any designs on his father's throne by his innumerable
rivals. Assassination and intrigue being an Elamite Noble’s
constant companion, Kedor had quite effectively removed himself from
the game, with his myriad acts of debauchery and total lack of guile.
This undignified behavior and state of undress were quite out of
Kedor turned to address his
grandmother, The Valide Shah (mother of the true Shah), his eyes
widening in shock at the scene confronting him. His foolish smile
evaporated immediately. The giant, Kay, his father's champion, was
held on his knees, arms twisted behind his back by two hulking Nubian
slaves. Asala, The Mistress of the Girls, and Captain of the Royal
Bodyguards, in her distinctive black kilt, the medallion of the
Kislar Aghassi gleaming between her shriveled breasts, stood poised
above Kay's outthrust neck. Though old and graying, her arms were
steady, as she held a gleaming straight sword over her head, ready to
Where had these Nubians come from? He had never
before seen them in the palace. Furthermore, he thought, What
had Kay done to provoke his Grand Mother so!
last the "Merchant Prince" arrives!" The voice of
Katerehna ibn Ashur, Mistress of the Household, rang out, dripping
with sarcasm, from behind the silken walls of her Royal pavilion.
"What do you think you are doing?!" Kedor took a
faltering step into the hareem, as his eyes roved over the gathered
No eye spared him a glance as they hungrily
watched the drama unfolding in the center of the usually sedate and
boring hareem. His eyes settled on his mother's gathering, his
sister, their bodyguards, and advisors. He noticed his mother flinch
at the tone of his voice.
"This creature has failed us
and we would dispose of it! " The imperious voice lashed in
Chills ran up Kedor's spine, as he took another
step toward Kay and his captors. "How has he failed you? Have
you spoken to your son of this?"
The erupting screech
was laced with anger. "This slave has been tasked with teaching
you all things martial, and just now when asked for a report on your
progress, he had the temerity to tell me you were incapable of
learning the sword and shield and would be better suited to proceed
in life as a merchant! That you should step aside for, your bright
and shinning cousin, Iskander! That you would be as good as dead on
your first trip to a battlefield! Thus insinuating that all my
careful plans and work were for naught!"
" STRIKE ASALA!"
Kedor moved without thought, all those years of training each morning
with Shikha were ingrained. His talwars flashed, one of his blades
caught the downward strike of the Kizlar Aghassi, deflecting it away
from Kay. The other struck the head from one of the Nubians pinioning
Kay. Blood fountained from the stump, as he fell away. From the
corner of his eye he caught the blur of Shikha's blades as she
quickly dispatched the second shocked Nubian, his blade only half
Kedor spun, avoiding the second strike from Asala,
now aimed at his neck. He struck back, the captain's sword, her hand
still gripping the hilt, went spinning off into the gathered crowd in
a welter of blood. So fast and shocking were his actions, the crowd
seemed in slow motion as it exploded. Screaming women and children
stampeded for the Gate of Felicity. Amazon bodyguards in their
burgundy kilts and the Hareem Guard in their black, burst from the
crowd. Drawing their weapons, they converged on Kedor and Shikha.
The voice of the Valide Shah cracked through out the room.
The curtains of the pavilion parted, and she stepped forth. She was
an old woman, approaching her second century. Her fire, her regal
bearing, and her iron control of the Royal Household were undisputed.
Her son ruled, ably, the largest empire known to man and she was its
prime manipulator. Looking at Katerehna, there was no doubt where
most of her son's attributes originated.
She pointed to
Kay, who still lay dumbfounded and spattered between Kedor and
Shikha. "You obviously have NO idea what you are doing! Get out
of my sight, and take those bodies with you."
she snarled at Kedor. "And you! You traipse across the palace
half dressed! You come into my presence bearing arms! You shed blood
in the hareem, costing me two expensive slaves! You splatter and
traumatize the noblewomen of every satrapy in the empire! You end the
career of my oldest and dearest friend! You question my reasoning, my
word, and my WILL!”
Kedor straightened, and then executed
a flamboyant bow. "I merely illustrate a fault in your
reasoning, why your word was misspoke, and thus why your WILL must be
defied. All of your lessons have been learned, well considered, and
understood, Valide Shah."
Flicking them once, he
sheathed his talwars, and went to one knee before her.
Stepping to Kedor, she grasped his arm. "Oh get up! You
Eyes following the crimson trail
leading to the door, she turned to watch Kay drag the corpses by
their ankles through the Bab-i Sadet and into the Consortium.
She shook her head ruefully. "They were a matched set."
Katerehna took in the ashen faces surrounding the door with a
smirk. "And they thought they had some thing to gossip about
With a low chuckle, she brusquely turned back
to Kedor. " My underestimation of you has cost me dearly, you
devious little wretch. Don't think you have me completely fooled
though. Now that we see you have certainly received a full dose of
your bloodthirsty relatives on your mother's side, and as you have
undoubtedly also received a full measure from the devious members on
our side of the family as well, have care whom it is you attempt to
play. As to that subject, let me assure you that neither your early
morning activities, nor your grandfather's recent movements have gone
Kedor, hearing his grandfather mentioned,
glanced toward his mother and noticed she held the arm of an amazon .
She wore the burgundy leather kilt of a bodyguard, but who's? Kedor
was sure he had never seen her before. He was struck by her pale
freckled skin covered with spiraling blue tattoos, and her braided
red hair pulled into a top knot. She was beautiful. She carried a
short composite bow with arrow strung and a gilded gorytos attached
to her belt filled with shafts...
see, this is what we've been talking about." His grandmother
Kedor looked to his mother
again and she had released the girl. The bodyguard was now quickly
As she passed, Kedor blurted, "You were
going to shoot me, weren't you?"
She went to one knee
before the Valide Shah, and murmured, "I haven't made up my mind
"Oh stop it! What is with everyone crawling
about on their knees today?"
emerged from your pavilion today, and we were all weakened by your
"Don't you start with me, Kedor!"
His grandmother turned on him. "You lost your right to that act
when you started killing people in your underwear here today!
reserve the right to further complicate your machinations, as I know
something is afoot. Get up girl. This is your new bodyguard, Kedor.
Kay informed me you begin cataphract training this week. As Shikha is
no horsewoman, Tabitha has been assigned to you for your protection
as well as training. She is from the Dahae, a horse tribe from
somewhere up north I am told."
Seeing that Kedor was
about to interrupt, she raised her hand. "Fear not, with your
display here today, you have announced to the entire empire in one
definitive statement your valid candidacy for your father's throne.
With this new “wrinkle”, I am inclined to leave Shikha, also
assigned to your safety. If today is any indication of the future,
she will be needed as well."
"Now go, but hold in
the Consortium, for after I have spoken with your mother, she will
doubtlessly want a word with you as well, I am sure."