Friends and Visitors
Years came and went, seven to be exact. To everyone's delight, the kingdom was left alone by enemy territories and tribes thanks to the legends of the monsters the Royal Court could command. Atem and Tima were glad that they did not have to deal with any attacks; however, they knew that there were two enemies out there who wanted their blood and were idling, waiting to exact the revenge they thought they deserved. Until the day those two decided to resurface and attack, the royal couple focused on providing for the kingdom and for their children for, just as much as the kingdom grew, so did the children of the palace.
Now twelve years old, Heba had been studying for about five years to become Pharaoh with the Royal Court's help: Atem told him tips on how to be a just Pharaoh and allowed him to attend meetings and each priests helped him in their own way. Even though he appreciated the help, he only enjoyed the lessons he got from Mahad because Mahad was his favorite priest and the prince enjoyed magic. As for the rest of the studies, he did his best but knew that, if and when he had troubles, he could ask his seven-year-old sister Aziza for help. Of the two of them, he was aware that Aziza was the scholar who loved to read every scroll she could get her hands on, even sometimes competing with the other seven-year-old in the palace.
Noa was as much a scholar as Aziza, having inherited the brains of his father. Seth was very proud of his youngest son, especially when Noa helped his father with upcoming meetings by studying with him. They tried to get Mesu to become involved in their studies but the twelve-year-old always declined, preferring to spend his time playing tricks on everyone or being around the guards, dreaming about becoming the captain of the guard like Jouno. But his favorite thing to do was hang out with Heba; however, he knew that Heba was always busy with learning how to become the future Pharaoh. The wild child was usually patient but, one day, he went up to Heba and pulled the book away from the crowned prince. "Come on, Heba. Let's go into town."
At first startled, Heba looked up at his friend. "I don't know, Mesu…I have studies to do."
Mesu waved it off. "Come on, Heba! You know you've always wanted to go to the marketplace! Besides, there's a visiting tribe selling some cool stuff." Seeing Heba about to protest, the wild child shook his head. "No buts, my friend! You're going to have fun! I'll even show you some of my favorite places!"
Heba looked up at Mesu; he knew that Mesu and Noa always accompanied Tikali when she had errands to run. Being the prince, he was not allowed to go outside the palace without his parents and guards to keep him safe. He did not want to get in trouble but he knew that Mesu was being trained as a guard and would protect him. "All right…we can go but I'm going in a disguise…just to be safe."
Mesu nodded and pulled Heba to his feet. "Come on! I know a secret way out!" Heba was surprised by Mesu's enthusiasm but went along with it.
Minutes later, Heba and Mesu were in the marketplace with Heba in a disguise that covered everything but his face. Mesu hung back a little, allowing Heba to look around. The prince was absolutely amazed at what he was seeing and for being seen as an ordinary citizen. He started to run to every stand, wanting to be offered everything like he was a normal child. Looking back at Mesu, he asked, "I've been missing out on all of this?! This is amazing!"
Mesu grinned with delight. "Yep! You need to join me and Mom more often!"
Heba nodded and continued to look around at the shops. A few sellers tried to get him to buy jewels or food but he always politely declined. Thanks to being half Hebrew, he was able to pretend that he was a foreigner who was just passing through. Mesu kept close to him, wanting to keep him safe. As Heba kept walking around, his bangs kept coming out and he kept hiding them, not wanting to be found. A few people saw the bangs and started to get suspicious, causing Heba to eventually get nervous. "Mesu, maybe we shouldn't hang out for much longer."
Having inherited the same attitude as his father, Mesu waved it off. "Nah, we're all right. We'll just be a little more careful and, if need be, I will protect you." Seeing Heba feeling a little better, the wild child reached into his bag to pull out some coins. "How about we get something to munch on while we walk around? Besides, we still need to find the visiting tribe."
Heba nodded and started to follow Mesu. Along the way, Heba accidentally bumped into a young teenager and his friends. Growling, the teenaged bully turned and grabbed Heba's shoulder. "Hey! Did you just bump me?"
Heba winced a little as Mesu stood in front of the prince, showing that he was not afraid of them. "What do you want?"
The teenager was about to demand that Heba apologize bumping into him. However, he saw the coins in Mesu's hands and slightly changed his tune. "Well, your friend bumped into me so hand over your coins and I'll forgive you."
Mesu growled and took a fighting stance, showing that he was defying the bullies. In retaliation, one of the bully's friends sucker-punched Mesu in the nose so that the other friend could grab Heba in a chokehold. Growing more scared by the moment, Heba pleaded, "Please! Stop this!"
The bully laughed and made Heba look at him. "And who are you to order us around, pipsqueak?"
Mesu got up, ignoring his bloodied nose, and tried to save his friend but the lackey who punched him got the wild child pinned in a chokehold. The one holding Heba grinned at his leader. "Let's see what's under the hood."
The bully nodded as Heba started to struggle. If he was discovered, there was no one there to protect him. As the bully reached out, they suddenly heard a girl call out, "Hey, ugly!"
The bully turned around to immediately have a rock thrown into his eye. Yelping in pain, he and everyone else looked in time to see a girl, Heba and Mesu's age, with long blond hair wearing a animal-skin skirted leotard-like outfit ran around the corner with a sling in her hand. The bully growled and pointed to the corner. "After her!"
At first, there was no answer so the bully turned around to see what was going on. Heba and Mesu were safe because the bully's friends were on the ground, punched out by Jouno, who followed them ever since they snuck out. The bully growled and went to attack the captain of the guard but Jouno knocked him unconscious with one punch. Massaging his fist, the blond commented, "Next time, pick on someone your own size."
Mesu covered his nose to try to stop the bleeding as Heba looked up at his older friend/guard. "Jouno…I…I'm sorry…we never should have come here…"
The two boys waited to be scolded but they got the opposite reaction: Jouno chuckled and shook his head in amusement. "Like father, like son." Seeing the boys' surprised looks, the captain of the guard laughed and started to lead them back to the palace. "Have I ever told you how I met your dad, Heba?" Off Heba's head shaking, Jouno continued, "To make a long story short, your dad snuck out of the palace when he was your age and ran into bullies as well. Luckily, I happened to be nearby helping my dad sell grain and, being a tough farm-boy who hated bullies, ran over and helped him out."
The boys were surprised. His nose finally stopped bleeding, Mesu asked, "The Pharaoh would sneak out too?"
Jouno nodded with a smirk. "All the time…and it became a regular habit when I moved into the palace to become a guard." Seeing the boys giggle, the blond continued to lead them to the palace. "Come on, squirts; let's get you home."
Mesu nodded and started to talk to Jouno about how to explain why he and Heba were at the marketplace. Heba, however, kept looking over his shoulder, his mind on the blond girl who helped them. Who was she? He could tell from the outfit she was wearing that she did not live in the village. Did that mean he would never see her again? He did not like that idea since he wanted to thank her. However, he knew the chances of meeting her face to face was very slim so he decided to just remember what she did for him and Mesu.
About an hour later, Heba was heading towards the throne room to attend a meeting. Dressed back in his prince garb, he was glad that he and Mesu did not get in trouble for going to the marketplace thanks to Jouno: wanting to spare the children any severe punishments and knowing that Atem used to do the same thing, the captain of the guard told the parents that he accompanied the children and that Mesu's bloody nose came from a bully giving him a sucker punch when the two children got separated from him. Smiling at the story Jouno cooked up, Heba entered the throne room to find both parents and Aziza there; Tarra was not there because she was running an errand for Atem. Confused, he asked, "What's going on?"
Aziza giggled. "That visiting clan? They are the Scorpion Clan! The leader is about to come here!"
Tima nodded and stroked her daughter's hair. "You're really excited, aren't you?"
Aziza giggled in response. Tilting his head a little, Heba asked, "Who are the Scorpion Clan?"
Aziza stared in shock at her brother's lack of knowledge of this clan. She was about to explain when Atem answered first. "They are warriors of legend. Legend states that they are a clan of assassins who work for hire, moving from town to town to offer their services."
Heba went to stand next to Atem and asked, "How can they handle moving from town to town?"
Tima chuckled. "Sometimes tribes have to do what they need to survive. My caravan moved constantly."
Atem smirked and added, "So I suppose they handle it because it comes with their lives of being professional assassins." Seeing his children's looks, the Pharaoh chuckled. "Let us first see if they are indeed the Scorpion Tribe before we make any decisions about them."
Heba nodded as the Royal Court came into the room to both offer opinions and protection. Minutes later, two adults and a girl walked into the throne room. The Royal Court was nervous about their weapons as visitors were supposed to leave their weapons with the guards; though they tried to be optimistic, they were prepared to protect the royal family if the three decided to attack. The man was very tall and very muscular, a personification of strength and toughness, with dark skin, narrow brown eyes, and long black hair tied up in a half-ponytail. His outfit was leather and metal, consisting of plate armor, gauntlets, breeches, shin-guards and boots; his plate armor had the painting of a scorpion on it, implying what the royal family suspected about the clan. He had a few swords and daggers on his hips and a bow and arrows across his back. Heba shivered at the sight of the man, mentally telling himself to not make him mad.
The woman next to him was a sight to behold. With pale skin and curly blond hair, she was beautiful like a princess but it was clear that she was also a warrior with her muscular arms and stern look in her purple eyes. Her leather dress was to her knees and sleeveless, as if the dress was designed for fighting. Her arms had bracelets that covered her entire lower arm, providing both protection and decoration, and her forehead had a leather tiara with a metal scorpion. She had a few daggers attached to a leopard-skin belt across her hips. Aziza mentally squealed, finding this woman very intriguing; the woman's looks made the young princess want to ask hundreds of questions because she appeared to be an Amazon, a type of female warrior that was even more legendary than the Scorpion Clan.
The girl made Heba freeze in surprise: it was the same girl who threw the rock at the bully! Dressed in the same outfit the prince saw her in, she was holding the woman's hand and everyone was able to see that they were mother and daughter. Heba wanted to race up to the girl and thank her for the help but knew that would be impolite at the moment. But he was struck with another feeling looking at her: she was very pretty, especially with her blond hair and purple eyes, and he found himself wanting to know more about her. As he continued to stare at her, the two adults got on one knee and put their right fists over their hearts. Seeing her parents do this motion, their daughter followed suit as the man started to speak. "Great Pharaoh and Queen of Khment…I am Scorpio of the Scorpion Warriors. This is my wife Caeris and our daughter Merina." Reaching behind him, he revealed a bag of foreign jewelry. "With these gifts, I and my clan are here to offer our services as personal warriors and to ask for your permission to stay for a few days so we can resupply."
Wanting to show a gesture of good faith, Caeris took off her largest dagger and held it up to the royal family and court. "To show our good faith, I am willing to give you my family dagger."
Aziza squealed with delight before she could stop herself. Everyone looked at her in surprise and she answered with blush, "It has been written…that warriors of the Amazon tribe give someone their most prized weapon when they want to establish trust."
Caeris looked up at the princess and chuckled. "The young one is wise."
Atem took Tima's hand, proud that their daughter was able to use some of her wisdom to help this interaction, as Shimon looked at the three visitors. "Thank you for the offerings. Please…rise to your feet."
Scorpio looked up at the royal family, a little surprised at the informality. But he did not want to insult those in front of him so he and his family stood up. The warrior was about to offer the bag of jewels again but Atem held up his hand. "While we appreciate the gifts, I must decline your offer to be our…personal warriors."
Seth smirked with pride. "We are all the protection the royal family needs."
Caeris looked at the Royal Court and stated, "With all due respect…I believe we can provide some protection that you cannot."
Mahad was about to explain how they were able to protect the royal family when Scorpio suddenly shot an arrow between the two thrones. The Royal Court quickly surrounded the family and Seth was about to order the guards to throw the assassin family into the dungeons when Caeris got out a dagger and threw it at the upper level. To everyone's surprise, there was a cry of pain and, seconds later, a dead man fell to the ground with Caeris' dagger in his heart. Scorpio held up his bow and lowered it to the ground to show that he was not dangerous. "What my wife meant is that we were trained to see and sense danger before anyone else."
Curious, Heba went to investigate the arrow stuck in the wall. At first, there was nothing out of the ordinary so he returned to his Father's side but then he noticed something between the thrones and crouched down to investigate. Curious as well, Aziza asked, "What is it, brother?"
Heba stood up and revealed pieces of a poisoned dart in his hand. "I think this is what Scorpio hit with his arrow."
Tima was absolutely amazed and looked at Scorpio. "How were you able to see that? Not even the Royal Court was able to sense what was going to happen."
Merina giggled and hugged Scorpio across the waist. "My daddy is the best warrior in the land!"
Scorpio smiled at his daughter before turning back to the Royal Court. "We Scorpion Warriors are trained to hear, see, and smell everything. In fact, a young man is not a Scorpion Warrior until he can catch an arrow with his bare hands…without even knowing where the arrow is coming from."
Impressed, Kalim looked at Atem and Tima. "This man could have valuable things to teach our guards."
Shimon agreed. "While we do not need their protection with the kingdom being as peaceful as it is, I am sure that we can persuade them to teach our guards to be even better at what they do."
Tima added, "Plus, if nothing else, they need to place to rest and resupply."
The rest of the Royal Court agreed, seeing the benefit in the Scorpion Warriors training the palace guards. While he did as well, Aknadin did not want to have this travelling clan of supposed assassins anywhere near the palace. Hearing what everyone was saying, Atem came to a decision and looked at Scorpio and his family. "You may stay as long as you need. While we do not need you to be our personal warriors, we would like for you to train our palace guards some of your ways."
Heba added without thinking, "Especially that trick with the arrow; that was cool."
Scorpio looked at the prince and smirked. "I'm glad I was able to impress you, young prince."
Heba felt a little nervous with how big Scorpio was as Tima asked, "Do you need time to set up camp or can you start with our guards right away?"
Caeris looked at Tima, hiding her surprise. She was used to Queens being seen and not heard; hearing Tima be a part of this discussion made the Amazon feel good. Scorpio kindly stated, "My clan is waiting my instructions on whether we will set up camp here or not so, if it pleases you, my Pharaoh, I can come back tomorrow and start working with your guards."
Atem thought it over and agreed, knowing that camps always took a long time to set up. With a final bow, the Scorpion family left but Merina kept looking back at Heba, wondering why his face seemed familiar to her. Catching her glance, Heba blushed before he could stop himself. The Royal Court and couple started to further discuss the pros and cons of having a group of assassins working with the guards in the palace. While this was happening, Aziza noticed Heba's blush and went up to him to ask, "Why are you blushing, Heba?"
Heba blushed a little deeper. "Well…I, uh…I…I don't know."
Seizing a chance to tease her brother, Aziza grinned. "That girl…what was her name, Merina? I think you like her."
Heba blushed a little deeper as he looked away. "Don't be ridiculous, Aziza. I barely know the girl. She just helped distract the bullies before Jouno took care of them…I just want to thank her, that's all."
Aziza giggled, believing that there was more to the story. Hearing this, Heba got his sister in a playful headlock and took her out of the throne room, telling their parents that they were going to go play. While Aziza was good at teasing, he knew that his father would be worse if he found out that his son possibly had a crush on the girl.
Two days later, Heba was having his magic lessons with Mahad but he was very distracted: for the past two days, Merina had been on his mind. Her parents came by the palace a lot to help train the guards in some of their skills but she never came back, inadvertently disappointing the prince. He found himself wanting to know more about the girl who helped him out. He was so involved in his thoughts that he did not hear Mahad ask him to do a spell until the priest cleared his throat, getting the prince's attention. "Prince Heba, you need to pay attention; the slightest misstep can mean the difference between life and death."
Heba blushed a little and lowered his head a little, feeling embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Mahad…I will try to concentrate."
Mahad nodded and started to teach again but he noticed that Heba was still daydreaming. Remembering that Atem was sometimes like this, the priest decided to be friendly and asked, "Is there someone on your mind?"
Heba looked up at the priest. If this were anyone else, he would deny everything and say that nothing was bothering him; however, Mahad was a big brother/mentor to Heba so the prince felt that he could be honest with him. "Yes…that girl that was with Scorpio and Caeris…she helped Mesu and I with the bullies before Jouno could get over in time."
Mahad knew that the three stated that Mesu and Heba ran off for a moment when Jouno was trying to buy something for them to eat but the magical priest suspected that there was more to the story. But that was not important at the moment so Mahad asked, "So you want to thank the girl for the help?"
Heba nodded but sighed, "But she never comes to the palace with her parents and I can't go down to her camp."
Mahad knew that Heba spoke the truth. He wanted to tell Heba that he needed to have patience but he could see that the prince was disappointed that he would never get to thank the girl so he came to a decision: "Would you like to go down to the clan and thank her"
Heba looked up in surprise. "Yes! But you know I can't leave the palace."
Mahad added, "By yourself. I will go with you. I know that your parents will agree to this since they know I will keep you safe and if they know that you are going to thank someone who saved you."
Heba smiled with delight.
About an hour later, Mahad and Heba rode down to the clan's camp, which was just outside the kingdom next to the Nile. Atem and Tima offered them a place within the city itself but Scorpio and Caeris politely declined, stating that their clan did not do well inside city walls. Stopping at a small hill that overlooked the camp, Mahad looked them over. To his surprise, there were only about twelve tents and he was able to count twenty people; with as powerful as they were, he was anticipating a larger clan than this. Nodding to Heba, the magical priest led Heba to the tents. As they approached, a muscular warrior with tan skin, tattoos covering his arms, and a buzz cut stood up and blocked their path. "Who are you?"
Mahad got off the horse and stood up to the man as Heba joined him from behind. "I am Priest Mahad of the Royal Court. I am accompanying Prince Heba, who wants to see Merina."
While this man had been to the palace a few times, he had never seen either of them so he was suspicious, especially since they were asking for the leader's daughter. Grabbing a staff, he growled, "How do I know you are who you say you are?"
Mahad got ready to summon a monster to proof himself to this warrior when they heard a female voice call out, "That's enough, Razmig!"
Razmig looked behind him and saw Caeris standing there with her arms crossed. His guard still up, he asked, "Milady…do you know these two?"
Caeris nodded. "Yes. Let them in."
Razmig sneered at Mahad before leaving for his tent. Mahad looked at Caeris and nodded. "Thank you."
Caeris nodded and shook her head at Razmig's tent. "You must forgive Razmig. He's one of our best warriors but…to put it kindly, he is crazy and suspicious of everyone." Changing the subject, she asked, "So what can I do for the crowned prince and a member of the Royal Court?"
Heba blurted out, "May I see Merina?"
Caeris blinked in surprise, making Heba shrink a little with a red face. Mahad looked at Caeris and explained, "You see, when your clan first arrived, your daughter helped save the prince and his friend from a couple of bullies in town. The prince is here to thank her."
Caeris smiled and gestured for them to follow. She led them through the camp, allowing them to see everyone who was there. There were warriors of all kind, which impressed Mahad: there was a small warrior with black hair and covered with tattoos practicing high kicks on a training pole, a black warrior with dreadlocks jumping for exercise, a pale-skinned, muscular blond man with a huge tattoo on his back working out, and an average-sized man with brown hair and a beard practicing an aerial attack with a tree near his tent. Mahad noted, "For a small clan, you sure are diverse."
Caeris smiled as they passed a pale man with orange hair wrestling a black bald man. "Yes. We are open to everyone who wants to join us. All they have to do is show their worth."
Heba looked around and asked, "With all due respect…is everyone from a different clan?"
Mahad glared at Heba, thinking that he crossed the line. But Caeris chuckled and nodded. "Yes, my young prince. My Scorpio's kingdom was destroyed by a tyrant…he and those two over there, his cousins, are the last of their kingdom."
As they left the tents, Mahad and Heba looked over to see two twin men with tan skin and black hair, distinguishable only by the different tattoos on their body. Looking around, Mahad asked, "Where are you taking us?"
Caeris smiled and pointed over to a palm tree. Mahad and Heba looked and saw the answer: Scorpio was working with Merina in hand-to-hand combat. A little surprised, Heba asked, "She's learning how to fight?"
Caeris nodded. "That's right. Merina really looks up to her father, wants to be a warrior just like him. Besides, being half-Amazon, I will not allow her to not know how to fight."
Heba was impressed and started to watch. Merina landed on her read-end after Scorpio crouched down and kicked her legs out from under her. As she stood up, Scorpio told her, "You're not going to improve your hand-to-hand combat until you find your footing, Merina."
Merina's face contorted to a pout and she took up a fighting stance. Before she could attack, however, Caeris saw that this was a good stopping point and called out, "Merina! You have a visitor!"
Merina looked and saw Heba. However, Scorpio wanted to keep up the lessons and grabbed Merina to get her in a chokehold. "And don't let yourself get distracted." Hearing her whine, he shook his head. "A warrior does not whine; you of all people should know that."
Merina nodded. "I know, Father."
With that, Scorpio let her go and she started to go to Heba and Mahad. But, to their shock, Scorpio aimed an arrow at his daughter and let it loose. Caeris did not even flinch and they soon found out why: Merina quickly turned around and stopped the arrow with her small sword. Scorpio smiled and nodded. "Well done, my child."
Merina grinned and went to Heba, who was stunned. She giggled and tapped his head. "Are you awake?"
Heba blinked and nodded. "Yes…sorry. I've just…never seen someone block an arrow like that before."
Merina chuckled and flipped her hair back a little. "I am a Scorpion Warrior. I need to be able to defend myself. So what can I do for you?"
At first, Heba was at a loss for words, both in shock at how nonchalant Merina was about being a warrior and by how pretty she was up close. Seeing this, Mahad cleared his throat, making Heba blurt out, "Thank you for helping me with the bullies!"
Merina blinked in surprise. "With the bullies…?" Putting the pieces together, she was surprised, "You mean that was you?!"
Heba chuckled and scratched the back of his head. "Yes…those guys just took me and Mesu by surprise. I wanted to thank you for helping us out."
Merina smiled and nodded. "You're welcome. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's someone picking on someone else."
Heba nodded and then paused. Now that he got the thanks out, he wanted to say something else, especially since he wanted to get to know Merina as a friend. So he got an idea: "Would you like to come visit me in the palace?"
Mahad looked down at Heba in surprise as Merina's eyes widened. "Really?"
Heba smiled and nodded. Even though he did not expect himself to say that, he could not take it back. Besides, he knew that members of the clan visited the palace every day to work with the guards so he thought that it would be okay. Merina looked up at Caeris and asked, "Can I come with you tomorrow?"
Glad that the prince wanted to be friends with her daughter, Caeris smiled and nodded. "Yes."
Merina smiled as Mahad looked up at the position of the sun and noted, "We must be getting back; the Pharaoh will want you to attend the meeting."
Heba nodded and smiled at Merina. "Well…guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow."
Merina nodded as Mahad and Heba started to leave for their horses. Approaching them, Scorpio asked Caeris what the conversation was and, after getting an answer, smiled and patted his daughter's head. "You should consider yourself lucky: it's not every day that someone gets invited by the crowned prince of Khment."
Merina nodded before looking up into the sky and stretching her arm out. Seconds later, a red phoenix landed on her arm and his eyes sparkled at her. And I, Torru, will accompany you.Merina smiled and scratched his chest, grateful that her chosen phoenix was going to join her.