Return of Friends and Feelings
Suns and moons rise, marking the passage of six years. During that time, the kingdom was hit hard many times: word got around that they were visited by the Scorpion Clan and other kingdoms and tribes attacked Khment in hopes to wipe out the kingdom before Khment invaded them first. Thankfully, the Royal Court with the Kas and the guards' training from the Scorpion Clan helped Khment defend itself. Finally, word got around that what the kingdom got from the Scorpion Clan was merely being used for defense and would not be used for attacking. Because the truth got around, the kingdom, especially the royal children, were able to relax and move on.
Fully grown at eighteen, Heba had experienced a sudden growth spurt that made him as tall as his father, something that the crowned prince greatly enjoyed. The growth spurt and the pep-talk he got from Merina and Harmonia all those years ago helped him gain more self-confidence, enabling him to stand up to Aknadin and continue with his preparations for becoming Pharaoh; Atem even let him govern a few meetings to give him a clear sense of what it was like to be Pharaoh. Heba greatly appreciated that Atem did that and took his lessons with an eager mind and soul, knowing that they would help him when he took the throne; he also kept in mind that Mesu was now a guard and would eventually take Jouno's place as head guard, thus working to protect the kingdom and his friend/eventual Pharaoh. That thought always made Heba happy, especially knowing that Mesu was also protecting their younger siblings.
Thirteen year old Aziza continued with her studies, turning into a child prodigy with her brain storming and problem-solving abilities. Knowing that there was no way she would inherit the throne before her brother, she decided to dedicate her life to giving him advice, jokingly calling herself the Seth to Heba's Atem. Even with her dedication to studies, she still found time to spend time with her family and her friend/study rival, thirteen year old Noa. The young teenager was just as dedicated as Aziza and even challenged her many times to see who would make the best majordomo for Heba, Noa believing he was the best candidate because of who his father was. Nonetheless, the two teenagers had fun with their studies, to the amusement of their parents and older siblings.
A week after the kingdom fully recovered from an attack, Heba woke up and immediately went to Aziza's room once he was dressed. Seeing no one was there, he figured out where she was and went down to the stables. Sure enough, his sister and parents were there: Aziza and an accompanying convoy were about to go on a trip to a neighboring kingdom to study their scrolls since they were scrolls that only existed in said kingdom. As the prince approached, Tima was hugging Aziza, hesitant to let her daughter go. "Are you sure you don't want us to join you?"
Aziza chuckled and nodded. "It's all right, Mother. I won't be gone long."
Tima knew that Aziza only be gone for half a moon cycle but she could not help her feelings. "I know…but it's really hard to let my little girl go!"
Aziza could not help but giggle in the hug. "Oh, Mother…I will always be your little girl."
Tima smiled and nodded, still worrying like every parent does when their child goes on a trip. Seeing this, Atem smiled and touched her shoulder, getting his wife's attention. "She's going to be fine, Tima. Our convoy will stay with her."
Tima nodded and looked down at Aziza. "You must write to us when you get a chance."
Aziza gave Tima a look, believing that she would neither get the chance to write nor that the letters would get to her parents in time. Seeing this, Atem reminded Aziza and Tima, "Remember, Aziza: this is for studies, not for recreation." Off Aziza's nod, he smiled and ruffled her hair with, "But don't get stressed out, okay?"
Aziza smiled and hugged Atem. "Don't worry, Father! I will take my studies seriously as a scholar."
Atem chuckled and nodded. Aziza looked up and saw Heba standing there. The girl smiled softly, knowing that she was going to miss her big brother very much, and went over to hug him. He hugged his little sister and told him, "Be safe, little one."
Aziza looked up at him to give him a pout. "Little one? I'm thirteen."
Heba chuckled and ruffled her hair, loving that he could tease her like this. After a minute of hugging, she pulled back and hugged her parents one more time before getting on her horse. Seeing this, the head of the convoy started to lead them on the journey. Aziza turned around and waved for a few minutes before concentrating on riding her horse. Her family continued to watch her until she and the convoy was out of sight. Seeing Tima's look, Atem hugged her from behind. "She'll be fine…she'll be back before you know it."
Tima nodded with a faraway smile. "I know…but I'm still going to miss her so much; it won't be the same without our Aziza."
Heba smiled and looked in the direction where Aziza left. "At least she's coming back…"
His parents looked at their son and noticed his slightly sad look. They knew what he was hinting at: a year after the Scorpion Clan left, he overheard his parents talking about how the Scorpion Clan never visiting a town twice. Heba was disappointed that he would never see Merina again, even though Atem spent the rest of the day with him and told his son to keep the faith since there was a deep connection between the children. So Tima smiled and nodded. "You're right…everyone returns in the end."
Heba smiled softly, knowing that his parents were hinting at more than just Aziza. He and his parents then turned to go back to their rooms to relax for a while before the daily meeting and, as soon as they were inside from the sun, they ran into Seth and Mesu. Seth opened with, "Pharaoh, there is a group approaching us from the desert wilderness."
Atem pulled away from Tima, already on edge. "Hostile or friendly?"
Seth smirked and looked at Mesu, who grinned an all-knowing smile. "Friendly, all right. In fact…" he looked at Heba before continuing, "…they're flying a flag with a scorpion on it."
Heba's eyes immediately widened. There was only one clan he knew about that had a flag with a scorpion. Could it be…? Before his parents could say anything, the crowned prince took off to find a balcony. Finding one facing the desert, he ran to the edge and strained his eyes to see the clan approaching. While he could not recognize anyone from the distance, he could see that the flag did indeed have a scorpion on it. Smiling brightly, he took off to meet them at the palace gates. Feeling the breeze that Heba's rushed exit made, Atem smiled at his wife. "It seems they've returned." Tima nodded with a smile.
At the palace gates, Heba waited impatiently. While he was happy that the Scorpion Clan had returned, especially since this would be the first time they had ever returned to a city, the crowned prince was more excited about seeing Merina again. After his friend left, he had thought about her constantly, wondering how she was and what she was seeing in her travels. Because of her owning his thoughts, he soon started to feel more than just friendship towards her, a revelation that he kept to himself because of the fact that he would probably never see her again. Now that she was back…his thoughts were interrupted by the arrival the royal couple and Royal Court and Atem telling the guards to open the gate. When the gate opened, three horses entered.
Scorpio was on the center horse and, when Scorpio jumped down from his horse, Heba mentally shrunk back, being reminded about how big and muscular the head of the clan was. Because he was too busy looking for Merina, he did not notice but everyone else did notice that Caeris was not present. Instead, Harmonia was to the left of Scorpio, still playful and muscular looking as ever; but what was surprising was that she was sharing her horse with a handsome man with platinum blond hair and tan skin wearing leather shorts and an open leather vest and who had a shining aura of arrogance and self-confidence. As the two got off their horse, Heba then looked at the horse to the right of Scorpio and blushed deeply. He knew that Merina would grow up but what he saw was even better than he expected: this Merina was a full-fledged woman.
Eighteen as well, Merina jumped down from her horse and stood up straight next to her father. Armed with a sword at her side, a bow behind her back, and Torru on her shoulder, she was wearing a leather-tight armor top that showed her slim belly button, leather-tight skirt with shin-guards on her legs, and strap up sandals. Her golden hair was pulled back in a braid but still shimmered in the sunlight. As Heba stared, the four got down on one knee before the royal couple and Scorpio spoke. "My Pharaoh and Queen…it is an honor to be in your presences once more. The Winds of Fate have caused my clan to return to Khment and we humbly ask to stay once again."
Seth first spoke up: "Where is the rest of the clan?"
As Scorpio explained that they were by the Nile to rest and set up camp, Atem and Tima looked at Merina and what she was wearing on her forehead; if she was wearing that, something must have been wrong. But they correctly assumed that it was a touchy subject so they turned back to Scorpio and Atem spoke up. "The Winds of Fate always have a reason to blow a certain direction."
Agreeing, Tima added, "Rise, please. It has been too long since we all have seen each other."
The four rose to their feet and the blond man put his arm around Harmonia, causing Tima to smile. "Would you like to introduce us, Harmonia?"
Harmonia chuckled a little and brushed her hair back behind her ear. "Pharaoh, Queen…this is Leander…my husband."
Leander smirked with pride, a smirk that widened to an amused grin when Heba put two and two together and said without thinking, "So the blond show-off you told me about all those years ago finally defeated you?"
Atem and Tima gave him warning looks for saying such a thing. Heba immediately blushed and looked guilty, thinking he crossed the line. But, to his relief, Harmonia laughed and nodded. "Yes. He cheated but it was a defeat nonetheless."
Leander looked at her with a small chuckle with subconsciously rubbing his side. While they were blended in with his tan skin, there were some marks on his side from old bruised ribs. "All's fair in love and war, Harmonia."
Harmonia chuckled and gave him a playful look, making Heba feel a little jealous. It was clear that the Amazoness did have feelings for him and that was something that the crowned prince wanted to have with Merina. With that thought, he looked at his parents and ask, "Can I take Merina to the gardens for a while?"
Tima chuckled. "Well, that is up to Merina."
Seizing this opportunity, Scorpio asked, "If I may, my Pharaoh, I would like to talk to you and the court about something in private. Is that at all possible?"
Assuming that Scorpio was going to offer his services to be their personal warriors again but wanting to give him a chance, Atem nodded so he and the rest of the Royal Court started to lead the three adults back inside. Merina and Torru stayed behind and she smiled at Heba. "It's been a long time, Heba."
Still stunned by how beautiful the blond was, the crowned prince just nodded and started to lead them to the gardens. He felt like an idiot for not being able to say anything to her; he hoped that he would eventually be able to open more when they got to the gardens. Once they were there, Merina smiled brightly and looked around. "Wow…it's even more beautiful than the last time."
Heba nodded, focusing all his attention on Merina. Even if it was braided, he could tell that her golden hair was curly like Caeris'. Her skin seemed to shine in the sun, as light as ever without a hint of sunburn. Her lavender eyes shined with delight as she looked at the flowers and plants. But what excited him the most was that he could see that she had a wonderful hourglass figure. He wanted to compliment her about how she looked but she got his attention by squealing at the roses. "I missed these! It's so rare to find roses in our travels."
Heba smiled and stood next to Merina. "Yes, I have heard that. Would you like to take a few to your Mother?"
Merina's face fell, prompting Torru to nuzzle her cheek. Heba got worried and went to her other side to look at her. "Merina? What's wrong? Did I say something wrong?"
Merina peeked at Heba and that's when he finally noticed what was against Merina's forehead: Caeris' leather tiara with the metal scorpion. Kicking himself for not noticing it sooner, he opened his mouth to apologize when Merina suddenly ran off, leaving Torru behind. He tried to grab her but Torru landed on his arm and looked at him. Did you not notice that Caeris was not among the four that came?
Heba felt really bad that he had a moment of childish naïveté. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at the phoenix. "If I may…what happened to Caeris? Or should I ask Merina about that?"
Torru thought for a moment and decided to give him a little information. She died three winters ago. Merina can tell you the rest.
Heba felt really bad that Merina lost her mother and then he did not notice Caeris' absence, especially since he remembered how Merina's parents were joined at the hip last time they were in Khment. Wanting to make things right, he asked the phoenix, "Where is Merina now?"
Torru closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to find her. He then looked at Heba. A place of life where she can use her arrow to take some of that life.
As Torru flew off to find his guardian, Heba started to think about what Torru meant. He then remembered: the place of life for Khment was the Nile river.
Taking Tarra with him for protection (and for privacy since he knew that guards would surround him), Heba rode his horse Resheph down to the Nile. He found the Scorpion Clan and circled the camp to find her. At first, he did not see her but he then ran into Razmig, the same man who tried to deny him and Mahad passage into the camp all those years ago. Heba immediately tensed up as Razmig asked, "What are you doing here?"
Heba kept his guard up but he still told Razmig, "I am looking for Merina. I was told by Torru that she would be by the river."
Heba then started to regret that he told the warrior that Torru, the phoenix, told him where the heir to the Clan was. But, to his surprise, Razmig smirked with amusement and pointed to a couple of boulders. "She and her phoenix are there, practicing her bow and arrows."
Heba blinked a little in surprise that Razmig seemed to accept that Torru was the one who told the crowned prince. As Heba started to guide Resheph to the boulders, Tarra suggested, Maybe Scorpio explained to the clan how Torru is with Merina.
Heba shrugged a little as he stopped Resheph and got off him. He looked up and saw Merina, her back to him, knotting an arrow on her bow and pulling the bowstring back. The prince waited for her to let the arrow go but she stayed still, as if waiting for a target. After a moment, Torru swooped down and scooped up a fish from the river. The phoenix rose high into the sky and then dropped the fish. Tarra was very tempted to fly over and catch the fish but she was glad she stayed still: Merina shot off her arrow and the arrow hit the fish. Heba was very impressive and decided to make his present known to her by the compliment: "You're an excellent archer."
Merina jumped and aimed her arrow at him, making him jump. But she recognized him and lowered her arrow. "You're lucky I hesitated."
Heba took a deep breath before he climbed up and looked at her. "Yes…thank you for that."
Merina nodded and got the fish and arrow back from Torru. "Forgive me for running off like that…"
Heba shook his head. "No, it's my fault…I'm sorry I brought up your mother. I should have noticed that she was not there…"
Merina did not say a word as she gave back the arrow and fish to Torru. As Torru and Tarra eat the fish off in the corner, the blond sat down and looked out at the river. As Heba sat next to her, she started to open up: "It all happened so fast…" Hearing the sadness in her voice, Heba took a chance and touched her hand as she continued. "My mom was a strong woman…face a lot of things during her life, especially after she married my father…to think…a sickness making her weak…and that damn Amazon stubbornness…"
Heba felt her hand start to tremble; whether it was from anger or sadness, he did not know. Taking a chance, he scooted closer to her. "What happened, Merina?"
Merina sniffled before speaking again. Three years ago, Caeris was hit with a high fever. The clan tried to reach a town to find healing herbs since what they had could not combat the fever. However, just before they came to the town, they came across a tribe of horsemen barbarians and Scorpio caught the eye of the leader's sister, especially when Scorpio turned her down by stating he already had a wife. According to the barbarian's tradition, the barbarian woman had to kill Caeris to claim Scorpio as her own. Knowing how sick her mother was, Merina took up the challenge but, because of how vicious the barbarian woman was, the fifteen-year-old was almost defeated until Caeris revealed herself. Scorpio and Merina tried to talk Caeris out of it, especially since she had trouble standing, but the Amazon still took up weapons to defend her family's honor. It was mostly a one-sided fight with the barbarian woman dominating the fight but Caeris won in the end by summoning the last of her strength to kick the barbarian woman in the temple and then spear her with a nearby spear before the barbarian woman could recover. Sadly, however, the fever, fight, and cuts she received during the fight drained her of her energy and she died moments later in Scorpio's arms. After Merina finished talking, she became aware of the tears going down her face. Remembering that she was both a Scorpion warrior and half Amazon, she looked away to keep a tough face. Seeing this, Heba gently took her chin and made her look at him. "I'm sorry…if it helps…you have my permission to cry in front of me."
As if she was waiting for those words, Merina started to cry and Heba quickly held her to give her support. As she cried, she started to babble about how Caeris' death was not fair, how Merina was not ready to take her Mother's place as second in command, and how she would always have an empty hole in her heart. Heba listened to her while still trying to soothe her in any way he could, rubbing her back, holding, and rocking her a few times: he could almost feel half of Merina's burden being placed on his shoulders. When she finally calmed down, she pulled back to look at him with her tear-stained eyes. "I'm sorry…I…"
Heba smiled sadly and wiped away her tears. "Don't be…you can tell me anything you want."
Merina smiled and continued to let him hold her. Deep down, she understood why Caeris fought back and was a little embarrassed that her emotions made her temporarily forget that. Torru and Tarra watched the two and Tarra started to wonder if Heba would take this chance to tell Merina his feelings. After a moment, Heba found himself saying something that no one, not even Heba himself, expected him to say: "You know…while I can never completely fill the hole in your heart that your mother used to fill…I would like to try."
Merina looked at Heba in surprise. That's when she started to notice how much Heba had grown since the last time she saw him. He still had his boyish-looks but his eyes were different: they were still innocent but they were now filled also with determination and courage. Heba blushed a little and looked down to recover. That's when he finally noticed, "Is that…?"
Merina looked down at her hand and chuckled. It was the same ring that Heba made her but she did not blame him for not recognizing it at first since the ink had faded because it was not done by the jeweler. Blushing a little herself, she admitted, "I've never taken it off."
Heba looked at her and decided to take another chance: "Just like I've never stopped thinking about you."
Merina smiled a little and found herself learning a little towards him. Seeing this, Heba leaned forward and kissed her gently. They would have deepened the kiss if Tarra had not said, Forgive me for interrupting but I sense that your parents want you to return to attend the meeting.
Heba groaned a little but he knew that Atem had the last word, especially since the Pharaoh knew Heba and Tarra went. Pulling back, he explained, "Sorry…one of the bad things about being prince: you get interrupted by your duties."
Merina giggled and brushed her hair behind her ear. "I understand. At least we're going to be staying here for a while so we'll be seeing more of each other."
Heba smiled and blurted out, "Maybe you can stay behind and be my princess."
Merina looked at him in surprise. Blushing bright red, Heba stumbled down the boulders and got on Resheph before riding off with a laughing Tarra following. Torru flew over to Merina's shoulder and asked, So what was that all about?
With a blush starting to form on his face, Merina stated, "If I didn't know better…I think I just got proposed to."
A week later, Heba woke up with his mind spinning. While he was very happy to have Merina back, the two young adults assumed that they would be separated again; because of that, Heba would always blurt out that he wanted Merina as his princess. Deep down, he wondered if he was rushing this because he knew the clan would eventually leave again; he did not want to seem desperate nor did he want to make Merina stay against her will so he never elaborated on what he wanted. Even so, he believed that there was a part of Merina that wanted to stay as well since she enjoyed the kisses that they shared and would hang out with Heba in the palace from sunup until sundown. He and Merina knew that Aknadin hated the assassin clan had returned and that the "half-breed prince" was getting close with a "killing mongrel" but Heba made it clear to the priest that he needed to stay away from the prince and his special girl. Remembering how Merina tackle-hugged him for standing up to Aknadin, Heba chuckled and started to dress before heading to the throne room.
When he arrived, he was happy to see that Merina was there but he was also surprised that Scorpio, Leander, and Harmonia were there as well and Scorpio was currently engaged with a conversation with the Royal Court and Atem especially. Bowing to his father, Heba went to Merina and whispered, "What's going on?"
Merina smiled brightly and took Heba's hand. "The prophecy is true."
Heba tilted his head in confusion until Harmonia whispered, "An oracle we met told us that there would be a city that we would visit twice and that city would become our permanent home."
Heba's eyes widened as he looked at Merina. "Does that mean…?"
Overhearing, Scorpio looked at the prince with a smile and a nod. Atem took Tima's hand and told the young adults, "After a long conversation and consideration, we have decided to open the gates of Khment to the Scorpion clan."
Scorpio added, "After endless years of looking for a new home, I am proud to say that we finally have a new home."
Temporarily forgetting himself, Heba hugged Merina tightly. Seeing this, Leander told Harmonia a little louder, "Looks like we have to stay now, considering that those two are engaged."
Heba and Merina froze, both faces bright red. Atem smirked with amusement. "Oh, really, Heba? When were you going to tell your parents that you found your princess?"
Tima giggled a little. "We are very happy for you, especially since your soon-to-be queen is your special friend."
Very embarrassed by his parents' teasing, Heba spluttered, "Hang on a minute! I have not officially asked her to marry me yet!"
While she noted that he said "yet," Merina agreed. "Yes, he has not defeated me in battle yet."
That's when Harmonia and Leander snickered together. Catching everyone's eye, Leander teased, "If we're talking about defeats, then technically, you two became engaged when you were twelve."
Merina and Heba were about to protest when Harmonia pointed out, "Games are still battles."
Merina and Heba looked at each other in surprise as Scorpio added with a chuckle, "I never thought we would come to the day when I would let my daughter go with the one she loves."
Atem added, "Well, since my son has a suitor and your clan has decided to stay here, this calls for a celebration."
Seeing that they were getting nowhere with their parents, Merina and Heba left. Blushing a little, Merina admitted, "I can't believe it! They're talking about us getting married and we haven't even had a proper engagement fight!
Heba blurted out, "Well, when can we have one?" He then covered his mouth with a big blush on his face. "I mean…that is…"
Merina looked at Heba with wide eyes. "Heba…you want one?"
Heba hesitated a little before nodding. "Yes…but I don't want to rush this. I want to get to know you again and have this romance grow."
Merina felt touched by his words. She knew that, as prince, Heba could easily have her marry him that night but he was taking the gentleman approach, wanting to have their relationship grow so that their marriage could have solid ground underneath it. Smiling, she kissed his cheek, making him blush even more. "Just name the time and place."
Heba smiled at that but he ended up blushing again when Mesu, who was passing by with Noa, saw them and whispered loudly to his young brother, "Now that Merina is back, get ready to hear a lot of loud noises coming from Heba's room late at night."
Noa laughed, especially as Heba tried to give chase to a laughing Mesu. Shaking her head in amusement, Merina said to Noa, "I see he hasn't changed." Noa shook his head in response.
Later that night, every member of the Scorpion Clan, the Royal Court, and the royal family was in the throne room, celebrating both the Scorpion Clan settling into Khment and Heba and Merina's "engagement." The two young adults wanted to explain that they were not officially engaged but no one paid any attention to them. Eventually, Heba gave up and looked at Merina, really enjoying her dress. Strapless and backless, the skirt was brown and had splits on the sides to show her legs (and the daggers she had strapped to her thighs) and the top part was leather with a gold embroidery design. She even wore her hair down, revealing that her hair reached down to her bottom, and Tikali helped her put on simple make-up. Both Heba and Scorpio knew that she was a reflection of her mother but were careful to not tell her, especially since the dress was Caeris'. Seeing Merina laughing and having a good time with Tikali and her two sons, Scorpio went to Heba and pointed out, "I have not seen her smile and laugh like that in a long time."
Heba looked at Scorpio and tenderly asked, "Ever since her mother died? My apologies, by the way."
Scorpio smiled sadly and nodded. "Yes…that was a rough time for everyone."
Heba nodded, thinking how broken up he would be if something were to happen to Tima. Wanting to both get on a lighter subject and get something out of the way, the prince said, "You know…everyone is congratulating Merina and I about our engagement…"
Scorpio chuckled and sat next to the prince. "It's all in good fun."
Heba looked Scorpio dead in the eyes, wanting to show that he was serious. "Good fun or not, I do want to marry Merina and make her my princess and eventual Queen."
Scorpio stared back at Heba. "Have you told her this?"
Heba nodded. "Yes, I have…and I also told her that I want to take my time. The last thing I want to do is rush into marriage because that's not how strong marriages work. So…in six moons time, I will challenge your daughter to a fight and, when I win, I will take her for my wife."
Heba thought that six months was a good length of time because he that there was a six month gap between when his parents met and when they told everyone that they were a couple. Scorpio could tell that Heba was being serious; the head of the Scorpion Clan could also tell that Heba was no longer the scared little boy he met all those years ago. So he slapped Heba on the back, almost knocking the wind out of the smaller male, and said, "Nothing would please me more than to give you my daughter."
Heba smiled and looked at Merina, who caught his eye and waved at him, only to yell at Mesu who could not resist the chance to tease her. Thanking Scorpio, the prince went to the Pharaoh, who immediately asked, "So are you getting married next harvest?"
Heba blushed deeply. "Father! I will challenge Merina to a fight in six moons and gain her hand in marriage that way."
Tima noted that Heba wanted to ask Merina for her hand in marriage with Merina's custom and thought that was a lovely gesture. "I'm sure Merina will make you very happy."
Heba smiled, a smile that widened when Atem said, "I am happy for you, my son. Happy that you found someone who makes you as happy as your Mother makes me…and happy with the knowledge that Khment will have two wonderful people looking after it when Tima and I step down."
Heba smiled and looked at Merina. He agreed with Atem and hoped that the next six months would be heaven for him. Little did anyone in the palace know that their end was drawing close and it all started with an evil voice ringing in an old enemy's head.The time is now…