The next day was like a remake of the rehearsal, with ten times the pomp of before. Thousands of the people of the kingdom crammed themselves in the squares and streets. Carriages and parades whizzed by, not that the four men were paying attention. The two Údaens had to hide themselves under leather jerkins and hoods to shadow their dark faces; an ongoing war tore the two nations apart, and to see the face of a strange Údaen on a special occasion would rouse the crowds with suspicion and contempt.
This time, their suspicion would have been understandable.
Arlo played with his toy soldier souvenir across Chance’s shoulders, much to his chagrin. Nóe and Breixo waited in the alleys, cloaked in sapphire capes. Breixo had been able to steal two silver-hilted Solitary Corps swords, which he admired as they stood in silence in the dark of the deserted alleyway. The hilt was designed intricately like an eagle, with feathers etched in by some artisan. He wouldn’t have been surprised if the swordmaster used magic to craft it. Beyond the hilt, it was a perfectly balanced blade pounded to a thin but strong sheet of sharp iron. The crossguard was embellished with two even diamond-cut sapphires laden with gold.
He wished that his people could craft a blade like this one.
“When will Chance call us?” Nóe inquired as he sheathed his new longsword.
Breixo’s gazed shifted to his little brother, who seemed to grow restless. Sweat glistened off of his dark face. The elder could understand; it had to be hot enough to boil an egg on the cobblestones and yet they had to wear cloaks and the black leather uniform of a Solitary.
“He’s not,” Breixo replied shortly. “To clarify, we’re the ones going in. He and Arlo should stay out and terfysg. Let the elites do their job and let the countrymen do theirs.”
Nóe nodded slowly. “Understood, brother.”
“You can walk on your own,” hissed Chance as he wove his way through the crowd. He hefted Arlo on his back, and the boy practically choked him to death with his thin arms.
“An’ be trampled by these well-wishers?” He was slapped on the head by a hard, thin hand. “You’s not so full of ideas ‘till it comes t’your ‘nper’lleled strat’gies!”
“‘Unparalleled strategies’,” sighed Chance. Forgetting that his face was right there, Arlo started playing with his soldier. “Will you please put that toy soldier down!” He grabbed Arlo’s new toy and stuffed it in his pocket.
The small boy whined and tried snatching it out of his companion’s jerkin, but Chance was stronger and faster.
“Do you want me to drop you?” the older one growled.
Soon enough the royal parade, the main attraction, started. Chance let go of Arlo and the two dove into the crowd and made it to the front, just under the highest terrace, where the coronation would take place. Chance studied the walls.
The were rough stones pearled and polished until they looked majestic. Like any military keep, the stones were wide set and made great footholds. Vines crawled upwards and bloomed into lush greenery on the terrace. This would be effortless. Plus, everyone’s attention would be on the parade, and not on him.
Two ffyrch to finish this job, he thought with a sigh. This is either suicide or close to it.
He glanced at Arlo, who split from his side and migrated to the other end of the wide castle doors. The boy glanced at him and nodded.
Chance leaped onto the wall and began to climb.
Caislín felt significantly better until Sa’di told her that the procession would start with her in a litter. Hoping she wasn’t complaining, she had asked casually if there was a way she could either ride a horse, or better yet, walk? Sa’di had shaken his head apologetically and said one word:
Her least favorite word. It brought a scowl to her face and a sour taste to her tongue.
It wasn’t that she hated being royal; she found all the good things she could do for the poor were through her high rank. Being royalty meant that either way, the lives in her rule mattered and that she had to make their lives better. Now that it wasn’t just a hope and dream but also a privilege, she decided that yes, being royalty was a very good thing.
The thing she hated about royalty was the privilege of riding in a litter.
Caislín fidgeted and massaged her stomach as she was processed through the cheering crowds. Ahead of her rode the Solitary Corps, which had doubled into half an army since that fateful attack two years ago on the Destrean border. The Midnight Company rode ahead of her litter, their deep sapphire cloaks concealing them. All of their horses were either dappled or black to blend in on missions.
How I wish you were here, my commander, she thought. She pictured his dappled grey stallion, his cloak, his smirk… She shook her head to clear it. She had to survive this procession, given this was the real one.
The princess took in a deep sigh and smiled for her people.
“It’s like a happy funeral,” mumbled Breixo to Nóe as they rode in front of the litter on two dead black stallions that their master had procured for them. They entered the procession and were able to blend in with the rest of the Solitary. “Look at all the lilies.”
One custom that divided Úda and Destrea was that the fair-faced flung the white buds on happy occasions, while the sand-roamers solemnly dropped them on tombs on days such as funerals or days of honoring the past lives.
Nóe smirked at his brother and sighed. “These stallions are as slow as camels. Where did the speed and sand-kicking go? No Údaen stallions for us?”
“Better keep your voice lower, Nóe,” Breixo warned as he faced forward.
Breixo felt the plan was running smoothly as he and his brother slowly inched their way through the crowds, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, towards the castle. That is, he felt it was running smoothly until he glanced at the palace walls.
“Raqib,” he mumbled almost instinctively in Údaen. He squinted and made out Chance, halfway up the keep’s inner wall. He was climbing at a constant and swift pace, swinging from footholds to the vines and vice versa. “Nóe, check Arlo.”
Nóe turned his head the other way and sighed. “He’s there, too.”
Breixo ground his teeth and his brow knitted itself dangerously. “I’ll kill him,” he growled. “We’ll see who gets there first.”
Chance was the one known for strategy. Breixo, their leader, never wanted to admit it, but the rest of them had at one point. Even Lord Crofton, their employer, extolled his military-like attack forms. The Údaen members were talented with exotic practices such as hand-to-hand and hypnosis, no one could act nearly as well as Arlo - who claimed he ran away from a troupe before they found him - and Chance had his strategy.
And his head was telling him Breixo and Nóe were setting themselves up in a trap.
He made it to the terrace unseen and stole into the throne room, where the official coronation was going to be before Her Highness was presented to her people as queen on the high balcony. Arlo was right behind him and took the other side.
Half the Midnight Company will come in with Her Highness, the King, and that Údaen slave. That might be a problem…
He was worried that he wasn’t worried about that. He had no fear of the Solitary, knowing he could best them if he needed to. This company was comprised of Novices; no more than youths who started their studies. It would be child’s play for a man like him. However, he had a thing against doing the dirty work. He preferred leaving the fighting to Nóe and Breixo.
Nevertheless, he knew how to counter.
“Arlo,” hissed Chance. “Cover the door. The crown bearer will come through first, followed by half the Midnight. Then the Princess. We only want the crown, but if that bearer is little more than a child, you can take him.”
“Where’re you goin’?” whined Arlo.
Chance hesitated. “I’m the strategist, not the fighter.”
Caislín was finally freed of her litter and she met with her father at the doors into the castle. He took her hand and they entered.
The princess and the kind were divided and flanked by quarters of the Midnight Company: one quarter in front of each, one quarter behind each. Two wings separated the ballroom, which they entered, but both reached the throne room. The crown bearer, Caislín, and her half of the Company went up the right wing and ascended a flight of stairs to be welcomed by the door that led to the throne room. One hooded Solitary opened the door. The crown bearer took one step in and screamed.
Caislín’s heart stopped at the sound and stepped backwards. She caught under her slippered foot the hem of her gown, and she fell. Screaming, she was caught by two strong arms. She was about to thank the Solitary before he forced her arms behind her back in a painful lock. They whipped into action and were about to attack the rogue, until he raised a dagger to her throat.
“Arlo, you’re crazy!” snapped the Údaen, who was disguised as a Solitary.
The crown bearer scurried to join the poised and ready Solitary and hid behind them. A boy with fiery red hair joined the princess’ assailant, wearing the tiara playfully. “I ain’t crazy,” he giggled. “I’s mo’ enjoyin’ my fun.”
“Let go of the princess,” growled the captain. “We will attack on the defensive if you don’t.”
The Údaen, a man crossing from youth to maturity, laughed with disbelief. “You think I’m afraid of your attacking me?” He glanced down at his companion. “Ar, where’s Chance?”
An Údaen curse burned the terrorist’s lips. “Get out with the crown. Two ffyrch is worth this trouble.” He brought the dagger closer to Caislín’s chin. She let out a start and tried to hide from it. Arlo shrugged and safely crawled out of the Solitaries and hopped down the rest of the stairs, swinging the tiara carelessly. The other flight, which had the same trouble, was disrupted by a battle. To Caislín’s remorse, the terrorist won and migrated over to discourage the Solitaries from escaping.
“Who hired you?” she demanded. “Ilyas? Bahij?”
“Try shutting your mouth,” he hissed.
Caislín stared at the Solitary, who desperately glanced from her to the terrorist. She could hear minds screaming and consciences burning.
“I’m going to count to three and you’d better have surrendered,” spat the Údaen. “Un…”
The Solitary didn’t move.
“Dadi, help!” screamed Caislín.
The Solitaries slowly dropped their weapons, seeing no way out of this. They raised their hands above their heads. The other Údaen from the opposite wing, also disguised as a soldier, forced them to keep their hands behind their heads. The boy with the crown, Arlo, snatched up their weapons.
“Casey!” The king struggled over, holding his side.
Caislín caught her breath. “Dadi, are you all right?”
“Silence!” barked Caislín’s captor. “Nóe, tie them up. Ar, give the crown to me and find Chance.”
Arlo did as he was told and sprinted down the flight of stairs. Nóe, the other Údaen, complied and had the Solitaries in bonds. The king, who protested, was beaten down by Nóe and was bound with the rest. Screams of protest and horror left Caislín, seeing her father treated so harshly. The king looked weary and hurt badly. Tears accumulated in her eyes and burned her throat.
The leader twirled the crown in his free hand, admiring it from all sides.
“The Destreans know how to craft,” he stated, mostly to himself. “Let’s go.”
He used Caislín as a shield as he descended the stairs, made it to the backway servant’s exit, and ordered Nóe to go through first. After the Údaen snuck out quickly, the leader pushed Caislín forward and closed the door behind him.
Caislín yelped and caught herself on her hands and knees. Her dress and hair were ruined, but she couldn’t care about that.
“Dadi!” she screamed, running towards him. She clawed at the bonds until they came loose enough for the Solitaries to escape, their shame showing in their visages. However, the king was too injured to do anything.
“Sa’di!” roared Breixo as he tore off his cloak’s hood. “We’re successful.”
The old servant distastefully sighed as he met up with Nóe and Breixo. The elder held up the crown and presented it to him.
“I have a feeling you’re going to cut me out,” he growled. “Two ffyrch is hard to split between five people, is it not?”
Breixo rolled his eyes. “Ten dauffyrch for each of us, that’s not hard.”
Still, Sa’di was skeptical. “I’m not turning my back on you, Hashim Al-Izz.”
Breixo squinted. It had been forever since he was called by his true name. ‘Breixo’ was his name after he travelled to Destrea, but back home in Úda, he and his brother were known under their father’s name: Al-Izz. Nóe’s true name was Miraj.
“You don’t have to,” Nóe snapped, snatching back the crown. “We need to get back with everyone if we’re even thinking about getting our payment.”
Breixo’s thoughts were roused. “Chance,” he hissed through gritted teeth. “I’ll kill him!”
This is still the nation reminiscent of the Middle East/Africa, but I meant to put the accent on beforehand. Now, the people and the nation have the accent over the 'u'.