Authors: Ashley Nemer
Zahle, Lebanon 500 A.D.
faf, please go get Ikram. I need to perform the ceremony before…” King Hashim started to cough up blood while speaking. “…before I die.”
Queen Afaf took her husband’s hand and brought it to her lips. She placed a soft kiss on his rough skin before rising to get their bent. The king knew his minutes were numbered and that he must declare his successor. His bent’s heart was pure as gold, her will strong as nails. She never wanted anything more than she earned and never took from others. His ebn’, Haydar, however, was power hungry and aggressive. Haydar would bleed the people dry if it meant more money and power for him. His greedy appetite was never sated.
“Abb, abb.” He heard his beautiful bent as she came running through the threshold of the room. Ikram, his pride and joy, held everything he could have wanted in a successor. Her eyes turned the purest shade of green as she let her emotion work up. She was always generous with her love and righteous in her decisions. She was the best child an abb could have. Hashim placed his hand on her face, wiping the tears away. Her beautiful brown hair was shimmering in the light, “Ikram, my bent, it’s time, we must perform the crowning.”
She blinked away the tears that formed in her eyes. As she shook her head she said, “No, you can’t die, not yet. We still need you and there is so much to do.”
“I raised you right; you are ready to take on this responsibility. You are the best heir I could have asked for. The people love you and you love them. You will be a great ruler, far better than I.”
Queen Afaf walked into the room a few moments later; she was carrying something Ikram didn’t recognize. It was a red cloth package that she handed to King Hashim who placed it in his lap. “Ikram, it’s time. Please kneel before me.”
She stood, straightened her dress, wiped the tears from her eyes, and looked to her omm. Queen Afaf beamed proudly at her bent and gave her an approving nod. She realized this would be the last time she was a princess. She was going to be taking on the responsibility of the world.
Ikram bowed her head and dropped her right knee to the ground. She placed her right hand on her left knee and her left hand across her heart.
“Do you, Ikram Khaled, promise to Honor, Protect, and Serve the Algula people to the best of your ability?”
“I do, your highness.”
“Do you, Ikram Khaled, promise to be loyal to them above all others?
“I do, your highness.”
“Do you, Ikram Khaled, promise to rule with integrity and respect, for yourself and those around you?”
“I do, your highness.”
King Hashim removed the red cloth and took the crown out. It was decorated with diamonds and emeralds. The green was the same shade as her eyes. He held the crown above her head and said, “By the power I hold, I turn over my rights as King. I willingly give it to you, Ikram, my bent.” He placed the crown on her head. She looked up at him. She took his hand and brought it to her lips, kissing his royal crest one last time.
“Thank you, abb,” Ikram whispered.
“Queen Ikram, I know you will do me proud.”
She slowly began to stand while her abb laid back in his bed and coughed some more. Afaf, now the Queen Omm, came and sat on the bed next to him. She placed their hands together and softly started to sing to him a calming melody. The two women stayed there, stroking their king’s arms, loving him during his final moments.
Breaking the serenity of the moment, the bedchamber doors burst open. The peaceful serenity the women had created turned ice cold. Haydar looked at his family, his okht wearing
“Her, you gave it to her!” he shouted. “How could you not even tell me? This is wrong. You, cheated me out of my throne. She is NOT the heir… I AM!”
“Haydar, please calm down. Your baba is dying and he needs his family, all of his family, here to see him off,” the Queen Omm told her ebn’. Haydar walked to the bed and stared his abb in the eyes. “I hate you and I hate everything you are. You let the idiot humans control us. WE are the stronger race and WE deserve to rule this world. I hope you burn!” The women gasped, “HAYDAR!” at the same time. Hashim raised his hands to silence everyone.
“Haydar, my ebn’, I know you feel slighted, and I know you are hurting. The Crown and all of its responsibilities belongs to your okht; she is your queen now. It’s that attitude you possess right there; it’s the reason you could never be a successful leader of our people. You are selfish and greedy. Now, I expect you to honor my dying declaration. You will fight for your okht, and you will be a loyal subject. You are the Prince, and that’s what princes do.”
Haydar gazed at the three of them in the room. His eyes turned crystalline violet in color, and anger flushed his face red. Standing, he looked to his okht. “Ikram, I denounce you. You are not my Queen, you are not my okht… you are nothing. From this moment on, we are enemies, and I will not rest until I am the rightful ruler.” Haydar turns his back to his family and stormed out. Afaf wiped away the tears rolling down her cheeks. She felt her heart breaking.
“Ikram, you must be strong, you must be cunning, and you must never let him become ruler.” Hashim choked out his last words while slowly passing on. Afaf and Ikram lay on his chest, both crying. Abb, husband…king, gone from this world, leaving their house divided.
he sat back in the booth, watching the groups of people as they came and went. This was what she enjoyed, observing the different behaviors. The whole concept fascinated her. No one ever acted the same as their neighbor. The best part of this night was that it was the eve before her test. She’d finally convinced her akh, King Zayn, that she was able to fight in their military alongside him. He’d always had this foolish notion that she would be hurt, killed, or worse, captured. He worried too much. She was a warrior by blood and training, come tomorrow she would prove that to him.
“Hey Nikole, can I get you another?” she heard a familiar voice ask. Glancing over to him and smiling, her tongue licking the inside of her teeth, as was her habit when he was around her.
“Hey Kevin, yeah, I think I will. Nice crowd of people here tonight. I like that they’re keeping you busy.”
Kevin regarded the crowd and smiled. “Yeah the club is finally picking up and holding strong. You and Adara helped make that happen. Hey, where is she?”
Nikole shrugged. “I felt like being alone tonight. Tomorrow’s the big day, and I just wanted to come for a few hours and relax, clear my mind.”
“Alright, well enjoy your night, and I’ll make sure no one bothers you. Break a leg tomorrow. You know where to find me if you’re hungry later or need anything.” He gave her a smile as he walked off.
She watched him go back to the bar while she finished off her drink. A waiter brought her another one while she slowly perused the crowd. She saw a man off in the distance that caught her eye, tall, dark hair, olive skin. Normally, that would’ve been just her type of guy. Tonight however, she was not looking for a chase. Finishing her second drink, she decided it would be best to head home. “Gotta prove Zayn wrong,” she thought, “I’m capable of thinking rationally and without emotion, like a soldier.”
She started to leave when she felt someone touch her arm. She turned around and saw it was the guy she’d just been thinking about.
“Hey there, can I buy you a drink?” he asked with little formality.
“No thanks, I’m leaving. Maybe some other time.” As she smiled to him she realized that he was not just a man, but an Algula. One of her subjects, this made her body cool instantly. Feeling less alarmed she turned and walked out the door to go home.
She lay in her bed that night, thinking of all the different ways Zayn used to tease her when they were growing up. Hell, who was she kidding? They still fought like they were kids. Why he thought she couldn’t protect herself, she didn’t understand. She had the same training he did! If it hadn’t been for that one time, this wouldn’t even be an issue. She closed her eyes and fell asleep. She dreamt about that moment she’d really messed up.
“Nikole, no!!” Zayn yelled as she fell from the ledge. Running, he tried to grab her hand as she gripped the side of the mountain. “What the hell are you doing? You are going to get yourself killed!”
“Shut up, Zayn, and just help me up. Gods, you always complain. I’m fine see? Just hanging around!”
Zayn pulled her away from the edge of the mountain. “What were you thinking, chasing after that man? You don’t know the terrain... you WERE going to get yourself killed!”
“I was not, I just lost my footing, that’s all, and it can happen to anyone. I’m not dead, and I would have been fine even if YOU hadn’t shown up. You cannot control me the entire time, akh. You have to let me fight my own battles.”
He shook his head at her. “Absolutely not. You will not be fighting any battles. You’re to stay a princess; you will never be in the military.”
She punched him in the shoulder, angry with him for making such a statement. “How can you do that? You know I am meant for more than just being a princess!”
Zayn grabbed her by the arms. “Enough, woman! I’ve given my orders. Now, you can continue to train, but you will not fight. I think you proved today that you are reckless and make foolish decisions. Back home you go. NOW!”
Heading home with Nasir, she sulked the whole way, not wanting to admit she understood where her akh was coming from. “It isn’t fair; you know I’m just as good as him. Abb thought so. Why can’t he just give me a chance?”
Nasir put his hand on her shoulder as they walked, letting her cry in silence. He knew she was too proud to ever admit when she was wrong. Reaching the door he looked at her, the woman she had turned into. He remembered when she was born and was proud of the woman she had become. “Nikole, you know I love you like my own bent, so when I say this, please keep that in mind. You are strong willed. You don’t admit when you’re in need of help and you are too prideful. Learn to temper those emotions and maybe we can broach the subject with Zayn in the future.”
Nikole gave him a hug, his embrace calming her some, but she was still furious. although she knew he meant well. Kissing him on the cheek, she headed off to her chambers.
Nikole woke up groggily, pulling away from a dream…no, a memory that had taken place one hundred years ago. They never let you live things down around here. Looking over at her clock she groaned. Damn! Late again! Getting out of bed she saw there was a note left under her door. Retrieving the cream colored paper, she read it, eyes sparkling as they took in the handwritten note from her akh.
We’ll meet at 1 pm to test your skills. Four military members and I will be in the field with you. It will be a war simulation, and you will have one chance to beat us. Take all five of us down and you will earn your place in the military.
Good luck, my dearest okht. I know how bad you want this. Remember what baba always said, you have to outsmart the opponent. It’s not always who is strongest that wins but who is quicker on their feet.
See you soon,
She smiled at her reflection in the mirror; her day had come. It was time to prove everyone wrong.
Darting her way through the trees after firing off a few rounds at the men chasing her, she ran between the trunks and jumped over logs. She started a zigzag pattern, dodging the bullets as they flew by her head. She knew they were filled with paint, but she wanted to get this right. She was going to prove to Zayn she could be in the army and fight to protect their people. Biting off a curse, she stumbled and fell on a trip wire that cut up her leg. Kneeling down taking the first aid kit out of her pack, she dressed the cut. Shit! She heard the men coming, they were a mile away, and she KNEW they were going to smell the blood and find her. Getting up, she started to run again, looking for a place to take cover. Stopping and looking around, she spotted a hollowed out tree. Leaving her blood on some rocks to mislead them, she hid in the tree and began to plot her plan of attack. She checked her gun, noticing that she was out of ammo, and reloaded quickly. Lowering herself to the ground, she waited for the men to come follow her path.
“I can smell her; she’s here. Spread out and get her. She isn't going to win,” Nikole heard Zayn tell his men. He said he was looking out for her best interests, but maybe he didn’t think she could protect herself. He always said his biggest fear was losing her, just like they lost their parents. Hearing a twig snap, her attention came back to the competition at hand. The first man approached her line of sight so she positioned her gun and aimed, grinning when she shot him in the chest and he pretended to die, falling to the ground.
“1 down 4 to go,” she thought, watching two more men come up through the tree line. Readjusting her aim, she fired and tagged each one in their inner legs. It would hit the femoral artery and they would bleed out if this weren’t simulation. Feeling smug, she mumbled, “2 more to go, Zayn and Nasir.” She could smell Zayn’s scent. Hearing twigs breaking just outside of the hollowed out tree, she felt her akh’s presence. Zayn’s leg made its way in front of the tree. She waited till he moved forward. She had to be sure to focus on not thinking any thoughts, so he couldn’t mind link with her. She slipped out from under cover she put her arms around his body, knocking the gun out of his hands, disarming him completely. He grabbed her shoulder from over his body, pulling her to the ground, and slammed her body on the dirt.
Extending her leg, she kicked him in the chest, pushing him back against the tree. He laughed, grabbing up his knife and pointing it to her in a threatening manner, “Little Okht, I told you, you cannot best me. Why don't you give up?”
Snarling up at him her fangs dropped; she could feel them pulsating. “You have not beaten me yet, Zayn. I am the better warrior!”
Getting up off of the ground and moving to a fighting position, she signaled him to come forward. He charged as she dropped to her knees, just as his legs hit her shoulders. She lifted him up with her back, flipping him over her body. Grabbing at his knife while he is in the air and holding it to his throat, she pinned him to the ground. “Can I join the army now Zayn?”
Hearing a trigger pull, she felt the ball hit her back and the wet paint dripped from her clothes. Nikole groaned as she realized what this meant…
“Not so fast Nikole, you forgot there were 5 of us, not 4. You’re unsuccessful.” Nasir's deep smooth voice said with a cocky tone.
Her face flushed at his admonition. She took Zayn's hand, pulling him off the ground before turning and looking at Nasir. “That was a cheap shot and you know it. I am just as skilled as every one of your men out here today! It’s not right that you are not letting me fight.”
“Everyone else out here knows how to count, Princess; you forgot. We can't let you out on the battlefield knowing you might forget out there.”
She scowled at Nasir's words as she walked off, shouting at them, “You both can go to hell!”
Nikole entered her bathroom, stripped her clothes off and tossed them into her hamper. As she walked to the tub, she caught a glimpse in the mirror. Her brown hair was full of leaves and her skin covered in dirt. Why couldn’t she just enjoy normal things girls do like getting her nails done and shopping? Fighting the emotion, she tried to not get upset as she turned the water on hot, letting the stream start to mist on her hand. Once the water reached the right temperature, she stepped in, standing under the stream. The water ran down her body, washing away the filth. Its warmth engulfed her, helping to calm her nerves. Rubbing the soapy washcloth together in her hands then across her arms, the soft cotton dragged along her skin as it pulled the dirt away. Her mind drifted to the fight. Stupid! Why couldn’t she remember to count? “Damn it, I know better!” Laying her head in the steam, smelling the dirt that ran out of her hair, she grabbed the shampoo and started massaging it into her scalp.
“I know I will prove my point. I am not just a princess; I am a warrior. I control fire and can fight better than most Ghuls in the army.” She shook back and forth, working the soap through her hair, washing it out. Finishing up, she stepped out and pulled the towel off its peg to run over her body. Drying off and looking in the mirror again, her olive skin was clean, hair shinning, the brown complimenting her eyes. She wrapped the towel around her and hopped up on the counter. She brought her right hand up to her face, staring at her fingertips; she mentally lit one on fire and watched the flame dance around the different fingers, playing with the flame like her siti Afaf taught her to do when she was a child. Nikole had only been around her a hundred years, but her siti helped her through her development of magik. She’d taught her how to play with the fire and how to control it, making it powerful and intimidating. She remembered looking into her eyes as she made the flames bigger with just a thought. Siti Afaf could mesmerize everyone. Nikole’s hair glowed and shimmered as the flames cast a shadow over it, onto the white walls of the bathroom.
Hearing the clock chime seven pm, she blew the flames out and hopped off the counter to dress for dinner. She did not want to see Zayn tonight. He was just going to gloat that she lost the simulation. He would, of course, conveniently forget that he himself had been taken to the ground and held at knifepoint. Slipping into her blue jean capris and a sleeveless blouse, she stepped into her shoes. She dried her hair and styled it accordingly; she was going to go out tonight and blow off some steam. They had been here long enough that she had a few people she could call up to enjoy a night on the town with, but only one she could call a true friend. Maybe that’s what she needed, more friends, not an akh. After grabbing her cell phone and sending a text message to her friend, asking her to meet at the local club, Impact, she stowed the phone in her pocket and headed down to face that infuriating akh of hers.
Making her way down the hall, she noticed the painting on the wall; this caused her to think about her parents and what wonderful Algula they were. They would have liked what Zayn and Nikole had done with this home and what they were trying to do with their legacy. Her attention was pulled back to the hallway when she heard Zayn moving around in his office. She tried slipping passed his office undetected, but he always knew when she was near. “You know little okht, if you stopped and thought about it, I am doing you a favour,” Zayn said as she tried to pass his office door.
Walking into his office, she shook her head while grinding her teeth. “No, you actually are not. You are making me want to leave and start after Haydar on my own.”