raskol: (as the world turns)
Raskol ([personal profile] raskol) wrote2015-05-16 01:50 pm

[lions of al-rassan] the crossing -- almalik ii of cartada (pg-13)

The Crossing
~1000 words; PG-13; Almalik II of Cartada

They came for him before sunrise, just as the stars were beginning to fade into the grey half-light of dawn.

Almalik II of Cartada had never been a poet, but even he could appreciate the symbolism of the moment. No doubt the wadjis would proclaim it an auspicious sign: Ashar has forsaken the patricide! they would cry out in the streets before the day was even half-over. He wondered whether the Muwardis had planned their coup for the dawn on account of this very reason but dismissed the possibility. Life in the desert did not predispose men to symbolism. More likely, it had simply been the best time; the Muwardis had ever been opportunists, aware as they were of the ephemerality of life among the shifting sands.

It was a reality he himself understood all too well. Only a year had passed, after all, since the death of his father -- only a year since he had stood in this very audience chamber and watched, with a certain keen satisfaction, as his father's heart succumbed to the lethal touch of fijana poison smeared across a muslin towel. He remembered, quite clearly, removing his disguise in the shocked hush of the vast chamber and stepping over his father's body. He had rolled it from the dais until it splayed, spread-eagled and obscene, on the floor beside him.

A message, there, for even the most dull-witted of his father's court: He was not his father. Indeed, Almalik ibn Almalik had intended, at that very moment, to become greater than him, more feared and more renowned across the whole of Al-Rassan than the infamous Lion of Cartada, whose stiff corpse lay greying at his feet.

That bright afternoon, and many afternoons since then, he had thought, naively, that his father's death would free him from his shadow. How very wrong he had been.

It had been late autumn when he first heard the Muwardis had set sail for Al-Rassan, braving the unpredictable seas to liberate the Star-born from the Sons of Jad. He had not thought it would happen, to tell the truth; his spies in the Majriti had informed him that Yazir ibn Q'arif was a cautious man for all his piety. Hazem's proposals were not being met with favor, his spies had said, and indeed, there were even rumors that Hazem had lost a hand.

Almalik had smiled at that report; one took pleasure where one could in these trying times.

He had not thought the passage would happen, but happen it did. An unexpected change. At the time, he had not known whether to welcome it or to fear it. Now he knew.

There had been unexpected news too, from the east: Long before the Muwardis had made landfall, Mazur ben Avren, King Badir's infamous Kindath chancellor, had reportedly left the safety of the Ragosan walls and walked, unarmed, into the waiting maw of the Jaddite camp. Another change, there. Some mysteries men were never meant to solve. Autumn was a turbulent time -- for Valledo, for Ragosa, for all of Al-Rassan beneath the stars -- and for Cartada, most of all.

Outside, the sky was lightening. Almalik could see it through the high arched windows of the audience chamber here, in Cartada, where he still ruled as king.

Not for much longer, however. There were sounds outside the doors of his chamber. He had been aware of them for quite some time now, growing in volume. Around him, his remaining guards -- haggard, bloodied, breaths coming in ragged gasps -- rustled in nervous agitation.

One year, he had reigned in Cartada. Only one, compared to his father's fifteen. Though they had accepted his gifts, the Muwardis had nevertheless made it clear they would not suffer a corrupt patricide to sit the throne. Even in death, it seemed that his father would continue to influence his fate.

Almalik's mouth twisted. Life, he thought, was filled with the most bitter of ironies.

He fingered the hilt of his father's sword -- his sword now -- hanging at his side. There was blood on its edge; he had killed a man, earlier in the night, when the Muwardis had come for him in his bedchamber before he could muster his guards. Not his first kill, and, Ashar willing, it would not be his last.

He wondered if Ammar, holding off the advance of the Valledan army far away in the east, would mourn for him when he learned of his demise. Would there be grief, or regret? Disappointment, perhaps, even though Almalik had tried his best to be more than a puppet, to be a good king, one worthy of Al-Rassan. Would Ammar write him a poem, as he did for his father?

Where lesser beasts now gather
Since the Lion will come no more ...

Almalik's eyelid twitched. He rubbed at it angrily, hands shaking in spite of himself.

Outside the chamber, the noises grew, crescendoed, then fell into silence. His guards glanced at each other, then looked to him. He nodded, eyes hard, mouth set into a grim line.

Only one decision left to make, he thought. One more choice, here at the end. If he could not live as a lion, then at the very least he would die a far better death than a simple beast, slavering and drooling in painful contortions upon this dais. No, he would not die like his father. If the end must come, then it would be one of his own choosing.

Beyond the doors, a new voice shattered the silence, barking orders. Almalik closed his eyes, could almost hear the dry rasp of the sand and the howl of the desolate wind; there was a picture, now, in his mind: the desert at night, and overhead, cold and impartial, Ashar among the waiting stars.

The prayer bells began. The doors boomed once, twice, splintered. On the third blow, they burst open. Almalik II of Cartada opened his eyes. His eyelid was not twitching now. With dignity, he rose from his dais, and, hands trembling, went to his fate.

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