Beware of the favor of the gods--Kantazar
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Amanizar had been bred to be a god. She was conceived in the midst of many powerful magical spells in order to bring the ancient warrior god Kantazar back from the mists of legend to be a savior of his people. When she was born, and her father saw that she was a girl, he invited the three chief royal magicians to perform the Wical-en-Tahir, the suicide ritual. The magicians did so with all the proper spells and ceremonies that would ensure their spirits would always be her magical guardians.
The night before Amanizar's coronation as queen of the Tengeri, her magical guardians failed her.
Something woke her. A noise. A breath. A stir of the curtains. Amanizar's chamber echoed with silent danger and the taste of death. Eight years ago, Amanizar's father, King Harman, had set aside his son and heir in favor of his small daughter who carried an ancient god inside her. Twice since then her brother, Prince Kovazar, had sent assassins for her and the last time she had escaped with her life through sheer happenstance.
The lamp, which always lit her chamber, had gone out or been put out. Bright moonlight filtered through the curtains, but not enough to relieve the darkness.
After the last assassination attempt Boczar, Amanizar's chief of military and her oldest friend, had decreed that even a small princess needed to learn the art of the sword. From that moment on, over the protests of her regent, a blade was never far from her side. She would never be safe as long as her brother lurked in foreign lands hatching his plots to prevent her from becoming ruler of the Tengeri in his place. Since her coronation was tomorrow, Amanizar realized she should have expected a last, desperate attack tonight.
Now, she groped for the sword that always lay on the bed as she slept. She felt a brief stab of terror when her hand didn't immediately fall on it, but there it was--cold, reassuring steel. She stood up all at once and put her back against the wall, pausing to look around and let her eyes adjust to the gloom. She relaxed a bit when she saw the shadow of the guard against the tall-windowed balcony door.
"Guard!" she called. "To me!" The guard didn't stir, didn't even turn around. "Guard!" she called again and moving to the balcony door, she jerked it open and stepped out. The body of the guard hung from the gargoyle above the door lintel, strapped there with his own belt, his face contorted in the silvery moonlight with what must have been his final astonishment. She looked around. There was no one. The moon hung low over the sea and two ships, tiny in the distance, plied the waves, their sails dark against the water, which sparkled in the moonlight.
Her chambers were in a high tower of the Kulibahr, the royal palace, looking out over the harbor. No assassin had ever before come for her here. It is a sheer climb of a thousand feet with nothing below but waves crashing against the rocks. A chill breeze cut through the night. She shivered and turned back to her chamber leaving the door open for whatever moonlight would soften the gloom inside. Her lady's maids were in an adjoining chamber. She went rapidly to their door and opened it. "Ladies! Awake! Summon the guards!" she was answered only with soft snores. Drugged probably. She slammed the door shut. They would be safe enough, Prince Kovazar wanted her dead and his assassin would not be interested in lesser mortals.
She looked around, hoping her assassin would reveal himself somehow. Heavy furniture here and there afforded a dozen places for a killer to hide. She did not know why he had not attacked her yet, but running across that room would be an invitation to death. There ought to be more guards outside in the corridor and they should have heard her calling. The fact that they had not yet come running told her that they had been bribed or had met the same fate as the man on the balcony.
The Kulibahr is riddled with secret passages known only to the royal family. Prince Kovazar knew of them, of course, but the doors are cleverly made and they could not be penetrated from outside the palace walls. They are exits only. The assassin could not have come in that way unless someone had let him in. The entrance to one of those passages was opposite her bed. She went to it and found the latch, concealed in the deep carving of a picture frame. The door popped open an inch. Once through, she could be in any part of the palace in minutes, but as she reached to pull it open, a voice called, thick with sleep.
"Highness?" Barazar stood framed in the door to the room she shared with Adezar, the silvery moonlight clearly illuminating her slightly plump form.
"Barazar, go back to your room and lock the door," Amanizar said. Barazar did not do as she was told but moved toward the princess staggering a little.
"But you called, Highness," she said. She slurred some of the words--she had definitely been drugged. Amanizar ran to her and grabbed her arm and for a bare moment of indecision she wasn't sure what to do. Her ladies are highborn political appointees, but not entitled to the secrets of the Kulibahr. Still, she was now in as much danger as Amanizar herself. She pulled Barazar toward the secret door.
A patch of deep shadow stirred and the cold glitter of a blade leapt out at her. She parried the blow without an instant to spare. He had been waiting in a corner near the secret door. Barazar's appearance had probably saved her life. She fought her attacker desperately. He his speed and skill were terrifying. She had never fought such an opponent before and it took all her strength just to survive moment to moment. She stepped back and back toward the secret door which still stood ajar, while pushing along a shrieking, wailing Barazar.
"Barazar. Open that door!" She had no idea how she was going to get through it alive and prevent the assassin from following, but it was their only hope.
"Merciful Gods!" came a shocked voice from across the room. Adezar. She stepped back through her bedroom door and slammed it shut. It was what Amanizar needed. The assassin had turned toward Adezar with a jerk. Amanizar pulled open the door, pushed Barazar through it, jumped through herself and slammed it shut. She leaned against the door, trembling.
"What is this place!" Barazar exclaimed. She seemed much more awake now.
"Come on!" Amanizar snapped. Now that the assassin knew the door was there, it would not take long for him to find the latch. She pulled Barazar down hundreds of dank, dark steps. The dank chill of the passageway seemed to seep into her. She wore only a flimsy nightdress that swirled prettily around her legs but didn't afford any warmth, and the stones of the passage floor were cold against her bare feet.
From time to time, she explored had these passages with a torch in order to familiarize myself with them, but she'd never just blundered through them in the dark. There were guards stationed throughout the Kulibahr, but the greatest concentration of them was in the military quarters and that was where she headed. She longed for Boczar, who had always been her staunchest protector. Unfortunately he didn't live in the palace but many of his best men did.
When they came to the bottom of the stairs, she knew there were four passages leading off in different directions. The second from the left was the one she wanted. Darkness was total. She groped around until she found the wall and trailed her hand along it until she found an opening. Barazar took a step toward it but Amanizar restrained her.
"That way leads out to the city streets," she said.
"That is exactly where I want to go!" Barazar quavered. "The killer would never be able to find us out there!"
"Nonsense," Amanizar replied. "Stiffen your spine. I--" A muffled noise and a sudden shift in the air told her the assassin had opened the secret door. "This way!" she said and dragged Barazar toward the second passage.
"No! He will follow and find us!" she wailed and stood unmoving. In a fit of irritation Amanizar briefly considered leaving her plump handmaid to her fate, but only briefly.
"He can hear you! Come!" she whispered fiercely and pushed Barazar toward the second opening. They ran. Barazar was huffing and puffing, but she gamely kept up. Apparently fear gave her some endurance. Before much longer, however, she seemed to be badly flagging and Almanizar halted. She knew the door to the guardroom couldn't be much farther and she didn't want to run headlong into it. Amanizar listened intently for pursuit. She couldn't hear anything except Barazar's labored breathing. Darkness was total. The assassin could be standing right next to her and she wouldn't know. She hoped he had chosen one of the other openings and was now far away.
Amanizar found Barazar's hand and led her down the passage. The end was only a few steps further. She nearly collided with a heavy door, found the lever that opened it and then pulled Barazar through. Soft lamplight seemed very bright after the gloom of the passageway.
Amanizar's heart sank. This was not the military quarters. The great God Kantazar towered over a golden throne. Her throne--or it would be if she survived this night. The ivory-clad statue of the god dominated even this enormous room. Kantazar, first emperor of the Tengeri, his crown was lost in dimness up near the vaulted ceiling. Lesser gods lined the walls, but no guards, not at this time of night. Tall gilded doors led out to a wide balcony overlooking Soldier's Square, but there was no way down. There were two doors along the walls, the grand entry to the throne room and a smaller door used by servants and officials going about their work. The military quarters were far away but Amanizar knew the smaller door led to the quickest way down to them. It was in that direction that she dragged Barazar, but before they had taken more than a few steps, Barazar's knees buckled.
"I'm sorry, Highness," she said. She had not recovered from the run down the passageway. Her breast still heaved, her face deep red and her eyes wild and moist "I must rest if only a moment."
"If you rest here, you will die," Amanizar said harshly. Again, she considered leaving her. The assassin might ignore the lady's maid and follow the princess. There was no guarantee of it, though, and if she was wrong Barazar would be a lamb before the slaughter.
"Get up!" Amanizar tugged at Barazar's plump arm. She was heavy, but Amanizar hauled the woman to her feet. She pulled and prodded her toward their escape door.
Softly muffled, but rapidly approaching, footsteps warned her that they were not going to make it to the door. Amanizar turned. The assassin, wrapped completely head to toe in deepest black, ran lightly toward them, sword raised. Amanizar pushed Barazar away from her and held the hilt of her own sword in both hands, braced for the first blow.
"Guards! To me!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. Hopelessly. There could be patrolling guards in this part of the palace at this time of the night, but it was unlikely that they would be within earshot just at this moment. She fought desperately, hopelessly and continued to call out for them.
She wasn't going to last much longer. Her opponent was strong and quick. A great swordsman. Finally an especially clever maneuver caused her to nearly lose a grip on her sword. Amanizar knew she was doomed. The next strike would knock the sword out of her hands. Then Barazar appeared with a long object and whacked the assassin across the shoulders. He stumbled and dropped his guard. With fresh hope, Amanizar lunged, but the assassin turned at the last instant and her sword barely grazed his ribs. Barazar skittered backwards. She held the great seal of state in her hands. The assassin followed Barazar, sword raised, obviously intent on ending her before turning to finish Amanizar.
"Get away from her!" Amanizar yelled. "It is me you want, scrow-got!" It was the worst thing she could think of to call someone. It wasn't even her own language.
The assassin hesitated, blood dribbling down his side from the scratch she had given him. He looked slowly from Barazar to her. Amanizar held her sword in front of her, assuming the killing blow was about to come for one of them. Then, to her astonishment, he raised his sword in a salute, turned and ran to the open passageway behind the throne. She was not foolish enough to follow him.
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