Photo credit: Chris Watts
Abita walked beside his vaku’s cart, holding his robes above the dust, yet another person shuffling into the capital city. A few other donkey-carts carried other nobles and their families, and some who looked to be wealthy merchants. But mostly, people walked.
The crowd moved in spurts. Chunks broke off to buy food and ale at the stands lining the street. Others rejoined the throng, some singing drunkenly. A half-dozen strains of festive music clashed from all directions over the din.
As they neared the center court, the throng pressed tighter. Abita held the cart to keep from being pulled away, or pushed under. It seemed the entire country had come to see the jayanta’s new foreigner wife and their baby. Surely this heir would solidify the fledgling peace treaty with the Byotisan, after so much bloodshed and turmoil.
Finally, sumptuously-dressed nobles appeared at the high balcony. At this distance, the crowd wouldn’t recognize their own parents. They cheered for everyone who emerged.
Abita glanced around. He saw few royal guards, and no obvious detectors. Surrounded like this, he could risk a spell. By the time a detector narrowed it down to him, he’d be finished.
He cast quietly. The balcony zoomed into close focus just as the jayanta and his wife emerged, to tumultuous cheers.
The jayanta looked odd. Abita concentrated, pierced the illusion. That man wasn’t the jayanta. Why couldn’t Karna Ginal tell, standing so close? Ah, that was also not Karna Ginal. In fact, Abita didn’t recognize any of the nobles on the balcony.
A sickening truth about the jayanta’s trip to Byotas hit him. And about the peace treaty. The castle was clearly already under their control. But why gather everyone here to—
“My lord, we must leave immediately.” Abita barely spoke before the first arrows flew. Royal guards fell, and nobles. From every corner, men threw off cleric robes to reveal Byotisan armor.
Abita cast hastily. The vaku disappeared, becoming shadow. Something struck Abita’s back. Abita pushed the guards. “You must fight your way out, make a path.” The ground spun, jumped up at him.
An invisible hand touched his shoulder. “Come, Abita, let me help you up.”
Abita couldn’t feel his legs. The pain kept him from concentrating. He would not be able to cast again . His breath ragged, he spat out blood with his words. “No, my lord. Run. Run now.”
Abita used his last strength to pull himself against a wall, out of the way. Hoping to avoid attack he lay as if dead. Easy enough to do, in his condition. Over the screams and pounding feet, Abita listened for the vaku’s voice, and for their guards, fearing to hear them surrender, or call out in pain, or yell in attack.
He lived longer than he thought he would. Long enough that they would have yelled by now. Long enough to smile, not hearing it.
Inspired by this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge, although I apologize for going over the word count limit this time. Sorry Al! Seems I can either keep it exactly at the right count or boom, it’s out of control. Big thanks to Al Forbes for hosting this challenge and for putting up with those of us who break the rules sometimes. ((blush)). Thanks also for the inspirational photo, below. Click here to see the other stories or to post your own.
Photo © Al Forbes