Even covered by the curtains of her palanquin, the princess of the Chakri tribe sat completely erect, her dark elegant neck held high, golden disks hanging from her ears, midnight hair in a huge manicured bun on top of her angled features. Even as her palanquin swayed, princess Aiyana stayed upright. Even as her ears tingled at hearing her people wailing at her from behind the curtains, begging her to hear them. Even as her spine felt like melting when she heard some mother’s baby crying. Aiyana didn’t waver, her head never even dipping.
Aiyana only realized the noises had stopped when she felt her palanquin bearers climbing the shallow stairs to the Chakri resident area, where the Itzu weren’t allowed. But she continued to hear their voices, echoing through her mind in a never-ending cycle. They begged for her to hear them, not knowing that she heard them even when they weren’t speaking. That she saw their tears even when they weren’t crying.
The palanquin bearers continued through the Charki residence, quiet and peaceful. Then they climbed steeper stairs and Aiyana knew they were approaching her father’s palace. After several minutes of climbing, they stopped and lowered the princess to the ground, and her curtains were pulled apart, the sight of her father upon his throne opening up to her.
Motega, king of the Chakri, sat there in regal majesty, each dark finger adorned with rings, his bare chest covered in necklaces that bore record to his accomplishments. The teeth of people he’d killed, the gems, spoils of demolished temples and palaces, and the necklace of betrothal given to him by his wife, Dyani, former queen of the Itzu tribe. Every sin he’d ever committed hung about his neck, and he wore them with a sickening pride. Aiyana diverted her eyes from his neck for fear she wouldn’t be able to keep her voice level when she spoke.
When her mother married the king of the Chakri to join their tribes, she didn’t know that her people would be the first of his mission of conquest. She didn’t know that he’d plunder and destroy Itzu temples and palaces. Or that he’d starve the Itzu people when a recent drought came about and feed only his own. When Dyani, pregnant with Aiyana, heard of what Motega had done to the palaces and temples, she went into labor, and died during childbirth.
When his wife died, Motega sent his daughter away to live in Dyani’s former home to be raised by her maidservants. Though it was not far enough that he didn’t visit. But today, it would be Aiyana visiting him.
“I present to you,” her servant announced. “Princess Aiyana, daughter of Motega the Great.”
Motega alighted from his throne and sauntered over to his daughter, taking her hand as she rose from her chair and kissing it as she bowed.
“To what do I owe this pleasure, princess?” he asked.
Aiyana hadn’t risen from her bow, looking up at him through her eyelashes. “I come to request a private audience with my lord, if it pleases you,” she added, knowing from practice how to express her opinion, yet keep her place in his presence.
She felt his cold eyes analyzing her before he answered, “Very well.”
The princess stood upright as Motega waved his servants away. His bodyguards lingered, flanking his throne and watching Aiyana’s every move.
Motega seated himself again, his necklaces jingling. “What brings you before my throne room, Aiyana?”
Even her own name sounded repulsive when it came from his mouth. “May the king live forever,” she forced from her lips. “I have come to warn you.”
Motega looked amused. “Warn me?” he repeated, almost laughed.
Aiyana pushed confidence into herself. Motega hated cowardice above all else. If she faltered now, she would certainly fail. With a gesture, she waved to the land behind the stone columns supporting the roof of the room, golden sunlight pouring from behind the mountains. “The Itzu people are starving, desperate, and angry. Their blood was shed fighting for their temples. They feel the sting of loved ones lost.” Motega shifted in his throne, his amusement melted. She needed to get to the point quickly. “I fear they plan to do something foolish.”
“Oh?” He scoffed. “foolishness is hardly a rarity among the Itzu, so it doesn’t surprise me. But what are your fears, exactly?”
She gritted her teeth, but kept her voice level as she said, “I heard a rumor, and had the matter investigated. Unfortunately, I found the rumors to be very true. The Itzu people are forming a rebellion, and their numbers are very great. I don’t have exact details, but from what my investigations have yielded, it seems they have in order a plan to overthrow you.”
Something flickered in Motega’s eyes. Aiyana couldn’t tell if it was fear or anger, but she suddenly wished the bodyguards were for her and not him. Steeling herself, she knew she couldn’t stop now. “What evidence do you have of this?” he asked.
“My spies have found stashes of stolen weapons. They’ve seen the men training in the mountains.”
“They’re starving, how can they be a threat to me and my men?” he demanded, but the slight waver in his voice was enough for Aiyana to know he was less sure than he made himself seem.
“It is because they’re starving, with their sick wives and children as fuel for their rage. They are strong because they have to be, my king,” Aiyana answered him, drawing every bit of strength she could to keep herself from crying.
Motega narrowed his eyes. “Why are you warning me of this? I know you regard yourself as Itzu, not Chakri.” he set his jaw. “You know what I will do about this.”
Aiyana swallowed. “I do. But I know how strong my lord’s forces are. Despite the Itzu people’s hopes, they won’t succeed. Your forces are too great. They are fed. And so I wanted you to hear the news from someone that would beg you to consider other options. Your men will die in this fight, as well. Why not avoid the bloodshed altogether and share what rations we have? The Itzu will not fight you if their bellies were full, my king. They care only for their families. Please, spare the people of your daughter, of your late wife. I beg of you.”
Motega rose from his throne. “Spare them? Spare them?” his eyes were glinting with fury. “The Itzu plot my demise and you want me to feed them? Surely a daughter of mine must have come before my throne with a better argument than that.”
“Enough,” Motega growled. “I have heard enough.” he turned to one of his guards. “Get Ahmik. Bring him here, hurry!” the guard ran off. Motega towered over his daughter as she bowed to the ground as a last attempt to appease him. This time her tears were spilling freely. “You come before me, request a private audience, and then dare ask that I spare rebels? I could have you killed for such insolence!”
“My king?” Ahmik said as he came into the throne room.
The King’s anger at Aiyana was deterred, if only for a moment, by the intrusion. She was grateful for the distraction. “Good, Ahmik. Gather your men. Tell them to go through the homes of the Itzu and kill all of the young men.”
Aiyana wailed, but didn’t dare to speak.
“All of them, my lord?”
“You heard me,” Motega barked.
Ahmik flinched, then straightened. “Y-yes, my lord.” Then he descended the stairs of the throne room.
Motega turned his attention back to his daughter. “As for you,” he growled, crouching down. He closed a hand around her neck and squeezed her breath out of her, pulling her back to her feet, coming close enough so that she felt his hot breath with every word. “You are first and foremost Chakri.” his spit fell on her nose. “Your loyalty, your life is to the Chakri. Do you understand?” he released her, leaving her choking to start breathing again.
Motega grabbed his daughter’s arm and pulled her to his throne as he sat down. He pulled her down to his face. “You will stay here, and you will wait until Ahmik and his men are ready. Then you will see your precious people die, and it will be because of you when they do. You shouldn’t have told me about their rebellion. You should have let them die with honor.”
Aiyana was forced to stay by her father’s side until Ahmid came back, trembling until the sun set. An eerie silence had slowly washed over the village as it did.
It was a good thing Motega hadn’t noticed it.
“The men are ready, my lord.” Ahmid said.
“Good,” the King said, nodding his head. “Now go and kill the young men. Anyone that looks…” then he chuckled. “her age,” he said, yanking her arm as though she were a disobedient dog.
“Yes… my lord,” Ahmid replied, then descended the stairs.
Motega rose and pulled his daughter to the top of the stairs, holding her close. Nausea rose to her throat as she touched his necklaces. “Now you will watch.”
They had a full view of how the soldiers went through the streets of the Itzu people, forcing their way into their homes, breaking down doors and even coming in through windows.
“What’s happening?” Motega muttered. The soldiers looked confused. They were running through the streets and into the homes, shouting to each other. Motega realized where their confusion came from. “Where are the Itzu?” Aiyana could hear the anger rising in his voice. He turned her to face him. “Where are they?”
Nearly all of her father’s guard were in the village. It was now or never.
Instead of answering, she gave her signal, howling and chattering.
“What are you doing? Silence!” he grabbed a knife from his belt, but stopped, hearing the sound of dozens of men howling in response.
The Itzu men charged up the stairs unopposed, the sole guards flanking Motega’s throne wielding their spears, unsure.
Motega’s hand slipped from Aiyana’s neck, and she pushed away from him as quickly as she could. His guards engaged in a brief combat before being speared by the overwhelming Itzu. Three men grabbed Motega as another, one she knew as Dasan, came up to Aiyana bowing as he offered a knife.
She turned to the people below. Coming the mountains, Itzu men snuck towards the confused soldiers, weapons at the ready, their families safely hidden within the valleys.
Seeing it, Motega yelled, “No!”
Aiyana cried tears that tasted bitter with the mingling of relief and grief.
“My princess,” Dasan said. “on behalf of the Itzu, I bestow upon you the honor to secure our victory this day in thanks for your cunning.”
“No,” she said, wiping her tears and trying to steady her voice. “I already told your leader Kuruk that I wouldn’t be the one to do it. It’s not my place. And as long as any Itzu are dying, I will enjoy no honor.”
“Very well then.”
For the first time, Aiyana recognized fear in her father’s eyes. “Aiyana? Y-you? How can you do this to your own father? Your king?”
Aiyana watched her people. They came close to the village, hiding behind buildings as the confused soldiers still looked for them in their homes. Then they took their last chance at freedom, their war cry loud enough to be heard from the palace. The two tribes clashed, the Chakri taken by complete surprise. “You didn’t have to be this way, father,” she said, her voice failing. “You could have joined our people in peace and love instead of weakening us both through division. But you did, and now I have to do what’s right. For both of our people.”
She turned away as Dasan shouted in a powerful voice, “For the Itzu!” and ended Motega’s reign.