Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 55 – The Redemption[2752 words]
The day grew strong. The sun climbed higher and higher in the sky, shedding light deeper into the valley, echoing a rising tension in the air. Both teams were ready for action. They were waiting the sun to come to its peak in the middle of the sky, then they would eliminate the bowmen as quickly as possible and raid the guards at the breach. However, about an hour before noon, a group of people come to the breach from the outside.
It was a group of a dozen giants. In the middle of them was Tich, the mayor of Arcade. Wearing a silver armor. A dozen warriors and a mage followed behind them. Ussir walked side by side with the mayor, who didn’t seem worried about the followers.
They stopped at the breach. Mayor Tich shouted, “This is Ihmer Phrah Tich, Mayor of Arcade. I’m here to see the Princess of Bablon! May Her Highness know that the demanded goods were all presented and checked. And the highlanders decided to keep their promise. Please allow me and my brave guards to escort Her Highness all the way back to the town of Arcade.”
Ussir shouted too, “Dear Princess! The Arcadians have had all the goods ready here. We will keep our promise and let you go. Please come and see us!”
It sounded as if Ussir was looking for the princess’ permission to let her go. But it was not that unreasonable considering that they had always been asking for money and goods instead of hurting the princess. After all, Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s prestige was not that easy to be forgotten. It was in everyone’s interests to let the princess leave safely.
Amon, Metatro, Gekait, Uledo and even the princess in the valley heard their words. But their reactions were quite different. Amon felt relieved and said to Metatro, “It’s great that we didn’t need to do anything. It’s the best outcome we could’ve expected.”
Metatro was still a bit worried, “How can you be sure that the giants are not playing a trick?”
“They already have their goods. There’s no need for them to corner the princess anymore, unless their real target is the princess herself. But then it’ll be illogical… Look at Ussir. He is standing right beside the mayor, with all of the warriors and a mage behind him. And look at the bowmen, they all went away.”
The princess’ face scrunched up. The chained pearls in her hands were cracked into pieces. She bursted out involuntarily, “I don’t believe it! They got all the goods ready? In a small town like Arcade? How can it be?! They must have ripped off the townees!… No, even if they had done that, they couldn’t have had all of those things ready this soon!”
Peri was wearing a sullen face too, “But they made it. What a genius this mayor must be! He just proved himself the talent that governs a state! Those highlanders don’t know to act flexibly. They will let you go. It seems that we have to change our plan.”
The princess gnashed her teeth, “The show is over. It’s our turn to force the end. Let’s go.”
With a sinister glare, Peri walked out of the tent behind her, “I’m interested in meeting this able man now. Let’s see who he really is.”
The princess suddenly broke into a smile, “Please relax, my dear supreme mage. He’s just an official who has done his best to save the princess of the kingdom. We should appreciate his loyalty and competence. This is the kind of people that we need to know and make use of. Please don’t vent your anger on him. He may be the only bonus we obtain in this show.”
“Please pardon my imprudent thought. I was a bit flustered. This man is worth our attention… But how about Prince Benut? Are we going to abandon our plan? Rescuing you will make him a hero, which is the exact opposite of what we expected.”
The princess replied impassively, “There’s not many things we can do now. We’ll just have to play it by ear. We still don’t know if they came together with the mayor. If they are still hiding around when we walk out, things will be complicated. If you can find them hiding, you can pretend to notice them as assassins and attack them before they can speak for themselves. They can be waiting for a chance to stab me in the back. Reasonable doubt. So I can pardon their questionable behaviors and let them go. Then we let the rumors do the job…”
Peri nodded, “Brilliant idea, my dear princess. I will tell the others to get prepared. Let’s walk to the breach.”
Prince Benut, or Uledo, had no idea that he might fall into a terrible trap. But he seemed to sense something when he heard Tich’s call. He frowned and told Gekait, “Let’s go down and join Mayor Tich. We can’t stay here.”
Gekait was still hesitant, “How can you be sure that the giant will keep their promise to the end? What if there’s something wrong?”
The prince explained in a sulky look, “If it ends this way, it will be dangerous that we are found hiding here. We’ll be suspicious. Are the bowmen still there? If they are away, we have to go down. The giants don’t have the wit to act this well if they have planned something. Let’s show up and join our people. Everything will be fine if we can be there before they walk out of the valley.”
When Peri and the bodyguards walked out of the valley escorting the princess, a line of people walked down from the ridge beside them. At the front of the line was Prince Benut, wielding his long sword. The giants were surprised, “Hey, why are you here? We didn’t see you coming.”
Benut saluted to them and answered, “We came behind you and we chose to hide to see if you’d keep your promise. Now that the problem is solved, we don’t need to hide anymore.”
Ussir managed to bury his shock. He turned to Tich and said wincingly, “You made a good plan, mayor. Are you worrying that I’m going to break my word? There’s no need. Look at the men I have, they are not smart enough to hide a plan.”
“Better to look ahead and be prepared, than to look back and regret.” the mayor smiled, “I had to ensure the princess’ safety. They are the braves that I recruited in town.”
Prince Benut went down the slopes with Gekait and others. But instead of joining Mayor Tich, he walked straight towards the princess. He kneeled down at over thirty feet away towards her and saluted, “Princess of Bablon, my dear aunt, it’s such a pleasure to see you safe and sound.” All the people following him dropped to their knees too and placed their weapons on the ground.
Princess Sissila’s face clouded for an instant, but at once turned into a smile, “Benut! My dear nephew. What a surprise to meet you here!”
Benut replied respectfully, “I was invited to visit Humbaba’s last battlefield. We were informed by the mayor’s announcement when we passed Arcade that you were abducted by a tribe of the highlanders, so I presumed to follow the rescue team here to see what I could do.”
Meanwhile, two people were still stunned.
The mayor was stupefied. Though he had noticed that the young warrior called Uledo was not just a common nobleman, it was beyond his imagination that he would be Prince Benut. Prince Benut was King of Bablon’s youngest nephew. He was less involved with the political struggles than his elder brothers, but enjoyed a much better reputation. Tich could swear that he never would have recruited His Highness into his rescue team had he known of his identity, nor would he have ever dared to give him an order.
Standing petrified up high on the ridge, Amon was dumbfounded as well. It turned out that he had made a mistake from the very beginning of this affair. Although he was still at distance, he could already tell that Princess Sissila was not Inanna. The princess had another kind of beauty compared to Inanna. Her prominent nose and deep eyes showed not only elegance but also sternness. There was a hint of masculinity behind her charming smile. Amon wasn’t here to win his political spurs. He came here only to help Inanna.
Metatro gave him a shove from behind, “What’s with you, my lord? Princess Sissila is right there. The bodyguards are joining us. We should go down now. As her friend, please do me the favor to introduce me to Her Highness.” Seeing the mayor wearing the shiny armor that he had left and Prince Benut showing up, he felt he had to rush down the ridge and meet them, or he would have no chance to steal their thunder.
Amon took a second to revive from his thoughts. He replied with a wry smile, “I made a mistake. Princess Sissila is not the friend of mine that I thought she was. I don’t think she knows me. You may have to introduce yourself to her in a while.”
Metatro gaped at his master, “Oh, my god! That’s an amazing mistake you’ve made.”
The two walked down the ridge. Amon suddenly realized one thing and told Metatro, “If the princess is not my friend, then we can’t let them know that it was I who sent them the magic signal last night. She doesn’t know that I’m a sorcerer. And we absolutely cannot let them know that.”
Metatro was just aware of the problem too, “That’s a close call. I didn’t realize that.”
When they were having this conversation, Peri was whispering to the princess as soon as she walked towards the prince, “There’s something wrong. Gekait comes down from the left side, but the signal we received last night came from the right side. There should be one more mage which is beyond our perception.”
The princess’s eyes glinted slightly, but she kept stepping forward as if she had heard nothing.
When Amon and Metatro reached the valley, the mayor was leading the crowd to kneel down and salute the princess. The princess kindly asked them to get up and thanked them for their loyalty and courage.
She caught sight of the two approaching figures and walked out of the crowd towards them, “So there are two more brave men here. Thank you for coming here to rescue. I will always appreciate your help.”
Amon and Metatro kneeled down as well, but the princess quickly reach out to them and took Metatro’s arm before their knees touched the ground.
“Please get up, my heroes. It should be me who thanks you for the help you’ve kindly offered…. The sir in behind, please get up.”
Her face was less than two feet from Metatro’s face. He could smell the fragrance coming from her. He felt that the voice was like the most wonderful melody and her eyes were like the most resplendent gems in the world. He forced himself to calm down and replied, “As a knight, it’s my honor to serve for my king and my princess… It’s also my honor to have been working for the prince, though I wasn’t aware of that until now.”
Metatro and Amon kneeled down at the same time, but since the princess helped Metatro get up first, it made Amon look like Metatro’s valet. Of course, Amon wasn’t aware of this at all. However, when he followed Metatro and got up, he noticed that the mage behind the princess gave him a sharp glance, which somehow made him feel quite uncomfortable, like being bitten by a serpent.
When the rest of the rescue team arrived at the valley and joined the princess’ bodyguards, the giants had already left with their goods. The princess and the prince took advantage of the peace. They leisurely walked out of the forest around the valley with their escort and found a small path downhill. It was not long before they rejoined the light coaches left on their coming way. Princess Sissila had been surprised by the thoughtful arrangements and unstinting in giving compliments to the mayor, which made him quite light-headed and flushed all the way.
Amon walked behind the queue, ruminatively. He couldn’t get that glance from the mage behind the princess off his mind. There seemed to be an abyss behind that pair of eyes. Suddenly, he halted, rooted, mouth opened. He heard a familiar voice. A stream of musical giggles appeared from over his shoulder.
“Dear Amon, my handsome hunter, my brave hero! I thought you were not interested in the throne and the beauties. Are you looking for a chance to get to know the most famous beauty in the kingdom? Aren’t you worried that I might be jealous?” The voice arose so abruptly, as if it was a whisper beside his ear. It was Inanna.
Looking around, he found nobody else sensed anything. He should be the only one that had heard her words. What an excellent skill! Amon had no idea where she was, nor was he able to give her an answer. He could do nothing but try to hide the embarrassment on his face and continue walking. Inanna must not have finished her speech. He had better just be a silent listener for now.
As expected, Inanna’s voice came again. This time it rang directly in his mind, “My little Amon, you are the lost lamb in my herd. It took me a lot of effort to get you back. You must be curious about who I am… If you want to know, please leave your friend and come to the giants’ tribe alone. The giants are gone now. I’ll be waiting for you. I’ll tell you everything about us and the fate you are going to face.”
It sounded that she didn’t want to see Metatro. What was she going to tell him? Besides, she didn’t mention when she was going to meet him. Amon continued to listen, but there were no more words from her.
Getting on the light coach waiting on the road, Prince Benut finally could take a breath and relax. He said to his aunt, “For God Marduc’s sake, we get away from the giants with peace. However, those reckless abductors should be severely punished. Letting them go away and enjoy the ransom is official connivance and encouraging crime. It will be an example for people who try to harm you. I will be at your order to gather the army and launch the attack.”
The princess waved her hands and replied, “My dear Benut, I appreciate you coming here to rescue me and remind me of the potential risk. But I still want to give them a chance to show the mercy from the kingdom. They will be given a chance to confess and expiate their guilt.”
Benut tried to say something, but suddenly noticed that the bodyguards became vigilant and turned to their back. Leaning out of the window and watching back, he found Ussir and some other giants standing in line at the woods not far behind them. Waving their weapons in hand, they seemed to be greeting the caravan rather than making a provocation.
Given the number of people on the both sides, the prince didn’t feel the need to panic. On the contrary, it was bold for the giants to come here. The warriors took out their weapons, ready to fight. The mayor shouted loudly, “Ussir! How dare you show us your face again. Are you here to acknowledge your guilt and beg for a pardon?”
To his surprise, Ussir and the giants got on their knees and replied, “Yes, we are here to beg for the princess’ pardon. The weather on the highland has been harsh this year, our children were starving. We were forced to offend the princess to get some goods to live. Now we are aware of the terrible mistake we’ve made and are willing to bear the punishment.”
What for god’s sake was in their mind? Elitt the mage said, “My dear princess, please don’t forgive them easily. This kind of crime shouldn’t be —”
“Shhh.” the prince stopped him, ” Her Highness knows what to do. Let’s listen.”