Hey, mates, I'm soooo sorry it took me so long. I just had had so much to do. Hopefully, this will make up for me taking my time.
Besides that, I must say though, that this is the end. Really. I just want to say thank you to all who followed this story so loyally. Your reviews kept me writing, mates. You were my muse. Thank you so much.
I won't promise, I'll never write a PoP FanFic again. It might happen. Apart from that, I have other fics to focus on now - you might even want to check it out. ^^
15. The King and His Queen
Tamina sighed heavily while she allowed her glance to drift off and wander around, she looked over her shoulder until it fixed upon Dastan. He lay in the bed, lying on his stomach, his face half buried in his pillow, while some of his thick hair strands fell into his face. The blanket reached only up to his hips, shielding his still naked body from her view while leaving the rest of him uncovered. He was still fast asleep, and he looked so innocent as he lay there in the sheets, so vulnerable. He looked peaceful – but she could not find peace.
Her eyes darted back to the balcony, she could see that the sun was just about to rise, a dawn was to be born, promising the blood that soon was to be shed. The thought sent a heavy shiver down her spine and she closed her eyes in order to suppress such thoughts. She clung to the hope, it was their only defence and she had to trust in it, she had to trust in him, that he would come back to her. Behind her eyelids, while she tried to calm her wild thoughts, her mind wandered back to what had happened last night. Sudden memories flashed through her mind, too quick to hold them, the soft touch of calloused fingertips, heavy breaths mouthing kisses and promises, joy overlaying the despair of a coming dawn...
After a moment she opened her eyes, her mind as clear as the chilly morning and slowly she stood up, leaving the bed behind. She went to get dressed, from time to time she threw a look over her shoulder, making sure that Dastan was still asleep, listening whenever he moved in the bed. She clothed herself in simple, linen trousers and a thin, silken tunic, both of beige colour, rounding it up with a warming, dark brown scarf, big enough to shield yourself from the sun in the desert. Tamina had made her choice, she had decided to trust him, completely, this time she wouldn't doubt him, she wouldn't defy him – this time, she would trust him to come back to her.
She looked into the mirror, staring at the reflection in the mirrored glass that looked back at her – around her neck she could see the necklace her mother had once possessed and naturally her fingers came up, caressing the cold metal. She had never given much thought to why her mother hadn't left Alamut when the city had been under attack – she remembered fairly well her father telling her mother to leave, but she had refused. All those years she had made herself believe her mother had only stayed because of the Dagger, but last night had told her otherwise. The love her parents had shared for one another had always been to big, had gone too deep for her to really understand it – she had never wanted to see more in the act of her father trying to get the Dagger by killing her. She had only ever wanted to see it as an act of desecration, of him violating the law of the Gods. But she understood now, he had been willing to kill his only child for a piece of hope, for the chance to get his beloved wife back.
Tamina understood now, she had lost her child and it had destroyed her, and against all her upbringing, against everything she had been taught all her life, she had wanted to change the course of the past and of the future, she had been willing, too, to desecrate the holiest of all hallows, and to defy the Gods. It had been love that would have made her violate the most important rule in her life, and it had been love, too, that had kept her from doing so. She knew that, now, she accepted it, she was no longer afraid of facing the feelings that drew her towards Dastan. Yet it were those feelings, now, that made it so impossibly hard for her to get along with his decision. The thought alone of leaving him, now – now that she had finally plucked up the courage to let herself be loved and to love – made her breathing go uneasy.
She feared that he could not be true to his promise, she feared that he might never return to her, she feared that, now, after she had opened her heart to him, his death would make her vulnerable, her heart would be shattered once more, battered and scarred by the wounds that love might cause it. It had been those thoughts and fears that had kept her awake all night, these nightmares had been the reason why she dwelt awake and concerned in the setting of dawn. Tamina lowered her head with a heavy sigh, finally forcing her look away from the person that stared at her out of the mirrored glass. Her eyes wandered on until they stopped all of the sudden in its tracks, fixing upon the Sword of Alamut, which hung at its rightful place on the wall.
She stared at the Sword, taking in all the engravings on the shining blade, and automatically she felt her fingers tingling with the need to grasp the sword, to feel its weight, listening to the melody it made when it glided through air. She had never been a fighter, she had always been a diplomat, she was the personification of Alamut, however, she knew how to fight, she did not know how to give up, that, also, made her the personification of her city's very soul. Slowly she walked to wards the artefact on the wall, the light of new born sun was reflected in the metal, its shining seeking out to blind her, but she did not twitch back. Her small fragile hands came up and grasped the sword, removing it from its place, and immediately her mind remembered this moment when she had taken up the sword to defend her city, just like her father had done it.
Then, all of the sudden, the hairs in her back stood up and she felt a strange chill running down her back, and she just knew that she was being watched. She turned around instantly, only to find Dastan looking at her. He was still lying on the bed, still lying on his stomach, the sheets barely reaching up to his hips, and his head still half buried in the pillow. But his eyes were opened, looking at her bright and clear with a thoughtful expression. He was just staring at her and she was just staring back. Silence. Tamina wondered what he was thinking, his eyes didn't give any of his thoughts away – did he perhaps believe she would again defy him and stay in the palace? Or perhaps he was thinking about the coming goodbye, about the possibility that this was likely the last moment they would ever share together?
"Tamina..." he started with his low, rough voice and she shivered by the way he said her name, he always managed it to arose those complex feelings by just simply saying her name. She felt the lump in her throat, the increasing tension, the knowledge that they soon would be separated – the Gods only knew for how long. Tamina closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, trying to calm herself before she opened her eyes again and pulled herself together.
"You should get dressed." she replied almost harshly as she cut him off, her voice thin and shaky – she couldn't look him in the eyes, "It'll be time soon.".
Dastan stared at her for another long moment, trying to read the expression in her eyes, trying to figure out what might be going on in her mind right now, but after a few seconds he finally gave into her demand and got up. He rose up, throwing the blanket off his still naked body and immediately his eyes wandered to Tamina, who didn't look away, her eyes met his look, and it was one of such silent expressions that could say more than a thousand words. Dastan broke up their eye contact and picked up his dark leather trousers, he took on his trousers, then his boots, and walked over to the stand of his leathery armour. Behind himself he could here a low, rustling noise but he didn't turn around to see what it was, as a matter of fact, he only turned around when he felt Tamina's soft, cool fingers on his wrist.
Dastan turned around only to find Tamina looking at him intensely, her dark brown gaze fixed upon him in a deep, melancholic way that may his throat tighten. She had left the Sword of Alamut to lie on the table next to their bed and now her cool hands, which had held the blade only moments ago, took the armour out of his'. She was silent and thoughtful while she helped him to put on his protective leather, layer upon layer, her cool fingers brushing his warm skin every now and then.
Dastan, who was silent, too, enjoying the last moments of them being together, he caressed her cheek with his one hand while he looked down at her. She looked sad, deeply sunken in her thoughts and maybe she just didn't pluck up the courage to look up and meets his eyes.
"Don't expect me to cry for you." she whispered stubbornly, but her voice sounded strangely weird, so thin and strained. He cupped her face in his palms and by doing so he forced her to meet his look and now he could see that she – his Queen of Alamut – was actually crying. Dastan smiled sadly – of course, she was unable to forget her pride even just for one moment – as he looked down at her, tenderly holding her face in his hands, as if it was the most precious thing in this world for him. As her eyes stared into his', the smile on his lips slowly faded and he swallowed hard by the genuine concern he read in her look.
It felt perfectly natural when they slowly closed the distance between them and came together in a tight, warm embrace, her face was pressed against his chest, muffling down the sobs she didn't want him to hear, and he could feel her small little fists clutching hard and desperate in his leathery armour as if she still tried to prevent him from leaving her. His strong arms around her held her close to him, he let her listen to his still steady and lively heartbeat, letting it calm her, reassuring her of his intend to stick to his promise.
Suddenly he felt her move in his arms, she stood on her toes while she leant into him, bringing her lips close to his ears as she whispered her last order she would ever give him.
"Come back to me.", and with those words she wriggled herself out of his arms and took his face in her hands and she pressed her lips so hard against his that he forgot how to breathe, every thought was immediately burned out of his mind, his arms tried to grab her, trying to hold her close to him –
But then, all of the sudden she was gone, she turned around and left him there, standing as she walked towards the door, grabbing the Sword of Alamut while she passed the little table next to their bed.
She threw the door open and walked outside.
She did not look back.
He looked after her until she vanished from his field of vision, and it was then when it finally hit him, that this might have been the last time he'd ever see her.
Tamina turned around to her city, which was now about a mile or two away, and Alamut still looked as if no storm could ever destroy it. The white marble-like towers that glistened epically in the sun, the palace with his soft colours, comfy chambers, homely atmosphere, the streets with their turbulent and vivid voices, the spicy smells and light scents of spring and flowers. The Queen of Alamut stared at her city, at her home, from a spot that seemed now so far away, and yet it would have been no problem for to just run back. But she couldn't, she knew she could not go back.
Tamina swallowed hard as she averted her eyes from the city and resumed to follow the caravan, consisting of the whole covenant of the Guardian, its priests and priestesses, its young Acolytes, plus all the women and children that had left Alamut to seek refuge in the Secret Guardian Temple. The Dagger of Time burnt at her side, reminding at why she had to leave her home. The Dagger had to be protected, her house had to be protected – this she had been taught all her life: Protect the Dagger, Secure your house, for Alamut can not live on without its rightful ruler.
She knew fool well, the only reason why she had to leave her city was that she hadn't yet fulfilled her most important duty – secure her succession, offering Alamut a new ruler, continuing her line.
Tamina swallowed down the bitter tears as the pain struck sharply through her chest, but she ignored the memories of a lost child while her thoughts wandered back to her family's history.
For hundreds of years, and generations of her family, Alamut had been ruled only by monarchs of the bloodline of the First Guardian – a mere superstition born out of pride, really, but it was believed that there was something divine in her family's blood, since the day the Gods had spared her ancestor's life. They said, the mercy of the Gods still lived on in their descendants. It still lived on in her – and it was to be expected that she would pass it on...and on...and on.
The bloodline of her house had never been broken, yet.
Tamina swallowed hard and she pushed away those thoughts, subconsciously fastening her pace in order to keep up with her fellow Guardians, who barely paid attention to her Queen, so lost in thoughts. She looked over to the youngest of her covenant, the children of her city, future of Alamut. They looked so fragile, so helpless, scared even, not knowing where fate would lead them, unsure when – or whether – they would ever see their home again. Driven by this thought, she felt the immediate urge to turn around, but she ignored the desire to see her home again and walked on.
She had just left her home and yet the wish to turn around and see it again burnt so hard in her chest she could hardly breathe.
However, there was a voice in her head, though she tried to shut it off, that screamed at her that it was not her home she yearned for. It weren't those marble floors, the vivid and loud bazaars, the high temples and bright colours, the little voice in her head, coming from her heart, whispered now that she actually yearned for something else within that city. Or for someone else.
Tamina stopped in her tracks, she kept her head down and her eyes shut, so that none of her people would see the tears that burnt in her eyes, her little hands were clenched to fists, shaking with emotions too deep to ignore them any longer. She hissed sharply under her breath, trying to calm herself down, but it was pointless. It didn't matter that he had promised to return to her. She felt that it was wrong – and what fool would ever believe he could silence its own heart's wish?
"Your Highness?", Tamina slowly looked up when an old Councillor addressed her, he peered at her with deep concern in his elderly, wrinkled eyes – was he really concerned about her or what she might do?
Meanwhile, all the other members of their little caravan had stopped and turned around to face her, she could recognise that each and everyone of them looked at her with the same concerned expression. The Dagger of Time burnt at her side and she knew what was expected of her, she knew that she as their Queen, as the last descendant of the House of Alamut, that she had to survive, that she had to lead them to safety, promising a life beyond this war. She knew it was expected of her to be a Queen, but not a woman.
However, there it was again, that little voice in her head, coming from her heart, screaming at her, shouting, whining, demanding, and she knew that she was no longer the person she had been all those months ago. No, she was no longer the Guardian, the High Priestess, the divine symbol without a heart, she was no longer their Queen without a heart – she was a woman, a human being, and she could no longer fight feelings common to every human being. She knew what she wanted now, she knew her path and she no longer feared to tread it.
Tamina swallowed hard, for a moment unsure of what to do, not knowing what to say, unsure of what the right words might have been in such a situation. She slowly moved forward and ignored the stares of the men and women around her while she approached one of the Acolytes. The young girl, barely older that nine summers – barely older than she had been when she had lost her whole family – looked up at her with big, curious eyes. She smiled down at the girl and slowly got to her knees, she fingered the Dagger of Time out of her clothes and now the girl's eyes went even larger as she understood now what her Queen was about to ask of her.
Slowly the girl took a step backwards, raising her hands in defence, fear had filled those once innocent eyes, but Tamina only smiled at her. She took the girl's small hands and symbolically put the Dagger into her hands, the young Acolyte stared down at the mythical blade in her hands, moments passed and then, then she finally closed her fingers around the handle and accepted the gift and her new duty. Tamina looked down at the young girl, all those emotions reflected in those little, blue eyes – fear, hope, pride – and for one moment, she saw herself in that little girl, full of ideals and full of doubts.
The Queen of Alamut rose up again, she looked around – as all of the others did – when she suddenly heard the first sounds of fighting, of bloodshed, of war. The city was under attack, the Warlord had come and she knew whatever choice she made now she could not run away from its consequences. Tamina swallowed hard before she averted her eyes from the sight of her home again and for the last time turned around to her fellow Guardians, to her people.
She knew they wouldn't need her to find the hiding place, all Guardians knew how to find the path that led them to the Secret Guardian Temple. And she knew that Alamut would still live on, even if their Queen was gone, even if her House had failed and the bloodline was broken – Alamut would still live on. For it was not she or her house nor the Dagger who were Alamut, it were the people, her people, and as long as they lived on, Alamut lived on.
There was a deep, heavy silence in the air, and nothing, not even the sharp, hot wind, could break it, and they all felt the weight of this silence, sinking in, drowning them, filling them. Tamina took a deep breath, before she turned around in one single, swift movement and started running like she had never done before in her whole life. The screams and shouts of her people, who tried to stop her, barely reached her ears while she rushed towards her city, the once marble white stones now lit in a cruel reddish light. She could fairly well hear the sounds coming from her city, screams and cries of fighting, of defiance, of dying, it were the sounds of war and soon those noises deafened her for all the other things in this world.
The Queen of Alamut tried to run faster but her short legs never seemed to bring her closer to the city, it only appeared to distance itself more and more from her, like it enjoyed to play so cruelly with her desperate wish to return, as if the city itself had become alive and denied her the return.
She could soon feel the tears of her angry desperation on her cheeks but she ignored them, even as they blurred her vision, she could feel the pain in her sides as a result of her running, but she ignored it, she felt the fire in her lungs every time she drew breath, but she paid no attention to it.
The Sword of Alamut hit against her left thigh with every step as if it yearned for another chance to be drawn for blood and glory, another moment to save her city. But she did not yearn for the fight, no, on the contrary, her heart beat faster out of fear for the coming terror she would face.
Yes, she was afraid, her pulse racing with light speed, her heart beating so fast, so loud she thought its noise must overlay the sounds of the battlefield, giving away her return. However, she did not simply fear the fight, she did not only fear for herself. Although she had hardly any breath left to breathe, she continuously uttered silent prayers under her breath; she prayed to all the Gods she knew, prayed for her city, for her people's safety – and above all, she prayed for the mercy to see him again.
It felt like a whole eternity, a whole life spent on running, until she finally reached the Western Gate, but she did not walk through it, however, she chose another path, looking for the secret trap door that led into the bazaar in the heart of her city. She was her city's Queen after all, she knew all the secrets Alamut had to share. In her panic to get into the city and her fear of what she might face there, it took her almost unnaturally long to finally find the bloody door – however, she managed it.
With all the might she had left she threw the door open, and took a deep breath (and looked around once again) before she stepped inside, closing the door behind herself.
For a moment she stood in complete darkness, too thick to be penetrated by any light or sound, but then her eyes slowly accustomed to the darkness and carefully followed the myriads of paths, which coursed under the city, unbeknownst to most of his inhabitants. Although the underground paths and corridors were feet and feet under the city's grounds she could not miss the strong smell of smoke sweat and blood. The sounds of battle echoed through the massive stone wall above her head, though they sounded strangely dull and muffled.
Now that she was alone, and could breathe normally again, her thoughts came back to the question of what she planned on doing, after all, those paths had to end at some point and she would have to face the surface. Tamina swallowed hard while her left hand subconsciously grasped the handle of the Sword of Alamut, but it did not confide her as expected, it rather re-inflamed her fears. Would she be able to defend herself? Or would she lose everything, including her life? Would she even lose him? What would be the consequences of her fatal decision?
Far too soon she reached the next trap door that, being over her head, would lead her straight to the middle of the bazaar. Above her she could hear the sounds of fighting, now sounding not so muffled down any longer, but almost clear, telling of the fight that roared in the streets over her head. The Queen felt her heart race wildly in her chest, her breathing going fast and shallow, in fear her fingers gripped the handle of her sword so hard her knuckles turned white, her mouth felt oddly dry.
Tamina closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself, she knew fool well she could not stay in here forever, she only had the chance to go ahead, she knew she must face whatever awaited her in the streets above. Strangely, the inevitability of her situation even comforted her, it took away some of her fear, making her accept and realise that whatever choice she had made in the past months had brought her here. The Queen of Alamut slowly opened her eyes again, ready to face her destiny as she pushed open the door above her head and stormed outside.
At first the light of the sun was too sharp, too bright for her eyes, since she had stayed for quite a while in the darkness of the tunnels and passages under the streets of Alamut, and for a moment the sudden invasion of light blinded her eyes. However, her ears still worked as good as ever and so she did hear the movements on the ground, and the wild, fast breathing as the man approached her.
She drew her sword just in time to parry his strike, her eyes sprang open and she looked at her opponent for only a second before she pushed him away, bringing as much space between him and herself as possible. He grinned at her with a mouth that missed more teeth than were left (and even the remaining teeth resembled more black stumps than real teeth) and his eyes told her that she appeared to him as a proper weak, defenceless victim.
She was not sure but his face reminded her at something or somebody. It was his grin, after all, that made her realise who he was. Just as if it had been yesterday, she remembered the messenger Koshkan had sent back then, the man who had once offended her beyond any apologies. She remembered the promise she had given him back then – to kill him no matter what – and she snorted contemptuously in her thoughts, as she raised her sword, determined to whip that evil, lustful grin off his face and show him that in contrast to her looks she was rather a grim fighter.
Tamina lurched forward, the sword raised and held up high as she swung it at the men who just grinned contemptuously and parried her strike like she was nothing but a little boy with a wooden sword. However, she hadn't intended on landing a good hit with her sword anyway. As he parried her strike, he pushed both their swords aside, leaving his right side unprotected, and it was in this moment that Tamina drew out the little knife – the very knife that had once slit her father's throat – and rammed it inside his right side.
The man yelped in pain, jumping away from her, his face covered in agonising pain as he desperately clutched his side, red blood shining between his fingers. He tumbled backwards, breathing hard and flat while he slowly and with a howling growl pulled the knife out of his side. The blade was saturated in a reddish colour that glistened threateningly in the bright sunshine, but she had only a moment to look at it, before he threw it on the ground, the red blood on the knife's blade soiled up with sand. As he looked up his eyes bore a colour of the darkest rage. Tamina swallowed hard, her throat tightening, she felt her fingers automatically taking a harder grip on the sword in her hands.
The man stared at her for a moment, swaying a little from side to side, the sword he had held up high before was now lowered, the blade's top helplessly dragged across the sand as he powerlessly approached her. However, when he was right in front of her he suddenly raised his sword with a loud, wild scream, swinging the sword at her as if he hadn't been stabbed by her only minutes ago, moving so fast she could barely parry his strike. Their swords crossed and they leaned with their whole weight against each other, trying to force the other one to retreat; Tamina narrowed her eyes at the determined look he shot back at her. With a moan of exhaustion she pushed him away from her, and again he tumbled several feet backwards, and again he stopped only to attack her again.
For a dying man he was bloody persistent.
He ran back towards her, now swinging his sword wildly at her, trying to hit her, the aim of a desperate, impatient man. Meanwhile, the blood poured out of the wound at his side, drop by drop by drop, leaving traces in the sand. Tamina twitched automatically back from him, not so much out of fear now, but to see him now, weak and wounded and desperate she actually felt pity for him. She felt her hands starting to shiver, feeling how her own morales started to work against her better judgement – every life was sacred, after all, every life. She had never learned to kill, she had only learned to fight; and he was no longer a threat to her – he was barely able to hold his sword any more. She could not kill him.
Tamina, torn between her upbringing as a Guardian and her instincts, she slowly lowered her sword subconsciously, looking at the man in front of her, who stared disparagingly at her, with all the hatred and rage he had left. For a moment he was unsure of what to do, he looked from her eyes down to the lowered sword and back up to her. He understood, she could literally see the realisation hitting him, mirrored in his eyes. His breath came hard and flat, exhaustion had marked him badly, and it was clear he could not win this fight. It was a strange situation, for neither of them could back away – trust could not be won within mere seconds – and neither of them could attack, may it be out of morale or out of simply pragmatic reasons.
And then, the decision was made. It all happened too fast. She had no time to think, no time to make a final decision, no time at all to listen to her conscience – she only had time to react. Against all better judgement, and ignoring his deadly wound, the man stormed at her again with his sword held up high, but Tamina was ready, acting on pure instincts. She raised her sword just in the right moment, she parried his strike, and by doing so she pushed both their swords aside, however, he had not time to raise his sword for another attack.
She was not wounded, she was younger than him, she was quicker, more agile; and with a fast blow she led a last strike against him, the sound of metal cutting through flesh, living, breathing flesh was the only thing that gave proof of her victory. Yet she did not feel triumph as she looked down at the man, his eyes still widened in shock and pain, frozen in the moment of his death; she could not bear the dead man's look, she could not bear what she saw in it, she could not bear her own reflection in his now dead eyes.
She could not recognise herself any longer.
Tamina pulled the blade out of the dead flesh that had been a human being only moments ago when her attention was caught by shouts of men, coming from all around her, however, these shouts sounded a lot friendlier than anything else she had heard before on this battlefield.
"Our Queen! Our Queen had returned to us!", she looked up when she heard the shouts of her men, she looked around, every now and then catching glimpses of encouraging smiles – was this her doing, had she given them hope, and courage to go on? Though the fights continued nonetheless, she felt the pairs of a million eyes fixed upon her, and every time she heard the shouts of her men she looked up – but she was not the only who was being irritated by the calls.
Dastan, standing on top of the wall together with the archers and stone throwers, commanding his men to stand their ground, shouting new orders, looked up as well when he heard the first men voicing their surprise and joy at the sight of their Queen who had returned to fight – and possibly die or triumph – at their side. He looked around, scanning the ground of the courtyard, uttering pleas under his breath that she couldn't possibly be so stupid to come back, and then, then he spotted her right in the middle of the fight.
Aggravated he cursed under his breath and it was as though she had heard him, for in that exact instant she turned around to him, their eyes meeting for the merest glimpse of a moment. She looked frightened, yet there was a confidence in her eyes that just did not belong on a battlefield.
Her figure looked strangely fragile in the midst of the struggle, quite a contrast to the stubborn woman he had come to know, her bright clothes distinguished her even more from the rest of the men fighting. Dastan knew it was only a matter of time until someone recognised her, and he knew he had no time left to get her safely out of here. Nonetheless, he stepped forward, all the fighting that had been going on was dropped out of his mind, as everything he could focus on now was to ensure her safety. But then –
"The Queen! Take her down! Take her down!", the shouts now came from a completely different direction and both Dastan's and Tamina's heads sprung around in the same moment, the air felt like it had been suddenly pushed out of their lungs as their eyes widened in shock and sudden realisation: Koshkan, the feared Warlord, had spotted her. Shock held them both in their firm, iron grip as they watched him draw closer, spurring his white horse on, heading straight towards Tamina.
It was then her, not Dastan, who first forced herself out of her shocked trance. She slowly stumbled backwards, breathing fast, hard and flat, until her steps were stopped by the corpse at her feet and without thinking she bent down and picked up the knife, that had taken the man's life only minutes ago. She looked up only once more before she turned at her heels and ran like the devil himself was at her feet, and Dastan watched in agony and despair how Koshkan came after her.
The air burnt like fire in her lungs as she ran and ran, her muscles screaming in pain and protest, yet she did not stop. Her life depended on it and she did not need to look around to assure herself of that fact. The thoughts raced wild and quick through her mind, she needed to think of something smart soon, she needed to get out of here. She should never have come back. It had been a mistake – was she now bound to pay for it?
Tamina was torn out of her thoughts when an arrow, sharp and deadly only missed her by mere inches and she shrieked back, coming to a halt immediately. She turned around to see Koshkan riding towards her, on his tail following a bunch of what looked like mercenaries, but nonetheless skilled archers on horseback. She ducked instinctively as another arrow was shot in her direction.
This was it. The thought raced wild and angry through her mind, and she did not know exactly where it had come from, but she knew, she, Tamina, Queen of Alamut, was not born to run away - and if this was her fate, she would meet it head-on, with her sword ready to strike back.
Tamina breathed hard, the air coming short and flat as she looked at the man standing opposite her, only a few feet away, he was panting just as she was, and just as she did he dared to call himself king – but in contrast to him, she deserved the title. She raised her sword again, forcing her breathing to calm down again, as she prepared herself for another attack, though the man only laughed at her with eyes as cold as the desert's icy nights.
"Foolish, little girl – have you not learned your lesson yet?"
"Have I not kicked your ass enough yet, Old man?" she spat back at him, rejoicing in the delight to whip that grin off his face; he growled deep in his throat, his body tensing again, preparing his next attack. Tamina swallowed hard as the Warlord came for her again, her hands, though sweaty out of blank fear, kept a firm grip on the sword she raised in defence. She had fought against this so-called for only a few minutes, though it felt like a couple of hours, and maybe, just maybe this time, her feeling was just right.
She knew she could not defeat him; she had learned to fight, yes, but that did not make her a fighter after all, for she had only learned to defend herself, and though she was determined to make him pay for all the wrongs he had done and pains he had caused, she did know that she was unable to do so. Gods helped her, she was barely able to hold her sword any longer and he just kept coming at her like exhaustion did not apply to him. Strike after strike after strike, each and every one of them harder and meaner than the one before and she was barely able to parry them.
However, she did not retreat. No, she would not run any more. She would not give up. Whatever would happen to her, she would not give up. She would not beg for her life. Even if he killed her, that triumph she would not grant him.
Tamina saw his sword coming towards her and she raised her blade just in time to parry his blow, however, with the force he had put into this strike he simply pushed the sword out of her hands and simultaneously threw her to the ground. As she hit the sandy ground, the bounce hit the air out of her lungs and coughed in pain, but she was pulled out of her momentary confusion when she felt the sand under her body vibrate. Foot steps drawing closer to her. Shock gripped and she turned around to look at her living nightmare, the monster that had tormented her in her dreams since she had been a little girl. The evil grin on his lips awoke all those memories in her she had fought to forget all those years ago.
She saw her brothers fall, their dead eyes staring at her; she saw her mother scream in pain, fighting helplessly against the men above her, her screams slowly fading as the flames consumed her; and her father, whose hands lurched forward to kill her.
She was lost. She was alone. She would die.
The Warlord raised his sword to end her shattered life and Tamina closed her eyes, accepting her fate as her last thought brought the only face into her mind she knew she would ever miss.
However, the anxiously awaited blow never came and so she opened her eyes again to see the reason for her postponed death sentence. Whatever she had expected to see, it was not that, and the shock hit her with a force she could not bear. Dastan stood in front, his back turned towards her while he faced Koshkan, the sword she had lost – the Sword of Alamut – raised in his hands. He had come for her. He had stepped between her and their greatest threat. He had come back for her. He had kept his promise.
Tamina could see how the expression on the Warlord's face changed from triumphant to aggravated, he obviously hadn't expected the things to turn out just like that, but nevertheless he faced his new opponent with the same arrogant mask he had worn for her before. He attacked with a loud war scream that made her startle out of fear and disgust, but she could not avert her eyes from her enemy. She felt the need to watch him. She had to know. She had to witness this. She must not look away. The Warlord was so sure, so sure of his coming siege, his whole body language spoke of it, screaming his own superiority at his enemy.
Dastan, on the contrary – though she could not see his face – appeared much more confined, his moves were slower, he almost appeared still, completely calm, not relaxed, but his body gave away that this was his true nature. Tamina had never seen him fighting before, she always believed him to be big and rough when it came to fighting, but the way he moved spoke of an elegance and skill that amazed and scared her alike. He was not a soldier, he was a fighter, a true warrior.
He was her warrior.
Tamina was suddenly torn out of her thoughts when she heard Dastan scream in agony, her heart instantly stopped dead for a beat or two, she did not want to look, did not want to see her worst nightmare coming to life. She could not lose him. He mustn't die. He had promised.
Dastan tumbled backward and she could see now blood trickling from a cut on his left arm, the cut appeared not to be deep, but nonetheless the loss of blood weakened him. She struggled to get to her feet, not caring that she was unarmed and no use to him right now, she could not sit here and watch him get slaughtered right in front of her eyes. Both Dastan and Koshkan were distracted by her sudden reappearance, their head swung to the side – the eyes of Warlord narrowed in wild anger, while the eyes of the King widened in fear. In that moment, Tamina did not know if her move had been the biggest (and last) mistake in her life or the smartest manoeuvre ever happened unplanned.
Koshkan, enraged by the very sight of her, raised his sword now storming at her, his eyes merely focused on her, and she could read her own death flashing in his eyes. Then, from one moment to another, his eyes widened in shock and pain, he stopped in his tracks and Tamina, breathing hard and uneasy, tried to understand what had just happened. It was then that she saw the top of a blade that had found its way through the Warlord's flesh, red milk soiling his clothes as he fell down at his knees.
Tamina looked up as Dastan pulled the sword out, on his face was an expression full of hatred and disgust, the King did not look at his Queen, he was not yet finished with his enemy. He knew there was one last thing to do, one last thing to end all of this. He slowly came around until he stood right in front of the Warlord, Koshkan was still alive, though the breath of life was leaving him slowly but steadily, he was still alive. Death had not yet been granted to him. Dastan took a deep breath as he raised his sword, but he waited, waited for his enemy to look up.
However, just as he was about to make the final strike, he felt a cool hand on his arm, gently holding him back and hit with surprise he turned around to be faced with Tamina. But she was not looking at him, she was only staring at the Warlord, at Koshkan, the one man, who had taken everyone from her, who had taken everything from her, everything, except her worst memories, except her worst nightmares. And it where those nightmares, those memories of seeing her loved ones die and despair that made her take the Sword of Alamut out of Dastan's hands.
She approached Koshkan with a cool and unreadable expression in her deep brown eyes, he did not twitch back – couldn't have done it anyway – at the sight of his worst victim coming to bring death upon him. Maybe he thought she would not have the stomach to do it, she was just a woman after all, a little scared girl – she was not her father, she was not a king, not a true monarch. Tamina stopped right in front of him and as he looked up to her, she recognised something like fear in his once arrogant eyes for the first time, but she may have been fooled again.
"Foolish little girl – no man has ever conquered me!" he spat out, along with a bunch of drops of his own dirty blood; Tamina only stared back at him, a million emotions flashing through her eyes, anger, hatred, pity and shame. She stared at him for what felt like an eternity, before she bent down to whisper the very last words into his ears he would ever hear on this earth.
"I am no man."
And with those words she ran him through with the Sword of Alamut, the Sword of her forefathers, her Sword and finally his eyes closed forever and with him her nightmares died.
It was done. She could feel it. He could feel it. The weight of what felt like a thousand years of worries, pains and fear simply fell off them, and instantly they breathed easier. Tamina slowly turned around to him, an awestruck expression written all over her face as if she could not yet realise what had just happened. She let go off the Sword of Alamut, let it fall down to the ground. Its work had been done. Dastan stared at her, torn between the wish to pull into his arms' embrace and the need to give her a good drubbing for putting him in such agonising dread. However, he settled instead on saying the very first thing that came into his mind.
"Did I not tell you to leave?", the words came out harder than he had intended to, but he couldn't help it, worry had worn him out, fear and pain had nearly killed him today, the thought of losing her had nearly killed him – seeing her now standing here in front of him, alive and safe, his heart was overwhelmed with happiness and joy, yet the anger welled up inside him. He could not control his emotions right now, it had been too much.
Tamina stared at him for a very, very long moment as he waited for her to say something, and her continuous silence nearly drove him mad, but then she finally responded, though not in the way he had expected. Without saying a single word, Tamina approached him with secure steps and simply hugged im as passionately as he had never believed a hug could be. Her body was shaken with emotion and for an instant he gave into her embrace, his arms coming around, keeping her in his arms, revelling in the joyous feeling of her living, breathing, warm body in his arms. They had defeated death once again, and they rejoiced life while they clung to each other, unconscious of the new life that rejoiced in her. Nothing could part them now and he felt like he could never let go of her again. However, after a while, he stepped back and – though most unwillingly – released her from his embrace, very well aware of like a hundred pairs of eyes staring at them.
"Tamina, they can all see us..." he whispered, he pointed out that blinding obvious fact, however, she did not respond to his reminded as he had imagined. The Queen of Alamut did not even look around, she kept her eyes fixed on him, only ever seeing him.
"I know." she answered with a smile, no longer embarrassed by her feelings, no longer wishing to deny or hide them – she simply stood herself on her toes and kissed him.