Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Babylon 5 had an episode entitled, "A View from the Gallery." In this episode, the story was told from the perspective of two unknown characters. I thought it an interesting concept and decided to write a story using that style, framing the point of view of the royal family from an outsider's vantage point. Here is that story, continuing seven years after "Raising Lilith."
Blessed silence, Zola thought, her eyes scanning the spaciously illuminated classroom, her mind forming a mental barrier between herself and the eighteen stressed children in the room.
The second-graders were fifteen minutes into an algebra test. Their hearts pulsed and minds blared with mathematical images, sending jolts of nervous energy through Zora. So much emotional energy the mental wall she'd trained so hard to learn how to create and fortify, was her only defense.
She shook her head, legs parted, hands behind her back, back and shoulders erect, eyes alert, the perfect warrior's stance for this type of assignment.
Zola glanced at her charges, one in the front of the room, the other two rows to the right and in the back. They looked like angels, their calm, sweet faces smiling, bodies erect in the uncomfortable wooden chairs, hands clasped over their finished exam, eyes facing the head of the class.
Zola almost laughed. N'Dare and T'Chaka were no angels. Sure, they put on a good show for the adults around them. As far as their grandmother Ramonda was concerned, the twins could do no wrong. But Zola knew otherwise. Those twins, with their baby faces, infectious laughter, and sugary sweet voices could charm the devil himself while invading his sanctuary on the back of the Panther God.
And they were hers to protect. She was their shadow, their Ohene Aniwa.
Ohene Aniwa meant "the eyes of the king." This ancient Wakandan symbol was steeped in their proud history. The design magically etched on the king's left leg, representing vigilance, protection, security, and excellence. And Zola was to be all of those things for the Prince and Princess of Wakanda.
Two years ago, Queen Ororo had made the request of her. And request it was, not a command, or a royal dictate. Zola smiled at the memory, she was but a girl of nineteen, trained since the age of thirteen to serve as one of the queen's personal guards.
The brainchild of the king, the Ohene Aniwa were to be the queen's guards, answerable first to Queen Ororo, then to King T'Challa, and finally to Shuri, the Black Panther.
And Zola, like twenty other Wakandans, were personally selected by Queen Ororo, young girls and women. Even then it was a request, homes visited, parents talked to, decisions mutually made.
The queen, as Zola soon discovered, had no interest in pressing a girl into unwanted or obligatory service to the crown. No, the queen was much more modern in her thinking, most Wakandans unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the notion of a representative democracy. And while Wakanda was most assuredly not a democratic state per se, that didn't prevent the foreign-born queen from instituting democratic practices.
So she came to Zola's home, met with her and her parents, and discussed her future. By the end of the month, Zola was enrolled in a private school the likes she'd never experienced in her sheltered life.
Yes, typical subjects like technology, math, science, and history were taught. But so were hand-to-hand combat, meditation, cooperative discipline, weaponry, and the like. Yet the most astonishing aspect of Zola's new life were the classes on harnessing, controlling, and using one's mutant abilities.
Wakanda, like many nations, had an almost nonexistent mutant population. Yet every member of the queen's guard were mutants, a fact all their families had kept hidden from general knowledge. Yet, the royal family had known, tracked the youngest of them down, and made an offer many of them, like Zola, couldn't refuse. An opportunity to stop hiding in the shadows, afraid of being condemned or ostracized for their uniqueness, the bigoted attitudes against the queen during the time of the Desturi still fresh in many Wakandan mutant's minds. Even after all these years.
And train and learn she did, Queen Ororo taking an active role in the mutant studies herself, earning unbridled loyalty and respect from her Ohene Aniwa. She was formidable, not simply in her mutant abilities, but in strength of character.
Zola had seen, had the privilege of traveling with her abroad. She was well known, well read, well liked, and totally committed to all her causes. Be it mutant rights, African debt relief, or Wakandan prosperity.
She was a queen for sure, but not one who sat on the throne waiting for others to do for her. No, she eschewed such superior notions, toiling beside the common man and woman, seeing herself as one of them, knowing and understanding hardships.
And if Zola sounded like she was in awe of her queen, that was because she was. Her first encounter with the American born Kenyan princess was the day of the king's fateful plane crash. The crash and the subsequent downward spiral of Wakanda still felt today.
Zola was but a mere child in a sea of other elementary school children invited out to hear the queen speak. She was beautiful, sincere, and articulate. But that wasn't what Zola remembered most about the queen that day. No, it was the look of abject fear on her face when King T'Challa's burning plane came barreling through the clouds. Then those haunted blue eyes shifted into something more amazing, blazing white determination.
That was the last thing Zola saw before Queen Ororo took to the skies, her intention to save her husband clear, her winds fast, but not swifter than gravity's cruel pull.
T'Chaka began to shift restlessly in his chair, Zola's eyes moving to him, watching the boy carefully as he fidgeted, fingers and feet beginning a silent tapping.
Mrs. Bantu raised a gray arched eyebrow, her fierce disapproving look stalling T'Chaka's barely contained cadence.
The other children were still testing, but the twins had finished their exam only seven minutes into the thirty minutes Mrs. Bantu had allotted. This was typical, all too typical, Zola thought.
The twins were bored, and Panther God help all around them when they were bored. But Zola also knew that they had far too much respect for school and their parents to get into trouble here. No, they would do that later.
Zola slowly lowered her shields, catching stray emotions from the twins. She was right; they were bored and restless, combined with a fair amount of frustration. Mrs. Bantu, for her part, was also frustrated with a shilling of anger thrown in.
Yeah, Zola knew that as well. The elderly teacher didn't particularly care for the idea of having a human sentry in her classroom, watching her every move and reporting all to the king and queen, as she so often complained, in front of the twins no less.
Yeah, she was a highly opinionated and conservative woman whose weathered grandmotherly features hid a forked tongue and a nationalist heart.
But her feelings ran deeper still, the woman ignorant of Zola's empathic abilities. And it was this mutant ability combined with Zola's youth and light-hearted demeanor that Queen Ororo most valued when selecting a guard for her children.
"I'm not qualified to serve as the primary protector of the twins, your highness," Zola had said when Ororo had first approached her. "There are others who are longer and better trained and who possess a more powerful ability than being a mere empath."
The queen had smiled indulgently, the way she always did when Zola or one of the other girls couldn't see what was apparently so obvious to Ororo.
Ororo had patted her shoulder, her long elegant fingers gentle but firm, Zola's last thought before Ororo sent her flying across the matted training room.
Stunned, Zola stood, knowing what her queen was trying to do. The young warrior smiled, the other guards formed a circle around the two women, their gazes locked on the center, primed for the battle to come.
Ororo twisted her hair in a loose knot at the back of her neck, her form fitting black and white spandex pants and sports bra matching those that Zola and the other guards wore.
The American press had taken to calling them "Storm Watchers." Apparently, Ohene Aniwa not catchy enough for those Americans who lived by sound bites alone.
But Zola secretly enjoyed the title. They were indeed the queen's honored watchers, and while many of them found it difficult to think of her as anything other than Queen Ororo, she'd asked them to refer to her as Storm. And in this place where they trained and worked as equals, she had become Storm to them.
And that very same Storm had beckoned her on, taunted Zola with her confidence, dared the young warrior to prove her wrong. The queen . . . Storm was rarely wrong. Not in these things, not when it came to her children's health and well-being.
Then Zola did what she had been trained to do, meant to do. She dropped her mental barriers and opened her senses. A flood of emotions crashed over her, threatened to swallow her whole, drown her in their massive weight. But she pushed back against the unrelenting tide, breaking off parts of herself, mental hands reached out, divided, cataloged, sifted, and discarded.
The wave of emotional energy ebbed, her vision crystallized, and she had read the pulses, knew who they belonged to, deciphered each heart, each intention, each soul.
"Who's a threat, Zola?" Storm asked, pointing to the women flanking them.
Zola thumbed through the array of emotions like she would a cabinet crammed with dusty manila folders, methodically pulling out and reviewing each one, careful of psychological paper cuts.
She shook her head. "No one here, Storm."
"One floor up, Zola. Who's a threat?"
She'd closed her eyes, concentrated, and then responded, "No one."
"The palace?" Storm walked toward her, bare feet silent against the mat. "Find the threat, Zola."
The palace was nearly a mile away. She'd been working on her distance, but Storm had never asked her to sense danger more than half a mile away. Could she do it? The warm tide of support from her sisters and the queen said she could, the heat of their confidence in her shored up the lingering reservations.
Opening her senses even more, Zola envisioned the distance between the training facility and the palace. Sweat beaded her brow and her head throbbed from the effort. The black fog of endless emotions gripped her then, attempted to overwhelm her, cast her mind into desolate insanity. But she'd held fast, Storm's soft whispers of assurances sliced through her mind, bringing bright rays of light.
Then she saw herself, hovering above the ugly swirling swill of raging emotions, a rainbow after a storm. And from her perch, Zola went to work, sorting, sorting, sorting, until all that remained were two wretched pulse points of malignant energy.
"The chef's new apprentice and," Zola opened her eyes, anger burning her soul, "the twins' nanny."
Storm nodded before a thin smile formed. "Shuri has already seen to those two."
Zola should've known, the queen would never gamble with the lives of her children. Meaning her choice of Zola as their personal protector was no gamble at all, but a wise decision made by a mother and queen.
"The twins' first day of kindergarten is tomorrow, be at the palace by 7:30 a.m. They're both very excited about having you as their protector."
Storm laughed then. "They have no idea you have the ability to read their emotions. They think you're just a sweet, fun guard who laughs at all their silly jokes and is far too young to care or know what they are about."
Zola almost laughed then, too. At the queen's absolutely correct presumption that Zola would consent to the reassignment and the pairing of an empath with two rambunctious five-year olds.
"Now," Storm said, her devilish blue eyes twinkled before she attempted to sweep Zola's legs out from under her, the young warrior catching her emotional intention just in time, flipping back and away from the attack. "Very good, Zola. Let's see how well you can read the emotions of multiple enemies while under fire."
"W-what," she'd stammered, a second before her queen chuckled with knowing pride, snapped her fingers, and sent five of Storm's best warriors after her.
"Time's up," Mrs. Bantu said, drawing Zola's mind back to the classroom and her impatient charges. "Pass the exams to the front and no talking," she warned when the relieved seven-year olds began a light chatter.
Zola lowered her mental shields for just a minute, enjoying the emotional satisfaction that always followed when the students accomplished a task, their hearts swelling with pride and confidence.
Smiling at the glowing, radiant faces of the second-graders, Zola did a quick mental scan of the school's grounds. Satisfied nothing unusual was amiss; she raised her shields and returned her attention to the class at large only to find Mrs. Bantu lining the children up by the back door.
Zola glanced at the clock. It was almost eleven o'clock, time for the children's daily recess.
Mrs. Bantu unlatched the solid, metal door that led to the common playground that all classrooms exited onto, letting in the sweltering heat of the spring day.
Anxious to be away from the confines of the stale classroom, the children began to make their way toward the door promising freedom, N'Dare the line leader.
But the child didn't move, even when Mrs. Bantu walked past her and gestured for the princess to follow. N'Dare peered outside then shook her head.
Agitated, Mrs. Bantu said, "Come, N'Dare, you're holding up the line. Your classmates would like to take advantage of the beautiful day."
N'Dare stared out of the door, her eyes flitting to the clear, blue sky, and Zola recognized that look. It was the same look she'd seen on Ororo's face when she was considering her next move.
Like mother like daughter, she thought.
"It's going to rain, Mrs. Bantu."
The teacher's eyes went heavenward to the cloudless sky, but the eyes that returned to N'Dare were cast in gray annoyance.
"A child as smart as you are, N'Dare, can surely see that there isn't a rain cloud in the sky."
Zola took a step forward, not liking the mocking tone the older woman had taken toward her charge.
"Now, come," Mrs. Bantu said, using her fingers to signal that she wanted her students to follow her lead.
Mrs. Bantu fully exited the room, and turned to see that not only had N'Dare not followed, the other children made a solid, unmoving wall behind the princess, T'Chaka at the end, his face hard and impassive.
"It's not going to rain," she huffed, her wrinkled hands going to her ample hips.
"It will rain very soon, Mrs. Bantu," N'Dare insisted. "I can feel it in the air. My mother always told me to trust what I feel." N'Dare took a step away from the opened door. "It's going to thunder, maybe even some lightning."
The children looked from N'Dare to the bright afternoon sky, still not a rain cloud in sight.
"Are you sure?" N'Dare's best friend Tamasha asked.
N'Dare nodded. "We'll get soaked if we go out there."
"I don't want my hair to get wet," one of the other girl's exclaimed.
"I don't mind the rain," one of the boy's said, "but if I come home with mud on my shoes again, my mother will . . ." He paused, thinking. "I don't know what she'll do but she makes the strangest faces when I track mud in the house."
There were other grumbles from the students, each one moving away from the opened door like it was a demon tempting them into villainy, and returned to their assigned seats.
T'Chaka now stood beside his sister, his face still unreadable.
"If you don't mind me now, children," Mrs. Bantu started, her voice going shrill and cold, "I'll call each one of your parents and let them know how disobedient you've been today. All of this is nonsense. There isn't a cloud in the sky."
Before Zola could intervene to calm the woman down, T'Chaka said, "You may want to listen to my sister. If she says it will rain, then it will rain. N'Dare is never wrong."
Mrs. Bantu huffed, her anger flaring, the mask she donned so well slipping. "Just because she is a princess and the daughter of a weather mutant witch, doesn't make her all-knowing. Perhaps you think I should bow down and kiss her feet like the goddess people stupidly believed your mother to be. What does a tiny, white haired, blue-eyed child know of such things, anyway."
It wasn't a question, but a foul, bigoted statement from a woman who had lost whatever it was that had once made her Teacher of the Year, holding a National Board Certification, a distinction that gave her the honor and privilege of teaching in any school system in the nation of Wakanda.
But that was long ago, the snarling woman on the other side of the metal door had just crossed the line, Zola's desire to ram her arrogant head up her wide, drooping ass a tempting urge.
Done with Mrs. Bantu and her no longer veiled contempt for the king and queen's children, Zola made to remove her charges from the classroom, contact the palace and the principal, and wait for the king and queen to arrive.
Before she could do any of those things however, thunder rattled the windows, followed by lightning skidding across the sky. Large droplets of rain began to fall, hitting grass, swings, and jungle gym with heavy sighs.
Mrs. Bantu's eyes widened and she made for the opened door. As she reached out her hand, the door violently shut and the lights began to flicker on and off.
Zola ran to the door, tried the knob. It was locked; the key normally in the lock was gone, and so was T'Chaka. She moved to the windows, but they too were locked, safety bolts on to keep intruders away from the children.
Then she heard it, a loud careening sound. It was coming from Mrs. Bantu. The children ran to the windows, pulling up venetian blinds and peering outside, the spring day now awash in murky darkness.
And in the middle of the rapid winds and hurling rain was a drenched Mrs. Bantu, the storm strangely focused on her.
Zola quickly scanned the circle of enraptured, unsympathetic children, and found N'Dare. The child's eyes were a frightening white, hair now loose from her danty pony tails, an invisible wind lifting the strands, curling them about her head as if she had an electrical shock to her senses.
And gone was the angelic look from earlier. No, there was nothing sweet or innocent about the princess now. She was good and mad, and Zola didn't need to be an empath to have figured that out.
And where in the hell had T'Chaka gotten off to? Queen Ororo was going to have her ass, Zola thought.
"Stay here," she commanded of the children, before quickly running next door.
Zola moved swiftly to the room beside Mrs. Bantu's and went straight for the back door. It too was locked, no key visible.
"Where is the key, Mr. Degbe?"
"I don't know. It was there a moment ago," he said, his face a mask of middle age confusion.
Not waiting for what else the man may have had to say, Zola ran down the hall, charging into classroom after classroom after classroom. All with the same result, all the keys that unlocked the back doors leading to the playground were mysteriously missing.
"The blur took it," a kindergartner had said when Zola reached the last door on that level.
Yeah, she knew that blur, a small, grim-faced blur with the speed of Hermes, the intellect of a genius king, and the protective spirit of a black panther.
She should've seen it coming, should've stepped in when she sensed the twins' anger rising to the fore. But they'd always managed to maintain their control, their parents taking great pains to teach them. But she hadn't anticipated Mrs. Bantu's cruel stupidity. Now she was paying for it, not Zola just yet, but Mrs. Bantu.
Returning to the classroom, the first thing Zola heard was ragged thumping on the back door, fists slamming into unrelenting metal, squeals of fear coming from the other side.
"Release her from your storm, N'Dare."
"No, Zola," the child cried. "She hates mutants. She hates my mother for being a mutant. And she hates me and T'Chaka because we are mutants, because she doesn't think we're true Wakandans."
Damn, the child was right. What in the hell could she say to that?
"And would you hurt everyone who hates, N'Dare? Is that how your parents taught you to deal with narrow-minded people like your teacher?"
The child shook her head, angry but also rational, her father's daughter.
"She's mean," N'Dare whispered, the booming background thunder now silent, the pounding on the door an annoying, impatient melody, the children more interested in the conversation between Zola and N'Dare than their playground stranded teacher and her fight for entrance and away from the bolts of lightning crackling around her.
"T'Chaka overheard her talking about us and our family," N'Dare admitted, her eyes closing then opening, pain filling her blue eyes.
Zola wondered what exactly T'Chaka, with his enhanced hearing, had indeed overheard when Mrs. Bantu thought she was speaking in private. In truth, she really didn't want to know, she'd heard enough prejudiced comments about outsiders and mutants to last her two lifetimes. Unfortunately, the twins had as well, apparently, today's incident the grain that tipped the scales.
N'Dare sighed, her slim shoulders finally relaxing, her mass of untamed hair lay limp down her back, and she looked utterly lost. As if that little show of pre-pubescent power had sapped her of all strength.
Just then T'Chaka returned, his hands full of small silver keys. He tossed the lot of them on Mrs. Bantu's desk, his unrepentant eyes meeting Zola's. The she deserved it, clear in his steely brown orbs.
And what a frightening pair of hellion angels, the reason for her selection as their protector starkly clear.
Their protector? Zola laughed, grabbing up the key labeled Room 102. Inserting the key in the doorknob, she turned it to the right, pulled, and opened. On the other side was a very wet, very scared, very angry Mrs. Bantu.
She pushed her way inside, eyes trained on the twins' unflinching forms, and then those haunted light brown eyes sought out Zola. And the look within was all-knowing, a realization it had taken Zola two years to figure out, but a truth Mrs. Bantu now knew.
"You protect them, but who protects us from them?"
With a newfound understanding of the queen and her wily mind, Zola said simply, "I do."
Mrs. Bantu snorted before beginning to type on her desk laptop.
"You're not very good at your job, are you Storm Watcher?"
Zola shrugged. What could she say? The woman did deserve it, but still, Zola needed to be better.
The principal came on the line, her imperial voice booming through the classroom, sending all the children flying to their seats before the screen with her face appeared behind the teacher's desk.
"I understand there's been an incident in your classroom, Mrs. Bantu," the principal said.
Mrs. Bantu smiled maliciously at the twins. "Yes, please contact King T'Challa and Queen Ororo. I think they would like to know exactly what their children have been up to while they've been gallivanting all over Africa, wasting Wakanda's minimal resources on worthless charities."
The principal frowned at the teacher's audacity, but her words were for Zola not Mrs. Bantu. "Zola, bring N'Dare and T'Chaka to my office. I'll contact the royal palace and arrange for a meeting with their parents."
Mrs. Bantu's vile smile brightened as Zola herded her charges out of the classroom.
T'Chaka laced his fingers through that of his sister's. They walked in silence, but Zola knew the twins were using their telepathic link to talk to one another.
Zola's senses were wide open and focused on the twins. They felt justified in their actions but also afraid. Afraid of how their parents would react, afraid of disappointing the king and queen, afraid of how easily their anger raged out of control and how much they'd relished in it.
All reasonable fears, as far as Zola was concerned.
The large door to the principal's office loomed before them, the twins hands still entwined, the hallway shortening with each purposeful stride.
The twins stopped just outside of the door.
"Are you going in with us?" T'Chaka asked.
"No, I'll wait for you out here." Zola hoped to intercept the king and queen before they met with the principal. She was sure Mrs. Bantu had already typed and e-mailed the discipline referral to the principal as soon as they'd left her room. No, Zola wanted an opportunity to plead the twins' case before Ororo and T'Challa met with Principal Shona.
"You're supposed to protect us, Zola," N'Dare said, a slight challenge in her tone.
Zola smiled graciously and gave them both her most stern look, the one her mother used to bestow on her when she'd done something naughty. "I'll tell you what your Aunt Shuri tells me every time we spar. 'If you're brave enough to step onto the mat, then be courageous enough to take your licks.'"
T'Chaka shook his head, dark brown features cool and assessing. "I've heard her say that, too, every time she chases us after finding us trying to poke holes in her vibranium panther suit. I'm convinced," he said, turning thoughtful, "there is something we can use to rip the thing in two."
He shook his head again, looking much older than his seven years, accepting his sister's complicit nod, the wheels of mischief churning in their diabolical minds.
Panther God help her, they were at it again, and they hadn't even made it into the principal's office yet.
Yet a moment later, they seemed to sober, gazing down the empty, solemn hallway.
Zola pushed her senses away from the children, down the hall, around the corner, and out onto the lawn. She sensed them as well, T'Chaka's "They're here," confirming what she'd already detected.
N'Dare pulled on Zola's arm, her tiny face looking up at her. "Are they mad, Zola?" Yeah, it had taken the twins all of six-months to figure out why their mother had selected her as their protector, and why so many of their "pranks" had fizzled before they began. Zola's "Don't even think about," "I wouldn't do that if I were you," and her all-time favorite, "You're giving me an aneurysm, so cut it out," were met with wide, analyzing eyes, that eventually morphed into overly keen observations. A mystery they soon solved.
Unable to lie to such wilting blue eyes, Zola nodded.
Apparently resigned to their fate, the twins clasped hands again, and walked away from Principal Shona's office and toward the sound of their parents. And the last thing Zola heard before the twins took their chatter telepathic was T'Chaka say, "We stood on the mat, now be must take our licks," and N'Dare respond, "Baba and Mother don't believe in spankings."
No, the king and queen had never laid a hand on their children in anything other than love. And while N'Dare and T'Chaka were intelligent beyond their years, they were still seven, given to taking language too literally. No, the kind of licks they would receive from their parents for their misbehavior wouldn't be the kind delivered to their rear. No, there were far more creative ways to teach a child a lesson, Zola a recipient of such "lessons," her Ohene Aniwa teachers masters of that particular discipline.
Zola sighed, the royal couple coming into view, their faces a blank mask. Yeah, she thought, the twins wouldn't be the only ones having to take their licks.
TO BE CONTINUED