Book 1: The Calling (an excerpt)
THE STREETS OF AKSUM are crowded with locals from all corners of the kingdom and strangers from abroad as they hustle and bustle in the metropolis, in anticipation and preparation for the Timkat festival. Commander in Chiefs try to instate some order and control by dispatching their regiments on foot and on horse back to clear the way for the Emperor's caravan through the streets that lead the way to the site of the stele field.
Meanwhile a little boy, about five years old is running and playing in the streets with his friends, when suddenly he accidentally runs into one of the mysterious hooded strangers. The little one bumps into the strangers leg and falls to the dusty ground, but he springs back up happily with a bright smile on his face and immediately he is polite as his mommy taught him and bows and says, "Aznallo, Yikerta Ato!" which translates into, "Sorry, Excuse me, Sir!". The boy looks up at the strangers face only to see darkness framed by a white hood. The hooded stranger turns and looks down at the little one and lets out a menacing hiss and his eyes glowed crimson in the darkness under the hood. Immediately the child is terrified at the sight and runs off with a shriek to find his mother. He finds her not far away talking with three of her young friends and jumps into her arms shouting "Annat, Annat!" which is "Mommy, Mommy!" in Geez, the official Ethiopic language of the era. Then he whispers in her ears, "Annat, that man, he hissed at me, and his eyes were red." The mother asks, 'Which man?' The boy points in the direction from where he encountered the hooded one, but when she turns around, he was gone. She figures her son was just imaging things as little boys sometimes do, thought nothing of the matter and turns to her friends and says, "My boy Nati thought he saw a monster or something. He will be alright, probably just tired or hungry." Then they casually went on their way, but the little boy was still cowering in his mother's arms, looking back over her shoulder at the stranger man with the evil glare.
Now horses trot with their proud looking commanders and head guards riding them in warrior garb with lion manes on head and dazzles costumes of vibrant colors, armed with swords, shields and lances in hands. The crowd gazes on in awe and reverence for their authority and accomplishments. Now masters in animal training bring out exotic creature on leashes. First some lions sporting large black manes lead the way, then baboons and ostriches.
Every thing seems to be going well, Mekonnen reckons. They may even play a game of jousting later that night. Sit around a camp fire, have a merry feast of fruits and vegetables, with injera and lamb meat and hot spices. All these visions of fun and relaxation fill the young warriors mind, until one of the hooded ones walk pass Mekonnen, his presents gave him a slight ill feeling. Coldness and darkness, and a sense of malice was the energy emanating from the hooded one that gave Mekonnen an uneasy feeling. It sent chills down his spine.
Something is not right with that stranger. He thought, Walking around like that, sneaking and light footed. Why is he looking around like that, Scoping out the area?
"Psst, Afeworki?" Mekonnen whispers to his cousin, with eyes still fixed on his suspect,
"Look, something is not right with that man, wait here."
"I see him." Afeworki affirms.
Mekonnen draws closer into the crowd with eyes focused on his target who a quickly being engulfed by the sea of people. Just then, Mekonnen spots another hooded one nearby that look conspicuous. And it looks like he picked up a signal from the first hood he was following. Mekonnen is more keen and observant now but his heart beats faster, yet he remains calm and focused. Then, up on the left on a roof top, another mysterious hooded one acting suspicious. Another hooded person walks by and Mekonnen looks at him intently, but this one in different, does not look and act suspicious and he can see his face. Normal sun light reveals this ones face and the pattern on is hem are less distinctive like the suspects. Might just be a monk, so he lets him by. Now Mekonnen can really notice the utter darkness under the hoods that are suspect, and can even see the difference now in the patterns on the clothing from the other common people and that strange symbol they have on the front of their clothes, a crooked line similar to the letter (n) in the Aksumite alphabet, pronounced nehas which corresponded with the Greek letter 'N', within a red circle. Afeworki also spots another hooded suspect upon a high wall, stooping down and peering over in the distance beyond the procession of the tabot and the animals.
Just then, the distinct sound of a particular animal gives Mekonnen and Afeworki an idea of what the hood on the high wall was looking at in the distance. The trumpet-like cry on a great elephant sounded in the distance, and the sound of elephant hint at who was approaching. Its His Majesty Emperor Gebre Meskel and Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family riding in a chariot, being drawn by four huge African elephants. The crowd near Meko and Afe now begin to get fidgety and excited at the sound of the elephants and the large heads and ivory tusks can be seen in the distances down the street.
Oh look, the King is coming, the King is coming! was the buzz in the crowd as some try to position them selves in a spot in order to get a good view of Ella Gebre Meskel and his royal family. Guards try their best the control the crowds and make way in the street. Mekonnen motions to two guards to be on the alert for suspicion activity.
Now the Kings procession is coming near as the dark brown skin of the elephants can be seen, the rough texture and creases in them. Two in the front and two behind those, harnessed with thick robes and leather straps connected to the platform on wheels. The elephants are adorned with decorative garments on their heads and backs, bespeckled with gold and pearl beads and golden tassels. On the backs of each of the behemoth creatures are riders seated in fancy saddles guiding them in the right direction. Even the elephants tusks were capped with round golden stubs of fine décor. Behind the creatures is the golden chariot, which was more like a platform on wheels, that they draw carefully and steadily as their trainers and riders would allow them. And with the chariot is His Majesty Negus Gebre Meskel also known as Ella Amida, son of the great and famous Negus Kaleb who stepped down from the throne some years ago to an acetic life of devotion to prayer and supplication with the hermit monks in the monasteries.
He stands and waves in his glorious regalia just as colorful as the priestly garments but more bejeweled and ornamented. From the crown of his head to the sole of his feet, Ella Gebre Meskel was an ornamented sight to behold: his golden crown was quite high in several layers with golden streamers hanging down, fluttering as they reflect the natural light. His collar, armlets and multitude of bracelets and rings were all of fine gold. Even his kilt is of fine gold on linen cloth. His chest wrapped in straps embroidered with pearls. Guards were also on his platform for the king was still pretty much dangerously open and an easy target. Normally the King would also be holding a gilded shield and a lance but this time he chose to just hold up is lance in a vertical position with spear pointing upwards.
Mekonnen tries not to look conspicuous and let the suspects know that he and Afeworki are on their tails. He cant help but notice how open the king is, two guards at lower levels at his side and few others on the platform, but not enough, or alert enough.
Suddenly, it all happened so quickly, Mekonnens cover is lost, the hooded ones noticed Mekonnen on their trail and signaled to each other. Almost immediately, his first suspect is out of sight and Mekonnen become nervous. The Negus is still an open target; his guards are not paying attention. Mekonnen leaps up upon a fruit vendors table to spot them again. Franticly he scans the crowd, left, right, up and down. He spots one! Now he knows what they are trying to do. Afeworki sees Mekonnen on the table and moves in closer, but does not notice a hooded one approaching him from behind, eyes glowing red in the darkness.
Now Mekonnen can see clearly what is going to happen. At a distance, a hooded one appears behind a palace guard on a ledge and knifes him in the back, and take his spear has the guard collapses to the ground. Adrenaline rushes in and a bolt of energy hits Mekonnen, as he leaps from off the table with spear in one hand and a round shield in the other, he darts out towards the king, shouting, "Asteneqqeqe, Tekelakkele NEGUSU!!
Alert, Shield the KING!!
The King's guards are now alert, but confused, not really sure from which direction the impending attack is coming from, but they position themselves to encircle the Emperor and the Empress, shields and spears up. The crowd is now startled and concerned, some dock down their heads or lay low, others gasp with mouths open, looking in multiple directions. A few women and girls grab on the each other or onto their little ones. Seeing Mekonnen running like a mad man towards the King's chariot, the hooded one that knifed the guard on the ledge now holds the spear and positions himself in the proper posture to throw it, angling its sharp pointed spear head towards the Negus Gebre Meskel. The kings guards cannot see the would-be assassin because the sun is directly behind him. But Mekonnen sees him clearly enough from his angle. Now the would be hooded assassin leans back, aims, heaves and then thrusts forward and releases, sending the spear sailing through the air, headed straight for the intended target, the King of Kings.
The hood behind Aferworqi begins to pull out a sword from under his cloak but before he could pull the blade all the way out of its sheath, Afeworqi hears the sound of blade dragging against surface and sense his foul presents. He swings around and hits the hood on the side of his head with the spear shaft and thrusts the blade and shaft through his chest, as quick as a second. Afeworki yanks the spear out of his attacker and watches him fall to the dusty ground, bleeding and dead.
Meanwhile, Mekonnen runs frantically towards the Negus aid from the right, determined to save His Majesty from the flying spear that is aimed for Negus Gebre Meskels torso. Which ever gets to the Negus first will determine His Majesty's fate. Life or Death. Mekonnen, just a few paces away, now leaps with shield in right hand, becoming almost horizontal in mid-air in front of the Negus, just in time for the deadly spear to strike Mekonnens shield instead of Royal flesh.
Craaacksh!! the sharp head of the spear penetrates Mekonnen's shield, missing his arm by an inch. But Mekonnen's flight carries the spear away from His Majesty and her Highness the Nigist (Queen), sending Mekonnen and spear tumbling to the ground on the left side of the royal platform, rolling over about three times.
By the time Mekonnen leaps up to his feet a little bruised and dusty, the king and queen were surrounded by guards, deacons and priests. The elephants are getting a bit stirred up by the commotion but still under control by the trainers and riders.
A cry went out to be alert and seize suspected assassins in the midst. By then Afeworki is at Mekonnens side to see if he was okay and says,
Come on, we most catch the rest of them! I already took one down.
Yes lets go. Mekonnen reply then turns toward the kings platform and asks the guards, How is the Emperor, and the Empress, are they safe, are they well?!
Yes, His Majesty and the Nigist are well. And as the guard spoke, arrows started wizzing by on and around the platform, hitting two of the elephants on the left. Arrows were being fired from the general direction of where the spear was launched. The two elephants cried out like loud trumpets and started to panic and move away from the rain of arrows that just barely penetrate the surface of the thick skin but enough pain to be irritable. The other two elephants were not really trying to move, causing them to bump into each other and cause to platform to jolt around suddenly and unevenly, causing a few guards and priests to fall off the platform. The crowd started to panic and screaming and running of many directions. One of the elephants in the front on the right stumbled and crashed into a building, destroying the façade with the impact. No one seemed to be hurt in that accident. Mekonnen and the rest of the guards realized they needed to cut the elephants loose into the streets of Aksum otherwise they would drag the platform with the King and Queen inside and they may be injured or even killed.
The elephants were crying out loud, "Whhaaaahhh!" and lift their trunks in the air. One of them lifted itself up on hind legs, people started to panic and yell to get out of the way. The city seems to be in chaos now.
Mekonnen looks up in the direction the assassin's spear and arrows were coming from and exclaimed,
"That cursed beast. Affie, lets get them before they escape into the wilderness."
And off they ran, hoping to capture the one who threw the spear that almost impaled the Emperor.
Meanwhile the other hooded ones scattered into different directions and tried to hide among the panicking citizens and visitors of Aksum. But they did have a plan to meet and regroup and in different locations. Some of the royal guards went after them, confronting some of the suspects in sword fights, subduing and capturing a few. More arrows were released and flew through the air and rained down on a few guards striking then down with some civilians getting in the cross fire. It is like they came to start a war and take over the venerated city of Aksum. But the royal guards and warriors will not allow such actions to persist.
Immediately the royal army brought out their own artillery of archers and marks men, with traditional bows and crossbows ready for action. They answered the adversaries rain of arrows with their own shower of arrows, striking down about eight of the hooded ones. The others decided to flee and ran away rather than continue with their attack. Foot soldiers went after them but they were gone almost instantly, like they disappeared into the shadows. Then they looked at the dead bodies of the hooded ones that they struck down, but instead of the usual carcasses, they beheld a strange, ghastly sight. ...
Now as Mekonnen and Afeworki ride on the southern ends of Aksum proper in hot pursuit of the Hooded assassins, they are accompanied by five more royal guards on horse back. They converged from different directions, from various streets onto the same path with Mekonnen and Afeworki. Valiant warriors they are, all quite acquainted with the two kinsmen. Their names are Gedion, Biniyam, Yeshaq, Endubis, and Nezana. Yeshaq rides up beside Mekonnen and salutes,
"Selamta, my brothers. Let us catch these wretched dogs and show them we dont welcome assassins here, okay!"
Mekonnen replies with zeal, "Ow, Yes, my warrior, for Aksum, for Negus Gebre Meskel!"
And in unison the seven warriors belt out ululations with glistening swords and spears raised up in the air,
As the hooded strangers take flight they show themselves to be wise and cunning as serpents. A few stop running and blend in with the crowd, others steal horses and head for the Simiyen mountains in the south and also to the mountains in the north. The warriors assume these villains may have a special place in the forest and hills where they meet and regroup themselves to plan another attack.
As the warriors were riding, suddenly a hooded assassin leap outs of the 2nd story window of one of the buildings along the way, right above Biniyam as he rode by. Like a creature from the wild, it lets out a ghastly yell with sword drawn above his head, intending to strike down Biniyam with it. But the warrior is quick, as he thrusts the point of his spear into the hooded thing as it come down on him. The impaled body slams onto Biniyam causing him to lose balance and control of his horse for a moment, but he managed to push of the limp body from himself and regain control.
Gideyon is armed with a big bow and arrows and while riding his horse is able to draw, aim, release and strike down one of the villains that was running ahead on foot. Another one leaps out from another window onto the back of Endubis horse, grabbing on to him from behind with one hand and drawing a dagger with the other, ready to slit the warriors throat. But Endubis able to quickly grab onto the arm with the dagger, and use his elbow to hit his attacker hard in the ribs.
One, two, three, four times Endubis thrusts his elbow backwards into the torso of his assailant but he still wrestles with him. Then the warrior reaches for his curved sword and thrusts the blade into the stomach of his attacker as he then clenches, looses his grip on Endubis, the body grew lifeless and slides off into the street, getting trampled by the horses behind ridden by the other warrior companions, Nezana, Biniyam and Gideyon. Mekonnen and Afeworqi are still galloping in the lead.
Eventually the seven catch up with four more hooded assassins on stolen horses that were ahead of them. Mekonnen, Afeworqi and Yeshaq are is front and charge on at accelerated speed, urging on their steeds to go faster, Hyaaah, Hyaaah! passersby and camel riders of the trotting madness of royal court guards on horse back in hot pursuit of hooded beings of unknown origins.
Then one of the villain spins around quickly to ride backwards and face his pursuant and whips out a bow and fires two arrows in quick successions. One arrow hits nothing and nobody, strike the wall of a building. The other arrow wizzes by Mekonnens left ear as he shifts slightly to the right, but it hits Endubis, who was just behind him, in his left shoulder. Ahyy! crys Endubis, wincing in pain. Yeshaq fires back two arrows piercing one villain in the back. Another hood flips around on his horse to ride backwards like the first one and fires off two arrows hitting Afeworqi with one in the chest and the other his horse in the upper right shoulder by its neck. Aferworqi crys out and his horse wines in pain but still keeps riding forward. Mekonnen notices his cousins injury and calls out to him, Afie, are you okay, hold on my brother, hold on there!
I fine Aferworqi assures Mekonnen but unconvincingly because on the obvious look of pain in his face.
More arrows are fired by the hooded ones and Nezana is hit this time on the thigh, and Endubis and his horse were hit again but this time his horse was injured badly in the front leg, causing it to lose proper function and flipping over causing its rider Endubis to fly off his horse and sending both horse and rider tumbling down, falling hard onto the street of tiled flat stones which is at a slight decline at this point. Endibus is hurt badly and unconscious on the ground, bleeding from his head and body, his horse neighing and wreathing on the hard ground. Nezana was going to continue onward but stops and goes back to help his fallen companion.
Mekonnen rises up on his horse from a sitting position to a standing posture, with his spear in right hand, aims and launches it forward, impaling the second hooded archer in the face, straight into the darkness under the hood. As the hood falls off his horse with the spear in his face, his leg is caught in the horses saddle stirrup and causes the body to hang over and dragged on the left side of the horse, pulling the steed in that direction as it loses balance and tumbles over, tripping three of the four other horses that were being rode by hooded villains. This incident starts a chain reaction, creating a mass tumbling heap of men and horses, with Mekonnen, Afeworqi and Yeshaq getting tangled up in the heap falling over as well. But as they fall, Afeworqi gets another arrow in the torso, piercing some vital organs. Biniyam and Gideyon manage to escape this massive tumble in the streets of lower south Aksum, but they both turn back around to assist their friends, unwittingly leaving one villain to escape down the tiled streets to the south towards the Semiyen Mountains.
Both man and horse try to raise themselves up from the collision, whipping out swords and daggers from sheaths. Mekonnen, though bruised and in pain rises up first, followed by Yeshaq and Afeworqi, though he his wounded and bleeding with two arrows in his torso, he is determined and ready to fight with sharp, curve swords in hand. One of the villains actually managed to get back up on his stolen horse and ride off speedily down another side street. His two remaining hooded companions are ready to attack the Aksumite warriors with glistening swords in hands.
End of excerpt.
by JeroMe Matiyas
Chapter 2 :: Assassins
Copyright J.M. Griffith, 'Matiyas' 1992, 2010. All rights reserved.
Library of Congress, DC USA, filed 4/2009.