Maura de Magela looked unhappy.
This pleased Timon not one bit, but he could say nothing until his master, the Consul Rubank, whose palanquin he trudged alongside, beckoned.
The empress tapped her fingers impatiently on the arm of her carved throne made from bones of those vanquished by previous Bhuttanian rulers––and by her as well. The empress had anyone who opposed her leadership executed, including Hasan Daegians.
The throne sat upon a carved wooden dais, decorated with Imperial flags and resting upon a massive painted wagon pulled by a team of festive borax wearing plumed headgear. A detachable canopy of rare wood carved with images of dragons and other Bhuttanian symbols covered the rolling platform.
One had to be alert not to stumble under it and be crushed for it could not stop in haste.
The empress motioned to her consul who waved for the wagon to stop.
Timon, who acted as Rubank’s scribe, kneeled as did others.
Fanning herself, the empress stepped down onto the dusty ground.
The young scribe did not like having close contact with the empress. She frightened him with her blue skin and fierce expressions. Her mercurial moods were such that he always waited for a calamity to fall. Timon wished he had remained a nameless scribe in the guild for he despised his duties as royal scribe, but Rubank had handpicked him.
If Empress Maura noticed Timon’s discomfort, she did not show it.
They were on their way to Bhuttan so she could officially assume the reins of government in the capital city of Bhuttani. She was the mother of Princess Dyanna, heir to the throne of the Bhuttanian Empire, and would rule as Dowager Regent until the child became of age.
Timon chuckled when he thought of the empress relinquishing power she had ruthlessly fought to gain. He doubted she would voluntarily turn over control when the time came for the child to ascend to the throne.
Get out your tablets, commanded Rubank with the sign language Timon had devised for the consul to communicate with him.
Previously, Timon had to guess what the consul wanted or wait for him to write his instructions down. Timon’s thoughts that a tongueless advisor to a ruler benefited no one and Rubank was too old to be of any real use were kept to himself.
How many times do I have to tell you that you must be ready for the empress at all times! Rubank loved his new way of communicating and was quite adept at it.
Timon shook his head. He regretted that he had designed the hand language, for Rubank never shut up now.
As Timon unwrapped moist clay tablets from his leather pouch, two uultepes jumped off the royal platform with singular grace. The great beasts, conjured by magic, constantly stayed near the side of the empress. One pressed close to Timon, knocking him down. It circled, taking care to look Timon in the eye.
The strong odor of the brindle animals mingled with the dust of the marching army caused Timon to erupt in a fit of coughing. He brought his fist to his mouth, hoping to stifle the hack rising from his chest. He glanced up red-faced to see if the empress had noticed his breach of protocol.
She had not.
Timon immediately stood up, and grabbed his tablet and stylus, ignoring the snickers of the guards, who watched as the uultepes circled again pressing even closer. Timon, ready this time, took the sharp end of his wooden stylus and stabbed a paw of one of the giant cats.
The uultepe’s eyes widened. Angry, it trotted toward its mistress after giving Timon a malevolent glance.
Timon smiled. Brushing off his dusty knees with several quiet groans, he reluctantly followed. Timon made a mental note to speak to Rubank about a transfer again as he stumbled along. Fumbling with his stylus and wet clay tablets, he dodged an army trudging in the opposite direction.
Scribes used beeswax, wood, and cloth, but clay tablets were preferred on a military march. The wet clay was never allowed to dry out and could be used over and over again.
Timon thought the heavy clay tablets a nuisance and hated working with them, but then Timon hated everything about his life at the moment. Oh, he longed to escape.
Empress Maura strode steadily toward the rear of the army with her hands clasped behind her back.
Two lads-in-waiting struggled to keep the costly embroidered train of her light blue and gold gown out of the dirt.
Underneath the skirt of her gown, Timon could see leather boots and heavy, twined cotton pants commonly worn by most Bhuttanian soldiers. He was sure there would also be a dagger or two tucked away somewhere on her royal personage.
Timon was aware the empress only donned the beautiful gown to please the more conservative elements of her court. She wore the soldier’s clothes to please herself. On a second’s notice, she could rip the gown off, becoming a skilled combatant. She had become the deadliest woman in the Bhuttanian Empire, which no one could best, regardless of their proficiency with weapons.
There were others who were more dexterous in swinging an axe or lighter on their feet with a sword, but she possessed brute strength and lightning fast agility.
Perhaps a Dini possessed sufficient skill and strength to topple the empress, but the Dinii were seen no more.
The empress rested her eyes upon Timon, as she inclined her head. “What is the name of you, boy?”
Timon blinked and heard himself replying, “My name is Timon Ben Ibin Moab. My people are from the Steppes of Moab named after the first of my ancestors.” He bowed his head.
“We will cut through the Steppes of Moab before we reach Bhuttani.”
Timon continued to stare at the ground. “Yes, Empress. My home is only a week or so from here.”
“You have been in the consul’s employment for how long?”
He’s unusually clever, Great Mother, Rubank wrote on a tablet for the empress. He has an impressive talent for symbols and language.
Maura considered this information for a moment after
reading the tablet. “He must be, Consul, as I do not see your usual interpreters with you.”
She addressed Timon directly. “Timon Ben Ibin Moab, you will come to my tent after the evening meal and show me from whence you came on my map,” commanded the empress. She turned her head from the consul and the lowly scribe, who realized he had just wet himself.
Luckily, Timon’s long woven tunic covered his disgrace. He touched his fingers to his heart and then his lips with a
theatrical flourish. Seeing Rubank was displeased, Timon gave the usual Bhuttanian salute of the fist to his heart. With a wave of her hand, Maura dismissed both Rubank and Timon.
Timon reluctantly followed the silent Rubank and helped him into his palanquin. The years of war between the Bhuttanians and Hasan Daegians had strained the royal consul’s heart. Rubank did little these days to be of real use to the empress except give her occasional advice.
Still, the empress showed Rubank respect by letting him keep his title and honors. In fact, Timon noticed she rarely let Rubank out of her sight.
Timon pinched the side of his face. It is regarding things which are none of my business that got me noticed by the empress today! thought Timon, but still he pondered the reasons why Maura de Magela, Dowager Regent, Aganess of the
Bhuttanian Empire, Tenth Queen of Hasan Daeg, and Great Mother of Kaseri, might need an old man who was past his prime.
Timon had heard Rubank served Queen Abisola, Maura’s mother, for much of her reign. That would make him––let’s see––past one hundred, maybe older, Timon thought as he counted on his fingers. Timon shook his head in disbelief and hurried to catch up with Rubank’s palanquin.
These Hasan Daegians lived a very long time.