“So, there’s nothing that can be done? Even if we marched all night?” Prince Omer stood with Captain Pagag in the field with Esrah. She had given them the news of King Shule as soon as she had dismounted from her curelom.
Captain Pagag shook his head. “We’re too far away. The army wouldn’t make it in time. The kingdom looks to you now.”
Omer crossed his arms to keep them from trembling. He wasn’t ready to rule yet, let alone win a civil war. “My father rescued my grandfather. I should be able to do the same.”
Pagag frowned. “Young prince, your father had years to gather an army. It is not your failing that Noah prefers to execute his captured king.”
Esrah cleared her throat. “Your highness, I am sorry to be the one to tell you King Shule’s fate. Is there anything else you require?” She swayed on her feet. Omer wasn’t sure which she’d want first, a bed or a meal after such a long flight. Her curelom had already curled up to sleep in the middle of the field, its leathery wing extended over its half-finished peccary carcass.
Omer pressed his lips together. Maybe there was still a way to save his father. “What time did you say that the king would be executed?”
“Dawn, your highness.”
“And how long was the flight from Moron?”
“About ten hours.”
“Your highness,” Captain Pagag cut in. “You cannot be thinking about retaking the city using only curelom riders. The archers would slaughter you.”
“Not retaking the city, just raiding the prison.” Omer started towards the supply tent. “Send the word. We leave in half an hour.”
The moon had set not long before they began the final approach to Moron. Omer’s legs ached from holding his perch just behind the giant wings of his curelom, Corai. His hands were numb from the cold as they soared among the clouds. Earlier, he had needed to fight to stay awake, but now that the starlight showed the outline of Moron’s pyramid temple, his heart pounded within his chest. Please, God, let my father rule for a few more years.
He took one of his three obsidian-tipped javelins in hand and held it up, signaling to the other ten riders to prepare for the assault. They formed a V behind him. He squinted to make out the familiar shapes below. The archers on the outskirts of the city hadn’t seen the cureloms as they’d passed overhead. Now, they were almost directly above the complex where he had been raised. According to Esrah, the usurper Noah slept in the largest building there, and his father was kept in the small stone prison next to it. A dozen men with spears stood guard in the courtyard, two guarding Noah, four guarding the prison, and the rest patrolling in pairs.
Omer patted Corai’s scaly neck. “All right, girl. Let’s go.” She folded in her wings and dove straight for the south end of the complex, where a pair of guards walked the other way. Omer pressed himself tight to Corai’s neck, squinting against the rush of wind. The guards stopped, looked side to side, and then up. They shouted something Omer lost in the wind. Corai flared her wings out as she latched on to them with her talons, like an eagle snatching prey.
The other guards rushed in as Omer’s companions swooped down on them. Half were felled instantly, while the others managed to get their spears into a defensive position. Omer urged Corai forward into the fray. She bared her fangs as the scent of blood filled the air. As the guard jabbed at her head, Omer threw his javelin. The guard fell with a groan.
With all the guards down, Omer swung off Corai’s back and ran for the prison door. Jared met him there, copper axe in hand. With a few chops, the wooden door was down. Omer ran in, javelins at the ready. A guard’s shadow moved at the side. Omer swung, parrying the guard’s spear with one javelin, while he thrust with the other. The guard fell with a thud.
Omer straightened, breathing hard. “Father?”
“Omer?” At the back, Omer could just make out a form with hands bound with leather cords. “How did you get here?”
“No time. We have to go.” He sliced the bonds with the head of the javelin and helped Father to his feet. Outside, warning horns called through the air. “Everyone up!” Omer shouted as they dashed outside. He helped Father onto Corai’s back.
“Shoot the king!” Noah had emerged from his house, not even taking the time to dress beyond wrapping a cloth around his waist.
“Go! Go!” Omer slapped Corai’s hindquarters and the curelom leapt into the air. Omer gripped his javelins hard as he ran for Noah. He didn’t look back as the archer next to Noah fired. Omer screamed and jumped, flinging the javelin with all his might. It struck Noah in the chest, and he collapsed to the ground. Omer switched the other javelin to his right hand, but the archer was already taking aim, straight at him.
Corai dove on top of the archer, biting his arm. With a fling of her head, she threw him against a wall. Father held out his hand to Omer. An arrow stuck out from his other shoulder. “Hop on.”
Omer took hold of Father’s hand and leapt astride. Corai took off into the air, her wings beating fast to get out of the archers’ range. Omer’s breathing didn’t come easy until they had made it beyond the edge of the city.
“Just had to outdo me, did you?” Father asked when they were able to land and to tend to his wound.
“Not possible.” Omer helped Father lay down.
“You’re too hard on yourself. You’ll make a good king.” Father smiled.
Omer grunted as he jerked the arrow out.
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