Alexandros: Ch. 17byJoeBarnosky©
Ah. Good to see you are up and about Khaldun," Pharaoh said upon his arrival at the war room.
"Your excellence," Khaldun replied looking up from the table.
The other four men in the room bowed and almost in unison gave the same reply as Khaldun.
"I trust you are well rested?" Pharaoh questioned as he took his place around the table.
"Yes, very much so. Thank you for the opportunity."
"If I'm to have someone lead my army, I need him to be in top shape. Otherwise, we may as well just roll over and die." Pharaoh turned his attention to the map lying on the table. It showed the entire northern region of Egypt with each of the major cities marked. "Our spies suggest the only attack will come from the north, presumably with the army's reinforcements from the gate you saw. But just to ensure the enemy doesn't decide to flank us and come in from the south when our backs are turned" He gestured on the map. "I sent instructions for the garrisons in all the major cities to fortify themselves and prepare for possible attacks. That means calling for reinforcements won't be possible unless under extreme and dire emergency."
"Let us hope it doesn't come to that then," one of the commanders at the table commented.
"Let us hope," Khaldun agreed. "Tarris has already fallen and I have sent word to Piramesse warning them of possible attack. If—"
"Sorry to interrupt my lord," the messenger, a young woman said rushing into the room.
"Go ahead," Pharaoh said waving a hand in the woman's direction.
"Piramesse fell last night. Reports say Bubastis and Sebennytos is next my lord."
"It seems their plan is to take out our cities and garrisons one by one. I will ride out to Naukratis and try to put a halt to the army advancing there," Khaldun said putting his finger on the place of the city on the map. "We cannot forfeit our supply of goods from trade if we are to win this. I want the remainder of you to go to Sebennytos, Xois, Sais and Bubastis. Take command of the garrisons there to try to push this horde back."
"I will remain here in Memphis commanding the troops," Pharaoh said. "As each city falls I want the remaining troops to retreat back to the nearest city and help with the fortifications. The first priority is the people. They will filter through here to safety."
"Do you really have such low faith my lord?" Khaldun dared to ask.
Irritation showed on Pharaoh's face. It disappeared just as quickly. He was appalled at first at such a question. Normally in privacy between the two men he wouldn't be angry at such an insult. This was war and war brought out emotions that sometimes couldn't be helped.
"I—" Khaldun began, but Pharaoh was quicker to speak.
"It's fine Khaldun. You are very empathic and I do share your enthusiasm, but I also have the realization this won't be a simple war."
"I understand my lord. I was just thinking that our—"
"Army is a great and powerful one?" Pharaoh asked interrupting again.
"That is correct," Khaldun responded hanging his head low.
"That may be the case, but remember to never let presumptions, even those that have been proven in the past to hold true, to get in the way of your better judgment."
"Good." Pharaoh turned to the messenger, whom remained silent and near the door. "You have come a long way. Please go and rest and remain here in Memphis. But before you do, have messengers sent to Bubastis and the other cities notifying them of their revised orders."
"Very well, my lord. Thank you," she said. In her rush to exit the room, she bumped into Rashida. "Oh, forgive me."
She began to kneel but Rashida placed a hand on her stopping her in the process. "There is no need for that. Please continue with your task."
"Thank you your highness," she said with a smile then carried on without looking back.
Rashida entered the chamber catching Khaldun's eye before any of the other men. "I'm going with you," she said.
Pharaoh quickly spun around. "You're going to stay here."
"But I can do more good out there," she protested.
"Your father is right. Your risk on the battle field is too great," Khaldun stated.
"I cannot risk your life out there," Pharaoh agreed.
"But you can risk his?" She asked pointing to Khaldun.
"He is the general of my army and he is well aware of the dangers. He is also willing to make the sacrifice. I, however, am not willing to sacrifice my only daughter."
"That is my final word. If the need arises, I will not hesitate to have you confined to your room and guards placed at your door."
Pharaoh was now angry. His daughter was defiant as ever and to argue with him before Khaldun and the other commanders was preposterous.
The two stood facing each other and neither willing to back down. When a set of guards began to move from the door way it was Rashida that decided to give in.
"Very well father," she said with rebelliously. "When war does not reach our doorstep, you nor anyone else will be able to keep me from fighting." She spun around and stalked out the door before her father could say anything in response.
"Children," Pharaoh said with a chuckle. He was trying to save some face not that it would matter to the men. Many present had children of their own and understood just how rebellious they could be at times.
The men just smiled and nodded.
"You all have your assignments," Khaldun said shortly. "Let us bring glory to Pharaoh and the empire!"
Cheers rang out then the men filtered from the room. When it was emptied Pharaoh dismissed the guards. Pharaoh turned to Khaldun grabbing him by both shoulders. "If it looks like you are going to lose the city then call a retreat and follow your men out. Do not let you bravery cloud your judgment."
Khaldun nodded his head in agreement.
"I promised your father when he died that I would look out for you. Now you have done a remarkable job of keeping me from failing in that promise."
The mention of his father brought back memories of them together. Khaldun was only eight when his father, then general of Pharaoh's army, died. His father returned with his men gravely wounded. The battle with the Arabian king was a failure on the Egyptians part and the penalty became his father's.
He could remember his father asking Pharaoh to take care of him and Pharaoh agreeing. Khaldun lost his mother in an attack by the Arabians just a little over a year before the war began. Raiders swept down into Pelusium killing many of the city's citizens before plundering it.
His father fueled with outrage sought to lead the army, with the permission of Pharaoh, and retaliate against the Arabians. The war lasted only a year before his father's injuries. Afterward, Pharaoh was able to convince the Arabian king to agree to a truce.
"Are you alright Khaldun?"
"Yes. Yes, I'm fine. I promise to return here safely."
"You are an exceptional leader like your father. Ra will shine his blessing upon you and all of us."
Pharaoh pulled him in for a strong embrace, and then took his leave. Khaldun stood for another moment collecting his thoughts before leaving the room himself.
He was only a few minutes into his walk before Rashida followed by Ako jumped into his path.
"So general," she said casually. "Are you going to take me with you or what?"
"And defy Pharaoh? I think not." He drew his eyes from Rashida to Ako. "I suppose you want to go as well."
"Yes sir. I am just as capable as anyone," he informed Khaldun.
Khaldun laughed. "Capable but not qualified."
A sadness shadowed Ako's face. He wasn't expecting to be turned down. He trained for this; he spent countless hours practicing his fighting skills and reading all he could about military tactics. If anyone knew whether he was ready or not it was him.
Khaldun caught on to Ako's dilemma. "I know you have spent much time waiting for a moment like this, but I just can't risk your life anymore than I can your sister's."
"It's not up to you. I'm ready and so is she," he said vehemently. He stood as straight as he could holding his chest out.
"I'll tell you what," Khaldun said trying to word it right so that he could pacify Ako. "If this war falls onto the doorstep here in Memphis then I will need your help in battle. In the meantime I need you to make sure when it does happen that the people here will be ready to flee to safety."
"That's a lowly task. I want something important," Ako protested, crossing his arms across his chest.
"There is nothing more important than the lives of our citizens. Without them we wouldn't have trade. Without trade we wouldn't have the materials to make the armor or supply the army with food," Khaldun explained.
"And we wouldn't have a need for an army if there is nobody to protect," Ako said understanding more now that Khaldun open the way for him to see.
"There, now you understand," he said with a friendly smile. "Get started on your task, we haven't much time as it is."
Khaldun looked back at Rashida once he lost sight of Ako. "You surprisingly stayed quiet. Cat got your tongue?" He asked teasingly.
"You had a lesson for my brother, I would have no right to interrupt," she replied ignoring the teasing question. "Now," she said poking him in the chest with her finger. "You are going to take me whether you like it or not."
"I know how much you want to go, but your father has strict orders and I will not break them."
"Since when are you so concerned about my father's orders or rules? We spent our entire childhood ignoring them, what has changed?"
Rashida didn't back away; instead he stood closer almost in his face.
"What has changed is we are at war. People's lives including yours are now in danger and your father may put up with your insolence but I highly doubt he will mine."
Khaldun's anger showed in his face as well as his body language. He loved Rashida's fiery attitude, it was one of the attributes that attracted him to her, but he wasn't going to back down from his decision.
"Now give it up or I will enforce your father's order and place you in your room myself."
Without another word he picked Rashida up by pressing her arms against her body and lifting her out of the way.
"We shall see if you can keep me away," she said to herself as he stalked away.