A much bigger crowd gathered to witness the fight between the king and his adviser. In the time since the confrontation on the balcony the message had been passed on to all the people of the city. Central Square was the biggest market square in the city. All the market stalls had been removed and a space fenced off in the middle where the fight would take place, but the area around this was not big enough to hold all the crowds. People were packed into the streets leading off the square, hanging out of the windows of surrounding buildings and watching from rooftops, balconies and walkways above. Izdihar and Shahrazad were right next to the fenced-off area with Tommy, who had simply refused to stay at home. The sun was setting, most of the dim light coming from lamps around the square. There was a quiet, tense atmosphere throughout the crowd. Everyone knew what Sayyid becoming king could mean for the kingdom.
“I’m sure Sayyid is no match for your father,” said Shahrazad.
“But he’s injured,” whispered Izdihar.
They heard shouts and saw that the crowd was parting on both sides. On one side, Sayyid was making his way through, two of his men following behind looking menacing, on the other Basir was limping along, his arms held behind his back by another one of Sayyid’s men. They were both dressed for battle, with swords at their waists.
Mazin, who had been waiting in the centre of the square making sure that the central area was kept clear, called out “People, I present Adviser Sayyid...” Sayyid reached the centre first, and bowed his head to the people around him. There were predominantly boos. Sayyid’s lips tightened and his eyes flashed in anger.
“...Here to defend the city against the treacherous king Basir, who has been exposed in a plot to murder his own adviser.” Basir was shoved into the circle and stood up straight. He was met by cheers when he waved to the people. Then he went straight to Izdihar and held her hands over the flimsy fence separating them.
“I love you,” he said, too quiet for anyone else except Shahrazad to hear.
“I love you too,” whispered Izdihar.
He was looking straight into her eyes and she saw the apology in his. There was so much she wished she could have said.
But Adviser Sayyid was laughing. “Doesn’t your fiancé get a kiss for good luck, Princess?” he asked, coming closer.
Basir turned away so that he was standing between Sayyid and Izdihar, looking angrier than Shahrazad or Izdihar had ever seen him.
“I told you, Sayyid. You'll leave my daughter alone. Whatever happens today.”
“Whatever you say, Basir,” said Sayyid smoothly. “It’s a shame,” he said, looking at Izdihar. She scowled at him.
“Let’s get on with this, shall we?” growled Basir.
Sayyid nodded to Mazin, who called out. “Prepare yourselves!”
Sayyid and Basir took several steps backwards so that they were standing about six paces apart. They both drew their swords. The tension in the air seemed to fizzle.
“The fight for the throne will start in three... two... one... Now!”
Mazin stepped back and the two men rushed forward, their swords meeting for the first time with a clash that seemed to reverberate through Izdihar. The crowd was suddenly alive with noise. Although Sayyid had supporters in the tallest towers, they were down on the ground now. The majority of the city’s population were from here or the lowest levels and the support for the king was overwhelming.
The two men were both enormously skilled with their swords. They were moving so fast it was hard to keep up. King Basir was emanating fury and power, and Shahrazad was in awe. He would certainly be a very frightening man to on the wrong side of. Tall and thin compared to Basir but very quick, Sayyid was also looking very menacing, cold determination in his eyes. The clanging of metal rang out through the square. Izdihar almost couldn’t watch. Her hands were up in front of her face, but she just couldn’t take her eyes off the fight.
It was growing darker as the fight went on. It seemed that King Basir was starting to get the upper hand, despite his limp. He was driving Sayyid back, towards the crowd. The adviser could only block King Basir’s attacks. Until he managed to throw Basir off balance. As the king stumbled, he regained some space and swung for him, but Basir blocked it, and the fight continued. It became impossible again for Shahrazad or Izdihar to tell who was winning, until Basir aimed a huge blow at Sayyid, who ducked and slashed at his already injured leg.
Izdihar flinched. Shahrazad, squeezing her hand, whispered “It only looks like a small cut.”
Basir bought the hilt of his sword down hard on Sayyid’s back then had to block another attack. Luckily he didn’t seem badly injured. With another slash of his sword he caught Sayyid’s arm. The adviser let out a roar of anger. The hatred and enmity between the two men was palpable. They were concentrating everything they had into this fight.
Suddenly, Basir, dodging a stabbing blow from Sayyid, stumbled on his injured leg. Izdihar let out a moan as Sayyid drove his sword forward. It plunged into the king’s shoulder and he fell to the ground, blood pouring from the wound. “No!” wailed Izdihar.
A hush fell over the crowd. Sayyid stood over his enemy, sword at his throat, and looked out at the audience surrounding him, triumphant. “Show some respect for your new king!” he shouted. There were a few moments of silence. “BOW TO ME!” he roared, a mad glint in his eye, and Shahrazad didn’t think she had ever seen anyone look more frightening. His voice made her blood run cold. People started to bow, in the square, above them on balconies and rooftops. Shahrazad and Izdihar stood where they were. Sayyid looked at them but turned back to Basir, on the ground.
The king looked utterly defeated. All his anger had gone. He looked up at Sayyid expressionlessly. Izdihar could hardly breathe. Surely Sayyid wouldn’t kill him, not like that.
“Your king is merciful!” called Sayyid. He turned to Basir. “I hereby banish you from the kingdom,” said Sayyid to Basir. “If you ever come back here, you’re dead.” He stepped back and let Basir stand up.
He looked Sayyid in the eye for a few seconds, then moved towards Izdihar. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. Sayyid was pointing his sword at him again, and as guards started to close in, Basir turned and started to make his slow, limping way out of the square, the crowd parting, silent with shock, to let him through. Izdihar was left staring sightlessly at the place where he had been lost from view, taking deep, shuddering breaths.
Everyone gathered in and around the square was focused on Sayyid. Although a lot of people couldn’t hear what was being said in the little arena, it was clear enough what was going on.
“There are going to be some changes around here,” shouted Sayyid, in his cool, powerful voice. “I would like to warn anyone who still holds some misguided loyalty towards the lying, traitorous former king that it will not be tolerated. The guards trying to help Basir in his assassination plot are being held in jail and there is plenty of room in there for anyone questioning my authority to join him. Your loyalty is with me now.” His words seemed to settle slowly and heavily over the crowds.
He looked down at Izdihar and more quietly, addressing his nearby guards, he said “One of you, escort my fiancée up to my tower and find her something to calm her down. She seems to be rather distressed.”
Shahrazad was overcome by panic. Izdihar seemed barely aware of what was going on around her, and when a guard grabbed her she didn’t put up a fight.
“No!” Shahrazad shouted. “You heard Basir, she’s not engaged to you anymore!”
She tried to pull the man off her.
“Mazin, shut this woman up,” ordered Sayyid, looking at Shahrazad in disgust.
“Gladly,” smirked Mazin, and started towards her.
Tommy leaped into his way, baring his little teeth.
“And someone grab that boy!” shouted Sayyid.
“No! Run, Tommy!” yelled Shahrazad. “RUN!”
Tommy looked at her, hesitating, but Shahrazad gestured away frantically, urging him to leave. As guards started to close in, he turned and disappeared into the crowd. A couple of men started to follow.
Izdihar had been pulled to her feet and the man who had her arm was leading her away, Shahrazad looking after her helplessly. Sayyid was also leaving.
Mazin grabbed Shahrazad by the front of her sari. “Even if he gets away, don’t think that your little barbarian boy is going to escape us!” he hissed in her face. “We’ll be paying you a visit and if we ever find that you’re hiding him again you’re not going to get away with it!” He shoved her away from him and strode away.
The square suddenly seemed full of Sayyid’s guards. The crowd were gradually dispersing. Shahrazad stood frozen to the spot in complete and utter horror.