4.4 Citywide

52 17 4

Drumbeats thundered across the grand plaza, the percussion adding extra excitement to the already zealous crowd. A rock plateau formed the stage, and an ancient woman sat where everyone could see her, illuminated by dramatic bonfires.

Kessa supposed this must be the prophet Migyatel. She was propped in a black granite chair, padded by pillows and blankets. A cliff loomed behind her, riddled with carved cutouts for wealthy audience members.

The enormous gathering and drumbeats made Kessa nervous, but Migyatel seemed untroubled. Her eyes looked permanently closed, obscured by wrinkles, her face beneficent. Perhaps she was happy to have outlived so many people.

Prophets were said to live unnaturally long lives. They could supposedly foresee their own possible deaths, and if the tales about Migyatel were true ... this prophet had actually met Jonathan Stead. She had been a little girl at the time, too immature and low status to actually touch him or foretell his future.

"Yes, the rekveh is going to be brought here," an usher told a frightened elderly couple. "Yes," he said in response to a question. "But don't worry. Many warriors are keeping watch." He nodded towards the ramparts. "They're ready to handle any situation."

Albino faces peered down from the clifftop, framed by somber black uniforms. The spears in their quivers were plain black iron, not frilly golden showpieces. They looked ready for a serious battle.

"Right." The usher was now busy responding to another couple. "Migyatel insisted on meeting the rekveh, as well as the ... Alex." He caught himself before saying "the messiah." Alex was not officially the messiah unless Migyatel confirmed it to be true.

"Of course she must foretell the rekveh's future," a bejeweled woman said, with a glance of solidarity towards the man who must be her husband. "It's obvious. Migyatel can tell if that rekveh plans to do evil deeds, and we'll be able to kill it before it has a chance."

Her husband nodded.

"But really," the woman went on. "Why bring it here? Can't Migyatel just visit the prison?"

"The Council wants a show," her husband muttered.

"That's not it," another man, turning to join their conversation. "It's because the warriors want a bunch of innocent people between themselves and Alex, in case he gets mad. They want his friends nearby as well, to calm him down."

"That's ridiculous," the woman said.

"He's dangerous," the man insisted. "Haven't you heard the way warriors talk about him? I hear he can defeat any five of them in a sparring match."

"Jinishta and Chaniyelem both trust him," the woman said. "And if you want to count the gills on a mushroom, I've heard that he's nice, from reliable people. They say he is a gentleman."

"Ask yourself," the man replied in a patronizing tone, "why none of our warriors have dared to kill that rekveh, after all this time. You know plenty who want to. Right? Like Shelda."

"Of course," the woman replied. "But as warriors, they must respect the holy prophecy."

"That's right." The woman's husband wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "The messiah has 'a loyal mind reader.' That is written in holy scripture, whether we like it or not."

The argumentative man laughed dismissively. "There's a whole lot of warriors watching over us right now. I've never seen so many, for a citywide gathering."

Kessa continued to push her way towards the prime seating area, trying not to show interest in the conversation. She surreptitiously studied the plaza and counted one hundred and ten warriors who were visible. That was definitely more than necessary to defend against anything Thomas might do.

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