Cloak, Dagger and a House of Cards by Drew Powell

The Territory of the Kerian Dynasty

Twenty Years Ago

Malakeh, the child princess of the kingdom woke up from her dream in her bed chambers after living in a nightmare of her own forming brain’s making. She’s merely 8 years old, completely sheltered from the effects of the real world. Her long chestnut brown hair flows onto her back as she gets out of the bed. She reaches for the candlestick and uses the oil to light it again. In an uncommon occurrence, her royal chambers are not guarded tonight, so she’s able to slip away, so she heads out toward her mother, Latifa’s chambers. In a strange turn, her chambers are unguarded as well and since there’s light inside, she can peek in through the keyhole. She sees her mother with Gharibe, her paternal aunt, as she’s seemingly playing cards with her sister-in-law.

جوكَر (Joker!) – says Gharibe, and lifts a dagger from the table out of Malakeh’s field of sight, and cuts Latifa’s right ring finger. Malakeh dares not to scream out because it quickly dawns on her, what’s happening. Her mother told her 2 years ago that sometimes the women in their household have to protect their title through duels, challenged by usurpers. Once issued, except for their seconds, nobody is to interfere. This “game” is also known as a dead hand, as the objective is to keep the opponent in the duel as long as possible, achieved usually by their seconds playing the cards and the duelists using the daggers. There is, however, unbeknownst to Malakeh, a more dangerous version, where the duelists play themselves and cut each other until one of them dies.

Latifa, already bleeding from four fingers, lift the next card, and through the pain, manages to bring a smile to her face as the next card is a 5. The cards they play with, especially the pip cards contain daggers, matching the numbers they display. The joker only allows one free target, and the highest 3 cards contain only one dagger, but one which can be used as many times as high the number on the card is. In a completely sane world one would think such noble women would forfeit using such dangerous playing items, but that would just be underestimating how much these women hate each other. Where Latifa has seduced her husband and killed her other sister-in-law, when she challenged her, Gharibe’s motivation is one of pure power, a throne she felt should have been hers instead of her philanderer of a brother.

Like a lighting striking a treetop, Gharibe screams from a pain Latifa is inflicting on her fingers and her palm (by this point, Gharibe’s fingers are already bleeding). Infuriated, she uses her leg to plant it under her foe’s chair, keeping it in place, grabs her right hand with her own left, and slashes Latifa’s left forearm with her dagger. It’s Latifa’s turn to cry out and she tries her utmost to free her right hand. As all bets are off, the women lean closer and slice each other wherever they can. Latifa manages to get away from the deadlock as she falls behind, and rolls away. Gharibe is on her tail and so they meet up before the bed, in full view of their royal relative, who’s still to scared to do anything. They both try to push the other’s weapon wielding hand away as they try to head butt and/or sweep the other’s feet.

Latifa’s mammaries grew naturally in size after she gave birth to Malakeh and her brother to what modern women would call 40DDs, so quite obviously she pushed back against Gharibe’s 38C cups. She feels confident and in control of events, so she starts to lean in on her sister-in-law, an action that proves to be a costly mistake. Gharibe kicks Latifa’s right knee with her left leg and her opponent drops down just enough so that Gharibe’s dagger gets free, and she stabs her foe in the shoulder. Latifa lets out a deep howl, but before she could recollect herself, Gharibe stabs her right wrist. A stream of tears rolls down her face as Latifa tries to move away, but the usurper is relentless. She forces her to stand up again, and turning her dagger around, she thrusts the handle into the queen’s gut, forcing the air out of her. Malakeh is still petrified from horror to even scream out or call for help. In all of her short life, her mother was always strong and unwavering, and she feels sorrow that cheating could best her this way. Suddenly her heart seemed like to stop as she watched what her aunt is doing.

Gharibe forces Latifa to stand up again, but this time she directs Latifa’s wounded hand below her own as if they moved to share a drink, only to drive it into her chest just a few inches south of her heaving breasts. The queen starts to stagger from the blood loss, yet her torment isn’t over. Gharibe pries the dagger out, keeps it on her side and as her opponent’s blood sprays on her from the chest cavity, she uses her own dagger to stab the queen in the neck. She in turn has no strength to speak anymore, so she can only look at her antagonist. The wicked pretender smiles through this ordeal and exerts remarkable strength in keeping her from slumping down. Alas, this to be the last scene she sees with her own eyes as her life force fades away.

Bourean Kingdom

Three Years Ago

Aderet is a revered dancer of the kingdom, which resides as northernmost to the neighboring continent, though due to previous conquests, some parts of the other continent’s southernmost tip is under their command. Today is Alupha’s big day, whom she trained since that girl was little, she will dance before Hasan el-Shakir, the local prince and warlord of the area. Aderet hopes to gain her freedom by helping this girl, who oh so many years ago climbed into their carriage, frightened and crying. As she was drenched from the rain, she has caught a bad fever, so her dreams did not reveal much. She has frequently cried out to her mother, and when they reached the next town, word came that the dynasty’s queen mother died, murdered in fact. Given that Aderet and her family are traveling Jewish entertainers, they’d be the first to be accused, so quickly thinking on her feet, she realized they can’t return there ever. The little girl, whose name she couldn’t ask can’t return either, so she named her Alupha. She protested that, but grew into it, just as well into the art of belly dancing. Malakeh was lucky to inherit her mother’s figure, so her hips were prominent enough, to the point that various prospective mother-in-laws bid on her to no avail. She and her adoptive family have always found ways to avoid any commitment as the princess’s sight is set on something else: revenge.

Inecia Kingdom

Eighteen Years Ago

Lady Ysabelon has turned 18, and as per customary with her father, King Herve, she has one wish granted. Today’s wish was to ride out with Knight Wattie from whom she learned fencing ever since she was a girl. The king is under constant threat from both within, without a male heir, her future throne is contested, plus the nobility constantly wishes more land rights, but also from the outside in the form of the Bourean Kingdom. A vassal to the Kerian Dynasty, they repeatedly try to push further inland and with it, threaten their faith.

As both riders reach the meadow, they dismount from their horses, and proceed to par with each other. The knight notices that the future queen’s form has become more elegant, but also aggressive at the same time, forcing him to stand his ground.

What ails your heart, your majesty? – asks her tutor as they catch a break.
It is… everything. My father’s health started to degrade… I can’t trust my uncle to be a trustworthy regent… he may be the archbishop, but his alliance with the traders and the nobility puts our position in danger. The prince he sought out for me is but four years old. How I wish I could just link my life to yours, and not care about what happens.
Your grandfather, Emperor Guille has started the war with the Boureans, but he also was the one who extended his welcome to traders and their culture.
I know all of that!
Then you also know, I am not of noble birth, it would not be accepted.
I hope your blade is as sharp as your tongue, knight! – and with that, Ysabelon has punched the sword out of her instructor’s hand and jumped wildly on him, resulting in them rolling around, kissing, leading to an afternoon just to themselves joined at the hips.

Inecia Kingdom

Present Day

It has been 8 months since Alupha was sent to Inecia as part of the entertaining troupe and as actual spies on behalf of el-Shakir. Naturally just as she moves in a make belief word with a make belief name, Malakeh has her own ulterior motive, of which only Aderet is the wiser. She has grown up to be a 168 cm tall, shoulder length chestnut brown haired beauty with eyes as black as the night above the desert. Her well rounded figure is complemented by her ample bosom, rivaling that of Gharibe, only hers was this big after having children, a joy and temporary burden the clandestine princess has never had in her own life yet. To survive major hostilities, the kingdom has become a melting pot for every arrival, especially so after the reign’s grandfather lost his title of emperor to the Boureans, along with the territory. To avoid total collapse, he granted ownership rights for financial backing that services a large standing army, with plenty left for lavish parties. This was how Alupha got here, and she plans to stay.

Later that night, as advertised, she takes center stage and as the accompanying musicians fill the throne room with lush oriental music, her hips start to mesmerize the crowd. Her pink and orange garb tastefully covers her womanhood, but just enough that it remains enticing. She has trained long hours to retain her callipygian butt and the result doesn’t fall short, evoking the interest of the Prince Consort Adlard, who has become Lady Ysabelon’s husband. The queen, ever since her late father has passed away 4 years ago, introduced a new shadow system where men plot trade deals and wars, but the sanctity of the home remains a female domain. She had Knight Wattie train ladies in waiting to be her bodyguards as well as herself to counter any machinations which would end her rule. That is, until this wretch showed up. It’s not like she loves her husband as theirs is a marriage for political reasons, rather this is about respect and power. She cannot let gold diggers and pretenders challenge her authority, so she’s keenly awaiting when the acts will end and she can confront her.

She has instructed a squire to deliver the message to the troupe leader, to the care of the dancer. In it, she has described to attend a meeting one hour past receiving the note, to which showing up is mandatory. True to her word, the dancer did so. The queen has just realized, that to her 172 cm frame, the dancer is a bit smaller, and her hair is a bit shorter, than hers, also not braided. Her breasts pose a small challenge to her 36D bosom, but she plans nonetheless to stand firm.

  • Forgive my intrusion, dancer, I wished to extend my personal welcome onto you without necessary pleasantries. I hope your accommodations are to your liking.
  • You make me blush your majesty with your grace. Everything is to my liking.
  • As I’m sure you’re aware, some sections are off limits, and heavily guarded.
  • It has not escaped my attention, your highness.
  • That is illuminating, because to me it seemed you have stepped over a line.
  • Did I indeed? I failed to notice.
  • Take note of that: the royal household is not, shall not and will not be your prerogative!
  • I exist to entertain whoever wishes to feast their eyes on my flesh to quell the desire of their own, surely as a woman you would understand!
  • I am foremost their lord and shepherd and in that title I don’t tolerate infractions.
  • Those dipping their toes in every lake only get wet to the top of their head. You shan’t concern yourself with petty concerns of the heart. If I may…
  • You may not!
  • I wished merely to point out that your puppet of a husband bears no weight on what you do.
  • It is not your place to speak such insolence! I demand satisfaction!
  • May it be! Name the place and time.
  • Tomorrow night, in the Winter Solstice Ceremony Chamber. You may bring a second.
  • Since you have challenged me, I accept. I will however set the terms.
  • I’m listening.
  • Are you familiar with what your people call naipes?
  • Yes. What of it?
  • In my circles, we have a traditional duel that uses them and two dices. The face cards depict daggers, so daggers we will use.
  • You wish to subject me to such barbaric rules?
  • Either this or we move into a corner and slap each other silly. I propose you accept.
  • Let it be then. What is your desirable outcome?
  • I don’t fight until first blood, your majesty. Either I’ll slice your clothes off of you, one or both of us bleed more than acceptable to continue, or one of us dies.
  • You better hope it will be you as I don’t plan to keep your nomadic family around!
  • My, my… such strong words. It must be hard to please you, your highness.
  • Slow your tongue or I’ll cut it out for you. Now, begone from my sight at once!

The next day has risen for Malakeh and she could set her plan in motion. Should she lose, but survive, she will employ her charms to convince the men of the royal household of the queen being unreasonably aggressive and violent. Should she win, she has plans to influence the prince consort into renewing the war with the Kerian Dynasty and the Bourean Kingdom so that she can conquer Gharibe’s lands and act revenge for killing her mother and usurping the throne that was rightfully hers.

That night, Monk Renout, an infamous card player and confidant of Duke Aleyn, the bishop and Ysabelon’s uncle was chosen to be Ysabelon’s second. The queen herself chose to appear in a satin night gown of mauve color to contrast her raven dark long hair. Alupha/Malakeh’s second is her adoptive mother Aderet, an equally savvy card player.

After the pleasantries were exchanged, both seconds asked the combatants if they wished to forfeit, which they declined. Accordingly they sat down at the table and prepared the daggers. To the queen’s surprise, the beautiful belly dancer already had hers wrapped around her legs and sheathed. Aderet started, and she rolled 9, placing the pip card onto the table. As if struck by lightning, Alupha has made small slices on the gown, which put a smile on her face as she herself was in a belly dancer outfit. Renout’s call was 8. Ysabelon wasted no time and made cuts to the straps, forcing the dancer’s outfit to fall onto the ground. The reply number is 6, and accordingly, Malakeh cuts on the seams of the queen’s dress, disrobing her. The monk’s reply is also 6, so the queen causes surface cuts to the dancer. Both have accepted they wish to torture the other. Aderet’s number is 6, so Alupha repays the surface cuts with three of them on the queen’s face. The queen gets 8 stabs, and goes deeper, relying on her fencing skills. She uses the handle of her dagger to punch the dancer in the belly and wounds her on her back, under the breasts and takes part of her hair as trophy. Enraged, after hearing the number 3, Malakeh stabs the queen’s wrist and fingers. The royal ruler cries out in pain and pushes her foe away. She gets 8, and accordingly she stabs the dancer’s arms and legs. Howling from the pain, Malakeh slowly gets up, and bleeding from her wounds, she finds the drive to carry out the 10 stabs she was awarded. She goes for vital spots and that forces both women to stumble and rely on each other. Renout asks if they wish to give up, and the women comply. Other than their own rage, their issues with their lives, with their worlds, with each other have not been and could not been resolved. Aderet and Renout come to their aide, and they are both spirited away to their respective chambers for recuperation, and to live and see another day.

The End

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