She was too late.
“Father, you need medical attention,” Zingara said. In the darkness, she knelt with a bright chemical torch. Blood pooled around her knees.
“The closest medic is dead,” whispered Yew to Zin.
“Both. Take … the packet … my right breast pocket,” Krest wheezed.
Yew Rue pulled out a bloody wad of stuff and shoved it in his war kit. The perforated packet punctured by a finger-sized stone projectile.
“Zin, goodbye, my Desert Princess,” Krest breathed out.
“What to say?” said Zingara. As she spoke this dismal finality, Somer Krest, the wise old man, never inhaled again.
Dusty silence dispersed.
Zingara didn’t say farewell. It wasn’t right. Nothing glamorous, mere explosives on the door. Boom! He’s dead.
Zingara smothered her grief hating who wired the door: Lamia’s goons.
Her father helped Zingara discover her beauty and intelligence. His gift of confidence to succeed at anything. Now, her precious feelings gone in an instant. Her eyes closed tight. Angry blood vengeance must lie on this same cold white marble floor.
“You, men. In here,” commanded the solemn Yew.
A white carrying cot presented to remove Somer Krest’s broken body.
“Wait,” commanded Yew Rue. He withdrew a shining red feather from a secret pocket sewn in his pant leg.
“I return this sacred talisman,” he said. He spread a handkerchief across Krest’s silent chest. Folding Krest’s hands, he placed the long feather there. The warriors stared at the shiny feather in disbelief.
“It’s always been true,” whispered one.
“It’s the flight feather of Benu,” breathed a young uniformed woman.
“We never doubted the legend, sir,” said the drill leader.
“It’s more than legend now,” said Yew Rue, “Bury The Wise Old Man in full battle dress. The feather bears testimony of his sacrifice. Any questions?”
“His spirit guides us still!” Yew Rue shouted.
The soldiers memorized the moment, “The Wise One’s spirit guides us still!”
And outside a spontaneous battle chant grew and repeated, “Guides us still. Guides us still.”
Zingara noticed the new boldness in Yew’s voice. Returning the generous Phoenix feather was an honor. No desert man ever bestowed such a gift. She was in shock. Her trained military composure eroded in turmoil. A sob welled up deep inside.
Sad yearnings echoed in the silent vacuum. Her knees collapsed as she spoke, “Daddy, don’t go.”
Yew stepped among the assault team … and stood in the middle … in the proper teaching stance.
“I am Yew Rue. My battle name means sorrow. Here, you and I, we all, sorrow the loss of our valued leader – together. Our mission is to liberate this golden city. We will make Shiloh free again – or die.”
In silence, gloved fists began to rise, showing soundless battle consensus. So, promised by all: freedom – or death. And, without a word or struggle, Yew Rue became the unanimous chosen as new battle leader.
His eyes gleamed. The corner of his mouth curled in a treasonous smirk of treachery.