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    lilansui
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Crown Prince Yoshi - 3. Chapter 3

3

Yoshi walked along the main street in the small village. His head covered with a cotton hat, his clothes those of a merchant. His sword hidden at his waist by a gray overcoat that Sando had gotten along with the merchant clothes.

“Wait for me in the teahouse,” Sando urged leading the way to the building set in the middle of town. “You’ll be safe, and no one will bother you until I return.”

There were so many shops and people; no one knew who he was. He relished the adventure of walking unnoticed in a crowd. They passed different shops that were selling fabric, herbs, grain and steamed buns.

“Keep up,” Sando touched his elbow. “If we’re going to make it to Earith, we need to leave soon.”

“Telia said we should travel at night.”

“In a forest full of wild animals,” Sando scoffed. “That woman thinks she’s invincible.”

“She’s a warrior.” Yoshi folded his hands behind him as they came up to the teahouse. “She also has a small sister to protect. I trust her judgment.”

“Whatever you say,” Sando said with a short bow nodding to the veranda surrounding the teahouse. “Please wait here, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Yoshi watched Sando run off to get supplies for their long journey to Earith. He hoped Telia and Hinna were right and that they’d make it there in two days. Walking up the steps of the teahouse, he looked around the veranda happy to see it was still too early to be packed with customers. Apart from two women and their children seated at two tables to his right, the rest of the tables were empty. Choosing one with a view of the street and the front entrance into the teahouse, he sat down careful to pull his hat low over his face.

A young woman brought him a tray and as she poured green tea into his cup, he remembered another trip to a teahouse.

He’d been nine years old, right before his father’s death. Prince Toshi, his father, had sneaked him out of the palace and taken him on a short trip to Terra, in the south of Amana. Terra was a beautiful quad, built close to the ocean; they fished for a living and protected the Terran culture fiercely. He liked visiting Terra. He and his father had stopped at a teahouse along the way and his father had allowed him to pour tea. He missed that carefree feeling he’d enjoyed then. Traveling with his father, not caring about rules and obligations, his father had insisted on adventure.

The young woman walked away and he stared at the hot liquid in his cup.

Sadly, adventure had eventually killed his father, the Prince Consort. On a hunting trip to the forests surrounding Earith, his father had fallen off his horse and hit his head on bedrock. Yoshi had cried for days, hating the stiff protocols the palace followed during the funeral, hating his mother for forcing him to hide his pain.

Yoshi gave a short sigh and looked at the two women seated a few tables away. They giggled as they talked, sipping their tea, their gazes on their children. He’d never seen his mother look like they did.

The Empress, Almira Taimeng, never gossiped. She sat regally, and she definitely never giggled.

One of the girls spilled tea on the table and her mother cautioned with a stern voice. He smiled. That was familiar, although his mother never spoke any words. She’d always given him a look that made him freeze in his tracks even now at the age of twenty-one. Strange, but he missed that sharp gaze she used to chastise him.

The village market was coming to life, farmers bringing produce on large carts pulled by horses. He watched a group of boys in a wild rush duck between two horses carrying kites. Yoshi envied their carefree spirit. When he’d been a boy, his mother hadn’t allowed him to run free playing with kites. He’d spent his hours in the royal library learning the languages spoken by the different quads of Amana.

You cannot rule an empire you don’t understand, Almira the Great would say when he enticed Sando into escaping his lessons.

His punishments after an escape included an hour reciting taxation laws with the Finance Minister. What a boring childhood, hardly like the boys racing down the streets to adventure. He rarely left the palace without an escort. Riding Senbon in the grounds behind the palace was his only freedom.

He lifted the cup to sip his tea only to pause when thundering hooves filled the languid morning atmosphere. Pedestrians on the main road moved aside quickly, dragging children and merchandise out of the way. A piercing scream ripped through the shouts of panic, and Yoshi put his cup down.

More shouts and screams filled the morning and he stood, catching sight of a group of dark riders racing along the street swinging swords, their black metallic masks painted red. They wore black armor, with dark cloaks flying at their backs. The women pulled their children closer and he pointed to the front entrance of the teahouse. They obeyed his silent order, dragging their panic-stricken children into the safety of the teahouse. He was sure there had to be a back door, so the women would be safe.

The riders were riding straight to the teahouse; he needed to find Sando at the market. The veranda wrapped around the teahouse. He ran to the back intent on escape. They had to leave this village now.

****

Sando made an impatient noise as he watched the woman bagging rice linger over the scale. He didn’t like to leave Yoshi alone too long, his charge was prone to mischief and they couldn’t afford trouble. Dear heavens help them, what the Empress would say if she saw her only son now. The Crown Prince of the Empire lost in the woods with a pair of headstrong women not a royal guard in sight.

He shuddered.

“Anything else, Mister?” the unhurried woman asked smiling at him.

Her brown teeth made him cringe. He took the bag of rice she held out and made a note to wash it with hot water before he cooked.

“Do you have apricots?” he asked of the woman.

Yoshi liked fruits and they hadn’t eaten any last night. If they took to the road tonight, they might not see any fruits until they reached Earith. He’d buy a few for their journey however long it took.

“Try the next stall,” the woman said helpfully bestowing on him her appalling smile.

Sando forced a smile for her and hauled his loot to the next stall in the unpopulated market. He rarely got a chance to visit the market at Lexin city, but when he did, it always felt like a wrestling match. People in every corner, merchants screaming out prices, promising cheap deals, he liked the energy. He’d promised to take Yoshi on one of his jaunts in to the market a few weeks ago. He couldn’t have imagined they’d end up in the Furian forest hiding out because of treason.

Treason, he shook his head.

What was Prince Saki thinking? The Phoenix Throne was destined for Yoshi Taimeng. A war would breakout before Almira the Great allowed that weasel to sit on her throne.

Sweat beads broke on his forehead at the thought of war. He’d have to fight beside Yoshi. That was if they ever made it back to Lexin city and the palace.

Bastards, why plot treason?

The Empire was peaceful to a point; there were always the unhappy rebels wanting more than they could get.

He found fruits in a stall hidden between a fabric stand and another grain merchant. He was busy choosing apricots when he heard hushed voices. He lifted his head, old eavesdropping habits hard to control, and froze when he saw the tall man from the night before. Sando shifted, using the fabric on his left as a shield, he took a closer look.

The dark rider who’d taken an interest in Yoshi last night at the baths was talking to a shorter man. Their voices were urgent; their expressions dark, something critical worried the dark rider. A finger tapped his arm and he turned to the stall owner.

“Pay first before you take those fruits.”

Village merchants, he scowled counting the apricots he’d set aside, he handed over the money and put the fruits in the leather bag he’d gotten from the old woman at the inn.

The two talking in hushed tones had started walking. They headed in the opposite direction of the teahouse. He scowled, undecided, Telia and Hinna had gone to find the village prefect to get information about the Imperial Army. They would take longer to return to the teahouse. Sando opted to follow the dark rider.

He knitted through fruit, fabric and grain stands, keeping to the shadows, out of sight as he kept up with the two walking to the edge of the village. Soon, they left the market behind and Sando had to allow a wider distance in case they saw him. Half an hour later, they were in the forest and Sando used the trees and thick bushes as cover to close the distance. His steps light on the forest ground, Sando got close enough to hear the two talking as they walked.

“The rebels attack the villages close to the Furian forest. The Furian Princess is holding them back at the North but her army is not strong enough to hold them all. She’ll have to retreat if the attacks continue in order to safeguard her boundaries.”

“What of Earith?” the dark rider asked. “Don’t they have enough men to relieve the Princess?”

“No one wants to believe a war is imminent. Earith is cautious, if rebels dare to fight the Furian Princess, you can imagine they’re guarding their borders. I believe they are waiting for relief from the Imperial Army.”

“Fier is controlling the Imperial Army, Naro. Assassins attacked the Prince’s convoy to Fier yesterday. He’s dead. The Imperial Diet will force Almira’s hand after the Prince's funeral.”

“The House of Meng takes leadership, and your father will command the Imperial Army.” Naro shuddered.

Sando clutched the bark of a tree in shock. Red tents with golden tongues of fire embroidered on the edges stood in a clearing ahead.

It was a Fier army camp.

“My father is a savage who doesn’t want diplomacy or peace.” The dark rider’s tone filled with bitterness. “He has allowed Prince Tailen, the Empress’s cousin, to poison him with the promise of power.”

Sando’s fingers dug into the bark of the tree, ashamed of the fear slowly taking over his limbs as he realized that the dark rider was Namik Sanori’s son, Midori. Yoshi wasn’t safe here they had to leave now. He turned to run back to the village but stopped cold when he felt the sting of a sharp blade against his neck.

“Leaving so soon?” a cold voice said into his ear. “Don’t you want to find out more about the camp?”

Sando closed his eyes and stood still. The blade against his neck was sharp, one wrong move and he’d be bleeding out.

“Bring him,” the harsh order came from the dark rider. “No one can know we’re here. I saw him at the inn last night; find out who he is, Naro.”

Sando sighed when Naro tied his hands back with a rope. He prayed for Yoshi’s safety when Naro dragged him to the Fier camp in the clearing.

****

Midori Sanori paced the length of his tent, his thoughts on the Crown Prince. Imperial Army Soldiers and the Royal Guard were taking the Prince’s body back to Lexin city and the palace. He didn’t need to imagine how Almira the Great was going to react at the sight of her dead son. Every soul in Amana knew how much the Empress loved her only child.

Yoshi’s mourning would be long; Midori sighed, but not long enough.

Prince Saki would take over the position of Crown Prince. Saki would be the Imperial Diet’s puppet, the real power would lay with his father, Namik of Fier and Saki’s father, Prince Tailen. Their thirst for power meant there would be no peace in Amana until they controlled all the quads.

The Empire was doomed.

“My lord,” Lenoth, his second in command, called outside the tent.

“Come in, Lenoth.”

Lenoth walked in carrying his helmet, his dark cloak skating the edges of his boots. He had his hair held back in a tight knot, and his black leather armor defined his lean body.

“The rebels have invaded the village. What are your orders?” Lenoth asked.

“Head back to the village, take two dozen men with you. Save those you can.”

Lenoth hurried out and Midori stood in the middle of his tent thinking about the young man he’d met last night. The one he’d mistook for a serf, the tattoo on the younger man’s back disturbed him. A vibrant phoenix standing on a twisted vine, the artwork intricate and precise, if the rebels got a hold of him they were going to destroy him.

He left his tent in a mad dash, running to the makeshift stable they’d erected for the horses. He took his black stallion, ignoring Naro’s call of surprise, and galloped toward the village.

*****

The rebels were taking over the village.

Yoshi helped the two women from the teahouse run through a small alley behind the teahouse and led them to a deserted back road. He urged them to head straight to their houses.

He ran back to the market intent on finding Sando, only to find that the rebels had overrun the market. The rebels took whatever they wanted from the stalls, killing any man who stood up to them. He gritted his teeth when one of them held a sword to a woman selling grain. She raised her hands in fear and allowed them to take her stock.

Yoshi pressed against the wall of a wooden stall and ran through his options. Sando wasn’t in the market, which meant he’d probably gone to the teahouse to check on him. Since the rebels had taken over the teahouse first, Sando would assume he’d returned to the inn.

Taking a deep breath, he turned back the way he’d come, picking his way through a muddy path between wooden stalls. He ducked falling thatch and gritted his teeth when he slipped on a rock and got mud on half his boot. The path led him to a wider road in the back of the market. Happy to see no rebels, he turned right and started running, headed for the old granny’s house.

The rhythm of his footsteps filled his ears as he ran along the dirt road; he ignored screams and clashing swords in the distance. He hoped Telia and Hinna had gotten to the inn. Rebels in this town meant his would-be assassins weren’t far behind. Heart pounding from his effort, elation swept through him when he caught sight of the inn’s roof.

Five more minutes, he counted.

A shout filled the air and he turned to see who was behind him. The motion slowed him down and he gasped when he saw a group of rebels riding toward him. Ice filled his veins and he increased his speed, his relief disappearing. He was dressed as a merchant. Since he didn’t actually have merchandise to trade, the odds weren’t in his favor. He kept running because when they caught him, they were going to kill him.

Their horses were fast; they caught up with him right at the inn’s gates. He gave a harsh gasp when a whip cracked and pain exploded across his back. He stumbled and fell on his stomach on the ground. He skinned his palms, ignoring the pain; he dug his fingers into the dirt and grabbed handfuls. The whip cracked again, but he rolled on his left to escape the man wielding the deadly leather cord. He got to his knees, and with his right hand, threw dirt at the whip wielding man.

The man cursed and turned his horse away to clear his vision, giving Yoshi the space to escape the circle the three horsemen had created.

“Capture him,” the man with the whip ordered, his tone filled with irritation. “He’s got spirit. I want to play with him.”

Yoshi tried to run into the homestead but one of the horses reared up, and struck his left side. He stumbled to the ground again, and before he could get his balance, a sharp sword pressed against his neck. Yoshi closed his eyes and hoped Sando, Telia and Hinna had managed to escape the village.

“We caught ourselves a pretty one,” one of the men said as he squatted down to touch Yoshi’s jaw. “Are you sure you want him dead?”

“No survivors,” the whip wielding man said in a gruff tone. “We can’t ignore our orders. I’ll let you whip him after I’m done.”

“He’ll be close to dead, where’s the fun in that?” the man touching his face complained.

Yoshi closed his eyes, gritting his teeth when the sword at his neck pressed into his skin. If he struggled, the sharp blade was going to cut into him. Strong hands took his hands and forced them to his back.

“Do we have to go back to the market?” the man holding the sword against his neck asked his companions. “Those bastards won’t be done until tomorrow.”

“We can stay here, find out what the pretty one was running to protect.” The whip wielding man started toward the inn. “Bring him.”

The sword disappeared and he started struggling, the two men hauled him up to his feet and rewarded his fight with a punch to his stomach. He gasped and doubled over, before he could catch his breath, the tight grips on his upper arms disappeared and he fell on his knees.

When he looked up, the black horse he’d brushed the night before stood a few feet away, its rider wielding a long sword dripping with blood.

Midori.

Relief flooded him at the sight of the dark, tall stranger from last night, and the three rebels dead on the ground.

“Can you stand?” Midori asked.

He struggled to his feet with a nod. Midori used his sword to cut the leather cords tying his hands together. Once he was free, Midori held out a hand to him.

“Let’s go,” Midori said.

“Not yet,” Yoshi said. “There are people waiting for me. I have to—

“More rebels will be coming,” Midori said in a severe tone. “We have to go now.”

“Not yet,” Yoshi said starting toward the main house. He needed Sando, Telia and Hinna. He couldn’t leave them behind and his horse too.

“Hey,” Midori called behind him but he didn’t wait. He ran into the inn in search of Sando.

The inn was deserted; he imagined the old granny had gone off to hide with her family. Rushing to the room he’d shared with Sando, he was disappointed to find it empty. He collected his sword and the simple bag Sando had packed in the morning for their trip to Earith. Across the hall, he knocked on the room Telia and Hinna had shared. When there was no response, he peeked in and was disappointed to find it empty too. They had yet to return.

Leaving the main house, he ran to the stables and sighed in relief when he found his horse Senbon waiting patiently. Telia and Hinna’s horses were gone, but Sando’s was still in the stall.

He saddled both horses quickly and mounted Senbon just as Midori appeared at the door.

“We have to go.” Midori pointed to the hill where a group of riders had appeared. “Those are more rebels; we’ll have to ride through the trees to get to the forest.”

Yoshi hoped Telia and Hinna had come to the same conclusion as he followed Midori behind the barn headed to the property line and the trees that led into the main forest.

****

Amana Palace

Eight black horses pulled a black lacquered carriage with gold and red trimmings on the edges. Black curtains trimmed with gold and red embroidery covered the windows. Royal guards walked beside the carriage, followed by a twelve-man unit of Imperial Army guards.

The streets of Lexin city filled with mourners and curious bystanders who watched their beloved Prince Yoshi take his last ride home to the Amana palace.

Almira stayed in her chambers as long as she could when the procession reached the inner palace. When Sayuri, her most trusted chambermaid, walked in, she met her gaze.

“Did you check?” Almira asked.

Sayuri bowed her head in apology. “Forgive me, Your Majesty. The defense minister won’t let me get close. Your cousin, Prince Tailen insists you must be the one to identify the body.”

Almira closed her eyes and invoked the spirits to protect her son. “Very well, let’s get this over with.”

Sayuri nodded and hurried over to check her skirts. Almira allowed Sayuri to adjust a few pins in her hair before she headed for the door. She found the courtyard outside the inner palace filled with people. The black carriage stood at the bottom of the stairs, with eight royal guards guarding the body.

Sayuri walked behind her as they went down the stairs to the carriage. Her hands clenched tight under her sleeves, she cursed her cousin for this. The hate he must carry to make her go through this so publicly, she gritted her teeth.

The royal guards dropped their heads when she got to them. One of them opened the carriage door and when she gave a nod, he jumped into the carriage and stood over the body. Sayuri took a step closer to her, probably afraid she was going to fall in shock.

Almira turned her head to her right to see Prince Tailen watching her. His expression was full of amusement. The royal guard in the carriage pulled the red silk sheet covering the body to reveal a pale face ruined by sword slashes from eye to jaw. She couldn’t tell who he was. His slight build was similar to Yoshi. She could see why Tailen had thought this would work.

The royal guard lifted the body's right hand to show her the ring that would identify Yoshi. Those hands made her pause, slender, and clean. She reached for Sayuri’s hand and prayed for strength. The gods help her but this stranger in her son’s clothing looked just like the prince.

The royal guard stepped out of the carriage and bowed low before her.

“We mourn for The Prince Yoshi’s death, and your loss, Your Majesty.”

Almira nodded and turned to go up the stairs. The crowd of people in her courtyard bowed their heads and repeated the condolence words said by the royal guard. She concentrated on not tripping on the stairs. She found her cousin Prince Tailen and the chief chancellor waiting at the entrance into the palace.

“Your Majesty, with your permission, we shall prepare for the funeral and set a two-week mourning period across the empire,” the Chief Chancellor said.

Swallowing hard, she held her composure and shook her head. “The Prince Yoshi was my only son. I insist on a month to mourn his death.”

“Your Majesty,” Prince Tailen said ready to protest.

Almira turned to the court ministers on her left.

“He was a good Prince to you, to this Empire and he was also my only son.” Leveling her gaze on the Minister of Defense she asked, “Would you have the people forget him so easily?”

Silence filled the courtyard and when no one protested, the Chief Chancellor bowed.

“We shall mourn the Prince Yoshi for a month, Your Majesty.”

Almira ignored her cousin’s glare and stormed into the palace. She hoped she’d bought enough time to get Yoshi back to Lexin city and the palace alive.

*****

2012 lilansui
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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On 10/02/2013 02:43 PM, Ashton said:
It is building up nicely! Can't wait to read the next chapter! :thumbup:
Ash, thanks for loving this story. I'm sorry its taken so long to reply. I really appreciate it.
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