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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. 

Crown Prince Yoshi - 7. Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Leaving Earith was hard. Yoshi couldn’t stop worrying about Midori. He wondered if Midori’s people had found safety. Would they have moved into the Earith town he’d seen, or go deeper into the woods?

Gripping Senbon’s reins, Yoshi dispelled those thoughts, and concentrated on the journey ahead.

Midori could handle himself. He’d trained in a battle-rich Quad. The rebels wouldn’t kill him easily.

Yoshi’s stomach rolled at the thought of Midori injured.

“Your Highness,” Telia said, she rode up to his right.

“Yes, Telia,” he said grateful for the distraction.

“Leaving Earith this way….shouldn’t we stay and make sure they’re safe?” Telia asked.

Yoshi didn’t answer her question.

“How long ‘til we leave Earith?” he asked.

“Another hour,” she said reluctantly. “We should take caution crossing the Imperial Lands. They are too open. Namik’s army will find us.”

“Very well,” Yoshi urged Senbon into a faster pace, indicating he didn’t want to talk anymore.

***

“What’s gotten into him?” Telia asked Sando when he caught up to her.

Yoshi was riding ahead, flanked by three Earith soldiers.

“I don’t know.” Sando frowned. “What did you tell him?”

“That I don’t think we should leave Earith,” Telia said.

Sando sighed. “I don’t think second-guessing him is helping us.”

“Someone should ask questions,” Telia said, her gaze on the three Earith soldiers around the Prince. “They’re too close.”

“What?” Sando asked, following her gaze.

Before he could ask what she was talking about, Senbon veered off the road and broke into a gallop.

Telia cursed under her breath and urged her horse after the Prince.

***

Yoshi was glad for Senbon for the second time in his life. The stallion was fast, enough to help him avoid his assailants. The three men behind him dressed as Earith soldiers gave chase. Their swords swung as they tried to skewer him.

Yoshi reached for his sword, deflecting an attack from his right. He guided Senbon off the dirt road and into the trees. Senbon weaved through the forest. Yoshi turned back in time to see Telia jump on to one of the assailants' horse. Happy that he only had two to deal with, Yoshi reined in Senbon to a stop. He jumped to the ground, just as the two remaining assailants rode fast toward him. Gripping his sword tight, he ducked their swinging weapons, and swiped his sword, cutting the man on his left.

The assassin screamed then fell to the ground dead. Yoshi turned in time to fight off the second assassin. The second man had jumped off his horse, and came running at him. Angry for the continued attempts on his life, Yoshi fought unrestrained, calling on his years of training, he didn’t stop until he sunk his blade into the bastard’s chest.

Giving a harsh cry, Yoshi pulled out the blade and kicked the man to the ground.

He turned to find Telia staring at him. She held a blade to the third man’s throat, but he wasn’t dead.

“Are you okay?” Telia asked.

Yoshi ignored her question and stalked to her captive.

“Who sent you?” he demanded of Telia’s captive.

Telia dug her fingers into the man’s shaggy dark hair.

“Answer him,” she ordered.

The man’s eyes filled with hatred, quite disturbing in the bright morning.

“Kill me,” the man hissed.

Yoshi felt his own anger rise to match, and before he knew it, he drove his sword into the man’s chest, piercing the heart.

Telia stepped back as Yoshi pulled his sword out.

“We could have questioned him farther,” Telia complained.

Yoshi stared at the three dead men scattered on the forest ground.

“It wouldn’t have mattered. We both know why they tried to kill me in broad daylight.”

“The Imperial Lands are too open. People will recognize you, word gets to the palace and that stops the state funeral. We’re not that far from the border.”

Yoshi shook his head. “Find a place to camp.”

“Your highness,” Telia started.

“Do it,” Yoshi said giving her an order.

“Your Highness, making decisions without—,”

Yoshi reached for Senbon’s reins.

“We don’t know how many more assassins are hiding in the ten thousand riding with us.”

Telia watched him mount his horse with a worried gaze.

“I don’t know about you, but I think we need a new strategy,” Yoshi said with a sigh. “Give me thirty minutes alone.”

“Prince Yoshi,” Telia said.

Yoshi ignored her call. He instead turned his horse and rode deeper into the trees. He rode blindly, not caring where he was going. Senbon weaved through trees, going fast. They slowed down when the trees got too thick. Clutching Senbon’s reins, Yoshi let out a deep sigh.

His thoughts lingered on the past twenty years of his life. He’d spent each minute dedicated to the well-being of the Empire. He’d spent hours on tax laws, learning how to navigate the different political climates in each quad. He’d sat in meetings with the Empress, to discuss state problems brought by the different Quad leaders, even helped solve those problems. His mother preparing him to fill her place when it was time, yet now—

Yes, he’d chafed against the weight of his duties, his birthright. The responsibility was heavy, exhausting, so much expectation…yet—

Wiping a hand down his face, he stopped Senbon. A strong wind swept in, making the branches dance above him. He tilted his head up to stare at the swinging branches, the leaves singing…how he wished he could be as carefree.

Namik of Fier, he thought.

Namik who wanted his power, the right to rule an Empire, so much so, he was ready to take it from Yoshi anyway possible. Which would mean war, death, oppression for his people, Yoshi sighed.

“Are you running away?” a soft voice asked and Yoshi dropped his head to stare at the man standing a few feet ahead.

Yoshi’s right hand moved to the handle of his sword as the figure moved into a sliver of light. Dressed all in black, a dark cloth hiding most of the figure’s face, Yoshi tensed as the man held up a red tassel. A moment later, a round gold coin with a hole dangled from the tassel, and Yoshi let out a soft sigh.

“Tai Migi,” Yoshi said in relief. “You scared me.”

“You shouldn’t be alone. Where is Sando?”

“Don’t start.” Yoshi looked around the forest, his gaze narrowed. “You can tell Zia Sayu to come out. I don’t like it when she lurks.”

Yoshi waited for Tai’s twin sister to emerge with a small chuckle. Tai and Zia were twins who’d grown up in the palace with him and Sando. As the years passed, the twins turned into shadows who’d trained under the heavy veil of the Royal Investigative Bureau. Yoshi hadn’t seen them since he turned seventeen. He’d assumed his mother had sent them on missions.

“Zia is not here.”

Yoshi frowned. The two rarely separated.

“How did you find me?” he asked.

“I’ll always find you, Prince Yoshi. Are you running away?” Tai asked.

Yoshi tightened his hold on Senbon’s reins. The stallion shifted restlessly.

“Why are you here?” Yoshi asked.

Tai moved too fast. He placed the palm of his right hand on Senbon’s forehead, calming the restless horse. With his left, Tai held up a small rolled scroll.

Yoshi took the scroll. Unrolling it, he glanced at Tai for a second, before his gaze fell on the red seal. The scroll was from his mother.

‘Tai brings you the Black Guard, protect the Empire, the Phoenix needs allies. You’re no longer a son, Your Royal Highness.’

Yoshi read the last line and closed his eyes, his intentions so easily rebuked by his mother. Almira did not want a rescue; she wanted an heir to her throne. Yoshi glanced at Tai, his gaze slowly rising to the shadows emerging around him in the forest. The men in midnight black armor, with yellow scarves on their left arms, his personal army.

Yoshi stared up at the dancing trees one last time before he shed his indecision away.

****

A cut on his left upper arm throbbed; his jaw ached where one of the rebel soldiers had punched him. Midori flexed his right arm, then taking his sword; he swung it hard slicing an enemy soldier running at him on the neck. This was getting old. Two days of fighting and he couldn’t see an end.

Namik wanted Earith, so he kept diverting his troops to the valley separating the Furian forest and Earith.

“My lord,” Lenoth called. “They’re retreating for the night.”

Midori let out a harsh breath, looking around the green valley littered with bodies from the two-hour battle. Men from Earith, Fier, and the Imperial Army all lay dead, their blood soaking into the grass. He turned back toward the Furian forest where Namik’s men stood watching him. The sun was coming up on the second day of this battle. Without rest, he wasn’t sure Earith’s men could keep the enemy at bay any longer.

“Let them take their dead and injured,” Midori said. “Have our men take defensive position, any suspicious activity and you must alert me.”

“Yes, My lord,” Lenoth said, running off already issuing orders.

Midori gripped his sword tight, his gaze moving over the bodies in the field. He’d killed many these past two days, men from Fier, others from the Great Imperial Army. Each man lying on this field was a senseless death.

Did they even know why they followed Namik’s orders? And if they did, what kind of change came through bloody battles?

Midori let out a sigh, walking through the field, doing his best not to step on the fallen men. His sword at his side, his dark cloak swept the ground, the bottom soaked in mud and blood. Taking another step, he froze when a hand grabbed his boot.

He brought his sword up, his gaze on the Furian soldier bleeding out in the grass.

Midori gripped his sword tight for a moment; before he crouched down to take the hand holding his boot with his free one.

“My Lord,” the man choked on blood. “You…fight your kin ‘tis unheard of, a disgrace to the clan.”

Midori swallowed hard refusing to judge the dying man. His father, Namik, had a persuasive tongue. The tales he must have told Fier’s armies…he shuddered just imagining them.

“I-I wish I was stronger to have made a stand like you, my Lord, but my family, m-my family…” the man trailed off and Midori guessed Namik’s men had probably threatened them. The hand holding his tightened, “Namik sends ten thousand more at dawn,” the soldier said. “They come from the North, through Fier. Without reinforcements, your defenses will fall.”

The grip on his hand tightened and Midori gave the soldier a nod. The soldier breathed out a sigh, and then he was gone. Midori stayed crouched beside the dead man wondering what would happen to the man’s family now. Had they left with the villagers he’d saved, the ones he had traveling deeper into Earith for safety?

“My Lord,” Lenoth said behind him.

Midori let go of the dead soldier’s hand and rose to his feet.

“Lord Janir is here. He wishes to talk to you.”

Midori closed his eyes. His resentment at Lord Janir’s support of Yoshi threatened to suffocate him. Had the man backed him even for a moment, Yoshi would be here. Their men would have hope, they’d have ten thousand troops more and their defenses would hold in the morning.

“My Lord,” Lenoth prompted.

“Take him to the General’s quarters. I’ll find him when I can.”

“But—,”

“This is a battlefield, Lenoth. Follow orders,” Midori said as he continued walking among the dead and dying. Perhaps he’d find one they could save.

Midori spent the night planning defenses. The Earith Generals listened, but he could see their worry at the news of Fier’s additional ten thousand men. They’d lost too many already. Namik would have almost thirty thousand men coming at them in the morning, which was twice their army. If they broke line, Namik would gain Earith’s Northern border.

“Do you think the Prince has reached the palace?” Lord Janir asked when the strategy meeting ended late that night. “He can convince the Empress to send reinforcements.”

“I’d be surprised if he reached,” Midori said bitterly.

Lord Janir gave him a frown before he left for the night. Midori sat on the bench set before his table and let out a sigh.

Oh Yoshi, he closed his eyes, remembering the feel of the Prince in his arms and their kiss that last night.

“Please live,” he murmured, hoping Yoshi had made it to the Palace and no assassins had caught up to him.

Dawn came too soon. Midori sat on his horse, the reins clenched tight as he stood at the front of his elite army. Behind them Earith’s men were scattered across the valley leading into Earith. Their orders were to retreat into defensive position if his company of five thousand fell.

Lenoth moved closer. “They’re here, My Lord.”

Light glinted off metal in the tree line ahead of them.

Midori let out a sigh, his breath turning into a little cloud in the early morning cold. Their enemy’s number increased with every breath he took. Raising his sword into the air, he called an attack, and allowed Midnight his freedom. As he approached the enemy line, Midori wished he’d gotten more time with Yoshi.

His men fought hard. Unrelenting in their attack against Namik’s men, but the enemy had more troops, more men.

Men Midori loved fell on the battlefield.

Lenoth at his back, Midori fought harder, praying for a reprieve. If they lost, Earith would fall to Namik.

“My Lord,” Lenoth touched his shoulder as he fought off two Fier soldiers, an hour later. “We should retreat. We can’t hold them off any longer.”

Midori pushed a Fier soldier off his sword.

“Signal the Earith men first, give them time to get into position.”

“Yes, My Lord,” Lenoth said calling out the order.

Midori hissed when a sword sliced his upper left arm. With a harsh cry, he sunk his sword into his attacker's chest. He ignored the sting on his arm, and kept fighting.

Just as Lenoth signaled it was time to retreat, Midori heard a battle horn fill the air. The sound of pounding hooves filled the morning, and he turned to find an army riding toward them from their rear.

Midori’s men gave shouts of alarm as they turned to face their new enemy.

This new army riding toward them wore black cloaks with yellow strips on their arms and rode fast. They reached Midori’s men quickly. His men gaped when the army rode past and instead joined forces attacking Namik’s men with full force.

Midori exhaled.

At the front of the new army, he caught one glimpse of a white stallion, the rider draped in a rich red and yellow cloak. The gold helmet on the rider was assuring, relief flooded him when he saw the ten thousand men Prince Yoshi had taken with him riding behind the dark army.

Midori threw himself into the battle with renewed energy.

***

Midori watched for Yoshi, seeking him out in the midst of the dark cloaked army. Yoshi cut down the three or four soldiers that made it into the circle. Yoshi’s men changed the tide of the battle. In the next hour, Namik’s men were dead, Earith was safe, a cry of victory filled the air, and Midori smiled when echoing shouts filled the sunny day.

Midori moved to meet Yoshi, but he couldn’t get into the tight circle around Yoshi.

“General,” Telia said appearing behind him.

Midori smiled happy to see the Furian woman who’d promised to stab him to death if Yoshi got hurt.

“You came back,” he said, unable to hide his happiness.

“His Highness changed his mind,” Telia said.

Midori glanced back at the elite army around Yoshi.

“He’s chosen to declare his status.”

“It is what you wanted,” Telia said as they walked toward the makeshift settlement Midori’s men had created for defense. “Don’t smile too hard.”

“Why?” Midori asked unable to stop his smile.

Yoshi choosing his title was a good thing, the right thing. There was hope.

“Because, Yoshi in hiding mode and Yoshi in his title are two different things,” Telia said with a bit of sadness. “Things have changed, he’s changed.”

“Of course he would,” Midori nodded in approval. “Yoshi was bred to manage an Empire.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard,” Telia said heading to a set of new black tents set in the middle of the settlement.

Five men guarded the perimeter of the largest tent. Telia gave the guards a nod as she led Midori in.

Midori stopped when he entered the lighted tent to find a man standing in the middle holding a dagger. Glancing at Telia, Midori frowned.

“What is this?”

“Don’t ask her,” the man said. “Your concern is if you leave here with your life.”

“Excuse me?” Midori brought his right hand to his sword. “Who are you?”

The man was covered from head to toe in dark cloth. Only his eyes were visible and they were shaded with black. At Midori’s question, the man gave a small chuckle.

“Forgive me for not introducing myself,” the man gave a short nod. “You may call me, Tai, General.”

“What do you want?” Midori asked with a frown.

“What I want, is what his Royal Highness, the Prince Yoshi, wants,” Tai answered. “He’s chosen to trust you. I’m here to find out if that trust is misplaced.”

“It is not,” Midori said.

“So you say,” Tai said taking a step closer to him. “I know you well, Midori Sanori, son of Namik, heir to the seat of Fier. Your father wages war against the House of Taimeng.”

Midori scowled. “My father wages war, I’m fighting to keep my people alive.”

“Yes, that is true too.”

Tai took another step closer.

“Your people,” Tai said his head cocked to the side. “To the Prince, every living soul in Amana matters. Your concern remains with the few in Fier.”

Midori tightened his hold on his sword handle.

Tai looked slight; almost harmless in the way he moved, the way he spoke. However, his eyes…those dark eyes, a dark aura lingered there.

Midori felt uncomfortable standing too close to Tai.

“I serve the House of Taimeng,” Midori said, holding the unsettling dark gaze. “The Prince is the leader my people choose.”

Tai captured his gaze for one tense moment, and then smiled a startling flash of teeth.

“As it should be,” Tai said with a small nod. “Remember your promise, waiting Leader of Fier.”

“My promise,” Midori said.

“Yes, your loyalty to the House of Taimeng is a promise, Midori Sanori.”

Tai nodded and bowed low when the tent opened behind Midori.

Yoshi came in looking bloody, his red and yellow cloak sweeping the ground. The gold helmet covering his head made him seem taller, more powerful. It also hid Yoshi’s eyes.

Midori faced him and bowed his head.

“Your Highness,” he said in greeting.

“Tai, send a scout to the Furian forest. Find out how the Princess Naria fairs, we ride out as soon as Earith is secure,” Yoshi said without looking at Midori.

Tai gave Yoshi a short nod then seemed to disappear in the shadows. Midori wondered if there was another exit in the tent.

“Telia, ask Lord Janir and his son to see me in the next hour. No one should come into this tent for thirty minutes.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” Telia left using the only visible exit.

Yoshi waited a few minutes after Telia left before he pulled off his helmet. Midori stared at the heavy gold clip holding Yoshi’s hair on top of his head. The thick tresses left to fall down Yoshi’s back in a sweaty mess. When Yoshi lifted his head, Midori felt his heart wring in his chest.

Yoshi looked every bit the prince now.

Midori wondered why he hadn’t seen it that day at the stables, or at the bath.

“Speak freely,” Yoshi said in a quiet tone moving to place his helmet on a chest in the corner of the tent. “The men guarding this tent are mine. Their allegiances cannot be bought.”

Midori watched Yoshi untie the heavy cloak he wore. It dropped to the ground with a soft whisper. Yoshi wore dark armor: black metal intricately forged to cover his chest and back, legs and arms. Midori moved to help Yoshi untie the leather ties on the sides.

“You came back,” Midori said.

Yoshi exhaled as they both lifted the armor over his head.

Midori placed the armor on top of the chest. He placed his hands on Yoshi’s shoulders, smoothing his hands over the silk black tunic Yoshi wore.

Yoshi leaned back against him.

“I—,” Yoshi broke off. “You were right.”

Midori rubbed his hands over Yoshi’s shoulders, down his arms.

Yoshi turned to face him and a frown creased Yoshi’s handsome face.

“You’re hurt.”

Midori started to protest when Yoshi touched his left arm and the cut he’d gotten earlier.

“I’m fine," Midori whispered.

Yoshi reached for the ties on Midori’s black cloak. It fell to the ground, followed by his sword belt.

Yoshi made short work of Midori’s red and black armor. They placed it beside Yoshi’s on the chest, and then Yoshi was tugging off Midori’s black tunic.

“Your Highness—,” Midori started only to have Yoshi press a finger on his lips.

“Please use my name,” Yoshi said meeting his gaze.

Midori read fear in Yoshi’s eyes…but mixed in to that was need and longing.

Midori dropped his gaze to Yoshi’s parted lips. He’d dreamt about those lips the past few nights. Remembering how soft they were against his. Yoshi moved closer, tilting his head back slightly in invitation.

Midori gripped Yoshi’s upper arms as he leaned to kiss him. He meant to brush his lips, to taste, to feel Yoshi’s soft lips, but one touch led to a burning need. Yoshi responded to him like a smoldering flame, igniting in his arms. Yoshi moved closer, pressing against Midori’s naked chest, his arms going around Midori’s shoulders, his hands smoothing over strong shoulder muscles.

Midori let out a groan his arms tightening around Yoshi. He deepened their kiss, his tongue plunging into Yoshi’s mouth, taking all he could. They sunk down to the ground, Yoshi on Midori’s cloak with Midori kneeling over him. Midori wasted no time stripping Yoshi off his tunic and the black trousers.

“We don’t have much time,” Yoshi said, his breath hitched as Midori kissed his nipples.

Midori dusted kisses down Yoshi’s chest, stopping to swirl his tongue in Yoshi’s belly button. Yoshi closed his eyes and bit back a soft moan. Midori bit sensitive skin, wanting to hear Yoshi’s moan; he smiled when a soft sound escaped Yoshi’s lips, sending thrills of satisfaction through him. He’d wanted to do this for so long. Wanted to feel Yoshi, kiss him like this.

He continued his exploration, pausing at the sight of Yoshi’s beautiful cock, so hard, already weeping. Midori looked up to find Yoshi watching him through hooded eyes. His own cock ached in his breeches, needing inside Yoshi, but they didn’t have time for that, nor the privacy. Holding Yoshi’s gaze, Midori took Yoshi’s cock into his mouth. Yoshi’s reaction was immediate; his hips surged forward, sliding his cock deeper into Midori’s mouth.

Midori pushed Yoshi’s legs wider apart, still holding Yoshi’s gaze, he sucked on the head of Yoshi’s hard cock. Breaking their gaze, he concentrated on taking Yoshi’s cock into his mouth, surrounding the slender hard length with his heat. He used his tongue to stroke the underside of Yoshi’s cock, sucking the sensitive head. Yoshi bit his lip hard, his fingers sinking into Midori’s hair as he surged into Midori mouth. It didn’t take long before he was rewarded with Yoshi’s pleasure. Hot jets of Yoshi’s semen came in bursts, tasting of peaches and a tinge of salt, he held on to Yoshi’s hips until the wave of pleasure passed.

Midori let Yoshi’s cock out of his mouth, his gaze on an ecstatic Yoshi; he sat back on his haunches desperately wishing they were somewhere private. He ached.

Yoshi let out a breath and sat up. Reaching up, he swept his thumb over the corner of Midori’s lip before his hand dropped to Midori’s trousers.

Midori tried to stop him, but Yoshi came up on his knees, and pressed their lips together in a needy kiss. Midori groaned when Yoshi reached inside his trousers and took his hard aching length. Yoshi stroked him fast, their lips locked, their kiss consuming as heat built deep inside him. Yoshi took in his moans as he came into Yoshi’s hand. They held each other after, until their breathing settled.

“Your Highness,” Sando called from outside the tent, interrupting them, their precious time together over. “Lord Janir and his son wait for you.”

Yoshi buried his face into Midori’s shoulder with a sigh.

Midori held him tight, and pressed a kiss on top of Yoshi’s head.

“Don’t leave my side,” Yoshi said. He pulled back and met Midori’s gaze. “No matter what, promise me, Midori.”

Midori nodded, sure that he’d follow Yoshi to the ends of Amana if asked. “I promise.”

Yoshi nodded and got to his feet, his glorious body so beautiful, Midori wanted to reach for him again.

“Sando, bring water,” Yoshi said, and then glanced at Midori. “Bring a healer as well.”

“Are you wounded, Your Highness?” Sando asked his voice filled with panic.

“Do as I say,” Yoshi said without further explanation. “Invite the Black Guard to the meeting, we shall use General Midori’s quarters.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Sando answered.

A servant brought water fast, rushing in with a large jar and bowl. Sando must have anticipated Yoshi’s needs. They spent the next few minutes cleaning up. Sando came in carrying clothes for Midori.

“I got them from your tent,” Sando said with a small nod. Sando moved to the chests and got Yoshi a white tunic and black trousers. Once Yoshi was dressed, Sando spent a few minutes fussing with Yoshi’s hair just as the healer came in.

“Where are your people?” Yoshi asked sitting on a bench watching the healer work on Midori’s arm.

“Safe,” Midori said. “We sent them deeper into the Earith woods.”

Yoshi nodded.

Midori sighed when the healer finished covering his wound. He wore his tunic and took the hot drink Sando held out. The taste was bitter: mixture of herbs meant to speed up healing. It tasted awful. He shivered and stood to allow Sando to help him wear his armor again.

“Earith is not fully secure,” Yoshi said then. “The Princess Naria must have relief. As long as she’s fighting Fier, Earith is in danger.”

“Agreed,” Midori said, adjusting the sleeves of his dark armor as Sando secured them. “Where did you get the army with you?”

“The Black Guard,” Yoshi answered as though that explained everything.

Midori frowned. He’d never heard of the Black Guard. Before he could answer, the man named Tai seemed to appear behind Yoshi. His presence so abrupt, it startled Midori.

“Your Royal Highness,” Tai said in greeting.

Yoshi gave an exasperated sigh. “Must you move so quiet?”

“We’re at war,” Tai answered.

“Have you done as I asked?” Yoshi asked.

“Yes, the Furian Princess fights,” Tai said. “She’ll appreciate relief.”

Yoshi nodded and stood up. “The faster we can organize Earith’s security the better.”

Midori scowled at Tai who placed a new red and gold cloak over Yoshi’s shoulders with familiarity. Yoshi adjusted the cloak without a thought.

“What is the Black Guard?” Midori asked, thanking Sando with a nod when he finished with Midori's armor.

“The Prince’s guard,” Tai said following Yoshi out the tent. Midori tried to stay in step with Yoshi, but the moment they stepped out of the tent, the men in the guard surrounded Yoshi like the cloak he wore.

Midori stepped back as Yoshi kept walking ahead.

“I told you,” Telia said, stepping up to him. “The dark ghouls are in charge now. No one gets close.”

Midori frowned. No one but him, but it seemed only in private.

“’Tis for the best,” Telia said then. “There are assassins among us.”

Midori sighed and would have lingered with Telia but then Yoshi called out.

“Are you coming, General?”

Midori couldn’t help the smile when he hurried forward and the dark ghouls as Telia called them allowed him into the circle. Suddenly he was walking right beside Yoshi, and the warmth that filled him was hard to describe.

***

“Your Highness,” Heloth Janir, Lord of Earith started.

“Before we start,” Tai said.

He spoke in a low tone, and stood behind Yoshi’s seat. Still, his words carried through the large tent silencing the army officers and the Earith nobles attending the meeting.

“Who are you?” Heloth asked.

“Who I am is of no concern to you,” Tai answered. “Her Majesty Almira has officially handed the Prince Yoshi control of the Empire. The Prince Yoshi is now, your Royal Highness of Amana.”

Heloth’s gaze returned to Yoshi. “I apologize—

“Regardless of my title,” Yoshi interrupted then, holding Heloth’s gaze. “There are women and children living in fear in the Earith woods, Lord Janir. They have little food, while your people live in comfort.”

“Your Royal Highness,” Heloth said in surprise.

“General Midori has fought to keep your lands safe.” Anger burned deep inside at the thought of the children he’d met nights ago sleeping in the cold. “His people run and hide in the woods like the forgotten. We cannot move forward until a solution is found.”

Heloth stared at him silent for the first time. Yoshi wondered that the man was not eagerly offering help.

“War is not kind,” Heloth started.

“No,” Yoshi said. “War is not kind, but decency is expected in times of hardship. The General has protected your people from the plight facing Fier. You must show kindness, Lord Janir. Allow the Fier people suffering in the woods into the town.”

A round of protests filled the tent from the Earith nobles. Yoshi contained his own anger at the reluctance to offer help to homeless families. He understood the people of Earith worried that the people of Fier would turn on them. Hand them over to Namik, and start a new rebellion…

He raised his right hand to silence the room.

“I understand your fears,” Yoshi said. “However, those families suffering in the woods are not your enemy. They carry no weapons, and only seek safety.”

“But Your Royal Highness,” Heloth said. “How long do they stay? Who is to say that they won’t want to remain in Earith—?”

“They are citizens of this empire,” Yoshi cut in. “Where is it written a man from Fier cannot live in Earith, and one from Earith won’t live in Fier? Is this the type of Empire you want, Lord Janir? What would you do if the situation was reversed?”

Heloth frowned.

Telia stepped forward, inducing a round of murmurs as the nobles recognized her attire. Her long red skirts were clean; she must have changed after the battle. Her presence brought frowns to many. The Furian women were known for their bloodthirsty nature, many feared them.

“I speak for the Furian Princess,” Telia said. “The Furian forest offers sanctuary to those in need.”

Yoshi hid a smile when Heloth gaped and turned to look at the surprised nobles. None of them expected kindness from a Furian.

“Thank you, Telia,” Yoshi said.

“Your Royal Highness,” Heloth said then, “Earith will accommodate those in need as well.”

“Are you sure?” Yoshi asked his gaze sweeping over the nobles who had their eyes cast down.

“Yes.” Heloth answered, “I will handle it personally.”

Yoshi nodded and glanced at Midori. He got a short smile in answer. Yoshi felt an answering heat sweep through him. It was the least he could do for Midori’s people. The Fier people would suffer much before he took control of the Empire again.

“Earith is still at risk,” Yoshi continued, his gaze sliding back to Heloth. “The Furian Princess fights to keep Namik’s army from taking over the forest. As long as they fight so close, Earith remains in danger.”

“What do you plan to do, Your Royal Highness?” one of the Generals in Heloth’s army asked. “Last we heard Namik has taken control of the Capital.”

“His Royal Highness fights to protect the Empire,” Tai said. “Earith must form an alliance with Terra, the Furian Princess and Dwind—

“Dwind?” Heloth shook his head. “That is a divided Quad. It is hard enough to get the Klud clan to Quad meetings. How do you suppose we are to convince, Lilind of the Natives to form an alliance?”

“The alliance is necessary,” Tai said.

Yoshi understood Heloth’s skepticism.

Dwind was to the south of Amana: a desert land. The people of Dwind were divided into two clans. The natives of Dwind were sons and daughters of the sands: a people who manipulated the sand itself. Their leader was Lilind. A woman they considered a mother and a spiritual leader. Lilind often left the politics of the Empire to the Klud.

Yoshi frowned. The Klud were children born from the mix of Dwind natives and men from different parts of the Empire. They lived in an oasis in the middle of the Dwind Quad. Their leader was Pipa Klud. She too preferred to keep a distance from Empire politics.

“Leave Lilind and Pipa to me,” Yoshi said. He’d have to approach them in person, and without an army.

“What of Terra?” Telia asked. “Namik won’t leave them alone. He knows Lady Tinya supports the House of Taimeng. Namik will attack Terra the same way he has Earith.”

“Terra has the ability to isolate itself from the rest of the empire,” Midori said. “They have an army to rival the Imperial Army. The problem is how to get past their walls to seek help.”

Tai touched Yoshi’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. Yoshi realized then where Zia Sayu had gone. His mother must have separated the twins for this purpose. Zia had gone to Terra to get help, while Tai came to him. If he managed the alliance with the Furian Princess, Earith and those of Dwind, their allied Army would rival Namik’s forces, enough to win the war.

“Terra will know when to help,” Yoshi said, knowing Zia would find a way through, no matter the obstacle.

“Your Royal Highness,” Telia started to protest, but he stayed her with a sharp glance.

“We have no time to argue,” Yoshi said, thinking the faster he got on the road to the Furian Princess the better.

Tai moved to his left side and motioned for the head of the Black Guard. The man who walked through the Earith nobles and army officers was covered from head to toe. Yoshi didn’t know his name, or his face only his voice and that he could trust him. The man carried a wooden box, gilded with gold. He brought it to the table where Yoshi sat, and Tai opened the lid to reveal his royal seal.

Sando brought a new scroll to the table, holding it straight as Tai held out the seal to Yoshi.

Yoshi placed the seal on the red ink on his right, careful not to smudge. He pressed the seal on the new scroll and lifted the seal. The scroll had a phoenix standing on a green vine surrounded by a red circle. With one stamp, Yoshi was taking on the responsibilities he’d chafed against for years. The mark would grace his armies and all edicts he'd give.

“All in this room now serve his Royal Highness, Prince Yoshi,” Tai said, lifting the scroll to reveal the new seal. “You shall honor this seal.”

“We declare our allegiance to you, Prince Yoshi Taimeng of Amana, heir to the throne,” Heloth said, and his people repeated the words with startling conviction.

Tense relief flowed through Yoshi. The lives of these people were now in his hands. He was making a promise to fight Namik to the death for the Empire. Meeting Midori’s gaze, Yoshi prayed he had the strength.

***

Zia Sayu raced her horse across the Imperial Lands headed to Terra. The white horizon ahead seemed close, yet she knew it wasn’t, she had two more days before she could reach Terra. There would be two more days before she would find a way in and find the Lady Tinya. Risking a glance behind her, she frowned when she saw the two shadows in the distance.

Riders, Zia thought, sent after her by a spy in the palace.

Zia leaned even closer to her horse and urged him into a faster pace. The open lands ahead didn’t offer any security. At some point, her horse would tire, and she’d need to stop. The riders would catch up. She frowned. Thinking of the ring on a leather strip around her neck, she knew she’d have to fight soon.

***

Amana Palace, Lexin City

Prince Tailen paced the length of his hall. His gaze returned to his son, Saki, who was crouched by the windows playing with a kitten. Twenty-one years old, and the boy still liked playing with pets. Tailen shook his head with disgust and wondered why he even bothered to fight his cousin for the throne.

Saki was no Yoshi. In all essence, the Prince Yoshi was perfect for the throne. He’d see the Empire into higher prosperity were he to be Emperor. However, Tailen thought continuing his pacing; Yoshi would also push Tailen and the House of Meng farther into obscurity.

The House of Taimeng would rule for generations to come. Tailen scowled. He couldn’t have that.

“My Lord,” his faithful servant said entering the room.

“Is he here?” Tailen demanded.

“Yes. I will show him in.”

Tailen breathed out in relief and hoped this meeting would bring him the piece Namik was missing.

Lord Hong Ma walked in dressed in his full uniform. The head of the Royal Investigative Bureau held a powerful position in the palace. This man knew all Almira’s secrets.

“Prince Tailen,” Hong Ma said giving him a short bow of recognition.

“Do sit, Lord Hong,” Tailen said indicating one of the comfortable benches set around a short table. “You must be thirsty from working all day without rest. I heard the Empress has charged you with the security in the Palace.”

“It is my duty, Prince,” Hong Ma said without hesitation.

“There was an assassination attempt?” Tailen asked then, wanting to know what Almira knew.

“There was,” Hong Ma said and kept silent.

Tailen frowned. “Did you catch the culprit?”

“The incident was resolved,” Hong Ma replied not offering any more information.

Tailen gave an inward sigh. He was going to need to push harder.

“You answer to the Empress,” Tailen said. “I understand that. But I am her family too. Any attack on her is an attack on me. I must know what happened.”

“I suggest you talk to the Empress Almira,” Hong Ma said then. “My allegiance is to the House of Taimeng. I cannot reveal anything else.”

“The scales might shift,” Tailen warned.

“My thoughts won’t change,” Hong Ma said getting to his feet. “Will that be all, My Lord?”

Tailen stared at the tall man with a frown. “Yes, do send my regards to the Empress. Tell her I wish her a long life.”

“Yes, Prince Tailen,” Hong Ma said before he turned and walked out with swift strides.

The moment he was gone, Tailen cursed under his breath.

“You can’t win against her,” Saki said drawing his attention.

His son stood by the windows holding the kitten.

“What do you know?” Tailen cursed under his breath. “We are doomed if Namik can’t enter the palace when he arrives. His army might be strong, but if we don’t have the power to reach the people, we are rebels. Almira must acknowledge you as her heir.”

“The funeral is in hours,” Saki said. “My favorite cousin dead, I can barely believe it. Use the Imperial Diet to your advantage in the morning.”

Tailen frowned staring at his son. He hadn’t told Saki the truth about the impostor they were parading through the streets of Lexin City. Saki had a strange fondness for Yoshi that wouldn’t help his cause.

“Explain,” Tailen said, crossing his arms against his chest.

“Convince the Imperial Diet matters of State must continue,” Saki said with a smile. “With the Empire in mourning for my cousin, three months…issues will be at a stand still. Even worse, the Empire’s successor is gone; the Empress needs to show strength and stability.”

“If the Imperial Diet insists, Almira has no choice but to choose an heir despite the mourning period.”

“Yes, the Empire must be secured for the future,” Saki said with a small grin.

Tailen grinned. “You are a Crown Prince, indeed, Saki.”

“Thank you, father,” Saki said petting the kitten.

Tailen frowned. “If only you’d leave your childish ways behind.”

***

Almira fought the urge to rip off the white silk gown she wore in place of her usual clothes. The gold trim on the edges did nothing to embellish the garment. The impostor’s funeral was an hour away. She was meant to watch the people carry the casket out of the inner palace’s courtyard.

“Sayuri.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“I must visit the apothecary.”

“But, Your Majesty—

“Be Discrete,” Almira cut her off.

She had no intention of sitting through a fake funeral. Her thoughts needed to be on her son and getting him back to his rightful place. Visiting the apothecary was Almira’s way of telling Sayuri that she needed to leave the palace without notice. There were prying eyes in the walls, and windows.

“Yes,” Sayuri gave her a short bow and left her chambers to make arrangements.

An hour later, Almira walked beside Sayuri dressed in plain blue robes. Sayuri wore the white silk gown prepared for Almira. Sayuri’s face was covered with light gauze that effectively hid her face. No one would question the headgear; this was the first time an Empress was in mourning in the empire. When they reached the entrance into the courtyard, Sayuri paused and Almira touched her arm to reassure her. They were lucky their statures were so alike. It was easy to fool the crowd that Sayuri was Almira.

She took a step back as Sayuri stepped out flanked by three women, looking every bit the Empress.

Almira didn’t wait for the applause that filled the courtyard. She instead took the corridor to her right followed by one of her guards. Her most trusted after the twins. Ara was also a child she’d saved from the streets. Ara was loyal.

Almira breathed in relief when she stepped out into the bright sun outside the palace twenty minutes later. The streets were filled with people, all heading to the palace for the mock funeral. Almira adjusted the scarf covering her hair and took a small side street heading deeper into Lexin City.

***

“The funeral is underway,” Midori said, matching Midnight’s pace to Senbon. Yoshi led his army to the North. They’d had two skirmishes on their journey. Both with Namik’s men left behind to man bases created to manage war supplies coming from Fier.

Yoshi took over the two bases they had encountered, and rerouted those supplies to Earith, securing the Earith border. If they managed to help the Furian Princess, the North would unite. Midori smiled. Then they would ride forward to the Imperial Lands as one army to face Namik.

“The Empress can handle herself,” Yoshi said, his tone too resigned.

“Your Royal Highness,” Midori started.

“Don’t worry about the funeral,” Yoshi said.

Midori frowned and reached for Senbon’s reins, ignoring the nervous glances he got from the Black Guard surrounding them. He moved Midnight even closer.

“Yoshi,” he said, needing to see Yoshi’s eyes.

The sun was fading in the distance. The Furian forest got closer. Midori wished he could steal two minutes with Yoshi.

“I’m fine,” Yoshi said, squeezing his hand. “I have a mission now, Midori.”

“You had one before,” Midori said letting go of Yoshi’s reins, when the prince tugged on them. “The funeral worried you.”

“The funeral gives me a deadline,” Yoshi said glanced at him with hard, determined eyes. Midori gaped. “I need a united army before the week ends, Midori. I must save the Empress before Tailen decides to kill her.”

Yoshi urged Senbon into a faster pace. Midori wasn’t surprised when the Black Guard responded in kind, increasing their speed to keep up with the prince.

Telia rode up to Midori side.

“How do you like the Prince now?” she asked with a sly smile.

Midori scowled. She gave him a smirk.

“You’re the one who wanted a Prince,” she said and raced after the speeding Black Guard.

****

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.
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Haha "You're the one who wanted a Prince"--great line! Really enjoying this story so far. I can't wait for the next chapter!

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On 03/01/2016 01:37 AM, m.p. said:

Haha "You're the one who wanted a Prince"--great line! Really enjoying this story so far. I can't wait for the next chapter!

Thanks M.P. for always reading this story. It means a lot to me.

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