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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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The Reluctant Consort - 21. Chapter 21

Set defends Silver Shore Marquis

“The Burning Feather has engaged Prince Consort,” Fortan, the Empress’s Advisor said. “They are pursuing him into the Lost Forest on the road to the Silver Shore. Our contact is confident they will succeed.”

“They don’t have any other choice,” Rushi said, pounding cinnamon sticks into a powder. “If they fail, they must disappear. All of it should fall on Nisa.”

“Understood,” Fortan said, with a short nod. “I’ve made your position clear.”

“What of the trade station and Lord Revi?” Rushi asked. “He should have control of the trade station before Silver Shore Valley gets its bearings.”

“It is likely that Prince Consort will try to protect the little prince. His first point of safety is the trade station. Prince Consort will send the little prince there,” Fortan said, her tone thoughtful. “Meen Kau believes in the aftermath of a dead consort, Duke Silver will be open to negotiation. He plans to take the little prince hostage at the trade station.”

“Imperial Prince is not an easy man,” Rushi said, pausing in the act of crashing cinnamon. She stared at the powder for a moment, and then shook her head. “This plan is flawed, but it is Lord Revi’s goal to try to get a foothold in the Silver Shore Valley. I cannot interfere with Meen Kau. They may use our resources but if their plan fails, it should fall on Lord Revi to clean up the mess.”

“Yes, Your Imperial Majesty,” Fortan said. “I’ll make our position clear to Meen Kau.”

“If all goes well, I’ll have removed Prince Consort, and gained a powerful ally in Lord Revi,” Rushi said with a small smile.

She continued crashing her cinnamon as Fortan left the spice workshop to meet Meen Kau.

*~*~*~*

Yan and Yija Miran ran around the open field in the back gardens of the Imperial Palace. Their father’s elite guard stood on the perimeter of the field. They collected colorful balls hidden in the tall grass and rushed back to where Kiyan stood and dropped their balls into two baskets: one for Yan, the other for Yija. The one who got more color balls would receive a reward from Kiyan.

“They look very happy.”

Kiyan turned to look at the woman replacing Rael for the duration.

Isani was second only to Rael, her abilities to run Kiyan’s security unbeatable.

Kiyan felt lucky that he had found such talented men and women to work for him and his family.

“I don’t get to spend as much time with them,” Kiyan said, smiling when Yan ran to his basket and dropped four balls. His happy grin as he glanced at Kiyan made him feel like he had won all the treasures in the world. “They heal me.”

“As they should,” Isani said, with a small nod. “The bureau has established who Fortan is meeting outside the palace. The contact is Meen Kau, Lord Revi’s Master Merchant.”

Kiyan felt the weight on his shoulders grow heavier. He had hoped his wife would quit, but on she continued.

Rushi wanted to destroy his younger brother.

His gaze on his sons, Kiyan wondered how Rushi failed to understand that moving against Kastan meant destroying him and their sons. Moving against a Commander of Armies showed weakness on the side of the Emperor.

Kastan could easily take the throne from him if he wanted. His second brother was smarter, intelligent and most importantly, stronger than him. The ancients in the tower often warned him that Kastan would make a better Emperor.

Why?

Because Kastan knew how to reach the people’s hearts and protect their way of life.

Shaking his head, Kiyan wondered why Rushi was pushing him into a corner.

It was his duty to protect the future of the empire, even if he had to protect it from his Empress. It was only sad that clipping Rushi’s wings would mean hurting Yan and Yija. Their mother would be confined or…dead, depending on the end result of her current plot.

It pained him to think of it.

“Any news from Rael?” Kiyan asked.

“A message came yesterday. Thanks to Imperial Prince, Rael has found a way into the Iron Lands. He will forward any information discovered on Lord Revi’s activities.”

Kiyan thought about his empire at large.

His West nation Border was now secure. Next, he was facing a more sinister danger. He could always use Kastan to push back invaders at the border, but political strife in his Imperial Court took finesse to root out. He had thought removing Lord Villes, Rushi’s father, would heal the fracture.

He was wrong.

Kiyan frowned.

No, not wrong, but instead, the job was incomplete. He needed to dig deeper to remove the source of the rot.

Lord Revi had turned into an insidious snake.

The Iron Lands were becoming a fiefdom owned and controlled by Lord Revi and his money. Lord Revi wanted to extend that control into the palace. Which meant he would prey on Rushi’s need for power to achieve his ultimate goal.

Lord Revi wanted to control his imperial seat and the Miran Family.

A merchant had a right to dream, but not that high, Kiyan scoffed.

Thinking of merchants with power, the Kamran Network came to mind.

“What is Imperial Consort’s progress?” Kiyan asked, thinking about Jihan at Silver Shore Valley.

“His Highness was spotted in Vasia at the Eagle’s Claw. The spies lingering in Vasia say that he is finding merchants to populate the completed trade station near Silver Shore Valley. The trade station has started running, and is meant to bring income into the valley. He has convinced merchants to include the trade station on their usual routes and open shops there to encourage trade.”

“How resourceful,” Kiyan said. “Instead of fighting Kastan’s people in the valley, he’s utilizing his own connections. Still, Imperial Consort will need to discover how to resolve Kastan’s military funding. We do send enough to run the welfare office, but the valley has not sustained itself in a long time. Money is leaking somewhere.”

“His Highness is a smart man,” Isani said, admiration coloring her words. “Reports show he has taken over the farms belonging to Sun-filled Manor and they are now working. He’s populated them with workers from outside Silver Shore Valley. There is talk that the Silver Shore Valley residents want to meet with him when he returns. They’re hoping to find jobs in the trade station. I’m sure he will find a way to help His Imperial Highness.”

“You sound like an admirer,” Kiyan said, amused by Isani’s enthusiasm.

“I was at their wedding, Your Imperial Majesty,” Isani said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a love match in the imperial palace before them. It was nice to see.”

“Yes, their marriage does seem like a love match,” Kiyan said thoughtfully, clapping for Yija who had filled his basket. “Kastan is taken with Jihan. He’ll be the lucky one in our family to have found a union that turned out to be amiable.”

Isani held her words this time.

Kiyan gave her credit for that. Anyone watching could see that his marriage to Rushi had turned into a power play. His wife was not his love. He doubted he would ever meet this mythical fated love partner.

Kiyan sighed, his gaze on Yan and Yija. He had no time to lament his bad luck over his marriage. The Empire came first. He needed to protect it so that Yan, Yija and Rashan would have a better future.

Jihan Kamran was his hidden card. His Imperial Palace needed to be financially independent. Silver Shore Valley needed to rise up and provide that independent solution. It would stop snakes like Lord Revi from thinking they could control an Emperor with money.

“My order stands, keep watching the Imperial Consort,” Kiyan said, glancing at Isani when she did not respond right away.

Her attention was fixated on the tree line to his right. He followed her gaze and saw a man dressed in black standing by a thick tree. The gold flash of his sword handle was enough to relax Kiyan.

This man was one of the guards trained exclusively by Shadow Guards to work in his elite guard.

“Invite him closer,” Kiyan said.

A few moments later, the man stopped behind Kiyan, dropping to his left knee.

Isani turned to face the guard.

“What is she up to?” Kiyan asked the silent man.

He was finding that he could rely heavily on his elite guard for information, especially after a war, and having an Empress with an unstable heart.

“The phoenix has sent out messages to Lord Revi’s merchant this morning. It is confirmed that they have joined forces, and an event is imminent.”

Kiyan closed his eyes, disappointment blooming.

He nodded as he absorbed the information and opened his eyes. Pulling his left sleeve up, he glanced at the true rendering of the tree on his arm. The fig tree was starting to lose its color again. Kastan’s branch growing heavy, the leaves tinged with black.

“Seems I have no choice,” he murmured, not expecting an answer from Isani and the silent guard behind him. “Push Blood Nation’s Prince to visit Silver Shore and strengthen alliances with Imperial Prince. Alert the Imperial Tower. I need a consultation.”

“Yes, Imperial Majesty.”

The Guard got up and was gone as fast as he arrived.

“Pa!” Yija came running holding his full basket. “I won, Pa!”

Kiyan breathed out his anger, shaking it off as he smiled at his son. He stepped forward, taking the basket from Yija.

“Our Yija, you’ve collected a lot of color balls,” Kiyan said, crouching down so that he was at Yija’s height. “Shall we count them? Will you help me?”

“Yes,” Yija said, with an enthusiastic nod.

Kiyan turned over the basket and helped Yija count the balls. Yan approached them when Yija was finishing his count. Yija had found twenty pieces. Yan turned over his basket, and Kiyan helped him count his pile. It was interesting to discover that his quiet eldest son had more color balls at twenty-three. Yan was very patient and meticulous.

“Do I win, Pa?” Yan asked, glancing at Kiyan with bright brown eyes that reminded Kiyan of innocence.

Oh, how he wanted to guard it as long as he could.

“You do, Yan,” Kiyan said.

“What’s my reward?” Yan asked, moving to lean on Kiyan’s left side. His arm resting on Kiyan’s left shoulder.

Kiyan chuckled as Yija leaned on his right. He wrapped an arm around his sons to keep steady.

“What would you like, Yan?” Kiyan asked.

Yan thought for a moment, and then gave Kiyan a short unsure glance before he spoke.

“I want to visit Prince Rashan at Silver Shore Valley. Will you give us your permission?”

“Us?” Kiyan asked, meeting Yan’s serious gaze.

“Yes, Yija and I,” Yan said. “We had fun with Prince Rashan. He doesn’t visit the imperial city often. I miss him. Would you allow us to visit him?”

Kiyan wondered if Rushi had put Yan up to this, for a moment, he worried that the mother of his children was sowing discord. She had the power to manipulate his children.

“I think I would love to learn from Prince Rashan’s tutors. He says he has his own master, and that he goes to an academy. He’s made friends with nobles and regular citizens,” Yan said. “I thought we might try it too. It will be nice to have friends outside the imperial palace.”

Kiyan’s worry dissipated.

Rushi would not have thought of her children having friends outside the imperial palace. She would deem that too lowly for her children.

This was Yan’s request.

“I will have to talk to your uncle,” Kiyan said, thinking Kastan was going to refuse this at first.

It would take special arrangements to have the Imperial Crown Prince staying at Silver Shore Valley.

Yan’s eyes brightened and Yija gave a soft excited murmur.

“Do you think our Imperial Prince Uncle will agree?” Yija asked, his body vibrating with excitement.

“I hope so,” Kiyan said, thinking he would do what he could to convince Kastan.

Then again, he too longed to see Kastan’s Silver Shore Valley and meet his father who had retreated to the peaceful island on the Silver Lake.

Kaveh Miran was full of insight. Maybe he would have a solution to dealing with Rushi.

“Your Imperial Majesty,” Isani called, her tone an alert to someone approaching them.

Kiyan stood, holding Yan and Yija’s hands as he turned to see their visitor.

It was the Marshal of Court, Thesa. He was running, which only happened when there was an emergency.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Thesa said, as he reached them. “Your Imperial Majesty, the ministers request a court gathering. There’s been an incident.”

“What incident?” Kiyan asked.

“Prince Jihan and Prince Rashan were attacked on the road from Vasia heading to Silver Shore. Their condition is unknown.”

Yan and Yija both gasped.

Kiyan squeezed their hands to reassure them.

“As a result, Imperial Prince has ordered a search for the attackers across the empire,” the Marshall of Court continued. “There are roadblocks along the road to Vasia and he has locked down Vasia Town.”

“He intends to hunt down anyone who put his family in danger,” Kiyan said, his tone grim.

“Pa, do you think they are okay?” Yija asked, his voice shaking with worry. “Prince Rashan and his Step-pa? Are they alive?”

Yan squeezed Kiyan’s hand tighter, his expression full of worry.

“I’m sure we’re not getting information in time,” Kiyan said.

He squeezed Yija’s hand too and smiled at them.

“I’m sure they are okay,” Kiyan said, hoping to the gods that he was right. “Why don’t you head back to your rooms for now? I’ll come find you before you go to bed. We’ll discuss a trip to Silver Shore Valley. Okay.”

“Yes,” Yan said with a slight smile, though his frown didn’t disappear.

“Take your brother to wash and eat a snack,” Kiyan said to Yan. “I promise to find you when I’m finished with Court and have more information.”

Kiyan watched his sons run off heading to the residential side of the imperial palace.

When they were a distance away, Kiyan turned and headed toward the court.

*~*~*~*

The court should have been empty, as it was afternoon, most officials would have been on the way out of the imperial palace. Yet, the palace was bustling with activity, and the court filled with officials ready for an afternoon meeting.

Kiyan moved to sit on the throne, watching his ministers, their animated expressions enough to make him suspect there was more to this request. Sitting back, he let out a breath as Lord Revi stepped forward.

“Reporting to His Imperial Majesty,” Lord Revi said, silencing the room.

Kiyan gave the old man a wary look.

“Court is in session in the afternoon,” Kiyan said, making sure to add the right amount of annoyance in his voice. “Your report must be of great importance, Lord Revi.”

“It’s come to the courtiers’ notice that the Empire is still at War Time. The Commander of Armies has considerable power to move armies at will. Since the West Nation War is over—”

“His Imperial Highness knows the laws of war time better than all of us, Lord Revi. He still needs to complete the alliance at West Nation border. When most of his work is complete, he will appear in this very court and return the Empire to peace time.”

“But—”

Lord Revi started.

“Are you arguing against my Commander of Armies?” Kiyan demanded. “Is the West Nation Border not secure? Are you saying His Imperial Highness has done something wrong? If so, make it clear, Lord Revi, state the transgression.”

Lord Revi stared at Kiyan, eyes wide in surprise. The murmurs rose again and Kiyan directed his attention to the other ministers in the court.

“Which one of you fought for this empire at the West Nation Border?” Kiyan asked with a scoff. “Room full of cowards. Next time I hear unwarranted dissent against His Imperial Highness, I will dispense due justice.”

Kiyan added a glare to the room full of quiet ministers, and then sat back. He let silence reign for a full moment, before he spoke again.

“Lord Revi’s report is heard,” Kiyan said, and then gave a sinister smile. “Now, my report must be heard.”

“Yes, Your Imperial Majesty,” the room rang.

“It is stunning to hear you talk of His Imperial Highness’s current war time status,” Kiyan said. “I wonder if that is the reason why an unknown offender dared to attack my nephew and Prince Jihan on their way home?”

Gasps from the ministers filled the room.

“Their lives are in danger. My family’s lives are in jeopardy,” Kiyan said. “How should I deal with this attack?”

Lord Revi kept his silence, visibly taking a step back.

It was enough for Kiyan to know that Lord Revi wanted to stay out of this conversation.

One, either he was heavily invested in the attack, or two, he knew the culprit and preferred not to implicate himself.

It was good fortune that Lord Revi’s silence did not stop his fellow courtiers from jumping in to answer Kiyan’s question.

“Answering His Imperial Majesty, an attack on the Commander’s family is an attack on the Imperial Family.”

“I agree with that statement,” Kiyan said, glad he still had some relatively loyal courtiers. “I will take it farther. An attack on my Imperial Family is a move against the Empire of Akasha.”

“Your Imperial Majesty,” Lord Revi said, his tone filled with disapproval.

“Am I wrong?” Kiyan asked, his voice booming. “Lord Revi, does your censuring tone mean that Prince Kastan is not my family? My younger brother? My father’s blood-borne son?”

Lord Revi dropped to his knees and lowered his head.

“I did not mean to upset Your Imperial Majesty,” Lord Revi said.

Kiyan stood and faced the over six hundred courtiers who helped run his empire, each one holding power in a vital region of the empire. Of all of them, Lord Revi was the one he wanted to suppress most, the one he suspected of hurting Kastan.

“My younger brother, His Imperial Highness Prince Kastan, has protected this Empire against outside forces. Thanks to him, you’re all living peaceful lives,” Kiyan said, letting anger color his voice. “He is now faced with a personal struggle. His consort and son placed in danger by a vicious attacker. As his Emperor, I order the immediate search and seizure of those who dared harm his family. There will be no mercy for one who dared cause harm to the Imperial Family. I will uphold justice for the Commander of Armies myself.”

*~*~*~*

Nisa waited for news.

Her heart pounded at the possibilities of this day. She couldn’t sit still in her house, a house that was starting to look bare. Crates filled with her belongings cluttered the halls. Each one packed with care and preparations made to move it to her new home. She was to be shipped off to an estate far away from the revered Sun-filled Manor. Hidden in the depths far away from the spotlight. She would never again get a glimpse of Prince Rashan riding out of the guarded Sun-Filled Manor heading into town. Nor would she ever know his father’s coming ins and goings.

The thought left her unsettled.

So, she paced and prayed.

“Lady Baiza.”

Nisa turned to find Ferrino standing a few feet away in her courtyard. His clothes were muddy, a thin cut gracing his left eye.

“Did we succeed?” Nisa asked, impatience clear in her voice, her fingers bunching her skirts, nervous.

“Yes,” Ferrino said, making Nisa shake with the thought of success. “His Grace was stalled a few miles from Vasia Town. When he realized it was an attack, he ran into the Lost Forest. The Burning Feather pursued him deep into the forest. I saw him jump off a cliff before I left. He won’t survive the fall.”

“What luck,” Nisa said, smiling wide. “Good job, Ferrino. You did so well. You’re the best.”

“Will you release my mother and wife now? You said they could come home,” Ferrino said.

Nisa grinned.

“Your family may return to you. After all, what we have managed together will bind us until death.”

Ferrino stiffened, his dark eyes hard as he met Nisa’s stern gaze.

“I’ll take the truth to the grave,” Ferrino promised.

“Yes, that you will,” Nisa said, and nodded to dismiss him.

The sun was coming down on a nerve-wrecking day.

His Imperial Highness, Prince Kastan would not be home to the manor until he found his consort’s body.

She could wait without fear now.

Nisa glanced down at her day clothes and sighed. The moment she entered sun-filled manor, she would order a new wardrobe made with the coveted royal fabric. For now, she needed to find her finest dress.

Tomorrow, she would start the journey to being the new Princess Consort.

*~*~*~*

Tired from a day working in the warehouse at Kamran Estate, Andiya finished planning deliveries with the manager and started to leave for the day. She stepped out into the bustling courtyard and stopped when she noticed an eagle circling low.

Returning into the warehouse, she took a leather glove from the greeting counter and headed back out. Her hurry was not fast enough. Her baby had grown and turned her into a tortoise. It was both fascinating and frustrating. Deora followed her out, catching up with her easily. She placed a beautiful blue wool shawl around Andiya’s shoulders as they stopped outside.

Andiya wore the leather glove on her left arm and held it out.

“Do you think it’s a message from Master Jihan?” Deora asked.

“He sends Yoru to me,” Andiya said, with a frown as they waited for the eagle to land. “Young eagles are sent by Set or Garren.”

The young eagle landed easy enough on her arm. He was not as heavy as Yoru.

Andiya stroked the eagle’s head with a smile, and then reached for the tube tied to the eagle’s foot. She let the eagle fly off, and it headed in the direction of the Eyrie.

“We should get you back to Gura Estate,” Deora said standing beside her. “It’s getting cold in the evenings. You should rest more often. The baby needs you resting.”

“I wonder if I’ll find sweet red bean buns,” Andiya said, as she uncapped the message tube. “I’m craving the taste.”

“Lord Ishan has the Gura cook making them daily,” Deora said with a little chuckle. “He’s noticed you eat them.”

“This baby of mine is craving them often,” Andiya said, absently as she unrolled the parchment.

Kamran’s Master attacked on the way to Silver Shore. I will update information as we get it. Our Master’s whereabouts are unknown. – Garren.

Andiya swayed where she stood. She brought a hand to her chest hoping to ease the tightness there as her worst nightmare came to life.

Deora wrapped a supporting arm around her shoulders and reached for the note. It took her a few seconds to read it, and when she did, she too shook at the implication.

“Someone fetch Lord Gura from his estate,” Deora called out, her tone enough to have the security guards hurrying off. “Vion! Vion!”

Andiya took in deep breaths, and forced her shaking knees to hold up her weight. She reread Garren’s note, analyzing it without panic.

Garren said Jihan was attacked, but his whereabouts were unknown. Squashing the thought of Jihan hurt on the side of a deserted road, she decided her brother would be on the run instead. He had Firuz, so they would not have waited to be captured and killed.

Jihan would run, Firuz would fight off their attackers and make sure Jihan stayed alive.

Still…fear grew.

“Prepare to head to Silver Shore Valley,” she said to tell Deora.

Vion came running from the kitchens and Deora ordered him to prepare a traveling carriage.

“You’re not supposed to travel,” Deora reminded Andiya.

“Jihan is in trouble,” Andiya said, determined. “I’ll take the healer he sent to me along. She can help me save my brother, if needed. Duke Silver owes me an explanation of why my brother is in danger.”

*~*~*~*

The Kamran Trade Station took up a large patch of land at an intersection. The main road from Vasia branched into two roads, one leading to Silver Shore Valley, the second heading to Kamran Estate. Following the road to Kamran also led to the Iron Lands. To capitalize on maximum traffic, Jihan had insisted the trade station be built at the intersection.

Its strategic placement meant it could act as a rest stop for travelers.

With that thought, Jihan had also started building an inn behind the shop stalls lined in blocks, making a trading center. Next to the inn under construction was a modest three-story house used as a registration office and sleeping quarters for Garren and Set’s workers.

Set stood on the roof of this house flanked by three of his subordinates. A spyglass on his right eye, he watched men on horses riding from Vasia to the intersection. He knew they were trouble when they chose none of the intersecting roads but chose to enter the path to the trade station.

“They don’t seem like allies,” Set murmured, handing the spyglass to the man closest to him. “With our master in trouble, competitors will assume our trade station is up for grabs.”

“They look like mercenaries. Their code is attack by any means necessary. Why would they be here?”

“The Little Prince is here,” Set said, his gaze narrowing. “Duke Silver is occupied with finding his consort. Whoever planned that attack would know the Little Prince is vulnerable here.”

“We should have him and Master Safan head to Silver Shore Valley.”

“Too late for that,” Set said, shaking his head. “The Little Prince will be in more danger on the run. A stray arrow or lucky dagger can get him on his horse. That won’t do. The trade station is his only hope. We are his best defense.”

“Mercenaries don’t play nice.”

“True,” Set agreed, then smiled. “Neither do we, so tell our brothers to arm themselves. No one touches the Little Prince on our watch. I won’t disappoint Master Jihan that way.”

“Yes, Master,” the three subordinates hurried away to alert their teams of ten.

Set was left alone.

He watched the incoming mercenaries for a moment, grimacing when he saw the large sharp blades they carried. It was going to be a hard fight. His gaze strayed to the soldiers Kastan had left in the trade station.

They would be enough if they were facing an ordinary attack.

Their competitors fought ugly. The men on horses were not clean fighters. They would fight dirty and with vicious intent. The two dozen soldiers in the compound would not be enough to hold them back.

Set jumped off the roof, landing on the ground on his feet. He entered the house and hurried to the dining room where Safan and Rashan were waiting for news about Jihan.

“We have mercenaries coming,” Set said, making Rashan stand up, his eyes wide in panic.

Safan placed a reassuring hand on Rashan’s left shoulder.

“We should get Rashan home to Silver Shore Valley,” Safan started.

“It’s too late,” Set said, shaking his head. “Racing on the open road will make too perfect a target. This house is the best defense.”

Set unclipped the brown cloak on his shoulders and dropped it on a chair, revealing his leather tunic. He checked the belts crisscrossing over his chest, each one lined with star daggers. He adjusted the leather bracers on his wrists, pulling out the daggers hidden there and checking them.

Satisfied with his weapons, Set took a dagger from his boot and glanced up to find Rashan watching him in shock.

Set chuckled and crossed the distance to where the little prince stood. He met Master Safan’s gaze, seeking permission. When Safan nodded and stepped aside to allow Set access, he smiled at Rashan.

“Why do you have so many daggers?” Rashan asked, reaching out to touch Set’s belts. “I’ve never seen so many.”

“Running Kamran takes more than your Papa’s smart brain,” Set said. “We have competitors who think that if your Papa is gone they can take what’s his. I use these daggers to disabuse them of that fact.”

“Are they the same people who attacked us on the road?” Rashan asked.

“No, these are what we call mercenaries,” Set said, his fingers clasping the dagger handle. “They are paid by a competitor. They attack without mercy for gold pieces. They have no honor, unlike your father’s soldiers and your Master Safan. These are very bad people.”

Rashan nodded, worry filling his eyes.

“Your Papa is my very good friend. I’ve learned to protect what’s his very well,” Set said with a smile. “I’ll keep you safe, no matter what. Now, I need you to stay put in the room I place you. You can’t come out no matter what you hear and must follow your Master Safan’s advice. Do you understand?”

Rashan nodded, glancing at Safan for confirmation. When he got the okay, Set handed the dagger he held to Rashan.

“Firuz told me he’s been teaching you some tricks,” Set said.

“He has,” Rashan said, studying the sharp dagger. “I would have used those skills today but I didn’t get a chance.”

“If you see a mercenary enter your safe room, use this dagger and throw it exactly how Firuz showed you. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Rashan said with a nod.

Set studied the boy who now called Jihan ‘Papa’ and felt his heart shake with longing.

For the first time in a while, his past filled his thoughts. His little brother was about the same age as this little prince when he died. Their abusive father hit him too hard and Set still blamed himself for not being able to protect his younger brother. The ache of not being able to protect his younger brother still filled him with sadness. His mother died soon after his brother, and Set had chosen to leave home after her funeral in order to become stronger.

If he had stayed, Set imagined his father might have killed him too. He had wandered through Blood Nation Kingdom’s capital lost and homeless, until he met Jihan.

Jihan had taken him in when Set thought himself worthless. Given him a home and a family, made him a man of honor.

Jihan now loved this little prince as his son. That meant Rashan was now a part of Jihan, like Lady Andiya. Set would protect Rashan no matter what happened to Jihan.

Set reached out and caressed Rashan’s cheek.

“You’re part of our Kamran family now,” Set said. “We’ll protect you.”

Rashan took his green jade token from his belt and handed it to Set.

“Silver Shore Marquis hands over authority,” Rashan said. “This token will help you move the soldiers my father left us.”

“Thank you,” Set said, rising to his full height. “Master Safan, if you’ll come with me, I’ll show you the safe room we will use.”

*~*~*~*~*

The mercenaries rode into the trade station in an unceremonious parade. They wore black leathers, carried large axes, swords and hammers designed for destruction. Their heads clean-shaven, dark oil used to paint around their eyes, their bodies large and battle hardened. Set imagined they used their bulky size to intimidate. Four dozen of them, they reminded Set of ghouls.

The trade station was silent save for the sound of the horse hooves as the mercenaries rode in. The shopkeepers had closed their doors, and everyone visiting well hidden.

The mercenaries left the shops untouched riding straight to the administration residence with purpose. It was enough to tell Set that someone who had studied the Trade Station had sent them. The shops were money making, so their boss wanted to keep them intact.

Set folded his arms against his chest, watching the mercenaries come to a stop at the front of the building. The soldiers left by Duke Silver stood guard, the first line of defense. Set’s team populated the balconies and the roof.

Set stood on the balcony above the front door and watched the mercenaries jump off their horses. They made a line in front of the soldiers, their weapons held in readiness for battle. The size of their weapons and their bulky, scarred bodies were enough to intimidate weak souls.

Their leader remained on his horse, standing behind his line of ghouls. He smiled as he took in the soldiers guarding the building, Set’s archers and guards on the roof.

“This reception warms my heart,” the man said with a smile that showed off ugly brown teeth. Brown from chewing tobacco, Set guessed when he promptly spit out a ward on the ground.

“It is rare to meet opponents who feel they can take us on. I don’t want to damage this nice building. So, why don’t you play nice and give us the little prince. We just want him, and the building.”

How polite, Set thought.

Set stayed still, not answering the request. It was absurd to expect an answer. Who did they think he was?

The head of the mercenaries scratched the stubble on his left cheek and looked at the line of Duke Silver’s soldiers.

“These men will fall if they have to fight mine,” he said. “Is the Little Prince so cruel he doesn’t care for their lives?”

“You’re trespassing,” Set stated. “Ride off these grounds and your lives will be spared.”

His words triggered laughs from the mercenaries.

Set dropped his arms to his sides and his archers let arrows fly. They were accurate and precise, each one hitting a mercenary in the neck. The arrows sinking deep into a vital vein, ten mercenaries fell to the ground.

The attack silenced the mercenaries as they stared at their fallen brothers. It took less than a minute for hell to break loose after that. Loud roars filled the afternoon, and the mercenaries attacked the soldiers, their anger making them strong, deadly.

A battle for the administration building began as the head of the mercenaries took advantage of an opening in the line of soldiers to ride toward the front door.

He used his axe to break the door, and Set entered the first floor pulling out his daggers ready to fight.

*~*~*~*

A thousand scenarios bloomed in Andiya’s thoughts on the way to Silver Shore Valley. The carriage she used raced fast, the horses pulling the carriage the fastest Kamran owned. She clutched the handle above her head, doing her best to bear through the rough ride she demanded. Her pregnancy was a blessing that left her uncomfortable on days like these.

Deora, who worried for her health, and the healer Jihan sent were traveling with her. She had left her husband in charge of Kamran Estate.

Ishan was not happy about her traveling, but she would not stay home while her brother’s life was in danger. Ishan had tried to dissuade her from traveling, but her fear for Jihan won. He let her go with a lot of warnings to take care of herself.

She arranged her shawl around her shoulders, and pushed back the curtain to look out. The ghost warriors gifted to her by Duke Silver flanked the carriage, riding on horses, all armed for battle. She would find her brother first, hope still alive, then deal with the threat to him or make Duke Silver handle it.

The three hours it took to get to the intersection to Silver Shore Valley felt like torture. Impatience filled Andiya when the carriage slowed to a stop, as it took the turn to head to Silver Shore Valley.

“Lady Gura,” Mari, an officer from Kamran’s security called.

“Why have we stopped?” Andiya asked.

“There is smoke coming from the Kamran Trade Station. Shouts and sounds of battle can be heard from here,” Mari said.

Andiya took in a deep breath and met Deora’s gaze.

Would this be where Jihan was hiding?

“Mari, park this carriage in a hidden place close to the trade station,” Andiya said. “Leave four ghost warriors with us and take the others to help my brother. Hurry, Mari.”

“Yes, My Lady,” Mari answered.

The carriage moved into motion and after a few minutes that felt like hours, they were hidden in a cluster of trees not too far from the trade station. Andiya climbed out of the carriage, and watched the ghost warriors and Mari disappear in the trees heading to the trade station. The four left with her surrounded her, Deora and the healer, their weapons at hand. Andiya pulled the blue shawl around her shoulders tighter, and started a silent prayer to a higher power.

*~*~*~*

Rashan clutched the handle of the dagger Set gave him tight. His gaze stayed on the locked door of the small room. They were on the first floor. The room was no larger than a storeroom. It was empty, save for two chairs and a table. There was a jug of water and two goblets on the table, nothing else in the room. The sound of swords clashing filled the house, grunts of pain and angry shouts, footsteps coming closer.

Rashan let out a shaky breath, his gaze shifting to Master Safan.

Master Safan stood tall and calm, the grip on his battle-axe light.

Rashan tried to regulate his breathing to be as calm as his master, but it was hard. The sound of breaking wood filled their room.

It was too close.

Rashan shivered, fear seizing his lungs.

He had no time to think as their door broke into two. There stood a large man with brown teeth, and dark eyes wielding the largest broad sword Rashan had ever seen.

Safan moved in front of Rashan blocking his view.

Rashan blinked and Safan’s axe was meeting the large sword to counter an attack. Safan and the huge man fought hard, their attacks on each other brutal. Rashan bit back a scream when the large sword cut Safan’s left arm, leaving a deep cut that had blood seeping into Safan’s tunic sleeve.

Safan did not falter and countered with his right hand, returning a blow that dealt a cut on the mercenary’s left thigh. The leathers ripped and a red gash appearing on his thick thigh.

Safan punched the huge man’s stomach and pushed him back into the hallway. Safan stopped at the door, closing all access to Rashan. The mercenary recovered his balance and swung his sword with all his might intent on taking Safan’s head. Safan ducked, the broad sword digging into the doorframe.

Relief filled Rashan when he saw Set approaching holding daggers in each hand.

Set jumped on the mercenary’s back, climbing him like a monkey. Set then sunk both daggers into the mercenary’s neck. Safan stepped back as the burly man fell forward to the floor.

Set landed on his feet with perfect grace and bent down to retrieve his daggers.

Rashan caught movement behind Set, and with full confidence, intent on protecting Set, he threw the dagger he held with all the energy he could muster. The blade sunk into the oncoming mercenary’s left arm, sinking deep.

The hiss that escaped the mercenary had Set in motion. He retrieved his daggers in one move and rushed their attacker in the next step. He sunk both his daggers into the man’s chest and pulled them out by kicking him back. The mercenary tumbled and fell back.

Set crouched over his attacker, wiping his blades on the black robes the mercenaries wore, his attention on the floor below.

“Should we try and ride out to Silver Shore Valley?” Safan asked, moving closer to Set.

“No need,” Set said, his shoulders relaxing. “It seems we have help. Besides, we’re still waiting on news about Master Jihan.”

“I want to stay, Master Safan. We still don’t know what’s happened to Papa,” Rashan said, moving closer to Safan, looking over the railing.

Ghost warriors were flooding the main floor, a few rushing up the stairs to the second floor.

“Report,” Set said, straightening to his full height.

“Master Set,” the ghost warrior who reached them first said. “We have neutralized all the mercenaries. The building is secure and Lady Gura is waiting outside.”

“Thank you for your assistance,” Set said.

“If you’ll come out to the courtyard and join Lady Gura, we’ll clean the house and secure it,” the ghost warrior said.

Set turned to Safan and Rashan.

“Lady Gura is Master Jihan’s older sister,” Set said, smiling at Rashan. “She’s your aunt, Prince Rashan. We should join her.”

Rashan jumped over the mercenary on the floor and ran down the stairs finding more bodies along the way. A ghost warrior coming up the steps lifted him and set him down near the door. Rashan ran out of the house, straight into a woman covered in a blue shawl who wrapped her arms around him to steady him.

She rubbed his back and with a soft relieved sigh said, “At least one of you is safe.”

Rashan looked up to find kind brown eyes looking at him with worry.

She reminded Rashan of his Papa.

“Little Prince, I’m sorry you had to face such a hard time,” she said with a warm smile. “Now, all we have to do is hope your Papa is fine.”

*~*~*~*

Kastan opted to stay at the trade station instead of entering Silver Shore Valley.

Jihan was tired, and the trade station would mean they got information faster. Kastan had insisted on Jihan riding with him, not ready to have his consort too far. They rode through the trade station heading to the administration building Jihan created for registration and sleeping quarters.

As they entered the small compound, Kastan noted the heightened number of ghost warriors, and his soldiers were busy helping with repairs.

“Something’s wrong,” Jihan murmured, straightening up as the front doors of the building opened.

Kastan brought the horse to a stop, and was not surprised when Firuz hurried to help Jihan dismount. Kastan jumped off after him, and looked around the guarded compound.

Set hurried down the steps, followed closely by Andiya and Rashan.

Rashan threw himself into Jihan's embrace with a happy cry, burying his face into Jihan’s stomach as he started crying. Everyone stopped to watch them as Jihan wrapped his arms around Rashan, rocking from side to side. His smile beautiful in the evening light, it made Kastan’s heart ache.

“I’m s-sorry,” Rashan started, between hiccups. “I-I c-couldn’t help you. We-we left you behind.”

“Shh…,” Jihan soothed, stroking Rashan’s hair, and smiling wider when Rashan looked up at him. “You helped me very much. You and Master Safan got to safety and were able to tell your Pa what was going on. If not for that, things would be different today. You did so well, Shan. Don’t cry.”

“But—”

“I’m standing in front of you, aren’t I?” Jihan asked, stroking a finger over Rashan’s cheek. “We're both here with your Pa. We’re safe. We did very well today, don’t you think?”

Jihan smiled and got Rashan to nod his head in agreement.

“I’m very proud of you,” Jihan said, sinking his fingers into Rashan’s hair. “You were the bravest boy I’ve ever seen today.”

Rashan clung to Jihan tighter.

Andiya closed the distance between her and her brother. She touched his ripped robes, frowned at the rips on his knees. She took his left hand and hissed when she found scrapes on Jihan’s palms. Her gaze shifted to Firuz, and she shook her head when she saw the cut on Firuz’s arm tied with a piece of cloth.

Kastan started to move closer to them and share in their hug but Andiya turned and faced him, blocking his path. Her eyes burned with fury when she looked up at him.

“I have words for Duke Silver. I wonder if you’ll listen to them,” she said, making all of Kastan’s men around them step back.

Naveed and Temu moved a few feet away and Safan climbed up the steps to the front door. Set moved to stand behind Andiya, backing her up.

Andiya clasped her hands over her belly, and held Kastan’s gaze with bravery.

“This is the first time my brother has been at such a disadvantage, not once but twice in a day,” Andiya said. “Mercenaries set upon the trade station this afternoon and placed the Little Prince in danger. It was lucky I came along with the ghost warriors you gave me, otherwise who knows what would have happened. I have questions, Duke Silver. Why did I have to get a note telling me Jihan might be dead all the way at Kamran Estate? Tell me, Duke Silver, since when do your people face such danger?”

“Andiya,” Jihan started, but Kastan lifted his hand to stop him.

“Stay out of this, An,” Andiya said, not turning to look at her brother.

She kept her steady gaze on Kastan, expecting a clear answer.

Kastan could only give it to her.

“I have been careless,” Kastan said. “This will never happen again, Lady Gura.”

“You promised to take care of him,” Andiya said. “If you’re not able, send him back to Kamran. We’re not incapable of keeping him safe.”

“That’s enough, Andiya,” Jihan said, still holding on to Rashan. “It wasn’t his fault—”

“Wasn’t his fault?” Andiya scoffed and turned to face Jihan this time. “Ghost warriors invaded our house the moment you tangled with Duke Silver’s wars. That was way before you married him. He invaded our Kamran Estate when no one else had ever dared and demanded you marry him. You did so, to protect us, your life changed. Now, they want you dead hoping to hurt him. What’s happened, An? Did you marry into a weak house? My brother who plans and plots, what do we do in response to such attacks, An?”

Jihan bit his bottom lip, his gaze shifting to Kastan.

Kastan narrowed his as he realized Andiya wanted Jihan’s opinion on the matter but his Consort was hesitating.

Andiya gave an impatient sigh and turned to Kastan.

“I haven’t seen mercenaries come after us since my brother established our Kamran’s position. Always saying words like it’s always best to fight poison with poison. Is he the only one who knows this advice?” Andiya asked, a challenge in her tone as she glared at Kastan. “He’s getting beat down and chased like a wild animal. He can’t even speak for himself. I have to ride all the way from Kamran to do it for him. What’s the point of being a royal if he can’t fight back? Duke Silver, has your love turned my brother into a punching bag?”

Jihan bit back a smile that Kastan caught.

Jihan was enjoying the fact that Andiya was chastising him.

“Is Lady Gura asking me to fight back?” Kastan asked, aware that Andiya was too angry for jokes. He understood her anger and need for action, but it needed to be played right.

They were fighting against an Empress. The situation was not easy.

“I’m telling Duke Silver that I don’t want to receive messages that my brother is under attack, might be dead or is facing danger ever again.” Andiya stated. “Jihan didn’t ask to be your Prince Consort, you insisted on that on your own. If you have him now, then you should invest in keeping him alive. It’s up to Duke Silver to decide how he will accomplish the task of keeping my brother safe. This small citizen dares not advise Duke Silver further. If I’ve offended you think of it as a pregnant matron venting her frustration at her brother’s treatment today.”

With that, Andiya turned and urged Jihan and Rashan to enter the house, fussing over their messy clothes, and the fact that Jihan needed a bath and medicine.

Firuz followed behind them with a small grin.

Kastan let out a sigh, and rubbed the back of his neck when the front doors closed. He met Safan’s amused gaze with a scowl.

“What?” Kastan asked.

“Duke Silver, you’ve turned tongue-tied in the face of a woman’s anger,” Safan teased. “His Grace has a fierce sister. I’m afraid to find out what she’ll do if her brother is ever in danger again.”

Temu and Naveed both chuckled and Kastan cursed under his breath.

“What is this about mercenaries attacking?” Kastan asked, turning to Set and Safan. “Leave nothing out…”

*~*~*~*

Chapter title can also be called Andiya's Wrath :) 
Here's the character list for you.
Suilan Lee, 2019-2021
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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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Chapter Comments

I am so glad for a new chapter. Now I am over the top about another one so soon.

Court politics throughout history are often deadly.Very excited about more. Great writing! A real pleasure to read.

I love your attention to details and your visual imagery. Thank you.😘

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So Set has some amazing fight skills 😍

Andiya chastising Kastan was hilarious 😆

love a lot those secondary characters 😃

awesome chapter 👍

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