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The Reluctant Consort - 26. Chapter 26

Chapter 26

Lord Zure Niven, Earl of Nivenad

The news filled every inch of the Imperial Capital Akan. His Imperial Highness, Prince Kastan Miran was mounting a revolt in the Iron Lands. He was marching to the capital after the defeat of the Iron Land forces. Governor Tian was nowhere to be found. It could only be assumed that the Imperial Prince had killed him and taken over the Iron Lands.

It was treason. This news worried most citizens of the capital city.

The Commander of Armies was too powerful. Who would dare stand against him? Who was brave enough to go against the Imperial Prince and try to stop him?

Meen Kau, at the direction of Fortan and the Empress, was quick to float the idea of Lord Revi making a stand for the sake of the empire. Stories of how Lord Revi was ready to fight for the Iron Lands and push back against the Commander of Armies filled the Imperial City Market.

“Lord Revi is powerful enough to stand against an Imperial Prince,” the rumormongers said. “Haven’t you heard? Even the Imperial Palace is dependent on his financial support. He has donated funds to the Emperor on more than one occasion. He contributes to the purchase of food for the capital city’s granary. He is the people’s champion. He won’t stand for a revolt by an over privileged prince.”

“What of Prince Kastan’s heir?” a vendor asked.

“What of him? He rides to the Imperial City to beg for his father’s life. It won’t be easy for him to prove that Prince Kastan has not revolted. You’ve seen the refugees pouring into our Imperial City from the Iron Lands. That’s proof enough of his father’s wrong doings. He should be placed in the care of the Empress, and Silver Shore Valley’s leadership stripped away and given to a new commander.”

A third vendor sighed.

“It’s too bad about that boy’s step-pa. I heard the Prince Consort is injured and on his deathbed. If he dies, the boy will truly be alone. It’s tragic.”

The rumors grew and found their way into Kamran Manor. The halls where Lady Laner Kamran now paced, her eyes filling with tears every moment she thought of her son, Jihan. The officers Jihan’s husband had sent to the manor had withdrawn overnight. She woke up to find them gone. They had left a simple note saying their commanding officer had called them back.

Laner wondered if Jihan had succumbed to his injuries. What was she supposed to do now? Ride to Silver Shore Valley? Wait for Prince Rashan to arrive and visit him to ask how Jihan was doing? Seek out Andiya? Andiya who had refused to talk to her for months on end. Her daughter had even refused to tell her the news about her grandchild.

Laner’s eyes filled with tears again and she wondered how she’d ended up in this position. Which mother existed who couldn’t talk to her children while they lived? How did her children end up so far away from her? So untouchable, she had no clue how to reach them. How useless was she?

Entering the dining hall, Laner stopped when she saw her husband eating his morning meal as though nothing was going on beyond their manor’s walls.

“How can you stay so calm?” Laner asked the question for the hundredth time.

Her husband merely glanced at her and then sipped his tea, sitting back in his chair. Laner started pacing the length of their dining table. Her fingers clutched her handkerchief tight, anger directed at her husband brewing beneath her skin.

“Laner, quit pacing, watching you is making me dizzy,” Duyi said, his tone so calm it grated on her nerves.

“Don’t watch me,” Laner snapped, stopping to face him.

She hated that her voice filled with irritation, but it was hard to hide it. Duyi Kamran, after years of pushing Jihan to his limits, seemed to have given up on his son.

“What do you want from me?” Duyi asked her now. “Your son made his choice when he locked me up in this manor for days. If he’s dying then, he’s paid the price of interfering with Lord Revi’s plans. His husband is in even more troubled waters. It will take him months to prove he’s not treasonous. They are a sinking ship, Laner. What can I do for them? Jihan should have listened to me. He would not be on his death bed—”

Laner picked up the largest bread roll on the tray closest to her and threw it at her husband’s head. The sound it made hitting his forehead was satisfying. The irritated look on his face was annoying, but it had her reaching for the serving spoon in the soup bowl. Duyi’s eyes went wide with shock and she smirked with satisfaction.

“Say one more word against Jihan,” Laner said, shaking with anger. “One more word and you’ll discover how good this serving spoon tastes.”

“What is—?”

“This is your fault!” Laner shouted, shaking the serving spoon at him. She walked forward, until she stood a few feet away from. “You did this to Jihan.”

“I did not ask him to go against Lord Revi,” Duyi said, his eyes wide. “Haven’t you been listening? He refused to listen to my advice.”

“No!” Laner shook her head. “This is not about Lord Revi. It’s about you, pushing Jihan to marry an imperial prince and join the imperial family. Always pushing him, to supply a war, to manage the bloody Kamran business, the estate, everything in our lives has been bought with my son’s tireless efforts. You made him suffer. I, the useless one, watched you do it, unable to stop you. Now he’s in trouble, suffering once again, and you!”

Laner broke off shaking her head.

“You dare disown him, calling him my son. Well, fine, if he’s not yours then he is mine. I will not stand here and listen to another word of injustice against him from you,” Laner said, shaking the serving spoon again.

“Jihan,” Laner cried, tears rolling down her cheeks. “My Jihan has had enough from you.”

“Is that so?” Duyi stood, adjusting his belt over the fine robes he wore.

Since he became Viscount of Gamo, he had taken to wearing robes embroidered with a sparrow, the crest granted to the title. Laner was starting to hate looking at it.

“Well, the truth remains,” Duyi said, meeting her tear-filled gaze. “Jihan has landed our Kamran family in trouble. We’ll need to find a way to survive this storm, even if it means making a deal with Lord Revi. Crying won’t help, or keep us alive. Don’t worry, Laner. I still have contacts in the capital who can help. I’ll fix the situation and everything will return to normal.”

“What situation?” Laner demanded. “You don’t know why Jihan was attacked. You don’t know why Duke Silver is accused of treason. Interfering with matters you have no clue about could make this problem larger. I beg you, don’t do anything.”

“Convince me,” Duyi challenged her.

Laner studied her husband and wondered what Jihan would say in this situation. She’d walked in on Jihan yelling at her husband more than once. Surely, channeling him a bit would not hurt.

“You know what, Jihan is Prince Consort. We’re related to him, to Prince Kastan and Prince Rashan. If Prince Kastan is proven a traitor, all of Kamran will suffer. Treason is charged to the whole family, there is no saving us from any wrongs Imperial Prince has done, not even your shallow politics will help. If I were you, I would support Jihan and Prince Rashan and hope to the gods that the rumors are wrong.”

Duyi shrugged and shook his head.

“Your argument is weak. I made Jihan Kamran into a Miran. He is Prince Consort because of me. Now that he has failed us, we must look to the future without him, Laner,” Duyi said, making her blood run cold with shock. “If he is to die of treason, there is no reason for Kamran to go down with him. I’ll be darned if he brings my Kamran name down over a silly decision to stay away from Lord Revi.”

Laner gaped.

“How have I stayed married to you?” Laner asked, shocked by her husband’s view of their son.

Duyi moved closer to her, touching her cheek.

“You stay with me because I know how to keep you alive, Laner. I’ll solve this problem, and we’ll continue along. Write Andiya and make nice with her. Jihan said she’s about to give birth. Son or daughter, her children are now our future, Laner. Andiya will give me the future Viscount of Gamo. Let’s focus on that for now. That’s all that matters.”

Duyi brushed a kiss on her cheek and started for the door.

“Don’t worry your pretty head over Jihan,” he said in farewell. “I promise to let you bury him if he is branded a traitor. You deserve that.”

Laner dropped the serving spoon on the floor and let out a frustrated scream.


“Why are we here instead of starting with Lord Ranka’s manor?” General Faiza asked, glancing around the busy courtyard. “Dressed as poor merchants no less, this goes against everything I believe in, Your Grace.”

“Noted,” Jihan said, glancing at General Faiza. He bit back a laugh at the sight of the fierce general in tattered fading robes. They really did not suit him.

They had not stopped to rest after leaving Rashan, riding through most of the day yesterday, only to arrive in the capital late evening. They had gotten an inn for the night. Jihan spent most of that night reading messages from Set. Messages about Zure Niven, because Jihan was convinced the drunkard image the generals worried about was an act.

Zure Niven and Kamran had a hidden connection that Jihan had guarded for years.

Now, they were delivering fresh vegetables for the Kamran Manor. Firuz pulled the cart filled with baskets of fresh cabbages, carrots, green beans and potatoes. Jihan assisted by pushing the back of the cart, and Faiza hauled a sack filled with green onions.

Their delivery was so that Jihan could find a man he paid to track Duyi Kamran’s movements in the manor.

Bahir was a trained spy Jihan saved from an abusive noble lord. In return for the rescue, Bahir offered his services to Jihan. Knowing that Lord Duyi would be the end of him, Jihan placed Bahir in Kamran Manor with one task: to watch and share any news on Duyi through Set. Now that there was an emergency, Jihan needed to talk to Bahir in person. It was difficult to find Bahir outside the manor. Too many people watching, so it was always easier to talk to him at home.

Jihan and Firuz had taken over the daily vegetable supply to Kamran Manor to meet Bahir unnoticed. General Faiza had come along because he was Jihan’s security now. Temu was with Rashan, and their progress to the capital was slow but strong. Set reported the Duke’s Coach had entered the Imperial City and was making its way to the palace. The progress was slow, but that was because Temu was waiting for Jihan.

Firuz coordinated the delivery once they entered the manor. Covered from head to toe with faded black cloth, he looked like a man who worked long hours on the farm. It was a sunny morning, and the kitchen manager should have wondered why Firuz would be in black in this weather.

Jihan did his best not to attract attention. Instead, he lifted a basket of cabbages and carried it into the kitchen following instruction.

“Bahir, come help carry these potatoes,” the woman in charge of the kitchen called and Jihan tried not to react.

Jihan headed back to the cart and picked up a basket of fresh carrots. Bahir emerged from the depths of the kitchen, wiping his brow with a cloth as he reached the cart. He paused when he saw Jihan carrying carrots into the kitchen. To his credit, Bahir kept calm, lifted the sack of potatoes and took it into the kitchen. Once the delivery was finished, Bahir lingered.

“You look hungry,” the woman in charge said to Firuz, her gaze lingering on Faiza. “Bahir, show them to the small dining hall. Let them have rice porridge before they leave. Thank you for delivering on time. Tell your master we’ll clear our bill by end of day.”

Firuz mumbled their thanks, while Bahir led the way to the small dining hall used by the staff. Jihan was glad the place was empty when they entered it.

Faiza closed the door behind them, and stood guard as Firuz made sure they were alone. He even opened the connecting door into the main dining hall and closed it when he the larger room empty. It was too early for his parents.

Jihan sat at a table in the middle of the room. He waited for Bahir to place a bowl of rice porridge on the table for him. He was hungry so he picked up the spoon and ate.

“Your Grace,” Bahir said. “I’m happy to know you’re safe. How can I help you?”

“My father,” Jihan said, swallowing his food. He took another bite of porridge and moaned in happiness when his hunger eased. “Firuz, General Faiza, you should eat too. The porridge is good.”

Firuz nodded at Faiza and they exchanged places as Faiza went to get himself a bowl.

Bahir served Firuz a bowl and handed it to him because Firuz kept watch at the door.

“What information does Your Grace need about your father?” Bahir asked.

“I read the messages you sent to Set. Lord Duyi is not happy with my decision to stay away from Revi. He will try his best to get close to that idiot,” Jihan said. “I need to know what he’s planning today.”

“Lord Duyi was pleased when the guard you sent to watch the manor left,” Bahir said. “He thinks it has to do with the revolt charge.”

“We called them away,” Jihan said, knowing they would be of use with Rashan. “They have another purpose.”

“I understand,” Bahir said. “Lord Duyi assumes they have left because of the rumors. He has been sending messages to his contacts in court. He is making plans to visit Lord Ranka’s manor, then the Green.”

“The Green?” Faiza asked, his eyes wide with surprise. “Does your father enter The Green?”

Jihan nodded in answer to Faiza.

“You’d be surprised how many places my father enters at will,” Jihan said. “The Green is not as exclusive as you think.”

It is very exclusive,” Faiza insisted. “That private inn is full of elite courtiers who exclude anyone they think is below their class.”

“Have you tried to enter The Green, General Faiza?” Jihan asked, smiling when Faiza scowled at him and concentrated on eating his rice porridge.

Firuz finished his rice porridge and placed his bowl on the nearest table. He looked out the window to make sure no one approached the little dining room.

“Go on, Bahir,” Jihan encouraged.

“You know who he goes to see at The Green,” Bahir said, giving Jihan a knowing look. “I’m afraid he wants a way to contact Lord Revi’s man Meen Kau. He wants to make a deal that will save the Kamran name from the treason list.”

“Typical,” Jihan said, finishing his porridge with the next few bites. “I have to get to The Green first, before my father finds that stubborn man.”

Jihan got up and took his bowl to the tray used for dirty dishes. Jihan moved closer to the connecting door wondering if his parents were having their morning meal yet. There was a table by the door with a large jug filled with drinking water. Taking a clean cup from the tray next to the jug, Jihan poured himself some water. He brought the cup to his lips and happened to look through the space left between the sliding connecting doors.

Jihan froze when he noticed his mother pacing in the larger dining hall. Her eyes were red. She paused her pacing to glare at her husband. A gasp left Jihan’s lips when she flung a bread bun at his father. The ensuing argument had both Firuz and General Faiza hurrying to join him at the connecting door.

Firuz took the cup of water from him when the argument ended and Jihan could only stare at his mother. His father’s cold nature did not surprise him. Duyi was ambitious. Too ambitious, to the point of sacrificing his family members at the altar of ambition, even Andiya’s baby was not exempt. But his Ma…

Tears stung the backs of Jihan’s eyes as he watched his mother drop to her knees. She cried hard, hitting her fists against her chest as the sobs came harder. She cried for him. Her defense of him made his heart ache. She thought he was dying, and about to face treason charges. She was afraid for him, enough to vent to Duyi, enough to cry as though the world was ending.

Jihan had not thought she was in this much pain.

“You should go to her,” General Faiza said, surprising Jihan.

The scary general watched Jihan’s mother cry with a wince, he took Jihan’s left arm and squeezed gently.

“She thinks she has failed you,” Faiza said. “If my mother were still alive, I would not want her crying this way. Ease her pain, Your Grace, only you can.”

Jihan sighed. He had hoped to escape this manor without alerting his parents of his whereabouts. He had a stop to make before the Imperial Court was in session this afternoon. There was also Rashan to worry about—

Laner buried her face in her hands; her shoulders slumped, as she sat back on her haunches, dejected.

Jihan slipped into the dining hall hoping Laner’s lady in-waiting was not lurking at the other entrance. He came up behind Laner, hesitated when he was standing next to her. He glanced down at his current state, dressed in worn brown robes, a bulky hat over his head, and dusty boots. He looked the farthest thing from the Prince Consort his mother declared him to be.

Shrugging it off, he dropped to his knees beside her and wrapped a gentle arm around her shoulders.

“Ma,” he said, and she dropped her hands away from her face, turning to him with wide eyes.

“Jihan!” She gripped his arms, her hands moving to his face where she pressed her palms to his cheeks, tears filling her eyes again. “Oh, Jihan! Jihan, it’s really you.”

“Ma, I’m sorry for making you worry,” Jihan murmured, finding it difficult to take her grief.

Laner took several deep breaths, each filled with a sense of relief, silent tears sliding down her cheeks, and she shook her head.

“I thought the worst happened to you. I’ve been wondering what I should do,” Laner said, her voice rough with tears and regret. “I’ve wondered what I should do, Jihan. I’ve thought and wondered. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t wonder, but be there for you…for Andiya. I’m so sorry. So sorry, Jihan. So sorry.”

Jihan closed his eyes and pulled her into his arms.

He had no words. There was no easy way to solve her pain, not when she was living in Duyi Kamran’s manor. Not when she had not bothered to think about this before, or had she?

“I can’t stay,” Jihan said, feeling Laner tense in his arms. “My family needs me.”

Laner nodded and leaned back, though she held on to his arms, watching him as though to reassure herself he was alive.

“I understand,” Laner said.

Jihan stared at her bright eyes that were filling with tears again. Her fight with Duyi bothered him, the frustration in her voice when she tried to get Duyi to side with him. He knew what that felt like, knew how crippling it could feel. It helped to have a way out. He had worked at giving Andiya that way out; he’d worked at protecting himself, but his Ma…

“Ma,” Jihan said, keeping his voice gentle. “If you ever need to reach me, send a message to Garren at the Eagle’s Claw. Garren will get you to wherever I am. He can also make sure you find your way to our Kamran Estate. Our house there has been empty without us, I’m sure Deora and Vion will be glad to cook for you.”

“Ask for Garren,” Laner said, her voice shy at the order.

“Yes,” Jihan said, looking up to see Firuz urging Bahir into the room. “Ma, this is Bahir. He knows Garren. Bahir, if my mother wants to reach me, you make sure the messages reach the Eagle’s Claw fast.”

Laner turned to see Bahir, her eyes wide in recognition as she nodded.

Jihan got to his feet and helped her up. She clung to his right hand as he walked to join Firuz and General Faiza. Her steps were slow, reluctant.

“Don’t fight with Pa anymore,” Jihan said, filling the heavy silence that rose between them. “Take care of your health. Andiya is worried about her baby. Don’t give her reasons to worry about you too.”

“I’ll take care of myself. What about you?” Laner asked. “Where are you going? Will you be safe? Is Andiya safe?”

“I have Firuz and General Faiza, I’ll be safe,” Jihan promised, pausing to brush his lips on her forehead. “Andiya is well taken care of by Ishan. I’ve made sure the best healers are tending to her. There’s nothing to worry about with Andiya. I have to go, Ma.”

Laner nodded but she did not let go of his arm, instead she clutched his right arm tighter, her eyes shining with tears again.

“I can’t do anything for you,” Laner said, almost in a whisper, making Firuz and General Faiza move deeper into the small dining hall to give them privacy. “You are handling all the problems. These last few days, I’ve realized there is nothing I can do for you, Jihan. So, you tell me, what should I do?”

“Ma,” Jihan said, not sure what he could say.

He lived his life happy to say his parents didn’t care for him. While it was true of his Pa, he had not seen this side of his mother. Her pain made him pause. Rashan had once asked him if he had a mother and what she was like. Jihan had no clear answer for Rashan those days.

Then, Jihan remembered that Rashan wanted to meet Laner, and the urge to fulfill that wish took over.

“I’m sorry I have not been a good son to you,” Jihan said, meaning that. Jihan reached into his pocket and pulled out his red jade token. He pressed it into his mother’s hand. “I hope that we can stop apologizing and wondering about each other, Ma. I now live in Sun-filled Manor at Silver Shore Valley. This token will open the gates and bring you to my door, if you choose to visit. I would love to introduce you to my son and husband. Okay?”

Laner swallowed hard and closed her fingers over the red jade token.

“Okay,” she said, with a happy smile.

“Then,” Jihan said smiling at her. “I have to leave now. I’ll look forward to seeing you at Silver Shore Valley.”

“I promise I’ll visit,” Laner said, letting go of his arm, holding the red jade token as though it were a precious gem.

“Someone’s coming, you should leave,” Bahir sad, interrupting, his gaze on the opposite entrance where Jihan had worried Laner’s lady-in-waiting would find them.

Firuz hurried to Jihan, giving Laner a short bow before he grabbed Jihan’s arm and pulled him out of the main dining hall.

Jihan gave his mother one last look and she waved at him.

“Take care of yourself,” Laner said, her voice above a whisper, just as Bahir started to slide the doors closed to keep the visitor from seeing Jihan.

Jihan had a second to look back, only to see Laner crying again, and then Bahir slammed the doors closed. Jihan hoped his mother’s tears were happier tears.

Firuz guided him out the small dining hall and out into the yard where their cart waited. They were out of the manor in minutes. They abandoned the cart on the next street after Kamran Manor’s main gate. Garren had sent his son to pick up the cart and deliver them horses.

They mounted their horses and started a fast ride to the exclusive inn named The Green.

The memory of Duyi talking down to his mother preoccupied Jihan’s thoughts.

Jihan wondered how he had not seen the toxic nature of his parents’ relationship before. His mother’s quiet personality allowed Duyi to walk all over her. Jihan had thought she didn’t mind it but to see them argue: his mother reduced to tears and throwing food at her husband…he bit his lip hard.

It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps he should have tried to empower his mother, as he had his older sister. Andiya was strong because she had gotten the chance to be that strong.

Lord Duyi Kamran…oppressed his mother. Laner could only learn how to survive living with her husband.

What kind of son was he that he had not seen his mother’s suffering?

Jihan locked away that question to examine later and concentrated on the matter at hand.

The deadly game of politics was in high gear. Lord Revi and the Empress Rushi wanted to destroy his husband and son. They were using Meen Kau to peddle horrendous rumors through the Empire.

The Emperor’s demand that Rashan appear at court sounded easy enough.

Kastan was on his way to the capital, as per the last message Jihan received from him early this morning. He had not sounded happy about Rashan leaving Silver Shore Valley. However, he had promised that he had strong, undeniable proof of innocence.

Therefore, as long as Rashan appeared at court to refute the accusation of revolt in time, and Kastan arrived with evidence to support him, all would be fine.

All Jihan needed were three hundred and fifty noble lords. These noble lords would stand with Rashan, and vote to wait for Kastan’s evidence.

Lord Revi’s influence at court was no rumor.

Rushi was counting on this influence to gain the vote and the right to keep Rashan under her care. Jihan guessed Revi had done his best to convince Ranka to side with him.

If Rashan showed up in court and Lord Ranka managed to rally the court ministers in Lord Revi’s favor, Rashan would find himself living under the Empress in a cold palace.

Meen Kau was using rumors to discredit Kastan and Rashan in the markets, with the people, so that the lesser court ministers would choose to side with the powerful Lord Revi.

Jihan needed to play the more difficult card of finding support where there was none.

Jihan scoffed, thinking of his father hoping to make a deal with Lord Revi, boasting he had made Jihan. It looked like it was time to make a stand with Duyi Kamran for the last time, show his Pa where he stood.

Jihan was Kamran’s master, no matter what imperial title he ended up holding. He knew all the strings Duyi Kamran had pulled to gain a foothold in this empire. Knew them and understood how to cut them so that they would not support Duyi again.

The Green held the most special key to Kamran’s prospering network.

Firuz turned his horse into a quiet residential area in the scenic parts of the Capital. Court ministers and noble families with titled lands owned homes in this part of the capital. Their social calendar was difficult to join.

Jihan worked hard never to join this social network, because his father sought to enter it with a disturbing desperation.

Firuz brought his horse to a stop in front of large black iron gates. A high wall built with stone surrounded the property and ensured no one entered the place at will. Two attendants stood waiting at the dark gates, perking up when they noticed them.

Firuz jumped off his horse and approached the two attendants. He spent a few minutes talking to the attendants. Jihan and General Faiza dismounted their horses and waited. When the attendants opened the gates a few minutes later, Jihan hurried up the steps followed by General Faiza. The attendants closed the gate after them, promising to get someone to tend to their horses.

“I’ll get the Madam for you,” one of the attendants said, hurrying off.

Once alone, Jihan started a lazy stroll along a cobbled path that led to a blooming rose garden.

Firuz walked ahead, while General Faiza stayed by Jihan’s side.

“How did we just get into this place?” General Faiza asked after a few minutes. “None in our General Council can enter it, not even with Duke Silver as a backer.”

Jihan smiled glancing at Firuz who had stopped, his gaze fixed ahead, meant someone was coming at them. Jihan paused by a white rose bush and touched the rose’s petals.

“What do you do when you can’t join an elite community?” Jihan asked, plucking off a petal, his gaze shifting to the lavish three-story manor in the middle of the property.

“Find a way to destroy it?” Faiza asked, folding his arms against his chest, looking every bit the general, even in his old robes. “Bring it down so that everyone is equal.”

“You truly are blood-thirsty, General,” Jihan said, amused. “You can destroy it, but that’s too hard if you’re not a general or in the political class, and it won’t turn you a profit. However, you can create something they want. Make them want that something so bad, that they will protect it with all they’ve got once they have it.”

Faiza gaped.

“Don’t tell me,” Faiza said, pointing at the lavish manor.

“Your Grace,” a soft excited voice said, and Jihan turned to see the smiling woman standing a few feet away.

She was elegant in her pink dress, tailored to perfection with the richest silk affordable. She gave Jihan a graceful bow of her head, her long black hair shifting on her shoulders. She smiled with recognition, and joy.

“Welcome home, Master.”

Faiza dropped his hand, his eyes wide.

“You own The Green?” Faiza whispered, looking around to make sure no one heard him.

“Ignore him,” Jihan said to the smiling woman. “It’s his first time in here. It’s good to see you, Hana.”

“I’m more relieved to see you,” Hana said. “We’ve all been worried about you, Master Jihan. I’ve sent so many messages to Garren. He must be think I’m a worry maniac.”

“I’m well,” Jihan said, nodding to Firuz. “I have him with me, why would you worry.”

“True,” Hana said, reaching for Firuz’s right hand.

It was telling that Hana could hold a Shadow Guard’s hand with ease and genuine affection. She was not afraid, or wary of Firuz.

“I’m so glad you’re with Master Jihan, Firuz,” Hana said, tugging on Firuz’s arm to lead him along the path toward the manor. “Come inside, I have a change of clothes for all of you. It won’t do to have you walking the halls of my manor looking so shabby. We have a reputation to preserve.”

“Is he in?” Jihan asked, needing to know his trip here was not in vain. He had very little time before he had to meet Rashan.

“Yes, Niven has been here all night,” Hana said. “He’s in his chambers, as we speak.”

“Then I’ll trouble you to show us the way,” Jihan said.

Hana glanced back at him in horror and Jihan chuckled and added.

“We’ll meet him after we change clothes, of course,” Jihan said.

“Thank you,” Hana said.

“Why are we looking for that stuffed idiot?” Faiza asked, as Hana led the way to the manor. “He will probably be too drunk to recognize who you are. Your Grace, we should have gone to Lord Ranka.”

“We need him,” Jihan said. “He is the most useful noble I’ve ever known.”

“Unless you mean useful for drinking and dancing all night,” Faiza said with a disappointed sigh. “Duke Silver can hardly stand him.”

Jihan chuckled. Kastan liked his people straightforward and easy to read. Gods he missed Kas.

“I promise Niven truly has his uses. You’ll see why,” Jihan said, his heartbeat racing at the prospect of finally meeting Lord Zure Niven, the Earl of Nivenad.

Hana opened a side door that led them into a dim corridor. They entered the corridor and Hana paused to lock the door before she led them to a discrete staircase that took them to the second floor. On the second floor, Hana ushered them into a private master chamber equipped with a bathroom and dressing room.

“Clean up,” Hana said, glaring at Faiza and Firuz. “All of you, I’ll get robes fitting of His Grace’s people. Firuz, Lady Gura has made sure we all stock your preferred attire. General Faiza, I apologize that we’ll only be able to dress you like a wealthy noble.”

“I’m not complaining, my beautiful lady,” Faiza said, grinning at her.

Hana blushed, gave Jihan a nod then hurried out.

Faiza whistled, as he looked around the master chamber. The furniture made with teak wood, silk brocade on the cushions and polished wood floors.

“This place looks better than Sun-filled Manor. You must have sunk all your wealth in it,” Faiza said. “Does Silver Shore know you own it?”

Jihan had a list of assets Kastan had refused to read. He had offered to show it to Kastan, but his husband insisted on running Silver Shore Valley independent of Kamran money. The only place he was allowed to use his funds was the Trade Station. Jihan had not brought up the asset list again.

“No, he doesn’t know,” Jihan said.

Faiza glanced at him, his eyes narrowed, and Firuz cleared his throat.

“Jihan, why don’t you clean up first,” Firuz said. “We’ll go after you.”

Jihan nodded and gave Faiza a weary smile.

“General Faiza, Kastan also has stubborn traits,” he said. “You should know best why he would not want to know my asset list.”

Jihan left Faiza to think about that and headed to the bathroom to clean up and get ready for the busy hours ahead.


Zure Niven woke from a deep sleep to find a Shadow Guard touching his left shoulder. His first instinct was to jump off the bed, but he knew their kind. So, he held still, not moving simply looking into unsettling dark eyes that made him shiver.

“I mean you no harm,” the Shadow Guard said, moving his hand away from Zure’s shoulder.

Zure breathed out relief but still did not move. Shadow Guards did not move alone, and this one looked too well dressed so his charge had to be of means. The dark fabric of this one’s clothes could buy twenty meals for a small farmer’s family. His master was no simple man.

“You have a guest,” the Shadow Guard said, shifting away from the bed. Zure sat up, keeping his movements slow and measured lest he trigger a Shadow Guard.

He had always wanted one of them, but he had yet to see one walk into his path and make an offer. Why were they so full of discrimination? They could just agree to work for money. He had plenty of that to give. He sighed and then froze when he saw the man sitting in an armchair next to his bed.

Jihan Kamran Miran, the merchant turned into an Imperial Consort.

Zure grinned and sat up faster, forgetting the Shadow Guard.

Interesting, he thought, taking in the fierce General standing behind Jihan.

General Faiza, blood thirsty and deadly to the core, no one wanted to meet him in battle. Yet, here he stood beside a merchant, standing with respect and a promise of danger for anyone who tried to harm Jihan.

“What a wake up,” Zure Niven said in greeting, meeting amused brown eyes. “Jihan, you’re as handsome as they say. I can see why His Grace wouldn’t let you go and married you to keep at Silver Shore Valley.”

Jihan chuckled and shifted in the armchair, adjusting his belt with his right hand.

Zure caught a glimpse of the famed black tiger engagement ring. He reached out to take Jihan’s right hand without thinking, only to bite back a cry when the Shadow Guard grabbed his arm.

“Don’t hurt him,” Jihan said, making his Shadow Guard let go. “I apologize, my Lord. Shadow Guards react to protect.”

“I know,” Zure said, when the Shadow Guard only moved closer to him. “I just wanted to see your engagement ring. I’ve heard a lot about it and seen imitations that don’t ring true. I’ve always wondered what your family ring looks like.”

Jihan held out his right fist, so that Zure could see the ring with the rock of black jade caught between two snarling tigers.

“It’s beautiful,” Zure said, appreciating fine artisanship. “Handsome and forbidding just like Duke Silver. Only he would make snarling tigers work as a love token.”

Jihan chuckled and dropped his hand on his lap.

“What can I do for a master merchant turned prince consort?” Zure asked, looking behind Jihan at the disapproving General Faiza.

No doubt, the General was upset over Zure’s messy nightclothes and the bed with the covers trailing on the floor. Most of these noble men reacted with disdain when they looked at him. Zure shrugged it off. It was more interesting to look at Jihan.

This merchant watched him with expectation. Something he had not seen in a long time.

“I apologize for invading your chambers this way, Lord Niven,” Jihan said, “First, I want to thank you for supporting my Kamran people. You helped me purchase this plot of land, and enticed noble lords to buy membership here. Jihan is grateful.”

Zure’s gaze narrowed as he held Jihan’s gaze.

“You’ve known I existed?” Zure asked, surprised. He’d always thought his machinations stayed hidden from this particular Kamran.

“Ten years ago, Hana came to Garren at the Eagle’s Claw when she was fourteen,” Jihan said. “She offered the title to this land to Kamran in exchange for a place in our ranks and a home. Of course, I had to find out where she had come from. It took me a moon cycle to discover she’s your illegitimate daughter. Her mother died when she turned twelve and she lived alone in poverty until you found her. Since your wife would not accept her into your family, you needed to find her a place to go. I’ve always wondered why you chose Kamran.”

“I thought your father was the head of your network at the time,” Zure said. “He wanted an introduction to a few noble lords, and Kamran looked like a steady enterprise. Hana is a good girl and hardworking. I thought she would fit well among you. Garren was looking for available plots in the area. I offered part of my lands and you ended up paying for it. I gave the money to my wife for our estate in Blood Nation. In the end, you surprised me when you built The Green and placed Hana here to learn how to run it. That was when I knew you were the head of Kamran and not your father.”

“I like to think of it as a long term investment,” Jihan said. “Lord Niven, I’m here now to ask you for help. Thanks to your support, this merchant has ended up father to a Prince. I want to protect Prince Rashan. I’m hoping you will stand with him in court.”

Zure’s brow rose at this request. As far as he knew, every lord and merchant thought he was too drunk to know or help with court proceedings.

“Why do you think I would be able to help you?” Zure asked, curious.

Jihan gave him a startling smile.

“Why would the Earl of Nivenad be unable to help me?” Jihan countered. “Blood Nation is deeply tied to our Silver Shore Valley, isn’t it? Rashan is one of you.”


Duyi took his carriage, instead of riding a horse. His first stop was Lord Ranka’s residence. The Ranka attendants informed him that Lord Ranka was preparing to go to the Imperial Court and was already in his ministerial office. Duyi tried to keep away from official matters, so he returned to his carriage and opted to visit The Green.

He was a member of the private inn, a membership that had costed him a small fortune. He was proud to have paid the gold to join The Green. It meant that he got the chance to meet elite noble lords without much work.

If he found one of his friends at the Green, he would be able to gain access to Lord Revi, or even Lord Ranka. These two men knew the ins and outs of the Imperial Court. They guided legislation and pushed for development projects, they were very close to the Emperor. Best of all, they were wealthy…wealthier than him.

Jihan should have understood that he needed their support.

If only Jihan had allowed himself to bow to Lord Revi. What was giving up a little business in the trade station? Wouldn’t it earn Jihan the chance to join Lord Revi’s table? This child, what had he taught him all these years? All the trouble to win support from the unrelenting nobles only for it to be wasted away by Jihan.

Duyi shook his head and climbed out of the carriage when it came to a stop at The Green. Adjusting his dark overcoat, Duyi stared at the closed gates of the private property. An attendant waited at the gate. Duyi hurried up the steps to the attendant and showed the young man his entry token. A small white jade stone, tied to a black string.

The attendant nodded and slid a fraction of the gate open for Duyi. Duyi gave his carriage driver a nod, knowing the man would understand to park and linger, waiting for him.

Inside, the expansive compound was neat and tended to perfection: the grass cut neat, the flowers and decorative bushes manicured. They seemed to always be in full bloom. Music drifted into the air from the depths of the large three-story manor ahead. Someone was playing a string instrument, a lively tune that could make the grumpiest man laugh.

Attendants swept paths and the grounds; they carried trays laden with teapots and liquor bottles, snacks and food. A chorus of laughs attracted Duyi’s attention and he turned to his left to see young men sitting on cushions under a large baobab tree. Girls serving drinks, and a game of mahjong laid out on a low table in the middle of the circle they made.

How carefree they look, Duyi thought.

“Welcome, my Lord,” a soft demure voice said, drawing his attention. He nodded at the young woman in a blue dress standing before him. “How may I help you?”

“I’m looking for Lord Niven,” Duyi said, “I doubt he’s left his chambers since last night.”

The young woman gave him a small smile.

“The Lord is right,” the lady said. “I’ll take you to him now.”

Duyi followed the attendant into the busy manor. The main floor filled with activity: dancing in a main hall, drinks and food in the dining hall, a party in one of the private rooms. The attendant led Duyi to the grand staircase. They climbed up the sweeping stairs to the second floor. Duyi followed the attendant through confusing corridors until she stopped before a pair of double doors.

Lord Zure Niven was a loyal patron of this establishment. As such, he was afforded a private chamber for his entertainment pursuits. He was a nobleman who could find and purchase anything in this house. It was fortunate for Zure because The Green catered to his preferences without prejudice.

Zure, despite having a wife and four robust sons living in his estate in Blood Nation, preferred the company of handsome young men. His wife had no idea and so anyone who wished to gain Zure’s favor, simply had to learn the truth of this secret. Duyi had stumbled upon this secret by luck, or fate, he could not tell which it was. The attendant didn’t bother to knock on the closed doors. She simply gave him a quick nod and left him alone.

Duyi turned the handle and slid the doors open, entering the quiet chambers that were Zure’s sanctuary. Most times, Duyi had to wake Zure from his many nights of drinking and dancing.

Duyi stopped at the door when he saw Zure sitting at a small round table by the windows. He was alone and dressed in a colorful blue robe that covered a neat inner shirt and trousers, two facts that surprised Duyi. Zure rarely followed the rules of decency when he was in his sanctuary.

“I thought you might visit me,” Zure said in greeting, when he saw Duyi. “This is the last place you should be, Duyi. Your son in-law is rumored to have started a revolt. You should be getting ready to escort Prince Rashan into the Imperial Court.”

“I don’t think that situation affects me or my family,” Duyi said with a small shrug. “You’ve long promised to introduce me to Lord Revi and Lord Ranka. I think it’s time, Niven.”

“This is the wrong time,” Zure said, shaking his head. “Sit, Duyi, we need to talk this out—”

“What’s there to talk about?” Duyi asked, crossing the room to sit opposite Zure. “I need to find a way for my remaining family to survive. Jihan may be lost to me but I still have Andiya, and her husband and their child. Andiya’s baby can inherit my title. Kamran will continue through them.”

“Is that all you can say?” Zure asked, his eyes going wide. “Rumors start in the open market and you believe they are true. Jihan’s husband is guilty and they are now lost to you. Is that truly your stance, Duyi?”

“They chose to go against Lord Revi,” Duyi said. “They even sent guards to my home to keep me from meeting Lord Revi. Why would they do that? Lord Revi and the Empress are not people one should cross. You know this, Zure. You taught me these truths when we first met.”

“Right,” Zure sighed, staring into the teacup on the table.

Duyi frowned when he noticed a second cup on the table and wondered if Zure had had a guest. Strange, Zure’s guests would not be having tea, but wine.

“Do you know what made me choose to get close to you?” Zure asked, looking up to study Duyi. His dark gaze made Duyi pause.

“No, but it must have something to do with the profits you’ve made through our Kamran business,” Duyi said, sitting back in his chair. He crossed his right leg over his left and smiled at Zure. “We’ve lined your pockets quite well.”

Zure chuckled.

“Yes, wealth was a very interesting byproduct. At first, it amused me,” Zure said, with a nod. “You are the most ambitious merchant I have ever met, quite similar to Lord Revi, if I was to say the truth. The only difference is that Lord Revi gained political office. You did not Duyi. It was also quite peculiar that you didn’t want to win this wealth on your own. You lobbied and worked for the connections, but you made your son do the hard work. Your son’s ability to turn a profit with a little information amazed me. He managed to grow Kamran’s Network without making bold moves, just silent maneuvers that had massive rippling effects. They have grown beyond my expectations, allowed me to live my dreams and ensure my wife and sons are secure, living their dreams. I appreciate the wealth, Duyi. It was a very acceptable by-product of our association.”

Duyi nodded, aware that Zure more than appreciated the money Kamran had helped him make through the years.

“Business matters aside, your need to make your family noble is what kept me interested in you,” Zure said, making Duyi sit up. “It was a raw ambition, hanging over you like an assassin’s blade at the ready. You’ve lived for it, Duyi.”

Zure chuckled and scratched his jaw as he narrowed his gaze on Duyi.

“I’m glad I’ve been entertaining,” Duyi said, stung by Zure’s chuckle.

“Quite,” Zure nodded. “I’m a spoiled and selfish man. I was born Lord Zure Niven, Earl of Nivenad. My every need catered to as long as I promised to live for the Empire of Akasha, the family’s lands and produce an heir for the next generation. I have lived for Nivenad and Blood Nation, made them prosperous, my people are happy. I got the wife, and four sons to inherit the legacy. All of these done, I got bored and wanted to live my own dreams, see what else I could do for the Empire.”

Zure got up and moved to stand by the windows, his hands at his sides.

“Choosing to support you, Duyi, was a whim,” Zure said. “I wondered if your ambition would ring true. I wanted to see how far it would take you, this merchant who wanted to change his family into noble blood, you quickly became an experiment.”

“And how is the experiment going?” Duyi asked, once again annoyed by Zure’s condescending tone.

Zure crossed his arms against his chest, staring out the window, deep in thought.

“It’s taken a surprising twist,” Zure said, his tone full of wonder. “You see, behind you, a gem has emerged. An interesting byproduct of my machinations,” Zure chuckled. “You might have gotten the war supply token, but your son succeeded in the exercise. He survived the war and won the title award from the Emperor: an Emperor with a very cunning mind.”

Duyi frowned.

“Jihan would not have supplied that war without me,” Duyi said.

“That’s not relevant,” Zure snapped at him. “What is important is that His Imperial Majesty did not need to tie your blood to his for a successful war supply. He saw what Jihan is and coveted him. Do you even understand why His Imperial Majesty wanted to own Jihan?”

Duyi frowned, starting to feel as though he had walked into the wrong room.

Zure was different this morning. His eyes filled with a strange light. His mind looked too clear, far removed from the liquor haze that surrounded Zure when he visited.

Shaking his head, Duyi decided to throw Jihan to the wolves.

“I don’t know why His Imperial Majesty agreed to Jihan,” Duyi said. “All I know is that Jihan stole the right to marry Prince Kastan from his older sister. It should have been Andiya—”

“It could never have been her,” Zure said, shaking his head. “If His Imperial Majesty had only wanted to thank you for a successful war supply, Duyi Kamran, he would have styled your family a title and ended it there. There would be no need for marriages. How many wars has this empire had?”

Zure scoffed.

“Prince Kastan stayed unmarried for ten years. His son, Rashan, is already understood to be the next Commander of Armies, there would be no need for marriage for an heir,” Zure said. “You’re wrong. I truly believe His Imperial Majesty saw the gem that is your son and wanted it. He wanted to benefit from Kamran, like me, only on a very grand scale. So, he insisted on a marriage. I read the marriage banners and the orders released. He called it a wedding between his beloved brother and a Kamran child. He knew Duke Silver would choose your son, Duyi. Andiya was never in the running.”

“Why is this relevant to the current situation?” Duyi asked. “Jihan is now on his death bed. Duke Silver is accused of treason. Their lives are in the balance. Lord Revi—”

“Is not a man you should meet,” Zure said, shaking his head. “A merchant gaining a noble title does not make him a noble man. That’s what you’ve proven to me. You’ve failed my experiment where your son has excelled. I might play harder than all the other courtiers, but even I know to remain loyal to this empire and what it stands for as my home, my legacy.”

Duyi stood, shaking his head.

“You insult me, Lord Niven,” Duyi said.

“Can’t help it,” Zure said with a quick grin. “Our Commander of Armies is accused of revolt, right after he has won a war to secure West Nation’s border. Not to mention his family faced an attack on their way home. It sounds like a plot to ruin the Imperial Prince’s name. My connections will not be used by you or Lord Revi to further this farce.”

“Lord Niven,” Duyi said in shock. “You can’t go against Lord Revi. He’ll have you killed.”

“Let him try,” Zure said, with a surprising grin. “I waited for you today, hoping you were coming to ask me for help. Help for your son, the Imperial Prince Consort, Jihan Miran. Instead, you are here choosing to seek Lord Revi. I don’t think we have anything more to say to each other, Duyi.”

Duyi met Zure’s dark gaze, confused.

“Leave,” Zure said, nodding to the door. “I have too many things to do today. We entitled nobles have to attend the Imperial Court this afternoon. I hope, Viscount of Gamo, that by the time Prince Rashan has to face his Imperial Uncle, you’ll have made the right decision.”

Duyi’s frown deepened and he only left Zure’s sanctuary because the doors opened and a pair of attendants hurried in carrying Zure’s court robes. It suddenly felt as though he had lost something valuable, but he could not define what it was, or had he never owned it to begin with?


Neith stared into her mirror, a deep frown creasing her forehead. The image of Jihan riding as fast as he could to meet Prince Rashan at the palace entrance filled the frame. She admired Jihan's courage and worried that he had placed all his trust on Niven too easily. The merchant was now truly dedicated to saving his husband and son.

Waving her hand over the mirror, she searched and found the dark cloud shifting over the cliffs at Sun-filled Manor. The dark tendrils were thin, and hard to understand because there was no source. Just dark clouds seeping over the cliffs, and holding, never dissipating. What was she missing? Perhaps she should join Jihan and Rashan’s guard into the palace. Their battle was going to be intense enough. She could assist—

The thought barely filled her mind, and Bast appeared behind her. He grabbed her right arm and pulled her away from the mirror.

“You promised to only watch,” Bast said. “The decisions must be untampered. Neith, it is the only way to keep your merchant alive.”

Neith stepped away from the ornate table holding her mirror with an exasperated sigh.

She pulled her arm out of Bast’s hold and walked to the large fig tree in the middle of the tower. The branches sagged under the weight of betrayal, near death experiences and uncertainty. The Imperial Family was in a right mess.

“The darkness at Silver Shore Valley continues to grow,” Neith said, annoyed. “It’s not created by any of our machinations, Bast. I can’t find the source.”

“That cloud is created by circumstance,” Bast said. “There are decisions that have not been made, hence the reason why you can’t find the source. Wait for the right moment. It will be the only time you can interfere, Neith.”

Neith sunk her fingers into her hair, bunching soft strands as impatience grew. She stared up at the domed ceiling hating the idea of waiting. She needed to get away from this tower.

Ha was smart. He had chosen to occupy his time with the Iron Lands. Too many souls needed help and saving from an infestation of mercenaries. He would be busy through the waiting.

If she stayed here, Bast would keep watching her, worried she was going to interfere with the merchant. She still couldn’t believe that Jihan had chosen to trust the Blood Nation Prince. That crazy man with a strange mind and terrible habits, it was too bad that Jihan needed to tangle with him.

“I’m leaving,” Neith said, making Bast almost burst with worry.

“Where are you going?” Bast asked, his eyes wide.

“Silver Shore Valley,” Neith smiled. “A new life is coming into the world at Sun-filled Manor. Kaveh Miran is overjoyed with being part of it. I’m going to share his excitement. You watch over Jihan here.”

Bast breathed out in relief and she left him to tend to their stubborn fig tree. At the very least, she trusted that he would get the sagging branches rising again.


“Prince Rashan has entered the palace,” Bowden reported. “Six hundred and fifteen ministers are in attendance today.”

“They’re all too eager to discover if Silver Shore Valley will fall this afternoon,” Kiyan guessed.

An excited shout had him stepping closer to the windows to look in the garden below his office windows. Yan and Yija were out playing tag with three of their attendants. Yan was being proactive today. His sons looked carefree and happy. On the other hand, there was Rashan who was facing a heavy charge of treason and facing the imperial court and his emperor.

Yija laughed and the sound of it had a heavy weight resting on Kiyan’s shoulders. Kastan’s son should have been laughing and playing at home, instead, he was on his way to face an uncle that might order his confinement.

Would Rashan forgive him?

“Is Rashan alone?” Kiyan asked, still hoping the merchant would not let him down.

He would forgive the merchant anything if he saved Rashan.

“Prince Rashan is alone,” Isani answered. “Our scouts report that he traveled from Silver Shore Valley with his Master Safan and his nanny, Fara. General Temu led a troop of soldiers to escort him.”

Kiyan closed his eyes, disappointment filling him.

“The merchant fails me,” Kiyan murmured, wondering why he had hoped Jihan would have the guts to defy him. Why had he hoped?

Perhaps, it was the effort Kastan put forward to marry the man.

Kiyan cursed under his breath.

“Do you think Kastan will make it this afternoon?” Kiyan asked.

“We have seen no entry into the city from the Iron Lands gate,” Isane said. “I’m still waiting on a report on the last hour.”

Kiyan let out a sigh.

“Very well,” he said, shaking out the heavy sleeves of his dark and gold robes.

The heavy weight on his heart at forcing an eleven-year-old boy to face an Emperor threatened to suffocate him. He wished there was another way, but there was none.

Lord Revi had struck gold with a revolt accusation. Threats to the throne were handled without mercy.

Strict laws governed the Commander of Armies. All that power Kastan wielded came with the threat of the executioner’s blade hanging over his head, his son, his consort, and an entire valley filled with soldiers loyal to him. The most Kiyan could do to show mercy was allow Rashan to live if his father was found guilty.

Rashan would stay in the palace, under Kiyan’s care.

Kiyan shuddered at the thought of such an ending.

Kyra would not forgive him and would try her best to take Rashan from him. Which would make Tanad Kingdom an enemy state. His arm burned and he pulled up the sleeve of his left arm to find the fig tree soot black, not an ounce of gold or green. The thought of going to war with Tanad Kingdom must have done it.

“Your Imperial Majesty,” Bowden said. “The court awaits.”

Kiyan pulled down his sleeves and decided to hope Kastan had a way out of this deadly plot. His brother always found a way. Hadn’t Kastan won the West Nation war?

What was a little revolt accusation?

“Let’s attend court,” Kiyan said. “If Rashan has to be confined, Bowden, we both have to find a way to protect him until Kastan arrives. Isani, you’ll take him into custody, do not allow the palace guards to do it.”

“Why?” Bowden asked.

“The Empress is in attendance,” Isani answered. “Some of the palace guards belong to her side. We cannot risk His Highness getting confined in the Empress’s domain.”

“Have your officers from the royal investigative bureau at the ready,” Kiyan said. “Support whatever Master Safan wants to do to protect the young prince if he has to get out of that court.”

“Yes, Your Imperial Majesty,” Isani said with a nod.

Kiyan left his office, followed by Isani and Bowden.

Heart pounding, Kiyan headed to the audience hall knowing this moment mattered more than any other he had ever sat on his throne. If things went horrible, it would break the Miran family apart.


Character List.
Zure Niven's experiment shakes Duyi
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.
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The die is cast, the dice are about to be tossed and thank the everloving gods that the emperor will keep Rashan from the wicked witch of a empress!

maleficent GIF

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If you keep building up the tension much longer, I'm afraid for my health.  I love the twists and turns of this plot.  Another great chapter, but I'm waiting for some relief here. :yes: 

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