Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chapter Three

Word Count: 3,463

The next morning, Syndra-Kai visited her father while he breakfasted, as she usually did. Since the Regent’s breakfast was typically an affair of state, with much business conducted over the hearty fare, it was quite common to have visitors. Syndra did not eat with her father, to avoid showing her face to outsiders. This morning however, her father ate alone, aside from his constant companion, his Chief Advisor, Du-Karel.

Du-Karel gave Syndra-Kai a look of disdain as she entered, as always appearing to try his best to peer through her layers of concealing clothing and veil. She ignored him as she went to her father and kissed him on the cheek. “Good morning, Father, I hope you rested well.”

Syndra’s father nodded and smiled as he took a bite of his omelet. Na-Jakar was the Imperial Regent, serving in her mother’s place since the former Empress, Heta-Nar, had died in childbirth when Syndra-Kai was only two. Heta-Nar’s reign had been short, but her husband and her people had loved her greatly. She had been a beacon of hope for her repressed nation because of her planned reforms.

Heta-Nar took the throne when she was 18 years old. Her mother had borne three girls before her own death, and Heta-Nar was the eldest. She married Na-Jakar, her long-time suitor and the love of her life, less than a year later, and it was no surprise when Syndra-Kai arrived ten months later. Noted for their fertility, The Empresses of Lunatia had never failed to produce an heir within a year of their marriage.

Complications during her second pregnancy cost Heta-Nar her life, and most of the grand plans she had for her country died with her. Na-Jakar lost much of his passion for life, and he left the rule of the country mainly in the hands of Du-Karel.

Du-Karel ran the country with an iron fist, increasing taxes and eliminating programs he thought unnecessary. Aid for the poor stopped, education reforms ended, and any ideas Heta-Nar had initiated to equalize power among the classes were put aside, in favor of proposals that favored the wealthy or the noble. It was apparent that Du-Karel favored the noble class, feeling that commoners should be considered no more than paid slave labor. Outlawed centuries before, slavery was illegal, but there was still a faction among the noble class that felt they were superior in every way to any other class, and abused that privilege. Heta-Nar’s sisters were a few of their number.

Syndra-Kai often wondered how Du-Karel had achieved such a position of power in the palace, but could only assume that her father’s fragile state after her mother’s death left him vulnerable to coercion. Still a child herself, Syndra-Kai had no say in government yet, but Xan-Rul had done his job as tutor to pass on her mother’s ideals. Syndra anticipated the day when she could ban Du-Karel from the palace and send him into disgrace with her aunts, who lived in the northern state of Cathantias. She was convinced Du-Karel was in league with them to wrest power out of her hands so they might continue their lavish and irresponsible lifestyle.

“Hello Syndra-Kai, my darling daughter! I understand that you had quite an interesting Choosing ceremony yesterday. I trust you were still able to approve an Eligible?” Na-Jakar said. Du-Karel’s face lit with interest. He obviously had not heard this piece of palace gossip yet.

“Yes, Father, rest assured that I have Chosen, wisely, I think. He is a man named Malik-Tor, have you heard of him?” Syndra asked.

Du-Karel answered instead, his nasally voice grating to her ears. “He is the traveler that writes of the customs in foreign nations, my lord. Indeed, he seems quite charmed by foreign ways.”

“Is that so? A well-traveled man might indeed prove a wise Companion for you, my dear. Indeed, our foreign policy could use some attention.” Na-Jakar continued eating, and Du-Karel stiffened at the perceived insult to his management skills.

“Sire, Lunatia is the jewel of the world, and all other nations have always bowed to her might. The silver produced in the belly of our mountains is the envy of all. It is only right that foreign nations recognize our power in this respect. To give them consideration beyond that of any common merchant would be to cheapen our own Empire in everyone’s eyes.”

Na-Jakar slumped, his momentary show of spirit dissipating. Saddened to see her father disintegrate under Du-Karel’s condescending stare was too much.

“Lunatia has indeed become a rich country because of the blessing bestowed upon us. However, I feel it is the responsibility of those blessed thusly to look after the less fortunate. It is the merchants and the commoners that have made this country what it is. Their work brings forth the silver for trading, making it accessible to the rest of the world. To treat them as less than equals would be a great dishonor, considering the service they provide. Unless, perhaps you propose to start mining silver yourself, Du-Karel. I hear that it is a dirty job, though; it would be a shame to mar your fine clothes.”

Du-Karel stiffened further, if such a thing were possible. “You are still a child, Princess; I would not expect you to understand these things. It is knowledge that comes with years of experience in dealing with these people that shows you how low they can be,” he sneered.

“Need I remind you, sir, that after tomorrow I will no longer be a mere child. I will be Empress, and if you are not careful, you will be out of a job.” Syndra-Kai stood. “Father, I am glad to see you are in good health. I shall retire to my studies and preparations for Initiation. I hope that you may be able to teach your lapdog here some courtesy before then.”

She hated having to ignore the feeling of hurt she saw on her father’s face as she left the table. Du-Karel’s face held an odd expression, almost one of triumph. He knew very well that her father had no real power over him; her father was the lapdog. She would not be rid of him so easily, either. He had involved himself deeply in every matter of state, and unfortunately, she would require his aid until she was able to navigate the treacherous waters of politics alone.

Still, she felt the need to be cruel to her father. She felt that he had dishonored her mother by his weakness. She would not do the same.

Upon returning to her quarters, Xan-Rul waited for her.

“Good morning, Princess. I trust your father is well?”

She flung herself down on the bed. “As well as ever. Du-Karel still has my father by the nose, and I cannot wait to rid the palace of his presence. Have you seen Malik-Tor today? How is he?”

“Yes, I have been to see your Chosen one. He is well, though he did not welcome the reason for my visit. There are some things he needed to be aware of about his role in the Initiation,” Xan-Rul replied.

“What sort of things?”

“What to expect after castration, for one.”

Syndra-Kai had removed her veiling, and her face blanched. “Must you always be so blunt, Xan?”

“I have learned in all the years of knowing you, Syndra-Kai, that if I were anything but blunt, you would pester me to no end,” he said.

“Just what should one expect in his position, Xan-Rul? Pardon my curiosity, I still think it is hideous perform such an act on another person, but you have lived through it, as every Chosen one before you.” Syndra gestured for him to sit in their customary seats; she lounged on a sofa, and he sat as formally as usual in an armchair at her side.

“It is a very simple thing, really. It is quite common to castrate an animal for any number of reasons, the method is similar for a human as well,” he began.

“How is it done? Does it hurt?” she asked.

“Initially, yes. It is usual to receive some kind of drug to dull the senses beforehand. After, it is really just a dull throbbing until there is nothing left,” he said.

“I have seen medical books; I am not completely naïve as to a man’s anatomy. Is the man cut?”

“No, there is a tool used to crush the blood vessels leading to the man’s productive organs. The lack of blood causes them to shrivel and die. Everything else is intact, but there is no desire for physical pleasure any longer,” Xan-Rul said.

Syndra-Kai gulped. Her thirst for knowledge was great, but sometimes, even she wondered if she went too far. What she had heard greatly disturbed her, though she was relieved that Xan-Rul appeared to be un-distressed. His serenity passed to her as well, and she felt better.

“How did Malik-Tor take this information?” she asked.

“As any man hearing of such things reacts for the first time would react. He clutched himself, backed away, and turned quite pale.” He chuckled. “I don’t know how you got him to agree, Syndra-Kai. He seemed quite fierce last evening, but today he is quite calm.”

She swallowed nervously. “I explained to him that I had no great love for the custom either, and that I wished it were unnecessary, but if I were to change it, I needed his agreement. It didn’t hurt for me to tell him a little of my cousins, as well.”

Xan-Rul frowned. Syndra-Kai’s aunts and cousins had been banned from court long ago. It was one thing her father had managed to keep intact since her mother’s death; even Du-Karel could not convince him to reverse Heta-Nar’s ruling. Xan-Rul shared the family’s dislike for their relatives.

“But you say he is still calm today? You do not fear he will run, do you?” Syndra asked. She needed to find out any possible repercussions that would occur after she helped Malik to escape the city.

“He seemed quite prepared to do his duty, even if he was a little disturbed by what I had to say. I think he will see his end of the bargain through.”

Syndra sighed with relief, a soft exhalation that caught Xan-Rul’s attention.

“Your rash actions yesterday could indeed have jeopardized your throne, Princess. You would do well to remember that. A girl in your position could lose much by acting on emotion rather than logic,” he reminded her.

“I know this, Xan-Rul. I just cannot help it sometimes. Perhaps I am still too much of a child to manage this,” she said, thinking of Du-Karel’s words to her earlier.

“Nonsense. You are a very levelheaded young woman, and you have learned everything that can be from a book. Experience and wisdom will come with time. Do not fret. This Malik-Tor seems wise, and may prove of use to you. You cannot ask for more from a Companion than to be your most trusted Advisor.”

“But what if he changes his mind, after? What if he chooses then to run? Do you still think me capable of this, Xan-Rul?”

Xan-Rul looked at her, considering. “It would be dangerous for him to run, Princess. I do not see how he could escape the role he has been Chosen for.” He peered at her closely, but Syndra kept her face casual, and her eyes downturned, as though she were simply nervous. “If he should escape, it would be of no great concern. He would be an outlaw, no longer permitted in Lunatia. What matters is that you become Empress. Why do you really think a commoner is Chosen? They are disposable.”

Syndra-Kai looked up. It was untypical of Xan-Rul to sound so critical, though she knew his inclinations. Usually he was the picture of calm, accepting fate with patience and approaching sensitive topics with logic, not emotion.

“Xan-Rul, you are not disposable. You were my mother’s dearest friend, and you are mine as well. I would not be who I am today without your guidance. Were my mother alive, she would proclaim it to all who would hear.” She reached out a hand and laid it atop his.

Taking her tiny hand between his larger ones, he smiled wistfully at her. She could see emotion in his eyes as he looked into hers. “Thank you. I have tried my best to teach you, as she would have wished, in what capacity I may. You are a good daughter.” He straightened in his seat again, regaining his composure. “You know, she did have plans to do away with this custom before you came of age, just as you do.”

“She did? I did not know that! Why didn’t she?” Syndra-Kai sat up.

“Well, when she became Empress, it was a whirl of courtship, marriage, your birth… She started many things she was unable to see through to fruition. She probably thought she had plenty of time, and then it was too late.”

Syndra-Kai sighed, bringing to mind the phantom image of her mother she kept in her head. She could not remember her, and the one portrait that existed was in her father’s chamber. She had only seen it a few times. “I hope I make her proud.”

“You will child, I feel certain you will. Just be strong, and keep your own counsel. Let no one tell you how you should be or do things.” Xan-Rul stood, looking down at her. “Now, child, there are some things I must say to you as well, and you will probably be displeased to hear them, but this is how things are done.”

She looked up at him, curiosity shining in her eyes. “I know what is expected tomorrow, Xan-Rul. I have a thorough education.” She assumed they would be discussing the physical aspects of her Initiation again, which had been covered when she had asked where babies came from as a child.

“No, my dear, I think your Chosen one will take care of that just fine.” Syndra stuck her tongue out at him. “There are some formalities that you need to be aware of. All of these things are revealed to you in stages, so as not to overwhelm you. The first of these things is that you will not immediately become Empress the moment you are bedded.”

“What? Then what is the point of all this ‘custom’ and ‘ceremony’ if it is not about becoming Empress?” Syndra drew her brows together, ready to burst in sudden anger.

“The ceremony of Initiation means that you are considered a woman and an adult, no longer a child. However, in order to rule, it is only proper that an Empress choose a mate, so they may rule in harmony. The Empress gives life to the country, and her husband ties her to the earth. Marriage is an even more important ceremony than the Initiation,” Xan-Rul said.

“Well, I certainly understand the need to be married one day and have an heir, but are you saying I do not have any real power until I am married?” Syndra-Kai asked.

“In a way, yes. If a girl must become Empress as early as age sixteen, she must wait a period of one year before she can assume the throne fully. This is to allow her time to find a husband, so they might rule Lunatia together, though the Empress has more power.”

“A year before I can do anything? That is ridiculous!” Syndra-Kai remembered the look of triumph Du-Karel had given her before she left her father. “Who else knows of this stipulation?”

“It has been a long time since we had need for a girl as young as you to take the throne, but it is in the laws,” Xan-Rul replied.

“So why have you not told me of this before?” Syndra demanded.

“It was not permitted, Princess. A girl is only told of these things just before her Initiation, whether it is applicable or not,” Xan-Rul said.

“And I am sure that my aunts are well aware of this and all too ready to be there in case I fail,” Syndra said.

“It is unlikely you will not be able to find a husband in the time allowed. Once you are Initiated, you may remove your veil, and you are quite beautiful. I am sure you will catch the eye of some worthy,” Xan-Rul reassured her.

Syndra-Kai glared at him. “So what am I supposed to do for a year before I have to get married? Just meet potential candidates who are going to lie, cheat, or steal to win my hand?”

“You may do as you wish, Princess. Once considered an adult, you may travel all of Lunatia; or even foreign nations if you desire. The only restriction upon you is that you must wed a Lunatian.”

“I can really go anywhere?” Syndra-Kai’s eyes lit up. She had never been allowed outside the palace walls before, even into the city of Lunatium itself.

“With the proper escort, of course. Perhaps Malik-Tor might wish to show you some of the places he has seen,” Xan-Rul suggested.

“Well, Xan, I think that is the best piece of news you have given me in a long time. I have always wanted to travel!” She twirled around the room. “And a whole year to do so?”

“One whole year. If you can just keep your patience a little longer, you will be Empress one day, Syndra-Kai, fear not about that. You may also participate in the government, though you can make no changes. Your opinion must be taken into consideration,” he added.

“Was there anything else you needed to tell me before my Initiation?” she asked.

“That is all for now, Princess. I will leave you to your meditations and preparations for tomorrow. Today is yours; you know to ask the maids if you need anything.”

“Thank you, Xan-Rul. You have always been honest and kind. Rest assured that as long as I am able, you will have a place in the palace,” she said.

Xan-Rul bowed as he left the room, there being nothing left to say.

Syndra-Kai walked to her balcony, screened to protect from spying eyes. From this height, she was able to see over the palace walls, westward towards the main city gate and the mountains beyond. One day soon, she would be able to touch those magnificent peaks herself. First, she needed to prepare for the coming Initiation.

She moved to the far corner of her room, and twisted a sconce on the wall until it hung upside down. A panel cleverly hidden in the marble of the wall itself moved silently back, revealing a catch. Pressing it, the whole wall swung inwards to reveal a dark corridor. She grabbed a candle from her bedside and lit it before entering, pushing the wall closed behind her. She marveled at the hidden passage’s design. Even after years of disuse, the mechanism worked like a charm.

She began to walk down the path and stairs she had taken many times, though never to their ultimate end, outside the city walls. She had discovered this way as a child and explored its mysteries, finding hidden doors into storerooms and other suites in the palace. Before, she had explored with curiosity, now she moved with purpose. She had to gather supplies for Malik-Tor, to aid him in his escape.

She wondered what it might be like to travel with Malik. Reading of his travels was exciting, he had a gift with words and describing things he had seen, it was as though she were there herself. The man himself intrigued her, and not just his handsomeness. He had an air of mystery and even a little danger that she was both intrigued and frightened of. She wondered if he might be willing to go ahead and carry through with the physical part of the Initiation, though it scared her. She knew what was involved, but it sounded painful, not to mention humiliating, having to submit to a man and let him do such things to her. She shuddered, but at the same time, she was oddly aroused.

She shook herself and continued on her mission. She had plans, growing in magnitude all the time, and she had very little time in which to worry about a silly erotic fantasy. He was there to allow her to become Empress, that was all, and he had made that perfectly clear already by even mentioning that it was not necessary to perform the act. He did not want her, even if she was beautiful. She was just a child in his eyes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chapter Two

Word Count: 3,126

“Princess, this is highly unconventional, not to mention improper.” Xan-Rul kept pace easily with the diminutive Princess as she marched purposefully down the long corridor to the East wing, which held Malik-Tor.

“It may be unconventional or improper, but it is not against the law. It is well within my right to want to speak to my future Companion,” Syndra-Kai said, with a graceful sweep of her arm. The silver bracelets that adorned it jangled as she moved.

“This is true, however, typically, the Chosen one is not being held against his will. I thought you felt sorry for us that were Chosen, yet you are treating him as a prisoner.” Xan-Rul glanced askance at Syndra. Though a veil covered her face, he could feel her start of surprise. She stopped her march and turned to him.

“I do feel sorry for those that submit to the Empire willingly and are abused for it. Nevertheless, this man defied our ways, and I want to meet with him. A man that can inspire so many to listen to his words and follow his advice may be of use to me in presenting my case for ridding the Empire of this ridiculous practice.” Syndra looked up at Xan-Rul. “You have always been a wonderful friend and teacher, Xan-Rul. You would have been a wonderful father, and in some ways, have been as such to me. Denying you that natural right is a shame, and I cannot abide that. You have always advised me to think of ways to rejuvenate our society, broaden our horizons, and think for myself. I want to get rid of this custom.”

Xan-Rul sighed, placing one of his large hands atop her head, stroking her hair through the veil. “And you have been as a daughter to me as well. I do not deny that sometimes I do regret what I have lost, but I am also thankful for the opportunity I have been granted. Were it not for this custom, I might still be living in poverty in the city.”

Syndra shook her head. “But there could have been other ways! We need to educate everyone, not just the wealthy. The class they were born in does not define people. You are a prime example that, given opportunity, even a lowborn individual can make something of himself. Besides, I know quite a few high born nobles that act as though they belong in a gutter instead of where they are.” Her father’s Chief Advisor, for one, disturbed her. Something about the way that man tried to peer through her coverings made her uneasy.

Taking her hand, Xan-Rul pulled her along the corridor again. “Well, you are insistent. Just ponder your own words carefully and think of how you are treating this man. You will be using him, just as the Empire has always used the underprivileged. Be kind, Syndra-Kai. The ways of the palace and the Empire are a mystery outside these walls, and your motives are an enigma to him. Keep that in mind.”

Syndra-Kai nodded, though Xan-Rul’s words were unnecessary. She knew perfectly what she was doing, she hoped. If Malik-Tor was as quick as his writings and the tales of him told, and if he were willing to go along with her plan, all would be well.

** ** ** ** **

Malik-Tor was tied to a chair, waiting impatiently, but for what he had no idea. This was brilliant, he thought to himself. I do everything I can to avoid this trap, and look what happens. He glanced around the room for anything he might be able to use to break free.

It was a well-appointed room, rich rugs covered the floors, and large tapestries adorned the walls. A curtained bed was angled in one corner and a large armoire on the wall beside it. The chair he was sitting in faced a table and the door. Ropes bound his hands to the arms of the chair, and his feet to its legs. The rope did not give when he tested it, and he did not see any ready weapon to hand.

Why would the Princess Choose him? A common rabble-rouser could expect a term in the dungeon, not to be ‘honored’ and expected to be her lifelong Companion. Then again, perhaps that was her sick idea of a punishment. Well, it worked; as it had certainly gotten his attention. He would be damned if she would get what she wanted from him though. She could be the most accomplished whore in all of Lunatia, and he swore he would not rise for her. See her become Empress, then, he thought bitterly.

He had plenty of time to consider his folly. His mind filled with images of what could have been. If only he had come home immediately, he could have seen his father before he died. He could have left the city before the gates closed.
Now he was at the mercy of a spoiled sixteen-year-old girl’s whims. She probably had a brain the size of a pea. Of course, if that were so, she probably would have just picked someone else rather than devising this ingenious torture for him.

Another thought occurred to him. Perhaps she had Chosen someone else, and was just toying with him? He much preferred that thought. He wished he could free his hands, his nether regions were tingling, drawing up at the thought of what she intended to do with them if that was not the case. He could handle imprisonment; it would not be the first time he had been in chains. This playing with his mental state, on the other hand, was just not acceptable. The girl was obviously diabolical.

A sound outside in the hall caught his attention. The key turned in the lock, and a tall, muscular man entered. His head had been shaven bald, except a single long lock in the back, bound by a silver band. His chest was bare, except for an embroidered vest of dark blue velvet, decorated with silver crescents. He wore dark pants of a heavy material, and tall black leather boots. This was Xan-Rul, the Royal Chancellor, and the Companion of the former Empress, Syndra-Kai’s mother. Being a eunuch certainly had not hindered him at all, Malik thought. Xan-Rul was probably one of the most powerfully built men Malik had ever encountered, and he himself was no small man either.

Both men said nothing at first, just taking in the measure of each other. Malik knew he looked the worse for wear, having caught a glancing blow to the cheek and another to the chin as he had resisted the guards who brought him in. His hair was in disarray and his clothes quite torn and dirty.

Xan-Rul spoke first. “You have done a dangerous thing today, Malik-Tor. I have read your writings, and heard of your travels. I had thought you a wise man, and would not have thought you might betray your own country this way. To defy the order of the Empire that every Eligible be present for the Choosing shows a clear lack of intellect, and I do not see stupidity in your eyes. I will give you the chance now to speak on your behalf and explain your actions.”

Malik cocked his head to the side and gave Xan-Rul a direct look. “Let me just make one thing clear. I will take responsibility for my own actions in not appearing today. I do not agree with the custom of Initiation, and I chose not to participate. So be it. I did not, however, intend to divert anyone else from the law. I spoke rashly, and for that, I will apologize, but if you are going to keep me here, then you should go arrest everyone else that did not appear today as well. Their actions were their own, and I did not conspire against the Empire.”

Xan-Rul considered this. “People are easily led when their heroes speak to them. You have traveled far, Malik-Tor, and people respect what you have to say. You should be more mindful of your words and their effect on people.”

“So I am free to go then? Let me out of these ropes,” Malik said. He felt relief that he was being let off so lightly.

“I am sorry, but I do not have that power. Princess Syndra-Kai has declared that you are to be her Chosen one, and she will not be swayed. Dusk has fallen, and the ceremony is over. She cannot Choose another.”

“What?!” Malik struggled against his bonds again, the tendons in his arms and neck standing out from his tanned skin. “She cannot do this! I wasn’t even in the Hall today!”

“She most certainly can do this. Any single man between the age of 18 and 25 is Eligible. Being in the Hall is merely a formality; you need only be in the City to be Eligible. The gates and ports close three days in advance to be sure candidates are available to the Princess. All she need do is name you, and you are Chosen.” Xan-Rul looked at him pityingly.

Malik felt his stomach lurch, and his manly parts tighten even further. “I won’t do it,” he whispered.

“If you do not, then the Princess is shamed, and can no longer become Empress. The honor will go to one of her cousins, who more than ready to usurp her, I assure you,” Xan-Rul explained.

“But her father can change the law, get rid of the custom,” Malik argued.

“Only an Empress, not a Regent, can change the law.”

Malik slumped in his chair. “I won’t do it. I don’t care.”

A soft voice carried to him from the door. He had not noticed in his struggles that it had opened. “The punishment for failing to carry out your task is death.” Syndra-Kai stood in the doorway.

Malik’s head jerked up at the sound of her voice.

“Please leave us, Xan-Rul,” Syndra-Kai said.

Xan-Rul left without a word, closing the door behind him. Syndra took the time to consider the man before her.

He was certainly a handsome man; even the bruises he had incurred could not disguise the straight lines of his nose and jaw. He had dark hair, hints of auburn deep within its folds. Fierce yellow eyes glared at her, as if they could burn through her protective veil. She could not tell how tall he was, but he was broad in the shoulder, and his powerful chest heaved with his struggle to control his temper. She imagined he was about the same height as Xan-Rul.

Malik, unfortunately, had nothing to fit the impression her voice gave him. She was tiny, probably only coming to the middle of his chest; that much he could tell. Her voice was velvety smooth, reminding him of the purr of a kitten.

“I would rather die than submit to a custom I do not agree with,” Malik snarled in her direction.

“On that, we agree, Malik-Tor. That is why you are here. I need your help.”

“You don’t need my help, Princess, you could have Chosen any stud to service you.”

Syndra-Kai jolted at his crudeness, but she was undeterred. “Hear me out, I have a proposal for you.” She had lowered her voice. Her hands appeared from beneath her veil, and he saw slender and elegant arms adorned with a multitude of silver bracelets. “I will do something for you that is forbidden, so that you may see my sincerity.” With those words, she lifted the veil that covered her face. Violet eyes caught his and held.

She was beautiful. Not just in an everyday sense, she had an ethereal quality that defied belief. She had golden skin and lips that were red and full. Waves of soft, curling black hair fell around her shoulders. Her features were proud, high cheekbones, aquiline nose, and high forehead. Her eyes held the most power, however.
They burned purple fire, sparkling with the light of the lamps on the wall. He was ensnared in her gaze, and reluctantly, he felt himself relaxing.

She dropped her eyes and the spell was broken. He shook his head to clear it. “A proposal, you say?” Malik felt as though he sounded drugged, but she appeared not to notice.

“Yes. Xan-Rul told you that if you do not agree to meet this obligation, that I cannot become Empress.”

Malik nodded. He could smell the sweet scent of her skin as she moved about the room. It was an intoxicating blend of jasmine, honey, and her own unique womanliness.

“My cousins are foul things; they do not care what happens to this country if it means more power and money for themselves. I would not have one of them rule in my stead. I think it might interest you to know that I have no liking for what lies ahead of us than you do. I feel the same as you, despising this custom and what it does to innocents.”

This did indeed surprise him, and he became truly curious at what she intended.

“All we need to do is provide proof that I have been deflowered, and I can become Empress. You do not have to stay with me if you wish. I will relieve you of obligation to become my Companion.” Syndra-Kai glanced up at again.

This time, he was struck by her youth. In truth, she was still a child, naïve to the ways of men and women, and clearly unrehearsed in the potential power she held as a woman. Her eyes met his without guile, and in their depths, he saw some of her fear at her own words.

“Princess, I do appreciate your sentiments, but I cannot just let you castrate me and then set me free. Moreover, if you think that your father, the Chancellor and all the guards would just allow that, then you are mistaken. The moment we emerged from the bedchamber, they would have me unmanned. It is the whole point of the thing, to formally bind us, noble and commoner.”

“What if I could guarantee your escape? I would no longer be a virgin in the eyes of the Empire, and you could live free, as a whole man.”

Malik considered this. His family had no need of him, the only reason he had ever come home was to see his father, and he had missed that. It would be no great hardship to him to continue to roam the world. Yet he felt drawn home due to a higher calling. The land of his birth cried out to him, asking for his help in returning it to its former glory. Was this how he was to help his country? To live forever as its enemy? He could never see his family again; never see the view of the Lunatian Gulf at the rising and falling of the sun.

Perhaps this young girl filled with idealistic dreams was the answer, was what his country needed, not him. He looked at his hands, roughened from years of travel by land and sea. What did he know about running a government anyway? She had been trained for this all of her life. All he had was ideas, and an ability to get people to listen. She would be Empress, all-powerful ruler of the wealthiest nation in the world, and with no one to oppose her will. He met her eyes again, praying something in their violet depths would tell him what to do.

She met his gaze unwaveringly, her conscience bare for him to see. She meant what she said. She would do what she had to do if it meant having the opportunity to make her country better. What he saw in her eyes shamed him, and he felt guilty that he was more than willing to sacrifice a life at her side in favor of what made him think of himself as a man. He still could not bring himself to fathom a life where he would feel incomplete; he would never feel whole as a eunuch. So he agreed.

“How can you guarantee my escape?” he asked. He watched the joy spread across her features as he agreed to her plan. She explained that there were hidden passages throughout the palace that had been unexplored and forgotten. Some she had discovered as a child, others she read of in books outlining the building of the palace centuries before.

“I will arrange for the Initiation to be done in my quarters. There is a passage leading from my rooms that joins with others, and outside the city walls. It will be long and dark, traveling beneath the city, but it is possible; I can show you. When it is discovered in the morning that you have fled, as long as it is perceived that you have performed the required service, you are no longer required to be here, except as tradition, not law, demands.” She glanced down; shy once more.

“Princess,” Malik said. Syndra looked up. “There are ways; you do not have to do this. We can make it seem as though we have lain together, for others’ benefit.”
She blushed profusely, a charming stain of color on her cheeks. “Yes, I know. I thought to speak to you of that… later,” she said.

“Oh.” Malik nodded. “Very well, then.”

“So you are in agreement, you are sure?”

“I see no other way out of our joint predicament. You have a sound plan, and I have seen the truth of it in your eyes. I am your Companion until then.”

Excited, she rushed forward and threw her arms around him. Her scent surrounded him, and aside from his earlier intentions, he found himself becoming aroused at the brush of her breasts against him through the draping folds of her clothing. Her hair drifted around them as she pressed her cheek to his.

Blushing again, she apologized as she backed away. “I am so sorry, that was forward of me, and highly improper.” She struggled to put her veil back in place to cover her face.

“It is quite alright, my star. Were I free at the moment, I likely would have returned the favor.”

“Oh! I’m sorry!” She went to the door, smoothing her layers and regaining her composure before opening it. “Xan-Rul, please remove his restraints. I do not think Malik-Tor will be leaving us.” She turned back to him, and though he could not see her face, he felt her eyes burn him again. “I will see you in two days time, Malik-Tor.”

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chapter One

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for.... Word Count: 3,540

Golden light streamed through the glass dome that covered the Hall of Lunatium, the capital of Lunatia, the Empire of the Silver Crescent. Granite pillars lined the walls of the oval Hall, and its marble floor gleamed with the rays of the morning sun. A pair of Imperial Guards stood at each of the doors positioned at the four points of the compass, their red uniforms stark against the white walls.

At the northern end of the hall, a shrouded dais protected the future Empress, Syndra-Kai, from curious eyes. The law forbade any but personal maids, tutors, or family to look upon the face or form of the young Princess, until after her Initiation. The fabric of her shelter had been designed so that the Princess might view the Hall with little obstruction, yet was completely shielded from view. Only a dim outline of the Princess was visible through its folds.

Syndra-Kai sighed with impatience, twirling a strand of her gleaming black hair, pulled back into the Royal style. A silver circlet adorned the mass of hair piled high on her head. The mass of curls was interspersed with braids, their ends capped by silver beads.

“What a farce,” she thought to herself. “In a week’s time, things will be different. I will be Empress, and those that come after me will praise my name for the changes I will make.” Her mind churned with all the plans she had for her Empire.

Interrupting her thoughts, the Royal Chancellor, Xan-Rul, bowed before her, saying, “With your permission, Your Highness, we can proceed.”

Xan-Rul was also her tutor, and before that, he had been her mother’s faithful servant, Chosen by her mother, just as Syndra-Kai would Choose for herself today. Syndra-Kai sometimes pitied Xan-Rul for losing his manhood. Xan-Rul was quick to dismiss her concern.

“The honor of becoming your mother’s Companion was greater than any temporary pleasure those parts could have given me. It is an ancient custom, but it was necessary, and as a daughter of the Royal Family, she was obliged to go through with it. If you disagree, and many do these days, when you become Empress, you may change it. Until then, you must abide.”

Syndra-Kai laughed contemptuously. “But in order to become Empress, I must go through with a ceremony which is both antiquated and barbaric.”

Xan-Rul smiled. “That, my dear, is called irony.”

Syndra-Kai roused from her musings, reaching one hand forth from her silken barrier to wave in a gesture to continue. Xan-Rul bowed again and turned to face the Great Hall. “The Royal Princess of Lunatia, the most esteemed Syndra-Kai, commands the presence of the Eligibles!”

The guards at the southern end of the Hall opened the door, and a stream of men ages 18 to 25 as the law required, was ushered into the Hall. They formed an orderly assembly in front of the Princess. Only about fifty men were present when the line abruptly ended. The guards made a quick check of the passage leading to the Hall, only to return shortly, shaking their heads.

Xan-Rul arched a brow and cleared his throat as the doors closed. “The Eligibles, your Highness.”

Syndra-Kai rose to her feet and started down the steps of the dais. The servants responsible for keeping her hidden from view kept pace with her, carrying the shielding cloth. Syndra-Kai’s voice carried out over the Hall. “Are you sure, Xan-Rul?”

The men in the Hall shuffled their feet, glancing at each other nervously.
“According to the last census, Lunatium boasted a population of well over two million inhabitants. Of that number, no fewer than five thousand were of appropriate age and marital status to be an Eligible. My mother herself had two thousand Eligibles to Choose from.” She moved closer to Xan-Rul. “Are you telling me that in a city as great as Lunatium, all of the men suddenly desired to become husbands or were killed in an epidemic? Pardon me if I was remiss in my studies, but I count fewer than fifty!”

“Your great Pardon, Princess, but I am sure there must be some explanation,” Xan-Rul began.

Syndra-Kai hissed at him in a voice so low only he could hear. “This is what happens when you insist on imposing such a hideous custom on people! My people seem to no longer respect the office of the Empress, and a pitiful showing such as this is the result!” She turned away from him rudely.

“You there! What is your name?” Syndra-Kai strode to the first man in the line. She wondered if he was even old enough to be here, as his face seemed struggling in its efforts to bring forth its first facial hair.

He blinked owlishly and turned beet-red. “Me, Highness?”

“Yes, you, I asked you a question. What is your name?”

“Kin-Tal, your Highness.” He stared at his feet.

“Do you understand the importance of today, why you are here?” she demanded.

“Yes, your Highness,” he said.

“Are all of your friends married, or were they murdered in their beds this morning?”

Kin-Tal looked confused and started to stammer.

“Enough!” Syndra-Kai started to move through the ranks of men, eyeing them critically. It was indeed a poor turnout. Most were barefoot, some were missing teeth, many were so young it was certain the only reason were here was because their mothers had dragged them. A few cast leers in her direction when they thought she could not see them. A ragtag lot, petrified or cocky, frightened or daring enough to think they might be the Chosen one.

“So,” Syndra-Kai’s voice began to purr. “Can any one of your sorry number tell me why so few of you have come here today, and why your peers would choose to defy the Empire? The law demands EVERY single man between the ages of 18 and 25 present in the city this day to appear. No man has left since the gates and docks are closed, and I had not heard of disease run rampant, or such a spate of recent marriages to account for this dearth of Eligibles. Has the Empire lost the respect of its people, that they might defy the law?”

“Your Highness, I think I can answer that for you, if I may.” The first young man, Kin-Tal had spoken, having regained his composure.

Syndra-Kai walked back to him. “Can you indeed solve this quandary?” she asked.

“There is a man in the city. Perhaps you have heard of him…” The other men in the Hall began to mumble and shuffle around; clearly wishing Kin-Tal would stop speaking.

“Be still!” Syndra-Kai said. “I am greatly displeased, and may find the only pleasure I have today is watching the loss of your heads! If there is one who defies the Empire, let him be named!”

The men fell silent, and Kin-Tal spoke again. “This man, Malik-Tor, was born in the city and has traveled the world. He has newly arrived home, and has been speaking to the men of the city, telling them that the Choosing is barbaric, and that we should not have to submit to it any longer. He said that he had hoped that by the time he came back to our land that we had overcome our ignorance and done away with it. He said that…” He broke off.

“That is sufficient.” Syndra-Kai said. “I think I understand what is going on here.” She turned to mount the dais again. “And because this Malik-Tor is exempt from being an Eligible himself, he thought he would be immune from retaliation, and instead passed that danger on to you.”

“Oh no, your Highness. Malik-Tor is of age himself and unmarried. He’s just as Eligible as I am,” Kin-Tal said.

“Is that so?” Syndra-Kai asked. Her tone made it clear that no answer was required. Kin-Tal lowered his head again, as the rest of the men glared at him.
No one dared speak until Syndra-Kai allowed it. Her thoughts raced. She was both gratified and bemused at what she had just witnessed.

For centuries, every girl born to the Royal Family was required upon the advent of her sixteenth birthday to Choose a man from among the common class, who would take her virginity. This act was meant to signify the love and closeness the Empress felt for the commoners. Upon completion of her Initiation into womanhood, she was deemed ready to become Empress, should that duty fall to her, and the man would become her Companion. However, because he had lain with a woman who might someday become Empress, it was forbidden for him to lie with any other woman. To prevent such an atrocity from occurring, the law called for castration of the man, since his lowly status also forbade his marriage to the Empress.

Educated by the best teachers in the world, Syndra-Kai had learned much of the ways of other nations. She had even read some of the writings of the great traveler, Malik-Tor himself. She abhorred the custom of Initiation, just as it was apparent her people did. However, as Xan-Rul had pointed out many times, she could do nothing about it until she was Empress. She could not become Empress unless she went through with it. A neat circle she could not escape.

Should she refuse, one of her cousins, the daughters of her mother’s sister, would be more than happy to take her place. With their vapid personalities and disinterest in anything unrelated to their next pretty costume or piece of jewelry, Syndra-Kai knew they would do no service to the Empire, and it would dissolve further into decay. She was the only chance her beloved Empire would have of moving forward.

Even more shocking to Syndra-Kai than the discontent of her people, was her own reaction to their attitude. She was outraged. How dare they defy the Empire? Did the Empire not protect them and provide for them? No one had ever disobeyed Syndra-Kai, and aside from minor rebellions considered ancient history now, no one had ever disobeyed the rule of the Empire either. She did not know what to think, or how to feel.

Suddenly, an idea occurred to her. She motioned to Xan-Rul to come near. “See that the boy is rewarded for his honesty, and dismiss the rest.”

“But Princess, you cannot dismiss the Eligibles until you have Chosen. I know there are not many here, but you must Choose someone today,” Xan-Rul said.

“I have Chosen, Xan-Rul. Bring me Malik-Tor.”

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
Malik-Tor watched the sun set from the roof of his childhood home. The view from there was one he always remembered fondly, no matter where his travels had brought him. To the east, the wide Lunatian Gulf sparkled with the last flecks of sunlight as the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the west. He remembered standing on the deck of the ship ten years before, waving to his father as he sailed away on his first adventure. Only fifteen then, his head filled with dreams, Malik-Tor had gone to pursue his destiny.

Malik turned to the west, towards the mountains. The walls that surrounded the city might hide the slums that clustered outside at their base, but they could not cover the majesty of those high peaks. He had seen other mountains in many different parts of the world, but none compared to those of Lunatia. Perhaps it was the silver they held in their depths that made them so beautiful.

Malik’s family owned a house within the city walls, nestled amongst other whitewashed adobe homes. The flat roofs of the buildings in the city provided the opportunity to grow lush gardens on their surface; a necessity since city streets, markets, temples and homes claimed every available inch of ground below.

Only the palace itself boasted any significant lawn area or dedicated garden space. Slightly to the north of where Malik-Tor stood now, in the center of Lunatium, the very last ray of sun glinted off the glass dome of the palace; a final flash to remind all within view of the city of the power it held. He sighed at the sight. At least it is over now, he thought.

One year ago, a letter had reached Malik, telling him of his father’s illness and asking him to come home. Not taking his father’s illness seriously, he had avoided doing coming home straightaway because the Princess had not yet turned sixteen and undergone her Initiation. He had no wish to risk his manhood; he had grown rather attached to it over the years.

Being a foreigner had precluded him from being a candidate for some of the more barbaric customs he had witnessed in some of the less civilized corners of the world. It dismayed him that his own country, so renowned for its wealth and rich culture, should itself practice such beastly customs.

Postponing his trip home served no purpose in the end. He had missed seeing his father before he succumbed to his illness; and he had gotten the date wrong. Instead of arriving after the Initiation as he had planned, he had arrived just in time for the closing of the port and city gates. Travel in or out of the city was impossible until after the ceremony was over.

Angry and frustrated, Malik had spent the last few nights getting drunk in various bars around the city and bemoaning his circumstances. It was unlike him to complain so vehemently about such a selfish concern as the possible loss of his manly parts, but the loss of his father had left him feeling vulnerable. He had no intention of showing up for the Choosing, he announced to anyone in earshot, once he was in his cups. He found quite a few that agreed with his sentiments as well. What he did not know was that word of his opinion was traveling like wildfire throughout the city.

The appearance of his niece, Li-Adana, on the stairs interrupted his thoughts. “Supper is ready, Uncle Malik,” she said.

“Thank you, my star,” he said.

Blushing, she ducked back inside.

At the supper table, he sat at the head of the table. He felt uncomfortable in his father’s place, but his family insisted. He did not feel to be the head of the family, his brother Roi-Iman should have the seat.

In Malik’s absence, Roi had become his father’s shadow, learning the rug and tapestry business his father had run, as his father had before him. Roi-Iman was now married with one daughter, and another child on the way. He had cared for their mother and sister, Da-Faren, until their sister had married and gone to live with her husband.

Supper was a simple meal, a stew of beans and meat, richly seasoned and served with fried bread. After eating, the women cleared the table while Malik-Tor and Roi-Iman sat and talked.

“So now the day you have dreaded is past, and here you are, manhood intact,” Roi-Iman said. “What will you do now? Find a pretty city girl like me and settle down? You know there is always a place for you with Father’s business.”

“Yes, I know, Roi, but I don’t think that is the life for me. I have been away too long and seen too much to be content with such a simple life.” He immediately felt guilty for his words, hoping his brother did not take insult. “I mean, this life more than suits you…”

Roi-Iman laughed and waved away Malik-Tor’s words. “Fret not for me, my brother. We have all known since you were young that you were destined for great things. Father would not have let you go otherwise.”
Malik smiled at memory of his father. “You are probably right. Even had he tried to keep me home, I more than likely would have run away.”

“Then what are your plans? You are here now, but will you stay?”

“I think I will, brother,” Malik replied. “The new Empress will need advisors who are knowledgeable of our neighbors across the seas; and who better than the great Malik-Tor to advise her on foreign policy?” He gave a short laugh. “There are other things in this country that could use some adjustments as well. I have to try my best to convince the young, spoiled Princess that her that her country needs attention. Too long has the Empire been left to run unchecked; I see corruption everywhere.”

Roi-Iman nodded in agreement. “You are right, Malik. The poor get poorer, the rich get richer, and for those in between… Well, it is getting harder every day. Some new tax arises, or some wealthy patron claims foul when they feel like they should not have to pay for something. If I had the first inkling, I would move to the countryside and become a simple farmer!”

“That does sound idyllic, but it is even harder in the countryside, Roi. The Empire claims more and more land, paying far less than what the land is worth. Then they pay the same farmers who have lived there all their life a pittance, and punish them cruelly if they take a grain more than what they are allotted.”

“So how do you convince a sixteen year old girl who has lived in plenty all of her life that all is not as bright and shiny as she might think?” Roi-Iman asked.

Malik-Tor scratched his chin. “I’m not sure, Roi. Maybe telling her how other nations are dealing with similar problems and overcoming them. Perhaps telling her that her own advisors and overseers are stealing from the Empire might stir her to action. One can only hope she has learned something from all the tutors she has had over the years.”

“Her mother seemed inclined to change things, but then she died. Who knows how things might be different had she lived?” Roi-Iman said.

“But her father as Regent had all the power her mother ever did, and has done nothing!” Malik said.

“From all accounts, theirs was a love match, and since her death, he left the management of the country to those he said were ‘more suitable’ to the task.” Roi said.

“Love! Who can afford love in their position?” Malik was getting irritated again. “His love for her should have shown him the way to help the country she was born to serve, instead of leaving it up to a mere child. What is known of this Princess Syndra-Kai anyway?”

“Well, if the rumors are correct, she is very beautiful. Of course, those rumors might just be there to cover up the fact that she is really very ugly,” Roi-Iman laughed.

Malik laughed with him. “Her mother was rather beautiful; I saw her once when I was a child. It was her wedding day. Father carried me on his shoulders, even though I was nearly eight. We can only hope Syndra-Kai is like her mother in more than appearance as well.”

A knock at the door interrupted them.

Roi-Iman’s wife went to answer it, and then stepped aside as one of the Imperial Guard entered the house. Roi-Iman and Malik-Tor both stood. “Why do you intrude upon my home and treat my wife so rudely?” Roi demanded.

“This is not the home of Malik-Tor?” The guard demanded, looking from Roi to Malik.

Malik stepped forward. “I am Malik-Tor. This was my father’s house, and my brother has claim to it now. I am here as their guest.”

Two more Imperial Guards entered the house, taking up position on either side of Malik-Tor. A fourth guard blocked the doorway.

“Malik-Tor, I am here to place you under arrest, for conspiracy to prevent the Princess Syndra-Kai’s Initiation and rightful assumption to the throne as Empress of Lunatia.”

“What?” Roi-Iman, his wife, and Malik’s mother all yelled at the same time.

“By whose word did I attempt to prevent the Initiation?” Malik-Tor demanded.

“There has been testimony that you attempted to convince a number of possible Eligibles not to appear at the Choosing today, as well as testifying yourself that you did not intend to appear.” The guard did not waver under Malik’s quelling look.

“That was just talk! Who would have paid attention to a man out to drink?” Malik was starting to get a little worried, as he did indeed not show up himself, which was crime enough.

“Apparently, the whole city, since only around fifty Eligibles appeared today,” the guard replied.

Malik-Tor felt the blood drain from his face. He never thought anyone would actually listen to him; talking of boycotting the Choosing, it was unheard of! What was to become of him now?

“So the Princess was unable to Choose today?” Roi-Iman asked.

“No, she has Chosen, though who knows what has inspired her thinking,” the guard said.

“Then why are you here? No harm done, the Princess can still have her Initiation, and I have done no wrong!” Malik said.

“By order of Princess Syndra-Kai herself, I am to escort you to the palace. For it is you who has been Chosen.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

And the winner is...

So I got to thinking, and maybe a month was a little too long to run a poll for, especially when I am anxious to get to writing.
I am announcing the winning story from the poll, and it is.... EMPRESS (Actual title to follow eventually.)
Thank you to everyone who voted and commented, I have taken your thoughts into consideration, and some of you have inspired me to pursue things in different directions as well!

Now, if you all would give me about a week and I should have the first installment of something for you to read, tag along with my development as I go on my companion blog, I'm sure I'll be asking for your help there if I get stuck!

Thanks as well for your kind condolences regarding my friend who passed away, the next few weeks will be a struggle for his family (wife and 4 kids) as well as the many people who worked for him as everything is set into order and we begin to move on. His compassion and inspiration will be sorely missed by those of us who knew him.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Update to Poll, Reality Update

I had to take down the poll and re-do it, as well as temporarily suspend my elf story idea.

The reason for this is because the "bad guy" in the story was based on someone very close to my family (made evil by the wonder that is FICTION), and I just received word that this person was killed in a car accident earlier today. I am honestly in a little bit of shock, it seems so unreal.

I feel that it would be wrong to immortalize this person as someone evil and cruel, because in reality, he was not. He would have thought it humorous to be a bad guy in a book, but given the circumstances... Therefore, I will not work on that story for the time being, in order to honor his memory, and I will re-work the idea later and make him a much more benevolent character.

I am sorry for those of you who might have voted already, please take the time to register your vote again, I have kept track of the results thus far, and will include them in the final decision.


Because this is such a new blog, and because I have to get my brain in gear to do some serious writing, I put the poll up for a month, to generate some interest and hopefully get 100 votes. That way I know I've gotten a true representation of what people are interested in. In the meantime, keep checking back, and be sure to check out my companion blog, which I am working on a character development series. Thanks!