Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chapter Eight

Word Count: 3,364

Xan-Rul typically rose with the sun, but the evening of Syndra-Kai’s Initiation left him feeling unsettled, so he woke earlier than usual, and opted for meditation instead of sleep. As the sun crested the eastern horizon, there was a soft knock at his door. When he answered, a small child handed him a folded piece of paper and quickly darted back down the hall.

Opening it, Syndra-Kai’s neat handwriting filled the page, and another note was enclosed in the first, addressed to her father.

Dear Xan-Rul –
I am writing to tell you of my plans, so you will not worry about me. By the time you read this, I will have left the palace, in the company of Malik-Tor. You know it has always been my intention to stop the practice of Initiation, and I will not condemn this man to a life of sacrifice, as yours has needlessly been.

I have aided his escape from the palace and from Lunatium, on condition that he serves as my guide as I travel my kingdom. It is my sincerest wish that I be allowed to see my kingdom as it is viewed by the common people, and to walk among them and share their worries and hopes for my reign. I will not be exposed to these truths from within the palace or within the confines of an entourage, as my father would insist upon accompanying me.

I ask you now, as my dearest friend, that you intervene with my father, and give him the letter I have enclosed, preferably before my absence is discovered, so that a search for me might be forestalled. My father has given his permission, unwittingly, for me to pursue this plan, and he shall abide by my wishes, I feel certain.

I have asked my father to seek out a husband for me, so that upon my return I can be married and assume my rightful place as Empress. I shall return within the year I am allotted before becoming Empress. If for some reason, I do not; my father will need your guidance.

I beg your forgiveness for not informing you of my intentions, but I know that your efforts to protect me would have prevented my doing this.


Xan-Rul gazed out the window, mulling over what he had read. He felt that he should have seen this coming; Syndra-Kai was always very headstrong. Malik-Tor seemed like quite a capable and responsible man, he would be a good protector for Syndra-Kai. At least she had Chosen her Companion well.
He sighed, rising to dress in order to face her father. He was sure to be displeased, but he could be managed. He was unsure of the wisdom in leaving the choice of a husband in Na-Jakar’s hands. He hoped that Syndra-Kai’s willfulness and the memory of Heta-Nar would lead him to make a good choice.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

Na-Jakar answered the knock at his door, bidding Xan-Rul to enter. He was in high spirits, for the day had come when his daughter would begin to be involved in Imperial business, and he was relieved. When he took the note from Xan-Rul though, his face fell, dissolving into disbelief.

“Have you checked her rooms? Is she really gone?” he asked.

Xan-Rul nodded.

“And the Initiation… did, uh, everything…” Na-Jakar stammered, unable to put into words the question he needed to ask, whether the Princess was still a virgin or not.

“Malik-Tor did his duty. I have had the servants collect the sheets should anyone protest in the Princess’ absence,” Xan-Rul said.

Na-Jakar began to pace. “What shall we do, Xan-Rul?”

“Did the Princess ask for your permission to travel with Malik-Tor?” Xan-Rul asked.

“Yes, but I assumed she would follow protocol and travel with an entourage. A Princess of the Empire never travels without one.”

“If she has your permission, that is all that is required. Since she is no longer a child, she is free to decide if she wishes to travel, and with whom. I do not think it wise that we allow the circumstances to become public knowledge however.”

“No, no of course not,” Na-Jakar said. “We shall let it be known that Princess Syndra-Kai has departed, under cover of darkness, to travel as she might, and will return in one year’s time.”

“That is wise, Highness. And her instructions to search for a husband?” Xan-Rul inquired.

“I shall do as she has asked, and begin requesting audiences with the sons of all the noble families in Lunatia. There should be no shortage of suitors,” Na-Jakar said.

Xan-Rul nodded in response. “Is there anything further you require?”

Na-Jakar turned blank eyes of dismay to Xan-Rul, his heart in his expression. “Find her, Xan-Rul. Bring her back, I feel it unsafe with only one guardian to protect her, capable as she might feel him to be. She is still very young, and I would not have her lost and unable to assume her throne. I know that you will keep her safe.”

Xan-Rul bowed and exited the chamber, passing Du-Karel as the Chief Advisor entered. He did not meet Du-Karel’s eyes, and as he watched the eunuch leave, he missed Na-Jakar’s movement as he tossed the Princess’ note on the fire.

“Is aught amiss, Highness? I trust the Princess’ Initiation went smoothly?” he said.

“Yes, yes, Du-Karel. The Princess has expressed a wish to travel abroad for the year, until it is time for her to wed. She has entrusted me with finding a husband for her. I shall need your assistance in the search for a suitable mate for the Princess,” Na-Jakar replied.

Du-Karel’s brows lifted at this news. “The Princess has left the city?”

“Yes, she left late last night to avoid a crowd,” Na-Jakar said. “Xan-Rul is leaving now to meet up with her. Would you please see to it that a letter is drafted, summoning all eligible sons of Lunatia’s noble families to visit the palace? We have much work to be done before Syndra-Kai returns.”

He turned away, and began to dress for the day. In doing so, he missed the look of calculation on Du-Karel’s face. This was indeed most fortuitous. With the Princess and Xan-Rul both absent from the palace, he would be able to sway the Regent’s decision of a husband, and put himself in that place. One year was a long time to be sure there were no difficulties upon their return, and his assumption of power would be complete. He smiled a nasty look of foreboding.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

The rising of the sun seemed a signal to Malik-Tor, and he gestured to Syndra-Kai that they would take a few moments to rest. Syndra sank wearily to the ground beside the stream they had been following for some time. She cupped her hands and drank, the cold liquid soothing her parched throat. It was a struggle to keep up with Malik-Tor’s grueling pace, but she had maintained, despite her weary limbs. Her lack of sleep the night before was catching up with her as well. She glanced at Malik, who rested with his back against a tree, eyes closed. It irked her that he seemed hardly winded.

Malik-Tor was tired as well, and not a little impressed at the diminutive Princess’ determination. She had offered no complaint, trailing behind him doggedly as he trekked through the wood. He had deliberately taken a rougher path than was necessary, hoping it might encourage her to turn back. If it was not for the fact that she had blackmailed him into accompanying her, he might have been pleased with her tenacity.

Syndra-Kai reached into her pack, pulling forth an apple and a hunk of bread, which she held out to Malik. He accepted her offer, touched that she would think of him first, though he knew she had not eaten at the feast and only a little before they had begun their journey through the tunnels under the city. She dug again into the pack and brought forth another apple and some cheese.

Sinking her teeth deep into the tart fruit, a dribble of juice traced its way down her chin, and without thinking, Malik reached over and wiped it clear. Syndra’s eyes widened and the look in her violet eyes caused him to jerk his hand back quickly. It would be all too easy to give in to the invitation he saw there.

Clearing his throat, he said, “We should start moving again. We need to find horses and supplies for making camp. We won’t have any real rest until nightfall.”

Syndra-Kai restrained the groan that came to her lips as she got to her feet. She was close to exhaustion, but if Malik could keep going, then so would she. She trudged along in silence, but thankfully, Malik had slowed his pace, and she did not have to half-run in order to keep up.

An hour later, the trees abruptly ended, and a split-rail fence appeared, bordering a large field, obviously part of a large farmstead. In the distance, they could see smoke rising. Malik-Tor climbed over the fence first, and turned to help Syndra-Kai.

When she had reached the top rail, she held out her hand to Malik. The gesture was elegant, but to Malik, it seemed an imperious one. He was reminded again that she was a woman of privilege, and it seemed she expected his assistance rather than actually needing or wanting it.

He crossed his arms, and she continued to hold out her hand. “You are going to assist me, are you not?” She asked.

“Is that an order?” He lifted one brow.

Putting down her arm, she swung a leg over the fence rail. “Of course not, you looked like you were about to help me, is all. I can do it myself.”

Malik felt a tinge of chagrin, as he certainly had intended to help her. It was apparent that she did not intend to appear as she had; it was just second nature. He stepped forward, placing his hands around her waist and lifting her down the rest of the way. She accepted his help, and turned in his arms when her feet hit the ground.
He was assaulted again by those violet eyes; her mouth was slightly parted as if expecting his kiss. He frowned and stepped away.

Syndra-Kai was confused. His touch at her waist had roused all of the feelings from the night before, and her body cried out for his touch again. She knew he was angry, but the look in his eyes just now had mirrored the hunger in hers. He still wanted her, but he was resisting. She had never had to restrain her desires in that way. If she wanted something, she asked and it was given. If she had been denied anything, it was because it was in violation of some silly law. She did not understand why he would not give in to his desire for her. It was not as if there were anyone around to see them.

She decided not ask as she followed him through the field in the direction of the smoke they had seen. Malik was hoping the inhabitants of the farm might be willing to part with a few horses, in exchange for a few silver coins and no questions. As they approached, they saw a quaint farmhouse and a cluster of buildings. A man appeared at the doorway of what appeared to be a stables and watched them come. As they climbed the fence that marked the boundary of the field, the man strode to meet them.

“Can I ask why you have been striding through my new hay?” he asked.

Syndra-Kai opened her mouth to speak, but Malik-Tor silenced her with a sharp gesture and a dark look. He bowed formally to the man, as elegant as any courtier she had ever seen, and said, “I do beg your pardon, kind sir. My name is Asim, and this is my sister, Inaya. We got lost traveling near Lunatium, and when we came to your field and saw the smoke from your home, we thought to ask for directions, and perhaps purchase some supplies.”

Looking them over doubtfully, the man pondered this for a moment. Malik looked intimidating, but the girl appeared innocent enough. “You look to be traveling pretty light, have you come a long way?”

“We were waylaid on the road outside the city by brigands. They stole our horses and our large packs, but luckily they refrained from searching our persons. We can pay for your assistance,” Malik said.

The prospect of money greatly cheered the farmer, and he nodded. “Aye, I think we might be able to help you. If your sister would care to rest, my wife is inside making breakfast.”

Malik-Tor nodded to Syndra-Kai, leaning close enough to whisper, “Remember the story I have given, and if anyone asks, we are traveling north to Cathannum.” He grazed her cheek with a sisterly peck, which still managed to raise the hairs on Syndra’s arms in excitement, and turned to walk with the farmer towards the stables.

Left to her own devices, Syndra-Kai nervously knocked on the farmhouse door, and a ruddy-cheeked woman with bouncing blue eyes opened the door. “Well, hello there, dear heart, I saw you speaking with the husband. Seeing as he sent you up here to me, that likely means you’re in need of a sit-down and some food. Come right in, then.” The farmer’s wife showed none of the reserve her husband had, and Syndra-Kai sank gratefully into a wooden chair as the woman bustled about the kitchen, humming merrily to herself.

“It’s not often we get visitors, though every now and again, someone passing through from Lunatium finds their way here. We have children who have moved away on their own, but they don’t have time to travel this way often. Have you been to the city?” The woman set a plate of eggs, sliced meat and some sort of simple porridge in front of Syndra.

Murmuring thanks, Syndra ate as the woman continued to putter about. She gave her name as Inaya, and repeated the same story Malik had recounted to her husband. The woman did not press further, and after a few moments, Malik-Tor and her husband joined them. Motioning for the men to take a seat, they were fed in due order as well.

“This kind gentleman has agreed to sell us a few horses and some supplies, enough to tide us over until we reach the next village and can purchase more,” Malik said.
Syndra nodded, but continued to watch the farmer’s wife as she moved about her kitchen. The woman obviously doted on her husband, and she saw a few lingering touches between the two, as well as shared smiles.

“It is such a shame that a pair of travelers cannot go about their business without being set upon by brigands, but it seems to be all too common these days. As many Imperial Guards that Lunatium keeps watching that Princess, you would think they could spare a few to watch out for us lowly citizens,” the farmer said.

Syndra’s brows met in a frown, but Malik kept her from speaking in rebuttal by laying a hand on her thigh under the table. She smoothed her brow, but listened intently.

“But I guess that’s what the Empire is all about, keeping to themselves while the rest of us want for simple services like safe roads to travel on. Even the Guard themselves have gotten greedy. Did you know that only a month ago, I was stopped from leaving the city after bringing a few cows to market, and told I needed to pay a “gate” tax?” The farmer slammed his fist on the table. “They forbid trade outside the city, take a piece in the market itself, and then demand a tax just to use the gate, when it’s not like there’s any other way to get to the market! It is preposterous, but I had to pay, or they would have confiscated my cart. I never heard tell of a “gate” tax before that day, and I have been trading in Lunatium all my life. I think those guards are just telling us all that and taking that money for themselves, wouldn’t doubt it a bit!”

Malik-Tor nodded in sympathy, and the farmer’s wife laid her hand on her husband’s shoulder to calm him. “I know dear, but perhaps young Syndra-Kai might change all that, she is of age now, you know.”

The farmer harrumphed as he took another big bite of his eggs. “What is that girl going to do? She doesn’t even know what the outside of her palace looks like. My money is that she won’t change a thing, and never even notice. But one day, someone will, and who knows, maybe there won’t even be an Empire anymore. You can’t keep people down forever. They’ve done it in other countries, it can happen here.”

“Dear, you shouldn’t say such things! You know what happened to that farmer in Enganna, I don’t want that to happen to us,” his wife said.

“What happened in Enganna?” Syndra-Kai asked.

“See, there was this farmer, who thought he had not gotten a fair trade from the market manager in Engannum City Market, and protested, right up to Du-Karel, the Regent’s Chief Advisor. Du-Karel had the farmer’s property confiscated in the name of the Empire, and the man was thrown in prison. No one’s heard from him since, and his family’s out on the street.”

“That’s outrageous!” Syndra-Kai said. “Du-Karel doesn’t have the right to do that!”

“Whether he has the right or not, that’s what happened. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of such a thing either. Things are not well in Lunatia,” the woman said.
Malik-Tor stopped Syndra-Kai’s further arguments by rising to his feet, drawing her with him, and saying, “Well, I think it is about time my sister and I were on our way. Our family will be expecting us, and we have already been set back a day in our travels.”

Syndra-Kai was led outside, doing her best to keep her angry thoughts from escaping until they could get away from the couple.

“Thank you again for the horses and supplies. Go with joy,” Malik said.

“Go with joy, and be safe in your travels,” the farmer said. He watched Malik help Syndra-Kai mount her horse. She held on to the pommel of the saddle for dear life, and waved bravely as Malik led her away. It was obvious to any observer she had never ridden a horse before.

“They were a lovely pair,” the farmer’s wife commented. “But I would bet you a pair of silver coins they aren’t brother and sister, though,” she said.

“I’ll do you one better than that,” the farmer said, holding out the coins Malik-Tor had given him in exchange for the horses and his silence. “I’ll bet you that girl is from a fine family, and that boy has taken her away to be his bride, against her family’s wishes. Probably made it out of the city just before the gates closed, so he wouldn’t have to become an Eligible.”

The farmer’s wife gazed at the silver coins in astonishment. “I wonder who she is, then. That’s more money than I’ve seen in my whole life!” she exclaimed.

“Well, whoever they are, they don’t want people following them,” he said. “Not that I could blame him, though. The girl was right pretty.”

His wife smacked him on the arm.

“Not as fair as you, my love, even after all this time,” he said, bending to kiss her.

“Well, the boy wasn’t so hard on the eyes, either,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to see a fine man like that come to injury at the hands of the Princess.”

“Neither would I, my star, neither would I,” her husband agreed.


Arielle said...

Aww, I liked the comments at the end. :P Is it crude for me to want more sex scenes? I think Syndra wants them too. ;)

_-*Kristen*-_ said...

lol. you know, i wouldn't think so... i want more as well. i just happen to be a romance addict. ;)