Princes of Purt: Prince Von Valreen

Princes of Purt: chapter 13

-Prince Von Valreen

 

 

The Regent wasn’t well and it was far deeper than the arm he wore bound up. He lifted his eyes as the door opened. He was dressed grandly in black leather and red, his face looked flawless, but something was very wrong. He looked at DaHane without moving as they entered. DaHane began to fear the man’s reaction.

“I am sorry we didn’t bath…” DaHane bowed. “We came from the fields.”

The Regent straightened from where he had been leaning on the table. He looked to the other two men. He stepped around the table as both men went to their knees with their hands on the floor before him. He almost paused, almost looked like he wanted to cry.

He took hold of the king’s shoulder and pulled him up to his feet.

“Please don’t do that,” he said softly in Valreen.

“You are Regent…”

Oirion shook his head. “You are also my grandfather.” He turned to get a glass of wine off the table. “I didn’t know you were anywhere near.”

“I wasn’t. Shannon sent word some weeks ago for any fighters we had and so I thought I would come. I didn’t know why, but I found elves burning fields…. so I set to burning elves. I had hoped to take DaHane back with me, to appeal to Shannon again, but I find he has no need of me. You should have seen him!  My God, I don’t think I have ever seen such magic and power!”

“Not to be short, Grandfather, but you stink of blood and death.” Oirion motioned to an Elite in the doorway. “Can you take them to be bathed, fed, and given fresh clothes. It is bad etiquette here not to do so.”

“Wait, this is TyDaidren. He was invaluable. He has much to tell you.”

“I know. Please, give yourself a moment to bathe. We can eat and talk once you have changed. Shannon would ask that you not come into the inner court carrying so much… stray energy. It makes it hard for the current magics to focus right.”

“Oh. Oh!” he said, suddenly understanding. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t even think…”

“Just go bathe and change.”

The two men were led away. The Regent let them go and looked at DaHane again. “Are you hurt?”

“Not anything serious. Tired mostly, still a bit in shock, but…” he shrugged. “Are you alright?”

“I’ll be fine, just tired.” He took a step and shocked DaHane by catching him in a sudden hug. It was one strong arm that pulled him in. DaHane returned the hug as he realized how unlikely it might have been for him to live through the day. He had been sent out the north gate to be safe and had, instead, just fought a powerful king. The reality began to sink in.

“I’m really not very well, DaHane,” Oirion admitted. “I just want you to know I’m very proud of you… that I… care what happens and where you go.” He let DaHane go and pushed him a step back, “but now you need to go to my chambers and bathe. Grab something out of my wardrobe. Yours won’t fit you any more. You know the way?”

DaHane nodded. He turned to go, but stopped in the door and looked back to the man who watched him. “Thank you,” he said. He suddenly grinned. “I figured it out by the way… what it takes to inherit my father’s power.  Glad I did it in time to use it.”

The Regent smiled and chuckled a little. “Go bathe, DaHane. You reek of blood and sweaty fur.”

DaHane smiled and left to go to the Regent’s chamber to bath and change.

 

 

 

 

 

DaHane stared at himself in the mirror. He did not know the man who looked back at him. A man was what he was. He had a beard that grew smooth and soft off his jaw line as silky as his hair. He had grown so much he fit his father’s clothes, and for the first time he saw that he had the same sharp fangs as his mother.

He still looked young about his eyes, but he was no child and no one would think so, not even for a moment.  He turned as the door opened behind him.

Trya’Ara took a step in and stopped, looking at him with clear shock. He smiled at her shock, allowing her to see his new teeth. He couldn’t help but chuckle at her, but it was a deep almost-purr that came out instead.

“DaHane?” she asked uncertain.  “Are you wearing the Regent’s clothes?”

“Why yes, actually.” He admired the tunic he had chosen. “I think I am.” He smoothed the brocade silk and looked up to her. “Do you study him so closely you know his wardrobe?”

She lifted an icy brow and moved to the window. It was a moment later that the King of Valreen entered with TyDaidren, followed by the Regent, who took them at once through to the next chamber and a private meal.

Another man sat there. He was a horrid-looking man with a face that was half burned off. He was hunched-backed, his white hair nearly all missing. His limbs on his working side were thin as bone and the other side swollen and hulking. He lifted his good eye up to them as they entered. Then he dropped his eyes and stared at his plate.

DaHane chose to sit next to him. He liked him at once for some reason.

“This is Borrdick,” the Regent said. “He is one of Purt’s greatest minds. Please take a seat,” he said, sitting at the head of the table with Borrdick at his right.

An Elite came in to serve them food, then vanished again leaving them alone.

“Despite our victories of late, we are very far from done. Less than a quarter of the force has even landed and more are arriving,” Borrdick said. “However, many are moving north along the coast. I think they are going to forsake Ulam Bac to hit the empire itself. In the open we do not have the manpower to stop them and they know it.”

“All throughout Purt there are pockets of Purtan warriors,” Tydaidren said. “We will rise and come. Hidden away and waiting, they will wake and return to Purt.”

“What do you mean?” Tyra Ara asked. “There are no hidden colonies of Purtans. Gerome has hunted us to a few scattered fortresses.”

“Throughout Purt there are the sleepers,” he said. “I command the Guards of the House. Instead of fighting a war we could not win, we chose to wait for the right time. We gathered into hidden places and sealed ourselves in.  For some of us, the magic held better than others. Some have ended up  working as guards while other play the roles of beggars and stable hands. Many feared the return of Tyredelle a trick of demons to lure us out, but now the majority has decided to emerge to his aid.”

“You are bound to the living line of Von Armond?” Borrdick asked as Dave entered the room, taking the last seat.

“Sorry, I had to… uh… deal with something,” he said as reached to fill his plate.

“As you were saying…” Trya Ara said to the man at the table.

“Using magic, we sealed our gates to wait for the time things would be restored.  We expected that to be Tyrell’s return, but clearly that was not it.”

“So what changed?”

“It began about two weeks ago.”

“Two weeks ago?” Tyra Ara asked.  “That’s when the boys were taken.”

“That’s when Shannon made Dave heir and left the empire,” Oirion said. “He placed the living bloodline of Armond in full power over Purt.”

“You’re in power,” Tyra Ara said to him.

“No. He gave Dave command. Dave and I are old enough friends we know what each other is good at and don’t need to have a pissing match over things.”

“He is not emperor, not fully in power as long as Shannon lives,” she objected.

“She doesn’t like me,” Dave told the men who watched the unfolding. “She thinks I’m uncivilized, and I think she needs to pull the ice pick out of her ass.”

She turned cold eyes on him.  DaHane didn’t hide his snicker too well. “She thinks I’m a little beast and a bad influence on the children.”

“You are a little beast,” Dave grinned.

“And you’re a pirate, you scoundrel!” he gasped in mockery of her. Dave chuckled.

“You’re the line of Armond?” TyDaidren asked Dave.

“As I understand it, Tyrell’s sister’s son had a son and he in turn sired my father,” Dave shrugged. “The rest of the line was hunted out by Stalkers centuries ago. I can’t pass the name, I don’t think.  I’m just me and then it’s all done. Armond hinted as much and so here I am.”

“Do you have any children?” TyDaidren asked curious. “Have you had it tested?”

“Oh, trust me, my son won’t be emperor!”

DaHane grinned at Dave’s reaction.

“You’re young yet, though.  You can have many children; one of them might gain the power of your blood line.”

“You’re talking as if Shannon is not coming back,” Tyra Ara said shocked.

“In the laws of Purt,” Beldan  said softly, leaning forward, “in the case that the emperor goes to war and he does not expect to return, he will name his heir and pass the key on so that we do not end up with no emperor. If Purt agrees with the choice, then the power will shift to the heir until such time as the emperor does return.  Normally that man is titled with being the regent, but as we already have a regent, the key goes to the King of Crouse. That would be you, Dave.”

“Why would he do that?” Dave asked. “Even if he wanted out and thought he might not come back, what’s he plan on?  Oirion getting killed?”

“Oh, you know me; I do that every few years anyway, keeps me angry and short-tempered,” Oirion said with an easy shrug.

“That’s not funny!” Dave scolded him.

“No,” Borrdick said. “He expects Oirion to join him. As long as he is out, I think he plans to go after the Barrier and that’s why he took Jamie with him.  He needs the High Priest in him and the healer as well. He won’t be coming back.”

“He’s immortal,” Dave objected.  “He has a son and wife!”

“Rajak might yet be made emperor,” Borrdick said, “if he comes home. Until then, Dave… clearly you’re it.”

“That is not going to work!” Dave objected. “I cannot have more children and Zou will not be accepted by Purt… and you know it, Borrdick!”

“So you rule until Rajak comes of age. One thing at a time, Dave. First, let’s keep hold of Purt, and then worry about who says the price of tax.”

Dave dropped back in his chair, clearly upset. “He has to come back.”

“That’s great,” TyDaidren said. “We will honor it, but I don’t think it was that. Something else woke us. What else happened?”

“Zou was taken,” Dave said folding his arms over his chest. “He likely tried to pull on magics to help him protect the prince.”

“Are you certain Zou is your son?” Tyra’Ara asked Dave with a sick troubled look.

Dave shot her a dark look. “Don’t even start with me, woman. I really am not in the mood for you.”

“He’s Dacan at best!”

Dave narrowed his eyes at her. “You keep in mind that he is the only thing protecting your son right now. Maybe you should consider being grateful he is a good heart and would risk his life to do so.”

“Enough,” Oirion laid his hand on her arm. “Ara, focus,” he said softly. “We have armed men, more than we had before. We need to get them uniforms, healers, anything they need.”

The talk fell to Borrdick speaking with the general about the magic used to seal and hide the places of the lords of Purt. They rest were quickly lost and had their own thoughts to worry about. Dinner was not over soon enough. DaHane just wanted to go to bed before he went back out to the field. He was exhausted, and terrified that sooner or later someone would figure out why.

“DaHane,” Borrdick caught him in the hallway. “Will you walk with me?”

DaHane could not say no and walked with the horrid-looking man back to his chambers and found the Regent waiting for them.

“We are going to meet the elves at the coast,” Oirion said.  “We will use whatever we have to in order to stop them.”

Borrdick closed and locked the door. “I expect storms and for it you might need to know what your father looks like,” Borrdick said.  DaHane watched the Regent take off an amulet he wore. He was no longer the Red Purtan at all, but almost human looking… almost, but clearly Purtan.  His white hair was long and soft, his face white and strained with pain.

“If I am targeted and the magics break, this is what you might find,” he said in a tired and soft voice. “It can be explained away as soul of Father Oirion coming to the aid of Purt or something… I don’t care. They will get past me only over my dead body.”  He put the amulet back on and became the Regent again. “You have to keep Dave here. Even if I am lost, death is not an option for me right now, so don’t be too worried about it… just carry on.”

“How is death not an option?”

“I’m soul-bonded to a demon. I don’t think I could die even if I wanted to. I missed that chance a few years ago.”

“That’s my job then? Stay here and keep Dave safe.”

“I need to know Dave won’t get killed. If he dies, the line of emperor is lost. We need him to have the power to fight this war. I don’t care if you have to chain him to his chair and have the Elites hold him down, he is not to leave the city so long as the elves are attacking us. I have already spoken to Umren and he will back you up on that.  Shannon gave him very similar orders.”

DaHane nodded. “You know you might want to think about yourself in the same way. I am not so sure Shannon can live without you. The loss of you might drive him insane and over the edge.”

“It is true,” Borrdick said to Oirion. “I am glad you see that,” he nodded to DaHane.

“I don’t plan to die. I am going to risk a lot to stop them, but it’s more about risk to the land and the magics than myself. I stopped them once in the south and dropped half a kingdom into the tides. It might happen again.”

DaHane nodded. “Does my great-grandfather know who you are?”

“Yes, but this needs to never be spoken of outside the room and ideally never again, either. There is a reason it’s not mentioned, not even among friends.”

“Can I ask you one thing then before I drop it forever?”

“Sure,” he said sinking into the chair as Borrdick handed them all tea. DaHane took it and sat as well.

“Did you love my mother?”

Oirion laughed a little. “The woman you know is nothing like the wild cat I knew. I wish you could see her as she was then. I think you’d be delighted at how wild and outspoken she was.” He took a sip of tea. “I cannot even begin to tell you how sad and lonely a man I was, and there she was daring me to either die and be done with it, or get over it.”  He began to, for once, tell stories about Salma and the company as he knew them and recalled them. Safe in Borrdick’s sanctuary, he told the stories DaHane would have never heard and would likely never have a chance to hear again.

He finished late, with the sun rising outside, and sighed. He looked at his son, who had become a man by the magics and powers of Purt and by his own race.

“God willing I will one day be able to tell her how much she meant to me and have her know it is me who says it,” he shrugged. “I don’t think I’ll have to wear this long and then…” he shrugged as he turned the amulet in his hand. “So yes, to answer your question, I guess I did love her and I suppose I still do.”

DaHane nodded and smiled. “Good luck with the day,” he said as he stood. “My tea is gone and my questions all answered. Thank you,” he bowed to his father and left the room.

Borrdick sighed. “You know you likely won’t live though what you plan to do.”

“I know. It’s a good thing I know a necromancer then, isn’t it.” Oirion pushed himself up, looked at the man seriously a moment, then headed of the door.

“I’ll do my part, Oirion, but I do not know what this will do with you being bonded to Shannon. He is not a mortal man, but he is in a mortal body.”

“If this is not what they wanted, then the gods can step in at any time,” he said, “but I hurt too damned much to play games with elves.”

Borrdick sighed heavily. “I know. Go on, I’ll watch and aid as I can.”

 

 

 

***********

 

 

DaHane had to get up because he hurt too much to lie in bed any longer. While he slept, someone had brought him new clothes and a robe laid out for him. He sat on the bedside looking at his hands. His finger tips were all bruised and the skin ripped and scabbed up around the claws that had retracted into his fingers. HHHe flexed his hands, watching the claws come out. They were pretty impressive, he had to admit, but it hurt to flex.

With a sigh he got up, picked up the heavy embroidered silk robe and pulled it on. His fingertips hurt far too much to button the hundred buttons that ran from his chin to the floor. He looked down at the new body he wore. No amount of training with Jamie would have given what he gained in one moment of breathing in his father’s power.

He had soft smooth hair down the center of his chest and over his pecks, as smooth as a well-groomed cat and long enough to run finger through. He pulled the robe closed over his new body, thinking how funny it was that his father, as well, was something of shape-shifter.

Umren entered with a breakfast tray. DaHane almost cheered, but the Elite didn’t come alone. Umren set the tray down on the side-table. DaHane walked over, having to admit he was starving. Three servants set to emptying out the wardrobe, putting in new clothes and stripping the bed.

“I wasn’t sure you would be up,” Umren said.

“How is the city holding up?”

“You have been off the field ten hours and you already worry?” Umren smiled a little. “It is in good hands at the moment and there have been no new attacks. Borrdick and Tyra’Ara are working to shore-up the magics, while the Regent and King Valreen are trying to get the people to moving, and working to get provisions and shelters ready, preparing for the next wave.” With a glance toward the woman who was hanging new clothes in DaHane’s wardrobe, he asked softly, “How do you feel?”

“My hands hurt,” DaHane showed his hands, his robe falling open as he did. He caught it closed, clearing his throat a little.

“Good Lord!” Umren took one of hands to look at it. “Do you want me to call a healer?”

“No,” DaHane said, his heart racing at being touched. He pulled his hand back a little. “I’d rather not make an issue about it.”

“Alright,” Umren said. “Why don’t you sit and eat, and I can fill you in on the details of the battle. There are some who might find great comfort if you went and saw them or even in you knowing their names.” He pulled out a folder and opened it. “Here is the list of masons who worked on the wall.” He turned the paper over as DaHane took a slice of apple.

“So few?” he asked.

“Most of them worked until they collapsed and are still sleeping to recover.”

“There has to be a way to reward them.”

“How would you like me to?”

The woman with the old clothes left with the woman who had seen to DaHane’s bed. The other woman was still at her task with the wardrobe. DaHane wished she would go away. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone with Umren. Umren was far from the nearly Mad vampire on his knees. He was third in command in Purt right now. DaHane was a boy who lucked out with having a very powerful father and a mother whose race allowed him to become a wizard and a warrior overnight with no effort of his own.

“What do you mean?” DaHane asked.

“It was your command… how shall I reward them? You want them given money? Rank? Land? How shall they be rewarded?”

“I can do that?” the young man asked, uncertain and bit shocked.

“Shannon left command that you were to be treated and seen as Prince Von Valreen, heir to Valreen, so… yes. And as he assigned me to be your personal bodyguard and I know what and where all Purt’s resources are… just tell me what you want and it’s yours.”

DaHane looked at the list of names. “How much do they normally make a year? How do they live?”

“They all live day to day in tenement housing belonging to the guild under the rule of a guild boss, who, by the way, has made it clear to them that any payment they receive for their efforts belongs to the guild and they will get only their own weekly allotment.”

“Oh, that’s not right.”

“I didn’t think you would think so,” Umren said with a hint of a smile. He rubbed his lips as if he had an unconscious itch.

“Can we make each man his own boss?”

“Yes, we can. They can be a boss if they are given a crown approval, a shop, and pay the fee to the guild house.”

“Can we do that?”

“Yes. Maybe not all in Ulam Bac, but we can set them up all over Crouse, all over Purt, send a few to Norwood, Valreen, wherever, but yes.”

“Let’s do that, and that guild boss, task him personally with the clearing of the rubble,” DaHane said. “I want his hands dirty.

Umren glanced up as he made notes, with a little chuckle.

“I can see to that as well.” He slid the paper to the bottom of the stack. “These are the children under twenty who fought. The names with the stars are those who did so against paternal orders, those with an x are those who are orphan, and those with the slash are those who fought with permission.”

DaHane slowly looked over the list of names. There were so many of them. A list of children…. DaHane felt sick. He should be on that list. According to his age, he was considered a child. He sighed heavily and set the list down on the table, all five pages of it.

“Can we give the orphans a house and schooling?”

“Yes.”

“The against orders – give them an offer for military entry in any of the emperor’s kingdoms they choose, a pension for the next five years, and a horse?”

“Yes,” Umren made notes.

“Those with the blessing of family; give them five years tax exemption, a purse, and…” he didn’t know what. “Maybe a house if the family has none, or something for those who do. I don’t know. It’s hard to defy family to do what’s right, but to bless a child to go fight is difficult.” He felt sick for Zou and missed him terribly all of a sudden.

“Zou is well-trained, Shannon is in contact with him, he is not alone. Focus here, DaHane,” Umren said, whispering in the language of Brackin.

DaHane swallowed hard. “You read me so well?” DaHane asked.

Umren looked up. “I’m a vampire, My Prince. I read everyone who does not shield against me, well. I will teach you how to shield better, but not at the moment. I need you to be a Prince of Purt right now.”

DaHane nodded and tried to focus. “Alright, give them extra food for the family.”

Umren finished his notes and slid them away, then handed him the list of men and women who had fought. DaHane looked them over, page after page of them.

“Did so many truly come? Did so many truly come and follow my madness?”

“Yes.”

DaHane nodded and looked them over. “How many of them are on the list of the children with families who either blessed or ordered against?”

“That is this,” Umren pointed to a small slash mark in the line of symbols on the side of the page.

DaHane leaned back trying to think like a prince as to how he could make it well worth it to fight for the emperor and for him. He wasn’t sure how to make it something that mattered and yet would be hard to squander or lose. He took several bites of the sausage on the plate. “For the families who had both children and adults fight, could we make the house a little better? Or give them land enough that the children can have their own when they come of age, or something like that? The adults who forbid their children; let’s help them with whatever skill they have. If they are smiths or artisans, can we help them with that?”

“DaHane, please stop asking me.  Just tell me what you want.”

DaHane scowled. “I’m not used to giving orders,” he objected.

“You had no trouble on the field.”

“That was different.”

“No, it’s not. You fought for their lives and this is the same fight. You fought to save the empire and this is the same thing. How do we help them stay alive and fight for their own lives?”

DaHane took the tea and sipped at it. He ran his tongue over his new teeth and swore when he cut his tongue. He touched the spot tenderly with a finger. “Those without children who fought, give them military option, for criminals of minor crimes, forgive them of it, of those in debt, help them get free of it, and make sure they have a purse and a place to stay. They can have a small place in another kingdom or an apartment here in Ulam Bac.”

“Would you like them to have anything as one? For comradery between them? In Norwood, Shannon gave each man from each battle or zone, route or training, a small badge that all others who had been there or endured the same might recognize and know who had fought with them.”

“Yes. Is there a way to make a sort of pin for their collars. Maybe something that makes me seem less scary when this is over.”

“A silver talon?”

“Maybe not something so… animal,” he tried not to make a face.

“I’ll talk to the jeweler myself, but yes.”

“Alright,” DaHane nodded. “What’s the rest?”

“These,” Umren handed over the last pages, “are those who died. The mark there means their bodies have been found and identified. The marks without names are of unarmed civilians who have been found, but are neither fighters nor claimed.”

DaHane went through the pages slowly. “So many,” he said softly.

“Our death toll was far less than the death toll in Port Hall or the Harbor. You did well.”

DaHane wasn’t so sure he had. “Has the Regent seen these?”

“Yes; as Regent he will deal with the dead and their families. As the general, you deal with the living.”

The wardrobe woman left as DaHane looked over the lists of the hundreds of names of dead and almost as many of unknowns. He did not feel ready for this. It was one thing to charge into a fight with the power of his father pounding though him, making him feel utterly invincible; it was another to sit here and presume to think himself able to do this.

“You really need to work on your shields,” Umren said.

DaHane looked up from the list. “My shields are as tight as they were before.”

“Maybe, but you have a thousand times more power than you did a few days ago. You need to apply that much to your shields.”

DaHane focused on the shields Jamie had taught him to wear. It took a bit of work, but he felt them shift with the deeper energy that was now a depth to his chest he had never realized could be possible.

“It needs a little finesse, but that’s much better.”

“You can’t hear my every thought then?”

“It’s not like that exactly… it’s more like I feel what you feel. When I know that is not something I normally feel, I deduce it’s you.”

“How?” DaHane asked with a little laugh. “I know your rank; I know the sort of shields you wear.”

“Because of what you did, DaHane. I’m living off of your energy right now.” He put his hand on DaHane’s knee leaning forward a little. “It doesn’t go away for us. Not when it goes that deep. Until every breath of it is used up, it stays.”

DaHane wasn’t sure what that meant exactly. “So you’re a little more connected to me than you like?” he asked, trying to understand.

“Oh, I don’t know I’d say that exactly.” Umren got up with a troubled sigh.

“I was right to do it and you know it,” DaHane defended his demanding that Umren use him.

“I know,” Umren said walking to the door. He put his hand on it. “Not only for stability of things, but because Shannon needs to know he has a traitor among the Elites. If anything happens to me, you can at least make sure he knows.”

“I will, but I am not certain Purt can stand if you aren’t able deal with it. Knowing is not enough.”

“I hope I can figure out who and end them before Shannon gets back, but I don’t know. Whoever he is, he is very high-ranking and very powerful. Honestly, I trust none of them right now.”

“Not a good time for Shannon to be inside the Barrier then.”

“No. I covered for him last time, but I am not Shannon.” He looked at DaHane. “I am not necessarily a good man to have close, DaHane. You know what I am.”

“I’m a Sphinx,” DaHane said. “My mother is Salma; my education has been quite in depth about what you are. You think just anyone could surrender so completely and easily as I did? My mother’s race is considered vampiric.”

“What you did was… terrifying. Even those who are trained can’t do that.”

“I guess I am gifted,” DaHane said, trying to lighten the mood and conversation a little. He leaned back in the chair.

Umren almost seemed more troubled by how much DaHane wasn’t bothered by it. “I could have consumed your soul,” he said.

“You didn’t. In fact, I suspect without what you did, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did. I was a mess. You cleared my head.”

“How can you not be scared of me?”

“Why do you care?”

“Shannon commanded me to…”

“To what? To care what I felt or thought?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“To take care of you. To watch your back and do what I can to help you find your place.”

“Why does Shannon care? I mean, the man is five thousand years old and more demon than man. I’m just a…” he waved his hand vaguely, “I am just a half-breed freak.”

“You are the son of two of the people he loves most in this world. You are family to his heart,” Umren said shocked that DaHane might think so little of himself. “If he had any idea what you did, what I did, he might cast me to hell. I’m not even joking, DaHane. Don’t you dare laugh it off!”

“You were under orders… my orders,” DaHane said seriously, standing up. “Look, Umren, either you let me be a prince who gives orders or not, but you can’t expect me to command men and then have you mother-hen me.”

Umren drew a deep breath and let his shoulders sink slowly as he took a more proper and controlled stance. “You’re right,” he walked over. “You are my Prince and I am here to serve you and help you get where you need to be, and where Shannon needs you to be. I just hope he never finds out.” He reached out and drew DaHane’s collar closed and began to do the buttons.

“So,” DaHane said carefully, “are we all done talking about the energy thing?”

“Yes. I won’t bring it up again if you don’t.”

“Good.” DaHane watched him work his way down the buttons, building up the courage to bring up what was on his mind. Then he had to figure out how to bring it up. “I wanted to thank you for the other thing, too. I don’t know how much you know about Sphinx, but we need… uhm… we have our own needs as much as you have yours. We sort of get lost in our own heads without it and can even go crazy. There is nothing more painful than to be left alone.”

Umren didn’t say anything. He just kept working his way down the length of the robe front.

“Umren,” DaHane said trying to sound as grownup as he could. “If you don’t say something, I am going to think you are insulted by it.”

“Insulted?” Umren almost laughed, but there was a bit of something in his tone that DaHane didn’t understand. He sank to a knee to finish the buttons. “I’m pretty sure I started that,” he muttered in Norwood.

“You know I speak over a dozen languages, right?” DaHane said. “Including Norwood.”

Umren finished and rose. He stood before DaHane, a good two heads taller than the young man. “I’m not sure what to say… that’s the problem. I am not accustomed to that. Part of the reason I hold the rank I do is because I can deal with people more easily than most. On the other hand, for the last few thousand years I have been in the high court of Norwood where it is command and rule and ritual. I’m not sure what you want me to do. I have taught a thousand young men to be generals, lords, commanders of every rank and level you can imagine, but none of them are you.”

“You realize that Sphinx are considered adults at twelve?”

“How long do they live?”

“We don’t know. None of us have died of old age yet. Tends to be violent death. My point is that it’s one thing to be mad at me; it’s another to be upset because I’m half your height and by Purtan standards, I’m a child.”

“I’m…” Umren was at a loss for words. He honestly looked confused. If DaHane hadn’t been so involved in the topic himself and struggling through it as well, he might have laughed. There was a knock on the door and before either could even react, Tyra’Ara stepped in.

“Good, you’re up,” she said with no apology. “The Lord Regent says I am to tell you that you are expected at the formal meals for now. Lord Umren can let you know when you should be ready and where to go.”

DaHane strode over and held the door for her. “Thank you so much,” he said as he pushed the door shut in her face. “I thought you locked that.”

“I did,” Umren scowled.

“What? She picked your lock?”

“No! She most certainly did not. I outrank her on her best day. No, an Elite did and left it open for her,” he almost snarled. “I’m being set up, DaHane. Someone who knows me very well wants me gone.”

“Or what? They expect to find you raving mad in my bedroom?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then what?” DaHane demanded, slapping a lock spell on the door with such power and ease it actually startled him.

“Someone knows very well what happened in that rubble.”

“Obviously. They tried to kill you and I came back soaked in your blood. So what? They going to run and tell Shannon? Wouldn’t that be sort of a confession?”

“I wasn’t referring to that part of it.”

DaHane was about to growl at him and actually felt it in his chest. “What… they think you’re going to take advantage of the poor Hennen bastard? That I can face and kill an elven king but I can’t handle the Elite commanded to my side by Shannon himself?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“Maybe they should consider that Shannon knows damn well what I am, knows you inside and out, and put you right here for a damned reason!”

“Since I had not considered that, I doubt very much they would have.”

“Well, consider it!” DaHane snapped at him. “Did he not tell you take care of me?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Maybe having the half-breed son of Oirion Hennen paying for whores isn’t a good thing for the empire, so figure out what his orders mean before I am left no other option.” He jerked open the door, shattering his own spell, and went to go find Zou, realized he was gone, and turned instead for the cathedral. Zou and Jamie were both gone, but the walls still stood. Maybe he might find some peace there.

 

End part 12 edits

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