Chapter 1

The Western Coast Lands were historically seen as dangerous and hostile. They were in a constant state of flux due to conquering Kings and invading Emperors, added to by everlasting internal wars and battles.

The Agalian Empire was vast but was always fraught by internal uprisings and political plots. This was often due to the physical geography of its administrative capital city. The huge city of Agalia was split in two by a considerably sized strip of land that was virtually unusable. Crops refused to grow on it and buildings simply sank into it. This lead to the people moving to more productive areas to the West and East. These regions soon adopted the titles of West Agalia and East Agalia for clarification but soon the friction began. No matter how impartial the Emperor was, he'd forever be accused of bias from one side, then the other. Agalia was pulling itself apart.

After two attempts on his life in as many weeks, by both regions, Emperor Jullit worked on a plan that would completely revolutionise the Agalian economy, structure, overall way of life, and lead to one of the strongest Empires in all of history.

Instead of one Emperor, there was to be two. One in the West and one in the East. Each Emperor would appoint himself a Regent, or successor. On a pre-decided date, both Emperors stepped down and their Regents ascended. One of the duties of an Emperor was to fortify this dual rule with pacts, trades, partnerships and arrangements that were legally binding. One of the most widely known methods was marriages. An important family from the West would arrange a marriage with a similarly placed family in the East, and vice versa.

This monumental change in Agalia's entire structure didn't happen overnight, but after the years since Jullit's death, Agalia was seen as unshakable and the whole city, East and West, was thriving.

The current Emperor of the West was Kerrin Ilvia. He came from a family of administrators and scribes and this gave him an outstanding knowledge of both politics and academia. Kerrin's Regent was his only son, Nian. Nian was already betrothed to a Lady of high standing from the East and this was important. Kerrin was a widower with no siblings of his own and therefore no bloodline other than Nian. Although the appointing of blood relatives wasn't mandatory, it was often preferable because the family history was already known.

The East was ruled by Waylon Boon who came from a long line of politicians. It had been quietly rumoured that Waylon's political skills were quite inferior to that of his sisters, Lydia and Kez, although Kez was considerably younger than both siblings. Agalia may have been revolutionised, but it wasn't quite ready for an Empress. Waylon was named as Regent of the East by his uncle, and ascended accordingly. Waylon named Lydia's son, Lafi, as his Regent.

South of the Agalian Empire was a massive region made up of small shires, quite a contrast to the organised and structured Agalia. The Shires' internal troubles were, naturally, caused by Shire fighting Shire. These battles were quite crude compared to the political machinations of past Agalia, but no less destructive to the Shires as a whole. King Hovolt Ludrig didn't inherit his title, in fact there was no King of any sort. Hovolt proved to be a proficient negotiator, as well as an able fighter. He managed to amalgamate, through talks, some of the Shires. These new, larger shires amalgamated other shires. If there was any resistance, Hovald simply overran them, although he always claimed that that was a last resort. His oldest son, Keegan, often doubted that claim. Hovalt had had three wives and had nine offspring. Keegan's mother had died of the fever and Hovalt remarried shortly after due to sheer loneliness. Despite the children, the union was doomed and Hovalt granted his wife a divorce. Whether she actually wanted one or not was irrelevant, Hovalt did. The third union was ideal, as the first one had been, and still going strong. After unifying the Shires, Hovalt did exactly what everyone expected him to do. He built a Castle, called it Ludrig, and declared himself King. Because of the stability of the Shires, and the security that provided, no one really objected. King Ludrig looked after his people.

To the north of Ludrigshires and the south of Agalia was Golon. Golon stretched out east and could probably rival the Agalian Empire in size, if not numbers. The population was thinly spread out and nowhere near as large as Agalia, or Ludrigshires. This was mainly due to hostile territory full of swamps, shiftsands and dense woodland, contrasting with areas of desert and scree. The largest city was also called Golon and was situated in the far west of the region, where it poked out into the bordering lands of both Ludrigshires and Agalia. Golon was naturally protected by mountains and swamps that were just as hostile as its natives. The Golon were a crude people. Ludrig had once said that he hadn't thought it possible to more vulgar that a Shireman, until he'd seen the Golon. Ludrig and Agalia were both experienced in keeping the Golon in check.

Overall, the Coastal Lands was stable. Ludrig had stopped trying to attack Agalia, because it was futile against such organisation. The Agalian army had stopped trying to incorporate Ludrigshires into the Empire because that was futile against sheer numbers and brute force. The only glitch was Golon but as long as Ludrig, and Agalia, had them under watch, they posed very little threat.

There was an exception to the fixed Agalia-Ludrigshires boundary positions. Luh, and its surrounding area, was a port town on the west coast. The reason for the exception was Luh's importance because it had a triple dock and was vital for overseas trade. It was the only area that was still disputed because of this. The days of bloody battles, and even violence, was long gone as far as Luh was concerned. Now-a-days either Agalia or Ludrig simply moved into the barracks and small military camp while the other moved out. The Luhans just shrugged and stocked the local Inn accordingly. As per tradition, the Golan were the problem. Golan snaked out dangerously close to Luh and the only reason they hadn't tried to take this valuable town was the military presence of either Ludrig or Agalia.

Luh was Agalian and had been for the last five years. The Agalian division based there, lead by Captain Zarsan Holt, went through endless drills, equipment checks, scouting missions and routine tasks because there was no military activity.

Zarsan had begun his own scouting mission three years ago when he'd first noticed Harper Bright, daughter of Mayor Elias Bright. She was the most beautiful creature that Zarsan had ever seen and he wondered how he'd missed her for two years. Harper was seventeen at that time, Zarsan twenty seven. Had they been in Agalia, such an age gap was quite proper, providing the pair had the approval of the younger party's guardian. Harper only had her father, who absolutely doted on her. Her mother had died in a fever epidemic when Harper was very young. Zarsan did the proper thing and went to Elias, but he hadn't approached Harper at all. The first she knew of it was when she got home one day and saw an incredibly handsome soldier having tea and cakes with her father. Harper and Zarsan had been almost inseparable for the three years since.

"So after we're married, we'll live in the Marble District in West Agalia." Zarsan sat on the dockside with Harper and watched the seagulls overhead.

"I'll be as old as my father by the time we have the money to live there!" Harper laughed. "It would be lovely though." She smiled at Zarsan.

"Right. We'll live in the barracks." Zarsan nudged Harper in the ribs and laughed. "Ah we'll get there Harper. For a Captain, I really hate military law at times." Military law stated that spouses must adopt dual citizenship if they weren't already Agalian. This meant them living in Agalia with their army husbands, obviously. Zarsan and Harper had another year to wait because of Harper's age. She was twenty and the legal age for wedlock was twenty one. Even then, they'd need somewhere to live and even the most modest of homes would still be a stretch for Zarsan's pay. "Isn't it frustrating?" Zarsan snorted. "I can't take you to Agalia because we've nowhere to live and I can't look for somewhere to live because I'm posted out here!"

"You'll get reposted while we marry though." Harper pointed out.

"Yes then you'll have to come back here until I find us a decent home that isn't in the Fly Quarter. I envy the soldiers who have families to accommodate new wives. I wouldn't be in a dilemma if I had one." Zarsan sighed. Zarsan's mother passed away giving birth to Zarsan, leaving him and his General father who he was very close to. Lomas Holt was killed during a riot in an outlying town when Zarsan was sixteen. He'd lived in military accommodation ever since.

"I have Elias. I've done just fine with him up to now." Harper hugged Zarsan. "He wants to know if you'll fix the fence at the Town Hall."

"I'll go after shift change." Zarsan nodded.

"Shift? Someone's putting in a shift? Where?" Leader Jonas Marsh was standing behind the happy couple. Zarsan got up and helped Harper to her feet. "Really Harper, I wouldn't marry him. There isn't a day's work in him."

"I'm pleased to hear that you wouldn't marry me Jonas." Zarsan pulled a face. "I'm sure there's nothing occured where you need me to hold your hand. I'm not your mother."

"I'm pleased to hear that you're not my mother Zarsan." Jonas smirked at Harper. "Actually I thought you were out on patrol, I didn't know you were with Harper. Nothing important."

"It's fine, Jonas. I promised to help my father with his ledgers." Harper stood on tiptoe to kiss Zarsan's cheek. "Come for tea, then you can go and sort the Town Hall fence." She waved and made her way back towards town.

"Have I ever told you what a lucky old dog you are?" Jonas commented. "Lazing around in the sun with a beautiful girl. I've a mind to report you."

"Well we're not exactly taxed out here are we? As long as every man's duties are carried out and everything's in order, anyone can do the same." Zarsan reminded him.

"Laze in the sun with Harper? I'll polish my buckles beforehand." Jonas grinned at his superior officer.

"Try it and your buckles will be hurled off the end of that pier." Zarsan laughed. "So what's so crucial that you had to interupt my day in such a cruel and inconsiderate fashion?"

"Not important, like I said. I thought we'd draw up the report for Agalia. I didn't know you were with Harper. It's fine. It'll wait." Jonas assured him.

"Come on. We may as well get it out of the way. 'Dear Officers, nothing to report here, not ever.'" Zarsan rolled his eyes.

"Well they still haven't offered any ideas on that bit of the Golon Swamp." Jonas and Zarsan entered the map room next to the barracks.

"I'm tired of telling them." Zarsan spread a map of the area on the table. "We need to collaborate with Ludrig because his Castle and city is closer to that peninsular of swamp. We work with Ludrig to surround and isolate that finger. We only need cut off that neck area and the swamp is less lethal there. That's how the Golon have raided settlements in the past. Once we isolate it, we give it, and the surrounding areas, to Ludrig."

"And thereby lies the problem." Jonas told Zarsan what he already knew. "Collaborating with Ludrig would cause the government to have a seizure, and Ludrig's lot to have apoplexy. Agalia handing anything over to Ludrig is a concept they just don't understand."

"And in the mean time, we wait and see if the Golon stop brawling long enough to have a thought. All they have to do is to distract Ludrig on their south border and that will leave the swamp peninsula vulnerable. Not even the Golon can get through the mountains at the north of that swamp, so that just leaves the northern edge of the peninsula. Our Division patrols that area, as well as Luh, but it's not ideal. We need a permanent solution to it." Zarsan rolled up his map. "I'll write it in the report, yet again."

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