Luh was gradually rebuilt and its people gradually returned home. Harper stayed in Ludrigshires. Over the years, her brain had lead her to accept that Zarsan presumed her and Zari dead. Her heart, however, held on to hope.
"So if this tiny wheel is strapped to the big one, then both wheels move together. See?" Harper pointed to a drawn diagram on a scrap of paper. She'd been teaching Zari as best she could and about everything she could. He was only five and yet he could manage basic writing, reading, and numbers. He could also understand how things worked in a way that would be beyond his mother in a few years. "That way, alot of movement can be produced with only a little bit of movement from here. I think."
"Can I go dig in the garden?" Zari completely ignored the diagram.
"We do some reading later. Digging in the garden won't give you a big brain." Harper smiled at her son.
"I'll get big muscles though." Zari flexed his arms and made Harper laugh. "King Ludrig can't read very well and he's big!"
"Prince Keegan can read and he's big too. Reading later, otherwise I'll hide your shovel." Harper nodded. Zari squealed and grabbed his spade from the corner before fleeing through the back door.
"I'm sure that boy grows three feet every time I see him." Keegan said from the door.
"Prince Keegan. I didn't see you there." Harper bobbed her head. "Zari's five now and yes, he's growing so quickly." She said proudly.
"You're educating him yourself?" Keegan pointed to the papers on the table. "That's very impressive."
"Well I'm no teacher but I can teach him what I know. That's not much, by the way." Harper laughed.
"I disagree. That's the basic mechanism for a turbine." Keegan said and Harper wasn't sure what to say. "The only place in Luh where this is used is the army barracks cooling ducts. I remember when the King had them built."
"Yes. I believe so." Harper said quickly. Zarsan had told her all about the cooling ducts when she'd asked about them.
"I don't believe for one second that you frequented the barracks on your own, Harper." Keegan sighed in exasperation. "If Zari's father was an Agalian soldier then his family would be entitled to an insurance, but only if you were in Agalia. Was he a soldier?"
"Yes." Harper's voice trembled. "I can't go to Agalia, Prince Keegan. I have no citizenship. This is the only home Zari's ever known."
"I can understand that. I can quite believe that a widowed mother would fare better here in the Castle than struggling at the bottom in Agalia." Keegan said, looking out of the window. "So you don't want me to look into it for you?"
"No thank you, Prince Keegan. I'm happy here." Harper fought with the tears. She'd come quite close to revealing who her and Zari were on a few occasions. No one would believe her, not now. Even if they did, would that lead them to being used as pawns of some sort? The Regent's son could prove quite useful in the wrong hands. Harper had no doubt that there was nothing wrong at all with King Ludrig's hands. She'd received nothing but kindness from the Ludgrigs. Not all Ludrig's subjects were like him, however, and skirmishes still happened. Would she ever be in a position to go to Zarsan herself?
"Your boy is tipping worms on his head." Keegan sniggered and Harper ran out to stop him.
Zarsan sat in the Hall with Emperor Kerrin. The Imperial date of abdication was getting ever closer and Zarsan's days as Emperor was on the horizon.
"It's time to consider the future, Zarsan. You know this as well as I do." Kerrin handed his Regent a glass of wine. "Five years isn't long to get over the tragedy you suffered so I sympathise wholly with you. I don't think I've ever gotten over Celest's death. In another five years, you'll be Emperor of West Agalia."
"With no connections in the East and no wife and no heir." Zarsan said wearily. "Despite Emperor Waylon's paranoid wailings, I'm not being purposely stubborn just to annoy him. Don't you think that tale is a bit old and worn now?"
"It was old and worn long ago." Kerrin agreed. "Disregarding Emperor Waylon for now, it is time to think of the future. Your future and the Empire's future."
"I have!" Zarsan stood up. "At times, I think of nothing else. A marriage to Lady Kez would be unfair. It would be unfair to me but it would be even more so to her. I love Harper and Zari even though they aren't here to love me in return. I can't help it, sir. Lady Kez doesn't deserve that. She doesn't deserve to live in the shadow of Harper's memory and that's exactly what she'd be doing. I'm just incapable putting a political marriage into practice, even though I appreciate the values theoretically."
"A married Emperor isn't compulsory." Kerrin massaged the back of his neck. "Let me look into it further."
"No, sir." Zarsan shook his head. "You've fought this battle for me for far too long. I still need time but I'll resolve this myself."
"I'm sure of it." Kerrin nodded. "Now to other business. Waylon refused my suggestion to appoint an Ambassador to Ludrigshires. He won't say directly, but he's basically against any sort of association with Ludrig." He drummed his fingers on the table. "This traditional concept of a long running feud with Ludrig needs addressed, Zarsan. I'm quite certain that Waylon doesn't see the Shires as an absolute enemy, but the notion has become so ingrained we assume it as normal. It isn't. You'd think that a catastrophe like Luh would be an ideal platform for negotiations and discussions so why wasn't it?"
"The whole shock of it, I think. Everyone was so utterly stunned that the thought of political negotiations didn't occur to anyone. Since then, Ludrig has been busy rebuilding the place very effectively. Very basically, we've had no reason and no opportunity to all sit round the table." Zarsan theorised. "The Squad down there is part of the plans to bridge that neck of swamp so we can work together. It's just making it official that's a headache."
Keegan looked out of a landing window that overlooked the rear yard. Harper was beating the dust from the mats from the dining room and Zari was trying to catch that dust in his hands.
"Good taste, Keegan. Just like me." Ludrig frightened the life out of his son.
"I'm not looking at her ... well not much ... I'm looking at the boy."
"What?" Ludrig barked. "I'll hack your ..."
"Not like that! For crap's sake!" Keegan shuddered. "Does he remind you of anyone?"
"He's under four foot tall and not on a horse. They all look the same to me. Why? Who is it?" Ludrig looked out of the window to where Harper was wiping his face with her apron.
"Luh Refugees. The boy's father was killed in the battle, according to his mother. Agalian."
"Sad but it happened, son. So who should he remind me of? He's nothing like his mother, that's for sure." Ludrig observed.
"No he's not. Don't worry about it. I just thought he reminded me of someone." Keegan shrugged. "How would you feel about helping with his education?"
"His who?" Ludrig looked at his son in surprise. "Well he looks bugger all like you either so you're out of the parent picture."
"I told you. His father was an Agalian soldier." Keegan said in exasperation. "Harper, that's his mother down there, is trying to educate him herself. Most women in her position wouldn't bother. They'd have him working in the fields at five years old. I just thought she deserved a bit of help. It won't cost us anything to provide decent paper and a few pencils. There's a stack of them in mother's library." Ludrig's first wife had been well educated and insisted on her own son's education, even though Ludrig was only semi literate. Keegan had received all his lessons in the library and that library had been closed for years, since Keegan's mother's death. Ludrig just looked at his son in confusion. He never had grasped the importance of education. "Tactless idea. Forget about it. I'm sorry"
"No, not tactless. I just don't get it. Take all the papers you like. They're of no use to me. The other brats have lessons out in the village." Ludrig referred to his other children. "Keegan? Is there a reason for this that you aren't telling me? The girl, maybe?"
"Just a sudden whim of mine." Keegan shrugged his shoulders. "No, not the girl. We don't all think like you."
"Well you should. Maybe you wouldn't be unwed and childless at thirty five if you did." Ludrig sniffed and swaggered off along the landing.
Emperors And Kings