Chapter 11

Zarsan did as he said he'd do and resolved the issue of his lack of Eastern connections. Three years after that conversation with Emperor Kerrin, Regent Zarsan Holt married Lady Kez Boon. The couple sat on the balcony of their new villa in West Agalia and watched the celebration festivities in the streets below.

"Still friends, Zarsan. A parchment scroll doesn't change that." Kez smiled at Zarsan's troubled face. "I know this isn't ideal for you."

"And you know why." Zarsan stood and poured himself and Kez some wine. He'd discussed this at great length and in considerable depth with Kez. No misconceptions and no omissions. "I wonder if it will ever feel right? By the Stars, even saying that sounds so cruel."

"It isn't cruel and you'll get used to not regarding it as such. The more I'm in your confidence, the more honoured I feel." Kez explained.

"Is that enough for you? Kez you deserve so much more. You deserve a full marriage and not just a political arrangement." Zarsan had lost count of the number of times he'd said that.

"We have more than a political arrangement and we have had for years."

"We have, yes." Zarsan smiled. "That makes me very fortunate, Kez, and very happy. Speaking of happy, did you see how drunk Emperor Kerrin was?" They both laughed. "I think he's just relieved that I've stopped fretting him to distraction."

"Waylon was drunk just because he got his own way." Kez tutted.

"He'll have nothing to pester everyone about now. We'll all think we've gone deaf." Zarsan laughed. "Ah we'll be fine, Kez. Friendship, like you said."

"Friendship." They touched glasses and drank.


Harper was cleaning the huge fireplace in the Castle Hall and eight year old Zari was 'helping' by getting right inside of it.

"Zari!" Harper laughed. "You have soot everywhere. Don't you dare come out until I get these sheets down." She turned round when she heard the door being unlatched. "Zari, quickly. It's the King and Prince Keegan." She wrapped a sheet around her sooty son and tried to brush it from his hair.

"From what I've heard, Kez Boon would make ten times the Emperor of that fool of a brother of her's. I suppose it's a good thing she wasn't just shunted off to some fat old administrator with bed sores." Ludrig helped himself to a jug of ale from the sideboard. "Have you met the Regent?" Kez froze and almost crushed Zari. "He was the commanding officer in Luh for long enough. I've never met the man."

"I've seen him a few times, but never actually met him. Zarsan Holt." Keegan nodded.

"He's talking about Da!" Zari whispered at a volume that could be heard in Luh.

"Zari, hush. We shouldn't be in here." Harper felt her blood turn to water at the feeling she was getting from the conversation.

"She certainly married a good Regent. He's the most popular one Agalia's had in decades." Keegan said and Harper let out a loud sob. Zarsan had married Lady Kez Boon? Her Zarsan? "Harper? Just leave that for now." Keegan was standing right behind her. Harper could barely see for tears as she tried to pick up Zari, and her buckets and brushes, all at the same time.

"I'm sorry." She whispered.

"Leave the buckets, you can get them later. Are you all right?" Keegan took the buckets from her.

"Yes. We shouldn't be in here. Excuse me." Harper hitched Zari onto her hip and ran from the hall.

"Ma? Why has Da married Lady Boob? What about you?" Zari asked as Harper began dragging the filthy clothes from him.

"Lady Boon." Harper sobbed. "Climb in the sink, Zari. No one's here."

"I'm eight, Ma. I'll have a bath in our rooms. Ma? Don't cry. I'm sure you're prettier than Lady Loon." Zari stood shivering in his vest and britches. "Is he not coming for us now?"

"Oh baby come here." Harper held Zari close to her. "Daddy doesn't know we're here. He thinks ... thinks ... "

"He thinks we died with Granda Elias in Luh?" Zari asked and Harper nodded. "So he's married Lady Boom in your place?"

"No." Harper smiled through the tears. She wrapped a blanket round Zari and sat him on the table. "Can you remember when I told you all about Agalia? The West and the East? I told you how they do all the trades and make friends with people from their opposite halves. Remember that?" Zari nodded. "Lady Kez is from the East. She's very important, Zari. She's Emperor Waylon's sister! Her and Daddy have done a very important thing here, and a very admirable thing. They got married to make both Agalias even stronger than they are now. He's the Regent, Zari. He wants to do all he can for the Empire."

"But he wouldn't have married her if he knew we were here, I know he wouldn't! We have to get ... get ... " Zari trailed off and Harper spun round. Prince Keegan was standing at the door with two buckets.

"Zari go and get cleaned up." Harper dried her eyes. "I'm fine. Go on, you grub!" Zari reluctantly headed up the narrow wooden stairs that lead to their rooms. "I can explain." Harper swallowed hard and turned to Keegan.

"You're going to tell me they're made up stories to keep yours and Zari's spirits up." Keegan walked in and sat on the table. "Zari told me that too. It works for an eight year old, not an intelligent, adult woman." Harper looked at the floor and couldn't think of a single thing to say. "I should have pushed you on this long ago. I could have maybe helped. Even from the bits and pieces I've picked up over the last few years, it wasn't too difficult to put it together. Zari looks exactly like him for a start. Zari means 'little Zarsan'. You have a very good knowledge of Agalia, especially its army and you don't get that from your usual Luhan, let alone a young woman. I didn't actually need all Zari's childish slips to confirm it, Harper." Harper sank onto a bench by the table. "Why didn't you say something? We could have had you in Agalia years ago!"

"I couldn't. You and King Ludrig have been wonderful to us and I know we're safe here. To speak up would be like painting a target on my son. There are immoral people all over the Realm, here and Agalia. I kept quiet." Harper felt suddenly exhausted. "Zarsan thinks we're dead. He married Lady Kez. I don't know what to do."

"Are you sure he presumes you dead?" Keegan asked.

"He clung on for eight years, Prince Keegan. He loves me and Zari a great deal. Only the assumption of our deaths would keep him from coming for us. I'm absolutely certain of that." Harper said firmly. "He hasn't just forgotten about us. Never."

"You just didn't know what to do about it." Keegan exhaled loudly.

"As time went by, the chances of anyone actually believing me became less and less. Despite that, as long as there was even a small risk to my son, I stayed quiet." Harper told Keegan. "Now it's too late." She hung her head and tears splashed to the stone floor. "Me and Zari have to move on."

"I don't see that happening soon." Keegan sighed. "Go to Zari. He'll need you."

Ludrig was in his private sitting room, cleaning his weapons.

"Do we declare today a holiday? They are in Agalia." Ludgrig mused to Keegan. "Ah stuff it. We aren't Agalian. Bunch of milkmaids. What's up with you? Too much grain in your breakfast?"

"Oh it's nothing. A friend of mine needs support just now. That's all. Holiday? Typical Agalians. Anything for an alefest."

Harper was awake well into the night. She'd read every single letter and note in her collection.

"We'll be fine here, Ma." Zari walked in and curled up next to Harper on their battered couch.

"You should be asleep." Harper kissed Zari's thick mop of hair. "We'll always be fine. We have each other."

"He's still the best in the Realm, isn't he Ma? Even if he is in Agalia with Lady Fez. We still know he's great." Zari nodded.

"Yes we do. He's still the best in the Realm no matter what happens. Hey this isn't an excuse to get out of diary writing! Prince Keegan goes to the trouble of getting us all these books so we'd better continue filling them." Harper tossed Zari a book and a pencil. She promised Zarsan she'd write to him every day and that's what she would do. Harper doubted she could have stopped even if she tried.

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