Six months after Zarsan and Lady Kez's marriage, Keegan had set up a credible business in West Agalia as a pottery merchant. He was now known as Leon and had been in the city for a month. He was quite puzzled as to the information he'd gathered so far. Very few people actually knew about the Regent's family in Luh and they'd certainly never lived in Agalia. If it wasn't for a handful of people they really did insist on their existence, Keegan would have been forced to consider that Harper had made the whole thing up. So why did no one know her? Why had she not lived here with her husband? Only one answer presented itself. She hadn't been able to. Why? Because she had no citizenship here. Why? Her and Zarsan weren't legally married.
"Something else you didn't tell me, Harper." Keegan muttered, setting up his stall in the market square. She must have realised what a flimsy position she was in, especially regarding any political claims to the Regent so she'd kept quiet. She was very good at that.
"When did Luh start trading again?" An elderly man asked Keegan.
"I'm from Jullit." Keegan answered. "I believe Luh does trade though. The place has been rebuilt quite well from what I've heard."
"I've not been for years." The old man mused. "Lovely little town. I used to go quite often when my wife was alive."
"When it was Agalian?" Keegan began setting out his stock on his stall.
"Yes. There was a Division based down there. To think, the reason it was heavily guarded was the cause of its destruction. Poxy Golon scum." The old man said in disgust.
"Wasn't the Regent in charge of the Division back then? Or am I getting that wrong? We're a bit out of the way up in Jullit." Keegan bluffed.
"He was back here by then, as Regent. He grieved for years over that town." The old one said sadly. "It was more than that though. I heard he had a girl down there and he loved her very much. I believe it too. I've never seen a man so struck by grief."
"So his girl was killed? That is tragic." Keegan sympathised.
"Along with the Mayor, her Da." The old one nodded. "According to talk, the Emperor himself went to identify her. Waylon, not Kerrin. He owed Zarsan a favour or something."
"Emperor Waylon identified her body?" Keegan asked in surprise. "I wonder why Regent Zarson didn't go himself. I would have if it was my girl." He said casually.
"He was away on duty at the time of the attack. If I'm not mistaken, he was up by your neck of the woods. Jullit."
"Is that so?" Keegan wasn't sure if all this meant anything or not, but it was all news to him. "So Waylon did the noble thing."
"Spared him a very unpleasant sight, no doubt." The old man shuddered.
"Yes, quite. So Waylon gave Zarsan the news of his girl's death?" That could easily be evidence enough for Zarsan, the word of an Emperor.
"Out of respect." The old man nodded solemnly. "Anyway! He seems to on the up now. Lady Kez is a very fine lady indeed and ten years is long enough to grieve. The news of this baby ... "
"Baby? What baby?" Keegan felt his head reeling.
"I thought you merchants knew everything!" The old man laughed. "It was announced this morning! Lady Kez is expecting her first child in three months time. Isn't that fantastic? I wish my wife was alive to see it. She was a strong believer in the Empire." Announced this morning so it would be around six days before the tidings filtered through to Ludrigshires. Keegan would just have time to leave his business and get back to the Castle.
Keegan made it to the Castle in five days. The news of Lady Kez's pregnancy made it there in four.
"She's handling it remarkably well." Ludrig told his son, referring to Harper. "She knows more about Agalian society that any woman I've ever met! All for the Empire eh?"
"All for the Empire." Keegan repeated wearily. "He does think Harper and Zari are dead. It seems he grieved for years over them."
"This is ... crap. Just crap." Ludrig said angrily. "Do we tell him about them? Privately I mean. He'll be the Emperor soon. I'm sure he can arrange something. No?" He saw Keegan shaking his head.
"There are two Emperors for a reason. It's to make sure one doesn't amend rules to suit himself, among other things. Zarsan is allowed one wife and he has one wife."
"Harper was there first and she has Zari who looks exactly like the man." Ludrig reminded him.
"She wasn't, Father." Keegan watched the look of confusion on Ludrig's face. "They were never married for whatever reason. Her chances of laying claim would have been slim as it was, seeing as Lady Kez is Waylon's sister. Now she'd have no claim at all. Regent Zarsan has his family, a legally binding family. Yes it is crap. Crap for Harper and Zari. If Harper can't bring herself to be named Harper Ludrig, Duchess of Ludrigshire, then I'm happy for her to stay Harper Bright." He smiled.
"Bright? Hmm Bright." Ludrig frowned in thought. "Where have I heard that name before?"
"She was ... "
"The Mayor! Luh's Mayor was called Bright. Edgar or something. Harper is related?" Ludrig asked.
"Daughter." Keegan nodded.
"I didn't know he had ... a ... Waylon Boon." Ludrig just stared at Keegan and Keegan was lost. "Boon was in Gilby when the Golon attacked. He came to Luh and asked me specifically about Mayor Bright's family. I told him I didn't know he had a family. Why is he in among all this? His own soldiers were dead and dying in the streets yet he asked about the Mayor's family. Why?"
"As a courtesy to Zarsan apparently. That would explain Zarsan's acceptance of the news. If an Emperor tells you something from first hand experience then you tend to believe them."
"Bull's nuts." Ludrig said dismissively. "I wouldn't believe anything that man said. I told you when he became Emperor that he was a toad." Keegan rolled his eyes. "He had no first hand experience, anyway. I told him I was unaware of a family, which I was. I didn't say anyone was dead. Our men were shifting survivors by the cart load over the border. Why not assume Harper and Zari were on one of those? He went straight back to Agalia and told Zarsan his family was dead. The Regent's family, Keegan. He made no effort at all to look into it further."
"Maybe you're looking too far into it, Father. This is East Agalian's Emperor and you're accusing him of some sort of conspiracy to keep the truth from his counterpart's Regent." Keegan said carefully.
"That Regent who went on to wed his sister." Ludrig stated. "Something not right here."
"I do know one thing. Under no circumstances are we going to tell Harper this. We have no proof of anything and it would be pointless to cause her more upset. Her claim to Zarsan is invalid. Let's not add to her distress." Keegan decided and for once, Ludrig nodded his agreement.
Harper was sitting by the orchard staring numbly at nothing. A baby would very much seal things between Zarsan and Lady Kez. Keegan had told her that Zarsan thought they'd perished at Luh, and that was some consolation for Harper. He hadn't simply abandoned and forgotten about them. She'd never doubted that. Could she move on and marry Prince Keegan? Harper felt like it would be another ten years before she could make that decision. Keegan deserved better. He didn't deserve someone who's heart belonged to someone else.
"Ma? I have an idea." Zari interrupted her thoughts and sat next to her. "Even though Da married Lady Daz, I'll still be the new baby's brother. Is that right?"
"Sort of." Harper wondered if Zari's spark would last forever, just like her own. "It's different because we're here and Da is in Agalia."
"Ma, I'm ten." Zari said patiently. "It is not different at all. I'm still the big brother because Da is still Da. Twice. Umm yes. So when I'm twenty one and old enough I'll go and get the baby and bring it here to see you. Maybe it can stay here for a few days. I'll be a proper grown up by then so I'll be responsive."
"Responsible." Harper smiled and hugged her son. "That's a lovely idea, Zari."
"I think so." Zari nodded proudly. "Hey how about if we have two homes! We can all sometimes stay here and all sometimes stay in Agalia! Da won't mind if you and Lady Baz are both there."
"Er ... one idea at a time, Zari." Harper laughed.
Emperors And Kings