Lafi Boon and Zarsan Holt ascended to Emperor and Waylon Boon and Kerrin Ilvia Stepped down. The ceremony itself lasted for eight hours and both East and West Agalia celebrated long before, and long after. By late evening, Emperor Zarson was feeling the tiredness. Kez had gone through a troubled pregnancy fraught with sickness, exhaustion and back ache. This meant Zarsan had gone through it with her, complete with lack of sleep. Florian provided the means to leave the celebrations but Zarsan would have continued for weeks had he been able to change that reason. Lady Kez was very ill and the baby was on its way, a month too soon.
"Kez!" Zarsan threw off his cloak and ran to his wife's bedside. She was pale and damp and obviously in pain. "Physician Tallow is on his way, Kez, so is Mistress Olga. You're doing just great." He grasped her hand and all Kez could do was gasp for breath. "Stay with me Kez. Stay awake! Florian! Bring wash cloths please. Kez?"
"Baby." Kez whispered before a huge wave of pain doubled up her weak body.
"Tallow won't be long." Zarsan took the cloths from Florian. "You have to stay awake Kez."
"We'll take it from here." Physician Tallow and Mistress Olga had arrived. Florian had to physically guide Zarsan into the sitting room.
"Why does all this happen to me?" Zarsan sobbed. "Why, Florian?"
"She's in good hands, Zarsan." Florian handed Zarsan a large glass of wine. "Come on. Stay strong."
"Surely life can't be so cruel to take two wives and two children from me?" Zarsan gulped at the wine.
"Zarsan, Physician Tallow is the best physician in the realm." Florian said gently. "We wait and we stay strong."
On the stroke of midnight, Lady Kez Boon, wife of Emperor Zarsan Holt, drew her last breath. At the same time, Zarsan's newborn daughter let out her first cry, the first of many.
Scouts took it in relayed turns to dispatch Agalia's tragic news. Ludrig and Keegan told Harper on the day of Lady Kez's funeral, two days after her death. Harper was heartbroken. She was heartbroken for Lady Kez and devastated for Zarsan. The fact that he'd called his baby daughter Kezia, after her mother, told Harper how much he actually did think of her.
"Who's there for him?" Harper tried to stop the tears, not very successfully. "I don't care if he is the Emperor, someone has to be there for him."
"There will be." Keegan said gently. "Do you want us there when you tell Zari?"
"No, thank you. I'll explain it in a way he'll understand. Excuse me." Harper hung her head and trailed out of Ludrig's sitting room.
"This is bloody awful." Ludrig got to his feet. "She's miserable, he's miserable and they'll stay that way because age old politics still influence everyone in the realm. If I ever hear one of our lot dragging any Agalian through the shit, I'll beat him stupid. Well stupider. No one can remember the rifts between us and them so why try and keep it going? Eh? Because people are stupid and I hate the bloody lot of them." He sat back down again. "Ranting, yes I know. Sod off. Harper has us lot here in the Castle, for what it's worth. Will Zarsan cope? I don't think I would after all the crap he's been dealt. Get yourself back up there and keep your eyes open. Something like this is enough to lead to a gap where an Emperor should be. As a very last resort, devise a plan to get him to Luh, out of the way of Agalia, and bloody well tell him. This can't go on Keegan, it's destroying everyone involved. Last resort, remember."
"Only if you're sure. Do you think you can explain it all in a believable way? You said months ago, we don't want Zarsan crashing down here because he thinks we've been holding his family for ten years." Keegan pointed out what Ludrig knew already.
"He won't have to believe me. I'll take Harper to Luh myself. I doubt he'd disbelieve her." Ludrig exhaled and rubbed his eyes. "I was utterly shattered when your mother died, Keegan. I didn't think I'd ever get over it. As you know, I married Neffu for the wrong reasons, so we'll ignore her."
"Yes well you did that while she was here too." Keegan smiled at his Father. It wasn't often he opened up like this. "I know you loved Mother a great deal."
"More than I could ever put into words. At least I still had you though. Oh stop grinning, I never liked you that much." Ludrig sniffed. "Zarsan thinks he lost Harper and Zari and I know how that feels, Keegan. It's torture and you never fully get rid of the feelings. Now he has it all to look forward to again after losing Lady Kez. The chances of him not coping are high, and very real. I'd crumble to nothing if I ever lost Kendra."
"Father you'll always have me and the rest of your brood of offspring." Keegan said sincerely.
"Oh mirth." Ludrig said dryly. "Go and assemble your pottery and sod off to Agalia. I need to think, and get roaring drunk."
The new Emperors and the Advisory Emperors were in the Hall. It was the day after Lady Kez's funeral and Kerrin had tried everything to get Zarsan to stay at home for a while. Zarsan preferred the Halls just now because he'd received a 'charitable offer' from Advisor Waylon.
"Zarson you aren't thinking clearly. You cannot raise a baby yourself!" Waylon said in exasperation.
"Not just a baby, my baby and yes I damned well can!" Zarsan snapped. "I'm sorry, Waylon." He apologised less tersely. "I do appreciate your family's offer to take Kezia in but I'm her father."
"And Lydia is her aunt. Kez's sister. Tell him, Kerrin, for pity's sake! Men, especially men of status, do not raise their own children and certainly not alone!" Waylon persisted.
"Well it isn't conventional, no." Kerrin said awkwardly. He'd been quite surprised himself, at Zarsan's decision to raise his daughter. "It's a break in tradition, I agree, but he's perfectly entitled to do it. I looked into it, just incase." He looked sharply at Waylon. He had looked into it just incase Waylon had any loopholes up his sleeve. Kerrin knew what was irritating Zarsan. The offer was genuine and sincere and Zarsan wouldn't dispute that. What was enraging the new Emperor was that Waylon had simply gone ahead and arranged everything without even mentioning it to Zarsan. Lady Lydia had even bought a crib and ordered decorations for a nursery. All this in the short hours following the death of the baby's mother.
"I don't intend bringing Kezia to the Halls with me, Waylon." Zarsan said testily. "Floian's daughter, Flora, is proving to be a very able Minder for her."
"So Florian's daughter is more able than a blood relation who has the experience to raise a child? I think Lafi here is a testament to his mother's capability." Waylon snapped.
"I'd not doubt her capability." Zarsan barked. "I'm not doubting anything, including your offer! I'm telling you, Kezia stays with me. I stood up to you when I was first made Regent, Waylon. I can do the same again but with more ease. I'm no longer Regent."
"Is that a threat?" Lafi twittered but only after Waylon had glared holes through him to prompt him. "You're on equal footing to me, Zarsan Holt, no more."
"For crying out loud!" Zarsan shouted. "What's so difficult here? My daughter stays with me, her father. I've lost her mother and I've no intention of losing her, even if it is to a good family." He smiled falsely at Waylon and Lafi.
"A better family than the last one you had." Waylon retorted then immediately regretted opening his mouth. Zarsan went crimson with rage and lunged for Waylon. Kerrin sprang to his feet and upturned the table just to bar Zarsan's way.
"No! Zarsan, no. Don't do it." Kerrin grabbed the Emperor's arms. "Waylon, for torment's sake! What sort of thing was that to say? They perished in Luh. Show some tact and respect."
"Don't you lecture me, Kerrin Ilvia!" Waylon backed away from Zarsan. "Tact and respect for someone who's probably a whore for the Shiremen by now?"
"Uncle!" Lafi shrieked. "We'd better leave. Please excuse my uncle, he's under alot of stress just ... shit!" Zarsan had leapt across the room and knocked the new Emperor clean off his feet. Waylon looked terrified as he backed against the wall. Kerrin tried in vain to pull the furious Emperor away from the Advisor.
"Explain or I'll slit your throat." Zarsan snarled viciously. "Don't believe me?" He dug the tip of a blade into Waylon's flesh.
"I was angry! I just lashed out." Waylon tried to wriggle free and the blade dug deeper. "I never saw their bodies!" He sobbed. "Ludrig told me the Mayor was dead. He didn't know his daughter, or her son."
"Are you telling me they escaped that slaughter?" Zarsan growled.
"I don't know! I swear I don't know." Waylon shrieked. "If they did, they'll have fled over the border. Ludrig will have them! He's been holding them for all this time Zarsan!" Zarsan dropped the blade to the floor and was frozen to the spot. "Yes, that's it. It has to be it." Waylon edged along the wall.
"I thought this had been verified?" Kerrin asked in shock. "Waylon if there had been any doubt, you should have reported back so it could have been looked into further!"
"I must ask you to let me escort my uncle to our rooms." Lafi intervened. "Advisor Kerrin, you have to remember that my uncle was witnessing the aftermath of a massacre, something he's certainly not used to. Could you think clearly in those circumstances? I'm defintely sure I couldn't. Excuse us." He half escorted, half dragged Waylon from the Hall.
"By the Stars." Kerrin felt light headed. "Zarsan, say something, man." Zarsan was stil staring at the floor, his eyes flooded with tears.
"They're still alive?" He said eventually. "They've been alive for all these years and he knew?"
"We don't know for certain if Waylon knew, Zarsan and Lafi had a good point about him witnessing the carnage. Listen to me, Zarsan." Kerrin steered the Emperor onto a chair. "There's still a chance that they didn't make it. Waylon's recount is patchy to say the least. I just don't want you suffering all over again."
"And there's a chance that they did make it. I should have insisted on more proof at the time." Zarsan brooded.
"He was the Emperor." Kerrin said simply. "I doubt Ludrig has them captive, if they did get over the border."
"Which they did. Ludrig had better not have them captive otherwise he'll feel the force of the Agalian army."
"Which would be a catastrophic act, General Zarsan." Kerrin pointed out. "We need to employ tact, Zarsan. We don't know anything for certain and we can't just wade into Ludrig with an unfounded accusation. Why in the realm would he hold them captive for ten years? It makes no sense. If they are in Ludrigshires, then they've kept their identity secret, Zarsan, probably to protect the boy from political machinations. Is that a more sensible theory? It's certainly more palatable."
"So she never tried to contact me? Not once in ten years?" Zarsan said in despair.
"How?" Kerrin shrugged. "She'd need an ally down there and quite a loyal one. We're talking about Ludrigshires, Zarsan. She won't have known anyone at all, let alone a trusted ally. This is all speculation and you're in no state to speculate on anything. By the Stars man, you've just buried Lady Kez. Give yourself a chance."
"If Waylon ... "
"Ignore Waylon." Kerrin said sternly. "Seriously, discount him completely. His information is flawed and unreliable. Work round him. First, you get yourself home and rest with your daughter." He smiled. Zarsan nodded and headed for the door.
"One thing I'm truly grateful for, Kerrin. Kez isn't here to witness her brother's speculation." He closed the door quietly.
Emperors And Kings