The most obvious place for Zarsan to go first was Luh. The only people he'd taken into his confidence were Florian and Kerrin, who he trusted implicitly. As a military General, he was perfectly entitled to visit a town where Agalian troops were still based, however, as an Emperor he'd only have drawn too much attention to himself. It took a few days to organise suitable reasons for his pending absence and he and Florian decided to simply leave, unannounced, at first light. They didn't get the chance. West Agalia seemed to erupt in the dead of night. Fires simply sprang up and panic tore through the city.
"Florian!" Zarsan met the Administrator in the street. "What in the Creek is going on?"
"I don't believe it, Zarsan. From what I can tell, the people from the East are running riot through the West." Florian said in disbelief.
"What?" Zarsan shouted in shock. "Why?"
"I've no idea but they're causing alot of damage and the Westerners are retaliating."
"Go and get your wife and daughter, Florian. Bring them here and hole up in the cellar where it's safe. I'll go and see what caused all this."
Within two hours, West Agalia was a battle zone. Zarsan headed Squads of troops to try and get the situation under control. Florian had been right. The Eastern citizens had attacked the West. Most damage was being done to businesses and property, rather that to the actual citizens.
"What in the realm caused all this?" Kerrin was frantically trying to find armed scouts to get a message through to Lafi and Waylon. "Have they all gone mad?"
"I have no idea. Stay inside, Kerrin. People are simply claiming property as they come across it!" Zarsan steered his horse round.
"Soldiers!" Someone shouted. "East Agalian soldiers!"
"Kerrin! Get inside!" Zarsan rode towards the shouting. The sight he saw made him reel in shock. Thousands of Agalian soldiers were surging into West Agalia. "Waylon?" He shook his head in disbelief. Only the Emperor could order this number of men on the offensive but Waylon could quite easily get Lafi to do just that.
"Sir!" General Brock Tam galloped towards Zarsan. "Sir they've declared war on us!"
"This is ... unbelievable." Zarsan watched the West Agalian army surge forward.
"I have all seven divisions at the ready, sir." Brock said.
"No." Zarsan held up his hand. "The army is not to be mobilised en masse. Is that clear?"
"But sir! They're destroying the city!" Brock objected.
"We do not want ten thousand fully trained soldiers carrying out a full blown battle in a populated city!" Zarsan shouted. "I'm surprised at you, Brock."
"Sorry, sir. It was an automatic reaction. Awaiting orders, sir."
"Squads only and defence only. We aren't the aggressor here, Brock. Try and draw the conflict out of the city." Zarsan ordered. General Brock nodded and moved out.
"In here!" Keegan, or Leon Ferson, as he was known, herded three families into the cellar of his warehouse. "I need you menfolk to go and tell people to open up their cellars for those who don't have one. Alehouses have three cellars, go to those first." The men nodded and hurried off. Keegan took a few minutes to take in his surroundings. It was just getting light now and the fighting showed no sign of abating. That was hardly surprising with the East Agalian army in on the action!
"I have a grain cellar." An old man tugged on Keegan's sleeve and he looked vaguely familiar. "We spoke about Lady Kez and Zarsan a mere three months ago."
"I remember. Go to your cellar, it's too dangerous out here." Keegan told him.
"Why is this happening? Agalians don't attack Agalians! Why?"
"I have no answers for you. It would appear that the East citizens were told they had free pickings of any business or property over here." Keegan repeated what he'd heard.
"And they believed that?" The old one said in disbelief.
"Men will always be greedy, no matter where they're from. As for the army? They saw the squads here as an open invite, I think. They're all insane." Keegan shook his head again. "Go. Go and take shelter. It's not safe."
King Ludrig could see the orange battle glow from where he stood on one of Luh's docks. He'd received a message from 'Leon' that afternoon. The scout he'd employed had been paid more than he'd usually earn in a quarter.
"I can't take this in." He said in astonishment. "The realm's gone insane."
"The men are ready to leave, King Ludrig." Captain Jonas referred to the Agalian soldiers in Luh. "I'm not comfortable with leading men out of this place. I know what happened last time."
"Luh will be fine. I have a gang of big hairy arsed riff-raff just that side of the border. So you were here for the Golan attack?" Ludrig asked.
"I was. I doubt I'll ever forget it." Jonas replied.
"We'll eventually create a monument here for all who lost their lives. I understand the Mayor died trying to protect his people." Ludrig fished.
"Elias Bright. He was a fine man." Jonas said sincerely. "I'd like to think his daughter and grandson survived but it's impossible to know for sure. No wonder Zarsan never returned."
"Oh yes! I heard something about that." Ludrig nodded slowly. "Such a tragedy. So what do you reckon to that?" He pointed towards Agalia."
"I have my own ideas but they're only speculation. Let's just say that Advisor Waylon and Emperor Zarsan never did see eye to eye. Oh let's also say that Advisor Waylon is a horse's arse, seeing as he isn't Emperor any longer." Jonas said flatly. He'd never forgiven Waylon for ordering those Squads out of Luh, no matter what his intentions were. "May I go to my men?"
"Yes, of course. You're still agreeable to keep me informed of the situation up there?"
"I see it as my duty." Jonas nodded and went to lead his men back to Agalia.
Harper was hysterical for a few reasons. Agalia seemed to have been gripped by madness and there were running battles in the streets, as well as military activity. Zarsan and baby Kezia were in the middle of a battle zone and Harper could barely keep the memories of Luh from swamping her completely. On top of all that, she couldn't find Zari. She'd been all over the Castle grounds and the surrounding pasture land. She'd been in every barn, shed and even the stables. It was a slight relief to see Zari's horse still there.
"Zari!" Harper saw her son walking from one of the Castle annexes. He was in the company of a beautiful lady that Harper had seen, but never met. Queen Kenan Ludrig. "Oh Zari what have you done?" Harper ran to meet them. "Queen Kenan. It's a genuine honour to meet you. Er ... Has Zari been where he wasn't meant to be?"
"He has but I understand why." The Queen nodded. "So you're the rightful Empress of West Agalia?"
"Zari, for crying out loud!" Harper almost fainted. "I'll take him home, Queen Kenan."
"Ma someone has to help us!" Zari exclaimed. "Queen Kenan is fantastic and I told her all about everything."
"Queen Kenan I really do apologise. Zari told you the truth but ... but ... Zari! What do expect the Queen to do?" Harper squealed hysterically.
"She's the Queen." Zari shrugged. "The Agalians are all fighting each other and even King Ludrig doesn't know why. Isn't that right, Queen Kenan?"
"Quite right and very worrying." Kenan nodded seriously. "Zari thinks Ludrig should go up there and sort them all out, then bring his Da down here for you."
"He's only ten, Queen Kenan. He doesn't really understand the ... impracticalities involved. Zari you really shouldn't have worried the Queen with all this." Harper felt tears of all manner of emotions spilling down her cheeks.
"Come on." The Queen turned round and headed for the annex.
"Queen Kenan ... "
"I doubt you can outargue me, Harper. I'm used with Ludrig. Come on." The Queen repeated and Harper grabbed Zari's hand and followed her.
Harper was lead into a very comfortable house complete with four children. This was obviously where the Queen came with her children to spend a bit of time with them. All four ran at Zari as soon as he returned. He'd clearly been making friends.
"I also understand why Zari came to you, Queen Kenan." Harper sighed wearily. "I was just so worried about him. Him and everything else. He won't understand why the King can't just charge up there and help his Da."
"Do you understand why he can't just charge up there to help his Da?" Kenan asked.
"Of course. One of the first rules of the military, stay out of a civil war." Harper said.
"Soldier's wife." Kenan smiled and Harper returned the expression. "I meant his Da in particular."
"He'd hardly do that with no information at all. We don't know what caused all this. We don't know who, or what, is at fault. Queen Kenan I've been here with Zari for ten years and I'm so sorry I had to deceive you all for most of it." Harper felt exhausted.
"I'd have done the same. Don't worry over it. I'm surprised Ludrig didn't try and pair you off with Keegan. Ah. He did." Kenan grimaced.
"That's when we had to tell him who I was. Keegan had already guessed due to Zari's looks. I'm so mixed up and I feel so useless. Can I ever tell Zarsan I'm still alive? If so, when? How? Will it lead to trouble for Ludrig? For Agalia? For Luh?" Harper exhaled loudly. "I've kept Zarsan alive and raised him up to impossible heights for Zari. Maybe that's why he can't let go. I can't let go because I know he deserves those heights. I love him." She felt the wretched tears again. "I'm as damp as that rotten swamp out there. I'm not usually such a wreck."
"The only trouble for Ludrigshires and Agalia will be down to antiquated politics that only exist in a few stubborn minds these days. That's men for you, they're block headed mules. Why should their ingrained bias keep you and Emperor Zarsan apart? Why should they keep Zari from his father? Also, there's a tiny princess in Agalia who needs a mother. It's time the outdated stalemates were broken, Harper." Kenan nodded.
"Yes. Yes I agree with you." Harper said eagerly. Could she possibly be reunited with Zarsan afterall? "How? How do we break them?"
"Damned if I know." Kenan tutted. "Think about it, Harper. Our men aren't your average men are they? They're two of the most powerful men in the entire realm! An Emperor and a King and they can't dismiss biased rifts that haven't existed for years? As my Ludrig would say ... bull's nuts."
"Queen Kenan!" Harper burst into laughter. "They just need to get round the same table and ... do something. There are two Emperors remember? They're hacking the giblets out of each other right now. Our men need to sort that out first, well my man does. He can sort out anything."
"All we need to do is remind them on that roaring and bellowing is for Golan swamp creatures and that we all should use indoor voices." Kenan sniffed loftily and Harper was useless with laughter. "That probably applies to Ludrig more than Zarsan. He roars more than he breathes."
Emperors And Kings