"I'm so pleased you came too, Kenan." Harper gripped the edge of the trap as it bounced along, despite it being expertly driven by the Queen.
"Well Ludrig and Keegan have things to discuss with Zarsan, er ... or so I heard. Heard quite clearly actually. I was under the stairs." Kenan grinned and made Harper laugh. "Anyway, did they think of you? Did they torment. What are you meant to do while they're yammering on about soldiers and the like?"
"I'm afraid I won't can wander around the town, not just yet. I'm to be kept a secret until the last minute, for mine and Zari's safety. That's why I have this hideous green cloak to wear." Harper pulled a face.
"It's monstrous, and it's a man's. Under the seat there, I brought you one of mine. Time for your horse ride." Kenan smiled and Harper didn't. The last leg of her trip was to be on Zari's horse, shrouded in the cape. Zari, in his own ugly cape, was to lead the horse to Foley's Inn. The Royal party would already be there, probably to the unnerving of the townsfolk. All in all, they had a King and Queen, a Prince, an Emperor and two Regal Administrators. Ludrig had ordered soldiers and more soldiers to patrol the swamp area, as well as doubling their numbers on the New Bridge.
"Zari, wait a minute." Harper got her son to halt the horse. The horse was probably as relieved as Harper seeing as she'd almost tugged out his mane. "Help me down."
"Ma we have ... "
"Please Zari. I need your company for a while." Harper almost fell on Zari in her haste to get off the creature. "Are you doing well?" She put her arm round his shoulders. He was almost as big as she was now. "Yes I know, you're almost eleven but you'll always be my Zari."
"Ma." Zari gave her an awkward smile. "I'm doing well. Sort of. I'm a bit nervous. Are you?"
"I am. Eleven years is a long time. You must be extra nervous though. You're meeting him for the first time."
"Because of you, I've known him all my life, Ma. Come on, he'll be waiting for us." Zari patted his horse and Harper ignored it and set off walking.
"Kenan I don't care! I'm not buying you an Inn. Women don't own Inns." Ludrig threw open the Inn door only to see Ben Foley in a nightdress, getting Zarsan and the Administrators some ale. "Kenan. I will buy you an Inn." Ludrig sat down and Kenan sat politely at his side, Keegan at the other. "Emperor Zarsan. You have no idea the number of headaches you've given me." The King smiled at the Emperor.
"I can imagine so. None of them intentional. Sir, Queen Kenan, I owe you everything for keeping Harper and Zari safe. I believe your hospitality has been remarkable and I'll be indebted to you as long as I live. I've already thanked Prince Keegan, but I thank him again." Zarsan said humbly. "I thought they'd be here by now." He clasped his hands and glanced at the door. "Keegan tells me Zari is like me."
"Exactly so." Kenan replied. "Keegan is like his late mother."
"Yes. Take that as you will." Ludrig said dryly. "We have business to discuss after you've ... you've done ... met Harper."
"Oh no you don't, Harvolt Ludrig." Kenan chided. "You're not to hurry this. They take as long as they like. We can all go in the other room and eat."
"I don't think you grasp the gravity of the overall situation, Kenan." Ludrig glared at his wife. "That is to say, the realm is all going to buggery!"
"So it can wait. Now do you see why my presence is necessary, Keegan?" Kenan asked.
"Absolutely." Keegan tried not to laugh. "Will you let Harper 'advise' you, Zarsan?"
"He's soft in the head if he does." Ludrig grumbled. "Innkeep! More ... must you wear that?"
"Emperor Zarsan." Ben stood aside and showed Harper and Zari into the common room. Zarsan jumped to his feet and sent the table, and his chair, flying.
"You missed my birthday, Emperor Zarsan." Harper smiled and the tears streamed.
"Harper! By the Stars you're still beautiful." Zarsan ran around the bar then skidded to a halt when he saw Zari standing in the doorway, clutching Harper's arm. "Sacred Mother! Zari?"
"Yes." Zari looked at Harper who nodded her encouragement. "Zari Elias Bright, secretly Zari Elias Holt, same as you." Zari stuck out is and Zarsan shook it. "Does my baby sister look like us too?"
"Zari ... "
"It's fine Harper." Zarsan knelt down in front of his son. "Kezia looks alot like her Ma did. She's not here any more."
"Yes I know. I'm very sorry. We were all so sad in the Castle. Can Ma look after the baby? She's really good at it and she is my sister afterall." Zari asked eagerly.
"We can sort that out later, Zari." Harper looked apologetically at Zarsan. "I wrote to you every day, like I promised. So did Zari."
"And I'll read every single word, I promise." Zarsan held Harper's hands. "I can't believe you're here. I want to know everything, Harper. I don't care how long it takes."
"I want to know everything too. You can sort the realm out later."
Many hours and many tears later, Harper and Zari went to join Kenan in the eatery and the men went to talk about 'soldiers and the like' in the common room. Zari was soon fast asleep by the fire after a good meal of stew and bread.
"Have you stopped crying yet?" Kenan smiled.
"I'm going to be sodden." Harper dried her eyes for the tenth time. "Why is Ben Foley wearing a nightgown?"
"Does he not usually? I've no idea. He was like that when we got here. Each to his own, I say." Kenan shrugged her shoulders."Where do you see this ending Harper?"
"I learned eleven years ago not to make predictions." Harper sighed heavily. "Having said that, I have Zarsan now so any future will be a good one."
"Do you not regret the time lost with him?"
"Regret? No. I'd have planned it differently, I love him, but I don't think regret is the right word. Look what I've gained in the last eleven years. You, Ludrig, Keegan, life in a royal Castle and a whole wealth of experience. There's also Zarsan himself. He had the chance to love a very fine Lady, Kenan. Yes he did love her, I'm sure of that. He also has a baby daughter in Agalia. I think that something good comes from most situations. Mine and Zarsan's lives apart are no exception." Harper leant over and kissed Zari's head. "Tomorrow morning is going to come too soon."
"Just what I was thinking." Kenan stood up. "Ludrig! It's late."
"Kenan, please. Men talking." Ludrig's voice sounded through the door.
"More sense in my herb garden." Kenan sniffed. "Men drinking, not talking. The man in the nightgown started getting more ale once the soldier talk as over."
"So? It's the same thing, woman!" Ludrig's voice got louder.
"Either get your face out of that tankard, or Harper and myself are coming in there to rescue Zarsan from you ourselves."
"Why would he want the company of you lot when his wife's in here! Eleven years? Yes? Don't make me come in there."
"Blasted woman. An hour and we'll be done."
"Ten minutes. Come on Harper. I'll help you with Zari."
Harper, predictably, cried all the way back to Ludrig's Castle.
"Ma there's no need to cry!" Zari said in excitement. "Da and King Ludrig are going to sort it all out! This is what we've wanted for all those years, Ma."
"I know it is. It's fantastic, Zari." Harper smiled. The archer solution to Agalia's stalemate was to go ahead. After that, it would be a matter of finding Lafi and Waylon Boon. Eventually, a new Emperor would be appointed. There wasn't much doubt that Waylon had orchestrated the sacking of Luh and had even gone to the extent of collaborating with the Golon. Everything the man had ever said for the last eleven years was lies and everything he'd done was to prevent Agalia from having a half Luhan Regent, and future Emperor. It was actually too horrible to comprehend fully.
"Da says Keegan can still give me archery lessons and I'll have to come here for the horses." Zari commented.
"You can spend as much time here as you like. You're very lucky, Zari. You aren't worried about going to Agalia are you? I've only been once and it's a big, big city." Harper said.
"I think it's exciting." Zari nodded. "Keegan said it will be like having two homes. Is that right? Da is my Da afterall."
"He'll always be your Da no matter where you're staying. What about baby Kezia? We have to bring here to Ludrigshires to visit Queen Kenan and all the children. She'll have two homes too." Harper explained.
"I'll teach her riding and archery." Zari decided. "I'll be a great big brother. You'll see. Do you think Lady Kez would have minded, Ma? She'd have been good with me and you looking after the baby, wouldn't she?"
"Da says it's what she would have wanted. He knew her better than anyone else." Harper smiled. "We have to stay out of the way just now, Zari. Ludrig and Keegan have quite a bit work to do."
"That's fine. I'm going to Queen Kenan's for tea."
"How very grand!" Harper laughed. "Bath and changed first. I'll race you for the tub!"
Emperors And Kings