The Town Hall fence had been fixed for three months and Zarsan was on to the paintwork as his off duty hobby. His on duty hobby was still Harper. One afternoon found him sitting with Harper in the cottage she shared with her father, Elias being out at the Town Hall.
"Baby?" Zarsan was just staring at Harper as though he hadn't understood what she'd been saying. Harper looked at the floor and nodded. "How? No, not how. I mean how much? When?"
"Nanny Crook reckons I have about six months left. I'm sorry Zarsan." Harper muttered.
"Huh?" Zarsan unfroze and Harper looked up at him. "Sorry for what?"
"The baby will be here before I'm twenty one. We won't be married and we won't be together in Agalia." Harper tried not to cry.
"Oh Harper I don't care!" Zarsan jumped at Harper and lifted her into the air. "So things have been reordered a bit? It's not a big issue. I love both of you!"
"So it doesn't matter if we aren't married? It's not an issue here in Luh but I think Agalia is a bit more ... sophisticated." Harper laughed uncertainly.
"It doesn't matter in the slightest." Zarsan put Harper down and smiled at her. "Have you told Elias?"
"No not yet. I'll tell him this evening." Harper felt tears of relief running down her face.
"In that case, I'll stay right here with you until he gets home, then we tell him together." Zarsan made himself comfortable by the fire. "Tea, woman."
"In the pot, man." Harper made herself comfortable next to Zarsan.
Harper was big, round and irritable by the time another five months had passed.
"This baby has huge feet like you." She grumbled as Zarsan helped her up a slight incline that lead to a beautiful glade just behind the military grounds. Zarsan laughed.
"Not long now. What did Nanny Crook say this morning?" He lowered Harper to a sitting position against a tree.
"Five weeks, maybe four. That's ages away!"
"Oh it is not." Zarsan smiled and ran his hand over Harper's round belly. "It is a wriggler, isn't it?"
"That is not a wriggle. That is an all out assault." Harper put her hand alongside Zarsan's hand. "I'm a bit scared actually Zarsan. What if I'm a useless mother?"
"Don't talk offal Harper." Zarsan told her. "Why in the Realm would you be? You're just a bit nervous. Don't worry, so am I."
"Zarsan ... I mean Captain Zarsan, sir." Jonas was standing on the edge of the glade. The reason for his switch to the formal was the presence of another man. Zarsan knew straight away that he was either an Agalian Administrator or a Councillor, by his blue clothing.
"Yes Leader Jonas. What is it?" Zarsan got to his feet.
"I'm sorry to disturb you on your off-shift sir, Miss Bright. This is Councillor Florian Drake. He came looking for you in the barracks." Jonas took a step back and the Councillor came forward.
"I'm here to deliver a message, Captain. It's quite urgent and very important, hence my presence rather than that of an ordinary Scout. I'm to stay at your service, sir." Florian handed Zarsan a sealed scroll. Zarsan recognised this seal immediately.
"A missive from Emperor Kerrin?" Zarsan said in surprise. Even if he was being reposted on military business, the message would have come from one of the Generals, not from the Emperor. Florian said nothing. Zarsan broke the seal and read the message. The colour drained from his face as he read it a second time, then a third.
"Are you ill, Zarsan?" Jonas asked in concern.
"Regent Nian has been killed in a riding accident. He's to be interred in seven days time." Zarsan looked at Florian's expressionless face, then back to Jonas. "Jonas, the Emperor has promoted me to General and appointed me as his Regent."
"He's ... he's done what?" Jonas said in shock. "Regent?"
"I always did have a good and respectful relationship with Emperor Kerrin but ... but ... Florin are you sure?" Zarsan asked the Councillor.
"Am I sure about what, Captain?" Florian replied with a question.
"About the Emperor appointing me his Regent!" Zarsan shrieked.
"Well do you think he'd consult me on the matter? That's an authentic message and I was tasked with delivering it. That's what I'm sure about." Florian said calmly. "A small party will arrive here in a week to escort us back to Agalia for Regent Nian's burial. I believe you'll be instated as Regent immediately after."
"I can't take this in." Zarsan shook his head. "Why did ..."
"Zarsan?" Harper was rolling around in a vain attempt to get up.
"Harper! I'm so sorry. Here let me ... ah Harper? What's all that ..."
"The baby Zarsan! The baby's coming!" Harper sobbed.
"No it isn't, Harper. It's not time." Zarsan said warily.
"Try telling that to the baby! Are you going to lift me? Or maybe I'll roll all the way home?" Harper snapped.
"Jonas! Go and tell Elias to go home then go and get Nanny Crook. Pardon me, Florian. Emergency." Zarsan lifted Harper and headed for the town. Jonas sprinted off at full speed. Florian shrugged his shoulders and followed on.
Zarsan, Elias, Jonas and Florian all crowded into Elias' tiny patch of garden at the front of his house.
"Something's wrong. They've been in there for ages." Zarsan fretted, glancing at the door.
"Don't even think about going in there. Nanny Crook with beat you senseless, General or not." Elias advised.
"Five hours Elias! They have another ten minutes then I'm going in."
"Five hours he says." Elias laughed. "Zarsan that's no time at all when it comes to this. My Marree took fourteen hours to have Harper."
"How long?" Zarsan yelped. "Fourteen as in four and ten? Together?"
"Well she wasn't born in instalments. Yes of course together! Just sit yourself on that bench and take it ..."
Nanny Crook appeared at the door and all four men ran at her. She stopped them in their tracks with a glare that would melt glass.
"One at a time!" She rasped. "That doesn't include you, Jonas, or you, whoever you are." The latter being directed at Florian.
"Go on Zarsan." Elias smiled and sat back down. "Trust me, these times are precious. You don't want to miss any of it." Zarsan nodded and took the wooden stairs up to Harper's room three at a time.
"Zarsan, look!" Harper was damp with sweat and tears streamed down her flushed face. "We have a son. He's beautiful."
"Harper he's perfect." Zarsan's vision was blurred with tears of his own as he carefully sat on Harper's bed as she cradled their baby. "He's so tiny! I can't believe I made him."
"I can. See his dark hair and eyes?"
"Not yet." Harper laughed. "We can call him Zari, little Zar. He is like his Daddy after all."
"Thank you, Harper. How about Zari Elias?" Zarsan suggested and Harper was delighted. "One short week before I have to go to Agalia. It's the last thing I want to do."
"You must." Harper nodded. "From what I know, Emperor Kerrin is a very fine man and his son was a credit to him. You have to go and give your respect."
"I know, I know." Zarsan sighed heavily. "I'm sure to get back here for a while before your birthday. I most definitely will be here for the day itself. The day after you'll come with me to Agalia and we'll be married. Harper I'll have us somewhere to live before you know it. I'll be on five times the pay I am now. You'll only have to be here for a little while once we're wed."
"Zarsan you make it sound like a Golon dungeon!" Harper laughed. "It's no hardship for me and Zari to stay here with my father until you're ready for us. I love it here and I've lived nowhere else."
"That's not what I meant." Zarsan said gloomily. "We'll be apart."
"I'm not keen on that part of it either." Harper held Zarsan's hand. "Like you just said, it won't be for long. I'll write you a letter every single day we're apart. That way, you won't miss out on anything." She looked at her incredible baby in awe. "We'll both wait for you."
Emperors And Kings