Chapter 9

Regent Lafi and Lady Gertrude Clayfoot were married in East Agalia's Administrative Hall, and a predictably grand banquet ensued. It was the first time that Zarsan had attended a social function since he'd become Regent and it was the first time he'd left West Agalia since the destruction of Luh, a whole year ago. It was also the first time in at least six years that Zarsan had seen Lady Kez Boon. He immediately wondered if Waylon had ever mentioned that proposition to her. The thought made him feel very awkward indeed and his mood hadn't been buoyant to begin with.

"Zarsan! You remember my sister, Kez? Of course you do." Lafi's mother, Lydia looked completely delighted with just about everything.

"How could I forget?" Zarsan smiled politely. "I trust you are well, Lady Kez?"

"Absolutely." Kez smiled in return. Lydia positively beamed and hurried off to socialise. "That couldn't have been more staged if they had thespians and scripts." Kez exhaled heavily. "Forgive my family's lack of tact, Zarsan. I'll drift off shortly."

"There's no need." Zarsan shook his head. "Good company is good company and I'm glad of it."

"I'm also aware of the date, Zarsan. Please don't think we've all forgotten about the destruction of Luh. I know Lafi's wedding is on a very unfortunate anniversary but I doubt Lydia contrived it that way." Kez took a seat on a long couch.

"Im certain she didn't." Zarsan agreed. "How much do you know of my ... connections with Luh?" He asked awkwardly.

"Zarsan, I know. Please don't feel uncomfortable. Waylon told me, or rather shouted it at me. He shouldn't have proposed what he did. I knew nothing of it." Kez said sadly.

"Emperor Waylon wasn't to blame, Lady Kez. I was. I didn't tell the Emperors that I had a wife and child in Luh. It just didn't seem important next to Regent Nian's death. I regret it. It lead to a few hurtful and embarrassing situations." Zarsan said.

"I think we should leave the misunderstandings in the past." Kez smiled and Zarsan agreed completely. Embarrassing Waylon didn't worry him half as much as the thought of embarrassing Lady Kez. "Compassionate situations are rather different. I never did get the chance to offer my condolences to you. I do that now."

"Thank you. Had it been three weeks later, they wouldn't have been there. Harper was to come here and the work on our house on North Ridge was almost complete. Three weeks." Zarsan said sadly.

"That's tragic, Zarsan. I'm so sorry. Waylon tells me he went to Luh in person."

"He did, yes. I was on my way back from Jullit. I think he was trying to make amends for the rough start we both got off to." Zarsan smiled. "Emperor Waylon and myself always seem to be just out of step with each other."

"That's a polite way of putting it. Thank you." Kez laughed. "Waylon isn't the easiest of people to get along with. Between you and me, nor is Lydia. Poor Claudia Clayfoot was relegated out of the arrangements months ago." She smiled and nodded to where the bride's mother was sitting in a very inconspicuous corner by the fish pond. "Seriously, Zarsan, I've seen three generations of my family go through Regency, to Emperor and I've seen how isolated it can be. I don't mean professionally or politically, I mean friendships. Don't be afraid to class me as a friend."

"I'd be honoured." Zarsan said truthfully. She was absolutely right about the isolation. Zarsan only had a handful of friends, Florian being the main one. "I hope you'll excuse this friend for now, Lady Kez. It's been a long day."

"Of course. Rest well Zarsan."


Harper started work in Ludrig's Castle kitchens doing bottom rung jobs. She didn't mind at all. Her and Zari had two rooms next to the kitchen that were warm, dry, and endlessly better than Stigg's piggery, or his stable. Harper had just finished washing Zari in the big tin tub that was used for anything that called for a big tin tub.

"Daddy! Da Da!" Zari stretched from Harper's arms in the direction of four boxes, containing Harper's writing for Zarsan. There were letters, diaries, stories and scribbles from Zari.

"Daddy, yes!" Harper laughed and sat on the floor, her son supported against her legs. "You write him a letter and I'll write him a letter. Yes?"

"Yes. Nettet." Zari clutched the pencil in his chubby hand and scrubbed furiously and the tattered parchment in front of him.

"He took his first steps today." Harper said out loud. She got into the habit of speaking thoughts before writing them down. This was for Zari's benefit so he'd always know how important Zarsan was to them. "The King's horses galloped by us this morning and they looked so big! I stepped back out of the way but Zari tottered towards them with his arms out! I grabbed him and he howled like a dozen banshees. He's so much like you, Zarsan. He has the same eyes and the same hair and he has the same dark skin. Soldiers are the only Agalians that are any good with horses so he must take after you with that too. Ludrig's been surveying the Golan Swamp today. From what I can gather, he only has to seal off one narrow part of it and the Golan will be cut off from that outcrop. It can't happen soon enough. It's time to put this in writing and add it to the rest of your reading. You're going to be a very busy man, Zarsan Holt." Harper smiled and took the pencil from Zari who'd fallen fast asleep. She added his piece of shredded parchment to the collection, then carried him to the bed they both shared. "He'll come for us soon, Zari.

Ludrig stamped up the staircase towards his private rooms, Keegan following him.

"I hate that scum riddled swamp!" Ludrig raved. "I'm sure the buggers breed in it. How can one, tiny stretch of bog be so tiresome? Eh? I can piss further for blast's sake!"

"It has to be bridges." Keegan nodded. "Four or five bridges over that neck that are wide enough for us to patrol. It's not ideal but ... " He turned round when he discovered he was talking to himself. Ludrig was half a dozen steps behind, frowning at a large tapestry on the wall.

"Who put this up?" Ludrig asked. "I'd forgotten about this. The Battle for the South West Shires."

"Not really a Battle, Father. They'd all took off to the East when they knew you were coming." Keegan reminded him.

"So I'm awesome! Must you nitpick? Anyway, it looks good there." Ludrig approved.

"It's always been there." Keegan rolled his eyes.

"Has it buggery, Keegan. A different one was here this morning."

"That was a dust sheet to hide a dirty great crack in the wall. The tapestry's been cleaned, father. We can actually see it now." Keegan laughed.

"Is that what it is?" Ludrig was quite impressed. "Who cleaned it? They've done an excellent job." Ludrig peered at his embroidered self on the wall.

"One of the kitchen maids. She's been here about six months." Keegan also admired Harper's hard work. "I think she was doing old mistress Ginny a favour. The old girl is nearly seventy and she can't manage alot of her duties above stairs."

"So why is the old crow still here? Give this new girl the job." Ludrig sniffed and Keegan laughed.

"Ginny's been here for fifty years, father. We can't just turf her out. We'll create a new position for the new girl. Head Housekeeper. We'll just keep Ginny occupied with polishing the loot or something." Keegan decided.

"I do the ideas, Keegan." Ludrig grumbled. "Have her moved up here into the Castle." He decided. "Any advancement on that? Hmm?" He asked challengingly. "Good. Sort it." Ludrig flicked an invisible speck of dust off his nice clean tapestry and continued upstairs.


Agalia had left an assistance squad in Luh and Captain Jonas Marsh jumped at the chance to lead it. Apart from helping the people and the town that he'd been part of for so long, he knew he couldn't stomach the political wrangling and governmental manoevering. Jonas was, of course, loyal to his city and his Emperors but he knew he'd be out of the loop in Agalia and that wasn't what he wanted, not ever.

"Use the original stone foundations, Lek." Jonas and one of Ludrig's men were working on rebuilding the barracks. The building had been burned to the ground.

"We don't need the building that big." Lek argued. "We dig new foundations fifteen feet that way."

"You aren't building on soft swampland like you do at the Shireside. This is the same ground that runs up the coast and forms the Northgate Cliffs." Jonas explained.

"You sure?" Lek prodded the ground with his boot.

"We couldn't never drill wells here. We had to use the ones in the town. It'll take you longer to dig out new foundation trenches than it will to build an extra fifteen foot of building. It'll cost more too."

"Fair comment." Lek nodded. "So you were when all this kicked off?"

"Right here, literally. This space used to be the common room. I've never seen any manoevers so fast in all my time in the army. Of all the times to be two squads light, it was when that lot developed intelligence." Jonas scowled. That still didn't sit right with him.

"I heard that Waylon Boon took it all badly. Almost cracked him up, didn't it?" Lek asked.

"I heard that too." Jonas shrugged his shoulders. "He sent the men back to Agalia. He says it was an act of good faith but to me, that's no excuse, Lek. He had no business making military decisions at all, let alone by himself."

"He's an idiot. He always was. That nephew of his is worse! It's a good job at least one half of Agalia is ruled by sense." Lek said what Jonas was thinking. "I've heard the Luhans saying that Regent Zarsan had a wife and son here. Is that true?"

"Sadly, yes." Jonas nodded. "That's probably why he's never been down here. He's a very fine man, Lek. He didn't deserve that. No one does."

"Those swamp dwelling bastards have a lot to answer for." Lek began marking off the area for the barracks.

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