The faint sun shone brightly on the hill where the mourning crowd gathered. The people surrounded a large grave made of obsidian. For now, it was open, revealing the late emperor in ornate, traditional Canthan clothing and his hands on the hilt of his sword over his chest. However, soon the grave would be sealed and a magnificent statue of Kaineng Tah erected atop of it. Nobles from all around the Empire came to Raisu to pay homage to the deceased emperor. Some of them were his enemies once, but these former chieftains have long since understood that Kaineng Tah was worthy of becoming their ruler, and his vision led to the creation the first human empire on Tyria. They all owed him this much.
Even Kanaxai, the proud captain of the Kraken Clan, respected Kaineng Tah. More than thirty years ago, Kaineng defeated his father in honorable combat, and in return, as the leader of the Kraken, he convinced the other three clans not to take up arms against the powerful Dragon. The Luxon people saw the valor in Kaineng’s heart, and they accepted him as their emperor. He respected this, and while the Luxons and their territories were annexed into the Empire, they could more or less retain their way of life as nomadic fishers, traders and warriors of the Jade Sea.
It was Kanaxai’s turn now. He walked up to the open grave, and bowed his bald, tanned head.
“Go with Dwayna, Dragon Sovereign. May your spirit be at peace at the side of the goddess.” Kanaxai finished and stepped aside to let the next nobleman pay his respect. As he walked towards the entrance, he noticed that a Canthan lord was watching him. He turned to the older man, who in turn walked up to him. The Canthan was tall, but still a few inches shorter than Kanaxai. Despite his older age, he seemed to be just as fit as a thirty-year-old trained soldier.
“Excuse me for the stare, Captain Kanaxai. It’s been a long time since I saw a Luxon so far from the Jade Sea. I don’t believe you remember me. I am…”
“Raijin Seritena, General of the Imperial army.” Kanaxai finished the interrupted sentence. “I do remember you, General. You were there at the duel between my father and the Emperor.”
“Why, yes.” Raijin said with a slight surprise in his voice. “I didn’t think my role on that day would be remembered. I did nothing but anxiously watch the combat.” He chuckled at the old memory. “By the way, how does your father fare?”
“He passed on a few years ago. He wanted to slay a leviathan by himself… he succeeded, but then died of the blood loss.”
“Oh… accept my condolence.”
“It is no trouble. He lived a long and fruitful life, and he always said he wanted to end it like that.” Kanaxai smiled but a slight sadness could still be heard in his voice.
“I wish my father could say the same when he meets the gods.” A third man entered the conversation.
Kanaxai saw that the man’s clothes were reminiscent to the one on Kaineng Tah’s body. This must be one of the princes.
He thought to himself.
“It’s good to finally meet you, Captain, although the circumstances could be more pleasant. My name is Yian Zho, but I’m sure you’ve heard of me before.”
“I cannot say that. I have heard that the Emperor fathered a lot of children… how could a mere captain like me keep track of that huge amount of princes and princesses of the royalty?”
A flash of fury ran through Yian Zho’s previously complacent face. The general who stayed silent until now couldn’t help not laughing, but tried to masquerade it as a cough. Zho turned to him in an instant.
“I believe your attention is needed elsewhere, General. Make sure no unauthorized guests enter the area.”
Kanaxai could see the frustration growing in Seritena. He quickly bowed, then turned back to him.
“I hope we can continue this nostalgic conversation someday, Captain. Farewell!”
“Yes, yes. Now, would you take a walk with me through the surrounding hills, Captain? I would like to discuss some matters with you.” Zho walked ahead then waved Kanaxai over to follow him through a small bridge leading to the next hill. They silently walked around for minutes and observed the beautiful vista of the faraway mountains to the east and the silhouettes of the half-finished parts of the grand palace to the west.
“I don’t want to toy around with you, Captain.” The Prince finally decided to talk business. Now they stood midway on the same bridge they came through first. “In the next few weeks, I will be crowned the second Lord Emperor of Cantha. It is inevitable… I just want to know whether I can count on the continued cooperation of your people.”
“I cannot speak in the name of my sisters, the other clan leaders. Besides, we accepted Kaineng Tah as our emperor, and thus we will only accept the emperor – or empress – who he named as successor in his will.” Kanaxai pondered on a bit. “What makes you so sure you are his chosen?”
“It is the most logical choice. I am the eldest son, and I inherited the traits that made him a great emperor. My sisters are too weak to properly govern an empire as big as this.”
“No, you did not inherit all his traits, Yian Zho.” Kanaxai turned away from the vista to face the Prince. “You lack the tranquility and the valor that truly make the difference between a good ruler and a bad ruler.”
“How dare you speak to me like that!?” Zho couldn’t have been more outraged than he was. Fire was kindled in his eyes, and the air started to warm up around his body. “I am your better, Luxon dog! I AM YOUR EMPEROR!”
“You are not my emperor, not yet. You are just a prince out of a hundred more.” Kanaxai was still calm, but his voice became threatening. “However, if your father actually chose you as the heir to the Canthan throne, you will indeed be my emperor. I respected your father, and I respect his decision. But until then, we are equals.” With that he turned his back on the raging prince and walked through the small arch that led to the grave. It was time for him to make the long trek back to his family and his clan. He also had to discuss the future with his sisters.
Raijin closed the door behind him and looked around in his quarters. It was rather simple: a comfortable-looking bed, a wardrobe, a desk, and stands for armor and weapon. He walked to his desk to check the letters he hadn’t read yet. Outside the sun was just setting in the west, so he didn’t need to light the candles yet. As he skimmed through the various papers, he stopped at one having a seal with the badge of the Seritena family on it – a dragon with star eyes coiled around a mountain. It was from his grandson, who was stationed in an outpost on the shore, near the delta estuary of the great Rijeka River. He knew very well what the contents of the letter would be centered around, and it brought a tear to his eye.
His son had died just days after Kaineng Tah. No sooner the hunting expedition returned with the late emperor’s body did he learn of his death. He had left Raisu immediately and traveled south, along the western shore to reach the outpost. Together with his grandson they had buried him, but duty had called Raijin back and a day later he had been riding back towards the palace. He returned only a day ago.
No… I’m can’t read this, not yet. I don’t want to remember…
He thought to himself as he dropped the letter back on the top of the paper pile. Raijin’s mind was still full of memories – both sad and happy – as he headed straight for the bed, and lay down to take a short nap, hoping it would hush his thoughts away.
Knock… knock… knock.
He didn’t know how much he slept, but he felt more relaxed already and memories were not tormenting him so much. He quickly went to the door and opened it.
“Greetings, General Seritena.” An elegant, purple dressed woman in her thirties stood before Raijin. “I hope I didn’t disturb you.”
“Not at all, Minister Naemi. How can I help the Celestial Ministry tonight?”
“When Kaineng Tah gave his last will to the previous minister, he told the Ministry what to do with it and when to have it read in the event of his death. One of his wish was that you attend the reading.” Minister Naemi smiled gently. “However, I thought that you had already been informed about this. I talked with the Prince yesterday and asked him to tell you this since you two would meet at the funeral.” She looked inquiringly at Raijin.
That rat “forgot” to mention this.
Raijin was getting a bit frustrated.
“Interesting… he never said anything about this, neither his servants. But… shall we go then, Minister?” He offered his arm to the woman, who accepted but blushed a little bit. Seems my charm hasn’t waned yet.
He thought as he went through the different halls of the palace arm in arm with the minister. Soon they arrived at the door leading to the throne room.
“After you, Minister Naemi.” He said as he opened the door for the woman.
“Thank you, Raijin.” Naemi flashed her smile at the general as she entered the chamber. He was a bit surprised she called him by his forename, but quickly followed her into the room.
The throne room was rather large; ninety strides long and fifty strides wide, with the ceiling twenty strides above the floor. From the door two rows of pillars led to the far end, the rows being about sixteen strides apart from each other and the walls. Exquisite Canthan designs and motifs adorned every little detail, and grand carpets that covered most of the walls immortalized the many battles Kaineng Tah fought in order to unite the tribes. At the opposite end of the hall the throne stood, and behind it a giant golden dragon statue perched from a column, its wings protectively folded as if trying to envelop the throne and the prevailing emperor.
“Ah, what a lovely couple!” Yian Zho came at them with his complacent grin.
I don’t understand this pongmang. Every time he gets furious and leaves, he returns with a more irritating attitude. After his “debate” with Captain Kanaxai today, he nearly burned down the bridge he was standing on. I can’t even imagine what he will do after he finally realizes his father never intended the throne for him…
“I was eagerly waiting when the two of you would arrive. It seems the general can hold out longer than I thought.” Yian Zho laughed stridently at his own joke. It was Raijin’s turn to lose his temper. He stepped dangerously close to Zho.
“Minister Naemi came to me to inform me that I was invited by Kaineng Tah himself… my Prince.” Raijin gritted the last two words through his teeth. “She went out of her own time to do that, because unfortunately, you forgot to tell me at the funeral.” He looked deeply into the Prince’s eyes, but those were not furious this time. He was still smiling in his smug way like before.
“Oh, how true! Excuse me, General, but I had a dead father to mourn. Somehow it slipped my mind. But from what I have seen, I did you a favor by not telling you then.” Zho turned his head away and measured the embarrassed Naemi from head to toe. “A very great favor.”
Raijin opened his mouth to lash out at him, but was stopped when a hand touched his shoulder.
“Relax, General.” A gentle, white-gowned woman who was in her mid forties approached the quarrelling men. “Excuse my brother’s rudeness. He has been a bit on edge since our father’s death.” The Princess said and Zho frowned at his elder sister’s words.
“My apology, Princess Niya.” Raijin bowed as deep as he could, just to show how much he respected the Princess. “I should not have left the frustration get the better of me.
“It is normal, General.” Another white-gowned woman, Princess Raiya, said as she stepped beside her twin sister. “We are all grieving.”
“Bah… enough of this.” Yian interrupted the conversation. “I say we should listen to what father had to say to each of us. Minister Naemi, can we begin now?”
“Ahem… my assistant, Defahn, should be here with the will any moment now.”
She was right. About half a minute later the junior minister entered the room. He looked incredibly nervous, and drips of sweat ran down on his forehead. He bowed before the dignitaries, then hurried to his superior and whispered something in her ear. Namei’s eyes grew wide.
“The will… it is gone.”
The people in the throne room were all shocked. They started asking the minister and his assistant, but they were just as puzzled as the rest of them. According to Naemi, the will was enchanted with protective magic and was even cursed – in the case it would fall into wrong hands – by Imperial sorcerers. The magical wards were all broken and the will taken.
“This confirms my suspicions.” Yian Zho looked on the others, to whom it was obvious that another grand speech was coming from him. “Our Empire is targeted by some cowardly menace that strikes from the shadows. The death of the Emperor, our father, was not an accident. Someone spooked the horse which threw him off. And now, on the very day of his funeral, his last will is stolen by forces unknown.” The Prince paused for effect. “We have to act quickly if we want to save the Canthan Empire, our father’s dream. Since this is a time of emergency, it requires emergency actions. Thus, I hereby announce my claim to the throne, and would like to get my sister’s approval… and their resignation from the same claim.” Zho finished, Namei gasped, Raijin was taken aback. Only the two sisters remained calm, but they looked very sad.
“We do resign our claim to the throne.” Princess Niya replied after a long moment of silence.
“What? But…but why?” Raijin stammered in disbelief.
“Not now, General.” Raiya said sternly to the confused man. “We would like to speak to you in private later tonight, however.”
“As you wish, Princess.” He murmured as he bowed again. When the twins left the hall, Raijin looked at the jubilant Crown Prince.
“Well, General, I have to take my leave. I need to announce the crowning and start the preparations for the ceremony. That is, order the servants to start the preparations.” The soon-to-be emperor left the throne room while laughing heartily.
“With respect, but I cannot believe how you could have relinquished your claim to the throne… it doesn’t make any sense.” Raijin was furious as he paced up and down in Niya’s quarters.
“Calm down, Raijin.” Niya told the General for the second time tonight. “If we had retained it, the Empire would have been plunged into civil war.”
“Our brother gained more and more allies over the past few years.” Raiya continued. “If it came to war, he would surely rally the allied nobles and lead them against us and those loyal to us.”
“So? We could surely defeat them. Much of the Canthan military answers to me and some other high-ranking officials. I know them well, and they don’t like Yian Zho either. Then the Celestial Ministry under Naemi’s lead would surely side with us. What is more, the Canthan people love you. We can still end this insanity here. Princesses, please, let me arrest him.”
“No, we have decided, Raijin. You are very kind, but we do not want the innocents to suffer because of our lust for power. Then we would be no different from our brother at all.” Raiya smiled sadly at the man.
“Indeed. The Empire is too young to fall into a civil war in less than a half of a century. However, we would like to ask something of you, dear General.” Niya said as she put her hand on Raijin’s shoulder – again, for the second time tonight.
“Anything, your highness.”
“You have been the truest friend of our father, and you always took the Empire’s needs to heart. We ask you one last thing: keep an eye on our brother and try to reason with him when he loses his temper. We trust you can talk him off of his wildest ideas if you remain calm and respectful. In the end, he may prove to be an excellent ruler if he is given enough time and patience.”
“We know this is a very hard task, but you are the only person in the court who can actually argue with him.” Raiya stepped beside her sister. “He is not going to remove you, because a large part of the army is overly loyal to you, and he knows that you are a great tactician yourself.”
“For the good of us all, I hope you are right.” Raijin sighed.
“May the gods help us all.” The three of them said in unison.