Beyond the Void

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Two moons and four tens since the Mark of the Other One blossomed.

“Are you out of your mind, my dearest son? First you desecrate the building in which the rule of this empire is carried out and then you hide yourself from the world for four damned tens!”
“I did not hide you knew exactly where I was!” Keldin did not back down. It was time to face his problems head on. His voice shouted even louder than his father’s.

“You hid like a coward!” His father’s response nearly a roar.
“I sat down with the candidates who would be my ministers and advisors to pen our vision for the future of this Empire! As is tradition.”
“Ministers and advisors! Your play friends and weaklings! There are countless accomplished warriors, mages, talented healers, lawyers and gifted researchers and you choose nine outcasts. You told the entire court they are trash!”
“Yes, I did! Trash that has bought and bribed their place in a system that is failing! Sloths who rest on laurels from bygone ages. I took initiative because I found the strength to rule! Succession has never been the job the one about to give up rule! I found the strength and showed everyone!”
“You trampled on tradition and desecrated this Empire!” His father slammed a fist on his table.

“Actions speak louder than words! No one would have listened to my words! No one would have seen me as someone fit to rule if I would have quietly appeared from behind your and my brother’s back.”
“You needed to do what was sensible, not break loose a piece of your soul, by the Six Makers have you even any clue what you have done to yourself!”
“I know more than you ever bothered to read about our bloodline’s history! I have my own methods, as you had yours, this is the way I intend to rule!”
“With blood and void! Two of the worst faces of the Empire. Faces of shame and horror.”
“The traditions surrounding those two faces were more than the violent pursuit of arcane power! You only remember what was bad, no one ever remembers what our ancestors did correctly. Even a tyrant knows how to rule.”

“You have found a way with words I will give you that but you have not found any shred of common sense and decency!”
“And you are still unable to see further than the other side of this lavish wooden desk! You are blind to the cracks...” Keldin stopped for only a moment before carrying on. “Gaping canyons that run through your rule! Senators are plotting a coup and you hide yourself behind the vain facade of Ebonveil rule that supposedly has never faltered!”

“Lord Ilander Sool is not plotting anything. The only thing he did was give a know-it-all boy with wet ears a good scare!”
“Three warlords and a senator have died since the new year!”
“All of them old as dirt, I was surprised they took the time to linger and waste precious breath!”
“I am here to present you with a copy of my vision for the future of the Empire, as witnessed by relatives of the bloodline, my candidates for ministers and advisors, the current ruling Greater Conclave, representatives of the Grand Council and impartial witnesses! Are you going to read it as is tradition?”

Keldin slammed a thick leather-bound book on the Emperor’s desk. It was hard not to look at the two Alyar and a foreign ambassador shifting uncomfortably behind his father’s chair. The room was overcrowded and stuffy. Despite the cold weather, Keldin was sweating profusely. And his eyes kept wandering to the left, where in the corner of his vision, he knew his brother and the Pelesi Princess to be standing. Keldin was not sure which of them he wanted to look at more. The Emperor took his time staring down the offending document on his desk.

“I will incinerate it and feed what’s left to the pigs.” The Emperor growled with a low voice. Then his voice sounded clearly throughout the small room. “By tradition I will accept it and give it a look. I can already tell what kind of nonsense I will find in there.” An awkward silence ensued, but the Emperor was quick to break it. “Do the witnesses crowding my modest office accept that the first heir has handed the ruling emperor a vision of their rule for review and suggestions?” The Emperor shouted louder than necessary and a cacophony of agreement filled the office. “Then get out and let me breathe! All of you, except those idiots concerned with what follows.”

Keldin stared daggers at the representatives from the Grand Council. An old and distinguished lawyer and Chairman of the council called Galyn Vaer was present. The man looked ancient and worn. Other than his extravagant multi-coloured clothing there was not a place on him that was not turning grey. His skin had odd grey patches and a misty layer was becoming visible on his eyes.

He was followed by his two Vice-Chairmen. A merchant Lord by the name of Sonia Auer and the Warlord of the six forts that surrounded Ironcourt, Tommar Kalo. Auer might have been the smallest person in the court, Keldin mused. She was not a midget, but so far he had not seen a person smaller than her. However, she was a force to be reckoned with.

Tommar Kalo on other had was the most unremarkable soldier ever. A complete opposite to his colleague Ander Roden. Not the kind of fat slouch Roden was. And unfortunately with a more awkward attitude. Keldin constantly heard a joke that Kalo happened to wear the wrong uniform one day and no one told the Emperor. All three looked displeased with the situation. As expected, the only person amused by this was Furos.

“I thought I told you to get out Seldin.” The Emperor’s voice broke the silence once again.
“This concerns me too, father.”
“No, it does not.”
“I am concerned about the situation. I might not be the first heir, but I am an heir. I have a right to be where I want to.”
The Emperor merely grunted in response.

Keldin’s gaze wandered to the other members of the Greater Conclave, the three who led the Empire’s armies. Commander Generals Navidis Mayr and Nora Sixfold. The heads of the royal guard and legions, respectively. The first of them really boy-ish, flat and generally unremarkable other than her deep black hair. Nora Sixfold on the other hand was a real beauty. Ebony skin, lush copper hair, a neat face, long lashes, the works and as slow and dull as a mace. And often as direct as one to the face. She rarely shared what was on her mind.

And Admiral Kaeso Naitar, the youngest leader of the Empire’s modest fleet. At only twenty-five years of age he was younger than Keldin and the object of hatred by many of the Empire’s more senior military officers. Keldin did not know much of him other than the three year long series of victories against Dorwald’s superior armada. Lightly tanned and with a neatly shaven haircut, this one’s expression showed no emotions. Were these three still loyal to the Emperor, or had they been swayed by Sool?

“Much better. Smells a little sweaty, but much more comfortable.” Furos said as the last of the people had left the office and he landed comfortably in one of the lavish chairs. The Emperor took a particularly violent bite out of an apple.
“This idiotic meeting of the Greater Conclave is now in session because someone has let loose a rumour that some of the senators are planning a coup. Accusations of rebellion and fear-mongering of a civil war have reached my ears. And yet no one can tell me who the offending party is?” The Emperor stared long and hard at Keldin.
“Actually. Your highness. If I may?” The Chairman of the Grand Council, Galyn Vaer interrupted.
“I am listening, Lord Vaer.” The Emperor’s gaze was slow to leave Keldin alone.

“Contrary to your suspicions about the culprit, these rumours have been circulating for the past five or so years now. And these past years, Senator Ira Hulkcrest has constantly brought them to the attention of the Greater Conclave and Grand Council. And if I recall correctly, Prince Navvar mentioned something similar from the period of your ascension and your father’s rule, my Emperor.”
Emperor Naivir grunted impatiently. “Rumours are rumours. But now because an anonymous source has talked to the first heir, said heir has now publicly demanded the start of an official investigation and noted it in a certain document that would be the guideline to their rule.”

“And Senator Hulkcrest filed numerous statements and declarations with any office he could. You overruled all of his attempts for the issue to be discussed, your highness.” Vaer said quietly.
“Rumours!” The Emperor shouted and threw a nasty look at Keldin. Keldin stared back at him, even angrier. “I can ignore one simpleton looking to make a name for themselves. I can not ignore this.” The Emperor slammed his hand on Keldin’s vision with each word that came out of his mouth.
“And I thought you would not read it.” Keldin said in a mocking voice.

“Who is your source?” The Emperor growled, eyes bulging. “I will tell you who it is! You! Furos told me what you thought you overheard!”
“You knew of this for years and ignored it. And you are insulting other people simpletons.” Keldin spat.
“You threaten the peace and order of the Grand Council with this blither. You threaten the strength of rule, the integrity of our bloodline’s right to lead the Eternal Empire of Tavran.” The Emperor shrieked.

“No, father. I did the opposite. I showed the people of this Empire that our bloodline does not ignore any threat to our rule, no matter how small or conjectural it may be. You are too complacent, too weak to see beyond the other side of this table.”
“You lack common sense! No one would dare rebel against us! We are the oldest and strongest human bloodline in all of Tavran!”

“Oh shut up, brother!” Keldin froze and stared at Navvar in complete surprise who was standing in the corner of the office.
“I told anyone not concerned to leave.” Naivir hissed.
“I am an heir too. An Ebonveil. Just as Seldin, it is my right to be informed. And if there is someone who threatens our lives, then I am even more involved in the matter.”
“There is no one who would dare!”
“The boy is right!” Navvar slammed his fist onto the table. “You are stuck in a delusion that somehow this turning of the Age does not concern us, only those below us! Only those weaker than our bloodline! The Mark of the Other One is not just some flower. It blossomed over Ironcourt.”

The Emperor opened his mouth to say something but Furos’ voice drowned his arguments. “I will remind you, your highnesses that this is still an official meeting of the Greater Conclave. We are on protocol!” Furos wiggled a soul gem in his hand. “It is done! Stop whining about it, you did not get your way this time, you will have to get used to it. We will soon be abdicating our rule, Naivir! Now, an official demand has been made that we investigate this situation. We have no reason now not to oblige.” But saying that, a most annoyed look was apparent on Furos’ own face.

“Rumours! By the Six Makers!” The Emperor groaned.
“Yes! Rumours. You know the saying in Whitefall.” The Emperor made a grimace and tried to argue. But Furos once again drowned the Emperor’s displeasure. “As a result of a personal chat with the first heir and as a favour to him, I looked into the matter already. I, too, discovered the statements by Senator Hulkcrest.”

“One moment!” General Mayr interrupted Furos. “Why is Senator Hulkcrest not here? If he filed the original statements, then he is a vital part of this meeting.”
“He refused to come. I got in touch with him, via bloodstone.” Furos explained. “But he cited failing health as the reason he could not make the trip and ultimately he explained that if they ignored him for nearly five years, then the Emperor deserves what he will get.”

“Senators are under oath to serve the Empire and Ebonveil bloodline. His attitude leaves to be desired. Why could he not give new statements via bloodstone?” General Mayr grumbled.
“He gave up his position as Senator. I know the oath applies to all senators, both current and former, but I guess he finds that he deserves a little leeway. And he cited failing health once more as a reason not to talk any further.” Furos smiled a crooked smile.

“Who, exactly, is being accused? I know already, but I can’t believe what I have had to listen to.” Sonia Auer pushed herself off the wall she had been leaning on. “This has to be a joke.” She shook her head violently causing her large red curls to bounce around her head like springs.

“Warlord and commander of the three southern forts of Ironcourt, Senator Ander Roden and his son, Airik Roden and merchant Lord, Senator Ilander Sool.” Galyn Vaer let out a heavy sigh.

“Three very distinguished people in the court. Maybe Lord Roden’s son less so, but the boy is still a promising lawyer. Perhaps our first heir would like to tell us, who is the person that dares smear the reputation of our beloved Council?” Lady Auer demanded.

Keldin saw his father’s mouth twist and turn, but it stayed shut, thank the Makers. “I have a right to keep the identity of the source a secret to prevent discrimination and harassment and most of all to protect their health and safety.”
“This makes me think you based these accusations solely off of what you may have heard in Narisa’s garden. I believe that was the story. That is against the law.” Lady Auer drawled.

“It is not.” General Mayr and Seldin said at the same time. Mayr ignored Seldin and continued. “The laws demand a source, other than the accuser, but it does not have to be a specific person. Also, the laws to protect the safety of any informant put the safety foremost and enable a situation where the original source can be made up. I still remember when that idiotic law was voted into effect. I believe Lady Auer and Lord Vaer were responsible for the creation of that proposal.”
“I intervened!” Lord Vaer was shaking with anger. “I was forced to push through additional clauses to stop the initial draft from allowing a head hunt for those who supposedly disturbed the peace of the Council.”

“We are on record here. This is an official meeting! Control your personal emotions.” Nora Sixfold shouted.
“Keep it brief.” Admiral Naitar drawled. “Two senators and an aide have been accused of being at the centre of a plot to overthrow and possibly dispose of the Ebonveil bloodline and our Archmage. Even if it is a rumour, it is not the kind you would ignore. It begs for a thorough investigation. What else have you found out, Furos!”

“Do I really have to?” Furos sighed. “Nothing. A preliminary... gander into the businesses of Lord Sool and Warlord Roden have revealed nothing noteworthy. The only oddity I found is that the Verdant Dominion will be hoarding food supplies through Lord Sool and his affiliates. And I hoped that Tommar here would have something better to talk about Warlord Roden?”

“Ander and I are responsible for the defences of the greater Ironcourt area. He commands three of the six and I command the other three. I am his superiour, but our responsibilities make us partners. That is it. I barely know the man. From what I gather, he prefers his work here in the capital. He leaves all the work in the forts to his lieutenants. We met maybe once or twice when we had taken office and were laying out the strategy for the defence of the Ironcourt region.” Warlord Kalo shrugged. “Even those were uneventful meetings. Who would ever attack Ironcourt?” The man’s voice slowly died into a mumble.

“Does this information really give grounds for an investigation?” Naivir growled.
“If someone is talking and threatening the lives of your bloodline, it does. Murder is not acceptable, not in public not even in your own heads.” Naitar raised an eyebrow.
“Shall we vote, perhaps?” Furos suggested. “Those against?”

Immediately four hands rose to the air. Keldin looked at his father and Furos in disbelief. Lady Auer was less of a surprise to him, but General Sixfold’s decision was worrying.
“Someone threatens your lives and you ignore it.” Keldin could not keep his mouth shut.
“Rumours! We are investigating gossip that has no basis, no credible source!”
“I have to agree with the Emperor.” Furos said, suddenly stern. “The Ebonveil bloodline is unique in Tavran, despite the fall of the old empire and the main branch family, this is the only bloodline to have stayed in rule for nearly three thousand years. Even the Pelesi have suffered countless civil wars while this family has lasted throughout ages. As long as I breathe, no harm will come to this family.”

“I concur with the Archmage. Only the Six Makers have challenged the royal bloodline when they went too far. Lord Ilander Sool is a man.” Nora Sixfold drawled.
“Lord Sool is dangerous!” Galyn Vaer suddenly shouted.
“Mind what you are saying, you delirious fool!” Auer scolded the old man.
“It is a conflict of interest that you are even here, Sonia! You can not be impartial in this matter!”
“Lord Sool has done much more to the common folk than our capable Emperor here! He has attempted numerous times to abolish slavery and the insult that is the flesh market! He has founded several funds that help the commons find work or aid when they are unable to work. Private entities instead of an Imperial Institution that the kind Emperor has constantly overruled.” Auer rattled off, ignoring Lord Vaer.

“I refuse to pamper the weak!” Naivir’s comment made it through the commotion.
“This issue aside, I cannot fathom why would you not investigate a threat to your life, your highness?” Navidis Mayr paced around the room. “If enough people are talking about it, then it is not just a rumour. And right now on official record, we heard that Lord Sool is dangerous.”
“Danger judged by a man who has a conflict of interests with the merchant Lord Sool! Galyn Vaer is known to hold an interest in the flesh market.” Sonia Auer drawled.
“Those are baseless accusations!” The old man shouted.
“It casts doubt on your claim, that Lord Ilander Sool is a threat!” Lady Auer shouted in response.

There are gaping canyons in your rule, father. Divide in this office of ministers and advisors. Are you really that blind to it all, Keldin thought.

“Enough! Let us get this over with, so I can be rid of you mongrels!”
“Naivir!” Navvar suddenly yelled in anger.
“Shut your mouth, brother! We concluded our conversation and I will not listen to this raving any longer!”

Keldin looked at Seldin, who had sunk into his chair. His brother had said nothing meaningful this entire meeting. Keldin felt betrayed once again.

“Who is the imbecile that will waste their time on this folly?” Naivir shouted.
“The safety of not only you, but keeping peace and order throughout the Empire is my responsibility...” Commander General Mayr began but the Emperor interrupted her.
“Navidis Mayr will be the one who wishes to disturb the peace of the Grand Council. All in agreement? Then, get out, all of you!”

Keldin threw one last look at his father. In truth, all of this was simply exhausting. He pitied his father. Naivir had already opened Keldin’s vision and was quickly leafing through it. Keldin had a sudden urge to march back in and talk to him. But Furos forced him outside.

“You know he is worried.” The man said sternly. “He thinks you betrayed him.”
“Betrayed! I am trying to open his and your eyes to the possibility that things are not the same old such as we are used to! I am his flesh and blood, his own son!”
“He is worried he said too much. He thinks now that Seldin might have taken the pressure better.”
“Seldin cannot be Emperor.” Keldin burst out. He had not intended to say it.
“More rumours.” Furos sighed.
“What would you know?” Keldin barked in Furos’ face. The old man did not take notice of his attitude.

Keldin was about to turn away, yet lingered. “You stay by my father’s side or I will make you regret the one day you were not there for him!” Keldin said after a moment. His voice echoed throughout the hallway and secretly he was hoping his father would hear him. “He is old and tired.”

“That I can agree with, but trust me when I say this, he is in no danger. His health is not failing nor would someone dare try to kill him.” Furos held up a key in his hand and pressed it into Keldin’s palm. “An office for the first heir and his chosen candidates. By tradition it should have been more ceremonious.”
“By his side, Furos! Or I will make you regret it!” Keldin marched away.
“I will try to calm him about your little soul-shattering act. You know it is actually much less harmful than he thinks it!” Furos called after him.

Keldin could barely exit this part of the mansion when he ran into his brother.
“From behind my brother’s back.” Seldin said before Keldin could even think to open his mouth. “That hurt brother. I have always been there for you, you know that. I am glad you found the strength to rule but I think it may have come at the cost of your heart. You used to be kind to me, but I guess I was too naïve to think you would treat me any differently.”
“Seldin, I am so sorry!”

“Too late! Too little!” Seldin hissed. “You had entire moons to come and find me. I waited for you to find me, knock on my door and we would hug it out like we used to once upon a time! Every time we meet, you make it clear enough what you think of me. From behind my brother’s back.” Seldin spat and walked away. Keldin stared at his brother’s back and stood there. He could not muster the will nor the strength to run after. What would he do then? His brother was a queer. A man that loved men! It had cost Keldin his former lifestyle. How could you accept that?

His mood now worse than ever, Keldin finally found his ministers and advisors chattering in front of the Emperor’s grand mansion. They squabbled constantly. A small crowd of onlookers had gathered, and they too were far from quiet. Keldin wished he could say the past moon brought his ministers together, but the tensions stayed. They were capable. By no means would they not be a match for the Grand Council or the current Conclave. At least they listened to Keldin a little more.

“Are we done?” He asked calmly once most of the commotion had died down.
“No! We are not! We are still not done! You still keep dragging us along! We did our part in the Grand Council. We...” But Keldin interrupted Cleo.
“I am not dragging you along for anything. It has not been without difficulty but you keep seeking me out or coming back after you have sulked for a day or two. You are free to do as you please. I assumed that since you have endured this first moon, you seem to be willing to keep going.”

“Do you always have to talk this much?” Orhan said, pretending exhaustion.
“Will you stay quiet?” Keldin growled. “We passed the third goal I set for us! We solved the problem with the multiple nexuses we needed to infuse our weapons. We successfully carried out the first soul-forging in perhaps two thousand years and today we presented the commons, the Grand Council, the ruling Emperor as well as every region ruler and small village elder a comprehensive introduction to our vision of the rule of the Empire for the next fifty years!”
“You mean your vision.” Doldir said.

“Our vision! This document was not me sitting there asking what I need to do or telling you what I want. We made this document with our collective effort! You researched each aspect of governing this Empire and what we could do to improve it. Not only did we outline one possible vision but several possibilities depending on many scenarios.” Good. For once, they listened with relative awe. “I checked. We made one of the thickest documents ever.”
“Who will read all that nonsense?” Orhan yawned.

“You would think it is all tradition for the sake of it, but a surprising number of people will read it. More people than we presented a copy to.” Keldin noticed a group of royal guard approach the mansion. And immediately recognised the dark-haired woman leading them as the one who constantly hounded him around. “They have accepted you as my ministers.” Keldin added.
“Then what was that with your father?” Cleo asked.
“Family conversation as usual.”
“I am not convinced. You made it sound like your father could have rejected your claim to the throne.”

“It does not work like that, Cleo.” Keldin watched, amused, as Cleo stared daggers at him.
“I can understand law. I do not understand succession at all. Why make it so needlessly complicated. Surely, there are rules. Laws about that.” Keldin smiled and rolled his eyes at the woman’s distress.
“You would think so. But it is about tradition more than anything. For every rule, our family has at least three exceptions.”

The group of royal guard had now reached Keldin and the others.
“Will the first heir and his advisors step forward?” Keldin heard the voice of Navidis Mayr behind him. The woman was massaging her temple. “You Ebonveil can shout. Thanks to your highnesses I have a persistent headache now.” Keldin lined his entourage up opposite the royal guard and Navidis Mayr began her speech.

“As is tradition the royal guard must accompany all the ministers and advisors of the future Emperor. You have been accepted as the future emperor’s followers, advisors and protectors. One among you will take over my duties as the keeper of peace and high overseer of those men and women who will one day join the ranks of our peacekeepers. This small procession is the first to show the people of Ironcourt that changes are upon us. A new emperor has showed his will and strength to rule.” Keldin and General Mayr exchanged a few pleasantries and under the watchful eyes of the royal guard, Keldin and his entourage set off.

“Does this mean that everywhere we go now, this lot has to follow us?” Keldin heard Cleo immediately comment.
“I imagine if we need to go on a personal errand, we can work something out. Am I right, your highness?” Keldin heard Doldir stiffly address him.
“Yes. I believe we can work something out. Only those guards assigned to you, will be following. No more than three or four at a time. These here are the officers and their direct subordinates that have been assigned to us. They also act as messengers on our behalf.”

He let his unruly future ministers nag. Keldin noticed how many people had gathered to watch this small procession. This was not supposed to be anything grand. This was a bigger event for the royal guard. The start of their duties to protect the future Greater Conclave. As they passed through the streets, the others behind Keldin slowly shut up. Crowds of people had gathered. Even the commons. Moreover, they were cheering, clapping. For every person that had a defiant look or did not seem to care, ten showed their full support for Keldin and his followers. There were shouts – long live the Pureblooded Emperor. Long live the nine pillars! May the Six Makers bless them! To a radiant new Age! To the rebirth of the Empire of Tavran!

It did not take them long to reach their office. Another large and previously unused mansion in the middle of Ironcourt. Carts loaded with the personal effects of his ministers hovered in the entranceway. Immediately the royal guard vanished into the interior of the building and three took up their positions at the gates of the mansion.

“This will be our new home for the time being. You do not have to live here all the time, but I recommend setting up a place to sleep. I am told this place has several saunas and an army of servants and chefs at our disposal.”
“You will have to do much better than comfortable accommodations if you want to bribe our loyalty.” Tennver mocked Keldin. But Keldin’s mood had improved little during the procession.
“We have until Sool’s next move. I have played our hand. I still want someone among us to look into those deaths. It is true they were old, but that is still four ex-senators dead in the period of a single moon. Doldir, your family lives in the northern reaches, talk to someone trustworthy. And try to keep out sight of General Mayr and her investigators.”
“As you wish.” He sighed.

“And what do we do once the emperor and others involved have worked through our vision for rule? I remember you mentioned something.” Cleo said.
“We will work through the comments they will provide us with.”
“And there was the matter of bloodline names, your highness.” Noelyn said.
Before Keldin could answer, a gruff voice made everyone’s heads turn. “Your bloodline names will be given to you by the old conclave. It will be their last duty. It might be new ones, it might be your old ones. Depends on their whims.” Keldin saw a very unhappy Navvar exit a carriage. “We have to talk, Keldin. Now.” Navvar marched straight towards him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Walk with me.”

Keldin followed his uncle to the garden of the mansion, not sure what to expect. “First, you have woman troubles. I heard you have been spending more and more time with that aspectless woman and it has not escaped the attention of others. No thanks to your father, I might add. But don’t start. Do not think about it too much, do not argue with me, stop. Whatever your justification, I know you have plenty considering what you had to achieve, but try to notice that other woman in your life. The one who will rule the Empire with you.”

“Woman troubles?” It took a moment for Keldin to understand what had happened.
“She is your Empress. You do not rule alone.” The realisation hit him like a cart of bricks. He had been spending a lot of time with Noelyn. But there had been good reason. Her power and her astounding knowledge about the flow and nexus-craft was irreplaceable.
Navvar ignored Keldin’s train of thought however and continued. “Keldin. Boy! Are you listening.”
“Yes! Yes, I am!”

“I said, you need more help. Now, we both know by tradition and some bygone rules I cannot get involved. Thanks to you, I now have precedent. I was an heir. Your father may have been the obvious choice for emperor, but because everyone ignored me, it allowed me to stay in the background and listen. To learn and understand. You need to set up your camp in the Grand Council. Gather senators and warlords, people in the middle of that nest of spiders. Your father never did that. I know some old timers and friends of friends who owe me a debt. I can get them to work for you.”
“Uncle, why?” Keldin got a word in.

“This is not the first time the Sool bloodline has been accused of working against the Empire. When your father took the throne, there was a problem with Ilander’s father. The accusations were not that severe. And before the case got anywhere, Sool’s father died. Heart disease. The issue was dropped to let the family grieve. But one of the senators that died this winter caught my eye. He pressed those first charges against the bloodline of Sool. Once Furos finally told me about your adventures, I knew something was wrong. I had a long chat with Naivir and he is the most idiotic person ever. He was always stubborn, but to delude yourself like this. Something happened to him. Either the mark or the voidstones. It does not matter. The bottom line is. You need help boy, I can provide you with it. But to honour the traditions somewhat...” Navvar spat on the ground. “I will try to stay out of the picture as best I can. Get your brother into your inner circle. When siblings fight, it is the worst disaster that could ever happen.” Navvar patted Keldin on the shoulder. “I enjoyed what you did to the Grand Council.” As suddenly as he had called out to Keldin, Navvar stormed off.

Only one sentence still stuck with Keldin. Everything else had been a blur to him. His uncle could talk too much. How was he going to get Seldin back on his side? Only a little while ago Seldin had told him that there was no love left between them. Why did things had to have unfolded the way they did?

If Keldin had never found out about Seldin, then he would not be in this mess. He would never have had to find the strength to rule the Empire. Why did Seldin have to be queer in the first place? Why couldn’t he have been a normal man, like Keldin was? How do you accept such a thing? A man-lover. In his dreams, Keldin kept seeing the image of a servant man being scared out of his wits and jumping off his brother’s cock. Keldin sat down against the trunk of a tree and buried his face in his hands. He could not do it. He could not forgive his brother for ruining his life.

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