The cathedral was echoing with footsteps and whispered conversations, along with the rustling of hundreds of guests taking their seats. All had come to see the wedding of the couple so special that the King had given permission for them to be wed in his cathedral. Benho waited anxiously at the altar, hopping from one foot to the other.
“Do I look all right?” he asked Maicee, anxiously, smoothing down his already wrinkle-free black robe.
“You look fantastic,” said Maicee, trying not to laugh at his friend's nervousness. “Just stay cool.” He patted Benho on the back. “You can do this.”
Benho grimaced and darted a look towards the towering cathedral door.
“I'm glad you're here, Maicee,” he said quietly.
“As am I,” Maicee said.
But he wondered how Benho would feel when he, inevitably, found out about his secret. He hoped he wouldn't be too angry. For the moment, though, there was no need to tell him, and Maicee wore the same masculine black robe as his friend.
Benho seemed about to say more, but then the arched wooden door of the cathedral creaked open, and all heads turned as a smooth flugelhorn solo began to announce the arrival of the bride. Sa-li shivered in the doorway, nervous to be the centre of attention, but Major Ulsa'hi calmed her.
“Breathe!” he ordered.
He'd been glad to agree to give the young orphan away, though he wasn't exactly paternal. Sa-li felt a little more like she was taking part in a military drill than a wedding; but then, this tall, brave man with beetle eyebrows had always been kind to her. She had wanted to ask Kabi, but then ... then she couldn't. It was the only moment of sadness that had marred her beautiful day.
Then it was time. With a deep breath, Sa-li allowed herself to be steered down the aisle to the shouts and cheers of all gathered. She was trailed by her bridesmaids, Lucia and Falorni, and showered with flower petals as she slowly made her way towards Benho.
“I wish,” whispered Ausanne to Niku, “that my sister could be here to see this. It's so beautiful.”
Niku snuggled closer to her princess but said nothing. There was nothing that she could say.
Reaching the altar, Ulsa'hi handed Sa-li over to Benho, and the wedding began in earnest.
Maicee was sharing a celebratory glass with Benho when the tinkling voice of Ausanne spoke from behind him.
“I've got a surprise for you,” she said.
“Again?” he groaned. “I'm not so sure I like your surprises.”
Benho laughed as the princess stuck her tongue out at his best friend.
“Here,” she said, holding out an envelope with the King's seal.
Maicee took it, looking puzzled, and was about to slide it unopened into his pocket when both Ausanne and Benho protested.
“Fine, fine, I'll read it,” he said, slitting open the seal. Then his mouth dropped open. “It says here that the King of Britannia is conferring upon me the title of Duke!”
Ausanne grinned, and Benho slapped Maicee on the back.
“Looks like drinks will be on you for a while, then,” observed Benho. “What with you being a Duke, and me being a married man with responsibilities and all.”
All Maicee could do was shake his head in amazement.
After saving the princess twice, the King of Britannia had said, making Maicee a Duke was the least he could do. And with the title came land, of course, a sprawling villa just outside of the capital. Maicee was sitting at his new, rather large desk a week after the wedding and wondering what exactly he should do with his day when a servant approached. He’d thought about asking to remain undisturbed, but, to be honest, with Lucia back in Carooine attending to some personal business and Ausanne busy at the palace, Maicee was growing a little bored with the life of luxury. So he bade the servant to enter and accepted the letter that he was given.
The handwriting looked oddly familiar, he thought; and a shiver of premonition, that old feeling of danger, niggled at the base of his spine. With a knife, he cut the envelope and pulled out the letter inside.
I will be coming to Britannia in two weeks, along with Lucia and her crew. We have much to talk about. Until then, practice what you have been taught, for the war is not yet over. It has barely even begun.
And Maicee closed his eyes, letting tears slide unchecked down his cheeks. Kabi was alive. He should have known.
Above the skies of Archeonis sat twelve large ships under the command of the real New Dawn. Sitting in the captain's chair of the command ship, the Supreme Emperor waited impatiently, his fingers drumming on the armrest.
“Your Majesty, target is in sight, beam cannons ready to fire,” came the report.
The Emperor nodded, then stood, his robe billowing around him as he turned to face those gathered on the bridge.
“The time has come,” he announced, “to retake that which is ours.”
Those on the bridge roared with approval.
“Signal to all ships. Fire at will!” declared the Emperor.
In a moment, the velvet darkness of space was ablaze with beams of light and explosions. The Divine War had begun, though some, in later years, would refer to it as the War of the Mad Emperor.
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