Home of Sword and Soul
“You look very, very nice,” Empress Khadija remarked as Claudia coursed across the floor of the sitting room which adjoined the bedchamber of the Emperor and Empress.
“Yes, this is as nice as the other six,” Emperor Amasis smiled wearily.
“You two must understand how important this is! Sarkis is coming home in two weeks and I just want everything to go well,” Claudia fussed with the gown as she strolled in front of the mirror.
“Of course this has everything to do with Sarkis coming home for his First session as a member of the Council of Elders and nothing at all to do with Malcolm returning from his field work in the asteroid belt,” Emperor Amasis winked at Empress Khadija.
“No…no, it’s not about Malcolm…not at all,” Claudia blushed.
“Well, that’s good to know,” Empress Khadija said, “because he sent a communique this morning that he has been called back to the field and won’t be able to escort you to the next banquet.”
“Called back to the field?” Claudia echoed, attempting to keep her voice from falling as low as she felt.
“It was unavoidable,” Amasis said, “but he indicated that he would contact you via remote visual in the evening after the event was concluded.”
“So which gown did you decide on,” Empress Khadija asked.
“Well, I guess one is as good as another,” Claudia replied crestfallen.
“It won’t be so bad,” Amasis laughed, “Besides by the time he’s able to get here, we’ll be back from our tour of the Gamma colonies. We can all sit down to a nice private dinner, together.”
Claudia smiled at her parents then hurriedly left the room. There was no use in pouting. Malcolm’s term at the Imperial Academy as a soils chemist took him all over the sector. It wasn’t a permanent placement but those who cared to be appointed to the Ministry of Sciences were encouraged to have actual work experience in as many areas of the sciences as they could muster. She envied Malcolm’s freedom as a university student. She could have been studying alongside him but for her responsibility to complete her second tour of duty with the fleet. Sarkis’ ascension to the Council of Elders was an important enough occasion to excuse her from military exercises so that she could fulfill her obligations as a member of the Imperial family. Since both her parents were going to be away until the actual ascension ceremony, and since she was the only member of the family who was not integrally involved, she was given the duty of welcoming all the dignitaries and hierarchy who would be attending the events leading up to the ceremony.
There were events scheduled almost every day and Claudia was duty bound to attend each and every one of them. For once she was actually relieved that Madrina stepped in to assist with some of the hospitality. She was inundated but grateful to be occupied and the two weeks flew by.
Sarkis arrived the morning of the meeting of the Council of Elders with an entourage of friends and well-wishers. It was amazing the change in her brother. Six years earlier when he began as an Ensign he was certain that he would never ascend to the throne. Now he was completing his term with the Imperial Fleet as a Lieutenant Commander. When Sarkis and his six travel companions stumbled into the palace it was obvious that they had been out carousing the night before so she made certain to talk as loudly as possible in their presence.
“Sarkis, my dear brother, welcome home!” She called out as she grabbed him hugging him and swinging him around.
“Claudia…please...,” Sarkis begged as he pushed away and tenderly massaged his temples.
“Now, now…” she said, speaking even more loudly, “You’re an Elder, now…so old that I’ll have to raise my voice from now on!”
“Speak any more loudly and you won’t have to worry. I’ll be deaf,” Sarkis grumbled.
“Oh don’t whine,” she said giving him a gentle hug, “everything has been laid out for you. The cook has started breakfast in the main kitchen and I’m sure they’ll have something for these empire-sized hangovers.”
“Ahhh, I knew my sweet little sister was in still in there somewhere,” Sarkis smiled appreciatively, then groaned.
As they made their way to the kitchen she was pretty certain she wouldn’t be seeing them until later that evening. They had all day to sleep but she had dignitaries to greet and events to attend, so she headed in the opposite direction to meet with her staff to prepare for the day.
Escort number 4, Kwame Hussein, III eldest son of Dr. Niswala and Ambassador Kwame Hussein II of the Capitol city sat across from Claudia at the banquet table. It was actually the perfect location for him. She could simultaneously take account of his perfectly chiseled features without having to listen to his lengthy, droning tales of self-aggrandizement. Kwame was one of the six escorts remaining of the original nine. In the past six years two of the chosen nine had begun their tours of duty with the Fleet and in the course of their training determined to enter the Ambassadorship program which required them to reside in far-flung territories in the Empire. The third had decided to enter into Vodoun priesthood and had just entered his required period of cloister before taking his vows.
Of the remaining six Claudia had maintained relatively cordial relations... that is of course except for Malcolm Mwalimu. When she first started actively seeking a partner in crime to replace her brother she was surprised that the quiet and contemplative number 6 began to insinuate himself. Granted he didn’t have the panache and daring of her esteemed brother but he had a quick mathematical mind that could determine probability and cause and effect of just about any caper she could dream up. All through her tour of duty with the Fleet and his years at the university the two stayed in touch. And though six years earlier she referred to him in her notes as “cuddly like an Arcadian wooly bear” he was now a tall, handsome and strapping young man. So, even as she sat enjoying dinner with Kwame, her thoughts were really on her planned communique with Malcolm later that evening.
“So Princess Claudia, how are we this evening?” Sarkis asked as he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.
“Ahhh Lieutenant Commander, Cassad to what do we owe the honor of your presence?” She replied as she rose and embraced him.
“I have just been informed that the Emperor and Empress will not be arriving in time for my First Council of Elders session,” Sarkis said.
“Oh no,” Claudia commiserated, “So do we have to reschedule?”
“No. Actually they said to move forward. The edict declaring me crown prince is more ministerial than anything else. They also stated that they had a surprise for you.”
“Is that so? Knowing them it’ll probably be the collected works of some moldy old scribe,” Claudia laughed.
“Don’t be so sure. They’re not as out of touch as you might think."
"Besides, it seems with all their travels lately that Madrina has taken over the vast majority of the duties at the palace,” Claudia said as they both watched Madrina from across the banquet hall smiling and entertaining the throng of the Cassad elite.
From Claudia’s perspective they had all aged and grown – but not Madrina. Though six years had come and gone she looked almost exactly the same. In fact, to Claudia she actually appeared a few years younger. Some said it was due to her practice of some of the less savory, arcane portions of the Arts of Vodoun. But Claudia had other ideas. She had known since before Sarkis left that Madrina not only had a private sacrificial altar in her chambers in the palace, but she also had a private laboratory. It appeared that Madrina’s many potions, curses and remedies had their roots in chemistry. This was not to say that Madrina was a charlatan or wasn’t a believer. It’s just that where her power and reputation were concerned, Madrina was not the type to take chances. Her position as one of the top Vodoun Priestesses in the sector provided her with unparalleled access and considerable influence. Of course there were rumblings every now and then from the Vodoun Order. On more than a few occasions they had not-so-lightly admonished Madrina that her work was supposed to be of a spiritual nature and that her social activities seemed to overwhelm her religious duties.
Madrina would be apologetic…almost theatrical in beating her breast and giving glory to the old gods while promising the heads of the Order that her actions were made necessary by the continual absences of the Empress and Emperor from the Capitol. She could actually get away with that one. It was no secret that the Emperor and Empress were scouring this part of the Known Universe for allies and shoring up the alliances already in place. They spent so much time apart that their homecomings, when the entire family was together were truly times for celebration. And she had to admit that her father’s intimation that Malcolm would be welcomed to their family dinner excited her more than she wanted to admit.
For an hour she and the younger Hussein floated across the dance floor admired by all. They did make a wonderful-looking couple but even Kwame’s good looks were no match for the way she felt about Malcolm. Even as Sarkis stood on the podium hovering over the assembled group accepting the scepter with the Imperial Emblem to the cheers of the crowd, Claudia’s mind was on the end of the event and her long- awaited communication with Malcolm. Once Sarkis was awarded his scepter designating him as crown prince, he was escorted to the Council of Elders. Claudia remained at the event for a while longer before she excused herself claiming to have a headache. It was a lie and she swore to herself that she would do penance for it, but she could barely stay on her feet with her gown gathered around her waist as she ran swiftly down the palace corridors to her suite of rooms…and Malcolm.
The characters of Madrina and Malcom seem to bring with them a foreshadow of conflict.
It will be interesting. I'm hoping to get the remainder posted tomorrow.