The Regent & The Courtier
Five years after the crash of the doomed lunar shuttle, the Heavenly Tranquility, the crew has settled into their new lives as productive members on the planet of Ting-duo in the Vulpecula constellation. However, tensions between the provinces of Zhing-piao and Gong-luk reach a head as leaders of rivaling factions vie for the hand of Gong-luk’s regent Gajha Zebwimy as a bid to gain control of the province. Gajha herself must fight to marry her beloved courtier and keep Gong-luk independent. Meanwhile, the arrival of a rescue mission from earth, the Scavenger, shatters the peace of everyone from both ships as the politics of earth and the revelation of Hua and De’s true nature threatens their future.
Here is an excerpt:
“So, Eidan, what did you think of last night’s spectacle?” Lanu asked, lounging in a chair in General Kar’s headquarters, carelessly smoking the thin brass hookah sitting on the floor beside it. “Quite an eyeful, isn’t she?”
“Which one?” asked Eidan’s assistant Vergas, who stood by the door. “There were lots of beautiful women there last night.”
“Gajha, of course,” Lanu said, smiling. “Though I know you, Vergas, have an eye for a certain ambassador’s wife.”
The other two men sitting in on their meeting looked at each other uncomfortably while Eidan snorted and came around his desk to sit with them.
“He won’t stand a chance with that woman,” Eidan said. “But Gajha is always lovely, even if she is weak and unsuitable to be Empress of our province. Last night seemed very inauspicious for the reign of a commoner like her.”
“Inauspicious in what way, my lord?” Vergas asked, coming over to sit down in the empty chair beside Lanu, who was chewing thoughtfully on the mouthpiece of the hookah hose.
“Did you see the way the flames from the pyre wafted through the air?” Eidan asked. “And how quickly the fire burned Zennis’ body? It wasn’t natural.”
Vergas and Lanu laughed.
“Omens,” Lanu muttered, shaking his head in agreement.
“Besides,” Eidan continued, coming to stand beside Vergas, “the tension between Gajha and the other provincial rulers was very noticeable. They don’t accept her as one of their own. Rinshas of Lan-Zhal could barely keep his hands off of his dagger during the proceedings when he looked at her. She’s in for trouble, I tell you. It’s an inauspicious start.”
“What will you do?” Lanu asked between puffs on the mouthpiece. The room filled with smoke and the sweet scent of fruit. “She’s to be crowned Empress of Gong-luk.”
“You can’t let her be crowned and embarrass herself in this way, now can you, my lord? You know as well as I do that the people themselves have been talking, and they won’t accept a half-breed on the throne, even if Zennis’ line of succession leads to her,” Vergas said. “You yourself are of the royal house. You are the legitimate heir to the throne.”
Lanu’s eyes shifted to Eidan with a cunning expression he quickly masked. Eidan was too busy looking at Vergas’ wide grin to catch him anyway.
“It would be easy to depose her now and put myself in her place before the coronation,” Eidan said slowly. “But it may still be unpopular enough to make such a move to wait instead. Let her enact a few unpopular policies while I plan my takeover of the province with care and thoroughness.”
“Brilliant strategy, as always, General,” Lanu said, coughing. “Your caution is wise. Should your position be made known too soon, there’s no telling what forces Gajha might be able to rally to her side to stop you. But perhaps there’s a surer way to gain the throne and win the people’s hearts.”
“What do you mean, Lanu?” Eidan asked, nearly jumping to his feet.
Lanu smiled at his underling, taking another puff on the hookah before proceeding.
“Perhaps it may be more politically advantageous for you to marry her instead. Nien is only a concubine, and an Empress is incomplete without an Emperor to help her.”
“How would I do that?” Eidan asked, clearly intrigued. “Would she accept?”
“Who cares if she will accept or not? Take her by force,” Lanu said.
“Do you really think it will work?” Eidan asked. “What if the people revolt instead of accepting me?”
“It may be worth the risk of that happening. Doesn’t your province mean more to you than even your life, General?”
“Quite right, magician. That could be our only hope,” Eidan said proudly. He reached down for the hookah’s mouthpiece. “May I?”
“It’s time for me to be going anyway,” Lanu said good-naturedly, handing Eidan the hose and standing to stretch his legs. “I must go prepare the army for the coronation ceremony. I’m glad we are agreed on this point. That will make my job much easier.”
“When you take over, my lord, I’ll be your minister, won’t I?” Vergas said in a smooth, soothing tone.
“Surely,” Eidan said, his eyes not leaving Lanu.
“And as your minister, isn’t it customary to grant me a favor once you gain power?”
“What are you driving at, Vergas? What favor do you want me to grant you?”
“Oh, nothing really. Just a small thing maybe, compared to the ambitions of others, like Lanu here, whom I’m sure would like to be far more than Gong-luk’s head of security.”
“Just say it already, Vergas,” Eidan said irritably.
“I want the ambassador of Zhing-piao’s wife.”
“Hua Evanson?” Lanu asked. “The rumors surrounding that woman are even worse than those about Gajha. Are you sure that’s all you want, Vergas? Don’t you at least want a city or two as governor?”
“Nah, I’m sure there isn’t any more truth to the rumors surrounding Hua Evanson than there are to those surrounding Gajha, though we can use both of them to our advantage, isn’t that right, lord?”
Eidan nodded and sat in Lanu’s now vacant chair. Vergas saluted Lanu as Lanu made way for the door. Once the door shut behind him, Vergas laughed, turning to Eidan. Eidan just laughed as well and puffed on the hookah.