Ian showed up beneath the willow tree that evening. He sat near his queen, leaving half-an-arm’s gap between them. It felt awkward after months of having shared a close and cuddling intimacy. Eena was content to at least have him in her dreams, though they talked very little. The majority of the night found them staring out at a perpetual sunset, contemplating personal issues.
Internally, Eena was stewing over things she wanted to communicate to the governing body once the Kemeniroc reached Laradine. Being familiar with the immortal tendency to demonstrate shortness of patience, her goal was to cover in the fastest, most effective way possible a comprehensive list of reasons why it was imperative that Derian and Angelle be released immediately. This meant memorizing another speech, much like the speech she had delivered to the Harrowbethian Council upon her return to Moccobatra.
The goal was to persuade Pallador and his associates that refusing these particular mortals their freedom would essentially be the same as interfering in the progression and development of the Moccobatran homeworld…or close enough, anyway. Considering the high-ranking calling, the noteworthy accomplishments, the global responsibilities as well as a host of great expectations assigned to Kahm Derian, Eena believed she could make a strong and convincing case for his immediate release. The way she was painting his character, she was starting to wonder why the captain didn’t have a thicker head than he did.
A few times during the night, Ian and Eena flickered a curious glance at one another, wondering about the other’s unreadable thoughts. It was impossible for the young protector to hear the things running through his queen’s mind when he was technically asleep. Eena found a degree of comfort in this. Most likely, her braggart speech about Derian’s irreplaceable role in their world would annoy Ian anyway.
When morning came, he was the first to disappear. His parting words lingered as his dream image vanished.
“Hope your day is pleasant, Eena.”
“Yours too,” she replied, sighing at how it seemed she would be spending another day deprived of his company. Who would have thought she would miss the hovering assurance of a protector’s constant shadow?
Eena’s heart deflated even more when she woke up and discovered her front room was empty. No Ian. She had half hoped he would make the effort to share breakfast with her.
Turning back to a dark bedroom, her disappointment deepened realizing a change of clothing was necessary. There was no way to justify three days in the same outfit when a fresh change of wardrobe had been provided. It didn’t matter that the Mishmorat outfit was significantly more comfortable. The narrow closet presented her with the same selection of colorful gowns she had frowned at the previous day. Crud. Where were her Mishmorat sisters when she really needed help?
After a quick bath and a little primping, Eena slipped into a full skirt with several layers of underskirts. The gown was pastel pink. It was fast becoming her signature color. While double-checking her hologram reflection, her focus was drawn to the dragon’s soul decorating her neck without any promise pendant hampering its view. She made a quick decision to remedy that picture. Though part of her wished to feel Derian’s warm touch against her neck as his fingers fumbled to reattach the clasp, the greater part of her wanted the emblem of their commitment dangling against her chest again. A contented smile thinned her lips a moment later when the gold pendant hung once more in its proper place. This time, it would remain where it belonged.
Eena ignored the bowl of fruit still sitting on her dining room table and headed out the front door. She intended to seek company for breakfast in the public commissary, the one reserved for Jerin’s men.
The chatting sounds from an active gathering fell on her ears when she neared the place. Three quarters of available seating was taken up by uniformed Harrowbethian soldiers, many accompanied by family members. People were enjoying a quick morning meal, showing a hustle in their step as if adhering to a tight schedule. Eena stopped in the doorway to scan the room for familiar faces. It was comforting to discover that most were recognizable.
Upon sight of the young queen, the majority of heads turned her way and dropped forward, offering a bow of reverence while collectively murmuring “Sha Eena.” This action was becoming more comfortable for her to bear—entirely opposite of the anxious nausea she had experienced encountering her first crowd of Harrowbethian citizens. Eena recalled feeling paralyzed at the time, until a bold little boy named Willum stepped forward from the intimidating mass and saved her. He was a lively child, now her favorite young friend.
She looked for him among the many soldiers and relations, knowing he would be with his parents, Rhoen and Sarii. Keeping to the perimeter of the room, her gaze swept over the crowd.
Eena thought about the many trying events that had occurred since meeting Willum and his family. Hard challenges had changed her from being the cautious, inhibited high school girl she once was. Her timid qualities could not endure such daunting trials, and so her character had become considerably braver, a transformation that began the day she first stepped foot on Derian’s ship, the Kemeniroc.
“Sha Eena! Hey, hey, Sha Eena!”
Her face lit up with recognition before she even focused on where the voice was coming from. As soon as her searching eye spied Willum, both feet stepped eagerly in his direction. The six-year-old’s big brown eyes were twinkling with friendly enthusiasm when she met up with him.
“Hi!” he greeted, giving her a big hip-hug. She leaned over to reach his shoulders and hug him back.
“It’s so good to see you again, Willum.” Catching sight of his older brother, a much shyer boy, she waved a hand in greeting.
The boy uttered a greeting and bowed respectfully at the same time. Meanwhile, Willum pushed away from Eena’s legs to look up and make an excited announcement.
“Mom and Dad said you have to come sit with us, so come on.” He grabbed hold of her hand and tugged before Xander stopped him, correcting his younger brother with chiding criticism.
“That’s not what Mom and Dad said, Will. You’re so rude. They told you to ask if she wants to come sit with us.” He glanced up with apologetic eyes and quietly said, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
Eena didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation, careful not to laugh when she noticed Willum crinkling his nose and sourly puckering his lips behind his brother’s back.
“It would be an honor to have breakfast with your family.”
Blushing, Xander gestured for her to follow him.
The trio scooted down an aisle of occupied seats, exchanging pleasant greetings with nearly everyone in their path. Eena spotted her good friends midway down the aisle. Sarii, wearing a blue sun dress, was seated next to her uniformed husband, Rhoen. He rose as his queen approached and greeted her with a head bow.
“Sha Eena, it’s wonderful to see you.”
“Thank you, Rhoen. It’s good to see you too. How have you all been?”
“The whole family is quite well, thanks to you.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Eena smiled.
“I can hardly imagine how you must be feeling,” Sarii cut in, “after finding out that Kahm Derian is still alive!” She motioned across the table to an empty chair. Her husband was quick to pull out a seat for their royal guest. Before the conversation took off, he sent Xander and Willum to fetch a plate of breakfast for her. Eena could hear the boys bickering down the aisle over who was going to carry the tray.
Kneading her own fingers like a worried mother, Sarii asked again, “How are you handling all this?”
Eena bit her lip at first, not sure where to start. “Well, I’m dealing with it better now. I’ll admit the news shook me up at first.”
Sympathy drooped Sarii’s brow line. “And poor Ian, the dear, how is he?”
Eena automatically gripped at her gold pendant. She wished Ian were there to speak for himself. He didn’t bother a response in her head, so she offered a suitable reply. “I know this is difficult for him too, but he’s coping.”
Eena caught subtle worried exchange between Sarii and her husband. Rhoen asked the next question.
“How did you come to find out that the captain and Angelle were still alive? Was it the immortal, Pallador, who told you? Jerin says we’re headed to confront him.”
Eena purposefully kept her answer vague. “Pallador was the one who verified the rumor was true. He’s the person I hope to convince to help us.”
“Oh, I hope he does,” Sarii said. She reached across the table and squeezed Eena’s fingers. “I can’t imagine him turning you down, what with two precious lives on the line.”
“I can’t imagine,” Eena repeated in a murmur. She didn’t feel like explaining he had already done so.
Rhoen’s remark pulled her eyes back to him. “I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to be of service to you, Sha Eena. And to Kahm Derian. I owe you both so much. My happiness, my life. Whatever you stand in need of, please don’t hesitate to ask it of me. I will forever be in debt to you for the sacrifices made on behalf of my family.”
“Thank you, Rhoen.” She smiled wide with her words, mainly because she had a good view of Willum, and Xander in the background, fussing over the same tray. It was gripped by four possessive, young hands. When one boy seemed to hog the majority of the load, the other tugged the plate towards himself and vice versa. Eena held her breath, wondering if the stack of fruit and hot biscuits would make it to her before finding a home on the floor.
Luckily, breakfast arrived safely.
“Why thank you, gentlemen,” she crooned. “It looks delicious. Cajja fruit—my favorite!”
“You can thank Ramsis for that,” Rhoen informed her. “Our newest recruit stocked the kitchen with plenty of bins from his family’s orchard.” Rhoen turned to his sons to tell them both they had done a nice job. The boys soaked up their father’s praise before making a sour face at one another.
“Can I go play with Craigun now?” Xander asked his parents. “He’s done eating. We passed him on the way.”
“Me too,” Willum added, unwilling to be left out.
Rhoen glanced at Sarii for her sign of consent before giving permission. “Go on you two, but behave yourselves.” They looked to their mother, expecting an assenting nod, and then hustled on their way
“Bye, Sha Eena!”
“Bye, and thanks for breakfast!”
Rhoen rose from his seat and gathered up his empty plate and utensils. “I apologize, but it’s time for me to go too. I’m overseeing flight drills this morning. It was nice to see you, Sha Eena.” He dipped the his empty plate towards her as he added, “And don’t you worry. We’ll get Kahm Derian back, one way or another. Even if it comes down to a show of force.”
“Oh no,” she fretted, “it can’t come to that. Jerin isn’t planning a physical confrontation, is he?”
Rhoen froze for a moment, looking like he had said something out of place. “Well, it’s routine to consider all of our options. We plan for every outcome, prepare for every possibility.”
“There’s no possibility of defeating immortals in a physical battle,” Eena stated emphatically.
Rhoen’s eyebrows arched as he smirked the tiniest bit. “Well, um…you did.”
Technically what he said was true, but she had been in an immortal state while battling Anesidora in Wanyaka cave. That was something she had never explained to Sarii and Rhoen, and she didn’t care to explain it now. Pressing her mouth into a disagreeable line, she uttered, “It would be extremely difficult to convince the immortal governing body to help us if we challenged them.”
“I agree,” Rhoen nodded. “I’m sure it won’t come to that. Now, if you will please excuse me.” After a quick bow, he pecked his wife on the cheek, dumped his tray, and headed for the exit. A host of men in uniform followed him out.
“They must all have flight drills this morning,” Eena guessed aloud.
Sarii nodded to the affirmative. “Even the Mishmorat men have been invited to join in. Rhoen and Jerin agreed it would be beneficial to have them trained on our battleships, in the off chance their assistance is needed.” Eena drew in a worried breath, but Sarii reminded her, “There are more things out in space to be wary of than immortals. It’s best to prepare for anything.”
“Do you mind if I join you? I’ve no one else to sit with.”
Eena was drawn to the soft, familiar voice speaking over them, and when she looked up, a timid, sweet smile formed on a face that was hauntingly reminiscent of the lost Angelle. Only the eye color differed—blue instead of green.
Sarii greeted the girl first. She pulled out the chair her husband had left behind.
“Good morning, Nischeen. Yes, please do sit with us.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it.” The young lady scooped up her full skirt with one hand before sliding into the empty seat. She set a tray of food on the table. Nischeen concentrated on Sarii when she spoke, and Eena guessed the two had come to know each other through Jerin and Rhoen.
“I haven’t seen Jerin all morning. He was supposed to meet me here for breakfast, but he hasn’t shown.” Nischeen’s voice was soft with just a hint of whininess that made her sound as delicate as she appeared. “I know I should be more understanding. He’s a busy man, being captain of the ship and all, but I miss his company sometimes.” Her eyes flickered at Eena for a split-second, afraid she may have said something insensitive. A smile from her queen was reassurance that no tender feelings had been bruised.
“Jerin is a fine captain,” Eena told the young lady. “He’s very responsible and conscientious of his crew. I think he is a lot like Derian in that way.”
Nischeen gave a rapid nod, and the two fell silent for a moment. Eena yearned to shift the conversation to the topic of Angelle. She wanted to ask how Jerin had broken the news to Nischeen that her sister was still alive. What kind of reaction had it elicited? Had learning about the bizarre circumstances of Angelle’s captivity caused joy and hopefulness or anger and resentment? Who did she blame? What did she expect would happen once they reached the immortal home world of Laradine? Eena wondered these things but feared asking outright personal questions. It seemed rude and intrusive, so she continued the conversation on an easy note.
“How do you like the ship, Nischeen? I was surprised when Jerin told me you were aboard.”
“I like it,” came a simple reply. “It’s big. I’ve enjoyed seeing more of the inside.”
“Jerin said you brought Yaka with you.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Where is he now? In your quarters?”
The assumption seemed to surprise Nischeen. “No, actually, Yaka is staying with Jerin in the captain’s quarters.”
“In the captain’s quarters?” Eena repeated. She regretted the disapproving tone her voice had taken, but it shocked her that Jerin would violate Derian’s personal space knowing their goal was to rescue the captain and bring him home.
Nischeen’s face tangled up as she quickly made excuses for Jerin. “It was the room most familiar to Yaka so Jerin thought it would be okay if they both stayed there for the time being.”
“Right, right…of course.”
As Nischeen fidgeted in her seat, Eena made the effort to wave off any concerns. How ridiculous to feel possessive of Derian’s things. The captain would certainly be grateful to Jerin for watching over his beloved pet. Not missing a beat, Sarii thoughtfully diverted the conversation elsewhere.
“So, Nischeen, is Jerin being good to you? Is he making your stay here comfortable?”
“Oh yes, he’s a real gentleman. He tries to sneak away to come see me when he can. I even have one of those little devices like the other crewmen so he can call on me any time.” She pulled an oval communicator from her pocket and showed it in the palm of her hand. It was a U-PCD. Her pale cheeks flushed as she admitted, “Jerin checks up on me constantly to make sure I’m alright. His attentiveness has been comforting.”
Nischeen flashed a glance at her queen that was difficult not to interpret as resentful to some degree. Eena quit beating around the bush and addressed the painful topic she was certain weighed heavily on both of their hearts.
“You heard about what happened to Angelle.”
Nischeen frowned at the mention of her sister. Her eyes dropped to the table. “I did.”
“Jerin told you.”
“Yes, he did.”
“I’m sorry, Nischeen. I’m sorry for what happened. And I’m truly sorry if any of it was my fault.”
The young lady shook her head almost imperceptibly and refused to look up. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Even so, I feel responsible.”
Again, Nischeen wagged her head. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”
“I plan to get her back, you know. I will do everything within my power, but there is no way I can promise you…”
Nischeen raised a halting hand and her blue eyes flashed up, glazed with moisture. She forced a smile. “I know you will do everything you can. I thank you now for whatever actions you take to rescue my sister.”
An awkward moment transpired where neither seemed sure of what to say next. At length, Nischeen voiced an additional thank you.
“I appreciate you encouraging Jerin to call on me. It’s been a good thing.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Sarii finally cut in. “You two better eat or we’ll all be sitting in this same spot when lunch is served!”
They dug into their fruit and biscuits, commenting on how deliciously ripe the cajja was. Before Eena had finished one biscuit, her head was buzzing with a warning from Ian.
(Hey, Queenie. I’m afraid Jerin needs you on the bridge. He just called me.)
(Why? What’s wrong?)
(Jorban finally figured out that you must be on the ship. I have to say, it took the old man longer than I thought it would.)
(Oh crud. Okay, I’m on my way.)
(I’ll meet you at the front doors.) It was shocking when her heart stuttered at the mere thought of seeing Ian. She forced her mind to dwell on something else.
Ian was already standing outside the bridge when Eena arrived, his back propped against the wall. The moment their eyes met, he skewed the grin on his lips. His expression along with the leisurely pose reminded Eena of the first time she had seen him on Earth, leaning against the gold brick wall at Royal City High School. He had flickered repeated glances at her, watching her size him up. Then as now, his shoulders slouched by a few degrees.
(I don’t slouch.)
(You do a little.)
Eena caught his gaze as it dropped to the pendant dangling from her neck. The gold pendant. She worriedly took it in her hand.
(It’s okay, Queenie. I’m fine with it.) Whether his words were true or not, she appreciated his selfless understanding.
Using a flat foot to push himself away from the wall, Ian moved on to the matter at hand. (You ready for this?)
(As ready as I’m ever going to be.)
Grinning with humor, he extended a warning. (Jorban’s not happy. I’ve been listening to him lay into Jerin pretty hard.)
(What has Jerin said?)
(Not much. Just that his loyalty lies with his queen.)
Eena nodded. It was right for the blame to be hers. She wanted it that way.
Drawing in a deep breath, she entered the bridge with Ian at her back. The first set of eyes she met belonged to Jerin. He looked tense. His gaze stayed with her for only a moment and then darted back to the animated image of Minister Jorban delivering what sounded like a reprimanding lecture. Eena approached the screen, positioning herself in front of Jerin. Ian kept a pace behind her the whole time.
“Sha Eena, thank goodness!” the old man exclaimed. His eyelids slid closed for a brief time. When they popped open, his look of relief turned to exasperation. He dived right in with a question—one he seemed impatient to have answered.
“What in the name of all that is sane and sensible are you doing? Stowing away on the Kemeniroc in outright defiance of the council’s wishes? Why?”
Eena opened her mouth to voice a reply but the minister kept talking, tossing her another exasperated query followed closely by another and another.
“What could you possibly be thinking? Do you not understand how irreplaceable you are to Moccobatra? Do you not understand how imperative it is that our healer remain on Moccobatran soil? Have you any idea what kind of an uproar your actions will cause if the rest of the world finds out you’re missing yet again? Do you have any idea how distressing the situation is you have put us in?”
The young Sha flashed a nervous rearward glance at her best friend. Only then did Jorban notice the young man he had chosen to support as Shen of Harrowbeth. The minister’s brow creased angrily as he prepared to admonish the traitor. His voice was a gravely growl when he spoke.
“How dare you of all people support this reckless behavior! How dare you permit our precious Sha to leave Moccobatra! What were you thinking, Ian?”
“Ian?” Another elderly voice repeated the name. Ian stepped up to the screen as his father’s face suddenly appeared beside Minister Jorban. A parent’s look of shock turned to relief before hardening in an expression of fury. “Son, this is outrageous! Have you lost your mind?”
Ian raised both hands, gesturing for everyone to hold back any further accusatory comments. “Hey, hey, hey, you have this all wrong. I know what it looks like, but I’m innocent. I’ve done nothing but try to convince your queen to abandon her crazy idea. I’m a hostage here, not an accomplice.”
All eyes zeroed in on Eena for confirmation. “It’s true,” she admitted. “Ian was locked in the brig when we left Harrowbeth. He’s been against this voyage since I suggested it.”
“You threw my son in the brig?”
“Uh…well, I couldn’t have him turning me in.”
(Not that I would have,) Ian whispered in her mind. She flickered a grateful glance at him.
“Then this was all your idea?” Unan asked. He seemed unwilling to believe it.
“Yes,” Eena admitted boldly. She didn’t care if it was entirely the truth. Her hope was to take the blame and protect the crew as much as possible.
Unan narrowed his gaze and stared hard at his son, conveying obvious doubts. Ian responded by widening his eyes and pointing a firm finger at their young queen, suggesting in a look that this was typical behavior for her. Unan pursed his lips.
Meanwhile, Minister Jorban cast his attention onto the captain of the ship. “Jerin, I order you to turn the Kemeniroc around and return to Harrowbeth this very minute!”
Before the captain could open his mouth, Eena barked out her own orders. “Ignore that, Jerin. As Queen of Harrowbeth, I demand that you keep this ship on its present course.”
She turned a stern eye back to the screen. Both Unan and Jorban furrowed their wrinkled foreheads. With his focus glued on her, Jorban again addressed the captain.
“Jerin, I’m warning you; if you refuse to obey the direction of your council, your actions will be deemed treason.”
“Against whom?” Eena demanded.
“Against Harrowbeth,” Jorban decreed.
Eena took a step towards the giant screen, pointing at the tip of her necklace. “As reigning Sha, I am the one who represents Harrowbeth. Therefore, I refuse any charges of treason made against this man.”
The face Jorban made at her tenacity came across as nearly ferocious. The old man’s nostrils flared, and he retorted, fuming, “The council overrides you!”
Unsure of how to respond, Eena stubbornly narrowed her gaze and locked her jaw.
In the background, Jerin piped up to declare once and for all his position. “From the dawn of our civilization, the Sha and Shen of Harrowbeth have possessed an inherent right of authority that cannot be denied. My loyalty and the loyalties of all aboard this ship are to them. If Sha Eena wishes to return to Moccobatra, I shall accommodate her without question. If, however, she desires to seek the release of Kahm Derian, then I shall stand by her side and do whatsoever is within my power to make it so.”
A wave of goose bumps spread over Eena’s arms as she experienced a new level of respect for the man. Jerin gave his queen a deep bow and afterwards remained silent.
The next to speak was Unan who nudged a little closer to the screen. He kept his voice calm and gentle, as if he were reciting a nursery rhyme designed to lull his adopted daughter.
“Eena, sweetheart, I understand how desperate you feel. These recent revelations have been overwhelming for you—for us all. Your impetuousness is easily justified. I know you have good intentions, but…sweetheart, this isn’t the best course of action for anyone.” Pausing, Unan shot an uneasy look at Jorban who gave a nod of encouragement. “The council is deeply concerned for you and for Derian; you must believe that. Everyone is working on a way to solve the problem, beginning by actively pursuing negotiations with Pallador…”
“Has anyone spoken to Pallador yet?” Eena interrupted.
Jorban cleared his throat uneasily, hesitating with an answer. “Not as yet, but we do have a dialogue going through King Wennergren. He has agreed to act as our mediator, and he seems quite hopeful…”
Eena interrupted again. “The old King always seems hopeful. That’s just his nature.”
Jorban pursed his lips before continuing. “We have barely begun our efforts and have yet to exhaust every approach.” His snow-white eyebrows climbed high as he had another thought. “If you were to return to Harrowbeth, you could try your hand at sending a persuasive invitation to Pallador.”
“Minister, I have already spoken to Pallador. The people I need to address are those in the immortal governing body, but they refuse to come see me.…or any mortal.” Eena voiced her next words strongly. “The immortals consider themselves superior beings and are therefore too engaged in their own affairs to waste time with our kind. They believe our problems are of small consequence compared to their own.”
“I’m sure a way exists to entice them to listen,” Jorban argued.
“I’m sure a way exists as well,” Eena agreed, “but it requires taking our case to them. To Laradine.”
Jorban sighed in a grumble. “Not you, Sha Eena. King Wennergren has informed me that the immortal home world, this Laradine, lies on the outermost edge of our galaxy. The distance is too great. We need you here.”
“You don’t understand, Jorban. They won’t give my request any consideration unless I go to them and show them how serious I am!”
Jorban rubbed at his tired eyes. Exhaustion seemed to tug like gravity at his aged features. With a resigned sigh, he offered a compromise. “If you come home, I’ll allow Jerin and his men to travel to Laradine. They can deliver your message and communicate our determination as a people to recover our lost souls.”
Eena shook her head. “No, I have to be the one to address them.”
“Sweetheart, you don’t have to do everything yourself,” Unan implored. “It’s okay to allow others an opportunity to assist and support you.”
“You’re right,” she agreed, “but this is something I have to do myself. It’s like that story you used to read to me about Imorih setting off on her own journey. She had strong opposition too, but she went anyway because she knew she had to go.”
“Dear, that’s just a story. This is reality.”
“No, it’s not just a story. That book is filled with wise advice. It tells us that we should listen to ourselves. It teaches us to be aware of our own conscience. It demonstrates how important it is to become master of your own destiny. You and Master Ravelly both agreed that this should be the case for everyone.”
Unan recalled the conversation with the Grotten dignitary where he had made an identical statement and they had mutually supported it.
Eena brought her hands to her heart as she attempted to make the old protector understand. “I am doing exactly what you said all people should do—I am finally standing up and listening to my own voice. I’m taking charge of my life, becoming master of my own destiny. Please, Father, understand that I have to do this.”
Unan stared at her, speechless.
Without pausing, Eena went on to voice another reason for him to support her mission. “Isn’t it true that you and Gaila have been hoping and praying for things to work out so that our family might retain what you consider a proper standing in Harrowbethian history? If Derian and Angelle…” She stopped herself to make a correction. “I mean…when Derian and Angelle return to us, Ian and I can marry our promised ones, Father. Things will be as they should be.”
The old man repeated her words, a grin twitching at the corners of his lips. “Things will be as they should be.”
With a groan of exasperation, Minister Jorban turned to his last hope. “Ian, you seem to be the only one here with an ounce of good judgment. Given the regrettable circumstances, you are hereby reinstated as Sha Eena’s official protector. You will do your best to return her home safely. Convince the crew if you can’t talk any sense into these two.” The minister pointed at Eena and Jerin directly.
Ian signed a discouraging note before agreeing to do his best. “Given that I’m a bit outnumbered here, councilor, I’m not sure I can pull off a mutiny.”
“Well, try!” The old man snapped.
Eena was tired of the pointless debate. “Goodbye, minister. I’m sorry we don’t see eye to eye on this matter. You can thank me and then punish me after I return with your Shen.”
As she turned to motion for Jerin to cut off the transmission, she heard Jorban voice a desperate remark. “I shall punish the whole lot of you if…”
Things fell abruptly silent. Eena swiveled on her feet until she was facing her reinstated protector. She gave him a tentative grin.
(Ah heck,) he grumbled in her mind. (I was just getting used to my freedom. Now I’m stuck with the grueling job of babysitting our bossy, old queenie again.)
Eena’s grin spread thinner at his teasing. (I’m not old.) On a more serious note she asked, (What sort of punishment does Jorban have in mind?)
(I don’t know,) Ian said, reminding her of his limitations. (He’s too far away for me to read his mind. I can only sense your thoughts at great distances, no one else’s.)
Eena grumbled disappointedly. (How inconvenient.) She had hoped for some foresight into what she could expect from the council on her eventual return.
Jerin’s cautious interruption snapped her out of her thoughts. He wore a troubled expression when she looked at him.
“Did the conversation upset you?” he guessed.
“No, no,” she assured him. “I was just thinking about the situation.” Out of concern for him, she asked the same question. “Jerin, if you feel that you’ve made a mistake, if you’ve had a change of heart now that...”
“I have not,” he asserted firmly.
She smiled her gratitude. “But if that were ever the case, I would go back to Harrowbeth for you.”
“And abandon Derian?”
“I didn’t say I would stay in Harrowbeth,” she retorted devilishly.
Ian kept at his queen’s side as she left the bridge. Their footsteps fell as a slow amble, their attention caught up in a telepathic conversation.
(Did you see Father’s face?) Ian asked.
(When he thought you had betrayed Harrowbeth? Or when he realized it was I who betrayed Harrowbeth?)
Eena cast a look of confusion at Ian.
(Didn’t you see his face go completely blank with shock?)
She still wasn’t following. (When?)
(At the end of your conversation. When you were comparing yourself to Imorih.)
His hint didn’t light any bulbs in her memory, so Ian spelled it out for her.
(You called him Father.)
She had not even realized she had addressed Unan affectionately. (Well, I was adopted, you know, so technically he is my father.)
Ian gave her an overexaggerated ‘duh’ stare. (I know. How many times have I said that? I was the one who told you to call him ‘Father’ when I first brought you to the house.)
She feigned surprise. (You told me that?)
(Brat,) Ian grumbled.
Eena grinned big, showing her white teeth.
It was quiet while the mind reader concentrated on his queen’s thoughts. He commented on a warm notion.
(It felt good, didn’t it?)
(Calling him Father.)
(Yes,) she admitted. A warm flush reddened her cheeks. (I might keep saying it if Unan…I mean if Father ever forgives me for what I’m doing.)
(He’ll forgive you. I don’t have to read the old man’s mind to know that.) Ian bumped her with his elbow as he teased, (You’re his only spoiled-rotten brat of a daughter.) When Eena took a slug at the jester, he dodged her swing.
(Annoying big brother,) she teased.
(Bossy little sister,) he kidded.
They both scrunched their noses after the exchange. (I can see what you were saying before,) Ian admitted. (That would sound sooooo wrong if we were married.)
(Told you so.)
(Pain in the neck.)
Eena stopped dead in her tracks at Ian’s last remark. She repeated it with the same incredulity in her words as evidenced on her face. (Insufferable dictator? That was just mean.)
She could hear Ian chuckling as he walked on ahead. (Okay then, how about overdemanding tyrant?)
(Uhg! You…you.……mean person!)
Eena didn’t know what was worse: Ian’s insults or the way his laughter filled the corridor like he had heard the funniest punch line in the universe.
(Troll,) she grumbled under her breath.
Copyright 2018 Richelle E. Goodrich