Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. Hope you all enjoy it.
“I behaved poorly, your highness, I beg your forgiveness.” Lord Chiron said.
“You were drunk.” Tier shrugged, not looking up from the stack of maps he was going through. He had little patience for the man. “It happens.”
“I trust your traveling companion is not too upset?”
Tier lifted an old, worn parchment. “If your wife hadn’t dropped her food on you, Xin would’ve.” He glanced up at Chiron, smiling. “You deserved it cousin.”
“Indeed.” Chiron gritted out. Tier ignored his glare, shuffling through the collection of maps and scrolls. “I’m not entirely sure I understand what you are looking for. You’ve never been an academic type.”
Tier leaned back, drumming his fingers on the table. “The Seeress,” He hesitated. Chiron didn’t need the details. “Asked me to look into something for her, however she was vague on some of the details. Sandau was our next planned stop, but if your military advisers were correct,”
“They are.” Chiron snapped. “The Emperor is aware of the situation and told us to take the fort anyways!”
“Then Sandau is out of the question.” Tier ignored Chiron’s grumbling. “I saw a map in the south, showing cities I’ve never seen before.”
“There were northern territories, once we traded with them, if history is to be believed. There has not been trade or any kind of communication with those territories in generations.” Chiron pulled a map from the stack of parchments Tier hadn’t gotten to. “Look,” he set the map in front of Tier. “Some say they were elemental run cities. Others say they were fortresses of the great dragons. I think they’re naught but ruin.”
Tier peered at the map, beyond the canyons to the north, several large marks, the names faded and worn.
“Absolutely infuriating. What we need is a good assassin to take out that damned Corrin and the others that are keeping our forces from taking the fort.” Chiron was pacing.
“I don’t know that a commander from a backwater country like Sandau would be, in father’s eyes, worth sending an assassin.” Tier pointed out.
“That’s what you said yesterday.” Chiron paused by the window looking out. “I hardly think Sandau a backwater country, and I think that the Emperor should rethink our position. It is a dangerous nation, waiting for a moment of weakness. Delebeg is not the strongest territory of the Empire. If Sandau decided to move in our direction,” he held out his hands.
“Then the might of the Empire would be brought down on their asses.” Tier shrugged it off. He’d sat in Chiron’s war meeting, his suggestions, based off of his own experiences were ignored.
“On three separate occasions I was ordered to take the damn fort. Each time Corrin managed a minor miracle and we find ourselves slinking back, tail tucked between our legs.” Chiron sipped at a glass of the purple wine he favored. “I received several letters, from the Emperor and one from the Seeress herself, telling me to take the damned fort.” He glared at Tier. “Each time that bitch out-thinks Delebeg’s finest.”
Tier bit the inside of his lip, restraining himself. He wanted to get out of Delebeg, out of the heat and the acid atmosphere, away from his damnable cousin.
“I gave my advice, yesterday. It’s not my problem.” He tapped the map, tired of talk of the fort. We’ll go through the canyons and make for one of those old cities.” He murmured, gut twisting. “What city is this?”
“The locals called it Hyrfett.” Chiron went back to the arched window, staring down at the gardens through the white lattice work. “Once Delebeg was the capital of the Earth Elementals. Air Weavers, or floaters, had a city suspended above the canyon.”
“I’ve never heard of it.” Tier regarded Chiron in surprise. He’d never thought that Chiron would have been well versed in any kind of folklore.
“Neither had I till we chased a band of ruffians into the canyons in the early days of my being sentenced here. We found a village at the base of a massive rubble pile. The villagers said the last stand of the Air Weavers was made there. Said the Nekarian army took out the rock supports with false fire in the middle of the night and collapsed the whole damn thing.” He sipped from his wineglass and shook his head. “I think taking a look at that rubble is worth it.”
“I’m not really one for architecture.” Tier stood and joined Chiron by the window, glancing down at the private gardens below. He tensed, following Chiron’s gaze. Xin sat beside one of the fountains, elbow on the marble staring at the water looking bored. She was surrounded by the other ladies of the household, with Vieno hovering nearby. She wore a dress similar to the one at dinner, though this was a pale blue. Her hair hung loose, the light shining off it gave a hint of blue. She straightened and stood, responding to something Vieno said.
“She is exquisite, cousin. I dare say she held the dining hall captivated last night.” Chiron’s voice was admiring. Tier forced a smile, unable to tear his eyes from her as she edged away from the other women. “Dhaulain I am guessing?”
“Yes.” Tier went to the liquor board, pouring a small glass of brandy. He didn’t drink often, too easy to drink too much, but he had to do something. He rejoined Chiron at the window.
“Whose bed does she grace?” Chiron asked archly. “Yours? Or Rale’s?”
“Neither.” Tier gritted his teeth, setting the brandy down on the windowsill untouched. “Why do you ask, you’re married.”
“That hasn’t stopped me before.” Chiron sipped again from his wineglass. “She should be taught the respect of her betters, you know.”
Tier took a deep breath fighting the urge to shove Chiron’s wineglass down his throat, or up his ass. “The only one to be teaching her that lesson would be me.” He forced his voice to be cold, as an Imperial should be.
Chiron looked at him startled, a mocking smile flickered at his lips. “Can I consider this a claim, cousin?”
“Consider it whatever you want to, Lord Chiron. I will not restrain myself from taking off your hand if you touch her.” Tier stepped forward, shamelessly using his heavier frame to crowd Chiron, forcing the other man to step back.
Chiron’s eyes widened, jaw clenched. “Fancy you finding interest in a slip of a peasant slut.” he spat the last and Tier struggled with a sudden surge of rage. He forced himself to take a deep breath.
“You have presumed much, in this short time, and have tried my patience.” Tier gritted out. “Even in the Imperial War College in Lorn, the complaints of the women of your household have been heard. We’re guests, passing through on a mission that is none of your business. If you want to pursue something, pursue reconciliation with your wife. It might make your bedroom life better. You go near Xin, I won’t stop myself. Got it?”
Blood drained from Chiron’s face and he swallowed several times. “Yes, your highness.” he finally croaked out.
Tier studied him before turning back to the table and its stack of letters and things. “We’ll dine in my quarters this eve, to save you the hassle.” Tier locked eyes on his cousin. “Is that acceptable?”
“Of course, your Highness.” Chiron spoke through gritted teeth. “Whatever you desire.”
Tier tucked the map into his vest and left. He needed to move, get some fresh, non-dry air. And to get space between him and that sniveling worm.
The women of Chiron’s household had long decided she was not interesting. Their talk, consisting of court and household gossip and clothing styles, bored Xin to the core. She considered flicking some water at them, but there were too many eyes and she couldn’t risk exposure. Instead she half listened to their talk, watching the ripples in the water and the small flying insects that came to drink. She looked up when they fell silent and smiled. Tier barely acknowledged them, nodding at Vieno.
“We need to talk.” He motioned the walking path that wound through the garden. Xin was relieved to see him. He was a rock in a sea of uncertainty.
“Problems?” She peered up at him.
She nodded tensing slightly when he rested his hand on her lower back guiding her past whispering women and down the tree lined walkway. The heat from his palm, his arm brushing her side and shoulder made her heart pound. It annoyed her to have such reactions to him. Rale didn’t send her heart pounding, nor did he grace her dreams at night. Tier was an imperial prince, for all she knew he was married or betrothed to some fine noblewoman. She had to keep that in mind. But it was hard to remember when the slightest touch sent her thoughts into a tailspin.
“Something wrong?” She asked, glancing up at him. She could see the tension in his face, feel it through his touch. Once they got a distance from the fountain he stepped away, pacing in the small clearing. Fear filled her. “Did my outburst cause you trouble?”
“No.” He said quickly, staring at her. “Not at all.” His dark eyes intense, several times he looked as if her were about to speak before he sighed rubbing the bridge of his nose. Xin bit her cheek to keep from smiling, he looked almost flustered. “We’ll be leaving in the morning. I gave Chiron orders to allow our to dine in my quarters. Less formal, fewer eyes.”
“Fewer food fights?” Xin asked, snickering. He chuckled. “Will we be heading to Sandau then?”
“We’ll discuss it at dinner.” He sank onto the bench. “There are to many mice here.”
Xin blinked and nodded, of course, spies. “Things aren’t what they seem here, are they?”
“Nothing is. No matter where you go.” He shrugged. “I want to get back to south.”
Xin swallowed. “Homesick?”
A shudder ran through him and he shook his head. “Not exactly. I left mid siege and have been on the road. I have no idea how that’s going, no word from the south has reached Chiron either.”
“Duty. Of course.” She looked away. “The women here were talking about the trouble Chiron’s in.”
“He wanted no assistance, nor did his people want to hear my suggestions.” There was a touch of annoyance, injured pride perhaps?
“Tough to get a no, eh?” She asked without thinking. His eyebrows shot up but he gave a rueful grin.
“Not used to hearing it.”
“Of course not. Who says no to the Imperial prince?” Xin stepped back when he stood, though he just seemed amused.
“I really hate my titles.”
“You wear them very well though, Tier. Even if you pretend you don’t.”
“I will have to remember not to try to mince words with you, woman. You have a mean tongue.” He said. “Come on. There is enough gossip in this pit of vipers, I’d rather not add to it.”
“The women giving you trouble?” Tier asked. Xin shrugged.
“No. I’m not highborn enough for them. Not to mention all they talk about is clothes and who is sleeping with whom.” she fluttered her hand. “I got my fill of that from Matau.”
“Which is why I tend to avoid court.” He pointed towards the complex of buildings. “There’s a library to hide in over this way, if you want to get away.”
“A library? You read for leisure?” She asked archly. He shook his head.
“On occasion.” he laughed. “More often I’ll sleep. It’s very peaceful, even the most tiresome old windbags shut up in the library.”
The next chapter will be posted Tues, July 29th.
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(c) 2014 Necia Phoenix