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At Cyrenia's spaceport on the small planet-empire, Nublis, Elon led his guest aboard his brand new starship. With his golden brown hair, electric blue eyes and amiable features, young Timothy was the image of his father at the same age. It was as if the hands of time had turned back to the day Elon first met Ephraim in the slave market. He realized with a start that had been over forty years ago.
Elon's tiny wife, Nona, met them at the entrance to the bridge. As black as her husband, she too had been a slave until the day Ephraim hired her to cook for his crew and she considered the entire Seiran Imperial family her personal property. Ephraim once told Timothy he'd deliberately thrown Elon and Nona together to get her out of his hair. Then he jokingly remarked it was no wonder her husband was as bald as an egg.
The Seiran Emperor's four sons might be grown men but to Nona they were still her precious lambs and, in her eyes, they could do no wrong. She would still chide Empress Thamar as if she was in her teens and as for the way she treated His Majesty -- the less said about that the better. She opened her arms wide and gave Timothy a hug. "Let me look at you, child! You've grown like a weed but you're much too thin. I'm just going to have to feed you up and put some meat on those bones.
As Timothy rolled his eyes, Elon smiled down at his tiny energetic spouse. "He's closer to thirty than twenty, my dear, and you may no longer treat him like a child. Timothy's our Trade Ambassador to the Interplanetary Synod Assembly now. He needs to be addressed as such, especially infront of the crew."
Nona was unabashed. "Well, just look at him. He's as skinny as a rail and I know he hasn't been following a proper diet. Have you, Your Excellency?"
Her husband sighed. "I give up. Come on, Timothy. After you've met the officers and crew, I'll show you the rest of the ship."
Timothy hadn't heard him because he was too busy gazing at the creature stationed by the navigation computers. It had the size and form of a small man, an iridescent coat of what looked like small blue feathers and the head of a bird. "What in the world is that?"
Elon chuckled. "An Aeolian and his name is Hoya. The Aeolians are a unique people from one of Seira's jungle islands and the finest navigators in the universe. It has something to do with their circadian rhythm. Hoya's a telepath like you and he speaks quite a few languages. You'll find he's a real character."
As if sensing Timothy's gaze, the creature swiveled around and a pair of brilliant black eyes met his. Then he heard a voice in his head. It was light with an almost musical quality. "You must be Seira's new Trade Ambassador and I gather the captain just told you who I am. My name's Hoya and I'm pleased to meet you. Now, if you'll excuse me, Your Excellency, I have work to do."
The creature turned back to the navigation computers and as the fascinated Timothy watched, the Aeolian's blue feathers took on a rose color, deepening to crimson. Elon started toward the console. "I'd better see what's wrong. Hoya's color changes according to his mood and red indicates a problem. This is a brand new ship and we're still working out the bugs."
Nona sighed. "Which means they'll be tied up for hours. Come on, Timothy. I'll show you your quarters. Then you can meet me in the galley for a snack and catch me up on all the gossip."
Over at the Nublian Imperial Palace, Seamus was irritated. This was unusual for him considering he was an Omega genius class robot, albeit he looked exactly like a three-foot leprechaun. "Adrian, will you quit fussing. You look perfectly fine."
The Duke of Ceila tentatively put one foot in front of the other and turned to look at himself in the triple mirror again. He was still a trifle unsteady after being in a wheelchair for so long. This electronic brace affair took some getting used to and if he wasn't careful he tended to balance too far forward and fall flat on his face. At last night's wedding rehearsal, he hadn't done too badly though. Going up the altar steps, he had only tripped once and one of the pages had caught his arm.
Having once used a similar brace himself, Nublis' Emperor Julian had given Adrian some tips. "Don't put your chin ahead of your toes. Remember where your feet are and don't move too fast. Above all, keep your chin and tail tucked in. Then you should be all right."
It pleased the Duke no end to find he was taller than his intended bride. He easily topped his medical attendant, Jared Barlow, by a full head and as for the diminutive Seamus, all he could say was, "How's the weather up there?"
When Alyssa saw him walking for the first time, her huge gray eyes widened. "Why, Adrian, you're actually tall! Oh, my! They're not going to be able to call you little any more, are they?"
Only the Emperor Julian's brother Cassius was as tall as Adrian. The bastard Prince noted his Imperial sibling's reaction with some amusement because this was the first time the Emperor had seen the Duke on his feet for many years. "Oh, heavenly days," Julian exclaimed, "the two of you look like a pair of bookends."
"Hmmf!" snorted Cassius. "Little brother, you're just jealous because you're so terminally short. The gods knew what they were about when they gave you such a tiny wife because you finally got someone into the family who was shorter than you. Now, I suppose, you won't want to be seen with Adrian in public any more."
Julian ignored his brother's gibes. "Incidentally, Adrian, how goes the battle with the Countess of Aram? Are you still under siege?"
As he read the Emperor's lips, the Duke winced, then signed to Cassius who translated. "Don't remind me. She's graduated from leaving love notes at my door to hiring a violin trio to play outside my window at night. They follow me wherever I go. Apparently, the woman's forgotten I'm deaf. The rest of the household is complaining mightily that they can't get any sleep."
"Have you tried doubling whatever she's paying?"
Adrian signed back with a wicked grin, "Your son Cass tried to have them arrested for bad playing. The local security boys didn't agree. They told him they sounded quite nice. He ordered me not to pay them any more money on general principles."
"Where are they now?"
"Right now, they're entertaining the temple guards in their barracks. Personally, I've become quite fond of them and I've begun to think of them as household pets."
"That's only because you can't hear them!" snapped Alyssa. "If I have to put up with one more night of their caterwauling, I'm personally going to break their damn instruments over their heads!"
"Actually, the problem is solved," remarked Julian. "Thanks to the tabloids, your little trio's become quite famous. An agent I know has arranged a concert tour. They're only sticking around long enough to say goodbye."
"Thanks, Grandfather," said Alyssa with real feeling and she kissed the eighty-five-year-old Emperor's cheek.
"Well, that much, I could do. But Adrian, I'm not sure you're taking the Countess seriously enough. The woman's unbalanced and she's been known to do some strange things. I don't trust her as far as I can throw her and I'm detailing a personal bodyguard to each of you."
That had been yesterday.
Adrian turned around and looked over his shoulder. The back of his bottle green uniform jacket fit perfectly and his close-fitting doeskin breeches and brilliantly polished black boots were immaculate. He turned to inspect the front. The silver wings on either side of his high collar and the ruby ring on his left hand were his only adornment and there was nary a wrinkle in sight. Finally satisfied, he picked up the dress cap and tried it on for the umpteenth time.
As he adjusted and readjusted it, Timothy entered the bedroom. He instantly mindlinked with Adrian. "Oh, my. Look at you. Tall and distinguished isn't the word for it. Your Grace, you're the classiest bridegroom I've ever seen. Are you ready to go?"
"He's been ready for the past hour, at least," scoffed Seamus, who could also read minds. "If it's possible to wear out a mirror, he will."
Adrian smiled a mite sheepishly. "I have to get used to the new image. It feels strange not to be sitting with a set of wheels under me. I was looking up at people for so long. Now, all of a sudden, I'm on my feet and looking down at them instead."
Timothy grinned. "Well, I have to tell you something and this may come as a shock. Pathos is no longer a part of your image and you'll have to find some other stock in trade with which to wow the ladies. Maybe, now you're on your feet and taller than she is, your would-be inamorata will find some other object of affection."
"One can always hope," replied the Duke. "It's time to go, isn't it?"
The crowd rippled with applause as Adrian entered the great sanctuary with Timothy at his side and there were more than a few gasps. Carefully, he walked to the foot of the altar steps. Then he turned to greet his bride as she came up the flower-strewn aisle on her father's arm. The Prince kissed his daughter on the cheek. He stepped back and Alyssa came forward alone.
Adrian offered her his arm and side by side they gracefully ascended the steps to the altar where Nublis' masked Archon and his scarlet-clad Major Domo awaited them. With her mane of silver-gilt hair piled on top of her head and crowned with a simple wreath of white roses, Alyssa was simply arrayed in a straight shaft of pure white Nublian silk. Her magnificent rose-pink pearls were Adrian's wedding gift. They came from his native island in Nublis' southern seas.
Copyright © 2003 by Kate Saundby