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Kadrien walked through the center of the room, moving quickly across the antique inlaid floors. Ancient stones beneath his feet, ancient walls around him... and none of it from this world. Oh no, they brought their old world with them when they came to build the new capital. Kadrien often wondered why, if they loved the other world so much, they ever left. There were no answers in all the ancient works he'd read.
They had brought much of their old world with them, a wonder to see. Ambassadors came to the capital world, marveled at the ancient alien wonders, and went home again.
Emperor Kadrien lived here. He knew the stories shown in the mosaics on the walls, and he knew the tales of the empire -- but he had never left the complex. Sometimes it made him feel like an animal, dressed in the finest silks and put on display for those ambassadors to gawk at, just as they gawked at the building.
Those were old dark thoughts, and Kadrien didn't slow as he crossed the room. He hadn't time to gawk, or to consider his own actions. Nearly everyone in the palace had gathered upstairs celebrating the Queen Mother's birthday. She wouldn't approve of him sneaking around, of course, but then if his mother hadn't loved intrigue so much, he wouldn't have had to take it up as well.
Kadrien wasn't used to moving around the palace alone, of course, but this wasn't the time to bring even the most trusted of the Emperor's Guard with him. Discretion... he had learned it at his mother's side as a form of self-preservation. Right now she thought he'd gone off with the pretty daughter of the new Elis ambassador. She'd learn differently, later. Shealways did. But even she couldn't demand to know where he'd been. He still outranked her. Sometimes that drove her mad -- petty vindication for her constant meddling.
He reached the far door and quickly put his hand on the palm lock. The door slid silently open, and he stepped through into an area where very few strangers were ever allowed to go.
Little time left now. Someone might notice the accessing of the door to the Royal Families' private rooms. They might tell his mother... or they might not. At any rate, he didn't want her coming down here and making a show of his leaving her party.
Some days he found living with her nearly intolerable. However, for the most part, she did far more than her share of the work. In fact, her intrigues had kept him in power during the dangerous first two years after his father's untimely death. If she had just learned to temper her games once Kadrien had control -- but no. She insisted on playing, even still.
He could not afford to ask her if she knew things he should. He could not afford to look like he had to rely on his mother for answers. People took advantage of that type of weakness, and his mother, unfortunately, was not as keen-witted as she had been in her youth. She liked having people dote on her these days.
Gods, what a mess.
Kadrien had resources of his own. He ruled an empire two hundred and ten worlds strong: a good empire, with few problems for so vast a realm. He'd brought peace after his father's dark rule, but even so, his father had left him a very unwelcome legacy.
The Imperial Guard had been moving farther and farther out of Imperial control for years now. He had, of late, heard faint rumors that some of the groups were preparing for open rebellion. He knew that he had to learn the truth, and quickly. He must also move carefully and with discretion. If word got out that the Emperor suspected the IGs of rebellion, it might actually push the Imperial Guard into action, as well as spread panic throughout the worlds. He wanted to know their locations, their strengths, and their plans without startling them into an action for which he was not yet prepared.
Kadrien had walked down the hall quickly, quietly. Even here, where there should be no one at all, he expected assassins. There had been attempts in the past, and passing an open doorway without his guards at his side proved a test of courage. He hated it. He didn't want to fear being alone.
His family had ruled this empire for over five hundred years, and he would not easily give it up -- not to the IGs or the assassins, or even his mother. He could curb his fears, and forget that he had no freedom, if it meant that he would hold things together for another generation.
Sometimes he couldn't decide what he really wanted anymore. Not that it mattered. As the years drew on they presented him with fewer and fewer choices.
The hall curved. He walked on, faster now, his slippers making a slight whisper of sound across the floor. He had already started to think out his note. He had only one person he could turn to with questions this delicate. Tam would be discreet -- had been so in the past and proved excellent as both spy and assassin. He would ask Tam to come here because he couldn't trust such a question in a note.
And it was an excuse, wasn't it? One to finally bring someone he missed back to court, even for a short time. Oh, Tam would have come to him before if he asked. Tam understood the prison and what held the Emperor here. But Kadrien couldn't bring himself to tie his cousin back to this damned world.
Besides, Tam did good work. They'd discussed it, years ago, before his cousin left Grant. Discussed the sort of work Tam thought he should do, having grown up in court and knowing all the worst people. Kadrien gave him leave and his blessing. He did not want his father's friends and supporters thinking they still held power at court.
The worst of those people began to die rather suddenly. Inexplicably. So far there hadn't been even a whisper of Tam's involvement. No matter, really -- even if they did suspect, they could never have brought him to any kind of court for justice. And that was only fair, since the ones Tam dealt with could not be brought to justice either. Too powerful even for the Emperor to call them to the High Court at Grant.
So Tam took care of the worst of the group, and the others, knowing they were marked somehow, grew quiet and withdrew from the public. Some thought that they could still work their plots and evils, but Tam managed still to find and deal with them.
And he made Kadrien look very powerful. No one doubted the Emperor's hand in the matter. People knew he had despised his father's cruelty, and would have nothing to do with those who had been part of his father's court. They didn't know how he arranged their deaths, but they lived in fear of his word. Even if they finally learned that Tam did the work, they would have to try and kill him -- and that, Kadrien knew, would not be easy.
Gods protect his cousin. There had been no assassinations in a couple years now, and he took that as a good sign. He wanted Tam... safe. And he wanted him sane.
Kadrien pushed that last thought away and hurried up the short flight of stairs that took him past his private rooms. He knew his mother had his comm lines monitored. So he went on to her office and used hers, instead. A long ago memorized code -- the gift of another friend no longer on Grant -- got him in through her door. He didn't think often of Prince Sharton from Silversun. It was appropriate tonight, since Tam had last been seen on that world, and still in the company of the free trader and smuggler.
Kadrien grinned at that one. Gods, the scandal he had created in the last year standard. It was joy to watch the hangers-on go near faint at news of Tam's company. Even his mother seemed amused by the gossip.
He slipped into his mother's suite: it smelled of perfumes, and always felt close and cloying to him. Riches littered every corner, gathered like her intrigues, and as easily tossed aside when they no longer amused her. He kept her happy with those baubles sometimes, but it still surprised him to see them here, like trophies to be shown to whomever happened this far into her lair.
She had lovers, of course. She gathered them like trophies, too -- and they kept her busy sometimes, when he could direct someone her way. Gods help them all if she ever realized that he often brought someone to court just to keep her entertained while he took care of real business.
He carefully didn't move anything, and even stood over her computer and comm equipment rather than sitting before it. Another code from Prince Sharton made it possible for him to get past any security she had set.
He worded his quick note as best he could in the limited time he had. Carefully, because though he trusted Tam, a note like this would go through many hands.
He read it a last time and sent it out. Done. If Tam got it, he would come back to Grant to talk to him. He had no doubt at all about that part. Gods, it would be good to see him again -- to see anyone he could trust.
Kadrien turned and glanced around the room at the gold and gems, the ancient artifacts and the best of the new art. He wondered if she really liked it in this room. He wondered if she really enjoyed any of the gifts anymore. Life had been better since her husband died -- but still...
Copyright \\a169 2006 by Lazette Gifford