With a group so large it was very complicated to move through the territory without attracting unwanted attention, so I asked Kasha, Net and Hor to take their groups and go back to their corresponding sectors on their own. Net and Hor weren’t happy about separating, they had traveled together, but not Hor was in charge of one of the groups and he needed to go in a different direction, so there was no other choice.
Melchizedek had suggested to go first to sector 5, instead of going straight to the Palace. He didn’t tell me why, but in my experience it was a waste of time to ask a seer about his reasons, Cerridwen never did. And I wasn’t sure if it was his empathy affecting me, but I trusted him, I didn’t feel like he was trying to manipulate me, it felt as if he was trying to be helpful.
On the third day we arrived to sector 5 and I noticed a large group of people and activity around the central settlement. When a group came to receive us, I asked what was going on. They informed me that the Emperor was in the sector. I explained them that I was a colonel from sector 32 and that I had the tribute from the Light, the slaves from the Shadow Land. I didn’t tell them my name, and I sent Orsi to deal with the formalities, asked her to find me an audience with the Emperor.
It was late at night when they finally came to take me to the Emperor. I was nervous and a little scared. Would my father be disappointed with my success? Or would he be glad for me? I had already asked around and found out that Caracalla wasn’t part of the Emperor’s group, that was a great advantage, with Caracalla around things could get complicated.
I was taken to a conference room where the Emperor was holding court. General Bunefer from the Regal Family and colonel Pacorus were with him, both had come with him from the Palace. General Dhakhan from the Amon Family was the sector’s general in charge and the only other person in there.
“Greetings.” I bowed to them, waiting for them to acknowledge my presence.
“What are you doing here?” asked Kamose.
“I stopped here for the night on my way to the Palace, I have the tribute from the Light, I was on my way to deliver them to you, as I was asked to do.”
“I remember that we had a problem with the tribute, the groups we sent to retrieve them had gone missing, right?” Kamose was talking to his advisors, ignoring me. “Who was in charge of that problem?”
“After the third group’s disappearance you gave the task to colonel Iris, she consulted the seers, asked them which option would give her positive results.” Bunefer answered.
“The seers…” Kamose went silent, thinking about the new information. “So the seers decided to send a damaged warrior to in a mission where other more capable warriors have already failed?”
“A damage warrior that apparently succeeded where other more capable warriors failed.” Added Pacorus.
“What did you find in the Shadows?” Kamose asked me. What happened to the ones sent before you?”
“There was a change in leadership in the Shadow Land, the new leaders were not happy with slavery, but had no problem with locking people up against their will. My predecessors were being held in a prison in the limits between the Shadows and the Light.” Kamose was listening, and his mind was circling mine, reading my superficial thoughts, trying to catch me in a lie. “I did a new deal with the new leaders and they agreed to keep paying tribute, is just that the new slaves are not of the compliant kind we were used to, I suggest to send them to hard labor tasks, not servant duty.”
“You let yourself be fooled by some bright ones?” he sneered at me. “You are doing their dirty work for them, they gave you trash and you are happy with that.”
“Would you prefer that I came back empty handed?” I knew it was wrong to talk like that to the Emperor, but my emotions were getting the best of me.
“I would prefer to bring back the slaves we were promised.” He answered as if he hadn’t noticed my lack of manners.
“Just like my predecessors did?” I felt the colonel and generals staring at me, but I didn’t care, I had done my job, finished my mission, did what I was supposed to do, it was too much to ask them to recognize that I had done a good job? “I did what the others couldn’t do. But if you prefer we can declare war to the Shadows.”
“And be the laughing stock of the Empire and even the Rebels?” Kamose was now acting bored, and that was even more infuriating, “I think we will have to do with what you brought. Pacorus, take over the slaves, make sure they are delivered to the proper place. And you, your job is done, you can go back to sector 32.
“As you wish Emperor.” I bowed and left as soon as possible. I wanted to cry, I wasn’t sure if it was anger or grief, but for once I was glad of my inability to shed tears. Since Ilum’s death, I hadn’t cried even once, no matter how much I wanted, my emotions burned inside of me, burning me from within, without release.
I started walking, not caring the direction I took. I was in an unfamiliar territory, I didn’t know where I was. I could ask any soldier to take me back to where my group was being housed, but at the moment I just didn’t care. Being able to just walk was oddly freeing.
“I remember that you always spoke your mind to the late Empress, but not even once you were rude to her.” Pacorus told me. I had already reached the limits of the sector’s base when he found me. We were completely alone.
“She didn’t destroy my life.” I told her, and I could hear the bitterness in my voice.
“Are you going to spend the rest of your life crying over what happened to you?”
“Don’t even try to pretend you know what I went through,” I turned to face Pacorus, “don’t try to minimize my suffering.” I took hold of him with my mind and started to squeeze his body.
“Let me go.” He ordered calmly.
“I don’t have to follow your orders, and I’m tired of following orders.” I realized that I was screaming, I was losing control and I felt ashamed. I let Pacorus go, not because he asked me to, but because I knew that I wouldn’t get any pleasure in hurting him.
“I have to admit I’m surprised by how far you have gone,” he said after a few minutes of silence, “but you won’t get any further if you stay trapped by your past, you have to move forward, leave the past behind you.”
“What are you doing here Pacorus?” He could talk, because he didn’t know how difficult it was to leave the past behind. “What do you want?”
“I’m on my way to my chambers, but you are a long way from yours.” He started to walk, when he was by my side, he whispered to me: “You did great Kaiserin, your mother would be proud.”
I couldn’t help but remembering our last conversation, just after I had recovered my memory, he had told me that my mother would die again if she could see what I had become. But he had just told me something completely different. Which one was true? If my mother could see me, would she be proud of me? Would one victory be enough to erase all my faults? To clean all my errors and degradation?
Pacorus was now out of my sight, and I was still standing in the same spot. I saw people moving around, a change of shifts I guessed.
“Greetings beautiful,” one of the warrior walking close by, moving in my direction. I saw his major insignia just as he spotted my colonel insignia, “are you one of the visitors from the Palace? I haven’t seen you before.”
“No, I just arrived, I’m on my way to sector 32.” I was distracted, it was the only reason I would have answered him, I had no business talking to him or giving him information.
“So you are the one, I heard about you,” it was then that I noticed the way he was looking at me, stripping me with his eyes, I could imagine the kind of rumors he had heard and I was getting ready to defend myself,” I heard all about your mission, how you went into he Shadows and rescued over 200 of our soldiers from them, how you alone defeated the people from the Shadows and collected the tribute, taking their strongest warriors.” It wasn’t the rumor I was expecting and I was speechless for a moment.
“You know people tend to exaggerate this kind of stories, right? What happened in the Shadows wasn’t a big deal.” The major was a Vlad, a very attractive Vlad, and his smile was kind of hypnotic.
“Why don’t we go to my room? You can tell me the true story there. I’m sure I can find a good wine to keep us company.” His words were suggestive and a moment I considered accepting, but then memories of Agmong and others filled my mind until I felt sick.
“I’m grateful for the invitation, but I can’t, I have to go back to my people, we have to leave early tomorrow.” I hoped that he hadn’t noticed the fear I have felt, that he didn’t try to analyze my lame excuse.
“Let me at least guide you back to your chambers.” He was polite as he guided me through the buildings to my assigned housing. “Good night beautiful.” He bowed and smiled at me as he left.
It was in the small things, the details that keep confusing me, it was moments like this that reminded me of my past, and the things I had to overcome in order to get my vengeance. I went straight to my room, not talking to anyone, but I didn’t sleep, I meditated. I needed to put my thoughts in order, and for that I needed to be in my mental landscape. I walked among the hallways and rooms of my mind and worked on ordering my mind.
Once I had tried to bury all the painful memories, but it had only led to what seemed irrational panic attacks and fears I didn’t understand. I had to remember again, I couldn’t just forget what happened, I had to get past it. Melchizedek told me that I was focusing on the negative aspects of my life, that I needed to focus on the positive. What could be positive? I was stronger than before, but not as strong as I would be if I hadn’t been robbed of two years of my life. What else?
I felt a disturbance in my mental landscape and knew that I had a visitor.
“I wasn’t expecting you.” I told my father.
“You look better than the last time we met, but your mind is still dark and broken.”
“Something else I have to thank you for, you’re the one who destroyed my mind and turned it into a dungeon.”
“The mental landscape is a reflection of the person, you have rebuilt the exterior, I thought that you would have done the same in your mind.”
“What do you want from me?” too many things were happening, I was overwhelmed, I was trying to put my mind in order, the last thing I needed was for Kamose to invade it.
“I wanted to see how you were doing, and to ask you not to leave your sector again.”
“Are you worried I may attract attention? Are you still worried I will blow your son’s chance at the throne?” I was hurt and angry. “Had it ever occurred to you that instead of trying to take me out of his way you should try to make him earn his place?”
“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.” I could see he was getting angry. “You know what he is capable of, he is strong and a natural born leader, he will be a good Emperor.”
“He is a coward who hides behind his lackeys.” I knew I was pushing my luck by insulting Caracalla.
“A good leader knows when to delegate, knows not to dirty his hands with menial tasks.”
“Of course, you will defend him no matter what!”
“I see nothing productive will come from this reunion. I want you back in your sector, and this time stay there, there is no place for you at the Palace or anywhere else.” With that Kamose left my mind.
I had a restless night and woke up early as usual. I went outside in search for breakfast. I had a couple of hours before we had to leave and I trusted my people to prepare everything for our travel. Pacorus was now in charge of the slaves, so I had less to worry about.
I found the dining hall for the high officers without trouble and after getting my food I found a table where I could sit alone. A few minutes after I sat down someone took the seat opposite from me.
“You look good.” Trajan said. “Ilum did a great work.”
“It cost her her life.” I answered. I was surprised to find him there.
“Yeah, that was a pity, but I’m sure she did it gladly, since your mother’s death, she had been miserable, life had no longer meaning to her.”
“And how do you know that?” Trajan was a mystery to me, I wanted to trust him, but he was Caracalla’s brother and he spent most of his time with him.
“Could we have a private chat?” after he asked I felt the pressure in my mind and I opened it so he could talk to me, mind to mind. ‘Thanks’, he smiled at me. ‘You should know that Ilum tried to save your mother, but she couldn’t, after that everyone thought that she had lost her powers trying to bring Sultana back to life. No longer a healer, she became a maid at the Palace. Once, when I was injured, Ilum went into my bedroom to clean it, but thinking I was asleep, she used her power on me.’ I could imagine her desire to help. ‘I noticed and asked her what she was doing, why her powers were working. She told me her story, when he was young, she decided not to use her powers ever again, her reasons had something to do with her religion, but after she met your mother she changed her mind. Do you know how they met?’
I remembered my mother saying that she had met Ilum after a battle, when Ilum was just a worker and no one knew about her powers, but she had helped my mother and when she became the Empress she sent for Ilum so she would be her personal healer.
‘It was after a battle, when Ilum helped her the first time.’ I answered.
‘Ilum told me that your mother had refused medical attention, she asked them to attend first to her men. Ilum told me she found her sitting in the corner, with mortal injuries. Ilum helped her, and by the time they met again Ilum was convinced that your mother was some kind of messiah.’
‘But I’m not my mother, she didn’t have to sacrifice herself for me.’
‘She helped me just because your mother had asked her a few times to heal my wounds and she felt like she had to take care of me,’ he explained. ‘But is different with you, I saw in Ilum’s mind how your mother voiced in several occasions just how important you were to her. Ilum saw that as a powerful link between you. When your mother died Ilum lost her path, but your return gave her a new goal, by helping you, even at the cost of her life, she found her path again, you made her death a meaningful one. Giving her the opportunity to help you is the best gift you could give her. At least that’s what I think.’
“Why are you telling me this?” I broke the mental link, it was just too intimate and I didn’t want Trajan to glimpse at the painful memories the chat was waking.
“I thought that you needed to hear it.” He said.
“I still don’t know what to think of you.” I confessed, I didn’t have the strength to lie or pretend with him.
“People are talking about you,” he ignored my comment, “once again you are the topic of conversation and Caracalla doesn’t like that, even less when he find out of your success.”
“I don’t care what Caracalla thinks, what could he do? Send a bunch of killers against me? He already tried that one, it hadn’t worked so far.” I was trying to talk in muted tones, trying not to attract attention, it was easier with telepathic talk, but I didn’t want to try that again.
“No, it hasn’t worked,” Trajan agreed. “Caracalla is furious about that, but I’m glad you’re still here,” he smiled at me, “and you should know that is getting extremely difficult to find someone willing to try to kill you.”
“If what he is trying to do is get rid of me, his plan seriously misfired, he is only making me stronger.”
“I’ll try not to let him know that,” Trajan said, suddenly serious, “is best if he thinks you are still weak, is in your best interest to keep him underestimating you.”
“That won’t be hard, everyone underestimates me anyway.”
“Not for long if you keep besting everyone, like with your recent mission, you brought the tribute and recovered our warriors, that’s more than the others accomplished.”
“My time is over, I need to go back,” I said to my brother, “it was nice talking to you.”
“Yeah, it was nice talking to you too.” Trajan agreed.
Pacorus, Kamose and Trajan. The journey ended up being a really interesting one, a walk into the past. Added my weird encounter with the bright ones it ended up being too much.
We took the road, and I had to concentrate not to look back, I had to go back to sector 32, to Vasuman. It was getting harder in light of everything that had happened the last days, after the freedom I had experienced I felt trapped just thinking of going back. But at least this time, as I was getting away from my father, I was leaving as a victorious warrior, not a scared and defeated soldier. They had given me a difficult task, and I had succeeded. Going back into retreat was just another test, and I was going to pass it. I just had to endure for a little longer, because I knew that I was going to get my life back, one way or another.
Copyright © 2014 | Kaiserin Novel