At that moment I could only feel. Feel the pressure in my back, the need to push despite the midwife telling me it wasn’t time yet, the heat in the room, the people waiting around me, but above all, I was feeling scared, scared that something would go wrong.
After an endless wait, I was ordered to push, and a few moments later I heard, I’m sure I heard a baby crying. I heard the people around me moving, cleaning the room, talking, and that sound drowned everything else, and I knew, just knew something was wrong.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Where is my child?”
“I’m sorry Kaiserin,” someone I couldn’t see, but I knew was Isis said, “it seems that your child didn’t make it.”
I woke up after that, the vision stopped. I felt sick, and it wasn’t morning sickness, it was the vision that kept coming back. Three months I have known about my pregnancy, and since then the visions of the death of my unborn daughter have kept repeating themselves. It wasn’t always the same, but the end didn’t change. My child was alive at the moment of birth, I could hear her cry, but always, someone would tell me that she didn’t make it, somehow she would died a few seconds after birth.
My mother had hidden me for years, I had become a legend since the beginning because of that. She had done it for fear of someone trying to kill me because I was hers, she knew that as an empress there would be people willing to make her descendants disappear just so their own heirs could have a better chance of getting ahead. I used to think her actions were exaggerated, even a little paranoid, but I was finally understanding her. My life was never easy, even when my connection to her was unknown, people still tried to kill me in their search for power. When I was declared Sultana’s heir, things just got worse. As my power and abilities improved, my enemies increased, until my own father decided to seal my powers and my half-brother decided to send me to a living hell. I had crawled back to life, I had gotten my powers back and managed to get the empress title to myself. But this new test was the hardest I had faced so far. The knowledge that I was carrying Vasuman’s child had given me hope and a new reason to live, but the visions were showing me a future my daughter would not be part of, and that future was threatening to break my spirit.
Melchizedek, a priest from the Light, who is also my teacher in all related to my clairvoyance power, had taught me that visions are not absolute, that you have to learn how to see which ones you can change and which ones you have to accept. I needed to believe that I had options, that I could save my daughter, that my future could be changed.
“Good morning my lady.” The slave entering my room distracted my dark thoughts and allowed me to focus on other things. I needed to concentrate on my day, I had a job to do as Empress. “How are you today? I brought you these.” My personal slaves had noticed my morning sickness and they brought me some remedies every day to help with it. At first I had not trusted them enough to use them, but then I had started trusting and the soothing effects of those remedies were very good.
I took the beverage and my nausea decreased. Then I concentrated on the plate of food she was offering. I ate in silence as my slave prepared my clothes for the day.
“How is Leala?” I asked. Leala was my main slave, an old lady that looked after me with the care of a mother. She was one of the few survivors of my mother’s time.
“She’s feeling better already, she will be working for you again very soon.” The slave was surprised that I asked after the well being of a slave.
“That’s good, Leala is a good woman. You say she is better, but if she still feels unwell, I could ask for a medic or a healer to take a look.”
“You are so kind my lady, but is not necessary. We are here to serve you, you don’t need to worry about us.”
The young slave finished her tasks and taking my empty tray left the room. I took a shower and then prepared to face the new day, ready to go to the throne room and start my day.
“Good morning Empress,” Trajan, my brother and second in command, greeted me. “Are you alright? You look tired.”
“I am tired, being and Empress is not that easy, you know? There’s a lot of work involved, too many things to worry about.”
“If you are not feeling up to the task I could take over you, sister,” his words had the exact tone to be perceived as a joke, but I could feel the yearning underneath.
“If I ever decide to leave my position as empress, I would like you to take over me and not Isis.”
“It’s too soon to be thinking about that. By the time you stop being the Empress Isis will be long gone.”
“I would like to think that, but she is so eager to rule that she could be able to live another fifty years.” My mother’s sister had lost her opportunity to be the empress not one but three times. “But, let’s forget about Isis for a while, is there something we need to discuss before she arrives?” As a general Isis had to report to me every day.
“Nothing new to report, but I need to warn you that we have a very packed agenda for today, a few minor Clans with territorial disputes that you need to take care of. You know, those old disputes that come up every time there’s a government change.”
“Another ruse to see if I’m up to the task of being Empress?” I haven’t had a formal introduction to the Clans as the new Empress, but many Clans were already testing my limits to see how far they could push their own agendas. “If things keep being like this, I will be forced to kill a few people just to make a stand.”
“It might not be such a bad idea.” Trajan smiled his agreement.
Despite my fears we had no trouble with our morning meetings, none of the Clans dared to defy me and my decisions were accepted without protest. By noon our most pressing issues were resolved.
Trajan and I had a simple lunch before going to a meeting I had been waiting for all week. I took my place at the head of the table, with Trajan at my right with his colonels: Maddan, Ranavalona and Pacorus. To my left was Isis with her colonels: Lamia, Ixtlilton and Sheikha.
“It is time to call for a meeting of the Allied Clans Kaiserin, it’s been almost three months since you became empress and we need to make your official presentation to our allies.” Isis insisted again.
“I know Isis, believe me, I have every intention of doing it, but there are other problems to resolve before I do that.”
“What problems? Are you talking about your crazy idea of changing the slavery rules?” Isis was too used to the status quo to accept any changes and was quick to dismiss my reforms.
“I just think is not fair to divide our population between soldiers and slaves, I don’t see the problem with introducing a third class. One capable of filling the tasks that soldiers are not up to, but that doesn’t have to be chained to other people’s wills, one with the liberty to choose what jobs they want to do and the freedom to deny the tasks they don’t want.” It was something I had thought about for a long time, something I thought was fair. “Or are you complaining about my crazy idea of forming a group for the children of our clan that fail their graduation test? Why condemn them to a life of slavery without an opportunity? Why not let them be low rank soldiers? Give them the opportunity to prove themselves again. Why not take advantage of their training? We can make them servants to the higher rank soldiers without taking the opportunity to climb ranks if they prove themselves. And before you say again that it can’t be done, remember that we have an example of soldiers working as something other than warriors in the people from the infirmaries; they are trained as warriors, but we don’t see them as captains or lieutenants, we see them as doctors, healers, nurses. They don’t usually engage in battle, they go to the battlefield as support for the warriors.”
“It’s ridiculous, just ridiculous to think that such a setting could work,” Isis insisted.
“It works in other Clans,” Trajan reminded her.
“But we are not other Clans,” Isis said. “What makes us different from other Clans is that all members of our Clan are warriors, capable of fighting, of winning.”
“But that’s not true, not all members of our Clan are warriors, part of our children end up as slaves when they leave the Burrows. That’s a cruel way of treating our own blood, it would be more fair to give them the opportunity to become soldiers, even if their duties resemble those of a slave.”
“That’s a recipe for disaster, why would they do their best if there is not going to be a punishment for failure?” Isis was losing her cool, getting angrier and making me angry.
“I think is a good idea and worth discussing,” Ixtlilton said. “Although I resent having my people compared to the failures from the Burrows, I have to accept that most of my people have never seen the battlefield, we base our ranks and power in our ability to help those who do fight. Not that my people wouldn’t be able to fight, is just that our strength is in supporting others.”
“It would be interesting to give those children the opportunity to be part of our Clan as soldiers, once in the army, they would have the opportunity to climb the ranks.” Sheikha added. “It’s not as if there is no precedent, if a slave is able to kill a high rank soldier, then the slave is given the opportunity to be part of the army, but being a slave is a label difficult to shred. Starting as a soldier, even if is a low rank soldier, would give them a better chance.”
“That’s why I think, I would like to give them an opportunity to be more. Just as I think that slaves should be given a chance to change their position, and not just to join our army. I would like a new class of servants instead of slaves.” Isis was just shaking her head as I spoke, dismissing my words as I spoke them.
“I agree with Kaiserin,” Trajan understood my way of thinking, especially because he knew why I wanted to do something for them. “I don´t see the problem in granting them their freedom if they are capable of meeting the requirements. We have rules that make it right to enslave those who oppose us or are not up to our standards in doing their jobs, why not apply the same in reverse and reward those who are loyal to us and excel in their jobs?”
“Their lives are reward enough, we are talking about slaves, we are not expected to treat them like people.”
“They are people Isis, it doesn’t matter how or why they lost their freedom, they don’t stop being human beings,” I said.
“You know what your problem is Kaiserin? You seem to confuse of your time with Agmong as slavery.” Isis’s words hurt because they were not far from the truth.
“I’m not confusing anything Isis, and I don’t need to remind you that I am the one with the power to make decisions in this Clan, my word is law. If I want to apply reforms that change the way the Clan works I can do it, I don’t need to ask for your permission, I am the Empress. Don’t ever forget my power.”
“It wasn’t my intention to offend you Kaiserin, I’m just trying to make you see the flaws in your way of thinking, you are not being objective, your past is affecting your decision making.” Isis’ smile and attitude was making me angry, her words weren’t meant to help, but hurt.
“You know how much I like you and respect you,” Lamia said, “but this time I’m afraid I have to agree with Isis, you need to take time and really think about how this is going to affect all of us. Your decisions are not only going to impact our Clan, but the whole Empire. You cannot longer act out of an impulse. You need to leave the past behind you and stop acting like a victim.”
“Acting like a victim?” I couldn’t believe Lamia’s words. “I’m not a victim, I’m an Empress, I’m the most powerful warrior in this Clan, and if you don’t remember, let me remind you that it was me who defeat you, both of you, during the Succession Battle. I’m thinking about my people and what is best for them, you are the ones who can’t let prejudice behind long enough to see things objectively. I called you to this meeting so you could help me to implement the necessary changes for my ideas to work, not for you to try to change my mind.” I started to feel sick, I had a feeling that something bad was about to happen. “This is just a waste of time. Leave me.”
“Don’t you think you are being childish with this?” Isis dared to ask me.
“I said leave me!” I used my powers, as I repeated my order, to increase the pressure in the room, making them uncomfortable and forcing them to leave. “All of you, I want to be alone.”
I felt the heavy air and the energy waves in the room, secondary effects of my powers and the fury running through me. They took their time in leaving the room, and I needed a little more pressure to make my guard understand that my orders included them.
It was just a minute after they left me alone that the vision arrived, taking over my mind and making me lose my touch with reality.