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Mirage of the royals

Novel By: Regina De Corda
Romance



The story of a Persian warrior princess who overcomes her father's tyranny and threatens to destroy the kingdom with her will, while finding her true love and purpose in the most unexpected place. View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Submitted:Jan 29, 2013    Reads: 77    Comments: 4    Likes: 3   


King Darius Ul-Saud sat in his study in his particular boat, Maiden of the Nile. His mood pensive, he stroked his beard absent-mindedly as he murmured something to himself. The boat rocked gently with the waves as it lapped at the ship's hull. Shouts from the crew floated with the breeze as they tightened or loosened the harnesses here and there. Everyone knew that if the former king was in such a mood, it was best to not interrupt him.

Silently, Former King Darius of the Islands of Sahilibur, regarded the situation with wary. He knew the poor girl had been trapped. Out of all the guests, King Darius had been the only one who had not felt surprised at the proposal, having had suggested it to the king himself in one of their private visits. His islands had resources. Sahilibur had food, sea access, and a fair economy; which were the things that the Kingdom of Rehbartaj needed. Being the only country in the South-East with immediate access to the sea, Sahilibur had a good business, rich soil and a capable government. When the news had come to him that the borders of Sahilibur had been attacked, King Darius had been pleased. He had known King Sarosh from a long time ago, when they both had been mere princes, and he knew how to get what he wanted from the proud king. King Darius had asked his armies to step down, and gave the orders to accept their defeat humbly, not wanting any loss of blood.

His plan had worked. Now a part of the magnanimous Kingdom of Rehbartaj, his plan was now afoot. His mind wandered to the thought of his two sons, Salar and Salud. Salar had the reputation of being a Casanova, and even when many times he thought he could make his adventures invisible to his father, he was wrong. King Darius knew everything about Salar's late night visits to his many women, his raucous festivities and his ability to command his army with one shout. Salar had taken after his mother Suri; who had been the commander chief of the army when King Darius had met her.

He grimaced; his mood melancholy as he remembered the day his wife had died. Have died during Salud's birth, Salar had taken hold of his father's hand and said in his adolescent voice, "She's not gone, father."

This indeed was true. Every movement of Salar reminded King Darius of his wife and her family, who were an intimidating bunch to behold. He could see his wife's anger, temperament, and humor in Salar along with his mother's brother's physique. King Darius had felt; at many times; jealous that Salar had not inherited any of his father's traits. Salud, on the other hand, was the child of the Kingdom. Spoilt to bits, he raised his eyes a bit as he remembered that during the attack on his country, Salud had been in Europe, gambling on horses and playing whist with his friends.

A knock interrupted his thoughts. His first mate and Vazir Suhrab entered, holding what seemed to be maps.

"Perhaps you would like to see the new maps, sir. They have made to assign the new borders for the New Kingdom." He said, laying the parchment on the table in front of Darius.

Sighing, Darius straightened up to glance at the map.

Waving his hand dismissively after giving them a look, he stood up angrily. "If he thinks he can get away with this, he doesn't know me. Does he really think the states are going to accept their fate quietly?"

Suhrab bowed his head, not mentioning that their own country was the first which had accepted their defeat without a fight.

"I'll show him", Darius gritted his teeth as he paced. "The bastard isn't as smart as he wants everyone to think he is. He did exactly what I had planned and didn't even realize that he's falling right into my trap."

Nodding, Suhrab looked at his captain and former king, who bristled with fury, "The idiot." Darius mumbled.

"Tell me!" He shouted, looking at Suhrab with a renewed look of rebellion.

Suhrab, used to Darius's irrational mood swings nodded and spoke, "Princess Mirage is the third child, my lord. She has two older siblings and 5 younger ones, although the younger ones are still too little to see sense." He spoke solemnly.

"I know all that. I saw how they were acting during the banquet. How on Earth such a beautiful woman could give birth to such heinous creatures is beyond me, but then again, they are Sarosh's children so such behavior can be expected." He stated, still pacing.

Slowly he stopped in his tracks as Queen Nadira's face flashed before his eyes. He had not felt anything for any other woman even since Suri, but such a visual temptation like Queen Nadira could not be ignored, even by the most pious of men.

Suhrab gazed impassively at Darius and cleared his throat.

Blinking, Darius swept his robes with a kick of his heel and flumped on the divan. "Continue." He grumbled in a low voice, slightly breathless.

"Princess Mirage is currently twenty and one of age. She has not come out in any ceremonies thus far, and I suppose it was because of her father's wishes that she had attended the union feast. She may look delicate, your grace, but she has been training with the Rehbartaj armed forces since she was 8." Suhrab said.

Surprised, Darius gave an impressed whistle. "Eight?"

"Yes, your Highness. She had expressed an interest in the armed forces so her father had given her permission. She is a skilled hunter, sir. She is also very quick with the sword and has a record for the most sword fights won in the Rehbartaj army. She is not like her sisters sire, and has been educated in many languages, along with politics and science; although it was strategic analyzing she has most excelled in. It is also rumored that it was she who had made the plans for the mass invasion of the neighboring countries." Suhrab declared.

Shocked, Darius stared at his Vazir. Could this be true? Was that little slip of a girl responsible for the devastation caused by the invasion?

"She is different than all the others, sire." Suhrab said quietly.

Darius stared, "How so?"

"Well, she was hidden away from public eyes until the age of 16. After which, on her 16th birthday, she was allowed a trip to Europe with her 17 ladies-in-waiting and her entire family. The fact that she was hidden is what troubles me, sir. It makes me wonder the reason." He said, and the ghost of a frown passed on his face. Seating himself on the chair opposite to Darius, he continued, "I feel that if that girl was so capable of planning everything, perhaps she was given some sort of secrets. Some mystic information that made her what she is now. She is smart, and fast… and ruthless." He added, "She was the one responsible for the beheading of the forty bandits of Macabre a few years ago."

Noting Darius's face, Suhrab exclaimed, his voice exasperated. "Do you not remember them sir?! They were the ones who had stolen gold from the King's private lockers. It's almost a confirmed fact that it was indeed Mirage and her army who had stormed the bandit's hideout and had beheaded each of them without even asking if they had indeed been the bandits. She had brought their heads back surrounding the gold. Her action had brought so much fear into the underground crime ring that they had backed off. That is the reason why Rehbartaj has the highest white market economy and lowest death rate in battle, sir. It is because unofficially, she is the commander chief of the royal army. She is just too young to actually attain that post."

Nodding slowly, Darius took it all in. Could Salar control such a beast in girl's clothing?

"She's going to be my daughter-in-law, Suhrab." Darius whispered.

The Vazir nodded gravely, "If this is true sire, she will be a valuable asset."

Grimacing, Darius looked up at his first mate. "She'll be dead before she steps onto my land."

Snapping up from his lounging spot, he said loudly, "Salar is my son. He will woo this girl and marry her. And once she becomes Queen, it will take one swipe of the sword to claim what is rightfully ours. My son will be King, and the Kingdom of Rehbartaj will be under Sahilibur's rule."

Standing up, Suhrab looked at Darius sharply, "Sire, indeed if that is your wish, than that will happen but if you allow me to speak freely…"

"What, Suhrab?" Darius asked, frustrated.

"Prince Salar may be the finest swordsman in the land sire, but in Princess Mirage; if I may too bold to speak, he may meet her match." Suhrab deemed to say.

His face growing red, Darius looked as if he might just take his sword out and plunge into Suhrab's gut, but controlling himself; he only pinched the bridge of his nose and growled in a low voice, "So be it. My Salar will stand against Rehbartaj's Mirage, and when they do, I'll take great pleasure in hearing her blood spill on the floor before her father's blood follows suit."

"Um… sire, there is something else." Suhrab said, taking a step back for his own safety and taking out a piece of parchment from his trouser pocket.

Looking up, Darius stared incredulously, "And what's that?"

"It would be better if you read it yourself." Said Suhrab, handing Darius the parchment.

After reading the letter, the scream of outrage from Darius that followed was so loud that it could be heard by sailors on the guard ships beside the Maiden a mile away.

~0~

Mirage frowned as she saw the last of the ships become little specks up the river, the last rays of the sun shining on them as it set. She had not spoken to any of her parents yet, and was becoming impatient as the second day after the announcement came and went. She needed to know what the next plan of attack would be. She was all for sacrificing herself for her Kingdom, but marriage? That was like an arrow in the gut. How could her father even think that she'd follow in the footsteps of her older sisters and get married at the drop of a hat with the first person who'd blushed at the sight of their fluttering eyelashes? And then there was the matter of her becoming queen. That had been out of the blue. She had no idea her father had been watching her so closely. Had her father thought of this since the moment she had almost killed Alana while trying to hold up a sword when she was eight? When she had shyly admitted that she had wanted to know what ruling a kingdom would be like one day?

Turning, she went to her bed and flopped on it, face down. Her hair fanned beside her head and her robes rode up to reveal her athletic legs, but she didn't care. She was alone up in her forbidden tower of a room. Why; she could stroll around naked and no one would know. Not when she had harshly ordered her ladies not to bother her the whole day or she'd send them to the dungeon. Now that she thought about it, it became more and more clear. It had been a day just like this, horrible and unexpected, when her father had ordered her to come down to the village hall where he met with all those people from the village who had troubles. It had been silent when she had entered and as she walked up to her father who was sitting on his throne, she knew something was up. He had handed a sword to her, told her to meet with her private protection team who were going to take her somewhere where she'd be put to the test. Having no idea what that meant, she had decided to humor him and go along with it.

When she had approached the cave's mouth, she had not expected it to be the bandits who had stolen her father's gold hidden in there. So she did what she had been trained to do, and fought. Her first beheading had been so fast that before she knew it, her horse had reached the end of the cave and her sword's blade had become coated with blood. The anger that anyone could ever come into her home and take something that did not belong to them had fueled her anger so much that for a moment, she thought she had blacked out and was having an out-of-body experience.

Setting the heads around the recovered gold had been her father's idea and although she had not done so, her father had boasted that it had been her who had come up with this gruesome idea. She had stayed in bed for 3 weeks, afraid and horrified at her actions. That had been 4 years ago. Since then, she had not raised her sword, having thrown the one her father had given her in the fire. She had changed since then. She had learnt from her sisters on how to control her temper which she had obviously gotten from her father. And now, she was about to become Queen… along with getting a husband.

Flipping on to her back, she sighed, happy at being alone for once in her life, and scratched her leg with her toe and stretched her robes down to cover her legs. It was short-lived. BAM! Went the door and her brothers Rayan and Razin ran up to her, jumping onto her side on the bed. Looking up at them, she didn't get up. They were only her brothers. For heaven's sake, she had changed their diapers once, she knew them, and as her ladies looked from the open door at her with disapproval at her manner of relaxation, Mirage fumed.

"Close the damn door." She shouted at them. One of the youngest was pushed forward who timidly pulled on the door handle and closed it softly.

"I thought you'd be pleased. You look like a fright right now. What's wrong with you?" Razin said, frowning at her.

"Shut up and get out." Mirage said, taking a pillow from above her head and putting it on her face.

Shaking his head, Razin settled himself beside Mirage's legs and shook her ankle. Slowly, she removed the pillow from her face and looked at him with sorrow.

He pursed his lips, obviously troubled, "Look, you don't have to do this, you know. You can tell father you don't want to be Queen. I'm sure he'll find someone else to fill his rather large shoes."

Mirage sighed and sat up, holding the pillow to her chest as if it was her safety net, "I want to be Queen, I just don't want to married to do it."

Rayan, by that time had jumped off her bed and was greedily exploring the confines of her secret dessert cabinet, which wasn't so secret anymore since all of her siblings and her senior ladies-in-waiting knew she kept a load of sweet treats there in case she got sad or depressed which happened quite a lot, so it was always filled. Almost stuffed in to reach for something in the back, Rayan ignored them both as his stomach demanded attention.

Smirking, Razin sat back, steadying himself against the footboard of the rather long bed. "Well, you had to marry sometime. It's the law."

"It's a backward law and you know it. The first thing I will do when I become Queen will be the abolishment of that rule. Great-aunt Roshan had to abdicate from the throne because she didn't want to marry. Her family had her exiled. Don't you think father won't do the same to me if I said I didn't want to marry?!" Mirage exclaimed.

After a few moments of silence as Mirage sulked, Rayan said through a stuffed mouth from the depths of the cabinet, "Don't be so prissy, princess. Maybe you'll like someone. Maybe you'll fall in love!"

Rolling her eyes, Mirage waved her hand irritably, "That's so unoriginal. And even if I do fall in love, which is unlikely, I'll still choose not to marry. Imagine, having to spend your life with only one man for eternity. How cruel!"

Razin shook his head, "Father would kill you if he heard you talking like this."

"Or her mother might." Said a voice from the doorway. Everyone froze, Rayan's mouth comically stuffed and in mid-stride with his arms full of goodies for everyone else.

Queen Nadira had quietly opened the door, not wanting to disturb them all.

"Out." She commanded in her frosty voice. Both boys ran out, leaving Mirage to face the heat.

Grimacing, Queen Nadira closed the door behind her. Mirage stayed frozen. One could say that Mirage and her mother did not have anything in common except their eyes. Before Mirage's birth, Queen Nadira had given birth to a still-born son, which might have been the reason why her father loved her dearly sometimes and her mother often treated her worse than she would a servant. However, at that moment, staring at Mirage, Queen Nadira's eyes softened.

She went up to the cabinet, closing its wide open doors. "My dear", she said, her voice low.

Turning, Mirage saw the pain in her mother's eyes for the first time and gaped, slightly open-mouthed.

"Do you really not want to get married?" She asked.

Shivering slightly, Mirage bravely shook her head.

Pursing her lips; a hereditary trait, no doubt, she glided over to Mirage and looked down at her. They stayed silent, as the Queen stared at Mirage, regarding her with thought.

"You'll get used to it. I did." She said, and Mirage closed her mouth shut, nodding.

They both continued to look at each other, and the Queen sat down. "What's the reason?"

Suddenly, Mirage looked down. She knew what the reason was. Mumbling, she said, "Mother, I don't know the first thing about marriage. I spent my entire life around men but I have never looked at them from that perspective. If I get married, I'll be his wife. Do you see me walking one step behind someone for the rest of my life?" Her eyes grew watery.

This had been the longest Mirage had ever spoken to her mother. Surprised yet pleased, Queen Nadira took her daughter's hand. "My dear, this won't be like any other marriage. In this, you'll be leading him."

Looking down at her own lap, Queen Nadira sighed. "It is my fault. If only I had chosen to be closer to you as I was to your sisters, you wouldn't be in this predicament."

Mirage chose to say nothing and looked down at her hand in her mother's glumly. "If only", she said.

Anxiously, Queen Nadira blurted, "It's not so bad. Just give them all a chance. And don't worry; I'll talk to your father." Noting the slight raise of Mirage's eyebrows, Queen Nadira plowed on, "He will not push his own decisions onto you. You will choose who you want to be with."

Looking up, Mirage widened her eyes, "Really?"

"Yes" said the Queen with relief, and then smiled, "Your highness." And in that moment, as Mirage smiled, Queen Nadira's heart broke at her daughter's innocence; and her daughter herself who had fought in wars and cleaned the streets of Rehbartaj so efficiently of criminals and now sat scared at the arrival of her selection in potential husbands.

~0~

"So you see, I had no choice, I had to run. As I jumped on my horse, I saw behind me that the fire had spread, but I had to get those people out. So taking no care about my own life, I ran through the fiery hell, and grabbed as many people as I could, hauling them onto my shoulders then… Now nana, stop laughing." Salar said, sitting by his Nana's side with his legs crossed.

They were both sitting in the Grand-Queen's royal gardens, hidden behind a towering hedge of ivy. Blooming flowers of every kind surrounded them. Sipping their tea, Salar tried to tell his grandmother Dara of his latest adventure, even if he had to slightly tweak the details. Wise as she was, she loved he grandson's stories, and could always figure out when he'd be lying.

"So tell me", she said, mischievously, her voice delicate, "Did this happen before or after you single-handedly pushed all those boulders off that dying child and his mother?"

Taken aback, he looked at her with an expression of mock hurt, "Nana, how could you think that I'd lie to you about something this big?"

Nana blinked, "I never said you lied." And covering her mouth as she mockingly gasped at having caught him, Salar smiled and reached to take his cup of tea.

"Alright, so you caught me, but that dying child story's true." He said, taking a sip and making a face at its sweetness. He disliked tea.

"Of course it's true, dear, never thought for even a second that it wasn't." She said, patting him on the shoulder reassuringly.

"This thing is rubbish. Who makes this?" She said, suddenly holding her teacup aloft with disgust.

"I know, it's terrible. C'mon, leave it all here Nana. The servants will clean it up. Let's go inside and sit by the fire in your study. Father arrived this afternoon and I have so much to tell you." Salar said, rising up and holding out his hand for Nana.

As Nana stood up without his help since she was quite sprightly for her age, she dusted her clothes and nodded, "Let's".

~0~

"I know that girl. I've seen her." Nana said, gazing at the fire.

"You did?" Salar said, surprised. "No one's seen her, Nana. You must be mistaken. She hadn't been outside the walls until she became 16."

"And after that?" Nana asked.

Salar looked at the fire, "Not even after that. She was always surrounded. People couldn't even get a glimpse of her. Many thought maybe she was just a hoax."

"She was quite little when I saw her. Her grandmother had just died. The one Mirage took after." Nana said; her eyes glassy.

Salar became awkward. "Oh." So probably now is not a good time to tell her that I'm having murderous thoughts about this Mirage, Salar thought.

"She was a beauty; her grandmother. Did you know she came from a long line of mystics?" Nana said, turning to Salar who was seated beside her feet on the Oriental rug.

"Really?" Salar said, surprised. That was new information to him.

"Yes, she was always accurate with her visions. She was also a good friend." Nana said.

Salar said nothing. He was becoming annoyed with Mirage.

"You'll like Mirage. She's not your type." Nana said, smiling a little.

That caught him by surprise. "What do you mean?" He asked, interested.

"That girl is a beast in a girl's clothing, boy." Nana said, echoing his father's thoughts, holding his chin and looking into his eyes, "She'll eat you alive. And will probably sell your bones for profit."

Chuckling, Salar took his nana's hand, "I'm sure I can manage." His father had already lectured him on all this, about the bandits of macabre story, about her sword fights, and about her looks. Nothing appealed to him, he was sure it was all a big hoax created to intimidate her enemies. Even if her beauty was true, he had seen enough beautiful women to last him a lifetime, one more wouldn't tempt him.

"I saw her when she was a child and I knew. I knew she'd be different than her siblings. She takes after her mother." She said, letting go of his chin and looking back at the fire.

"I heard she's a spitting image of her father." He said.

Nana giggled, suddenly looking ten times younger than her age. "That would be unfortunate for a girl."

Salar smiled. His nana only laughed and giggled in his presence. He knew she missed her headstrong daughter very much, so he stayed with Nana as much as he could; being so much like the beloved Suri.

"Father wants me to woo her and marry her. Make her crazy for me... His words, not mine." He said as Nana raised her eyebrows at him.

"Your father is impulsive. He married Suri through impulse, and look what happened. No." She said, shaking her head, "Do not do what your father tells you to do. I know everything that happened Salar, do not trust everything your father says. I know you are to go next week, but please, if you treasure your mother's teachings as much as you treasure mine, give the girl a chance. You might like her."

Salar frowned, suddenly irritated, "Nana, her father took over our country. We might as well be his servants now."

"And are you?" She said, looking at his sharply.

Salar looked down, sulkily.

"Don't let your anger guide you. Everything happens for a reason." She said, softening. "She didn't tell her father to go to battle."

"Suhrab said that it was her idea all along." Salar said, mumbling like a child.

"Yes, and Suhrab is the ultimate guidance when it comes to information." She said, sarcasm dripping from her tone. "I know everything, dear boy. Suhrab only thinks that it was her, it was never confirmed."

"Why are you taking their side?" He said, angry at her acceptance of her fate.

"Because I know everything." She said, as if that was justifiable.

"That doesn't even make sense." He said.

"It will, one day." She said, patting him on the head, "Now promise me, Salar. Give that girl and yourself a chance to live. You'll like her. She'll be your greatest challenge."

She stared at him as he folded his arms and hunched his back, like he used to do when he was a child and wouldn't get what he wanted.

Waiting, she slapped him on the side of his head. "Fine, fine, whatever you say, Nana." Salar said, holding up his hands to defend himself.

Shaking her head, Nana closed her eyes and waved at him. He knew he was being dismissed. Smiling, he got up and shuffled to the door.

Nana called from her chair, "Don't kill her, dear."

"Sure", he said back, and mumbled, "I'll try." Nana said that she knew everything but he was sure that even Nana couldn't have known about King Sarosh's letter which had claimed that after a month of the wedding, Sahilibur would become Rehbartaj's capital and that the entire royal family would be moving into the Sahilibur castle, ergo kicking him and his family out, making them homeless.

As Salar hunched his shoulders and went in search of the cook who had made that offending tea; on the other side of the castle, Suhrab sneaked into the King's study where Darius sat behind his desk, reading. A glass of scotch sat beside him.

Walking up to the desk, he stood in front of Darius until Darius looked up from his book by Machiavelli called The Prince, and asked tiredly, "What?"

"Sire, do you think it wise to not tell Prince Salar about the rest of the letter?" He asked.

Darius stared at him with his bloodshot eyes. Taking his glare as his answer, Suhrab hesitantly bowed and stumbled out of the study without turning his back to the King, still bowed.

Darius sat back in his chair and thought. Maybe he should tell Salar why Sarosh was naming Sahilibur the capital. Presumably because Sahilibur had been the first city to admit its defeat, Sarosh had become so touched by this gesture that he had named King Darius as his ally, and made the suggestion of given his own castle complex in the Kingdom of Rehbartaj as compensation for the Sahilibur castle to the latter's family.

Maybe later, Darius thought, and flipping his book open, he sat his feet on the desk in front of him and read on.

~0~

Tomorrow, the circus will begin, Mirage thought. She stared up at the ceiling, tucked in her bed. The moon shone through the open window and the white curtains billowed in the breeze.

Looking at them, Mirage thought, if something happened, I'd probably die easily. My room is so high up in the air; it will take a long time for me to even get down to see what's going on. Her former room used to be on the west side of the castle, and resembled a mirrored room. A few months ago, Rayan had gotten hold of some fireworks and had excitedly showed them to Mirage. The rest, as they say, was history. Now her room resembled death, the walls and ceilings black, shards of glass spread all over the floor. It was a miracle that she and her brothers had gotten out of it unscathed. She had gotten an earful from her father, and now here she was, in this huge hall of a room. Purple velvet sashes hung from the middle of the ceiling down to the sides of the wall. Her king-size bed with Oriental carving sat on a pedestal in the far corner of the room. On one side was her dressing table which she seldom used, and on the other side, were mannequins adorning her robes for tomorrow. Like ghosts, they sat an eerie white glow even though none of them were white.

Turning her back to them, Mirage snuggled down, and thinking about what her sisters had told her in the past few days smiled grudgingly. How complex this male-female relationship was. Now that she was thinking about it, since her sisters had assured her that the lot from which she had to pick her husband consisted of some drool-worthy men, she felt a shiver run up and down her spine.

She had seen her sisters; hand-in-hand with their husbands or catching them in rooms where they'd be doing things, too busy to notice that someone had walked in on them and was laughing their head off; she had even seen her father cast some adoring glances at her mother, but never had she thought about the companionship for herself. And now, all this touching and loving and becoming one; all this was making her squirm, not with longing but with hilarious disgust. Do so much just to end up with a child, how insane! She recalled exclaiming to her sisters who looked at her with a frustrated expression on their faces, when they were explaining where children came from, not that she had asked.

Obviously, at 21, Mirage knew enough about that, but couldn't see why she'd be giving any interest to this waste of time when she could clearly be doing something else, such as training, or horse-riding. Her entire family thought her to be a boy really; but they never brought on the fact that no matter how accomplished she was in these manly fields, she was still a girl who loved the color pink and wanted to talk about boys with her sisters.

Sighing, Mirage punched her pillows to make them more comfortable. That time was gone now, and there was nothing she could do about it, except accept her fate.

She thought back to when her father had called her into the plan room, earlier that afternoon.

~0~

She entered after knocking to find her father looking at the new maps that were nailed to a wall, surrounded by different sketches of their game plans.

He gestured her to come forward and smiled. "What do you think?" He asked, waving a hand at them with a flourish.

She went up to the wall, studying them with a frown on her face. The kingdom of Rehbartaj looked huge. They now had access to the sea, the borders of Egypt, and USSR. Rehbartaj is dominant on the map, rightfully in its place, she thought smugly. She looked at the former country of Azadania at the south-west corner. That would be our agricultural problem solved, she thought, mentally ticking off each country. Her eyes strayed towards the large country of Sahilibur and its Islands surrounding it. In the middle of Sahilibur, a bit of red cloth the size of her fingernail hung from a thumb pin.

"What's that, father?" She asked, pointing to the red square.

"That, my dear" He said, putting a hand on her shoulder, "will be our new capital."

Shrugging his hand, she turned to him, eyes wide. "Are you really serious? Aren't you considering the consequences? Do you really think that the natives there will come under the new command without a fight?! And how in the world are we going to move the whole capital to another place; one which we know nothing about!"

King Sarosh looked at her sharply, "That's not something you have to worry about."

"Why not? I'm the one who planned all this. I have the right to have a say in this. You could have made this decision in my presence." She said, her temper rising.

Pointing his finger at her, King Sarosh growled in a low voice, "Keep out of this. I know what I'm doing, I'm going according to plan, girl. I am your father, not some idiot who doesn't know which way is up."

Gritting her teeth, Mirage tried to swallow her anger, "And what exactly is your plan, pray tell?" She asked, folding her arms, not daring to look away from his eyes. She could never back down from a fight.

Lowering his finger, he turned his back to her and grabbed a piece of paper from the opposite wall. Thrusting it to her, he waved, "Read it. It's what you'll have to do tomorrow."

Mirage didn't look at the paper and kept staring at him, not blinking. Her stare was starting to make him fidget.

King Sarosh shook his head like a dog shaking water from its ears, "You won't understand."

Mirage snorted in the most unladylike way, "And when has that ever stopped you from telling me anything. Just tell me. Tell me what's the point of all this? This making me Queen thing! This sham of a marriage, and this…" She said, pointing to the offending square.

King Sarosh stared at her. Sometimes it was a bad thing to have a daughter who was your exact copy.

Knowing she wasn't going to back down, he stated defensively, "That marriage won't be a sham. You know it's the law. As for the capital, Sahilibur has the most resources; it will be stronger than ever once I get a hold of it. I know the shift will be difficult but we'll have defensive advantages."

"And wouldn't we have them at the iron city of the East?" She said pointing to the Kingdom of Sirganjh, west of Rehbartaj. "We'd have mines, coal, iron, diamonds, everything to make the economy strong and us rich. We have the smartest minds in our advisory council; surely they can make weapons from the things they find there."

King Sarosh's face grew red as he tried to control his temper. "Do you think I didn't think of that? I've already sent the mining committee to inspect the damages done to those caves. But Sahilibur will have access to the sea as WELL AS WITH THE WEST." He shouted as Mirage tried to cut in.

She stayed silent, fuming.

"As for making you Queen, I thought you'd be pleased. You're far better than all my other children, you know that. They'd drown this country, but you use your brain. WHY ARE YOU NEVER PLEASED WITH WHATEVER WE GIVE YOU?" He screamed at her.

"I AM PLEASED!" She shouted back.

"DO NOT SHOUT AT YOUR FATHER!" King Sarosh roared.

"I AM NOT…." Mirage composed herself, "I am not shouting." She said, and then suddenly moving around him, she went over to the drinks tray and picked up a glass bottle.

His eyes agog, King Sarosh stared as Mirage took the stopper out of the bottle and poured an amount of vodka into two shot glasses. He knew Mirage had a taste for alcohol but she had never done so before in front of him. He felt awkwardly pleased.

Taking both shot glasses, she walked up to her father and handed him one, her expression passive.

"I am pleased", she said, "I was just caught unaware by all this. You could have told me before, instead of springing it on me like that. It's only been a week, father; and the surprise of being chosen was too much. I'm only 21, father. As much as I excel in all things, it was still a big shock. Becoming Queen will be a huge responsibility, especially now with our kingdom's expansion", she said, gesturing to the maps. "Along with that, I'll have to marry someone I know nothing about. It's not something I'd take lightly."

Looking down at the clear liquid in the tiny glass in his hand, he remained silent.

"I have no idea what this marriage is all about. I have never thought of anyone this way, father. You know what I'm like. I've hardly ever been outside these palace walls…" She stayed silent, looking at her father solemnly. "It's just all this that's so unfitting for someone like me. I trained for battle, not for companionship. I see someone I don't know; someone who might make me vulnerable, my instincts are to pick up my sword. You don't even trust mother. How do you think I'll ever be able to trust any man who I'll have to stay with for the rest of my life? He'd be a liability."

King Sarosh glanced up at the mention of his wife and smiled slightly. "That's the reason for this marriage clause. Once you have someone in your life, the urge to protect them, to keep them from harm becomes so strong that it makes you swifter than anyone, because then you don't think just about yourself. You think about your partner. And I do trust your mother, my dear." Mirage resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "She's the brains while I'm the brawns of this great land." Then taking a deep breath, as if he was composing himself for something, he said, "Which is why when the time comes for the princes' arrival, I shall have no say."

Mirage widened her eyes. This was not the reply she had expected. "When they come, you will ask them questions about themselves; questions which they will give direct answers to and then you'll move on. You can ask them anything. Anything and everything. It will be your call. You will choose for yourself." He said.

Mirage stayed still, millions of thoughts running through her head, dominant of which was, Mother really does have her power on father, otherwise he'd never let me choose.

"And what will happen to the man's country?" She asked boldly.

"They'll be given compensation. I will not take anything from their land. I will let them live in peace. After all, they'll be my daughter's in-laws." He said, raising his glass.

"And the others?" She asked, raising her own glass.

"It's a dog-eat-dog world, Mirage. They'll have to fight for their right to live." He sighed and clinking his glass with hers, regarded her with a self-satisfied grin, "Will you have a problem with that?"

Smiling, she took a swig of the vodka and said loftily, "Why in the world would I?"

~0~

Thinking about tomorrow, Mirage closed her eyes, her heart fluttery with anticipation. Well, it looks like I have some power after all, even if it is in an indirect way, she thought, smirking back as her mind went back to when she had complained to her mother that her father wouldn't let her choose. Everything went right according to plan, she thought, and smiling smugly, Mirage slipped into an undisturbed session of sleep.





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