Reads: 172

The Nanjing Empire was in danger. For several generations now, the suppressed pride of the northern tribes had been seething, demanding freedom and authority, yet the kings of the southern lands were unwilling to relinquish their rule.
"Once the northern tribes have gained their independence, there will be no peace," Liu Qi, the lord of the Weijing in the west, had said. He was a middle-aged man distinguished by a very long, pitch-black beard. "They will unite and establish their own empire, which is not in the interest of our ancestors. None of the tribal leaders possesses even a tiny sliver of the blade. They are not predestined to rule!"
"I do agree with you, but," argued Ten Ba, the king of Nanjing, "we can no longer oppress the northern tribes. The more time passes, the more hatred accumulates. We should find a compromise and negotiate." Ten Ba had gone down in Nanjing history for his diplomatic decisions. He had buried the hatchet between the western provinces through political connections, relieved the people through less taxation and set up a voluntary protection guard for smaller villages. Now he planned to grant the northern tribes a little more freedom. A decision that did not please all the rulers of the southern lands.
"These barbarians in the north are in no position to negotiate with us. I doubt they can even read. We should not waste our time with them," coughed Pei Pang, the corpulent administrator of the eastern provinces. He had hardly changed outwardly since his birth; he was a huge infant in the mould of a ruler whose decisions were governed by impulsiveness and greed. If the other administrators had not kept reminding him that politics aimed to serve the people, he would surely have got into a controversy of one sort or another. 
"That may be," Ten Ba replied, "but they are known for their strength and loyalty. Throughout history, we have always been able to rely on the clout and fighting spirit of the northern tribes. Now that the Renwai are planning to attack us, we need them more than ever. We must keep the Renwai away from our shores if we are to avoid fighting on our land. And who is more skilled on the sea than the northern tribes who have spent their entire lives among icebergs and water?"
"But when they gain their freedom, they will certainly not care about the Renwai's attacks anymore. No Drow or Elf will venture high into the north, so what happens to us will not be of their interest," Liu Qi countered anxiously. 
"So what? We don't need the northern tribes' help anyway." Ten Ba looked up as he heard the youthful voice of his son Wuhuan, who was actually sworn to silence. The rulers of the southern provinces desisted from their mental war plans and returned to the conference hall, searching the faces of the silent spectators for the man who had dared to interrupt their conversations. No one - not even the sons of the rulers - was authorised to make their own opinions known. Wuhuan's utterance was a sacrilege that stained the honour of the royal house. 

Prince Wuhuan was an intelligent, determined young man who, as the firstborn of the royal family, should have had a prosperous future. According to tradition, Ten Ba should have abdicated the throne after his fortieth birthday, but inner doubts prompted him to continue his reign. It was not because he did not appreciate Wuhuan. He knew the prince's positive qualities and would have been willing to entrust him with the kingdom even earlier if it hadn't been for these rumours. 
Rumours that were perhaps not worth mentioning, but which strongly influenced Ten Ba's decision. The maids had told each other of strange and sometimes sadistic practices that the young man was probably indulging in behind closed doors. Ten Ba did not want to believe it, but he could not let himself be blinded by familial feelings. His heart was divided. The father in him urged him to leave the kingship to his son, but at the same time, his inner judge of character warned him not to make a big mistake. Wuhuan had always been unpredictable and knew neither scruples nor fear. Even in his childhood, he had harboured dark fantasies, which he acted out on smaller animals and later on servants. He even did not stop at his younger brother Ten Jimin when driven by curiosity, he took the child's head and held it underwater for several seconds. When Shi Ling, the educator, saw what the two boys were doing, he panicked and saved Jimin from drowning by throwing himself on top of the brothers, screaming. Wuhuan did not seem to feel any guilt at the time when he explained what he had done. "I wanted to see what it was like to drown someone," he had remorselessly elaborated to his father. Ten Ba had been unable to believe the then only ten-year-old child's words. However, an icy shiver ran down his spine when he looked into Wuhuan's eyes and saw nothing but deep blackness. 
Even his daughters had not been safe from Wuhuan's actions. When the third youngest child Ten Sheying had been born, Wuhuan had taken her out of her cot, held her out the window and wanted to drop her. 
"I just wanted to see what it was like for an infant to fall from four metres," he had explained. Over the years, Wuhuan seemed to have shed his deadly thirst for knowledge and put on the mask of a handsome prince who could take any woman's heart by storm. However, Ten Ba still believed that his son was not fit to rule an empire. He would have waited to transfer his power until his daughter Ziyi had found a trustworthy husband. 

"Why fight with the Drow, father, when we can ally with them?"
"Ally? With the Renwai?" all three men shouted in chorus. Wuhuan's eyes flashed like a madman's. 
"Why not? They have advanced technologies and much knowledge about the elves. We could harness their skills to attack Terra and subjugate the peoples beyond the seas."
"We do not want to wage wars of conquest, Wuhuan. We merely want to defend our homeland. The rulers of the peoples have promised Su Jian no more wars. We do not want to expose our people to demons by turning nature's resentment against us."
"The tale of Su Jian was thousands of years ago, and times are changing. The Mohakin people have been in the shadow of the earthly for too long. It is time for us, as direct descendants of Su Jian, to take over and destroy the other peoples, Father. We will ally ourselves with the Drow and with their help subjugate the elves, the djinn and all other ethnic groups. We will raise a huge army and demonstrate our power to the world."
"Subjugate the other races? Someone's been looking into the liquor bottle far too long!" Pei Pang laughed dirty and patted himself on the lap. 
"Wuhuan, I know you only mean well. But I would like to ask you to be quiet now. Only the rulers have the right to speak in one of the great assemblies. You dishonour me."
Mischievous laughter echoed through the conference room, the rulers and their sons watching Wuhuan's bitterness with relish. For Ten Ba, the moment had been no less humiliating than for the prince, trying to brave the mocking atmosphere with a serious expression.
Wuhuan bit his lower lip, put on a sinister smile, bowed and briskly left the hall. His posture looked composed, but the force with which he pushed open the door gave an idea of how great the anger he was trying to suppress really was.





Submitted: February 21, 2022

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