Chapter 2 - Any Cause For Concern

“And finally, I understand the Deondran Empire has recently gained a new Heir. Has there been any more news of that?”
The Ambassador nodded, glancing down at a pile of notes on the long table. “Emperor Gavion tells me that their Heiress is settling in well. She is due to be married to his own Heir, Edmas, in exactly three months’ time from the current date. I was also told by the Emperor himself that relations between his own Deondran Empire and the Aspelin Empire have never been better since this betrothal was announced, although the Aspelin girl is merely the daughter of a minor lord.”

Emperor Roxier smiled, inwardly musing his own Heir’s future options. Today had changed a lot for Layne.

“Remind me a little about the Aspelin betrothed to Edmas, Ambassador. Her name and her previous status?” Marshal Ferrilyn’s muzzle wrinkled as he frowned across the table.
“Of course, Marshal. She is the daughter of a Lord and Lady of the Aspelin Empire, and the eldest of two siblings- ”
“I heard that her sister has been selected for the same Captain Training Programme as our own Heir Layne,” another Ambassador muttered. Ferrilyn raised his eyebrows. “Interesting. Ambassador, please tell me a little more about Heir Edmas’ betrothed.”
“Her name is Audity Emmersia. She seems to be very happy with Heir Edmas, from what I saw of them both.”
Ah, Emmersia. That was it; the family name had slipped my mind. Thank you.” Ferrilyn nodded, his ears twitching impatiently. “Is there anything else that you all wish to discuss at this moment?”

Silence hung over the room. Emperor Roxier rose from his seat.
“Then allow me to draw this meeting to a close.” Meeting each Ambassador’s eyes in turn, the Emperor thanked them for their services and for the information they had provided.
“I will ask you to continue your work as per normal until our next meeting. We will continue to strengthen the bonds between all Empires of the Westexia Alliance. May Spia aid you all in your duties.”
The Ambassadors of the Perovan Empire murmured thanks and similar blessings to their Emperor as they filed out. The sound of claws quietly clicking on the floor echoed around the hall, until the doors slid shut and silence reigned in the meeting room.

Emperor Roxier turned to Marshal Ferrilyn, quietly appraising him. The Marshal stared back levelly. Then, with a long-suffering expression twisting his muzzle, he raised an eyebrow.
“Well, my dear Emperor?”
Roxier snorted, slumped back onto his stool and hit his head on the table.
“Ferrilyn, I do believe that was the longest meeting I have had to sit through at any point at all this year.”
The Marshal chuckled quietly, rising from his own stool and moving to the end of the long hall.
“In that case, allow me to do the honours and fetch you a drink. Perhaps something a little, ah, stronger than usual would be preferred? With all due respect, Emperor, you do look as though you may need it right now.”
“With all due respect, Marshal,” Roxier replied dryly, his voice somewhat muffled by the table, “I rather believe that I do.”

*****


The meeting hall had been painted a muted dark green, but still appeared bright and welcoming thanks to the smooth gloss of the walls and the soft lighting lining the ceiling. The tapping of claws on the hard floor again echoed around the room as Ferrilyn made his way over to a small cabinet set into the back wall. His muzzle split into a smile as he chuckled again in sympathy at his friend’s exhaustion. The wide, slightly curved plates running down the length of his spine prevented Perovans from using chairs with backs, often making tedious meetings even more tiring than they needed to be.

“I imagine that it has been a long day for us both. I am, of course, relieved that the Taren Empire’s Eyde has officially accepted Heir Layne. He will undoubtedly excel throughout the training program, but we all now have a lot to organize in such a short space of time.”
The Emperor raised his head, his ivory ears suddenly standing upright at the mention of his son. Assuming a more dignified position on his stool, he smiled pensively at his Marshal and gazed outside. One wall of the meeting room was a single pane of clear glass, so anyone seated at the table could look out into space at the blackness, the billions of stars and the softly glowing planets making up a fraction of the Aeron Galaxy.

“Ferrilyn, do you believe that the training facility on Montawn is really the safest place for Layne in these times? My apologies for bringing this up now; Iwished to speak to you of this earlier today, but the Ambassador returning from the Deondran Empire arrived far too quickly for me to speak to you before now.”
“Don’t mention it, my friend. As you said, that was a ridiculously long meeting, and held at such short notice, too.” The Marshal smiled as he placed a small glass filled to the brim with golden liquid in front of Roxier, and raised his own glass with a smile.
“To Layne. I fully believe that we’ve made the right decision, Roxier. I trust Eyde Katia, and Layne is almost as important to me as he is to you.”
The Emperor nodded, smiled, raised his own glass, and the two drank. They both turned their chairs to the glass wall, and the Perovans sat for some time in contemplative, companionable silence, looking out into space.

"…Emperor. Are you certain that Eyde Katia’s attention will be… fully focused upon Layne while he’s training?”
Roxier observed his Marshal for a moment. “What do you mean?”
“The Ambassador told us earlier that the Deondran Empire are soon to have the Aspelin girl, Audity Emmersia, as their future Empress, considering that her betrothal to Heir Edmas goes as planned,” Ferrilyn said. “And as I mentioned, Layne is now a part of the same training programme as Audity Emmersia’s younger sister. Eyde Katia spoke very highly of this young Aspelin’s standards, and is apparently considering giving her the same tutoring she has promised Layne.”
The Emperor stiffened. “Katia promised that she would take care of Layne. Now she’s chosen another recruit instead, after all of this?”
“No, no; that’s not it. She will still give Layne the tutoring promised. She is merely considering telling Miss Emmersia the same things that she will be telling Layne. Do you not believe it to be a little more than coincidental that the future heir to the Deondran Empire is thought of so highly by Eyde Katia?”
Roxier was silent for a moment, staring out at the stars.

“Marshal.” He sighed, the plates on his back waving slightly. “Ferrilyn. You may be looking a little too deeply into this. All empires in this Alliance have their own little negotiations between Empires; it’s perfectly understandable. Relations between the Deondran and Aspelin Empires have never been better since this betrothal was announced, as we were both told by the Ambassador. But I don’t believe the betrothal was manipulated by any higher powers. The Ambassador also said that Audity and Edmas seem perfectly happy together, did he not? Nothing appeared forced or unnatural. And Heirs choosing partners from other empires is now almost as common as marrying within their own race in this day and age. Your points are understandable, and I appreciate you bringing them to my attention. But I honestly don’t believe that there is any cause for concern here.”

Ferrilyn nodded slowly, a small smile twisting his muzzle as he swirled the golden drink in his glass. “Yes, my friend, that is true. But I was thinking that, perhaps, you would allow me to make contact with a few friends, just to ascertain…” He allowed his words to trail off, giving Roxier a significant look.
The Emperor of the Perovans almost choked on his drink, then hastily placed his glass down on the table and laughed despite himself. “Marshal, you and your Vanetris…”

Ferrilyn laughed too, the triangular plates on his back shaking slightly. “You know me far too well, Roxier. I was considering contacting Vanetris and Levata, to see if they could find out anything slightly… unorthodox about this future marriage or Miss Emmersia’s training.”
“Marshal. Audity Emmersia’s parents are barely in contact with the Aspelin Emperor at all. I have found that Lord Emmersia is a very minor member of the aristocracy in the Aspelin Empire. And as helpful as Vanetris and Levata are, I simply do not feel comfortable using them to spy on other members of the Alliance for the sake of negotiations that may not even be occurring at all. The entire reasoning behind the Westexia Alliance’s Captain training programmes is to strengthen equal bonds between all five empires, not to provide us with an excuse to spy on one another behind their backs.”

“You are right, of course,” Ferrilyn smiled, finishing his drink with a quick gulp and rising to fetch another. “But I will find a way to win you over here, my dear Roxier.”
“Of course you will. But you will not ask Vanetris anything until we both believe it is necessary.”

*****

“Oh. What’s this about Vanetris?”
A shorter Perovan, sharing his father’s cream fur and with slightly smaller plates on his back, hurried into the meeting room. Roxier rose quickly and embraced his son in a tight hug.
“Layne. Congratulations!”
“Thank you! I still can’t believe that I’m on a training programme to become a Captain… and in the Taren Empire, too! I’ve only visted planet Stellexis once or twice before.”
“My dear Heir Layne, I am so happy for you.” Layne’s tail swayed gently behind him as he turned to face the Marshal of the Perovan Empire. “Noone deserved that place more than you do… Captain,” Ferrilyn smiled, returning from the opposite end of the meeting hall with another drink. If it was possible, Layne’s grin grew even wider, and he looked down at the floor in abashed modesty.

“I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself, Marshal,” he grinned. “But… I’m just so excited to do this! Father, I promise that I’ll make you and our whole empire, and Spia itself, proud of me while I’m training. And I’ll come back to visit you here as much as I can.”
Ferrilyn bowed slightly as Empress Sentine hurried in after her son. “I’m counting on it, Layne. We’ve only got two days left with you now, after all, so please don’t rush ahead of me like that.”
“I’m sorry; I hadn’t seen Father or Marshal Ferrilyn at all today. Yes. There are only two more days...”
Layne’s smile faded, and he suddenly looked as pensive as Emperor Roxier himself had minutes ago.“I… I will miss you all. So much. This is so sudden. But…” His grin inevitably reappeared as quickly as it had left. “But this is incredible! The training will be unparalleled, and I’ll be able to meet with members of the other empires in the Westexia Alliance so much more often, and…”

Ferrilyn hid his smile by drinking a little more from his glass. Since he had spoken his first words, Layne had never been particularly good at concealing his excitement over any situation he was faced with, and his constant optimism tended to prove irresistible to those around him.
The Empress hugged her son quickly. “Go and begin packing. It’s late, and we will all have many matters concerning this to discuss tomorrow.”
“You’re right. Father’s meeting seemed to go on for ages.”
Ferrilyn snorted. “Oh, you noticed?”
The Emperor rolled his eyes as his wife took hold of his paw.
“Sentine, we should both be getting to sleep now. Until tomorrow, Marshal.”
The Perovan bowed to the royal family with a flourish. “Until tomorrow, Emperor. Empress. Heir.” Sweeping up the retractable blade he had left leaning on the edge of the table, Marshal Ferrilyn strode out of the meeting room.
Layne turned to his parents one last time. “Goodnight!”
“Goodnight, Layne.”
“Congratulations, dear. Sleep well tonight.”
Flashing one last smile, Layne hurried out of the room.

*****

Since his first steps on two paws, Layne Edgentine had unconsciously adopted the regal stance of his family and position in the Perovan Empire. However, he still struggled to keep his composure as he trotted down the corridor, staring out at the coloured planets and occasional passing ships whenever he passed a window. He had made his father and mother prouder than they had ever been of him. And he would become a Captain before one day taking his father’s place as the next Perovan Emperor, receiving high-class training from one of the best Commanders in the neighbouring Taren Empire – in the entire Westexia Alliance, if what he had heard about Commander Ambith was true. Layne’s smile grew as he remembered waking up to see the hologram capsule resting on the sofa in his bedchamber, turquoise to match the colour of the Taren Empire, and listening to Ambith’s offer of a place in the Captain Training Programme. He couldn’t remember ever feeling happier or more excited – which, knowing Layne, meant a lot.

After passing endless rooms and travelling through a multitude of different storeys in the palace, the Heir eventually arrived in his bedchamber. Tired, but nevertheless impatient to begin writing up a list of things to take with him, he tapped a green panel on the wall to heat up a container and made himself a hot drink. The mattress of his huge bed cushioned Layne’s weight as he sat down, lifting a small writing tablet and the hologram capsule from Commander Ambith from a nearby desk. The elation from his acceptance onto a training programme had not faded at all since the morning, so Layne simply held the turquoise capsule in his white paws for some time. He did not switch it on. He merely gazed at the painted metal, thinking of the people he would meet, the places he would travel to and what he would learn in his training, and how proud he would make his family. Training to help the empires of the Westexia Alliance to carry out Spia’s way… In his opinion, there was no better way to improve his understanding of the empires of the Alliance and learn more about how to become a good Emperor.

Eventually, Layne rose lethargically and placed his hologram capsule back down. Returning to his bed, he wriggled under the thick covers and picked up his tablet. He tapped the screen, lighting up the darkness under the blankets, and began to type out things to take with him – the right clothes, books, comforts like old pictures or a favourite pillow – with an excited grin once more on his face. Close to finishing his list, there was a brisk knock at the door.
“Heir Layne?” one of the guards of Layne’s room called. “Marshal Ferrilyn to see you.”
Layne quickly pulled himself out of bed and set the tablet down. “Allow him in, please.”
Ferrilyn walked into the expansive bedchamber, and Layne sat on his sofa, inviting the Marshal to join him. “Can I help you, Marshal?”

Ferrilyn sighed, smiling slightly. “Heir Layne, I just wanted to ask you to...” He cleared his throat and began again. “Layne. You know that your father and mother think a lot of you, and so do I. You deserve this chance to become a Captain, as I told you earlier. But I decided to come and talk to you now, because… Well, I’ve known your father for a long time, and I’ve known you from the day you were born. I still remember the first moment that I saw you, you know,” he smiled. “I simply wanted to let you know that you will be missed here. By all of us.”
“And I will miss them and you so much, Marshal. There won’t be much time for me to come back and visit for a while. Spia knows that we’re all busy enough, to say the least. But thank you for thinking of me like that. I appreciate it. Really.”
Ferrilyn smiled. “I know you do, my dear Layne. I know. But when you leave, the last things you say will be all you have to remember them with while you’re away. Just make it count when you leave.”
“I will. Thank you, Mar- Ferrilyn. This means a lot.”
Ferrilyn stared at Layne for a moment, his brown eyes meeting gold, until he nodded, smiled, and rose from the sofa.
“I will leave you to sleep now. Goodnight, Heir.”
“Goodnight, Marshal.”

Layne watched Ferrilyn leave, his thick, dark tail disappearing though the doors as they slid gently shut behind him. The Marshal had always been one for putting duty and courtesy before more informal, friendly exchanges, so such an evidently heartfelt address – however brief –meant a lot. Layne would miss his home so much. But he could not suppress his excitement at beginning the training programme.

Just two more days…

Completing his packing list could wait. Layne had realized that he was exhausted. He climbed back into his bed, snuggling under the still-warm covers and slumping down onto the mattress, before stretching a paw out, tapping a small panel on his table, and plunging the room into soft, comforting darkness.

The End

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