A greeting in the old language,
meaning "Dear one"

"Daughter" or "My daughter

º "Life is yours"

Haranna,

I hear tell of strange events within your House; events
mostly of your brother, Menrik and his followers,
and their secret plans. Beware
thae, for I feel they
are near to accomplishing their plans. Your right to
the throne is being questioned by some of the people,
or more precisely, the manner by which you govern
them, which only fuels the fire burning behind your
brother's plot.

You rule well, of this I have no doubts, but as I have
said, many people do not believe in you as I do.

We can only hope that your right to the throne will
not be challenged.

ºHeshmor,

Kadae

She folded the small note and tucked it safely back inside her clothing, near her heart. This was the first message that she had received from her good friend and mentor in neigh on a month. She had feared for his life.

Shan'ra stood on the balcony of her bedroom overlooking the magnificent House gardens. It was early spring and already, explosions of violets, blues, reds and pinks were everywhere with patches of green shrubs breaking in here and there. She placed her hands on the thick light gray marble railing that enclosed the balcony, and leaned forward. Some of her gardeners were already awake at this early hour and were working through the mass of assaulting brilliance before the sun rose and guests started their early morning strolls along the well kept paths.

She sighed and turned around to go back into her bedroom as the top crest of the sun exploded over the mountain range and set the garden on fire. Time to get another day over with, she thought.

Her servant had already been into her room and laid out her clothes for the first meetings of the day that took place before noon. When she had eaten just after noon, she would have to change yet again for her visit to the town hall. Why they didn't hold those gatherings in the House, was beyond Shan'ra's knowledge.

She removed the note from the inside pocket of her sleeping clothes and put it into it's hiding place with the rest of the notes she had received from her mentor before she removed her robes and dressed herself in the crimson garb of her ministers.

Off all the clothes she had, this was the most uncomfortable and absolutely the most hideous of them all, according to her of course. The two layers blended together harmoniously at her neck, the fold lines known only to those who put them on, and draped in large loose folds down to the floor. This fabric hid the tanned leather sandals which she now tied to her feet and laced up to the knee.

Her servant Tress entered when Shan'ra summoned her and tied her waist length midnight hair in the elegant yet official manner with a black ribbon, lacing it up much like the back of her favorite bodice.

Shan'ra's silver eyes were already lined elegantly with black and when Tress finished, she made her way out of her room and started down the long hall where the only sound was the hurried swishing of her robe.

Several of her servants hurried out of her way as she rampaged down the carpeted hall and bowed their heads as she walked past.

She barely noticed any of them, they were so quiet. She came upon the grand central staircase a few moments after leaving her room and floated down the wide stone stairs. Once at the bottom, she took a sweeping turn to her right and entered through the opened double doors into the conference room with her head held high and her legs moving swiftly enough to make her appear to float across the solid stone floor.

Sighing inwardly, Shan'ra made her way along the side of the very large stained hardwood conference table and seated herself at the head in a gilded high-backed seat. Twelve of her twenty ministers were present and as she elegantly seated herself, the other eight trickled in. 'Late as always,' she thought. Late meant they arrived after her.

Her arms placed specifically on the armrests of her chair, Shan'ra waited for them to seat themselves and began the meeting.

Shan'ra groaned quietly as she made to rise from her seat, her body language stating that the three hour meeting was adjourned. The ministers, old and fragile as they were, stood also and waited for her to make her leisurely walk out of the conference room through the huge double doors before seating and discussing the day's events.

"She is not fit to be Queen," one said on the far side of the room the moment she had vanished from sight.

"She's arrogant, she's unfamiliar with the construction of all our laws, and she believes to be more important than the people of her own country!" This tart comment came from one of the oldest ministers, Llewellyn Chief Minister of Justice.

At his words, several others murmured in agreement and were stopped only by one voice which rose loud and clear above the growing tumult.

"What you speak is treason Llewellyn. You can very well be put to death for saying such things."

Immediately, the voices died down and stopped.

Llewellyn had been expressing his opinions to the man sitting next to him, the Chief Minister of War, Ahearn. When the word treason was mentioned, Llewellyn stiffened and looked down the table to where the speaker sat.

"Perhaps I should call in the messenger who stands outside those very doors and tell him to run to her with your words. What say you, Llewellyn?"

The old man sighed and starred into the hard blue eyes, trying to form words to defend himself. He could come up with none.

The blue-eyed man then nodded his head in triumph and said, "That is what I thought. Now then, for the rest of you, if you wish to keep your heads on your shoulders, I suggest you pay more attention to the words that come out of your mouths. My spies are everywhere, as you all know, and are not as lenient as I when it comes to treachery."

Another man, who was sitting across the table and down three seats from Llewellyn, spoke, "Tiernan, your words seem to have stung many of us. No one here wishes to displease the new Queen, you know this."

"Is that so, Cyric?" Tiernan leaned back in his chair and stared at the other nineteen ministers before moving to stand. "Well then, I assume we won't be having anymore of these little banters after she walks out of this room, or anywhere for that matter." Now standing straight, he gave Llewellyn one last glance before he turned on his heel and marched quickly out the door, leaving the tension to hang in the air behind him. He was always chiding the other ministers, and some day soon, the chiding would stop and actions would be taken.

Shan'ra had had more than enough of her ministers and their old ways. It was time for her government to have a change of face. The laws were falling behind and needed to be modernized before there was an upheaval of the people. Four hundred years after the first decapitation, the central village square was still devoted to the viewing of such primitive punishment; officers were still going from house to house demanding payment of taxes when no payment was due. These senseless laws had been around almost as long as her family had been on the throne.

She had made her way back up the sweeping stone staircase and back to her room where she was being changed into the clothes she would need for her visit to the Town Hall.

Her servant Tress had already set out the fresh robes and was waiting for her next to the bed. Shan'ra walked over to her and turned her back. Tress's nimble fingers easily untied the folds on the back of the crimson gown and let it fall to the floor, leaving Shan'ra to stand before her in her silken under things.

After some time, she had been redressed and was in the process of getting into the litter that would carry her to the Town Hall. Her deep green gown was pulled up enough for her to easily maneuver into the litter and covered her entirely, from neck to feet. It made barely a sound as she moved to make herself more comfortable between the walking sway of the poll carriers.

The curtains that surrounded her litter were crimson on the outside and lined with black on the inside which blocked out any clear sight of who lay within, but would let the wind blow gently in. The dark fabric repelled the sunlight, but easily retained the heat that was given, and she was always grateful for the light breezes that filtered in through. Sitting high on the shoulders of her strong servants, Shan'ra made her self comfortable on the soft downy filled pillows which lined the bottom of the litter.

Through the thick black and crimson screen at the front of the litter Shan'ra could see the gleaming of the harbor a few blocks away, but just as she watched the glittering filter in, her servants took the last turn that would guide them to the Town Hall, and where her meeting would be taking place.

She sighed as she realized how little she enjoyed these meetings, but she also knew that she had to go to them or her precious city would fall to pieces.

Shan'ra wondered where her brother, Menrik was. She hadn't seen her brother since he had been rumored to have come home. The war between several of the clans to the north was becoming too much pressure for her citizens to remain comfortable, so she had sent Menrik out to war at the head of some fifteen hundred troops. The cavalry that was sent out shortly after Menrik's leaving totaled five hundred had returned two days ahead of schedule.

That was almost a week ago now, and he had been expected to be home in a day or two.

The thought of her brother forced her mind to return to the note that she had read that morning. 'What are you planning brother?' she thought. 'Are you really that jealous of a simple title?'

Shan'ra had already given her brother control of half the army; a move that was viewed by many as a bad idea. The army can easily take control of the city if instructed to do so, and overthrow the hold that she had on her people.

This decision however, had left Menrik happy and complacent for the last several years as he worked through his men and gained their trust and loyalty.

Not to be out done by him though, Shan'ra had kept a reserve of her most trusted men in a secret society, which totaled almost two hundred. A number any larger would compromise their ability to remain surreptitious. These men were also some of the most influential in the army.

Her thoughts were interrupted when the litter lurched gently to a halt and she was set down as smoothly as a feather. A large hand broke through the black and crimson veil to her left and parted it for her to get out while a second hand was offered to get her to her feet.

She graciously took the offered hand and rose gracefully, letting the skirt of her dress fall softly around her ankles before thanking her servants and walking into the familiar Town Hall.

The stone walls were yellowed with age but were still as flawless as the day they had been put up. The entrance way itself was surrounded with exquisitely carved figures of earlier leaders, and their nature symbols. She smiled as she saw the recently finished portrait of her profile on the day of her coronation seated in its position on the wall beneath her father's nature symbols. Her own symbols – the oak tree, the dolphin and the phoenix – were in the process of being carved in the hard marble stone.

Beneath her feet, the ancient mosaics wound abstracted paths to each of the conference rooms and depicted images of various battle victories both recent and ancient, as well as several laws that passed in congress.

Most recently, the law created by Shan'ra herself had been inlaid into the cold hard stone with pieces of brightly coloured glass. She smiled down at it with reverence and admired the skill and the care the craftsman had put into their artwork. The law itself was that which declared any person, rich or poor, male or female, to own their own property and do with it what they will, with limitations issued by the council which served her. The image shown was one of neighboring families shaking hands while they stand on their land. One family was obviously richer than the other, and it was the wife of one family who shook the hands of the other family while the husband held out his hand with a gesture to the land in the background.

Two identical guards stood at either side of the main conference door which was located at the opposite side of the hall from where she now stood. She smiled and gave the mosaic one last glance before she walked swiftly over to the door and nodded to each of the guards who stepped aside as they opened the large oak double doors.

Upon entering, Shan'ra acknowledged the pages and the members who rose from their padded seats.

Once again, she made her way around the table to the opposite end of the room where she took her seat.

Starting with the familiar greeting, Shan'ra named each individual by their family title and animal symbol and blessed them all at the end.

When all twelve of them were seated, Shan'ra opened the file that rested on the table in front of her.

Now that she had dealt with the matters of the State, she had to claim her responsibility for the people of her beloved city.

These cases typically revolved around judicial trials, land agreements, and the like. It was the work at the Town Hall that she enjoyed the most, but it was the location that she liked the least.

"There is the case of Kinthia vs. Ardon, but I do not believe that to be of any concern of My Lady's", one of the delegates said from almost the opposite end of the long table.

Shan'ra nodded in agreement, and moved on to the next case. "What is new with this?" She asked as her brow knitted slowly in concentration. "Haven't they resolved this yet?" She was referring to a land dispute that had been going on between neighbours out near the mouth of a river. It was prime territory for farming, but one neighbour was always complaining that the other was infringing on their land.

"I'm afraid not, My Lady, but it is with reason that their story has once again fallen into your hands."

After reading over the cover page, Shan'ra turned her attention to the delegate that had spoken and asked, "You look new to me. Have you been assigned with us for long?" She realized that she spoke out of ignorance, but with all that has been going on lately with the higher members of her government, Shan'ra always had a hard time remembering the names and faces of all her delegates.

He smiled and blushed, obviously unaccustomed to the attention of someone of Shan'ra's stature.

"My name is Leon, My lady. Leon Dolan. My father was here before I was, but he has long since met his maker," he said timidly, sitting back in his chair.

She smiled in reflection and said, "Yes, I remember Samir well. A good man he was. I'm sad to hear of his departure." Her eyes showed a slight hint of what her words said, careful not to show too much emotion and make the others think that she was picking favorites.

She sighed then and returned her attention to the land dispute. After her eyes had scanned through the documentation of the lawyers she said, "I don't see anything new yet," and flipped a page.

Another of her delegates spoke up, "One of the farmers, Liam Madigan, has said that his neighbour, Connor Tighe has been shifting his fences over onto land that does not belong to him, and his livestock has been wreaking havoc on it. Liam was going to use that land for his corn crops." The delegate stopped and another picked up where he left off.

"There has now been a threat of murder between the two because neither will agree to solve their differences and make do with what each has been given."

Leon spoke up again, "We have tried countless times to get them to solve their problems outside of your attention, but they won't have any of it. They say that their orders come from you and no one else."

Shan'ra nodded and stopped reading the document. "There is the threat of murder?" She said thoughtfully. No one spoke as she mulled the various ideas that could solve this problem. "The threat is from which party?"

"The threat itself is from both sides, but it seems to be more enforced by Mr. Tighe," Leon said, leaning forward to see past the heads of the members who sat between himself and the woman of supreme power.

"And they have done nothing to solve this matter themselves?" She asked.

"You already know the few efforts that they have used to try to resolve this, and none of them have apparently worked as of yet." This was Leon again.

Shan'ra sighed and mulled some ideas around in her mind, and looked up to those who sat at the long table. "What do you think should be done?"

Her afternoon progressed just as slowly until the diner hour approached. She barely noticed it. Still, Shan'ra forced her way through as many neglected cases as she could and after the sun had set, she rose from her seat, thanked her delegates for their help and made her way out to the waiting litter.

When she had been walked back to her home, the palace was dark and seemingly brooding. Some torches were lit here and there and threw their light casually on the dark grey damp stone walls. The shadows that they created danced and toyed with the firelight as the wind blew it about.

Shan'ra smiled as she lifted herself gracefully out of the litter and made her way towards the enormous solid oak double doors. She said a quick word of thanks to the men who opened the doors for her and made her way inside.

A messenger approached her quickly and bowed.

"What is it?" She asked patiently, folding her hands inside the broad sleeves of her dress.

"Menrik has returned, My Lady," he said still bowing. "And he wishes to see you."

She nodded and dismissed him, already knowing where she would be able to find her conniving brother.