Summary: Princess Deja is only twelve when her kingdom is conquered by Emperor Zaron. To save her people and her father she agrees to marry him and follow her new husband to Halanda, the capitol city of his empire. She is frightened by him, but Zaron reveals himself as kind and patient and keeps his promise to wait until she is older and ready for the marriage bed. As the years pass, the Empress realizes she feels something deep for her husband and she will be the one who will have to fight to gain his attention and to win something she never thought she would want: his heart.
Author notes. READ ME! Hello dear readers! I will start saying I'm Italian (la versione italiana di questa storia si può trovare al mio profilo, COMPLETA) and so English is not my language. I ask forgiveness in advance for every mistake you may find.
Ok, to the story. I know, twelve is a horrid age to marry, but I needed a young child the main male character would feel no desire for. That's right: nothing, I repeat, NOTHING will happen between them until she is older.
Lastly: I know this is fantasy and from the title some of you will expect to find dragons, and perhaps magic, but there are neither. "Dragon" is the nickname of the Emperor, that's all. Here you will find a fantasy world with very human people and a lot of romance. Tell me if you think I should move this story in the "romance" section of the site.
You are still here? Awesome! About updates: I am dreadfully slow at translating, I hope to update AT LEAST once a month, but as the story progresses the chapters will become longer and so it will take me longer to translate them. Yeah, you read right: there are more chapter to come, in fact the story is COMPLETE! But in Italian. So have a look and if you feel like leaving me a review, please do: I love them.
21/02/2017: i'm sherlock has been so kind to search this chapter for mistakes. THANK YOU! So, to new readers, this chapter is currently mistake-free!
I. THE PEACE THAT THE SWORD BRINGS
When the sun rose that morning over the roofs of the city of Issa, it was still the capitol of a free kingdom, a kingdom besieged on the brink of conflict. Now, the war had reached the walls of the city itself and after the following battle, Issa was the latest conquest of emperor Zaron. The city walls were intact, the foreign army didn't reach them and the city didn't bear any signs of a battle even if red dressed soldiers were walking all over its streets. That was because the king of Issa yielded on the battlefield, before the final battle, after a delegation from the enemy proposed the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Therefore, Issa had opened its doors to the invading enemy and the emperor himself had rode through them, with his army and his personal guard of selected soldiers, invited to reach the Royal Palace by the fallen king himself to get his formal surrender.
Emperor Zaron was tapping his fingernails over the hilt of the sword on his hip. It was ridiculous that he was the nervous one, when he was the one on the winning side. Nevertheless he couldn't keep still while he was waiting for the doors of the conference room to open and for the king of Issa to enter and surrender himself to him. He looked outside, from the large windows that let he view a great part of the city below.
For a long time the kingdom of Issa had maintained its freedom, it was the last one to do so in all the continent of Zabad. As a red sea, his army had sized the neighbourhood kingdoms, annexing them to the Rakon empire, in one glorious campaign after the other. Zaron kept Issa for last. Rich, thriving Issa, so technologically advanced, had been his most dangerous rival. However, once everything else was conquered, even Issa had to fell to the crushing superiority of the Rakian armies.
The khan of Rakon, from a casual look, could be mistaken for a brutal warrior: of medium height, with dark almond skin, tanned by the sun because he spent more time outside, with his soldiers rather than inside the palace with his courtisens. That however, it was understandable: he was born as the fall-back heir and he knew that the nobility of his own court would never display the same level of respect showed to his younger half-brother, who had been the appointed heir but had drowned at sixteen. The only thing the two brothers had had in common, apart from the father, had been their eyes: dark and sharp, embedded in the face to give it an ever-serious look.
Now these same eyes enjoyed the view of the shining Issa, jewel of the seas, which laid white and golden on the curve of the gulf that shared its name. Since the day he started to make plans to conquer the whole continent, Issa had been his biggest vexation. It was a rich, if small, kingdom, its territory minimal especially if compared with his empire's, but its menace didn't come from its military power, even if its fleet was noteworthy. No, Issa was a danger because of its Science Academy and the new and marvellous inventions that it continuously produced.
Issa Academy, fully funded by the government, attracted the most brilliant minds from all over the word. Scientists, philosophers, healers and artists, everybody came to Issa either to study or to submit their ideas, and to match wits with equally brilliant minds. From Issa came the most beautiful artworks and music pieces, the best healers, the most sophisticated thinkers and the most revolutionary inventions. Like the telegraph, for example, the brand new discovery that let people communicate along great distance and that, if only it had been created ten years prior, it would had made the conquest of the continent very difficult, since Zaron had used to win his wars the rapidity of his army and the element of surprise to catch his enemy unprepared. Another Issian invention, vital to his victorious campaign, thought a very satisfied Zaron, had been the aerostats that brought there his troops.
For a very long time, a worried Zaron had considered that if only the Issian Academy had been as much interested in war as in astronomy, Issa could have easily became the capitol city on an invincible empire. Instead it was Rakon that took advantage from Issa libertarian and peaceful nature to became progressively stronger to the point to take over the neighbourhood kingdom, leaving Issa alone and isolated.
That was the reason they were at the current situation, with the Issa army smashed like an annoying fly by Zaron, the city surrounded and its port closed off. He could have easily given the order to attack, to pilfrige and destroy Issa, he could have entered the Academy and slaughter everybody who took shelter there, burning the libraries, to make sure that what he feared never came to pass and that Issa never rose again from such a devastating destruction.
He could, but he would not.
He wanted all that knowledge for himself, all that potential, he wanted the streets of his imperial capitol, Halanda, to be as clean and as tidy as Issia, he wanted his subjects, at Rakon, to be as rich and wealthy as the Issians. He wanted to import all that material prosperity and advanced mindset, without stealing. He wanted his people to learn from Issa and nobody wants to imitate a broken, kneeling enemy. His dream, his greatest ambition, could became reality only integrating Issa into his empire, with its dignity intact.
After making sure his plan could be put into effects, he disclosed it to his closest collaborators who, just as he expected, were opposed to it. His military advisors wanted to plunder Issa, stripping it of its wealth and take everything worth of taking back to Rakon, to fill the treasury with Issian gold and benefit from it, squeezing the defeated population with taxes to keep the high life standards Zaron victories got them used to. But Zaron wanted more and so he ignored all suggestion not in line with his plan and that was the reason he was in that room now, to wait for the defeated king to present his surrender instead of a battlefield, with his sword pointed to neck to the kneeling monarch.
The doors of the conference room opened and the Issian delegation poured inside. The two opposite parties looked at each other without speaking. Rakon men were standing on one side, with their dark armours and their blood-red cloaks, everything in them planned to intimidate, and the Issians stood on the other, with weapons in shining steel and blue capes, blue as their sea, leaded by their king. He too wore an armour, despite the common knowledge painting him more a philosopher than a warrior. Issa ruler had a platinum crown on his head, grey hair, fair skin and blue eyes surrounded by a pattern of wrinkles in a slim and long face. Those clear eyes searched the men invading his kingdom and locked into Zaron eyes, recognising him as the most influent man in the room, even if his clothes were not dissimilar from his nobles' and soldiers' and he donned no obvious signs of his majesty.
The king got close to Zaron slowly, with an expression of pain on his face and then he bended, stiffly, placing a knee on the floor in front of the victor.
- In exchange of your mercy on my people, we surrender.
He bowed the head, and then, with trembling hands, he took off his crown and offered it to the conqueror.
Zaron stood still, enough to make the kneeling man worry, enough to humiliate him and impress upon him his own position of authority. To get what he wanted he needed collaboration from the older man, so he needed to stress how much helpless his situation was, how only agreeing would assure his survival and the city's. After waiting the right amount of time Zaron ripped the crown from the Issian man hands, holding it with nonchalance between the left thumb and index, to show to the kneeling man how little value he attributed to the thing.
- I accept your submission, Abron of Issa.
He strolled around the Issian king to sit at the table, placing on its smooth surface his sword and the platinum crown. The emperor took for himself the most richly decorated chair, obliviously belonging to the still kneeling man watching him with powerless fury, and with a congenial smile he offered the chair opposite to him, as if Aborn was his guest and he, Zaron, the host. Something that he indeed became the moment the other man give up the crown to him.
Moving slowly, as every effort was a strenuous action on his part, Aborn stood up and took a seat on the pointed chair. Nobody else was sitting: Rakon men were standing behind their khan, oozing menace, while Issa men stood behind their fallen monarch.
- Issa is a rich city, wealthy. My army and my advisors would like very much to take all you have. You know the standard procedure I usually adopt in regard of the kingdom I conquer: the capitol is destroyed, the nobility deprived of their propriety, the government disbanded, my nobility and my officials take their place in everything and the losing population has to pay the war expenses, and they become subject of my empire without citizenship. Everybody who rebels is crushed without mercy along with their family, their friends and even their neighbours.
Aborn grinded his teeth, powerless. He knew all these things, he surrended to save the lives of his soldiers who were fighting a losing battle against the biggest and better prepared army and because the khan had suggested that there was the possibility to find a solution to prevent his kingdom from sharing the same fate of the ones previously conquered by him. He felt humiliated by the way the emperor was treating him but at the same time he was conscious of the need to please his more powerful adversary: his realm, his people, everybody counted on him to save them from a terrible fate. Aborn knew this life was at forfeit, Zaron could not let him live, but he hoped to save at least his daughter's life, all that was left of his family. To ensure her safety nothing was too humiliating, he was ready to prostrate himself at the emperor's feet, even to kiss his boots if it needed to preserve her life. His child was his only heir according to the Issian law, but he knew that in Rakon only a male could inherit their parent titles and so they would never consider a female a plausible heir to the throne. Aborn counted on this to protect her life. His thoughts went again to his Deja, to how they fought only some hours previously: he had pleaded with her to leave the Palace and mix with the population, as a safety measure, but she, his stubborn child, had insisted on remaining at his side and share his destiny. May the goddess spare her his destiny! It was his only prayer. His only fear he was he may not see her again before dying.
Everything was his fault. Aborn had known that the Rakon empire was expanding, he saw it devour a kingdom after the other. His neighbours pleaded for help, but what could Issa do? Its strength was in its fleet while Rakon's in the number and in a unstoppable infantry army. In the end came even Issa turn and Aborn cursed himself a thousand time over for his hesitation, his immobility. If only he had assembled a league to fight Rakon when he still had allies… But he didn't. He waited and every time a country was conquered his chances for salvation grew smaller and smaller. The emperor crushed his army with ease and destroyed from high ground the ships that tried to leave the harbour and he did it using the aerostats he had sold him years before. The realm of Rakon had been the first to buy them, when they were still a novelty that was looked at with suspicion and dread, and it bought them massively, so much that Aborn had asked himself what use Rakon was going to make of them, since aerostats was usually a rich toy employed by rich people who wanted to travel in luxury without having to mingle with others. Now he understood the reason behind it: Zaron used them to move troops and supplies quickly, to catch unprepared the enemy armies thanks to his swift movements. Aborn had been a fool and the triumphant man in front of him had been wise and far-sighted.
- Is this going to be Issa destiny?
Zaron's posture became stiff, his eyes alert and fervent.
-No, I thought something completely different for Issa. There is the opportunity for the city and the population to save themselves, for the government to keep its position, with the supervision of my officials of course and…
He touched the crown.
- … a change at the top.
Aborn tried to control in his agitation.
- This eventuality is … favourable to me. You are very generous king, your majesty.
The khan acknowledged him, tilting his head to demonstrate he had accepted his compliment, giving him a sharp smile and taking pleasure at his fallen opponent.
- It is my intention to assimilate Issa instead of simply adding it to my empire. I want Issa citizens to feel as if they are Rakon citizens: loyal and productive members of the society. I want the cities of Issa and Halanda to feel like sister cities, I want us to became a big, united family.
Aborn felt shaken by the statement: it was so much more he hoped to obtain. Not only Zaron was not going to slaughter all the population and destroy his kingdom, but he wanted to welcome his people as citizens of the empire with equal dignity. Then he immediately came back to earth: there must be a catch, something that Zaron wanted so much to make him change his usually brutal and bloody tactics.
- I am at loss for words, my lord. What can Issa offer to thank you in exchange of such magnanimity?
Zaron's smile became predatory.
- As I said beforehand, dear Aborn, I want us to become a big, united family. I'm in need of a wife and you have a daughter, your only heir.
Even before the khan finished speaking, Aborn was on his feet having knocked over his chair. Zaron's men had placed their hands over the sword' hilts and his men had done the same.
His daughter? That man wanted his daughter? No!
- Never! I would never sacrifice my daughter to a political agreement, she is not an object to trade. And I would never give her to you!
Zaron furrowed his brow in the face of the older man vehemence. Was it disgust he was displaying? When he first thought about his plan all he did was to ensure the man had an unmarried daughter. Had the girl married in the meantime? He didn't know much about her, all he needed to know was that the king of Issa had as his only heir a daughter and that for the Issian law she was going to reign after him. Her beauty, or ugliness, didn't concern him, the important thing for Zaron was the dowry he will be getting by marrying her: the kingdom and its physical and intellectual wealth and, with time and a future heir, the loyalty of the whole realm.
Zaron could nearly see it, his most ambitious dream: Rakon military power and the Issia issued lethal weapons. His Empire and his name was going to be remembered forever in history.
The price to pay for survival was so light he had thought Aborn was going to be reviled, but he had been mistaken, for he had apparently underestimated Aborn's attachment to his only daughter. Such emotion was difficult for Zaron to understand: he never had any contacts with his original family. Tradition dictated for the fall-back heir to be ignorant of being the khan's son; he never knew him to be his father or the prince to be his half-brother until they died. Now he tried to see it through Aborn eyes: he had only one heir and into her he had poured all hopes and expectations, he trained and prepared her for her future task and now the idea to give her away, like she was no more than a spoil of war, to be the wife of a foreign monarch, had to be intolerable.
- Perhaps I didn't explain myself enough, Aborn.
The hand, languidly placed over the crown, moved to the sword and tightened.
- Sit and listen carefully. This is an order.
Aborn sat back at the table, but his rigid and uncompromising expression easily revealed he was not going to bend on that particular point. Too bad, thought Zaron, because you are going to, you have no choice.
- I think you misunderstood my words,
His voice was unforgiving and implacable.
- I didn't ask for your daughter's hand in marriage. I ordered you to give it to me. From the moment you put in my hands your crown, from the moment you surrender to my armies, you recognised me as you king so you are now subject to my authority. You are not in the capacity to deny me anything. I think my request is reasonable and extremely convenient to you and your people.
He lightened slightly his tone, after all he wanted the man as his father-in-law, and after threatening he could afford to soften the deal.
- Your daughter will not only become my wife. She will marry me as the queen of Issa. Our two crown will became one, our two kingdom will become one. She will be the queen of my empire and I will be the king of her realm.
This was the heart of Zaron's plan. Issians would kneel in front of their rightful sovereign with no reason to rebel, instead they would work and produce everything his Empire needed because it was going to be their queen's empire. Then with the coming of a heir, he was going to be the rightful heir of Rakon and Issa and the two crown would be definitively unified. Everything Issa represented was not going to be his by right of conquest, but of blood.
To Zaron it was an easy to archieve vision, but now Aborn was being stubborn.
- No, I will not give you my daughter. You cannot marry her.
He could not?
- Why can't I? Is she already married?
The older man looked surprised, as if the answer to that question was so obvious that Zaron ignorance left him speechless. Then his expression got cunning.
- You have no idea…
He seemed to relax, for the first time since hearing Zaron marriage proposal.
- As I said before, my daughter is not an object to trade. She is a person and I would never impose a marriage on her without having her consent. If you manage to convince her to marry you, if you will still want to marry her after seeing her, I will not stand in the way.
Behind Aborn a young warrior looked completely taken aback by his lord's words and bend down to confer with him, but Aborn hushed him with a gesture. Zaron watched him closely: he was young, around twenty years old, with light brown hair and the blue eyes the majority of Issian people had, and from the way he moved he looked like he was military trained and his armour and sword looked like they had been used and not just decorative elements like his king's.
Aborn's speech didn't promised well: "if" he still was going to want her after seeing her? Was she so ugly? It didn't matter, he was going to marry her even if she was hunchbacked and cross-eyed. If she was really so repulsing he was going to find a solution somehow: maybe he was going to keep the bedroom completely in the dark. He only needed a son from her, then he could move his attention elsewhere, he had five concubines after all. Perhaps, after carrying out their marital duty they could speak and became at least friend. For a long time Zaron cultivated the hope of, after a while, finding in the princess a companion to confide in and now he was starting to dread her company as foul if even her own father was convinced he was going to change his mind after meeting her.
- I think it acceptable, Aborn.
Zaron pointed to the door with his hand, standing up.
- Take me to her.
The Issian got up slowly and unsure.
- Now, my king?
Zaron put his sword back in the sheath and took the platinum circle that used to represent the other man authority.
- Yes, now. Why should we wait?
After saying this he walked out, thrusting open the conference room doors. He went in as a conqueror, now he was going out as the owner of the whole palace.