Marinhalk. Four soldiers of his imperial guard marched in tow.
Though the emperor’s mind focused on the health of General
Gramlick, he could not help but notice the flamboyant decorative
uniform of one of his guards. Falling back into the middle of the
group he sneered and commented. “It has been nearly two weeks
since I gave you the title of Commander of the imperial guard,
Acreas. Do you not think it is time to return to your normal
Commander Acreas was in front of his master but could display
his fiendish grin without fear of retribution. “This is a dream I
have worked hard to fulfill. In only two years as a member of the
guard, I have risen to become its leader. While Your Eminence
was the one who gave me my insignia, it was only after I had
defeated all challengers in the jousting tournament. This rank was
earned. I should think you would be pleased. Clearly my superior
breeding has produced a finely honed weapon in your arsenal.”
Mandrean begrudged every word knowing that Acreas was his
illegitimate son through Betrimpia, his first of over one-hundred
concubines. Everyone knew the lineage to be true. The emperor
simply would not acknowledge the boy’s birthright publicly for his
own reasons. “I care nothing for your ‘breeding’.” Mandrean
fibbed. “Your mother is the most annoying, bull-headed woman I
have ever known. Since you were old enough to walk, you have
had the most prized tutors and instructors in the empire.
Considering nearly all of the senior guardsmen were lost in
Trader’s Alley, it would have been stunning if you had not won the
contest for leadership.
“I still recall the gloating expression on your mother’s face
when you were given this command. She had the cold, wicked
glare of someone who had won a bet and was going to let her
money ride. To an emperor with a new commander of the guard,
that was a worrisome look. The guard’s main purpose, after all, is
to protect me against all others. Is this so with you and your men?”
Acreas could see the distrust in the emperor’s face as he
glanced back. The entire situation was a game to the youngest man
ever to be commander of the guard. He viewed his father with
contempt and hatred. Acreas had no delusions that the man he
served was anywhere close to his intellectual equal. Thus, the
“You have sent me to every battle since I joined the guard, and
the men trust me. They have sworn to follow my commands. In the
same way I have sworn to follow your orders, My Emperor.”
Acreas nodded his head with the statement.
Mandrean’s temper raged as he spun his commander around by
the shoulder and held the Blue Sapphire before his eyes. “Do not
toy with me, Child. I could destroy you with a single movement.
There is a voice in my head saying that would be wise. So test my
patience no further. Is everyone in the guard sworn to obey and
Acreas knew his father’s temper and unpredictability and
decided to end the game for now. He bowed in a humble manner
and gestured to the other guards to follow suit. “Fear not, My lord.
We have all sworn to live and die by your word.”
Mandrean’s nostrils flared as his anger continued to quell.
“Before we reconvene in the throne room, I want you in your
normal uniform, commander. Is that clear?”
“Perfectly,” Acreas answered. They resumed their journey
down the hall.
The men turned down a lavish corridor where his generals were
quartered and went to its end. Two men were coming out of the
last door in the hall. Mandrean recognized them as his personal
physician and Lord Gramlick’s physician.