“It is you who has pushed this so forcefully,” Father said as he looked down on me from where he reclined on his throne while [Servants] fanned him. “So it is you who will carry the burden of arranging it Hemere. To think I had once thought you to be without ambition, I suppose that shows that not even a descendant of the gods is above being confounded by their daughters.”
You have thirty official children and Podi only knows how many unofficial ones, I thought to myself. Perhaps you would be less ‘confounded’ by me if you actually spent time with me longer than the occasional glimpse at some feast or another!
Of course, the words out of my mouth were quite different from my inner thoughts. Father wasn’t close to me, and as much as that hurt - and it did, the older I became and the more alone I felt - it also meant that he wouldn’t be too pained by having my head chopped off for disrespect. Well, as a Royal I wouldn’t be executed in such a barbaric manner. I would be given the option to ingest poison or my hand would be forced into a jar with a poisonous snake that would bite me. If I had to choose, I would take option one, but I’d rather not have to choose.
“Of course Great Father,” I was kneeling before him as was usual when I was summoned. Only the [First Prince], the [Second Prince], and [First Princess] were allowed to stand. All three were here actually, standing beneath the throne with various amused or calculating expressions. “I will devote myself to this and our empire will prosper as a result.”
“That remains to be seen,” his humor was gone; his face, impassive. “You are dismissed. Go, and make certain to showcase the glory of my lands and name.”
I bowed low and left, hiding my face lest anyone see that my jaw was stiff and I was nearly grinding my teeth in frustration. Glory? This empire was a static thing, thousands of years old and mostly unchanged in all that time. The river which gave our lands life in the desert, so regular and predictable, made our lives too easy while the desert limited our resources. Innovation was nearly non-existent, there simply was no reason to do so and the caste system made it unlikely to occur. The lower classes were too restricted and the upper classes were bound by tradition and paranoia.
“Aj, Sere,” I called to my two most trusted [Personal Attendants], while they would absolutely take bribes to tell my brothers and sisters about my actions, they at least had not been explicitly hired to spy on me. That was not just a moral consideration, but a practical one because it meant that they probably didn’t have the [Spy] Class.
“Princess,” the two hurried over from where they had been waiting outside the throne room, bowing and quickly falling in behind me as I walked away. “How might we serve?”
I didn’t answer immediately, merely fumed for a few seconds as I considered what I would need to make this happen. The benefits of this were obvious, and yet it had been dumped in my lap? True, I had proposed it - pushed for it even - but I was among the least of my siblings in power amongst my Father’s court. Actually doing what would be required would be difficult for me, and my siblings would almost certainly interfere.
“This is going to be a pain in the ass,” I groaned in a not very princess like manner as I considered the work ahead of me. “We will be preparing the reception for the [First Prince] of the Hin’Tye Empire, who has come to negotiate a peace treaty. My Powerful and Great Father, long may he reign in the sun’s glory, has decreed that I shall be responsible for the [Prince’s] entire visit to our empire.”
I would need to have a lot more [Servants], [Cooks], and [Attendants] as a matter of course. It would not do for the [Prince] to feel slighted in any way, he would have to be attended at all times. Fuck, he obviously needed a place to stay and I couldn’t just throw him in a random room. The palace complex was large, but I would need to find a place that fulfilled Father’s requirement to “show the glory of his empire,” and every place like that was claimed by my siblings. I would probably end up having to beg one of my elder brothers or sisters, undoubtedly requiring me to promise them something in return. My carefully crafted neutrality in the court would be shattered.
Wait, it wouldn’t be enough to arrange things here, the [Prince] had to get here first! I had six weeks before the [Prince] would visit, and that would be a hellishly short amount of time to plan and arrange his travel and itinerary. He should be met at the border by someone important, preferably one of the Royal family. Well, there is no use pretending that it will be anyone other than myself doing that. It is probably for the best though, I will have more time to sell my ideas to him as we travel.
“Pack my wardrobe and order the [Harbormaster] to prepare the fastest ship north for me,” I order the two [Servants]. “I am going to Al’a’xeria.”
I can’t entrust this to anyone other than myself. I will work my way backward from where the [Prince] will enter the country all the way back to the palace itself. Preparing every step of the way so that not even a grain of sand will be out of place. It might have been many years - two entire lives - since I last took a world history class, but I certainly remembered that a true and lasting peace between empires was a historic event if it lasted for any length of time.
Podi help me, I would bring peace to this area of this world for decades if not centuries if I pulled this off. I couldn’t let myself fail.
Two hours later, with the Royal standard proudly displayed on the ship’s prow, I was moving north as fast as possible. Which was actually pretty damn fast and was a demonstration of exactly what the right Classes could do when consolidated properly. The ship’s captain was a [River Master] and the ship wasn’t moved by wind or oar, but rather pulled by two giant monsters who swam upriver with ease.
While it was true that Ra’Sharon had few monsters on land because of the punishing environment, it was a different story in the water. We called the river Sharon’An, which roughly meant the river of life, and its predictable flooding was much like the Nile. Unlike the Nile, however, Sharon’An had much worse things in it than mere crocodiles. One of the most feared kinds of monsters in the river were the horrendous Scale-Eaters.
I thought they looked like six legged crocodiles with tails twice as long as their own bodies. Well, they looked like crocodiles if you increased the size of crocodiles by six times or so and then gave them jaws that could unhinge and added two more eyes on the back of their heads as well. They were capable of swallowing a person whole, but they rarely did that. Mostly because when hunting on land they usually struck first with their tails, and their tails were powerful enough to bisect pretty much anything they hit.
They were worse in the water, as that same powerful tail could push them through the water brutally fast. When they inevitably caught up to whatever they wanted to eat, their jaws would snap open so fast that they would push the water out of the way faster than it could fill the space, forming a massive cavitation bubble between their jaws. The bubble would collapse - which was devastating by itself, producing both light and heat and stunning whatever was unfortunate enough to be hunted by the monster - and then the jaws would snap shut again. When Scale-Eaters hunt, the collapse of the cavitation bubble is easily audible from land and smart individuals stayed away from the water when they heard it.
Obviously, the empire had a way to handle this; Sharon’An was the main artery of the empire and without the river the empire would collapse. Its utility in moving goods and troops was the backbone of our entire system. The answer to this was the [Beastmaster] Class. Specially trained [Beastmasters] could gain a Skill that would scare monsters away, and their presence on ships and in harbors made the river safe for [Fisherman] and [Merchants].
This ship’s captain was originally a [Beastmaster] and eventually came to be a [River Captain] on his ship as well. Years later, the Classes consolidated into [River Master] and he went from merely scaring away the Scale-Eaters to harnessing them to pull his boat up and down the river. He is in such demand that hiring him is basically impossible.
I didn’t hire him, I ordered him to serve me first and compensated him for his lost work.
Al’a’xeria was something like three hundred miles away, as near as I can convert the units of measurement anyway. Our trip would take ten hours, which was quite fast, I presumed. Aj and Sere certainly seemed to think so as they were cowering in the back. It could be that they were afraid of the Scale-Eaters though.
I wasn’t particularly bothered by it though, I didn’t need them for anything right now. No, I was going to spend the travel time planning. I was using [Magic Stylus] to write out notes and ideas on some paper, trying to work out exactly how this should go. First, obviously, would be meeting the [Prince] at one of the eastern border forts.
The problem was that those forts were functional, which doesn’t sound like a problem at first. However, I couldn’t just greet a [Prince] in some poor mud and rock room; it would set entirely the wrong message. No, I would have to bring luxuries and decorations with me to the fort. I made a note to prioritize rugs and tapestries, to cover the bare stone.
And we would need food for the fort and the journey back to Al’a’xeria! Well, we could resupply in the towns- no, I’d have the supplies delivered from the towns while we were travelling, a [Prince] would want fresh food. Admittedly, expecting fresh food while traveling in this era was a luxury, but that was exactly the point.
I would also need soldiers. The desert tended to kill bandits, so our empire rarely had to worry about raids and the like, but it would be best to be careful. Maybe I could work the soldiers into it somehow? Honor guards? Yes, honor guards and saluting on parade. Showing off luxuries without also making a point about our army would be a mistake anyway…
I barely noticed the beautiful sights on the way north. The green fields, the tended gardens, the statues and monuments, they were awe-inspiring sights. However, I had seen them before and didn’t have time to care. Instead, I thought and planned and wrote.
Ten hours later, I was committing my plans to memory with [Everything is a Record]. This meant that with a brief pause to think, I would be able to perfectly remember my plans even without my notes, which was far more useful than having to rely on my unorganized notes and writing. The harbor was lit well enough that I could not see the stars very well - which was a pity, because the night sky in a world without modern light pollution was an incredible sight to see - and the city’s [Governor] was waiting for me.
He bowed as I came off the ship, giving the [River Master] my thanks, and then [Governor] Amalek spoke.
“Greetings, Princess Hemere,” he said with a smile. “Welcome back to the Verdant City, Al’a’xeria! I am sure you are tired from your journey, please come with me and-”
“Silence,” I interrupted him with [Imperial Decree], putting enough of a tune into my voice to activate [Inspiring Voice] and [Muse’s Inspiration] as well. My command hit the people around me like a truck, or perhaps like a Scale-Eater, and the night went quiet with even the insects going quiet at my command.
I had used [Inspiring Voice] to cause fear, and [Muse’s Inspiration] to share my frustration. I was known as perhaps the most relaxed and kind of the Royal family, but while I usually didn’t mind some the slights sent my way as a result, nothing could risk this. Amalek had spoken first, and while he was noble and highly ranked - as much as such things were ranked, the system was less official and more a complex web of favors and influence - he was not supposed to speak first.
[Governor] or not, I could have his tongue cut out for this. The political fallout would be catastrophic; my eldest brother, Ra’Sharon’s [First Prince] would probably have me assassinated, as he was the [Governor’s] backer. But I could do it, and Amalek’s wide eyes told me he knew that.
To the [Soldiers] and [Servants] nearby, it seemed that I was silently considering the [Governor]. In reality, I was using an interesting application I had found for [Loud and Clear]. The Skill allowed me to project my voice so that my audience could hear me and I had found, that if I just barely whispered - so quietly that my lips did not even seem to move - and treated a single person as my audience, the Skill could be used to whisper into their ear.
“[Governor] Amalek, do not mistake how I have acted before for how I could act. My Powerful and Great Father - may he reign forever in the sun’s glory - has given me a mission, one I believe in. In this, my words are his. Aid me, and this will make you wealthy beyond your imagination. Hamper me, and you will see just how terrifying I can truly be. Well, if Father doesn’t get to you first. You should hope it is me and not him.”
“It is late,” I said aloud, my voice as cold as the desert at night. “My eldest brother has told me of your dedication to your city and the work you do. So I will assume, [Governor], that the exhaustion of your effort caused your etiquette to lapse and I will forgive you tonight.”
There was a collective sigh of relief from the [Soldiers] and [Servants]. Angry [Imperial Princesses] were not known for their moderation in assigning punishments. Just being nearby could be a death sentence for the lower classes. Although this was technically true, it actually almost never happened though. My sisters and I were actually not very likely to punish a crowd for the sins of one man, but some of our ancestors ended up being very memorable.
“I believe you were about to offer me a place in the city palace for the night?” I move to continue, reflecting that the etiquette codes in the empire need to be updated. “I would very much like to rest. Tomorrow morning, when we break our fast, we shall talk of why I am here. There is much to discuss and much to do.”
“Of- Of course, Princess!” Amalek stuttered and bowed again, motioning to his [Servants] to help Aj and Sere with my luggage. A palanquin was brought, and as a procession we headed to the city palace.
The palanquin was open to the air, so for appearances sake I was not able to yawn, despite desperately wanting to. Instead, I reflected on etiquette, and realized that I would need to find an expert to instruct me in Hin’Tye etiquette. I hoped it wasn’t as complex as Ra’Sharon’s was.
As a general rule, in most of my day-to-day situations, it was not particularly important who spoke first. If I approached a [Servant], they could ask me how they could help or what they could do for me. If I visited the [Scribes] or [Priests] they could greet and welcome me. Hell, after this the [Governor] would be fine to approach me and speak without waiting for me to acknowledge him. However, when an [Imperial Prince] or [Imperial Princess] visited a city, the [Governor] was supposed to wait for them to speak first on the first meeting.
Technically, the reason for this is that even if the [Governor] governs the city, the Imperial family owns it. When Royalty visited, they were not guests in the [Governor’s] city, the [Governor] was a guest in the Royal’s city. The whole thing seemed idiotic to me, but it was what it was.
We reached the palace, which looked like a box with the top slightly less wide than the base and the outer walls at a slight angle. Of course, I’m not really doing it justice. During the day, when you could see the carvings and the surrounding gardens and statuary, it was a sight to see. But I was tired, and it was night, so it is a fucking box.
I was guided up to my room by a nervous [Servant] and quickly found my way to bed and to sleep.
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