[First Prince] Uppilimus Sut of the Hin’Tye POV:
The further south I had traveled, the drier the land had become, with the scrub finally giving way to sand on the final leg of the journey south of Bilos. I had left Hasa weeks ago, and was looking forward to finally reaching Ra’Sharon. Originally, I admit, I had been looking forward to visiting the legendary kingdom simply to visit such an ancient land. Now, I just wanted to stop travelling for a change!
“My Prince,” Shati spoke from where he drove the chariot I was traveling on. “You seem impatient again.”
“How can I not be?” I sighed, “yet you will advise me to remain calm despite there not being anyone who can even see us yet.”
“It is my job and Class your Highness,” [Advisor] Shati replied, his eyes scanning the desert around them. “And we can never be sure what Skills might exist; they could have eyes on us already.”
“Is that even an issue if they do?” I shrug, not particularly concerned by the thought. “Ra’Sharon will soon be our allies, but even if they weren’t despite its age, the Ra’Sharon Empire’s military is lacking.”
“That makes it more of an issue, my Prince. Our battles will no longer be with the spear and arrow, but with words and trade. Appearance is your armor in this, and we risk ambush because you are feeling petulant. Look, their fort is just ahead.”
Indeed it was, you could hardly miss the structure with how it shone. I straightened up, fixing my robe - which I was coming to hate in the sun - and did my best to look regal. Honestly, I felt that one of my younger brothers should have come down here. I could do far more for the empire in battle against the monsters that rose from the chasms. Regardless, my father gave a command and refusal was not an option. Besides, we could use the soldiers from Bilos in other places.
It still took time for us to arrive, even though we were travelling purely by chariot. Given the distance involved, doing anything else would take far too long. I expected that we would be spending the night at the fort, which would at least be an improvement on camping in the increasingly hostile terrain.
A brief exchange of [Messengers] and we were waved through the gate. It certainly looked impressive, to the untrained eye at least. I doubted laying siege to this fort would be very difficult, presuming we had access to water. Of course, that was Ra’Sharon’s largest advantage. When moving an army to fight them, a [General] had to expect to lose many soldiers to the heat and the sand.
Ra’Sharon could often afford to lose battle after battle, doing little besides delaying their enemies. They would win the war as the land did the fighting for them, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that their forts looked like a stiff breeze would knock them over. Inside however…
[Soldiers] were arranged in an honor guard to welcome them in the courtyard. [Servants] rushed forward to look after their horses and guide them to their hosts. Banners of linen flowed from some of the windows, and their hosts came forward to meet them. Mostly [Soldiers] and the base [Commander] and…
My breath caught in my throat, the words I had planned to speak flew from my mind. She was tall, only barely shorter than I was and her straight, long, and glossy black hair contrasted against her white dress that ended just above her ankles. Barefoot, but adorned with gold and jewels. Bracelets, anklets, armlets, necklaces, and even woven into her hair, she wore more wealth than even my father did, but it didn’t look tasteless. No, against her olive skin her jewelry stood out and shone, sparkling in the bright sun.
A perfect face, with bright red lips and wide brown eyes that a man could lose themselves in. I had to admit, when Shati cleared his throat to bring me back the present, that I had. It wasn’t illusion magic, it couldn’t be that or mind magic. The [Priests] had provided me amulets that were proof against that. No, she was just that beautiful, and she was now coming up to meet him.
“My greetings to you Uppilimus Sut, [First Prince] of the Hin’Tye,” her voice had a musical quality as she spoke and she bowed to me. “I welcome you to Ra’Sharon. I am Hat’he-Emra Hemere, seventeenth princess of Ra’Sharon and your guide while visiting our empire. Please, allow our [Servants] to guide you to where you can refresh yourself after your travels before we meet and sup.”
I was in a bit of a daze, but I am fairly certain I managed to stutter out a somewhat reasonable response before I was guided away. Immediately after I was away from her, I cursed myself for acting like a fool. Was I some child to be distracted by a woman!?
Yes… Yes, damnit, I was.
“Shati…” I asked when we were in private for a moment, “did she use a Skill on me?”
“She was calming the entire crowd, yourself included your Highness,” Shati replied. “This is a grave insult. Sending such a low rank member of the royal family to meet you and then her using her Skills so openly?”
These emotions were what I was feeling when I was being calmed? Her decision was clearly the correct one, my heart might have stopped if she had encouraged my emotions!
“Shati,” I say, still somewhat breathless. “You must be made of stone to not react to her, if I wasn’t calmed…”
“This Princess Hemere must have an incredibly high Charisma,” Shati looked thoughtful. “She certainly seemed beautiful to me, but your reaction reminds me of the reactions people have when their Willpower is overwhelmed.”
“I am a [First Prince] and a [General!]” I gasp, considering what it would mean for her Charisma to be that high, but on the other hand… “But for a reaction like this, she must actually like me herself and want me to like her…”
Shati just groaned, “Of course she does, if I recall correctly this whole thing started as her idea. She wants to forge connections with you to aid her own power, clear your head. You know damn well you have the Willpower to resist this. Your Willpower was overwhelmed partially because she is just plainly beautiful even without the Charisma, you just let yourself become struck by her!”
“I’m not even surprised that your tendency to womanize has already caused problems,” Shati muttered as he shook his head. “You don’t even see this as an insult, do you?”
“Is it one?” I challenge, although I know he is correct in some ways. I won't allow myself to be overwhelmed again, I was merely surprised to see pure water after so long traveling in a desert. “Who would you rather be welcomed by: her or some random official or [Prince]?”
Shatti just rolled his eyes as he helped me to clean up properly. I wouldn’t allow anyone else to act like this around me, and even him only in private, but his counsel was always sound. I valued his thoughts far more than his attitude; I had given up even trying to fix that.
After we had rested some from our travels, a [Servant] invited us to eat with the [Princess] and [Commander]. I was looking forward to something more than travel rations, although I didn’t expect much from a border fort. However, when we were led to the dining hall I was surprised to see a table laid out that would put many smaller cities to shame.
“Greetings and welcome again [First Prince],” the music of the [Princess’s] voice didn’t cloud my mind this time. Nor did her graceful movements, so complimented by the bells, as she showed me to my seat. “Your presence here fills me with joy as it shows that the effort I have put into the peace between our empires is not in vain.”
“I am quite happy to be here,” I gave her my best smile as a [Servant] served my wine in a highly decorated glass cup. Now that I was more focused, I saw that her Skills weren’t beguiling in nature, rather they worked to inspire emotion; an important difference. “But from your words am I to take the meaning that you are the architect of this peace treaty?”
“I would not dare take full credit,” she demurred. “The negotiations are in the hands of my Great Father and your own, Your Highness. I merely pushed for them to happen in the beginning and take responsibility as your guide during your visit.”
“Fascinating,” I took a drink of the wine, which was quite good, to give myself time to think. That she was the person behind this peace proposal from Ra’Sharon changed things. It certainly explained why she was here to greet us and it also meant that there was a lot more to this woman than a pretty face. “But your father, the [Pharaoh], is the only one who can negotiate with us, correct?”
“Indeed,” gods even her movements while seated felt like they were part of some dance. “No one would dare usurp his authority in Ra’Sharon. His words are law for our entire empire.”
Hot bread was served, along with cuts of seasoned meat served with a mix of vegetables and fruit. All of it was fresh; even the leafy greens had not yet wilted! They were served on ivory plates and came with ivory utensils. I hadn’t seen utensils quite like these before, but their use was immediately obvious and convenient for cutting and eating the meat especially.
“I do apologize for the poor fare today,” Princess Hemere bowed her head towards them. “Unfortunately, it is hard to bring proper meals to the border. I hope you find it acceptable.”
“I do, more than, in fact.” It was wonderful to eat proper food finally after travelling, “Will you illuminate our itinerary for the rest of our journey?”
She smiled, slightly showing her pure white teeth and said, “I would be glad to do so, [High Prince].”
The journey to the city of Al’a’xeria was far more pleasant than our past travels. Camps had been built in advance between the villages and they had been stocked and staffed as if they were miniature palaces. To my surprise, Princess Hemere was having fresh food run to us every meal by [Messengers] with advanced Classes.
The villages themselves were decorated with banners and gold, with honor guards clearing the way ahead of us. At the second village - a salt mining village - the Princess freed a group of our [Soldiers] who had been taken as [Slaves] in previous border conflicts, giving a small speech that she said she hoped would commemorate the end of such conflicts between our empires. She also presented them with a small fortune of gold as compensation for their enslavement.
As we traveled, we conversed, and I found her to be rather learned. Surprisingly so, and to the point she even had the [Scholar] Class! She could speak with eloquence on many topics - although admittedly I think she could make the coarsest swearing seem eloquent if she wished - with an eye towards the future repercussions of actions.
I had thought she was more than just a pretty face when I had learned that she was behind the peace treaty, but I had very clearly underestimated her. Perhaps I had underestimated Ra’Sharon in general. She thought in terms of centuries and millennia, and Ra’Sharon was such an ancient empire that I felt that kind of consideration made sense for them. It was something I felt that the Hin’Tye lacked in comparison, my countrymen tended to think in the now. When I brought that topic up, however, she only laughed.
“In many ways, you aren’t wrong.” she said with a wide smile on her face, “but consider it in reverse: Ra’Sharon is so focused on stability and legacy that we fail to adapt to the present. Our age is worthy of pride, but it brings us to hubris. It is too easy to look at an empire like the Hin’Tye and see you as a passing thing; something that will be swallowed by the sands of time like all the others who have risen and fallen around us.”
“Sharon’An gives us abundant food, such that famine never touches our cities. The desert is nigh impenetrable to armies who would seek to conquer us if we put up even token resistance. All we do is build, and although much of our work is magnificent it might be all that is truly left of us one day if we fail to adapt to the times around us.”
“The ideal I have envisioned is that we work together. Ra’Sharon will provide the Hin’Tye the stability of food and population, while the Hin’Tye provide us innovation and adaptation. We have few who can challenge us alone, who would dare challenge us together?”
Vision, that is what she had. A vision of a future that I had never conceived of. It seemed… Naive, in many ways. [Pharaohs] and [Emperors] were supreme, the very concept of an equal was anathema to them, yet this would require exactly that. On the other hand, the benefits were obvious. Wealth and security beyond what either empire could have dreamed.
Al’a’xeria gave a taste of that wealth. The Sharon’An - they insisted that it was not “the Sharon’An river” but merely “the Sharon’An” or even just “Sharon’An” - split into its delta here, turning desert into a paradise. The city was huge and densely populated, perhaps even larger than Hasa, with monuments scattered all around the city.
At the city’s palace, we were welcomed with open arms by a [Governor] named Almalek. Shatti would later tell me that he had been approached in secret by the man, who hinted at possible bribes in return for certain additions to a possible future trade deal that might follow the peace treaty. That was only to be expected, and I had seen the knowing - if amused - glance towards Shatti and Almalek from Princess Hemere later.
The feast that night was truly grand, especially since it was being thrown by a mere [Governor]. The meat of fish monsters cooked in butter and herbs, red meat imported from the Mycans, even dishes that we would have found at home should we wished them. Wine flowed freely and there was honey by the jar to drizzle on bread. Fresh fruits, pre cut and arranged into decorative symbols were served on plates of silver and gold.
[Dancers] and [Performers] provided entertainment, and music was played throughout the meal. Though it only made me wish that I might see and hear Princess Hemere do the same, something that I knew was unlikely to happen. Still, it was a sight to see, one that I might have expected to see in the capital itself.
The excitement lasted into the night, and I found myself exhausted when I was shown to my rooms. This turned out to be a good thing, because the beds were incredibly uncomfortable. Who made a pillow out of carved wood!? It was certainly decorated beautifully, but I would have been better served by bunching up my robes and using them instead.
In the morning, I found Hemere giggling as I rubbed my neck.
“I think you can immediately tell just how much we could benefit from a trade agreement later down the line,” she seemed amused by my pain, but I found I couldn’t be mad at her. “I’ve been trying to get people to try linen pillows for some time, but I’ve barely convinced even a few to use linen covered wood.”
“Do you not have animal products here?” I asked, “Leather, or fur? Wool stuffed pillows are very comfortable!”
“They are also quite warm,” She answered, and I could immediately understand why that would be an issue. “It may surprise you, but many of the lower classes go without clothes at all during their work to try and avoid the heat.”
“Surely the sun would burn them?” Unless their Vitality or Endurance were very high, and they might have that with a labor based Class. Still, the sun here was incredibly harsh, so it might take higher Stats than I thought. My Vitality and Endurance were rather high, a consequence of my [General] Class which came from the [Soldier] line, but I still had burns from our trip through the desert.
“In general, our people don’t burn as quickly or as much,” Princess Hemere answered. “However, we do have creams that can be applied to the skin to help protect against the sun.”
She paused for a second, a look of realisation on her face. Then she became worried, and began speaking quickly.
“I am a fool!” Hemere bowed slightly to me, “I hope you can forgive me for overlooking this. I will have the substance provided before we depart up the river. We will have pavilions set up so that there will be shade the whole time, but Sharon’An reflects the sun’s light and it can still burn.”
The [Imperial Princess] immediately sent her [Attendants] off to retrieve the substance, as I assured her that I took no offense. It was the first crack in her composed mask that I had seen. Of course, as a fellow Royal - even if I was from a different empire - I knew that she would be putting on a face of some kind. This was merely part of our lives, part of the nature of power.
In this, she was an amature though. Her effort, her worry at the smallest issue; she needed this to succeed. Given the strength of her reaction, I was willing to bet her life depended on this.
There really wasn’t a way to tell her how to fix her mask though, I had already seen past it. Beyond that, explaining how to lie about who you are is a strange and foolish thing. It is far easier to play up parts of your personality than it is to try and fake a different one. I should know, considering I was playing up my flirtations and revelry on purpose to hide the violence of the [Soldier] and [Warrior] within me.
I wonder how I should use this information, and whether I would even be happy with myself if I did.
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