Constant

by Lexi Ander

Constant - Lexi Ander
Part of the The Valespian Pact series:
Editions:Kindle - First Edition

Blurb Coming Soon!

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Excerpt:

Prologue

Planet Atlainticia

Timeframe: Prince Zeus and the Oethra 7are being escorted to Valespia by his brothers on The Gorgon.

 

Ashari

 

Empress Ashari Vondorian thought the arrangements for Azaes’ and Ariafella’s commitment ceremony were coming along well. Her future daughter knew what she wanted but was willing to be flexible when needed. Normally, Ariafella shunned mindless frills, but today Ashari talked her into adding some floral arrangements to the ceremony that she thought were a lovely touch.

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As the last attendant left with their to-do list, Ashari smiled contentedly at how much they had accomplished so far. Ariafella sorted through swatches of colored spyder silk, her white scales gleaming in the morning light. If someone had told her twenty summers ago that her eldest son would fall head over heels for Ariafella, she would have laughed them out of the palace. Azaes’ first meeting with his future bride had ended with him demanding Ashari forbid Zeus from claiming Ariafella as a friend. Her eldest youngling had been nine and extremely jealous of the attention Zeus gave to her, his attitude bordering on being unforgivably rude.

She had put a stop to Azaes’ behavior, but every time Ariafella visited he tagged along with Zeus, grumpy but civil. Strangely, when Zeus and Rathmar became friends, Azaes had not acted out, accepting Rathmar readily enough. At the time, Ashari thought it was because he had learned his lesson with Ariafella: Zeus was allowed friends. Only with Ariafella did Azaes continue to hold some barely concealed… at the time Ashari had thought it was animosity. She had been sure of it when Ariafella came to stay at the palace when Azaes was fifteen. He had knocked Ariafella into the water fountain, which he always claimed was an accident, but Ashari had not believed him. During that stay, something changed after Zeus, Rathmar, and Ariafella had been kidnapped while at the market. They had been found quickly since Azaes, Mestor, and Sohm’lan had immediately given chase with the Monticore. But Azaes… he returned with them different, swearing that he would one day marry Ariafella. He worked hard to win her over, and now, they would join their lives together.

Ashari adored her future daughter, always had, and believed she would fill the role of empress well. Her time spent abroad at her father’s side taught Ariafella to negotiate any political situation with expertise. Her father, Tymon Sagonas, was Atlainticia’s ambassador to the Proxima Heann Coalition. When Zeus had taken to Ariafella so quickly upon their first meeting, Ashari had considered arranging a mating between the two if they were still close when Zeus turned fifteen. Ashari hid a smile. Azaes did not need to know how close he had come to losing Ariafella to his brother.

Ariafella gave a long sigh and slumped elegantly in the high-back chair.

“What troubles you?” Ashari crossed to the table and took the seat next to her. The news that Zeus was kidnapped from the Imperial Space Station Bashker’Qa had distressed them both. A couple days ago, Azaes sent her an update that relayed Zeus had been found and was safe. Not wanting to be overheard by anyone listening in, Azaes told her with the language of the hands about the Fal’Amoric. They were not returning home until after they escorted the royal family to Valespia. As relieved as she was that her sons were safe, she sensed there was more to the situation, and that had been on her mind since their last communication. She assumed that Ariafella’s thoughts were similar, but Ariafella’s concerns were closer to home.

“The head of House Cordyl is vile.” As if realizing what she had said aloud, Ariafella quickly glanced at the door. When she saw it was closed, she slouched even farther in her relief. Anyone who wanted to enter would knock first.

“He is not the most pleasant bull to be around,” Ashari replied, alert to Ariafella’s changing mood. “Has he done or said anything to you?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. His two youngest recently finished classes at the Academy and did not come home after graduation, nor have they contacted him. Timsah made a scene at market yesterday, insistent that Rathmar knows where they are. I do not understand. Rathmar is almost as large as Sohm’lan, and yet he refuses to defend himself against Timsah.” She hissed her frustration but did not interrupt Ariafella. “Azaes does not approve of our friendship, but Rath and Zeus are the only real friends I have. I do not know what happened between those two, no one will tell me, and as far as I am concerned if Azaes and Mestor cannot say why they revile Zeus’s best friend… well, I am not going to cut Rathmar out of my life just because Azaes says so. And Rathmar!” Ariafella threw the colored blocks of silk into the carved, wooden box. “He is no better than Mestor or Azaes, carrying guilt around and refusing to confide in me. I want to help him get out from under his father’s abuse and away from those vile people who make up House Cordyl. I know he has been waiting for his youngest siblings to leave. And now that it seems that they have… why is he still there? I do not understand why he would stay in that abusive situation.”

Ashari looked away, her own guilt eating at her. It was time for these… secrets around Rathmar to be revealed. The next time she contacted Valdor she would insist that they finally speak to Zeus, Ariafella, Azaes, and Mestor about Zeus’s childhood friend.

Ariafella continued her rant, not noticing Ashari’s remorse. “We were together when I received the message about Zeus being kidnapped by pirates from the space station. I thought he was going to pass out from shock and worry. As soon as Zeus comes home, I am going to make them sit down and resolve this issue between them. It has gone on long enough,” Ariafella vowed emphatically.

Ashari frowned. Did Ariafella pass on the information that Zeus had been found and unharmed to Rathmar?

“The outcome of that confrontation might not be what you want it to be,” Ashari cautioned, wanting to confide in her future daughter but for various reasons she held her tongue. Soon, she promised herself, soon she and Valdor would shed themselves of this Crown secret. Though, she would do what she could to smooth over the rough edges between her son and his friend. She and Valdor were responsible for not squashing Zeus’s perception of that event five summers ago. At the time, they had believed their caution warranted.

Ariafella’s large, red eyes blinked several times as if she fought strong emotions. “I know that, but I am hoping for the best. With Rathmar distancing himself and Zeus gone, I have been so lonely. Azaes is taking on more and more responsibility from his father and Mestor is always at his side. How do you do it, Ashari? Do you not thirst for friends or companionship? Do you ever get lonely?”

“Of course,” Ashari agreed, knowing Ariafella’s ache all too well. “All my younglinghood friends are on the other side of the continent and we grew apart over time, but I had my young and their antics. Valdor and I learned how to make quality time for each other. I have every confidence you will have better success. You have traveled extensively with your father and are much more outgoing than I ever was at your age. You will find a balance. I also think you will feel better once Zeus returns home.”

Ariafella nodded, not looking as if she agreed. “I think I am going to go for a swim. Want to come?”

“Let me wrap up a couple things and I will meet you there.” Ashari watched her leave, Ariafella’s gold-trimmed white robes billowing behind her in her haste.

Ashari sighed heavily. Being the empress of Atlainticia was never easy. Throughout the summers, she and Valdor had kept things from their young. Sometimes, it was because they were simply too young. But the secret they’d kept these last five summers had been the hardest. At the time they had made the decision, it seemed the best course of action for all involved. They were wrong. They should have brought Azaes and Mestor into their confidence four summers ago, but her sons were not the best at hiding their emotions. There was the concern that they would give away everything when they lost their temper with certain people. It was best that the twins unknowingly kept up a ruse that Valdor had set into place acting as the Crown and had decided what was best for Atlainticia as a whole. Over the intervening time, the twins had become better at masking their emotions, but Valdor refused to wager the lives and welfare of others on their young’s dubious ability to keep their thoughts to themselves. She would be glad when this nasty business with House Cordyl was complete and she could speak to her sons openly about everything.

Sighing again, Ashari cleaned the room, locking away the samples and design plans. Foregoing the change into her swimming robe, she decided to keep Ariafella company and stay out of the water. She was in no mood to swim.

Walking through the palace, her red-trimmed, golden robes whirled about her. She passed the artisan in the fountain atrium who was carving the tribute to Valdor’s prosperous rule over Atlainticia. As far as her spies had been able to uncover, the people were confident in Azaes and looking forward to Valdor passing the throne to his eldest youngling. Not that Valdor would not be missed, but no one expected an emperor or empress to sit on Atlainticia’s throne their whole life. The step-down was a wise tradition, passing rulership to the next generation as they entered their prime.

When she flicked her tongue out and tasted the air, a sickly-sweet pheromone stuck to her taste buds. She knew that scent and searched the crowd, looking for and finding Timsah Gadrius. He stood across the room amidst the crowd from like-minded houses. His flat u-shaped snout was curved in a mockery of a smile while his bulbous amber eyes revealed his haughty disdain. She signaled the closest Basilisc guard, commanding them to keep their eyes on the group. If Timsah was in the palace, then her informant was as well.

She slowed her pace, waiting for their mole in House Cordyl to come to her. He always did when Timsah lurked on the grounds. And sure enough, before she exited the building to descend to the palace’s private beach, he was there waiting in the shadows. Ashari signaled for the guards to divert people away from the hallway leading to the exit. She did not need anyone witnessing her speaking with the young bull.

“Good day, Empress.”

It pained her to hear that damaged, raspy voice. The wounds he sustained on that long-ago day had healed but he had been left with many scars. She was still upset with herself for not taking him in from the very beginning. But he had insisted on being of service to House Vondorian and the throne. Soon that service would come to an end, and he could rest, free to live the life he wanted for himself.

“Rathmar, son, why do I scent fresh blood on you?” she asked quietly.

“The usual. He was displeased that Creon and Damae were not on the transport from the Academy. He believes I know where they are hiding.” Rathmar pushed back the hood of his dark robes, revealing his bruised and battered face. His lips were split all the way to his chin, the skin and azure scales were being held together by medical tape. Surely speaking had to hurt. “It will be the last time he lays his hands on me. I am leaving town, but I wanted to stop and warn you he is looking to acquire passage to Valespia. He is going to take his ‘evidence’ against the throne—” He sneered. They both knew that the so-called evidence was contrived. “—to the Galactic Imperials.”

She frowned. They had not foreseen how Timsah would attempt to subvert Valdor’s authority, but that was no matter. She would see what she could do to delay Timsah’s trip.

“I also wanted to say goodbye.”

Rathmar had no desire to live in Thrace after his work was done. But she had hoped… “Did you hear that Zeus was not kidnapped but is helping a group of Fal’Amoric return to Valespia? He will be home soon.”

Rathmar was shaking his head before she even finished her statement. “He will never want to see me again. I made him believe terrible things… it does not matter. What was once between us can never be put back together.”

She pursed her lips. She would not argue, understanding that Zeus and Rathmar would never again be lovers, but at one time, they had been the best of friends. Surely something of that relationship could be salvaged. She refused to give up on them. “Are you going to say goodbye to Ariafella?”

He looked over his shoulder to where Ariafella swam, his expression pensive. “I should not.”

She smiled, knowing he would at least speak to Ariafella before he left the city.

“If you have need of me, for anything,” Rathmar continued. “Whirlwind will know where to find me.”

Ashari embraced him, not letting him go when he squirmed. “You will always be one of mine and have a home with us. Never doubt that. Your siblings are safe at my family’s vineyard. Timsah will not think to look for them there. They have a room for you as well, if you wanted to join your siblings.”

“Thank you for everything you have done for me,” he rasped, not answering her question.

Her heart squeezed. They should have done something more for him. “It was never enough.”

“You saved our lives, that was plenty. The rest was up to us,” he reassured, his arms finally clenching around her. She would always disagree.

“Go to the infirmary and have your wounds tended. I will send Ariafella to you.”

He looked as if he would argue, but she put on her best ‘do not argue with Meme’ face, and he relented with a sheepish grin flirting at the edges of his wounded lips. Before she exited the palace, she signaled the guards to follow and keep him safe.

When Ashari stepped out onto the balcony, the sun was a hot ball of flame at the apex of the sky. Below was the sandy beach only used by people the Crown gave permission to, which was only a handful outside of those who permanently resided at the palace. Two banister-less balconies overlooked the private inlet, perfect platforms for diving if one did not wish to descend three flights of stairs. She stood on the top-most one looking down into the clear turquoise inlet. The drop-off started only one and a half meters from the shore, where the water turned a deeper blue. The waves were calm, the area protected by the carefully crafted surf walls farther out in deeper Waters.

She walked to the edge, planning to get Ariafella’s attention and send her after Rathmar. The smell off the ocean was strong, the wind causing her robes to snap around her legs. Ariafella was not the only one swimming. Next to her was someone Ashari could not identify, their yellow and green coloring was so different from what she was used to seeing on a Mar’Sani. She frowned down at them, immediately knowing the being had not been inside the palace. Their presence would have caused too much talk. The longer she stared, the more she was filled aby an uncanny certainty that she knew the person. But where had she met this person?

Ariafella suddenly swam to the shore and bypassed her swimming robe to sprint up the stairs. Puzzled, Ashari hurriedly descended to meet her on the second-floor balcony. Her future daughter’s eyes were wide, and her hands trembled as she held out a small, shell-encrusted scroll.

“He said not to go down to the beach. He would leave right away if you descended the last flight of stairs,” Ariafella said in a rush.

“I do not understand. Who is it?”

Ariafella’s eyes turned liquid as if she wanted to cry. “Just… do as he says. Read the scroll. He said you could go to the edge of the balcony and look out, but do not enter the water. His farsight has warned him there would be dire consequences if you did.”

Ashari was well acquainted with the trickiness of farsight. Though now she was curious, and her body hummed as if… as if… oh, Poseidon help her. With trembling hands, Ashari tore open the scroll case and upon seeing the very first word she crumpled to her knees.

Meme.

Tears clouded her vision. She was thrust backward in time to that terrible day when her littlest youngling went missing. She knew this hum in her body, this awareness of the tether between her and her young. They were all a great distance away, her tie to them stretched and quiet. The hum would only be persistent if one was close. Did she dare hope? After all these summers would she be granted such a wonderful boon?

Hurriedly wiping at her face, she gave a reassuring smile. Ariafella looked scared. “Should I have sent him away?”

Ashari clutched her hand. “No, my darling. You did nothing wrong. It was just a shock. Give me a moment.”

Taking a fortifying breath, she smoothed out the sheet she had accidentally crumpled in her hand.

COLLAPSE

About the Author

Lexi has always been an avid reader, and at a young age started reading (secretly) her mother’s romances (the ones she was told not to touch). She was the only teenager she knew of who would be grounded from reading. Later, with a pencil and a note book, she wrote her own stories and shared them with friends because she loved to see their reactions. A Texas transplant, Lexi now kicks her boots up in the Midwest with her Yankee husband and her eighty-pound puppies named after vacuum cleaners.


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