Tales around Mirateia 18

The last month and a half had been exhausting for the whole group; although the journey home was much shorter than the one Azran and Ira had taken on the way out; the previous months had been tough on Azran. But when the great walls of Pearlhal rose over the horizon, and he could see the Imperial palace behind them, Azran could feel energy fill his body; and although they were less than a day away from the capital, Eza decided that they should make camp and prepare to enter the city proper the following morning.   An hour later, having set up the camp and started some fires for the group to keep warm and cook dinner, two for the imperial guards and one for Eza and her servants. Azran was sitting at one of the fires for the guardsmen talking to his colleagues.   "Come on Cadet, you have yet to tell us how it was to travel with the princess for that long?" One of the guardsmen asked Azran while handing him the goatskin with the wine that was going around.   Azran took a deep sigh; he had been trying to avoid this question and similar ones for the entire trip whenever they made camp. "Well, as I have said before, the princess and I had a working relationship similar to how it is in the palace" Azran said, taking a sip of the wine. Azran looked around at the guards sitting around the fire before he continued "But given that we are just outside the Pearl, I have a question for you guys, how is the princess?"   Having asked the question, Azran could see that the mood around the fire suddenly got lower, and he was just about to ask what was wrong when the oldest of the guards spoke up. "I have never seen her this low, ever since she was brought home she has locked herself in her room and the only connection between her and the outside is when some of her oldest and most trusted servants bring her dinner and something to drink, to be honest, the only one I know of that have had a conversation with her longer than yes and no your majesty is the little commander," the guard said giving the nod towards the royal tent.   For the next half hour, the group continued to talk about anything from rumours at the palace, Azran learned about the new guard that came to replace him and that one of the guard's children had likely been born at this point. After some time, Azran was tired and just about to get up and walk to his mattress when one of Eza´s servants came and announced that the princess wanted to talk to him. This did raise a few eyebrows around the fires, following the servant, that took him back to the royal tent where his presence was announced and he was told to enter   On the inside Azran saw a somewhat sparsely decorated tent, with only a small portable table to one side and the other was a mattress slightly similar to the one he was planning on sleeping on at some point tonight, this mattress was only of better quality but otherwise the same. Eza was sitting at the table doing what Azran guessed was paperwork.   Without looking up, Eza signalled for him to sit down on the spare chair. Azran sat there for some time before he spoke up.   "You wanted to see me, your highness?"   "You know why I wanted to wait til morning before entering the capital Cadet?" Eza said still not looking up from the paperwork.   "I must admit your highness, just like the other guards, I'm at a loss for the reason for the hold" Azran said scratching the back of his head.   "Well unlike the others I can understand why you might be a bit out of touch with the dates, but the reason we are waiting to enter the city for tomorrow is that tomorrow will be the 16th in the month of Mara and it will be Iras birthday," Eza said finally looking up from her paperwork right at Azran who just sat there not moving. She could see that he was deep in thought.   "what is it Azran?" Eza continued when Azran still had not moved or said anything, but hearing his name made him snap back to it.   "Sorry, your majesty" Azran said bowing his head.   "Don't worry about it, Just make sure you are ready for tomorrow, we are going straight to the palace and we are going straight to Ira´s chamber where I hope you can bring her back. Eza said, with Azran being able to detect a thinly hidden glimmer of hope for her sister.   "But you should go back now, make sure to get some rest before tomorrow" Eza continued, Azran got up and went for the opening to the tent, before stopping up, and looking over his shoulders.   " Don't worry, I'm sure we can bring Ira back to her old self again, night, little commander," Azran said before leaving the tent, on the way out he could swear that he saw a slight smile on Eza´s face.   The following day the group packed their equipment and got back on the road, they arrived at the southern main gate well before the sun was at its peak. Having passed through the gate without issues, the group rode as fast as they could allow themself in the already busy streets of Pearlhal. It arrived at the palace gate faster than Azran would have thought. However, he would guess that around 60 horses making their way through the streets with 51 of them being Imperial guards led by those who managed to spot it, princess Eza, could reach their destination faster than normal.   The noise from the group galloping up from the gate to the palace entrance was deafening and Azran did envy the other guards with their helmets right now for their ability to cancel some of the noise.   Stopping right before one of the side entrances of the palace, Eza got off her horse and signalled for Azran and one of her servants to do the same, she then told the rest of the guards and servants to put the horses in the stables and get some rest. Following Eza and her trusted servant through the palace as they walked the surroundings seemed more and more familiar to Azran   The two soon made it to the section of the palace Azran knew all too well, having walked those halls several times, not before long they were turning the corner to the hallway where Ira´s chamber was located.   Outside the chamber, Azran could see that two guards had been posted and the closer he got more nervous and the energy that had been slowly building the closer they got to the capital and Ira. Coming up to the door, Eza told the guards to leave them for now.   Azran stopped in front of the door and looked over his shoulder at Eza who was standing just a few meters behind, Azran thought to himself that he could swear that she looked worried, looking at each other for a second, Eza gave an encouraging nod.   Azran lifted his hand and knocked on the door in the fashion that he always did it, maybe a tiny part of him hoped Ira would recognise the knock.   "Your highness, it's me Azran" Inside, Azran thought to himself "Really Azran, you went with this, it's the first time you speak to her in months and you go with calling her something she doesn't like being called, genius"   "If she does not react, try again in a moment," Eza said in a low voice, Azran just nodded.  
Ira had woken up when she felt something she had not felt in months, it was like some energy began to grow again, a small voice in the back of her mind told her that hope was on its way but she had been alone for so long that she didn't believe it and dismissed the thought. Ever since she had woken up she had been somewhat restless but during one of her many paces around her room, in the corner of her mind she registered that someone was knocking on the door when she heard the first two knocks, she then froze, those knocks, she knew that rhythm and if she was not already frozen she would be it when she heard the voice following "Your highness, it's me Azran" while that small voice in her mind from earlier was ready to believe it to be true, Ira had felt it, she had felt the connection between the two being severed when she was kidnapped, it could not be Azran.   "Leave me, I'm not falling for that" Ira shouted.   On the other side of the door, a small part of Azran was happy to hear Ira's voice again, but it pained him to listen to the pain he could feel in it.   "Ira, it is me," Azran said "You can open the door and see it for yourself," Azran said trying to sound as confident as he normally would be around Ira   "Liar! I'm not opening the door for anyone, the only one that's coming in is Eza," Ira almost shouted with a voice full of anger but with a hint of growing sadness.   Azran looked back at Eza who shook her head, this was his fight to fight.   "Ira," he said holding a pause and taking a deep breath " When have I ever lied to you?"   After some time without a response   "come on Ira, how can I convince you that I'm telling the truth?" Azran said.   Walking closer to the door, Ira was quiet for a moment, discussing with herself that, this was not normal, deep deep down she knew that no one at the palace who knew would dare to attempt to impersonate Azran.   "Alright, let's say that you are who you claim to be, then it should not be a problem to answer these three questions," Ira said. "first question, where and under what circumstances did we meet the first time?" she continued.   "well that's easy, it was when you caught her when she was about to fall out of the royal carriage," Eza said in a low voice that would not carry through the door. Azran looked back at her, smiling.   "We first met at the Kingsway Inn when I was out celebrating my 4th year in the legions and you had just walked in when a brawl broke out between the army and navy, you then came to my table due to its placement in a relatively quiet part of the inn, we left, later on, when our table got destroyed," Azran said, looking at Eza who he could see was mildly surprised.   "Second question, during my travels with Azran, I asked him to take me to his family, but we got intercepted outside the village, what happened after? also, Azran have a sister, what's her name?" Ira asked, less angry than the previous.   "As you said, we got intercepted by three bandits were we managed to defeat them but not without one of them wounding me badly, whereafter you took me the rest of the way to the village and from what you told me, by a coincident got help by my father who afterwards placed me in a bed where I was out for some days, but I was told you never left my side while I was out, we stayed in the village during the local festival and you even managed to make me dance, as for my sister, well she is named Eza, after your little sister," Azran said.   "Really?" Eza said chuckling "cute"   "Third question, Had our adventure not been cut short" Azran could hear Iras voice shake a bit over the last part "where did we plan to go to next?" Ira asked.   "You told me that we should go to the Grand Duchy of Ved and you told me about it after the emperor had sent you a message.   For several minutes nothing came from inside the room. After some time Azran could swear that he could hear something that sounded like someone trying to stifle their crying. Azran decided that it was time to open the door. Eza agreed to stay out and inform any to stay clear for the time being.   Opening one half of the door into the room that he knew all too well despite his relatively short stay in the palace, walking in and closing the door behind him, he heard the attempts to stifle someone cry to his right that's when he looked down and saw Ira sitting against the other half of the door with her head buried in her knees crying. sitting down in front of her.   "Ira" Azran said placing a hand on Ira's shoulder, this made Ira stiffen up for a second. "It's me, please look at me, will you?" he continued.   At first, Ira didn't move but slowly she lifted her head and looked Azran right in the eyes, her eyes were red from the crying and her makeup had been running down her cheeks. looking at Azran, Ira's eyes widen and her mouth moved as if she was trying to say something. Holding his hand out for her to take it, Azran moved to stand up.   "Come, let's get up from here, it's not good for you to sit on the cold floor," Azran said giving Ira a small smile. Grasping his hand with both of hers, Ira shot up and almost flew into the arms of Azran who only just managed to steady himself so they didn't fall, they both stood there for a long time with Ira's arms wrapped tightly around Azran and her head buried in his chest, when he had recovered from the chock Azran also wrapped his arms around Ira.   "I...I thought I lost you," Ira said in a barely audible voice.   "You did, but a good friend of ours interfered before the Lady of the Dark could claim me," Azran said.   Hearing that, Ira finally lifted her head, the moment making a log of her silver-white hair fall in front of her eyes, catching her attention for a split second, it clicked for Ira and she looked straight at Azran   "Mara" Ira almost whispered.   Azran just gave a confirming smile.   "I should have done this earlier," Ira said, holding even tighter around Azran "been thinking about it ever since the festival at Buan" Ira said, and before Azran could answer or do anything really, Ira leaned closer and kissed Azran who for the second time in a short time got surprised but quickly reciprocated the kiss.   Both of them could feel the energy that had been building up in each of them being released and they both could feel the bond Ira felt being torn over that fateful day all those months ago, being restored.   For a long time, the two of them just stood there in the middle of the room, until they were brought back to reality when they heard someone coughing, looking towards the noise they saw Eza standing against the door, arms crossed and a smile on her face, although they both could see that she was trying to hide it.   "Eza, I didn't hear you coming in," Ira said.   "I can see that," Eza said nodding towards Ira and Azran.   Looking down, Ira could see that they were still standing very close.   "Eza.." Ira began before Eza cut her off.   "Don't, big sis" Eza took a deep breath, holding up a hand" I may not have known him for as long or as well as you have, but I have been travelling with him for more than a month and I can say that he is a good man" Eza nodded towards Azran, who a bit confused, gave a small nod in return before she looked back at Ira. "You will have my full support, not that you didn't already have it" Eza looked towards Azran "that counts for you as well Cadet"   "Thank you, your highness," Azran said, letting go of Ira to give Eza a bow.   Ira walked over to Eza and hugged her before whispering to Eza "Thank you for bringing him back"  
Meanwhile, emperor Malthin having taken a break from the paperwork was walking down the hallways towards Ira's chamber. He knew that she would not want to speak with anyone, but the least he could do was to wish her a happy birthday when he spotted one of Ezas servants that he knew who went with her on her mission to Emitlestar months earlier. Calling the servant over, the servant explained that the princess had returned only an hour ago and along with a man the servant didn't recognize but that the young princess seemed to be familiar with, went straight towards the section of the palace where the crown princess chamber was located.   Dismissing the servant and continuing his walk towards Ira, Malthin could not get the message from the servant out of his head but he didn't dare to entertain it just to be disappointed when it would turn out to be someone remembering wrong anyway.   Getting close to the chamber Malthin could hear something that he had not heard in many months, laughter, he also noticed that the guards that normally were stationed outside the door were nowhere to be seen. Standing outside the door thinking about what to say, he suddenly heard the laughter again, he decided to knock on the door, expecting that nothing would happen as was normal, but this time the door opened and to his surprise it was Eza that opened the door, looking back at him with a slightly surprised expression, he could see her eyes going from one side to the other as if she was thinking about something, a moment later she opened the door more allowing him to enter the room.   Entering the room, what he saw standing in the middle of the room made him stop in his tracks, in from of him stood Ira, smiling, and almost glowing in the sunlight coming in from the balcony behind her, it took him a moment before he noticed that she was not alone, she was embracing something, someone, shifting his focus to this person he was almost even more surprised by what he saw.   "Cadet you..." Malthin was cut off by Azran quickly letting go of Ira and kneeling facing him.   "Your majesty, forgive me, I failed in the task you gave me, I failed to protect the princess," Azran said bowing his head further down.   "Cadet, from what Eza told me, there was nothing you could do to change the outcome" Malthin turned towards Eza who was still standing around the door " From what she managed to get out of Ira before she went to look for you, is that the two of you were lured into a trap that you had no reason to suspect," Malthin said while walking closer to Azran and signalled for him to stand back up. With Azran standing back up, Malthin noticed that Ira moved ever so slightly closer to him.   "Right, in two days, come to my office Cadet, you can report to me what happened in the time between your ambush and your returning here, then you are to return to active duty, but for the next two days, take some time off and regain your strength," Malthing said before giving both of them a final look and on his way to the door gave a nod to Eza.

Cover image: by Gayle Porter Hoskins


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