Tales around Mirateia 20 part 1

By the time Azran woke up, the sun had already risen, although from what he could see and feel, it was not that high in the sky yet, so at least he had not overslept, he thought.   Sitting up more straight, he felt his back making a satisfying cracking sound, looking around. Azran was confused about where he was. a split-second later, he remembered all that had happened the day before, arriving at Pearlhal and reuniting with Ira. She kissed him, wait a minute, she did what? No, he must be remembering wrong, he thought to himself while he stood up and walked around a bit to stretch out his legs.   Walking around, he remembered that both the emperor and princess Eza wanted to speak with him, so he looked around and found a piece of paper and a pen that he used to write a small message to Ira, who was still sound asleep from what he could hear.  
Hi, going to meet with princes Eza, dont know what will happen afterwards, talk to you soon

  Afterwards, he placed the message on the couch so Ira could spot it easily.   Closing the door to the room, he began walking down the empty corridors of the palace in the direction of the emperor's office. From what he remembered, he had not mentioned any particular location for the meeting, so Azran assumed he meant the office, as it was a place they had met twice already.   As Azran walked down the palace corridors, enjoying the relative peace of a palace mostly still sleeping, walking around a corner, he heard one of the doors up ahead open up. The first two Imperial Guards walked out escorting a person he quickly recognised to be empress Amelessa seeing her. Azran placed his right hand on his heart and the left around his back while bowing his head, a way for members of the Imperial Guard to show their respect to the royal family if they were to run into them without their armour.   Catching that someone was standing a few meters away to the side when she walked out, Amalessa turned her head to see who was standing there, but she didn't recognise who it was, and it wasn't any of her family's servants or the palace guards.   "You there? What's your rank and name?" Amelessa asked as she turned to face Azran.   "Cadet Buan at your service, your highness."   "ah, I remember that name. You are the one my daughter chose as her bodyguard, and I thought you were killed and yet you are standing right here, so what is it?" Amelessa said when she heard Azran's name.   "your highness is correct that I died, but I guess our goddess Mara was not done with me yet, so she brought me back, your highness," Azran said while maintaining the posture he had assumed when he saw the empress.   Amelessa looked at first, surprised that he would be so honest with her, especially considering the topic. A thought appeared in her mind, and it all made sense to her why her daughter, who since she was little had refused a personal guard, had one day appeared in front of her father and said that this guy was to be her bodyguard. A small smile crept onto the side of her mouth.   "I see, I would like to know more, but sadly I must go. I have a council meeting to attend," Amelessa said before she walked past Azran, who remained in his place until she left.   Not long after, Azran walked closer to the courtyard, where he knew from Ira that she and Eza preferred to spar with each other along with their instructors. While Eza had not specified a place for them to meet, he assumed that she would still be at the place training.   As he got into the courtyard, he could hear the well-known sound of metal hitting metal and soon enough spotted Eza jumping and spinning around her teacher, who Azran could see was barely managing to block her attacks.   Azran walked closer until he got to the edge of the sparing area; he leaned against a pillar overlooking the fight. He could see that Eza were a great fighter, at least against an old teacher whom Azran judged by age, who had not seen the battlefield or army base in a long time and had gotten accustomed to teaching nobles sword fighting.   The fight ended soon after Azran's arrival when Eza landed a blow on her teacher's neck that would have killed or at least several wounded him had she not stopped her sword just before it hit.   Eza ran a hand through her hair and wiped the sweat off her brow; she turned around when she noticed Azran standing off to the side.   "Greetings," Eza said as she began walking closer.   "Thank you, master. I think this will be all for today; dismissed," Eza said to her teacher, who bowed and began walking towards a door on the opposite side of the courtyard.   "Greetings, your highness", Azran said, assuming the same position he had done over for the empress earlier.   "At ease, Azran, s..so... what do you think?" Eza said, slightly out of breath, looking at Azran.   "About what, your highness?"   "What do you think about my fighting style? I assume you saw enough to have an opinion on it," She continued.   "Permission to speak freely, your highness?"   "Granted, and for the love of the gods, drop the highness; it's only us here," Eza said as she looked around to demonstrate her point.   "Right... I think your style is good, and you have great talent, but if you were to enter a real fight, you would get your royal arse handed to you, especially on the battlefield."   "Bold words Azran; I challenge you to put some weight behind those words?" Eza said as she turned around and walked out onto the sparing field.   "The emperor is so going to kill me if he finds out," Azran thought.   "I will accept your challenge on the condition that when I win, you are not going to run to your father crying," Azran said jokingly on his way over to the table where sparing weapons had been placed and picked up a longword and made his way to the opposite side of the field.   "Only if you promise not to run to Ira when I beat you, ready?" Eza said, getting into a starting pose.   Azran nodded but maintained a relaxed position.   A few seconds later, Eza sprinted across the field, getting ready to jump to the right to get to the opposite side of Azran's sword that he was holding on the left. Before she could make the jump, Azran suddenly jumped down and spun around and, with one of his legs, swept the legs away right under Eza, who, thanks to her momentum, fell and drifted a meter before coming to a stop. Before getting back on her feet, she saw Azran standing with his sword centimetres away from her chest.   "H..How" Eza managed to say while she accepted Azran's hand to help pull her back up.   "To make a long story short, back in my village, my friends and I used to fight with sticks and try all sorts of weird tricks, not unlike the one you were about to do; combine that with some experience from the legions, and you learn to spot a few things" Azran answered "are you alright?" he continued.   "Yeah, I'm fine, don't worry; if I want to join the legions later, I can't allow myself to be stopped by a few bruises," Eza said, walking towards the table with weapons signalling for Azran to follow, once there the both of them laid their weapons and moved to the shade.   Eza sat down and gestured to Azran to do the same.   "Azran, I wanted to ask you about something," Eza said, looking at Azran seriously. "Azran, have you met my brother yet?   "Only been in the same room a handful of times before I left on the journey with Ira, but I have never had the pleasure of speaking with his highness", Azran answered.   "If I can give you some advice, be aware of that man; I believe my brother will be a danger to the empire."   "Why do you think that? even for you, that's dangerous talk," Azran said, leaning forward to minimise the chance of anyone hearing them.   "I know, but you might have heard that. My brother believes that he should become emperor once our father dies. He considers that Ira would not be capable of taking the job seriously, and he assumes she is too soft on the commoners and, therefore, cannot rule the empire.   "Why are you telling me this? IM just a commoner who got lucky in life so far, but there is not much I can do against the prince unless he tries something against Ira, but the emperor should still have several decades left of rule, and if the prince is wise, he will wait to that time to make his move, and by then I will be long gone. Not even Mara will be able to bring me back then." Azran said, cleansing his fist. Eza could hear a conflict in his voice.   "Hmm, you might be right. Your skills are so good that I forget that you are not a Crienia like us...." Eza trailed off as if she remembered something, and then suddenly, she stood up and began walking out of the courtyard. "I got something I need to research", she said before leaving.   Azran sat there for a minute before also leaving, thinking that this family got weirder and weirder the longer he spent around them.   The rest of the day went by quietly; Azran used most of the day training with the other Imperial Guards and being brought up to speed on current events; Azran could understand that, at the moment, there was a faction led by those senators aligned with the prince in the senate challenging the emperor but what Azran found most interesting was that in the time he had been gone the Guards had been assigned new armour and that it was supposed to be lighter but still as strong as the old one.   Azran was about to enter the Imperial Guard quarter of the palace when he noticed a servant waiting by the entrance.   "Can I help you?" Azran asked the servant.   "Are you Cadet Buan?" the servant answered while doing a slight bow.   "Depends on who is asking; what can I do for you?"   "I was to wait here in case you were to walk back here; you're invited to the room of Crown Princess Ira for dinner", the servant answered.   Azran just shrugged and began walking in the direction of Ira's room; two seconds later, the servant caught up.   "Hey, wait, you can't just attend like that; you look like a commoner; you are not fit to see the crown princess," the servant said, shocked.   "How long have you been working here?" Azran said while he continued to walk.   "Excuse me?!" the servant said, taken back by the question.   "you heard me; how long have you been here?"   "I have been working in the palace for about two months already", the servant answered, and Azran could sense pride in the servant's voice.   "Now, that explains a lot; listen, if the crown princess wants to see me, I think my clothing is the last thing she would be angry about and trust me, you don't want to see her angry; I have been travelling with her for the last few months."   "So it's you, the guard, that came back?" the servant asked.   Azran looked at the servant and continued walking towards Ira's room with the servant in tow. The rest of the walk was silent until they reached their destination.   "You said it was to be a dinner, and do you know who else besides me that's attending?" Azran said, stopping at a distance from the door to Ira's room that he knew would guarantee Ira would not hear them.   "All I know is that I was to bring you here, but before I left, I overheard that another servant was to bring the empress; that's all I know", the servant answered.   "Thanks," Azran said.   He then dismissed the servant and walked the short distance to the door, where he knocked on the door, and another servant let him in.   As soon as he was in, he spotted Ira sitting on her couch, holding a cup of wine in her hand. Azran could not stop himself from asking.   "I must say, I didn't think you let anyone else into your room.. your highness?" Azran said, managing to stop himself from calling Ira by name; while he knew she hated him calling her by that title, he didn't entirely trust those servants, so the less they knew, the better. He could already see them staring since he didn't immediately bow and show her the proper respect; then again, Azran didn't care that much about that, he was the bodyguard of the crown princess, so it was only natural they would skip certain formalities at some point.   "Normally, you would be right, but I thought I would do something special given that it was my birthday yesterday and your return to my side," Ira said, winking at Azran while taking a sip from the cup.   Azran nodded and began walking around the room, looking at the different things and, as discreetly as possible, looking at the table that the servants had set up for dinner. He counted four plates on the table. The servant seemed right about the empress possibly showing up, but who could the other one be? The emperor? After some time, where Azran had been all around the room, talking with the servants currently making the room ready, asking their names and just, in general, being polite, he went out on the balcony for some fresh air. Around five minutes later, he heard a door being closed, and soon he felt a small hand resting on his shoulder and looked to the side, finding Ira standing next to him, looking out at sunset.   "Do you know what?" she said in a quiet and soft voice.   "no, what?"   "Standing here reminds me of that morning so long ago when you were standing here, and you told me that you used to climb on the roof back at your village to look at the sunrise. I used to stand here almost every morning hoping you would return from Emitlestar. I would think about you and pray to Mara that she would help you where ever you were," Ira said, placing her head on his shoulder.   Azran didn't know what to say, so instead, he just placed one of his arms around Ira and pulled her a bit closer.   The two of them were pulled out of their small bubble when they heard a door knock. They quickly straightened up their clothing and made it back inside, where they found both Empress Amelessa together with Princess Eza, Ira walked towards them with open arms greeting them while Azran stood back.   The three royals didn't take long to finish their greetings. From Azran's position, all he could make out of the conversation were that the emperor could not make it due to some meeting that was dragging out, and Prince Osril had declined the invitation, not that any of them were surprised, with the greetings done, Ira, dismissed the servants so they could have a private dinner.   Amelessa was the first to notice that Azran was still standing a bit further back in the room with the servants dismissed.   "Oh, I didn't notice that the cadet was still here, at ease, cadet," Amelessa said, and Azran returned to a more normal position and relaxed his shoulders a bit, looking around, waiting for what to happen next as he was not quite sure what would happen.   "Mother, this is...." Ira stopped for a moment and looked at Azran with a raised eyebrow, at first Azran was not sure what she wanted, but then it clicked; she was not sure what name to introduce him under, given the company, he didn't care what name she used so looking back at her he just shrugged, seeing this Ira looked back at her mother "this is Azran, as you know I assigned him as my guard some time ago and then well you know most of the rest of that story" Ira said looking at her mother trying to read any reaction, the only thing she noticed was a slight smile when Ira said Azrans name.   "Greetings, Azran; a pleasure to meet you again," Amelessa said.   "The honour is all mine, your highness", Azran answered with a nod.   "You two have already met?" Ira said, looking between the two; Azran was the first to answer.   "Well, earlier this day, on my way to meet with princess Eza, our paths crossed, but our meeting was cut short due to official business. I believe it was"   "That's right, that reminds me, you still have to tell me the story of your return, but more importantly, where are your manners, young lady? Here we are talking, and you have yet to introduce the cadet here to your sister," Amelessa said, shifting her gaze from Azran to Ira.   "Well, you see, mother, they already know each other fairly well", Ira answered.   "That's true, you see, those two months I, according to official statements, was conducting visits to southern lords and officials, I was searching for Azran", Eza continued from where Ira stopped.   "I see, so that's what Malthin meant," Amelessa said, trailing off for a moment "well, thank you, both of you," Amelessa said, looking from Eza to Azran. "If I may ask, who is the fourth person joining us for dinner? I see there are four plates?" Amelessa continued, hearing this Azran could suddenly feel how out of place he was, sure he had a good relationship with Ira, and Eza seemed to don't mind him, but still, he was just a commoner who got lucky a few times.   Looking over at Ira, he could see that she, for some reason, was a bit nervous. "Well, that person will be Azran, yes, my decision is final, and no, I don't think it's improper to have him eat with us", Ira said, looking confidently at her mother.   Meanwhile, Eza and Azran exchanged looks about what was happening in front of them.   "I didn't mean it in any offensive way; I was merely curious; I can see that it's important for you to have him close by," Amelesaa said.   With the conversation dying, the four of them sat at the table; Ira sat at the end, flanked by Amelessa and Eza, with Azran taking the side next to Eza. In front of them were Roasted Hare, Steamed Duck and something that looked like vegetable stew, there was more food on the table than Azran had seen in a long time, and he was not sure why Ira had ordered so much. Was it even her that had arranged this dinner? While the dinner looked fantastic, he did have to deduct some points from the dinner, for everywhere he looked at the table, all he could see were wine and no mead or ale.   Spotting Azran looking around the table and even some discreet looks to the sides and under the table, Ira could not hold back a small chuckle.   "I'm sorry, Azran, the kitchen didn't have any mead, and I know you don't like wine," Ira said, sending him a sad smile.   "What? Don't you like wine? you live in Pearlhal and don't drink wine?" Eza said, surprised.   "Your highness, it's not as much as I don't like it; it's more than where I grew up; wine is not that common, so most people drink mead, ale or spirits", Azran answered.   Satisfied with the answer, the four began their dinner with plenty of conversation. Amelessa led the discussion by asking about Ira and Azran's journey. While it was mostly Ira, that answered, Azran did add details and reminded Ira about events. When describing the journey, the two of them, of course, let out the elements of it that could be seen as both unsuitable for a princess and would not fit into the tale of it being a somewhat official journey. Azran did, however, almost get some stew down the wrong way when Ira began telling about his home village.   "Why did you take princess Ira to your home village cadet?" Amelessa asked, looking somewhat sternly at Azran, who could not help noticing how similar Ira looked when she tried to be strict with him.   "Your highness, in my defence, she outranks me, so there wasn't much I could do there, really; second of all, and excuse me, your highness, for taking this liberty, but I assume you know that once the princess has made up her mind, it's tough to change" Azran answered holding up his hands in defence.   At first, Amelessa was slightly taken aback by the honesty of Azran, but then she let out a small chuckle.   "I can agree that she can be a bit difficult to deal with sometimes," Amelessa said, sounding almost friendly towards Azran.   "You two know I can hear you two, right?" Ira interjected.   "My apologies, your highness, please forgive me," Azran said teasingly, although he hid it so that only Ira understood it.   Azran could not suppress a small laugh when he saw how Ira was sitting there fuming, although she pretended that everything was alright, while she could not do anything as long as her mother was there at least, he knew her well enough that once they were alone, he was in trouble.   The dinner soon enough came to an end. After exchanging goodbyes, Amelessa first left soon enough, followed by Eza, who excused herself from staying longer by saying that she had to get up early the following day for her training before she left. Azran gave her a few pointers for future training.   Closing the door behind her, Ira turned to look at Azran, picking some snacks from the dinner's leftovers onto a small plate. Currently, he was standing with his back towards her, so she began sneaking towards him, surprising him, making him drop his plate when she wrapped her arms around him.   "So, did you think you would get away with calling me highness," Ira said, still holding on to Azran.   "come on, I was about to eat that", Azran said with a sad voice. "It's not like I could not use your titles; your mother was there, for god's sake", he continued while trying to pick up his plate again but with Ira still holding him, restraining the movement of his arms just enough that he was just out of reach. Giving up on his snacks for the moment and relaxed to look over his shoulder towards Ira.   "Hey Ira, just remembered I forgot you tell you something yesterday," Azran said   "What?" Ira said, loosening her grip around him enough for him to turn around to face her.   "Happy birthday, Ira", Azran said, kissing her on the forehead.

Cover image: by Gayle Porter Hoskins


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