Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Five in the Harrrowbethian Saga

Life’s gonna kick you in the butt;
that’s what it does.
But if you gotta put up with this crap,
the least you can expect
is that your friends will stand by you.

I mean, for crying in the night,
what else are friends for
but to help you make right
what isn’t in life?

                                                                         The Mishmorat

Do not read the following chapters if you have yet to read the first four books in the Harrowbethian Saga. These beginning chapters to book V will reveal more than you want to know if you haven't read the start of Eena's adventures.  
Continue at your own risk if you so choose.  
Don't say I didn't warn you.


Chapter One

Do not read the following chapters if you have yet to read the first four books in the Harrowbethian Saga. It will seriously spoil the story if you have not read the start of Eena's adventures. 
This is your last chance to heed my warning...

The End

A terrified scream carried from down a darkened hall, shrill and piercing enough to penetrate the walls of the house. The cry found its way to the front porch where two protectors turned at the sound. Both Ian and his father halted their argument and raced indoors, flying down the hallway to a back bedroom where the young queen of Harrowbeth was awakening from a nightmare. Ian reached the door first. Yaka was already scratching at the wood, yowling to get access to his mistress. As soon as the doorknob turned, the poor animal hurried around Ian’s legs to reach Eena’s bedside. The men followed directly behind, trailed by Unan’s wife who had been startled awake from her bedroom across the way.
“Eena, you’re okay, it was just a nightmare. I’m here now, you’re okay.” Ian kept his voice soft, hoping to calm his queen as he took a seat on the edge of her bed. He read fear in the wideness of her eyes. Despite a disapproving frown from his father, the young protector wrapped his arms around the frightened girl in hopes of easing her panic. Yaka whined, observing the scene. The animal’s tail beat against the carpet in quick, apprehensive snaps. Trembling, Eena gripped at Ian’s shirt.
“Calm down. You’re okay, I promise.”
Ian closed his eyes to concentrate on the jumble of images running through her mind. He was searching for the cause of her distress. It was a relief for him to be able to read her thoughts at any time, to even visit her dreams when they were both asleep. As her protector, telepathy was one of the gifts he had acquired to assist in keeping her safe.
He could hear the thoughts of others as well, but it took less effort with his queen. Her thoughts came to him as naturally as his own. Only he and she knew of this remarkable ability. It was a secret cherished between best friends. That had not always been the case. Eena’s reaction at first discovering her protector’s gift had been adverse. But over time, his constant mental presence became familiar and comfortable, a kind of security that left her feeling empty during the rare occasions his mind disconnected from hers. At the moment, they were both grateful for Ian’s telepathic talent.
(Anesidora was in your dreams? I don’t understand. How? Pallador took her and Ishtura far away from here. This shouldn’t be happening.)
(Then how is it she’s haunting my dreams again?) Eena shuddered thinking of the ghastly specter. Ian tightened his embrace in response, but she immediately pushed away from him, her pulse thundering. Her next words were heard by everyone in the room.
“We buried him. Oh no, we buried him but he’s still alive!”
Yaka yapped at the urgency in her tone; though, no one paid the animal any mind.
“No, no, Eena, you’re wrong,” Ian said, keeping his voice soft and calm. “He was dead. We buried him properly.”
Unan, who had been watching from the foot of the bed with his wife, cut in curiously. “Is she talking about Derian?”
Ian cast a furtive glance at his parents and nodded.
The old man’s next question was directed at his adopted daughter. “Did you dream of Derian, sweetheart?”
Eena answered the question, remaining focused on her protector, clutching tightly at his arms. “I saw him, Ian. I saw Derian in my dream. He’s not dead, he’s alive! We should never have buried his body!”
Speaking her name tenderly, Ian covered her gripping hands with his own and frowned. But before he could say anything more, she blurted out her proof.
“Ian, I saw him! It wasn’t just a dream, he was really there! If you had been in my dream you would have seen…”
She stopped abruptly and bit her lip, hoping it wasn’t too late. Ian’s eyes flickered up at his father while hers dropped to the floor.
(I’m sorry,) she whispered telepathically, feeling sharp remorse for her slip of the tongue.
(He only suspects. He’s not sure what you meant, but he’s wondering…)
Ian was reading his father’s thoughts. While it was common practice for a protector to witness the dreams of his queen, it was a secret vowed never to be shared outside the line of protectors. Recent trials had necessitated Ian participating in Sha Eena’s dreams to save her from a dangerous enemy. Because of the unusual circumstances, she had learned his secret. Since then, Ian had failed to remain hidden on the edge of her subconscious as his father had strictly instructed him to do as a young boy. The two now visited almost nightly in her dreams.
Unan gently dismissed his wife from the room. “Go back to bed, Gaila. It was just a nightmare. Eena will be fine.”
His wife gave him a look of concern, but succumbed to a reassuring smile. Her husband sent her across the hall after a quick kiss on her hair. She called for Yaka to follow, but the animal didn’t budge until Ian patted him on the head. “It’s okay, boy. Go on.”
Unan’s smile vanished the second his wife did. He shut the door quietly and approached the bed.
(Dad wants to ask me,) Ian sighed, standing up from the mattress. (I’m going to tell him.)
(No!) Eena’s eyes grew wide as she jumped up also. She tried to keep her face from Unan’s view. (You can’t tell him; just deny it!)
(I’m not going to lie.)
(Ian, it’s supposed to be a secret! He’ll be angry! Please, please, don’t,) she begged.
(He’s already angry with me for wanting to marry you. I may as well disappoint him entirely.)
Ian moved his queen aside, wanting to face his father full on. Eena attempted to put herself between the two, but her protector shoved her back with one arm. She continued to plead with him in her mind.
(Don’t do this, Ian, please. I’m sorry! I’m sorry I slipped up, but you can cover it! Just tell him it wasn’t what it sounded like. Tell him I’m delusional!)
(I won’t lie.)
Unan met his son’s unwavering gaze with tight, wrinkled features. He attempted an indirect query. “It sounds as if Eena has been dreaming not only of Derian, but of you.”
A mix of bitter amusement and disgust blew across Ian’s lips in the form of a groan. “She knows, father.” That was all he had to say.
The old protector lowered his head in an attempt to hide his fury. It was an impossible feat, and he raised it almost as quickly. He clenched his jaw to keep an incited temper somewhat in check while scolding his son.
“How could you do this? Have you no respect at all for our calling? For our traditions? For our family? Criminy! What in the name of all that is proper and honorable were you thinking?”
“I told Derian too.”
The old man’s voice cracked when it climbed a pitch. “Wh..what?”
“It was necessary. It was the only way to contact her while she was in Gemdorin’s hands. Derian suspected anyway.” Ian stood his ground, his shoulders pulled rigidly back. Not at all his usual slouching pose.
Eena could feel tears forming in her cheeks, threatening to spill over. She wasn’t entirely sure if they were for Ian, Unan, or herself. Perhaps all three. There was a tangible charge in the air circling both men who appeared frozen, locked in a bold staredown. It was as silent as midnight except for the slow, controlled breathing of the old protector.
Hardly able to stand the tension, Eena sobbed aloud, letting her body cave and fall to the bed. She felt her stomach heave at a wave of sorrow. She then realized who the tears were for. Derian.
“He’s not dead,” she cried into her hands. “We buried him, but he’s not dead!”
The men set aside their differences to come to the young Sha’s aid.
“Eena, it’s okay. It’s okay,” Ian kept repeating. But she wasn’t buying it.
Raising her voice, she objected strongly. “No, it’s not okay! He’s still alive, Ian!”
Her head snapped in the opposite direction sensing Unan’s touch on her shoulder. His soft, fatherly tone hit her ears.
“Sweetheart, why do you say that?”
“Because it’s true! I saw him in my dreams, Unan. He is alive!”
With a supportive nod, the old protector asked, “What exactly did you see?”
Eena wiped at her cheeks, nearly choking on her tears. She managed to explain her dream. “I saw Anesidora. She demanded that I help her, but I refused. She persisted, saying I should come find her because she had something I wanted. When she vanished—” Eena raised a finger to point out at nothing in particular. “—Derian was right there, right in front of me!” Her anguished eyes turned to Ian. “He called my name.”
Devastated by the image of her captain, she covered her face and breathed a heartrending sound. Ian rubbed at her trembling back. A few contemplative moments passed before anyone spoke again.
“Eena.” The warmth of Ian’s breath touched her ears. “Eena, Derian’s not alive.”
Her face left her hands, quick to object. “Yes, he…”
“No, he’s not,” Ian cut in, firm but kind. “Anesidora is deceiving you. She knows you would never help her unless she had something you desperately longed for, and she’s using that knowledge to lure you to her. It’s an illusion, Eena.”
“No,” the young queen insisted. Her eyebrows scrunched almost angrily at his words.
Ian responded compassionately, covered her hands with his own. “Do you remember the dream you had after Angelle died? Remember how you saw her standing there, beautiful as could be, calling out your name? And then, like some cruel joke, her image disappeared, leaving Anesidora there smirking at you like an ugly monster? Do you remember that?”
Eena caught how Ian’s voice faltered at the recollection. She nodded, her face a tangled vision of torment.
Ian felt miserable having to be the bearer of disappointment. “I’m sorry, Eena, but this is the same thing. Derian’s gone. Anesidora wants you to free her, so she created this ghostly illusion of him. Derian didn’t survive the separation from his body; he couldn’t have. He was mortal, not like those immortal sisters.”
Of course Ian was right. It made sense. It made perfectly horrible sense. She had simply wanted to believe that her captain could return to her, that there was the slightest—albeit insane—chance his spirit had been preserved in the scarlet gem where Anesidora and Ishtura were forever held captive. Those vile witches were imperishable; nothing could kill them. Not like her virtuous mortal captain. He was dead. Derian was dead. Buried. His life had come to an end months ago after he had heroically stepped in to defend his queen.
Eena slumped over and sobbed into her protector’s chest. Unan didn’t object. It was like mourning her loss all over again. She wasn’t sure when she fell asleep, only that Ian’s dream image soon followed.

“Are you alright?” he asked, standing over her in his typical slouched pose.
She moved her head away from the weeping willow tree that supported it, forcing a bleak smile with her response. “I’m good enough.”
Ian sat himself on the grassy hilltop beside her. They looked out over an Earth scene, the primary dream she and Ian shared most of the time. The sky was darkening by degrees as the final crest of a red sun sank behind distant, sagebrush-covered hills. Farmland that spread out for acres below was tilled into dark, striated squares. Eena imagined planting season was just beginning back on Earth, the planet on which she had been raised for a portion of her youth. A longing for that simpler life gnawed at her chest.
“Father’s pretty upset with me. I think the word ‘traitor’ crossed his mind more than once.”
Eena realized her best friend needed to talk. She turned her eyes on him, wanting to be a good listener. After all, it was her fault Unan felt that way.
Ian seemed to chuckle at his own thoughts. “You know, Father used to be so down on himself for failing as Sha Tashi’s protector, for letting her die the way she did. But now…I think he’s actually more disappointed in me than he ever was in himself.” Again there was an unfitting chuckle.
Eena sighed despondently. “Ian, why did you tell him I knew about you visiting my dreams? What good did it do?”
The young protector frowned and scrunched his eyes at the sunset. “It kept me honest.”
Not knowing what else to say, she slowly shook her head and groaned. “Some birthday this is turning out to be.”
Ian’s head fell forward. “Don’t do that,” he breathed.
“Don’t do what?”
“Make me feel guilty.”
“Guilty? I’m the one who’s guilty. I got you into the worst trouble with your father twice in one night. First kissing you and then blurting out your secret.”
She could hear Ian laugh, so she twisted her neck sideways to question him with a crinkled brow.
“You’re such a martyr, Eena.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it was I who kissed you. And I’m the one who informed my father I had divulged our family secret. I hate to ruin your attempt at martyrdom, but you’re honestly guilty of nothing more than being in my miserable company.”
I kissed you, Ian,” she insisted.
“No,” he argued, “I kissed you. It was a birthday present.”
“No, it wasn’t. The pendant was the present. The kiss was my thank you.”
“Nice try.” He leaned in close to her as if he might actually kiss her again. “I had that birthday kiss planned all along. There was no way I was going to send you to bed without kissing you under that full, silver moon on your eighteenth birthday.”
She moved her face closer to him, determination etched deep in her expression. “I was the first one to pucker my lips, Mr. Overprotector. I kissed you in gratitude for the birthday party and for the thoughtful present.”
“You are so delusional, Queenie!”
“Oh, so now you choose to call me delusional? You couldn’t have said that earlier to keep from blurting out the truth to your father?”
“I told you, I wasn’t going to lie.”
“No, instead you got us both in trouble.”
“Yes! Which is exactly what I was trying to tell you in the first place. I’m the guilty one!”
“Fine! Have it your way then,” she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “And thanks for ruining my birthday.”
It fell silent for a moment. Eena was beginning to regret her last, bitter remark when she heard Ian grumble something beneath his breath loud enough for her to overhear.
“Well, if you hadn’t been so determined to get kissed in the first place…”
That was enough to make them both burst out laughing. Ian scooted up close to the birthday girl and playfully rubbed a knuckle across her head.
“Happy miserable, stinkin’ birthday, Queenie,” he muttered.
She grabbed his hand and pulled it down over her shoulder, nuzzling in beneath his chin. With a genuine smile on her face she breathed, “Thank you.”

Morning came much too fast.
The bright rays of a winter sunrise shone through the window of Eena’s bedroom, landing without compassion on her sensitive eyelids. Someone had drawn the curtains. The warm tingles on her skin were enough to wake her. She yawned and reached overhead, extending her back in a stretch. She called to Ian first thing.
(Is it safe to get up?)
(For you, it is,) he answered.
(I don’t think I want to,) she murmured, (but they’ve opened my curtains. I think that means…)
(…You’re expected in the council chambers this morning. Mother was hoping the sun would wake you up nicely.)
(Father filled her in last night about my….or our…. intention to marry.)
(Oh crud.)
(Yeah, she’s not exactly thrilled.)
(Oh crud.)
Eena heard Ian chuckle in her head. (It’s really okay. Mother’s determined not to spoil your birthday. She thinks it’s all my fault anyway. That’s the way Father broke it to her.)
(Oh crud.)
(I certainly hope you plan to be more expressive with the council today. You do know it’s your job to break the news to them. I told Mother and Father. The council was your end of the bargain, remember?)
(Oh muddy crud.)
Ian laughed. Eena was sure she heard his actual voice carry down the hallway.
(Get up and go eat. Mom’s not going to breathe a word to you. She would die before spoiling your birthday. She and Father are waiting in the kitchen.)
There was silence for a moment.
(What?) she grumbled.
(Nothing more to say?)
(Crud no.)
She wondered how Ian intended to explain his loud laughter to his parents.
Dressing was a long, drug-out process. Eena killed as much time as possible before reluctantly showing her face to a waiting Gaila and Unan. Her adoptive parents stood up from their chairs the moment she rounded the corner of the living room. Yaka was nowhere to be seen. Eena assumed the animal was keeping Ian company.
Unan said a bright “good morning” with an accompanying smile that didn’t appear at all forced.
“And happy birthday, young lady,” Gaila added just as chipperly. “Take a seat and have some breakfast.”
Eena obeyed, pulling out the closest chair within reach. She sat across the table from Unan who was still smiling pleasantly. Realizing she was biting her lip, she managed a smile in return, casting the same strained expression at Gaila when a warm plate was placed in front of her. French toast with syrup. The sight almost brought her to tears. Ian was immediately in her head.
(Eena, what’s wrong? I thought that was your favorite.)
(It is, it is,) she assured him. Then he saw in her thoughts the memory of Derian serving her a surprise breakfast in the garden on his ship, the Kemeniroc. The captain had made French toast with syrup. It was a cherished memory.
(Oh,) Ian breathed. (I wasn’t aware…)
(Don’t worry about it,) she cut in. (I appreciate the gesture. Thank you.)
“Eena?” Gaila was concerned as to why the birthday girl was quietly staring down at her plate. “Is something the matter?”
Eena quickly looked up, purposefully grinning wide. “No, no, I’m just surprised. I mean…how did you know this was my favorite breakfast?”
Gaila admitted that Ian had told her, grumbling her son’s name to a certain degree. Satisfied that she had done her best to provide an appropriate birthday breakfast, the lady of the house excused herself and stepped back into the kitchen. The clamor of pots and pans resounded louder than usual. Eena jumped at the loud crash of a dropped dish, shifting her eyes to Unan’s fidgeting hands before lowering her gaze onto the French toast in front of her.
(Don’t worry about Mom, she’s just working up a good hot lecture for me. She’s hiding out so she doesn’t slip up and say something to you. Mom’s a firm believer like Ruthy that ‘if you can’t say something nice, you might as well hide in the kitchen.’)
Eena corrected her earthly mother’s favorite adage. (You mean ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’)
(Yeah, well, Mom can hardly keep from saying something, so she’ll just hide out.)
Eena picked up a napkin and dropped it across her lap. “O-kay,” she breathed uneasily. It seemed like a good idea to fast-forward through the morning meal. While determinedly downing her food, Unan started up conversation.
“Did you sleep well last night?” he asked.
Eena wondered if he honestly thought that was possible given the regrettable happenings. She nodded anyway, her mouth too full to answer.
“No more unpleasant dreams then?”
Her head shook back and forth in quick, tiny wags before another larger bite of French toast entered her mouth.
“Eena, I was wondering…”
Unan seemed to hesitate with whatever was on his mind. The way he leaned forward over the table, lowering his voice, made her nervous. She quickly shoved in another bite of breakfast before swallowing the previous one.
“Sweetheart,” he addressed her again, “did Ian speak with you last night?”
She was certain he meant in her dreams. Her eyes flickered up for a second, catching a look of fatherly concern on Unan’s face. She swallowed before nodding a quick affirmation.
“And this is a common occurrence?” Unan asked. “These are nightly visits?”
Eena cut another big bite of French toast and stabbed it with her fork. She wondered if she should refuse the conversation.
(Go ahead and answer him. I don’t care what he thinks.)
(Knock it off, Ian. You do care what your father thinks.)
Eena nodded in answer to Unan’s question.
The old protector released an audible sigh as his hand went to rub beneath his nose. His knitted eyebrows made her stomach turn, so she cut her remaining portion of breakfast into tinier bites instead of scooping any into her mouth.
Her eyes quickly flickered up. Unan smiled, a feeble attempt. The next portion of their conversation was whispered so no eavesdropping ears could overhear from the kitchen.
“Derian knew about Ian visiting with you…um…in your sleep, and he was okay with this?”
“He accepted it,” she nodded.
“Why?” Unan whispered the word so quietly, she wasn’t sure if he was asking her or wondering to himself. She answered him anyway.
“Derian came to realize how much I need Ian in my dreams,” she explained. Putting down her fork, she leaned forward to say more. “Sometimes I have very bad nightmares. Your son stops them for me. Usually, the bad dreams don’t happen when he’s there, only when he’s absent. Derian knew this. In fact, at one point he ordered Ian to keep my dreams safe from nightmares.”
“What kind of nightmares do you suffer from?” Unan’s concern seemed to shift gears, focusing on her rather than on the inappropriateness of his son’s actions.
“For a while I was haunted by the memory of Gemdorin. His image was frightening. He kept coming after me, after the necklace. I would wake up screaming sometimes.”
Eena watched her adopted father tighten his gaze, his wrinkles forming deeper folds.
“I’ve been haunted by the immortals too, those wicked sisters from Wanyaka Cave as well as the dragons. Ascultone, he’s the worst dragon. He wants me dead.”
“But, sweetheart, these are simply nightmares, aren’t they? Just dreams.”
The young queen shook her head. “No, Unan, they’re real. The immortals have the ability to visit me in my dreams.” Her eyes glanced towards the kitchen to be sure Gaila wasn’t listening. “It’s the same as how your son visits my dreams. It’s all very real, Unan.”
A heavy sigh sounded somewhat skeptical. The old protector’s eyebrows slanted as he admitted, “I witnessed a dragon in your mother’s dreams when she was alive. Sha Tashi seemed to fear him. He had the most severe red eyes, a glowing stone in one. She saw something in it that bothered her.”
Eena nodded affirmatively. “That was Ascultone. He’s the guardian of the dragon’s heart, a red gem that can predict the future….or possible future events. He’s shown me more undesirable visions than I ever cared to see.”
“What might he have shown your mother?”
Eena’s face wilted sadly as she uttered, “Her death.”
Unan gasped. The color drained from his face. With a bowed head he whispered a rueful thought. “If I had known, I might have been able to prevent what happened.”
“Or not,” Eena said, offering the possibility. “I’ve found that Ascultone’s visions often come true regardless of how I attempt to alter them.”
Unan leaned far forward, his face again taut with apprehension. “Are you in any danger?”
A reassuring smile preceded her answer. “No, don’t worry. Between your son’s efforts and my guardian dragon, Naga, there’s really nothing Ascultone can do but loathe me from afar.”
A fatherly hand reached across the table and patted her arm. “Okay, that’s good to hear,” he breathed. She wasn’t sure if he was trying to console her or himself. Just then, Gaila’s figure blocked off a source of lamp light, rounding the kitchen entryway.
“It’s awfully quiet out here,” she remarked. “Is everything okay?” She was looking to her husband for an answer.
Leaning back in his chair, the old protector put on a smile for his wife. “Yes, yes, of course, my dear. Eena was just finishing up her breakfast.”
The older woman shifted her gaze onto the birthday girl.
“The French toast was very good, Gaila. Thank you.” Eena stood up from the table, tossing her napkin onto her plate. She was aware half her breakfast still remained, cut into tiny pieces, but her desire to get out of the house was greater than her appetite.
“I should probably get going. I understand the council wishes to see me this morning.”
“Yes, that’s correct.” Unan rose from his chair and rounded the table, holding out his arm as if ushering her along. “It would be good for us to get on our way. We don’t want to keep Minister Jorban waiting.”
Eena froze for a moment, confused. “What about Ian? Isn’t he supposed to accompany me? He is my protector.” From the corner of her eye she caught Gaila’s pursed frown. Unan, however, remained smiling.
“You’ll have me today, and technically I am a protector too.”
“Ian has things to do.” Unan was doing his best to urge her forward, but she refused to budge.
(Just go, Eena. I’ll catch up with you later.) She thought Ian sounded awfully dismal. His lack of a quick, witty comeback to her thoughts was even more concerning.
(I just need to get through Mother’s lecture. She’s working on a darn good guilt trip for me. I’ve been watching it develop in her head.)
The young queen turned and headed for the front door without any further objection. She could only imagine how unpleasant it would be to hear the negative thoughts of your own mother and then be forced to listen to those critical thoughts expressed out loud—no doubt with a fair amount of hostility.
(I’ll survive, Eena. I’m no martyr—unlike some people I know.)
She couldn’t help but smirk at his remark.
The flight to city hall was short. Unan steered their compact shuttle low, just barely above a neighborhood of two-story housetops that lined the cobblestone streets of Harrowbeth. His passenger was enthralled with the view and what appeared to be crowded, early-morning festivities taking place below.
“The Grotts are here!” Eena pointed down at a small group of giants that stood well above others mingling near the shops. “There’s Master Ravelly and Wahlister!” She beamed wide at the sight.
Unan veered the shuttle towards the grand old tree in the heart of the city.
“I see Braetics….and Hoj y`man….and look—the Icromians too!” She turned to her pilot, thinking about the winged Icromians. “I wonder if Corr Bellon is still upset with me for not healing his mountains sooner.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Unan said. “The Blue Mountains are beautiful and thriving now. Most likely, the director is more concerned with maintaining friendly relations.”
Eena nodded in agreement.
“Hey!” she blurted excitedly, pointing out the window again. “Look, look there! The Mishmorats! And Efren! I see Kira, Kode, Niki, Derna, Kaway Shogo, and Kaway Emas!” She was waving her hand in the window, even though her friends couldn’t see. “Oh my goodness, they’re all here!”
“Everyone’s here,” Unan grinned. “No one would miss the eighteenth birthday celebration of a Sha. It’s a very special occasion.”
Sitting back in her seat, Eena asked the old protector, “So what exactly happens on a Sha’s eighteenth birthday?”
“They sacrifice her to the Gods,” he jested, sounding just like his son.
“That’s not funny, Unan.”
“Okay then, they celebrate from sunrise to sunset, much like they did a few months ago when you returned to Moccobatra.”
“Oh.” She recalled the wonderful time she shared with her friends that day, but then remembered the speech required of her. Worrying aloud, she asked, “Am I supposed to do anything?”
“The council will fill you in, Eena.”
“What do I have to do?” she pressed, wanting to hear the bad news from him rather than from the tetchy councilwoman, Kai Launi. It would probably sound twice as bad coming from that crotchety old woman.
“Well, the truth is…” He seemed to hesitate. “Traditionally, you would address the council first and then the citizens of Harrowbeth.” He stopped there, but his information seemed incomplete.
“And?” She urged him to share whatever he was holding back.
“And, well….by tradition, you would officially announce your intent to marry, and declare a wedding date for some time within the next year. But with Derian’s recent death, that won’t be expected.”
“But the council will want to discuss it, no doubt.” Her eyes were glued on the old protector, reading his nonverbal responses. He merely nodded his head.
“I’m prepared to discuss the issue,” she announced, still watching Unan’s reactions.
His chest rose with a deep inhale before he gave her some advice. “Minister Jorban is a very sensible man, and a well-respected counselor among the citizens of Harrowbeth. He will, of course, hear out anything you have to say, but…” There was a moment of hesitancy as he thought over his words. “Eena, it would be wise for you to follow the advice of your council. They are your elders. And it is your best interests they have at heart.”
She dared a personal question. “Unan? Are tradition and propriety the only reasons you object to Ian and I marrying?”
The old man turned away from her as if he wanted to hide his face. When he spoke, he spoke to the window.
“What I object to, Eena, is my son’s outright disregard for his calling. He knows very well where his place is. And he understands the consequences that accompany neglecting such an important position. Despite this, he has chosen to strive for things that are not proper for him. Things he shouldn’t even be considering. His actions will only serve to hurt his family and you as well, I’m afraid.” Unan turned to his listener before making his next statement.
“Eena, sweetheart, Ian cannot be your husband. There is no way he can carry out the demanding duties of a Shen and at the same time effectively stand beside you as your protector. These are two important callings that require two separate, devoted, honorable men. It is your safety Ian is risking.”
It bothered her how convincing Unan’s argument sounded, but she had grounds on which to object. “I’m probably the safest Sha in the history of all Shas. With the powers of the necklace at my disposal I’m quite capable of protecting myself. I don’t need Ian watching over me constantly.”
The old protector quickly shot down her reasoning. “On the contrary, Eena, you have actually been the most hunted after Sha in Harrowbeth’s history. Vaughndorin; Gemdorin; his Ghengat allies; those persistent immortal sisters, Anesidora and Ishtura; and their brother, Edgarmetheus; not to mention the fierce dragon, Ascultone, which I will add to the list after what you told me earlier….all of them have sought to end your life. It is clear to me that you are in greater need of a dedicated, capable protector than you realize.”
“I’ve survived them all,” she argued.
“Because you had a protector assisting you.”
Her eyes questioned him.
“I killed Vaughndorin before he could get to you as a child. Ian cradled you then and hid with you until things were safe. Ian also helped save you from Gemdorin’s grasp, twice: once when he hid with you in Lacsar Forest, evading your enemy for days, and a second time when he helped track you down on the Mahgshreem. He and Derian were the ones to eventually rescue you from Hrenngen. And just lately, as you were forced to take on Anesidora, wasn’t it Ian who kept her sister, Ishtura, distracted? Had he not been there for you then, had he not done what he did, you would have been outnumbered by your enemy. And isn’t it Ian who you claim protects you even now from Ascultone’s nightmarish visits?
“Eena, Sweetheart, you do need your protector. He must not be distracted from this important calling by the additional duties of a Shen. He needs to keep his focus on you entirely. The welfare of Moccobatra, Harrowbeth, the future line of Shas….all of that depends upon Ian performing his job as expected. I’m sorry, but he cannot be your husband. And I would urge you to reconsider bothering the council with such an inappropriate request. If you do, it will only fare poorly for everyone.”
They landed on the airstrip that bordered one side of city hall’s expansive front yard. The ship’s engines took no time to quiet down. Eena blinked back an onset of tears, her face bowed. She felt her hope wilting at the persuasiveness of Unan’s argument, feeling its strength grab hold and crush her delicate heart. He was right that she needed a vigilant protector. She hadn’t realized how much so until hearing it spelled out so clearly.
With moist eyes she uttered her only defense. “But I love him.”
“You can fall in love with more than one person, Eena. Just as with Derian, someone else will come along to win your heart. You’ll see.”
She watched a few teardrops splash like broken glass on the back of her hands. If this was supposed to be her year of guaranteed happiness as predicted in Arden’s Vision, it certainly didn’t feel like the start of anything joyous. In fact, it felt more like the end of all her dreams. The end of a future with Derian. The end of fresh hopes with Ian. The end of everything worth living for.