Numenera: Marauder Kingdom
The empress was dead.
Princess Narrah paced back and forth across the bedchamber, chewing her bottom lip.
’You’re going to burn holes in the carpet,’ said Myallatur.
He gazed at her from the bed, drinking in her beauty. Moonlight shone into the dark room through the high arched windows and illuminated the young woman’s slender figure. She was naked but for the amethyst pendant that hung from a silver chain around her neck. He’d bought the gem to match her violet eyes, though they looked black and shiny as volcanic glass in the nightlight.
’They’ll make me empress,’ said Narrah.
‘They will,’ he agreed. ‘Empress Challadien bore no heirs; she raised you as her own daughter. You were always intended to succeed her, princess.’
Narrah paced over to her dressing table and gazed at the mirror, perhaps trying to find some semblance of her late aunt in her reflection. In her youth the empress was the jewel of Rarmon, but if she were a jewel, Narrah was the sun.
’I’m not ready.’
Myallatur smiled. ‘I can’t imagine she was either. No one predicted her father would die without a son. She was Emperor Tyrik’s eldest daughter, yet still younger than you when they placed the Pytharon crown on her head.’
‘My aunt was beloved. She was strong and just, the noblest woman I knew. She brought this empire from the brink of ruin. How am I to continue her legacy, when I’m not near as wise?’
Myallatur rose from the bed, letting the covers fall from his bare skin. He took Narrah into his arms and hugged her against his chest. Her hair smelt of lilies and was soft against his chin.
‘The people love you. Your kind and generous and you don’t lack compassion. That’s a start. And once you reclaim the lost lands of the empire, your enemies will tremble.’
Narrah pulled away from his grip and looked into his eyes, dark and beautiful as a goddess wrapped in the night sky. ‘My aunt believed our forces not ready to invade Milave and Iscobal.’
Myallatur was ready for that.
‘I don’t speak of Milave and Iscobal. I speak of Nihliesh.’
Narrah gave him a curious look.
‘The city’s slaves have rebelled. They say a man named Dhaval has imprisoned the Fahat and governs the people with the aid of exiles and tavern keepers. Nihliesh is vulnerable. If we take it…’
‘…We’ll have a gateway into the Beyond,’ finished Narrah.
Then the realisation struck her and her expression turned hard.
‘Pytharon can’t take Nihliesh without the Mahal Shards,’ he said.
‘Was this your plan from the beginning?’ She shot him a sharp look.
‘My position as Lord of Rathscor isn’t enough to formally ask your hand in marriage. By conquering Nihliesh, I gain status and the favour you need.’
Myallatur was near twenty years Narrah’s senior and to the old noble families of the empire, a mere soldier and jumped-up lord. Without greater land and title, a marriage between him and the newly-crowned empress would earn nothing but snickering and quiet ire. They needed Nihliesh.
A long silence hung between them. They stared at each other, knowing what needed to be said but unable to say it.
‘I don’t want you to go,’ said Narrah.
Myallatur took her hands into his. ‘I know.’
The morning sun peeked through the clouds over the Sunken Palace. Thousands crowded around the imperial courtyard for Princess Narrah’s coronation, the commoners spectating behind a perimeter of armoured guard.
Myallatur had the unfortunate honour of standing among the nobles, dressed in their ceremonial garments.
Princess Narrah stood at the centre of the lords, atop a hovering platform plated in gold. Myallatur had never seen her more radiant, with her elegant gown of white satin and damask embroidery of silver and bronze, decorated with pearls and red gems. She swore her imperial oaths and knelt before the chancellor, her pale blonde hair falling freely behind her and shinning like silver-gilt.
The plump chancellor held out the Imperial Crown for all to see; a slender band of azure steel forged from the first emperor’s sword and surmounted with crystal spikes that glowed iridescent colours. Many lords whispered of the crown’s power, which was said to hold the memories of all its bearers, granting new emperors and empresses the knowledge to rule.
Myallatur followed the lords’ hungry looks to the crown and princess, unable to know which were wanted more.
Throw either to the crowd and they’d swarm like vipers, he thought.
He then wondered, not for the first time, if it was so wise to leave Narrah among the snakes.
The chancellor set the crown on Narrah’s head. ‘I thus crown you Empress Challadien, Third of Her Name, Lady of the Southern Reach, and Queen of the Riage. May your reign be long and prosperous.’
The people cheered and clapped in an uproar of celebration.
‘Long live the empress,’ they shouted.
Myallatur took note of the nobles who stood quiet and whispered promises to one another. He’d have to send men to watch them while he was away south.
Everything depended on Nihliesh.