The day had been successful. The bandit group that had been terrorizing the border town between Perion and Gronn had been all but vanquished. The few members of that group of thugs that had still lived would hopefully have enough sense to not show their faces again. Kachina prayed that they would realize that Perion’s Watchers would hand their asses to them again if need be.
Kachina was wandering around the small town, smiling and nodding to those that recognized her and thanked her for the help the Watchers had given them. She felt oddly light and happy. It was still a bit unnerving for her to be able to go about without a cloak and hood covering her face. Her thieving days, however, were permanently behind her (although she wouldn’t deny that the skills she had honed all those years weren’t helpful). She was grateful that she had the opportunity to have a better life, both for her and for Cecil.
Kachina eventually found her way back toward the inn that the Watchers had been graciously given accommodations for the night before they continued on their way along the border. She was about to go into the front door, but the scent of burning wood and smoke caught her attention, and she went around the back of the building to find Jeharraz sitting by a small fire and just looking up at the stars.
“Enjoying yourself?” Kachina asked, freely sitting beside the prince by the fire.
“I am, actually,” he said, turning to her with a smile. “It’s better with you here.”
She returned his smile with a crooked one of her own and didn’t protest when he gently laced their hands together. The pair sat in a comfortable silence, just enjoying each other’s company, and Kachina was reminded of the first time she had caught Jeharraz out alone stargazing. That time had felt so long ago, back when they had first petitioned to the late Osend king to aid them in their quest for the Dragon Scale. Osend wasn’t even its own country now, not with the marriage between King Ellery and Queen Viola. With that merge, Osend had become under the protection of Perion, eventually morphing into western Perion.
“Jeharraz,” Kachina said, “the last time we were outside alone like this, we had been talking about the royal families and how Ellery was the heir to the throne rather than you. I remember you mentioning how there was some sort of competition for the heirs to find the best one, and how your mother didn’t play by the rules. So you said, anyway. Can you tell me that story? How your mother became the queen?”
He actually grinned and Kachina was surprised he hadn’t just burst out laughing. Once Jeharraz got his composure, he said, “I can, I suppose. I don’t see the harm, and I think you’re the type who would actually be impressed with how my mother won the Perion throne.
“She was the youngest sibling in her family,” Jeharraz said, “born after her twin brothers, Sterling and Jett. She was never seriously considered for the heir of the throne and, as she was growing up, it always seemed as if she never really cared. She was the apple of both of her brothers’ eyes, and while they loved her dearly, they sorely underestimated her.”
“You’ve never mentioned any uncles,” Kachina said.
“Well, they’re dead,” the prince replied. “See, unlike Ellery and myself, Sterling and Jett were not fond of each other at all. Both, upon learning of the heir competition, took it to heart and sabatoged each other as best as they could in an effort to win the throne. In the eyes of the court, of course, both played fair and were amicable to each other, but Mother always told me that neither cared much for the well-being of the other.
“My uncles did have one thing in common with Ellery and myself,” Jeharraz continued. “One had chosen the way of the blade while the other became a sage. Sterling was the Knight Prince, while Jett was the Sage Prince of Perion. After the pair had completed their chosen education paths, they embarked on separate pilgrimages. Sterling’s company had consisted of knights and warrior friends of his, being attracted to their power and strength, and believing that those aspects would help him perform great deeds of glory to bring home for the throne. Jett had a few trusted advisors, usually others who were magically inclined and known for their advice and wisdom about the land, for Jett’s plan to secure the throne was through knowledge.”
“And their sister?” Kachina asked. “Rather, Queen Pearl?”
“I’m getting to her.” Jeharraz smiled. “My mother, being doted on and not being noticed at the same time, was in the prime position to learn all about the people of the country, and that was her trump card. She was quite the cunning woman, my mother. She played for both sides, both Sterling’s and Jett’s, and neither knew until their unfortunate end.”
Kachina’s eyes widened, but she wasn’t particularly shocked. “Your mother killed her brothers?”
“She didn’t send assassins after them,” Jeharraz said with a shake of his head. “What she did was secretly pit the two against each other without the men knowing they were fighting a three-way war. They believed that the other was going to turn on them, and so they thought to get rid of the other first. My mother exchanged letters with both of them, dropping false hints and clues to each about what the other said. Eventually, they destroyed each other. Their deaths weren’t part of Mother’s grand plan, but unfortunately it happened. Their downfall was believing my mother without being suspicious of her own motives.”
“Your mother always wanted to be queen, then?” Kachina asked.
“That I’m not sure,” Jeharraz said. “She always spoke about how neither of her brothers would have been fit to rule. She was afraid that Sterling would take their army to new heights, building up strength and power when it wasn’t needed, and neglecting the land. For Jett, it would have been the opposite. He would have put in regimes regarding food crops, risking soil and farmers’ health in an effort to be sure no one would go hungry. Instead, Mother predicted there would have been too much food, too much spoiled, abandoned food created from new farms that would throw nature out of balance. Perhaps my mother cared more about the country than about her own ambitions. She firmly believed that she would be the best ruler for Perion, and she did something about it.”
“Wow…” Kachina was almost at a loss for words. “Your mother was amazing, Jeharraz. I’m sorry I couldn’t have gotten to know her better…”
His hand gave hers a squeeze. “Thank you, Kachina,” Jeharraz said. “That means a lot to me. I’m certain my mother would have liked to get to know you better as well. In fact…” the prince chuckled lightly, “I’m sure you probably reminded her of herself in her younger years.”
Kachina smirked and leaned against the prince’s shoulder. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”