“Inter-planetary commerce has dropped by 75%, with shortages of grain…”
Rouya rubbed her temples as she struggled to pay attention to the reports of her council members. They’d each give off a ten-minute speech on what’s going wrong in their specific area and then expect her to pull a solution right out of her sleeve. Whenever she made a suggestion, it immediately brought up objections by other members, which would point out shortcomings in other fields that made it impossible for her to achieve what she suggested.
She always saw her father as the supreme ruler who could do whatever he wanted, and she wondered if he had to deal with the same attitudes.
“Redistribute grain and other necessities from the imperial stockpiles to the planets in need and remind them from who the support is coming from,” Rouya said. She rubbed the ring on her finger, eager to meet the newest daeva in her service and get some answers out of her. When she arrived back on Aequilla, her advisors immediately dragged her away to the endless meetings.
“That would dry up our reserves, your grace,” Lord Palin, the chief commerce advisor, pointed out. “The past few years have seen harvests decline by ten percent. We’ll need the reserves in the coming year if things don’t get better.”
“We’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, we should consider taking care of our people so they may live to see next year.”
An odd silence took hold of the chamber as none of her advisors voiced their agreement but also withheld their criticism. Apparently they were all more concerned about their own well-being in the coming year if things went sour again.
“May I offer an alternative, perhaps,” Palin suggested. “Lifle in the Rion sector is one of the highest agriculture worlds we lost in recent time. A military expedition to re-secure the planet would greatly increase our production.”
“Impossible,” Satrap Irul snapped. As minister for war, he knew all there was about the military capacity of her empire. “Our forces are already hard-pressed to hold on to territories we control. Rebel activity, ambushes and dissatisfaction are at an all-time high. We need to consolidate our forces on key worlds until Shahbanu Rouya is able to bring the remaining systems back into line.”
“Enough of this arguing,” Rouya said, rising from her chair at the end of the table. “I’ve already won a first victory and will follow this up with another duel once I have familiarized myself with the Maiden’s abilities. For now, let’s redistribute half of our stock and begin a recruitment drive to retake Lifle. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need some privacy.”
The council members glanced at each other but took their leave in silence. She waited until they were all gone before slumping back in the chair and letting out a sigh. Ruling was proving to be harder than she thought. She never received the training necessary for the position—that fell to her younger brother, whom she found with her sister and mother in the foyer.
Rouya pushed aside the darker thoughts and concentrated on reaching for magic as she summoned Tassia. Parsa knew something he thought would spare him her wrath. He could have been trying to buy time to strike back against her, but didn’t appear apt enough to try such a move.
Tassia appeared beside her in a stream of light. Her long curly platinum hair flowed over her shoulders. She gave a slight bow, bringing her hand to her chest as she moved. “You summoned me, master.”
“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” Rouya pointed out. The Maidens were only loyal to those that held the anchita but she still expected them to show some signs of loyalty or remorse.
Tassia flung her hair back and smiled. “He failed to supply me with magic and coordinate with me. Running away only finalized his defeat. I hope you know how to treat me right.”
“I plan on reuniting all seven anchitae and becoming empress.”
“Don’t they all?”
“What do you mean?”
“Parsa believed he could live out his days with me at his side and rule over his little domain. That all the separatists would respect each other and live in peace. Envy is something you can always count on. Eventually somebody would try to regain complete control and take me from him. I’m glad a more capable, and attractive, summoner has already presented herself.”
Rouya stood and moved in front of her, peering into her stormy gray eyes. Tassia lacked the muscles Attia or Evelyn had, her body more ample than either of the other Maidens while still being a head taller than Rouya. “Parsa begged me for his freedom and offered me information before Markus killed him. I was hoping you might have been privy to any of the secrets he might have been keeping.”
Tassia raised her brows and leaned in. “He was a simple man and just as easy to please. He had no secrets worth keeping.”
“Is that so?” Rouya mused, steeling herself from being intimidated by her presence. She was the master and in control. “What about Markus Relius? You must have been there when the traitors stole the relics from my father. What was his role in all this?”
Tassia cocked her head and tapped her chin playfully. “I was off-world when it happened, but when Parsa summoned me, Kalim and Markus were already at each other’s throats battling. Kalim ended up taking Adelaxia as a hostage but let him live.”
“So they were fighting but instead of ganging up on Markus, they retreated?”
“Yes, it appears as if Kalim was trying to win him over to his side but I can’t say for sure. Parsa was eager to return home and show me off.”
Rouya frowned and thought over everything that had happened these past few days. His defiance to her wishes and the way he just killed Parsa instead of taking him prisoner raised suspicions, but Tassia couldn’t lie to her master and from what she said it appeared as if he told the truth and was loyal to her father. She felt a burden release from her shoulder at the thought of having one less rival to deal with and looked forward to spending the night with Evelyn again.
“Thank you for your information. I’m going to return to my chambers and rest for now. You’re free to do as you like in the palace, just don’t wander off too far.”
Tassia stared at her with a blank expression and blinked several times. “What? You want me to guard the perimeter?”
“No, the guards are in place and Eveyln will take care of my protection for tonight. You’re free to do whatever it is you like. The gardens are nice and there’s usually a concert playing during dinner if you’d like to listen to music.”
“I, uhm, don’t know what to think about that but I’ll do as you wish, master.”
“Just call me Rouya, there’s no need for master. We’re friends from now on.”
Rouya wandered towards her chambers with a sense of exhaustion creeping into her. She had used little magic in her fight against Parsa but the shoulder injury made every movement, including breathing, painful. All she wanted to do was let herself fall back in her bed and sleep, hoping the next day would suddenly appear better. The council meetings weren’t helping in that regard, but pointed out just how much rested on her judgement.
It all came down to her and her ability to restore order. She decided to go over the information she’d gathered on the other summoners the next day and pick out her next target for after her recovery. Practicing with Markus would also be for the better in order to help her keep from getting injured again. Her luck wouldn’t last forever.
The two guards standing watch outside her chambers opened the door for her and held their spears at attention. She dismissed them for the evening and entered. If another summoner did attack her, the guards would only be casualties on their way inside.
“I need to enjoy the time given to me,” she said to herself and caressed the Nazar dangling from her neck. A tinge of magic spiked Evelyn’s interest and she appeared a moment later. Her alarm quickly faded when she noticed Rouya wasn’t in danger but that they were alone in her room. “It’s been a tough day. Have you found out anything about Markus?”
“Not yet. He only just retired with Adelaxia to his chambers. Should I conceal myself and continue the observation?”
Rouya shook her head and went over to the serving table to fill herself a cup of tea. “I never figured you to be the voyeuristic type to spy on others during their intimacy.” A brief smile crept across her lips before she became serious again. “Tassia’s already filled me in on what happened in the Great Hall. I think we can trust him for the time being, but I’m not sure he’ll respect my authority forever. He’s proving to be more difficult to handle, as is everything else in the empire.”
She sipped from her tea and eyed Evelyn over the brim of the cup. The Maiden appeared more at ease when it was just the two of them and they weren’t in public. While Rouya couldn’t deny a level of attraction for Mah, her bond with Evelyn far outweighed that. They’d only just met and while the daeva knew Rouya well, she couldn’t say the same the other way around.
“I understand your concern. It’s important to be wary of anyone that might wish to take the anchitae from you. Summoners could even use commoners as a means to steal from you.” Evelyn crossed the room and took Rouya’s hand, helping her over to the bed. “You really shouldn’t exert yourself with the amount of injuries you have. You need time to properly heal. Here, lay down and take off your shirt. Let me have a look.”
Rouya sat down on the bed and undid the straps of her armor, letting Evelyn help her ease it off. She winced as the leather brushed over bandaged wound and laid down on her back.
Evelyn laid her fingers on Rouya’s chest, probing the area around the wound before slowly removing the bandages and inspecting it directly. She pouted and eyed her master. “You’re lucky Tassia missed your heart. A few inches lower and you’d have been dead on the spot.”
“I think it’s fair to call the amount of luck I have skill by this point.”
“I’m being serious,” Evelyn said, raising her brows. “I can’t take care of you, if you’re killed. We need to be more careful and take fewer risks.”
“You’re starting to sound a lot like Markus.” Rouya cocked her head to the side. “I don’t know how I can possibly do everything while also doing nothing at all and just hiding. It’s as if I can never satisfy others. I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
“Shh.” Evelyn silenced her by placing the tip of her finger on her lips and moving her body over hers. She leaned in and kissed the gaping wound leftover from Tassia and watched the skin regenerate at an expedited pace. “That should help but the muscle underneath will need more time to fully heal. You’re still worrying about others too much. It would really help for you to clear your mind and relax. When you enter a fight, you need to be focused in order to make the best decisions. I can’t have your thoughts drifting to matters we can’t influence.”
“I know but the people deserve better and they expect me to give it to them.”
“You will. I know you can but you can’t do it if you go into your next battle with old injuries still flaring up and your mind in the wrong spot.” Evelyn brushed Rouya’s blue hair aside and let her lips brush against hers and enticing her to want more before she gave it to her.
“Your Grace,” came a cry from the halls as the minister of war burst into her chambers and caught them both in a state of undress. He blushed and swiftly turned on his heels but it could not be unseen. “Your Grace, our scouts have just spotted a Battle Maiden outside the city. What’ll you have us do?”
Next time on Battle Maidens …
Ride of the Dragoon
New to Battle Maidens? Episode 1