Belatras slowly stood up and looked at himself in the mirror. He was a tall man, and skinny. Some would even say scraggly, but not in his presence. He had long, stringy white hair, and long white mustaches that hung past his chin. His eyes were piercingly blue, and there were few who could stand up to his gaze. His stare alone more than made up for his feeble physical appearance.
After a short while, he emerged from the bathroom and made his way through his bedroom and into the sitting room where he had been planning strategy with his generals before this most recent attack. He was somewhat surprised to find that the room was still full of generals.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said, “I appreciate your waiting for my return, but I am unsure why you felt it was necessary. I thought I made myself quite clear.” One of the generals, a short, fat, greasy man by the name of Xamor Croladen, stood up.
“Forgive me, sire,” he began, “but some of us are still puzzled by your thinking. I understand that liberating the capital was the number one priority, but now that that’s done, surely we must focus on Medradi. The Imperial Fleet is paralyzed so long as the enemy has our primary military base in a chokehold.” The Emperor didn’t look at him while he was talking, but as soon as he was, Belatras fixed his cold gaze on him, and the odious little man seemed to shrink in on himself.
Oh, how Belatras hated generals! The fools just refused to see what was so obvious. Yes, Medradi was important, and there was no question that once Cortaris was safe, all of his attention would be focused there. But if Fangalin managed to crush Cortaris while the Empire was focused on Medradi, it wouldn’t matter how many ships and guns the Fleet had. There would be no money to pay for fuel and bullets for those ships and guns, not to mention soldiers to fly those ships and shoot those guns.
“There is no more discussion to be had about this matter, General Croladen,” Belatras said, his words ice, “I have told you what I require, and I expect my orders to be carried out. Dismissed.” Croladen acted like he wanted to say more, but one look from the Emperor, and the little man practically ran for the door.
Belatras watched as the rest of the generals slowly shuffled out of the room without any expression on his face. As soon as the last one left, his oldest son approached him. 38 years old, Prince Valin Maclanar had always had a strained relationship with his father. Part of it was simply that, as Emperor, it had been difficult for Belatras to find time to be a father. But part of it was simply that Belatras didn’t like his oldest son. Prince Valin and his father were almost complete opposites. Prince Valin was handsome and physically powerful. He was also cheerful, irreverent, and utterly disinterested in ruling the Empire. He was much more interested in writing flowery poetry and pursuing women. It made Belatras cringe to think that Valin would become Emperor someday.
“I don’t suppose you have anything relevant to say,” Belatras said to his son.
“If I did, would you even listen to me?” Valin responded with a grin. Belatras sighed heavily.
“What is it that you want?” he asked, settling down into his favorite chair.
“I just wanted to know how you’re doing,” Valin replied, a serious look replacing the grin on his face. Belatras raised an eyebrow at him.
“Since when have you even pretended to be concerned about my welfare?” Belatras asked, slightly amused. This time it was Valin’s turn to sigh.
“This may be difficult for you to believe, but you are my father, and I do care about you,” he said. This elicited a loud snort from Belatras.
“Sorry if I hadn’t noticed, what with you wasting all your time scribbling and chasing skirts,” he scoffed. A pained expression appeared on Valin’s face, and he turned to go.
“I’m sorry I even said anything,” he said, as he shuffled toward the door, “Just forget about it.”
“Sit down,” Belatras said sternly. Valin turned and looked at him, surprised. “I know what this is about, so let’s sort some things out.” Valin sat down, and was immediately pinned in place by his father’s infamous stare.
“I know that you have no desire to be Emperor,” Belatras grated, “I know that your dearest dream is that I’ll name your brother or sister my heir in your place, and you can live out the rest of your days in drunken revelry. Well that dream dies today. You WILL be the Emperor when I’m gone. That is your role as my eldest child, and you WILL accept it. Do I make myself clear?” Valin sat, seemingly paralyzed by his father’s eyes and his words. Then, slowly, he nodded once.
“Good,” Belatras said, satisfied, “You are dismissed.” Valin stood up and walked to the door, but when he reached it, he turned back.
“You’re wrong, you know,” he said, “Not about me being your heir, but about my concern for your welfare. You’ve been a rotten father to me, but you are still my father, and I wouldn’t want you to die even if I wasn’t your heir.” And with that, he left.
As soon as Belatras was alone, it was as if a mask fell from his face. He was no longer the harsh and terrible ruler of a great Empire, but instead he was a sad and broken old man. He knew that he had been a failure as a father, but to have his son tell him that to his face was…hard to hear. The weight of his years and the heaviness of his responsibility seemed to be crushing him. His shoulders slumped, he lowered his face into his hands and he exhaled deeply. Someday, he would be able to rest from his labors. But until that day, all he could do was carry out the duty that his destiny had given him. Same as his son.
To be continued…