After a couple of days of settling in, Belfamor decided it was time to broach the subject of Shala with his father again. Even though Lorgad had said that it was Ilena’s idea to keep Shala on Infanalis and not make her go to the capital, Lorgad was still the Head of House Hemetal, and his word was law. If Belfamor could convince Lorgad that leaving Shala on Infanalis was madness, it wouldn’t matter what his mother thought.
“So, it’s time for the talk, is it?” said Lorgad mildly as Belfamor entered his study. Lorgad’s study was as sumptuously understated as the man who occupied it. The decorations were simple, tasteful, but also undeniably expensive. The desk at which Lorgad sat had been built over 600 years ago with wood imported from Sevvelin, a heavily forested planet famed for its exotic trees. Everything about this room embodied the history and importance of House Hemetal. And this one fool move of his father’s could mean the end of all of it.
“Yes, Father, it is,” Belfamor said sternly, sitting down across from Lorgad’s desk. “How could you possibly even consider going to Trisitania without Shala Votalin, when the Emperor has specifically requested her presence? You know how Erelesk is. He’s mean, petty and vicious. He won’t hesitate to tear House Hemetal down around our ears for this insult.”
“Erelesk will bluster, and he will threaten, but the simple fact of the matter is that he still needs our support,” Lorgad replied calmly. “His hold on the Throne is still tenuous. Valador Mifalis grows stronger every day, and although Vibal Trogoron’s following is weak, he is still capable of being a thorn in Erelesk’s foot. No, he will not destroy one of his solidest bases of support just so that he can have sex with his daughter again.”
“Father, you’re expecting a mad man to behave rationally,” Belfamor sighed in exasperation. “Not only is Erelesk fully capable of tearing House Hemetal apart just to get his hands on Shala, I have no doubt that he will do it, and our support be damned. We may be one of the most powerful noble Houses in the Empire, but our strength is nothing compared to the combined might of the Imperial Fleet and the ISS. And he will not hesitate to use them.”
“And a fat lot of good all the ships in the Fleet will do him when he runs out of money to buy food and fuel for those ships,” Lorgad said dismissively. “With the Senate still out of commission, Erelesk needs as many Houses as he can find to fund the war effort. And House Hemetal is the richest.”
“Dammit, Father!” Belfamor yelled, slamming his hand onto his father’s desk. “You are not listening! Erelesk Votalin’s twisted pleasures are more important to him than the Imperial Throne! He would be willing to destroy the Empire itself to get his daughter back! There is nothing you can do to stop him, so please, do not destroy our family and my inheritance in this futile attempt!” For a moment, both men were silent, staring at each other coldly across the desk.
“Someday, Son, you will be the Head of this House,” Lorgad said slowly. His face was perfectly calm, but there was a fire burning in his eyes. “You will be Lord Hemetal, with all of the privileges and responsibilities that that role entails. And I hope when that day comes, you have learned that some things are more important than the prestige and power of a noble House.”
“Maybe I’ve already learned that, Father,” Belfamor said coldly. “Maybe I’m concerned because I care more about you than I do your wife.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Lorgad, arching an eyebrow.
“It’s not just our House that Erelesk will destroy if you go to Trisitania without Shala,” Belfamor said firmly. “It’s you. If you set foot on the capital alone, Erelesk Votalin will have you executed.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lorgad scoffed. “Not even the Emperor can put someone to death so arbitrarily.”
“What makes you think that?” demanded Belfamor. “The Senate is destroyed and the High Court is toothless. The only check to the Throne’s power in these days is guns and warships.”
“I would like to think that we are still more civilized than that, even with someone like Erelesk Votalin on the Throne,” Lorgad said.
“Father, I have been in the Emperor’s presence when he ordered men put to death for wearing the wrong shoes with their dress uniform,” Belfamor said darkly. “Even worse, there were three men wearing those same shoes, and only two were executed. The man is dangerously unstable, and unless your plan to keep Shala here involves removing her father from the Throne, your life and the lives of our whole family are in danger if you go through with this.”
“Belfamor, I understand your concerns, I really do,” Lorgad sighed. “But as I tried to explain to you earlier, this was your mother’s decision, not mine. If you really want me to take Shala to Trisitania, then you are going to have to convince her.”
“You are the Head of House Hemetal,” Belfamor replied angrily. “Not Mother. I do not understand how you can allow her to make a decision that will destroy our House and our family.”
“Because doing the right thing is more important than preserving our House or even our lives,” Lorgad sighed again. “Even if it comes to that.”
“So you’re decided then,” Belfamor said, disappointed.
“I am,” Lorgad said firmly.
“Then I will have to speak to Mother instead,” Belfamor replied.
“You are, of course, welcome to do so,” Lorgad said, “and I wish you luck. I will warn you, however, that if you are successful in persuading your mother to change her mind, it will be your responsibility to inform Shala.”
“Why?” Belfamor inquired, puzzled.
“Because, if she is to be sent back to the tender care of her father, she deserves an explanation from the man who sent her there,” Lorgad said mildly. Belfamor frowned at him silently for a moment, and then stood up and left the room without a word.
To be continued…