His Glorious Majesty, Emperor Neminatrix IV, sat on the Imperial Throne and drummed his fingers impatiently on its armrests. At any moment, he would be reunited with his daughter. It had been too long now that Lorgad Hemetal had kept her to himself. Giving her away in marriage to his closest political ally had been necessary to secure the Throne, but he never intended for Lord Hemetal to have her exclusively. For three years, Neminatrix had tolerated letting Shala stay on Infanalis while he secured his rule, but he couldn’t stand to be parted from her any longer. He felt…incomplete, without her. She satisfied desires in him that no other woman could.
It mattered little to him that his relationship with his daughter would be considered repulsive by any decent moral standard. Morals were for lesser men, not lords and emperors. Let the prudes whine and cry about virtue and honor. A midnight visit from the ISS would teach them to hold their tongues.
Neminatrix straightened expectantly as one of his aides announced the arrival of Lord Hemetal, and then frowned when the aide did not mention Princess Shala. Hemetal had said something about Shala wanting to stay on Infanalis, but Neminatrix had made it clear that Shala was expected on Trisitania, and no excuses would be accepted. Had Hemetal really disobeyed a direct order from the Emperor?
The disquiet filling Neminatrix’s soul quickly turned to naked rage as Hemetal approached the Throne alone, but he kept his face still. There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. Perhaps Shala really was ill, and had gone straight to her chambers rather than approaching the Throne first. That would be completely unacceptable, of course, but more forgivable than if Shala was still on Infanalis. He watched as Hemetal paid homage to him, one knee on the floor and head bowed, as was the custom. Not nearly as deferent as Neminatrix preferred, but only so much could be changed in three years.
“Rise, Lord Hemetal,” Neminatrix said coldly. “I trust your journey here was pleasant?”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” Hemetal replied, polite but cool. The two men and their Houses had been political allies for decades, but they had never liked each other personally. House Votalin and House Hemetal had always been too evenly matched in power and prestige for Neminatrix to dispense with Hemetal, but now that Neminatrix sat on the Imperial Throne, any number of possibilities presented themselves.
“Very good,” Neminatrix said in a tone that suggested it was anything but. “Now, I am quite eager to see my daughter again. It’s been…three years, I believe? A long time for a loving father to be separated from his only daughter.”
“I can understand that, Your Majesty,” Hemetal said smoothly. “However, I am afraid that Princess Shala’s health is quite fragile, and she was unable to accompany me. As much as I sympathize with a father’s love for his child, I could not in good conscience endanger my wife’s health further with a lengthy interstellar voyage.”
“I see,” Neminatrix said in a carefully neutral voice, his face a mask of stone. Then, suddenly, he stood up from the Throne and screamed, “Place Lord Hemetal under arrest immediately!” A dozen ISS agents rushed from their places around the Throne, grabbed Lorgad Hemetal, threw him roughly to the ground, held his hands behind his back and slammed restraints on his wrists. The Emperor stalked down the steps leading to the Throne, knelt down, clutched Lorgad’s face tightly, and held it up close to his own. Lorgad’s expression was evenly mixed between shock and outrage.
“What do you think you’re doing, Erelesk!” Lorgad hissed, his voice tight with pain and anger.
“What I should have done a long time ago, Lorgad,” Neminatrix spat, his eyes wild with rage. “You have been a thorn in my side for too long, and I put up with it, because I needed your money to get the Throne. Well, no more! I have the Throne now, so I don’t need you anymore. You and your House will learn what it means to incur the Emperor’s wrath!” He stood and stormed back up to the Throne. “Throw him in a cell, and let him rot until I have time to deal with him!” The ISS agents nodded, and quickly bundled him out of the Grand Hall.
“Get Jefmin Lakatai in here at once!” Neminatrix snapped at a nearby ISS agent. The agent saluted sharply and ran off, leaving Neminatrix to snarl silently and clench and unclench his fists as he waited for the Master of the ISS to arrive. He didn’t have to wait long before Lakatai rushed in, red-faced and sweaty.
“What is your pleasure, Your Most Glorious and Illustrious Majesty?” Lakatai blurted as he prostrated himself before the Throne.
“Get together a team of your most elite agents, and send them to Infanalis, to the Hemetal Manor in Heretoral,” Neminatrix said, his voice filled with barely suppressed rage. “Find my daughter, Princess Shala, and bring her to me. She is not to be harmed. Anyone who does harm her will suffer a slow and agonizing death. Also, bring back Ilena Hemetal and her daughters. Treat them as you will, but do not kill them.”
“As Your Magnificent and Noble Majesty commands, so it shall be done,” Lakatai replied, and hastily stood up and waddled out of the Grand Hall as quickly as he’d come in. Neminatrix scowled and drummed his fingers furiously on the armrests of the Imperial Throne. Arresting Lorgad and sending Lakatai to fetch Shala assuaged his rage somewhat, but he wouldn’t be completely satisfied until his daughter was safely ensconced within the Imperial Palace. A corner of his brain that was still slightly rational argued that arresting Lorgad was committing political suicide, and that corner had a point. His hold on the Throne was still more tenuous than he wished it was, and House Hemetal was exceedingly wealthy. He needed that money to fend off his rivals, and he’d almost certainly lost it now. But he didn’t care. He was the Emperor, and nobody defied his will. Not even his most important ally.
To be continued…