When the message came from the capital for Belfamor, almost a month had passed since he’d last seen his father. He had been back on Medradi for over three weeks, and had been so busy assisting General Vorek Leshiel with the plans for an invasion of Nemixis that he’d almost forgotten about his father’s trip to Trisitania. The message from the capital brought that problem crashing back into his consciousness immediately. He was glad that he had been alone in his quarters when it arrived, as it was such a shock that he might have lashed out at anyone who had asked him what was wrong. Instead, he simply sat in silence on the end of his bed for a long time, and then he picked up his tablet and made a call.
“What can I do for you, Major?” asked General Leshiel once the call connected.
“I hate to ask this of you, General, but I need to request another leave,” Belfamor said with a sigh.
“Again?” Leshiel exclaimed in irritation. “It’s only been three weeks since you got back from the last one!”
“I understand, General,” Belfamor replied, “but it’s unavoidable. The Emperor has requested my presence in Selorin.”
“What?” asked Leshiel, confused. “If you were to be transferred to the capital, I should have received orders about it, but I’ve heard nothing!”
“It’s not a military matter, sir,” Belfamor responded. “It has to do with my family.”
“Oh, that’s right,” said Leshiel in satisfaction. “You’re a Hemetal, aren’t you? Probably has something to do with money. Well, see if you can convince the Emperor and your father to send a few more trinars our way, would ya?”
“I’ll do my best, sir,” Belfamor said in a neutral voice.
“Well, have a good trip, then!” Leshiel said boisterously. “Maybe the Nemixis operation will be all wrapped up by the time you get back, and we’ll have one less Emperor to deal with!”
“Yes, sir,” Belfamor said with a salute, and then he flung his tablet onto his bed and began packing furiously. In reality, he had no intention of going anywhere near the capital. At least not yet. He had another trip he needed to make first. Glancing over at his tablet, he pounded his fist against the wall and went back to packing. The message he’d received from the Emperor was displayed on the screen again. It read:
Your father is dead. I have your mother and sisters. If you want them, come to Trisitania and convince me that you deserve them.
His Glorious Majesty
His father was dead, but that wasn’t what had him so angry. He would grieve for his father later, but first he needed to make sure his mother and sisters were safe. And he couldn’t do that alone.
Two days later, Belfamor was in an antechamber in a palace on Revellia, awaiting an audience with His Majesty, Emperor Valador I. He was dressed in civilian clothes, as he was here as the Head of House Hemetal, not as a member of the Imperial Army. Maybe he should have felt guilty about betraying the Emperor he’d sworn to serve, but that Emperor had betrayed him first. There was no way he was going to negotiate for his mother and sisters. He would not grovel and beg for their lives. Instead, he’d strike such a blow to Neminatrix that the rotten bastard would quake in his boots for years.
“Lord Hemetal,” said an aide, poking her head out of the door, “the Emperor will see you now.” Belfamor stood up and followed her into the audience chamber. He wasn’t sure he would ever get used to being called Lord Hemetal. It was impossible to get any pleasure out of his new title, considering the way he’d received it. Things weren’t supposed to have happened this way. He should have become Lord Hemetal after his father had lived a rich, full life, and died in his home, surrounded by his loved ones. To be executed as a criminal by a madman was just…too upsetting for words.
“Lord Hemetal, to what do I owe this honor?” said Valador as Belfamor approached his throne. “I was under the impression that House Hemetal supported Erelesk Votalin.”
“Votalin has taken our support and wiped his ass with it,” Belfamor spat. “I am willing to pledge my loyalty and the use of my coffers to you, in exchange for a small favor.”
“I see,” Valador said in a flat voice. He was a short man with a large nose, long white hair, and a somewhat bored look on his face. Belfamor knew better than to trust that, though. Valador had a reputation for disarming those he negotiated with by pretending to not pay attention, while in reality cataloging every detail in his mind. “You know, I’ve never had much use for the nobility.”
“And we’ve never had much use for you,” Belfamor retorted. “We all followed Votalin, despite his unsavory reputation, because he was one of us. But he has gone too far with his perversions, and I am ready to turn against him, if you aid me. And if House Hemetal defects, other Houses will follow.”
“That would be a boon to my rule,” Valador said with a yawn. “Tell me, what is this favor you ask of me?”
“Votalin has my mother and sisters held prisoner in the Imperial Palace,” Belfamor replied. “Give me a strike team and help me rescue them, and House Hemetal is yours.”
Valador burst out laughing. “Oh, is that all!” he exclaimed. “Just help you break into the Palace? Why don’t we assassinate Erelesk while we’re at it! And destroy all of Fangalin and Hadramoris and Midigal, too! Just as simple as that!”
“Feel free to reject my offer, Your Majesty,” Belfamor said calmly. “I can just go to Midigal or Hadramoris instead. Surely one of them would see the value of House Hemetal’s vast resources. I would prefer to stay loyal to the Empire, but if the Empire won’t help me, then it doesn’t deserve my loyalty.”
Valador chuckled to himself for a while and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief, and then he said, “Okay, Hemetal. You’ve got yourself a deal.”
To be continued…