Hana burst out laughing as soon as Dren Calabane spoke. “You have got to be kidding!” she said derisively. “Me? A bodyguard? That’s your mission that would make full use of my talents? Come on!”
“I suspected this would be your reaction,” Calabane said with a small smile. “But I assure you, I am quite serious.”
“Why?” Hana said, all trace of mirth suddenly gone from her face.
“I need somebody I can trust completely,” Calabane said bluntly. “There are factions in the Grand Council who are working against me, factions that want nothing more than to see me ousted.”
“Ousted?” Hana blurted, confused. “You can’t oust a Supreme Commander. You’re chosen for life!”
“True, but if I was no longer alive, I would no longer be Supreme Commander, would I?” Calabane said grimly. Hana frowned slightly at this. “I’m afraid I haven’t been as skilled at handling the Grand Council as my predecessor was. As a Councilor, I chafed under the tight leash that Commander Fortulis kept on us, so I was determined to give the Council greater freedom once I became Supreme Commander. Unfortunately, my strategy backfired, and there is a powerful faction within the Council that is determined to do whatever it can to undermine me.”
“Even including assassination?” Hana asked skeptically.
“I’m afraid so,” Calabane replied with a grim nod. “I have a plan in motion to eliminate the rebellious faction, but I cannot guarantee that it will be successful, and if the rebels figure out what I’m planning, it may accelerate their own plans. So I need to have somebody by my side that I’m one hundred percent certain I can trust, to keep me safe until I can bring the Council firmly back under my control.”
“And that person is me,” Hana said flatly. “How do you know you can trust me?”
“Hana,” Calabane said, giving her a droll look. “How long have we known each other? If I can’t trust you, then I can’t trust anybody.”
“That doesn’t seem like a very good reason,” Hana replied, her voice even more flat than before.
“Well, I do have a better one,” Calabane said with a smirk. “You know who the leader of the rebel faction is? Ven Ron.”
“Ugh,” Hana said, her lip curling in disgust.
“Exactly,” Calabane said in satisfaction. “If nothing else, I can trust that you would never conspire with Councilor Ron against me.”
“You got that right,” Hana said, disgust still etched on her face. “If I never see that toad again, it’ll be too soon.”
It wasn’t just young men in Starfengt who considered Hana an object of lust and desire. Members of the Grand Council also saw Hana as a prize to be won at any cost. Apparently they felt that bedding the hero of Fangalin, slayer of Emperors and generals, would greatly increase their own prestige.
Hana had been propositioned by every Councilor at least once, some multiple times, but none of them had been as persistent in their pursuit of her as Ven Ron. He had plied her with gifts, swamped her with invitations to dinner, and filled her message inbox with confessions of his undying love and devotion to her. All of that would have been difficult enough to deal with, but the thing that pushed her feelings for Councilor Ron from annoyance to hatred had been the time that he had invited her to his office under the pretext of discussing strategy. She had gone, reluctantly and against the advice of her second-in-command, and sure enough, military strategy had been the farthest thing from Ven Ron’s mind. In fact, he’d attempted to rape her, but he had discovered, to his misfortune, that raping a highly trained assassin was more difficult than he’d expected. But even though the attempt failed, the fact that it had happened, and the fact that Ven Ron was too powerful to be held accountable for his actions, made Hana’s face burn with shame and anger every time she thought about it.
“With your help, and a little bit of luck, I can finally remove ‘that toad’ from his position as Chairman of the Grand Council,” Calabane said seriously. “But I do need your help. If he has me assassinated before I can execute my plans, he will almost certainly be elected the next Supreme Commander. And I don’t need to tell you what a disaster that will be.”
“No, you certainly don’t,” Hana said, thinking quickly. “I suppose I can’t really say no, under these circumstances.”
“I was hoping that would be the case,” Calabane replied, smiling broadly. “I’m afraid this means I have to remove you from command of Starfengt.” Hana froze for a moment, not breathing, and then she relaxed and took a deep breath.
“I can’t say I saw that coming,” she said in a resigned voice. “But it does make sense. I can hardly be your bodyguard and command Starfengt at the same time.”
“It’s not all bad,” Calabane said with a shrug. “I don’t want you to think that you’re not getting anything out of this deal, so I’m promoting you to Admiral, with all of the benefits and privileges that go along with that rank. And once Ven Ron is dealt with, I can put you back in command of Starfengt, if you like.”
“It would be odd to have an admiral in command of a unit like Starfengt,” Hana said. Calabane shrugged again.
“Starfengt is an inherently unusual unit,” he said. “And you deserve the promotion. If I thought I could get away with it, I’d make you a four star admiral. You’ve done more for the cause of Fangalin than just about anyone else in the past 15 years. If anyone deserves to be at the top of the hierarchy, it’s you.”
“Too bad I’m a woman,” Hana said with a bitter smile.
“Yeah, well,” Calabane said apologetically, “the Fangalin Charter restricts the Supreme Commander’s power in very few areas, but that’s one of them. As much as I would love to make you a Councilor, and as much as I believe that Wellin Votara was wrong to exclude women from the Grand Council, if I go against the Charter, the very foundation of our power will crumble.”
“I know, I know,” Hana said, waving a hand dismissively. “I’d just as soon not be on the Council anyway. Who wants to hang out with a bunch of insufferable windbags?” She said this last sentence with a mischievous grin. Calabane burst out laughing.
“I’d be mad you think that way if it wasn’t the truth,” he said, mirroring her grin.
To be continued…