The Darkest Heart, Part 26

Belfamor Hemetal was reading in his study when Grandal Vomelien entered, bowed, and handed him a tablet, saying, “A message just arrived for you from the capital, my Lord.”

“Thank you, Master Vomelien,” Belfamor replied, accepting the tablet. He began reading the message it contained and smiled. “Excellent,” he said. “The Senate has accepted my candidacy for the Imperial Throne, and they are preparing to meet and decide who will be the next Emperor.” He read a little bit more, and the smile slid off his face and was quickly replaced with a snarl. “This can’t be right!” he growled.

“I’m afraid it is, my Lord,” Vomelien replied in a gloomy voice. “Admiral Zomulin has announced that she is supporting General Fanas’s bid for the Throne.”

“That ungrateful bitch!” Belfamor screamed, standing up and hurling the tablet across the room, where it shattered as soon as it hit the wall. “After all I’ve done for her! She would not be where she is if it wasn’t for me!”

“You are correct as ever, my Lord,” Vomelien said, standing unperturbed with his hands clasped behind his back as his master stormed and raged in front of him.

“She will pay for this outrage!” Belfamor bellowed. “I will destroy her! Once I’m Emperor…!” For a few minutes he stalked back and forth across his study, screaming incoherently, while his chamberlain stood perfectly still, only his eyes moving.

Finally, Belfamor seemed to have exhausted his rage, and he slumped down in the chair behind his desk and glowered up at Vomelien, who was still standing there watching him, completely unperturbed.

“What do you think I should do?” Belfamor demanded suddenly.

“Focus on the election, my Lord,” Vomelien responded immediately. “You can still win even without Admiral Zomulin’s support. Win the Throne, and then you will be able to deal with the Admiral at your leisure.” Belfamor nodded, a thoughtful look on his face.

“What happens if I don’t win?” he snapped, leaning forward suddenly.

“That depends,” Vomelien replied. “How badly do you want the Imperial Throne?” Belfamor stared at him for a few moments, his face perfectly blank, and then he began laughing loudly and slightly maniacally.

“I’ve always liked you, Master Vomelien,” he said with a broad grin after his laughter died down. “You’ve always been a good servant to my family.”

“It is my pleasure to serve House Hemetal, my Lord,” Vomelien said with a bow. “That has always been my highest, and indeed only, goal in life.”

“I wish I had more loyal servants like you,” Belfamor said with a sigh. “Everyone else is out to get me. I can’t even trust my own wife anymore.”

“It is unfortunate, my Lord, but I can assure you that undying loyalty is to you, as long as you live,” Vomelien said, bowing again.

“I am glad to hear it,” Belfamor said, his smile changing into a frown. “Well, I have an election to win, so you are dismissed for now.”

“Of course, my Lord,” Vomelien said, bowing and then departing. Belfamor stared at the door for a long time after he left, a frown fixed on his face. What did Vomelien mean, when he said that his loyalty was to Belfamor, as long as he lived? Could he be planning something? Could his veneer of absolute loyalty to House Hemetal be just that, a veneer? Covering over what? Maybe Vomelien was really a spy. What if Fanas had bought Vomelien, and Vomelien was just waiting for the perfect opportunity to eliminate Belfamor? It would be the perfect crime, subverting a loyal servant who had been with the family for generations. Belfamor was going to have to keep a close eye on Vomelien. Nobody could be trusted. Nobody.

***

Shala Votalin frowned slightly when she heard her husband bellowing in his study on the other side of the manor, but she put him out of her mind almost immediately. Belfamor was often angry about something or other these days, and Shala barely noticed it any more. At least he didn’t take out his anger on her. Of course, he didn’t dare, because she was the Head of House Votalin, and he needed all the support he could get to win the Imperial Throne. House Votalin was a shadow of what it had been before her grandfather became Head, but it did also have the prestige of having recently held the Throne. Shala didn’t overly think that Belfamor would be a very good Emperor, at least not in the state he was currently in, but Shala couldn’t quite give up her hope that he would someday return to being the man she had married.

Hope or no, however, Shala was also a practical woman, and she had a backup plan. Her husband was a military man, and had never had the time or the inclination to pay much attention to the business of running House Hemetal. In happier days, he had left that job to her, trusting her to run the House, despite the fact that she was not a member of the House. And she had done a great job. House Hemetal was richer than it had ever been before, richer than any other noble house in the galaxy. At least on paper.

In reality, there had always been a voice in the back of her mind telling her to have an exit strategy. She had spent too much of her life being abused by powerful men to allow anyone to potentially have too much power over her again. Once her father died, and she became Head of House Votalin, she had begun stealthily manipulating the books. Even though her relationship with her husband had been increasingly strained after her father’s death, he had been too busy with his feud with Emelien Fanas to pay much attention to House Hemetal’s assets. All she had to do was send one message, and 90% of House Hemetal would belong to House Votalin. She hoped she would never have to send that message. She did not want to destroy her husband, or his family. But she would not allow him to abuse her the way her father had.

To be continued…

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