The day was long. The excitement of a new emperor gave way for familiarity in the matter of months as the empire went on. Luctus found himself a prisoner on his golden throne, confined by dreary obligations and decisions and courtly order that, once in practice, he could not believe he had spent the entirety of his life so far preparing for: most ordeals only required common sense, and others the first ministers already decided unofficially without him. What was there for him to do?
“Your humble servant greets Your Excellency,” A servant he recognized as one of his mother’s knocked him out of his dissatisfied stupor. “The Queen Mother requests an audience with Your Excellency.”
“Noted,” He excused the man, wondering what could it be other than more urging for finding a suitable Empress.
…And, oh the Heavenly Father, was he right: the very second he entered her vision she greeted him formally and warmly, the shine of her new exaltation smoothed out her greatest enemies, wrinkles, with an eternal smile, only to cushion the harshness of her next statement.
“You disrespectful son, do you wish to have your mother die before she could kiss her grandchildren?” This she whispered to his ears in fear that the servants should be beheaded for laughing. “What are you stalling for, my child, are you not pleased with any of the choices I have selected for you?”
A pang in his heart reminded him of bitterness, “…It may elude you, but I do have things to do other than worrying about trivial things as such.”
“Trivial thing?!” Unable to control her shock, the Queen Mother excused the servants. “Trivial thing, oh you are so wrong, young man…What if you are to die without a heir? What would be of the empire then?”
“I am sure Lucem would make a fine emperor in my stead,” he recited flatly from distant memory.
“Lucem? The son of that whor–”
“–Dancer, mother, Consort Dia was a dancer, not exactly a whore.”
“A whore, my son, that is what she was, a fox sprite that spirited your father away. No matter, we cannot have the son of a demonic spirit be the emperor. You need an heir. Have you met Sapphira before?”
“Oh, there is still hope then: she is said to be the most beautiful young maiden in the known world, who just so happens to be the third daughter of King Etzion.”
“Ah, I see.”
Displeased by his apparent disinterest, the Queen Mother added, “She reminded me of a certain one Your Excellency might be familiar with.”
Luctus was alarmed.
“In fact, she bears a bit of a resemblance with our Grand Priestess, though Princess Sapphira is much more elegant, much gentler.”
His throat ran dry.
“Would you like to meet her.”
Without really thinking, he replied, “I suppose there is no harm.”
“Good!” Her duty done, the Queen Mother returned to her form as a bag of plump vanity. “Back to you not-so-trivial things then, child, your old mother is happy.”
It was as though his day was not long enough, as the second he returned from his mother’s palace a messenger threw himself at his feet in a stuttering panic.
“Forgive your servant’s incoherence, but the Kingdom of Amzra has set to invade our empire.”
“Ah,” It wasn’t a surprise for a long-time tribute kingdom to rebel in the face of a new emperor; in fact, historically it had been so now and then, as though they were periodically trying their luck at independence. “Summon General Lucius, Commander Lucem and the First Ministers.”
“Yes, Your Excellency.”
His brothers and the ministers all seemed well aware of the news as they entered. After Luctus ordered them to rise from their low bows, the elder minister immediately requested for permission to drone on about his decades of experience and qualifications to offer a strategy that, at the conclusion of his monologue, turned out to be nonexistent at the moment. Luctus rolled his eyes while Lucius fought a chuckle; Lucem merely gave a forced smile. Before another minister could waste more time, Lucem, after Luctus granted him the right, began.
“Your lowly brother suggests to meet the kingdoms’ forces directly as to show no signs of weakness and to avoid civilian casualties,” He silenced the flustered ministers. “For, your lowly brother had informants stationed in all of our tributes years before, and it is clear that our enemies should not stand a chance against the empire’s imperial forces.”
Luctus beheld his brother in mild admiration before an almost familiar voice rang within his head, offering an advice that he thought was more genius than any sputtering nonsense he suffered through all day, let the loyal fool plan his own death, “Very well, we will do as you say.”
“Who shall we place in command, Your Excellency?”
“I believe…since my dear brother is wise in his ways of battle, and is the chief author of this tactic, it would be most fitting for the role…don’t you agree, Lucem?”
A change came over Lucem’s cordial smile, “…But, Your Excellency.”
He hesitated and ventured, “Your lowly brother does not believe he is qualified for this campaign.”
“Oh, is my esteem not enough qualification?”
“No, Your Excellency, it is surplus; it is just that this fool is pledged to be married in a fortnight.”
Yes, of course I am well aware of such, for that is the only reason that we should send you to battle, “Does Commander Lucem think his personal affairs above that of the empire?”
Lucius raised an eyebrow while the ministers opened their mouths to speak, but dared not. Of course, the social implications of a postponement of marriage was an ill omen for the future of the union that often prompted the less committed parties to call off the match altogether.
Lucem paled visibly, before bowing lowly, “Absolutely not, Your Excellency, pray show mercy for this fool that has misspoken.”
“Please rise, I understand your sentiments,” With that, Luctus excused the men to prepare for the invasion.
The voice chuckled, Very well, now we will see if the Kingdom of Amzra would perform a miracle for us.