Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

The Last Vacation Begins

At least there will be a bit of freedom before my marriage. One last journey without obligation. A last moment with myself, alone with my thoughts. I look forward to this vacation, and trying to find some bit of time to take in the fact that I will be marrying a young woman I have never met.

Hanta has gone to Tastian to meet with the family to discuss the marriage plans and returned to tell me what the family will allow. They will apparently allow their daughter to come with me to Forth after the ceremony and for half of the galactic standard cycle she will remain with me and the other half of the cycle she will be returning to Tastian to continue her education and be with her family.

"They will guarantee you that she is untried and fertile. Tastians have been proven able to interbreed with our people so there are no concerns of lack of heir. Children that arise from the union are to be divided between the empire and their kingdom. You will have first election. In other words, the first child will be yours to choose to keep or let her have."

I press the heel of my hand to my forehead and close my eyes tightly. I can hardly believe I am having this conversation. Division of children? I am being sold a mating pair, not joining with a wife! And worse yet, I will be assuring that my own children meet this same fate. The Tastians will sell my children as mating pairs for trade rights and it will continue. By Gods...

"She has never met any one like us before." Hanta mentions. "Her family does not allow her to mix with the aliens that their world trades with."

"Did you meet her?"

"Yes, briefly."

"What did she think of you?"

"She was quite taken aback by my skin color and my eyes. She asked with some hesitation if all of us were like me. I think she wanted to know if you would look the same way. Her attendants would not allow me a moment of peace with her or I would have shown her an image of you to settle her nerves. They are very strict about her not knowing you prior to the joining. They are a very strange people. They make trade with so many other races, yet they insulate their population from them. I think they are concerned that if the general populous interacts with aliens, their religious values will be compromised."

"And what did you think of her?"

"I have no right to be making any deductions about her after so short a meeting."

"Hanta... Give me some help! Assume! Deduce! What is she like??"

"She is very quiet... She has never flown before and is very worried about leaving home after the ceremony. She has never been away from her home either so I can imagine that she will not at all enjoy being put into a cruiser and taken to another world to be surrounded by people she has never met before."

I sit down heavily. I had thought I could do this just like any other of my duties... Just marry and do what I have to in order to carry on. Now that it is unavoidable and right in front of me... I am not so sure.

Gods... Where is your advice for me now? You are so silent from my ignoring you. Perhaps this is my punishment... Believe me that I am willing to accept your counsel now, if you still have any left that you care to give me.

"You are to guarantee her safe keeping and financial support of course..." Hanta continues on.

"Of course." I mutter.

"Will you be keeping her in your rooms or would you prefer that the housekeeping staff set her up in another chamber?"

"I do not know, Hanta... What if she detests me?... Best to set up another chamber so she will have somewhere to retreat to." I can almost imagine coming home with a young wife who is terrified and sobbing, just wanting to go home and hating me for taking her away.

I can hardly concentrate on the work I have to do before I leave for my vacation. I spend a great deal of time in meditation at the temple and practicing my sword skills in the courtyard, wanting to escape my thoughts of the destiny I have chosen.

Giihio takes up residence with his family and spends time instructing me in some advanced techniques, reserved only for the Jiawan Ahtne. I am pleased with the distraction, my learning intensified by my will to focus on it instead of any of my other thoughts. While everyone else around me is still full of advice for me, Giihio is only filled with instruction. He does not speak much, but his silence is a relief in it own way.

I spend an early morning on the grassy hills practicing the slow movements of Rehoto with he and Shilne and Akti. Muiy has come along with her father and tries to imitate our movements, surprisingly skillful in her playful way. As the movements become more difficult, Akti drops out of the group. Shilne struggles and finally falls down in the grass—swearing—then sitting up quickly to apologize to Muiy. She just smiles, continuing on until her father ends the set. It is fortunate that we are done, for I have come to the point where I am almost in the grass myself. Somehow Giihio still has the energy to chase his daughter about for a while.

"Aich, do you see that?" Shilne complains, "How is he so strong? He is not so large..."

"It is the way he is." Akti concludes.

"You simplify things too much." He pelts Akti with a balled up handful of grass.

"Stop, or I will tell your future wife." He smirks, brushing the green off himself.

"She would approve for she loves me."

Giihio catches his daughter, playing at wrestling with her in the grass. I wonder if she knows what her father is—if he has told her, or if she senses it without needing to hear it from his voice. Perhaps it does not matter at all anyway. She apparently knows that she loves him.

"Go find your mama." He kisses her before sending her on her way, smiling after her.

"See that look? My face will have that look one day. I can hardly wait for our first child." Shilne falls back into the grass again.

"Hnn... It looks as though he has lost command of the muscles in his face." Akti chuckles, "Amunh Giihio... Have your senses gone to the Gods?"

"In many ways, yes they have." He smiles toward our group now, getting up to come to us, "Excuse me. I have things to see to at the temple."

"Thank you for the lesson." Akti nods respectfully to him.

"Yes yes!" Shilne waves a hand.

"You are welcome."

"I will go along with you." I stretch myself a little from the exercise.

"As you will." He bows his head graciously, still smiling as we head toward the palace.

"I am surprised, Giihio..."

"What surprises you, Majesty?"

"For a good while now you have been here... And I have heard no advice from you regarding my coming marriage contract."

"What should I advise you?"

"I am not sure, but everyone else is filled with advice." I smirk.

"I see your problem." He smiles toward me for a moment.


"When one does not annoy you by speaking his mind in a way that all others around you do, you wonder most what is in the mind of that one."

"Hnnn... Perhaps you are correct."

"Would you like me to tell you what is in my mind?"

"I am afraid to ask... And yet curious."

"I must warn you... You will not like it."

"Ahht, the same naranai I have been hearing from all other mouths... Hnn?"

"No. I know what others are speaking and can say with confidence it is not the same."

"True? Then I am even more curious."


"Then speak it."

"I will... The Gods will guide you in what is right. They have guided you this far. That is my only thought."

"What do you think is right?"

"Only the Gods know."

"This is not assistful."

"As I mentioned, you would not like the answer. I was correct."

"So you were."

"Also... The Gods enjoy it when you listen to them." He laughs, in an unusually animated humor today for some reason, "I believe Midiri has been advising you as much."

"She has... Destinies and callings and all manner of things."

"Yes yes."

"Perhaps I should ask Muiy for her advice instead." I chuckle.

"You would not like that either, Majesty. Even less perhaps." He waves a hand.

"So she has some wisdom to dispense, does she?"

"She does not understand why anyone would marry someone they do not love. She is a child, Majesty. The intricate details of marriage contracts between royalty on different worlds escape her."

"Nnh... How did you come to choose your wife? Is she a human priestess?"

"No. She was simply one in a large number that arrived at the colony from Mycenea, once your Majesty had returned that world to the holding of the Empire."

"Then what made her shine like the stars for you?"

"Her spirit. The warmth of her spirit that had been so long confined and fearful. That is what shone for me... When it was free, it was a light so brilliant to me I could not describe... And it shines for me still, every dawn and dusk to this day."

"That is a great thing for you, Giihio."

"I agree." He nods, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth again, "I love my wife. I waited 70 cycles for her. Every one was worth it. I would have waited longer gladly, but I am grateful I did not have to."

"Thomas had spoken of his sister, your wife, as having been poorly treated by her human husband."

"True. That is gone now."

"Nnh... Tell me something... Why will you not allow the reconstruction of your home temple? Aligar temple? I have offered it many times. I have offered it even to others of your temple... They will not agree unless you do, and you will not."

"It is not yet time. One day... There is no hurry."

"There is also no need to wait."

"I believe that it is important to see to other things first. It is simply not time."

"You will tell me then when it is time, nnh? Or should I keep asking?"

"I will tell you... And I thank you."

"No need. I thank you."

"Thank me by doing what is right for you outside of your title, nnh? Excuse me."

He bows and separates himself from me at the palace rear entry terrace, going down a stone stairway toward the inner courtyards, leaving me—and my frown for his parting comment—behind.


The day I depart I dress in my flight uniform, equip my sword, one good sidearm dagger, stow my clothing, supplies and food and say my partings to my friends. Laila and Menoh look heartbroken. They have both apologized to me for not finding me another wife to be with. I lift Aiyuni into my arms to kiss her.

"Sifu... Going?" She pats my cheek.

"Yes, Aiyuni. Just for a little while. Be good and pick up your things. Your mother is too fat with your little brother to bend over much."

She smiles and kisses my cheek now, "Okay."

I set her back on the ground and watch her go racing away.

"Well... I will see you all next at my joining on Tastian. Keep well."

They just nod in silent response.

Midiri meets me at the landing pad holding two prayer offering papers, "My King." She bows and then offers me one, "Please... Make a prayer and I will send it to the Gods for you. I will make one for you too."

"Thank you." I take it from her and hold her hand as I clutch the paper to me and make my request, "Gods... I am in your hands now. Whatever you will of me I will do for I know not everything there is to know. Show me the best way... My heart is so heavy."

"Trust..." Midiri says softly and takes it from me, folding the paper into her own, "Gods keep you my King and my friend." She goes on her way and so do I.

I pilot my favorite craft on the journey—my prized heavy pyaton cruiser. Fast and strong, modified by the Avasjan Engineers to my specifications for long range flights, and myself for performance and speed with a little help from Damanu. Everything is powered beyond necessity. It has been good to have the Avasjans in the Empire. I make my last stop at their port to have the craft tuned and fuel cells re-energized before leaving behind the Imperial-friendly borders to head towards the northern arm. I will take the long way to Vidon and enjoy the sights of the galaxy on the way to my time alone.

Three days into my travel I doze off, listening to one of Sachay's musical compilations. She does truly have a beautiful voice and I am glad that she has given herself the freedom to sing our traditional laments along with her own music. Every once and a while my sleep is disturbed slightly by the powerful scans of the receiver, picking up conversations amongst all kinds of vessels, near and far flung. It is one of Damanu's projects and a fantastic one at that. The child is still as much a genius as the day I met him. I enjoy this, as it allows me to hear the sounds of many different languages, quite often ones I have never heard before. I have always enjoyed learning to make these sounds myself... I am free here. Adrift with no minds around me for as far as sound waves can travel.

"Help me! Please! Someone!..." Interference comes and clouds the sudden sharp transmission, "---being attacked! Too many-----fire in the---"

I vault out of my sleep at the familiar voice. Am I dreaming? My heart beats furiously, trying to wake me fully. I sit up and strike the receiver as if that might help to clear the transmission. A few more peeps come out of it, the remnants of a voice coming through. I lock on to the last fragments and have the nav track it, bringing up all the engines and hurling the craft about, launching it towards the lower east, towards free space.

Shortly the transmission is clearing. "This is----distress call. Anyone---------can't hold them off." I can hear plasma shots through the static. I am getting closer indeed so I press the craft toward the voice, burning all the engines to near failing.

The first point on the tach is a pirate skiff. I growl... And then two more... Five... Fifteen... more and more! They are gathered in an enormous number.

"Where are you??" I ask the air around me, eager to see that one point on the tach that is not a pirate.

I hear a shriek peel over the speakers along with an explosion and then the weak signal is cut completely.

"NO!!! Gods protect her!!" My voice comes out of me in horror.

I am entering an asteroid belt now, being chased and chasing pirates, opening fire upon those behind and in front.

"I will kill you ALL!!!"

I throw my craft through the belt, dodging weapons fire and stone. And then I see it—hope comes rushing into me. An old alliance shuttle craft is heading towards a planetoid on the other side of the belt. There is an atmosphere, lower oxygen content according to the sensors, but still breathable.

"Yes, go there!... Go..." There is no sign of any other craft than my own and the pirates. No one to offer assistance. "By Gods let the shuttle hold..." I can see it flame as it hits the atmosphere.

A plasma shot too close by startles me out of my watching so I return fire, satisfied when I see the enemy craft shatter and then another and another. I may be alone, but I am more than able to defend myself and my goal. I set about demonstrating this to them, defending the disabled craft until it can find some distance, and hopefully the ground. The pirates scatter, their prize going down in flame and not worth their time or losing their lives and raider skiffs to the heavily armed Imperial cruiser that is attacking them. Again I press my craft to its limits, seeing the shuttle go down to ground... There is no explosion and I feel a relief as I follow it in.

The shuttle has landed in a rocky valley, flames rolling out of it, pieces scattered all about on the path to where it rests. I bring my cruiser in hurriedly, throwing off restraints and launching out of my seat before I have even fully landed. I open the rear bay door, rushing for it as the landing gear touches down and momentarily I lose my balance when it finds ground... Only momentarily for my heart urges me on.

Out I go, grabbing an extinguisher on the way, scrambling across the rocky ground, never letting my eyes leave my goal. Now I push myself as I have pushed my craft and finally I am upon the burning wreck, pulling the pin on the extinguisher and clearing the way through the flames toward the cockpit.

My hands burn through my leather gloves as I pull away the heated metal and my lungs fight the smoke. Then finally I find what I have searched for... Lifting one more panel... That face... She is not moving, not breathing, pinned beneath a metal beam and other wreckage. There is red blood everywhere... And my life seems to stop there along with my heartbeat and breathing from the shock of seeing her this way.

"No... Do not let this be!"

I am in motion again, scrambling through the bits that are holding her in—holding her down in this burning prison. Pieces of metal and wire debris I fling from atop her resting place hurriedly, but I cannot move the one thick metal beam... Meant as a safety and support structure, it is now her death sentence.

"BREATHE!" I yell at her, pulling on her arm, trying now to drag her from beneath the thing, "BREATHE!! LIVE You must LIVE!!"

Suddenly she obeys me, drawing in a railing breath. I grin from my relief and continue to pull on her free arm... Only now she has roused enough and feels her pain. Her eyes find focus, she sees me and shrieks, resisting me and my attempts to free her.

"Stop your struggling against me, woman! You will surely perish otherwise!"

"Leave me alone!" She cries.

"You are out of your mind! You will die here! If you cannot help me then at least stop fighting me!"

She seems to take notice of the fire now, the smoke that is choking her and her circumstance then she stops her struggling against me.

"I can't breathe in! Oh God it hurts!" She rasps.

"It will only hurt for a short while more. I will free you. Keep your calm!"

I continue to pull on her free arm, trying to drag her out from under the metal beam that is crushing her. She is starting to panic from the shock, and from not being able to draw in her breath fully with the beam pressing on her.

This tactic is not working and the fire is getting too close. I release her arm, cast my eyes about, seeing another metal span that has come loose and go to use this as a lever against the main support beam. Finally I feel it begin to yield and I pray that my strength will hold... She draws in a full breath at last then chokes on the smoke she pulls in along with the air her body has been panicking for. I throw aside the lever and pull her free of the wreckage at last, lifting her into my arms. Her little broken body fades against me and she wails and sobs in agony as I rush over the mess to bring her to safety. There is no time to worry about being gentle with her at the moment.

Finally I lay her down beneath the wing of my craft, relieved and grateful for her life. She is swooning, eyes rolling up and moaning... But she is alive and safe.

"Do not move. I have probably already made things worse for you by moving you. I will try to find something to stabilize your neck." I tell her—not certain if she can even hear me through her pain—then race inside for the medical kit and some bits and pieces to try to hold her neck still. I return and lean over her, my half-awake patient.

"I hope that I have not done you permanent damage by moving you..." In the distance the remainder of her shuttle explodes and I move over her to shield her from any flying debris. "Yet at this point it seems better than the alternative!" I make quick work of a neck brace for her.

"Why... are you doing this?" She moans.

She thinks that I might be the cause of her condition it seems. It is only fitting given my history with her.

"Someone needed to come to your rescue, Princess... And it seems that this time your Alliance pets are too far afield." The pirates have returned with reinforcements, racing over our heads much too low for safety. "Unfortunately I will have to move you again." I give her a piece of bandaging to bite down on. "Scream all you must."

She takes me up on the offer, her screaming muffled by the wad of bandaging as I carry her inside, kicking the release for the bay door on the way in. I place her in the copilot seat, throwing one of the restraints over her to quickly offer some security. Another few pirate skiffs race overhead, the wind from their flight causing my much larger craft to shift. They mean to challenge me for my life, my pyaton and my rescued Princess.

I remove the bandaging from her mouth, using it to wipe away some of the red from her face and the tears from her cheeks. Beautiful blue eyes settle back and look up to me wearily.

"Eventually you will be happier... If we get out of here alive..." I tell her, and with that I break myself away from her to climb back into the pilot's seat, heating the engines again, "I will apologize to you later if we both die." 

How am I finding humor at a time like this??

The pirates are coming to hover over my craft, trying to prevent my takeoff. They will be surprised that this does not daunt me. I throw up the top shields and pull up abruptly, hearing the pirate ships scraping against them as I press skyward. They back off, giving me room to rise and to fire weapons at them, both of which I do with great pleasure. I realize that the pitching of the craft and the blasts from the cannons are disturbing my passenger but I will not hold back. When there is a clear opening I make for it at full thrust, spinning toward the freedom of open space, firing upon the raiders the entire time.

"Fools." I grin with satisfaction as I destroy a few more of their skiffs and watch them run from me as I pursue them to the last of their craft... No mercy. Only five of them escape my wrath but only because there is no time to pursue these cowards further... I send my pyaton back towards the borders of the Empire as it is closer than her own territory. When I look over at last I see she has passed into unconsciousness and I sigh, relieved for her. At least she will be without sense of her own pain for a while.

I set the auto-pilot and turn my attention to her. She is in a horrible state and I fear that, even though I have collected her from her shuttle before it exploded, it may be too late for her. I say prayers over her broken body as I do my best to tend to her wounds.

Her leg is hanging strangely and she looks to be somewhat crushed, likely from that support beam. Her helmet was nowhere to be seen and her forehead bears the results of either her neglecting to wear it or it being a failure at its job. The restraints she wore did nothing to keep her head from smashing against the control console as the entire front end of the shuttle buckled around her. It is no wonder she is having a hard time remaining conscious. An enormous wound cuts across her midsection, which is losing blood. I pull the tattered flight jumper away from the wound and start to clean it, pressing the wound together and covering it with liquid skin at last, hoping that it will work for her the way that it does for our people. It seems to be holding for the blood stops flowing.

The remainder of her wounds are less serious, losing much less blood or just beginning to give rise to dark splotches. I watch her for a time, so still there, so wrong when I have only known her to be full of life. I can see her pulse in her throat and feel grateful for every heartbeat. She is turning paler as the moments pass and I touch her cheek, feeling how cold she is.

"Ahhhlll.. My basic training has escaped me... Fool."

I scold myself and find a blanket in the hold, covering her with it to warm her and tilting the seat back so that her feet are elevated. The color returns to her cheeks and as I work to clean the blood from her face she begins to rouse. There is not much else I will be able to do for her other than make her as comfortable as possible. I hope that she is not bleeding internally.

Her eyes—bruised as they are—flutter and open, struggling to focus on my face. It takes her a while but she is still full of fight it seems. It gives me great hope.


"Well done... Welcome back to consciousness, Princess. The pirates have fled so our travel will be smooth from here. You are safe now."

I smirk at the circumstances—that she is waking up to find that I am her savior. I move her seat back to a more upright position to see if she is safe from shock then place a piece of a pain med into her half open mouth. She looks surprised and as though she will spit it out.

"What, you think I would save you just to poison you?" I laugh, "Surely you cannot think me so uninventive!"

"What is it?" She is still wary.

"Medicine to dull your pains. You need a good deal of it. Eat it."

She finally chews and swallows, making a face from the taste.

"I can tell by your face you enjoy them as much as I do... They rather add insult to injury."

"What... happened to me?" Her brow furrows with the effort she was making to recall.

"I came at the end of your plight so I am not sure what lead you to this. My guess is that you wandered into pirate space and they sought to capture you and your craft and either sell you to slavers or... Otherwise."

I find myself having a difficult time speaking to her in human words, having been so long since I have spoken them consistently. Even Laila has learned her northern well enough that I hardly speak to her in human any longer.

"Oh... I can't... remember much of anything. Just the smoke and flames and not being able to breathe..." Her panic comes back in the memory, breath rushing.

"Calm... You are safe now... The shuttle was on fire, in wreck. I had to dig through much to find you. There was a large metal piece on you, holding you down. I freed you from it so you could breathe then carried you out to safety before the remains of your shuttle exploded. Does this make sense to you?"

"A little." She winces from discomfort.

I find another clean cloth and pour some water from the ship's reserve over it, trying to clean her up a bit more as her wounds are weeping now, talking to distract her from my poor attempts at medical care.

"I saw them shoot you down. I saw your shuttle crash. I could only destroy 15 of them before I reached you. They must have thought you dead and did not want to bother with the wreckage or with me. Most of them departed. A few stayed about to see what I cared to find. And when they saw me pull you out of the fire, they renewed their interest in their prize and brought reinforcements. I am sure that my cruiser must have looked to them to be a fine trophy for their efforts too."

"Why did you come?" She winces from the sting of antiseptic.

"Oyhn ko eh'isomai." I stop and start again in human, "I heard your distress call... You must have thought you could handle them all yourself for a while... What I cannot understand is why you were foolish enough to come out to this place! Where are your fearless boy warriors? How did they allow you to come to this place so far from your home?"

She squints at me now, bruised brow furrows, "I... I don't know... Maybe they were shot down."

"Naii... They were nowhere to be seen. I am sure they are quite safe."

"You're sure?"

"Sure enough that I had hoped they would be there somewhere to assist me in fighting the pirates. I had to do so quite alone. Believe me, I did look."

"Yes... I suppose you would have."

It seems that the pain medication is starting to work for her muscles suddenly relax, she sighs, relieved of the torment at last and I sigh myself.

"I am going to tip you back again so you do not go into shock."

"Alright." Her voice is thin, eyes drowsing, and a weary smile begins to play on her wounded face.

"Feeling better, are you Princess?" I am amused that she has gone from distress and pain to some medicine induced bliss.

"Yes." She smiles more, "What are you going to do to me?"

"Ehn? Do to you?" I chuckle, "Nothing more than hope that you survive until I can get you to a medlab for treatment."


"It is truth. We are rather far out of range of anything. It will take a good while to get you to a place that can help you. You do not realize it, but you are rather in bad shape." I turn her seat and sit down in my own, looking down upon her, "Rest yourself. I will do my best to keep you alive."

"Thank you." She sighed and fell asleep.

I feel a wave of guilt for her condition... If only I had been there faster... If I hadn't been sleeping when I first heard her distress call I might have reacted more quickly and she would not be moments from her end. I have always wished to be her protector, and now—given the chance to do so—I have failed her miserably. I cannot bear for her to die and search my thoughts for any way that I might help her beyond what I have done so far. The best thing to do is find her qualified medical help, and fast. I am a poor substitute for a doctor with my standard issue military medical kit. So I turn my attention to my tach and the nav-panel to see where we are, then search for the nearest medical station. Surprisingly it is back the way I have come—the Avasjan port of Kyerst.

How did she ever come so far out here??

No matter... I lay in the course and set the engines to full burn. I will be burning through a good bit of my fuel cells at this rate but then I have overloaded for this long journey—last refueling at Kyerst too—and can think of no better way to spend it than to bring her to safety and healing. This is all I can do, and so I sit back and turn the music back up a bit, trying to relax. I am glad at least that I had fallen asleep in my uniform... I had been meaning to change into more comfortable clothing before that last sleep and that would have kept me from saving her most likely. Now I remove my boots and armored flight jacket to join my burnt gloves on the floor, satisfied that there will be no further pressing need for such protection.

Resting back there in the darkness that is lit only by the stars and lights from the control panel, listening to Sachay's laments... I gaze upon the Princess and my spirit does not know what to do. It is so full with her presence yet so afraid. This is not something I am used to, and have always felt this when confronted with her. I am amazed by her closeness, strangely happy that she will have to be with me for some time even though it is in such an awful circumstance. Only she and I. No other eyes upon us. As I look down on her I remember something that Midiri spoke to me.

"Take care, my King. When one denies or turns away from the destiny and future that they feel calling them, often it comes looking for them in a much less pleasant way than it should have if they simply gave themselves over to it."

So perhaps my denial of my emotion for her has led her to this? Again I feel the wave of guilt wash over me. What if I had simply gone to her after my father's passing and spoken to her humbly? Could she have ever forgiven me? Could she have ever cared for someone not of her race? Could she have ever cared for me?... Perhaps she would have seen my heart instead of fear... She would have come to me and then this would not have happened. I would have never let her be on her own this way, so far from safety. It cannot be a coincidence that this has happened as I have been heading off toward my marriage to the Tastian Princess. Such a horrible lesson to learn.

"Forgive me... I love you... I love you." I whisper to her, speaking it for the first time outside of a dream.

There I sleep, exhausted from the physical and emotional exertion. I wake briefly to place her in a flat position when I hear her making noise... She stills and I fall back to sleep immediately. When next I wake it is to her sounds again, disturbing my rest over the music. She is breathing strangely, eyes wide with panic. I go to her immediately, leaning over her to see if I can discover the source of her discomfort.

"What is happening? Tssshh... Can you not breathe properly?"

"Why can't I move??" She wails.

"Yai... Your spine may be broken." I sigh with worry for her, "Or simply there is swelling and you cannot move. Do not panic so."

"Oh no... Oh God."

"Tssh... When we get you to a medlab they will fix everything."

"Can they?" She gulps back her tears. "Can they really?"

"You are still breathing so this gives me some courage to say that this may just be temporary."

"How long until we get to a medlab?" She whispers.

"A pair of days from my best calculations." I decide to change the subject to something less worrying, "Are you hungry?"

"A little." She sniffled.

"I will share my late meal with you." I get up and go to the hold, rummaging about in the containers. I find a few things that do not look so bad and return to her side, picking through the container and offering her a bit of vegetable, "Can you eat?" I wonder aloud.

"I think so. I can swallow." I offer her a bit of ucho and she takes it from my fingers. It is not easy going with being immobile and so I sit her up a bit more to help when she begins to choke a little.

For the next little while I take my time with feeding myself and my patient, watching her expressions as she manages to chew the strange food I am offering her, looking at me and thinking a great deal. That much is obvious. I wonder what is happening in her mind. She is probably already thinking of a way to escape from me and after a fashion I rather admire her for it.

"Do you yet remember what you were doing out there, Princess?" I finally break the silence, as she seems to be no longer interested in food. I finish up myself and wipe the remnants of our meal from my fingers, watching her as she searches her memory again for the reasons behind her situation.

"I am not sure... I think I might have been coming from somewhere, going home... And I decided to take a different route.."

"And why were your little warriors not with you?" I joke.

"I went on my own... I think I just wanted to be alone for a while." She thinks harder, her bruised brow furrowing, "I'm sure of it now. They must be so angry with me."

"Always wandering off on your own. Will you never learn?"

"Perhaps I will not have a chance to make the same mistake again." And her tears begin to well up once more.

"Stop that crying. You will be up and around and making people nervous with your willful disobedience and wandering in no time." My confident tone covers my worry for her.

"Why are you out here?" She tries to keep a stiff upper lip and changes the subject to my relief.

"I was on my way toward what your people call... Vacation." I smile for her, "You have ruined my relaxation time. Thank you, Princess. Even after so long, you are still effecting my life."

"Vacation? So far away from everything?"

"I too enjoy my time on my own, and I enjoy flying..." I make my mind up to tell her truth, be open to her, and so I let her know what I allow no one else to—the name of my secret hideaway. "I decided to take a long route to Vidon, a world in the northern arm. It is lucky for you my craft is so swift and the range of my scanner so broad... It is good to see you again, Princess. I have thought of you often over the years." Once the truth starts it is hard to stop it.

"Have you?"

"Indeed... All of that determined spirit is hard to forget. I always enjoyed that about you."

"Thank you... Where have you been for so long? You closed your borders and no one has seen you since."

I smile again, not sure where to begin, "I have been rather busy."

"But not attacking my people. What other worlds have you plundered that you have left mine be?"

And now my smile grows further as I reply with pleasure, "None."

"How can that be?"

"Many things have changed, Princess... And many things were not as you were lead to believe they were..." I nod and out comes more truth, "My father is dead."

Her eyes widen, "You are the King then! Emperor."

"That is true."

"I am not certain if I should offer my condolences or congratulations."

"I would prefer congratulations... Not to speak poorly of the dead, but the universe is better off without him... And so am I."

"I only knew the bad side of your father."

"That is all there was to him." I muse and settle back in my seat, "He was not the ideal parent." I am surprised when she finds a smile for me at my weak attempt at humor. I enjoy this very much and want to see more of these smiles.

"Still, I am sorry for your loss. It must have been difficult."

"Hnn... Not difficult in the way you are thinking." She seems to think I was heartbroken by his passing.

"Are you sure?"

"Very sure."

"Why did you stop in your conquests? The Alliance has been bracing itself for a full invasion for ages now."

"I have told them repeatedly that there would be no such thing...That the borders were closed and we would not cross them... I have made many changes, Princess. While I enjoy battle it is not a way towards prosperity. Commerce is! The Empire is large enough to sustain itself and to become a true economic power once again. And so it has."

"No one has known this about you..."

"You are the only human outside of our borders to know of it as I tell you here and now!"

"How long has it been since your father passed?"

"Just over two cycles... Do you recall when we first closed our borders? The explosions you had seen that caused you and your minister to contact us?"


"That was just shortly after he passed. In his humor he left a few reminders of himself as gifts—traps for me to find in the castle."

"You must think I am going to die to tell me all of this..."

"Naii. Not at all. I simply wished for you to be the first to hear the truth of the matter."

Again I watch her expressions. She seems to be gathering her nerve and shortly I find out why.

"If I survive... Will you release me?" She asks.

The question hits me and I feel my mind reacting sharply, saying that I will not. I fight it off... It is not easy. Old habits are hard to change. I want to keep her for my own. I want to be able to talk to her like this for the remainder of my days, to see her smile, to watch her regain her strength, to make her love me.

You are mine.

"Yes. Of course I will." I say instead.

She relaxes visibly, "I am glad."

"I am, after all, soon to be married." I smirk at the irony, "I should not be keeping human Princesses as pets."

"Really? That is wonderful for you."

I shrug, "It is what is expected of me. To take a wife and create bonds with other empires. You will come to this place too."

"If I live."

"You will." I watch her wince, "Is your pain coming back?"

"Yes." Her eyes squeeze shut and she whimpers.

I have an idea and get up, going to her and removing what is left of her boots, "Humor me while I try a little experiment." I pinch her foot quite hard. No reaction there and so I try the other.


"Ahhuu, you do have feeling in your feet. Perhaps the pain medication is the cause of your immobility. Its strength is made more for someone of my size and so it is masking everything for you... I would guess that it might be a good thing, to keep you immobile. Less chance of you harming yourself more by squirming around. Would you like to chance another pain med?"

"Yes." I can see from the look on her face that the pain is coming back quickly.

I give her the same amount as before, watching her face relax slowly as she passes into sleep once more. Again I watch her, so fascinated by her presence. She has changed since I had first seen her... And even since last I had last seen her in the flesh. She has grown from a lovely young girl into a beautiful young woman. I lean down and whisper to her, "Beautiful dreams, Princess." Then I leave her be to tend to some work.

As several more hours pass we come in range of an Imperial Repeater and I gain signal back to the Imperial Networks. Access to more work is given to me. If I am going to be kept from my vacation I may as well get back to tending to the affairs of the Empire. It is keeping my mind off the sleeping Princess.

Should I contact Hanta and let her know where I am. Or perhaps Shilne? No... I should keep my mouth shut for a while. I am anxious to let someone else know she is with me for some reason. I turn to the Alliance news feeds to see if there is any report of her being missing. Nothing yet. Perhaps they are keeping quiet while they search for her.


Now to the economic feeds, watching the Empire's progress in the markets and directing a few trades of my own. Then when that becomes dull my connection is strong enough to bring in video. I smirk, thinking that I had been regretting the fact that I would miss the cyclical Local Enforcement Combat Trials on Forth. Now I can watch, although not in the flesh. I put the seat back and enjoy a bottle of cold tea while enjoying the competition, pleased to see that Kianumatne City is showing strongly. The man who I usually place success wagers on is high in ranking as expected so I search through the current rounds to see if he is scheduled to fight soon. Luckily he is, so I watch my wager increase through his next fast victory from a match with a sub-commander from Vaonotiri City.

"Well done, Kivuanai. You are a credit to the Western Enforcement Division." I offer my praises quietly to keep from waking her.

After a few taik of watching the matches I turn my attention to the nav-panel and check the course settings for Kyerst, scanning for any other nearby medlabs. Perhaps there are some carrier type vessels now closer that have medical facilities...

"What are you doing?" She is awake again.

"Checking the systems status and recalculating a course towards a medlab for you. It is important to keep evaluating the equipment at the rate of burn I am requesting for highest speed. I would not want one of the engines to fail from over working it. It is a fine balance at this rate." I muse and make some further adjustments.

"So... You mean that we are going very very very fast?" She tests her humor with me.

"Yes." I smirk her way, enjoying her new little smile, "Very. Every bit of the fuel cells is dedicated to the task of getting us where we are going as fast as possible. During your next nap I will be swapping a pair of cells out so we may continue at this speed uninterrupted."

"Is that hard to do?"

"Not so much, just heavy lifting. Would you like to help?" I laugh as her smile grows.

"If you don't mind I think I'll just lay here helplessly."

"As you wish... We are making good time and are now within perhaps a day of a very good medlab. It is one of my own, however, at an orbital port of an allied world. Will you be comfortable with that? Or should I make an effort to find one of the Alliances'?"

"How far is it to the Alliance borders?"

I scan the screen, "Three more days. It is your decision, Princess. I will take you where you wish to be."

She thought about it for a moment, smile gone, looking at me quite steadily. I see her worry of going further into my keeping and so I seek to relieve her.

"Princess... For your own better health I would prefer to take you to what is closer. I assure you that you will be safe and well cared for. I will see to that myself... Another option is to return you to your world for medical care, but I do know that your resources there are limited. The Avasjan doctors that I am bringing you toward have extensive medical facilities and are well known for their advancements in healing... Even of humans for their association with the Empire, so it seems the best match... It would also please me to be able to see that you have recovered. If I bring you to Alliance territory, whether it be to your home or to one of the Alliance facilities, they will likely attack... Eventually they will let me land and bring you to your care... But I will not be invited to stay about..."

Gods, I want to see you recover with my own eyes. I do not trust the Alliance to care for you.

"I would prefer the day trip." She says at last.

"Very well..." I turn back to the screen to cover my joy, adjusting the course, and then once I have gathered myself I return my attention to her. "Another med for milady?"

"Not yet, thank you. I would like to wait until it's absolutely necessary. It seems to be very strong medicine... Could I trouble you for something to drink?"

"You may." I go to the hold, bringing her fresh water and sitting her up to drink it. She is very thirsty.

"What is the music I have been hearing?" She stops for a while.

"Music of my own world. Folk songs, I think you would call them. We call them laments."

"It's beautiful... What is she saying?"

"She is singing about the rain."

"Really... It is wonderful... I never thought that your people would sing."

"I am part of your people as well." More truth for her ears only. "My mother... She was a pink little human like you."

"No..." Her eyes are wide.

"Nnh. It is true... But this half of my background also sings and sees the beauty in things."

"Yes they do... You... Don't look human."

"True. Our people have the ability to combine our genetics with that of other races, so we have discovered time and again over the many ages of space travel. In every case, the results are as you see them before you here, genetic domination. The only thing that is identifiable as a human trait seems to be the slight waving of my hair. The rest of my people have quite straight hair, with rare exception."

She nods, "How odd that that would be the one thing that would come through... Where is your mother? None of us have ever known of her."

"My heritage is not the proudest moment for the Empire and so it has been well hidden over the years. She died long ago... My father killed her." I feel my body tightening at the memory.

"Oh... Oh no... I am so sorry."

"I think it was better for her that way... He was a horrible man, Princess. You do not know the half of it." This is more truth than I care to deal with at the moment and so I offer her back the water, hoping to end her questions for a bit. She seems to take this as just such a sign and leaves me be in order to drink more.

"Thank you. I have had enough for now."

"You are like a fish, my Princess." I finish off the rest of the bottle.

It is going into the second day since I rescued her and I am feeling a bit in need of some cleaning. I find some mouthwash and drink a bit of it, holding it in my mouth for a time then swallowing. Horrible stuff, yet it serves its purpose well.

"You drink while you are flying? I am beginning to wonder if I was safer in the shuttle." She comments.

"You have found your humor." I raise an eyebrow at her as she smiles, "It is not... Nnh... Liquor." I remember the word for it, "It is a cleaner for teeth. Kills bacteria. Are you not fond of cleaning your mouth?"

"Well yes... But that just looked to me like a bottle of alcohol... I'm very sorry I accused you-"

"Yai, no matter." I hold up a hand to interrupt, "You have had your joke with me. You think me an irresponsible pilot. I understand."


"When in reality I simply do not like to have my teeth rot away. I should clean myself more so you do not next accuse me of smelling badly."

"Ummph." She gives up.

"I think I have won." I smile proudly.

"If that thought pleases you, then keep it."

"I shall." I find some cleaning solution and cloths, "And now I will clean the rest of myself. While I know that you have longed to see more of my flesh—as so many women do—I will retreat to the hold to wash for I am rather a shy man. I hope you will forgive me for denying you such pleasure." I am very much enjoying this moment, seeing her face turning red. Either she is very angry with me or there is some truth to what I am saying in jest.

"The last thing you are is shy." She mutters.

"Ahhuu, how little you know me." I grin.

"And I am sure many women have seen more of your flesh while in this ship."

"Not so! Very few women have even set foot on this craft."

"Oh?" She says sarcastically, "I am betting by few you mean a few hundred."

"Saich! What you must think of me! Let me see..." I ponder it dramatically, "Let us give me better standing and include you in the numbers... Hnnn... How many, how many... Yes... As memory serves me, including yourself... ONE."

"Then you haven't had this ship very long." She retorts.

"Four cycles... Cruel thing, what you think of me!"

"I don't believe it."

"Believe what you will. It is the truth... And now I will take my handsome self into privacy to wash a bit. Try to keep your thoughts pure while I do so."

"That will be very easy."

If she could have moved to turn her nose up at me she would have. She is still blushing as I leave her with my laughter to keep her company while I clean up. She is going to be well. I am certain of it. Such funning and sarcasm cannot come from one who will soon die. When I return in new clothing and cleaner, she is drowsing a bit.

"Ahhu, dreaming of me I see."

"No." She mutters, "Those would not be dreams... Nightmares... You do smell better though."

"I am glad you notice." I come to her and bring a cleaning towel with me. "If you will allow it, I will clean you up a little bit."

She looks up at me, "Alright."

"Close your eyes." I wait and then clean her face off, her neck, the place on her shoulder where her flight jumper is torn and her wound has begun to heal over. I roll up her sleeve and clean her arm and hands. Then I notice she is looking at me strangely, "What is that look for? Have I made you angry with me again somehow?"

"No... I've just never seen you in anything but your uniform."

"It is not stitched to my flesh, Princess. I do wear other things... Does this attire offend you?"

"No... You look rather... Normal. Not so much like a warlord Emperor."

I laugh at her expression, "Would you like to know something else that is not so much like a warlord Emperor about me?"


"I enjoy nothing more than sitting alone on a beach, listening to the waves and reading a good book. That is what I was on the way toward doing when I came upon you."

"I can't quite picture it." She looks shocked indeed.

"There are parts of my life that are quite normal and dull." I clean her other arm now. "What do you like to do that is not very much like a Princess?"

She keeps her mouth shut.

"What, you will let me be the only normal one in this ship? Do not hold your tongue now! I have heard it work quite well just moments ago."

Finally she spoke, "I... I like to walk in the fields..." She stops.

"And?" I press.

"Watch bugs... Insects." She whispers, embarrassed, "And collect rocks."

"Ahht... I liked to watch bugs when was a child. I have not done that in a while. I shall have to try it again once I am finally on my vacation."

"The ones at home are so very shiny, colorful... Their wings are beautiful and so delicate... I hate it when someone tries to kill a bug in the castle. I always catch them and let them go outside."

I am overwhelmed by her sweet nature and want so badly to embrace her. Even touching her to clean her is such a wonderful thing. I let go of her arm before I do something that she will regret... I do not want this moment to end because of my foolishness and longings.

"You have a very soft spirit, Princess."

"Maybe." She sighs, "What kinds of books do you read?"

"None that you might have heard of." I throw away the cloth and go to find some food in the hold then return to her again, hardly able to look at her directly.

"Tell me what they are like then."

I shrug, "There are many types."

"Suddenly you are the one who is holding his tongue. Are you embarrassed?"

"No." I laugh quietly, setting down the container, "A moment." I return to the hold where my baggage is stowed, gathering a few of the books I have brought. I go back to her, "Remember... You asked."

"I can hardly wait. Go on."

"I have a great interest in language. I speak many. Human is one I am more versed in though I have not had practice in it much since we closed our borders. One of the ways that I keep up on my language skills is to read text that is part of the number of languages I have learned. I also enjoy learning of the ways of others. Different perspectives can be quite valuable. And so I have brought with me a book on Kenosian philosophy..." I hold it up for her to see, "A Malawai book on military strategy, political theory of the Evensha, a language primer for Tastian, and a book of short stories from humans that I believe were at one time called Americans."

"Amazing... I have never heard of any of those other peoples... I admit I never imagined you to be one for learning."

"You think I simply learned to speak and read human by some magic? It is not an easy language whether or not you grow up with it." I put the books aside.

"It's not human... It's called English." She smiles, "Earth, where humans are all originally from, had a number of very prominent languages... English ended up becoming the official trade language."

"English... Thank you. That does fill in some blanks for me."

"Which language do you like the best?"

"I am leaning toward my own people's northern language which is also our trade language." I smile.

"Which language do you think is the nicest sounding?"

"Sheh'Ehrna." I nod, "By far. It is a beautiful language."

"Say something in that then."

"I am not quite as well versed in that, but I will try." And so I say something rude to her in the flowing language.

"You are right. It is beautiful. What did you say?"

"Ahhll, well... You do not want to know."

"Yes I do. What did you say? Something mean?"

"Nnnhhh... Yes." I am pleased to see her smile at me, "To illustrate a point to you... If you say a mean thing in a beautiful way, it is simply beautiful if you do not understand the words."

"Tell me what you said." She insists.

"Rrhhh... I simply said that I hope you stop looking lumpy soon, it is hurting my eyes to look at you."

Strangely enough she laughs. "You have changed so much but still there are some things that are the same."

"True enough... Are you finished with questioning me? Feeling hungry?"

"For now, and yes."


I put down the books and proceed to feed her and myself. Now she makes me name the food items that I am going to be giving her. I am glad to amuse her in this way.

"Taste... We will try and find some spice to mix that pleases you." I give her a little touch of spice to try, "Nnh?"

She makes a face though trying not to.

"Not a good one. And this?"

"Hot!" She needs a long drink afterward.

"Perhaps a middle road. You will like this one." I offer another.

"Ooh.. Yum."

"Good good." I begin to mix it into the basoda noodles with meat and vegetables.

"Is that the way you do it? Mix spices to taste? Instead of cooking the meal along with the spices?"

"This particular traditional meal is made that way. Often you will sit down with a large group and many types of meat and dishes of spice mix to have a different taste with every mouthful. It is not quite so grand an event when stirred in a supply bowl in the back of a pyaton cruiser." I close it into the rapid heater to warm. "The noodles are very good at picking up the spices."

"And this is all edible for a human?"

"Yes." I remove the steaming bowl.

"Smells good."

"I hope it will taste as well." I let it cool before offering it to her.

"That is delicious." She smiles happily, "It's like comfort food."

"A good way to describe it. One of my favorite things to eat. Gods know you need a lot of comfort now."


After she has had enough food I give her another piece of pain med.

"It's too bad I cannot have these before the food, to wash away the taste." She gulps down water to try and do just that, "The food is delicious. The pills are not."

"It is best for you to have something in your stomach before taking them. I am glad at least that the food is to your liking." I continue on with eating for I am far harder to fill than she is.

"Very much. I'm surprised by your having such good things stowed."

&qquot;It is not a military journey so my attendants have done their best works to pack in enjoyable meals for me. I will pass on your gratitude. I am sure they will be pleased."

"I would appreciate it if you would."

Her eyes are starting to drowse already and I am only a few mouthfuls further on in my meal.

"Princess... Before you fall to sleeping again I need to speak something to you."


"Many of the things I am telling you, I do not wish to have shared beyond your ears. I have been trying to put aside our titles, our history and simply speak to you as one person to another... I trust that you are an honorable woman and that you will respect that I wish to keep these things private. If you feel you cannot, please do tell me and I will be more careful to censor what I say to you from here onward."

"I won't pass any of it on. I appreciate that you have been so open with me." She sighs and I watch as tears form in her beautiful blue eyes, "Thank you so much." She whispers.

"Ehn? What are you thanking me for?"

"For distracting my thoughts towards things other than what has happened to me. For saving my life... Thank you."

"Ahhhll... No thanks for me. I give thanks to the Gods that I could be there to help you and ask them for your healing... Now no tears!"

"I'm sorry... I am so so scared." She breathes, her voice shaking. The tears begin to pour from her and her shining eyes fade shut.

"No... Tshhh." My heart aches for her, "There is nothing to be afraid of... I promise you. Soon you will be fixed. As good as new, your people say." I put aside my meal and go to her side.

"Do you really think so? Tell me the truth."

"I am. You are damaged but not beyond repair. You look much worse than I believe you are. In the beginning, I will admit it was quite the opposite. I worried that you were much worse than you appeared. But now, having spoken with you well, having seen you respond to medication and able to eat, I believe you will heal completely... I will take care of you, Princess. I will let nothing harm you. I swear it... Open your eyes." She looks upon me again, trying hard to compose herself, "I will keep you safe and you will recover. Do you believe me?" I cannot help myself. I stroke the tears from her cheeks with my fingers. How long I have wanted to speak to her in this way. How long I have wanted to be of comfort to her.

"I believe you." She gulps and her eyes fade shut again as she falls into a medicated sleep.

"Gods, woman... I love you so much." I speak to her in Nuoladn for fear she is still partially awake. "I will always protect you. I have tried for so long."

My hands shake as I find my fingers still stroking away her tears. The Vidons have done such a thing for me. Everything I feel for her is so clear and true that I hardly have to fight back the compulsion to frighten her into being mine. I know that if she is ever to be as one with me, she will have to make the decision on her own. I will never take her to me by force... And I no longer want to even try.

I tear myself away to gather my wits and finish my food so I have the energy to change out the fuel cells. I select the ones that at most depleted and make the change with no incident, brining the new cells online and sending them through their test routines. All is well. This should carry us all the way to Kyerst without a slack in the speed. At the nav panel I see that we are making even better speed with the refreshed cells added to the mix. I say more thanks to the Gods that I had the desire to stop at Kyerst on my way outward to have tuning done and new cells stored. I do not recall ever having pushed my prized pyaton to these lengths, but I am pleased to see that it is performing beyond my expectations.

A few more adjustments and my shoulders drop, relieved and ready to find some rest for myself so that when she wakes again I can distract her from her worry. I rest back in my seat, arms folded to prepare for a pilot's sleep, looking across in the dim light to where she sleeps on, undisturbed by all my working around her. She looks somewhat less wounded as she rests there. Perhaps it is because she is relaxed...

I reaffirm my thanks to the Gods for allowing me to be their agent to carry her to care then close my eyes at last... My sleep is very restless for my heart is so full.

When she wakes again, I show her things that no human has seen by attaching my katsuna to the view system in the craft. She is surprised by the vistas that I have captured in my travels over the many cycles. Some of them I tell her of, some I just let her look at.

"Have I yet bored you, Princess?" I ask.

"No... I am amazed... There is so much beauty in the universe... May I ask a silly thing?"

"Of course. Humans are given to that quite often."

"Stop that." She scolds and then settles, "Will you... read to me?"


And so I settle back into the pilot seat and read to her until she falls asleep yet again. Her body is spending so much energy in trying to knit itself back together.

When next she wakes I am pleased to point out to her that we have come in range of the port of Kyerst. The journey has gone faster than I had hoped at full speed. I have already hailed them and let them know I have an injured passenger in need of urgent medical attention. They are glad to accommodate me in my wishes for her healing.

"Everything will be fine. Try not to look so worried."

"I have many reasons to be worried. I can't help it." She tried to smile as the ship is jostled during docking with the orbiting port.

"Do not worry. I will not leave your side. You will be safe. Nnh?"

"Promise?" She asked weakly.

"This I swear to you. The Avasjans are a wonderful people... Strange thing, you are. Worried we might not make it here, now worried that we are here."

"Yes well... It's been a rather difficult few days."

"This will be the end of those." A hiss of pressurization comes to my ears, letting me know that our docking has been successful.

They came for her and placed her carefully onto a stretcher, removing the makeshift neck brace that I had made for her and replacing it with a real one before carrying her inside to a gurney, then down many halls to the medical center for treatment. Though the medical staff insists that I should go and wait while they work on her, I will not leave her side. I will be certain to remain within eye range of her until I am certain that she will feel safe. She seems grateful for my presence and translation of what the Avasjans are speaking to her.

Finally they give her a sedative so she will sleep while they finish the more difficult work of setting her bones back into place. I stand beside her hospital bed, watching her eyes drowse and then jump open again and again.

"Relax... Give in to the medication, Princess. You need not fight. I will make sure that nothing harms you while you sleep." I tell her quietly and it seems to calm her immensely. She lets her fight go for the time and sleep once again takes her in.

The Overseer of the medical facility comes to my side as they prepare to set her leg.

"Good Emperor, you need not remain while we finish this difficult work. She is safe in our care. You have my word."

"And I have given her mine. I will keep watch until I am satisfied."

"I fear we have failed you in some way, Emperor."

"Not at all. This is an unusual circumstance. I have deep trust in you. Be assured. Eventually I will go on my way to the room that has been prepared for me. I am grateful for your skill and assistance."

"I am glad then. You will let me know personally if we are causing you concern."

"I will indeed."

He bows away slightly, indicating to the nurses that they may continue their work under my watch. I wince as they reset her leg then begin to enclose it in an expanding cast. She sleeps on, unaware of the rough procedure. The scans of her body are brought, assessments made. Her wounds are flushed and closed, injections administered and then her spine is adjusted to relieve the swelling. When it comes time for them to lay her out in a healing mineral bath, I take my leave to give her the privacy I am sure she would want were she awake. The nurses have been kind to her and careful with her even though she is deeply asleep so I am satisfied. The Overseer has requested too that security be stationed outside of her hospital room.

I am given lodging and the local clothing to wear but I cannot wear it yet, the colors so bright to my eyes. That is how they clothe themselves here. Food is brought for me shortly. I insist that the medical center staff let me know the moment she is awake again and though I am exhausted I pace in my room until they come for me. The Overseer escorts me and explains her condition as we walk. Nothing is too worrisome.

When I arrive back in her hospital room the nurses are bringing her a meal and she is looking much better. Part of that is simply her being cleaned and having the torn, burnt and bloodied flight jumper replaced by a clean hospital garment. I am greatly relieved to see that she can move her arms to feed herself now. Her back is propped up by the hospital bed to make her meal easier to ingest. Her golden hair is still wet from the bath and pulled back into a tie. Some of the burnt away portions hang about her face, too short now to be caught up with the rest. The medication they have given her is obviously far more appropriate than the standard military issue pain med for there is color in her cheeks and more life in her than I have seen since I rescued her.

"You look horrible." I smile in relief and she looks my way.

"I feel horrible." She returns my smile, "It hurts so much to breathe, but I am glad to be alive... I never thought I would be so happy to feel my feet! Look!" She points and her toes wriggle under the sheets.

I laugh at her simple joy, glad for her, "Sometimes small things can be quite wonderful... The Overseer tells me that you will be fine. Broken leg, bruised ribs, a good bit of scarring... All and all you will live. The swelling in your spine will be gone in a few days of rest with the medication and readjustment they have done. They will continue to give you healing mineral baths to speed the knitting of your wounds and practice their accelerated bone mending skills for your leg... The large wound across your middle will be bothersome for a good while however..."

"I don't mind that at all. A small price to pay for being alive still. I am so happy. Thank you so much. I never dreamed you would do such a wonderful thing for me."

I nod and sit on the edge of her bed, regarding her steadily... And then without warning my hand reaches for hers, feeling her warmth and softness. While I am surprised by my own action I am further surprised that she does not pull away.

"I am a selfish man, Princess... And I would have missed you too much were you gone from this universe..." I stop myself and get up hurriedly, turning and heading for the door, "I have things to see to. I will be back." And I rush away.

On to 26