It took Kinrou eight days after his conversation with Kal Sharash before he figured out how to talk to Kishandren about it, how to tell her what he had to do now. Lucky for him, things were in such turmoil in Karath with the aftermath of Crown Prince Sahiren’s recent marriage to Princess Aldiara of Shanshiire.
It outraged the nobles; many of them were aware of the plan hatched by Empress Shinjaloye and Emperor Kenjariyo to marry Sahiren to Aldiara’s elder sister, Kishandren. With everything that had happened in Doval, that plan had fallen to pieces. It hadn’t helped matters that Kishandren didn’t much care for Sahiren and instead developed feelings for Kinrou, marrying him against her father’s express wishes.
Their irritation didn’t bother either sister much, but Sahiren—who had known the nobles of Telvan his entire life—was doing everything he could to keep an eye on things. He had every confidence they would grow to love Aldiara as he had, but he knew it would take time. Who knew what they would get up to before that happened?
Kinrou smirked. News of a baby would go a long way to making that happen sooner rather than later.
“What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
Kinrou looked up at his wife as she entered the room. As it had every day since they’d married, the word resonated strangely in his head. He’d spent so much of his life feeling nothing but hatred for women that all this was strange to him. He imagined it would stay that way for a while yet. Even so, the sight of Kishandren’s dark skin and long, thick dark hair gave him deep feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
He patted the bed beside him. “Have a seat.”
Kishandren arched one eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound at all ominous.”
“It’s nothing serious,” he said, doing his best to sound reassuring.
“Then what is it?”
Kinrou took a deep breath. “There are…some things that happened to me, things I’ve learned since the day I became a Dragon Warrior. I… thought I should tell you some of it.”
Kinrou shook his head. “I’ll tell you everything when I figure out how to, but for now I’ll tell you what I can.” She sat down beside him and looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to continue. “I don’t know who I am, Kisha. I was very young when the Shadowhawk Bandits took me in. You remember Jiken? His mother raised me. She’s the only mother—the only parent—I’ve ever known. I… came across some information recently that indicates that I might be from Zalityu instead of from Telvan as I always believed.”
“Really?” Kishandren looked thoughtful. “I can see why people would assume you to be Telvanite. Zalites and Telvanites do look similar.”
He poked her in the shoulder. “Don’t all non-Kasheran people look alike to you?”
She shrugged. “More or less. At least your hair colour sets you apart from the rest.”
“So, to have a chance at learning who I am, I have to go to Zalityu.”
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Zalityu is a large place to search for something so vague. Do you have any idea where you should start?”
“Some place called Taniere Fall. I’m not sure where that is, but I’m sure I could find it on a map.”
“It’s lucky for you that my lessons growing up included a good deal of geography.”
“You know where it is?”
“It’s in the northern part of the country, not far from Calen Hall.”
“That’s where the Imperial Palace is, isn’t it?”
Kishandren looked impressed. “It seems that you aren’t entirely ignorant after all.”
“Part of my lessons with Eladan included things like the capitals of the five countries,” he admitted. “I thought they were useless until now.”
“So, when do we leave?”
“Did you expect me to stay here in a strange city by myself while you go off gallivanting around in an even stranger country by yourself?”
“I thought I’d give you the option of coming with me or staying here with your sister.”
Kishandren made a face. “Aldiara is far too occupied with Sahiren these days and with trying to acquaint herself with the nobles. The only person I would have to talk to is Nahiro, and you know how much of a conversationalist he is.”
“Right. So, we’ll leave as soon as I’ve had a chance to talk to Mienna and the Empress about this.”
“I’m certain they’ll understand, especially if you suggest that the palace might be easier with only one pair of newlyweds underfoot. As a bonus, this will get me away from the sight of the nobles and let them get to know Aldiara without them wishing that things had all gone according to plan.”
“That would be nice,” Kinrou growled. “I’m getting tired of them glaring at me for spoiling things, as if it was only me to blame. Though why they would want you for their Empress is beyond me.”
“Care to explain?”
“Oh, come on, Kisha. You’d make a terrible Empress. You have no patience at all.”
“I can’t argue with that, though I swear you just want me all to yourself.”
“I’m selfish that way. It must be my bandit upbringing and all, coveting the best of the treasures. Why? Is that a problem?”
“Not really.” Kishandren smiled. “You might want to be a little more upfront and honest about that in the future. I might get upset with you otherwise.”
“When will you speak to Shinjaloye?”
“Tomorrow with any luck. I wanted to explain to you why I had to leave first. I figured if I could convince you this was the right thing, then I would have an easier time with Mienna and the Empress.” He looked hesitant and then continued. “That, and I figured you would be angry if I left you for last.”
“You guessed correctly,” she replied.
“I know I haven’t known you long and I don’t know much about your life, but I think I have a solid on your personality,” he said, squeezing her hand.”
“I should hope so.”
Mienna was normally an easy person to find. As Chief Priestess of Kal Sharash, she spent her time in the Great Temple or in the Imperial Palace’s private temple. She could be also be found either with Nalshen or in the throne room with Shinjaloye. To Kinrou’s frustration, she was in none of those places. The Great Temple was full of new acolytes being lectured by a senior priest on what was expected of them and what the rules were. Nahiro was meditating in the palace’s temple. Nalshen told Kinrou that he hadn’t seen Mienna since breakfast; he had been training Crown Princess Aldiara’s new guards since then. The throne room was locked up tight. The pair of guards standing to either side of the doors informed him that the Empress was in the garden with Princess Aldiara, attempting to get to know her new daughter-in-law better. They hadn’t seen Mienna either, but suggested that he look for her at her home in the city.
Grumbling under his breath, Kinrou left the palace grounds. He’d known Mienna for a little less than a year, so he all he knew about her home was that it was a small, single story dwelling on Temple Row. He’d heard the residence was passed down from one Chief to the next to give them a private place. Eladan had lived there before her.
Off he went back to Temple Row. Spring was a quiet season for the priesthood of Kal Sharash. During the summer, things would pick up in preparation for the Fire Lord’s festival. This year the annual celebration would be at the same time more exuberant and more sombre than in previous years. Nahiro would still be mourning Shanye’s loss, while the entire country would be celebrating the official coronation of a new Crown Princess and future Empress. Aldiara’s titles wouldn’t be official until then. For now, her rank was a courtesy. Until then, she was only a Princess of Shanshiire with no authority in Telvan.
The priests Kinrou encountered were more than happy to give him directions to Mienna’s residence. Its appearance was a surprise to him. Given what the temples looked like, he expected something grand. This was a simple building made of red stained wood. Some of the wood kept its natural colour to provide an accent. It was lovely, but not to his taste.
He approached the door and reached for the dragon shaped knocker. The door opened before he could touch it. On the other side was Rikkala. She looked impatient.
“Well, come on then. We don’t have all day.” She gestured for him to come in. As was the custom, he removed his boots and placed them on a shelf built into the wall for that purpose.
“You took your time getting here,” she continued, leading him through the house and into a small room. From the altar set up on the far side, he guessed that this must be Mienna’s private prayer room. Mienna herself was sitting in a chair beside it.
“Is something wrong?” Mienna asked him. “You look confused.”
“I don’t know, you tell me. Why were you two waiting for me?”
“I was given to understand that you were looking for me,” Mienna replied. “I would like to know why you and Rikkala are here. What could be so important that you both sought me out at home?”
Rikkala looked at Kinrou. “What you have to say needs to come first.”
“Does it now?” Mienna arched an eyebrow.
Kinrou cleared his throat, feeling a deep sense of dread, though he couldn’t say why or where it came from. “I need to leave for a while.”
“What? Why?” Mienna asked, shocked.
He glanced at Rikkala. “I don’t know how much I can tell you, but I need to go to Zalityu to learn who I am and where I come from.”
“Before you try to discourage this, let me assure you that this comes directly from the Fire Lord Himself,” Rikkala said. “You have my word on that.”
“How is that possible? Unless…”
“Unless of the four people in Karath who have had personal conversations with the Fire Lord, three of them are in this room.”
Mienna looked at Kinrou, understanding in her brown eyes. “That’s why you supported me as Eladan’s successor. You didn’t believe I was telling the truth. You knew I was.”
“It’s not something you can claim unless it happens to be true.” Kinrou shrugged.
“While it’s all well and good to be told where to go, I hope you realize that Empress Shinjaloye will have issues with a Dragon Warrior going into another country,” Mienna said, pulling herself back together. “It’s been less than a year since the border skirmish. A lot of Zalites died at our hands. They killed a lot of Telvanites as well, but that’s beside the point.”
“I need to talk to her about that, actually. The only reason I’m still alive is because I’m a Warrior. If it weren’t for the Gem, Jiken and I would have been executed. This thing I have to do…she might want me to relinquish my Sacred Gem.” His hand went to his glove automatically, stroking the smooth surface of the red, oval shaped gemstone. “I don’t know if I could give it up.”
“Even after all this time, you remain possessive of it,” Rikkala mused.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” said Mienna.
“Kal Sharash said nothing about you retiring, at least not to me,” Rikkala said. “I doubt Shinjaloye will force you to give it up, especially if Mienna and I stand with you on this.”
“I appreciate that.”
“The Earth Sage is a good friend of mine,” she continued. “If you like, I can ask her to help you. She can deal with Empress Sholaiya and tell the Fox Warriors to leave you be, though don’t be too surprised if one of them decides to follow you around to keep an eye on you.”
“Kishandren is going with you, I assume,” Mienna interrupted.
“She won’t let me go without her,” Kinrou sighed. “She also wants to stop at the graves where the Kasheran guards are buried for a proper farewell.”
“I may want to speak to the Metal Sage as well, have her talk to Sholaiya on Kishandren’s behalf. A Dragon Warrior is bad enough, but a Kasheran princess may be too much.”
“I for one am glad she’s going,” Mienna countered. “It may make things easier. It may even be possible to make this sound like an official visit.”
Kinrou made a face. “Let’s not. The faster we can get in, the sooner we can get out again.”
“If that’s your preference, then we’ll do it your way.”
“Have you mentioned this to anyone besides us and Kishandren?” Rikkala asked.
“Good.” She nodded. “I will talk to my counterpart in Zalityu. Mienna, you go with Kinrou to speak with Shinjaloye.” She unclasped the necklace she always wore—indicator of her position as Fire Sage—and handed it to Mienna. “Take this with you. It will be proof enough of Kal Sharash’s involvement.”
“The Empress is busy right now,” Kinrou told them.
“Not if I need to see her,” Mienna informed him. “A perk of my position is that I can go anywhere I want.”
Kinrou whistled admiringly. “I can only guess at how useful that would be.”
“I don’t have to guess at what uses you would put that to,” Mienna teased. “The Empress would have to relocate the treasury.”
“At least you aren’t trying to suggest that I’ve moved past my banditry due to recent events.”
“If anything, we should be praising it,” Rikkala said. “I doubt the rescue of Princess Aldiara could have been accomplished without bloodshed otherwise.”
“Nahiro was the one who pulled it off,” he reminded her.
“But it was your predilection for sneakery that masterminded it. Nahiro is brilliant, but it’s unlikely he would have thought of that particular way to apply his gift.”
“If you say so.”
“Kinrou, you should go prepare to leave,” Mienna said. “The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll be back.”
“I don’t know about that. I can’t say for sure I’ll be able to return. I don’t know what will happen in Zalityu.”
Rikkala smiled. “Aldiara will be crowned as Sahiren’s wife this summer. Kishandren will want to be here for that.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. I’m sure she knows when that will be and will remind me when the date is coming up.”
“Go,” Rikkala urged. “Get ready. Pack your supplies. I’ve already had some things sent to your room that will help you on your journey.”
“You know,” Kinrou said philosophically. “I might have to change my opinions on women. You two aren’t all that bad.”
“And Kishandren?” Mienna teased.
“Kisha isn’t women. She’s Kisha.”