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Volume 3195a
Aros - Frank Frazetta
Princess of Az-Lium
by Den Valdron

CHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHT (Conclusion)
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT
“On to the next matter,” I said, “progress on the repair of the great dome of Az-Lium.”

At the inner table, next to me, the delegate from Mant exhibited obvious boredom.   The Mant folk, blind since birth, gave away nothing in their voices, but  had no facility at all in concealing their expressions.  They literally could not lie.  I kept them close to safeguard them.  The Orgus representative, a Jed named Jayb Eyers made no secret of his own boredom.  I had little sympathy.  I missed Aspar Aguus, but his duties kept him elsewhere.  The delegates from Shiaze and Diome, at least showed more attentiveness.  As for the rest, most of the delegates from the other red cities had their own reconstruction concerns.

An architect from the outer tables came forward to deliver his report.  Work, it seemed was proceeding satisfactorily, the great dome itself remained sound, and the lesser holes were patched.  Work proceeded on the effort to reinforce the great tears, and turn them into airship ports.

Az-Lium had its own fleet of airships now.  A fleet confiscated from Markath Khan's navy, the special ships designed to endure the harsh conditions of the Jagged Lands.   We were now a part of the world.  We were now a part of the world.  We would have been, even without the fleet, the Orgus had charted or blasted pathways through the Jagged Lands to both Az-Lium and Mant.

And in fact, to the other remnants of the Orovars.   Ton Sabat had inspired Markath Khan to search frantically for other Orovar survivals, and he had found two others, and a third long extinct.   Neither of the other two had proven to be Ton Sabat's home, and neither were more than a fraction of the grandeur of Az-Lium.  They, like we, had believed that they were alone in the world.  Their re-entry into the wider world, was considerably less traumatic.

As for Ton Sabat, we still had no idea where he had come from, or who his people were.  So far, there is nothing like him in the world, except for some fantastical rumours of a man in a far away place improbably called Helium.

He had remained with us for a period of time, before growing restless.   A man like him is forever seeking adventure.

And Vadak Eth?  I never saw him again, after that day on the flagship.  He vanished thereafter, though I have a suspicion that Ton Sabat knew his whereabouts.

After the report on the dome, came the reports of reconstruction efforts in Bukhara.  Markath Khan had been particularly unkind to that city.   And following that, came the reports of the Generals and Fleet Admirals, which were the usual rumours of wars and pleas for weapons.

Finally, the meeting was over, and I called dismissal for the end of the day.   I returned to my private chambers, the delegate from Shiaze following me.

********************
 

As it turns out, upon losing me, Japh Leah roused the forces of Shiaze for a rescue.  Through a set of remarkable circumstances, he reunited first with Ton Sabat, and then with Aspar Aguus.   Together, they infiltrated the fleet of Diome, eventually attacking Markath Khan's very flagship under the impression that I was held prisoner on it.   Once they realized their mistake, Ton Sabat with his typical superhuman prowess and lack of judgment simply aimed it at the flagship where I dueled with Markath Khan.

Honestly, the whole story of their adventure is amazing and thrilling, filled with remarkable coincidences, hair raising escapes and feats of courage and daring.

But since none of it actually involved me, I feel no need to tell about it in any great detail.

******************

“My Princess,” Japh Lea whispered, coming up behind me on the balcony, and wrapping his arms around me.

I laughed.

“I was never truly a Princess,” I replied.  “Just a woman desperate to stay alive.”

“The title is superseded now,” he replied.   “I should call you Empress.”

A memory flashed upon me, those golden days as we all journeyed through the Jagged Lands, and Vadak Eth lecturing upon the problem of empire upon Barsoom.   How do you build an Empire in a world which resists them?  Simple, let some maniac smash the world half to pieces, and then be saddled with the task of putting it all back together.

I liked to think though, that together, Orovar and Mant, Orgus and Red man and Green, that we were building something better and finer, perhaps something not seen in this world before.   It would not last forever, nothing in this world did, my race knew that well.   But it still seemed a thing worth doing.

I turned in his arms, pressing myself against his chest.   “Call me Tay See,” I said, “that's all the name I need with you.”

“You are also Kam Asutra to your followers,” he said.  “Kam Asutra....  What number was it?”

“Sixty-ninth.  Apparently, it was quite a popular dynastic name in the old days.”

We had thought that our city of Az-Lium had been a refuge, a place of sanctuary and protection from the outside world.   But instead, Az-Lium had become a place where we had sunk into madness and delusion, believing that what lay beyond could not hurt us.  It was time to find a new meaning, for Az-Lium, a place to go forth from, a place of creation and challenge.

The world that we had clung to was long gone.  There was a new world out there, with its own promises and threats, a world of adventure, of danger, of war and peace, of love and hatred.   But or good or ill, it was a living world, and it was time we belonged to it.

I gently broke away from him then, returning to stare out over the balcony at my city.  I could see the theatre district from here.  I felt a twinge of regret that I would never tread the boards again.  Life seemed simpler then.

“What's wrong?”   Japh Leah asked, putting his hands on my shoulders.

I hesitated for an instant, and then spoke.

“I've been speaking with surviving nobles, ones who knew Mar Kat Kins before it all began.  Before the Edgers and the exile.”

“Yes.”

“They describe a good man, a kind man, clever and thoughtful.  Rootless perhaps, but still decent.”

“I see.”

“What happened to him?   How did he turn into such a monster?   Why, at what point did his humanity begin to slip away?  He suffered, but we all suffered.   He lied to save himself, to endure and to triumph, but so did I.   His career, like my own, was one of deception and fraud, climbing ever higher.  And the higher he climbed, the more monstrous he became.”

“And you wonder if one day,” he said, “you will wake up, and find you have become just like him?”

I shivered.

“Yes,” I said.  “Sometimes I look out, and I see things, I see people, the way he must have.  I make decisions, harsh decisions at times, and I know how and why he made choices.  Some of these choices draw me.”

For a second, Japh Leah was silent.

“There is no easy answer, my Princess.   For some of us, suffering diminishes us, and for others, it makes us grow.  Perhaps it is a mixture, the kinds of suffering, the type of person.”

He paused again.

“I think that Markath Khan's greatest deceptions, were of himself.  It all sprang from there.  He hid himself away from his true soul and ultimately strangled it.  He turned inward, feeding selfishness and vanity, and then projected onto the world the ugliness he had made.  I think that you never lied to yourself, and perhaps that made the difference.  You held onto what made you worthy, even grew.”

He kissed my shoulder.

“As long as it troubles you, as long as you worry,” he said, “I don't think you have to be concerned about becoming the next Markath Khan.”

I shivered, and pulled his hands tight around me.

“I suppose so,” I said.  Time to change the subject.  “How did I do back there?”

“Quite well,” he said, “as if you were born to it.”

I shrugged.

“It's not really all that different, in a way, from an Arts Jury, or a stagehand rules committee.  It's funny, the issues are the different, the forums, but human nature is the same.  Those who rule, once you get past it, are no more clever or wise than those at the bottom.  Not so as makes a great difference.  The politics, the personalities, they are the same all the way through.”

“Interesting,” he said.

“Ah, but you're a Prince, what would you know of the lower classes,” I teased him.  “Very little, he said.  I confess, we of the nobility have always sort of idealized them.  I am disturbed at the the thought that they might be as gossipy and scheming as my own class.”

I laughed out loud.   Oh he was so clever.  He was easy to fall in love with, and to keep on falling.

“I am thinking of children,” I said, “if you can bear the thought of polluting your noble line.”

“With a lineage ten times older?   And with the most remarkable woman I have met in my life?  I could bear that.”

“Good to know,” I replied.

“I've always thought Gunn Ar was a good name for a son.”

I considered it.  “Johss Aph seems better.”

“We might compromise?   Both?”

I turned again, in his arms.

“So what now?”  I asked.

“I have taken you in my arms,” he said, “I would propose to kiss you passionately.”

About time, you big goof, I thought.  But I did not say that.

“Then do it my Prince,” I whispered, “Do it now.”

And he did.


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