Zarl pushed back a wayward lock of gray-shot hair. “I’m sure a man who rises to the rank of a high commander in our ground forces is no weakling. Still – I don’t know. This is just an infatuation, right? A novelty for you? Surely not a candidate for your third.”
“What if he is?” Clajak asked. “You said Egilka and I were free to choose our own Nobek so long as he was intelligent, honorable, and able to fulfill the duties of clan and Empire protector. From what I’ve seen, Bevau is a worthy candidate for consideration.”
Zarl gazed at him, probably wondering if Clajak was teasing as he so often did. When the prince held his gaze, Zarl shook his head in warning. “You may want to re-think such a man. There are members of the Royal Council who are always eager to challenge anything they feel is lacking with the Imperial Family.”
Tidro added, “Particularly the father of your future Matara. I’m sure Pwaldur would have a thing or two to say about his daughter being clanned to a man who lacks all the attributes of a true Nobek.”
Next to his mother, Clajak’s Imdiko father was the most serene member of the Imperial Clan. Older by far than the rest of his clanmates, Tidro’s hair had long gone snowy white. Wispier strands floated like smoky tendrils about his lined face, while the bulk of it laid heavily across his shoulders and back.
Despite Tidro’s mild tone, Clajak’s temper flared. He disliked that sight unseen, Bevau was unfairly discounted as a Nobek to be reckoned with.
Egilka surprised everyone by being the one to speak up, and in a voice shaking with seldom-expressed anger. “Nobek Bevau lacks nothing. He is no less a Nobek than Yuder. My emperor, you of all people should know Imdiko tendencies are not a handicap to strength!”
The table went silent. Every eye was on Egilka, who flushed as he realized he’d just chastised the eldest member of the royals. His shoulders hunched and he ducked his head.
Yuder cast an amused look at Tidro. He made a sound suspiciously like a snicker and said, “Indeed, Imdikos are fierce if pushed. As our young prince has just shown.”
Light laughter sprinkled through the assembled. Tidro gave Yuder a wink before nodding at Egilka, who peeked up to make sure he wasn’t in trouble. Clajak heard his sigh of relief.
Yuder sobered in the relaxed atmosphere. “Courting a dual breed is a concern when it comes to outside perceptions. Bevau doesn’t even have marks of honor that prove his combat fierceness. People will say he’s a coward who doesn’t fight at all.”
Clajak said, “Then they are fools. Bevau is such a good fighter that I doubt he’s given any man the opportunity to scar him.”
“The physical perfection will bother many.”
“Perfection?” Tidro said. He kept his voice even, but worry drove deeper the creases at the corners of his eyes.
Yuder sighed. “He’s not only half-Imdiko, he’s beautiful to boot. Bone structure, proportions ... it’s ridiculous how flawless High Commander Bevau appears. I doubt anyone takes him seriously as a Nobek until he proves it by pounding his detractors senseless. Since he can’t go around beating the Royal Council to death—”
“What a shame,” Clajak muttered.
Yuder went on as if he hadn’t heard him. “—they won’t take him seriously either.”
Irdis had listened with avid interest. “Will the council and others wholeheartedly approve anyone our son clans as his protector? Or will they find fault no matter how slight and make it into a cataclysm fit to destroy the entire Empire?”
That made them all chuckle again. As always, the empress had seen to the heart of the matter. The detractors would look for any defect in a possible Nobek for Clan Clajak and have their say.
Releasing September 18, 2015