Characters in this chapter:
- Cohen Kheda: The main character
- Rick & Swift Kheda: Cohen’s elder brothers.
- Visual Kheda: Cohen’s father.
- Winslet: Daughter of the elf queen, Cohen’s future wife.
- Flynn & Carey Rohna: Sisters, Cohen’s childhood friends and future wives.
- Katherine Hagrid: Cohen’s mother.
After a long absence we finally came back to Darkmoon City, my home. A warm touch of festivity welcomed us the moment we entered the gate. Colorful stripes hung, and the city was full of joyful citizens. My black hair and eyes have revealed my identity even as I wore purposely everyday clothes. The guards on duty, tottered elders or mischievous kids, all who saw me offered their kindness with a smile, which was their proper way to bless my marriage.
The governor’s house was decorated with lights and colored hangings. Even the door guards had brand new outfits. The number of people who went in and out has increased many folds.
“Young Lord!” One of the guards took over my horse. He was one of the house guards; thus he did not address me as Highness, “The First and Second Lord are here!”
I nodded with a smile and disregarded Winslet’s repellence, led her hands into the gate. Winslet’s face went publicly blushed all over her face.
“Dad! Mom!” I yelled in the courtyard, “I’m back!”
“There you are, and enough yelling.” Two pretty ladies escorted my mother out of my father’s study. She instantly ignored my presence and went directly towards Winslet who stood aside.
“You Apple, Winslet, when did our cute elf grow into such a beautiful!”
“Your Grace.” Winslet freed her hand from mine and went for my mother’s, “Nice to see you!”
“Mother, I’ve got the Queen’s bouquet for you!” The abandoned-by-all-females I was certainly not intended to give up being the center of the universe; thus I talked, “Aren’t you gonna introduce these two lovely ladies?”
“Knock it off.” My mother possessed an abundant knowledge base of my gimmicks and tricks, she said while stroke my head, “They are your sister-in-laws. Off you go talk to your father and brothers, leave us alone.”
The two stranger ladies looked at me with smiles while my mother talked.
“I… mother.” I drew her aside and filled her in on Winslet’s situation, “Mom, help!”
“Are you sure! Now you remember your mother! No letters, no words for months, I’ve raised you for nothing!” She seized my ear, “How am I supposed to explain this to Flynn and Carey? Tell them there’ll be another bride tomorrow?”
“That’s your strong suit!” I winked at Winslet and avoided this place, “Tell them, if there’s no Winslet then I’m not getting married!”
“You come back! Ahhh, never mind, I’ll fetch Flynn and Carey. Queen’s flowers sound lovely.”
She shouted as I went away.
I tidied my suit and entered my father’s study. It has been a while for my previous habits to reveal themselves. Tidy me up was one of them before meeting a senior officer due to the rigorous military training.
My father was behind his desk listening to Rick’s briefing on things. My second brother Swift was standing aside, smiling while sharply dressed in a knight outfit.
“Look at that, our groom is back.” My father said with a smile, “I suppose all things went well. How was it?”
“Everything’s fine!” My brothers hugged me right after I could finish. They have grown stronger.
“Hey, I’m glad seeing you like this!” Rick bumped my fist, “We were so frightened when father told us about your accident.”
“I’m well!” I was too afraid that Rick was going to punch hard again, so I hugged my big brother even harder, “I am sorry for all the trouble.”
“Yeah!” Rick’s fist has lost a landing point; thus he pat hard on my shoulder, “If only we weren’t on duty that day, we’d be there for you!”
“Alright.” My father signaled, “Have a seat, Cohen, tell us about Dark City.”
“It is doing fine.” Rick gave me a glass of water. I sipped and continued, “Our early preparation and personnel resource reserve are more than enough for the whole project. However, I’m short on money, besides that, senior officers for the newly recruited troopers, and scarcity of clerks on daily affairs is even worse. What I have are either warriors or warlocks, they’ve drawn themselves into their professions, their minds filled with martial and magical skills. I might as well kill them to put them into my people’s livelihood.
“We can’t do anything about the money problem.” Rick fawned, “But the officer thing, we are probably able to give you a hand. Swift and I are Commodores after all.”
“Right, don’t worry!” Swift said, “If there’s one to oppose you, then I could make do signing some of my regular men off. I’ll send them to your city with my letter.”
“En sounds like a plan.” My father pondered, “What do you say?”
“More or less, not bad.” I said, “But if I could select a bunch of people and train them. They’ll be some over-qualified officers of all sorts in a year or two.”
“You?” Swift gazed at my eyes, “Training?”
“Leave that alone.” My father cut my two brothers who wanted to question more, “Now the clerk problem.”
“Of that I’ve no idea!” Rick shook his hands, “We’re out.”
“No need to worry about it.” My father smiled and said, “I have plenty.”
“Ah?” I was amazed, “When did you…?”
“Since the three of you were born.” He looked proud of himself, “Ten years in a term, with all stages of ages. Especially recent years, considering Cohen’s lack of martial skills and stressful situations within the Empire, I’ve put extra attention on raising of the talented.”
“Impressive!” I tapped father’s shoulder, “Such a farsighted plan!”
“So to speak, now it’s not a problem.” Swift said, “Father, what do you propose on the money issue?”
“Yeah…” He fawned when asked about money, “This is the critical problem. Cohen, tell us more about your plan.”
“Sure!” I unrevealed the plan for Dark City and the peripheral towns and started talking.
“It’s a viable plan, and workable.” My father gazed carefully at the map, “However, the money will be far from enough.”
“Could we apply for additional money for His Majesty’s approval?” Rick asked, “Besides, Cohen has a mil-pos, so he has the military allowance.”
“The King’s five hundred thousand is already a huge investment, so it’s not possible.” My old man waved and said, “Plus the Minister has his eyes on Dark City while Cohen’s low on the military expense, the money is a no-no.”
“We should have been able to spare some money from our own land.” My second brother was full of apologies, “However, the holy temple had ordered too much tax on us. I’m sorry, Cohen, I couldn’t collect anymore seeing my desperate and hungry people.”
“It’s alright!” I tapped his shoulder, “I always know you’re a kindhearted man.”
“To realize your proposition,” My father said, “We need at least a million. Where on earth are we gonna find this money.”
We came to this point, and all fell into a brainstorming silence, whereas a string of short yet rapid treads broke our reflections.
“COHEN KHEDA! YOU GET OUT!” It was Carey who yelled my name standing angrily, then she noticed the presence of my father and brothers. She then lowered her voice, “My apologies, Uncle Visual.”
“What on earth! Didn’t you see us talking?” I was tortured by the money problem and asked sullenly. On an average day, I would have argued in a nicer tone, but she’s at my breaking moment.
“Come out.” Carey was determined, which made me feel worse than it already did.
“I don’t need to.” I stood up impatiently, “Say it right here and now! We are still doing business here!”
“You!” She was not expecting I being tough, and she apparently grew angrier, “Ok, now! What about Winslet?”
“What about her?” I was prepared for such an inquiry, though hearing Carey said it in such way made me unable to press my rage, “Did my mother tell you?”
“Auntie Katherine told me.” Carey was as stubborn as she was, “But I can’t take it!”
“Say what!” That moment seemed to wake my previous life nature, and I sprinted off the table and approached her. Then I gazed at her in a dark and angry way that she has never seen. Her face paled by such unexpected change of me and in a nervous compulsion, stepped back. My father and brothers, who were around the desk, and Flynn who came by witnessed this particular scene astonishedly.
“Listen, Carey, I’m only gonna say it once.” I ignored others’ look and said, “Winslet is a friend of all of us. I’ve proposed to her, and Her Majesty has approved. Tomorrow, she will be joining you two and marry me. I sincerely hope that you will accept her.”
“Like this?” Carey welled her eyes and said unbelievably, “That’s all you have to say, to your fiancee? Nothing else?”
“NO.” In my previous life, a woman’s tear was a thing I found most annoying. I supposed a woman, all she needed was her comfort and love for her husband, instead of keeping him from going away by her tears.
“I’ve answered your questions, now mind your own business and show yourself out!” I was done talking and turned and sat down at the table. I took a deep breath and found myself chaotically trapped in my own mind.