On the morning of his fiftieth birthday Daniel Danielssen, ninth of his name, Emperor of the Southern Continent, and Lawgiver to the Northern Confederation, woke up with the feeling that this was going to be a very good day. He poked his current lover ungently in the ribs. ‘Up, lazybones, or we won’t have time for breakfast before the hunt.’ Without waiting for a reply, His Imperial Majesty rolled out of bed and headed for his bathroom where his valet was already filling the tub with steaming water. ‘May the gods smile on your nativity, Highness.’ The Emperor smiled his thanks before lowering himself into the tub and accepting the proffered bar of scented soap.
Daniel was determined to make the most of the day, relishing the prospect of a day hunting to be followed by a formal banquet at which he planned to surprise the assembled company with an Imperial edict outlawing slavery across the southern states. Having spent a decade on the Ivory Throne, he felt that it was about time he stopped being a figurehead and began to actually use his Imperial powers. He had no illusions about how this new law, plus an Emperor determined to be more than a face on the coinage, would be received in many quarters, but he would have the element of surprise on his side, and, short of murder, he couldn’t see how anyone could stop him.
As a bonus, the family of his beloved wife would be among the biggest financial losers in the abolition of slavery. As he rose from the steaming water the Emperor allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction and thought that he may even find the time to visit the exquisite home of his official mistress if the hunt did not run over time.
However, even as the royal valets dressed their master for the festive hunt, plans to dislodge His Majesty were falling into place in a house not far from the Imperial precinct. A severely aesthetic-looking elderly gentleman sat behind an ornate desk and addressed a group of tough types who seemed out of place in his opulent library. ‘No survivors’, he said severely. ‘Lessons must be learned.’
‘Does no survivors include your revered daughter?’
‘Especially my revered daughter. Those who cannot control either themselves or their spouses must pay the penalty for disappointing me.’ The men raised clenched fists to their brows and filed out of the room.
When the door closed behind the last bravo, the old man gave vent to a sardonic laugh. ‘More than a figurehead? Outlaw the slave trade. I think not.’
Two hours later the birthday hunt clattered out of the palace courtyard, led by the Emperor himself mounted on a magnificent black stallion and dressed for the hunt in gilded leather.
Who exactly fired the arrow that ended the Emperor’s life wasn’t known at the time, but the moment it was confirmed that His Majesty had indeed shuffled off this mortal coil the rest of the plan swung into motion and a band of masked assassins entered the palace via a maze of secret tunnels, whose location should have been known only to members of the Imperial family. Within an hour of the Emperor’s death, almost the whole of that family lay dead inside the locked doors of the private royal apartments. None was spared, from the Emperor’s ninety-year-old uncle, to twin baby princes in their cradles. Even as the palace guard began assaulting the doors with a hastily-fetched battering ram, the hired bravos searched desperately for the last remaining member of the royal house. Fifteen-year-old Princess Ana was nowhere to be found.
From The Long Game by Jane Jago.
Leave a Reply