BOOK 11 DESTINY'S DESIGN
(Antar date 5.34.23625)
(Earth date December 14th, 1932)
(Royal Palace in the capitol city of Tageonon - Antar)
Zan had been stuck in council with his father all day and his muscles were stiff from the hours of inactivity. He went in search of his friend Larek, who was visiting, hoping to convince him to go for a swim before the party tonight. Zan sighed, thinking of the formal affair that would officially open the peace talks between the two families.
His father had invited all of the Council members and their families to stay in the palace to try and make the environment of the peace conference seem less hostile. Zan had always hated large parties where he didn't know half of the people, but his father insisted Zan attend and get to know as many people as possible because one day he would rule them.
Zan found Larek in his suite of rooms and they gathered their things and headed for the beach. Their favorite spot, Dimaras rock, was within the palace walls and reserved for the royal family and their guests. They usually had the place to themselves but with the large number of people staying in the palace for the conference, the beach was unusually crowded.
"Maybe we should come back another time," Zan said, "when it's less crowded."
Larek rolled his eyes at his old friend. "Still afraid of crowds, huh?" he mocked. "I thought you would have outgrown that."
"I'm not afraid, it's just . . ."
Larek interrupted him. "Great then let's go. I'll race you."
They ran and jumped into the water, splashing and dunking each other as they had done when they were children. Zan was glad that Larek was visiting. Their families were very close and they had always been together when they were children. As they matured, their duties took up more of their time and they saw each other less and less.
In college, Zan had met Alarath, or Rath as everyone called him. They were both interested in history and military tactics and they had become close friends. When they graduated, Rath's father, who was a respected and powerful but somewhat radical Senator, had arranged for Rath to take a position within the palace to train with the royal guard. Rath was naturally talented and very powerful and in just a few years he had quickly advanced through the ranks to become a Colonel. Zan wished his two friends could get to know one other better but Rath was on duty during the conference.
"Let's swim out to the rocks and back like we used to," Larek suggested.
Zan agreed and they struck out at a quick pace toward the rocks that jutted out of the water in the distance. Zan thought it felt like heaven to glide through the thick red liquid after the long day. He lengthened his stroke and passed Larek with a powerful kick but Larek wouldn't be left behind for long. They pushed each other faster and faster and reached the rock within seconds of one another.
"I can still beat you," Zan laughed, breathing heavily.
"You were just lucky," answered his friend. "I'll win on the way back. Let's go."
They swam back at an even faster pace, as long unused muscles began to loosen. They were neck and neck as they approached the beach, but Zan started to tire and he thought Larek might win. Suddenly a bright glint on the rocks caught his eye and he strained to see what it was. There was a girl in red swimming attire lounging on the rocks but it was not the red that had caught his attention, it was her hair. It was the color of pale gold and it cascaded in long waves down her back, dancing lightly on the breeze. Zan forgot about the race and everything else as his complete attention was captured by her.
Larek swam a few strokes farther before he noticed that Zan was not at his side and circled back to him. "Zan what are you doing?" he asked following the line of Zan's gaze. "Wow, she is beautiful."
"I think she must be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."
"And that's saying something considering all of the beautiful women your parents have been throwing at you so that you can find a wife. Do you know who she is?"
"No, I have never seen her before. But she must be a daughter of one of the Council members."
"Or wife," Larek mumbled. "Why don't you go introduce yourself?"
"No," said Zan decidedly, shaking his head.
"Why not?" Larek asked incredulously.
"I wouldn't know what to say to her."
"Well you could start with your name and then ask hers..."
Zan cut him off, "No Larek."
"I could come with you and make the introductions on your behalf."
"No. It's getting late," Zan said, looking up at the darkening sky. "Let's just get ready for the party."
Larek shook his head, wondering how a man who was to be King could be so shy with women, but he knew better than to press the point. There were other ways to go about it and as they walked into the palace, he was already forming a plan of action.
(The Suite of Rooms Assigned To The Roistars)
"Khivar have you seen the Princess Vilondra yet?" Plavar asked his son.
"Not yet father, but we just arrived this morning. I am sure she will attend the party this evening. It is said she's as shallow as she is beautiful."
"Yes," his father agreed. "Just make sure that you turn it to your advantage."
Khivar smiled. "I don't believe the Princess will give me any trouble."
(The Palace Ballroom - Later That Evening)
The party had everything Zan hated; music, rich food and drink, and a lot of people. Men were offering 'friendship' and advice from every direction, and fawning women in multicolored gowns eager to catch the Prince's eye swirled around him. Zan dutifully moved from group to group, listening to conversations, and to the women's disappointment, dancing with no one.
As the evening grew later, he had visions of escape but knew his father would expect him to stay. He had lost track of Larek earlier in the evening and as he listened to the droning voice of another Senator, he wished his friend was with him. And as if Zan had conjured him, Larek appeared, and at his side was the girl they had seen on the beach.
She was dressed in an elaborate deep green gown that complimented her icy blue eyes, and her glorious, golden hair was artfully piled atop her head, exposing her long slender neck. Zan's breath caught as Larek made the introductions.
"Prince Zantor, this is Senator Santas' daughter, Lady Chanya. Lady Chanya this is his royal Highness Prince Zantor."
Chanya curtsied low and formally. "It is an honor to meet you, your Highness" she said, her voice soft and rich.
Zan was dumbstruck, her beauty causing his breath to rush out of his lungs and he struggled to regain his composure. "It is a pleasure to meet you," he said breathlessly. But his shyness overwhelmed him and he was unsure of how to continue.
But Larek had anticipated Zan's reticence. "Chanya was just telling me how much she loves to dance."
Zan eagerly grabbed onto the suggestion. "Would you like to dance, my Lady?" he said, extending his hand in the formal manner.
Chanya placed her hand in his. "I would love to, your Highness."
(In another part of the ballroom)
Vilondra had always loved parties. She could show off her golden beauty, wrapped in the finest gowns and jewels and the next day the entire kingdom would rush to copy her style. The evening was passing quickly and there didn't seem to be enough time to hear the many compliments from the men clustered around her.
She listened with pleasure as another of her companions commented on the flattering style of her hair, when her father caught her attention and beckoned her to come to him. She reluctantly excused herself and threaded her way through the many admirers, toward her father. When she reached his side, she noticed the two men with him and was struck with the beauty of younger man. He was tall, with striking good looks and dark golden hair that contrasted with his bright emerald eyes.
"Duke Roistar," the King addressed the older man, "I don't believe you and your son have met my daughter, the Princess Vilondra. Vilondra, this is Duke Roistar, head of the Harcion family, and his son and heir Khivar, a member of the Council."
"Vilondra, it is a pleasure to meet you," the Duke said. He looked appreciatively at her but spoke to his son, "She is very beautiful is she not, Khivar."
Khivar turned his attention to her and when their eyes met, for the first time in her life Vilondra blushed. She could feel the overwhelming heat in his gaze and it was all attuned to her.
"Yes," Khivar said, his deep voice sending shivers through her, "she is very lovely." His eyes never left hers. "May I claim this dance Princess?"
He held out his hand and she eagerly gave him hers. "I am honored Sir," she said in her most regal voice, trying to remain calm even though she could feel his heat through her gloves.
Khivar spun her expertly around the dance floor and though she struggled to remain aloof, Vilondra felt the ice that had always encased her heart, start to thaw.
Larek had warned Chanya of Zan's shyness and she kept up a steady stream of conversation, asking questions to draw him out and he gradually relaxed. They moved to a table in a quiet corner and talked for hours, neither noticing the time passing.
Chanya leaned closer to him and whispered into his ear. "I saw you this afternoon on the beach. I thought you were so handsome and I was very disappointed when you didn't come and introduce yourself."
Zan was startled for a moment. "I.... It's just that you are so beautiful," he said reaching out to caress her cheek. "I wasn't sure what to say."
"You don't have to say anything," she whispered as she closed the distance between them and kissed him.
Khivar had dominated her evening but Vilondra didn't mind. He was so unlike the other men she was used to being with. They had danced until they were exhausted and then she had taken him on a tour of her father's gardens. Sitting on a bench in the moonlight, they spoke about history, politics and art, and even though he was a few years older, he was interested in her opinions and treated her like an equal. She had spent other evenings with other men, but for the first time, she felt as if a man saw something other than her beauty.
As they walked toward the water, Khivar's hand automatically went to her waist to steady her over the uneven ground. They stopped at the stone wall, marking the edge of the beach, and watched the small moon, Astra, rise over the horizon.
For several moments neither of them spoke. Finally, Khivar turned to her and raised his hand to her face. "You are incredibly beautiful," he whispered, as his thumb caressed her jaw sending shivers of reaction through her. He leaned in closer, in an attempt to kiss her, but she panicked and drew back.
"No," Vilondra said, shaking her head frantically. "We can't."
Khivar smiled knowingly and once again closed the distance between them. "Why not?"
"We can't get involved like that." She retreated a few steps, until her back came up against a large tree, stopping her. "Our families are enemies."
"We are here to change that," he said softly, as he advanced. Once again he took her face in his hands and lowered his lips to meet hers.
"Please don't," she pleaded, as he drew her closer. "My father would not approve." She trembled with anticipation of his kiss but she knew it shouldn't happen. Her voice was barely a whisper between them. "Please, Khivar."
Then his lips were on hers and she had no more thoughts of stopping.
Chanya watched Zan as he made his way down the passage, away from her father's suite of rooms. The evening had been so wonderful and then Zan had insisted on escorting her to her room after the party. He was the perfect gentleman and even more handsome in person. She closed the door and twirled around, her skirts billowing out around her. Events weren't going exactly as she had anticipated but she was confident that everything would come out according to her plan.
When she had seen a picture of Zan for the first time, over a year ago, she had fallen in love instantly and she had vowed to have him. She had used every excuse to try and get close to him but she had been thwarted by circumstance time and time again. Finally when her father had received an invitation to stay at the palace for the peace conference, she had known it was her time.
She had discovered Zan's love of swimming and laid her trap for him in her most becoming outfit. But he had not even noticed her, she fumed, until she resorted to using her powers. She had gently planted a suggestion in his mind to look in her direction and he had finally responded. But he hadn't approached her, and she had frustratedly resolved to give him another nudge with her powers at the party that evening.
Luckily she had discovered that his friend Larek was on her side and he had helped her by making the introductions between them. Chanya had sent tendrils of suggestion to Zan all evening, drawing him to her, making herself seem more beautiful and more fascinating, but still he had been resistant. Then she used a larger dose of power, putting it into a kiss and he had responded at last. Triumphantly she had drawn him closer and deepened the kiss waiting for the flashes of connection to come but they had not. Zan had been shielding himself from her. Chanya sighed. She would have to work on getting Zan to trust her and then they would be bonded together forever.
Zan arrived in his quarters and found Larek waiting for him, a devilish grin lighting his face.
"So I take it you and Chanya got along," Larek teased him. "I saw you kissing."
Zan rubbed his hands over his face. "Yes, she's a nice girl."
"Nice?" Larek asked incredulously. "Beautiful, charming, poised, are all words I might use to describe her but nice?"
"Is that what you saw in her aura?" Zan asked. He teased his friend often about his unusual gift.
"Her aura," Larek said consideringly. "Now that is interesting. Everyone's aura is unique but Chanya's aura is different."
"What do you mean?" Zan asked, concern creeping into his tone.
"It's nothing bad," Larek laughed, "it's just the color is like nothing I've ever seen. It is a very clear, icy blue," he said in an introspective tone, "almost like the color of her eyes."
"And that is unusual?"
"Yes. Most auras are a more subdued shade of color and the person's emotions or physical health cause spots or swirls of other colors. For instance if I look at your aura, it is a deep, rich blue and I can see that you are tired from the swirls of darker blue. But her aura is almost a solid color, shining, perfect.
Zan was less concerned now that his friend had explained. "Would you mind if we talked about this tomorrow? I am really exhausted for some reason."
Larek relented. "Yes, I can see that you are tired, but tomorrow I want to hear all about your evening."
It was late and Vilondra should have been exhausted but she felt exhilarated. She and Khivar had spent the entire evening together. Khivar had easily turned away her other admirers and they had danced and talked like they had known one another for years. He was genuinely interested in her and when she ventured an opinion about a political matter he had listened and encouraged her to continue.
She realized that no one had ever asked her opinion about anything other than fashion. No one took her seriously except her brother. Her father and her suitors, in the Antarian tradition, had expected nothing more of her than her beauty. But Khivar saw something more, and for the first time she wanted more for herself.
Then he had kissed her. She had been kissed before but when Khivar's lips had met hers it was truly a meeting not just of bodies but of minds and souls.
(The Roistars' rooms)
"So you spent the entire evening with the Princess? Khivar's father asked.
"Yes. I couldn't believe all of the simpering idiots that were vying for her attention," Khivar said incredulously, "but they were easily discouraged. They and her father treat her like a pretty doll but I was surprised to discover she does have a brain. Her father indulges her, allowing her to attend the Council, and on a couple of issues we discussed she was quite insightful."
"Really," his father said dismissively.
"Yes," Khivar answered softly, looking closely at his father. The Duke was an excellent strategist but he sometimes missed the important details, like he was missing now. Khivar had often wondered when his father would become more of a liability than he could afford, and he knew the time was rapidly approaching.
"Just don't let yourself get caught up in all of this," the Duke warned, waving his arms to indicate their ornate surroundings. "The Princess is very important to our plan. Having her in our family will strengthen our claim to the throne when the time comes."
Khivar rolled his eyes as his father continued to outline the plan once again. His father had made the mistake of underestimating him since he had been a child. And he had bided his time, knowing that he was not strong enough to get rid of his father, but the time was coming and soon he would have everything he wanted, including the throne of Antar and the five worlds.
The fact that Vilondra was not a simpering fool was an added bonus. Khivar had been surprised to discover that the Princess was as intelligent as she was beautiful, and he wondered what other talents her father and his had overlooked. When they had kissed, he had gotten a sense of her power and he suspected that hers might even rival his own. She would truly make him a worthy mate and he suspected he could use her frustration against her family to his advantage.
Khivar smiled. Soon he would put his own plan into motion.
Khivar noted that the Duke was still raving. "I will draw out the peace talks as long as possible to give you more time, but just make sure that you don't make any mistakes with her."
Khivar looked at his father. "It should take no time at all to have her eating out of my hand."
The peace talks were scheduled to start the next day and the King allowed Zan to take the morning off from the Council. Zan invited Chanya to tour the capitol with him, she lived in one of the remote regions and had never been there. He took her to his favorite art museum, and afterward they had lunch. He was somewhat subdued, not really knowing how he was expected to act, but Chanya was an excellent conversationalist and reveled in the attention that was lavished upon them by the people.
They arrived back at the palace late that afternoon and Chanya suggested they go swimming together. Zan invited Larek to join them but he declined, joking that Zan would thank him after the wedding. They separated to change clothes, met back at Dimaras rock and swam together until it was time to get changed for the party that evening.
Even though Zan had offered to escort her to the party, Chanya declined sweetly. "I don't want to keep you waiting," she said with a laugh. "I'll meet you there."
Chanya hurried down the corridor eager to get to her rooms, exhausted from the strain of using her powers. She had used a trickle of power all day to enhance Zan's mood of fun and contentment, to draw him to her, and she needed a brief nap to regain her strength or she would never last through the evening.
She also needed to concentrate on step two of her plan. While Zan and the other men were in conference, she would work on endearing herself to Zan's mother and sister and soon she would be just like a member of the family.
Over the next few weeks, the peace talks progressed slowly by Duke Roistar's design. Khivar and Vilondra became inseparable, spending every moment of free time together and becoming lovers. Khivar suspected that the King would not approve of their relationship and wanted to thoroughly bind Vilondra to himself before forcing her to choose between him and her family, so he suggested to her that they keep their affair a secret until after the treaty was signed.
Vilondra agreed, knowing her father possessed the power to keep her away from Khivar. She told no one she was seeing him, except Zan, and her new confident and best friend Chanya. In her brother's girl friend, Vilondra had found the one thing she had always wanted, a sister. She and Chanya shared all of their secrets and Vilondra hoped Chanya would truly become her sister by marrying Zan.
Zan could see his sister's happiness with Khivar and though he did not thoroughly approve her choice, he wanted her to be happy, and he enviously wished that he could find a bit of that happiness for himself.
At first, Chanya had fascinated him. It was like he was in a dream when he was with her, and he couldn't get enough of her. But when he was not with her, doubts came flooding in. She was shallow, only concerned with her position at court or her clothing, and she seemed to have no opinions of her own, simply echoing whatever he said. Zan smiled sadly. His father would probably say she would make a perfect Queen.
Zan respected her as a friend and supporter but he did not love her, and as he watched her growing closer to his family he knew he had to tell her.
Chanya screamed as she threw one breakable item after another against the wall. Zan thought he could just get rid of her did he? How dare he try to discard her like last month's fashion. She picked up another figurine and smashed it against the wall, stomping her feet and screaming in frustration. Even after she had used her wiles and powers so skillfully, he had still been able to escape her. She knew now that she had underestimated the level of his power.
She thought she was getting closer to him; she had even received a flash or two from him when they kissed, but this evening after dinner he had taken her aside to talk. At first she couldn't believe what he was saying.
Chanya you are a great friend and I will always treasure the time we have spent together, but I don't love you and I think it would be unfair for me to keep seeing you.
Chanya had been so stunned, that for a couple of minutes she hadn't been able to say anything, her anger building to a point that she had almost struck him. But she had been able to curb the impulse and thinking quickly, begun to weep prettily, telling Zan of her disappointment and her desire to remain friends. He had readily agreed and they had parted on good terms.
Her handmaid and confident, Udac entered the room, surveyed the damage and shook her head. "I take it that you had a setback in your relationship with the Prince m'Lady?"
"You won't believe what he said. He just wants to be friends," Chanya moaned as she sank down onto the bed. "Why doesn't Zan love me? Am I not beautiful and desirable? I could be anything he wanted. I would love him for eternity."
Udac sat beside her and began gently stroking her hair. She spoke in soft soothing tones, "Zan was able to break free from your mind warp and he wasn't even aware of what you were doing. He must be very powerful. The rumors that he has limited mental abilities are certainly wrong."
"Yes, I must admit that I underestimated him," Chanya sighed. "At least I have a friendship with Vilondra, so even after this conference is over I will have an excuse to visit the palace. I will just have to make better use of my powers in the future."
"Are you sure that is wise, beloved?" Udac asked. "If Zan is as powerful as we suspect, he would be able to detect that you are using large amounts of power. And it is said that those with great power can," she paused looking for the correct word, "can sense who power belongs to. If Zan figures out you are using your powers to entrap him..." she let the sentence trail off.
"You are right," Chanya sighed and snuggled into the older woman's arms. "I am glad I have you to advise me. You have been like a mother to me since my own mother passed away."
"I love you with a mother's love and I would do anything for you. Nothing would make me happier than to see you on the throne as Queen."
"We will have to devise another plan," Chanya said.
"At least you have a good reason to be in the palace. Just make sure that Vilondra needs you as much as possible and endear yourself to the Queen," Udac continued prophetically. "Being close to Zan's mother could have untold rewards."
Khivar studied Vilondra's sleeping form next to him in bed; so beautiful and strong. He reached out to smooth a lock of hair off her face. He could be almost entirely open with her, only needing to shield his plan from her in their most intimate connection. His plan was proceeding well, even if it had taken an unexpected turn.
He had never intended, never even considered that he might fall in love with Vilondra, but he had. It was a soul deep, overwhelming, empowering love, that he had thought only existed in children's tales. His father would call him a fool, but Khivar could see the power in their connection and had revised his plan to include their bond.
Khivar had heard of connections such as he and Vilondra shared but he had always dismissed them as romantic drivel. But their bond added an additional layer to their intimacy and added power and resolve to his psyche. The bond also held an unexpected benefit. Vilondra was able to initiate a mental connection with him at any time, and they were both able to visit the other in their dreams.
The peace conference would be over soon but he, as a member of the Council, lived in Tageonon and could be close to Vilondra. But they still had to be careful. They had agreed that they should keep their affair a secret a while longer. Khivar was sure Vilondra loved him, he just wanted to shift the King's opinion in his favor before bringing their relationship into the open.
In the morning, he would signal his most loyal servant, General Nicaron, to proceed with the plan to eliminate his father, the Duke. They would slowly poison the Duke's food using miniscule, undetectable amounts of an incurable poison. Gradually the poison would build up in his system until it was too late and he would never realize what had happened. Then Khivar would be free to get rid of the King and discredit Zan.
He smiled at the simplicity of it. Only three men stood between him and the throne. Soon he would rule the southern lands, and eventually all of Antar and the five planets, with his beautiful lover beside him and the power of the Granolith at his fingertips.
The treaty was signed and it seemed as if a new era of peace would envelope the lands of Antar. Duke Roistar returned to the southern lands, the border attacks ceased, and life at the palace returned to normal.
Chanya had used her time in the palace to her advantage, making sure she was invaluable to Vilondra. She cunningly used her powers to make Vilondra unsure of herself when she was not around and at peace when she was, and as expected, Vilondra asked her to remain at the palace as her confident.
But to Chanya's dismay, the King, wanting to expand his son's experience of political matters, sent Zan on a tour to meet the regional Governors. Zan left the palace almost immediately after the peace conference ended and Chanya had not been able to spend any time alone with him since the evening he had ruined her plans by dumping her. Chanya was angry but decided to use the opportunity to befriend the Queen.
Queen Nedra accepted her cautiously, knowing of her connection and hopes concerning Zan. But Chanya skillfully led her to believe that her love and devotion was for the entire family and not just the Prince Zan.
Over the next few months, Chanya helped Vilondra to keep her relationship with Khivar a secret, often going with her to Khivar's mansion. Chanya did not like or trust Khivar. He made her uncomfortable and seemed to know her innermost thoughts just by looking at her, but he said he was grateful that she allowed him to spend more time with Vilondra.