Authors~ Annarti and Sallie
Disclaimer~ Commander Zakaariss and Prince Kanera are Sallie's, Princess Assili and the rest of Kazin are Annarti's
Notes~ More getting to know peoples :D As such, potentially reads a bit all over the place, certainly no central character focus, typos cos I'm too lazy to find and fix them, but just a bit of fun :D Zakaariss, as I believe we have established, has his eye on the position of General. This most often means being the empress's not-husband, and Assili's next in line. Give her a few years for hormones to kick in and she'll totally find him hot X) For the moment, though, he's just the most capable of her mum's Commanding Circle.
This one takes place shortly after the last one with Zakaariss and Sahid.
A black mountain, btw, is a black Russian. Kazinian mountains are where the vodka is, so it fits =3
A gentle, refreshing breeze ruffled Assili's curtains and brushed her hair from her shoulders, heralding the beginning of the afternoon showers. In a few minutes, the rain would come in torrents, splashing thunderously against the broad leaves by her balcony. She loved the sound of afternoon rain.
Assili took a deep breath of the slightly electric air, wondering if the rain would be accompanied by lightning today.
She turned from the balcony and back towards her spacious meeting room, furnished in ornate, white-painted wood and delicate blown glass ornaments. A swirling panorama of a rainforest scene dominated one wall in a thousand shades of green. Assili liked to look at the birds painted into the scene, each a work of art in its own right, while she waited for her next appointment. There was no need to study the painting today. Commander Zakaariss was always punctual with his meetings.
A light knock came from the servant's door behind her.
'Enter,' Assili said, raising her voice a little over the first spatterings of rain.
The door swung open and the drinks waiter stepped through, bowing as low as his silver tray would allow him. 'Good afternoon, your Highness,' he said in a soft voice. 'Commander Zakaariss will be with you presently. He crossed the courtyard not a moment ago.'
'Good.' Assili gave a nod and crossed the room to the lounge. She sat and arranged herself on the cushions while the drinks waiter set up coasters and the two cocktails on the glass table before her.
'Melon, pineapple and a dash of coconut for your Highness,' the waiter told her, 'And a black mountain for the Commander.'
All the Commanders seemed to like hard liquor, Assili thought, quietly turning her nose up at the drink. Sahid assured her she would like it, too, in a few years. It only made her more determined not to.
The drinks waiter stood and slid his silver tray under one arm before giving another, deeper bow. 'Thank you, your Highness.'
As he straightened, the main door swung open, revealing her doorman and the Commander.
'Commander Zakaariss to see you as requested, your Highness,' the doorman said with a deep bow.
Zakaariss stepped past the doorman, striding purposefully towards where the young girl was sat. He wore his army uniform and his family colours, and had apparently neatly avoided the rain. His timing as ever was excellent and punctual, even it seemed where nature was involved.
He bowed low and with utmost respect to the young girl who would one day rule the empire. "Highness," he greeted in his usual measured tones, straightening his back and pushing his brown hair back out of his face. "I was informed you required me, I do hope I have not kept you waiting."
'Not at all,' Assili replied with a brief shake of her head. She reached out for her fruity cocktail and indicated the lounge opposite for the Commander. 'You may sit.'
"You are most gracious, Highness," Zakaariss thanked her for the permission with another bow, and yet another fixing of his hair before he did as permitted. His eyes fixed on her only, not even darting to the drink on the table he knew was for him.
He felt he had half a mind to guess what she had requested him for, but he knew far better than to be so disrespectful as to bring the topic up himself, let alone try and rush the meeting. It would go at Assili's pace, and it was far better for him if it did.
Assili watched him closely for a moment, trying to pick up on any of the nuances her mother had taught her to judge the mood, but Zakaariss was always... not exactly cagey, but very self-aware. He never gave anything away. It amused and frustrated Mother at the same time. Assili viewed his temperament as a valuable lesson.
Her eyes flicked to the waiting cocktail on the table in a silent indication for him to drink. 'I trust a black mountain is still your favourite.' It was a statement, not a question.
Bowing his head to acknowledge her, Zakaariss reached for the glass, encircling the rim with his fingers. "It is. I do feel most honoured that you choose to remember, Highness." That was no small lie. It was far better for Zakaariss' desires that he be remembered, and in positive ways. Although it was the serving staff who had doubtless chosen and made the drink, she had committed it to her mind that he enjoyed it. A trivial fact that put him above other potentials in the Commanding circle.
"I see that you are showing sense as ever, and keeping your own head clear," he remarked in reference to her own glass as he took his first leisurely sip of his cocktail.
A small smile curled the corner of Assili's mouth as she set her class back on its coaster. 'Quite,' she said with a modest nod. 'Unfortunately, not so much can be said of my brother. Father is still in damage control, I understand.'
It seemed the young to-be Empress was seeking furhter information of the backlash of her brother's mindless comments about Queen Shala. Zakaariss had expected as such, but no smugness he may have felt showed in his body or face. "I believe you are correct. Regardless of how much damage control he is partaking in, Prince Sahid informed me that General Misbah had spoken with him prior to our meeting."
The rain outside spattered a little louder before emptying like a bucket on the garden. Assili took a moment to appreciate the sound before turning back to the matter at hand.
'I've heard plenty of it, yes,' she said disdainfully. Sahid was probably in the archery range right now, cooling off, as he liked to call it. Assili called it slacking off. 'What of my other brothers? I trust they haven't escaped your watchful eye.'
Indeed they had not, although in truth Zakaariss' opinions of them were best not uttered thoughtlessly. He was a man known for choosing his words but not a man known for hesitations and so he spoke smoothly, allowing himself little time to think of the perfect informative reply.
"Young Prince Shoaib is regrettably unable to fully assert himself as he should. Where Prince Sahid cannot in the correct situations step away from his royal title, Prince Shoaib seems unable to recall when in the army barracks that he owns one."
Frankly, Zakaariss was unsure where Shoaib's meekness had come from, but he was sure it was going to land the young Prince in a far part of the empire: If not murdered with no one even noticing for a week.
Assili pursed her lips. The Commander's answer meant Shoaib hadn't said a single word in the meeting. She'd have to arrange a meeting with him this evening. Remind him that in situations like those of that morning, he had to say something to make Sahid stand down. However much he tried to make it so, he wasn't invisible.
'And Kanera?' she pressed.
As far as Zakaariss was concerned, Prince Kanera was so much in the middle of his meek brother and outgoing brother that he sometimes seemed to be a non-entity. Zakaariss had little respect for those who didn't strive to achieve, and Kanera seemed to make an effort to merely coast along making the minimum of effort.
The Commander knew though, that Kanera favoured his young sister and that affection was certainly reciprocated strongly. His personal opinions were best kept out of sight completely.
"Prince Kanera shows great respect for himself and his Commanding betters; if he chose to push his limits further he might find himself promoted beyond Prince Sahid."
Assili tapped one finger against the arm of her chair and glanced sidelong at nothing. A light frown of irritation creased her brow. 'Might' wasn't good enough. Yes, he still had another year of training left before he could begin climbing the ranks, but the Commanding Circle should have been clammering for him by now. They had been for Sahid until his true colours had shown.
'Push him harder,' she said, turning hard green eyes on the Commander. 'I want at least one brother in my Circle, and I think we both agree that Shoaib and Sahid are unlikely to progress far in Assiraz. Bring something useful out of Kanera.'
While Assili thought, Zakaariss took another mouthful of the strong, brown liquid in his glass. His attention remained fully on her when she looked at him again though. Her clear irritation gave him some indication of what she wanted before she requested it.
It was better outcome than he could have previously expected from the meeting. Permission to drive the Prince to the potential he was avoiding.
He bowed his head again, "I shall bring Prince Kanera to his full potential for you, highness." There was no reason to promise to 'try', he would not fail.
'I know you will,' Assili said with a nod, then raised her eyes to the door. 'Edis!'
The door swung open to admit the doorman. 'Yes, your Highness,' he said with a deep bow.
'Send for Prince Kanera,' she ordered. 'Make sure he realises he's wasting my time as well as Commander Zakaariss' if he dallies.'
The doorman bowed again. 'Certainly, your Highness,' he said, then closed the door behind him.
Assili reached again for her glass and turned her attention back to the Commander. 'If he knows he can surpass Sahid, and has the personal attention of one of Father's most influential Commanders, he may yet gain the ambition he needs.' She took a sip of her cocktail. 'You see more of him than I do, Zakaariss, what do you think?'
The Commander nodded his head once, "I believe you are absolutely correct in your reasoning, Highness." Agreement with Assili was second nature - even if she wasn't due to rule one day, she generally made sense and saw things just how they were.
Without taking his eyes from her, he swirled his alcohol in its glass, taking a short sip, wetting his lips with the strong liquid. His eyes showed little, but he was judging the situation carefully before he spoke. "Prince Kanera is sharp, he picks up necessary fighting and tactical skills easily but then does not choose to push himself beyond what he needs. Being surrounded by Prince Sahid and Prince Shoaib, it is easy for him to be overlooked due to his ability to fulfil what is required and thus remain out of trouble; and his refusal to push himself forward so he does not shine through."
It was a very frank opinion to give, and yet Zakaariss felt no fear in giving it.
Assili allowed herself a small smirk. 'But not anymore,' she said, raising her glass to the Commander. 'To the Circle.'
He lifted his own glass, his gaze level but respectful. "To the training Empress," and wordlessly he added the toast to his assured eventual promotion.
The door opened again as they drank, the doorman waiting for them to finish before he announced, "Prince Kanera as requested, your highness."
Kanera breezed past the doorman, full of confidence and straight backed as he often was. Despite being seventeen, he had yet to lose some childlike puppyfat in his face, but his features were starting to sharpen to those of his mother and sister: Delicate eyebrows, a long, straight nose and orange-red flaming hair.
He stepped between where Assili and Zakaariss sat, his attention on her fully for a moment. He bowed his head slightly, smiling very fondly as he greeted her, "Sister dearest." He turned his attention to the Commander, greeting him in much the same manner, without the smile, "Commader Zakaariss. I do believe you wished to see me - and I see it is an early cocktail time." He turned his attention then to the waiter who had ghosted into the room behind him. "I'll have a Golden Peacock."
Zakaariss mutely shook his head, not even looking at the waiter as he did so. His liquor taste was hard, and he prefered not to drink too much of it.
Assili smiled at her older brother. 'As long as you keep your head for Mother's cocktail hour, yes.' She gestured to the lounge the Commander was sitting on, urging Kanera to take a seat. 'I imagine you know how much dust Sahid kicked up this morning with his outbreak, but don't think you can hide in it. Eyes are still on you, especially mine.'
Her brow creased a little as she tried to think of words she hoped would stick in her brother's mind. 'I need at least one brother in my Commanding Circle, Kanera. You only have one year of training left. This is the worst time for you to be complacent.'
Kanera sat leisurely, managing to look both relaxed and yet regal. He was often like a perfectly balanced scale, so far as Zakaariss thought. Perfectly balanced to remain unnoticed though, was not something the Commander could respect.
"I do assure you sister dearest, that I am doing everything asked of me."
Zakaariss looked at the glass in his hands, "That is not enough. You must do more than is expected of you. Particularly after the path Sahid has lain for you."
Some wicked amusement danced in Kanera's eyes, "Dear me, Commander. Are you saying that after Sahid's promotion, the Commanding Circle is judging Shoaib and myself on his merits?"
"I am saying you should show your own merits, for the sake of empire's future."
'You do enough to avoid Father's reprimand,' Assili added. 'You do not do enough for a prince. Sahid is a blind arrow. Mother will not give him authority until he learns to respect it. You're already a step ahead of him in that. Don't waste it.'
"Hm, is that how it is?" As the waiter re-entered the room and placed down Kanera's drink, the red-head picked it up and took a thoughtful mouthful. It was clear he was weighing things up, although it would be hard to pin-point where his thoughts were taking him.
"I would hate to do you a disservice and blend into the walls; and I would hate for you to be stuck with Sahid in your Commanding Circle. Time with Sahid attempting to be intelligent is not something I would wish on even my greatest enemy." Kanera tapped his chin and then smiled, "Sister dearest, if you wish for me to excel myself, then I shall endeavour to do it."
It was the kind of quick promise that Zakaariss excepted Kanera would give and then forget about instantly, if only he wasn't giving it to Assili. Promising her, the boy might actually strive see it through before the week was out.
'I hope so,' Assili said with a nod, setting her emptied glass on the table for the drinks waiter to remove. 'I've asked Commander Zakaariss to give you special tuition. I trust you'll view him as a valuable advantage, not a thorn in your foot.'
She looked at him in earnest, hoping her words rang true. She hoped, too, that he wasn't simply agreeing to make things easier for himself again. She needed to shape the empire her way, and for that she needed Kanera.
"Special tuition?" Kanera turned his head to the Commander, a strange smile on his face. He sipped at his drink and then the smile vanished and a more business-like expression was there. "Would you be teaching me your advanced kukri skills as well?"
Zakaariss expression remained stone as ever. "I will be teaching and encouraging you with everything I have and know, at every moment I have."
"Is that how it is? It's little wonder you're the empire's prodigy." His attention was back on Assili, "The Commander has done so much for himself, how could I think of him as anything other than an advantage? I promise you, Assili, I will do as the Commander and you wish. A dishonourable death on me, if I fail you."
Assili felt her shoulders relax a little at her brother's vow. 'Good,' she said with a satisfied nod. 'I'll expect weekly reports from both of you.'
"You shall receive them, Highness," Zakaariss said with a nod of his head, placing his empty glass back down on the table.
"Doubtless," Kanera added with a smile. He tilted his half-full glass in the direction of his sister, done with the official talk for the moment, "Are you sure about sticking your your fruit cocktails, sister dearest? You might enjoy this if you tried it."
'It's too bitter,' she replied with a shake of her head and a delicate crinkle of her nose. She cast a disdainful look at Zakaariss' glass, barely touched. 'Especially the purer ones. How can such a thing quench your thirst?'
"It's merely an acquired taste," Kanera told his sister, taking another sip of his drink. "Although I have yet to decide which tastes I wish to acquire. I agree with you, the purer ones can be gut wrenching."
"It is necessary to drink such things and remain thirsty at all times," Zakaariss said drly, "to keep up the pretence of machismo."
Assili gave a demure little smile and lifted her legs up beside her on the lounge. 'Then there is hardly reason for me to start, is there, Kanera?'
Kanera had turned his eyes towards the Commander, lips twisting into a slightly disbelieving smirk at the words Zakaariss had said. His attention returned to Assili, that smirk becoming more playful and definite. "Indeed not. But there is twice the reason for me to acquire the taste, is that what you're implying?"
'I'm implying nothing,' Assili answered, hiding a smirk behind a closed-eyes, haughty expression before composing herself once more. 'I don't particularly think extra alcohol adds to masculinity.' She shrugged. 'Maybe when I'm older.'
"What a hidden answer," Kanera remarked. "Perhaps you have been spending too much time with the good Commander."
Zakaariss felt it was the opposite of hidden. It was a young girl's manner of flirting, having started learning from watching her mother or merely approaching puberty. Either way, it was undoubtedly a good thing for his ambitions.
"But so long as you are not trying to insult me after I promised to do what you wish, sister dearest," Kanera finished with a smile.
Assili arched her eyebrows at him. 'Careful, brother dearest, there was no bargain struck between us. I expect you to excel regardless.'
A distant rumble of thunder echoed in the trees outside, and a light, almost cool breeze blew into the room. It carried the fresh smell of rain, bringing a smile to Assili's face.
'Incidentally, Kanera,' she continued, 'put sibling rivalry aside and help Shoaib out. Get him to stand up to Sahid, at the very least.'
Zakaariss' green eyes slid towards the balcony, gauging the rain for a moment. When all was said and done, he would have liked to start training the young prince immediately, rainstorms be damned. He had to wait to be dismissed though, and so he merely returned to his drink.
"Shoaib," Kanera sighed, heavily, the sound almost echoing the rumble of thunder. He waved his free hand in a loose gesture, "I do try my best, but he seems incapable of growing a backbone. I really don't know what's wrong with him; you'd think he was walking around with his eyes shut."
Assili glanced briefly at the Commander, but figured he probably needed to hear this, too. She took a deep breath and turned a light glare on the table. 'It's Mother's influence,' she said. 'He's used to her ignoring him, and any attention she gives him is negative. Sahid only makes things worse,' she added sourly. 'If you can break him out of his shell, it will be a good start for you climbing the ranks.'
"I shall do my level best to show him that he can gain positive attention from mother," Kanera promised, although there was something lacking in his tone that Zakaariss picked up on.
Prince Shoaib had already given up, so far as the Commander was concerned. It seemed that the older Prince had decided that as well.
Assili nodded, then looked back over her shoulder at another rumble of distant thunder. 'Thank you, gentlemen,' she said, turning back to the two men. 'You're dismissed.'
Zakaariss nodded once, then stood and bowed. As he straightened, he again swept his hair back from his face. "As you wish, Highness." His words also implied that all that had been discussed - within his powers - would come to pass.
Kanera was far more relaxed, finishing his drink and placing the empty glass down at he stood. "I will see you at the more usual cocktail hour, sister dearest." He gave his head a light nod, and smiled at her before turning and exiting the room behind the Commander, with a slightly heavier step than he had originally entered. Whatever free reign he might have on previous days enjoyed after such a meeting was definitely gone now.
Commander Zakaariss had worked Prince Kanera into his own plans, and he would succeed in them.