I was back at the emperor’s elbow two days later with the rank of sergeant first class on my collar; I saw no reason to rattle around my apartment any longer than that. At any rate, it felt good to do the things I had grown accustomed to doing. Suffice it to say I was a bit less cocky now.
Attacks still occurred, but if I am to believe Haines, things were back to normal. It didn’t feel that way to me though. In my opinion, ‘normal’ would not be ‘avoiding the next assassination attempt every f-ing day’.
Guarding the emperor was a very stressful job, though I enjoyed it. Some of my stress was offset when the emperor hired the best swordsman on the planet to instruct me. He made it clear that my magic was never to enter into these lessons.
My new instructor’s assessment of my skill with a sword was that of a brute, so he made me start from the beginning. Why not? The beginning is always a good place to start. He definitely didn’t like it that he was the one who had to call an end to the lessons because he was tired.
Aside from my sword lessons, the next eighteen months passed in boring relative peace. When it did come, that next attack hit all too close to home. This time, it took a new form.
I watched as the emperor took a call early one morning before we left his rooms. He said little after he answered the ring, but his face turned so white I thought he might faint. He muttered something to the person on the other end that was unintelligible to me and hung up. The look on his face was one of utter desperation. It was something quite unsettling to see in a man who was usually so very composed and self-assured.
With a force of extreme will, he sought to pull himself together and stride past me as if to go about his normal day, but in a move that few would dare, I snagged his arm and halted him. “Tell me.”
He resisted the urge for a moment, but then, grasping for a straw, he said, “He got to my family.”
I didn’t know he had a family. “Tell me about it. Tell me about them.” I knew I had to find this family that no one knew of and get them out of danger.
He pulled a wallet out of his pocket and sank down on a nearby chair. I had seen this wallet before; the emperor carried it with him everywhere he went, but I had never seen him open it.
Inside were pictures, perhaps a couple dozen pictures of a beautiful woman and three children. “I have been married to my lovely wife, Heather, for almost twenty years now. We have a son and two daughters; this is Connor, who is twelve, Alyssa, who is eight and Melody, who just turned four. The man who called, identified himself as Ronok. He said he hated me, and since he couldn’t seem to kill me, he was going to kill them. Liam, if he kills them, he will kill me. They are my life.”
As he spoke of his family, he looked through the pictures, pointing out each member as he said their name. He touched each picture with loving fingers; fingers that had never been near any children since I had been here. “When was the last time you saw them?”
He fingered the picture of the youngest daughter, Melody. “It’s been almost four years ago now. I miss them.”
“Where are they? How have you kept them secret?”
There was a knock on the door; Brian had begun to worry. “Is everything all right in there?” he asked.
“Hold on,” I replied, and then turned back to the emperor for an answer to my questions.
“They are in an isolated compound in the mountains. Haines can take you there. I don’t understand how they were found out; only Captain Haines knew of my marriage. Everyone else thinks I take a short sabbatical every few years.”
A chilling thought occurred to me. What if this was some sort of diversion? Lure away the emperor’s strongest protectors and then take advantage of the gap. “Sir, I’m going to seal you in here. Call for a large contingent of guards to take up positions outside your door and in the courtyard below your window as well as on the roof. I’m going to seal the window and then the door when I leave, but I can’t seal it as tight as I would like because you can’t make your own air, so the guards are going to have to take up the slack.”
“You’re thinking that this might be a diversion, but who would know to use my family in this way?” Knowing there was no answer to his question, he sighed. “Do what you have to do. I’ll stay here, but stay in touch.”
I looked at the phone; but no, it was possible the kidnapper would call again and I didn’t want the line to be tied up at some critical moment. Then I had an idea; I brought three small radios from the equipment locker and changed the frequency. All they were was an ear peace with a tiny microphone that rested near the corner of the mouth. I handed one to the emperor who put it on as I put mine on and tested it. I tested the other one too; he could hear them both, as could I.
The emperor called Haines while I filled the window with shatterproof glass, then I went around and hardened the walls. By the time I finished the door, a nuke could level the place and this room would survive; well at least I hoped so.
Haines entered and got his orders and then we left. I handed him his radio on the way out the door, and while he was issuing his orders, I finished sealing the emperor’s door.