The Emperor’s Heir – Short Story

*When the Emperor names his illegitimate eldest child as his official heir, it paints a target on their back. Living with said target, they want to know why.*

“Why would you do this?” Hearth snapped as soon as the door closed.

“What?” The Emperor asked.

“You decreed that the eldest child would be the Emperor’s heir!”

“I thought you’d be happy.”

“Oh sure,” Hearth snarked. “Happy that I’m now the optimum target for every assassin’s blade in the entire empire!”

The Emperor sighed. “Hearth—”

“Did you just do this so nobody would try to assassinate Gold?”

“Hearth—”

“Or because you wanted me out of the way?” Unbidden tears had gathered in their eyes and throat. They knew they were an inconvenience but this was taking things a bit far wasn’t it? “If you wanted me gone that badly, it’s customary to send illegitimate heirs into the military, like Ruger of Motug.”

“Ruger is becoming Kimone’s Empren-consort as we speak.”

“Yet another fine way to dispose of illegitimate heirs. You didn’t have to go this far unless you truly wanted me gone forever, no hope of return.”

The Emperor slammed his hands down on his desk and surged to his feet. “I don’t want you dead, Hearth!”

Hearth swiped a hand under their eyes, clearing the tears before they could begin to fall.

“I named you my heir because you’re the best person for the job. Your siblings—”

“Half-siblings, as your wife keeps reminding me.”

“They’re spoiled, Hearth. They never paid attention in lessons, they wouldn’t know how to balance the empires needs against their own, they don’t know the people, don’t know what it’s like to live on a farm or work in a market.”

Hearth fisted their hands at their sides, feeling the callouses from years of work. Their hands were rough, everyone commented on it at court. What rough hands. Workers hands. Gold and Amythest could never be said to have rough hands. Gold and Amythest who had traditional value names, who had been raised in the palace, who were the children of the official empress.

“They would choose poor advisors,” The Emperor continued. “And poor courtiers, would make weakening peace treaties. They’re bad choices. Neither of them has what it takes.” He held up a hand. “And I know I have nobody to blame for that but myself. But I need someone who is ready now.”

“Why now?”

“Because I have to step down.”

“Step down?” Hearth stumbled back. “Emperor’s don’t step down, they die. Are you…?”

“I’m not dying. But we needed to sign a Peace Treaty with the northern clans and they had a stipulation.”

“That you’re not the Emperor anymore…”

The Emperor, their father nodded and sank slowly back into his chair.

“Was that their only…?”

“Yes. They don’t agree with marriage for political purposes. And I wouldn’t do that to you on top of this.”

Hearth nodded vaguely. At least that was something. “When…?”

“As soon as their delegation arrives to sign the treaty. I know you think I have forgotten your mother, that I moved on with Jewel as soon as I claimed my title.”

Hearth had been almost ten when their father had overthrown his brother for control of the Empire. Their mama had been lost in the fighting, which Hearth had later learnt meant that she died in a horrible riot in the capital. He had married Jewel on his coronation day and Gold had appeared barely nine months later.

“She was the woman I was with for love, and I would have made her my empress if I could have. I have come to love Jewel, in a different manner than what your mother and I had, but she was what the empire needed. I hope you can see my point.”

“You want me to give up everything for the good of the Empire,” Hearth sighed. The more they heard about it the more it sounded like a punishment.

“That’s part of it.”

“The other part?”

“The other part is knowing that your mother had the right idea about value.”

Hearth, not a traditional value name. Not like Jewel, Gold, Amythest, or even The Emperor’s gifted name Victory. A hearth was small, the centre of a single home, warm and providing but not something you could offer to an entire Empire, not something you could claim or trade in. “I don’t understand.” 

“War is no way to live. We must make a home for the people of the Empire. And I can’t do that. Nor can Gold or Amythest. But you, Hearth, you have the best chance.”

“Because of my name?”

“Because of your character. Because of the way your mama raised you, the values she instilled in you.”

“But what if something goes wrong?”

The Emperor shook his head. “You’ll figure it out, and I’ll be here to advise you.”

A knock on the door interrupted the rest of their conversation. Hearth sighed. “I’ll prepare for the delegation.”

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