The Emperor waited for Shalle to leave the room, then he turned towards Dar’Raen and started in a confidential tone of voice, “I totally support your plan, Dar’Raen, and you do not have to worry about anything. You have my full cooperation, and I am certain that my daughter will also help. Today, I shall end the blockade on Aggrea and, as soon as you are ready, we can start building the new administrative departments to take care of the cooperation programs you have mentioned.”
     Dar’Raen replied perplexed, because Emperor’s words were exceeding his wildest expectations, “Oh, thank you, Sir! I do not know how to thank you properly—”
     “Do not thank me yet, Dar’Raen, because we have, unfortunately, one more difficult problem to solve . . .” said the Emperor thoughtfully.
     “Oh! Is there anything I can do to help, Sir?” asked Dar’Raen with hope in his eyes.
     “Yes it is, my son, it is . . .” said the Emperor appearing to be troubled. After a few moments of indecision, the Emperor looked straight into Dar’Raen’s eyes, then he added in a firm voice, “I hear that you touched the Obar Princess.”
     Dar’Raen was surprised, frightened, and stunned by Emperor’s remark. He recovered quickly, then he motivated defensively, “It was just an accident, Sir!”
     The Emperor continued with his accusation, “I was told that you actually grabbed her, and you held her well within your arms, Dar’Raen.”
     “Totally by accident, Sir! I was trying to prevent her from injury—” pleaded Dar’Raen beginning to be very scared.
     “Of course you did, but you see, Dar’Raen, in our family there are some strict rules . . . yes, very strict rules! I am afraid, my son, you have to ask her to marry you,” said the Emperor in a sad voice.
     Dar’Raen remained motionless for a good while, watching the Great Obar Emperor with terrified eyes. He managed to articulate anemically, “I . . . I—”
     The Emperor interrupted him, appearing to be both angry and surprised, “What! You do not like her?”
     Dar’Raen explained greatly troubled, “I like her very much, Sir, but—”
     The Emperor cut his words in an angry voice, “No ‘buts’, Sir! I do not want to hear of any ‘buts’! You like her, then marry her and make her a happy woman! Leave now, and come back to me only after you have settled the day.”
     “Your Maj—”
     “Do not talk, Sir! Just go out there and do your duty!”
     The Great Obar Emperor appeared to be very angry, so there was nothing to do or say. Dar’Raen left the room, completely dizzy. What was happening there? Did he actually make a mistake by touching the Princess, or was the Great Obar Emperor . . . simply throwing his beloved daughter . . .
     Shalle was waiting for him outside. She asked shyly, “Well?”
     “Well, what?” replied Dar’Raen confused, still trying to make some sense of Emperor’s words.
     “What did he say?”
     Dar’Raen changed to a sad attitude and replied, “Ah! You do not want to hear this, Shalle.”
     “Oh yes, I do, I do!” assured Shalle while watching him with a lot of innocent expectation in her gleaming yes.
     Dar’Raen explained in a voice emptied of any hopes, “Well, Shalle, he told me to leave, and to never see you again in my entire life.”
     After a few moments of stunned surprise, she stepped closer to him. She grabbed firmly on his clothes with her beautiful hands, and said appearing to be close to start crying, “No, Dar’Raen, NO! You cannot do that! I love you! I shall talk to him—”
     Dar’Raen interrupted her with simulated surprise, “Oh, wait minute, I think I got it wrong. He said something about . . . a marriage . . .?”
     Shalle looked deep into his eyes for a few moments, then she withdrew two steps. She said in a firm voice, “Dar’Raen, I hate you! You are playing with me!”
     He smiled intimately at her, then he opened his arms, “Come, Princess, I love you too! I love you since the first time I saw you from that lousy cage. You are the sweetest Lady I have ever seen, and the only one I want to hold in my arms for the rest of my natural days.”
     She looked at hi m with indignation, then said, “Now, look here, Mr. Dar’Raen! I remember perfectly clear everything you said; therefore, I shall go with you to Aggrea. I expect to see there each and every one of those little things you have tricked me with—”
     “I haven’t tricked you, Shalle—”

[. . .]



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