They are just children - Ozorne ten, she seven - when Father says their mother has indulged the Empire's heir for far too long and takes Ozorne to learn about the workings of their land.
Fazia is left with Mother, her nursemaid, the Imperial tutors, and her toys. She misses the boy who was her clever older brother, her playmate and her friend. When she does see her brother, he's different. Formal and distant, hardly bothering with her. She wouldn't dare ask him to play a child's game with her, now.
Mother tells her this is how it will always be. Ozorne will be Emperor and won't have time for her. She, when she is older, will be married and her duty will be to her husband, not her brother. As if that is supposed to ease the hurt somehow. The nursery and the palace are boring places, now.*****
She is seventeen and Ozorne twenty, when she marries Prince Gazanoi, from Chelogu, one of the far southern provinces. Her brother stands at her wedding, wearing a smile on his usually serious face, nodding in approval.
She's pleased him. Fazia feels a silly bit of childish happiness rise, at the idea that she's pleased her older brother. She may not be the heir, but she is an Imperial princess - and a grown one, at that. Surely she doesn't need his approval, as if she were a little girl.
Father arranged this match, after all. He is proud, though, as proud as Mother and Father - she made a marriage that befitted her rank - and that makes her smile. Not being married to her new husband, but the pride from her family.*****
Ozorne is crowned, two weeks after Father's death on the battlefield. Fazia cannot shake the feeling of unease as she sits in the throne room, with her husband, her children, and other dignitaries and nobility, including their mother, now Dowager Empress. Father died a honorable death, worthy of any man of the Imperial house, and certainly worthy of an emperor, but that does not ease the loss.
Or her feeling that something is not quite right with her brother. He's not at all similar to the boy and young man she knew. His behavior has gotten stranger and stranger, in recent years. It would seem as if he were going mad, but Ozorne is too clever for madness. He suddenly seems to be afraid... of everything. Or as afraid as a man so regal gets. He sees plots and assassination attempts where there are none.
When he is crowned Emperor, officially, Fazia rises along with the rest of the room. But she keeps her eyes down and away from him. Her doting older brother frightens her, now. The city and palace whisper of ill omens; the red star that hangs in the sky and the sudden, unexpected death of the previous Emperor, but no one dares speak beyond a whisper.******
When he issues a warrant for the Draper boy's execution for treason, within a year of the coronation, Fazia just manages to hold her tongue.
Master Draper, she reminds herself, was a friend of her brother's - a good friend, not just a powerful one. The two were inseparable as boys and young men at the university. The boy from a merchant family in Tyra and the Imperial heir - an odd combination, certainly, but the young Draper was powerful enough to make up for his lack of a noble birth. So what in the name of all the gods has happened? Why would Ozorne want his best friend executed?
She speaks nothing of it, but knows it is on her husband's mind as well. Her brother's behavior has become stranger, more erratic, more fearful. His attempt to execute his best friend is a sign of this. Somehow, the young mage manages to give her furious brother the slip. Fazia has no idea as to how he did it, because Ozorne has spies everywhere. Unless there is a mage present, no one dares to speak freely in the palace or surrounding compound and estates. The Emperor's eyes and ears are everywhere, always listening and watching.
Her brother's former friend, now considered a traitor, is not the last to incur the new Emperor's wrath. Several others, through the years, are accused of plotting against Imperial interests and disappear or are tried and executed - scholars, the empire's best generals, and high-ranking nobles. Ozorne takes the military might Carthak is famed for and doubles it; he spends the citizens' taxes on wars and campaigns, while crops fail and people starve.
He could not beggar the Empire if he tried, but his common-born subjects think he is. He does not ask his sister's opinion and she does not give it, preferring to raise her children and shelter them from their uncle as best she can.****
The story changes - aboard a ship that disappeared, presumed to have drowned, a riding accident, eloped with a foreigner - but Ozorne's heirs almost always disappear after having said something to displease the Emperor - or something to make him feel threatened. After the disappearance of the most recent one, Fazia considers the order of succession and realizes with a sick feeling that her son will be Ozorne's heir, if he chooses to follow the order. She should be honored, but she loves her son, loves him being alive, and fears for her brother's sanity. She doesn't want her son falling victim to him for something insignificant.
Kaddar is fourteen, having not been groomed for this role in the slightest. She does her best, wishing desperately that her husband was among the living to help his son. She kisses his forehead and sends him out of the robing room, the night he's to be formally named heir.
She is unable to actually enter the throne room and watch. Let Ozorne think what he will. She has lost her husband, as he fought in the Emperor's name. If he is determined to kill her son as well, Fazia is not going to watch. Her daughters, all married to men that befit princesses of the Imperial house, come to her, dismayed and fearful for their younger brother. She can say nothing. She knows better than to question her brother - and how could she deny the honor of her son becoming Crown Prince? That would make Ozorne suspicious and certainly mean more deaths.*****
When the news arrives at the villa, of her brother's transformation into a Stormwing - he had chosen that fate over death - Fazia sits, uncertain of what to feel. With the palace burning, she is unsure if her son is alive. She wonders to herself if Ozorne got what he wanted, but knows he did not. Her brother would not be satisfied.
"Your Highness? Prince - that is, His Imperial Majesty, is here." Fazia blinks, as her steward tells her that. "My son is alive?" She whispers, the smoke on the air heavy in her lungs.
"Yes, Your Highness," the steward replies, with a bow. "He has company, as well. Shall I..." The man trails off, as she rushes to the foyer.
Kaddar stands next to the man formerly called Arram Draper. Ozorne's one-time best friend carries the limp form of a sleeping girl in his arms - the odd girl-child with the dragon who had come with the delegation. With them is Kaddar's master at the university, Lindhall Reed. Kaddar looks grim, but allows her to embrace him.
"Hush," she tells him, firmly, thinking that Ozorne being so terrified - frightened of shadows, even - was what brought him to this.