STARDANCER (chapters 1-3)

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In spite of what the historians wrote many years later, it all started with an argument between a sixteen-year-old Princess and her ten-year-old sister, over a birthday party.

The party wasn't one of theirs, but that of "His Holy Highness, the Exalted and Wise, the Grand Imperator of the Salengarde Imperium, Zantor the Sixth of His Name". So pronounced the servodrone which emerged from hyperspace and landed in the center plaza of Gavinar City, sent for the sole task of delivering this news, precisely six standard months before the actual date. Among other things, this meant that the Royal Family of Gavinar –– Queen Ryann Osono and the Princesses Tariana and Margeth –– would voyage to Salengarde Prime to participate in the festivities.

And what festivities those would be! An Imperator's hundredth year was a rare event, having only happened five times before. The last to reach that mark, Jarnek the Mad (the Eighth and Last of His Name), had been so disastrous an Imperator that his successor had forever forbidden the name Jarnek to be taken by any Imperators who came after. No such concerns existed over the reign of Zantor the Sixth, who had presided over a time of unprecedented peace. The party would therefore be one of stunning magnificence, bringing new work by all of the greatest artisans. Legendary musician Welf A'nibra was sending a new song cycle; Jantina of Renald Three, whose sculptures graced all of the finest palaces and museums, had made new carvings made from the golden bark of one of Renald Three's migratory trees. There were even rumors of a new poem by Shinn Darhyl, from whom had not been heard a single word in thirty years, since the venerable poet had gone into seclusion on his private moon.

For the Gavinar Royal Family, the celebration on Salengarde also meant that they would get to see, for the first time in over a year, their husband and father, the former King Alenn Osono. As a member of the Imperial Parliament, Alenn had been forced to set aside his position as King, but the honor of being so elected was such that the decision was easy.

Five months passed, and now the celebration was one month away. The newly built royal yacht, as yet unnamed, was now beginning its final testing before the actual voyage. It was the greatest luck that the new ship's first real journey would be the most important one undertaken by Gavinar royalty in hundreds of years. This was the aspect of the celebration that thrilled Princess Tariana the most, for even though she was a Princess of Gavinar, and even though the one great dream of her life was to fly to the stars, this would be her first voyage offworld.

Yes, her first voyage offworld –– and the destination was Salengarde Prime! All her sixteen years Tariana had dreamed of seeing the glittering Imperial City, with the alabaster towers of the Great Palace rising over buildings of silver and beyond, the green Salengardean forests. All her sixteen years she had dreamed of seeing the sky of a different world, and to see the stars from beyond her own. To have never once left her own planet, as a Princess, seemed terribly odd to her, but now it was happening at last. All her years of studying astronomy and Galaxography and the history of the Imperium, under the occasionally cantankerous cybereye of Professator Jarel –– all of it was coming to a head now. She could recite all the Imperators, all the way back to Xerxes the Abysmal and the First Days of Dynasty. She could discuss the causes of the Great Uprising, and she could name all thirty of the First Systems of Allegiance. She knew all the types of stars and classes of planets, and she knew something of the physics of hyperspace, although a great deal of that was still beyond her at this point in her education. She could draw a reasonably accurate map of the Gavinar night sky, both hemispheres, from memory, and she knew something about the engineering of the ships. Tariana's whole life had been building toward this, her first trip to the stars.

She was so busy that she barely had any free moments to herself, other than when she went to bed at night. Tariana would look at her lonely telescope and say to herself, "I really should look on the stars a bit," just before falling asleep, a book still in her hand. She was studying harder than ever, preparing for her audience with the Imperator himself, and spending long (and exasperating) hours with the royal tailors (who were challenged by the Princess's burgeoning curves) and the royal hairdressers (who were challenged by her long, thick brown hair). Her three personal attendants would have all they could handle just learning how the elaborate gowns the Princess would wear on Salengarde Prime were put on in the first place, to say nothing of choosing the exact colors of fabric to best augment Tariana's olive skin in the distinct light of Salengarde's sun.

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