26. Vulture Circles

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The End

It was one thing to favor Hakan over Alikhan and Malik, it was one thing to ignore the word of the gods - that emperors must have sons and sons only. I could do that by mere process of elimination. But helping girls - by helping my female blood relatives that should not even be alive in the first place - hide was a whole other ordeal. Because as children they were fine. I did not want to see them found. But eventually they would become women, women who could have children, children who could have influence, and then other children, and if they were not a part of the imperial family, then soon enough, there would be no imperial family.

It was absurd, almost something that Xerxes or even Alikhan would do. When everybody could influence, nobody could, and then there would be no 'us'. Equality, but not really. Just Ashbah.

Hakan must have known that. Was it his intention?

What did I really know of him?

But. He also must have known I'd come to this conclusion. And it wasn't him speaking, but the children. What was Hakan's intention?

He must have known.

Nothing had changed.

My fingers tingled with the coolness of my energy. There I was. Alone in a room with four children and an elderly servant woman. Three girls that should not even be alive in the first place and a boy that would die soon anyway. I could have killed them like that, and then nobody would ever know Hakan or my father had daughters. I could have killed them. But with a glance at the two little girls curled up on the bed, the older one's big eyes just watching me, I let my energy sink back under the shadows.

Alikhan would have wanted to me to kill Yasmin. Or he would have found a way to convince our people she was Hakan's instead - the ages matched up well enough. But I knew she was not - her energy was too similar to Mirza's. They were similar in the same way Kağan and Zoltán's energies were similar. She was our father's.

"Go back to the harem," I told Mirza quietly.

"Are you going to help us quiet our energies?" Mirza tugged on my fingers. I glanced back to the maid.

"It's impossible," I shook my head in a half-lie. "But... I will help." It didn't feel like much of a decision. It felt like I'd known what I'd decide all along.

In the end, it was rather simple. I liked Hakan and disliked Alikhan and Malik. Hakan was smart, Hakan was powerful. Hakan was fair. If Hakan was willing to let daughters live, who else might he have let live? Matters of reputation could be overridden with influence, with time. And if my father had produced a daughter, then Ihirtoii's favor of offspring had been a myth all along. My father was strong, the empire under him was strong. The empire under Hakan would be strong. And even if his intentions were astray, he was just as poor an option as Malik or Alikhan.

My decision was simple.

"You should stay away from her. Your energy will give you both away."

"But-"

"Go find your mother. I will try to hide the girls' energies and work to change our brothers' minds. They will favor Hakan when the time comes."

"Don't just try." Mirza's hand cut off my circulation once more.

"They will stay hidden," I promised, believing more in Hakan's abilities than my own. "Go."

I pushed Mirza towards the door against his shuffling feet and gave the strange-acting servant - the good one, the one who didn't ask questions - one last one-over before I left myself. She did not acknowledge my eyes. Yasmin did.

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