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Bethany
pring was in the air. Though it was sometimes difficult to notice the seasonal changes in the jungle, spring brought with it an aroma. Presently, it was this aroma that was giving Erkinwhine a headache. From the sol-itude of his balcony, he watched as the citizens of Varossa went about their daily business. In the central city, the militia drilled. 'What a sorry bunch they are,' he thought. 'If we are forced to rely on troops like that,
Varossa and all the isles are doomed.' Further to the south, some sort of construction was underway. 'Probably another bath. These people have entirely too much leisure time...' His thought was interrupted by a knock on the chamber door. "Enter," he barked.

A moment later a lovely woman entered carrying with her a tray of freshly picked fruit. Deftly, she took a
knee while balancing the fruit on the tray and trying not to catch the thin linen gown she barely wore. Bowing her head, she offered him the tray. "Your Highness, I hope you find these to your liking. They are the pick of the day's harvest."

"Bethany, haven't I told you not to call me that?", his tone was forceful, but not intimidating."

"Custom dictates...", she started, but was cut off by a wave of his hand.

"Arragoth!!! Woman, you are in my bed-chamber. Don't you think we could dispense with what 'custom
dictates'? Call me what you called me before I became your king."

"Erk," it was half questioning but the smile it brought to his lips reassured her. "if you will pardon me ....
it seems there is something else troubling you .... that is not the formality with which I address you."

"You have always been a most perceptive priestess." He motioned toward the corner of the room where his
bed was. She rested the tray on a table nearby and began to loosen the ties in the back of her gown, but stopped when a furrow in his brow told her that wasn't what he wanted. "I am troubled. I have always found you to be a good listener. Won't you join me and share some of our bountiful harvest?"

She took the tray from the table and began toward the bed. "You know that anything you need or want is yours
for the asking."

"I have enough loyal subjects. What I need is a friend. If you can't be that, then you had better go." His words
were harsh and he spit them at her, but he had been right -- she was perceptive.

Something told her that he was hurt. This was not the power hungry man who had butchered his wife-to-be at
their wedding, or knocked the queen from her balcony with a savage blow from her own scepter. This was Erk. He had been her friend. She turned to him, and with a gentle smile said, "I'm here for you Erk. What do you want to talk about?"
She reached the bed and sat at its foot. He made a motion for her to scoot up and she obeyed. Negotiating the
bed proved to be difficult in her lose-fitting gown and holding the tray of fruit, so the latter she handed to him. When she was where he wanted her, he handed her back the tray and reclined between her legs to rest his head on her abdomen. She took a nectarine from the tray and began to peel it.

"I worry that what I did was wrong," he said at last. "Jasmine was good with the people. They listened to
her. They trusted her. I could have used her help preparing for Arragoth."

Her tone was like that of a mother trying to warn her child not to put his hand in the fire. She said, "First off,
we had no idea Arragoth was ever going to return. Second, it wasn't entirely all your doing. Sure you wanted to be High-Priest, but you would never have succeded without Jasmine's help. It wasn't your idea to kill her; it was hers.", she paused for a moment to push a large portion of the plump juicy fruit into his awaiting mouth and to lick her fingers. "And killing Pandora was a matter of necessity. If you hadn't done it, I would have happily pushed her from the balcony myself. You would be king, but I would be in prison -- or worse. Is that what you would prefer?"

"You know," he said with a little laugh, "my position would have been much easier if you had. The people hate
me. My position is secure now only because of their fear of me."

She slapped him plafully alongside the head. "They hate you only because they only know what they saw, and
because they listen to the rumors. They do not know the whole truth. Give Jasmine's plan some more time to play itself out. Arragoth, you have only been king for a month."

"Do you think they will begin to love me? Like they loved Pandora and Jasmine?"

"We will know for sure in a few months. You have already increased their food rations and you have lowered
their taxes. In time I believe you will get their attention.

"The new changes will be announced tomorrow, but I don't want to make the address, as yet. That might color
their response to the changes that I will make. Do you think Rose would do it?"

"Rose? Why Rose? She hasn't even seen her 16th summer. You should ask Samantha, she is venerable and
wise. The citizens of Varossa would listen to her."

"Samantha would seem the logical and wise choice, but that is one of the reasons I am thinking of Rose. She is
young. The first in the history of Varossa to be annointed a priestess before her blossoming ceremony. The youth of the city look up to her. They are the ones to whom we must appeal. After all, they are the ones who must sacrafice most in our coming war with Arragoth."

"There, see that? .... You are already thinking like a king."

Sitting up, he propped himself with his left hand and turned to face her. "Thank you. I didn't misjudge you.
Indeed, you are a good listener. Is there anything I can do for you now that I am in such a good mood?"

"Actually," she said, nonchalantly tossing the tray onto the floor. The food seemed to scamper to find hiding
places under nearby furniture. All escaped but the bunch of grapes sitting alone in the middle of the floor. "You could close the draperies around the bed." As he got up to obey, she began to work her way out of her gown. "Come here Erk.", she said playfully.

"Call me Your Highness," he replied and they both laughed....