Falkon paced the narrow cell, his agitation growing. He had to get out of here, had to get Ashlynne out of here, but how? He paused at the door, staring out into the darkness, Drade's words echoing in his mind. I loved her. She should have been mine. They both should have been mine. All these years, he had hated the man for something he hadn't done.
Looking back, his mind unclouded by hate and thoughts of vengeance, he was forced to confront a bitter truth. Maiya had been in love with Drade, but Falkon had wanted her, and when Drade was sent out on a special training mission, Falkon had pursued her relentlessly. He knew now that Drade would have made Maiya a far better husband than he had. Drade had spoken of his plans for the future. He had intended to marry Maiya, to give up his career in the Army. It was only after Falkon married Maiya that Drade had gone over to the Romarians.
He rested his forehead against the rough wooden door. All these years he had blamed Drade for Maiya's death when the guilt had been his.
"I'm sorry, Maiya," he murmured. "Forgive me."
He looked up at the sound of footsteps, saw Drade coming toward him.
"What do you want?"
Drade shook his head. "I don't want anything from you."
"Just come to gloat?"
"And the Cherlin?"
"The female gave birth last night. They leave for Tierde in the morning."
"Drade, don't do this. I'm begging you."
"I begged you once," Drade retorted, his voice bitter. "I begged you not to marry Maiya. It was you who refused to listen then."
"I loved her, too."
"No! No. You only wanted to prove you could take her from me."
"That's not true." But even as he denied it, he knew that, even though he had loved Maiya, he had relished the thought of taking her from Drade.
Though they had been friends, they had always been rivals, competing for the highest scores in the academy, for the highest honors in battle, always going head-to-head to see who could be the best, the fastest.
"What's behind all this?" Falkon asked. "You owe me that much."
"Hassrick was in financial trouble. Brezor offered him a way out."
"Where do you fit in?"
Drade shrugged. "I was with Hassrick when he made the deal with Brezor. When Marcus refused to admit the Cenians to the Confederation, I suggested the attack on the mine. If Marcus was killed, I knew Hassrick would gain control of the mine through Ashlynne. If the attack failed, then I
knew Romariz would step in and take over. Either way, I would have access to the mine."
"What did you have to gain from all this?"
"Don't you know?"
Falkon thought about it, and he did know. "I heard that Hodore had secretly allied with Romariz, but that was just to cover up the truth, wasn't it? They've allied with Cenia. And when they have access to the mine, they'll have the fuel they need to attack Romariz." He shook his head. "You're running true to form, aren't you? First you sold out to Romariz, and now to Cenia."
"Think whatever you want."
"Hodore and Cenia aren't strong enough to go up against Romariz. Who else is involved?"
"Riga Twelve. Polixe. Hodore. Trellis, of course. I have convinced them to put their petty squabbles aside for the greater good of all."
Falkon frowned thoughtfully. "What of Andoria and Swernolt?"
"They refuse to join us without Daccar."
All the minor powers of the galaxy, Falkon mused. Combined, they had enough men and firepower to bring Romariz to its knees. "What of Daccar?"
Drade glanced away. "They have not yet agreed, but they will."
"Why, Drade?" he asked. "What's in it for you?"
Drade shook his head, refusing to answer. But Falkon knew, just as he knew he had done Drade a terrible wrong. "Revenge," he said. "For Maiya."
"Yes!" Hatred flared in the depths of Drade's eyes. "I helped the Romarians get where they are, and I will bring them down." Drade shook his head. "She was married to you, but you were never there. I was the one she turned to when she was lonely, the one she turned to when she needed help."
Falkon took a deep breath. "I loved her. I couldn't help it. But I was wrong to take her from you. I know that now, and I'm -" His hands tightened around the bars. "I'm sorry."
Drade didn't say anything, only stood there, staring back at him, making Falkon wonder if he, too, was remembering the past, when the two of them had been almost inseparable, when they were both young and eager for war.
And then Drade nodded. "She was too good for either of us."
It had taken five years, Falkon mused, but they had finally found something they could agree on.
"You've lost whatever you hoped to gain," Falkon said. "Our people will never unite with Cenia. The counsel will not listen to your advice, or follow you into battle. You know that, don't you? You are a traitor in their eyes, stripped of your rank. They will never forgive you for what you've done."
"And you are their hero."
Falkon slammed his fist against one of the bars. "Some hero!"
A slow smile spread over Drade's face and then, to Falkon s amazement, he laughed.
He was still laughing when he turned and walked away.