5/3/1272 06:00 The Royal Palace of Arghentia, Eoisle

Tselenah rolls over in her large, ornate bed, alone.

The press made a great fête of the Regent’s return after successfully negotiating the release of all the hostages held by the Jasmine Throne of Moriyume at no cost to Eternal Throne of Arghentia. The death by mishap of royal consort Basilio Katsulas doesn’t even make the front section of the paper, consigned to the hundreds of daily obituary notices in the back pages of the third section. A personal message to the Katsulas family, penned by Tselenah on the fourteen hour boat ride back to her home, was returned unopened, marked “Addressee unknown.”

Tselenah’s plan for a more enlightened world, free from the stifling rules of rank and clan, ignoring the antique alliances of her mother, lies in ruins in her lonely, loveless mind. She’s a broken woman, her sleep destroyed by nightmares of cannibalism, honey, and Moriyuman stinging hornets. She searches in vain for a reason to get out of bed. The tears begin to fall…again.

Ten minutes pass and the quiet is shattered. Queen Deirdre bursts in to the room, servants in her wake carrying gowns and toiletries.

“Up, simpering whelp!” she bellows. “Assuming you have not made another idiotic arrangement with another commoner to attempt breeding, you are now eligible to actually inherit the Crown!”

“Go away,” Tselenah weekly says. “I feel awful!”

Deirdre swats Tselenah’s thigh through the blankets. “Too bad, because there’s a parade in your honor for your great accomplishment today.You’re going to look queenly, smile and wave as the open carriage rolls down the main avenue to the temple of Marwbren, and there you’re going to publicly kneel and give thanks for your good fortune.”

Tselenah sits up on the bed, rage forestalling her tearful depression. “You killed my husband! You sent me to be humiliated by that Olix-mutated little twerp! Thanks to you I crawled through shit and saw our sailors become cannibals! And now you want…”

Deirdre slaps her daughter. Hard. Tselenah screams. “I did what I had to!” the Queen shouts. “You were about to sell my country out from under me, and I had very few options! Would you rather I killed you, and sent your bumbling cockstand to the temple to offer gratitude? You got out with a bruise on your forehead and some bad dreams! Well, that’s actually a pretty damned optimal outcome considering how you went in!”

“We’re going to have to reconstitute the entire navy…” Tselenah shouts back.

“Which we would have had to do anyway!” Deirdre barks back. “You can’t redeploy prisoners. I went to the House of Lords the day you left and requested an emergency recruitment of seamen, and I’ve contacted every foundry in here and in Amburos to gather the resources. I’ve got officer recruitment posters being printed in Ambrosian and Penamhrikan! But I’m the fucking Queen, and you’re the Queen trainee, starting today!”

Tselenah holds her cheek, looking at the floor. “I can’t do this, Mom,” she says. “You were right. Tania’s tougher, smarter, and more ruthless than me. I can’t lie to our people…”

“Why not?” Tselenah says. “You lied to me about what you were doing with the priest in Queen’s Convent last year, which was a disaster for the nation. You lied to me when I told you that Tania committing treason against the Crown was just normal family rivalry, and you said you weren’t going to prosecute.”

“I didn’t prosecute. I sent Talon’s men to capture her, so I could quietly execute her, and save the country from a being ruled by a psychotic monster,” Tselenah says. “Because they won’t need a second one after you.”

Deirdre’s hand goes back.Tselenah removes the hand covering her cheek and looks her mother in the eye. “Go ahead, if makes you feel better,” Tselenah says. “You’ve done your worst. You can’t hurt me any more than you already have.”

Deirdre clenches the hand that was going to slap her daughter into a fist. “Wanna bet?” she says. “I also sent ethergrams to every ducal family in Penamharik and Amburos saying your marriage had been annulled and you were single. I even sent one to Justinian. Romulus is only a year younger than you.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” Tselenah says.

“Watch me,” Deirdre replies. “You are the heir to the nation, and you’re fucking well going to breed with someone whose loyalty will benefit the nation.That’s job number one for Queens. Now get up!”

“Can I have a day’s peace tomorrow?” Tselenah asks.

“No, because you’ve fucked up much too badly,” Deirdre replies. “You’ve got a full plate of diplomatic duties lined up.You won’t be home for months. The parade is a welcome home and a best wishes for future success from our subjects. You’re going lie to them by acting like you actually give a fuck.”

“So I’m touring our alliances?” Tselenah asks.

“No, you’re using a Pan-Imperial travel rune homing pair to Rune travel to Alsae. You’re going find your sister!” Deirdre says. “You’re going to offer her clemency, and her crown back.”

“She conspired to kill all of us!” Tselenah says.

“Yes, but you and Talon have proven yourselves weak and incompetent,” Deirdre says. “I need a plan B in case you falter.”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me,” Tselenah says. “She conspired to kill all of us!”

“And the realm might need that measure of ruthlessness at sometime in the future,” Deirdre says. “Because as bad you fucked up, Talon is now a sleeper agent for the Esokudo, and I’m removing him from the succession chart.”

“That’s going to cause riots in Queen’s Convent,” Tselenah says.

“And that’s why assassins are on the way to take out all the highest ranking members of his faction,” Deirdre says. “He’ll dodder around his estates on his naval pension and Duke’s stipend. Radmilla is still very attractive. Maybe his children will find their way back into the line later.”

“Aren’t you being a little harsh?” Tselenah says.

“I’m not the one who sent him across the sea into an ambush, child,” Deirdre says. “That was you. When you knew he was an honorary naval officer pending his graduation and attendance at the naval academy. Well, that’s still going to happen, but he’s not going to get within smelling distance of my navy otherwise. That is a mess that stained. Kind of like your marriage.”

“There were very few people left on her hit list when I put a stop to it,” Tselenah says. “You were one of them. I got that information…”

“Spoon-fed from me,” Deirdre interrupts. “Because I thought you had sense enough to know she was eliminating people I was going to get rid of anyway. I was proud of the efficiency that she showed.She knew just who to knock out, who had grown old and corrupt in the positions I awarded them years ago.”

“Her intent wasn’t to make you proud, mother,” Tselenah says. “She was going to kill you, last, after she eliminated me and Talon from the….oh, Sweet Mother!”

“I was going to eliminate you from the chart for marrying that… thing,” Deirdre says. “And Talon is behind her on the clan chart by virtue of having a penis. I was getting ready to step aside. I thought you could take a hint. Instead, after a young life filled with poor choice after poor choice, you decided to waltz in on all her work, and then chase her out of the country.”

“Well, that clarifies things,” Tselenah says. “I was never good enough for you.”

“You still aren’t,” Deirdre says. “But she’s half-way across the world, which leaves my first daughter, who failed remedial magic classes and decided to go into law. Well, the Queen of Arghentia has to use Rune Magic. And the Queen of Arghentia hires lawyers. Where I saw an example, you, a lawyer, saw a crime.”

“And saved your life,” Tselenah smirks. “Why did you appoint me regent?”

“Because I thought you could handle it,” Deirdre says. “And the first thing you do is commit a career-threatening fuck up by sending my navy into an ambush while trying to find my first choice.”

“A dangerous, sociopathic, traitor,” Tselenah says.

“Tania was on course to graduate at the top of her class,” Deirdre says. “She was working on a brilliant thesis. And in her spare time, she was plotting to overthrow the government.”

“I graduated in the middle of my class and went to law school,” Tselenah says. “Where I met a boy…”

“A commoner,” Deirdre says.

“A commoner, with whom I fell in love,” Tselenah says.

“A commoner I killed,” Deirdre says. “Because until yesterday, I didn’t know where Tania was.”

“And you do now?” Tselenah asks.

“Yes,” Deidre says. “Our agents spotted her shopping in Alsae. She had her arms on. She wants the job.”

“But now my husband is dead,” Tselenah says. “So you can’t disown your firstborn anymore, and you have to train me to take the job.”She crosses her arms. “You kill my husband to save the nation, but in saving the nation, you doom it to take your second choice to rule. This must be in the Tanithian library definitions section under ‘Poetic Justice.’ My mother wants me to go half-way across the world to fetch the girl who’d kill me to rise to the crown.” Tselenah’s dark laughter echoes through the room. “Seriously, fuck you, Mom!”

“Stupid cunt!” Deirdre says. “Get showered, get dressed and get ready to smile and wave.”

“Aye, aye, Your Majesty!” Tselenah says as she flounces into the adjoining bathroom.

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