5/3/1272 06:00 The Palace of the Duke of Alsae

For the second day in a row, Tania awakens refreshed and in full spirits.Her seven chakras are balanced from a night of rambunctious sex with Sir Torin Craobhach. She’s overflowing with energy and confidence.Yesterday, she set about the first steps of her plan, contacting a riverboat captain to transport the money and valuables she sent across the ocean and as far away from her family as she could; and paying cash down to assume ownership of the Alsae water authority for the Salamander Company (her shell business) for a surprisingly low price.

Feeling like a walk before setting out for her adopted home town, Tania strolls to the west side of town towards the ornate Marwbrite temple of Alsae. She sees Sir Torin coming out the front door.

“Where were you yesterday?” Tania asks. He jumps slightly.

“Recovering,” Torin says. “Are you a woman or a tigress?”

“I warned you in advance,” Tania says, lifting her chin. “And it was your idea to do the Sensual Smoke ritual. I would have been perfectly content with ‘around the world’ once. I never got a chance to thank you for a wonderful night.”

“The company and my classmates thought I had been put to the lash,” Torin says. “But I didn’t tell them anything.”

Tania crosses her arms. “I now own your water company,” she brags. “You were wise to decide as you did.”

“You don’t kid around,” Torin says, his hand going to his forehead.

“I told you I was going to do it,” she says. “I also contacted an engineering firm about a replacement for that rickety bridge. It will be a toll road, of course.”

“The infrequent traffic might bear a toll,” Torin says.

“They will when the other bridge falls into the Almeign shortly after mine opens,” she says with a smirk.

“What?” he says, his mouth dropping open. “You don’t stop for a minute. What brings you to the temple?”

“Confession,” Tania says. “A long confession. I’m a Marwbrite, and I haven’t been to confession since last year.”

“You’ll want to see Cardinal Donovan,” Torin says. “He’s the only clergy in town who can keep his mouth shut. I have one priest on the payroll to report to me on the members of my company.”

“Discipline?” Tania asks, lifting her eyebrows.

“Extortion,” Torin replies with a whiplash smile. “You don’t make a captaincy in the Musketeers without a little dirt on your subordinates, and your superiors. Mind if I go into the next booth and listen to your confession? That should be rather interesting.”

“I plan to do it in Arghentian,” Tania says. “Back home, I usually didn’t even have the ‘Forgive me, Your Beneficence’ out before I was up on the desk with my skirts around my waist. Men, no, people are all the same. I go to an Amburosian bordello, I pay for sex. I go to confession, I pay for sex.”

“Donovan’s in his sixties,” Torin says. “I don’t think you’ll be paying for anything but absolution here.”

“And why would I pay when I can get sex from you for free?” Tania laughs. “Your family will even feed me first.”

“They’ll want something in return,” Torin quips. “Just you wait.”

Tania’s eyes narrow. “Oh, I’ve got something for them, never you mind.” She grabs the handles of the temple door. “I’m leaving at ten this morning.You have my address in Milford.”

“I do?” Torin says, a curious look on his face.

“Have you ever been there?” Tania says. “My Arghentian Institute of Magic campus in Queen’s Convent was four times the size of that wide spot in the road.Just ride down and ask for me.”

Stepping into the temple, Tania pulls her black shawl over her head. A young priest comes to ask after her needs. She dons a sad, agitated expression.

Ho bisogno di vedere un sacerdote subito, Padre!” she says, wildy gesticulating. “È imperativo che cerco assoluzione,” she adds with a meladramatic sob emphasising the last syllable.

The confused acolyte doesn’t speak Arghentian, but reflexively speaks Penamhrikan louder as if that will help. “I’ll fetch the Cardinal straight away, Young Mistress!” he bellows, then scurries off to the back of the temple.

Cardinal Corrick Donovan walks slowly from the hallway leading to his office deep within the reaches of the labyrinthine temple. His sharp green eyes look at Tania, immediately recognizing her from the press reports. He removes his chapeau and bows to the Princess.She goes to both knees in the Arghentian style and kisses his signet ring.

“You know who I am?” Tania says in her native tongue.

“I know you’re a wolf among the sheep in this city,” he says. “Would you like to go to the booths or proceed to my office?”

“The office is fine, Your Eminence,” Tania says. “This could take a while.”

It takes slightly over an hour. Confession is one of the few times Tania is not self-agrandizing. She starts with the serial assassinations of her mother’s advisors, details the mass murder of her brother’s soldiers, and moves on from there. Tania pours out the contents of her black heart. By the time she finishes, even she is in tears.

“How old are you, child?” Donovan asks.

“Eighteen as of last month,” Tania says.

“Why did you do these things?” Donovan asks, leaning forward.

“Because I could,” Tania says. “Because it was expected of me. Because I know to the depths of my soul that I was born to rule, and I have no illusions about what that entails.”

“You have greeted me, and confessed to me in the traditional style,” Donovan says. “Does that mean you expect the traditional absolution?”

Tania lets out a trembling sigh. “I deserve it,” she says.

“The number of lashes your crimes merit would kill you,” he says. “And I don’t believe Alsae will be better served by your death.”

“To what do I owe this charity?” Tania says.

“The provincial government is rife with corruption and decadence,” Donovan replies. “You at least know what you do is wrong. The Craobhach are shameless. I would prefer to hear many more confessions, and I’m sure I will.” He reaches into his desk and pulls out a small button of root. “Take this, and meditate on your crimes. Imagine you’re absolved. Beg the Sweet Mother for forgiveness. Then come out of your trance and continue to do what you do.”

Tania opens her mouth.Cardinal Donvan lays the small dose of hallucinogenic root on her tongue. She swallows.The pair rise, on their way to a private meditation chamber deep in the temple.

“What do I owe you, Your Eminence?” Tania asks.

“Your continued efforts, Your Highness,” he replies.

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