6/1/1272 08:30 The Marwbrite Hospital, Alsae

When you are a Marwbrite, your care at Marwbrite hospitals is free.

When you are a pious, tithing Marwbrite, your care is better.

When you are a wealthy, pious, tithing Marwbrite, your care is magical.

By the time her extenstive reconstructive magical therapy is finished, Tania Tsiarkeh has been visited by every noble in Alsae, has received daily delegations from the Pan-Imperial on the status of her shares and the accounts of her vassals. Her shell companies have taken strong minority holdings in all the defense industry businesses in the city of Alsae. And against her better judgement, she’s developed a close personal, sexual and intellectual relationship with Talon Craobhach.

On the penultimate day of her convalescnce, she gets a visit from the last person she expected to show up at her bedside.

Queen Deirdre Tsiarkeh of Arghentia strides alone into Tania’s private room at the hospital.Tania moves to rise so she might bow.Deirdre stops her with a snap of her long, regal fingers.

“I taught you better than to try to perform magic in a hurry, young lady,” Deirdre says, her diction crisp and bordering on hostility.

“You also taught me that when someone is trying to kill you, you’re obliged to do whatever is required to insure they don’t succeed,” Tania says as her mother approaches.Deidre leans over the hospital bed and hugs her youngest child.

“So I did,” Deirdre says. “Are you well?”

“They say they’ll release me tomorrow, if for no other reason then their staff is exhausted from fulfilling my demands,” Tania says.

Deirdre crosses her arms with a wry smile. “You didn’t fall far from the tree, did you?”

“At the very root,” Tania says. “You didn’t offer much choice.”

“No, I didn’t,” Deirdre says. “As your portfolio has no doubt alerted you, I asceded to your demands. Now I have a demand of you, Sáerglen.”

“Come home?” Tania asks.

“Make peace with your sister,” Deirdre says.

“I’m halfway around the globe from the Regent and she tried to kill me anyway,” Tania says, her expression reflecting more annoyance than anger. “You’ll forgive me if after a month in the hospital I’m not feeling very forgiving.”

“I understand,” Deirdre says. “But I don’t give a damn. The nation is in a major commodity crisis right now, and we still have no navy to defend the trade routes.”

Tania opens her mouth to reply, but her mother lifts her chin and holds up her index finger. “I’m not finished. You have every right to be angry, and in your position, I would be furious. You and I both know you would be a much smarter, much more able, and much more prudent Queen than Tselnenah. I think she knows it, too. But I’m the Queen, and the nation comes first. My personal biases even have to bow to the responsibilities of the sovreign.”

“I’m not coming back to bow to her,” Tania says.

“I’m not asking you to,” Deirdre says. “I’m asking you to put your anger behind you, and to work for the betterment of the country.”

“I’m a bit busy right now to return her favors,” Tania says. “Perhaps in ten months, perhaps in a year, I’ll own this province and be married.”

“You what?” Deirdre says.

“Oh, don’t worry, mother,” Tania says. “He’s a knight and a Templar now, but by the time autumn rolls around, he’ll be the Duke of Alsae, and he’ll ask you for my courting rights.”

“Your courting rights?” Deirdre says, raising an eyebrow and shaking her head. “I knew you travelled quickly, but I didn’t think you’d traveled back in time.” Deirdre leans over, a puckish smile on her face. “Is he cute?”

Tania raises her own eyebrow. “He’s right behind you, mother,” she says. “Torin, this is my mother Deirdre of Arghentia, the Eternal Queen,” she tells her paramour. “Mother, this is Sir Torin Craobhach of the Exalted Order of Drionnic Templars.”

Torin bows, then kisses Deirdre’s extended right hand. “I see where the Duchess got her good looks,” he glibly remarks.

As he stands, Deirdre undresses the young captain with her eyes. “Why do they always have to be so handsome and well mannered,” she absently says to her daughter. “I didn’t get mine, but I have no doubt you’ll have a merry time with yours.”

“I will indeed,” Tania smiles. “He’s been helping me balance my chakras. For hours at a time.” Her salacious smile widens. “Is it that time again, darling?” she says, eaching for the bow knot at the neckline of her hospital gown.

“Actually, Captain, my daughter is the lovely image of her beautiful father, whom I poisoned to death the day after she was born,” Deirdre says. “Men’s good looks spoil so quickly. All she got from me is her coloring – or lack of it.”

Torin doesn’t even miss a beat. “Actually, Your Highness, Your Majesty, I came to say my farewells,” he says. “The First Mounted Musketeers are deploying. We’re marching to Ballyalsae barony in Comberton to procure horses, and then north through Milford to the northern reaches of County Pim, to keep an eye on the royalists in Sterritt.” He steps to the other side of the bed from the Queen, dodges the IV drip, and embraces Tania. “Take good care, my dear, I don’t imagine this conflict will take over long.”

“You’ll be careful nonetheless,” Tania orders. “I can’t draw your widow’s pension until after we marry.”

“You need money?” Torin almost gafaws. “Who do you think conveyed your chests from the Almeign to your bank. Your people at the water authority are collecting the very much larger water fees for last month. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you eat cash,” He reaches under her gown to pat her thin theigh. “Though I know better than to accuse you of eating.”

“Would you have been interested were she fat?” Deirdre asks.

“Probably,” Torin says. “It’s her mind I’ve come to appreciate. I’m going to have to glory hound up north to come back and have a chance at her.Every young baron and earl in the county has been in and out of here.”

“I will return to Milford in the next few days,” Tania says. “There I will wait for news, as the wives of all soldiers do. At the least the weather is better.”

“Summer is here, Your Highness,” Torin says, kissing the top of Tania’s head. “Write often, and make sure what I write back makes it to the press.”He walks around to the other side of bed. “Your Majesty,” he says, kneeling, “It was delightful to meet you.”

“Likewise, Captain,” Deirdre says, her eyes narrowing. Her eyes suddenly widen. “Look out there!” she says, looking past Torin and out the large hospital window.He quickly turns. Deirdre reaches out and pinches his butt. He jumps. Deirdre laughs. “Good luck, Captain.Keep that low and in the saddle.”

“As you command,” he says with a bow. He turns and marches briskly out of the room.

“He’s a strapling,” Deirdre says. “You think you can make him Duke of Alsae?”

“The wheels are already in motion,” Tania says. “Before the year is out, he’ll be my social equal.”

“And then you’ll marry him and rule two duchies?” Deirdre says, her eyebrows raising.

“It’s a start,” Tania says. “I’m in this for the long haul. I like the simple, honest rustics in Pim, and I’ve come to appreicate the potential of this city. Without particularly clever opponents, I’ve managed to set up my plan without anyone suspecting what they’re up against. I have a brilliant lawyer. Alsae Province is nearly as large as Arghentia, and not nearly as played out. If you don’t want me to battle with my sister, I’ll have to have something to keep me busy.”

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