4/18/1272 8:00 The Palace, Eoisle, Arghentia

The return of Talon Tsiarkeh is overdue.

It took a month to assemble and supply the fleet.It exited Queen’s Convent on the fifteenth of last month to great fanfare and martial ceremony. The entire Arghentian Navy, ten state-of-the-art battleships and thirty supply vessels representing the investment of over a billion Song in Arghentian taxes and costing nearly a million Song a day to feed and fuel, steamed into the rising sun and over the distant horizon on that clear Spring day.

The Arghentian Regent receives a letter on the eighteenth day of the fourth month.

It’s a ransom demand.

Regent Tselenah,

Your brother and several hundred of his fellow seamen are captives of the Jasmine Throne of Moriyume.

They will remain our honored guests until I deem them no longer deleterious to our designs. Pamhia and Alsae are our allies.As of this moment, you and your Crown are not.

You will, of course, refrain from further acts of hostility towards our friends, lest further misfortune befalls your navy.

Okiku

The scroll bears two stamps: Princess Okiku’s nightengale signature, and Talon’s signet ring.

By the time Tselenah finishes reading the document, a cold sweat has peppered her forehead.She rocks back and forth on the throne, clutching at the breast of her lavish gown.

“Well,” a female voice chimes from behind her. “What are you going to do?”

Tselenah turns and sees the chastising gaze of her mother, Queen Deirdre, boring into her. Pale, tall and regal, Deirdre’s presence fills the throne room with a terrible majesty. For perhaps the first time her life, Tselenah can perceive her mother’s dark charisma, a quality entirely lacking within herself.

Tselenah stands.She brings her chin up.She straightens her posture. She does everything she was taught by her noble tutors, trying to exude confidence and assurance. She looks her mother in the eye. “I…” she begins. The facade crumbles. She falls to her knees, tearing at her hair. “I don’t know!” she screams and then crumples to the throne room floor weeping.

“What do you mean?” Deidre says crossing her arms, her voice bereft of even a mote of compassion. “You assured me when I stepped aside that you had a plan for every occasion. You told me your hand would be steady and sure on the rudder of state. You sent my entire damned navy on that personal errand. Where are they?Who’s going to pay to replace them?”

“I’ll call a special session of the House of Lords,” Tselenah says, her eyes wide with panic, her voice trembling with fear.

“And tell them what?” Deirdre interrupts. “That you carelessly poked about in the business of the Jasmine Throne and lost over a billion Song worth of ships and hundreds of the best and brightest of our people? That your brother, MY SON is hostage to their designs?”

“This is Princess Okiku talking,” Tselenah breathlessly says. “She won’t leak this to the press…”

Deirdre derisively snorts. “Unless it serves her clan’s designs, or the those of the Emperor, her sister’s lover,” she lectures. “How stupid are you if you think you can count on that? You should be on the fastest boat we have left to the Fold Point, and to then to Anbirujima.Pack heavy, because you won’t be back. You’ve made a potentially career-ending error. You’d better be ready to lick her black asshole and any other parts that require service clean for weeks to get those hostages back. Your Regency is on the line here. The Sarojyn pirates are already sailing the Silvermist Straights with impunity. Maybe you shouldn’t have coasted in on Tania’s coup. She would never have gambled so carelessly with the nation.”

“Fuck you!” Tselenah shouts, sweeping her arms out as her angry tears return. “Tania, Tania Tania! Maybe you should have named HER the fucking heir!”

“Maybe I should have,” Deirdre says. “And maybe I will.You’re still here after I’ve generously told you that you need to get to Anbirujima and do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get your brother and those sailors back. She’s the fucking Shadeic prelate!”

“So?” Tselenah shouts.

“Every day that you delay, she loads those seamen’s minds with her ‘errands’!” Deirdre growls.“They’ll return here, and the efforts of the entire intelligence community will be monopolized watching them lest they carry out her instructions! You’ve made a mistake you’ll be YEARS cleaning up! You can’t afford to make enemies while you do!”

Tselenah’s hands go to her hips. “Don’t you think you’re…” she begins.

Deirdre storms down from in the back of the throne to get within inches of her daughter’s face. Her grasping hands wave by the sides of her head. “You’ve blithely stumbled right into their hands! You’d better be ready to snivel, grovel and flatter! You HAVE no dignity left to lose! Your toes are over the edge of a very high cliff, young lady. You’d better forget about your sister and get your skinny ass moving! Take your worthless knob with you! And if you can’t get those boys and girls back, don’t bother returning yourself! I’ll lie to the House of Lords for you, and say you’re on a mission of state!”

Tselenah shrinks before her mother’s unleashed wrath.The age-old pattern of their relationship asserts itself. Deirdre, the Eternal Queen, commands and bullies, impatient with every misstep. Tselenah weeps and obeys, stalking away small and helpless. The firstborn is left to her own devices, clueless as to how complete her impossible tasks.

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