This is the fifth and final part of a short story draft. Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV
The world rippled away again, and the Matriarch was once again the Infanta she had been. She sat at a low table. Across from her the Matriarch of the time, and next to her, the man the Infanta loved, that Matriarch's son.
They had just finished an intense argument on the handling of the civic unrest; one might almost call it heated except that heat was not something that could be associated with that Matriarch, and when she argued it was always coolly, coldly, freezingly. The Matriarch-to-be, who in the memory had both the thoughts she felt as Infanta at the time and the memories of the Matriarch she would become, remembered all too well how freezingly cold the Matriarch could be.
The argument had resulted in an impasse, and an impasse favored the Matriarch. Sighing, the Infanta called for drinks, which she set up herself on the low table. "It seems we will not be able to agree," she said.
"One would hardly expect that we would," said the Matriarch with cold amusement. "You do not see things as I see them, as you will see them when you yourself become Matriarch. You do not see the pitfalls of the alternatives you have suggested. A Matriarch must always be many steps ahead of everyone, or she is no longer Matriarch."
A loud rumbling noise outside caused everyone but the Matriarch to jump and look toward the window.
"What is that?" the Infanta demanded, turning back to the Matriarch, who was now leaning forward and looking intently at her.
"They are the bombs exploding in the city," the Matriarch replied. "There are many bombs in many cities today. But you need not be concerned, my dear; they are far enough away that we risk no harm." She smiled, for that Matriarch did smile, and it was a smile of cold and inhuman amusement.
The Infanta forced herself to be calm. "Well," she said, "I may not agree with the method, but we can all hope that it succeeds in obtaining the right results. Let us toast to the hope of your success."
And they toasted. The Infanta was carefully watching the Matriarch's face the entire time, so she was caught wholly by surprise when the man beside her suddenly seized, went white, and became rigid. She cried out in shock and horror, not knowing what to do; but there was nothing that she could have done, anyway. He was already dead. She looked again at the Matriarch and was arrested by that smile of cold, inhuman amusement that still played across her face.
"Almost, my dear," she said. "But not quite. I confess that this is the first time that you have given me reason to believe that you could really succeed me. It is clear from your bungling today that you are not yet ready. But that will be remedied in time. And for the same reason, you should not punish yourself too much for this. You will find that there is always punishment enough in being Matriarch."
The two women, the Matriarch then and the Matriarch who would come after her, looked across the table at each other. "If it's any comfort, my dear," the first one said, "it was as much his bungling as yours. He didn't quite betray you; but he had hinted enough that I might rue disagreeing with you that it was clear enough what you were planning. My son had his charms -- but he knew nothing about power. So very like a man -- to the end, he thought he was a player at the game rather than a piece on the board in a game played by you and me, Matriarch to Matriarch. Well, almost, anyway: if you had succeeded, you would have shown yourself a true Matriarch. A Matriarch is in control until the very end, and only a Matriarch can kill a Matriarch."
"Yes," the other woman said -- but here the memory began to ripple away, for this is not how thing had gone at the time. At the time she had been too shocked and horrified to respond. But now she spoke, as if she had waited a long time to say the words. "That is one of the few truths you ever told me. Only a Matriarch can kill a Matriarch. I proved that well enough when later I killed you. I have held power longer than you, and I am in control to the end, and, unlike you, to the very end. Only a Matriarch can kill a Matriarch."
The memory was rippling away into the Drawing Room, and she, now Matriarch herself again, could see the water on the table beside her. She seized the glass of water and drank it down. As she did, she heard the defining word of her life spoken to her, but it sounded as if it were shouted from a long way away: "Matriarch!"
The Matriarch of Syan was dead. She was rigid and pale. Her lips were set in that thin line that may or may not have been a smile or a frown. Her eyes were glassy, staring ahead, and a single tear coursed down her cheek.
The Memorist leaped up and smelled the glass she had used. "Poison," he said, "very strong!"
The Matriarch's attendant grabbed her right hand. The compartment on the ring had been opened and emptied. "She poisoned herself," he said in a tone of complete bafflement. Then he turned to the Infanta, whom he had brought as the Matriarch had ordered. She was standing in the doorway, bewilderment on her face.
"You are the Matriarch now," he said.