This is the first part of a short story draft.
The Matriarch of Syan was watching a criminal die. He was being executed as Syan always executed those who committed capital crimes, with brands of glowing iron and every effort made to keep him conscious for as long as possible. It was a gruesome thing to watch, but she had seen every criminal execution in her sixty years as Matriarch, more than could be counted, and so the screams of agony made not the slightest change in her impassive countenance, and did not in the slightest affect the air she had about her of being elsewhere, thinking of other things.
In a pause between the screams there was the sound of a door being opened to her right and she turned to look at the dark-haired young man who entered. He carefully kept his gaze on the Matriarch. She seemed to draw suddenly from deep inside herself and look at him with razor intensity.
"Matriarch," he said, "I beg pardon for the disturbance, but you asked to be notified immediately when the Memorist arrived."
There was a scream from the room below that startled the young man into glancing at the glass. He quickly looked away again, a sudden nervousness springing to life in his hands. He cleared his throat. "Shall I arrange an audience immediately?"
She looked at the ground a moment, suddenly far away again. A twinge of pain suddenly crossed her face; then it passed, and she looked up again. "No," she said. "We will make him wait. I will take supper with the Infanta first. Tell the cook that the dish with the mushrooms is to be served, but remind him that last time it was unacceptably tepid." She turned again to gaze dispassionately at the dying man below as the young man bowed low and backed out of the room. But when the door had closed again she allowed herself to look down at the large and ornate ring of gold and diamonds on her right hand. She touched the setting that could be slid aside to reveal the compartment with the poison.
The Infanta of Syan was a sullen girl with a sullen face. She was ugly and untalented and had always been so. When she had been chosen as the consort of the Matriarch's son it had caused widespread surprise and the rumors about the reason for it had been wild. The son had been sickly and soon after had died. The rumors, too, soon died, for they were smothered by the overwhelmingly boring personality of the Infanta herself, who had no vice but sullenness and no virtue but mediocrity. In the court it was joked -- quietly, of course, and with every futile attempt to guarantee that the Matriarch did not hear -- that the Matriarch had chosen her as security against assassination, for no one would look at the Infanta and see the future of Syan. The Matriarch thought of this as she gazed across the table at the Infanta and set her lips in a thin, firm line. This line may have been a repressed frown, or a repressed smile, or something else entirely; no one ever saw the Matriarch frown or smile.
"And how are your lessons, my dear," she said dispassionately. In form it was a question; but there was no hint of a question in her tone, no verbal suggestion of a question mark. The Matriarch did not question; she commanded and was answered.
The Infanta merely toyed with her food and said nothing. The Matriarch's voice became colder. "And how are your lessons, my dear," she repeated.
The Infanta looked up furtively. "Fine," she said sullenly, as she said everything sullenly. And she returned to toying with her food.
"Excellent, my dear. One who will be Matriarch must cultivate a wide range of skills." The Matriarch had not touched her plate at all, but she pushed it firmly away from her and looked across at the Infanta. "I have heard, however, that you have often shirked them, instead preferring to flirt -- if the foolish mooning you do can be called flirting -- with certain palace guards."
The Infanta's eyes flickered up suddenly, then fell back down.
"One who is to be Matriarch must forego such private foolishness," the Matriarch continued quietly. "For those in our position such matters always end badly for the other person. And sometimes for both." She looked down at the ring on her right hand and distractedly traced the patterns on it.
"Sometimes for both," she repeated. "I expect more sense in the future."
The Infanta suddenly pushed her plate away. "As you please," she said. "May I leave?" Her sullen voice suddenly took on a slight edge of malice. "I have lessons to attend to, you see."
The Matriarch's lips set into that thin line that may have been her version of a smile, or a frown, or something else entirely. "Certainly, my dear," she said.