This is the first part of a short-story draft.
The Matriarch of Syan was extraordinarily beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful in the entire line of Matriarchs. Because of this, her Accession to the Matriarchate has always been a favorite of the painters of Syan. Each such painting is unique, of course, but they share some common features. In each, she is standing in a dress of exquisite cream or white, looking straight out of the painting. There is a great light radiating on her from the left; it makes her flame-colored hair gleam with hints of gold. A few strands waft across her pale forehead, which brings out the sea-green eyes just below. Those eyes blaze with exultation. Her smile, too, exults, although the fine red lips are firmly pressed together and restrained. At her feet, dark in shadow, is a crumpled figure: the former Matriarch. A dagger sticks out from her body, the finely shaped hilt gleaming in the same light that streams over the Matriarch. A true master, a Valer or a Misson, can make it a breathtaking scene.
What always interests me, however, is what the painters do not show. The Matriarch stands gazing at something or someone. But at what? To be sure, a person can exult to an empty room, but the Matriarch is always clearly looking at someone.
Suppose we had the power to step into the painting, to put ourselves in the scene as silent and invisible observers. Step in, turn around, and look, not at the Matriarch, but at the room she sees.
A fire burns on the left wall. Across the room, standing in a doorway with his arms folded, is a handsome man, dressed in dark blue velvet that brings out the blue of his eyes. His hair is black and curly, and his beard, too, is black and curly. The blue eyes exult, too.
"We have done it," says the Matriarch.
"It is you who have done it, Enira," the man says in reply. "Or, as I should say, Matriarch."
The Matriarch's smile deepened. "It was all successful at your end?"
The man nodded. "The Old Man never saw it coming. Young Bedros is now the head of the Guard. Do you think he can be trusted?"
"Yes," the Matriarch said. Then, as an afterthought, "As much as anyone can, at this point."
"It will have to do. There are other departments that will have to be purged, but as soon as word spreads, the ones she appointed will either pledge their loyalty to you or flee." He unfolded his arms and walked into the room. Looking down at the dead body of the previous Matriarch, he said, "We will have to do something about this."
The Matriarch looked down at the body. She put out her hand toward the dagger's hilt and there it hovered a moment. Then she decided against taking it and let her hand fall back to her side. She looked up at the man again. "Diran, there was a moment when I thought it was all over, that she knew already and was just toying with me. If she had known...."
He cupped his hands around her face and said, "But she did not, and that was all that mattered. You are the Matriarch, Enira. She lost. We won."
They kissed for a moment, and when they drew apart, the Matriarch took a deep breath and said, "There are things I must still arrange. But I want to see you again before morning. We have much celebrating to do."
The dark-haired man smiled, and said, "I will see you later."
She brushed past him and left the room. He stood for a while looking down at the dead former Matriarch. She looked almost peaceful, with her gray hair splayed out as if she were merely sleeping, but there was a slight frown on her face, and a twinge like pain around her eyes. "So we beat you, old hag," he said. "You thought you were smarter, but I was smarter still." He delivered a sharp, ruthless kick to the body and then with a handsome but cold smile left the room himself.
As the Matriarch walked down the hall, she came across a young, sandy-haired man in uniform. "Infanta!" he said, with a bow.
"It is Matriarch, now, Bedros" she replied.
He raised his gray eyes to her face a moment, and then went down on one knee. "Of course, Matriarch. How may I serve you?"
"My predecessor is in the West Hearthroom; send some men to carry her and bury her. It must be done quietly. And in the morning I will need a list of people under your command you think can be trusted and people you think cannot. We must proceed very carefully over the next few months."
"Of course, Matriarch," he said, rising swiftly. As he walked briskly away, the Matriarch smiled to herself. Her smile, too, was cold.
(to be continued)