This is the fourth part of a short story draft. Part I, Part II, Part III.
Sixty years allows for great changes. Every Matriarch was once an Infanta, and this one was no exception. She had once been young, and famously beautiful, with golden hair and a dazzling smile, and a widely admired vivacity of mind. She had married the son of the Matriarch at the time, and the match had been good. She had been adopted as Infanta, and people had rejoiced. People who smarted under the rule of the Matriarch then in power looked at the couple and said to themselves: Good days are ahead.
Thus when I say to you that the Matriarch, through the machine of the Memorist, found herself sitting on a grassy green hillock, with a blue sky and shining sun ahead, laughing and laughing at some joke told by the man she loved, you will know that such a thing is possible. Sixty years allows for great changes. Have you not known changes in your own span of life? The Matriarch never smiled; but the Infanta she had been had laughed.
"It really wasn't that funny," said the handsome man at her side, the son I just mentioned, throwing a dandelion in her direction.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but it was the way you said it." She picked up the dandelion he had thrown and held it up to the light, studying it closely. Then she threw it aside.
"I am worried," she said. "All this unrest in the cities. And your mother will not listen to reason."
"The Matriarch is not known for listening to anything," said the Matriarch's son. "But she usually knows what she is doing."
"Yes!" she cried. "She knows what she is doing when it comes to keeping the power in her own hands, or squeezing peasants for taxes, or marching her soldiers here and there."
"That is what Matriarchs do," the young man said. "You will have to do these things yourself."
She sighed. "Yes, but there is exercise of power and there is exercise of brutality, and they are not the same thing." She looked at him wistfully. "Don't you think so?"
He had perhaps not been taking the conversation fully seriously up to this point, but at this question he looked her in the face thoughtfully and with a slow nod of the head said, "I think you are right. But maybe it is not always easy to divide the two."
The Matriarch-to-be plucked another dandelion and twirled it. "If she continues in the way she has proceeded, there will be bloodshed in every city from here to the farthest borders. She will succeed in what she is doing, but the people will drown in blood. Traitors will be purged, but at the cost of many innocents. And she will not listen to reason. She must be stopped."
The Matriarch's son looked sharply at her. "If she will not listen, how can she be stopped?"
She turned to say something to him, but the whole world was rippling around her and the ripples carried the words away. She found herself again in the Small Drawing Room, facing the young man, the Memorist.
"Matriarch!" said a voice at her side, and she turned to see the young man who had told her of the Memorist's arrival.
"Well?" she said, more sharply than she intended.
The young man glanced at the Memorist, but continued. "They have begun to move. You asked me to tell you when they had begun."
"And how have they begun to move?"
"The sublieutenant I previously told you about has tried to convince the Infanta to poison you. He then met with the general, and now he is back with the Infanta. She has agreed."
"I see," the Matriarch said. Then she looked intently at him. "And your sources for this information are good?"
The young man smiled. "They are very good."
The Matriarch's eyes narrowed. "I see. Your source is a woman. The Infanta's handmaiden, perhaps." Her hand began absently tracing the design of her ring. "You overestimate your influence over her, I assure you. What do you know of a woman's mind? Nothing!"
The last word came out savagely, and the young man stepped back in surprise. "Apologies, Matriarch, but I assure you that my source is good."
"Hmm. Well, it tallies with my own sources. I have sent portions of the legion on fool's errands. No doubt the general is trying to undo the mess now. Now, then, is the time to strike, before he can bring back all of his handpicked traitors."
"I have already begun, as you had requested before. The general will soon be in our custody. I will arrange for him to have an audience with you tomorrow in the torture chambers."
"No," said the Matriarch. "I will not have time for such things. We must set an example of him, swiftly. His head is to be on a pike in front of the palace as soon as possible. And the head of this sublieutenant, too."
"And the Infanta?"
The Matriarch looked down at the ring she had been stroking. "Bring her here. I will myself give her the punishment she deserves. But heads on pikes first; then you can bring her. You may go."
As the young man bowed and backed out the door, the Matriarch turned again to the Memorist. "Let us continue."