Later that night, the Matriarch of Syan was lying in bed when a chime came from the door. Now, you must undestand that the Matriarchs of Syan do not sleep in ordinary bedrooms like you and I do. The previous Matriarch always worried that someone would try to kill her with a bomb. That was how she had become Infanta, in fact: the Matriarch before her had ordered a bombing, which she alone of the seven members of her family had survived. By a remarkable coincidence, it was also how she had become Matriarch; that bombing had been blamed on anti-Syan terrorist groups. Even more remarkably, two of the three Infantas prior to Enira had died in the same way. It is remarkable how lax Syan security must have been at that time, and it shows you that the prior Matriarch had had reason to fear assassination by flame. When Enira became Matriarch by blade, she was returning to a simpler and more elegant time; she was, in many ways, a traditionalist.
You will not be surprised, then, when I tell you that the Matriarch's bedroom was less a bedroom than an underground bunker, with eight inches of steel everywhere except at the doors, and eight inches of concrete outside of that. You will not be surprised that it had partitions along one wall hiding a pantry, a communications room, and a room for monitoring the internal environment of the bedroom. You will not be surprised that the bedroom had an inner and outer door, both made of steel. You will not be surprised when I tell you that this inner and outer door were connected by a long hallway. And you will not be surprised that when the Matriarch heard the chime she pressed a button on her nightstand that made a panel on the wall slide away, nor tha that this revealed a screeen showing the hallway and the man outside the door. The man, of course, was Diran.
The Matriarch looked over to her looking glass and carefully put a few misplaced strands back into place, and pressed a button on her nightstand to open the outer door. When Diran had reached the inner door, she looked quickly in the looking glass again to make sure that she had the effect she wanted, and she pressed another button to let him in. When he entered and saw her, he smiled.
Any man would have. If any painter had seen that scene, with the beautiful Matriarch looking for all the world like a flame-haired princess from a fairy tale, the only thing that would have prevented him from painting it is the knowledge that painting the Matriarch in bed would have meant being flayed alive. Some painters, perhaps, would have done it anyway. But like many beautiful scenes in this world, there were no painters to see it, only Diran. It was a scene to remember for the rest of one's life, and Diran would.
He stood and smiled at her a moment, and she at him.
"We did it," he finally said.
"Yes," the Matriarch said. "I had thought the day would never come when I would finally manage to do it."
"I have a gift for you." He walked over to the bed and held out a long, narrow box.
She laughed and took it from him, quickly untying the ribbon that held the box closed. Inside was a dagger, somewhat shorter than the one she had left in the Matriarch, with a beautiful golden hilt of ornate leaf-and-flower tracery.
"It is beautiful," she said. She gazed at it for a moment, then gently placed it on her nightstand and looked up at him.
"I have been thinking over ways to choose an Infanta," she said.
Diran took off his jacket and began taking off his shoes. "Surely it is too early for that?" he said. "That always takes time, and we need to consolidate things here."
She looked off to the side. "What would you recommend I do?"
"Well," said Diran, "there are a number of border disputes that are wasting the energy of the Syan fleet and armies. Your predecessor recently moved the fleet into position to protect the disputed territories out past Eliogabulus. That was a waste, and will only drain the treasury in squabbles with the Tregor. We should probably think about ordering them back. If the Tregor take Eliogabulus, we can always retake it when things quiet down here." He started unbuttoning his shirt.
The Matriarch of Syan lay back and gazed at the ceiling, her expression serious. "Perhaps I shall do that," she said quietly.
He finished unbuttoning the shirt and came to stand over her, thrusting his head between her gaze and the ceiling. He looked down at her, blue eyes shining brightly, handsome face smiling. "Together," he said, "we will do great things."
She quirked a smile at him. "There are indeed a great many things for me to do."
He bent down and kissed her. And lest I be flayed alive, I will leave it at that.
(to be continued)