“But why?” Jonathan asked incredulously.
“Because I must,” Thayet answered, rubbing her temples. “It’s not competitiveness. It’s not insecurity. Those fell from my shoulders as soon as I left the desert, and if you had any common sense in that royal head of yours you would realize that.”
Jonathan scowled. “I can have you extradited to Sarain for that insult, you know.”
“But you won’t.” Thayet gave him her sweetest smile and kissed him on the forehead. “What a scandal that would cause,” she laughed, “sending your fiancée back to her war-torn land so she can be a pawn and a whore in the bid for the throne.”
Jon eyed her carefully. “The war is over, though. Do you ever want to return, to see if you could live a clan life?”
“No.” Her answer was not heavy or pained. She had simply accepted never going home, the moment the Doi seer had told her that going back was not an option. It would never again be the Sarain of her youth—not that her youth had held many great Saren pleasures. All those who loved her were dead or in Tortall; there was no need to return.
“But I would like to go to the Tower, and only a royal writ would allow me to do so. So you can sign one now or wait two months until the hour after our wedding, when I will do it myself.”
“What have I gotten myself into?” Jon muttered. “Marrying Alanna would have been easier.”
Thayet’s eyes flashed. “I am no longer insecure, my lord, but that doesn’t make it acceptable to rub my face in your previous love affairs.”
“Yes, my future queen,” Jonathan replied meekly, pulling a scrap of parchment from a desk drawer.
“Princess Thayet,” the guard warned, “she is unlikely to speak to you. She has spoken little since she arrived,and doesn’t accept visitors.”
“I have heard as much,” Thayet said, lifting her skirts as she climbed the narrow stairs. “Is she eating?”
“Yes.” He came to a stop at a door that featured multiple locks. “I will let you in, but I’ll have you know that the king will release me if I don’t stand outside this door—in case she does something.”
“No, he will not,” she answered him, showing him the note from Jonathan. Its royal seal was larger than the paragraph detailing the permission granted to enter the prison. “Can you read this line?” she asked, pointing to the last sentence on the parchment.
“No, I can’t, your highness,” he murmured.
“It says that your job is to wait at the bottom of the stairs,” she lied. “I was trained to fight, whereas she was not. I will be fine, should she become aggressive.”
He shrugged and began unlocking the door. Thayet tucked the missive into her pocket, feeling a bit of guilt for taking advantage of this poor man’s lack of knowledge.
When she was permitted to enter, she shut the door behind her.
“Leave me be,” Delia growled, not turning to look at her.
“You haven’t even seen who it is, going out of her way to pay you a visit,” Thayet replied coolly.
“I don’t need eyes to recognize a K’miri bitch.”
Thayet sat at a small, wooden table close to the door. “Perhaps, then, you will look to see what the K’miri bitch has brought you.” She emptied her pockets, laying soap, a comb, pieces of candy, a small mirror, and other similar prison luxuries on the table. “They aren’t much, but I thought you might need these things.”
Delia turned around, glaring at Thayet. “What do you want from me?” she asked.
Thayet shrugged. “I don’t know. Answers? Questions?” She stood and crossed the small room to look out of its sole window. From this height, she could see a good portion of the palace, and most of the temples of the Greater Gods.
“They say this is the place for the worst traitors,” Delia said, approaching Thayet from behind. “We can see the temples of Mithros and the Black God, so we can await our judgement. And of course, we can see the Royal Wing.” She gestured to one part of the palace. “I can’t see into the windows, of course, but I get to sit here and know that I am here because I attempted to kill the man behind those walls. Yet that very man has killed plenty, and still gets to be the king.”
Thayet turned to face her, studying her for a moment before speaking. “You find no ill in killing a monarch?”
Delia scoffed. “Would I do it if I did?”
Thayet raised her evebrows. “People often compromise their morals when what they desire conflicts. Were you in love with the Duke?”
“I’m not going to reveal any information about Roger, so if that’s what you are interested in, you can take your trinkets and leave.”
“Unlike most of Tortall, my interest is in you.”
“Why?” Delia asked.
“Because you are still alive.” Thayet examined the room, from the small, low bed tucked into one corner to the starlings’ nesst in the rafters of the opposite side of the ceiling. Her hazel eyes finally rested on Delia again, and she smiled wanly. “Roger’s ashes are no threat to my future husband, or my future children. I’d like t o know if you are harmless.”
Delia’s eyes flashed. “No one in all my life has dared to call me ‘harmless’.”
“Why did you conspire against Jonathan? Why did you attempt to stab him?”
“To put Roger on the throne, of course.”
“The king tells me that Roger did not want the throne,” Thayet responded coolly.
Delia sighed and turned away from Thayet. “Do you think I did it out of jealousy? That I was bothered about losing my weekly romp in Jonathan’s bed?”
Thayet refused to flinch at the words. Catching a backward glance from Delia, she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. She would not let this woman get the better of her. She chose her words carefully. “A jilted lover must love in order to feel vengeful. I seriously doubt that you were hurt by his waning affection, unless the injury was to your pride.”
Delia laughed bitterly. “We pretty ladies are all alike, aren’t we? Snag the fellows, wrap them around our fingers, play hard to get—is that how you won our dear King Jonathan? Goddess knows that didn’t work for me.” She shook her head, adding as an afterthought, “or Josiane.”
“I didn’t ‘win’ Jonathan,” Thayet snapped. “I earned his affection, as he did mine.”
“Of course you did,” cooed Delia. “All that time spent prettying yourself up—curling your hair, visiting seamstresses. Yes, you certainly earned his affection.” Her eyes moved from the top of Thayet’s head, where her glossy hair was braided into a natural crown, to her dainty suede shoes. “Or do you think Jonathan is interested in your wealth? I’m sure the piddly crown jewels or whatever Saren coin you brought will make a grand difference in the royal coffers.” She rolled her eyes disdainfully.
Thayet breathed deeply, regaining her composure. “You’ve done an amazing feat, avoiding my questions so neatly. Why did you fight to put Roger on the throne, if that isn’t what he wanted?”
“Because it’s what I wanted,” Delia snapped. “Roger was a reasonable man, though vengeful. His anger with the Gods was his motivation in the end—but I knew once Jonathan was overthrown, he would be sated. It was power he was interested in, after all, not divinity. And those who prevented his power were seen as enemies.” Delia’s green eyes bore into Thayet’s. Her expression lost all semblance of the coquettish, courtly beauty she was infamous for possessing. “You know the way people react to the gods. Roger felt they had abandoned him. I knew that if we got him on the throne, he would believe that it was a sign that they favored him again.”
Thayet remained silent, evaluating the logic in her mind. She sat again at the table, weighing what she knew of the deceased sorcerer against Delia’s words. “Surely he was not so simple,” she protested finally.
Delia sat on her bed, fidgeting with the hems of her long, grey sleeves. “Alex doubted me, too. But I promise you that it was my motivation. I wanted to be the queen—nothing more.”
“How do I know if you are telling the truth?”
“What have I to gain from lies?” Delia countered with a wry smile. “My sentence will not be shortened. I should have been put to death, after all. The only thing that could change my fate would be to attack you here and now—but I would have nothing to gain from that, either, save a short walk to Traitor’s Hill.
“Bring a mage, if you doubt me.”
Thayet smiled bitterly at the brunette. “That’s not necessary. But I have to ask you again, and would like a straightforward answer: are you a threat to my future husband or any children he might sire?”
“No,” Delia answered, gazing toward the palace. “You know I have no qualms with regicide, but I also have no interest in revenge. If I were miraculously granted freedom I would leave this nation altogether—without killing the king.”
Thayet nodded and rose to her feet. “Thank you for your honesty,” she said softly and crossed to the door. “For the record, I, too, have no qualms about regicide. Bad rulers need to be disposed of. But unlike you, I have lived in a nation of bad rulers. And unlike you, I would die to protect a good one.”
Delia smirked, but her expression lacked her usual degree of haughtiness. “Yes, you would, wouldn’t you?”
“Out of curiosity,” Thayet began, “why did you want to be the queen?”
“Are you asking out of curiosity, or because you are thinking about the reasons you want to be the queen?”
“I love speaking to clever women,” Thayet said with a genuine smile. “I don’t want to be the queen. I never have, and never will. But I do want to use the power of the monarchy to do the things I’ve always planned to do. The ease will be beneficial, and the power will be extraordinarily useful.”
Delia nodded. “I was raised knowing I was a potential match for the prince, if King Roald was interested in a local alliance. I fought this—I was smitten with Duke Roger from a very young age. But being the queen… it almost felt like a birthright. I suppose we are all products of our parents—mine raised me to be a queen. Yours, I imagine, raised you to be charitable.”
Thayet self-consciously rubbed her nose, frowning. “My father raised me to be a trade item. I was to be passed to whatever nobleman would best benefit my family. My mother taught me to see the opportunities any situation could grant my people.”
Delia nodded her head curtly, then turned again toward the window. It was a dismissal.
If Thayet felt at all snubbed, it was curbed with the realization that this very noble woman had no claim to anything—choosing who came and went from her cell, and when, was her sole form of power. “Thank you for your time,” she responded warmly before calling out to the guard stationed at the foot of the stairs.
“And what is the meaning of this?” Jonathan shouted, storming into the queen’s boudoir. He was waving a formal document in his hand, glaring into the mirror at Thayet, who was serenely brushing her long hair.
“It’s a request for a transfer,” she answered calmly, setting down her brush. Her eyes gazed back levelly at his and her chin tilted upward defiantly.
“I know what it is,” he hissed. “I’m asking what you mean by it!”
She turned around gracefully and rested balled fists on her knees. “I don’t think Delia of Eldorne is a threat to this nation, or to you. She doesn’t deserve to be locked up for the rest of her life in a dank tower, when we can simply assign guards to keep her in her home. The Eldorne family seemed quite open to this, promising that she would never be out of supervision.”
“You spoke to the Eldorne family?” Jonathan asked, his piercing blue eyes flashing.
“Well, just the matriarch. But she assured me that she spoke for all.”
“And what will the nobles say, if I let someone like her live under house arrest?”
Thayet frowned. “Who cares what they say? Remind them that Tortallan law is such that criminals are locked away when they present a threat to society. Delia was a threat only because of a conspiracy with people who are now dead. She was not a ringleader; she was a follower. House arrest is the preferred punishment in civilized nations such as Tyra and Tortall, if I’m not mistaken, for nobles who have committed crimes of magnitude?”
“This was a capital offense, Thayet!” Jon cried. “She was trying to kill me, if you’ve forgotten.”
“Stop it.” Thayet commanded. She stood to face her husband. “You are letting your pride get involved, and that’s the easiest way to slip from being a good king to a bad one. Certainly you should be cautious that someone might attempt to take your life, or mine, or any children we sire. However, you cannot lock up everyone who presents a threat, and you cannot lock up someone in horrible conditions when she has no intention of making another regicidal attempt.”
“How do you know that you are safe?” Jonathan asked after a long moment of silence, rubbing his temples.
“You can use your Gift to sense the truth. Go to her. Ask her.”
“You inferred this from her conversation with you when you went to the tower?”
“Yes,” Thayet answered. She stood slowly and crossed the room, choosing her next words carefully. “I know that your reign should have begun with her death. I was in Tortall and listening to the critics. But I admired you all the more for not doing so. But after a time, I began to ponder it differently. She was an accomplice more than she was a conspirator. Without Roger, there’s no one she would put on the throne in your place. I had heard that her moves were made out of love, and wondered what kind of threat she could be to us with no one to push her in that direction.” She studied her husband’s impassive expression, and placed one hand on his cheek. “Jonathan, I know you do not trust her. I understand why you might not, and this is why I’m trying to make her life a little more comfortable. I don’t want her free. While I firmly believe that she is no longer a threat to you, or any children we will have, I understand that precautions are necessary. House arrest offers those precautions.”
Jon turned his head slightly, kissing the palm of her hand. “The rational part of my mind accepts and understands what you say,” he said, his voice low. “But I am not comfortable with this. I will have to face my ministers tomorrow and explain your reasons. Unless the Eldorn family makes a monetary offering, my men will not see the benefit of this action. However, I will not send out a statement nullifying this writ.” He handed the paper to her.
“I will gladly speak to anyone in defense of my own actions,” Thayet replied. “If we are to be co-rulers, perhaps I should become accustomed to your ministers.”
“Of course you should,” said Jonathan, taking her hand. “I will never regret elevating your position to an equal one. Just remember to inform me of your plans before you attempt to change the laws, so I don’t look like a complete fool in front of the nobles.”
She smiled up at him. “I can agree to that, my lord. We should probably start talking about my suggestions for reforming education in Tortall. I sent the papers to Gary this afternoon.”
Author’s Note: This was inspired by the ever-impressive Seereth, and her own obsession with Alexander of Tirragen and how she incorporated it into a story about Shinko. It made me wonder: what does a newly-made queen think of Tortall and its recent history? How does Thayet feel about the conspiracy against Jonathan – a conspiracy she physically fought against without any nationalistic loyalty? On top of that, what struggles were involved for Jonathan, taking on a cloak of responsibility and immediately offering half of the power to his wife? And, most importantly,why did Lerant of Eldorne - born years after Delia's imprisonment - know his aunt, unless his family took trips to visit her in the tower?