Warnings/notes: Zerika, Aliera, slightly out-of-timeline, ooc?
Disclaimer: The wondrous world of Dragaera was created by Steven Brust.
written at 16th may 2006, by Misura, as a failed attempt at writing a drabble for the livejournal-community dragaera100 (prompt: Empress)
Now, before you jump to any conclusions, let me tell you that I wasn't in the same room when the conversation I'm about to describe to you took place. But Aliera isn't much of a writer, and the Empress isn't much of a gossip (and Morrolan, if you let either of them read this, I'm going to kill you, unless they get to me first, of course, in which case I'll simply come back and haunt you), so I guess it's up to me to remember what Aliera told me about it, and turn it into something like a conversation.
Don't blame me if I got it wrong - though, really, if you'd be able to check my story, I wouldn't be writing it in the first place, so I suppose I should just say that you'd better not go and do anything stupid like assuming it actually happened like this. I'm sure it didn't.
"Is it your wish to become Empress after me?" Zerika asked.
(All right, so she probably didn't ask that question right away, but I'm sure you can much better imagine the small talk that went on before this than I can, and even if you can't, I still wouldn't feel like writing it all down. My hand hurts bad enough as it is, and since I wouldn't have gotten it injured if it hadn't been for you, I - )
(Loiosh tells me I should digress less, and this once, I suppose he's right. So, where were we again?)
"Is it your wish to become Empress after me?" Zerika asked.
Aliera considered her answer carefully, reflecting on Zerika's possible reasons for asking such a question as well as on the tone Zerika had used, the expression on her face, the colour of the Orb - oh, let's just say that Zerika had to wait for a reply at least five minutes, maybe more.
"Should this task be appointed to me," Aliera finally began, probably a little reluctant to go and say outright that of course she didn't want to be Empress, because being Warlord would be so much more fun. I guess Zerika might not have taken that too well, although who knows? Maybe she would have sympathized. Norathar would have, I think, and she's a Dragon.
"Yes?" Zerika inquired, possibly beginning to get a little impatient. "Should it be appointed to you?"
"Should this task be appointed to me, why, then I would carry it out to the best of my abilities." Aliera shrugged, as if what she'd just said was nothing but logical, and something Zerika could have known without asking.
"Because it would besmirch your honour to do anything less," Zerika sort-of suggested.
"My father," Aliera started, once again not finishing her sentence.
"Your father has brought great harm to the Empire, as you have witnessed in person." Zerika frowned, and the Orb darkened slightly.
"My father did so unwittingly, having only the best interests of the Empire at heart." Aliera tossed her hair in a gesture that indicated she didn't like the direction of the conversation, or Zerika's (very true) statement.
"This may be so," Zerika acknowledged. "Yet his actions do not speak in your favour, nor do the results of those actions."
"I assure you that I have no intention of repeating my father's mistakes," Aliera said (keeping her temper in check remarkably well, if you ask me).
This time, it was Zerika's turn to shrug, as if to say that Aliera's intentions were of little interest to her. "You have been brought back from the Paths of the Dead by your cousin, have you not?"
Aliera inclined her head, rather than agreeing verbally.
"Did he bring you back for the sole purpose of becoming Heir?" Zerika pressed.
"If he were to become the next Warlord, then I am sure he would not have any objection to it," Aliera temporized. "He is, after all, of the House of Dragon."
"This fact is known to me," Zerika informed her, slightly coldly. "Still, one wonders ... "
"One wonders?" Aliera raised one eyebrow, appearing to be somewhat puzzled.
"One wonders if he did not lend his aid to get you back to the world of the living because the two of you are tied to one another by bonds of blood. In short, because you are family, and one simply does not leave one's family in a state that is neither being dead nor being alive." The colour of the Orb brightened, to indicate Zerika's feelings on the subject of family were as passionate as her words hinted at.
"One might also wonder at a person who insults one's father one moment, suggesting one would be better off not following his example, while praising the value of blood-ties and family the next." Aliera had narrowed her eyes (the better to glare with) and would probably have been a lot more explicit in expressing her displeasure if her company had been anyone else.
Zerika met Aliera's gaze evenly. "This conversation is over."
Aliera made a bow that barely managed not to be insulting. "Should you wish to know my cousin's opinion in regards to my status, or any other subject, then you know where to find him, I'm sure."
"Your certainty concerning this matter is justified," Zerika replied, her tone making it clear that Aliera's certainties concerning other matters were not, at least in Zerika's opinion.
Aliera didn't respond to these words, simply leaving the room.
To be honest with you, I have no idea what you could possibly have learned from reading this - except, perhaps, that even Aliera can keep her mouth shut and be diplomatic when she has to. You, of course, will always be her cousin, so I don't think you can use this new knowledge to prevent the two of you from getting into another argument the next time she wants to bring one of your books into her working-room (and, by the way, I asked Noish-Pa about those teckla-bloodstains, and he couldn't think of anything that might get them out of something as fragile as paper).
As for me, well, what are the odds of another Jhereg turning out to be more than what he seems to be? Especially when said Jhereg is also an Easterner? Besides, no offense intended (well, okay, plenty of offense intended, but none to you) but Aliera's a lot more polite to me than most other Dragons (or Dragaerans) I've met at Castle Black so far.
I'll leave it to you to decide what this was worth to you; aside from a hand that hurts a lot worse than it did three hours ago, a piece of paper, ink and some time, it didn't cost me anything.
signed Vlad Taltos, baronet