AUTHOR'S NOTE: I was glancing through my stories after posting the last chapter of A Matter of Justice, and realized I'd never posted the last chapter of this! So here it is. Sorry about the delay.

PART V: HOLY SUFFERING ZOT, IT'S CHRISTMAS

Kat was checked in her paeans of thanks by the churches of Tharkad ringing out the lustiest peals she had ever heard. Running to the window, she opened it, and put out her head. No fog, no mist, no night: a clear, bright, stirring, golden day.

"What's today?" cried Kat, calling downward to the Lohengrin guardsman at her front door.

"Huh?" said the guardsman, wakened out of doping off.

"What's today, my fine fellow?"

"Today?" Geez, thought the guardsman, she's been drinking more than usual. "It's Christmas day, Your Highness."

"It's Christmas Day!" Kat did a brief fibble-fobble dance. "I haven't missed it! Hey, my fine fellow!"

"Er…hi, Your Highness!"

"Do you know the poulterer's, in the street outside the main gate, at the corner?"

"Uh, yeah!"

"Intelligent guard…remarkable man…" Kat mumbled to herself happily. "Do you know whether they've sold the prize pterodactyl that was hanging up there? Not the little one—the big ass one!"

"What, the one that looks like you'd need an Arrow IV to bring it down?"

"What a delightful guy…pleasure to talk to him…yes, my friend!"

"Sure, I guess it's still there." Gad, the old lady's cracked, the guard thought.

"Is it? Go and buy it!"

"Say what? I don't make enough in a month to buy a wing off that monster—I'm only a corporal!"

"Tell them that the Archon has need of it, and tell 'em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the poulterer, and I'll promote you to sergeant. Come back with him in less than ten minutes, and I'll make you an officer!"

"Yes, ma'am!" Hot damn, the guard thought, rubbing his hands together, whatever she's drinking, I'm getting some more for her. He was off like a scalded dog.

"I'll send it to my brother!" Kat cackled. "He won't know who's sending it. It's twice the size of Yvonne! Ha! This is gonna be great!"

The hand in which she wrote the address was not a steady one, but write it she did, somehow, and went downstairs to open the street door, ready for the poulterer to show up.

Great Gaia, it was a pterodactyl! It took an APC to bring it to her front door, and it looked like it could make a healthy meal of a 'Mech. Kat dressed herself in all her best, which was a disappointment to the guardsman, since she had been leaning out of her window in a tiny negilgee, and it was a cold morning, point, point. The people were by this time pouring out of their houses like the Clans were invading, and walking with her hands behind her, Kat regarded everyone with a goofy smile. She looked so irresistibly pleasant, that three or four good-humored fellows said, "Good morning, Your Highness! A Merry Christmas to you!" Everyone else shrank back, because Kat, like Stalin, was considered the most dangerous when she was in a good mood.


In the afternoon, she turned her steps towards the Wolves' hall. She passed the door a dozen times before she had the courage to go up and knock. This freaked out the Elemental guards, who were about to open fire and ask questions at some point, but they held their fire and she did it. A giant female Elemental with the nametape FETLADRAL answered the door, three times Kat's size. "Ah, hello!" Kat said cheerily. "Is your master at home, my dear?"

"Who in the stravag hell are you calling my master? No one is my master! I am Evantha Fetladral, Elemental Star Colonel—"

"I'm terribly sorry. I meant if your Khan is in."

"Oh. Well, aff."

"Wonderful giant woman! Where is he, prithee?"

What is wrong with this freebirth freak? Evantha wondered silently. "He is in the dining hall, with his lifemate."

"He knows me," said Kat, brushing aside the amazon and walking into the dining hall. "I'll just go on in—ah, hello, Phelan!"

Phelan was busy feeding Ranna a Christmas cake. So surprised was he by the sound of Kat's voice that he smeared the cake all over Ranna's face. "What are you doing here?"

"I've come to dinner. Will you still have me?"

Phelan looked curiously at the cider Ranna had served, then shrugged and said, "Sure, I suppose so."

If there's anything the Wolves know how to do, it's party. And though they were quick to forgive Kat her insults, because of the change of heart she had, that didn't mean they didn't get some of their own back. The pictures of a drunk Katherine eating a Thorin goldfish were on the ComStar net in hours. Kat didn't care—she had a great time.


Despite a firecracker hangover, caused by ingesting the alcohol-inferno fluid mixture known as a fusionnaire, Kat was still early at the throne room the next morning. Kat had to get there first, to catch her sister out late. That was the thing she had set her heart on.

Sure enough, Yvonne was late—a full eighteen minutes behind her time. Kat stood with the door wide open that she might see her come into the office. Yvonne stripped out of her winter clothes faster than a Solaris stripper seeing a hundred dollar bill, and was on her stool in a jot, tapping away on her computer keyboard like she was on crack.

"Hey," hissed Kat in her accustomed voice. "What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?"

Yvonne cringed. "I'm sorry, Your Highnessness. I'm a little late."

"You are? Yes, I think so! Get over here!"

Yvonne dragged herself off her stool. "It's only once a year, sister. It won't be repeated. I was getting pretty merry yesterday, ma'am."

"Hmpf. I'll tell you what, dear sister, I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. So therefore—" Kat said, stalking forward, "I'm going to raise your salary."

It took Yvonne a moment. "You, uh…"

Suddenly Kat gave Yvonne a big hug. "A Merry Christmas, Yve!" said Kat with an earnestness that could not be mistaken. "A merrier Christmas, Yvonne, my dear sister, than I have given you for many a year. I'll raise your salary, and we'll discuss your status this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of punch. Turn up the thermostat until the 'Mechs' paint starts to blister before you so much as dot another 'I', Yvonne. Hell, I'll even be nice to Victor!"

Kat was better than her word. She did it all, and infintely more. She raised Yvonne's salary, who did not die, and even made her the Princess of the Federated Commonwealth. She spoke civilly to Victor and even to Omi, and was as good a woman as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world or in the good old Inner Sphere or the good old Sagittarius Arm or the…well, you get the idea. Some people laughed to see the alteration in her, but her own heart laughed, and that was quite good enough for her…

…until Victor and Omi kicked her headfirst out of the New Years' Eve party that Kat invited herself to. At that point, Kat swore eternal revenge, tried to kill Omi, we got click-tech, and the rest is history.

What, you expected a happy ending? Bah, humbug.