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Chapter 2: An Engagement, Interrupted, Part 3

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Denisius was utterly nonplussed. Carala was no stranger to him, and he had never imagined such a complication. Since their childhoods they had met a dozen times, four times since the Emperor had proposed she be married off to the last son of the Lord Marhollow, and they had always gotten along well. There was little benefit to the Malachite Throne in their match, which was clearly more of a reward for the faithful service his father had rendered to the Emperor over the years. Carala had never complained. She knew as well as Denisius the importance of keeping the Emperor's Prefects and Heptarchs and Prince-Governors happy when it came to opportunities for the children of such nobles who were unlikely to inherit anything. 

When the Emperor had broken the Academies Arcane, he had at a stroke eliminated the traditional path for legions of such superfluous sons and daughters. They weren't all suited for life in the military or cloisters, after all. Denisius certainly wasn't. If the Academies were still in operation, he would surely be in his ninth or tenth year of study -- he might already have graduated as a seer-magistrate or (gods help him) a cursewright, serving in a petty court in some far-flung corner of the Empire.

But Carala had seemed uninterested in such utilitarian details about her impending nuptials. Pleasant, occasionally tart-tongued, and very well read, she was the mirror image of her mother, the Empress-Consort, sharing her midnight black hair and heart-shaped face, though her eyes were the hazel of her Imperial father. She had responded surprisingly well to the few arranged courtship meetings she'd had with Denisius. They had even exchanged a chaste kiss in one of the Palace's courtyards, under the not-entirely-approving gaze of the princess's handmaidens.

Denisius wasn't floating around his home like a lovestruck mooncalf, scribbling horrid love poetry or sighing longingly as he gazed off into the distance, but he had been growing rather fond of Carala, and she had certainly been both far prettier and more highborn than any potential match he could have expected. So while the Grand Chancellor's revelation didn't totally unman him, he did feel a bit like he'd suffered a blow to the belly. Something hot and painful burned in his chest, and his fingers clutched at the hilt of his untarnished jeweled sword. "Is -- who is it? I mean, how did it happen? Some -- some other noble, or -- "

Varallo Thray took the lamp back from Denisius and indicated they should continue down the stairs, setting a rapid pace. "It's easier, I think, if I show you. I am not telling you this to humiliate you, my lord, but because I think there may yet be some chance of salvaging this marriage. If, that is, you still desire it."

"Why would I?" Fury was an unfamiliar sensation for Denisius but he found himself embracing it readily. "Is this -- is this 'infatuation' something she's consummated? And how in the gods' names do you mean we can salvage anything?" Normally it would have been unthinkable to speak so carelessly of the Emperor's daughter, but Denisius was not in the most politic frame of mind. In any event, Varallo Thray seemed none too offended by his posture.

"As far as consummation goes, I really cannot say. But then, my lord, I was never under the impression you were a blushing virgin yourself."

Denisius flushed in the dark, thinking of his infrequent trips to the Lady's Slipper.

"And I mean exactly what I say. If we can arrange matters so you can interrupt the princess's latest tryst, then I am hopeful that we can return things to their assigned course." They had reached the base of the stairway, and past a wrought iron gate found themselves among the fine manses and elegant boutiques of the Palace District. "Again, if that is something you wish. But before you do anything rash, I should tell you that I believe the princess's will is not wholly her own."

Denisius came to a halt. Varallo Thray did not break stride, and the younger man had to jog for a moment to catch up with him. "Are you saying you suspect an enchantment?"

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