Chapter 49

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The Prime Minister was a hard set woman with eyes that glinted like sharpened knives. Tano was glad for once that he was not expected to speak during the meeting. He wasn't sure he could have without flinching.

"Ever since my daughter started involving herself with the Church's strange temple rituals, her mind hasn't been quite right," she said.

Queen Victoria nodded, yet her eyes remained glazed with skepticism. "One has to wonder how sane she was to get involved in those experiments and rituals in the first place."

"Of course. Not that it helped at all. But I concede that, given the extent of her crimes, we might not have a choice but to capture if not kill her."

A hard silence filled the small meeting room. Neither the Queen nor the Prime Minister looked phased but Tano could nonetheless feel the tension between them. With the sun having long set, the only source of light in the room was a dim, gently glowing chandelier hanging above the table at which the two women sat.

Tano was expected to stay standing on the Queen's right hand with rigid posture, lest he wither under the Prime Minister's baleful eyes. The row of guards lining the door leading to the rest of the palace were so still they were essentially statues. Behind their armored visors, he wondered how many of them had simply fallen asleep.

Victoria broke the silence with a chuckle. "That's rich, but I have a hard time believing you of all people would bend over that easily. We're surrounded by enough powerful enemies as it is, let's not lie to each other. What do you want? I doubt you'd just give up your daughter without some other trick up your sleeve."

Prime Minister Connington tightened her lips. "It takes a royal decree to legitimize a bastard and make her an heir to the peerage, if I remember right."

The Queen leaned back in her chair with a scandalized stare. "You? The woman obsessed with family honor, has a bastard? I admit, if this is a lie it's very unlike you to embrace such a shameful tale."

"No, not me. She may not be a child out of my own womb but what difference does it make? She's still family." There was something in Connington's sharpening gaze that sent a frigid ripple through Tano's body.

Victoria too seemed disconcerted, though why the Queen of Angley felt any fear in the presence of a subordinate Tano could only speculate. "You make a fair point. Whose is it? A sister? Brother? Distant cousin we'll need to study a pedigree for?"

"My mother... never could quite keep herself content ever since my father's passing, not even in her later years. Before, none of the children from her adventures could be considered part of the Estate, certainly not with how badly tarnished our name already was. But now, seeing as I'm left with two enemies to the Crown as my only legitimate relations, I think the situation has changed a little."

"Where does she live?"

"Well we certainly couldn't keep her here on the Island for others to gawk at. She lived in the Waleshire Province in the South Sea Isles last time I bothered to check."

"Is she a pure blood?"

Connington's thin, wishful smile fell into a scowl. "No. But, Your Majesty, isn't that what your Royal Assent to the abolishment of the Blood Classification system is for?"

"Prime Minister Connington, I assure you I could not give less of a damn about pedigree charts, but sadly my word isn't unconditionally the law."

"The Priestesses let you bring the boy." Connington pointed to Tano.

He put his head down and pretended not to notice. He took a fresh cloth and wiped the wine glasses on the counter clean for the twentieth time.

"Only because I took them by surprise. They didn't even know until the public announcement in Parliament. I doubt they'd give me leeway to preempt them again. In fact, I know," Victoria said. The Queen reached into her desk and pulled out a crumpled wad of paper and stretched it flat for the Prime Minister to see. "One Church High Court, led by just twelve Church toadies, have just overturned the will of the entire Parliament and the Crown. Bloodlines, it seems, are just too important to too many well connected people in the Empire. And of course, the ruling came from an Provincial High Court in the South Sea Isles."

Connington raised an eyebrow. "How recent was this?"

"A few hours ago. Though I have a feeling the Church wanted news of the ruling to remain inconspicuous as possible while we bickered about other matters," Victoria said. "It seems the Realm thinks this Parliament's authority only extends to the Island itself," she said. She pinned the corners of the paper to keep it flat and while she read from it, a scowl permanently glazed onto her lips. "'The Dominions of the Crown, as decreed by Her Majesty Elizabeth the Wise in the Great Constitution, have undisputed authority over the movement of persons through its borders. Only through an Amendment by Common Consent would the Crown and Parliament be permitted to enact its proposed change. Therefore, this Court finds the aforementioned Act of Parliament and the Royal Assent which backs it incompatible with the Higher Laws of the Land.' Hah! Common Consent. As if a dozen Priestesses from some backwoods colony are the common people."

"We were expecting this to happen sooner or later," Connington replied.

"Not necessarily this soon though. At this rate, even if we find the girl, and that is a big if, how do you propose we keep those nosy Priestesses from barring her entry or otherwise preventing me from legitimizing her?"

A crooked smirk came over Connington's face. "Do the Priestesses care so much that they would defy the hosts of Royal Guards you send to all their Temples and churches on the Island? So soon after already upsetting you with this bold ruling? After all, you already have a decent number of agents combing those grounds for the criminal that poisoned one of the Priestesses, and with two more slain, no one would blame you for being concerned to the point of paranoia for the remainder of the Twelve, well Nine at the moment. Who knows how long it will take those crones to anoint replacements?"

"And if they do? The Church's Paladins are at the very least numerous and well armed enough to raze half the Island before I even have the hope of overcoming them, and that's before we see how divided loyalties play out in the colonies." Victoria snapped her fingers.

Finally, something for Tano to do. He poured out a glass of wine and placed it in the Queen's waiting hand.

Connington shook her head. "Pardon me if it sounds like I'm out of place but isn't what you described what's already happening? While women and men loyal to the Crown have been dying and fighting a war those superstitious fools likely started, they've been content to sit on their gold and warriors with almost no inclination to defend the Empire. They already started the war. It's time we target the true enemy. I'll make sure no minister even whispers any ideas of a Parliamentary override."

Queen Victoria gulped down the rest of her wine, content to let silence fill the room.

Prime Minister Connington was steely eyed as ever, as still as the statuesque guards standing behind her.

"So this is how Empires end. With violent internal disputes," the Queen muttered.

"We were already on the path to destruction the moment we declared war on the Dannic Federation," Connington replied.

"Well, I have a speech to write. The Empire at the very least should think their Queen is doing what she does from the moral high ground."

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