MAJOR WINTER OF THE WOLF SPOILERS BELOW!
After sending Elektra off, Teodora went straight to the study. It had been a busy day, but it was far from over. These days she was full of energy, so she’d work far into the night. She’d sent someone ahead to build a fire and light a lamp, so the room was warm and welcoming by the time she arrived. As always, she made a point of stepping right where Prince Kendryk had breathed his last. The thought of him bleeding out onto this very spot always made her smile.
She sat down behind Princess Viviane’s desk, but found herself too excited for paperwork. It had been such an interesting day. Teodora couldn’t deny she was frustrated that Braeden Terris and Princess Gwynneth had escaped, but she doubted they’d get far. With the peasant rebellion effectively over, they would get little help in the countryside, and the way to Terragand was long. Besides, Teodora’s offer of money and pardon in exchange for any of their heads remained in place. With any luck, some enterprising peasant would take matters into his own hands, solving the problem for good.
All the same, it was annoying that Gwynneth and at least two of her children still lived. Devyn’s existence was especially galling, since he was old and impressive enough to take a leading role in Terragand. If Teodora didn’t stop him, he’d make an attractive figurehead, rallying most of Kronland behind him. She wished she’d killed him today, as she had the leader of the rebellion.
The captain of Teodora’s guard had informed her that Princess Gwynneth had also been nearly in her grasp, disguised as a farmer. Teodora hadn’t seen her, but somehow didn’t doubt it. She’d never admit it to anyone, but she had a grudging respect for a woman like Gwynneth who appeared to be nearly as unstoppable as Teodora herself. She’d stop her of course, but in the meantime Gwynneth made an interesting and worthy opponent.
Teodora rang a bell, then scribbled a quick message, ordering the servant who appeared to deliver it to the militia commander. All of the Moraltan mercenaries were already deployed in the chase after Braeden and Gwynneth, but Teodora wanted to send everyone who could be spared from the palace as well. A few militia companies camped on the grounds could be put to work. Being native Isenwalders, they’d have the advantage of knowing the area better than foreign troops.
She’d just turned to the pile of letters on her desk when a footman announced Princess Viviane.
“What do you want?” Teodora asked, not bothering to look up from her work.
Princess Viviane sank into a chair on the other side of the desk.
Teodora kept working.
The princess cleared her throat, then said, “I must protest the deployment of my militia without my consent.”
Teodora looked up. “Your militia?”
A red spot burned on each of Viviane’s white cheeks. “I am ruler of Isenwald and these are my troops. I’m happy to lend them to you of course, but it’s only right that I’m consulted when they’re used.”
Teodora put down the letter she’d been pretending to read. Funny the old witch thought she was still in charge. “I should have thought you’d be happy to help catch Braeden Terris and Princess Gwynneth.”
“I’d like nothing better.” The princess narrowed her eyes. “But I must also put down the peasant rebellion. As long as any rebels remain, they will help those traitors get away.”
“The rebellion is over.” Teodora smirked. “I killed the leader myself. I’ve ordered his body put on display in the Kronfels temple so I doubt anyone will be interested in taking his place.”
“How clever of you,” Viviane said, “but I insist on being involved in any future decisions of a military nature.”
Teodora rolled her eyes. She was not going to argue about who was in charge here, again.
Mercifully, the door opened. Perhaps a servant was bringing coffee, though wine would be better.
Elektra walked in, wearing a clean, plain dress, looking pale and calm. “I must speak with you, Mother,” she said, ignoring the princess.
“Come back later,” Viviane said. “Your mother and I are busy.”
Elektra took several steps toward the princess until she stood beside her. “Get out,” she said, her voice as firm as Teodora had ever heard it.
“You can’t–” Viviane began.
“I said, get out.” Elektra raised her voice just a little. “I have business with the empress.”
Viviane turned toward Teodora, looking outraged.
Teodora raised an eyebrow, amused, and just a little proud. “You’d better go.”
“I won’t be–” Viviane’s voice shook.
“Get out,” Teodora and Elektra said at the same time.
Princess Viviane went, shooting Elektra a lethal glance as she passed.
Elektra dropped into the chair.
“Impressive.” Teodora smiled. “What’s happened to you?”
“I’ve grown up,” Elektra said. “I’ve learned a great deal about the world these past months, much of it confusing. But I’m not confused anymore. I want to be empress someday. Surely, that’s something you understand.”
“It is.” Teodora had to confess she was pleased. Not only had Elektra returned of her own free will, she seemed to have grown a spine in the process. Of course, she still couldn’t be trusted, but she might well be useful. Teodora leaned across the desk. “I do understand. But you must realize how long I had to wait. And you will have to wait just as long, perhaps longer. As you can see, I’m in excellent health.”
“I do see that.” Elektra stared straight into Teodora’s eyes.
For the first time, Teodora noticed her daughter’s hazel eyes had flecks of gray and long dark lashes. Quite pretty, in fact.
“I know it will be many years before I can hope to be empress,” Elektra went on. “But like you, I want to learn how to rule, want responsibilities. Surely you can understand that as well.”
“I can.” Teodora smiled. “I’m just not sure I can trust you.”
Elektra lifted her chin. “I’m not sure I can trust you either. But why don’t we work on that? We can start by giving each other valuable information. I’ll go first.”by