Elektra hoped she knew at least a few things her mother didn’t. She told herself she wasn’t betraying any confidences. Surely most of what she was about to say was common knowledge. “Lennart doesn’t want to be emperor,” she said.
“Pfft.” Teodora rolled her eyes. “How can you be sure of that?”
“He told me.”
“And you believed him? You are still terribly naive, aren’t you?”
“I didn’t believe him, at least not at first. But the deal he made with me confirmed it.”
“He made a deal with you?” Teodora raised an eyebrow.
“Yes.” Elektra shrugged, hoping her face didn’t show how awful she felt. “I suppose I’ve broken it by going back to you.”
“I doubt he’ll look kindly on that,” Teodora said with a smirk.
Braeden will tell him the truth. I hope. Elektra swallowed and tried to smile. “No, he won’t. But I’m guessing you want to know what his offer was.” She wasn’t quite yet willing to accept it would never happen. Maybe, if Braeden attempted a rescue, she’d go along. Maybe.
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.” Teodora looked bored, but Elektra detected the curiosity lurking beneath the surface.
“Lennart doesn’t want to be emperor. What he wants is to overthrow you and the old faith.”
“That’s all? No conditions? Surely even you didn’t swallow that.”
“Of course not. But yes, he wants the Quadrene religion everywhere and you gone. Dead, preferably. Before meeting me, he wanted to get rid of the Inferraras altogether. But once we’d talked, he decided it might go easier to replace you with another, better Inferrara.”
“I’m sure you enjoyed saying that last bit.” Teodora shook her head, an amused smile on her lips. “I don’t blame you for thinking you’re better. I felt the same way about the old emperor. But you know nothing about what it means to rule an empire. Neither did I. But I learned, and you might too. You must understand by now that Lennart would not put you on the throne and let you be.”
“He claimed he’d do that, but I didn’t believe it. I realized there would be a price, but I was willing to pay it.”
“Conversion to the Quadrene heresy was no doubt the first installment, and you wasted no time accomplishing that.”
“I didn’t do it right away. You might consider me weak-willed, but I didn’t convert easily. In fact, I expected to give up my ambitions because of my faith. But you changed my mind.”
“Yes. I got a letter from Aksel Roussay. He told me how you’d forced him to convert and to expect a false message from him. I was so angry about that, I realized that you and the old faith were utterly corrupt and evil, just like Lennart said. After that it was easy. Queen Raysa helped me, since she’d recently converted.”
Teodora had drawn her brows together at the slur, but smiled at the mention of Raysa.
Elektra cursed herself for mentioning her.
“My niece, Raysa Sikora?”
“My cousin.” Elektra lifted her chin. “She’s very nice. It’s hard to believe she has any Inferrara blood at all.”
“Well, it always did run weak in my brother’s veins. So Queen Raysa was with you in Heidenhof. Is she still there?”
“I have no idea.” That was true, and Elektra prayed Raysa and Kataryna had returned to Estenor at some point, well out of her mother’s reach.
“I’ll find out.” Teodora scribbled something on a sheet of paper. “Still, what you’ve told me is interesting. Lennart plans to install a puppet in Atlona rather than rule himself. And he’d like that puppet to be you. Though perhaps not anymore.”
Elektra tried not to think about that. She cleared her throat. “All right, I’ve shared interesting information. Now I want some from you.”
Elektra stared at Teodora hard. “What happened to you? Why are you suddenly young and healthy? It’s not natural and you clearly did something. Why don’t you tell me what it was?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Because I’ll find out anyway.” Elektra wasn’t sure how it would be possible, but she had to figure out a way to get leverage over her mother.
“Unlikely.” Still, Teodora looked uneasy. “You said earlier it seemed like a miracle. Can’t you accept that?”
“I do believe it’s a miracle, but I also realize the gods work through their servants. I’m certain you had help.”
“Interesting theory. I’m sorry, but I don’t trust you enough to share that with you. Someday. perhaps. It’s not like you can do anything with the information anyway. Nothing good at least.”
“All right.” Elektra shrugged, hoping it wasn’t obvious she was still dying of curiosity. “But surely you can at least tell me what you have in mind for Isenwald, and Terragand too.”
“To be honest, I’m not sure what to do about Isenwald. Princess Viviane is barely competent, though I’ve intimidated her enough to make her docile.”
“She didn’t seem very docile when I came in.”
“She puts on a good show, but you saw how we pushed her around. I can’t leave you in charge either, since I want to keep a close eye on you for the near future. But I want to deal with Terragand. Until Devyn Bernotas and his siblings are all dead, I must get control there somehow.”
“Why don’t you put me in charge?”
“Of Terragand? So you can spend time with that heretic Edric? I think not.”
“I doubt I’d be spending time with him if he’s dead.”
“True.” Teodora leaned back in her chair, staring at Elektra so intently she wanted to look away. “Why don’t you tell me what you have in mind? Perhaps we can find a way to please us both.”by