"My husband, our Emperor was a good man. A fine man. A...well-dressed man. Of all the accolades I could heap upon him—and there are many names I could call him at this juncture—being considered the height of fashion would be the attribute that counted the most to him."
Darling, come to bed. We'll never get an heir if you stand there all night mesmerized by your reflection. You care about an heir, don't you? Or do you wish for me to rule? Of course, I'm only joking. Please come to bed.
"He was a generous man—and forward leaning. Although some of his ministers tried to pressure him into making it impossible for a woman to ascend to the throne, he preferred to favor equality. He knew I would have the empire's best interests at heart."
I'm terribly sorry, my lords, but the Emperor is in his closet. Yes, of course you can leave that bill here. I'll let him know he needs to sign it. Thank you—it means the world that you see me as humble and dutiful.
What did you say, my husband? Oh--who was that at the door? Just the Lord Chamberlain asking if we needed anything for the night. Yes, yes he is indeed the most considerate man.
"And the Emperor trusted me so fully. Loved me so completely. He said I was everything he ever needed, and I believe he meant that. One of his last acts was commissioning a fine dress for me from the tailors who dressed him last."
Come, my darling, the Emperor is bewitched by his mirror again. He won't miss his Lord Chamberlain if we want to slip away to my stillroom. You always know just what I like.
That box? Why it holds my astounding dress from the new tailors. The Emperor is far too good to me—having one made for me now that he is so finely attired. Why are you looking at it that way? Are you so low-born you cannot see it? Yes, yes, it is beautiful, isn't it?
"And finally, the Emperor was a competitive man. We all know he excelled at the lists, if not in athletic ability than by the fact that his armor was the most beautiful that could be procured. I think he would be happy that this is how he was taken. Dressed to the nines—or so he thought—on the horse that carried him everywhere, downed in the joust by someone dear to him.
Hello, gentlemen. No, please, don't scurry to measure me. I'm on to you and your swindling ways.
Don't even think about running—I have guards posted around the house. But there's no need for panic; I think we can help each other.
"It was just unfortunate that the Lord Chamberlain was taken, too. So young and handsome to be lost that way. Both the Emperor and I trusted him with some of our deepest secrets. He was clearly heartbroken that his lance had pierced the Emperor's armor, which of course we've since realized was nonexistent. Then falling as he did—saddles can slip so easily, can't they?—and with him also in the sham armor. Nothing to break his fall, poor boy.
So gentleman, how are you at making suits of armor? Two of them, to be precise.
"As your Empress, I will make it my mission to track down the scoundrels who perpetrated this fraud on our good Emperor and our empire. They will find no welcome anywhere, and they will pay for what they've done. You know me to be a good and loyal wife, and I shall endeavor to be a moral and beneficent Empress."
Thank you, gentleman, for your service. Shall we drink to our continued partnership? What? Why am I not drinking? The question to ask yourself is why are you? There, there. I'm told it only hurts for a moment. So considerate of you to meet me in this cave. No one ever comes here, and if they do, well...no one will care if you're found dead. The infamous swindlers who killed an Emperor.
Untrustworthy? Me? Hmmm, coming from you gentleman, I think I consider that a great compliment.
Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. In addition to being an avid reader and an at-times sporadic writer, she's passionate about horse racing (the racing part, not betting), tea, whiskey, handbags, and art. Her work has appeared in: Nature, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, Grimdark, and others, and she has edited several anthologies for independent presses. See more at http://www.gerrileen.com.
Art by: Amanda Bergloff