“Why did you recommend me to Minister Sallic for the inspector’s job?” Haslic had bowed with ill grace and probably only because Mirren was in the room with them. Rensa did not ask him to sit, she suspected that it was petty of her but she did not want this man comfortable in her quarters.
“My father used to say that sometimes in his work it was useful for people to be afraid of you. He scared them because he was an Imperial Prince. You terrify me,” Rensa looked him straight in the eye, “I don’t see why you shouldn’t terrify the bad guys too. Besides, I think it would be good for you to be put to work rescuing people.”
“Highness?” He lifted an eyebrow.
“We both know what Trode ordered you to do.” Rensa had dropped her volume so Mirren over by the window couldn’t quite hear her words.
“Yannic’s orders prevented me doing everything Trode wanted,” Haslic dropped his volume to match hers, “I have to wonder if he knew even back then what he was going to do with you now.”
“I don’t know,” Rensa admitted, “But I believe Trode intended to use you to dispose of me and keep his hands clean.”
“How so?” Hislac was surprised, “Break you, yes, he wanted that. No false modesty or hauteur but dead?”
“Short rations, excessive exercise, beatings-”
“You have such lovely skin,” murmured Haslic with that grin she had grown to hate on her forced pilgrimage.
“Add in pregnancy from unprotected, probably non-consensual, sex,” Rensa continued, “And you have a recipe for miscarriage. A few of those in short succession, particularly with the weight loss I had, would probably have been enough to do the job.”
“I might,” Haslic’s face had hardened, “Have taken action to prevent the deaths of my children.”
Rensa nodded in acknowledgement of his point. Mirren was beginning to look frustrated that she couldn’t hear what was going on. “Then go,” Rensa’s tone was as kind and firm as she could manage for this man, “And make the world better for those who need the help Minister Sallic is employing you to give.”
“As you wish, Highness,” he bowed with polish this time, “I will go and spread fear and terror among the unlawful.”
After Mirren saw him out she came and sat with Rensa. “So, what did you talk about?” Mirren desire to satisfy her curiosity was written as clearly on her face as it had appeared in her words.
“What might have been,” Rensa’s tone suggested absolutely no regrets. “Mirren, I think I need to talk to Tuluc. Can you arrange it please?”
“Of course,” Mirren paused, “Rensa, is something wrong?”
“I’m...not sure.” Rensa waved a hand in the air as if dismissing her own uncertainties. “I find Haslic disturbing and talking to him has set off a chain of thought...”
“And you want to talk to Tuluc, not Yannic?”
“I don’t think it’s a Yannic sort of problem,” Rensa paused, “I actually think its a Bannoc sort of problem but he doesn’t like me and I don’t think he’d listen.”
Mirren raised an eyebrow but simply said, “I’ll organise some time with Tuluc.”
Later, seated over tea and little biscuits with Mirren and Tuluc, Rensa asked her guest, “Tuluc, if Trode had gotten what he wanted, how long do you think Yannic would have lived?”
Tuluc paused with his cup in midair, then sipped from it. Once the cup was back on its saucer he said, “Realistically? No more than three months. Yannic is so obviously of the bloodline there would have inevitably been a party develop wanting ‘a real’ or ‘the true’ Emperor on the throne.” He considered a moment more. “His death would have been an accident, unless such a group had attempted a coup in his name. I’m sure Trode would have spoken very movingly at his funeral.”
“But-,” Mirren looked in confusion from Tuluc to Rensa and back again.
“Trode’s intentions were unknown to the rest of us,” Tuluc told her calmly, “Until we’d seized the Palace and penetrated what he called ‘the Inner Sanctums of Power.’ Then, as I suspect Yannic or Bannoc has told you, he tried to become Emperor.”
“I always thought he was too slick for words,” admitted Mirren, “Although Kiriel thought he was wonderful. I wasn’t as involved as the rest of you were but it seemed to me that he never got his hands dirty. He would say that something should happen and it did, but he never did it.”
“Which brings me to my next question,” chimed in Rensa, “How long before he permanently cleaned up his image and back story by getting rid of the people who could testify he gave the orders for Mountjoy and everything that happened here at the Palace?”
“Are you sure you’re not trying to pass too much off onto Trode?” Tuluc sipped his tea after asking his question.
“Tuluc, you’re the people who killed my entire family.” For a moment Rensa might have been on the edge of tears, then she was in control again. “I live at your pleasure and mercy. I cannot go anywhere else. Yes, it makes living among all of you easier if I believe that the worst of what happened was one dead man’s fault.” Mirren was on the verge of crying. “As it happens,” Rensa sipped her own tea, “I’ve seen the recordings of his speeches and I believe that he was perfectly capable of turning a crowd into a mob or persuading intelligent men that the sun wouldn’t rise tomorrow if they didn’t kill their neighbours’ first born.”
“I concede your points,” Tuluc made a gesture of acquiescence. “Depending on how much of an issue it was and the circumstances, anything from the time of the subjugation of the Empire to the thirty year mark. Possibly in stages or as consciences became unbearable.”
“And you?” Rensa pressed.
“Possibly before Yannic, maybe not until the very end.” Tuluc sipped his tea again. “It’s amazing how much perspective you can gain on events after even only a few months.”
“So, how would he have done it?” Rensa left the question there to sit.
“What do you mean?” Mirren was puzzled.
“If there were going to be accidents, well I haven’t seen Yannic in action but Bannoc and Tuluc here,” Rensa pointed at him with her teacup, “Are no slouches when it comes to the physical stuff. How easy would it be to make them have an ‘accident’? And who would you get to do it?”
“Ah.” Tuluc picket up a small biscuit, one of the little iced ones that Mirren could only get Rensa to eat because she’d gotten her that convalescent diet prescription. “Another excellent point because, of course, Trode didn’t expect to die. I shall have to look into that, yes...” He stared off into the distance as he chewed his biscuit and sipped on his tea.