“I understood that Your Majesty has a wife?” Delicate footwork was obviously going to be required here. Rensa hoped she would be up to it.
“She died in the fighting at Montjoy,” the Emperor’s voice was harsh with what she thought was grief and pain.
“I’m sorry. Many people died there.” Acasa, Dendaras, Egild, Father...
“Fewer would have died if you hadn’t gassed our people in the sewers,” that man snarling behind the Emperor’s right elbow again, Divine Ancestors, I’m going to have to learn his name!
“Excuse me,” her voice was ice, unfortunately she knew exactly what had happened at Montjoy, “You drop a heavier than air chemical weapon into a building holding an armoury and trained engineers after surrounding it with insurgents and it never occurred to you that the engineers might crack open the sewer main underneath the building to give the gas somewhere to go?” She had been far more involved in the review of that incident than she’d wanted but Mother had insisted.
“Enough!” It was the Emperor, “Bannoc, Rensa, stand down both of you.” He took a deep breath, “Rensa, why do you think we won?”
She paused a moment to gather her thoughts then just as Bannoc was opening his mouth again she said, “You employed a highly mobile guerrilla insurgent force operating under a tight intelligence net and you were willing to use, as a matter of choice, weapons and tactics that the then Imperial forces were not or were forbidden to utilise.” She surveyed her main audience with some satisfaction, it seemed some them had thought she was an empty airhead. “There was some speculation that the Fosterlings of Suohonn were involved in your organisation – some of the tactics you employed suggested that someone had made a detailed study of his most advanced writings.”
“And if they were?” That was from a blonde man almost on the extreme left of the second row of advisers. And you’re another one who’s name I’ll need to know, aren’t you?
“There were good reasons that none of the other divinities, not even his wife, supported Suohonn during the Discord,” Rensa answered. “His writings are, of course, as much divine writ as those of the first Emperor and thus are worthy of study. However, hitherto the Imperial mandate has been based on ensuring security of food, water and shelter for the populace. The point of Suohonn being locked away at the end of the Discord was that his strictures would not be used on the populace.”
“Yet, having established the three securities, your family continued to insist on the pettifogging rules of food rationing,” Bannoc pointed out, “Taking a tenth of all food production for government stores, keeping everyone registered for a calorie counted ration. Preaching the virtues of a restraint none of us believed you exercised.”
The Emperor interjected he took a breath, “And then we took the Palace and found no great wealth of luxuries. Just ration books and vegetable gardens.”
“The definition of food security had not been reached,” Rensa explained patiently, “It is defined in statute as ten years food in storage for the entire populace. We had five at the time you overthrew my uncle. Since then you have permitted widespread pillaging of the storehouses so I have no idea what the current stock levels might be.”
“Sannic,” the Emperor spoke to one of his advisers, “Make a note to look into that as a matter of importance.”
“Majesty,” a man whose hair used to be red made a note on his pad.
“And why do you think I asked you to marry me?” went on the Emperor.
“You have to do something with me,” Rensa said calmly. “Your choices are imprisonment, execution or marriage, if you assume marriage is not a form of imprisonment. Execution is difficult if I accept your authority as a great many people have seen me alive on my pilgrimage and you probably don’t want a reputation for capricious disposal of persons.” Bannoc snorted, perhaps even with laughter. “Anything that puts me out from directly under your hand is dangerous as it means it makes me available for anyone else to grab, particularly anyone who doesn’t see why they shouldn’t be in charge now my close kinsmen are out of the way. That eliminates remote monasteries, prison cells or exile to semi-exotic fringes of civilization.” The Emperor nodded. “Anything that leaves my womb available for another man’s offspring means I may produce children who could rival yours for position. And of course there’s always the old proposition,” she paused for effect, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. What should be closer than a wife?” She heard a few stray chuckles from the crowd surrounding them.
The Emperor closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and asked, “So why have you never married?”
“It was always intended that I would marry,” she explained, “But every time a suitable match was identified, some rebellious insurgent would attack his duty station and he would die.”
“So, you answer to my political question is, what?” The Emperor now had his chin resting on his palm.
“Yes,” she did not smile, this was a straight business proposal after all, “On the understanding that if your wife had still been alive, the answer would have been ‘Never’.”