This is Issue #72 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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“Really? Must we go over this again?” Lucida said, rubbing her temples. “My brother, my flesh, you do know Jet and I… we do not wish this union.”
The gathering long over, the three of them lounged in Immanis’s private study. The Prince himself laid along a chaise and stared at the flames in a nearby brazier, his eyes glassy from the aetheris. “You’re my sister,” Immanis said lowly. “Bound by blood to my will,” he said. “You will marry Jet.”
Lucida made a noise of disgust, but then glanced to Jet and made a brief expression of apology.
Jet shrugged, shaking his head. It was not personal, and he knew it; Lucida would’ve gladly married Jet, but Gemma had been so angry when it had been originally brought up that Lucida simply did not want to go through with it.
“And if I refuse?” Jet wondered of Immanis.
“Why would you?” Immanis’s eyes narrowed. He looked at Jet with faint suspicion. “You love her, do you not? She is pleasing?”
“She is more than pleasing, Immanis,” Jet said quietly. “But she does not rule my heart and I do not wish to–”
“The heart has no place in politics, and a marriage is political, my brother,” Immanis said, trying to soothe. “You may love who you love,” he said, shrugging, smiling almost sadly at Jet. “But you will marry who I need you to marry.”
Frustrated, Lucida balled her hands into fists. “If marriage is to be political, brother, then I suggest you be the one to be married for political reasons.”
“I will be,” Immanis said, his expression darkening. “I’ve found a suitable bride from a family weak enough in progeny to not be a threat, strong enough in funding to be a good ally. The girl is pretty enough, and she seems pleased for my charms,” he told them both, and then got up to pour himself more aetheris.
“Congratulations on your match, then,” Lucida said, rolling her eyes. She got up and huffed irritably, saying, “I’m returning to my rooms for my huqqa. I am still opposed to this farce.”
When she left, Immanis moved to sit down again, choosing a spot on the long couch near Jet. He regarded him for a long while, drinking the shining, silverblue aetheris, and finally reached out a hand to brush a lock of hair back from Jet’s cheek. “I know you do not love her, my brother. Not as one might hope to love his wife. But it will save me from having to give her to another family. It will save me from having to send you to head another one,” he said softly, looking pained. “This palace is full of people who love us, and will obey, but if given the chance to take it for themselves, I am not certain all would be as loyal as I might desire.”
“She won’t be happy,” Jet said carefully. “I fear you doom me to being a terrible husband to an unhappy wife, in doing this.”
Immanis winced saying, “She will be even more irritable with me when I tell her who I’ve picked to join with me. She selects her ladies in waiting carefully — but I am hoping she is pleased; it will allow them to be on more equal footing. She will have to find someone to replace Gemma.”
The crash from the doorway was startling; Jet jerked back from where Immanis had touched his cheek, and turned to look for the source of the sound.
Lucida stood in the doorway, her hands clenched into fists of rage, her body trembling. Her prized huqqa lay in pieces on the floor at her feet. “What?” she whispered, her eyes wide. “What did you say?”
“My marriage. It will be announced once the furor over your ceremonies has died down,” Immanis said, pouring himself another aetheris, calm and collected. “I have selected one of your ladies. Gemma. It’s a high honor. Her family will be very pleased.”
“No,” Lucida said vehemently. “No, I forbid it.”
“You forbid it?” Immanis laughed. “On what authority could you presume to forbid me anything, sister mine?” His eyes, sleepy though they were, did not lack power. “I will allow you to select another dozen new ladies if you like, you can–”
“No. Not her,” Lucida interrupted, trying hard to keep the panic from her face. “You do me a disservice, brother. She has been at court with me for years, Immanis; I would have to train someone new who did not know what I prefer, and how things must be done. It is impossible to find someone as useful as Gemma. She would mean more to me as my lady than she ever could, to you, as a wife.”
Jet’s heart thundered; he looked to Immanis, who stood up and drained the contents of his glass. “I will be obeyed,” he said. “You will marry Jet. It’s decided. I will take Gemma. You will be sisters. She will be a greater companion for you. An equal.”
“She was already my equal!” Lucida snapped. “To you, she is superior! At least she has always cared for what I want, rather than never putting anyone’s desires ahead of her own.”
“You are overstepping,” Immanis sighed, looking irritable.
“I do not care! I am your sister, and I will not simply let you do this. I am not your play thing. Gemma would not want this. She would rather–”
“–remain your lady in waiting, in perpetuity? What, exactly, would she be waiting for, sister?” Immanis wondered haughtily. “This is why women come to court! For marriages of advancement! For family ties. For the ability to gain wealth and allies, Lucy, be reasonable. At any rate, I know quite well that she is pleased for my attentions.”
Lucy’s cheeks flushed hotly. She narrowed her eyes and hissed, “You dared–”
“Letters,” Immanis said, rolling his eyes. “I have written her dozens of love letters to win her affections. She is enamored of them. Enamored of me.”
Lucy’s expression flickered back and forth between both rage and despair. She clenched and unclenched her fists, struggling to swallow back the words she wanted to say. Ultimately, she chose carefully, and informed her brother, “You will regret this, Immanis. I swear it.” Her voice broke, and as she bit off the last word, she turned to leave, walking through the glass shards on the floor, leaving bloody footprints as she ran all the way down the hall.
Shocked, Jet watched her go, and then looked back to Immanis, saying sadly, “You should think twice about this, brother. I am not certain she will forgive you readily. Or at all.”
Immanis waved a hand, dismissing his sister’s fury irritably. “Go after her, if you must — she gets in these tempers sometimes, and all that will satisfy her is a good long fight. You know how she is. I am not in the mood for it right now, my brother.”
Jet shook his head, and turned to go, his heart heavy.
Immanis caught his hand as he turned away, and pressed his thumb against the silver scar in Jet’s palm, tracing the four-pointed star there. “I have to do this, Jet,” he said. “You understand, don’t you?”
Jet looked pained as he carefully withdrew his hand, saying, “I understand you think you have to do this, Immanis — I do. But I also know she is hurting, and it would be cruel of me to leave her to her own thoughts right now.” He left, skirting the broken glass, and followed the bloody footprints, hoping they would lead him all the way to their source.
“You will make a fine husband,” Immanis said quietly, and poured himself another glass of aetheris, glad he waited until Jet was out of earshot to say anything at all.
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