Camilia gave a gurgling laugh at the sally and laid a hand on the Lord Magistrate’s shoulder. She saw him appreciatively following the line of her neck and long bare arm and smiled. He had known her father too well to be genuinely swayed by her femininity, but she found that very few men actually minded being charmed by the Empress. She crinkled her eyes at him in parting, and turned away to find the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
He was standing on the balcony, the last echoes of sunset on his face. He was, as ever, slim, tall, and elegantly dressed, the note-perfect performance of a man who had been at court since long before she’d been born. He had been appointed to his position by her grandfather and had not been young then, but of course that was nothing for the Tevalle.
Camilia joined him on the balcony and looked at him speculatively. She was never quite sure how the Tevalle viewed her charms. She strongly suspected that her mind was the primary attraction for them — she’d been told it was worthy of Maj Malai more than once — but she’d never figured out how the physical factored in. She wondered briefly, irreverently, what would happen if she took a Tevalle husband. That would be a first as far as she knew.
He was waiting calmly, a slight smile on his face. She lifted her eyes to him, not trying very hard to suppress the mischief. “Would you like to marry me, Alaiye?”
Alaiye, always exceptionally difficult to surprise, merely laughed. “And spend the next several centuries in the palace quarters for dowagers?”
“Something could be arranged,” she said demurely. The idea of her great-grandchildren still housing one of her husbands centuries later was irresistibly funny.
“My dear, you have a talent for pure devilry that your father and grandfather would have envied.”
“Thank you.” She smiled and turned to look out over the dark city. Of all the ministers, he was as safe an ally as she had, a sort of enduring family asset. It was restful to spend a few minutes with someone she could trust. She sighed and gently rattled the ruby bangle on her wrist. “Shin Ai?”
“I don’t think Shin Ai is the issue at this point.” He left unstated the real issue: whether she could trust the brother in charge of the embassy there.
“My father’s appointments.” In the distance, she could see the city marketplace limned in torchlight. “Are you sure you don’t want to marry me?”
It was the mere suggestion of a laugh, a movement of breath that she felt rather than heard. “If you are that bored, I suggest you observe your cousin. She appears to have set the mayor of Maj Tacar after your sister Asila.”
Camilia gave him a sudden amused smile. “Asila likes Maj Tacar,” she offered. She laughed at the look she got in response, heart lighter, and went to look for Raicha.
This week’s Write at the Merge prompt at Write On Edge gave us a black and white photo and a song for inspiration (click through to see/listen). For a list of the stories about Camilia and her family in rough chronological order, check out the Fiction page. Thanks for reading!