"It is forbidden."
The messenger's curt words echoed around the pillared hall where Yolanela, Dowager Countess of Spol, sat in her lofty state. Shocked murmurs arose from the courtiers clustered about the dais, and were as quickly stilled: this one had been bold, indeed, so to defy the she-eagle of Carmania in her eyrie of God's Rock. As if startled by his unprecedented utterance, the Countess made to rise from her throne, clutching its gilded arms with claw-like fingers -- and then, recognising the ultimate futility of directing any defiance towards the Emperor's courier, sank back into its welcoming confines.
"Forbidden?" She mouthed the word with distaste. "How can this be? Of old, there was no bar when nobles of the Empire sought to petition their lord."
"Moonson has spoken. You are not to come to him at Glamour, neither as petitioner nor for any other cause. This ban is absolute: it extends also to your daughters, and to all the other women of your house." A calculated smile crossed the messenger's lips. "Your sons, of course, are greatly favoured by the Emperor, and should there be matters of urgency you wish to raise with him, I am certain a petition brought by either of them would swiftly come to his attention. But not your daughters. And certainly not yourself."
"Faugh!" She spat with disgust. "Have I not served him well? Am I not among the greatest of his nobles, here in the West Reaches?"
"Your loyalty, my lady, is above question: you could not have served your own husband more dutifully than you now seek to serve the Emperor." There were titters, quickly stifled, at this adroit slur - few believed the late Count's death to have been unassisted. "Our sublime Emperor, however, appears to each as they would have him be; and knowing your attachment to the old ways, he has reinstated them in your case. 'A woman cannot plead her cause alone; neither shall she come to court, and so reveal herself before the multitudes...' You, I am sure, know those ancient law codes better than I shall ever do. They are quite plain on this matter. As for your virgin daughters..."
"What of my rights as a citizen?"
"A citizen foreigner, madam: there are still distinctions to be drawn. I am sure you would prefer correct legal form to be followed in this, as in all other things. And a citizen foreigner has no right of appeal to the Emperor."
The audience was plainly at an end. The officer lifted his arm in the military salute of the Empire, then turned on his heel and marched from the court, his crimson-cloaked escort falling in behind him. Their footsteps rang loud from the flagstoned floor as the obsequious servants and haughty guards silently parted.
A gesture. "Have him followed. Have him watched. Such arrogance could be useful." Practicalities, always the practicalities. A herald's voice boomed out from the doorway, announcing her next plaintiff, and the Countess of Spol returned her attention to the matter in hand.
The rest of the day's business was acted out: lawsuits and pleadings, disputes over title, money and land: the petty concerns of the petty nobility of Carmania. And if the Countess at times seemed unduly distracted, what of it? Her judgements had been harsher before.
At sundown, the Countess could rise at last from her discomfort, old bones creaking, and retire to her private chambers. There she could be alone with her thoughts. Servants came in a flurry, to change her ornate robes of state for the simpler habit she affected when in private.
He fears me.
The Red Emperor fears what I might do with him.
That was her first thought, and it was strangely comforting to Yolanela as her best-laid plans lay in ruin about her. He fears me, and with reason. He would have been unable to resist me. Like Sarenesh before him. And our children would have inherited the earth. Our children...
Practical as ever, she turned from this dream. The Emperor's ruling had removed it from the realms of possibility. She must adapt, if her dreams were to bear fruit.
No husband for me from the East, then. The Emperor's Ban prevents it. And that other Ban means none can come from the West. The South is stained by barbarism, the Bull Shah's cursed legacy: I cannot, I will not submit to that, as Tavarstan's wife was forced. No, it will have to be the North.
A cruel smile formed in familiar lines upon her face.
And not the first time a spurned lover has found her husband in the North. I wonder how Moonson will greet my children, when they come to claim their birthright...
The Unholy Trio
"The world was worse off for these three, but for a time they could not be convinced to leave. At last Orlanth outlawed them with rules and threats, but they lingered in the fort. Finally Humakt killed them, and they went to the outermost reaches of the lands of the dead.
"There, in the far north, they conspired and did what they could to each other. They are called the Unholy Trio for this, and they are the parents of Wakboth, Lord of Chaos. He was the first of many gods of chaos and destruction who came to end the world.
The Chaos army marched from the north..."
Yolanela, called the Taloned Countess
"This clever woman is mother to Count Alehandro, the Hierophant of Carmania, Saranko the High Priest of Invisible Orlanth, and at least seven knights of great renown. She openly murdered one rival count, is suspected of secretly murdering her husband as well, and forbids any of her daughters to marry or engage in sex. She supports the largest Teelo Norri orphanage in the empire, and spends one week out of seven there, changing diapers and washing clothes like an ordinary drudge. She is forbidden to come within three days' travel of the capital, Glamour, and is required to have knees, wrists, and nose on the ground whenever within range of the Emperor's Voice."