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And so it was that when Isde Vaos entered the room he was greeted first by Cinasor who, just as he had told Gelikon, knelt at Isde Vaos' feet and said, “It has come to my attention, Your Eminence, that you have acted as protector to a connection of my family, and for those services I owe you the most sincere and deepest gratitude.”

Isde Vaos looked down at Cinasor, bewilderment clearly showing on his face. But when the Emperor snapped, “That might be considered most inappropriate, Ni Cinasor!” the bewilderment faded to be replaced with horrified dismay.

“It was an oath that I made, Supremacy,” Cinasor replied. “I thought it best to fulfill it when it might be inappropriate, rather than to wait and risk needing to fulfill it when it was clearly inappropriate.”

The Emperor's lips were tight with disapproval. “Might I suggest that you be a little more careful of your oaths in the future?”

“Yes, Supremacy.”

“Ni Vaos, approach me.”

The young eplakil edged around Cinasor and walked slowly toward where I was standing. Having reached my side he went down on both knees and touched his forehead to the floor, just as Cinasor had. Unlike Cinasor, he didn't straighten up afterward but stayed with his forehead pressed into the marble floor tiles.

The Emperor was frowning at him. “I need you to explain to me how it could come about that one of my eplakil could be found to have influenced the death of one of my other eplakil. Does anyone have the right to deprive me of one of my eplakil's services?”

There was a long silence, in which I figured out some of the advantages of remaining in the uncomfortable looking obeisance position: no one could look in your eyes and see you panic, and you didn't have to attempt to look an angry emperor in the face.

At last Isde Vaos spoke. “Is it depriving you of service, Supremacy, if the eplakil in question never bothered to serve?”

“My right to dismiss him even so, Ni Vaos.”

“He wasn't fit to serve you, Supremacy. He was a stain on your court, an affront to your eminence, and a lowering influence on the title I bear in your service. When I discovered what he was, surely it was my duty to remove him from your shade, so that his presence could no longer secretly diminish your majesty.”

The Emperor looked thoughtful. “So you hold that it was not your right, but still nonetheless your duty, to remove this embarrassment of a courtier from my palace.”

“Yes, Supremacy.”

“You don't suppose,” the Emperor asked, leaning forward a little, “that in such circumstances it might be wise to consult with your fellow eplakil first... or even, perhaps, myself?”

“I fear I was rash, Supremacy.”

“But you were rash in the service of myself.”

“Always at your service, Supremacy.”

The Emperor sat back. “The worst problem with unspeakable crimes, is that no one may speak of them,” he said musingly, and then looked straight at me. Now that Isde Vaos had confessed to the crime, I managed to meet that gaze unflinchingly. “You said that he may never have actually touched him?” he asked me in my own tongue.

“Before he explained how he desired to rid the court of the man for your sake, I would have considered it very possible. Even likely.”

“Very well then,” the Emperor said, and switched back to his own language. “I cannot fault the desire to serve, Ni Vaos. To kill on my behalf is indeed the ancient duty of an eplakil, although the rashness with which you acted is not acceptable. As you have deprived me of an eplakil, you will take on his duties in addition to your own, while his privileges pass to his daughter as is her right.”

I blinked. Did His Supremacy believe that it was an accident? Was that why he chose to forgive the crime? But Isde Vaos had said nothing about unlucky happenstance.

“Yes, Supremacy,” the young eplakil was even then replying with suitable humility and no sign of pleading that it was an accident.

“It would, of course, be most unsuitable for you to marry the daughter of the man you killed, no matter how noble the cause for which you killed him. So, to shelter her from unpleasant speculation, I must insist that you marry someone else, immediately.”

“Yes, Supremacy.”

That part of the sentence, ordering the boy to do precisely what he so obviously wished to do, struck me as being more than a little odd, but I was glad that no orders of execution seemed to be forthcoming.

“And because of the way this incident has inconvenienced our foreign guests, I will be presenting the Gidomi Ambassador and the Gidomi Government with suitable gifts. Both these gifts will be provided by you.”

“Yes, Supremacy.”

“You may go.”

“My gratitude, Supremacy.” He knocked his forehead against the floor a couple of times, and then retreated from the room.

Velvet Lies - Page 30
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