Author's Note: Here's the final chapter :'( Announcements about the sequel at the end!
Book 3 Chapter XXIII: All's Well That Ends Well
It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside–but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond–only a glimpse–and heard a note of unearthly music. – L. M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon
The royal tour was over. From almost every perspective it had been a resounding success. There had been no disasters, no major mistakes, and – more importantly – the tour had increased the royal couple's popularity. So the High Council felt they could breathe a sigh of relief and clap each other on the back.
Gialma was the exception. He had never been at ease in large crowds, and he couldn't imagine Tinuviel and Qihadal would have enjoyed constantly being forced to meet thousands of complete strangers. He kept this thought to himself. The other Counsellors had long since decided that the prince was "arrogant and standoffish", so none of them asked for his opinion.
It was a mistaken impression he gave many people. They weren't inclined to look deeper into the reasons for his reticence and reluctance to interact with other people. Even if they had known he was shy rather than proud, they would have laughed and told him to grow up. So Gialma had gained a reputation for thinking himself too important to talk to anyone. It wasn't pleasant to know this, but it meant people often left him alone. So it was a blessing in disguise for him.
And it wasn't as if he had absolutely no one to talk to. His house was never completely empty of Reapers, and they rarely shut up.
Varan had come up with a new theory of why he was able to see Reapers. She began to explain it the minute Gialma walked into his library.
"I think I know why you can see us!" she exclaimed, looking up from the notes scattered all over his once-tidy room. "You see, there's a sort of barrier between your world and ours – it's not really a wall, more like a curtain – and we can brush it aside at will. But you–"
Experience had taught him she could go on for hours like this. Gialma took a deep breath – for him, even speaking to his cousin took more courage than most people realised – and interrupted her lecture.
"Varan, you can tell me about that later. I wanted to ask you something."
"Certainly," Varan said agreeably, sitting up straight instead of lying on the floor. "What is it?"
Gialma tried to sort his thoughts into something resembling coherence. "Tinuviel. Have you seen him since he returned?"
Varan shook her head. "Only from a distance."
"Do you think he's... well?"
Words had always been one of Gialma's worst nightmares. He could so rarely find the words for what he wanted to say, and they turned against him or got tangled up with each other like living creatures. "Well" was not what he wanted to say. But it was the only word he could find, and it had to do.
"Well?" Varan repeated. "In what way?"
Gialma tried to put his thoughts into words. "The tour. Do you think he's all right after it?"
She nodded. "I'm sure he's tired, but apart from that I don't think there's anything wrong with him. Death visited him almost every day while they were travelling, and she doesn't seem worried about him."
Death visited Tinuviel? A cold chill ran down Gialma's spine. All his life he had heard stories of what happened when Caranilnavs became too interested in the supernatural. He was fairly sure that daily visits from Death counted as "too interested".
But wasn't he in just the same position, with his Reaper friends?
"Anyway," Varan said, "I was telling you about my new idea."
Gialma sat down on the floor and waited to hear what she had to say. He had learnt months ago that neither angels nor principalities nor powers could stop Varan when she had an idea.
"As I was saying, there's a sort of curtain between the worlds. I think some people – some living people, I mean – are able to see past it. Or at least are more aware of it than most mortals. And I think you're one of them."
"But I never saw any of you until just over a year ago," Gialma protested.
Varan nodded thoughtfully. "There is that. But I can't find a logical explanation for it at all."
I can, Gialma thought. I think it's a symptom of our family's insanity.
Most people would be alarmed to think they might be going mad. Gialma just felt a grim sort of resignation. Perhaps madness wasn't that bad. Or perhaps he was wrong. He didn't know. But at least his new friends weren't dangerous. He wasn't sure he could say the same for Tinuviel's... visitor.
Evening fell over Zasordoth Palace. It brought with it a curious sort of stillness. Qihadal, curled up on the settee in her living room, watched the sunset without really seeing it. She was lost in thought; decidedly uncomfortable thought, but she couldn't avoid it any longer.
All her disapproval had been for nothing. Death had kept coming back throughout the tour, and Tinuviel had welcomed her with open arms. That was infuriating enough on its own. But shortly before the end of the tour, Qihadal had seen something that gave her a great deal to think about.
They had been attending a dinner party at an earl's home. Qihadal had been talking to their host's wife, and Tinuviel had gone out to the gardens. He'd said he had a headache and wanted some fresh air. Qihadal had chanced to look out the windows at one point. She'd seen Tinuviel sitting near a fountain, deep in conversation with Death.
That was bad enough on its own. But what she saw after that was worse.
Whatever the two of them were talking about, it must have been amusing. Death laughed at something Tinuviel said. He smiled too, a lighter, more carefree smile than Qihadal had ever seen him use before. A strand of Death's hair fell over her face. Tinuviel reached out and brushed it away from her eyes. They smiled at each other then, and there was something in both of their faces that left Qihadal feeling like she'd intruded on a very private moment.
Now she couldn't escape the memory of that scene. They loved each other. She knew it as well as she knew her own name. She had no place here.
Why should she stay? She would only be coming between her husband and his actual wife. She hated Death, and she didn't expect that would ever change, but why should she cause another woman any unhappiness over a man Qihadal didn't even love?
The empress sat there for a long time, staring out the window long after the sun had completely set. And when she finally got up, she knew what she meant to do.
Qihadal wanted to speak with Tinuviel as soon as possible. But first she had to speak with a noblewoman who'd requested an audience, and then she was told Chief Counsellor Dilves had arrived to criticise Tinuviel for something or other. Dinnertime passed. Qihadal had still only seen her husband for a few minutes, with no opportunity for a private conversation.
Perhaps I should speak to Nadriet instead, she thought in exasperation. She could tell Tinuviel I have an important matter to tell him about.
An hour after dinner Qihadal set out for the emperor's office. Halfway there, she thought she saw her husband in one of the palace hallways. She stopped and looked again. It wasn't Tinuviel. It was his cousin. And he was talking to a very strange-looking young woman.
If Varan's wings had been visible, Qihadal would have recognised her as one of Death's servants. They weren't, however, and so the empress thought she was only an oddly-dressed visitor to the palace. Qihadal walked on and thought no more about it.
She found Tinuviel in his office, arguing with Chief Counsellor Dilves about the High Council's expenditure.
"I want a full explanation of where all this money went," he was saying when he saw Qihadal. "Now, Chief Counsellor–" It was truly amazing, the amount of sarcasm he could put in two words, "–I would thank you to leave."
Dilves left with a very bad grace. Tinuviel looked questioningly at Qihadal.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
"Not exactly," Qihadal said. She sat down on the chair opposite him and gathered her courage. "I think we should divorce."
There. She'd said it.
Tinuviel stared at her, his eyes wide. "Divorce? Why?"
She'd expected this question, and had already thought of exactly how to word her answer. "Because I don't love you, and you love Death."
"We could hardly give that as a reason for divorcing," Tinuviel observed dryly. "It would provide the gossips with enough to talk about for a century."
"I have thought about that." She'd spent all night thinking about it. "I do not think we should make our divorce widely-known. We already live separate lives. Our daughter is raised by her nanny. There is nothing to keep us together. We need only arrange for a quiet divorce, and continue living our separate lives in the palace. No one else would know."
"You have thought about this," Tinuviel said quietly. "Very well. I'll make the arrangements."
Qihadal had expected some more reluctance. On the one hand she was glad he was so calm about it. But on the other hand, it was just yet more proof of how little she meant to him.
Death arrived that night to find Kilan in an unusually distracted frame of mind. He hardly noticed she was there at first. He was too busy looking through old records of the reigns of past emperors.
"What are you doing?" she asked curiously.
"Looking for precedent for a divorce that is kept secret," Kilan said absently. "Hello, by the way."
"Try the records of Empress Chiyao," Death suggested. "She had to keep her divorce secret or her father-in-law would have declared war."
Kilan looked through the records until he found ones from Chiyao's reign. Death sat down on the armchair and watched him flick through the pages.
"I take it you and Qihadal have given up?" she said at last.
Kilan nodded. "She was the one who suggested it. I think it's because of you, really."
Death raised an eyebrow. "You make it sound like I go around breaking up people's marriages."
"You know what I mean," he said, rolling his eyes. "But she wants to get divorced without letting anyone else know about it."
She waited for him to continue. But Kilan went back to the records, apparently thinking he'd said enough.
"And then?" Death said.
He gave her a confused look. "And then what?"
"What will you do once you're divorced?" she elaborated. "You can hardly marry me officially, when everyone still thinks you're married to her."
She had meant it as a sort of joke. Kilan's suddenly depressed expression implied he took it seriously.
"No, we can't have a proper wedding," he agreed wistfully.
It struck Death in that moment that he wouldn't mind them having a proper wedding. And more alarmingly, she wouldn't mind it either. But what the Carann empire – and worse, Fate – would say about it didn't bear thinking of.
"But we can continue the way we are," Kilan said. "And Qihadal can marry someone else if she wants to."
Death's knowledge of the future was still frustratingly obscured. But those words called to mind an image of Qihadal's future. "Yes. She can."
Kilan pushed the old records away and sat up, rubbing his eyes. "I haven't got to the part you mentioned yet," he said, "but it can wait until morning."
With a wave of her hand Death sent the untidy pile of record books flying over to lean against a bookcase. "Do you want to visit my realm tonight?"
"No," Kilan said, stifling a yawn, "I think I'll go to bed now." He paused, looking at her almost shyly. "Will you stay with me? Just to sleep, I mean? Not... anything else?"
Death smiled. "Certainly."
Night had fallen over Zasordoth Palace. Overhead a few stars twinkled in the sky. A nightingale sang just outside the emperor's bedroom window.
Kilan and Death lay beside each other, wrapped in each other's arms. Kilan half-woke at the nightingale's song. For a minute, his mind still fogged with dreams, he thought he was back in his childhood home, just Grand Duke Kilan instead of Emperor Tinuviel. Then he woke up enough to remember.
Usually the abrupt return to wakefulness was an unpleasant sensation. But now Kilan hardly cared. In the morning he would have to arrange for the divorce. At some point in the future there was the chance of war with Malish. He still had his endless royal duties.
But for now, everything was peaceful, and he had Death. He snuggled closer to her and went back to sleep.
Outside, the nightingale still sang.
END OF BOOK 3
END OF DEATH AND THE EMPEROR
(but not the end of the story)
Second Author's Note: First, a very big "thank you!" to everyone who's read, favourited or reviewed this story. It probably would never have been finished without your encouragement :D
There will definitely be a sequel. Right now it's untitled and has only a vague outline, so I honestly have no idea what it'll turn out like. *shrugs* At the minute I plan to write it for Camp NaNoWriMo April 2019, and it'll probably be posted some time in May. More information will be put on my profile in April.
Thank you again to all my readers!