Author's Note: Yesterday I posted the first chapter of my April CampNaNo project, and today I had my fourth and final exam, so here's a D+E bonus chapter to celebrate! (And to stop me worrying about the exam results…)
This is a sort of deleted scene from the last chapter of Death and the Emperor Book 1. It was supposed to happen in the actual story, but I couldn't find a place to put it. So here it is, as another bonus chapter!
Warning: contains references to rape and (attempted) abortion.
Lantern in the Night
Sometimes you've gotta bleed
Before you heal enough
To keep the dark at bay
– Rachel Rose Mitchell, Lantern in the Night
The lattice lanterns cast weird shapes on the walls. The potion bubbled in the cauldron over the fire. Qihadal gnawed at her fingernails as she waited for it to brew. She refused to let herself think of anything but the task at hand.
All will be well soon.
She had repeated those words to herself, over and over, in the weeks since… what happened.
In the days after the guardsman had dragged her to his room, those words had been all that kept her sane. No one would find out. If she went on with her life, kept her arms covered until the bruises faded, acted just as she always had, she would keep this a secret until her dying day. All would be well.
In the days when she began to feel ill, she kept repeating those words. Perhaps it was just a stomach bug. Perhaps she had eaten something that disagreed with her. Perhaps she had caught a cold from one of her sisters. All would be well.
When she sneaked out late one night to pay a visit to a witch doctor, when her worst fears were confirmed, those words became her lifeline. The witch doctor had given her ingredients for a potion and directions to brew it. The potion would induce a miscarriage. No one would ever know there had been a child. All would be well.
And that brought her here, to this out-of-the-way prayer-room that was used only on festival days.
Qihadal had no idea what a miscarriage involved, other than the death of an unborn child. From the whispers she had overheard among the palace midwives, however, she suspected it would involve a lot of blood. So she had carefully collected every scrap of paper she could find, and covered the floor with it.
Now all she had to do was wait.
Death's job took her all over the known universe, and into the unknown universe too. Tonight it took her to the Kumdegalaa Sea to the south-west of Malish. The ship Valgurdib had been sailing into the port city of Needashath when it struck a rock. Death and some of her Reapers went to collect the souls of the victims.
And to think some people believe I enjoy my work, Death thought as she materialised underwater to gather souls from the submerged bodies. I should let them struggle through deep water or burning buildings for once. See how much they like it.
Despite her displeasure with some of the places she had to gather souls, she didn't truly mind her work. But she was still more than happy when it was temporarily finished and she could metaphorically catch her breath.
Now, was anything interesting about to happen anywhere nearby?
She mentally reviewed the events that she knew were fated to happen today. Very few of them were of interest to anyone but the Malishese. She certainly wasn't going to waste her time with a brawl breaking out at a fish market, especially when it was settled without bloodshed.
But then she remembered an event that would have a great impact on the futures of many people. And it was happening right now.
Fate worked subtly. Let Death and her children attend to the flashy, dramatic disasters; Fate was content to work with the mundane, overlooked events. An orphanage catching fire would draw more attention, it was true, but the fire would never have occurred without a carelessly-thrown match on a hot day.
At present, She worked with what to anyone else would seem like mere random chance. An onlooker would have never suspected Emperor Tinuviel of Carann would ever meet Princess Qihadal of Malish. But Fate was slowly weaving their destinies out of seemingly unrelated incidents.
What did an unusually-conscientious guard have to do with the fate of two empires? Nothing, the average person would say.
Fate knew better.
Niraj Vyomaang had been delighted to be promoted from a city guard to a Royal Guard. The news that he would only be guarding the women's quarters was disappointing, but if he did his job well he might be promoted to guarding one of the princes.
The state of the gugevertuni was shocking. It was an embarrassment for a man to be assigned to guard women, but these women were members of the royal family. Even unimportant royals needed to be guarded from the common scum of the city. Yet the vast majority of the gugevertuni spent their days drinking, gambling, and flirting with the princesses.
Niraj was only a recently assigned guardsman. He couldn't whip them into shape. But he could do his duties to the best of his ability, even if no one else did. Sooner or later someone would commend him for it. The gods would reward him, he was sure of it.
And that was why Niraj spent his days and nights "prowling" the corridors, to quote one of his comrades. There was always the chance of an intruder sneaking in, and it would bring him great renown if he thwarted an assassination attempt.
Tonight he marched down a hallway in the west wing of the tọlluz, his hand resting on the hilt of his degnu. He had patrolled the walls around the whole palace, making sure there was no gap where anyone could get in. Then he had walked up and down every hallway in the south wing, until he was sure there were no intruders concealed anywhere. Now he turned his attention to the west wing, and so far all seemed well.
As he passed the closed door of a disused prayer-room, he caught a whiff of something odd. It smelt like… kidret spice?
Niraj turned back and examined the door suspiciously. There was a definite smell of spice wafting out through it, mixed with an odd, sharp smell that reminded him of the pain-killing concoctions made by battlefield doctors. It was the sort of smell he would expect to find hanging around an apothecary's shop. It had no business hanging around an empty prayer-room. And now that he looked closer, he could see a light flickered under the door.
He drew his degnu and rapped the hilt against the door.
"Who goes there?" he shouted.
Qihadal had no clock to tell her how much time had passed. She had to guess from how much the candles had burnt down. But she was reasonably sure that the potion had boiled long enough.
She took the soup ladle and the cup she had filched from the kitchens, and ladled some of the potion into the cup. Smoke rose from the surface of the dark green liquid. A strange smell wafted from it; a smell of spice mingled with medicine.
The princess took a deep breath, steeled her nerves, and raised the bowl to her lips.
All will be well soon.
It burned. The potion scalded her mouth as she drank it. She spluttered and instinctively tried to spit it out.
No, she told herself. I have to drink it.
She swallowed, and almost screamed aloud. It felt like the potion burnt right through her insides.
Why didn't I let it cool?! she thought as she gasped for breath.
The pain passed gradually. Qihadal lay still on the floor until she could swallow without her throat feeling like it was on fire. The potion still in the cauldron bubbled away over the slowly-dying fire. The candles in the lanterns had burnt down to mere stubs.
At last she stood up, feeling sick and drained. Had it worked? Would all be well now? How could she know?
Then something heavy struck the door.
"Who goes there?" a male voice shouted.
Qihadal leapt to her feet. She looked wildly around. There were the lanterns – the cauldron – the jars that had contained the ingredients. If she was found, everyone would know what she had done. Everyone would know…
There was only one door to the prayer-room. The only other way out was through the window.
Qihadal wrenched open the door-like structure covering the window and climbed onto the windowsill. The ground looked such a long way away.
Someone rattled the door. The lock wouldn't hold it long, if they did that again. "Open this door!"
Death arrived at a certain Malishese palace just in time to see a figure leap out of a second storey window.
People rarely jumped out windows for the fun of it. Death made her way across the lawn to see what had happened. She found a young woman, barely more than a girl, dressed like a servant, struggling to her feet and limping away. The woman collapsed after a few steps with a strangled cry.
Death, being Death, knew exactly who this woman was, and when she would die. Princess Qihadal had a considerable length of time left to live, no matter what any mortal thought. So would her unborn child, despite a charlatan's potions. And both their lives would become thoroughly entangled with a certain Emperor's, which meant Death would be seeing quite a lot of them in future. She might as well make a relatively good first impression.
"Are you all right?" she asked in a carefully-crafted tone of polite curiosity.
One of her powers was that, when she made herself visible to normal adults, they would see whatever they wanted to see. Depending on the person, that might be a close friend, a neighbour… or a servant, as in this case. Princess Qihadal looked at her and saw only a nondescript servant girl.
As she turned, the princess's veil slipped off her head. Death widened her eyes and raised her hand to her mouth, the picture of a servant shocked upon recognising a superior.
"Your Highness!" she exclaimed, quite enjoying this little bit of play-acting. It was always amusing to interact with unsuspecting mortals.
"If you breathe one word of this," the princess growled, "I will cut your tongue out with red-hot irons! Now help me back to my room!"
Death bowed, resisting the urge to laugh aloud. The threat reminded her of some of Ranoryin's more belligerent moods. She offered the princess her arm, and together they made their slow, halting way towards the main palace. Qihadal could only limp for short distances before she needed to stop and rest. Death stopped each time she did. Being immortal, and more importantly having some knowledge of the future, meant that she felt no alarm about being caught. The princess would reach the palace safely, she knew that much. What happened afterwards depended on other people's actions.
Niraj raised his degnu and hacked at the wood around the lock. The door gave way and fell open with a creak.
There was no one in the room, and nowhere for anyone to hide. But there was a cauldron bubbling over a nearly-dead fire, the walls were lined with lanterns, and the window was wide open. Niraj took a step forward. His foot landed on something that clinked.
He looked down. It was a hair-pin in the shape of a butterfly, studded with aquamarines. Only a member of the royal family would own something so richly-decorated.
He picked it up and set off for the main palace. The First Concubine inspected all the jewels given to royal women. She would know who this belonged to.
As soon as they reached the hallway leading to her quarters, Qihadal dismissed the servant and made her own way to her room.
Death watched her go. I might as well stay to see what happens, she thought.
Several hallways away, Niraj had sent a slave to wake the First Concubine and show her the hair-pin.
Invisible to even Death but present everywhere, Fate watched. And She waited.
 gugevertuni = Malishese name for guards assigned specifically to guard the houses set aside for women of the royal family.
 tọlluz = Malishese name for the palaces inhabited only by royal women.
 degnu = A curved sword similar to a scimitar.
 kidret = A spice believed to have medicinal properties, but poisonous when taken in large quantities.