Author's Note: Tuesday was my 20th birthday, so I wrote another Death and the Emperor bonus chapter to celebrate :) It's a "what if?" AU from chapter 6 of D+E. In this case it's "what if Kilan accepted he was married to Death?"
The power that forced itself upon its iron way—its own—defiant of all paths and roads, piercing through the heart of every obstacle, and dragging living creatures of all classes, ages, and degrees behind it, was a type of the triumphant monster, Death.– Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
In seconds, Kilan's relatively normal life had been turned upside down. He would hardly have been surprised now if he had been told snow was black. And all of it was Death's fault.
Death, damn her, lounged in his chair by his fire with an amused grin playing around her mouth.
Kilan resisted the urge to angrily deny that they were married. He forced himself to consider this situation calmly and logically. Death insisted that her "misunderstanding" meant they were married. No court would recognise this marriage. Therefore, they could not be legally married.
He said as much to Death. She shrugged.
"Not by your laws, maybe, but we are in my eyes."
"Please leave," Kilan said, as calmly as he could when having a nervous breakdown. "I need to think about this."
He thought about it all night long. For hours Kilan paced the floor of his bedroom, replaying their conversation in his mind. Setting aside the fact he had been rehearsing his wedding vows and had not been saying them to Death, he had certainly asked if she agreed to be his wife. She had agreed. Therefore, he began to have a terrible suspicion that Death was right.
Would it be so bad to marry her? he wondered. I like her much more than I like Yse. But what would everyone say?
What did he and Death have in common, anyway? He hardly knew her. That moment at the funeral… had he really fallen in love with her or was he simply infatuated?
Those questions and many others preyed on Kilan's mind until morning.
Death, surprisingly, stayed away for over a week. By the time she reappeared, Kilan had come to a conclusion. It was less a conclusion than postponing a decision until later, but it would do for now.
"I think that we should get to know each other better before we decide what to do," he announced. Death stared at him like he'd grown a second head. Kilan tried to explain it better. "I mean, I knew you for a few months when I was eight and then you disappeared for ten years, and I've seen you less than five times since then. We don't know each other well enough to get married."
She sat down on his window-seat and pulled her knees up to her chest. It would have been an odd thing for anyone but a child to do, and it became downright bizarre when done by a gaunt, seven-foot-tall woman wearing a long black cloak.
"I suppose that makes sense," she said thoughtfully. "So how do you propose we get to know each other better, as you put it?"
The answer to this was so obvious that Kilan couldn't understand why she asked. "Talk to each other."
Leave it to Death to create difficulties in the simplest things. "About…" What did people normally talk about when getting to know each other? "About where we're from – wait, we already know that. About..." Goals and ambitions were hardly a subject that he could discuss with Death. He suspected she didn't have many beyond 'kill people when their time comes'. "About our likes and dislikes. About… books, or places we've been."
Death smiled wryly. "I don't think you'd care to hear about some of the places I've been."
Oh. He hadn't thought of that. "Then we could talk about people we've met." Wait, that posed the same problem. Maybe he should stop trying to avoid it. "Or about history?"
That evening, Death learnt that Kilan had very decided opinions on people who wrote history books without checking their facts. That evening, Kilan learnt that Death utterly loathed opera.
It wasn't much, but it was a start.
"Let me be sure I understood you," Death said slowly. "You want to go on a picnic? With me? In the middle of the night?"
"Well, we can hardly go on a picnic in the middle of the day," Kilan pointed out reasonably.
Death looked from him to the picnic basket sitting on the table. "But why do you want to have a picnic with me at all?"
"Because it's something courting couples do." The words were out of his mouth before he realised what he said.
Death raised an eyebrow. "So are we courting, then?"
Oh no, Kilan thought. She'll be insufferable now.
But there was really no other word for what they were doing. Aloud, he said, "Yes."
Death grinned triumphantly. Kilan winced. But instead of teasing him as he had expected, she turned to examine the picnic basket.
"How did you gather this food without anyone knowing?" she asked curiously, opening the lid and staring at the sandwiches, biscuits and slices of cake.
"I told one of the cooks that I wanted to have a midnight feast with a friend," Kilan said. He felt mildly guilty about this. But he eased his conscience by reminding himself he hadn't exactly lied. He had just… left things out. "I thought about going out to the garden, but someone might see us. So if we move this table out of the way and sit on the floor, and if we're careful not to spill anything..."
"...Or we could go to the Falls of Agundion and have our picnic beside the river," Death interrupted.
Kilan stared. The Falls of Agundion were known throughout the Carann Empire for being amazingly beautiful. Some strange kind of algae grew on the rocky cliff that the waterfall tumbled over, and it made the river appear to be glowing. Having a picnic beside them would be wonderful… "But they're over a thousand miles away!"
"And I can travel across the universe in an instant."
That night Kilan learnt three things. One, the Falls of Agundion really did appear to glow. They cast an extraordinary blue light across their surroundings. Two, Death didn't mind water when it stayed a safe distance from her, but she hated getting wet. Three, splashing Death was most unwise.
She took her revenge by pushing him into a part of the river where the water was shallow and calm. He took his revenge by pushing her in too. The picnic deteriorated into a water-fight.
The next morning Kilan's parents couldn't understand how he got his clothes so wet.
"I went swimming last night," he said, which was true but hardly the whole story.
Arásy looked at him as if he'd lost his mind.
Shortly after the "wedding" fiasco, Kilan wrote to Yse to break off their engagement. His parents had been furious about it, but he couldn't see Death and stay engaged to another woman at the same time. His conscience wouldn't allow it.
When Kilan and Death had been courting for four months, Emperor Vretiel died. Marin became his successor. And everything went downhill from there.
"My parents think Marin will be a terrible Emperor," Kilan said one evening after they had settled into Zasordoth Palace.
"He will be," Death agreed. "But he won't reign for long."
Kilan's head snapped up from the book he had been staring at without seeing. Death's eyes met his, her expression unreadable.
"Is he going to die?" Kilan asked, feeling a sudden dread.
"Not die, precisely." Death waved a hand dismissively. "But he'll cease to be Emperor, so who will succeed him?"
"His daughter." Kilan couldn't suppress a shudder at the thought of little Tarmleos, only a toddler, made Empress.
Death's next words chased that thought out of his mind. "No. You will." She continued before he could speak. "When Marin abdicates, you will become Emperor, and you will face immediate suspicion and distrust. You must be able to instantly win your court's loyalty… or at least terrify them too much to rebel."
This was all too much information for Kilan to understand so suddenly. "I don't– I can't be– I don't want to terrify anyone!"
"Then I will do it for you." Death moved to stand in front of him. "Tell me, Kilan, what would you say to officially marrying me?"
Kilan was silent for a long moment. He considered the consequences of marrying Death – actually marrying her, with no doubt about whether or not it was a legal marriage. Then he looked up. "How would we do that?"
"You can't be serious!"
Særnor gaped at Kilan as if he'd announced he intended to set fire to the city. Arásy collapsed into her chair, her face paler than Kilan had ever seen it before.
"I am serious," he said patiently. "I'm married to Death."
Arásy got up and pressed her hand against his forehead. "You're not feverish, but I suspect you must be ill. Have you had anything to drink? Any bad dreams?"
Kilan stepped back, out of his mother's reach. "I'm not ill, I'm not drunk, and I'm not dreaming. I'm married to Death. And if you'll listen, I'll explain it."
It took an unexpected visit from Death herself to convince his parents that he wasn't delusional. They were still far from delighted about their new daughter-in-law, however. Særnor looked at his son as if he'd never seen him before. Arásy refused to look at him at all.
Kilan returned to his rooms feeling more as if he'd announced a funeral than a wedding.
Death, unsurprisingly, had her opinions of the subject. "Don't worry. They won't reveal this to anyone, especially not so close to the coronation."
"Thank you," Kilan said, sarcastic and sincere in equal measure. "That's a great comfort."
Breaking the news to Ranoryin was even harder, and it involved much more violence. All on Ranoryin's part, and all directed at Death.
"Listen, please!" Kilan begged his great-grandmother. "She didn't force me into anything!"
Ranoryin continued to brandish a sword mere centimetres from Death's throat. Death, for her part, looked utterly bored with this threat.
"I married her willingly!" Kilan said, feeling that he hadn't made this clear enough. "Well, originally it started as a mistake, but it's not any more!" He paused, gathering his courage for what he would say next. "I love her."
Ranoryin lowered the sword almost imperceptibly. She continued to glare fiercely at Death. "And does she love you?"
That was a question Kilan simply couldn't answer. So Death answered it for him.
"Yes," she said quietly. "I love him as much as I can love anyone."
It was hardly a tearful declaration of undying love. But it was the best she was likely to give.
After their marriage Kilan learnt several things about Death that he hadn't known before. He learnt that she technically didn't have to collect souls herself, but she didn't trust her Reapers to manage things properly if she gave them complete control over soul-gathering. He learnt that she was surprisingly fond of sleeping. He learnt that she could give him ideas on what to do when Marin shirked his responsibilities.
He also learnt other things, things that he would never tell anyone. Things like how cool her skin felt against his, and the different ways she said his name in their bed.
Kilan could almost have forgotten what she'd told him about his future.
Until the night Balaeron visited.
Marin had abdicated. Kilan was going to become Emperor. The High Council were getting on his nerves.
This suddenly seemed like a good time to reveal his marriage. Perhaps Chief Counsellor Dilves and her ilk would be less insufferable if they were afraid of angering his wife.
"How are we to know this boy isn't going to cause another scandal?" asked one of the counsellors. "He is the brother of the disgraced Emperor, you know."
Kilan took a deep breath. That was the final straw. They thought he was going to cause a scandal, did they? Very well, then. "I haven't told you about my wife yet."
The High Council had never gone so quiet so quickly for over two hundred years. Several people stifled gasps. Chief Counsellor Dilves did a good impression of a statue.
"Your what?" Counsellor Pelleas asked in a shocked, dazed voice.
"My wife," Kilan repeated. He did his best imitation of one of Death's sharp-toothed grins. "I believe I should inform you that I am married." He paused to let that sink in before he added, "To Death."
Someone fainted. Chief Counsellor Dilves grabbed the back of her chair as if to save herself from complete collapse.
"Your Highness," she said in a frigid tone, "you are obviously unwell."
"No, he isn't," Death said from right behind her.
Death was usually invisible to the average mortal. But when she wanted to, she could somehow force herself to be seen by the living. And she could change her appearance to whatever she wanted them to see. Kilan still wasn't clear on how she managed it, or on why she had been in the council room at all. But he was glad to see her. Even if the appearance she chose was needlessly dramatic.
No one could accuse him of being delusional when a scythe-wielding skeleton grinned across the table at them.
"So, Emperor Tinuviel." Death always said his regnal name as if she was laughing at some private joke. "What do you intend to do? Order a complete reform of all laws in the Empire?"
The High Council had been thoroughly silenced by Death's appearance. The Carannish people viewed their new Emperor with the sort of alarmed bemusement one might show toward a dangerous creature that had shown no signs of aggression yet. Opinions among the commoners varied wildly on whether or not Kilan was actually married to Death or whether it was all some sort of pantomime to keep people from opposing him. The general attitude towards him was "wait, watch, and hope for the best". It wasn't very flattering, to be seen as eccentric at best, but at least no one was openly rebelling yet.
Kilan thought of the many things he had to do. "The Iqui of Malish has asked me to visit. Should I accept?"
Death grinned. "Oh, absolutely. The Iqui will never recover."
For decades afterwards, Malishese mothers scared their children with tales of the terrible Emperor Tinuviel, a man so fearsome that he could command even Death herself. Kilan was torn between laughter and bafflement when he heard of this.
"What did you do in Malish?" he asked Death.
She only answered with a laugh.