Daemon & Sunny Ch. 08byladyofthemasque©
Queen Astrida, Daemon and Sunny discovered a few hours later, was a gold-wrapped enigma.
"You are most welcome, Your Majesty, here in the interstellar kingdom of Astorr," Daemon stated to the veiled woman flanked by her courtiers, servants and bodyguards. He had come down off of his throne and his dais, save for a single step; she was technically his equal in the hierarchy of things, but this was his kingdom, not hers. Only for the Emperor or Empress would an Astorran king have descended that last six inches on his home planet. "We are gratified and even flattered by such an auspicious State Visit so early in Our reign, and look forward to the events of the coming days."
"We are flattered in turn that We have been received so hospitably," the veiled woman stated smoothly. She was clad in shimmering cream garments edged in gold, only a pair of dark eyes surrounded by skin the color of coffee laced with cream visible; even her hands were gloved, decorated in glittering rings. She stood maybe two or three inches shorter than Daemon, perhaps four or five taller than Sundrea, but it was hard to tell without getting closer. She held herself regally tall, too. The impression was furthered by the way her people kept their eyes on the floor around her, never quite looking at her. "We look forward to Our State Visit to your realm as well."
That was all that was really necessary to this formal, Court-held meeting, aside from maybe a few holopics captured while the two of them clasped hands and smiled next to each other. Well, Daemon would smile. He doubted Astrida would doff her headcovering long enough to show whether her teeth were straight or crooked. Straight, he'd bet; the Ruyikans were rich enough to afford a medbox or two, and he had the feeling she was just vain enough as a woman to want to fix any 'imperfections'. Sunny, on the other hand, had a slight gap between one of her front and canine teeth on her lower jaw; he doubted she'd ever get that fixed. She just wasn't into such things. But it was hard to tell with Queen Astrida.
He wondered idly how she would handle eating at the buffet at the Formal Familial Ball, with that veil.
Still, there was a little bit more to this situation than posing for the 'peaceful first meeting' holopics and flatpics that were one of the more tedious parts of being a ruler. There were three visitors in his court who were of sufficiently high enough rank that they needed to be introduced. "It is our privilege to introduce Your Majesty to Our other State Visitors." Turning slightly to the side, knowing he was doing them a high honor in introducing them personally—but knowing also that he could cut through all the boringly long titles and affiliations and get away with it, being the king—he indicated the three women in question. "Queen Astrida, these are Princess Filini of the Zagros Cluster…"
An asiatic woman gave a half-bow to the Ruyikan queen, clad in a bodysuit of sea blue spangled with crystals, her stance and demeanor a bit militaristic.
"…né-Princess Irisia, granddaughter of the Imperial Regent…"
The né-princess curtsied gracefully, clad in a somewhat more demure but still body-clinging gown in a blushing shade of pink.
"…and Queen Nulkuta of Chonbei."
Those dark eyes narrowed above the edge of her gold-spangled veil, but Astrida merely nodded. As did the other queen; Nulkuta, a pale-haired, pale-faced stern beauty, inclined her own head slightly, politely. Not that she could do more than that; the collar of Nulkuta's shirt stood up to her ears before flaring out, matching the fanned-out display of her hair forming a bizarre sort of starched collar above her head. "We are honored to meet a royal cousin from the Rimworlds."
Dark eyes hardened again, but her voice was smoother than the silk of her gown as Astrida replied, "…I've always heard the Chonbei were charming. How refreshing to see it is true."
Sunny, still seated on her one-step-lower chair next to the top of the dais, bit her lip to keep from laughing. Calling any interstellar kingdom a 'Rimworld' was an insult, within the Empire. Even if the Ruyikans did live outside the boundaries of the Empire. Still, she couldn't help smiling. Those dark eyes flicked her way, and Sunny found herself the focus of the Ruyikan queen's attention.
"We see Our coronation gift has found favor in your Court, Your Majesty. We trust she has pleased you properly?"
Daemon, himself biting back the urge to smile at the Chonbei queen's insult, found his humor fading rapidly. He couldn't think of a way to answer her without either admitting too much of his intimate life in open Court—which would be an insult to the princess from the Zagros Cluster, whose people believed such activities were to be kept strictly private, never to be discussed before more than three people at most at a time—or hinting too much at what was going to happen. Still, the implication that his Sunny was nothing more than a thing to be handed off and expected to perform like a clockwork irritated him.
He hit on the perfect reply when he glanced at his Consort. "Her name is Sunny, and I love her," Daemon asserted calmly, looking back at his latest visitor. "She is the living light of Astorra, in my eyes."
That caused a rustle of amazement among his own courtiers. Belatedly Daemon realized he'd just stated the opening line of the Astorran marital vow. He'd meant it as a play on her name and his feelings for her, not as a shocking departure from tradition, where Royal Consorts were concerned. Castigating himself silently, he seized the moment, and everyone's attention, by focusing it on the real reason behind all four royals' coincidal visits.
"But you are not here to be bored with such intimate matters; you, like Their Highnesses and Her Majesty, are here to attend the Formal Familial Ball," he stated, dropping the formal, stuffy 'We' pronouns. "I know that Queen Nulkuta and Princess Filini have brought offers of merging their kingdoms with mine in a marriage-alliance. They will be making these offers within the next few days; based on our previous conversations, I would imagine you have a similar offer to lay upon the negotiating table. I would be delighted to hear what you would have to say on the matter, and have taken the liberty of scheduling a time for discussing such matters in anticipation of that event. All three kingdoms have much to offer that would be beneficial to Astorr; I look forward to reviewing any proposal you may care to make, if you care to make one during your visit."
"…We have come with the possibility of such a merger already in Our mind, and have prepared accordingly for such discussions," Queen Astrida replied smoothly, keeping to the formal, royal pronouns.
Sunny, carefully keeping silent through the whole exchange, wondered idly if the woman was so stuffy because she was suffocating behind that veil of hers.
Dressed in a pale pink Astorran gown cut exactly like most of the others she had worn on this world—Armon had mourned that it was so tempting to dress her in "fancy feathers" as he called them, rather than such "plain plumage", but he was trying to save the most spectacular gowns for her "coming-out", whatever that meant—Sunny entered the conference room the next day, following in Daemon's footsteps.
"What is she doing in here?"
Daemon bowed slightly to the Zagros princess and gestured at Sunny as the Astorran guards closed the door behind them. They were in a conference room with a huge plexi window overlooking one of the palace gardens, where Princess Filini's guards could watch them from outside and be assured of her safety, yet the three of them could speak in privacy, fulfilling the codicils of her people's culture. "Sundrea Dannonee is my Consort. A third party is required by Astorran law to be present during the preliminary discussions of any marriage contract. Marriage contracts include clauses discussing obligations of intimacy. Zagrosian culture forbids the discussion of intimacy among more than three people. Yet as Royal Consort, she has a legal right to be present during any discussions of intimate obligations, and the right to give her opinions.
"I therefore thought it would be fitting for her to be the third party in these negotiations," Daemon concluded. "Do you object, Your Highness?"
Princess Filini eyed Sunny for several seconds, considering the question carefully. Finally she leaned towards Daemon and whispered with disconcerting eagerness out of the corner of her mouth, "—Do I get to have sex with her, too? I do like women as much as I like men."
Sunny blushed, and Daemon stammered, trying to find something polite to say in response to that.
"…And we will copulate for an hour and fifteen minutes per session on Tuesdays, forty-three minutes on Thursdays, sixteen minutes twice on Saturdays, and for seven climaxes apiece every time the three moons of Chonbei are in conjunction, which is precisely once every one hundred thirty-seven Astorran days, seventeen Astorran hours, thirty-six Astorran minutes, thirty-seven Astorran seconds."
Eyes met across the table. Neither Daemon nor Sunny could tell if they'd finally developed the rumored ability for the White and Black Dragons to speak telepathically with each other, but they could tell that the same, exact thought was running through each of their minds. Bright Astorra/Sweet Natura—tell me she's not serious!
By the time they met with Queen Astrida for the 'intimate section' of the negotiations, which were being held with just the three of them at a time—as a cultural courtesy to the Zagrosians' beliefs, so that all three petitioners knew they were being treated with equal respect and consideration—Sunny didn't want to sit through another hour-long interrogation on what Craidan same-gender sexual practices were, and Daemon didn't want to see a single datapad, for fear it contained a timetable of When and Where Sex Is Required.
Queen Astrida swept into the conference room, nodded regally at Daemon, ignored Sunny other than to flick her eyes at the other woman, and waited until the door was closed behind them. Reaching up once they were technically alone, she unhooked one side of her face-veil, dropping it. As suspected, her features hinted at the sculpted perfection of a medbox; she had a charming, flattish nose pierced in three placed by gold studs, high cheekbones, delicate brows, perfect white teeth, and a heart-shaped face. Her chin was a little stubborn-looking, but it suited her features. And probably her demeanor.
She kept her back to the window, accepting the chair Daemon held out for her, and settling across from Sunny. "So. We are here to discuss possible intimacies. We are aware you are enamoured of your concubine, and are prepared to overlook that aspect. This is a merger of two nations, after all, not a mere marriage. We would prefer to have access to your body and your bed, given how We have heard Astorran men have higher libidos than most, but are prepared to forego such pleasures; in vitro conception of heirs is an acceptable practice in Ruyika, and We have heard it is acceptable within Astor as well. However, if Our intimate needs are not to be met by Your Majesty personally and frequently, then We insist on the right to keep sterilized male concubines of Our own, to attend to Our personal pleasuring needs. Does Your Majesty have an objection to this?"
Daemon and Sunny stared at each other. She was the first one to find her voice. "…Actually, it sounds like the best offer, so far."
Astrida narrowed her eyes slightly. "You were not addressed, concubine. Be silent."
"She is Our Royal Consort," Daemon returned coldly, giving the Ruyikan queen a quelling look. "Sundrea has the legal right to preside over all intimate aspects of Our marriage contracts, and as Our Royal Consort, her permission must be obtained beforehand for Our Royal Wife to have any intimate congress with Ourself. As you said yourself, conceiving an Astorran heir in a petri-dish is an acceptable practice, here."
Astrida slid her gaze back and forth between the two of them for a few moments. When she spoke, her tone was more temperate. "No offense was meant, merely a difference in cultural viewpoints. We would prefer to have access to male concubines of our own. Do you object to that?"
"Not at all. It would be hypocritical to claim otherwise," Daemon replied. "Though it has been more than six generations since there was a Sovereign Queen of Astor, the saeda has been filled with male concubines, before. There have even been instances of joint reigns where both royals maintained a suitable number of concubines each in their half of the saeda. Provided the males are indeed rendered infertile, I would not object. Sundrea?"
"I see no reason to deny her an equal chance for physical pleasure," Sunny agreed, shrugging. "Especially as I would prefer to not share you. I'm certain there would be any number of young Astorran men who would be honored to be selected as a concubine for Her Majesty, if this particular marriage is arranged."
The corner of Daemon's mouth twitched up as he studied his lover. He had to admire her neat turn of phrase. Later, when the craker hit the coolant device, it could be said truthfully that she'd said if the marriage was arranged. Turning his attention to the queen, he leaned his mind towards hers and asked casually, "Would you mind if I stipulated the conception of more than one heir? As you may know, my father and brother both died under less than satisfactory circumstances; had I not been the 'spare', there might have been trouble finding a close enough cousin to take the throne without invoking civil disorder."
Astrida blinked, returning his gaze levelly. Daemon couldn't sense a thing from her mind for a long moment, even though he tried hard to lean his mind into hers. Relaxing with a sigh, he sat back, still looking at her…and found himself falling into the other woman's mind.
A jumble of images, flickers of memory, of faces on viewscreens, flitted through his mind as he stared into those dark brown eyes. Fragments of vid-calls. Conversations. Frustrations at not being able to convince his father or brother to marry her so that she could have a pipeline to all the best aspects of life in the Empire, without having to give up the attitudes that kept her kingdom among the Rimworlds. Like slavery. And getting away with murder.
If he will not cooperate with Our plans, then perhaps his son will be more malleable as a ruler. Arrange it…
…He is as stubborn as his idiot father. If the brother is untutored and naïve, then place him upon the throne. Eventually We will find someone We can manipulate into giving Us what We desire…
The salver on the table, containing a pitcher of icewater and a trio of glasses, started to rattle, as Daemon balled his hand into a fist. A moment later a sharp pain down at his shin broke his rising fury. Sunny glanced at him, her aquamarine gaze subtle yet sharp with warning. They were not Empress and Emperor, yet. They didn't have full access to the powers of the Matrix. And they could not accuse the Ruyikan queen of treachery and conspiracy without having the strength to deal with the fallout of such claims. He wasn't happy to have to acknowledge such facts, but Daemon acknowledged them, unclenching his hand. Busy controlling his temper, he almost didn't hear her reply.
"We are pleased to hear female Sovereigns are acceptable on Astor; We would not object to donating two or even three gametes to such a proposition. Regarding the carrying of said heirs, does Your Majesty have a preference for surrogate mothers, or womb-pods, or would you insist upon the original mother enduring the risks and pains?"
"Astorrans prefer living mothers, as they feel the natural way is better for the soul of the child, even if a womb-pod will care for its body perfectly…but a surrogate might be acceptable, if you are not inclined to carry the child to term yourself," Sunny filled in for him. "Craidans feel that the mother herself should do the bearing, unless there is a medical or safety reason otherwise, but I can understand how the pressures of ruling might not leave you with the time or energy to spare for such matters."
"Hm." It wasn't a friendly sound, but it wasn't an overly hostile one, either. Apparently Queen Astrida simply didn't like Sunny opening her mouth and joining the conversation like an equal. "A surrogate might be acceptable…" Her gaze sharpened on Sunny's face. "What is the Astorran law regarding concubines being surrogate mothers? You would not be able to bear your child for His Majesty, but you could bear a child or two."
"Concubines are not permitted to have anything to do with the conception and bearing of heirs," Daemon murmured, meeting Sunny's gaze with regret. Until he realized she wasn't phased by disappointment. That was when he remembered she wasn't his Consort. She was his future Empress; she could do whatever she damned well pleased with her fertility and her body. "However, a Royal Consort is permitted and encouraged to interact with the royal heirs, so that they may grow up understanding what a loving relationship is like…but that is the extent of their interaction. This ensures that there is no mistaking just whose child the heir is, physically."
"Hm. A wise course of action. There must be no mistaking the merging and joining of our two kingdoms through the physical body of an heir, and no doubt over that heir's parentage," Astrida pointed out. For a moment, Daemon felt dizzy with a new thought of hers, one he could see lurking behind those dark, dark eyes. Of her having him murdered as another accident, and her being able to claim regency over the Astorran worlds, once a child of theirs was born. She continued smoothly. "We admire the thought and care that has been invested into the Astorran system."
"…Your admiration is appreciated," Sunny filled in for him, covering as Daemon stared at Queen Astrida. She'd tried reading the woman's mind, but hadn't gotten very far, unfortunately. Whatever had unnerved him, Daemon wasn't in a position to share. Not at least until they were fully bound into the Matrix. "You are a very open-minded woman, Your Majesty. I think I shall look forward to dealing with you in the future."
Queen Astrida looked a little smug, at that. No doubt she thought Sunny's words were a reassurance that she had the Royal Consort's approval. Sunny simply meant what she'd said, with no such strings attached. There were no strings, after all, just a pair of dragons circling ever-closer in her and Daemon's minds.
Queen Astrida lowered the painbox, releasing the button under her thumb. Lord Crellan's back arched one last time, then he shuddered and slumped to the carpeted floor, gasping for air. She gave him a few moments to come back to his senses, then stuck out one gold-slippered foot. Crawling shakily towards her, the Ambassador kissed the tip of it, then laid his cheek on the carpet. His sovereign put her foot on his head, pressing it into the ground.
"Tell Us why We should not kill you," she murmured, rocking his head a little under her cloth-of-gold covered toes. "You were supposed to ensure that only We were of the highest rank. Yes We come here to find another sovereign interfering in Our plans. Why should We spare you?"
"You…you should not, august Majesty," he managed. "I know I have…failed my queen. The Chonbei delegation is securely guarded; they do not accept Astorran servants into their quarters, and at other times are under strict surveillance."
"Were the negotiations for a marriage contract not going Our way, we would have you kill or be killed…but We are pleased with this prince-king. He is easily moulded, save for where his gift-concubine is concerned. You still have servants among the saeda staff?"