Once shut in the relative safety of her personal quarters, Alane couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. It was greeted by the soft crinkle of pages, like a book being closed, then the soft rustle of cloth as someone within the room rose, and voluminous skirts settled around the occupant. Violet haired, blue-eyed with a face full of amusement, Lady Kayah was Alane’s right hand and personal attendant. The woman looked upon the Empress with a knowing grin.
“Finally escape your adoring court?” The Lady inquired, approaching Alane and plucking the Royal Coronet from her brow. “You look like you’re ready to glare daggers into someone.”
Alane chuckled dryly, letting the woman abscond with her tiara. Reaching behind herself, she began to unlace the burdensome gown. “Only Lord Cyto, everyone else has long since gone. With the fires down in the village, no doubt some are watching from what safety they can find.”
“I don’t know why you put up with that treacherous snake,” Kayah said, scowling. She carried the Coronet over to its resting place, a white silk pillow. “Everyone knows that he’s poisoned the Whiteblood against you. Everything happening in the city can be boiled down to that monstrosity. And I won’t beg Your Highness’s pardon for saying so.”
“I would expect no less of you, Kayah,” Alane said with a definitive note of fondness. “Out of everyone, you keep me honest and you keep things in perspective. When everyone else at court has an agenda, you don’t. You’re simply here for me at the end of the day.”
The handmaiden carried the Coronet over to a secret wardrobe built into the wall, placing it inside with all the Empress’s other valuables. “You’d be better of getting rid of all those at court who oppose you.”
“Not necessarily,” Alane said, shrugging out of the gown even as Kayah crossed the room to help divest her of it. Kayah folded it neatly over one arm, intending to take it with her to be laundered. “Better the snakes that we know, than to supplant them with ones that we don’t.”
Kayah quirked another of her grins. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer, hm? I suppose it makes sense, but I can’t imagine spending so much time among people you know hate you and are doing everything in their power to ruin you.”
“I won’t say that it doesn’t hurt, Kayah, though I’d only ever admit that to you. I won’t say that my court isn’t a lonely, depressing place. But there are small rays of sunshine amidst all the storm clouds. I’m not totally without friends.”
“Just mostly,” Kayah snorted in amusement.
Alane sighed, looking into the mirror on the bureau. “Just mostly.”