“You are meddling in Legion business.”

The muscles between Mandor’s shoulder blades tighten, but he doesn’t turn. He places one finger on the book, marking his place in the text. “Not at all, most imperious majesty,” he says quietly, knowing the softness of his voice will make her step closer to hear him properly. “The Lord Archivist has very kindly allowed me access to my mother’s old diaries. They could hardly be considered Legion property.”

There is a very faint creak as she leans on the back of his chair. “I do hope you’re not letting your obsession with ‘family’ alter your otherwise impeccably good standing.”

Mandor looks up, his affable façade not flickering, and meets the Emperor’s gaze reflected in the glass cabinet across from his reading table. “Family? I suspect from that peculiar tone you are referring to blood relations.” He arches an eyebrow at the word ‘blood’, and notes the tiny sneer that crosses Swayvil’s face. “You and I both know how flimsy a link mere blood is.”

“And yet.” She closes her hand on his shoulder, reminding him how strong she is. “And yet, you do on occasion get … emotional … over such things.”

Mandor frowns gently. “I’ll thank you not to bring up my youthful indiscretions.”

“It’s not your youthful indiscretions I’m worried about,” she snaps.

“Then perhaps you should take this up with my mother,” he says.

“Sawall hasn’t spoken to me since Skavangur.” She scowls at Mandor’s reflection. “I know the agent that Archives sent delivered a heavily edited report. I know the Archivist is responsible for that. I know you went for a little visit. And you are quite ‘close’ to the Archivist.”

“Is there some conspiracy afoot that I should be aware of?” he says mildly, affecting innocence.

Swayvil moves so quickly Mandor cannot help but flinch. She’s suddenly close beside him, looming over him, using her considerable height to intimidate. “Don’t mistake this for pettiness, Mandor. If that place is a threat, it needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Tell me what you know. Now.”

He tilts his head to look her in the eye and smiles, carefully displaying just a hint of timidity. “You should trust your Lord Archivist, Swayvil. You know full well that I can’t be relied upon in matters of Legion leadership. I have my mother’s interests to consider.”

Her eyes narrow. “Mandor, is your mother trying for my job again?”

Mandor sighs, and turns back to his book. “Now, would I tell you if he was?”

She slams her hand on the table, uttering a curse. She stares at Mandor for a beat, lips compressed into an angry line, then turns on her heel and stalks out.

A few breaths later, Delwin appears, looking, to Mandor at least, adorably confused.

“Mandor, what did you do?” the Lord Archivist sounds breathless, as though he’s just run from elsewhere in the library.

“I gave you some breathing room, Delwin. Please don’t waste it.”

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