Morning sun is sliding through the windows of the palace. With it comes the sound of bells — every church in the city is pealing, welcoming the respite of daylight against the horrors of the night before.

“Could you give me an update?”

“Wouldn’t even know where to start,” mutters Tomas.

He’s leaning in the doorframe of the Queen’s bedchamber. Within, Seona is perched on a chair beside Erica’s bed. The queen herself is visible only as a mound beneath the bedclothes.

“I haven’t missed that much,” says Seona. “And just to be clear, I’m not after your job.” She smiles tightly.

“Didn’t think you were,” replies Tomas. “Since it was you put me here.”

“Is your brother okay?”

“Tougher than the unicorn’s head, our Ev. He’s fine.”

“And you?”

Tomas pauses. “I’m fine, too.”

“She didn’t mean it, you know,” says Seona, glancing at the figure under the blankets. “She wasn’t in control of herself.”

“Don’t mean to be rude,” says Tomas sharply, “but it’s not your place to apologise for her. She can bloody well do it herself when she’s up.”

Seona frowns gently. “I just thought it might be more politic to… let’s call it giving her some space to breathe.”

“How about I just do my job, eh Seona?”

“We got along a lot better when I was your boss,” she says, smiling ruefully.

Tomas shrugs. “Back then, I had to kiss a lot more ass.”

Seona looks startled. “Oh, and you don’t now?”

“I guess I’m a different kind of Secretary. Coddling people isn’t my job. Making sure the bloody kingdom doesn’t fall over is.”

There’s a pause as she considers his subtle admonishment of her own methods. “You’re just like your brother, you know that?”

“I am amazed you ever doubted that, Ma’am.”

She considers him a beat longer. “Can I ask you a personal question, Tomas?”

“Rather you didn’t,” he says. “Can’t see how it’d be relevant.”

“You don’t know what the question is.”

“Pretty sure I do,” says Tomas. “Pretty sure you wouldn’t believe my answer, either.”

“You’re not helping me to trust you.”

Tomas scowls. “You don’t have to trust me. You don’t even have to like me. In actual fact, you’ve got no position here and frankly the only reason I haven’t had the guards chuck you out is I happen to trust the Regent and she happens to think you’re not a spy. So for right now you’re just the Queen’s nurse and I will put up with you. Okay?”

Seona looks stunned. “That… I wasn’t… Tomas, I’m not trying to—”

He cuts her off with a wave of his hand. “Officially too tired to care. Starting with the royals. Martin and army still on the beach, apparently they’ll kill vamps if they come over the walls, but won’t come into the city, thank the Unicorn. Florimel and Deirdre having some kind of massive falling out, which might not be strange as I’ve never seen them be particularly friendly. Alma on the docks ostensibly helping with the rebuild, actually shacking up with the Chantris weapons master. Julia’s in Arden, no news there. Caine’s in Garnath recovering under Sioned’s care. Gerard’s on the docks but he’s not happy. Brand’s gone missing. Llewella’s keeping a low profile. Emil’s in the city helping with the Venway problem. Lara’s a fucking miracle and I’d like to clone her.”

He pauses, narrowing his eyes briefly at Seona. He’s got more to say on the topic, she can tell, but he doesn’t want to say it in front of her.

“City’s where the real trouble is right now. The Purple Legion is trying to get vamps, but frankly they’re an army, not a police force, and they have no idea how to help without pissing people off, and if they stay much longer my brother is going to give somebody with a uniform a fat lip. Or the mayor will. The city’s a hair away from full revolt.”

Tomas stops and sighs deeply. “And that’s the short version.”

Seona nods, smiling again. “Thank you for the update, Tomas.”

He sniffs. “Wasn’t talking to you.”

There is a muffled noise from the bed that could be a ‘thanks’.

Tomas considers Seona for moment. “Make sure she eats something. I’m going to bed for an hour.”

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