Denereph felt her sister enter before she saw her, Piri fussing around her to remove the Circulet. Mostly there was a sense of wonder and excitement coming from her twin, but there was a definite twist of irritation as well.
“You knew about that.” If Denereph hadn’t known Analissa better, that might have sounded downright sulky.
“I expected it. Didn’t have proof.” Denereph shrugged, taking a goblet of wine now that she was finally free of Piri’s ministrations. “If I’d had, I would have told you.”
Analissa’s face was smooth as Piri began to detangle her Circulet, but Denereph could still feel her annoyance. She opened her mouth to speak when Cimmeron crashed through the door.
“You knew that was going to happen.” The accusation was clear in his voice, even without the anger all over his face.
“Why do you both think I knew something about this? I heard rumors in the hall, but what will servants not gossip about? I had no reason to believe.”
Analissa, free of her Circulet, stalked across the room to get her own glass of wine. “You were not surprised, Denereph. Not in the slightest.” She stalked back to her seat, smoothing her skirts as a substitution for her emotions.
“I make it my business to not be surprised, Liss. Outside the Chambers as well as within.” That was a snap, rather than the reproach she had intended. Maybe not all of that annoyance came from Analissa.
“If you were doing your duty rather than gossiping with servants—“
“Are you two done? We’ll need to present a united front to Mother, after all.” Cimmeron’s distracted tone was cold, a counterpoint to his sisters’ heat. He had spent the argument examining the Circulets Piri had placed side by side on a table. Both girls glared at him, but fell silent, sipping their wine.
“Does she mean for me to be your advisor, but protect you by making people think we’re equals?” Denereph couldn’t imagine herself trying to truly rule – her province was rumors and gossip, not politics.
A frown passed Analissa’s features, smoothing almost before it was visible. “I should think it more likely that I am to be the figurehead and you the true power.”
“I could never handle the Chamber as you do. I don’t know how you control your temper in that room, much less the Counselors. I could never be taken seriously enough to be the true power behind the throne. I think you’re right though. One of us must step up publically, and whichever does will be giving up the true ruling power.” She sat heavily in her favorite chair – very nearly propping her chin on her fist before catching herself. “I feel a test here, Liss. Mother obviously has a plan, and she’ll want us to figure it out before she gets here for congratulations.
“Why presume one must be powerless?” Cimmeron asked. When both girls stared at him, wide-faced, he gestured to the Circulets on the table. “They’re the same.”
“Of course they look the same. She could hardly crown two Heirs with one Circulet.” Analissa sounded exasperated.
“No. They are the same. I assumed earlier that one was the real Circulet while the other the fake; the copy the servants use to practice the ritual. That’s not the case. One may well be a copy, but it’s an exact copy. I cannot tell the difference.” During his speech, he’d stood rigid and spoke crisply, like a solider giving his report; he sagged at the blank look the twins were favoring him with and his a whine crept into his voice. “If Mother expected one of you to hold power while the other shrank from it, wouldn’t she give you different crowns? As a message? She treated you as exact equals. I think she expects you to be exact equals.”
“As always, my children surprise me. I would have expected this conclusion out of you, Denereph. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t know I was having a copy made of the Circulet.” As usual, Tremalyn took control of the room merely by sweeping in. She accepted a kiss and a respectful nod of the head from each of her children and a glass of wine from Piri before taking a seat, clearly waiting for a report on what the children had deduced while she had left them waiting.
“I could never hope to uncover all your secrets, Mother.” The quirk to her lips said she would never stop trying; her mother’s answering smirk suggested a battle.
“You can’t expect this will work. The Council hardly works with us now…if they don’t know who they should follow, they’ll be…” Analissa trailed off in the middle of her sentence, relaxation suddenly infusing her features. “They won’t know who to oppose. With two of us, we can play twice as many sides to guide the Council to what we want. Obscuring our true purpose will be simple, then.”
The look Tremalyn bestowed on her daughter was full of pride. “You learn, daughter. Perhaps taking your sisters turns in Council has been good for you.” Both girls colored slightly. The Queen was not supposed to know how often Denereph had shirked her duties.
“It also effectively silence our critics, at least for a short time.” In her thoughtfulness, Denereph didn’t see the confused look her siblings shared. “Right now they’re maneuvering behind either me or behind Liss. Subtly, of course. Naming both of us means any negative comments that have been made publically about either of us could hurt the speakers. Supporting Mother’s choice after disparaging one of us would make them look weak and indecisive. They wouldn’t risk it. No, all will be quiet while they strategize.”
“At least you haven’t been idle,” Tremalyn murmured, into her wine but loud enough to hear. Denereph beamed – praise from Tremalyn was rare indeed. “However, you cannot expect that your critics will stay silent for long. How do you intend to deal with them when they remember they have tongues?” The four stayed up well into the night, strategizing and plotting together as they had been as long as any of the children could remember.