Hold Your Tongue


“You’re a damned sight better to have around than Galleon,” she started—she’d said as much when they’d first met, earlier that day. “He was the one they stuck me with once Arshtat married your fine foreign friend. I hadn’t stayed sober for so long. But you, you look like someone who’ll tolerate my idi…idio…not ‘idiot’, but the word that starts off like it.”

“Idiosyncrasies,” Georg supplied, tossing the word over his shoulder as he stood with his back to her, staring out the window.

“Idiosyncrasies,” she tested, over the rim of her glass. “Idiots-and-crazies,” she joked, though she herself found it only worthy of an acrid chuckle. “Let me tell you something about my family, that’s what we are. There’s not a royal under this roof who isn’t inbred full of idiosyncrasies. My mother was an ambitious headcase, my father was an ambitious headcase, my pretty cousin Haswar’s touched, and my sainted older sister’s always been one jewel shy of the crown. Don’t think it’s a recent development. The scary violent crazy is, but the craziness itself’s always been there, lurking. Like body odor. And your fine foreign friend’s crazy to think he can put up with her much longer.”

However much Georg agreed, he said nothing.

“And now Lym’s fixing up to be an ambitious headcase like the rest of ‘em, and the boy’s of course useless whether he’s crazy or not. Idiosyncrasies. Ha.”

“And you?” Georg asked pointedly, watching her take a long gulp of the liquor.

“What about me?”

He thought for a moment how tactful he should be, and decided not at all. “You’re under this roof. Are you like the others?”

She glared at him then, her drunk eyes indignant, saying ‘truth hurts, doesn’t it’. “Are you kidding? Just ‘cause I’m sane compared to the rest of them doesn’t mean I’m not crazy.” She sneered sourly at Georg, raising her glass in a mock-toast. “Just as inbred, just as much a headcase, just not as ambitious. You’ll figure it out once you’ve dealt with me for long enough. Only difference between me and them is I’m sick of it.”


“Everything. Self-hating royal. I never wanted to be queen, grew up surrounded by people who did. Either I decided I had to be different or I just got sick of watching them all kill each other. That’ll do it, you know, make you not want to rule, when you see the lengths that other people go to because they do. You see them and their insanity and you tell yourself, ‘I don’t want to ever be like that,’ and whenever you see them trying to fit you into their schemes you can still only sit back and let them, because the more you struggle the more you’re like them either way…” she slurred and trailed off, leaning her elbows on her knees and hanging her head. Her breasts sagged awkwardly, almost out of her dress, and Georg turned away again. “You end up giving up everything,” she went on, “so long as it’ll make you not like them. Never like them. Poor little princess, I know, you’re thinking that I haven’t given up anything at all, got a nice sixth of a palace to call my own and an idle life surrounded by bodyguards who do or don’t put up with my getting plastered, alone in my chambers. I’m just hoping you’re the type who does, otherwise you’re gonna hate me, Georg, the way I hate me. Hell, either way you’ll hate me. I think I want you to hate me. It’ll make complaining to you easier.”

And Georg thought about how much he just wanted to shut her up, but shut his eyes and scoffed, quietly, instead.


Again, drunk.

Georg had grown, if not accustomed, at least expectant of these nights by now. Not every night, as she’d made him out to believe at the start, but regularly enough that he couldn’t sense one specific pattern; she had enough different excuses to keep him on his toes, and enough different kinds of alcohol to keep her on hers.

“Tonight,” she proclaimed, lifting her glass—wine tonight, her eighth since supper—over her head, “I’ve got a proposition for you.” Without waiting for him to even look at her, she went on. “I’m gonna tell you exactly why I’m so frustrated, and you’re gonna have a glass with me and listen.”

“I’ll pass,” Georg said, watching her wavering stance and locking the door behind him.

“On which?”

“Can I pass on both?”

“Either you drink with me and listen to me talk,” she said firmly, “or you don’t drink with me and listen to me talk.”

Georg groaned a little and turned to face her. “I’ll pass on the wine, then. You’ll probably finish it without me.” It was the night before a journey—she tended to start journeys on the wrong foot, he’d figured out, and then spend their time on the river recovering in her cabin. She’d be even worse to deal with in the mornings, then—she denied every hangover, but since Georg was the first face she’d see every morning her skills at lying to him left much to be desired.

She laughed mirthlessly and rolled her eyes at him. “Fine, then. So. Stormfist. Don’t know whether you’ll like or hate the place. You’re wondering what this has to do with my being frustrated.”

Georg shook his head.

She ignored it. “It’s my first time back in a long time. Years. Not since just after Lym was born.” Suddenly awkward, she swirled the remaining wine, the pale gold of her hair, around in its glass and sat on the edge of her bed, daggering her feet into the carpet. “It’ll have changed. And so will the people.”

People do that, Georg thought, but did not say aloud.

She rapped her heels against the boxspring. “I will have too, I know. It’s hard to see, but I know I’m not who I was. I like to think that I’m still me, and maybe I am, but not as much as I want to be. It’s…like coming home to your room and your parents refurbished it while you were gone. It’s still yours, still smells like you, and the layout’s still the same but the light doesn’t fall the same way and the colors aren’t you. You know what I mean? Heh…you probably don’t. Traveling as much as you have. Maybe if I compared it to waking up next to a different woman in the morning, you’d—nah, probably not that either. You ever had a lover, Georg?”

No one of consequence, he thought loudly.

“I think I might have,” she said, making it completely unclear to him whether she’d cared about his answer or not. “And then some rules were laid down. By the crazy people upstairs. That’s why I’m frustrated. I know what I’m missing and going to goddamned Stormfist reminds me of that. That I’ve got rules to follow. That place boxes you in no matter who or where you are.”

And Georg thought about how much he just wanted to shut her up, and realized that, by not responding, he had.


She was a damned talkative drunk.

“I mean, who does he think he—no, I know exactly who he thinks he is, and he is who he thinks he is, but that doesn’t give the rat-bastard an excuse. Not even fighting for himself and vying to marry little Lym. It makes so much sense that it makes me ill. Not even fighting for himself. It’s like buying a prize racehorse to send it straight to the tanner’s and grind its bones into glue. For him, I mean, not Lym. I swear he does it just to spite me. God damn…hurts so much that he’s right. But he changed just to piss me off, the arrogant little asshole.”

“So you’re not too keen on him,” Georg stated rather than ask, eyeing the bottle with some relief as she set it back on the table without upending it or the glass in her hand. The last thing he needed was to explain the stains on the Godwin’s guest-room floor, or bed, or whichever elegant piece of furniture suffered the wrath of a woman scorned.

“Gizel?” she asked for clarification.


“I think as far as broken engagements go I’m an absolute angel of mercy.”

Georg scoffed openly at that. He’d known, of course, but not that she’d be this inconsolable. He blamed himself, actually, for being around to tolerate it.

“Hey, he’s the one that had to go and change,” she almost shouted—but Georg agreed that her petulance was justified, if not as justified as she thought it was. “Not me.”

“Is that why—”

“No, it’s my sainted sister’s doing. And mine. I could’ve said ‘no’. Didn’t.”

“Thought it was for the best?”

“You know it,” she said. “So did he, if he didn’t know it then. He does now.” This time she drank heavily, sinking backward into the plush red chair and cracking her neck with her free hand. “A patriot. He has more faith in Arshtat than I do. Doesn’t give an Ulse’s ass about Ferid, though.”

“I’m not finding that hard to believe,” Georg deadpanned.

“Most people who don’t know Ferid don’t like him. Half of the ones who do know him don’t like him. And most of the ones who like him are still afraid of him.”

Uncomfortable discussing Ferid—however astute her observations of the man were—Georg deftly changed the subject. “You think Lym should wind up with a Godwin, then?”

“I think Lym’s half the age I was when they told me I wasn’t about to wind up with a Godwin. And don’t call her ‘Lym’ where she can hear you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Georg said, rolling his eyes.

She slumped over in her chair, hunched intensely on the arm in a fashion that actually reminded Georg of Ferid. “So familiar,” she criticized. “Uncouth.”

Georg refrained from commenting that she’s the one barefoot and drunk.

“You don’t like him,” she asserted, and plainly meant Gizel.

“Should I?”

“You’re nothing alike. Either you’d hate him or fuck him.”

Now who’s uncouth?”

She plainly ignored that. “You bring out the worst in me, I think,” she said, and sighed dramatically. “Here I am, drunk like the healing waters of Lunas and flirting with my bodyguard. Why, I’m no better than a camp-follower.”

Georg watched her over his shoulder, keeping his body to the door and arms crossed, then turned away when he noticed her raising the glass to her lips again.

“Gizel…” she began, her voice hoarse with the momentary dryness of a sip savored too long. “I like to think I brought out something good in him. Explains why he’s such a rat-bastard now. When we were engaged…god, but he was sexy. Everything you’re not, come to think of it,” she added, and Georg could hear the smirk just from her inflection. “At times he was so courteous that it made me sick. Even when he didn’t like the rules—especially when he didn’t like the rules—even then, he’d be graceful about following them. He’s a dancer, that man, even when he’s just running off at the mouth. What’s the word…c’mon, Georg, what’s the…”


“Articulate, thank you… Mmm… he’s fair too, I mean, I’ve never gotten under your clothing but if your mug’s any indication you didn’t come to Falena in one piece. And you’re hairy. He wishes he was but he isn’t. Mmm… I remember the first time I touched him, I was so excited…ha, I think he was too.”

Glancing back again before he turned around to face her, Georg caught her sloshing her drink around after she’d sipped it, tossing her wrist from side to side in time with the ticking clock in the corner. She looked from Georg, to the glass, to Georg again, her eyes lost in the long shadow of the canopy bed.

“He’d never let me get away with that. Silence, I mean, after I just said something that provocative. You make it seem like you’re ignoring me… I know you’re replying to everything I say, though, just in your head.” She smirked, knowing she was right. “So, what else can I say to get you to really react to me, hm… Gizel was gentle. Like he’d break me. The boy used to flatter me like I was in control of his inheritance.” With a chuckle, she remembered, “I kind of was. You were just thinking that too.” She took a long drag of her drink and watched the ice shuffle around the glass. “And he smiled. You never do. When he smiled, I’d…” she sank back in her chair, slipped a little too much, faltered, braced herself, everything unladylike and crude.

Georg felt like an artist who had hired a prostitute to model as the Queen.

After another moment of half-hearted struggle, she pushed herself to her bare feet with a violent start. “Ah, but that’s something he’d do,” she spat. “Just stand there and stare when I lose my feet. Difference is, I’m falling over drunk and he wants to touch me so much he can’t think straight, and you don—“

She staggered forward and Georg lunged and caught her before she could topple over the chair and into the bed, running on instinct. He held her around her upper left arm and right hip, swerving between his legs, the way commoners dance. She lolled her head to face him and breathed, and it didn’t smell so great, but the last vestiges of her perfume rushed into him on the heels of her exhalation and Georg had to blink, disoriented, glaring down into her wavering, restless eyes. Sad and tired, he thought, old, angry, in their painted black cages, smudged and streaked but not quite running. She writhed against him and smiled lazily, as if to say ‘I told you so’, lying through her teeth.

And Georg, fuming, was never so resolute about getting that woman to hold her goddamned tongue.

So he shut her up.

With his.

Her skin felt slightly feverish and her hot breath raked dryly against his upper lip. Her nails dug into his back and her teeth into his inner cheek, and Georg choked back a growl, the strangled sounds of his and her ragged breathing echoing in his ears. She kissed as if to consume him, as if she hadn’t already, straining the seams of his clothing with how heavily she wrapped herself around him.

And when he pried himself away to gasp in air and press her closer, she was laughing instead.


“…They know how to treat me here. Or remember. Those curtains are so thick I have no idea what time it actually is. Mm…that’s right, arena inspection today. Yet another perfunctory and inconsequential task to keep the black sheep of the royal family occupied. Grr, my head…” She sighed. “It’s nice and dark in here.”


“I need sleep.”

He sighed. “Then sleep.”

“Your goddamn hipbone is digging into my ass.”



“Shut up.”

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