Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major

By PsiDraconis

For disclaimers see Chapter 1

"During the whole summer, the sun hid itself behind the clouds, as if unwilling to shine upon the earth. In the middle of the quietude, the earth began to quake as if it was dying. The mountains opened up to vomit forth fire and flames. Some of them sunk under the earth while in other places mountains rose out of the plains... Atland disappeared, and the wild waves rose so high over the hills and dales that everything was buried under the seas. Many people were swallowed up by the earth, and others who had escaped the fire perished in the waters."

Chapter 32

Ally walked into the room alone, her gaze immediately falling on her parents, who were standing and talking quietly while looking out the large windows overlooking the city of Jamaz, and occasionally casting glances towards the muted television in the corner. Ally couldn't really see what was on the screen, and at the moment didn't really care. There were more important things on her mind.

"Hey, Mom. Hey Dad," she said softly.

William and Catherine whirled around to face her and then somehow were embracing their daughter tightly. Ally held them just as tightly, closing her eyes and leaning into the embrace, feeling a small part of the tension wound around her insides dissipate.

When they finally broke apart, Ally gave a slightly strained chuckle. "I hope this means you're not upset."

Catherine couldn't help but laugh as well, and William quirked a smile. "Of course not," he said. "Surprised, of course. Rather worried, yes. But upset? Not at all."

Ally looked at her father, then quickly glanced away. "I know this wasn't quite what you wanted, you know, with me being with a woman —"

"Ally," William interrupted, "all I've ever wanted was for you to be happy. Now I'll admit that when you first admitted that you were a… lesbian, that I wasn't as supportive as I could have been. I was raised in a very different world, and to be honest the possibility never crossed my mind that you would — or even could — be like that. But now I know it's a part of who you are, and nothing I or anyone else can do will change that — nor should it. So with that in mind, all I want to know is: Do you love her?"

"Completely," Ally replied without hesitation. "Absolutely. Without reservation." She paused. "Well, actually, with some reservation. If she had actually married someone else I might not have been able to any more, but… I suppose that not going to happen now."

The slightly bewildered look on her face made her mother laugh again. "I should say not. When she arranged to have us come out here I thought it was another award you were going to be receiving. Maybe they'd make you a Baroness or something. I never actually thought she was going to propose."

"Neither did I. I never even thought it was a possibility. But apparently…" Ally shrugged.

"Yes, she did make quite a case, didn't she?" William commented. "She'll make quite a Queen. And you know how I normally feel about centralised authority." He pointed to the television in the corner. "The networks have been showing nothing but this afternoon's events."

"Well, it's not every day that the future female ruler of a country proposes to… another… woman… and…" Ally trailed off, her eyes glued to the screen. With the sound muted, she could only see the images, but it was enough to render her speechless.

The tape being played was of Evelynne engaged in her debate with Duke Hassan. The princess was the very picture of poise and confidence, her eyes flashing as she made some point that the Duke had to concede with a nod of his head. That in itself would have been enough to seize Ally's attention, but the woman standing next to Evelynne on the screen… Intellectually she had to acknowledge that it was herself, but… That woman appeared cool and confident, if a little stiff, standing upright as she held the princess' hand. She seemed… not bored, but sure of herself, as though the outcome was assured, and the entire debate was merely formality. That's me? Ally asked herself incredulously. I was seriously ready to throw up at that point. I was just worried about not hitting Evelynne.

She became aware that her mother was calling her name. "What?"

"Are you okay, Ally?" Catherine repeated. "You're looking a little pale."

"Okay?" Ally asked in a strangled voice. "I… I'm… I need to sit down."

"Well here." Her parents quickly helped her onto the long couch.

Ally closed her eyes. "Can you turn that off?" she asked, waving at the television.

"Of course," her father said. "There's a remote around here somewhere…" He began searching around the couch and nearby coffee table.

"Never mind," Ally said. Reaching out with her thoughts, she pressed the off button on the TV itself, pleased when the telltale electrical whine ceased.

"Now, Ally," Catherine said, stroking her daughter's hair. She paused when her hand encountered the coronet resting on Ally's brow, and she took a moment to admire the piece. "That's really beautiful." Her voice was low murmur.

"What? Oh, yeah, it is." Ally reached up to gingerly touch the cool metal. "It's the Crown of the Heir Consort: Female Edition. Think of it as my engagement crown. Instead of a ring, you know? Royalty apparently don't use rings."

"Oh? So what will Evelynne be wearing to show that she's engaged?" William asked.

Ally froze. "I have no idea. Am I supposed to give her something? She never said… She didn't ask…" She was heading quickly towards irrational panic, her mind seizing on a minor issue in an attempt to release some of her tension.

"Ally. Ally! ALLY!" Her mother finally forced her to look into her eyes. "Calm down! If it was absolutely necessary for you to give her something I'm sure she would have told you. So you can think of something to give her later, if she wants it." She smiled reassuringly. "Besides, I think Evelynne already has what she really wants."

"Oh? What's that?"

Catherine sighed. "You, hon. Why else would she have proposed to you?"

"Oh, right." Ally blushed. "I'm sorry. I'm just… I'm… a little overwhelmed," Ally admitted, then laughed. "And the Understatement of the Year Award goes to…" She sighed and rubbed her eyes. "Seriously, though, it's all just… a bit too much for me to really take in. A part of me keeps thinking that any moment now I'm going to wake up."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"I do, but I can't, just now. I need to process first. And I have this presentation to give in about an hour. If I start talking now, I'm never going to stop. I just need to keep in control until…"

"Alright," her mother agreed. "Are you… seeing Evelynne this evening?"

"I will be seeing her, but I don't know if I'll be… staying with her tonight. Monarchies tend to take a dim view of people sleeping with their Royal Heirs out of wedlock. And considering that it's us… I don't know if we should be giving the media any more ammunition." She waved towards the now—dark television screen. "I think they have enough as it is. So for now… Please, just talk to me about anything else. Anything. Dad, tell me about school. Mom, what happened to that whale you were tracking up by Alert Bay? Just please distract me for the next hour."

"My Lords and Ladies, good evening," Ally said, her voice carrying to every part of the lecture hall over the speakers. They made sure that every person present could hear her.

And a lot of people were listening. This room had been prepared well in advance for this evening's presentation, in anticipation of a modest but respectable turnout by those most interested in the Aztlan excavation, and the theories and discoveries Ally's team was advancing. That had, of course, been well before a certain ultra—publicised acceptance of an offer of marriage by the main speaker. Now the room was filled to capacity ... and beyond ... with what seemed like the entire population of Jamaz and its outlying regions. So many people had wanted to attend that the Conclave's organisers had broached the possibility of moving the venue to a larger location, possibly the Conclave Hall itself. Ally had vetoed the idea, and when the planners had objected, Evelynne had given them a look that clearly said, "Are you planning on arguing with the possible future Monarch of this country?" Needless to say, it was the planners who conceded defeat.

That hadn't prevented the room from being packed to the rafters in any case, and Ally took a deep breath, pretending look down at her non—existent notes to stall for time. Real notes were actually useless, since everything she needed to know was already at hand in her eidetic memory. As fortified as she could be under the circumstances, Ally looked up at her audience once again. "Thank you for coming out to this presentation. There are certainly more people than I was expecting. I never realised that ancient archaeology was such a crowd—drawing subject." The light sarcasm in her voice evoked a ripple of laughter. Not many of those present were under any illusions as to the real subject of interest. Ally smiled slightly, then turned serious once more. "Actually, while I'd like to believe that the work my team and I have been doing at Aztlan is sufficient reason to attract such attention, I know that many of you, especially among the media, are here for a very different reason. So I'd like to say, right off, that you will be getting little comment on the subject of my… engagement to Princess Evelynne. I was planning for this lecture long before Her Highness proposed to me, and I will not throw away the hard work of either myself or my team. Therefore, I will give my presentation as usual. During afterwards, there will be breaks for questions. I will state right now that I have spoken to Count Townsend, our Moderator, and he has agreed that any questions not related to the work I have been doing will not be tolerated. I have his express permission to have the Guards expel any member of the press or public who goes… off topic, at my sole discretion." Her gaze was stern, although inside she was wondering where this assertiveness was coming from.

At Ally's words, there was a general murmur of disappointment from the assembled journalists, accompanied by furtive glances at the Guardsmen stationed prominently around the hall. All didn't have to look behind her to see that her own Personal Guard ... something she had apparently automatically inherited when she became the Heir Consort ... were looking particularly forbidding. It was still disconcerting to know that she had her own cadre of personal protectors shadowing her every move.

Count Townsend nodded in agreement from his place among the other Nobles comprising the Science Council at the foot of the stage. He had actually been the one to suggest removing any overzealous reporters who stepped over the boundaries, something that Ally ... unused to dealing with the press ... had not even thought of. He had made it clear that while he was still undecided over her engagement, he hated most of the press with a passion, and would be more than happy to be the bully in order to allow her to speak freely. "Besides," he'd said gruffly, "I've been reading your preliminary reports on your theories, and I'm very interested in learning more. And I hate people talking while I'm watching a movie."

"This will be your only warning," Ally continued. "We are here to discuss science and history. I am quite sure that there will be ample opportunities later to investigate… other topics. On the up side, many of you may go home to your editors with a fascinating science story. At least, I hope so."

She paused, but nobody seemed ready to challenge her resolve… yet. "Very well, then," she said, calling up her first slide on the screen behind her, "I will begin by giving an overview of what has hitherto been named the 'Great Maze', located in the Great Temple of Aztlan. Following that, my associate Mr Taldas Islin will present some possible theories on the function of the Great Maze. This will be followed by a series of computer simulations…"

"Thank you, Abdullah," King Jad said absently as the servant finished pouring the cer'ant into the fine crystal glasses.

Abdullah smiled in return and nodded his head, but the King was no longer paying attention. The servant knew better than to take it personally, however. It was well known among the serving classes in the Royal Palace that the King actually knew not only the names and positions of every servant and Guard in the place, but also the names of their spouses and children, their birthdays, and their favourite food and drink. The King actually often combined his knowledge of the latter two with a personal gift on the appropriate days, sometimes, but not always, delivered personally. However, they also knew that the King was one of the two busiest people in the whole of Atlantl, so there was never any resentment when he became distracted.

Once Abdullah had completed his task he bowed deeply and exited the room. With a glance and flick of his eyes the King soundlessly instructed Sir Adun, his Guard, that he wanted to be alone. Knowing that the King's current guest was no threat, Sir Adun bowed and complied, taking up a post just outside the door.

Taking a hefty swallow of the cer'ant, feeling the fiery liquor burn a path down his throat, the King turned his eyes to his guest, seated opposite in another of the room's exquisite chairs. Quirking an eyebrow, he said, "Quite a day, eh, Thomas?"

"That it was, Jad. That it most certainly was," Duke Thomas replied with a wry grin, swirling his own glass of liquor thoughtfully. He looked carefully at his Monarch and friend. "How are you taking Evelynne's revelations?"

The King barked a laugh. "Exceedingly well, if I may say so myself." He shook his head ruefully. "I thought I was ready for anything she might do, you know? Given her potential, her intelligence. She exceeds me in so many ways." He saw Thomas about to say something and waved away the imminent objections. "Oh, I know I'm a good King," he said without conceit, "maybe even a very good one. But Evelynne… she's going to be a great Queen. When the history books write about us, I will simply be 'King Jad Richard ibn Jad deMolay'. She will be 'Queen Evelynne the Great', or 'the Lawmaker', or 'the Inclusionist', or some such thing."

"Assuming the Nobles allow her to take the Throne," Thomas commented quietly.

Jad snorted dismissively. "That's one thing I'm not too worried about," he said. "It'll take a lot more than a bunch of weak Nobles to stop her. No offence."

Thomas chuckled. "None taken. I agree, actually. None of us is strong enough to take her on alone, and we're to fractious a bunch to be very dangerous as a group."

"Exactly. And now that she has… Alleandre —" He only stumbled slightly over the name. "— with her I don't think anything is going to stop her."

"Oh?" the Duke asked, knowing they had come to the crux of the discussion. "So how do you really feel about that? I know you're showing full support publicly ... that was a brilliant move with the Order of Precedence, by the way ... but I'd like to know how you feel on a personal level."

The King sighed, staring into his glass, watching the light reflect off the greenish liquid within. "I'm conflicted," he said finally. "On the one hand, I like Alleandre. She's brave, intelligent, honest, fair—minded and refreshingly non—self—absorbed. Once she finally gets some confidence she'll be a force to be reckoned with." He looked up and saw Thomas' raised eyebrow. "Don't look so surprised. I've spoken with her several times, and I've also talked to others who have done so. Not to mention that I have my own sources. So, in other words, if she were a man I'd think she was the perfect match for my daughter." He sighed again. "On the other hand, she's not a man. And that bothers me, as much as I try not to let it."

"Do you really object to homosexual partnerships?" the Duke asked.

"Not at all. As you know, I've thrown my support completely behind such things as the Marriage Equality Decision. That said, however, it's different when it's your own child. And yes, I know it's not rational, or fair, or just, but that doesn't change how I feel."

"It will," Thomas reassured him. "Because you do know that what you're feeling isn't rational, or fair, or just. That will help you come to terms with it over time."

"I hope so. It makes me wonder how Alleandre's parents came to deal with her… sexuality." It was obvious that the young woman's sexuality, and how it related to his daughter, still made him extremely uncomfortable.

"Ask them. I'm sure they'd be happy to talk with you."

"That's a good idea. I don't even know why I didn't think of it."

"You're just not used to thinking in such terms. And I know it's not truly possible for you to access the support groups that are available to those in less exalted positions. PFLAG has been a great help to many of my Citizens, and they have a large presence in Atlantl."


"Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays," Thomas explained.

"Ah. An excellent idea. Remind me to donate some money, or free press time, or whatever support they need or want."

"Of course." Thomas hesitated. "I can also, if you wish, introduce you to certain other members of the Nobility who are in a… similar situation. It is highly informal and unofficial, for obvious reasons, but… some of us in the Nobility have seen the need to create our own support group."

The King looked startled. "Oh?"

"As you might know, Jad, I happen to prefer the… company of other men myself. Or I did when I was younger."

Jad nodded. "My father knew, and he told me a long time ago. I just didn't know there were enough… people like you in the Nobility to create a group."

"Oh, there are more than you might think, and it only takes two to create a support group. And not all are 'people like me'. Many are simply parents who are having to deal with their children's sexuality, just as you are."

"Well, you will certainly have to introduce them to me," the King said firmly. "If I am going to be standing behind my daughter, it will be nice to know that there are others standing behind me."

They were both silent for several minutes, each contemplating their own thoughts.

"What do you think the ultimate reaction will be politically?" the King asked suddenly. "I know I said I didn't think anyone could stop Evelynne from taking the Throne, but what do you think her real chances are?"

Thomas considered for a moment. "Right now it is very hard to say," he said finally. "The Nobles are too confused for anyone to predict what they will ultimately do. Prior to today, Evelynne was immensely popular amongst the Nobility, not to mention the commoners and Advisors. I have kept an informal poll of her supporters, as I'm sure you have, and I placed her popularity at seventy four per cent among the Nobility and eighty five per cent among the commoners."

The King nodded thoughtfully. "My figures are a little different, but not by much."

"Indeed. Now, it remains to be seen just how much Evelynne's decision today affects that support base. It will take a hit. Just how much I don't know. Despite how much we like to pride ourselves on being an open and tolerant nation, alternate sexualities are still a very contentious issue. I'd predict a larger drop in support among the Nobility. We've always been much more conservative than the general populace. What that ultimately means in absolute terms is unknown." Thomas sighed. " If she had to Assume the Throne today, I'd give her even odds. Over time, I think her chances get higher. We'll know more tomorrow."

"Mmm," the King mused. "And what about… Alleandre? Assuming that Evelynne's right, and having a female King really is technically legal, what are the chances of the Nobility allowing her to Assume her own Throne, do you think?"

"You mean, assuming she chooses to do so as well."

"Of course."

"My personal opinion is that if Evelynne is able to take the Crown, Alleandre will not be far behind. Let's assume that the Nobles eventually do allow your daughter to claim her position. By that time, I think the overriding consideration will be practicality. Let's face it, Alleandre is simply too intelligent and capable to waste in anything other than a central role. As long as she continues gaining support in the Nobility and Advisory Councils through her actions she's going to create a truly impressive base of allies."

"Indeed," rumbled King Jad, a smirk visible through his thick beard. "Count Urubi is convinced she can walk on water, and Countess Ressick isn't far behind. Doctor Malloy's reports on her work at Aztlan have been glowing, and he has the ears of a lot of the Nobles on the Royal Science Councils, not to mention the College of Advisors." He shook his head ruefully. "You know, until Evelynne told me she wanted to marry the girl I was hoping she'd eventually go into the Advisory College herself."

Thomas smiled. "I had the same thought myself."

The King frowned. "You realise, of course, that all this is mere conjecture if they aren't allowed to marry in the first place."

Duke Thomas nodded seriously. "At the moment, there are two powers that could prevent that. You are one, and from the way you've been speaking, I presume you have chosen not to veto Evelynne's choice."

Jad sighed. "To be honest, there have been more than a few moments when I've been tempted. When Evelynne first came to me three days ago and told me they'd been… lovers for a while now, and that she wanted to propose, I was a tad… shocked."

"Understandably," Thomas said. "Rumour has it that you broke your Legal Advisor's jaw."

"Nonsense," the King scoffed. "It was his nose. And that was in response to certain… unflattering remarks directed towards a certain minority that I'd recently learned my daughter is a part of." He waved away the Duke's surprised look. "In any case, at first I was completely against it and dead set on having Alleandre transferred to a scientific platform in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean. But then Evelynne started talking about her, and…" His face softened and his gaze stared into memory. "I realised that my daughter truly did love her. I have seen that amount of devotion exactly twice before in my life. Once was when Cleo married Jeremiah. The second was when Evelynne's mother looked at me." He shook his head slowly. "No matter how I feel about it, Alleandre apparently makes my daughter happier than I've ever seen her before, and I refuse to stand in the way of that."

Thomas smiled, proud beyond words of his friend.

The King shook his head more briskly, bringing himself back to the present. "In any case, that leaves only the second power capable of vetoing her decision. And that's the Dukes. Two of you together can successfully ban the marriage. I presume that you will vote in favour of the union, and I think we can assume that Hassan will oppose it. That leaves Marsden as the deciding vote. Do you have any idea which way he will swing?"

"I wish I did, Jad. He's always been a balancing force between Hassan and myself. Some things he supports me on, some he supports Hassan. He is more conservative than I am, although not as much so as Hassan." Thomas exhaled a long breath. "I think in the end it will come down to what he perceives as the most beneficial outcome for the Kingdom as a whole. Both Hassan and I have a lot of personal beliefs and personal morality involved in our politics. Marden is much more practical—minded. Now, whether he finally concludes that the advantages of Alleandre's support of Evelynne, and her possible future rulership, outweigh the inevitable political dissension that will arise over it… That I can’t tell you. And until he does decide, the issue will remain unresolved… barring a miraculous display of open—mindedness on Hassan's part." They both smiled ruefully. "I think we can safely wager on that not happening. So, this may not be decided tomorrow, or the next day, or this month, or even this year."

"Well, I hope, for the sakes of both my daughter and possible future… daughter—in—law, that the answer is both swift and positive."

"I'll drink to that," Thomas said, clicking their glasses together.

"Your Highness, Her Ladyship is on her way up," Sir Arthur informed his charge.

Evelynne looked up from where she was sitting in an overstuffed armchair. She had been gazing blankly at draft proposal for a new set of environmental laws that would be discussed the next day, but had been staring at the same page for fifteen minutes. She brightened perceptibly at her bodyguard's announcement. "Oh good," she said with feeling. "Show her right in. Oh, and did the kitchen send up dinner yet?"

"Five minutes ago, Your Highness," Sir Arthur said, casting a meaningful look at the spread set out on a table near the wall.

"Oh, Isis," Evelynne said, flushing. "I was completely… gone. I never even heard them come in."

"I understand, Your Highness. You have every reason to be distracted."

"Well, I'm not going to be distracted any more once Ally's here," the princess declared. "How did she do, by the way?"

"According to Captain el—Jahir, very well," the Guard replied. Captain Emil el—Jahir was the brand new commander of Ally's Personal Guard. "She only had to throw out three reporters."

"Really? Well, good for her. Remind me to thank Count Townsend for suggesting it to her."

Sir Arthur raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you need to, Your Highness? After all, I believe it was you who sent a discreet message to him just before the presentation began."

Evelynne shrugged innocently. "So I may have made a few hints. He didn't have to follow them."

"As you say, Your Highness." The bodyguard listened intently to his earbud for several seconds. "Her Ladyship is here."

Evelynne stood quickly, smoothing down her simple green dress. "Thank Isis. Oh, and Uncle Arthur? Could you not call her 'Her Ladyship' for a while? I think she's probably feeling more than a little strange as it is."

"Of course." Sir Arthur nodded, then moved to the door. He opened it to find Ally hesitating outside. "Good evening, Alleandre," he said.

"Hi, Sir Arthur," Ally said with a tight smile. "I just wasn't sure if I was supposed to knock or not."

"A good question," Evelynne said, grinning at her fiancée. "In this case I think you're safe." She beckoned Ally into the room.

Sir Arthur nodded a salute to Captain el—Jahir, who remained outside the room, and shut the door.

Evelynne immediately saw the stress and anxiety etched into Ally's face, and instantly wrapped her in a warm embrace, feeling the tension in Ally's tight shoulders and back. "How are you holding up?" she asked.

"I'm…" Ally seemed at a loss for words, settling for a shrug, and buried her face in Evelynne's shoulder.

"It's alright," Evelynne soothed. "Are you hungry? Do you want to eat something? I had them bring up some food."

Ally pulled back, already feeling slightly more relaxed. "Am I hungry? I'm starving. Do I want to eat something? Not on your life. I just know that whatever I eat I'm going to taste twice: once on the way down, and…" She swallowed, resting her cheek on Evelynne's head. "Maybe in a bit, but…" She leaned back to look in her lover's eyes, darting a glance at Sir Arthur, who was studiously ignoring them. "How long can I stay?"

Evelynne frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, am I supposed to go back to my own rooms tonight? I don't know what I'm supposed to do here."

The princess smiled. "You can stay for as long as you want. Forever, I hope. Um… that is, assuming you want to stay with me tonight."

"God, yes!" Ally blurted, then blushed.

"Good." Evelynne frowned. "Of course, there is the matter of propriety. Fortunately, a Special Agent of the Heir's Guard has just volunteered to stay here this evening."

Ally's face fell. "A Special Agent? Who?"

Evelynne's lips twitched as she beckoned Sir Arthur over.

"Your Ladyship," the Guard said formally, "by virtue of your Oath of Allegiance to Her Highness, Princess Evelynne deMolay, I hereby appoint you Special Protector in the Heir's Guard. Your are hereby charged with protecting Her Highness' body and soul with every means at your disposal. May God protect you. Congratulations, Your Ladyship Corporal Dame Alleandre Tretiak." Sir Arthur saluted, then smiled, turned, and left the room.

"See?" Evelynne said. "I told you. Now I can honestly say that a member of my Guard was with me all night when they ask me tomorrow." There was no response, and Ally was still staring fixedly at the closed door. "Ally? Are you alright?" The princess reached out and gently turned her lover's face towards her.

Ally's face was more than dazed. It had a fixed quality, and Evelynne could see the muscles in her jaw clenched tightly. Most striking, though, were her eyes, wild and turbulent and more expressive than Evelynne could remember seeing them for a long time. There was a particular fragility about her, as though Ally was holding herself together so tightly that she would fly apart if she released her control a fraction.

Evelynne reacted in instinct, gathering her lover into her arms, cradling her, letting her feel the love and support that was present. Ally remained stiff for a moment more before seeming to melt completely, collapsing into Evelynne's arms almost bonelessly. Fortunately, Evelynne was able to lower them both to the floor, where she sat cradling her lover in her lap, one hand cupping the back of Ally's head, as the other woman sobbed soundlessly into her neck. The princess kept up a constant stream of wordless reassurance, with both her mental and physical voices, wrapping Ally in a supportive cocoon. She felt tears of her own slipping out as all the strain, tension, anxiety and sorrow that had been building over the past two weeks, and culminating in the day's events, poured out of Ally in a stream.

Neither knew how much time passed before Ally's tears slowed and finally stopped. Evelynne found herself sitting on the floor with her back against the couch, her legs stretched out in front of her. Ally was wrapped around her, head resting just under the princess' breasts, body pressed against her right side. Evelynne was stroking her lover's hair, intrigued by the novelty of Ally's two new tiny braids as they slipped through her fingers, and revelling in holding the woman she loved close by her once more.

"I'm sorry," Ally whispered finally, her voice hoarse. "I just…"

"It's alright, love," Evelynne replied, pressing a kiss to her lover's hair. "You've had a very rough day, I know. And as your… future wife, this is part of my job. I'm here to pick up the pieces when you fall apart."

"Yeah, but it seems like you're always the one taking care of me," Ally said softly. "What do I do for you?"

"What do you do?" Evelynne asked incredulously. "You love me. That alone is worth everything. You're there to listen when I talk, to give me advice, or even just a receptive ear. And while I may not have broken down on you yet, I'm sure I will some day. And when I do, I know you'll be there to pick up my pieces. That will be your job, my wife."

"My wife," Ally mused. "I never thought I'd be that, you know. Like the whole legal, full—fledged marriage, equal partners thing. Oh, I'd imagined moving someplace like Sweden with my partner or something, but never as a serious thought, you know? Just kind of an idle fantasy. Now, though… I actually going to get married."

"You are," Evelynne confirmed. "We are. If I have to Disband the entire Hall of Nobles, we are." She changed her stroking of Ally's head to a light scratching, chuckling softly as she felt her lover become even more boneless, practically melting into her. "You're purring again."

"Mmhmm," Ally agreed wordlessly. She was silent for several more moments before slowly and luxuriously stretching every muscle in her body, looking and sounding even more like a cat as she did so. Once she was done, she looked up into Evelynne's eyes. "Will you… make love to me tonight?" she asked, her eyes shy and oddly vulnerable. "Please? I want to be with you so much."

Evelynne's own eyes lit at the request. Instead of answering verbally, she bent her head and captured Ally's lips in a searing kiss that quickly escalated beyond the point of no return. *Isis, I love you,* she spoke into Ally's mind. It was an extremely erotic sensation, to be able to talk to her lover without needing to free her lips from whatever they were currently doing ... in this case, kissing her lover as if her life depended on it.

*I love you, too,* Ally replied in the same manner, and somehow even her mental voice managed to sound breathless. Her lips broke away to begin kissing a trail to the pulse point behind Evelynne's ear.

"Oh, Isis," Evelynne breathed, her eyes closing. Her hands traced aimless paths across Ally's back and sides, gripping more tightly when her lover nipped at a particularly sensitive area. Feeling things escalating further, she struggled to regain control for a moment. As intriguing as making love on the floor of the sitting room might be, she was still very aware that there were any number of Guards posted right outside the door. "Bedroom." She tried to urge Ally to her feet, but the other woman was having none of it.

Instead, Ally tightened her hold on Evelynne's shoulders before stretching out nearly on top of her lover. "Hold on," she whispered in Evelynne's ear. Then she extended her mind, wrapping them both in her mental focus, and channelled. Immediately they started to rise from the floor, still horizontal.

Evelynne felt the telltale, stomach—dropping sensation of levitation, and reflexively gripped Ally tighter. She looked up at her lover, stretched out above her, and gasped at the smouldering look in her eyes. Unable ... and unwilling ... to resist, she pressed her mouth to Ally's, pouring all the love and desire she was feeling into the kiss. After a moment, her stomach lurched slightly, and Ally pulled away.

"First the bedroom," Ally gasped. "I can't concentrate when you do that."

Evelynne nodded her understanding and settled for nuzzling her fiancée's ear as Ally propelled them towards the bedroom. The door opened, apparently of its own accord, as they approached, and closed again once they were through. Nearing the bed, Ally twisted them so that they were vertical and lowered them slowly to the floor, Evelynne's back to the bed. Once landed, Ally backed away a little, her hands on Evelynne's shoulders. One hand lifted to stroke a coppery cheek, and the princess leaned into the caress.

"Don't move," Ally whispered, and her eyes sharpened in concentration.

Almost instantly Evelynne felt invisible hands at the fastenings on the back of her dress. The sensation startled her so much that she instinctively turned her head to see who was behind her, but of course there was nobody there. She turned back to Ally's smiling face, and couldn't stop herself from leaning forward to kiss her lover softly. A moment later she felt the last of the clasps release, and lifted her arms so that the same unseen hands could lift her dress over her head to pool on the floor, leaving her clad only in her underwear.

"Well, I can't do exactly what you can," Evelynne said quietly, reaching her lover's clothing, "but I'm sure I'll manage."

Ally smiled softly and turned her head toward the light switch, intent on removing the already dim lighting, but was stopped by Evelynne's hand on her cheek. Their first time together had been one of the only times that Ally had let Evelynne see her completely nude in full light. Almost every other time had taken place in near darkness, a situation that the princess knew arose from her lover's shyness and poor body image. She also knew that Ally's actions so far had stemmed from a desire to feel some control, after a day where she had found little. However, she didn't want Ally hiding from her in any way during their first night as an engaged couple. "Don't," she said, her eyes entreating. "I want to see you." She reached up and carefully removed Ally's glasses, then gently rubbed the two red marks on either side of Ally's nose as the taller woman's eyes closed reflexively. This was another action that often had Ally purring with pleasure.

Ally hesitated, then acceded with a slightly shaky head nod. Evelynne took the gesture as a sign to begin unfastening the large brass buttons down the front of Ally's formal tunic, leaning forward to kiss her lover's throat as she did so. Once the heavy garment had fallen to the floor, there was a lighter blouse underneath, and then an undershirt under that.

"You have way too many clothes," Evelynne muttered once the blouse had joined the tunic on the floor.

Ally chuckled, her breath catching as Evelynne's hand not so accidentally brushed against her breast through her undershirt. "You should try standing in the Conclave Courtyard for half an hour in the sun in this."

"No, thanks," Evelynne said. She leaned in for a kiss, then curled her fingers under the edge of Ally's undershirt and pulled it up and over her head. That left only the pants, which were thankfully fastened only with three buttons, and which were much more quickly defeated, leaving Ally in her sports bra and panties.

Ally had to force herself not to cover herself with her arms, a reaction that Evelynne noted anyway. The princess wrapped her arms around her lover, pleased when Ally returned the gesture. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again… as many times as it takes for you to accept it. You're beautiful. Believe it!"

"I'll try," Ally murmured.

They remained like that for a moment before both became increasingly aware of the heat building between them. To Evelynne's pleased surprise, Ally took the lead, slowly pushing the other woman back until Evelynne climbed onto the bed, Ally following her until they were in the same position they had been in the air, Ally looking down at Evelynne with eyes full of love and desire. They kissed slowly, passionately, for long minutes, hands making short work of the remaining bras and panties, until Ally began slowly moving down Evelynne's body trailing kisses as she went, and they rejoined each other completely, in mind, body, and spirit.

Much later, Ally mused idly on what time it was. She knew she had a watch in her pants pocket, but at the moment she couldn't quite remember where her pants had ended up… eidetic memory or not. Besides, she was pretty sure that there was no good reason to move from her current position, spooned snugly against Evelynne's back. The hedonistic softness of the bed had allowed her to wrap both arms around her lover, rather than the "third arm" half embrace that was the bane of lovers everywhere. She couldn't move the lower arm, it was true, but her upper hand was idly tracing patterns across Evelynne's abdomen. She knew from her breathing that Evelynne wasn't asleep, even if she hadn't been able to feel the warm, lazy thoughts of her lover's mind.

Ally drew breath to speak, then paused and let it out again.

"What?" Evelynne asked lazily, shifting and snuggling back so that she was pressed more tightly against Ally's front.


"You were going to say something. What was it?"

Ally hesitated, then said, "I wanted to say something, but I didn't want it to sound like I was mad, or unhappy, or anything. Because I'm not."

"Oh? Well, just say it. Now that I know you're not mad, or unhappy, or anything, you don't have to worry." Evelynne's voice was gently teasing.

"Okay… I just wanted to ask you to please not spring any more surprises on me for a while, okay? Don't get me wrong, getting engaged to you was… is the best thing that's happened to me. But on top of that, it happened after we'd been… apart for a while, and then I learned that I was going to have to have a baby, and then I found out I might be the next King ... or Queen, or whatever ... of Atlantl. That sort of thing only happens in dreams, or really cheesy novels. And just when I thought I was out of surprises, I'm suddenly a Corporal in the Heir's Guard." She laughed, but there was a slightly hysterical edge to it. "What are all my titles now? Her Ladyship Corporal Dame Alleandre Tretiak? My titles are longer than my name!"

Despite the joking tone, Evelynne could feel the real tension and confusion in her lover's voice, and twisted around so that she could look into Ally's face, close enough to be clearly seen even in the dim light. As she expected, the other woman's eyes were slightly wild and a little lost, so she immediately leaned in to kiss her. It was a loving, reassuring kiss, rather than a passionate one. Pulling back slightly, she asked, "Does it really bother you?"

Ally laughed wryly. "What part?"

Evelynne smiled. "Well, let's take this in the order you brought it up. Does having a baby bother you?"

Ally thought for a moment. "Not really. I mean, obviously I'm not ready to do it right now, but I figure that'll happen some time down the road. Ask me in five years or so. The thought of your brother… you know… is a little weird, but that's because I've never had any desire to have… contact with any sort of… male material. My George Clooney fantasies notwithstanding. I guess that proves I'm just a big dyke after all, huh?"

Evelynne laughed. "Actually, there are some researchers in Atlantl working with some other scientists in Britain who are working on ways to fertilise an egg using one of the father's cells, not necessarily sperm. It has the possibility of allowing lesbians to have children of their own also. They figure it's still ten or twenty years, but who knows if they'll stumble onto something sooner. The only reason I didn't bring it up in the Hall was that it is still untested, and I decided that the Nobles would have a hard enough time wrapping their minds around the other issue without adding two women literally having a baby together."

"Now that's an idea," Ally said. "Us, having a child that's both of ours…" She thought about it for a moment, an unconscious smile on her face that Evelynne found incredibly appealing. "Although I actually knew a lesbian couple who had a son that was both of theirs genetically."

Evelynne frowned. "How did that work?"

"Well, Pat was actually a transsexual, and before she transitioned she had some of her sperm frozen. When she and Marianne got together later, enough was still viable for Marianne to get pregnant."

"Wow. That's fascinating. I don't think I know any transsexuals."

"Um… actually, you know Roger Fisk back at the Summer Palace? He's one of Latifa's kitchen staff?"

"Yes." Realisation dawned. "You mean he's… a woman?"

"No, he's a man. He was simply born with a female body, something that he had… corrected about three years ago."

"Oh, yes, sorry. I was just…"

"That's okay. It takes a bit of getting used to."

"Indeed." Evelynne was silent for a few more moments, idly enjoying Ally's hand stroking her bare back. "So… does becoming King also bother you?"

"Hell, yes!" Ally blurted, then blushed, although it was invisible in the darkness. "Sorry. It's just that, like I said, this kind of thing only happens in dreams. I mean, when you asked me to marry you I think I vaguely assumed that I'd be… kind of like Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth's husband. Sort of in the background, help you out of the car, walk three steps behind kind of thing."

"Well, that is an option," Evelynne said quietly. "Nobody, not even me, can force you to Assume the Throne. If you choose not to, someone else in the line of succession would. Probably my cousin. I would still be Queen, and Argyle would be King."

"Oh." Ally looked startled. "It's just that the way you were talking in the Hall…"

"Love, all I was trying to do was lay all my cards on the table, as it were. This way, if you do decide to take the Crown, nobody can claim we ambushed them. When we get married you will have that right, and I wanted to make sure that it was understood. Of course, the Hall of Nobles could Revoke your Right of Succession, just as they could mine, but that is an incredibly long, involved process, and I have quite a few allies on my side. And my father has even more." And you have more than you realise.

"Okay," Ally said. She closed her eyes. "Get back to me in a decade or so when I've processed all this, okay?" Her eyes snapped open suddenly. "Speaking of your father, how is he taking… all this?"

Evelynne smiled wickedly. "Well, you'll find out tomorrow. We're going to be meeting him after the first Session."

"Oh God," Ally moaned. "He's going to kill me."

"Well…" Evelynne moved, slowly pushing Ally onto her back before stretching out on her lover's body. "I suppose I should make your last night on this planet pleasant then."

Before Ally could reply, Evelynne's mouth covered hers, and then neither of them spoke coherently for a long time.

In a room high in an office overlooking the city of Jamaz, a figure sat gazing out across the lights and brooded. The damned Heir's latest actions had thrown the entire country into an uproar, and the figure was unsure of how this would affect the plans already set in motion. Trying to predict how the public would react to anything was uncertain at the best of times, and now…

Still, the Atlantlan public's reaction, while still important, was less so than that of the rest of the world once the operation had entered its final stages. And with…

I've been thinking about this all wrong. A smile showed in the darkened office. I've been thinking too much like an Atlantlan. This actually gives me the perfect excuse. Nobody will think twice about actions taken against a decadent, corrupt government. One that would allow its next ruler to behave in such a… morally bankrupt fashion. The figure nearly laughed. I only need to make a slight change in plan. Time to move up the schedule a little.

A handheld device was produced from an inner pocket. It looked much like a regular PDA, and fulfilled nearly identical functions, but this tiny computer had certain enhancements that would have certainly piqued the interest of any Guard Agent.

A few commands later and three new highly encrypted, nearly untraceable messages had been sent out over the airwaves.

The figure leaned back in a decadent leather chair. What is it the Americans say? Ah, yes.


Unfortunately for the conspirator, while the device that had sent the messages might have been untraceable, the device receiving them was not. By dint of intense espionage, the Atlantlan Guard had managed to insert a tap into the transmitter that actually relayed the messages. Neither their source nor their ultimate destination had been pinpointed yet, but the messages themselves were instantly picked up by the Guard Cryptography department, which had yet to break the encryption.

Unfortunately for the Guard, time was about to run out.

To be continued in Chapter 33

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