Before Razz Jensen can do anything drastic to rescue Javi from prison on his home planet, General Queza arrives with a proposal from Arien -- to take all the Ixellan exiles home. As the ship full of refugees leaves, Javi and Razz are reunited, until Queza offers training to the refugees to become a defence force for their community and Javi joins up. He regrets that when Razz becomes an instructor and tells Javi they need to cool it during the training.
Meanwhile, Arien is continuing to cultivate allies, and juggle suitors. A powerful house proposes the solution to the problem of Arien not being able to produce and heir, Arien fears their fate is sealed and this is the end of any chance they can ever marry Tapuh and be happy.
Razz is happy to heat things up again when Javi finishes his basic training. Queza makes the recruits the New Legion of Ixellan and wants them to fight for Arien, to regain the throne, leaving Javi feeling he and his people are being used by Arien. But Arien is shocked by the New Legion and disappointed to learn Javi has become part of Queza’s staff, fearing they’ve lost his friendship. That he’s fallen for Queza’s romantic ideas of glory.
Only after Arien and Javi reunite do they understand that they are caught up in other people’s ambitions. Now they must take back control of their destinies and try to make a future where they can be with the people they love.
She swept out, and a moment later a servant came in, accompanied by Tapuh, to clear away the tea things. Arien, unable to remain sitting, went to the window and fretted until the servant was gone and the door firmly closed. They turned to Tapuh.
“Glassel knows about you!”
“Well even I don’t claim to be invisible,” Tapuh said, looking confused.
“No, I mean they know about you and me! About us!”
“Ah. I’d be surprised if they didn’t really. Their intel gathering is excellent.”
“Stop being so blasé about it, don’t you see that this puts you in danger? They might consider you an impediment to me marrying Eral.”
“I’m not an impediment,” Tapuh said, voice soft and tightly controlled. “We’ve talked about that.”
“They don’t know that.”
“You could tell them.”
Arien was momentarily thrown by this. “I can’t just tell people things. Not without some sort of quid pro quo.”
Arien pondered, looking out of the window again. A sudden thought made them gasp and turn back though. They were a little annoyed to see that Tapuh had sat down at the desk and taken out their tablet as if about to do some work. As if this news didn’t faze them at all.
“What if they think we’re already married?” Arien demanded, folding their arms, putting some challenge in their voice to try to make Tap take this seriously.
Tapuh looked up and frowned. “Why would they think that?”
“We left Sabel together and were away for months, off the radar of any of their intelligence gathering. They can’t know that we didn’t get married in that time.”
“That makes no sense,” Tapuh said, still irritatingly calm. “Before the coup there was no reason for us to, what, elope? I know I had some ... misgivings, about, well, becoming part of the royal family. But your family didn’t have a problem, so you had no reason to marry me in secret.”
“And after the coup?”
“They must surely know that you understand your duty to make an advantageous political marriage.” Tapuh’s tone was still even and controlled, but Arien knew them enough to see a tell-tale muscle quiver in their face as they said it.
“They can’t know that. They can’t know that at least at first I didn’t assume the throne was lost and decide to make a life with you, before Queza brought us here. The fact I’m holding off on committing to marriage to someone else could be seen as evidence of that.”
“They know it’s evidence that you’re hedging your bets, that’s all. And if you proposed to Lady Eral today, we all know the wedding would be put on hold until after you take the throne -- if you ever do.”
“Yes, not going to tie herself to me without that, is she?”
Tapuh raised an eyebrow, and stood, and came over to Arien.
“If this worries you so much, then tell them. Screw diplomacy and quid pro quo. Tell them that I am not an impediment.”
But you are, Arien thought. And that’s my fault, not yours.
“I can’t admit our relationship to them! It gives them too much power over me.”
“But they already know.”
“Yes, I know they know and they know I know they know. But admitting it is a whole different thing.”
“I think the words ‘that way madness lies’ are appropriate here.”
Arien rubbed their eyes, groaned. “I know. I know. Tap ... maybe you should leave.”
“If you wish.” They turned as if to go and Arien caught their arm.
“No, not now, not ... leave me alone to think sort of leave, I mean leave Rincha, go somewhere safe.”
Tapuh turned back, eyes wide. “Are you joking?”
“No. You could go to your family. Or anywhere -- don’t even tell me in fact.”
“I’m not leaving, don’t be ridiculous. I can’t leave you alone here. Besides that, it looks worse. That looks as if I am married to you and you need to get me away to safety.”
“Perhaps ... when the Triumph returns you could transfer to stay on the ship.” Though that was months away. Arien wasn’t sure they could stand having Tapuh in danger for that long.
Tapuh took Arien’s upper arms in their hands, which as always had a strength in them that was reassuring.
“Arien, understand this clearly. I am not leaving you alone here.”
“I could order you to leave.”
Tapuh’s grip got just a little tighter. “You’ll have to.”
Arien waited, to see if they could do it, could say the words. They couldn’t. After a moment they sagged and leaned in to Tapuh to embrace them. Tapuh was hesitant for a moment, then put their arms around Arien.
“I’m sorry,” Arien said.