Jino did not compel the courtiers to swear fealty; it had been almost six centuries since the tradition of fealty had been abandoned. But she did make each member pledge themselves to the good of the Sun Etherium, and she made each one acknowledge that she was its ruler. She’d taken a dozen pledges before she remembered that her form was still the same 15-year-old-girl version of her body that Fallen had stuck her in. And dressed in the same ridiculous outfit: a halter top held together by silver chains, with a loincloth linked over each hip by a silver chain. The cloth for both had been white, but was now splattered with her own blood. By now, the Sun Etherium had replenished enough aether that Jino could have restored herself, but it seemed a bit late now. No wonder they’re staring. Well, let them stare. The incongruity between appearance and actions probably puts them more off-balance. Might be just as well.
After a score of pledges, the Sun Etherium had replenished enough aether to permit its members to teleport. Jino sent a message to the former princess Ama telling her to check on Miro.
While Jino was watching the erstwhile Chancellor Pikopolili deliver its pledge a few minutes later, Ama sent a message back, “Dad! What happened to him? He’s not conscious and I can’t wake him up and he’s feverish and not responding to healing magic.”
“I told you, he channeled too much power. It’s caused by too much aether going through him, you can’t fix it with aether. Just stay with him and make sure he doesn’t get any worse.” Jino wrote out the reply on a farspeaker scroll at the same time that he waved Pikopolili to its feet, and beckoned the next courtier.
I wish I knew, Jino thought. “There’s some books on channeling in the lab. Look for the sections on treating sickness. Don’t use any treatments that I crossed out. If he wakes up, tell him I love him. And not to die.”
Once each member of the court had personally acknowledged Jino’s rule, Jino moved on to appointing his new High Court. Apart from the three High Lords of the Sun Etherium, Ele’s High Court had dissolved when Jino removed the Heart from her. Jino made Mirohirokon his crown prince, of course. He had no other children or a spouse to make natural members of the High Court, and Ele’s husbands and other children no longer qualified as such. Of the fifteen appointed High Court posts, Jino re-appointed six members of Ele’s High Court and replaced the rest. One of the replacements was Ele’s second-oldest child: the former Princess Amalatiti. Jino appointed another of her children to a minor Court role by making former Prince Tiqodomiqon his Justiciar.
During this process, Ele regained consciousness. Sputtering and fuming, she attempted to disrupt the proceedings. The ex-queen tried to grab Jino physically, which Jino declined to permit. Ele next yelled at Jino, ordered her to leave the throne, and demanded she return the Heart of Etherium. “No,” Jino told her. Ele launched into a tirade and appealed to her former court for support.
On the whole, the courtiers looked embarrassed on her behalf. No one answered her, or supported her; most of them tried to ignore her. The deposed queen’s fury redoubled at this. “You cannot ignore me! I am your queen!”
“No, you aren’t.” Jino had let her rant for a while, because it amused her to watch the court squirm, but she’d heard enough. Jino silenced Ele’s next reply with moon aether, and went on. “You are nothing to anyone, any more. You’re only still alive on my sufferance, and to be quite blunt I’ve suffered a lot lately, so let’s stop testing it.” She used the phoenix rose to teleport Ele fourteen miles below ground – far outside of the Etherium’s aether supply. “Justiciar Tiqodomiqon, trace Ele for me and let me know when she resurfaces,” Jino said. The ex-queen couldn’t teleport outside of an Etherium, but she could earthswim out. Eventually.
“Yes, your majesty.” The new justiciar left the court to comply.
After ten hours of conducting the court, Jino still had plenty of agenda left to go through, and no will to continue. “We will recess for tonight, and meet again on the morrow to discuss the new law of the Sun Etherium. Court dismissed.” Jino had a few private words with her newly-appointed adjunct. Then she ported home to her bedroom, bringing Fallen and the phoenix rose with her.
Ama had made a rocking chair beside the pool on one side of the room. She had a cloud of messengers around her, but was watching Miro drift in the pool instead of reviewing the messages. Ama had removed most of his clothing, leaving him in only underwear. “How is he?” Jino asked, going to them. She started to leave Fallen behind, then changed her mind and leashed her, making her trail in her wake.
“I don’t know.” Ama gave a helpless shrug. “A little better, maybe. He drifts in and out of consciousness. Sometimes more lucid than others.”
Jino curled her legs to sit at the edge of the pool. “Hello there, my little dawn,” she said, softly.
Miro’s eyes twitched and opened to slits. “Hi Mom. Ama said you did it.” His voice still sounded terrible.
“Yup. Your big sister’s a chancellor now.”
“Thanks. You’re doing great with the not-dying thing, kid. Keep it up,” Ama told him.
“Ardent’s orders,” Miro said. His eyes closed again. “Gave her my word.” His body convulsed, shuddering, and Jino reached out to take his shoulder, alarmed. “Gave myself to her. Mom, I betrayed her.”
“Hush,” Jino said. She slid into the pool next to him and hugged her son. He felt clammy, and she wondered if he was too cold now. “You haven’t. You haven’t.”
“Sh’ wanted the ’nix free, an’ I…” The next words were too soft to catch.
“I’ll make it right, Mirohiro, love.” Jino stroked her son’s hair, fresh tears running down her cheeks. “I’ll make everything right. You just get better.” Her son had passed out again.
“I tried everything the books said, Dad.” Ama wasn’t related to him, technically. In point of fact she was Ele’s second-born and thirty years older than Jinokimijin. But she had called Jino ‘Dad’ ever since Miro was ten years old, and she’d said to him ‘I wish I’d had a dad like yours.’ Miro had replied, with all the earnestness of childhood, that he would share. “I don’t know if it helped or not.”
“He’s doing better,” Jino said, because it had to be true. “I’m going to get him out of the bath; I don’t think he needs to cool any further.” She lifted him on a cushion of aether and dried him, then put him in her bed, in freshly-made pajamas and tucked between blankets.
“Yes, I had him out for a bit earlier, but then he overheated again. You’re king now, can you requisition some decent golems to keep a close eye on him? It’s not like anyone in the Etherium is good with mundane healing.”
“No, I suppose not.” Jino sent a message to her adjunct, then checked her notes to see who might be both trusted and spared from other duties. Ama was in many ways the best choice, but Jino needed her elsewhere, too.
“So why the new look, Dad? Not that ‘blood-drenched adolescent bed-slave girl’ isn’t…um…something. But it doesn’t quite match ‘Sun King’.”
“Well, Ele was the Sun Queen for too long. I don’t want there to be any confusion on that count.” Jino looked down at herself. “So you don’t like adolescent bed-slave? I think it must be growing on me.”
“I think that form could stand another few years of growth,” Ama said, dryly.
“So, adult bed-slave?” Jino changed her body to widen the hips and fill out the chest, adding a little droop to the breasts and a few inches of height. She matured her face by several years, as well. “Better?”
“Much. Perhaps not the exact picture of a successful, confident Sun King, but better.”
“You don’t think so? I figured teleporting into the Sun Court and wresting power from my ex-wife while looking like a harem refugee showed true confidence. No clothing or regalia to mask any insecurities behind for me!”
“Uh.” Ama eyed her dubiously. “If you say so.”
“I do.” Jino changed back into his normal fey form, six foot three inches of well-muscled golden-brown man, with long straight blonde hair. After a moment, he changed the hair to indigo, to match Miro’s. He wore a typical Sun Etherium asymmetrical jacket over tights. “But I suppose it’s time to switch back.” He received a reply from his adjunct and read it. “We’ll have a pair of factotum golems here within the hour. Would you stay here with Miro for a few minutes? I need to feed my bird. And fuss over it.”
“I’ll be right here, Dad.” Ama moved her rocking chair over to the bed. Jino ported into the laboratory with Fallen and the phoenix rose.
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