Juliana respectfully reminded Wram that the Slavs liberated the southern polar femmar from Vostok.
Wram belligerently reminded his Empress that the femmar awakened themselves, suggesting that the Russians had been in the wrong place at the right time. She delivered further insult saying the Slavs took too much pride in a whore like Balantin.
Unable to hold his tongue, Boris defended Balantin before being arbitrarily dismissed by Juliana. As he retreated from the room, Wram opined that men, slaves to emotion, were ill-suited for diplomacy. Unruffled, Juliana retorted that she too loved her whores, and found it best to send them out of the room when emotionally compromised.
Her words had stung, but Boris realized that Juliana’s dismissal and sexist chide had been done only to garnish respect from Wram. Juliana begged the thinker farc to consider her unborn daughter, the Slavic Empire’s next ruler, before making a clean break.
Pleading this imaginary child proved successful; Wram left Uralskey with the freshwater technology intact and the assurance of continued food shipments.
Like a suitable whore, Boris had set out to give his Empress a daughter.
Synagogue bells had proclaimed Kasimira’s birth throughout the empire, yet the child’s refusal to adhere to ‘his’ feminine body remained a closely guarded secret.
“Kasi’s to remain a she if we are to survive,” whispered Juliana.
“Kasi knows what must be done,” Boris assured, leaning over to kiss her forehead.
A bead of sweat dripped from his bald scalp and fell upon her bottom lip. She grabbed a kerchief from his uniform pocket and covered her sharpened smile.
“Borisov, my strong man, with eyes like the sea,” her last breath danced between them before her mouth went slack.
When her eyes lost focus, he clutched her wrist and felt no pulse. The dull ache plaguing his head exploded like a bomb. Standing, he pulled the hem of his uniform jacket down over his belt and turned from his men.
Fist in his mouth, he clamped down until the skin broke.
Pascha, his most trusted servant, wrapped a cloth around his wounded knuckles as the older women tending to Juliana dropped to their knees and began wailing. Every man standing bowed his head, stay but one.
“Is she dead?” asked his brother, Yuri.
“Our Empress is gone,” Boris spoke over the wailing crones and turned toward him. “I want you to go to the Duke.”
Yuri’s face twisted into a mask of displeasure. A stunted version of Boris, he was a petulant man who’d inherited the Kotko baldness, but little else.
“Let Pascha go to the Duchess,” he bemoaned.
“I will gladly serve, Duke Kotko!” the morbidly thin Pascha snapped to attention, prepared to do anything asked of him.
“Pascha will see to the servants as they must prepare for tonight’s obituary feast,” when Boris stepped to Yuri, his men stepped aside. “You’ll go to the Duke, and you’ll comfort him.”
“Must it be me that goes to her?”
“The Empress is dead,” Boris flicked some imaginary dust from Yuri’s shoulder. “The Duke will now live as the man he is, and we will respect this because he is now our Emperor.”
“If he’s a man, why can’t he like girls?”
“The problem lies not with his desires, but yours,” Boris scolded. “A true cock loves only the hole to be fucked, not the ornamentation around it.”
“I’m not like you or your cock.”
Every man except Pascha chuckled.
“Then you are not a real man,” Boris declared.
Yuri shook his head. “Choose someone else, brother.”
The women began wrapping Juliana’s corpse up in her sheets.
“For one so in love with himself,” Boris noted coolly, “you fail to recognize when others love you.”
“Kasimira makes me uncomfortable,” Yuri blurted.
After a beat, Boris smiled and opened his arms.
Yuri, grinning inanely, walked into Boris’s knee as it jabbed him in the testicles. He fell to the floor, choking, as Boris knelt beside him.
“Is that uncomfortable, Yuri?” he asked.
Tucked into a ball, the younger Kotko nodded fiercely.
“We all must endure some discomfort,” Boris rose and addressed the room. “My Empress is gone, and I’ll never be comforted again.”
Boris led his men into the waiting hall, ignoring the dark blue walls framed in white plaster molding and avoiding the paining of his sallow-faced grandfather. He fixed a wary eye on the clock. The short arm, a delicately molded sea turtle, hovered over the five while the long arm, a galloping fox, inched past twelve.
“Mark the time of her death,” he whispered.
“Yes, Duke Kotko,” Tatiana Karel approached from the far end of the hall, a raven-haired beauty too thin for his tastes.
“Inform Wram the Younger that our Empress is dead,” Boris turned to find Pasha missing; the man likely stayed behind to help wrap Juliana’s body. “Inform her lovely wife, Miss Ilo, that she’s to dine with us after sundown, to mourn our Empress.”
“Yes, Duke Kotko,” said Tatiana with a bow.
“Take my Pascha with you, Tati,” Boris tried to smile. “A gift for your service.”
Tatiana bowed again, smiling. “Thank you, Duke Kotko.”