“The Empress has been more aloof than normal, and yet less so,” said Kiang. “I realize that sounds contradictory,” she added a moment later.

“Indeed it does,” said Xan. “Please elaborate.”

“Empress Shien Khou Vu–long may she reign–is required by imperial protocol to be somewhat distant. It is necessary to avoid the appearance of favoritism, though any of the attendants who served during the reign of her grandmother The Beloved Empress will tell you that such favoritism still exists.”

“I have learned much about The Beloved Empress that the official history has…overlooked,” said Inspector Xan. “Please continue.”

“Empress Shien Khou Vu–long may she reign–was particularly close to a coterie of courtiers with whom she had grown up. She had not been expected to inherit, after all, and did not recieve any formal training until after her two elder sisters were carried away by the great plague. But she has grown suddenly distant from them, and those who have attempted to ply their old bonds for the usual favors have been cast out and in one case executed.”

“I see.”

“Furthermore, there are always hangers-on at court attempting to influence the Empress. It is, of course, her prerogative to allow whomever she wishes into the court. But the court has lately been entertaining the most base rabblerousers and insolent commoners.”

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