“I need to be assured of your support in the Edelkammer when this measure comes up,” said Voss. “We have the power to use it through, if need be, but things will be easier if it is a large majority with respected statesmen like yourself behind it.”

Blohm did not rise from his seat, instead combing his whiskers to one side and blithely refilling his great horn pipe, on which he continued to puff meditatively. “What does the Emperor think of this? As much as we may dislike the successionists, they are still subjects of His Imperial and Royal Majesty.”

Voss laughed, a short, sharp, bitter sound almost like a strangled cough. “I am, of course, the Emperor’s loyal servant,” he said, “but these arcane matters of state do not rise to His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s notice. We are doing the Emperor’s work by using to powers he has delegated to us and not pestering him about minutae.”

A fresh puff wafted up from Blohm’s armchair. “If matters of state are beneath the Emperor’s notice, to say nothing of the welfare of his subject, then what have we left to him?”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to cling to that fairy tale and fig leaf as your only response,” said Voss. “The Emperor is a unifying symbol, the grandfather of his nation. He reviews troops, feeds ambassadors, and recites jolly nothings to small children for newspapermen and photographers. When it comes to the actual filthy work of running the Empire, we are the ones who must do it.”

“I see,” said Blohm. “And you feel that rounding up and executing the secessionist leaders will force their fellows to lie down, beg the Emperor his indulgence, and learn to speak fluent Old High Imperial with no accent?”

“I am not so blundering as you appear to think me,” Voss replied. “But I do know that if we leave them be, we’ll find ourselves both out of a job when the old man finally dies.”

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