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The Emperor pierces his own daughter’s ears, making time on a sunny afternoon. The Corazhas are stamping their hooves that he’s not in session, but by now they have become accustomed to the Emperor’s brief absences; they are really absurdly short compared to his father’s, and anyhow, they could all use a break from each others’ arguments and faces.

Csethiro also objects, though not nearly as flamboyantly as his Ministers. “Surely that’s my job, or you’ve someone else to do it,” she says in her frank, forward way. “I think one of my aunts did it for me- not Great-Aunt Arbelan, of course, she was gone by then- but one of the others. My forefathers were awash in daughters too, I was always just drowning in aunts. I couldn’t tell you why my father was surprised he sired so many girls.” The Emperor smiles and listens to his wife swerve from the topic of conversation into an anecdote about a family Winternight party with rather too much meddling. He adores her.

Suler Zhavanin put up the most argument- she had pierced Mireän and Ino’s ears years before, and was clearly only waiting for Chenelo’s birthday. It was perhaps her traditional duty over anyone else’s, and if her rival had been anyone but the Emperor, of whom she was as vehemently proud and protective as her wards, she would have won the day. But even she could not deny the Emperor- though it was less for his title than for his soft, sad eyes, and the wistful bend to his voice.

“What was she like?” Maia’s daughter asks, in the way she always does when it is just the two of them. Her skin and hair are dove-grey in the soft summer light, ash-grey, darker than her eyes by several shades.

Maia answers as he always does, in the rote way he had once been taught. “She was good, and gentle, and sad.”

“Why sad?” his daughter asks, though she knows the answer by now. She has come with him to her cold tomb, and helped brighten it with stories, sweet incense, and flowers, since she was old enough to understand.

“Because her husband was cruel, and her family had given her up, and because she was in pain.”

There are usually more questions for Maia to answer with practiced ease, but today Chenelo has more important things to know. “Will it hurt?”

“It will sting for a moment. And ache for a day. And then after than, mayst wear any pretty earring you choose, though I hope thou’ll choose to wear these ones for awhile longer. What thinkst thou?” He presents her with a little box of raw silver silk. The silk is smooth soft gold inside, nesting a pair of dainty rings, pearls hanging from them. His daughter exclaims happily over them, and Maia smiles.

Still, she looks to Kiru, who waits patiently by the door. “Truly?” she asks, and when Kiru gives her the same answer, Chenelo is satisfied. It is over in a moment, and she winces when she touches where the rings pass though the lobe, but Telimezh has already helpfully fetched a hand mirror for her. “Oh, they are pretty,” she says, and everyone concurs.

“They’re the same as mine, when I was your age,” Maia says, and Chenelo seizes on that like she does any new fact about her father, and then there is a long comparison of the sort of things he used to wear, in his threadbare childhood at Isvaroë, to Chenelo’s life, beloved first princess, child of the Emperor of the Elflands. It seems to her like a wonder tale, and Maia indulges it. Watching Chenelo marvel at the differences makes them hurt less to him, and by now his childhood and exile are beginning to feel nearly like a tale to him, too.

But Kiru reminds them that they must get ready for dinner soon, and Chenelo has to show her new earrings to Min Zhavanin and her cousins, so the Emperor of the Ethuveraz returns to duty, and lets his daughter skip before him down the stairs.