The arrival of the emperor’s marnis goblin sea-captain half-aunt causes an impressive amount of furor, and Maia is rather shamefully glad that it happens fully five years after his crowning and the mess of his first winter as emperor. He is even more glad that Nadeian Vizhenka is still at court, the Hezhethora complement having become a commonplace sort of novelty, and is willing to host her rather astonishing half-sister in the Vizhenka apartment, so that Maia doesn’t have to ask Csevet exactly where, according to protocol and courtesy, one houses the emperor’s perfectly scandalous half-aunt.
Shaleän doesn’t bring her wife, which Maia is actually rather sad to hear - he would have liked to meet the woman who won his half-aunt’s heart - but she does bring an enormous treasure-chest of gifts for Maia and his family. It looks like nothing so much as a pirate’s chest from children’s tales, shining things heaped up inside it and gleaming as the lid is thrown back. Little Chenelis laughs with glee, clapping his pudgy hands, and Ino and Mireän are still young enough to go wide-eyed at the sight.
Thankfully, Shaleän chose to present the treasure-chest at a family dinner rather than in front of the full court; Maia’s not sure what his court would make of it, and also reasonably sure that he wouldn’t be able to look at his nieces and say, “Go on, then, pick what pleases you best.” Shaleän grins at him as Ino and Mireän practically dive into the chest.
“Good piratical instincts on those girls,” she says. “We’d be pleased to have them on our ship!”
Maia puts a hand delicately over his eyes. “Please do not give our nieces ideas,” he says plaintively.
Ino pops out of the chest with a beautiful jade pendant in her hand and hurries over to drape it around Chenelis’s neck, then stands back grinning. “Perfect!” she proclaims, and dives back into the chest.
“Nevermind,” Shaleän says, laughing. “Such generosity is very unbecoming of a pirate.”
Csethiro is just as unrestrained as the girls were, once the dinner party is over and it’s just her and Maia and Csevet and the nohecharei left in the dining room - Chenelis and even littler Arbelo having been given to their nursemaids for the night. She emerges draped in gold and rubies, with a long knife in her hand - Maia is very grateful that the girls didn’t find that. It might have a gem-encrusted hilt, but the blade is still fine steel.
“What dost thou think?” Csethiro asks, posing. “Could I be a pirate queen?”
Maia grins. “Thou wouldst be a fine pirate queen, the very terror of the seas.”
“I pray thee not to give her ideas,” Csevet says in mock horror.
Csethiro laughs. “Thou wouldst make a very fine quartermaster for my pirate fleet, Csevet.”
“And what shall I do?” Maia asks. “I know nothing of ships. Shall I wait ashore for thee, like Shaleän’s wife?”
“By no means!” Csethiro says, clearly having trouble suppressing giggles. “I shall keep thee in my cabin, draped with jewels, as my honored consort. It should be far more relaxing than being emperor!”
Maia can’t help bursting into laughter at that. Being emperor has gotten - not easier, perhaps, but less utterly baffling - over the last five years, but it’s still a very heavy burden, and he must admit to more than a little jealousy of Idra, who is off at University and apparently having a delightful time despite the constant presence of his guards.
“Thou temptest me almost past bearing,” he says. “Come to bed, my pirate queen; it is very late.” He holds out his other hand to Csevet, who takes it with a crooked smile.
“I do not think I would enjoy being a pirate quartermaster,” he admits. “I have no skill at boats - indeed, I become seasick almost instantly.”
“Alas!” Csethiro says. “Well, I could not become a pirate queen without a quartermaster, so I suppose I shall simply have to remain Ethuverazhid Zhasan after all.”
“Alas,” Maia says, straight-faced, and they manage to make it all the way to the bed before the laughter wins.
“We must admit, nephew,” Shaleän says, some days later, during the formal private audience she surprised everyone by asking for, “that we had more motivations for visiting you than simply meeting our sister’s son.”
“Oh?” Maia asks. They’re in the Tortoise Room, just him and Csevet and his nohecharei and Shaleän, and given that he’s had dinner with her four times in the last month, he’s rather curious as to why she thought a formal audience was necessary.
“We wished to give you formal notice, Ethuverazhid Zhas, that when Maru’var our father dies, as we suspect he will soon, we will raise our own banner and attempt to claim his throne.” Shaleän grins, broad and sharp. “We are a pirate, after all, and such a prize cannot be let slip through our fingers.”
The idea of a female Great Avar is...boggling. Maia blinks several times. “We hope you are not intending to ask for our aid in this matter,” he says at last. “We cannot interfere in the succession of Barizhan, not without beginning a war we think no one will desire.”
“We would not ask your aid,” Shaleän assures him. “Such a thing would disqualify our claim even more thoroughly than our unfortunate lack of maleness.” She shrugs. “But as the only thing we cannot do that a man could, is sire sons, and as our father could not do that either, we do not see any reason we could not become Great Avar. We merely wished to warn you that the succession may be...messier than it sometimes is.”
“We appreciate your courtesy, aunt,” Maia says. “And - purely as ourselves, and not as Ethuverazhid Zhas, you understand - we wish you success. We would be very pleased to instruct our ambassadors to greet our aunt as Great Avar.”
“Thank you, nephew,” Shaleän says, and bows herself out.
Maia sits just quietly for a few minutes, thinking hard, and then says to Csevet, “We anticipate a very interesting next few years.”
“Well,” Csevet says thoughtfully, “the Wisdom Bridge is nearly done; we suppose we were about due for another interesting crisis.”
“Quite,” says Maia, with a sigh. “At least this one is not our crisis. Unlike the budget. We understand our next audience is with Lord Berenar?”
“So it is,” says Csevet, and the day rolls on.