"This is not going to end well," Ilgamuth told Shezan one week after the barbarian queen and her younger brother arrived in Tashbaan.
"How so?" Shezan asked, slipping her newly ragged volume of Hilad's poems of grief under a sheaf of papers on her desk. She pushed herself to focus, to think outward instead of in. "You said yourself that things in Narnia went promisingly. The queen challenged Rabadash to prove himself, she accepted the necklace he offered, she followed him to Tashbaan -- done, and done, and done. She does not strike me as one to court war over a broken dance."
Ilgamuth glanced along the hallway behind him and closed the door to Shezan's rooms. "That would be true if she were a daughter of Calormen. But she is a barbarian, and the more I speak to her retinue, the more I suspect she opened the dance unaware." He sank onto the sofa and gestured as if opening a book and preparing to share the knowledge it contained. "Consider that Narnia lay prisoned in sorcerous winter for a century, and that the tetrarchs, to all reports, come from a land beyond the edge of the world -- as our ancestors did, nigh a thousand years ago. The queen had no reason to know our customs. Even the humans among her counselors might have remained purposefully ignorant out of ancient spite and resentment."
"You believe that she thinks she is still in the space before the first step?" Shezan said slowly. "Still considering whether to stake a claim?"
Ilgamuth nodded. "It would make sense of her behavior of late. In Narnia, she was warm to counter the land's chill -- even in spring, the nights are cold and frost is far from unknown on the fields. Here in Tashbaan, she grows cold to counter the heat of summer and Rabadash's growing passion. But she speaks gently and smiles when he declaims his love, rather than sliding her words around to reparations. That is the way of a woman weighing her choices and choosing to withdraw, not one who has already chosen and is having second thoughts."
If Queen Susan of Narnia thought she was unattached while Rabadash and all the court considered her halfway to marriage...
"This is not going to end well," Shezan said, echoing Ilgamuth's opening. "Can you spare this night? I have no faith in our ability to hold the Narnians, not when the gods have so clearly taken an interest in Rabadash's fate and shown a willingness to use even demons in their plans. He will be beyond fury if the queen plays him for a fool, and those of us with cooler heads must be prepared for the aftermath."
If only her grandfather had not died the day Rabadash sailed for the north... but there was no use wishing for time to unspin from its skein. Azaroth had called him home and he was with the gods, advising the armies of heaven as he had advised the Tisroc on earth. His smile, his rapier mind, his sure and gentle hands -- they belonged to the other world now.
Still. If only.
Ilgamuth leaned down to kiss her forehead, having walked over without her notice. He wrapped his left arm around her shoulders and touched the half-hidden book of poetry with his right hand. "You do your grandfather honor," he murmured. "Come. Sit with me, and I will quote Hilad's poems of love that outlasts death. Then we will save our prince from his folly and our country from humiliation."
"So may it be," Shezan agreed. Circling her hand around his wrist, she let her lover raise her to her feet.