“Drou? Drou? Wake up, dear, it’s just a dream.” Kou murmured, while gently shaking his moaning wife’s shoulder. He was relieved when Drou’s eyes fluttered open. She’d moaned in her sleep like that when they were first married, but the memories of Princess Kareen’s death had faded from her nightmares years ago. “Drou, everything’s okay. You were dreaming.”
Drou turned into her husband’s arms, crying softly.
“What was it, Drou? What has you so upset?” Kou held his wife close, shaken by her rare tears.
“The Pretendership. Night we rescued the replicator. Cordelia held the shoe out to Princess Kareen, but it wasn’t Kareen this time.” Drou was shivering, barely able to speak. “It was Laisa. Laisa looked at the shoe, then grabbed for the stunner, then the disrupter fire hit her. And then, we were back at base, but this time it wasn’t the Admiral waiting, it was Gregor. And I had to tell him, tell him that Laisa was dead.”
“Shh, shh, it’s all right. It was a dream. The Pretendership was a long time ago.” Kou soothed his wife, knowing that she still felt guilty at times because Gregor had grown up without a mother. Princess Kareen had sent Drou to Cordelia herself, but Drou still thought that if she’d been there, she’d have been able to get the princess out of the Residence.
Drou was less shaky, but still upset. “Kou, it could happen again. Vordarian is gone, but there are others. Gregor is popular, but ImpSec has stopped at least a dozen assassination plots since his majority. Gregor should have married years ago, but he wouldn’t risk growing fond of someone that he might lose like he lost his mother.”
“True. Aral was very relieved. He’s been worried for years that Gregor might never marry. Lately, I think Aral would have welcomed a Cetagandan, if Gregor would just marry and produce an heir.”
“Alys, Cordelia, and I were worried that even if he fell in love, he’d send the girl away because it would be safer. I’m still amazed he asked Laisa to marry him so quickly. I think he was so afraid she’d meet someone else, that he forgot to be afraid that he’d lose his wife like he lost his mother.” Drou paused. “Sometimes, he gets this look, like he’s thinking about that, but when Laisa looks at him, he forgets. But that’s why Alys didn’t protest too much when he wanted time alone with Laisa. Alys worries that if he spends too much time alone, he’ll remember his fears and drive Laisa away for her own safety.”
“Mmm, I can see that. Did Alys really okay Laisa spending the night at the Residence?” Kou asked. It was hard to imagine Lady Alys Vorpatril approving of such nontraditional behavior. He was a bit worried himself about Delia and Duv. He didn’t even want to think about Kareen and Mark.
“Alys didn’t come right out and say that Laisa could spend the night. She just remarked that as Baba, she was concerned that the all the outward forms were observed, even if that meant discreetly covering for Gregor and Laisa when they needed to have long private conversations.” Drou smiled faintly. “I was the one who decided to suggest that Gregor ask Laisa, Delia, and Olivia to stay after parties so Laisa could become accustomed to Residence security before the wedding.”
“Do you really think that Laisa is staying in the suite with the girls?” Kou asked.
“No, of course not. Gregor and Laisa are as eager as we were during our betrothal. But Delia and Olivia won’t tell anyone, even me, that Gregor doesn’t escort Laisa back to the suite until dawn. So the forms are observed and Gregor is so happy with Laisa that he forgets to be afraid of what might happen.” Drou laughed.
“Drou, you were with Princess Kareen for years. Have you thought about how Laisa’s security could be improved?”
“Negri’s security was good. The real flaw was that very few people knew how to get Kareen out. I wasn’t there and both the men were killed when Vordarian took the Residence.” Drou stopped, almost mid-word, then said, “But that’s why Cordelia insisted Gregor start self-defense drills immediately. She said that if Kareen had known how to defend herself and know the escape routes, she might have rescued herself. That’s what Laisa needs, the knowledge to save herself. But ImpSec won’t think of it.”
Kou smiled sleepily. “Then you’ll just have to tell General Allegre yourself.” He waved the lamp off, tucked the blanket back around his wife, and said firmly, “Go back to sleep. You can tackle Allegre in the morning.”
“Madam Koudelka. A pleasure to see you.” Allegre welcomed Drou into his Residence office, but she could see he was puzzled by her request for an appointment.
“General Allegre. Thank you for seeing me today.” Drou sat, then waited for Allegre to seat himself. “I want to discuss the timing of Miss Toscane’s security briefings with you.”
“Miss Toscane’s security briefings?” Allegre looked puzzled. “I briefed her myself, before the betrothal invitations were issued. ImpSec is securing her apartment, her groundcar, the trade delegation offices, and Miss Toscane herself. She seems a very sensible young lady, quick to learn the security procedures and willing to cooperate with us. I can’t go into details about ImpSec’s security arrangements.”
“I’m not concerned with ImpSec’s security arrangements. I’m sure the Emperor has discussed them with you and is satisfied that you are providing as much protection as possible.” Drou paused, then said, “I’m concerned with your plans to give Miss Toscane the knowledge she needs to protect herself.”
“I beg your pardon? ImpSec’s goal is to ensure that Miss Toscane does not need to protect herself. We’ve briefed her on working with her security detail. What other knowledge does she need?” Allegre was genuinely puzzled.
Drou sighed inwardly. As she’d told Kou, these men wouldn’t have considered the possibility that Laisa might protect herself. “The future empress needs to know how to escape a coup attempt if her security can’t help her. She needs to know how to get out of the Residence. When are you planning to teach her the secret exits? And where the emergency supply caches are?”
Allegre stiffened. “Every person who knows the exits is another person who can use them to get into the Residence. After the wedding, the Empress will be shown the exit from her own dressing room. Her personal security will be briefed on other exits from the imperial suite. But only the Emperor knows all the exits.”
“Only the Emperor, the Viceroy, the Vicereine, and I know all the exits now. The future empress needs to know them, too.” Drou held Allegre’s eyes despite his glare.
“Madam Koudelka, you delude yourself if you think you know all the exits. The Viceroy may, but I am absolutely certain he didn’t share that information with a civilian.” Allegre was confident, and wrong.
“General Allegre, you forget that I was Princess Kareen’s personal security for several years. Captain Negri himself briefed me on the exits. When the Lord Regent and his family moved into the Residence, after the Pretendership, I taught them the exits. Later, when the Emperor was older, I taught him the exit routes. I’d been seconded to Lady Vorkosigan, so I was the only person surviving who knew all the exits after the Pretendership.” Drou wanted that point to be clear in Allegre’s mind. She wanted him to realize that if he wouldn’t cooperate with her to plan Laisa’s security briefings, she could brief Laisa herself.
“Madam Koudelka, if Captain Negri briefed you on Residence security, you must have taken a security oath. You will not breach it by sharing your knowledge with anyone except the Emperor.” Allegre thought she was bluffing.
“General Allegre, if Princess Kareen had been briefed on the exits, she might have been able to escape after the Residence was taken. The Emperor might not have grown up parentless. I will not let you leave Laisa ignorant of knowledge that might save her life one day.” Drou stood. “I would prefer to work with you to plan Miss Toscane’s security briefings. It might undermine her confidence in ImpSec if she realizes that we are not working together. I’m sure some of the arrangements have been altered over the years, so it would be safer to work together, too. But if you will not work with me, I will ask her myself if she’s ready to learn the escape routes.”
Allegre started to reply, then stopped as the Emperor stepped into the room. “I beg your pardon, General Allegre. But you left the door ajar and I’ve overheard Madame Koudelka’s comments.” Gregor’s voice was soft as always, but firm. “I agree. Laisa needs a complete security briefing. I had intended to give it to her myself after the wedding, but if Madame Koudelka is willing to assist, I encourage you to work with her.”
“Your majesty, I really do not approve. Miss Toscane does not need to know…” Allegre stopped as Gregor raised a hand.
“General, I will not “request and require” you to work with Madame Koudelka. But I do encourage you to offer her an appointment as a civilian security specialist. That way you can control, at least partially, the timing of her security briefings. You might also consider having her brief my fiancée’s security detail. She knows much more about the Residence than you do yourself.” Gregor smiled faintly, but his tone was quietly implacable.
“Yes, sire. I will discuss a contract with Madame Koudelka.” Allegre looked aggrieved, then realized, “If she’s under contract, we can include a loyalty oath.”
Gregor grinned, “Yes, you can. But you don’t need to. Drou swore loyalty to me when I was five years old. Trust her judgment in this, Allegre. I do.” He smiled at Drou, then stepped out of the room.