“Cruel? At times. But Tekela was never an easy child, and Leonis dragging them to Morsvale had never been in Salema’s mind when she married the newly ennobled Burgrave with all his medals and, apparently, enjoying the Emperor’s favour. It didn’t make for a harmonious home.”
“Did she know? About the Brotherhood?”
Arberus gave a soft but appalled laugh. “Oh no. Salema was old-money Imperial nobility, but without the money. She used to say the Emperor’s biggest mistake was not depopulating Varestia when he had the chance, and she didn’t say it in jest.”
“She was cover,” Lizanne realised. “What better wife for a man seeking to infiltrate the noble class?”
“You’re judging him according to your own standards. Leonis could be ruthless, for what revolutionary isn’t? But he married Salema because he loved her, despite my strong advice.” His gaze grew more sombre as it returned to Tekela. “Even if he had known of her betrayal, I think he would have forgiven her.”
“Salema’s attitude to marital fidelity mirrored that of her class, in that it was mostly a matter of appearance. It’s how the Corvantine aristocracy while their days away, indulging in affairs and enjoying the associated gossip. I suppose you can’t really blame her for simply following her conditioning.” He caught the calculation in Lizanne’s gaze and shook his head. “She made . . . an approach. When I refused her she looked elsewhere.”
Lizanne looked down at Tekela, recalling the less-than-pleasant meeting at the museum. “Diran,” she said.
“Yes.” Arberus sighed. “Dear old Uncle Diran. Tekela had the misfortune to happen upon them at the wrong moment. Diran came to me in a right old state, worried what it would mean for his friendship with Leonis, not to say access to all his valuable documents and artifacts. I made it very clear to him that this unwise assignation had to end. Salema . . . didn’t take it well.”
Lizanne crouched down at Tekela’s side, drawing the blanket up to better cover her shoulders. The nightmare that woke her that first night, she remembered. I didn’t tell . . .
“I had to pay a sizable bribe to the doctor and the coroner,” Arberus went on. “Leonis was near mad with grief as it was. If he had known it was an opium overdose rather than a lesion of the brain . . .” He shrugged. “What else could I do?”
CHAPTER 34 Lizanne