The widow was selfish even in her alleged grief.


1322, Cambaluc

“MY HUSBAND IS dead,” the widow said. Not “Your father.” Not the more formal “The head of the house of Wu.” Just the exclusive, proprietary “My husband.” The widow was selfish even in her alleged grief. There was also a hard glitter of triumph in her dark eyes, for those with the wit to see it.

“I know,” the girl said. The words were calm, devoid of grief or sorrow, devoid, indeed, of any expression at all.

The widow’s mouth tightened into a lacquered red line. “How?” She had forbidden any communication between the mongrel’s servants and her own, on pain of severe punishment.

The girl shrugged without answering. Her eyes met the widow’s without expression, without humility and, most inexcusably, without fear.

The widow felt the familiar rage well up in her breast. Her hands trembled with it, curling into claws, the resemblance enhanced by the long, enameled fingernails. She saw the little mongrel looking at them, still with no expression on her alien face, and inhaled slowly, straightening her fingers from claws into hands once more.

Behind her Gokudo stirred, a brief movement, a rustle of clothing, but it was enough to remind her of what was at stake. The little mongrel still had friends at court, associates of Wu Li who remembered him with respect and fondness and who might be persuaded to listen to any grievances Wu Li’s daughter might have with her father’s second wife.

Gokudo was of course quite correct. The Khan’s attention must be avoided, and it required only her own self-control. The widow caused her rage to abate by sheer willpower, until she was able to look on her husband’s daughter and only child with at least the appearance of indifference. Soon the little mongrel would be out of the house and out of her life.

Who doesn’t love a wicked stepmother? Not me. –Dana

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