The wedding had been a fete to be spoken of for generations; the entire capital city had been invited. The Princess Zsófika was resplendent in her gown of pearls and sapphires, and if anyone noticed that her vows did not allow for the possibility of refusal, no-one mentioned it. She was marrying the Emperor, after all, poor girl. She was marrying the Emperor and tying her natal kingdom finally and entirely into the Empire.
The celebration went on for a week, the Emperor and his new bride at every event, the bride in a shining new dress every day. Later, women who knew who to talk to would fight each other for the rights to this dress or that, as they would only touch the Princess’ body the once, and they were, both literally and in the more common sense, a king’s ransom, every single one of them.
And then the Princess went into the Tower, the Consort’s Tower, the bride’s Tower, the Tallest Tower, and the Emperor went back to the business of ruling a slightly-larger empire.
And so it might have gone. She was not the first princess married off without consent, not even the first married off to this Emperor so. She was his only wife at the moment, so the rumors went, and the first to be installed in the Tower, but that meant only that, should she wish to leap to her death, she had a simple job of it and a very long time to regret it on the way down.
But Zsofika – Zso-zo, her father had called her, and nobody else here called her anything but Highness, so she might as well be Zso-zo, had other thoughts and other plans.
Zsofika spent the second week of her marriage exploring her tower. It was a very tall tower, as the name would suggest, a very nice tower, and quite a bit of tribute, time, magic, and blood had gone into making it a very comfortable prison.
The Emperor was, well, there were so many rumors about the Emperor that the only unlikely thing was that he was a perfectly normal man. But one thing that was known was that he had wed seven women and had no heirs. His father had married eight and had only him.
Perhaps, Zso thought unkindly, someone ought to draw the Emperor a map. Perhaps Wife Number Three had jumped from a much smaller tower because she had grown bored waiting for her husband to find his way up there. Perhaps Wife Number Five would not have been found in a compromising situation with three witches, a warlock, and a shaman of the Eastern Heights if she had simply had a little time with The Lord Of All The Realms and also of Seven Wives.
Perhaps he simply needed an invitation. Zso, when tired of climbing up and down the stairs – the many, many stairs – or her tower or exploring the many ladders, sat down to write her Lord Husband a letter.
Dear My Lord Husband, Ruler of the Six Realms and Eighteen Provinces, King of the Mountains to the East and the Canyons to the West, Tzar of the Misty Sea and the Waters Which Feed it-
She sent her servant – already her favorite, a young girl named Paliki who had been given to the Emperor from a land not far from Zso’s – for another bottle of ink before she reached the end of the Emperor’s formal title.
-My Lord Husband, she repeated, not because she had forgotten, but because she thought it might have slipped his mind – the tower you have given to me is a lovely place, but it would be far lovelier for the sight of your face. She thought to add and the touch of your hand, but decided that was far too forward, married or not. After all, he was the Emperor, and she was an Emperor’s Consort. What if the letter fell into the wrong hands?
If you could find the time in your busy schedule, I wonder if you might visit me? My schedule is, as you might imagine, rather open at the moment, especially as it might please the Emperor and Lord of All He Sees.
I remain, faithfully,
Zsofika, Princess of the Eastern Reach, once known as Komárom
Your devoted Consort and Wife.