The thing about an Imperial Bed was, even if it wasn’t exactly comfortable in an emotional sense, it was always perfectly comfortable in a physical sense. The spells that Deline used to keep her lodgings tolerable were the basis of the magic on the Imperial bed, but then there were layers and layers of other work there. One could lay here forever and not get the slightest bit uncomfortable – or at least for decades, until the spells wore off.
One wouldn’t die – there was a rumor that one could not die whilst in an Imperial bed, and that one Empress, several generations back, had been kept alive that way a good fifty years past when she might have normally died – but eventually, one might think of getting up and doing something else.
Deline was pretty sure that time would come eventually, but she was comfortable and content with her head on Carrone’s chest, listening to his heartbeat and his breathing.
And then he said *wait.*
“I wasn’t going anywhere.” She looked up at his face – or at least his beard – lazily but didn’t feel the need to move yet.
“No, I mean. Wait. The names of all three Imperial Wives are known, like the Emperor’s name and his heirs are known. None of them are *Deline* or anything close to it.”
“And if you married me, the name that went in the record books would probably not be *Carrone*, either. My Imperial Name is not the name I use in day-to-day living or in operations, else people would be saying ‘Oh? Like the Imperial Wife?’ and then they would look at me and possibly think of the portraits and then, well, I am not very secretive.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen portraits of the Imperial Wives, except maybe the first wife.”
“We let Aucheria handle most of the matters that involve being out in public and having her face shown. That way, I can do-” she sighed. “I could do all of my work without much chance at all of being revealed.”
“So what’s your Imperial name? Did you take on Deline as a second name, or your Imperial name like a sort of fancy robe?”
“Both, actually. Deline is the name I took as a Bear Claw, and then my Imperial Name goes on after that like another robe. I was birth-named as Marush.”
“How do you know what to answer to?”
She propped herself up. “Do Halorans keep the same name their whole life?”
“Priests don’t, and some of the other strange professions. but most people, the name your parents give you is the one you wear your whole life. My parents called me Carrone, and so did people when I worked in the guard, and so on.”
“Marush is the sort of name that most people don’t carry into adulthood. It’s, uh, it’s a word for a bear-cub, and most people outgrow being a cub.”
“So you were Marush, and then you were Deline…” He shook his head. “What do you parents call you?”
“In private? Marush. I’m going to be a little cub forever to my parents. I think most kids are.” She propped herself up and looked at him. “Does it matter that much?”
“It feels like – it felt like you were hiding what you were from me.”
“Well, I was.” She didn’t huff at him, but it was a close call. “Well, in a manner of speaking. I *am* Deline the Claw of the Bear. That is part of who I am, just like being Marush Mianmear is part of who I am. I was hiding being the Emperor’s wife from everyone, not just from you. Because people were literally trying to kill me, and would not have been trying less if they knew that the Emperor’s wife had been in Dekleg causing trouble.”
He frowned at her. She frowned back at him. Why was he so *thick* about things that mattered and so determined on things that didn’t matter at all?
“I didn’t lie to you about my name. I didn’t lie to you about being the Emperor’s wife-”
“You haven’t told me your Imperial name yet.”
“We’re not in the Capital yet.”
“You can’t just-” He stopped mid-sputter. “I suppose it’s safer that way. And if people are still trying to kill you – you’ve already told me more than you ought to. The less I know, the less can be taken from me.”
She snuggled against his bare chest. “Nobody is going to do that.” That was ridiculous, of course, although her identity was probably not what people coming after them would be the most interested in. “You already know that I’m a wife I’d the Emperor. You already know why — more or less — I was in Dekleg.”
“And I know you didn’t kill those priests.” He stroked her back gently. “I understand, ah. Wetwork. Dark work. And I know it has limits.”
He sounded so *sincere*. She looked into his eyes and wondered if she was missing something. Some urge? Something that-
She didn’t snort out loud, but her lips turned up in a bit of a strange smile. She was definitely overthinking this.
“Mmm?” She titled his head and looked at her as if trying to figure out what was going on in her head. She leaned in and kissed him, the sort of kiss today – and he – deserved, long and tender.
“I was thinking it had been too long; I forgot what afterglow feels like. I forgot lying around feeling silly.”
“Mmm, it really has been too long. For me, too – well.” He cleared his throat. “Quite a while, at least. I think I’m doing enough being silly for both of us.” He snorted “‘Wait, what’s your name?’ isn’t something I’ve had to ask someone in a situation like this in a long time.”
She chuckled. “So I guess I should ask too. Do you have more name than Carrone?”
“It’s Carrone the Hunter – or it was. I was Carrone Carronne-son for a long time growing up, or just Carrone the Little.”“Little, hrrm?” She found herself grinning. “Sir, there is nothing little about you.”
Next: 35: Hunting