I usually try to find a new writer for these stories each week. It’s easy to do. F&SF has no shortage of talented short story writers at the moment. Quite the opposite in fact. So it tells you something about how this story from Mary Robinette Kowal hit me that I know it’s not going to leave me alone until I share it, even though I’ve shared another of her stories before.
The Nameless Queen sipped her port, rolling the blood–dark liquid in her mouth. The night’s rain pattered against the tall leaded glass windows of her sitting room in a gentle susurration. On the mantel, the clock ticked four minutes until midnight.
The door burst open, bouncing against the paneled wall. “… must be planted in winter so that they can grow snow. You see? Grow snow. It is so delightfully simple that I am not certain why no one has thought of it. Grow snow! Then we shall have relief in the heat of the summer.” Her husband strode into the room with his hands tucked behind his back and his brow knit in concentration. Beneath his dark green robe, King Lennart of Stromhold’s broad shoulders presented the picture of a man of action, so long as one did not listen to the irrationality of his words. “Who is next, well? We have not got all day. Unless we stop the clocks, then we would of course, but meals would never come and one should get frightfully hungry. Yes? Who is next?”
One of the ministers who trailed him leaped forward. “What should we do about the ambassador from Itodia? Prince Volis has brought favorable trade terms for the everwood but wants to meet with you directly. We have not given the details of your situation, of course, but he has heard the rumors.”
The queen drew her feet up into the chair and pressed into the high winged back, praying that the king would not notice her until the clock struck twelve.
He tugged at his sandy beard. “Bugger him. Bugger, bugger, bugger. We shall not sell him any everwood at all. Shall we? No. Sell him the wood from the snow trees and then his ships shall freeze and they can skate upon the seas. That will be enough advantage. Who is next? Well? Who is next?”
She closed her eyes. It was bad enough to be with him when his hour of lucidity ended, but she rarely had to face his full raving energy. Another minister slid into place. “We have narrowed the architectural candidates to three and I have their portfolios for you to look at. The first is the one I recommend.”
“Let us see, let us see—” Pages rustled, and then fluttered to the floor. “No, no. There are no ponies here. I distinctly asked for ponies. How shall we have the miniature jousts if there are no—” His voice caught on the word.
Lennart coughed, gagging on the torrent of speech. The next breath was ragged, but the words that followed were clear and lucid. “Your clock is slow.”
As if in response, the clock on the mantel chimed, counting the twelve strikes of midnight. The queen put her feet on the floor and rose to face her husband. “I will have it fixed.”