I was terribly busy at Gelassi. Tironik and I worked well together, even with our reversal of fortune. For the first time in my life I felt as though I had gained both the attention and respect of my father. Often I found myself summoned to his court. He missed my mother and was under the opinion that I could somehow convey to her how deeply troubled he was by the way she was treated by the Queen. It wasn't the time to tell him that she was happily, and secretly, married to Rad'en', so I bit my tongue and listened.
Father didn't seem to mind the way that he and the Queen treated Eburgistraten. Probably since he posed such little threat to their power. It was inconceivable to me that we were all raised by the same woman, would willingly give our life for her, yet so capable of devouring one another. Not that I was any different. I despised Ksennia from the time she was born. Eburgistraten knew it was better to have me sent away to the court of Cznorh than to be eclipsed by the little half sister.
Putting aside a lifetime of familial grievances, I had been given the awesome opportunity to begin talk of marriage between Prince D'Hir and Princess Ksennia. Zbinka, still acting Queen, was eager to make the prospect as tantalizing for all involved. We managed to have Ksennia declared sole heir to the throne of Kanabulan with the understanding that the two countries would merge at the passing of King Hezason and Queen Naeri. Amazing what a little artful negotiation and a pretty young virgin can do. The more time I spent with Ksennia the more I realized that D'Hir wouldn't hate her. In fact, he'd probably be quite smitten by her bubbly laughter and lively wit as most men were. She had gotten all of her parents' strength and agility and really none of their onerous traits. Ksennia truely was quite lovely. I felt ashamed for hating her all those years, atleast until she would blurt out whatever was on her mind followed by that annoying girlish laughter. Nobody's perfect.
Once a month, I made routine reports at Cznorh. Shortly before one visit, I was quite surprised to receive word from Zbinka that Roarke returned to court and, without controversy, regained the throne, ceremoniously thanking his loyal prince and adviser for maintaining order and peace while he was on his mission.
Roarke looked quite comfortable as he sat on his exalted throne with D'Hir, Nalev and Zbinka at his side. I approached cautiously and waited for what seemed a long time to be addressed.
"Lady Fenwick," Roarke began in a rich, even voice. "What do you want?"
"Not you, per se. Gelassi is out of money, is it not?"
"Eltesnia refuses to do trade with us."
"I have been so informed. Gelassi pays tribute to Kanabulan. Let Kanabulan fix this problem."
"Forgive me, your Highness, but it the Houseborne were not Kanabulan's problem in the first place. If it was not for Kanabulan most of your forgotton bastard warriors would have been hunted down like animals."
"So what is it you want? Money? Supplies?"
"The people of Gelassi want one thing: dual citizenship. Once that is acheived, we firmly believe all else will follow."
"Erye Nalev, is this correct? Have we yet to offer them citizenship?"
"Yes, Your Highness. Such a decision was of so great importance to be handled without your approval."
"Well put." Roarke said.
Nalev placed a scroll in Roarke's outstretched hand which he then presented to me.
"I will not order my lords and ladies to do business with Gelassi, Lady Fenwick. But I will agree to Zbinka's request that all ceremonial tapestries, linens and table wares necessary for Prince D'Hir's wedding be purchased from the settlement." Roarke smiled and added, "I trust you will see to that detail as well."
"Yes, Your Highness."
I left the throneroom and was joined by my strolling band. I really missed those guys. A little while later I met with Zbinka, my mother and Rad'en' for supper. Afterward, I went uninvited to see Roarke. He would either speak with me or not, so I took my chances.
The musicians gave away my proximity, probably the reason they were appointed to my service in the first place. Roarke received me with a warm smile and long embrace then we were seated on a couch.
"You look well, Roarke."
"I am well. Well enough," he started. "As long as I'm going to spend the rest of my life battling demons I can do without the lice, poverty and waking up next to a sweaty over-sexed man."
"How will Burgi get along without you?" I snickered.
"As you can imagine, I was driving off the ever-impending entourage."
"He does know that Ksennia and D'Hir will inherit both kingdoms."
"His work is not done!" Roarke mocked in a stern yet inebriated tone.
We both laughed but he stopped himself then grew somber. There was never an easy reunion for us.
"How could you not tell me, Sosfena?" His voice both hurt and stern as he called me by my given name.
"Like you failed to tell me that you were coming back?"
"That was inevitable."
"I only wanted to give you good news, Roarke."
"You were carrying my child."
"And that outcome, too, was inevitable."
The following morning I awoke to the sound of Roarke's beating heart and the droning voice of Nalev, which I assumed meant that I was not really awake but still dreaming. I was incorrect.
Nalev opened the drapes allowing the early morning light to enter the room.
"What's he going on about?" I asked groggily.
"Morning briefing before breakfast."
"Did he even knock?"
"We're on a strict regiment. After breakfast we swim or fence, depending on the weather. Then onto Court."
Nalev held up a robe for me. I rolled out of bed and into it.
"Good morning, Lady Fenwick."
"Good morning, Erye."
"Can we work on the modesty, Fen?" Roarke asked.
"Are you the only person in the kingdom that doesn't know Nalev's gay?"
"Know, yes. Accepted, no." Nalev offered the distinction. "How is our dear friend Misha?"
"Missing you terribly."
"More trouble with Niko, I presume."
"Can we get back to the agenda?" Roarke persisted uncomfortably.
"Of course, Your Highness." Nalev replied.
Zbinka and a team of servants burst into the room with food and fresh floral arrangements and set a sumptuous table of breakfast breads and fruit for our enjoyment. Nalev stopped mid-sentence, approached her and kissed her on the cheek.
"Good morning, darling," she replied warmly. Then she turned to me. "Lady Fenwick, you look dreadful."
While the comment was probably rooted in fact since I was up all night crying, it was a reminder of what drove me crazy with Ksennia. What was it with these two?
It was impossible to remain angry with Zbinka, especially when her numerous connections as both high society diva and political activist allowed me the lovely parting gift of no less than 40 young men, many of whom had been "misplaced" Houseborne, and a dozen young women eager to study at the much underutilized university at Gelassi. They brought with them both the blessings and financial backing of their wealthy parents. This enabled me to work with father on funding for the school and opening the doors to those less fortunate.