Season 3, Episode 8
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
“We appear to have consensus at last,” I said. “Any servant who locates and returns the missing spices and other foodstuffs to the kitchen will be rewarded in kind—with baked goods, sweets, or extra portions at mealtime—and no further questions shall be asked.”
The Master Chef, a man with a round face and a sharp tongue, frowned but nodded, and the Housekeeper, a woman with a tight face and a dry, flinty gaze, smiled slightly. This was a victory for her.
I sighed. Regency was work, and my back was killing me. I stood and stretched slightly. I shot a glance at the comfortable-looking thrones behind me, and gazed down in disapproval at the ceremonial and terribly uncomfortable Regent’s seat that had been brought out for my use. It was finely worked oak, decorated with gold and mother-of-pearl inlay, intended to convey the Regent’s authority without outshining the regal splendor behind it.
It was also completely unpadded, and I suspected that this was intentional: a reminder to any Regent not to get too comfortable in that seat. I also suspected that none of my predecessors in that chair had been trying to conceal a pregnancy.
“If there is no further business at this time…” I began, only to trail off as the Stable Master cleared his throat.
Blight it, I needed this session to be over. Creating a council of the formal and informal leaders among the household staff had been a good idea—earning their trust had already headed off one assassination attempt—but their complaints and internal squabbles were endless.
I thought back to the conversation that had started all of this.
“Lily,” I had asked, “who is in charge of the servants?”
“That would be the Chief Steward, it would.”
“I should talk to him. I want to make sure that the household’s concerns are being addressed.”
Lily laughed. “That might be a trifle difficult.”
“Fled when the nobles left, he did, and he took the petty cash with him.”
“Ah. How do things run without him?”
“As well as ever,” Lily replied. “All he ever did was drink and say ‘no’ when someone came to him with a request.”
It was at this point that I realized I’d been asking the wrong questions. “Lily, who runs things around here?”
“I reckon you do, now.”
“No, I mean who gets things done? Who do the servants obey, respect, follow?”
“Ah, now I get’cher meaning!”
From this followed the creation of the Servant’s Council. Comprised of some thirteen members of the household, including those with formal authority like the Housekeeper, but also those whose influence was subtle, like a senior maid by the name of Keelin. She was the informal hub of all palace gossip. There was also a fit and conventionally handsome groundskeeper who had an almost cult-like following among many of the servants.
After finally concluding the meeting of the Servants’ Council, I was able to take a short break before resuming my one-on-one meetings with the nobles and other people I needed to influence. Theobel had said they’d obey me out of fear, but fear would not legitimize Kaye as King of Thrycae. I had to earn their trust, convince them that I was a legitimate Regent and no mere usurper.
That was why I had to put up with that Goddess-forsaken chair, the heavy ceremonial chain that chafed against my sore breasts, and the layered clothing that concealed my belly. The servants were pleased to have a voice, but I didn’t seem to be making much headway with the nobles, and the loyalty of the guards was clearly to Theobel, not me. I felt like I was trying to walk a narrow ridgepole, tottering and having a hard time simply balancing, with a large audience below urging me to go faster.
My next audience was with the new leading acolyte. He came in wearing a penitent’s robe, a sign of humility, and sweat ran down his unremarkable face. He approached the Regent’s seat and bowed.
“I acknowledge the rightful Regent of Thrycae,” he said.
“Rise, Brother Gosdan,” I said. “May our relationship continue to be cordial.”
He looked at me before swallowing and averting his green-eyed gaze. Many of the priests were the younger sons of noble houses.
“My order conveys our deepest apologies for the treason of my predecessor,” he said.
His predecessor had attempted to assassinate me with a small knife.
“He awaits the justice of the new king,” I replied. I could have had the prelate executed, but I didn’t see how that would improve my position. The very idea of ordering another person’s death chilled me. I hoped to complete my tenure as Regent without such extreme measures.
Brother Gosdan nodded. “May I inquire as to the well-being of the High Priests…excuse me, the heretics?”
A sense of uncleanness washed over me. I hadn’t ordered any executions, but I still wasn’t entirely sure what I had done to the priests with my curse. I’d expected this question, but still dreaded answering it. “They are still unwell, and are receiving the best care possible. Any consideration of their transgression must wait upon their recovery.”
Brother Gosdan nodded again.
The truth was that the High Priests were still acutely hyperemetic, a fortnight after the curse should have run its course. Two of them were in an especially bad way, delirious from dehydration, and I might yet have their deaths on my conscience.
I do not remember the rest of my conversation with the acolyte, only how short-lived my relief was when he left. The next thing I heard was the grating whine of a voice raised in a parody of respect.
“My Lady Regent.” She pronounced the word “Lady” with a sneer.
Goddess’s teat, why had I scheduled the cleric and the harridan back-to-back?
“You are welcome, Lady Dycius,” I responded. “What can the Regent of Thrycae do for your Ladyship?”
Her sneer deepened, and I noticed that while her gown was as fine as ever, her face was less carefully made up, her lace cap didn’t match her dress, and she wore no jewelry.
“For me?” she said with transparently false sweetness, “I require nothing. I am here at the Regent’s behest and humbly offer my service.”
This was why I had postponed talking to her. I idly scratched the palm of my hand through my gloves. In addition to everything else, I’d developed an extremely itchy rash on my palms and the soles of my feet.
“Very well,” I said. “Tell me, why are you here?”
The smirk turned into a grimace. Dycius did not answer, so I pressed.
“Your husband left weeks ago—”
“You mean when everyone who matters fled to avoid being cursed?” she cut in.
“He left,” I continued, “taking along his manservant, your personal maid, and, by the looks of things, your jewelry casket as well.”
“Do not make me repeat myself again, Lady Dycius. Why are you still here?”
“I should think it was obvious, my Lady Regent. I am here to spy on you.”
I had expected snide comments from her, but nothing so reckless as a confession of treason. “Choose your words carefully, Lady,” I said, and scratched my other palm. Drat these gloves; the material was too thick and soft for me to get any relief.
“What do you want from me? He abandoned me here, and he told me to keep an eye on Queen and court, because he might need someone on the inside. Worthless sack of mansweat.” She spat.
“Someone on the inside? Is he planning to return?”
“Of course he will, when Uombardies…” Dycius trailed off, staring at me. After a moment, I realized that she was staring at my hands, and I stopped scratching.
“You…” she whispered. “You are pregnant!” The whisper slid up into a hiss at the end, like a snake about to strike. I winced, and she smirked triumphantly at me. Goddess’ milky teat, this was the last thing I needed.
© 2013 Copyright Tof Eklund
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