Home > The Shadows Between Us(2)

The Shadows Between Us(2)
Author: Tricia Levenseller

Though his face doesn’t change, Father’s shoulders lose some of their tension. “Such winning gentlemen you keep around, darling.”

“The point is, Father, I know what I’m doing. And I’m going to keep doing whatever I wish, because I am the master of myself. And you? You’re going to send me to the palace with the next wave of women to see the king, because if there’s anything I’m good at, it’s getting men to propose to me.” I flash the diamond on my finger in his direction.

Father’s eyes narrow. “How long have you been planning this?”


“You said nothing when I sent Chrysantha to the palace.”

“Father, Chrysantha couldn’t catch the attention of a rabid dog. Besides, beauty isn’t enough to catch the eye of the Shadow King. He has beauties paraded in front of him all year long.

“Send me. I will get us all a palace,” I finish.

The room is quiet for a full minute.

“You’ll need new dresses,” Father says at last, “and I won’t get your sister’s bride-price for weeks yet. That won’t be enough time.”

I pull the ring from my finger and stare down at it lovingly. Why does he think I’ve taken so many lovers? They’re fun, to be sure, but most important, they’re going to finance my stay at the palace.

I hold up the ring where my father can see it. “There’s plenty more where this came from.”


* * *


SEWING HAS ALWAYS BEEN a hobby of mine, but it is impossible for me to make all the new clothing required for my upcoming plans in such a short amount of time. Working with my favorite seamstress, I design and commission ten new day outfits, five evening gowns, and three appropriately indecent nightgowns (although those I make myself—Eudora doesn’t need to know how I intend to spend my nights).

Father takes no part in the planning, as he is much too busy with his accountant, worrying over the estate. He’s bankrupt and desperately trying to hide it. It’s not his fault. Father’s quite competent, but the land just isn’t producing as it once was. Disease swept through a few years ago and killed most of the livestock. Every year, the crops grow thinner. A well has already gone dry, and more and more tenants are leaving.

The Masis estate is dying, and Father needs to acquire decent bride-prices for my sister and me in order to keep his lands running.

Though I’m aware of the situation, I haven’t bothered to worry about it. My lovers all feel the need to give me nice things. Very expensive things. It’s been a fun game. Learning their secrets. Seducing them. Getting them to shower me with gifts.

But to be honest?

I’m bored with it.

I have a new game in mind.

I’m going to woo the king.

I suspect it won’t be longer than a month before he’s helplessly in love with me. And when he proposes, I will say yes for the first time.

For once the marriage is official and consummated?

I will kill the Shadow King and take his kingdom for myself.

Only this time, I won’t have to bury the body. I’ll find a convenient scapegoat and leave the Shadow King for someone to discover. The world will need to know that I’m the last royal left.

Their queen.





Father exits the carriage first and holds out his arm to me. I grasp it with one gloved hand, hold up my heavy overskirt in the other, and descend the steps.

The palace is a grand structure painted entirely in black. It’s positively gothic in appearance, with winged creatures resting atop the columns. Round towers sweep up the sides, roofed with shingles, a recent architectural style.

The entire length of the palace is built near the top of a mountain, with most of the city winding its way downward. The Shadow King is a grand conqueror, spreading his influence slowly across all the world, just like his father before him. Since the surrounding kingdoms try to retaliate from time to time, a well-protected city is vital, and the grand palace is said to be impregnable. Guards patrol the grounds with rifles slung over their shoulders, a further deterrent to our enemies.

“I’m not sure black was the best color choice for your attire,” Father says as he leads me up the steps to the main entrance. “Everyone knows the king’s favorite color is green.”

“Every single girl in attendance will be wearing green. The point is to stand out, Father. Not blend in.”

“I think you might have erred in excess.”

I think not. With the king’s conquering of Pegai, some of the ladies at court tried the Pegain style of loose pants with jeweled hems below a fitted top. After a while, the style faded away. It was too different for most ladies to adapt to.

I’ve designed a combination of the Pegain style and our heavy-skirted Naxosian style. I wear close-fitted pants beneath a floor-length overskirt, which parts in the middle to show off the pants. Heeled boots raise me an extra inch off the floor. The overskirt is short-sleeved, but I wear gloves so long they overlap the sleeves. My top is tied in the back beneath the overskirt, the neckline just short of my collarbone. Modest and yet not matronly.

A black rose pendant rests on a choker around my neck. Matching earrings dangle from my lobes, and my hair is half up in a loose twist.

“I assume you have a plan for once you’re introduced to the king?” Father asks. “He will receive each lady one by one up to the dais. He barely even looked at Chrysantha when it was her turn. The Shadow King never descends the steps to interact with the partygoers. He doesn’t even ask anyone to dance.”

“Of course I have a plan,” I respond. One doesn’t go into battle unprepared.

“Are you going to tell me this plan?”

“It doesn’t involve you. You don’t need to know.”

The muscles in his arm bunch slightly. “But I could weigh in. Help you. You’re not the only one who wants you to succeed.”

I pause at the top of the steps. “Have you ever seduced a man before?”

Father’s cheeks redden. “Of course not!”

“Then I don’t see why I should need you to weigh in on anything. Rest assured, Father, if there’s any way in which you could prove useful, I will tell you. For now, I can handle things.”

We continue on at a leisurely pace. The doorman nods a greeting at us as we pass him by, and Father leads me toward the ballroom.

But we can’t come within a hundred feet of it, because a line of green extends nearly all the way back to the far wall. Nigh a hundred girls chitter with their families and one another, all waiting for an introduction with the king. I’m certain they can’t all be eligible for marriage. Many look like younger sisters of the older ladies in line. Still, should the king show any interest in the younger ladies, I’m certain their fathers will make them available.

Father tries to take me to the end of that line, and though it appears to be moving at a somewhat quick pace, that simply won’t do.

“No, we’re not waiting in line,” I say.

“That’s the only way to get an introduction with the king.”

“Let’s go into the ballroom first.”

“You’ll be lost in a sea of people in there. That’s not going to catch his attention.”

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