Home > The Shadows Between Us(5)

The Shadows Between Us(5)
Author: Tricia Levenseller

When the king finally looks away from me, he raises his voice for all to hear. “That’s enough revelry for one night.”

And without another word, the king turns on one heel and stalks from the room, grabbing his sword on the way out.

I’m staring at the spot where he disappeared in stunned silence.

In the next instant, servants dressed in silly wigs usher everyone from the room. Father takes my arm, and I silently follow his lead.

What just happened?

I thought the dance was perfect. I didn’t touch him. I didn’t get too close.

The king, who has never publicly danced with anyone since his coronation, asked me to dance.

And then he left without another word.

Men do not dismiss me. No one has since Hektor. I feel my nostrils flare and my face heat up.

“It was a valiant attempt,” Father says as he hands me up into the carriage. “Devils know you achieved more than any other woman has. Not only did His Majesty bother to look at you, he asked for a dance. He will remember you. This isn’t necessarily over.”

The carriage moves slowly, halting and rolling in small increments as the traffic backs up from all the other people leaving the palace.

“Just a moment!” a voice calls out. The carriage comes to another jerking stop.

The head of a man appears in the open window of the carriage. A palace servant, by the way he’s dressed.

“Lady Stathos?” he asks.

“I am she.”

He sticks an arm into the carriage and presents me with a black envelope. When I take it, he doesn’t leave. He waits patiently for me to open it.

Forgive me, Lady Stathos, but I’ve changed my mind. I do not wish for you to leave just yet. You’re far too interesting for that. Will you come join my court? Consider this an invitation, not a demand. My man will await your reading of this note in the event of your acquiescence.

—KM

 

I wonder at the signature. Could those be the king’s real initials? I suppose I shouldn’t have expected him to sign SK. Shadow King isn’t his name, after all.

Elation rushes through me as I realize what this means.

“What is it?” Father asks.

“The king asks for me to stay at court.”

“Then why are we still sitting in this carriage?”

I turn toward the servant. “I will accept His Majesty’s invitation.”

“Very good, my lady.” He opens the carriage door for me but shuts it before Father can descend the steps. “I’m afraid the invitation extends only to the lady, my lord. You’re free to return home.”

And before my father can utter a word of protest, the servant leads me back toward the palace.

 

* * *

 

WE DON’T GO THROUGH the main doors. Instead, I’m taken through a side entrance, something that appears to be used only by the servants.

Indeed, curious laundresses and kitchen workers stare at me as I’m taken down long corridors with black carpeting. Past sconces in the shape of thorny vines. Through doorways lined with vases painted with stallions and eagles.

Is the king trying to hide me? Or perhaps simply not make a spectacle of my more permanent arrival?

Eventually, the servant deposits me in front of a door. He reaches for a key within his coat and lets us in.

The room is grander than anything I’ve ever stayed in, with thick light-blocking drapes, wooden furniture detailed with exquisite roses, and cushions of the softest down, but it is nothing compared to what a queen’s rooms would look like, I’m sure.

A maid is waiting in the room, likely having just finished turning down the bed.

“The king has already sent for your things, my lady. They should be here first thing tomorrow,” the man who led me here says.

“But I’ve only just agreed, and you haven’t yet told him I accepted.”

The servant holds himself a little higher. “The king was hopeful you would accept.”

Hopeful? More like presumptuous. Arrogant.

“I see.”

I have a lot of work ahead of me.

 

 

CHAPTER

4


The next morning, breakfast is delivered to my room, along with my possessions. I spend the morning ordering servants about. The wardrobes are filled with all the dresses I’ve designed. A vanity has my powders, perfumes, and jewelry placed upon it.

I’m not especially fond of reading, but I did bring several books with me to the palace. Most are works on philosophy, mathematics, agriculture, and other topics of importance. They exist to hide the only three books of interest. To the outward eye, they appear harmless: three tomes full of plants and herbs used for medicinal purposes. But in each one, there are several chapters on poisons and antidotes, highly useful for me because I will have to kill the Shadow King once I’ve secured his hand in marriage.

Hektor’s death was messy, disgusting, so very difficult to hide and clean up. I’m reluctant to stab anyone ever again. Poison is a much cleaner way to kill, and it will prove much easier. Not to mention, it’s nigh impossible to root out the poisoner.

I order the maids to place the books on an empty shelf in the room. Then I step back to admire the entire ensemble.

Yes, it’ll do.

A maid helps me to dress. I select a deep blue overskirt to wear over matching pants. The fabric is a simple cotton, unlike the taffeta of last night’s outfit. Lace hems my ankles, the pattern that of a trail of roses. Instead of boots, I opt for day slippers. My blouse laces up the front in a fashion similar to a corset. It will be highly scandalous, and I suspect none of the men at court will be able to keep their eyes off me.

That’s the point. When a man sees something that several other men want, he can’t help but want it, too.

The maid pulls all my hair up onto the top of my head, heating tendrils into curls spilling down my neck and over my ears.

Just when I’m starting to feel ready for the day, another servant is admitted into my rooms.

He bows low. “My lady, the king hopes you will join him and the rest of the courtiers in the orchards for tea.”

“Have I missed lunch?”

“I’m afraid so, but the king expected you would. He assumed settling into your new room would take most of the day.”

I’m glad to know the king is thinking of me even when I am not around.

“If I may also add, my lady, the king doesn’t usually make an event of afternoon tea. I expect he’s arranged it all for you.”

“For me?”

He crosses his white-gloved hands behind his back. “It is my understanding that this is your first time at court. There are many new people with whom to become acquainted.”

That brings a small smile to my lips. “Then I suppose I shouldn’t disappoint His Majesty by not showing up.”

 

* * *

 

BRICK-LINED TRAILS WEND UNDER trees filled with cherry blossoms. A thin creek trickles by to one side, and the birds fill the air with their music.

Plenty of cushioned seating has been added outdoors, and a long table filled with thin sandwiches, sliced fruit, biscuits, cakes, and other sweets is constantly replenished by servants.

Excitement sparks through me at the thought of all the opportunities ahead. My father isn’t here to ruin things this time, and I’m surrounded by the most influential people in the world.

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