Chapter 5 Part 10 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Embis Winmer was straightening papers on the desk he shared with his master when the King entered their office. "Ah, Winmer. Just when I need you. Might we get Miss Shelstone admitted to the Neya's Day Spectacle?"
"I don't know, Your Majesty," answered the secretary, correctly interpreting the question as a command. "There are several barriers to her guaranteed admittance, not least her unmarried state."
"I find it hard to believe there's anyone in the City who thinks she's a virgin because she's unmarried," chuckled Harsin.
Winmer gave a sliver of a smile. "Oh, most certainly not, sir. I believe she is well known. Perhaps the best known of your intimate friends ever."
Winmer had been Harsin's secretary since before the King had ascended, when Harsin was the eighteen-year-old Heir and he himself was a young clerk of twenty-two. That year Prince Harsin and Lady Ansella married, and a turbulent time it was. The Prince had kept to his new wife's bed, and Winmer had rarely seen him.
Once the Queen had given him a son as well as two daughters, she'd insisted on staying at the Estate full time, with Teacher's support. She'd begun to repeat "We were not a love match," and when the sanctimonious Sister Ibbit arrived, the Queen shut her door against her husband.
To be fair, His Majesty hadn't given up his other women, but did any ruler keep to one bed? And the King had always been quite solicitous of Her Majesty's honor.
Since that night at the theater, His Majesty had been less so. He saw Miss Shelstone in private, intimate gatherings with friends and their own mistresses, but he'd also had Winmer arrange for Twenna to be present at every social event he attended--far more than with other mistresses. True, she might be the most beautiful of the women who'd shuttled through his bed, but still…and then the Queen seemed at her most vulnerable, and Winmer valued her highly.
In this thoughtful mood Winmer said, "Sir, may I ask why? I do not now nor have I ever questioned your choices in anything let alone companionship, but..." His grimace crumpled his neat mustache. "Given recent history between you and the Temple I believe it will require a certain amount of effort to gain Miss Shelstone's rather irregular admittance to the ceremony. Effort that I will of course expend, sir, but..."
"You wish to know what I see in her, eh, Embis?"
Never had His Majesty taken such an unsophisticated girl to his bed for more than a romp. Yet the girl had such an attractive innocence and sweetness that even Winmer wished to protect her. Poor child. Perhaps it lay in her eyes, such enormous eyes and so very blue. "I have no right to ask, sir."
"Nor does anyone, but I'll tell you anyway." Harsin reclined against the partners' desk. "Anyone can see she's desirable--she's beautiful. Flawless skin. Those eyes. But more, she loves me. She loves me with all her heart. No pretense, no plots. Unlike her father. Shelstone is ambitious and I'll tolerate his ambitions to a point. She has none beyond my happiness. Do you know how rare that is for a man in my position?"
"May I speak frankly, sir? Her Majesty once did."
A shade passed over the King's countenance. "Not for a long time, Embis, and I don't know if I deserve such devotion from her in any event. No," he said, standing straighter and leaning toward his secretary, "something in me wants to protect Twenna. She's an innocent. She makes me happy. I feel younger when I'm with her. I want her at Neya's Day. Make it happen."
"I will, sir," said Winmer. "How far may I go? The lottery is notoriously hard to influence."
"I give you great latitude, but there's no sense in not using connections if we can. We will start with Temmin and work our way up. I'll spare you the first round and ask my son to procure the invitation myself."
"I thank you, sir. He does not care for me."
"He doesn't much care for me right now, either. I don't expect my request to be fruitful, but the attempt must be made, eh?"
The attempt did not bear fruit. Temmin pruned The King's request so completely, and yet so skillfully, that Harsin wondered just how much training in diplomacy his son might be getting. Perhaps these two years would not be a complete loss.
Up the chain the request went, ending in the laps of the Most Highs. They feigned reluctance, but in the end the first donation the Temple had received from the royal purse since Temmin's investiture, and a promise for a great deal more, conquered all. Twenna Shelstone received a guaranteed place at the Spectacle.
Everyone else, high and low, had to enter the ticket lottery, including Elbig Shelstone. "Infuriating!" fumed the former tailor. "That I should have to enter the lottery! Demand that the King procure me a ticket!"
"Papa, I can't do that," said Twenna. "I would give you mine, but it would anger him. I really shouldn't be going at all, though, should I?"
"Should you?" shouted her father. "Of course you should! The King is more taken with you than I thought. Your presence there will be the most public declaration anyone's ever seen from him. Every door will open to us. Ha! I wonder that Her Majesty will even show her face this year!"