and sleep in them, like kings and queens


“Your grace,” she greeted automatically. If she hadn’t been so tired, she might have jumped. But habits were the scaffolding for everything she did in recent months, and she sank gracefully into a curtsey as she turned. She was a well-trained bird, a clockwork doll. Still, her cheeks turned a little pink with embarrassment for having been caught where she no longer belonged.

The King did not sound angry. The King never seemed to be angry. Her eyes lifted when he spoke, tracking the motion of his graceful hands because it was easier than looking at his face. Ever since the evening of Tristan’s birthday, years ago, Alethea had felt…unsettled, looking at him. Bewildered. She was used to knowing what men wanted from her, was naive enough to think that gave her power. But when he’d kissed her that night, she did not think it was because he wanted her, and the mystery of what he did want was a splinter buried deep in her thoughts. “I will attend to her at once,” she began, but she did not move, because he did not move. There was a beat of silence. “I look forward to meeting the little prince,” she continued.

She made the mistake of meeting his eyes when he looked at her.

It was strange, feeling him assessing her, like he could see through her skin and there was nowhere she could hide. She wondered what he saw there – if he was looking for some threat to Gaiane, or his new son. He would find neither; Thea loved the Queen, in as much as one can love a person they have only begun to know. She was sure she would love the little prince. But she did not love him, could not love a question wrapped in an enigma, could not decide if she felt more perplexed or more afraid of him. And it seemed he did see one other, small treason in her.

“I do,” she admitted quietly, sounding more worn than sad. There was no use denying what was obvious, from her presence here. “It does.” “Empty” was a good word for how it felt…what she felt. She folded her arms around her waist, holding herself as she stared into the middle distance, feeling like a single flickering light in an endless, incomprehensible darkness. Loss and loneliness made her lungs feel heavy. It might have seemed odd, to an outsider. From appearances, this change in regime had resulted in a dramatic improvement to her status in the castle, and the near-constant companionship of the Queen. But Gaiane, sweet as she was, could not fill the hole that had been left by Tristan, and Thoth, and their friends. “Everything has changed, and I don’t…I still don’t know what to make of it,” she murmured, then released her arms. “But that is no excuse for neglecting the Queen. I’m sorry.”


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