escape the undertow IP: 184.108.40.206 Posted on April 14, 2018 at 03:10:03 AM by Alethea
There is much to be grateful for, Alethea reminded herself as she sat before her vanity mirror that morning, training her hair into a braided crown. There is much to be grateful for. There is much to be grateful for. It had become her mantra, whispered fervently as she tried (and failed) to sleep, cycling through her mind in those moments of solitude that felt oppressive, a balm against the thoughts that sprang up when there was nothing else occupying them. The roof over my head. The food in my belly. The safety of my status. It was unbelievable she had ever taken it all for granted. There were people she loved who were likely struggling with all of those things, fighting to survive in an unforgiving climate, both literally and figuratively. But there were other people, too. Leto. Gaiane. Loholt.
Alethea did not know if they would have become friends, if Mordred had not appointed her to the role. That in itself was a curious thing; it had occurred to her, many times, to wonder why he insisted on keeping her so close. Did he want her to be jealous? Did he think she would compare herself to the Queen, wondering why Gaiane had been chosen, why she had not? He seemed to like when she was under his control, and it was what everyone always assumed, why she had never really had close female friends. With her beauty, and her charm, it was hard not to interpret an undercurrent of competition beneath her sunny smiles. But Mordred always seemed to see right through her, like she was made of glass…surely he knew that his courtier did not gaze at her Queen’s diadem with longing or envy, that her interest in Tristan had never been political. If she felt anything about the situation, now, it was not jealousy. It was fear.
But she did like Gaiane. Love her, even.
The Queen was easy to love. She was pleasant, and fair, and lacked the entitlement and presumption of most court ladies. Honestly, she was even less presumptuous than Alethea; the latter expected to be liked, and was put out when she wasn’t. Or at least, she used to be. Lately, she was just glad when people deigned to speak to her. Perhaps that was what seemed to draw the two of them together, in spite of their shared knowledge that the friendship had been manufactured by the King; they were both isolated. They both felt trapped.
Alethea could not help but feel responsible for some of it. As Gaiane’s lady-in-waiting, it was her responsibility to come up with the agenda for the day, and the expectation was that the Queen maintain a relentless, exhausting social life. Everyone wanted to ingratiate themselves to the newly-minted, crown-wearing mother, it seemed. Sometimes it felt innocent, or at least benign: some people were merely curious, after all. But others were so transparent in their agendas that Alethea could barely stand to admit them into Gaiane’s life, gritting her teeth as she penned their names onto the daily script. And so it was today, as she stood in the main hall of the West Wing, grimacing at the list of harpies they were supposed to entertain that day. Women who would coo over the baby, and compliment Gaiane’s dress, and expect special treatment as if they’d paid in social currency. She smiled as brightly as she could, when her friend appeared before her. It faltered only a moment when Gaiane spoke.
“Maybe we should do without the schedule today,” she smiled genuinely, if a little conspiratorially, as she folded the agenda into a tiny rectangle and tucked it in her bodice. “Honestly, if the Queen can’t dictate when she may take a day off, who can?” Alethea fell into step beside Gaiane, looping her arm around her lower back companionably, and tickling Loholt’s foot with a finger. The baby giggled, squirming. Gods, but it was strange to think that Gaiane was her own age, with a husband and a babe-in-arms, while her own romantic prospects seemed as remote as the moon. She wondered if the Queen ever found it strange.
“Where would you like to go?” she asked breezily, as they moved in the direction of the courtyard.