Mother had been Royal Escort for years, but that’s a ceremonial position. Intimacy isn’t part of the package. Her private relationship with Owen was an open secret in the Palace, but regarded as a separate matter.
But she has a very small waist, and she was beginning to show, and naturally, the proud papa wanted his new daughter to be part of the royal family. They needed to announce the happy news soon. So, during my trip to Hamagaar, Uncle Owen officially made Mother a royal concubine.
A concubine is not a mistress. She has a permanent legal relationship with her master, but a lower position than a wife with her husband. In Orestania, earls and above will sometimes have one or two, as do especially rich lower nobles or commoners. Their children have the same birthright as the legal wife. The drawback for the concubine is, as long as her master lives, she can marry only him and nobody else.
A very long time ago, concubines were property, effectively upper class slaves, and they could be given away to favored retainers, but when a princess whose mother had been given to an abusive man took the throne, she outlawed that practice and reformed the institution.
The master and his heirs are now responsible for the concubine for life. Instead of being treated like used goods when she grows older, she keeps her legal status and title and serve the households in other ways. The cost of adding the lifetime dependent puts a limit on the number that a man dares take, so concubinage is now practiced only by the richest Orestanians.
Through the centuries, as many as a half-dozen have served the king at a time, usually daughters and granddaughters of the Privy Council, pushed onto him in combinations reflecting the balance of political power. Wags sometimes refer to these girls as the ‘Bedchamber Council’. They serve until they begin showing their years, then ‘retire’ to careers as Palace ladies. Most of the women who raised Tiana had been concubines of Owen’s father.
But, even though he has surely had lovers other than Mother, Owen has never taken a concubine before. Perhaps he opened the floodgates by taking Mother, since the Privy Council surely wants to get their leverage back, but I pity the girls if Mother is going to be their competition.
According to Benedetta, Mother drew considerable backbiting at first for ‘reducing herself’ to the position of concubine. Concubinage, even to the king, is a station far below governing duchess. But the gossips forgot that, unlike classic concubines who stay in the palace, Mother continues to serve as Duchess of Pendor. She has now extorted more than a few concessions from lords regretting their wives’ loose tongues.
In fact, rather than feeling reduced, Mother is quite happy with the new role. The Privy Council can no longer harp on her to get married and produce an heir. Under Orestanian law, she’s now no longer eligible.
They chose concubinage because the council will never approve uniting the Crown and the most powerful duchy in the land by marriage. But concubinage makes my unborn little sister a legitimate princess– Owen himself is the child of a concubine– and locks her in as Mother’s heir unless Mother bears Owen a son at some point.
Me? They don’t want a descendant of Lord Egon to inherit, remember? I was out of the running at birth.
I asked Mother, “If you could marry him though, would you?”
She didn’t give me a clear answer, but she grew a smile and said, “I wonder? He talked me out of my contraceptive spells, after all.”
That was the first time she admitted to me that she’d become pregnant on purpose, although I already suspected it. Her surprise when she learned about it had only been surprise that it happened so quickly. They had barely begun trying at the time.
# # #
Mother called me over because Duke Parna insisted upon meeting me. He was a member of the Privy Council, and the main opposition to my betrothal.
My mother and my foster father had decided to let the guy face the girl he had been opposing so harshly, but instead of being embarrassed about it, he was presenting his position with great relish. I could tell that this guy truly hated my father and extended that hatred to me.
I now had to listen to his list of complaints, which included the concern that a vampire descendant of Lord Egon could be in line for the throne. Apparently, he wanted Uncle Owen to agree that any monstrous offspring would be disqualified from the royal succession.
I listened with patience, then gave him my best noble daughter smile and stated, “Your concern is understandable, Your Grace. If Lord Egon’s grandchild were a vampire, the people would find it difficult to find him sitting on the throne.”
Actually, true vampires must be born of true vampire mothers. Their fathers don’t have to be vampires. I was pretty sure I could not give birth to a vampire. At least, I know that a dhampir can’t. I wasn’t sure what my kids would be, but dhampir x human equals human.
“You understand. How unexpected” he responded. I felt a little insulted by the idea that me understanding would be unexpected, but whatever. “The First Prince continues to spurn all potential brides. The Second Prince could well end up fathering the heir. He must wed a suitable mother for the crown! It’s obvious no monster should ever have this role!”
The royal ancestry had more than one succubus in it, but I didn’t feel like arguing. He began pushing his case with more vigor. Some of his insinuations about my suitability and my own possible resemblance to my father were annoying, but more importantly, I was getting concerned about people overhearing.
I gave Mother a glance, but she just returned it with a tight-lipped smile. About that time, I noticed a magic formation under our feet. She had drawn it and cast [Realm of Silence] with chantless fairy magic. We could hear, but nobody outside could hear us. I never even noticed her doing it.
Mother leaned closer to Uncle Owen and said, “Dear…”
The Duke was still preaching to me, and had escalated to suggesting the king could cancel the engagement before it became public, when Uncle Owen interrupted him in a clear voice, “My Lord, this is not an appropriate venue for this conversation.”
Duke Parna pressed his lips together, then declared, “I am running out of time to argue my case, Your Majesty. I am told that this girl has your affections as if she were your own. If I could persuade her to plead with you as a daughter…”
“‘This girl’ has a name, My Lord,” Mother objected, with her courtesy smile slipping a bit. “I clearly heard her introduce herself to you.”
Unlike lesser nobility, a duke is a peer of the king. In other words, a duke is royalty. There is no such thing as lèse-majesté for someone like Parna. And while a royal concubine is a noble at most, Mother remains a governing duchess, so she, too, is royalty in her own right. Although, unlike Owen’s children, ducal children like myself are simply highest ranking nobles.
I was now stuck in the middle of a developing verbal brawl between political giants who had full rights to get nasty with each other, and I was the topic. I really, really wanted out of there.
Rod spoke from behind me at that moment. “Father, by your leave, I should like to borrow Her Ladyship from you. The dances are about to begin.”
Almost as if on cue, the toccata that announced the beginning of dance began playing.
Don’t get me wrong. I was not eager to dance with Rod. I was still a little miffed with him. But I was very happy he had appeared at the right moment to rescue me. I immediately curtseyed to Uncle Owen and prettily asked, “Your Majesty, will you permit me?”
He beamed at me– it occurred to me in that moment that I had just ‘pled with him as a daughter’ just like the Duke suggested, and based upon Owen’s expression, perhaps the man had a point– and dismissed me into Rod’s care.
I turned and saw a half-dozen girls standing behind Rod, all glaring actual, palpable venom at me, but I took the arm he proffered anyway. Their faces switched to smiles as he turned their direction.
“Your Highness?” asked a silver-haired beauty with a Dorian accent, “Might you have plans to dance this evening?”
Would you please ask us to dance? in other words.
“I’m afraid I’m already promised for quite a number of dances,” he answered with a swoon-inducing smile. “Perhaps there will be time later in the evening, My Ladies?”
He led me through their midst and toward the open area that was beginning to form– the whole point of the toccata is to alert people to either move out of the way or pair up,– apologizing to three other women on the way.
“If you want to dance with them…” I started, but he snorted.
In a low voice, he stated, “Not a chance. Although there are some with whom I’ll have to, at some point. At least let me dance with the woman of my choice, first.”
Lady Josannah– she of the borderline hair drills– touched him on the arm as we passed and asked, “Your Highness? Should you really be escorting your attendant in such a fashion?”
I managed to avoid a gigglesnort. But Rod must have overheard the thing earlier with Amelia, because he didn’t even blink. Without hesitation, he asked with honest, guileless innocence, “Why not?”
Because Rod had not stopped, Josannah had begun walking with us. She became incredulous. “Are you perhaps actually planning to dance with her?”
“Again I say, why not? You ought to ask Bertran to dance as well, My Lady. He’s quite the gallant lad, is he not?”
She stopped short and we left her behind as we transitioned into the area that now served as the dance floor. I glanced over my shoulder to see her openly gaping in astonishment.
“Who’s Bertran?” I wondered, while also wondering if Rod actually intended to head to the center.
“Her knight attendant,” he answered. I could tell he was fighting to keep a full-bore grin from breaking out. “Her maid attendant is Maya.”
Yup, he was aiming for the middle. And people noticing his approach were clearing out. No, wait, we were second fiddle. Uncle Owen was escorting Mother as well. They had escaped the duke’s clutches right behind us.
“You must know her pretty well, then,” I noted, thinking I might be able to tease him.
“We’ve been in the same classroom for three years running,” he answered.
We were a little late. The first waltz started, and couples around us began to dance. Rod’s hand slipped down and grabbed mine so he could pull me along as he sped up.
Once we reached the area he was aiming for, he turned and slipped his arms into position, taking my waist in one hand and my hand in the other, and falling immediately into step with flawless finesse.
I probably would have been caught by surprise and stumbled if not for Carson’s refresher course. I blessed the old man in my thoughts as I managed to look almost as perfect… in my own mind, anyway. What I mean is, I didn’t trip.
Then he added, “That girl has been chasing me since lower school.”
“Lady Josannah’s gorgeous, though, isn’t she? Why not let her catch you?”
He frowned for just a moment, but then recovered his dazzling visage and kept dancing without a reply.