Royal Bastards(4)

By: Andrew Shvarts

The bathing lobby was empty, thank the Old Kings. I needed to get cleaned up before the feast. And by “get cleaned up,” I meant soak in a hot tub for a good hour.

By that point in my life, I could honestly have gone on just fine without most of the comforts of the Nobles’ Quarters. I didn’t need the fancy stuffed quails they served in the Great Hall; the brown goat stew they cooked up in the Servants’ Quarters tasted just fine. I didn’t need to sleep in my canopy bed with its fluffy pillows and soft sheets; as much as the floor of Jax’s room made my back ache, I felt safer sleeping down there, with people I liked, than alone in a cold, stone room. And I sure as hell didn’t need to sit around trying to memorize the Kent family tree for Headmaiden Morga, not when I could be out hiking through the woods or lounging on the beach or playing Drinking Truths with Jax’s friends.

But hot baths? I couldn’t live without long, hot baths.

I reached for the handle of the door to the Lord’s Bath, and that was when I heard it. The splashing of water. The squeal of three giggling voices. The hushing of a stern, older one.

Evelyn Kent and her daughters. My half sisters. House Kent’s rightful heirs. Playing and enjoying their bath before the feast while their doting servants scrubbed them clean. Getting ready to sit at the head of the room, by my father’s side, while I had to sit all the way in the back.

So I wouldn’t be getting my bath after all. The real daughters got first dibs. As always.

I stormed out of the bath, spun a corner, and stalked toward my room. A familiar bitterness soured in me. Maybe Jax was right. Maybe it was time to give up on this childish fantasy of my father deciding to legitimize me, this idea that I’d be a real noblewoman with a castle to call her own and a last name to answer to. Maybe it was time to stop dreaming about being Lady Tillandra Kent and embrace just being Tilla of the tunnels, who sleeps on the floor and has mud on her pants. Maybe it was time to tell my father good-bye.

With every step I took, I became more and more certain. I was going to do it, and do it tonight. Screw this feast, screw braiding my hair, and especially screw that fancy teal dress with the beaded collar and the flowing train. I’d blow it all off. Instead, I’d spend the night hanging out in the Servants’ Quarters with Jax’s crew, dancing and laughing and getting the best pick of the feast’s leftovers. Maybe I’d even make out with that hot, broad-shouldered blacksmith’s apprentice. And when my father came to look for me tomorrow morning, I would tell him I was done with this and done with him. I’d embrace the commoner side of me, and be as happy and content as Jax. This was it. This was the last straw.

Then I threw open my door and found my father in my room, staring silently out my window, his thin hands folded neatly behind his back.

“Ah!” I startled, then pulled the door shut behind me. “Father! I didn’t…I wasn’t expecting…”

He turned to me, his head cocked slightly to the side. He was already dressed for the feast, wearing a black tunic that clung to his tall, narrow frame. His brown hair hung straight at his shoulders, and you could only make out the faintest silver strands starting to appear in his neat beard. A narrow gold chain lay across his collarbone with clasps on each shoulder, and at the center of it dangled a golden medallion with an eagle emblazoned on it: the crest of the High Lord of the Western Province. “Hello, Tillandra,” he said.

“Hi!” I blurted out, my eyes darting wildly around the room. If I’d known he was going to come by, I would have at least gotten it ready. It wasn’t just that my bed was unmade or that my clothes were all over the floor. It was how obvious it was that I didn’t spend any time here. My desk was a mess of dusty papers, stacks of uncompleted assignments for Headmaiden Morga. The walls were covered with keepsakes I hadn’t touched in years: a wooden mask from the time my father took me to Bridgetown, a pinwheel from a harvest festival three years ago, a wooden sword from back when Jax and I would play Warriors and Zitochi with the Dolan brothers. It looked like a child’s room. A child who’d forgotten it.

“You were out,” my father said drily. “I was waiting for you.”

“I was…um…” I scrambled for a plausible excuse. Bathing? I was too dry. Riding? I was too clean. Studying? No one would ever believe that.

“You were out getting into trouble with that half brother of yours,” my father said, his disdain for Jax barely concealed.

I looked down at my feet, cheeks burning. “What can I help you with?”