Royal Bastards(6)

By: Andrew Shvarts


My father spared me any further blubbering by ignoring me altogether. “Have I ever told you the story my grandfather told me? About the day the Great War ended? The day we surrendered?” I shook my head, because of course he hadn’t. My father never told me anything. “My grandfather was just a little boy, five years old. And his father, Albion Kent, was the King of the West. The last of the Old Kings.” His voice was strange, distant. “It was right here, in the Great Hall of Castle Waverly, where Albion Kent bent the knee to the King of Lightspire, where he tossed off his crown and put on the chains of the High Lord. My grandfather was there, hiding behind my mother’s skirt, watching his own father destroy the Kingdom our family had ruled for centuries. There were riots that night, riots all across the West, angry mobs that attacked the castle and had to be put down by the King’s mages, our new protectors. ‘The West will never forget,’ the people yelled as they died. ‘The West will never bow.’ When my grandfather told me this story, there were tears in his eyes.” My father tossed the necklace back onto my desk. “And now my own daughter wears the Volaris sigil.”

No words came to me, partially because I was so mortified, but mostly because I couldn’t understand what was happening. My father was talking like one of those old-timers, but nothing he’d ever said before had even hinted he felt this way. He defended the king’s tax collectors and quelled any talk of rebellion. He made sure all captured Rattlesnakes were publicly hanged. He even let a visiting Lightspire priest set up a Titan shrine in the old crypts, something that I knew made many of the servants unhappy. Had I been that wrong about him?

“The West has never fit well in the Kingdom. We were the last Province to bow, and the one that went down fighting. Our people are proud and free. We don’t sit well beneath a gilded throne. We never will.” My father let out the softest chuckle. “You might even say we’re the Kingdom’s bastard. Do you understand?”

“Of course,” I replied.

“The next few days will be incredibly important, Tilla. Change is coming. Tremendous change. And with it, tremendous danger.” He turned back to me, his stern green eyes piercing mine, like he was trying to see right through me. “When the time comes, I’d like you to help me. I’d like you to stand by my side, no matter what happens. Can I count on you?”

“Of course, Father,” I said, and meant it with every bit of my heart.

He took a step toward me, and I thought he might actually embrace me, or kiss me on the forehead like he used to when I was a little girl. Then he hesitated, stopped himself, and with a sad nod, turned to the door. “I’ll see you at the feast?”

“Definitely.”

I swear, for one second, the corners of his mouth twitched, giving just the barest hint of a smile. “Good,” he said.

He shut the door. I stared at it for a moment, then collapsed onto my bed.

What in the frozen hell had that been about? My father had actually seemed to be saying he cared about me? And then all that stuff about the West and change and standing by his side? What did he know that he wasn’t telling me? The way he’d talked, it was almost like he was sympaHthetic to the Rattlesnakes…but that couldn’t be right. The rebels hated him. They called him the King’s lapdog. They—

I squished the thought. I wasn’t going to let myself get caught up speculating about the real meaning of my father’s words. I didn’t have time for that.

I had a dress to get into.





CASTLE WAVERLY HAD ONE OF the most beautiful Great Halls in all the West, a cavernous stone chamber bigger than some Houses’ whole keeps, and tonight it looked better than ever. Dozens of chandeliers sparkled overhead, their multicolored inlaid Sunstones casting the whole room in a rainbow of light. The tables were covered in imported silk cloths, far too fancy for the drunken Lords spilling wine on them, and the redwood floor was so polished you could do your hair in it. Oil paintings hung on the walls in golden frames, depicting generations of the Kent family, from my father and his father through all the Old Kings, all the way back to the grizzled pioneers who’d first crossed the Frostkiss Mountains to settle this wild land.

Getting dressed had taken me forever, so I got to the feast a good half hour late. This was the most full I’d ever seen the Great Hall. The Western Province was divided among fifty Houses, and it looked like all their Lords and Ladies were here with their retinues, the tables packed shoulder-to-shoulder, and the party was already in full swing. A quartet of singers stood on a rounded platform, their joyful voices belting the bouncy (and surprisingly filthy) “Lady Doxley’s Garland.” Servants roamed among the tables, carrying glistening silver trays with rows of spiced oysters and braised salmon and minced lamb wrapped in spinach leaves. At all the tables, the Lords of the West drank and shouted. Amazingly, Lord Collinwood was already passed out, his bushy beard soaking in his beet soup.

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