Royal Bastards(7)

By: Andrew Shvarts

The biggest surprise was at the very front of the room, near the entrance. There, on the inset stone shelf that normally housed the crowns of the Old Kings, sat twelve golden statues with blank smiling faces and glistening jewels for eyes. They were from the Titan shrine the priests had set up, and they’d been moved here to, I don’t know, make them seem more important, I guess?

I would’ve loved to sneak in through the back, but courtly etiquette demanded all guests, even bastards, enter through the Great Hall’s main entrance, to pay their respects to the host’s table. There was my father, seated at the center, with Archmagus Rolan seated opposite him. There was no sign of the Princess, which was weird, but Lady Evelyn was on my father’s right and my three half sisters on his left. They looked absolutely adorable, their blond hair curled, their little dresses sparkling. What I’d give to be sitting in their place.

I made my way across the Hall, squeezing past servants and guests. The Lords of the West had mostly seated themselves by region. One table had the pale, dark-haired Lords of the swamps along the southern coast; another had the Lords of the northern quarries, ruddy-faced and bearded; a third sat the coastal Houses that ran along the shore to the south of Castle Waverly, their wealthy Lords looking decadent in striped furs from the K’olali Isles. A squire from one of those Houses tried to grab my ass as I walked by his table, so I gave him a swift kick in the shins; that got a big laugh from everyone at his table, including the triple-chinned Lord Darren. As their laughter shook the Hall, I shoved past the last gaggle of guests. There, at the very back of the room—out of sight, out of mind—was the Bastard Table.

As always, it was underwhelming. There was no fancy tablecloth here, just hard, bare wood. This far from the front, the singers’ voices were a distant warble. The food laid out was obviously scraps, butts of bread and trimmings of meat. Worst of all, though, were the other bastards. It was rare in the West to see a bastard older than ten. By then, the Lord had usually decided to legitimize or disown. So this table, this table where I was expected to sit the whole feast, was packed tight with squabbling, screaming, snot-nosed brats.

There was just one bastard there my age: Miles of House Hampstedt.

“Tillandra!” he exclaimed, lunging out of his seat as he saw me. “You look absolutely beautiful!”

I could tell he meant it. His big gray eyes looked ready to burst out of his head. He had a round, gentle face with permanently ruddy cheeks, framed by loose ringlets of curly blond hair. He wore expensive tunics, imported from the Heartlands, but they never quite sat right on him, too tight in the chest and too loose in the sleeves.

“Miles,” I said. He reached for my hand. With Jax’s words echoing in my ears, I feigned a warm smile and gave it to him, and he lifted it to his lips.

He didn’t do anything gross like Jax had joked, just gave a soft, courtly kiss. It was a bit outdated, maybe, but mostly nice. I felt a twinge of guilt for having made fun of him earlier.

I shoved aside Lord Hyatt’s redheaded bastard, who’d somehow managed to get a chicken bone wedged up his nose, and took a seat opposite Miles. “So. How’re things at Port Hammil?”

Miles shrugged. “Oh, same old hassle. I thought I could take it easy this month because we had an exceptionally good haul from the iron mines, but the caravans got raided by bandits, and we lost half. Then my mother made this deal with the merchants from the K’olali Isles to buy up some dwarf goats to see if they could flourish here, I guess, but with the shortfall caused by the iron loss, we…” He stopped. “Oh hell. I’m boring you to death, aren’t I?”

“Those dwarf goats sound kind of cute?” I shrugged apologetically. “Any way to get some real food here? I’m starving.”

Miles squinted across the room. “I could probably flag down a servant next time one comes by us. Though at the rate they’re moving, that’ll be next winter, and I’ll have a full beard.” He slumped back down, food obviously way less important to him than it was to me. “Not that I blame the servants, of course. They’ve got their work cut out for them. This is the most packed I’ve ever seen this place.”

“Well, it’s not every day the Princess herself visits.” I glanced back around the room. “Speaking of which…where is she?”

“Oh right, you missed all the drama. She hasn’t shown up yet. The Archmagus said she was still getting ready and that we should just start the feast. Your father tried to wait, but the Archmagus insisted. It was all very tense.” Miles reached across the table for a butt of bread. “Like things weren’t tense enough already, right? My mother was telling me this whole feast is just a cover for the Archmagus to snoop around the West about those missing mages.”

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