A/N This is set immediately after the prologue of The King of Attolia. All of the characters in the story as the Queen's attendants, so don't be confused by unfamiliar female names. Thanks for reading!
The king and queen of Attolia sat together in her sitting room. The king's attendants had been dismissed for the evening and Attolia had requested that only a few attendants remain while they relaxed after a long day of fruitless and frustrating meetings with her barons. The calm after the marriage had ended only days after the ceremony and the plotting and subtle rebellion had already begun as the full extent of the distaster that was their new King was fully revealed. Now, in private and after a day that could only have drained their already-weary queen, Attolia sipped her drink serenely as the Eddisian boy pretending to be king refused to leave her in silence.
Elia watched, impotent in her anger as the boy-king flipped his hair and looked her in the face after mocking her queen. She, perhaps, would have even said something but then she heard a sound she had never heard before.
"I was attempting to be intimidating," the king said, flopping back onto the couch with his wrist over his eyes, every inch the pouting, pampered boy.
Attolia's face had returned to its usual controlled dignity, but she regarded her husband with something that appeared, disturbingly, like affection.
"You were attempting to cheer me up," she replied, waving her hand to dismiss the attendants from the room. Elia turned back as she shut the door behind her to see that Attolia had circled around the table and was sitting on the couch, the King's arm around her.
She was sure, if she looked back on it all, she would be able to pinpoint the moment she had changed enough to relax in front of her attendants, but right now, with her husband holding her tightly, she didn't care to dwell on anything but the feather-light touch against her ribcage and the whisper of his voice as he shared his soul with her.
It took Ileia a moment to understand that Phresine was teasing the king, and a moment more to get over the shock of this to actually watch the boy-king's reaction.
He stuck his lip out further into that ridiculous pout, but she saw now that it was to hide a smile. Answering the attendant with his sulky, childish tones, she finally listened to the words and heard the joke within them. Watching him watch the room, she saw the intelligence there; he wasn't distracted by the banter for a moment.
Looking away from the king taught her the most. Attolia watched her chief attendant and her husband banter and unsuccessfully hid a fond smile.
"I thought you didn't like my attendants," she said, later when they were alone.
"I don't. Especially not that older one. Get rid of her immediately," he replied without opening his eyes.
It was this kind of day Chloe feared now. She had been returned to the queen's attendants after her brief exile to her father and Attolia, frankly, scared the life out of her. There was nothing any of the attendants (least of all disgraced Chloe) could do when her barons had her infuriated and she had to put down a rebellion or treasonous plot and the Medes and the Sounisians and that damned Eddisian wore her down to nothing because their queen accepted help from no one.
It had been a particularly bad day and Chloe was beginning to wish that she wasn't on this particular duty – the queen had sent her attendants away during the night – she usually did so now –but being sent away during the evening was a new one and they had decided that someone needed to ensure she was well. Lack of seniority designated Chloe. She opened the door slightly and blinked hard. Attolia sat at her desk, her head resting on the shoulder of the king. Before she had time to react, the king looked up and trained those dark eyes on her and she shut the door without question.
He had beat them to comforting her queen, and could, obviously, do it better, besides. She would wait in the hall and knock loudly next time she wanted in.
"Which one was that?"
"The one wearing the dress."
"Not funny, My King."
"Then why are you smiling?"
Luria followed her queen down the hallway, unquestioningly, even though she was surprised when the guard was left outside the Eddisian ambassador's rooms. Following Attolia through the antechamber, she was unprepared when they walked into the middle of a sword-fight. If she had served a less exacting mistress for the past three years, she would have screamed. Instead, she gasped and her wide-eyed reaction allowed her to actually see the men who had their swords bared; she gasped again when she realized that the man moving like liquid fire in front of her was the boy-king she had said (scathingly and obviously within ear-shot of Attolia) was as capable of defending their Queen as was Pilades.
She dragged her eyes from the fight to look at her queen, who watched her with that knowing gaze.
"You could warn me next time you want to teach your attendants a lesson by bringing them to watch my impressive sword-fighting. It will give me a reason to flounce Ornon soundly."
Attolia didn't look up from her papers.
Aglaia walked in the room and froze. Attolia was still lying in bed, but was propped up on her elbow, her hair hanging loose, contrary to the tight plaits Aglaia herself had arranged the night before. Not so surprising as the fact that said hair was hanging down beside the face of the sleeping king, who had most definitely not passed by her post at any point during the night.
Her queen had propped herself on her elbow to regard the face of her boy-king while he slept and her expression fought between sadness and anger and a deep, deep love that Aglaia herself knew she had never experienced before in her life. Aglaia slipped out of the door and shut it, quietly, behind her.
Eugenides opened his eyes and regarded his queen steadily, no traces of sleep apparent.
"You knew she was there," he said.
"As did you," Irene responded calmly, still tracing his features with her gaze.
"Not wanting them to know I was here, it would be foolish of me to call out 'don't come in' when she knocked. What is your excuse?"
Irene just smiled. Bending her head, her hair pooled on the pillows beside him as her lips hovered over his. "I was enjoying myself."
Sophie spent the night waiting in the hallway, blinking away weariness that threatened to sneak up upon her. The attendants had spent all evening, while Phresine tended Attolia at her small private dinner, discussing the problem that was their new king.
Attolia had taken to sleeping alone long before her marriage, and the attendants believed after their disastrous wedding night that she slept alone, but somehow somehow that Eddisian was coming and going as he pleased and they were going to find out how.
Sophie closed her eyes just for a moment. When she opened with a start, having fallen asleep briefly, there was a blanket covering her legs and a still-warm heating pan tucked under her feet. The door to her queen's bedchamber was firmly closed.
When the attendants saw him at breakfast the next morning, there was a smug look that was just visible in his eyes. Sophie knew that the King knew she was trying to catch him in the act of sneaking into her queen's bedroom. She managed to keep her expression blank, but couldn't help the blush creeping over her cheeks.
But when he smiled at her there was no hint of malice and she would never forget that she woke up warm and comforted in her hard chair set in a cold and lonely hallway.
He would come to her in the night, ignoring her wry observance that since the attendants all knew, there was no need for him to use the window; the passage into the closet off her main room would have done just as well.
She suspected that her husband and her attendants were in a contest of sorts to see if they could catch him, and refused to acknowledge it. Someone in this relationship needed to retain some dignity.
Attolia sat on a chair under a canopy protecting her from the sun on a balcony overlooking the yard where Eugenides was inspecting some of the newly bred cavalry mounts with his attendants in tow. Elia's lips were pursed so that the skin around her mouth was dead white. Ileia and Aglaia's hands were clenched into fists hidden by the folds of their dresses, but managed to keep their faces serene. Chloe had the least control, her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed into lines. Phresine was the only one seemingly unconcerned by the scene that was unfolding, attending to Attolia with all her attention. A week ago, they would have been glaring such at yet another example of their new King's endless social incompetence, but now they had a new enemy.
The younger son of Attolia's rebellious baron Erondities watched Eugenides with a mocking smile. The other attendants trailed behind their king, whispering, making themselves as much of a nuisance as possible as Eugenides handled the spirited mounts chosen for his inspection.
Where they should have been helping him maintain his dignity in front of the nobles and guards present, the attendants were instead attempting to make Eugenides into as much of a fool as possible.
And the Queen's attendants could do nothing but watch.
"There must be something we can do to remind them their duty!" Chloe whispered to Luria, anger making her voice a little louder than she intended. Phresine turned to the younger attendant, her disapproval in her expression but Attolia spoke before she could.
"We must trust him to know what he is doing," their Queen said, her gaze never leaving her husband as he struggled with his handicap and new role and the frustrations heaped upon him all alone, with everyone watching for him to fail.
And though they would leap forward as a group to protect him – just like they circled their Queen in times of crisis without second thought – they also knew that he would, eventually, prevail. Because he was Eugenides. And because he was Their King.
There was something delicate, still, in their first embraces when he slipped through the dark to share her bed. Because they had both been hurt before, and losing that expectation was harder than saying wedding vows or even falling in love... but they knew it would fade.
Because as if he would ever leave her.
And as if she could stop loving him.
"I love you, Irene."
"I love you, Eugenides."