The Winter King

Page 11


That wiped the sneer off the girl’s face. The warm, kind-hearted Summer was beloved by the palace servants. Few would begrudge her the slightest request. In a more accommodating voice, the girl said, “Anything fit for the trash heap has already been taken away. Everything else was carted off to the old solar. If there’s anything of the queen’s worth keeping, it’s most likely there.”
“Thank you.” Khamsin drew a breath and plunged back into the frenetic rush of the Queen’s Bower, weaving through the crowd of carpenters, maids, and other workers. The solar was an adjoining antechamber accessible through a connecting door on the southern wall. Kham reached the door and turned the knob.
Locked. She ground her back teeth together in frustration. The door was locked, and Kham knew who was the most likely person to have the solar key in her possession.
She glanced over her shoulder in Maude Newt’s direction. The Mistress of Servants was talking to a tall guardsman wearing the king’s livery. Khamsin couldn’t hear what they were saying, but when Newt jabbed a bony, emphatic finger towards the queen’s bedchamber, it was obvious the woman must have seen through her disguise.
Time to go. She’d come back later after getting a spare key from Tildy. Right now, she’d best make a quick escape before the Newt caught her. The steely-eyed Mistress of Servants would love nothing better than to catch Khamsin in some sort of mischief and report her to the king.
Khamsin ducked through the bower door and shoved past the stream of workers crowding the hall and stairway. Behind her, she heard a man’s voice call out, “Princess!” but she ignored him and plunged down the stairs.
She raced two flights down and kept running until she reached her room. She’d barely changed out of the plain frock into one of her sister Autumn’s cast-off gowns of spruce green worsted wool when a knock sounded on the door. Kham stuffed the servant’s gown and linen kerchief under her bed and ran both hands through her disheveled curls to smooth them before opening the door.
A liveried guardsman—different from the man in the tower—stood outside her door. “Your Highness.” He bowed shortly, his face a blank slate. “The king requests your presence.”
“What in the name of the Sun were you thinking?”
Khamsin stood stiff and silent, eyes focused blindly straight ahead. Her father, King Verdan, still clad in the formal court dress he’d donned to greet Wynter Atrialan, paced the floor of his private office. Heat radiated off him in waves. He was furious. With her. Not because of the tower, but because of the storm before that.
“Did you think I wouldn’t know it was you? Are you that great a fool that you would openly attack the Winter King before the terms of peace are even settled? With half his army waiting in our streets, ready to slaughter us all at the slightest provocation?”
Her gaze snapped up, guilt and worry suddenly swamping her. She hadn’t meant it that way. She’d only meant it as a warning . . . something to let the White King know not all denizens of Summerlea were cowed by his presence. She hadn’t stopped to consider that he might interpret her storm as an act of war.
“Father, I—”
“Silence!” His hand swept out, cracking against her cheek in a fierce, explosive blow.
Her head snapped back. Tears of pain filled her eyes. Inside her mouth, blood welled up where the edge of her teeth had cut the soft inner lining of her cheek.
“Papa,” Autumn protested, half rising from the couch where she and her other two sisters sat, having been summoned as always to witness their youngest sister’s disgrace. “You know she didn’t mean it. You know how Storm gets when she feels threatened.” Storm was Khamsin’s giftname, but only her siblings ever called her by it. Her father never called her anything but “girl.”
“Sit down, Autumn, and be silent.”
“But Papa—”
“I said sit!”
Autumn sat. She cast Khamsin an apologetic glance. Kham shook her head slightly. This was not Autumn’s fight, nor was it her place to intervene. Khamsin had long ago outgrown the need for her siblings to protect her from their father’s wrath even if they still insisted on trying whenever he was particularly furious.
Her father’s full, dark green velvet robes swung as he spun back around towards Khamsin. “Since you obviously cannot be trusted to control yourself, you will remain in your room until the Winter King departs.”
She nodded, not daring to speak.
“If you make one more misstep,” he warned, “if you so much as ruffle a breeze through the White King’s hair or even breathe in defiance of my will, I will cast you out. I will banish you from this kingdom on pain of death. Do you hear me, girl?”
“Papa!” This time the protest came from all three sisters.
Khamsin couldn’t gather her thoughts enough to warn them off. Her father’s threat was stunning, vicious, and wholly unexpected. She’d known for a long, long time that he didn’t love her, but she’d never realized how deep and truly bitter his feelings were. How he must despise her to ever make such a threat.
“Stop it, Papa,” Spring ordered. Cool and sensible as always—capable of almost as fierce a temper as Khamsin, but far more able to control it—she crossed to Khamsin’s side and laid a protective hand on her arm. “Pain of death? She is an heir to the Summer Throne. There’s not a person in this kingdom who would curse their family house by spilling her blood, and you know it.”