The Winter King

Page 12


“It’s not Storm’s fault the Winter King is here,” Autumn added. She stood, straightened her deep purple gown with a snap of her wrist, and went to join Spring at Khamsin’s side. Her copper curls bounced at she cocked her head to one side and thrust out a delicate, imperious chin. “Everyone in this room knows exactly where that blame lies.”
When King Verdan bristled, Summer rose and wrapped her arms around her father’s waist. Of all his children, she was his favorite. She was everyone’s favorite, blessed with a sunny nature and a ready smile.
“Enough, Papa. I’m sure Storm’s sorry for what she did, and I’m sure she didn’t mean to endanger the peace. Let her stay in her room, as you suggested, and avoid any further confrontations with the Winter King. The rest of us will do our best to show him how gracious and hospitable Summerlanders can be.” She smiled, her deep blue eyes full of forced cheer. “Maybe that will help soften his terms of surrender.”
The Summer King regarded his three oldest daughters for a long moment. The heat issuing from his body began to dissipate, and the room grew noticeably cooler. But when he turned back to Khamsin, the loathing in his gaze made her flinch.
“Get to your room, girl. Don’t dare step one foot outside your door until I send word that you may. Tildavera will bring you your meals. If I find out you’ve disobeyed me, I won’t kill you or banish you, but believe me, I’ll make you wish I had.”
Khamsin curtsied and turned for the door. She didn’t speak. Tears gripped her throat in a chokehold, and if she tried to say a word, they would burst forth in a humiliating gush. She hadn’t cried in front of her father in years—not since the day he’d told her she was responsible for her mother’s death.
With half his men deployed at strategic points throughout the city, and the other half taking up positions in and around the palace, Wynter returned to seek the room, bath, and refreshment he’d demanded.
King Verdan himself escorted Wynter through the warm, colorful halls of the main palace building and up several flights of stairs into the old, stone keep that crowned the city. Valik and a prune-faced harridan who’d introduced herself as Maude Newt, Mistress of Servants, trailed behind, along with half a dozen Wintercraig guards.
The air grew a little colder as they entered the keep, the surroundings a bit more lonely and somber, but Wynter actually liked that better than the crowded frills and luxuries of the palace. Cold stone and privacy suited his nature. He was a man who lived in a harsh, uncompromising land of solitude, danger, and stark beauty.
The small party climbed two flights of stone steps in the tower before reaching the floor that housed the newly renovated Queen’s Bower. A knot of young, gray-clad serving girls stood at attention just inside the wide, arching doorway that led into the bower. They bobbed erratic, nervous curtsies as he passed.
Wynter walked through a set of wide double doors into the long-abandoned room his spies had told him was a rotting ruin. However deteriorated it might have been before, nothing now could be further from the truth. The room sparkled and gleamed from corner to corner, and the air was rich with the scents of flowers, herbs, fresh sawdust, and a strong sprinkling of bleach. The furnishings were exceptional, both in quality and beauty. Wynter’s gaze roved over the room, searching for subtle points of complaint. He found none. Verdan, it seemed, had outdone himself.
“This will do.” He glanced at the servant girls. “Prepare my bath.”
They squeaked and bobbed and nearly tumbled over each other like a litter of clumsy wolf pups in their rush to do his bidding.
“I will expect refreshments and your daughter’s company within the hour,” he reminded the Summer King with a cool look.
“Of course.” Verdan bowed his head slightly. “Newt here will see to any other needs you may have. Just use the bellpull to summon her.” He pointed to a long, tasseled pull near the double doors. “I had thought we would discuss terms in the map room downstairs. Will two hours from now give you sufficient time to prepare?”
“Two hours is fine.” He didn’t want to leave Verdan stewing for too long, lest worry blossom into something unwise.
“I’ll send my steward Gravid to guide the way.” Verdan spun on his heel and departed.
The Mistress of Servants lingered behind long enough to drop a quick, deep curtsy and reiterate the offer of her services. “If you need anything, Your Majesty, anything at all, just call on Newt. I’ll see you get whatever you desire.”
“Very good.” There was an obsequiousness to her tone and slyness to her darting gaze that he did not care for. “For now, Newt, privacy is what I desire most. And Newt? Wintercraig kings are addressed as ‘Your Grace,’ not ‘Your Majesty.’ ”
“I understand, Your Grace. Of course, Your Grace. Just send the girls out when they’re done.” She bowed and backed out of the Queen’s Bower. The doors, now guarded by Wynter’s own men stationed outside in the hall, closed behind her.
Silence fell over the bower, broken only by the sound of splashing water coming from the bathing chamber. Wynter and Valik stood still and wordless, watching each other and waiting in patience silence. A moment later, the four trembling young maids emerged from the bedchamber like wary does mincing into an open glade.
“Your bath is ready, sir,” one of them whispered.
“Good.” Wynter jerked his head toward the double doors. “Out.”