October 18, 2014

In Which Melria Is the Perfect Candidate

August 4, 1187

"I should warn you that he's... unreasonable." Willott's eyes darted to the door, as if he could see through it to an eavesdropping, insulted employer. Having already been warned--more than once--Melria didn't blame him. Her stepsister had married a nobleman. Her brother-in-law was reeve in Veldorashire. Her mother-in-law had made dresses for Queen Laralita, and for Queen Jedaline. Not one of them had a good thing to say about King Ietrin, and when Melria had received his summons, none of them had been shy with their opinions.

Her brother the steward had his suspicions about what the king wanted, and he'd told Melria he'd help her if she refused--and that he'd make damn sure that no one judged her if she didn't. She knew Willott to be sincere, but she had not made up her mind. If he was right, then she wanted to know what the king planned to offer her in turn. She was a widow, after all. She had a young daughter, and very few employable skills, and she had not so many assets and prospects that she could have her pick of second husbands from off the street. Her in-laws, since deciding to try to send as many of their children to university as possible, would be in a better state if they didn't have to support her and Ivy, even if they were too kind to say so. Her step-family would help her if she asked, but she did not wish to burden them either. If King Ietrin made a worthy offer, then she would take it.

But if not, then why should she waste her reputation on such a man? Never mind her time?

"If I'm right, and you do tell him no, you and Ivy are welcome to live with me if you feel that badly about staying with Kenvir and Ivilia."

Melria shook her head. "I couldn't, Willott. You work for the man. If he's as awful as everyone says he is, your job could be in jeopardy."

"Nedur and Aldara will take you, then."

"I'm sure they would. But I wouldn't feel right about it." Never mind that her other brother's farm got the bulk of its business from the royal kitchens! "Let's just see what he wants, and if it could possibly benefit Ivy and me. We'll worry about the rest later."

Her brother sighed. "I suppose that makes the most sense."

"Oh, good. You know how I hate being kept waiting."

Willott bowed, and Melria curtsied. She didn't dare resume her stance until after her brother had resumed his, and only then did she get a look at the king. He was a handsome man, with golden curls and a face like a statue of Apollo, and his eyes were a rare and stunning violet that might have put every other color Melria had seen to shame. His voice was not so beautiful, no doubt largely because of the tone. The way he carried himself too had an off-putting arrogance about it. She knew it was neither gracious nor smart to judge a person so quickly, but she doubted she'd ever like him personally.

But she didn't need to like him. If he could solve her problems, then she just needed to tolerate him.

"Lowan. And this must be your sister."

Melria bowed again, more quickly this time. "Your majesty."

Those pretty eyes swept her over. Unimpressed, if she could guess by his flat mouth--but not repulsed. "Leave us, Lowan. I wish to speak with the Widow Corran alone."

"Yes, your majesty." Willott jerked his head downward in a practiced, almost mechanical motion, then left the room, shutting the door in his wake. His footsteps sounded, but a gut feeling told Melria that they weren't leading him further than the next stretch of wall.

"Melria--might I call you Melria?" She nodded. He strode past her on his way to his desk, grazing her thigh as they met. So Willott had been right. "You may sit."

She did, in case it hadn't been a request. "Your brother tells me you have a daughter."

"Yes. Ivy."

"How old is she?"

"Eight, your majesty. Nine in November."

"So if she is your only child, then your husband has been dead for some time."

"Seven years last May."

"I see. You must be tired of burdening your in-laws. I understand that they have children of their own left at home, and intend on having them educated."

She hoped 'burdening' wouldn't have been the word her in-laws would have used, but she nodded. The king must have drilled Willott before summoning her. "They've been very kind."

"Then you've been lucky. Fortunately, I'm willing to help you if you can help me." The king leaned forward, hands together, elbows to his desk. "I will be honest with you. I am concerned that some members of my household staff may have other loyalties. A risk of being king, of course, but the problem is that my wife and I have no particular taste for one another, so since I parted with my former mistress, I have been... satisfying my needs with various female servants."

Yes--Willott had been right. Any other reason, and he'd have had no business mentioning such a thing. "I see."

"Yes. So you see, I now find myself in need of a mistress. When I found out that Willott had a widowed sister, I asked about you; I found I could not have asked for a more perfect candidate. You have a brother in my employ, and another to whom I am a valued client, so even if we parted on bad terms, you would be unlikely to divulge my secrets to my enemies for fear of retaliation against your family. You're nothing horrible to look at, but you're not among the most beautiful of women either, so I'm unlikely to encounter any rivals for your occupation. You're also in a position to benefit financially from being my mistress, especially considering that you have a child to support."

"And just how might I expect to benefit from you financially?"

"Well, I would put you and your daughter up in a nice new house near the castle. You would have servants and new furniture and pretty dresses, and you'd certainly never go hungry. I would be willing to invest in your daughter's future as well. Does it seem likely that she'd want to attend university?"

"I don't think so." Ivy was not stupid, but school had been a struggle since the day she'd began. Melria's bookseller father-in-law had attempted to help with her reading, the seeming root of her academic issues; he'd found he couldn't help her, and had told Melria he suspected that Ivy didn't process letters like most people did, and it would take a teacher with more skill than he to help her overcome or compensate for it. In any case, it seemed unlikely that Ivy would want to torture herself with four optional years of schooling at an age where other options were available.

"Then I shall make a generous contribution to her dowry, and provide her with steady employment until she marries--and even if our arrangement fails, I will uphold my word where your daughter's future is concerned. The same goes for any children we happen to have, though know that I don't require that of you." The king's back straightened, his violet eyes briefly flung to the mantle before falling back to Melria. "Now, what say you? Are my terms to your taste, or not?"



Van said...

So apparently forgetting to take your medication one day is not even remotely "no big deal". :S

Winter said...

No, it's definitely a deal of some considerable size, unfortunately.

I know Melria isn't going into this one blind, but I can't help but wish she had gone running out of that room. For all of Ietrin's appearance of good will, he's still looking for a vulnerable woman who isn't in a position to challenge him in any aspect of his life. And the fact that he's willing to bring up his marital sex life as a part of the job pitch? The beauty is barely skin deep with Ietrin.

Van said...

Oh, Ietrin is a slimeball, no doubt about. :S Melria would have been well served running out that door. I guess at least she's not in the dark like Rosette. I also doubt she's in danger of developing actual feelings for Ietrin.

Ekho said...

Hope you're okay!

I know I haven't been around for ages! I think I'm having a break down/ break through regarding getting motivated with my life. I'm thinking of moving, and of going back to school.

Anyway, once again I feel bad for supporting this kind of arrangement. I don't know, maybe it's just me trying to be logical, but if it is beneficial for everyone (Especially Melria's daughter) and no one is going to get hurt, I think it's a good idea! While I have no respect for Ietrin, maybe he will be honest in what he is saying and actually come through if the two decide the arrangement is no good.

Van said...

No worries! Sorry about the breakdown--though a breakthrough could be productive. Good luck with whatever plans you end up going with. :)

Eh... yeah, I think Melria at least has the huge advantage of knowing what she's getting into and having no particular illusions about Ietrin being any better than the evidence suggests. It's not like Rosette from Albion who's blindly devoted to Mordred and believes he can do no wrong, or like Meliza who is an innocent in a situation she's just not prepared for with a guy who is a total creep. Well, Ietrin is a creep, but at least he's into appropriately-aged sex partners.

It would not be un-Ietrinlike to break his word. But so long as Melria can put up with him, it won't be much of a concern. Unless maybe he dies and whoever succeeds him chooses not to honor his promises.

Penelope said...

Ew. Ew ew ew. Oh, Melria. Don't do it, girl. I mean, even if she has no skills, she's related to the Kemorins by marriage. There's a huge network of people that could help her out of this situation. It also occurred to me that he might get sick of her tomorrow or 5 years from now, then leave her high and dry. Knowing him, someone else will probably catch his attention. Ew.

Van said...

Yeaaaah... no reason why Ietrin couldn't be the last resort. But if Melria's too proud to ask for help--which she seems to be--then that's her call. I don't think Ietrin's in much danger of getting sick of her, though. This is strictly a business-like relationship, which is the jackpot for him.