Reina had been confined to her chambers since she had returned from Iridia. Her stay there had lengthened to the beginning of winter, and the journey home had cost her health. As soon as she had reported to the king, he had noticed her weariness and commented on her ill appearance. At once he had sent her to bed, as though she was a child, and later he had posted a troop of physicians at her door to care for her constantly. Although she felt the need, she did not protest. In a way she was flattered that he had gone to such lengths for her health, but his affections for her were too late given.
She had finally escaped her physicians, after sending for Mae Talisman to visit her.
Mae had arrived and summoned Mirielle – one of the king’s mistresses – to escort Reina downstairs. They sat by the large fireplace, and Reina was happy among her two friends. She had known Mae for years, and had often aided in her business ventures, until Conri had forbade it. Mae had soft brown curls, and large eyes – always there to engage in meaningful looks. She was intelligent beyond compare, and harboured a bit of a devilish humour.
“Err, Reina dear” Mae said with a pained look. “I hate to be the one to mention it, but what exactly are you wearing?”
Reina glanced down at the dress she had forgotten to explain. “Oh, this is one of the gowns the druids wear, you know, in the old religion.”
The dress Reina was wearing was pale beige, perhaps considered a gray; it had long sleeves and a high neckline. Janoah had told her that the women of the church chose to dress that way when they gave up material lifestyles, dedicating their lives to help others. Reina had liked the modesty of it.
“I thought all the druids had turned to whoring and crime?”
It was true, the abandonment of the old religion had led the kingdom into a rise in those more gruesome professions, and only the few low born commoners had kept their beliefs. It had happened over a century ago, when a young lord had fallen in love with a woman who was not his wife, he had disowned the religious ways, and in time the high born men and women followed him.
“There are a few who remain,” Reina smiled. “I took the time to learn about it all from the Lady Janoah.”
Mirielle was nodding, “Oh yes, she’s that peasant girl isn’t she? That was a scandal even for the Drakis – a noble lord taking a peasant for his wife.”
Mirielle had taken over of Reina’s duties as queen over the years, and in a sense she had become an apprentice to her. Mirielle had slightly tanned skin, and ash white hair that she wore splayed out over her shoulders and down her back. Her face was long, her nose curtly rounding at the tip. She was the one woman that Conri appeared to have no intention of sending away when he tired of her. And Mirielle’s daughter was the spitting image of Conri, save for her blonde hair.
“If she can tame the Lord Draki, I’ll respect her as a lady rather than a peasant” Mae said. “Though, I have seen a few peasant women who know how to handle their men.”
The three ladies laughed.
Mirielle smiled hopefully at Reina, “Now that you have returned, will you send for Maiolaine to come home?”
Sadly, Reina’s thoughts moved to little Felisa, Maiolaine’s daughter with the king. Reina knew that Mirielle’s words had been stirred by the small child’s wish to see her mother, but Reina had an idea that Maiolaine was not as eager to see her daughter.
“I expect she will come in time, after Rei is settled and hires her own servants.”
The answer seemed to satisfy Mirielle, and Reina was glad to let it go. She turned to watch Mae’s face drop as someone approached from behind them, but Reina was too weak to turn and see who it was.
“Sir Ancel,” Mae greeted after awhile.
The man appeared in front of them, bowing his respect to Reina. “Ladies, what a pleasant greeting this is.”
Reina sighed quietly; Ancel Ridere was a good man. He was sharp witted and genuine in his actions, but there was something sinister in the way he moved and spoke, as though he were a dog dying of thirst. He was tall and handsome, with light blue eyes and hair not unlike the king’s. In the years that she had known him, Reina had discovered that despite his good qualities, he was a man of ambition, and he would allow no one to stand in his way.
“Have you business with the king?” Mirielle asked. “His mood is delicate today.”
Ancel nodded, “I had heard he was displeased.”
His eyes fell on Reina, his mouth pulled into a worried line.
“Is there something you’re trying to say, Sir Ancel?” Mae snapped.
“Nothing out of term, Mistress Mae,” he replied with a condescending wave of his hand. “I am just curious if it is wise for the queen to be out of bed and away from her physicians.”
“I’m old, Ancel. Not dead,” Reina said firmly.
The man smiled, his red hair catching the light and reminding her of the king. Reina looked away, self doubt creeping into her mind. Ancel would tell the king she was not in her bed. Perhaps she should have received Mae in her chambers, surely the king would not have argued then.
“Haven’t you any business to attend to?” Mae asked, “Spymaster.”
Reina looked to her friend, who was staring intently at the man before her. The king’s Spymaster was the one he hired to undertake the less glamorous duties at court, more specifically gathering information from internal sources – by any means. The Spymaster’s identity was always kept secret because of the proximity and nature of his work.
Ancel simply smiled at her, “Why, indeed I do.”
The women all waited patiently for him to leave the room, and waited still as his footsteps echoed down the halls.
Mirielle leaned forward, glaring at Mae. “What makes you think he is the Spymaster?” She whispered, “What happens if he is, and you’ve uncovered his identity?”
Mae just smiled calmly, but Reina saw the gleam in her eye as she spoke “The king is not the only one with spies.”