Arya made several trips to the townships surrounding her palace to ensure they were thriving. She’s pleased to see the merchants selling products out of their stores, homes well tended to and schools full of children. Children. For a moment her thoughts go to the Princess of the Winter Court and the child she carries. Malich’s child…the child sheshould be carrying. The bold truth of it cuts deep and she pushes all thoughts of him away.
Eli and Lila finally arrive at her palace and Arya gives Eli a position amongst her royal staff as the Chief of human relations. Many of the nobles took offense to having a human given a position of power. His position grants him a voice at the table of her council and many of the nobles believe humans shouldn’t have a voice. As far as they’re concerned, humans are vermin…vile creatures.
With Eli’s position came wealth and the power to change the human condition. She’d been to the human plane and saw how poorly they lived. He wished to change it.
For Lila, gone were the dilapidated home and dirty clothes. They were replaced with a sizeable mansion on five acres of land and more dresses of quality than she could possibly wear. Her room was filled with teddy bears, dolls, and all things a girl her age should have. Things Arya never had but wished she did.
For the most part, everyone in her kingdom was content, but with welcoming so many back who’d been exposed to all of the good and bad things the courts and Planes had to offer, there were few who opposed her a great deal. If they weren’t engaging in illegal operations, they were outright defiant.
One noble in particular took to operating a pleasure house out of his estate, hiring women, mostly human and paying them meager wages for their services. Arya banned pleasure houses to the nobles’ chagrin. Every kingdom had a pleasure house they allowed to operate legally, but Arya knew what type of scars those establishments could leave. Lumi is living proof of it.
“I’ve wanted to ask a favor of you for some time now, but the timing never seems right,” Lumi strokes Arya’s hair as she lays on her side, resting her head in Lumi’s lap.
“You can ask me anything Lumi. You don’t have to wait for a specific time.”
“Jax asked me to marry him,” she says. The ache in Arya’s heart spikes and she fights back tears. This is why Lumi felt there hasn’t been a right time to mention it to her. The wound of Malich’s betrayal is still fresh.
Taking a deep breath Arya replies, “That’s good. I’ve always said the two of you are perfect for each other.”
“Your Majesty, his Highness of both the Summer and Winter Courts has sent a soldier here with a message,” Evander says from the doorway.
Arya sits up, narrowing her eyes. “I’ll be there in a moment.”
She paces wondering what message he has for her. Perhaps it’s an apology or a message that he hadn’t gone through with his nuptials to the Winter Princess. Chewing her nails, she makes her way to the throne room to hear his messenger out. It’s Zahn and he looks nervous.
“How can I help you?” She asks.
Zahn hands Evander a letter, and he hands it to Arya. As she reads the letter, written in Malich’s hand, her rage grows. It isn’t an apology at all. After breaking her heart and choosing someone other than her, he has the nerve to ask her for a favor. Arya rips the letter to shreds and tells Zahn, “Tell his Highness I said sod off.”
“I would,” Zahn begins to stutter, “B-but he told me not to return without you. I’m also not to eat, drink or rest until you do.”
Arsehole! Of course he’d find a way to make Arya responsible for Zahn. If anything happens to him, it will be on her conscious. What better way to insure he gets what he wants than to give her an impossible choice? She won’t give him the satisfaction of coming quickly. No, she’s going to make him sweat a little.
“I fucking hatethat man,” Arya hisses, gritting her teeth. She rises from her throne to head back to her chamber. “Find him a room. It looks like he’ll be staying here for a while.”
Zahn blanches at her words and she almost feels sorry for him. Almost. He will suffer greatly and have no one but Malich to thank for it. She refuses to allow him to control her actions. Not anymore.
“Are you truly going to let him suffer?” Evander asks as he approaches.
“For a time,” Arya shrugs.
“Is that wise? From what I gather you and Zahn are friends, are you not? His suffering might put a strain on that friendship.”
“His orders are what puts a strain on our friendship,” she fires back at him.
“Yes, but might I argue that you have more of a heart. He is only following orders and I know better than anyone the position that puts him in. If it were I, your Majesty, I would be looking to my friendto find it in her heart to have mercy. To save her wrath for the one who truly deserves it.”
Tears glaze over her eyes as she shoots daggers at Evander with her eyes. Her rage is so intense she trembles under the weight of it. She knows he’s right, but to give in to Malich after everything he’s done to her…she’d rather die a thousand deaths.
“Exactly who do you serve?”
Evander swallows hard. “You your Majesty.”
“And you would have me jump whenever his Highness asks?”
“No, your majesty,” he sighs, “I would simply ask that rather than focus on his Highness, you consider those who are at his mercy. We are all pawns in life and we all hope for compassion.”
In short, he sees himself in Zahn. He too is at the mercy of Arya’s orders and would carry them out at the expense of his own life if she asks him to, but he’d rather have her compassion. Compassion Malich seems to lack where Zahn is concerned.
“Fine. What would you have me do?” She asks.
“Grant his request. Show him you do not fear him and he holds no sway over you. He knows you, so he expects you to rebel against his wishes. Don’t give him the satisfaction of knowing you care. In fact, care less.”
Arya juggles his words in her head. She sees the wisdom in them. Taking a deep breath, she acquiesces to let clearer heads prevail.
“You’re wise beyond your years general. Appointing you one of my trusted advisors is probably the wisest thing I’ve ever done.”
Evander smiles with relief and nods. He quickly heads to let Zahn know his Highness’ request is granted.
Arya heads to her vanity where she stares at her reflection. She’s seen better days. There’s no way she’ll let Malich or the Princess see her like this. She enlists Lumi’s help and expertise as a courtesan to turn her into the picture of pure sin. It’s the only way to get back at her former flame for his betrayal. She wants him to see what he’s given up. What another male would surely want if she allowed it.
“I’ll arrange a passenger car,” Evander starts to leave.
“There’s no need. You and I will go. Lumi, you will reign in my stead and Rayu, you and Jax will command my army in the Generals absence.”
They all nod, and with a hand placed on the general’s shoulder they winnow into the Throne room of the Winter Court. The Winter Court soldiers clamor into action, but they’re slow and severely untrained. Arya picks her nails with her stiletto while she waits for them to form some semblance of a threat.ns 18.104.22.168da2