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70-After Tea

 

In the safety of the King’s chambers, I stormed. I wanted to change clothes and go find the hounds, or do anything active…but the shimmering blue gown laced up the back. I couldn’t get out of the dress without help. I didn’t want to call for Hesperide because I didn’t know if she knew about Tarr’s fourteen children, and I knew I would probably blurt it out the moment I saw her.

In frustration, I fetched out my daggers.  Fine gown or no, I started to practice with them right in the middle of the bedroom. Finding solace in the motions Remko had taught me so long ago, and distraction in the newer techniques that Quill and Vaudrin had taught us. I moved slowly at first. It felt good to move. To bend. I spun slowly, striking and slashing imaginary enemies, and trying out crouches and low kicks in my fine slippers. Frustration released with every blow. The dress limited my motion, but I kept working, moving faster was my confidence grew, as I let myself disappear in a flurry of emotion. Sweat slicked my skin under the dress, and I was vaguely aware of my curls whipping free of their restraints.

I almost didn’t hear the door to the chambers open. It registered a second later and I stopped mid-motion. Straightening, I flipped Azzad casually in my hand, trying to decide if I should put the knives away on the off chance it wasn’t someone I knew in the outer chamber.

Quill appeared in the doorway on his way through his usual circuit of the rooms. He paused, his eyes swept over me, taking in the sweat on my brow, the tumble of my hair, and the knives. I met his gaze, blowing a strand of hair out of my face.

He leaned on the doorframe and crossed his arms across his muscular chest. “How was tea?”

“I drank too much.”

Amusement flickered across his face. “Was it just tea?”

I sheathed my knives and marched to slide them under the pillows of the bed. “As far as I know. I’m not dead yet.”

“How’s your side?”

I inhaled deeply. At the moment I was still warm, even panting a little from my exercise. “Fine.”

“Don’t overdo it,” he straightened and turned back toward the sitting room.

“Is the King with you?” I asked.

He glanced back at me. “He’s just here for a change of clothes.”

Tarr came into view, dressed in riding clothes. His boots were dirty and he smelled faintly of the stables. Quill stepped aside to let Tarr through the doorway. The King smiled when he saw me. “How was tea?” he asked.

“Fine.” I crossed my arms.

Quill leaned toward Tarr, “Don’t believe her.”

Tarr grunted, “Of course not,” and continued past me into his closet. He would be ringing for Hesperide. The thought made me so angry I followed him in. Tarr was in the middle of unbuttoning his shirt, he looked up at me, surprised. “Yes?”

“Fourteen children!” I snapped.

“Excuse me?” His brows quirked in confusion.

“You have fourteen children?” I repeated, stopping just inside the closet and lifting my chin.

“I have,” Tarr hesitated, processing, then he threw back his head and laughed. “Fourteen? By Fornern, the number just keeps getting bigger.”

“How is this funny?” I seethed. “You’re irresponsible! It’s demeaning and vulgar and rude! And what about Hess? She loves you.”

Tarr kept laughing.

When several seconds passed, I began to fear that I would throw something at him. Then I began to think throwing something would be a good idea.

Tarr tried to speak, but every time he looked at me he started howling again. Stepping back, I grabbed a pillow from the bed, glared at Quill, who was still in the bedroom doorway, and came back to hurl the pillow at Tarr’s face. I wished it was something heavier as it pegged him. He laughed harder, but covered his head with his arms as he struggled to regain control.

I had no idea what to do, his reaction was so unexpected. Laughter tugged at me, coaxing me to come dance with it, but I absolutely would not allow it. I crossed my arms and waited, frowning.

Finally, Tarr regained control of himself, barely, and said, “I have three children. Though I support seven.”  His blue eyes were still rich with mirth. “As soon as word gets around that you’ll take care of your offspring, they start materializing in places you’ve never been.” He picked up the pillow and lightly hefted it back to me.

“Three?” I asked, weakly, catching the pillow.

“Rumors credit me for ten, last I heard. But fourteen.” He laughed again, “That’s a new number. I wonder if Khattmali made it up just to frighten you or the rumor has grown.” Tarr resumed unbuttoning his shirt. “It’s really just Hess’s two, and I have a daughter who lives at Sinensis. She’s three years old, and doesn’t belong to Hess.”

“But…” I was trying to readjust my picture. Jemin had told me of the King’s reputation, but I’d somehow replaced it with a completely different perception—hard to imagine my nursemaid as a philanderer—and now I was trying to reconcile the two images. The truth was somewhere in the middle. “What about Hesperide?”

Tarr stopped, his shirt hanging loose now, and turned to look at me. As if finally realizing how serious I was. He pursed his lips, weighing, then stepping forward he took the pillow out of my hands. “Zare, you might not believe me when I say that Hestria,” here he looked over my shoulder at Quill, “is my heart and soul. Nothing terrifies me more than the thought of losing her the way I lost everyone else. If Narya knew I loved her–knew who she really was…” Tarr trailed off and looked away. His jaw worked. Silence stretched between us for a long, thick moment, then he continued, “So I hide her among many others and hope no one will learn the truth. Though I would be lying if I said I have not enjoyed the other women I’ve been with.”

Hestria? I took the pillow back and shook it at him, “I don’t regret throwing this.” But there was no venom in my words.

He inclined his head as I turned and walked out of the closet. Quill was still by the door, watching the whole exchange with his arms crossed. I tossed the pillow back onto the bed. “Weren’t you going to save him?”

“Only if you’d grabbed your knives instead of the pillow,” he replied, a smile in his eyes.

I moved to the couch and sat down, then fixed him with a look. “Hestria?”

“You’re not the only one with secrets.” Quill walked to one of the chairs perched on the arm, again crossing his arms over his chest and looking incredibly comfortable.

“Is she your sister?” I’d seen the way Tarr looked to him.

Quill shook his head, his expression said he’d been expecting the question. “First cousin.”

“Ahhh.” That certainly explained a number of things about Hess’s humor and manner. We were quiet another moment while I re-processed tea with Khattmali. “Dear heaven,” I breathed, “She’s a witch.”

Tarr emerged from the closet, half dressed in a fine shirt and pants, instead of half un-dressed in his riding clothes. A black coat hung over his arm as he buttoned his clean white shirt. “I haven’t got a lot of time, but are you going to tell me about tea?” he asked.

I drew a deep breath and explained, “The ambassador was very chummy, wants to throw a little soiree so Analie can meet people. Warned me about your…reputation…assured me you would be bored soon because you’re a cad who somehow had fourteen children in only six years—and resolved to help me find a way to stay—rich? At court? Like this.” I waved a hand at my dress and jewels. “She was very persuasive.”

Tarr paused beside Quill and put on his jacket. “Impressive for one little tea. What did Analie do?”

“She was mostly quiet and didn’t say no to much,” a wry smile tweaked my lips. “She’s obviously not sure what to think anymore, though she’s devoted to you. I think my eyes dried out from being wide with innocence so long.”

Quill coughed out a laugh.

“Well,” Tarr winked, “Her loyalty is admirable. Even if yours was a bit more fragile”

I rolled my eyes. “I only threw a pillow, you should feel quite loved.”

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