“Is that to your liking, Your Highness?” Tanya set the brush down on the dresser.
Elara, Queen Presumptive of the elves of Greenwood, reviewed her reflection in the mirror. Her thin face with its weak jaws stared back out at her.
Elves in the court, as Elara had heard when they thought she was not listening, thought her much too stout to be attractive. The orcs who had raised her had thought her too thin, feeble-looking as they had termed it. Only her adoptive parents and Buck Tooth, dear, sweet Buck Tooth, had looked beyond her whispy appearance to find… Elara did not know what they found, only that they had loved her just as she had loved them.
The sight of Tanya’s reflection in the mirror broke into Elara’s thoughts. She nodded.
“That will be all, Tanya. Thank you.”
“Very well, Your Highness. I will–”
A tapping at the door interrupted Tanya. She left Elara’s side and cracked opened the door.
“May I speak with the queen?” Witharin’s voice came from behind the door.
“My apologies, Lord, but the queen has prepared for bed and–”
“Let him enter, Tanya. It is as well to hear what he has to say now as later, for I am sure I will hear it.”
Tanya stood back, pulling the door open with her. Witharin stepped into the room and bowed.
Elara nodded in return. “How may I help you, Lord Magician? You may leave us, Tanya.”
“As you wish, Your Highness?” Tanya bowed and retreated to the back rooms of the suite.
Witharin waited until the door had closed behind Tanya before speaking. “I am troubled by your actions at the reception, Highness.”
Elara sighed. “Did Odarin send you?”
“Odarin and I differ in many things, this not the least. No, Highness, he did not send me. But it is because he came that I am here.”
Elara leaned back in her seat. She studied Witharin for a moment. She often thought that Witharin understood her all too well. To the elves, she was an adolescent, little more than a child. Witharin alone seemed to grasp that she had grown swiftly among the orcs, that she was an adult who had tended a fire of her own and a husband to share it.
Buck Tooth, his body full of elvish arrows, the sword she had forged still in his cold hand.
She blinked the vision away.
“Not at his bidding, yet he is why you came? You bring me riddles?”
Witharin inclined his head. “Odarin would have you wedded to Prince Farian. An alliance would bring much wealth.”
Elara shrugged. “An alliance with any of the suitors would bring much wealth.”
“This is true, but I believe he hopes that the Prince will inherit Lariendel. The issue of your union would then rule both.”
Elara leaned forward, an idea teasing at the corners of her mind. “Is Farian likely to inherit?”
Witharin shrugged. “Normally, I would say no. His father is old, nearing his fifth century and not likely to live much longer. Farian’s elder brother, Seledan, already has three sons. If Seladan outlives his father even a single day, then the line passes to his issue.”
“So why, then, Odarin’s hopes.” Elara drew in a sharp breath, as though a thought had just occurred to her. “Are you suggesting he is planning an assassination?”
Witharin raised both hands as though to ward off the thought. “Elm, Oak, and Ash, no. I simply believe he knows, or thinks he knows, something that makes Farian’s ascent likely.”
Elara tried to keep her thoughts from showing on her face as she considered Witharin’s words. An assassination plotted against the heir of an elvish kingdom by the regent of another elvish kingdom could easily lead to war. Elf warring against elf. The plot need not be true. Rumor, if sufficient evidence could be created, would suffice. She held back a smile. It would be a start.
“And how does my actions at the reception enter into this?”
Elara turned up an open hand. “You said that my actions troubled you.”
Witharin nodded. “Quite so. The law states that no one may compel the monarch in who they choose as consort. There is a long history as to why that is the case.”
“Please.” Elara held up both hands. “No.”
“Very well. Suffice it to say that while the council can insist that you do choose a consort, the choice of who is yours and yours alone.”
“I still do not understand what this has to do with my actions at the reception.”
Witharin sighed. “It was obvious to all that you were indifferent to the elves presented to you. Odarin might use this indifference to push you in the direction of his favored choice. I would caution you not to be unduly influenced by him.”
Elara stared at Witharin, stunned. “You came here…this late…delaying my rest…to caution me not to let Odarin decide for me who I should wed. Have you, perhaps, taken too much wine?”
“You take this too lightly, Highness. This is an important matter. Odarin has his own ambitions. If he lets Farian know that his influence won him the role of consort, then, that will stand in his favor.”
“And you, Witharin? What reasons have you to keep Farian from a seat at my side? What are your ambitions?”
“My ambition is simply to avoid disaster,” Witharin said. “Your life has not become what you wished.”
Elara laughed. “Not what I wished? That’s like saying the sun is a little like a candle, the sea, like a teacup.”
Witharin sighed and nodded. “I had hoped by revealing the machinations of another you might come to understand that not all who surround your are enemies.”
Elara stood and leaned close to Witharin. “And you? Are you my enemy?”
“I am not.”
Elara leaned closer. “But I am yours.”
Witharin stepped back. “Perhaps. But you, nevertheless, are my queen.”
Witharin bowed, turned and left the room without waiting for, or even requesting, dismissal.
Elara cursed herself for revealing too much as she closed the door.
Witharin might not think himself her enemy, but that did not make him less dangerous. It made him more so.