“Well, Lady Rosenhall are you going to get up? That position cannot be easy to maintain in that dress.”
I had been in shock for a second or two in seeing the King be the same man I had met in the bathhouse. I motioned to Mya to help me up as it was true that in this dress it was difficult to kneel and stand up in.
“Lady Rosenhall, for future reference in my court you need only bow your head when you come into my throne room. We leave the bowing and groveling to other kingdoms. I wanted to surprise you. Forgive me.”
Once I was standing, I got a full look at all the people near the king. Over his right shoulder was a woman dressed in black with blue trim. Her belly bore the symbol of the Raven so I instantly knew this was the Queen. Her jewelry was silver with sapphires and included a necklace, tiara and several bracelets. She had a blank look to her face like she was sizing me up but at the same time did not care. Over his left shoulder was his advisor and captain of the guard that I had already met. That was it. Only four guards in other places were in the room with us.
“Well, you succeeded brilliantly your majesty. My forgiveness is given.”
“You need to understand, it has been twenty years since I have seen that banner of yours. I wanted to confirm who you were before I met with you. Your father and I parted roughly.”
“For that, your majesty, I can claim only ignorance. My father did not speak of you as I said before.”
“Yes, that was very like him to play things quietly. Your father was more a man of intrigue and action than words.”
“You gauge him very well your majesty. How long did you know him?”
“I fought alongside him for three years. We share a battle bond that even brothers do not understand. He helped me gain this throne. I would have kept him beside me and rewarded him well but he was driven by a force that not even our battle bond could keep us together. Your father fell in love with my sister.”
“Yes, my sister and your mother. Have you never thought it strange that you have red hair. Your father it was non-existent where he was from.”
My heart went to my shoes again because all my life I had wondered where the red hair had come from. My father has simply told me my mother had the same color. The problem was he never told me where she was from and now that I knew, I was thinking I made a very terrible mistake coming to the Nordic Kingdom. My mother was the king’s sister and there was definitely some bad blood about it. I had to tread carefully here.
“Your Majesty, I need you to understand I knew none of this. Father simply said my mother had the same color, I never…”
The king interrupted me. “Same color, you could practically be twins. I feel as if my sister is staring back at me.”
He rose from his throne and walked down and toward me. He stopped at about the same distance from me as in the bathhouse. He looked angry and so I bowed my head. A few silent seconds passed and my heart was beating so loud I felt it must be heard in the massive silence. Then his voice broke the silence but it was soft and gentle.
“Fear not, Lady Rosenhall. I will not harm you. You are my niece and as such you would be protected by my house. I however sense like your father you wish to ‘rise to your own level’ as he used to put it. You wish to build your house again on your own.”
“Yes, your majesty. My father left me nothing.”
“Most likely he gambled everything away. He never could get away from the dice or cards.”
I stood in silence again but with my head up to watch the king. He seemed lost in thought.
“You wear his sword, do you know how to use it?”
“Yes, he taught me himself.”
The king shook his head and then laughed.
“Well, there is no good marrying you off to some noble in a political marriage is there? You would probably slit his throat on your wedding night and that would be the end of it.”
There was a measured silence as he went back to his throne. When he was finally seated he spoke again.
“Very well, I grant you permission to raise a mercenary company under my command. You will answer directly to me and I will pay you a monthly allotment to maintain your troops. You can do as you like until I call for you or the Marshal calls for your aid in war. Right now though we anticipate no war in the immediate future, but you never know in Ander.”
“Thank you, your majesty.”
“Now if everyone would leave the room, I would like to speak to my niece in private. Lady Rosenhall, your companion may stay.”
“Uncle, my name is Sophia.”
He smiled, “You right of course Sophia, you are family.”
The throne room cleared, the last one leaving being the Queen herself. She looked suspiciously at me but then departed through the right door behind the throne. Once she was gone, the king stood and walked toward me again. This time he did not stop until he was very close to me.
“I could have granted you a lot more than what you ask. But your father would not have liked me to give you too many advantages. He would have wanted you to raise your own banner. By rights I could absorb you into my house but I respect his wishes to have a banner of your own. It will be difficult for you being a woman, but it has been done before.”
“Thank you uncle.”
“You seem to accept that fact quite readily.”
“It finally explains a whole in my family tree through my mother. I have never seen anyone with red hair in my old country but since coming here it is much more frequent. My mother was your sister and a Nordic woman is something that I can believe. Now I understand myself a little better, your majesty.”
“Then you should no know why you are in a precarious balance here. On the one hand you are the child of my sister who I loved very much and your father I was very close to as well. On the other hand both of them chose their love for each other over my wishes for both of them. They defied me and ran off. I did not pursue them. In part because I did not know where they went at first but then I heard my sister was pregnant. I just decided to end my relationship to both of them and leave them be. It cost me to do that. Some would like to bring that cost on my head if they could.”
He ran his hand along the edge of my hair in a loving way. I didn’t object or move away.
“You have her face as well as her hair.”
“I am sorry she died and I must confess I didn’t know her at all. She died months after giving birth to me. Your majesty where do I exactly stand with the family then?”
Your father and mother were sworn off but you are not. You however should not expect much in the way of help. I have done the best for you, the rest is up to you. You might earn your way back into their good graces but my brother holds your father in great contempt. My other sister is a widow but refuses remarriage so she is a little ostracized herself. Know this though that you have my silent and covert support should you need it.”
He kissed my cheek and I saw a tear form in his eye.
“Good Luck, Sophia.”
“Thank you, Uncle.”
He then dismissed me and Mya followed me as I headed for the door.