“Your Majesty,” curtsied the servant. She was wearing light blue, which meant that she was one of his organization of spies. When she met his eyes, she blinked twice, which meant that she had information for him. Ah. Wonderful, wonderful.
Harvick liked to think of his spies as a second kingdom, a secret kingdom. Though it most often gave him news he didn’t care to hear, he enjoyed the thrill of the unknown, the intrigue. There was finally some excitement, some adventure, for governing over pesky Cabinet members bored him so…. His country ran itself.
But his underground organization… that required – harmonizing. Harvick exceled at that…. For example, Varley had no idea that the reason everywhere he went, his two young brothers seemed to also appear was because their nursemaids were Harvick’s spies. And Harvick cradled his hands with that thought so he could hide a faint smile.
Until two years ago. A bird from Ormon sent here, its parchment from the Queen herself. Imagine, he’d thought, whyever would the Queen of Ormon be sending me correspondence….
And then he’d read it. It had actually been addressed to Varley, but the pigeon loft servant had mistakenly delivered it to him. A happy error indeed, for the Queen had outlined, in quite serious detail, plans she expected to set forth.
Those plans quite took Harvick’s breath away. For a number of reasons, though the main few were that, above all, she was addressing this communication to his son, the heir to his throne, a neutral country. Also, that she planned to kill all of the heirs to the Ormon throne. That alone shocked Harvick, for she had a son and a daughter.
Sending such plans to his son, the heir to the throne of a centuries-old neutral country, had shaken Harvick to his core, for the letter was of a nature that implied familiarity. They knew each other by this point.
What did this mean for the future of Storden? Storden was a neutral country, had been a neutral country for hundreds of years now. Was his son conspiring to change that? With a Northern Country, of all the damnable countries in the Land?
Harvick loved his only son. Of course, for he was his father. But as the years passed, certain things, character flaws call them, or better yet, personality quirks, had emerged out of Varley. Doting and adoring one moment and then cold the next. Arrogant and prideful.
Last year, there was the matter of the courtesan, which was a kind word for her. Varley had – impregnated her. Harvick closed his eyes and shook his head. Perhaps it was not simply that which bothered him, for numerous lords and nobles did so, but it was the information gleaned about how Varley acted in the brothels.
Harvick was no stranger to the idea of men, royal or noble, in brothels, though it was smarter of them to have affairs with ladies-in-waiting instead, for they were less likely to acquire sexual diseases. Nor did men have to leave their homes. However, men of reputable status still visited brothels, and Harvick was ashamed, and disgusted, to learn how often the Heir to the Throne of Storden visited them.
So when this “courtesan” was brought to a secret audience, it was not due to the fact that she was carrying the Prince’s child, but another matter altogether. The brothel madam was asking for a favor from him, the King.
Of course, he’d wanted proof that the child was Varley’s. The woman told him of a number of identifying marks, but the main one was the cherry birthmark on his lower back, near his spine, in the shape of an elongated crescent moon.
At the time, Harvick wondered just how many bastards Varley must have fathered at that point that had not been brought to his, or even Varley’s attention.
But the brothel madam, with the greatest of courtesy, curtsied and begged Harvick’s pardon for what she was about to tell him, for it was on behalf of her girls, and certainly on the behalf of the other girls, that she asked.
Harvick had, by then, been impatient, and certainly ready to give the young girl whatever she needed to have the child, but he was not ready for what sounded like extortion.
Then the madam asked the girl to turn around and slide her dress down. Lash marks and healed scabs covered the girl’s back.
“Beggin’ Your Majesty’s Most Royal Pardon, I’d show ya her front, too, but that’d be indecent.” The Madam pulled the girl’s dress back up and put an arm around her.
Horrified, Harvick had said, “And you know, you know, Madam, for a fact that my son did this?” And he gestured up and down at the girl.
Tears rolled down the girl’s face. The Madam nodded. “It’s not just her. But she’s with child now.”
“Well, we’ll take care of her, give her all the expenses she needs –” Harvick began.
“No, if it please you, Your Majesty, we take care of our own, less you want the child yourself. We’ll take care of her and her child, it’s what we do. But we can’t – you know – this just ain’t….” And she gestured up and down at the girl’s back.
Harvick nodded with understanding. And horror. The girl hung herself, he was told, three weeks later. Probably for the better, he’d mused at the time, a child of Varley’s in the Land, and by a, a whore no less….
Drinking, whoring, wild parties, and now conspiring….
Of late, Varley’s behavior had calmed some, though Harvick found that suspicious rather than impressive. Varley never did anything without recompense. Harvick believed, based on the information his spies were bringing him, as well as his personal knowledge of his son, that Varley was planning something, and needed to cleanse his reputation of its sordid past.
Ha. That could be anything. Conspiring with a woman who had killed her husband to take over the throne? Harvick believed daily that his life was now in danger… and from his own son, no less. Gone was that laughing little boy who ran after bluebirds in the courtyard. Gone was that smiling little boy who played in the puddles after the rains….
The very first thing Harvick had done once he’d read that parchment was marry again. One of his Cabinet Members from Kipper Cove was a Wescarl, and what ships there at the docks and at sea that Lord Wescarl didn’t own, he had the coin to build. So Harvick married his daughter. Young for him, yes, but by the gods, Harvick would have more children by the time the year was out.
And so he had. Those Wescarls were fertile if nothing else. Twin boys, Harvick could hardly believe his luck.
And unknown to Varley, Harvick had cut him out of the line of succession. Harvick’s Uncle Dordonas would serve as Regent to Harvick’s older twin son, Tollard, and second in the line of succession was now Tollard’s twin brother, Jonnard. The Throne would then pass to Harvick’s brother Irving and his children, and, if necessary, Harvick’s Uncle Dordonas, then Uncle Connald. In no way was Varley ever to sit the Storden Royal Throne.
Harvick had a very serious and private conversation regarding all of this with his uncle, and told him that, if he suffered an untimely death in the near future, immediately arrest Varley and place him in a traitor cell, with no trial, and allow no one to know where the boy was. Uncle Dordonas’ eyes grew wide at this last, but he nodded his head very slowly in agreement. Harvick rewrote this new line of succession paperwork, stamped it, and Uncle Dordonas witnessed it. He would keep it himself, rather than Harvick.
Harvick feared for the lives of his young sons. And for his new wife’s life as well. She must think him a crazed lunatic, he mused. All he wanted was more children. He hated to think of her as only an heir producer, but that was his main reason for marrying her, aside from any need of ships in the future.
Since the babes were born, Harvick would leave her alone for a bit, but as soon as it was fair to start trying for new babes, he’d be on her again, twice a day. He’d not have that traitor sitting in his home expecting to take over his country. The more heirs Storden had, the better. And the sooner he could get Varley out of his plans, the better….