Nerissa was not looking forward to her conference with King Jarek. During her decades long exile in Abiloth, the dwarf king had become a close confidant and friend. He’d held her close and dried her tears as she wept for the deaths of everyone she knew. He advised her on the ways of diplomacy and helped her understand the complicated and sometimes rowdy meetings held at the Crystal Palace. By his own example, Jarek taught Nerissa the meaning of grace, decorum and fairness. Jarek was an ardent scholar and Nerissa enjoyed arguing philosophy with him until the wee hours of the morning. Though his age was advanced in human years, the king of dwarves was only just entering his middle years and his cerulean eyes still twinkled when they beheld a shapely backside or full bosom. The way he continuously patted and pinched his wives, sneaking kisses when he thought no one was looking, probably accounted for his multitude of offspring. Nerissa would sit with the women and younger children and giggle as she listened to the wives bemoan their husband’s lecherous behavior. She also noted the blush on their cheeks, sly smiles, and the gleam in their eyes as they spoke. Nerissa knew they enjoyed the attention as much as he enjoyed giving it to them.
The king had always been her protector and she realized long ago that she loved the man. Of course she would never tell him. Nerissa was human and not nearly as rotund as the women he preferred. Though they spent a lot of time together over the past twenty years, he always treated her differently. With Nerissa he was cool and chivalrous. He never put a finger wrong and his eyes never held that mischievous twinkle she adored. Just as he was her confidant, she was his. He often unburdened himself to her when they were together. He would regale her with stories of battles past and soberly recalled lost companions, told which wife was hassling him about spending too much time with another wife or her children, and sought her advice about his offspring.
Of the entire brood, the princess could never remember anyone coming up more often than Lavinia. In fact, one of her first tasks upon arriving in Abiloth was to try to befriend the young dwarf princess. Her fourteen human years were apparently on par with the maturity level of a dwarfling at the tender age of 250. Nerissa found the girl incredibly neurotic, self indulgent, and whiny. Lavinia had the nasty habit of setting her sisters’ hair on fire if it came out shinier or bouncier than her own. She shredded any garments that were prettier than hers and any gifts given by their father had to be secreted away before the dwarfling could destroy it. Nerissa quickly discovered Lavinia’s insecurities and loneliness were literally the fuel behind the fires and destruction. So with tremendous effort she assured the little princess of her own beauty and attributes, which finally put an end to the singeing of her siblings. Of course, no one could predict the monster that had been unleashed now that Lavinia was convinced of her own qualities and became fully aware of the shortcomings of everyone else! It wasn’t long until the children of each wife were pitted against each other from Lavinia’s whispers and the harem itself became a war zone.
When Jarek finally sat his daughter down, a mere stone’s throw from banishing her from the kingdom entirely, the poor girl opened up about how he never had any time for her and how she very much wanted to be an intricate part of his life. Her mother was First Wife after all so why shouldn’t she have an important role in the kingdom? Princess Lavinia was so earnest and sweet and such a good conversationalist that right there and then the king declared her his aide. Now the invisible princess was front and center in all goings on. She knew everything only second to the king himself and got to be seen at all the important functions. Needless to say, Lavinia’s head swelled as the years passed but there was peace in the land so she was left alone.
Due to her own proximity to the king and a longtime habit of keeping an eye on the princess, Nerissa noticed almost immediately when melancholy gripped the young woman. She started behaving like a dopey adolescent again and just when Nerissa was ready to speak to her, her mood suddenly improved and she had added a single blue rose to her wardrobe. Nerissa knew of no kingdom that grew blue roses and when she asked her about it, Lavinia simply raised her chin and sniffed, “That is none of your concern.”
Nerissa knew then there was a man involved. She continued monitoring her behavior and when she followed Lavinia to the ruins she never in her wildest dreams expected a secret tryst with the Goblin King himself! How was she going to tell Jarek his daughter was a traitor?
She knocked on the door of the library with Lennox in tow. The king was lounging in his favorite tall backed chair, feet propped on a fat cushion before a roaring fire.
“Nerissa, Lennox, do come in. Your message sounded so cryptic.” Jarek smiled, gesturing towards some chairs sitting across from him.
“It had to be, Your Highness.” Lennox replied as they sat. “I’m afraid we have some bad news.”
“It seems that is the only type of news of late.” Jarek sighed. “I just received word that our friends have been ambushed in the Outlands.”
Nerissa gasped and Lennox paled. “By the gods!” Nerissa exclaimed. “Have they been captured?”
Jarek nodded solemnly, running a hand over his face. “I cannot fathom how Torquil even knew they were there.”
Nerissa and Lennox exchanged glances.
“Actually, that is why we are here, Jarek. Last night I followed Lavinia to a secret trysting place with her lover in the ruins outside the palace. We both did. There we found her talking to King Torquil through a mirrored portal. She agreed to drug the regimental wine during the Festival of Pavrak and open the portal so Torquil’s forces could invade.” She finished with a shaky breath.
King Jarek was as still as stone. For several minutes the only sound in the room was the crackling of the fire. Finally he whispered, “You are mistaken.”
“No!” he exclaimed. “Do you realize what you are saying?”
His face changed color from red to purple. “You dare accuse my daughter of treachery? She who has been at my side all these years caring for me, tending to my every need?”
Nerissa stiffened. “And being privy to every plan and conversation that passes among the Alliance. The mysterious blue rose she wears in her bodice comes from Torquil’s own hand!”
“Lies!” Jarek cried, leaping to his feet so quickly his chair fell back with a crash. “Never would I have thought you would stoop so low, Nerissa.”
“My wives have always spoken against Lavinia. Her siblings mistreat her because of her status but you I thought were better. You were never prone to petty jealousies. I told you everything. I trusted you. I lo–” he stopped and shook his head. “You are just like the others.”
“You are right, Jarek. I am not prone to petty jealousies and it is for this reason you should know that I speak the truth. We both do.”
Jarek’s eyes glistened with tears. “The fact you would drag your lover into this to provoke me makes you even more pathetic! Secret tryst indeed, was it my daughter gone to the ruins to meet her lover or you?”
Nerissa’s mouth fell open in surprise. Never had he spoken so harshly to her. Never had she heard him utter such ugly words.
“Ye go to far, Jarek!” Lennox cautioned, leaping to his feet.
“You forget yourself, dog!” Jarek snapped. “You dare address a crowned head with such insolence? Mayhap a sound flogging is in order to jog your memory!”
Lennox stepped toward him, his gaze steely. “I’d like to see ye try!”
“Enough!” Nerissa cried, stepping between them. She turned and bent to look the king in the eye. “Your Highness, I know my news comes as a shock but you know me. In twenty years have I ever lied to you? Has my advice ever been tinted with selfish ambition? Have I ever given you cause to doubt me?”
A single tear dropped from Jarek’s eye and vanished into his beard but he remained silent.