The World Walkers: Neothe: Thalia: Meeting the King

This entry is part of 1 in the World Walkers: Neothe collection

As Thalia walked into the throne room of the man she’d been told was her brother she tried not to let the fear she was feeling show. Everything that had happened since she’d been found had added to her worries. She didn’t know how they’d found out about her or why they’d chosen to invite her to the palace, and she couldn’t seem to convince herself that everything was going to work out. Looking at the King felt too dangerous, so she kept her eyes locked on the floor, before curtsying the way she had been taught to. Nothing was too debasing if it meant she was going to survive the meeting.

The hand that tilted Thalia’s face up was unexpectedly gentle. When her eyes met a pair that reminded her of the father she’d only ever seen pictures of she tried not to panic. “You’re my sister,” he said, his voice just as gentle as his hand. “Father never mentioned you, but from what I’ve heard your mother never told him that you existed.”

“Your Majesty…” It was hard to speak around the lump of emotion in her throat, but Thalia knew that she was supposed to speak when she was spoken to. “Mother never told me I was the daughter of a King and I have no interest in your throne.”

“What did she tell you?”

“That she fell in love with a man, but he was already taken by another. Neither of them thought about the possibility of a child being conceived. When she realised what had happened she made the choice to raise me alone, because she had no interest in destroying a family, and I don’t know if she ever found out that her lover was the King.”

“You’re my father’s eldest child. The throne I sit on is yours by right.”

Shaking her head, her chin still in his hand, an unexpected tear trickled down Thalia’s cheek. “If you’d just left me where I was…”

With his thumb he wiped away the tear, looking perplexed. “That was never going to happen.” He gave Thalia a look that told her he was struggling to find the words to explain his intentions. “You’re family and you were alone. I brought you here because I want to get to know you, because I want you to have somewhere safe to live, because I’ve never had a sister before, and now I know you exist I want to protect you.”

Finding the right words was impossible. Thalia didn’t want to insult him, but at the same time she had no idea why he thought she needed protection or somewhere safe to live. Maybe she didn’t has as comfortable a life as he did, and she had a job some might think of as immoral, but she’d been happy until her ‘brother’ had appeared from nowhere. A ‘brother’ she thought was going to kill her because she was a contender for his throne. Breathing deeply she stared at him, at the eyes that were so like her father’s, and tried to understand why he’d made the choices he had.

“What makes you think I need protecting?” Thalia asked, keeping her voice as gentle as she could.

Looking more unsure than she thought a King should look he shrugged. “My father taught me to look after all women and you’re my sister. I couldn’t just walk away when I found out about you, even though a couple of my advisers told me I should, because bringing the person who should be on the throne to the palace, to them, is a very bad idea.”

“I don’t want the throne.” Thalia looked at it with distaste. “I was happy where I was and…” She shook her head, nibbling on her bottom lip as she tried to find the right words to explain things to him. “By bringing me here you’ve taken me away from everyone and everything that I cared about. All I want to do is go back, but I’m guessing that’s impossible now.”

Sighing, he nodded. “I’m sorry, Thalia. I should have thought about that before I brought you here, but…” He shook his head. “I was so excited when I heard you existed and I didn’t really think all that much at all before I sent out the order for someone to bring you here. When I was younger I always wanted a sibling. Mother had been lucky to have me and after I was born she never had another child. Now that I know about you I can’t help thinking that Father may have had other children with other women, so I’m going to look into his life in more detail.”

“Did your parents love each other?”

“Their marriage was political and I think they grew to respect each other, but I don’t think they ever loved each other. My marriage will be just the same.”

“As will mine, now that you’ve made me into a princess.” Thalia ran a hand through her hair, staring at her brother. “Gaining a sibling from this isn’t what I thought would happen when I was told that I was the daughter of the previous King. I was half expecting to be executed.”

“I’ll be honest with you. I don’t want to be the King. Father was a good King and this throne…” He tapped on of the arm with the heel of his hand. “It will always be his. I’m never going to be the King he was. Unfortunately he was taken away before his time by an illness and that leaves me with no choice but to try to fill shoes that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.”

“Thalia,” a female voice said from the door, making Thalia and the King jump, “he needs someone to help him.” Thalia turned to look and was surprised to see the woman she recognised as the Queen there. “You may not have been raised in this household, but I knew your mother and she would not have let you grow up an idiot. When Felix told me he was sending for you I didn’t know how to feel and now I can see you…” The Queen, although she would technically be the Queen Mother as her husband was dead, made her way over to them. “I’m glad you’re here.”

For a long moment all Thalia could do was stare at the other woman, unable to believe that she was really pleased to have her husband’s bastard daughter in the palace. “Why?” Thalia asked, without really stopping to think about what she was saying.

“My husband and I were married for political reasons, as Felix said, and we never fell in love. He was in love with your mother, I was in love with someone else, and yet we couldn’t end the relationship because of the alliance between our two states.” The Queen Mother ran a hand through her hair, sighing. “If we could have done we would. A couple of times I urged him to spend more time with you and your mother, but he told me that she would never accept him in her life when he was still married. She didn’t want to come between us, even though she knew he loved her.”

Thalia bit her lip. “I think he did come once. The memories are pretty blurry, but I think I remember seeing him at the door a couple of days before my sixth birthday and Mum was telling him he had to leave. Hearing about the son he’d had with you made her even more certain that she was going to stay away.” She shrugged. “Even though I understand now why she made the choice she did I was angry with her for days after that, because I realised he must have been my dad and I wanted him to be a part of my life.”

“I wish he could have been a part of your life. Until last week none of us even knew you existed, so she must not have mentioned you if he did visit the house. I know if he had of known about you he would have done everything he could to be your dad, but your mother never gave him a choice, and although I don’t like to speak ill of the dead I hate her for it.”

“I wish you could have been a part of my life too,” Felix said, drawing Thalia’s attention to him and the throne he was sitting on.

“Would I have been the Queen if the King had of known about me?”

Nodding, Felix smiled. “You were his only child with the woman he loved and I know for a fact he would have made you his heir, even though you were a bastard.”

Unable to stop herself Thalia reached out with one hand and touched the throne. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up knowing I was the eldest daughter of the King.” She shook her head. “It feels a bit like a dream right now. Being here, learning about the family I never knew I had…” She tried to swallow around the emotion that was filling her throat. “A part of me hates Mum right now too, because she never gave me a chance to make my own choice when it came to my dad. She told me it was better for me if I didn’t know who he was.”

The Queen Mother smiled at Thalia, although it quickly faded. “Unfortunately now you need to learn how to fill the role of Princess, and current heir to the throne, which isn’t going to be easy. I have a feeling you will know enough about our history and why I married my husband, but now you’re in the same position I was when I was young, because Felix may be able to use you to cement alliances.”

“No, Mother, I won’t.” Surprised, Thalia stared at her brother. “Thalia is her own person, even though I dragged her into this, and I will not be the sort of brother who uses her in any way.”

“Felix, don’t be an idiot.” Thalia wasn’t sure entirely when she’d decided she could be so blunt with the King, because he could still execute her if he really wanted to, but she was coming to believe what he’d told her. “If you need to you will use me.” She took a couple of steps closer to him, staring into his eyes. “Being a Princess isn’t what I wanted, but it’s better than the alternative, and I will do whatever you need me to.”

A hand rested on her shoulder. “Your sister understands the position you’ve put her in better than you do, son, and it’s really time you realised that we need her. I hate it, but we need her.”

“Your alliance with the West will fail if you don’t marry me off to one of the sons of the King.” Thalia bit her lip. “Before I existed, Felix, you could have got away with marrying off one of the daughters you will have, but now…” She did everything she could to stop herself from shuddering, but she knew the Queen Mother could feel it. “Choosing to bring me here is going to change things. The first thing we need to do is plan some way of introducing me to your allies, probably a dance, and then we need to work out which son would be the best one for me to marry. I know I’m not marrying his eldest.”

Shaking his head, Felix reached a hand out and took Thalia’s. “No, Thalia, that is not what we need to be doing. We need to be getting to know each other and then we can think about the next steps we need to be taking. That’s what I brought you here for. Not to cement alliances I’m not even sure that we need.”

“We do need it.” Thalia sighed. “Felix…” She shook her head as she tried to work out how to explain things that he should have already known to him. “If the alliance with the West fails then we will be trapped between two states that could easily make war on us, and our relationship with the East is so bad that they may actually decide that we are worth invading. At the moment it’s only the West that are actually stopping the East from doing that.”

Felix stared at Thalia. “I don’t understand how you know as much as you do.”

“My mother thought it was important for me to learn, just in case.” For the first time Thalia was grateful for the lessons, even though she’d thought they were a waste of time then, because she could have been doing something useful, rather than spending her time poring over books. “It’s entirely possible she knew what would happen, if she did know that I was the daughter of the King. Of course it could also have been because we were close to the Eastern border and she wanted me to understand that we’re semi-permanently on the brink of war.”

“Was your mother a Seer?”

“No, she just understood people. You were a boy without siblings, a King without an heir, a man who might find himself in a precarious position if someone else found out about his sister, so as soon as you realised I existed you would have invited me here. To her it would have been the only logical option and she might have been right about the last one. It’s possible you might not have been the first person to find out about me.” Thalia shrugged. “If that is the case it doesn’t matter any longer because I’m here.”

“It might still matter.” The Queen Mother sounded thoughtful. “You…” She glanced at Felix. “Before my son brought you here you were a courtesan…”

Thalia laughed. “That’s the nice way of putting it.” She smiled at the Queen Mother. “Yes, before I came here I was a prostitute, although I was lucky enough that I could be a little picky about who I spent my time with. When I told them I was leaving they promised me that I would always have a job there if I needed it, so if this Princess thing doesn’t work out I do have another option.”

“Listen to me, sweetheart, because the people that you slept with…” The Queen Mother sighed. “There is a chance you might have come across someone who could help us in the future.”

After a moment Thalia shook her head, realising that she had known someone, but it wasn’t someone who might be able to help Felix in the future. There was no chance of building an alliance with the East, even if he did work out who she was. Of course it hadn’t mattered then. She had no idea she was the only sister of the King and sleeping with the Prince of the East didn’t matter. It helped that he was good in bed, tipped well, and returned to her often enough that she was beginning to think of him as a friend when she knew she shouldn’t be. He should have always been an enemy, no matter what.

“Thalia…”

“Would you believe me if I told you that I didn’t come across anyone that could help us?”

“From the colour your face has gone I would. It would be best if you told us now rather than leaving to to be a rather nasty surprise later.”

“You’re probably right about that.” Thalia sighed. “Our town was close to the Eastern border and it isn’t unusual for some of our clients to be from the East, although we probably shouldn’t have permitted them into the premises. It’s just in places like that you take what you can get.” She shrugged. “When he first walked in I didn’t think anything of it. He looked like any of the other Eastern nobles, so we treated him in the same way.”

She only need to say that. All the colour drained from Felix’s face. “Please tell me you aren’t saying what I think you’re saying.”

“I can’t.” She brushed a hand through her hair. “He’d visited a few times before he told me the truth, and I have no idea why he picked me.”

“Maybe he knew.”

“How could he know?”

“I have no idea, but anything is possible, Thalia, and if he did know…” Felix shook his head. “Does it change anything?”

“No, it doesn’t. I am loyal to the throne.” She couldn’t help smiling. “I know how that sounds. Had I truly been loyal to the throne I would have found a way to inform you that some of the brothels were permitted people from the East to enter, but back then I was more loyal to myself, and for that I apologise. It never once crossed my mind that my relationship with him could ever have an effect on the future of our country. I didn’t know who I was. I don’t think he did. I really don’t.”

Slowly, Felix nodded. “It’s not going to have an effect. You aren’t going to make any decisions that will put us in danger now, and what you knew before is something anyone could have known. From this point onward your relationship with him needs to be over.” Their eyes met. “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologise for, Felix.”

“Should we do anything about the East visiting the brothels on the border?”

“You’re asking me?” Thalia could hear the shock in her own voice. “I honestly don’t think I know enough about our current relationship with the East to be able to answer that question.”

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