"You look fatigued, my queen. Perhaps we should adjourn for another day." Robert, tall and athletic, did not look like anyone's idea of a Steward, but Karla knew from the moment the Opal Jeweled young man walked into her court that he was exactly what she needed.
She still shook her head. "I want to get my desk cleared before I get more treatment. I want no one in Glacia to wait just because I'm a little…tired. And do NOT look at me that way, Prince Robert. It is not my moon time and I am at full power. You do not have the right to fuss over me. You are not my escort, just my steward."
Robert sighed and handed her another stack of papers. "You need to find an escort soon, my queen. This court is incomplete."
"Morton is not so replaceable. And why does this landen need all these wells? What is she growing?" She looked at Robert, daring him to try to stop her.
"It seems there is a grain that grows best in water..." Robert sighed again. Karla grinned.
The treatment room was very lovely, with a view of her mountains and a grove of trees that were beautiful all year long, even winter-bare. But right now, they were summer-dark and Karla longed to get on her horse and ride beneath them.
Instead, she was trapped in a half-useless body, with legs that still refused to do her bidding. It was the only choice she had, the only choice Jaenelle and Daemon had - her legs or her life - but now, as the weeks of painful treatments, of massage and exercise and potion after noxious potion - wore on, she sometimes wondered if she should just accept her fate, and just float from place to place.
And when that thought occurred to her, she worked all the harder. Helpless? At the mercy of her Court and her servants? Let those foolish men think she needed them at all?
Her healer, trained by the Lady herself, would smile at those times. "We'll make sure those men never overstep their place, my queen. Now, just push a little bit harder, please. Oh, I could feel that."
Her healer had a sweet, bright smile that warmed her nut-brown face and set off her dark, dark eyes. Karla would move the world for that smile, let alone push just a little bit harder. Her hands were strong and capable, and she never once let Karla get away with being a little fatigued.
"I know I need a First Escort, just as I need you to be Master of the Guard. I don't want my court broken. It's just that…he won't be Morton." She shook her new cane, happy she could walk under her own power even if she needed the help. "Give me time."
"Lady Karla, we have given you time. But the time is past and we cannot continue without a full triangle. There are any number of Warlord Princes who will be happy to be your First Escort. Ones with wives so no one will expect them to be your Consort or your husband in time. Ones without so that they are free to do their duties. Men who are strong fighters but who can control that edge. You must choose one. The Lady and Prince Sadi insist that you do, so that your court is whole. Please, meet with them."
"Why must they be Warlords, my dear?"
"Because you, my Lady, are the only Queen who would be a suitable escort for another queen, and you know that." The master of the guard smiled at her, with all the love and friendship that had sustained her all this miserable weeks.
"Fine. Bring them on. I'd better like them, though."
"It's hilarious, Abigail." Karla bent her legs one last degree, keeping the pain out of her face. "It's what I always imagined being courted would be like - flowers and speeches and gifts. Except some are old enough to be my father, and others have barely made their Offering to the Darkness, and half of them show me pictures of their wives and babies. As if I want anything to do with babies!"
"I'm sure it's very amusing, Lady Karla." Abigail, her bright smile missing, sounded cold and hurt. "Why do you tell me this?"
"Because I would like you to see who wants to be my Escort, to make sure I'm properly protected. I'm a gray-Jeweled Queen. None of them have a dark enough Jewel to outrank me and I'm a Black Widow. It's all very silly. I'm more likely, even now, to protect them!"
"They are Blood males, Lady. They are called to protect and serve you. That is the prerogative of males." There was something in Abigail's voice, in her eyes.
Karla looked at her. She was very beautiful, with her rich dark skin and her Sapphire Jewels hanging in her ears and around her neck, and her Healer's hands were clever and gentle and there have been times…
"If I could choose a First Escort who could one day be a consort, I would not choose any of them." She smiled at the lovely woman. "I would choose you."
Abigail smiled. And allowed Karla to pull her down for a sweet, searing kiss, all of her soft curves pressing against Karla's body.
Her hands were as skilled in love as they were in Healing.
"I am not a warrior, Lady Karla. I've been trained properly, but I've avoided the killing field."
"Then why do you wish to be my Escort?"
The tall man with the artificial raven locks and bright blue eyes smiled at her. "Because you do not need a warrior. You need someone who can fill the other duties of the Escort - take you places, be at your side at official events and help you be in two places at once. I can do that, my Lady. And there are few queens who want me in their court, but I am ideal for yours - no one will suspect I have a wish to be Consort."
"Because you prefer the company of men?"
He laughed - a full, delighted, open laugh. "Exactly. And I have a lover so no need to worry the rest of the court." He looked at Abigail, standing by Karla's chair. "I think maybe there needs to be a court welcoming to people like us. Allow me to serve you."
"Prince Robert, please draw up the contract for Prince Amando to be my Escort."
"Yes, my lady." Robert looked both pleased and relieved.
"And for Lady Abigail to be my Consort, if she will consent." Karla sat back and wondered how they'd take that in Ebon Rih, as Abigail glowed beside her and Amando laughed.