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Envy

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So "Sir" Alanna was back, having gone haring off like a knight from an old romance, going forth into the vast untamed wilderness at the edge of the world and coming back with a great magic prize and a pretty, pretty princess on her arm.

And the Prince, no, the King-to-be, the King in all but name, fell for the famed Saren beauty at first glance.

Delia knew that look. He'd once looked at her that way, when she'd had her day at court, donning her most striking gown and not caring a whit for the inane scandal it caused among all the old spinsters who flocked around the handsomer knights like crows to roadkill. If they weren't going to be bold, they deserved to be forgotten, Delia thought. She would not be.

She would do what they all told her was impossible: she would snare Jonathan. She would be Princess.

She almost was. Eldorne was not the wealthiest fief, but it was noble enough, nobler than the King's. The whole court danced to her tune, and she had Jonathan wrapped around her little finger.

And then, mysteriously, it all fell apart. It wasn't until later, until that disastrous fight with Roger in front of the entire court, that Delia figured out why.

She'd never put much stock in the whispered rumors about the Contés and their squires. She knew better than anyone, after all, what the Prince's preferences really ran to. But a squire who was a girl, now, that was a different story.

But Alanna had left court, and everyone but the Prince was thrilled to see the back of her. Unfortunately, the Prince was the person who Delia wanted back.

He dallied with her, toying with her like he started toying with others, with emptyheaded Cythera and crazy Josiane, who was no more an actual princess than Delia was a merchant. He was deliberately cruel for the first time since she'd known him, and inwardly Delia rejoiced even as she seethed, because that would ferment into bitterness and sour him on his precious squire, and then she'd have him.

And then the other Trebond, the lonely, empty one who had been so childishly keen to impress her - not to get in her skirts, which was a novelty, but just so someone would take note of him, and oh, it had never pricked her conscience to manipulate someone before - raised Duke Roger from the dead, and the Queen and the King died within weeks of each other, and the pretender knight was back with her prizes and turned them both over to Jonathan with nary a thought.

And Jonathan was looking at this Thayet as though she were the sun, moon, and stars, as though she were the Goddess Herself walking among mortals. As though she were Delia of Eldorne, the beautiful bold daughter of the oldest fief in the land, instead of some backwoods barbarian "princess" from a family so deeply tainted even the Rittevons didn't hold a candle to them, who was not even fit to muck out a stall.

Delia's eyes never left Thayet, either. Wherever the princess went, Delia followed, save to the city, where Delia would be too obvious. But Thayet was at the palace a lot in the weeks that followed, far more often than some refugee princess determined to stay a private citizen ought to have been.

It was the work of nothing for Delia to get Thayet alone. The warlike Saren had to prove her mettle, of course.

"You have been following me," Thayet stated bluntly, turning up at Delia's rooms one evening. Her voice was perfectly controlled and even, but Delia could sense the fierce hostility hovering just below the surface, hiding in the too-direct brown eyes.

Delia's lip curled into what was either a smile or a sneer (even she couldn't tell) and let the Princess into her bedroom (her rooms, to her chagrin, were smaller than they ought to have been), pointedly not curtseying. Thayet paused at the door, long enough to let Delia know her discourtesy had been noted, then followed.

Delia bolted the door behind Thayet. The Saren princess spun, one hand going automatically to a knife she didn't carry.

"Sit down, Your Highness," Delia said, letting her lip curl further into an outright sneer. "I don't know how you do things in Sarain, but here we generally don't assume ill intent on the part of fellow nobles," she sneered, stressing the last word ever-so-slightly.

Thayet blushed, then perched primly on the edge of Delia's bed, folding her hands tightly in her lap. Delia had to give her credit; Thayet's voice never lost that even tone as she murmured, "How nice for you."

Delia simply leaned against her door without comment. The silence deepened. Thayet was clearly uncomfortable, Delia noted, amused as she watched the other woman begin to discreetly fidget with her sleeves.

Delia waited. Thayet would break eventually. Every woman with delusions of superiority did eventually.

"I came to request that you stop," Thayet said finally, and Delia let a triumphant smile curve her mouth. From the look in Thayet's eyes, the foreigner, too, knew Delia had won this round; from the way Thayet squared her shoulders, the other woman was rallying herself.

But Delia was a master at catching people off-guard.

"He doesn't love you," she murmured, looking at Thayet with utter condescending pity. "He looked at me the exact same way, once," Delia added at Thayet's startled look. Delia stalked closer. "He looked at Sir Alanna the same way too, I'd wager, and dropped me like a hot coal when he did."

"Silence," Thayet commanded, almost glaring up into Delia's eyes.

Delia leaned down, placing her hands on Thayet's shoulders, pushing her gown down just a bit so she was touching bare skin. "And then he looked at Cythera now of Naxen that way, and then he looked at Princess Josiane that way…"

"Oh yes," Delia breathed, straight into an alarmed Thayet's ear, "you're not even his first princess. Though you are the most baseborn he's gone, unless Jonathan has been slumming in the city when no one was looking…"

Thayet jerked back, falling back onto her elbows. Delia moved with her, climbing on top of the now-frantic princess and batting away her hands, pushing her down into the bedding.

"He was mine," Delia spat, pinning Thayet down with one hand while she unlaced the bodice of Thayet's dress. It really was too pretty for the hard-set refugee act she was trying to put on, Delia thought absently.

Thayet's blows were coming harder now, though still awkwardly. Delia knew a thing or two about pinning someone down, and the shallow angle meant the strikes barely hurt at all. None of them would bruise.

"Let me go," Thayet snapped.

Delia grinned savagely. "You have no authority here, princess," she said, roughly fondling Thayet's exposed breasts.

Thayet bucked, trying to throw her off. Delia shifted her weight, laughing, and slid down the Saren savage's body.

"No," Thayet snarled, tearing painfully at Delia's hair.

"It doesn't matter what you want, Highness," Delia sneered, pushing Thayet's skirts up and straddling her legs. "Besides, you'll want this soon enough."

Later, Delia looked down on the ravished princess and smiled a twisted, bitter smile. And after things settled, when Delia was the only conspirator left alive, she would draw on this memory while standing proud and unbroken before the King and his betrothed as they sentenced her, and she would savor the way the Queen-to-be couldn't meet her eyes, and know as they imprisoned her in her tower that whatever pretty lies they spun (to match their pretty Queen), she hadn't lost at all.

Jonathan, Delia knew, never did figure out his pretty prize had been ruined, ruined by the prize he'd played with and thrown aside.

"He'll leave you too," were the last words Delia ever said to her soon-to-be Queen. "Mark my words."

And no matter how many times Jonathan assured her that those words had been nothing but the greenest poison, Thayet believed them.

But for now, Delia simply stood and stared at the no longer quite so pure Peerless Princess with green, green eyes and smoothed out her green, green gown, and left.

Thayet, Jon later noticed, was never fond of emeralds.