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fiendishly machiavellian

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The second time Alys mentions how well Ivan is doing at school and how quickly he picks up languages, she finds Lord Vormoncrief always at her elbow at the next party, fetching her drinks, hand lingering too long with every touch, holding her too close in the dance. Lord Vormoncrief has allies in the Ministries, strong military connections, and considerable wealth. All he needs is a well-connected wife and promising step-son with a strong claim to the throne.

The next time Countess Vormoncrief asks after Ivan, Alys sighs and says he seems a little dull at mathematics, he has two left feet in gymnastics and he lets the other children ride rough-shod over him. Too gentle, she says, too lazy, too interested in play instead of study and discipline. Padma would have been disappointed.

Lord Vormoncrief backs off. Gregor sits easier on his child-sized campstool. Ivan continues to do well, and Alys talks only about his failures, and everyone sees what they're told to see. And over time, Ivan becomes what he is told to become. She holds her son close sometimes and hopes that one day, he will understand that she is truly proud of him, and forgive her.