The High King and the Queen
All my love to those who have enjoyed The High King's Golden Tongue ^__^ Since I was sad I could not fit Marren into the story (though it was in the earliest notes), the holidays seemed a perfect excuse to finally write her. It's only a short little thing, but I hope peeps like.
"One more time." Sarrica threw down his papers and circled his desk, stopped a pace short of hitting distance. "Say that one more time, you hypocrite, and I'll take those pretty new pearls around your throat and shove them up—"
It was the abject terror in Myra's voice that saved Lesto's pearls and nether regions. Sarrica turned toward the door. "What's wrong?"
Myra stared back, wide-eyed and practically vibrating in place. "I've just received word from the city guard that Queen Marren is on her way."
Sarrica blinked. Stared. "Queen Marren," he repeated slowly. "Allen's mother. That Queen Marren?"
"Yes!" Myra said, looking ready to start misappropriating pearls himself.
"Pantheon preserve us," Lesto muttered. "What is she doing showing up without giving us some warning?"
Sarrica cast him a quelling look before focusing on Myra again. "Just her? Or did her husband and dame come as well?"
"I couldn't get a clear answer out of anyone, but I suspect they did."
"Get everything prepared. No one is to tell Allen. She's not doing anything before she speaks with me, especially with this little ambushing business." He whipped back around to Lesto and jabbed a finger at him. "Make yourself useful and go find Allen, keep him distracted."
"He's going to kill you the moment he finds out you're being controlling again."
Sarrica shrugged. "I'd rather he be angry than completely blindsided by his controlling, demanding, abusive mother. She's not getting anywhere near him until we've had words, and I'll suffer an angry consort for that if I must."
"You never learn, but it's your funeral pyre," Lesto said and shoved past him and through the door.
Myra gave him a sympathetic look and slipped away to start arranging everything.
Sarrica stared at the piles of paperwork he'd been hoping to finish that day so he could spend tomorrow with Allen, just the two of them. Sighing, he made certain his clothes were neat and there were no stray smudges of ink anywhere, then returned to the outer office and walked over to the sitting area.
A lavish tea service arrived a few minutes later, and servants set briskly about arranging it all. Sarrica thanked them as they bowed and faded off, half-wishing he'd brought some of his paperwork with him to hasten some of the interminable waiting.
Myra finally reappeared just as he was standing to sneak back into his office. "They're arrived, Majesty. Did you want to speak with all three of them?"
"No, Queen Marren is matriarch, so I'll speak with her. Let the others go rest. I'm sure they're quite exhausted after such a long journey." A journey long enough they could have bothered to inform him of their visit, but that was only one item on the list of matters he intended to address.
Myra bowed and swept from the room, returning almost half an hour later escorting a woman who was almost exactly what Sarrica had been picturing: tall, stately, beautiful, and reserved to the point of frostiness. Allen was very nearly her exact image, though her hair was brown heavily threaded with silver, swept up in one of those confounding, impressive twist-knot things Allen was always doing.
She swept him a bow so perfect Sarrica was reluctantly impressed, though not surprised. "Greetings, Your Majesty. It's an honor to at last make your acquaintance."
"While the honor is mutual," Sarrica replied as he motioned her to sit, "I would be more pleased by your visit if you had not ambushed us with it."
Her face remained expressionless, but Sarrica had become rather adept at reading Allen at his most neutral, and it was increasingly clear that Allen was crafted in his mother's image in innumerable ways. Sarrica had suspected as much from all he'd heard about her, and little things Allen had said, but seeing it was something else entirely. "It was not meant to be an ambush, but a surprise. Also, I knew if I gave him warning, Allen would fret himself to death preparing, and I did not want that."
"No?" Sarrica asked. He waited until Myra had poured tea and filled plates for both of them. Once he was gone and they were completely alone, he continued, "Given how exacting and demanding I know you to be, I would think you'd want Allen well-prepared for your visit and not a single detail missed."
Her brows rose slightly, the only blatant tell on her handsome face. "I am getting the impression you do not care for me, Your Majesty. While ordinarily that would not trouble me, for the list of people that dislike me is quite long, I do not want to clash with my son's spouse."
"Then let me be direct."
"I want to know why you allowed the abuse he suffered to go on for so many years. I want to know why you neglected him for years."
He hadn't thought she could stiffen further than she already had, but Marren drew herself up rigid as marble. "You know nothing about the manner in which my son was raised—"
"I know the marks on his back," Sarrica snapped, leaning forward slightly. "I know they were acquired over several years of brutal treatment. I know he came here with no friends, and left no friends behind, and seemed surprised at the open affection with which he was treated by those who did befriend him. So do try to explain to me how he was not a victim of abuse and neglect."
Marren's mouth drew down, the skin around her eyes tight, shoulders sagging ever so slightly. It was as good as a loudly-proclaimed confession. "I did not know what his brothers were doing to him. I wish I had. He should have come to me." She stared at her folded hands, lost in thought a moment, but finally looked up again and met his eyes. "I will always regret that he felt he could not come to me. Allen has pride and hates to be perceived as weak, something I did not teach him on purpose but which I should have watched for better than I did. It's apparent you think me malicious or selfish, Your Majesty, but understand that I love my son. A parent should not have favorites, but Allen very much is mine. I have never wanted anything but the best for him. Whatever missteps I made, they were not on purpose."
Sarrica grunted and leaned back in his seat once more. "I hope you punished his worthless brothers accordingly."
"Rest assured." Her tone was chilling, and Sarrica smiled in approval.
She lifted her chin slightly and cast him a look that reminded Sarrica of the fierce, no-nonsense women who had raised him before he was old enough to let the army deal with. "Speaking of my son and mistreatment he's endured, I would like to have the whole of the debacle that saw him captured and tortured. His letters to me leave gaps, and it's difficult to remove the dross from the truth with gossip."
"Fair enough," Sarrica said and recounted the whole of the tale, filling in Allen's portions as best he knew them.
Marren paled considerably at certain points, but only nodded when he finished. "Thank you. I am glad events turned out as well as they did, though I am sorry for the losses. I should like to meet Lord Rene."
"You'd have a hard time not meeting Rene," Sarrica replied with a laugh and finally picked up the tea he'd been ignoring. "In fact—"
They both turned as the door flew open, and Allen strode in, beautiful as always, eyes blazing with anger. "Sarrica, you'd better not be—" He froze, going as pale as Marren had a moment ago as his gaze landed on her. "Mother."
Marren set her tea aside and rose gracefully, gathering the skirts of her heavy gown as she walked over to Allen, who'd closed up in a way Sarrica hadn't seen outside of meetings with foreign officials or the council. He hated it. Marren stopped about a pace from him and smiled as she looked him up and down. "Just look at you. I'm so very proud."
Allen smiled tentatively back. "Thank you, Mother. It's good to see you. Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
"We wanted to surprise you, of course. Your father and dame will be most excited."
Allen's eyes widened a fraction, mouth dropping before he recovered himself. Sarrica really hated seeing him revert to old habits, stiff and cool and hard to read. It had its uses, but they weren't in court right now. He'd rather have Allen vibrant and expressive. Allen was happier when he felt he could unbend. His own damned mother shouldn't send him right back to his shell.
But at the look Lesto was sending him over Allen's shoulder, Sarrica held his tongue and settled for glaring right back. What had gone wrong? How had Allen found out?
Lesto rolled his eyes, which meant it had been something stupid. Well, he'd figure it out later.
He shifted his attention back to Allen and Marren, who still stood talking more like acquaintances than family. Sarrica had always thought his family a little distant at times, but at least he could remember being hugged, a kiss on his cheek.
Watching Allen and Marren, he wanted to shake sense into both of them. Lesto kept glaring, however, and now the others had arrived to add their own disapproving looks. Honestly, who was High King around here?
"You should rest, Mother," Allen finally said. "Let me introduce you to my friends and then you can do that, and we'll see that dinner is readied. I'll clear my schedule for the next few days so I can spend time with you."
Marren took the arm he offered, smiling faintly. "That is hardly necessary. I am content to amuse myself and see you in the evenings and where your schedule permits."
Allen did not reply, only began the introductions: to Lesto, Shemal, Rene, Tara, and Jac. She bowed her head to all of them, even Jac, which left Jac sputtering and red-faced.
When the introductions were at last made, Allen escorted his mother from the room, Jac shadowing them, leaving Sarrica and the others alone—and with a last parting look that said Words were going to be exchanged shortly.
Sarrica rounded on Lesto the moment the door was closed. "You were supposed to keep him from finding out!"
"How was I supposed to know we'd walk past servants panicking about the unexpected arrival? After that, it was all over. He knew very well at that point that he was being distracted. I promise it will be a beautiful funeral."
"If I'm going to my pyre, you're going with me," Sarrica said. "And don't think we're finished with our earlier argument, either. You're not my High Commander anymore. I can throw you in the stocks—"
"I think you two are worse now that he's not High Commander," Rene groused. "Be quiet already. We're sick of listening to you."
Sarrica and Lesto both glared at him. Rene rolled his eyes. Beside him, Shemal laughed.
Tara clucked his tongue. "Queen Marren is not the sort to arrive unannounced. She once refused to let an uninvited visitor on the premises, made him cool his heels in the city for an entire week until her schedule opened up. So why did she act so out of character?"
"She said she wanted to surprise him and not give him time to stress over the matter," Sarrica grumbled.
"It's true he would have made himself sick worrying over the matter," Lesto replied.
Sarrica shot him an annoyed look. "I would not have let him, and Allen prefers to be prepared."
Lesto smirked. "You seem particularly petulant. Was she not as evil incarnate as you were hoping?"
"Shut up unless you want to find out what it's like to be in stocks."
"I know what it's like to be in stocks," Lesto drawled. "Or did you forget the night Nyle put us both in them?"
"Shut up," Sarrica repeated.
Lesto kicked him and easily slipped out of range as Sarrica lunged at him. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," Sarrica snapped. "Get out of my office all of you so I may be eviscerated by my husband in privacy, please.
The others filed out, but Lesto, irritating ass that he was, lingered. "Tell me what's upsetting you."
Lesto kicked him again and shoved him back down into his seat when Sarrica tried to retaliate. "Try again."
"I don't like seeing him so cold and reserved. It's like the day we met all over again." Sarrica scrubbed a hand over his face. "She may not deserve to be tossed down a well like I was hoping, but I don't like seeing him revert."
"So don't let him," Lesto said and strode from the office like it was his and he was granting Sarrica its use.
His solitude lasted just long enough to enjoy a cup of tea before it flew open and Allen strode inside, eyes once more full of anger—but that was infinitely better than seeing him closed off. "Why didn't you tell me my mother had arrived?"
"I was going to," Sarrica replied, keeping his seat as Allen reached him.
Allen narrowed his eyes, hands braced on his hips. "After you interrogated her, no doubt."
"There is no obviously! She's my mother, and I know you don't like her, but you will not—"
"I'll do whatever I like when she is guilty of abuse and neglect," Sarrica snarled. "You love her and want to defend her, I respect that, but she freely admitted that her actions—and inactions—were mistaken and unwittingly brought you to harm."
"It's not your place," Allen hissed. "She's my mother and I want her left in peace."
Sarrica's mouth flattened. "I appreciate I'm being a domineering ass, but I will not simply stand by and let her do as she pleases, not when you cannot even be yourself in front of her for fear of how she will react."
Allen opened his mouth, then closed it. Some of his anger faded beneath puzzlement. "What are you talking about? I'm not afraid of my mother."
"Aren't you?" Sarrica asked, looking away to scowl at the food-laden table. "The day we met, if you can call it meeting, I thought you had all the warmth of snow. The moment you saw her, you returned to that demeanor. It was like seeing the man I love turn into a stranger. Or worse, someone who thinks he has to hide the way he is with me and his friends when his mother is in the room, like it's something to be ashamed of." He slowly dragged his eyes back to Allen, fully prepared to be yelled at for the next hour.
Instead, Allen looked close to tears, and Sarrica promptly felt punched in the gut—and like hitting himself.
"I'm not—I'm not ashamed of anyone," Allen said. "She's my mother—it's habit. My family isn't like yours. If I tried to hug my mother, she'd be horribly confused and possibly reprimand me for being so untoward in public. I'm not afraid of her, but I'd prefer she not spend this whole visit chiding me either. I can't believe you think—" He broke off and turned away—and cried out when Sarrica grabbed him and yanked.
He squirmed where he was sprawled in Sarrica's lap, but Sarrica had a good deal more weight and muscle. "She's immensely proud of you. Those weren't just words. She was quite willing to admit you are her favorite."
Allen's mouth flattened at that. "My mother is not the sort of woman to play favorite—"
Sarrica laughed, and just laughed harder when Allen glared at him. "She freely admitted it. Her exact words were: 'A parent should not have favorites, but Allen very much is mine'. And you're so indignant I interrogated her, do you care at all she did the same to me?"
"She what?" Allen bristled. "Why is everyone talking about me behind my back? I don't need you or my mother or anyone else interrogating and yelling and reprimanding on my behalf. I can take care of myself, I can speak for myself, and I've about had it with nobody trusting that!"
"I trust you with my empire," Sarrica replied. "Of course I trust you with you."
"You're not acting like it."
Sarrica reached up, stifled a sigh when Allen jerked away. At least he wasn't trying to stand. "I trust you're loving and kind, especially regarding your mother, whom you idolize. I wanted to hear for myself that she appreciated that and was sorry for what she did and let happen to you. I may trust you, but I don't trust her. I almost let your brother near you because of my own ignorance; I wasn't about to repeat that mistake."
Allen looked angry again, but after a moment, he slumped and seemed to shrink in on himself. "I didn't realize I'd made you think my mother was so terrible. She's not. She's just strict and wants what's best for me."
"You are the only reason I was willing to give her a chance," Sarrica replied. "It's the rest of the world, and what your brothers did to you, that made me suspicious of her." He smiled crookedly. "I did not mean to make you think otherwise, and I am sorry for saying that you acted like you were ashamed. I hate seeing you so reserved; you seem happier when you can be open, even when that entails openly wanting to kill me." Relief swept through him when this time, Allen turned into his touch instead of pulling away from it.
A soft, fluttering kiss was pressed to his palm, then Allen turned to smile at him. "So are you and my mother going to get along now?"
"Yes, I think so. We agree you're magnificent, if nothing else."
Allen's pale gold skin turned pink. "Pretty compliments, Majesty. One might almost think you were trying to squirm your way out of trouble."
"Aren't I usually?" Sarrica asked.
Laughing, Allen leaned in and draped his arms around Sarrica's neck, kissed him long and leisurely. Sarrica settled his own arms around Allen's waist, fighting the temptation to do more, but only because he'd go right back to in trouble if he ruined Allen's hair and clothes there in the office.
Eventually drawing back, Allen licked his lips. "I suppose this unexpected visit means we will not be enjoying ourselves tomorrow."
"No," Sarrica replied mournfully.
Allen's mouth curved in a slow, mischievous smile that had Sarrica's complete and undivided attention. "Dinner won't be for a few hours, Tara is making certain we won't be disturbed, and Myra is already readjusting our schedules. I say enjoy while you can, Majesty."
Sarrica curled his fingers around the back of Allen's neck and dragged him close for a harder, toothier kiss that left them both panting. He lifted Allen from his lap and stood, and holding fast to Allen's hand as he led the way to the secret passages.
A few minutes later they appeared in his chambers. Sarrica went to the main rooms to throw the servants out and lock the door. When he was finally certain they were alone, he headed back to his bedroom. Allen stood at his bureau, pulling pins and jewels from his hair and leaving them amidst Sarrica's scattered belongings. Usually Allen returned to his own room to make certain everything was properly put away so it wasn't misplaced and his clothes weren't damaged.
Few things were as satisfying as knowing Allen was too impatient to fuss. Sarrica pressed up behind him, mouth going to Allen's throat while his fingers went to work on the fastenings of Allen's elaborate jacket. Stepping back, he drew the jacket off and set it neatly over a nearby chair, then shrugged out of his own and dropped it to the floor.
Allen tsked him playfully as he splayed his hands across Sarrica's chest, and Sarrica was as susceptible to Allen's obvious approval as ever. He walked backward to the bed, drawing Allen with him, and sat on the edge. He made quick work of Allen's shirt, and Allen himself discarded most of the rest before moving in to divest Sarrica of his remaining clothes, those long, pretty fingers once more lingering on his chest.
Sarrica held them fast there and leaned in to feast on Allen's mouth, not relenting on the pressure until he got a hard nip. Obediently releasing Allen's hands, he slid his own down to run his fingers along the delicate black lace Allen still wore because Allen wasn't the only one with an obvious weakness.
Thinking sadly of his ruined plans for spending most of tomorrow locked in their rooms and Allen wearing nothing but lace for most of it, he hauled Allen in close and moved them properly onto the bed—and oofed lightly as he was shoved onto his back and straddled. Far be it for him to complain.
Allen's hands once more splayed across his chest, the lace he still wore a delicious torture as it rubbed against Sarrica's trapped cock and overheated skin. He curled his hands around Allen's sharp hips, rubbing against lace and bare skin, relishing the shudders that earned him.
As hard as Allen worked at his appearance, there was something obscenely decadent about seeing him with his hair loose and mussed, naked save for the lace, and the tattoo that, on the surface, seemed completely out of character. He was more intoxicating than the finest brandy in Sarrica's extensive cellars.
Bending, Allen kissed him, as slow and leisurely as he had in the office. It was as teasing as it was thorough, enough to incite but not nearly enough to satisfy. Pulling slowly away, he trailed kisses along Sarrica's throat and down his chest, hands moving to brace on the bed as he slowly, slowly worked his way down.
"You're a damned brat," Sarrica bit out.
All that got was a soft, smug laugh before that too-talented tongue licked and lapped at Sarrica's cock, a soft touch there, then firmer, then gone completely.
"I'm going to kill you."
"Not until I'm finished, you're not," Allen said with a breathless laugh as he sat back on his heels.
Sarrica scowled. "Why are you stopping?"
"Maybe I'm content—" Allen yelped as Sarrica lunged and grabbed him. "Let me go."
Sarrica turned him so he was facing the door, his hand braced on the footboard. He pulled the lace drawers off and tossed them aside, skimmed that lovely ass with his hands. "Hmm, I wonder what you could take, given our activities this morning." Hastier than he'd cared for, but he'd woken early and availed himself of the opportunity, and he was relatively certain Allen had no complaints.
"F-find out," Allen's stutters turned into a groan as two of Sarrica's fingers slid right in.
Chuckling, Sarrica withdrew his fingers and pulled away long enough to find the lubricant anyway, returning just as Allen was trying to move. "Stay right where you are." Slicking his cock, he grabbed those sharp hips again and pushed carefully inside. Allen moaned, head dropping over the footboard, but he thrust back eagerly at the same time.
Obliging the unspoken command, Sarrica started fucking him, steady and deep, pausing whenever Allen tried to increase the pace, even when his continued existence was called into question. He kept at it until the begging started—and then he pulled out, moving to rest on his back once more and dragging a trembling, frustrated Allen on top of him.
Allen dug his nails into Sarrica's chest, tried to scowl at him, but quickly lost it as he was lifted up and then pushed down on Sarrica's cock. His eyes fluttered, closed, the nails easing off as he chose instead to brace himself.
Neither of them lasted long after that, Allen fucking himself on Sarrica's cock for a few hard, deep strokes before he gripped his own cock and spilled over them. Sarrica rocked into him as Allen shuddered through his climax, then flipped them and thrust hard once, twice, thrice more before burying his face in Allen's throat and coming with a deep groan.
Gently pulling out, he rolled over to sprawl on his back again, hot and sweaty but pleased the evening was turning out a lot better than he'd dared hope. "I guess there's no chance we can simply stay here the rest of the night?"
Allen laughed and rolled over to sprawl on his chest and along his side. "I'm not certain I could ever face my parents after abandoning them in favor of staying in bed with you all night, no matter how tempting."
"As long as it's tempting," Sarrica replied with a smile, eyes sliding shut.
"Very," Allen murmured and shifted a bit before settling in to doze right where he was.
Too short a time later, a servant rapped on the door and opened it just enough to inform them that dinner was in two hours. Sarrica heaved a sigh, and Allen did the same as he rolled away and sat up. He lingered to steal a kiss then vanished into his own room.
Sarrica admired the view until it was out of sight, then threw back the blankets and submitted to the tortures of his own servants.
Half an hour later, he and Allen joined the others in the gold salon—including a handsome man with silver hair, a woman who very nearly could have been his twin, and both of whom Allen resembled: Consort Kareen and Dame Eila. They bowed low. "Your Majesty, an honor to make your acquaintance," Kareen said with a brief smile. "We've heard many stories; it's nice to have a face to put to the name."
Eila stepped forward and hugged Allen, which earned a shadow of disapproval from Marren before she smoothed it from her face. Allen hugged her back tightly and smiled as she drew back. "I've missed you all." He turned his smile to Kareen. "You're looking well, Father."
"And you," Kareen replied gruffly. "Being High Consort suits you, which does not surprise me at all. You are your mother's son, down to the marrow."
Allen flushed. "I've still much to learn."
Sarrica snorted at that. "That is a lie if ever I've heard one, and everyone in this room knows it, so you can all stop snickering and exchanging looks." He cast a glare over the rest of the room, only to receive indolent looks and smirks in reply. Sarrica lifted his eyes to the ceiling and headed for the bar in the corner. He poured a glass of brandy for himself and a glass of wine for Allen.
Handing off the drink, he reached up to caress Allen's cheek before turning back to their guests. "You seem to be a family of silver tongues; I know I can speak fifteen words of Gaulden, ten of them not fit for polite company."
Allen burst out laughing, visibly startling all his parents. He stopped as he realized what he'd done and tried to hide behind a swallow of wine, but silence had already fallen.
Shemal stepped closer, his elaborate earrings glinting in the candlelight. If he noticed the stares he got, for even such a refined set as Allen's parents would not be used to a Farlander dressed like a Harken Duchen, he gave no indication. "I would wager, Majesty, that it's more like thirteen words are unfit for polite company, depending on how exactly the words are used."
"You're probably right," Sarrica replied. He nodded at Shemal. "He claims otherwise, but Shemal is something of a silver tongue himself, and I think the more time he spends around Allen, the better he gets. He's a natural ear for it."
"More like a highly honed desire not to be arrested," Shemal replied.
Lesto smiled from where he was leaning against the fireplace mantle. "Getting arrested isn't always a bad thing."
"You were not the one in chains," Shemal retorted.
Lesto's smile turned into a smirk.
Rene huffed where he was sitting on a chaise with Tara. "Can't any of you behave for five minutes?"
"I'm pretty sure you don't get to lecture anyone else on good behavior," Lesto retorted, pushing away from the mantle to stand next to Shemal.
Rene cast him a withering look.
Eila laughed, looking around the room with a smile. "No wonder your letters seem so much more relaxed these days." She smiled at Allen and stepped in to give him another hug. "I'm very happy for you, High Consort." She winked and stepped away. "You never did laugh or smile enough."
"I was busy," Allen said stiffly, flitting a glance at his mother, who, for the barest moment ,seemed sad.
Sarrica rested a hand at the small of Allen's back and said, "Well he's the darling of his secretaries and mine. They pretty much don't talk to me unless it's an order to sign something, or they can't convince Allen to take a break and need me to intervene."
Kareen smiled faintly and cast Marren a look. "Yes, I know the feeling—that is usually the only reason anyone summons me: my wife needs a break and insists otherwise, would I please come distract her."
The barest smile flitted across Marren's face, and the stiff line of her shoulders eased as she let Kareen draw her closer. Sarrica moved the conversation then to a trade agreement Allen had been wrangling all week, and would have laughed at the way father, mother, and son fell into animated conversation over the matter.
He slipped away to refill his drink, faintly surprised to see who followed him. "Dame Eila, I can see hints of you in Allen's smiles. You do not seem as… contained… as the rest of the family, if you do not mind me saying so."
"No, not at all," she replied easily, refilling her own wine glass with the same dry wine that Allen fawned over. "My brother was overlooked growing up; we come from a very large family and our elder siblings are hard to ignore. I'm not quite as vibrant as the rest of them, but not as quiet as Kareen. He is quiet, though, and more than happy to live in what some would call the shadow of his wife, though none of us sees it that way. But being quiet makes him easy to miss, and in turn, made him even quieter and sterner. Marren is severe by nature, though always with the best of intentions. Open affection is not a trademark of my culture, and Marren shows it differently. I am happy to see Allen has opened up more here." She patted his arm. "He lights up with you around; that makes for happy seeing."
Sarrica smiled briefly. "I assure you that wasn't always the case, though I'm happy it is now, and the feeling is mutual."
She patted his arm again, and he offered it as they went to rejoin the others right as dinner was announced—
and just in time to prevent Shemal and Marren arguing over some trade law regarding the Farlands. Lesto dragged Shemal away, Tara dragged off a snickering Rene, and Sarrica returned Eila to Kareen and Marren.
He'd just offered his arm to Allen when Marren stepped forward. "If you'll pardon, I would like a private word with my son, and we'll join you shortly."
"Of course," Sarrica said. "I would never deny you a conversation with your son, Majesty." He winked. "Only delay it."
"Sarrica," Allen hissed.
Smiling, Sarrica captured his chin and tilted his head up the slightest bit more, then bent and kissed him, brief but hard. Smile widening at the flush that provoked, he offered his arm again to Eila and led the way out of the room and down the hall to his private dining room.
Though he was plenty occupied keeping conversation going, part of his mind was preoccupied with what mother and son might be saying. As the first course was cleared away and the servants started setting out the second, he was about ready to go fetch them. Just as he'd made up his mind to do precisely that, the door opened and they walked in. Both looked as though they'd been crying. Sarrica narrowed his eyes, but Allen's fingers slipped through his hair as he passed behind Sarrica's seat to take his own at Sarrica's immediate right. In a more formal setting, he'd sit on the opposite end of the table, but where possible, Sarrica preferred him close—and so did everyone else.
Ignoring the food and everyone else, Sarrica leaned in close and murmured, "Are you well?"
"Yes, very well." Allen smiled, and Sarrica stole a quick kiss before sitting up again.
He narrowed his eyes as he caught Lesto staring at him with entirely too much smugness from where he sat at Sarrica's immediate left. "What?"
"Nothing," Lesto replied.
"Then stop smirking. Everyone already knows you're an infuriating bastard, no need to belabor the point."
Allen sighed. "You two have been even more absurd than usual. Is this about—"
"Yes," Sarrica cut in. "We're not discussing it because the matter is closed."
"No, it's not, you—" Lesto retorted.
"I will still put those pearls in places they don't belong."
Shemal turned from his conversation with Rene and Tara. "No need to drag the pearls into it, pick something else to misuse."
Lesto glared. "I'll deal with you after I'm done with him."
"Enough," Allen said. "Stop acting like children in front of my parents."
Marren smiled, reminiscent of the tentative smiles Allen had displayed at first, like she was afraid at being caught at something. "I cannot say Kareen and Eila and I acted very different in our younger days. What is this argument about?"
"They don't have the excuse of 'younger days' anymore," Allen said, staring blandly when they both shot him resentful looks. "Save your squabbling for tomorrow."
"If he doesn't drop the matter, there isn't going to be a tomorrow for him," Sarrica replied, but subsided with a huff as Allen gave him a look that promised he would not be seeing tomorrow either.
Lesto looked ready to upend his wine on Sarrica's head. "You think I'm going to drop the matter? You are the one who presumed—"
"Enough!" Allen said, and they both fell silent, though that silence was immediately filled by laughter from Rene, Tara, and Shemal. "I will lock you both in a closet until you concede you're bickering over what you both knew was inevitable. Now talk about something else."
Sarrica went for his wine instead, and left Allen and Tara to turn the conversation to other matters, happy to spend his own time between glaring at Lesto or smiling at Allen.
By the time dinner finally concluded and they had escorted Allen's parents to their suite, Sarrica was ready for bed. "So what did your mother say?"
"She… she apologized," Allen said, looking puzzled. "For things she did, or did not do, while I was growing up. I didn't need an apology, but…" He shrugged, looked down at the floor. "It was nice to hear some of the things she said, clear up misunderstandings I did not even know were there. I suppose I must blame you and your overbearing ways for that."
Sarrica scoffed. "I think she came to see you because she cares, and it would have come about one way or another."
Allen cast him a look. "Well, you no doubt hastened the matter. So why is Lesto so irate with you? Surely he can't be surprised by what you did."
"Lesto is stupid," Sarrica replied. "And a hypocrite and mad he could do nothing to stop me. Like he wouldn't have done the same damned thing in my position. Honestly, what else did he expect me to do with Nyle's private holdings?"
Allen laughed, rested his head against Sarrica's arm. "Give them to Nyle's children, I imagine."
"Nyle's children have more money than they'll ever know what to do with," Sarrica said gruffly. "Nyle's personal wealth should return to Fathoms Deep blood, and since Lesto is a stubborn ass, to Nyle's nephews it goes, and Lesto can kiss my ass."
Shaking his head and laughing some more, Allen replied, "How long is this squabbling going to last?"
"Another day or two. It's not like he can do anything about it. Everything is quite legal and the matter closed. Now enough about me and Lesto," Sarrica said as they stepped into their chambers and he closed the door.
Allen gave him a bland look even as he began to work on the fastenings of his gold and purple dinner jacket. "Did you want to discuss how we're going to entertain my parents during their stay?"
"Not even close," Sarrica replied as he swept Allen into his arms and carried him into the bedroom.