This story takes place a couple years after the end of Pirate, for reference. I am four chapters from being done with it, and am so far pretty pleased with it, even with the list of revisions I'm already building ^^
Jader was briefly in High King, he's a little bit more in Pirate, and Kamir is introduced in Pirate. So this will probably be of more interest in July, but I'm impatient and wanted to post something, and this is the only thing I've been working on lately.
Pardon errors, etc., this is the rough draft.
"Papa!" Chiri cried out, throwing her hands up in the air.
Though he still felt like crying, Kamir was helpless against smiling to be greeted so warmly. Rare was the morning his daughter didn't cheer at his arrival, and he dreaded the day she grew too old to be happy her father had entered the room.
Reaching the breakfast table, he kissed the top of her head, ruffled Chara's hair, and took his seat. Velina bustled over and set down a plate heaped with food and the teapot. "Good morning, my lord."
"Good morning, Velina. Thank you. I hope the visit to your sister goes well, I appreciate you lingering long enough to watch over the children until I arrived."
"Always a pleasure, my lord. I'll be back late tonight, I hope your day goes well."
"Thank you." She bustled out the door, and Kamir poured himself a cup of fragrant jasmine tea, sipping it leisurely for a few minutes before he felt awake enough to start on his breakfast. Velina always gave him too much, insisting he needed more meat on his bones, but Kamir seldom ate much. The only exception had been when he was pregnant.
He picked away at the spiced potatoes for a few minutes, smiling and murmuring dutifully as Chiri talked so quickly she tripped over her words, then switched to the flatbread and chutney.
By the time he'd finished a second cup of tea and half his plate, Chiri was winding down and actually eating her food, and Chara was waking up properly. Poor boy had inherited his father's inability to function for the first couple of hours after waking, where Chiri had inherited Kamir's ability to be wide-awake and ready to go practically immediately upon waking. In so many ways it was obvious they were twins, but in so many others…
Well, he hoped his children got along better than their parents ever had. Pushing away the unhappy thoughts of his ex that wanted to come out and further spoil his day, he glanced across the table at the clock on the bar against the wall. "Your tutor is going to be here soon, children. Run along and get dressed. Give me a kiss first." They kissed his cheeks, Chiri hugging him as well, and dashed across the room to get dressed.
The bickering over who got to wear what started mere seconds later, but Kamir ignored it. Far easier to let them work it out themselves than get in the middle of it.
Ten minutes later, just as he was finishing his third cup of tea and forcing down a last few bites of food, the door opened and Bremm, the tutor, stepped inside. He bowed to Kamir. "Good morning, my lord."
"Good morning, Master Bremm. Would you care for breakfast? Tea?"
"No, but thank you, my lord. Anything particular on the schedule today?"
Kamir set down his teacup, wiped his mouth and folded the napkin on the table, and stood. "No, I leave them wholly in your capable hands. I will not be back until tonight, however. If you need to leave sooner than the closing bell, have Amaria summoned to tend them until I return."
"Of course. I hope you have a good day."
"Thank you. I hope the children behave. Do not hesitate to send for me if they prove unmanageable."
Bremm laughed. "I can say with complete sincerity, my lord, that yours are the most pleasant children under my care."
"I am flattered." Before he could say more, Chiri and Chara came charging out, and he only barely got farewell hugs from them between all their demands on what to do with their lessons for that day.
Once they were settled in the schoolroom—really meant to be an office or sitting room, but Kamir already had his workshop and didn't need an extra sitting room—he went into his bedroom to dress properly for the day.
The note from his parents that had arrived right before he'd gone to bed still lay on his writing desk, smudged in spots from tears, wrinkled from when he'd gotten angry and crumpled it. He'd read at least a hundred other letters just like it, diatribes about being a failure, letting the family down, how much it hurt them all to see what he'd done to himself and them with his choices and behavior, and if he'd only do what they say everything would be so much better for all of them, didn't he care about anyone but himself?
Sometimes he wanted to ask them if they appreciated the way they always reprimanded him for his selfishness and insist he think about them, them, them. But the pleasure in asking that question was not worth the pain that would result.
Turning away from his writing desk, he stepped into his dressing room and picked through his wardrobe for what to wear that day.
He caught his reflection in the mirror and paused to admire his dyed hair, which was his only indulgence. Otherwise, he preferred to spend as little of his monthly allotment as possible, using what he must for the children and necessities but otherwise carefully and quietly funneling the rest away for the day he knew was coming. The day he'd always known would come from the moment he'd defied his family to marry his true love.
And oh, how his family would never let him forget he'd been wrong about that, and they'd been right. Like he was the first young fool to think love existed where it didn't, the first young fool to be manipulated and lied to and used.
If only his family had been as eager to help him out of his mess as they'd been to tell him told you so. But it didn't matter, he'd gotten out of it—scared, alone, tending two young children with no help, but he'd done it. Then he'd defied his parents further by coming to live with them at court.
They'd been quick to agree to letting have his own suite, well away from them, on the guise of giving him and the children their own space. It was about the only good thing they'd ever done, though he tried to remember they had raised him, and gave him sufficient funds every month…
But they did all of that to save face. He was embarrassment enough as it was.
Although even that was not going to save him much longer. Not with his latest failure on top of all the others: embarrassing first marriage, even more embarrassing divorce, but that divorce not done before he'd had two children. And now the Duke of Fathoms Deep was marrying a godforsaken pirate, a nobody, his parents wailed incessantly. If he'd wanted to be eccentric and marry a nobody, Kamir had been there the whole time, and thrown into his path at every opportunity.
Nevermind Lord Lesto had shown rare decency in speaking with Kamir politely and at length and they'd both agreed they were ill-suited. But his parents hadn't wanted to hear that. All they saw was their eldest flourish as the heir, their middle child was a force to be reckoned with as Captain of Shadow Bell…and their youngest had two children and a divorce to his name, rendering him unappealing as a marriage prospect to most and therefore useless.
He could only be more of an embarrassment if he stripped off his clothes and ran through the palace naked until he passed out or was taken into custody.
Removing his dressing robe, he finally settled on black breeches, black shoes with gold flowers and heels, and a long jacket slit twice, front and back, straight up to his hips, with a translucent gold underjacket embroidered with violet flowers.
It went stunningly with his hair, which he'd died two days ago to be a rich, dark violet. Hopelessly vain and ridiculous though it might be, it was the one silly little pleasure he granted himself. He hated his hair, the dull, mousy brown of it. Why settle for that when he could have blue, green, purple, or one of a hundred other colors? One day, he wanted to do many colors all at once, turn his hair into a rainbow.
But the cost of that, all the extra dye and time required, was well beyond the tiny budget he gave himself for the silly pleasure.
And after this, he would have to return to his mousy brown, because his parents had finally decided they were probably better off without him. He'd expected the long tirade about how he was a failure. He had not expected the ultimatum, though only because he'd always thought they'd issue it in person for full dramatic effect: marry somebody who would do the family proud before the year was out, or he would be disowned. If he could not make himself useful, and contribute properly to the family as he should, then he would cease to be their burden.
He'd be angry, but one, he'd been waiting for them to throw him out for a long time. Two, anger was exhausting, and he had too much to do to expend himself on futile anger.
The first order of business would be a place to live. It would need to be quiet, safe, where he could trust the children would be well even if they were out of his sight. Definitely someplace outside of Harkenesten, as there was no way he could afford to live there with the limited funds he would have. But it would still have to be close enough he could go into the city easily to drop off his work and pick up new work.
After he found a house, there would be making it habitable, hiring staff, a new tutor, possibly a nanny as he was going to have to work more to keep them in funds…
Tears threatened as the list of what he needed to do overwhelmed him, but Kamir drove them back. He had gotten this far more or less alone, he would continue on the same just fine. And he did that by taking it one step at a time.
The first step was the house itself. The end of the year was ten months away, that was more than enough time to start setting up a new life. If he focused on it instead of panicking and crying.
He threaded through the palace, carefully weaving through and around various groups and clusters of people, nodding and smiling politely whenever he accidentally caught someone's eye, trying not to be hurt that so many of them looked hastily away, only a few returning the nod first.
Most days, it didn't bother him. He was the eccentric, the Tesly embarrassment, the fool who'd married young and was now 'stuck' with two children. Everyone else might think him a waste and disappoint, but whatever his mistakes, and despite his damnable family, his life was a good one.
But sometime he wondered how different his life might be now if he hadn't defied his family to marry Theorin, if he hadn't thrown so much away to marry a man who'd been nothing but a bundle of lies in a pretty, charming package.
What bothered him most, though, was that everyone thought he didn't deserve to have that life now. The High King could marry, have kids, have his marriage fall apart, and end up in a happy second marriage with no one thinking that strange. With everyone thinking, in fact, that he deserved to remarry and be happy. And he certainly did—so why couldn't Kamir have the same?
Instead he was consigned to a life of loneliness. He did not even have friends, outside of Velina, and it was hard to think of her as a friend when he paid her wages and therefore had power over her, no matter how casual and easy their relationship. Bremm was certainly not, for all they had a congenial relationship.
Perhaps once his new life was in place, and he was well away from his poisonous family, he could try again at making friends. And maybe, just maybe, a lover, even someone he loved enough to marry.
That thought, of course, sent his mind straight to his favorite fantasy, because if he was going to dream foolishly he may as well be the biggest fool: Jader Star, High Commander of the Imperial Army, the first lowborn to ever hold that post. Before, it had always been filled by nobility, and most often an Arseni.
But the High King and Lord Lesto were nothing if not unconventional, and High Consort Allen and Lord Shemal were proving to fit in quite well, as far as Kamir could tell. He wasn't exactly part of that inner circle. He was fairly certainly they didn't know he existed, save Lord Lesto, and why should they? Tesly was a wealthy and moderately powerful title, but his father was still only a viscount, and the Norring family had only held the title for a few generations. Even if his family was worthy of such notice, Kamir himself was not.
And soon he would live apart, all on his own, just him and his children. Hopefully it would finally be far enough away from his mistakes that he could find somebody who would see him, and not his foolish history.
The first step was the house. Thankfully Master Shiar had been willing to meet with him that morning, and had a few prospects. Kamir just hoped he had sufficient funds to afford something at least moderately respectable.
He also hoped he found something quickly, because the longer it took the more likely his family was to notice.
Finished dressing, he packed away the few bits of work he had finished into a brown leather satchel, along with everything else he might possibly need for a long day in the city. He ducked into the schoolroom briefly, smiled fondly at his children, so intent on their lessons they didn't hear him. He waved farewell to Bremm and headed out.
The quickest route from his suite to the compass hall was by way of the backstairs and through the tax halls, then through the more public areas straight on to the front of the palace.
But when he had the time, he preferred to wend through the private residence gardens and the back of the aviary. He didn't necessarily have the time right then, but he could use the pretty, cheering walk, and a few minutes of listening to birdsong.
Humming, he threaded his way through the palace, smiling as he reached the gardens. He lingered in his favorite, filled with honeysuckle, daises, and more wildflowers than he could count, framing a fountain displaying a mermaid combing their hair. It wasn't as refined and elegant as the other gardens—most preferred the roses and orchids—but it was beautiful all on its own.
He bent and retrieved a broken off trio of yellow flowers, lifting them to his nose before reaching up to tuck the bundle into the braid he'd draped and pinned across the top of his head. The end of it tucked into the knot he'd wrapped the rest of his hair into, and though he couldn't see to be sure, he rather thought the flowers made a nice, final touch.
Smiling, he continued on, resuming his humming until he reached the end of the blue hall—and froze as he heard voices, one of them achingly familiar. Kamir swallowed, stepped carefully up to the corner, and peered around it.
High Commander Jader Star, beautiful and commanding in his uniform, even the leather armor that most soldier eschewed while in the palace. He wore a sword at each hip, and his ink-black hair was cut so close to his head there wasn't even enough to grab.
Jader was beautiful no matter he wore—or didn't wear, as Kamir had been fortunate to see on one occasion. But he'd loved best the day he'd seen Jader dressed like the Islander he was—loose, knee-length pants, a loose shirt opened to halfway down his chest, a colorful sash wrapped around his hips, bare feet save for the jeweled gold anklets, and all sorts of piercings in his ears, including the large, intricate, jewel-laden dangling earrings so unique to Islanders. They'd jingled like delicate bells every time he'd moved his head.
He'd been sitting with other Islands, some holiday Kamir had never figured out. It had clearly been a private matter, and he'd been careful to slip away before he'd interrupted, but that image was engraved in his mind. Normally Jader always dressed and behaved like he was Harken-born, which made sense, but Kamir always wondered if he missed being able to be himself more.
Kamir drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. He could do this. He passed people in the halls all the time, this was no different. No doubt they'd completely ignore him, anyway. He reached up to touch the flowers in his hair, whispered a prayer for luck, and headed down the hall, keeping his hands loosely as his sides no matter how badly he wanted to cling to his satchel strap for comfort.
One of the palace guards, a short, stocky man with pale hair and eyes, noticed him first. Kamir smiled. "Merry morning." His heart sped up again as Jader turned, and it was more gratifying than Kamir would ever admit that recognition filled his face. His smile widened as he met Jader's soft, pretty brown eyes. "Merry—"
"Where did you get those flowers?" the pale-haired guard demanded.
"What?" Kamir stopped, eye snapping back to the guard.
"Those flowers in your hair are from the wild flower garden," said the second guard. "You're not allowed to pick them."
Kamir flushed. "I-I didn't. They were lying on the ground, the wind and passerby are always knocking some of the bunches loose."
"So everyone who steals them says."
"You have no proof he picked them," Jader said calmly. "Aren't you being unduly harsh?"
"The gardeners file complaints frequently about flowers being stolen, to the point of damaging the gardens and causing them hours of extra work. Permanent residents have been warned not to take them for any reason, and those caught doing so will have to pay a fine—by order of the Office of the High King."
Kamir's face burned. "They were lying on the ground, I've picked them up before. I didn't realize the rules against that had changed."
Jader frowned. "Is this really necessary?"
"Rules are rules, Commander." The pale-haired guard pulled a bundle of small slips of paper from a pouch at his hip, wrote on it, and held it out. He extended his other hand palm up, and after a beat Kamir realized what he was waiting on.
He took the slip of paper and pulled the flowers from his hair. Setting them in the man's palm, he choked out a farewell and walked off down the hall. Damn it, he was not going to cry. So what if he'd just been completely and utterly humiliated in front of the man of his dreams?
Stupid guards, Kamir had seen their type before: they loved to be heavy handed when it came to enforcing every last little rule in the palace where nobility was concerned—unless, of course, it was a noble who merited preferential treatment. That was why the gardens were damaged, because the guards looked the other way too often for the people handing them money to do so.
Reaching the compass hall, he finally looked at the reprimand: two sterling fine for vandalizing an imperial garden. Damn it. Two sterlings wasn't much, but it was still money he sorely needed, and for a spray of wildflowers nobody would have missed. They'd just been a couple of smarmy guards showing off in front of the High Commander.
At least Jader had tried to defend him, even if he couldn't really side against fellow soldiers—not that soft palace guards handing out ticket for stolen flowers were anything like the soldiers who broke and bled and died.
And now he was just being petty and unfair. Kamir took a deep breath and let it out slowly, did it again and again until he finally felt calmer. There was too much to do. He didn't have time for anger or tears. He'd come up with the money. And probably never forget a single second of being reprimanded like a child in front of Jader, but there was no help for that.
What did it really matter, anyway? Jader would forget the whole matter in a couple of hours and have memory of it by the end of the month. Kamir could wish and daydream all he liked, but a single passing encounter in a hallway would never have come to anything.