This week’s work-in-progress Wednesday comes from Trader Prince of Aleshtain. Rhubhian is left alone with Albhia, the Crown Princess of Argos, who is visiting the Aleshtainan court as a potential bride for Crown Prince Eras. And as the tension ramps up, Rhubhian is forced to defend herself.

~~~

RHUBHIAN fiddled with the red silk scarves that wrapped her waist and tried not to look at Albhia. The other girl was gorgeous. Eras had done her an injustice in his description. But the others had given her too much credit in theirs. She was beautiful, but she didn’t strike Rhubhian as particularly kind. 

They were of equal rank, though the witch didn’t know it, and even were they not, she had no right to treat another human being like that. But truth be told, Rhubhian was more hurt by her behavior than anything. The other girl’s dismissal of her and clear disdain made her feel like she was a bug underfoot. As if she wasn’t worthy of Eras’s attention or time.

“So, you’re the wench he’s been messing around with.”

“Excuse me?” Rhubhian lifted her gaze to find Albhia eyeing her critically.

“Well, you’re pretty enough in a foreign sort of way.” She smiled sweetly. “I can see why he’s infatuated. But let me lay it out for you clearly. His old man adores me. He can’t marry a slave first, and he certainly can’t sire the next heir with one. So, if you behave yourself and stay out of my way, I might allow you to have him second. I might be nice enough to share.”

Heat rose in Rhubhian’s cheeks, and she clenched her fists in her lap. “I think my master has made himself clear on where he stands, Princess. I may be no one, but at least he can stand me.”

Albhia’s fair skin reddened, and she shoved herself back from the table with a sneer. “How dare you talk to me that way?”

“I’m only stating the obvious. The Crown Prince doesn’t want you.”

“If you think warming his bed somehow makes you above me, you’re wrong. You’ll never have him if you keep this up.”

Rhubhian snorted and lifted her chin. “I don’t want him.” Liar. “And if I did, I’d be able to have him. Can you say the same? Does he want you?”

“Whether you want him or not doesn’t matter, you ill-mannered wretch.” Albhia’s voice rose. “He’s clearly been bedding you. otherwise, you wouldn’t be acting superior.”

Rhubhian lowered her voice, glancing toward the kitchens. She didn’t want to get them in trouble with this argument, but she also wasn’t going to stand for this mistreatment either. “He has been doing no such thing. I don’t need to whore myself out in order to curry his favor.”

“You… You…” Albhia’s fists clenched, and she looked like she might throw herself over the table at any moment.

Fortunately, the door opened and Eras entered. He took one look at both their faces before striding to his seat and settling down. “Is something the matter, Albhia?”

She sat back down in her seat with a delicate cough. “The roast is a bit spicy for me, and I was startled by it.” 

Eras cast her a glance and she looked away. Her eyes teared up for some reason, and she tried to hold the tears at bay. Why was it that Albhia’s comments stung so much? And why was it that around Eras, those negative emotions always seemed to come out freely?

He didn’t comment on her sudden refusal to face him, and they finished the meal in silence. As soon as he was finished, he eyed her plate. “Are you going to play with that or eat it?”

She bit her lip, still on the verge of crying but trying to hold it in until she had privacy to cry. “I’m not hungry, sir.”

He sighed and pushed away from the table. “Very well. You look like you’re ready to drop. Let’s get you to bed. Are you feeling unwell?”

She shook her head, her throat constricting until she couldn’t even force sound out to form words. He pulled her chair back from the table and wrapped an arm around her shoulders as she stood. She shrugged him off, his touch bringing her even closer to the brink of an emotional breakdown. Besides, Albhia was right. She was just a slave. She didn’t deserve the kind concern and gentle caring he’d shown her the last two weeks since he’d bought her. 

He frowned at her display, and she knew he was annoyed by the disrespect. But she didn’t want to embarrass him in front of Albhia even more by bursting into tears. So she held her back erect and hurried to the door. Eras let her go, but stopped her as he reached out to open the door for her. “We’re going to have a talk about whatever that was back there once we’re in my room.”

She stayed quiet but offered him a faint nod of acknowledgement. If he wanted to punish her or yell, she would bear his anger meekly. After all, she was his slave. She didn’t have rights, no matter how much he claimed otherwise. And he was probably going to marry Albhia, despite her refusal to admit that aloud. She might have been defiant in the face of the princess’s caustic behavior, but now she felt small. So very, very small.

So when Eras took her arm this time, she didn’t wrench away or protest. She just lowered her head to hide the tears that she couldn’t quite contain.

~~~

That’s it for this week, everyone! What are you all working on? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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