The Shape of Power

Warning: Sexual situations

I slid my naked body against his. He shifted my hips over his groin, his erection growing and ready for more.

“You know,” I said, rocking my hips a tiny amount, “If you educate me, I can take care of the other women.”

His hands rested on my hips and held me still. “Educate?” he said.

“I can read, and if you let me read the books in your library…”

“You can read? Do the others read?”

“Not that I know of.”

“If you take care of the other women, what will Mrs. Mersham do?”

“Retire comfortably with her husband.”

“Oh will she? You don’t think she’d have something to say?”

“Mrs. Mersham always has something to say.”

“I suppose she does,” he said. “Why do you want her power?”

I was surprised he grasped the intricacies of the harem so quickly. “I like being with you. In between is… well I can run or I can rule.”

“And you’ve decided it’s better to rule.”

“Of course.”

“That’s a naked truth to tell your king.” He smiled.

He liked making jokes like that and I smiled back. “Are you afraid I’ll take your throne?” I said.

He laughed and said, “Even with education, you couldn’t. You can have Mrs. Mersham’s job, access to my library, and a tutor.”

“Because you’re not worried about me?”

“I am not. Now put that mouth to use,” he said and pushed my head toward his crotch.

Once the king was satisfied, I left the bed to return to the harem.

“You may stay, but I do have meeting with the ruler of Hopingwell.”

I wasn’t sure why I was allowed to stay. My king was brilliant and he did everything for a reason. What could his reason be to keep me here for his meeting?

I put on my robe. I watched him bathe and dress. His lean, muscled body was hidden beneath tight breeches and a tailored shirt and coat, with his dark hair combed and styled. He looked kingly. It was a new sight for me.

There was a knock at the door and the king said, “Come.”

A guard entered and announced, “Her Royal Highness, Queen Over the Mountain, Ruler of Hopingwell, Phyllis the Indominatable.”

Queen Phyllis entered and bowed at the same time that the king bowed. She wore trousers, and I put my hand on my heart to keep it leaping out of my chest.

“Most rulers don’t hold official meeting in their bed chambers,” she said.

“It’s nice to meet you too,” the king said.

She pointed her chin at me and said, “Mistresses are not allowed at my state meetings.”

“Oh, beg pardon,” I said. “I’m not a mistress, I’m a concubine.”

Her eyes went wide and her face turned red. “So, you are a barbarian,” she said to my king. “I thought the stories were made up to disgrace you.”

“This is why I prefer working with another country’s diplomats. They are polite. And dress appropriately.”

Queen Phyllis’s lips pressed together in a thin line and the line curved. If her eyes weren’t so cold, I’d call that line a smile.

“Well,” she said, “this is how the rest of the world dresses, not just Hopingwell. Now that you’ve conquered all your little chieftains, you’ll have to deal with the rest of the world.”

The king waved to me and I stepped forward. He took my hand and pulled me in front of Queen Phyllis.

“Do you care for your women like this? She is healthy and well fed. She wears the most beautiful gowns and never has a fear. How many of your women can claim this?”

“All of them.”

“Ah, but are they educated. She can read.”

“Oh can she now? What’s her name?”

He looked at me.

“Lola,” I said.

“I don’t think we’re going to be negotiating,” Queen Phyllis said. “I’ll leave in the morning.” Queen Phyllis left.

How could she treat my king like that?

“I am no barbarian,” my king said thoughtfully. “But clearly she thinks I am. How do I change that?”

“I suppose not knowing my name set her off.”

His eyebrows shot up. “You certainly don’t keep things to yourself.”

“My tongue does get away sometimes. I’ll return now.”

“How would you, my little plotter, have met with her?”

“I’m not a king. I wouldn’t know what kings should do. As overseer of the harem, I would have invited her for a drink and dessert. I would have spoken about… trade agreements?”

“Yes, trade agreements would do.”

“Then I think a walk in the garden and an invitation for later in the day for another discussion.”

“Perhaps you should talk to her.”

“Great mountains, no! Trade agreements…”

“Yes, I like this idea. You’ll have her over for an afternoon snack, in your chambers with shelves of books.”

“But I don’t…”

“You will have it all. And you will convince her I am not a barbarian so that she will stay for negotiations.”

“As you command.” I was clever, clever enough to get Mersham’s position. But head to head with a queen?

“Just be as forthright as you are with me. Your honesty will win her over.”

Honesty? None of what I did was honest. I used my body to get what I wanted from him. I liked doing it, but it was still a lie. I lied to Mersham about everything, I lied to the other women about what he liked so I would be the favorite. I had left honesty behind a long time ago.

I was good at seeing what people wanted to hear. My king had wanted to know not just how to win her over, but why she had left. I gave him the answer. The only person I did it for was him. He wanted this alliance, so I would give Queen Phyllis answers.

The next day Queen Phyllis and I were settled comfortably in my quarters for a cozy dessert after the noon meal. My king had convinced her to meet with me before leaving.

She took a bite of a cookie and looked at me. “This is absolutely divine!”

I smiled and refrained from clapping my hands. “Thank you. I wanted to speak with you before you left.”

“This,” she said waving her hand around my quarters, “wasn’t yours yesterday.”

“That is correct. Today I started my new position and have new quarters.”

Her eyes widened. “The shelves of books are for me to see how educated you are. But you haven’t read any of these.”

“All of the books I have read are here.”

“All three of them?” she said.

“Why do you insult me? About half I haven’t read.”

“I know this is a show for me.”

“Partly. I really did get a new position.”

“On top instead of underneath?” she said.

“Why am I so despicable?”

“You truly don’t understand?”

“I am caretaker of the concubines. I beat out, or sometimes just beat, other women. I outsmarted my opponents and tricked my keeper into giving me her job. All while learning to read and write on my own. How much of that have you done?”

“Did you choose this?”

“No. My parents sold me.”

“That’s terrible!”

“They did me a favor. I had four sisters and one brother. One sister married and was beaten to death by her husband. She was fourteen. One sister was caught in an alley and raped and killed at age sixteen. The other two died from disease. They only made it to eleven and twelve. My parents are dead, I’m not sure how. My brother lives, but is a half-starved beggar.”

“You are a survivor.”


“And honest.”

“I am frank. You are wondering why you should negotiate with me. You are not. I am here to answer your other question. Will an alliance with my king be worth what you must give?”

“You are very certain about what others are thinking.”

“It’s kept me alive this long. As long as I trust it, I’ll stay alive.”

“Is it worth it?”

“Yes. He is brilliant and brave. Maybe by your standards he is a barbarian. By our standards, you’re a cold-hearted bitch.”

“Insulting me isn’t the way to an alliance.”

“Either is lying,” I said. “You see each other differently. You should still be able to make an alliance.”

“Yes, as long as the barbarian behind it is trustworthy.”

“He’ll honor any agreement he makes.”

“I should trust his concubine’s opinion?”

“No. You should stay and discuss the terms and decide for yourself.”

“There is no flaw in that logic.”

“Then you’ll stay?”

“I’ll stay.”

I leaned back in my chair. I had done it. And now I had a wedge to pry myself out of the harem and into something even better. Queen Phyllis was only the first of many rulers my king must deal with. Half of them were women. He would handle them the same way he had Queen Phyllis and he would need me to fix it.

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