The royal mistress was lovely to gaze upon; it was grudgingly admitted by her previous friends. Though they were bitter, they did recognize beauty, as it was prized above all else in their lives. So the mistress, with her raven hair and those lovely blue eyes, was a stunner, and adding in the sparkling white skin -- the kind that the fairies used to capture the heart and soul of any creature they desired -- it was told she wasn't easily missed. Her hair fell in lightly curled waves down her back to her tiny waist. The pooling blue eyes were framed with long, dark and absurdly black lashes that took the common menfolk and womenfolk's breath away, beguiling those of royal blood and more. The face was flawless with lush lips that were naturally pink and full -- she decidedly had all her competition beat, her amazing beauty fitting the job of a royal mistress. That much was obvious to even the dullest of the kingdom's peasants.
Sadly, it was heavily rumored that her heart was not pure. Possibly these were lies told by the embittered losers in the king's former harem; it was wondered about by those who watched the royals, but it wasn't easily proven, so they wisely kept that notion to themselves as best they could. The king was very fond of his current playmate -- at least for now. All knew the tide could turn quickly and she would be reduced in importance any year -- after all, she most certainly was not the first to hold such a prominent position, and certainly would not be the last. For that reason the harem wasn't necessarily the king's to command, but they stayed in the court and were allowed some comforts; at times some of the ladies would leave and new younger women would replace the older mistresses-in-waiting.
The tide could change. Well, unless the current king's consort gave birth to another royal child. Such mistresses were assured of a luxurious life until their eventual death. Mistresses of old lived quite well once a child was born. Naturally the mistress' duties changed from that of servicing the king to raising the royal child. Such mistresses of prior reigns found that once the child was proclaimed to the kingdom, they would then receive a complete household. Along with a place to live within the court, there would be staff members to assist her in maintaining the child's wellness and strength of character befitting a royal. The mistress was named as the official consort and keeper of the blessed royal family. The bastards of the reigning king were just as important to the kingdom as were the ones born from the queen's loins. At times it had been kept secret, but as the lands flourished, it was then that the king's mistress could gain real property in the countryside -- such treasures were uncommon and often prized even more than the title. The royals had such trouble conceiving that the children of the consorts were absorbed into the recognized lineage for the king as long as his line was ruling.
The king had told his mistress that she must conceive and birth him a child before the naming day arrived for the queen's child. In his heart he knew that child could not truly be of his lineage, but didn't want to upset the land with such a declaration, as the queen was favored over the mistress. His child of the mistress must be declared thus to keep the king strong. The mistress knew that the naming day was a scant year away. The mistress smiled sweetly upon the royal declaration from her sworn king without admitting her fears. There were many words softly spoken around the firesides that the king's line was stopping with him. The queen's child was growing rapidly and looked less and less like the monarch and more like one of the royal gardener's offspring.
The groundskeeper in question had many of his children born from various wombs of the household staff, and even a few of the prettier workers from the village. He was a talented creature who certainly knew his way around the growing of things. He brought seeds to life in the soil along with many women. He was a chiseled, hardworking, strong full-blooded troll who loved the land and it was said in whispers also the queen. Everything he touched flourished and became strong and unbending in the royal garden and out. These were the very features the king desired in his offspring but up until the queen's child had been born that very quality that had gone missing from the royals prior to the current ones reigning. The kingdom knew of the king's desire for another child. They hadn't known that he'd given his royal mistress an ultimatum.
As the weeks passed and the mistress' waist stayed impossibly small, she feared quite naturally for her very life. As she stared into the mirror that the king had gifted her, she wondered what she was to do. The mistress had a name before she had taken the king's fancy. Naturally that had been cast off and lost to time as the king had renamed her. She was to be called Iris. And Iris she was to all that served her for the king's pleasure. She had no knowledge of where the king came upon that name. As she didn't read, finally she went to a mystic and asked what the name meant.
"Iris is wisdom and valor, faith, promise in love with hope. Yet if you do not head the passion with the flame it is said that all will become lost." The mystic went on to say a child would come when it should. The king's wishes were known so Iris did not hold that to be much of a foretelling but a stab in the dark. All in all, what had been said to her did not make anything clearer to the royal mistress, but she paid with coin to keep the mystic silent about her visit.
Fear preyed upon Iris, so later that night she sent out one of the hunters to sever the woman's tongue so no word of what she'd told Iris would spread. The hunter cut out the tongue, but did not leave it at that. Instead the man abused the woman and planted in her a child. The child grew in the womb hearing the mother with her tormented cries in her heart. She told and foretold much to the child in the silence through the shared blood in her womb. Iris wrote her own future with the betrayal of the mystic, as the hunter had planted more than just a child but a darkness that would echo in time.
The days blurred into weeks. Finally resolved that she must take action, Iris told the king that she had to go give thanks for his devotion in a land just along the borders of the badlands from where she'd been conceived. It was explained that such thanks would assure a strong and healthy royal to be born in the desired time frame.
The king sought the wisdom from his council and they agreed, and sent with her a group of men and women to keep her safe. The king unknowingly allowed the council to choose the party. The fertile gardener had deflowered a favorite staff from the household, and was put quickly into the party before the mistake grew in the maid's belly.
Iris was gone on the journey for little more than a month, and the gardener took the time to plant his seed without being revealed to the other travelers who were there to safeguard the king's consort. Once the party was back in the middle of the kingdom having finished Iris' made-up quest to visit the border and give thanks, it came to be that the gardener was found dead. It seemed he had sipped from a flask that had been filled with poison ... that Iris had intended to drink herself if she wasn't pregnant with in another few weeks. His death saddened her, but not enough for her to admit to her part in the man's demise. She had her hair fixed with flowers and upon arriving at the house she'd been given by the king, she hopped on him with a passion the king had not seen in some time. She proclaimed the blessings from her homeland assured her of her fertility.
For that was true. She'd been blessed and was fertile; but the seed that was planted and growing inside Iris was that of the gardener. The following month her waist was thicker and she was gravely ill. The king took that to be a fortunate turn of events. His queen had also been sickly when carrying the as-of-yet unnamed child. Slightly shy of the usual nine months Iris gave birth to a boy. So it became that the king had two strong sons both born and pronounced to kingdom -- that were not his. He had no suspicion of Iris' betrayal as she'd been accompanied by so many and so closely guarded.
Thus the two princes, born within a few years of each other, were half-brothers and of strong and willful natures. The queen knew nothing of the father of the second boy, but noted they seemed in appearance to be of the same cloth. The king wondered if he was mistaken, and that the queen's son was in fact his also. A torment to him at times, but not enough for him to examine any closer.
Iris was given her household and staff. She lost her appealing looks rapidly as if the boy was suckling more than milk from her breasts. That he was. His dark soul was sucking her very life and beauty.
The half-brothers were often found playing together, as if they were drawn to the other like metal to a magnet. Unbeknownst to the king and queen, there was another child equally drawn to the brothers. The hunter's and the mystic's bastard had grown between the boys in age, but her soul was tainted and angered by her mother's womb and the poison of her breast milk. She would sit in the shadows and scowl her absolute hatred at the boys. They never noticed the flat stare, but often felt a chill as the girl sorted out spells and incantations she'd been teaching herself. The hunter wasn't around to see the child grow up, since he'd been slaughtered by a rogue beast that had been terrorizing the forest near the village. Iris had requested from the king that the hunter be sent out to defend the village -- well aware that it was certain death. Her visit to the mystic was thus hidden even deeper, and it must be noted that the mystic didn't care because she had her own plans and betrayals to work. The plot between the three children thickened in the night as they all grew.
The kingdom's climates had a growing number of the weather oddities, which were not remarked upon any longer as time passed; it became accepted and continued to be seen as not remarkable but instead quite normal. The king went back to the battlefields and Iris grew heavier and the queen lonelier.
The boys never thought of each other as in competition, but instead they were companions with different natures. Iris' child was conceived in deceit and fear, while the queen's boy was born of forbidden desire and lighthearted rolling between the sheets. The queen's lover had been fun and tickled the queen's humor with his gentle romantic soul. The gardener had planted more than a prince in the queen -- a yearning for his gentle touch which she was denied after his death. Iris was no longer in the king's bed, but she didn't care as she was being spoiled and pampered.
But all was not as it seemed. Beneath the daily activities around the court and kingdom there was a growing issue that had yet to be discovered. It wasn't the children who'd started all the changes, but naturally their surviving parents. The naming day was quickly approaching and this was to become the breaking point.