To my loving sister Yerenica,
Winter has passed, and the first flowers of spring have bloomed in the castle garden. As I walk through the garden every morning, all my thoughts are about you and how you are doing. Do you still spend your days reading those nonsensical romance novels in the library? I hope not. After all, you turned twenty-three a fortnight ago. It is time you take the first step into the real world. I heard the queen will be throwing a ball in a few weeks. Why don't you make your social debut then? Surely, what better stage can you ask for? I hope you meet the man of your dreams there. I would love to see you happy with your lover. I miss you so dearly, my beloved little sister, and I pray to God that one day we will be able to meet each other again. Do not worry though, I am living a happy and blissful life here in the palace. His Highness is kind and loving to me as always, and I am treated like a queen despite being a mere concubine. My only complaint is that I never get to see you, but worry not, I have your beautiful face carved into memory, and nothing can erase it. I love you more than words can describe. Give regards to father for me.
Yerenica read the letter in her hands over and over until she had all but engrained every curve of every letter into her brain. These precious letters arrived once a month, personally delivered to the Achernar mansion by staff from the royal palace. It was the only form of communication, the only link she had to her older sister, Minerva Achernar.
Her fingertips skimmed lightly over the ink, stroking the expensive parchment. Minerva's handwriting was as delicate as always. Bringing it up to her lips, she kissed the letter softly and placed it on the table in front of her. Next to the letter lay the pile of documents she had been going through since dusk.
Minerva had only been half-right in her guess. While the thought of spending and entire day curled up in the family library and lost in a fantasy world of romance sounded welcoming, it was a pleasure Yerenica had long stopped allowing herself from indulging in.
Ever since their father Count Achernar had fallen sick two years ago, the responsibility of running the family-owned business had been passed on to Yerenica. She was the only Achernar remaining - her mother having passed away after giving birth to her, and her sister being confined to the palace for life - so she had taken the burdensome duties that had fallen on her shoulders with determination.
Contrary to what Minerva assumed, Yerenica had made her social debut shortly after she learned how to manage the family business. Following the head butler Kirin's advice, she had thrown a small-scale tea party and invited a select few countesses who were well-known for being notorious and judgmental. These were the noblewomen who decided whether or not a lady was truly worthy of her name.
At first, Yerenica had been nervous. The Achernar family did not have a very favorable reputation ever since Minerva Achernar, the oldest of the two, became the king's concubine. If Yerenica's tea party failed to go as planned, she would be adding more salt to the wound. Her fears and anxieties plagued her for days until the day of the tea party.
When the time came, she had swallowed all her fears and gone through with it. To say the tea party was a success would be an understatement. The noblewomen who had previously doubted Yerenica's capabilities were quick to realize they had been wrong in their judgment.
Yerenica had been an exemplary hostess. She was gracious and sweet, yet assertive and principled. She had shown that she was not one to be deceived with fake praise. She did not open her ears to rumors and kept herself grounded at all times. The fact that her sister was the king's concubine, one of the worst positions any woman would find herself in, did not as much as deter her self-worth, and the noblewomen respected her for it, albeit rather begrudgingly.
Rumors were quick to spread after the tea party. The beautiful lady of the Achernar family had finally made her social debut, and she was looking for a husband. Yerenica couldn't remember how many marriage proposals she had received. Every day brought in dozens of letters from men around the kingdom, asking for her hand in marriage. Yerenica had turned them all down gracefully.
She was not interested in a marriage of politics. Yerenica was not a fool; she knew what they all wanted. The Achernar family's diamond mining business brought in enough income to keep them firmly rooted among the high-ranking nobles in society despite Minerva's illicit position. Now that Count Achernar had fallen sick, every pair of greedy eyes were on Yerenica, hoping to win her over and marry into the family to get legal ownership of the business. The fact that the Achernar women were natural born beauties was an added incentive.
Yerenica would have none of it. She would never marry a man she did not love. She longed for the same kind of passionate, steamy romance that the heroines in her novels experienced. That was not something she could achieve by marrying a man who was only interested in her wealth.
If anything, Yerenica's unavailability made her appear much more desirable, and the insistent proposals kept coming in. Yerenica had simply laughed it off and spent her days learning the ropes of managing the business and mingling with the nobles to ensure the Achernar reputation never fell apart.
Of course, Minerva knew none of this. She had no idea that her younger sister had transformed from a homebody to one of the most sought-after bachelorettes in the kingdom. But that was only to be expected. Minerva sent her a letter once every month, but Yerenica was not allowed to write back. As a result, her sister knew of none of her accomplishments.
Yerenica was not very happy with the fact that she was not allowed to write back to Minerva. However, she understood that it was something that could not be helped. If the public found out that she was writing to her sister, it would cause an outrage. The palace had been extremely careful to make sure that Yerenica received Minerva's letters in absolute secrecy. They did not want to cause an uproar amongst the people.
Celosias was a conservative country, especially when it came to the affairs of royalty. For anyone in the royal family to have a sexual relationship with anyone other than their legal significant other was like spitting at the rules and regulations of the country. God forbid if their felonious relationship bore fruit in the form of a bastard child. No, the royal family was expected to keep their bloodline clean and avoid mixing it with the commoners. That was a rule established by the Sirius Family themselves after they had taken the throne a century ago.
Which was why the entire country had gone into disorder when the only prince ascended the throne and took in the Achernar woman as his concubine. It was the first time a king had committed such an act. How dare he break a century-long rule? How dare he disrespect his wife and queen? The people were furious, yet they knew better than openly voicing their frustration.
It was said that the king favored his concubine over his queen. He had given her an entire palace to herself and banned anyone else from entering. He had even gone as far as cutting off the hands of maids who had dared to treat Minerva with contempt.
However, these were only rumors, and Yerenica took it with a grain of salt as Minerva herself had never mentioned such an incident. Still, Yerenica had to admit she was thankful for these rumors as they prevented the enraged public from turning against the remaining Achernars. They feared the king's retaliation if they were ever to lay a hand on the concubine's family, so they were careful not to go too far with their cold treatment towards Yerenica.
In the end, however, no matter how feared and powerful the king was, people still talked. Most, especially the religious fanatics, were infuriated with Minerva's decision to stay beside him. Others whispered amongst themselves, claiming it did not come as a shock. After all, the woman was an Achernar. It couldn't be helped that the king had immediately become bewitched with such a gorgeous creature and insisted to keep her beside him. These were the same people that eyed Yerenica with unbridled lust, and the ones she made sure to avoid at all cost.
Yerenica thought it was quite hypocritical that the people who spoke ill of the king were the same ones who cheated on their wives with prostitutes. Illicit affairs took place every day among the commoners, yet nobody batted an eye when they heard about it. Yerenica knew the countless brothels located in the red light district of the capital earned more gold than some legitimate and respectable businesses in the kingdom. She also knew that many famous noblemen and sometimes even women frequented the brothels. For them, it did not matter that they were committing the very act they badmouthed the king for. Their excuse was that they were not royalty.
Eventually, in order to protect Minerva from the harsh eyes of the public, the king had permanently confined her within the walls of the palace and ordered all her communication to the outside to be cut off. He believed that if she was out of sight, she would be out of their minds as well. And it worked. The outrage died down a few months after Minerva completely disappeared from the limelight, and the people found other scandals to focus on.
Yerenica had been depressed to know that she would not be able to see her sister anymore. So it was a pleasant surprise when Minerva’s first letter arrived and she told her that the king had given his permission to write to her once every month. The only condition was that Yerenica was not allowed to write back. Even though Yerenica was not pleased with the king’s rule, she was still thankful to know that Minerva was doing well.
Sitting back in her chair and smiling to herself, Yerenica thought back to when Minerva first met the king. It was six years ago, when Cain Sirius IV was still the crown prince and Minerva was the foxy and mischievous Lady Achernar. The two of them had met at the annual winter ball held by the previous king.
Just like every other man, Cain had become infatuated with her the moment he first laid his eyes upon her. Minerva Achernar, just like her ancestors, was ravishing beyond what words could describe. The Achernar women had been famous since the very beginning for their incomparable beauty. All women hailing from the lineage had long and silky hair which looked as if it was spun from silver, piercing green eyes the color of lush grass and creamy white skin devoid of any blemishes and bumps. Minerva was no different.
Yerenica was not surprised that Cain had fallen for her, but she was astonished when Minerva returned his feelings. Unlike Yerenica who was an innocent romanticist, Minerva had been quite the seductress. She had taken great amusement in stringing men along and playing them like fiddles. Yerenica had never envisioned her sister to get tied down to one man, so when it did end up happening, she was confounded.
What bewildered her even more was when the previous king passed away and Cain, having been officially declared as the new ruling figure of the country, took the crown princess of their neighboring country as his wife and queen, and yet, Minerva still chose to remain by his side. Even with a title as degrading and shameful as ‘concubine’, Minerva did not back away.
While Yerenica couldn’t completely agree with her sisters’ willingness to be with him while knowing that he was married to another, she knew it was not her place to question her judgement. The only thing that mattered was whether or not Minerva was happy. And taking into account the letters she got, Yerenica knew she was. So she supposed that everything ended up working out. The public did not speak of their relationship anymore as it had become old news thanks to Cain making sure that Minerva never strayed from the privacy of the castle, and Minerva was living her best life with the man she loved. That was all that mattered.
Ah, this makes me yearn for my perfect man too. Yerenica sighed as she placed a hand on her chin. Should I try harder to find my significant other as well? He does not need to be a king, just as long as he is kind, honest and loving, that is all I need.
A rush of breeze flew in through the open window and scattered the documents lying on the table. It pulled Yerenica out of her reverie and she rushed to pick them up. A thought came to her as she sat back down, clutching the reports. No, not yet. I have much more I need to do before I can find the time of the day to focus on love.
It was sad, but it was true. She still had much more to learn. About managing the business and about proper etiquette when dealing with both clients and nobles and much more. Only when she would be able to properly carry out the tasks which were required of her, was when she could even spare a moment to sate her other desires.
Sighing, Yerenica picked up the quill and went back to work.