Queen of the Unwanted (The Women's War #2) - Jenna Glass

Part One

THE ABBESS

CHAPTER ONE

From the moment he’d seen the results of his aptitude testing at the age of thirteen, Jalzarnin Rah-Griffolm had set his sights on one day being named the Lord High Priest of Khalpar, and he had never for a moment doubted his destiny.

He had been appointed to the office and joined the royal council at the respectable age of forty-five, and the king had favored him with several land grants and titles that he had not even thought to hope for. No life was without its setbacks and disappointments, but Jalzarnin knew he’d suffered far fewer than most. He could almost hear his late father railing at him, urging him to be satisfied with what he had. Lord Griffolm had even gone so far as to accuse his son of impiety for his outsize ambition.

But though he suspected there had been at least a kernel of truth in his father’s accusation—Jalzarnin was admittedly not the most pious man to have held the office of lord high priest—he was not especially inclined to curb that ambition. Which was what brought him here to the anteroom of the king’s private study, when a more prudent man—some might even say a wiser man—would keep a safe distance from a monarch who had a distressing habit of replacing members of his royal council with little to no provocation.

He paced anxiously, awaiting permission to enter as his father’s voice continued to whisper discouragement into his ear. Given that the king was so apt to dismiss members of his royal council, Jalzarnin could never rest secure, unlike the lord high priests who had come before him. If he sat back and enjoyed the privileges of being on the council, he might all too easily find that seat pulled out from under him. There were plenty of other ambitious priests eager for his position.

The study door opened, and the king’s personal secretary stepped out. “His Majesty will see you now,” he said with a sweeping gesture.

Jalzarnin took what he hoped was a quiet steadying breath, pushing any doubts deep inside, where the king could not glimpse them. Then he stepped into the study and bowed low, surreptitiously studying the king’s countenance for some hint of his current disposition.

Jalzarnin wouldn’t be so crass as to describe King Khalvin as moody, but one could never tell which days he would be receptive to the opinions of his advisers. And as Jalzarnin had come with the specific intent of overstepping the bounds of his authority, he risked souring his relationship with his liege if he did not tread with extreme care.

“I hear you wish to speak to me about the appointment of a new abbess,” the king said abruptly, the corners of his mouth tugging down to hint at his displeasure with the topic.

Clearly he was not in one of his more receptive moods, and Jalzarnin fought to hide the flutter of apprehension in his belly. He reminded himself that even when he was irritable, King Khalvin was a wise and thoughtful king. Jalzarnin’s interference in a matter that should be none of his affair might annoy him, but that annoyance would pass if he realized his lord high priest’s suggestion would benefit the kingdom.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Jalzarnin said.

“Perhaps I am getting forgetful in my old age, but I was under the impression you were my lord high priest, not my trade minister.”

The sarcasm was far from a good omen; any other of the king’s advisers—even his lord chancellor—would have taken the unsubtle hint and found an excuse to retreat. But Jalzarnin had not attained his