“Oh, look, another love letter.” With a loathsome amount of glee to his movements, Raiden unfolded it, then frowned. “Damn, this one’s for you, and it’s… quite long.” His brows jumped. “Detailed.”
I snatched it from him, growling when I read who it was from, and balled it up to throw it across the room.
“So it’s not from your lord?”
Inkerbine, the first one since the kings return, was the following week, so we had agreed he’d return to oversee the preparations with me.
Raiden watched Mintale scurry out of the throne room, then looked at me. “We should talk.”
“About?” Judging by his cautious tone, I would much prefer we didn’t.
“Your linkage to the lord.”
I lowered the letter I’d been reading to my lap. “There is naught to be done about it.”
Raiden’s lips rolled, and he nodded. “I know, and I’m making peace with that.” His tone brooked sincerity. “Trying to.”
“I do not wish to remain married to you, and you know it.” I drew in a quick breath. “If you refuse to agree out of it, then you must deal with what I do within it.”
His eyes stayed on the ground between his splayed legs. After a moment, he lifted them to me, a brow arching. “Then you must deal as well.”
Our eyes stayed locked, a silent battle of wills that would never end, until finally, I conceded, “Why won’t you just agree to terminate it?” The very thought alone excited me to no end. To have my castle, my land, and my prickly lord back…
“Because,” Raiden murmured, giving his eyes back to the pages before him. “Not only does the continent need this marriage, but as we both know, I do not walk away from things I want.”
“You cannot possibly want me anymore.”
Without looking at me, he shrugged. “I do, but most importantly, I want to remain king of Rosinthe.”
Of course, he did.
From behind the podium, I watched as the sun began to set. People, young and old and magical and everything in between, spread all the way to the horizon.
A scent I’d remember until my dying breath, of sweets and rainbows and pine and many things I could no longer name, clouded.
Kash clasped his hands behind him, staring straight ahead.
After observing his unreadable, sharp profile, I did the same. “How?”
“I’d been watching the female for a few weeks after she tried to bed me. Mainly due to the vague way she’d spoken, as if she wanted to share something she couldn’t.”
I nodded. “Was I bait then? A way for you to go home?”
His tone carried humor. “I am still here, am I not?”
“Does your king frighten you that much?”
Kash chuckled, and I stiffened at the rare, heavily deep sound. “That is not why I remain.”
I absorbed that for a moment, watching as Mintale berated a scowling local squire. “I saw her.” I cleared my throat. “I saw them.”
Kash stilled, and when I felt his eyes on me, I gave him mine. “She seemed… happy. At peace,” I said, unsure if it was true, but hoping it was. “With her babes.”
His lips parted, his eyes began to shimmer, and I felt mine well. He studied me as though weighing what it meant for me to see her. Knowing it meant everything and nothing. His Adam’s apple shifted, and then he faced forward again. “I am glad.”
Zadicus, accompanied by his two other friends, sifted through the crowd to the side of the podium that had been erected upon the border.
The soft swaths of my dress, a deep dark blue, tickled my arms as a cool breeze arrived. Between the land of winter and summer, it was perpetually spring, and I couldn’t say it wasn’t growing on me as I watched the golden-orange leaves flutter and twirl to the ground.
The array of pink cast over the large clearing between two villages livened the gold and silver ribbons that danced from tall maypoles. Vendors were preparing feasts from carts, saturating the air with the scents of sizzling pork and spiced chicken.
A night of dancing, eating, and getting to know thy neighbor in various ways was underway, as it had been in the center of each year for centuries.
Regardless of the rumors of what’d happened to my mother, any violence on Inkerbine was not tolerated, and people stopped trying and learned to cool their tempers and hostilities many years ago. To act out in any way was to die by the crown’s hand the following day.
I had hope that, like the ball, everyone behaved, and this alliance I couldn’t escape was not for nothing.
Kash bristled as Raiden and his advisor, Patts, approached. Patts joined Mintale on the podium where they fussed over the thrones that were used each Inkerbine and erected the megaphone upon a stand of steel.
“You look delicious,” Raiden whispered, and Kash shifted beside me.