“I suppose I’d rather return drunk anyway.” I trudged over and sat next to him, leaving enough space between us so I didn’t feel his body heat. Even then, I still felt it. Like standing too close to a fire, I had a feeling I’d feel him in varying degrees of warmth the closer we got. “Don’t touch me.”
He chuckled, then drank. “Whatever you desire, silk.”
We sat in taut silence for minutes, drinking and staring straight ahead at the pockmarked walls.
When half the bottle was gone, I felt my stomach relax and my limbs grow heavier. Some would say it wasn’t wise for a high royal to lose their wits with so many visitors from across our lands, but even with many a tense period, Rosinthe had been a continent of peace for a millennia now. Ever since the goddesses declared two of their children king and queen, deposited them on either side of this mystical land, and then disappeared inside the mists.
So although it wasn’t wise, most royals did as they pleased. Which often involved drinking until they couldn’t make out their linked ones from someone else’s. That was entertaining to watch, so I always made sure I was just the right amount of drunk so as not to miss out on the foolery.
“Have you linked?” I wasn’t sure where the urge to know came from, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to analyze it either.
To link was to find what humans would call a soul mate, only with a bond far stronger. Those who happened to bond in such a permanent way had a heightened sense of awareness of their linked one—in some rare cases, glimpses of what they were feeling. Though typically, they’d need to be in the same vicinity, or close by, for the bond to work in such a way. I’d heard only matters of life or death or extreme emotional turmoil could be felt through the connection should they be in different lands.
And supposedly, sex as a linked couple was said to be indescribable—an overflow of euphoria that could never be found elsewhere.
But all magical things must have their pitfalls. Jealousy, paranoia, and obsessiveness were just some of the lovely things to look forward to when or if we linked. I’d heard of some royals ending themselves over their linked’s eyes falling on someone else too long, touching them too long, and even of some ending other people.
Needless to say, there were more guards in attendance at social events and heavily populated areas for this reason.
“No,” Raiden said, his bottle of wine clinking to the ground. Lying back, he stretched his arms above his head. The bags of grain groaned and shifted beneath his weight. “There’d been a time I thought I might have, but it never happened.” His voice was clear, but his eyes held that sparkling sheen of intoxication.
“With whom?” I asked, leaning down on an elbow.
He smiled, quick and sweet. “Never you mind. What made you ask that?”
I struggled to form an answer, due to having none. “I was just curious.” I adjusted my gown, fingers skimming over the soft layers. “Arranged marriages are a business deal. I’ve heard that in centuries gone past, there have been some high royals who allowed their spouses to live with their linked ones.”
“Some.” Raiden watched my hand as it glided over my dress, the red swimming with the shadows beneath the meager light. “You’ve linked? I’d have scented it, surely.”
It was but a rumor, I thought, that royal males and even some mixed males could scent linked females. A sign to stay away. Females, however, could not do the same. Even if it were two females who linked. I thought it unjust that we had not been created with equal gifts such as that. Another reason I did my best to ensure I was on equal footing or, in most cases, much higher than the males around me.
My lids drooped as I reclined and curled my arm beneath my cheek. “I’m not linked to anyone, nor do I think I’d like to be.”
Raiden stared up at the ceiling. “Why?”
His profile was perfect, angular slopes, his lashes more prominent. Like that of butterfly wings. “You ask a lot of questions, Prince.”
He turned his head. “Only when I’m interested in knowing the answers, silk.”
My nose crinkled. “I don’t like that.”
My chest rose with a harsh breath as I squinted at him. I chose to defer. “And I don’t like the idea of some male bossing me around, impregnating me with babe after babe, and then getting to have all the fun.”
It grew impossibly warm, and it dawned on me, as I laid awake in the earlier hours the following morning, that maybe Raiden wasn’t in full control of his reactions either. At least, not around me. “We will need to have many heirs.”