I leaned over the frosted railing, gazing at the damp sand below. Idly, I wondered if the half-dressed prince of the Sun Kingdom was cold, or if his magic kept him warm.
Throwing a glimpse at Raiden, I found him staring ahead. “Look,” he said, pointing at something in the distance.
I squinted at the few fishing boats and the sails of a lone ship. “What of them?”
“Not them.” He tugged me close, encircling my waist with an arm. “Them,” he whispered.
A splash echoed far out in the cove where the mountains, separated by a slice of water big enough for one ship to carefully sail through, almost touched.
Raiden’s hand tightened at my hip. “My parents saw them when they were here. They said there hasn’t been a sighting of them in over two hundred years.”
“That doesn’t mean they’ve been gone.” I’d seen them before.
“No,” Raiden agreed. “Just hiding, perhaps.”
In silence, we both pondered why that could be, and I felt my body lean into his. “My mother swore she saw one up close once.”
Raiden hummed. “Really? What did she say of the experience?”
“They’d been swimming, and she said she dragged Sarine back to the shore and they ran for their lives.”
“They would’ve been babes.”
I tried to remember if that’s what she’d said, but all I could see was the crystal blue of her eyes, and the way her heart sometimes shone in her smile. “Five and seven summers, I believe.” I cleared my throat. “It’s rumored they have teeth made of bones.”
“And tails made of human hair,” Raiden said.
“I should like to meet one, I think.”
He laughed, the sound quiet as it drifted over the pier and to the city dwellers behind us. “And what would you do if you did?”
“Ask some questions, I suppose.”
“What questions would you ask of her?”
“Or him,” I said.
“There are no mermen. That is but a rumor told in erotic tales.”
“There is. You cannot keep a species alive without reproduction.”
His hand became a furnace attached to my hip, his grip iron hot. “Well, now that’s true.” The words were rough. “So what would you ask him or her?”
“Where they’ve been. What they do all day and night long. Do they eat fish or flesh? Or both? Can they have a spellcaster give them legs? Do their tails change to—” I stopped when I found Raiden smiling down at me. “What?”
“Nothing. Keep going.”
I glared. “No. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, truly.” He brushed a thumb by my lip, and then sucked it. “Frosting. And I… well, I didn’t realize I’d enjoy hearing you talk so much.”
I felt my chest inflate, and then he directed us over the pier toward the main city street.
“What else enlivens you so?”
I kept my gaze forward and away from any of the city folk who recognized us and bowed. “Chocolate, horses, furbanes, my collection of daggers, novels, roses, steak stew, scalding bubble baths…” I paused. “I could go on.”
He encouraged me to as we approached the castle, fielding my lists with many of his own.
Horses, spiced chicken, sautéed mushrooms, sweetcakes, his childhood friends, wolves, training schedule, and chess.
“Wolves?” I asked, stepping around a slush pile of gunk oozing into a drain. “How in the darkness could you call a wolf a pet?”
“They’re not pets.” He nodded at the guards who opened the gates for us to enter. “They’re friends.”
“How do they fare in such a harsh climate?”
“They don’t live there,” he said, tugging me away from a couple who were laughing, even as they toppled to the ground, their glass goblets smashing into tiny glimmering, red-stained specks. “They live here along the border.”
That snapped my attention to him as I wondered how a sun prince of the south befriended the wolves of the northeast.
“There she is.”
I stilled outside the throne room doors at the sound of my father’s approaching voice. “Father.” I curtsied. “You’re looking very fine for seven hundred summers.”
His grin was dazzling, but his eyes made you pause and wonder if such bottomless depths held a soul within. Sometimes, I swore he did, but any proof was rare.
He patted my cheeks, then smacked a kiss atop my head, whispering low, “Your absence has not gone unnoticed.”
I refrained from tensing and turned to Raiden, who was watching my father with a carefully blank expression. He smiled when I gestured to him. “Raiden thought to show me some of the city I’d somehow missed.”
Raiden bowed. “Tyrelle.”
My father’s gaze sat heavy on Raiden for a moment, and then he broke into another grin and slapped him hard on the back. “Getting to know one another. Good. Ruling can be tiresome. Ruling together shall be difficult, especially if you cannot find ways to get along outside the bedroom.”
“Father,” I admonished.
He laughed. “Come, come.” He swung his arm to the throne room. “Dance and drink and retire when the moon does.”