My family is weird.
Families are weird, at least mine is—or used to be, depending on how you see it. You see, a couple falls in love—or not, depending on how you see it—and they together, make the decision to build a family. Out comes a child, two, three. Maybe four, or more. They learn how to babble, cease crying in the middle of the night, learn how to roll on their tummies, lose their drooling aprons, and soon they go to kindergarten. Mingle with more children, create a personality of their own, favor a nickname and laugh a certain way. Elementary school comes up soon enough, with boys giving you the cooties, girls wanting to be just like their mother. They are wrapped in drama of their creation, and every emotion they feel is ephemeral, bound to extinguish, but it doesn't feel like it. The end of the world is announced when a dress doesn't fit, the bejeweled dress on an apparel store wasn't her favorite color, or the boy who mocked the girl turns out to have developed past the cooties. Middle school is a cloud of awakening, regions go unexplored, feelings bud, and they copulate to create a teenage crisis, where your crush couldn't give a damn about you, and so the world is almost over. But if you're lucky, you also befriend someone who helps you through it before flipping you off like those firecracker friendships that don't last long but fill you for a bit.
High school, the mere testimony of human stubbornness, creates the prime environment for all those discoveries, garnered for fifteen years, to come up, bursting at the seams, and there you are, a horny, reckless, stupid sixteen year old failing a test because you were hitting your vape on the back of the mall, your crush helps you in your physics homework, but you're scared he'll think you're dumb now. Your parents start to argue more and more in the kitchen, and it all somehow has to do with you. The urge to hump something sometimes turns into a random hookup on one of those parties you're better off not going, and sometimes, you're encountered by death, like I was, like millions are. And so, that bubble of self-importance, where nothing could touch you and every single little feeling you felt was the most important discovery of the world turns to... well, nothing. And you realize you'll die some day, fizzle like a worn wood patch, dried like grass under the sun, left to wither. And your brain cannot process death because, duh, you've never experienced it. So you start flipping your parents off, you fall in love with a promiscuous girl or a self-absorbed boy, and you become high school sweethearts. Sometimes, teenage pregnancy happens, sometimes you wait a bit to get married, and the cycle begins all over again. But that isn't the part I focus on.
I have more aunts and uncles than I need, probably. I met one out of four grandparents, so I cannot judge their persona, but I have ideas. There's Anthony, the father of the decade—by mother's stories—who was every bit hardworking as she was. That's where she got it from, I'd guess. Tall, smart, inch by inch an imposing man who did what he needed to make sure his eight children had an education, something to provide for themselves, to be proud of. There's Romelia, the only one I did meet, who was a kindred spirit, kind hearted, a woman through and through, though after Anthony's death, she was never the same. I guess that does it for you, losing someone after loving them for more than four decades. Azul, my other grandmother, sounds like the fancy one, jewels from head to toe, a stern character, a stubborn soul, knowing what she needed and what she didn't, bossing everyone around. A writer, I secretly believe. Out of all of them, her characteristics fit me the most. The way my pride somehow becomes the most important thing for me, the way my nose bridges, the way I adore words and they adorn me in return, the way my thighs are shaped, and her forehead. Or so they say, anyway. And lastly, Felipe, my father's doppleganger. Moustached, imposing, impossibly serious, a kill-you-in-one-glance look in every one of the photos I have all over my house.
Out of them, came at least sixteen children. I want to say I am not partial to my mother's side, but I'd be lying. I didn't meet all of her brothers, but the once I did, they shaped a bit how I thought, what I expected, what I hope to become, and what I plan to avoid, all in one. They were all taller than six feet, their skin tones a soft mixture in all shades because of my grandmother's taste, and they are all... goofy. I met one when I was really young, and lost him soon thereafter. But he relished in me, and I in him. I don't need other people to tell me how much he meant to me. For him to be my first memory I recall is enough. I never did get to say goodbye, but he's been the muse of thousands of poems; the person I think of when I see green walls. His name was Frederick, and his younger brother, Michael, was the one I was the closest to. He lived next to us for as long as I remembered, and of course, he was stubborn as a mule, had a goofy grin and a deep rumble of a voice that made you feel safe, even if you really weren't. His other brother, Stephan, was the quiet one. Stoic, petrified, but he had that goofy smile too, two children of his own that missed him when he departed earth last summer. There's my mother's sister, thin and delicately shaped, reckless when it comes to love, a ready ear when it comes to gossip, a strange soul I haven't seen in a while but I know will leave a tiny mark in my wood when she leaves. And my favorite uncle, Xavier, who is just a whole persona by himself. Tall, taller than all of them, a famous Mexican singer look-alike, who every time I saw him would rush to meet me and thrust his arms forward, my elbows fitting right into his palm as he'd heave me up, call me his girl. The youngest, my mother, was a historical figure of her own, so much so I have written songs and poems and books, but never manage to get her description to fit, to be worthy of respect because of resemblance. She was she, and that's all. Every other word falls short, and every other description doesn't matter, could never do her justice.
My father's side also has a little nook in my heart. He is, too, the youngest, and his family seems to have a secret gene that makes them all turn old and wrinkled before they fade, so I tell myself I shouldn't worry too much about losing them yet. There's Emilia, the fancy big sister, who married her high school love and proceeded to become rich, somehow, wearing fancy jewels and a permanent frown when someone did something she didn't like. Then there's the duo of iconic sisters, the ones who wrap me up and send me home, the ones that listened to me when I was breaking and filled the silence with laughter, making me feel like I wasn't dying. And technically, I wasn't the one dying. Rose, with the wild red hair and an energy to wake up at 5 am every morning, who is always vibrating with anxiety, something we share, stupidly paranoid, another thing we share. Henriette, who is a vibrant soul on her own, always coming up with made up drama that makes me chuckle, green eyes and an amazing sense of fashion, if I say so myself. She makes awful jokes but I always laugh anyway. Then there's August, my uncle, who looks a bit like my father, except he's on the thinner, quieter side. He is a devoted soul, and chose God above a normal life, so I guess I always draw a bit of strength from him. Prepared, smart, profesional, well-kept. And then there's not really an aunt, but a cousin I see as an aunt, who has helped me ever since mother left, with that joyful expression and those tired eyes because life simply won't give her a break. She is Rose's daughter, and they look so much alike I am somewhat jealous of their uncanny resemblance.
Notice how I only mentioned about five on each side, despite having said that there were sixteen children from both families. The other ones didn't make it, or I wasn't born soon enough to meet them. But the tales of them are every bit heartbreaking, incredibly perplexing, and make me yearn to having met them. I know people say you can't love someone you haven't met, but I think that's a lie. I love those people I never met, practically strangers, because they made my mother's voice take a certain tone, her eyes to brighten up a certain way. And that love, that 'stranger love', is what every parent faces when they meet their child for the first time. You don't know the way that child will turn out to be, their personality, those quirks and moods they pull, but you love what they represent, an extension of yourself. You love who they will be. And I love those people I never met because they are part of who I will be.
Despite those thorough descriptions, growing up I didn't have much contact with them at all. Everyone has their ups and downs, and so obviously my mother and they argued. She claims she was right, and they claim they were. I am no judge, so I just sit in the middle, love them both, picture them both so I can recall the exact tone of their laughter or the exact enunciation of certain words they love so when I'm old, I can still recall who they were. Maybe mother wasted too much time holding grudges, or maybe she was cautious not to be hurt twice by the same knife, but its time I made amends. I press father to call his sisters, so I can see them every time I'm home, simply because they feel like home. They are where my genes come from, they are a tiny piece I can use to understand myself better. These descriptions, cartoonish, picky and unique, are what I stole from those few occasions I was allowed to see them, to drink them in.
These descriptions always stick longer than what they did or didn't do. They are what I remember mother by, and so, if they broke my mother's trust or took advantage of my father's ingenuity, that is not my burden to carry. Father, to this day, tries to poison that love of mine, turn it into wariness. Maybe I should be wary, but I want to learn so by myself. Because I refuse to believe my mother's kindness was just hers and not a family trait. I see her in my uncle's eyes, I see her in every single one of her siblings, and the same goes for father.
I wonder, does my brother see a resemblance of himself when he looks at me? That little gremlin who is so quiet but so sarcastic he is uncharacteristically funny, unbelievably mature, not wasting time with senseless drama and hear-say gossip. That little human I wanted as a companion, that I hope will always stick next to my side like I have vowed to do with him. He is tall too, brown eyes, raven hair and the most amazing eyelashes I have ever seen. He is what mother loved before she met, and he is my best friend, even if he might refuse to see it because he's 'so over being cheesy'. Doesn't matter, I'll annoy him anyway.
What I mean is, family isn't blood, isn't even genes, though they have a big factor. Family is that intangible connection you have with people just because of who they are, the way you relate to them. That connection is deeper and rooted further than childish squirms and heated 'fuck-yous' no one means. Those people I mentioned mean everything to me, though I was taught not to think that way. My heart breaks when theirs do. My throat clenches when I see a pout in their features, something gone wrong in their adult world. They are little moments I define as happiness because they were breathing next to me, exchanging jokes and teasing their siblings. They are a little crevice in my brain to accumulate all these descriptions, a little hole in my heart to store the tears I'll weep when they aren't here anymore.
But for now they are, and God, what a blessing, what a tiny beautiful thing family can be.
A lonely girl sits over ice. It is uncomfortable, rubbing through the material of her jeans, cooling her skin, such a sharp cold it seeps through to her bones, too. It only reminds her of herself a bit more.
The whole world seems to be immersed in ice. White, diamond, stubborn blue. Her breath fogs before her, the promise of things she cannot see but wishes to grasp. The snow coats every inch of the scene, her hands, her black hair dusted with flakes, the ground remolding around her boots, swallowing her to the very core of the earth. The leaves all bend beneath the weight of the snowstorm, refusing to crack. Some do, along with some tree branches. They glitter the floor before being sepulchred by more snow. Never-ceasing, unapologetic.
The few tears of water sordid enough not to turn to ice or weak enough to give in so quickly they melt with their own fury shine beneath a sun that teases, taunts, but never shows up. It is cold, lonely. Of course, life still finds a way, though barely. Birds still tweet, the sound clinging to the air in hopeful balance, clinging to invisible strings. Somewhere along the depth of the forest she has not yet ventured to, more animals slumber, too tired or cold or smart enough not to freeze themselves to gain... whatever it is she years for.
She pictures herself as a lake, frozen over, rendered useless until warmth makes its renewed appearance in the spring. Think about it. A lake's sole purpose is to reduce the warmth blushing the skin and coating it with sweat in blistering summer nights. It functions as a food source, to catch fish and quench the hunger of families and communities entire. But now, during the forever winter, what was she to do? What was her purpose?
Another breath turned to fog. Another wish reduced to nothing. And she waited, the cold biting the skin off her ass, turning her fingers to numb sticks, making her lungs work to warm the air up, keep her safe, even if she was stubborn enough to refuse such safety pulsing through her. She waited. But she never knew what for.
Like any human, there were needs that required attention. So she slept, of course. Through the cold nights, curling up around herself like a small puppy, vibrating off her skin, humming just so she could say her voice was not lost. Not yet. Eventually, the cold would become part of her, invading her senses, asking her brain to surrender to the familiarity and sleep. Even her dreams were misty, cluttered, images blurred by fear and cold winds. Whispers of silk, whisks of perfume, tendrils of caresses across her skin.
Often, her limbs began to ache. Staying in one place for a long time was begging the universe to keep her there, static, never changing. She felt uneasy at the thought. Her soul longed for change, for growth, for maturity. But in her belly, deep within where no one could see, she felt a sense of relief. Change in her life meant death: the death of summer to give way to autumn, the death of a loved one to give way to flowers. So she ran instead.
She never ventured far, not out of cowardice, but of caution. Maybe she often confused the two, but she was too far into herself to care. Around the perimeter of the small cube she cared for as if it were her home, past trees she blurred past, trunks she had marked with a dagger she had once thrown into a river in a fit of frustration but now regretted. It was never a long run; she kept coming back to her own personal purgatory. When her breath was not a series of clouds before her face, but a steady mist that wouldn't give in, she'd stop, bend her back to brace her knees until those fell to the floor with a dead, soft thump. And she'd cry.
The tears would never reach the ground, water anything. They'd freeze in her face, hurting twice over, one from the pain stretching its limbs inside her heart, an unwelcome stranger settling into her own shack, the other confused for humiliation at crying over the seasons past, longing for the smell of tulips and the rush of the sea against her bare toes before it retreated to the ocean, an unfulfilled promise. When crying no longer soothed her, when it felt more like a chore, she'd stand up, shaking not from the cold but from the sobs, and walk back to her familiar patch, made anew by the still-falling snow. And she'd smile, briefly, a nanosecond, because she just was.
Days came and went, but she never did shower. There was no source of warmth to unfreeze the bodies of water nearby enough for her to take a quick dip. She had no idea where the animals gathered water to quench their thirst from, but she admired their perduring strength and will. She lacked hers, a faint memory she couldn't trace without being abated. Showering felt stupid. The realization that no matter how hard she scrubbed, her pains would still linger, her scars would still coat her skin, the dirt of her jealousy and loneliness and lies would still crowd her being, make her uneasy. Showering was a temporary solution to the racket festering inside her.
Whenever her thirst grew, she'd cup small portions of ice and let it melt in her closed hands, holding it up to her parted, chapped lips. It was a humbling experience, to say the least. Being aware her body was still clinging to life, even when she sometimes wished her system would just shut off. Her lungs did their bid to keep her breathing, her heart functioned to pump blood, to allow those nerve endings to receive signals, understanding pain and pleasure. Her brain was both her best friend and her enemy at times, and it still roared on, a robotic machine, keeping all of her other systems in tandem, reminding her of distant sceneries, different names, locked hands, bland tastes, stolen smiles.
The winter bit, but she bit back. Barely. She'd curse herself aloud just to use her voice, to ward off other potential threats lurking in the woods. She had a feeling that her loneliness was self-imposed, a hell of her making. She could run, leave her little nook and never turn back. Eventually she'd stumble onto a highway, or a small street in a deserted city. Civilization would open its welcoming arms in a forlorn hug. But she resisted the temptation. Here, a slow, dignified death awaited her, maybe. But outside, that destiny was sure and granted. Either by her hand or other's, she wasn't sure.
Sometimes she'd sleep near two trunks big enough to provide cover from the ferocious wind licking her face and every inch of her that was bare, crawling under the seams of her cheap green jacket to petrify her skin. The cold sometimes could be purifying, so she never resented it. She was waiting.
The sun shone on her as she rested her whole body on the snow, her back getting soaked almost instantly. Still coward enough to only shine dimly, she closed her eyes for a second, content on the temporary respite. Her breaths lulled her, she counted her heartbeats. She recited names like old scripture, forbidden enchantments.
Josephine. Aries. Sergey. Christine. Leo. Emmanuel. Thomas.
She didn't know if it was in a trance, but she felt something move next to her. No strength remained in her limbs, but her eyelids drew up just enough to assess no immediate threat was impending. She kept her eyes open, staring at the bluest sky, the snow ceasing. Finally. Tragically.
Her head turned on its own, and her eyes dropped closed without her authorization, but she sensed it. Saw the image in her mind's eye. A hand outstretched. The features distinguishing it flickered, a premonition that couldn't choose one single owner. Long nails painted green with faint wrinkles in the knuckles, jewelry gleaming on three fingers. White flesh with veiny paths, short nails, chubby fingers. A smaller hand than the last two, but bigger than her own, bitten nails, familiar fingers. A man's hand, wrinkled and old, punctured by needles and prodded by tubes, nails long but weak. Scars trailed over another hand, short nails, brown skin, one she knew like her own.
And she saw them all. She felt each one of them as if they were next to her. Could've sworn the hands leaked warmth, kept her from dying in the cold. She longed to touch them all, cling to them, intertwine her weak fingers with strong ones, someone to pull her up, usher her back to civilization. She almost did.
And then she stood up.
I find myself standing up. The strength I draw from Lucas is enough to move my weak legs, make me breathe when I’d rather not. His hand never leaves my back, and once I’m upright, I release a gulp of air stuck in my lungs. I clutch at his hand, desperate to keep a hold on him.
“I’ll be okay, right?” It doesn’t sound like a question, but it is. I wish I could cry. I’m so worn out I can’t gather enough strength to shed the tears I know must be there. I hope I don’t shed them once I’m with Odin.
The thought of his name splashes my face, waking me up, piercing my lungs. I stare at Lucas, already staring back, green eyes wide. “I’m married.” Two words, one sentence. Two words binding me forever.
He nods slowly, tensing his shoulders. “You are. You left before the toast.” His eyes flicker in the darkness. “I—I’m sorry, Alex. I just don’t know what to say.”
I muster a smile, shaking my head. The effort is enough for a lifetime. “Sometimes it’s better not to have any words at all.” I’d know. I can’t find the words. For some reason, my brain still refuses to unscramble the random words I read on the leather. If I don’t admit it, it can’t be true.
I don’t feel words. I feel emotions. Emotions strong and fierce, piercing and jarring. Turmoil and guilt, defeat and loneliness. A hurricane stirs inside me. Voices and thoughts and moments I shared with him mingle until they become something leaving me so torn and lost that, for a brief moment, I don’t know where I am. Who I am. What I’ve lost.
“I’m—Odin’s my husband... I—” I struggle to form coherent sentences, leaning against the wall with my hands on my face. The coldness of the marble feels nice against my sweating back. “Does he know I’m... here?”
“No. No, he doesn’t.” I can see how shocked Lucas is too, looking everywhere to make sure no one’s coming down the hall. He opens and closes his mouth just like a fish, battling to come up with something to say, words to assuage my ache. He finds none.
Suddenly, the overpowering feeling of hopelessness makes my knees tremble. I shiver, wondering what to do. For once, I don’t have a plan to get me out of the mess I got myself into. “What—what do I do now?”
All my expectations from when I was little of my wedding night come crashing, their weight pressing against my chest. This is not what I expected. I thought my marriage would be done under my father’s rule. They’d still be alive, and I’d still be the heiress to the throne. Now, an orphan queen, I married in a split decision to appease the masses and the council, and I feel like a lost child all over again. The long wedding dress makes me childish, and as I look at Lucas I go back to the years where we’d hide from father after doing something forbidden.
He twiddles his thumbs, processing, planning, protecting me. “You’re going to go back and pretend you’re okay,” he says slowly. “And hell, Alex, I know you aren’t, but you’re strong. I know you are. And we have to shut the council up for a while. You’ll remember you’re not alone. You have me and Odin, and we’ll find him. We will. You have to...” He stops, shaking his head and avoiding my gaze. The thought pains him almost as much as it pains me. “You’ll have to go back and be the queen they need to see.”
I stiffen my back, crossing my arms. I have to pretend once again. The thought itself is excruciating, but it’s something I must do. With something to do, an order when I once craved being free, I finally feel better.
We’ll find him.
I’ll find my way back to Logan, I promise myself. Not because I want to, but because I need to. For his family, for his friends. For the little girl who will die tonight when I give myself to Odin.
Somehow, my voice carries strong when I couldn’t be weaker. “Go find Logan’s family.
Tell them what happened. I’ll find a way to speak to Odin.” I steady a hand against the wall, an effort to keep me upright. “I want every damn guard in that fucking party to go outside and check for anything suspicious.”
I take a step forward, my heels clashing against the marble floor. The memory comes back with ferocious hunger. It claws at my stomach. I shut my eyes for a second, replaying the words.
I remember every single feeling and sensation. How he asked me to leave. He needed to. Just like I needed to keep him here, he needed to remain far away. To have a chance at flickering happiness. I had the chance with Odin, just before Logan left. Now, I’m not sure.
I gave him an order. An order with the power to be his death sentence. It was. The pain is strong, searing. I forbade him to leave. Because I was selfish.
Because I couldn’t see the future, even when Bridgit’s words were the warning I needed.
I locked him in this castle.
It’s my fault he’s gone.
Gone, because I refuse to believe something worse. Gone, because if he died, I’d surely feel it. A part of me being tugged away. I would feel it.
I can’t allow myself to think I had something to do with his death.
My vision blurs as I walk down the hallways, the stupid dress trailing behind me. I had my eyes on Odin and Lucas the whole evening while they took my Logan away.
Why would they take a commoner, though? My thoughts spin and my heels clash. A simple friend of the crown among many others. Why would the brides pick him if they didn’t know about us?
Unless they did. Aunt knew. Her soldiers mingled with the brides on the battlefield. Inside the castle. I run faster.
I turn a corner, breathing in and out trying to stop the tears. I feel paranoid and scared and now more than ever, I need Odin’s words and reassurance. As if reading my thoughts, I crash against something hard, and when I’m about to fall backward, he grabs my arm, pulling me straight.
His concern bathes me. “Alex? What—what happened? Are you okay?” His eyes glimmer with concealed angst, deep lines on his forehead. He grabs my shoulders softly, touching my cheek once. I bite my lip.
I’m okay. But he isn’t.
I shake my head, trying to bring forth a clearer sense. His face morphs behind my unshed tears. “I—yes. I’m—I’m okay. Are the guests—”
He stops me, clicking his tongue. “The wedding is over. I told them we had to leave for our honeymoon in a few hours to get them going. Is Lucas okay?”
I shiver, my stomach dropping. Lucas is fine. The other half of me, the half of me they took, I don’t know. I wish I didn’t have to waste my time speaking. I want him to know all the details just by my touch. Every second is necessary, important, elemental.
“Yes. I don’t—the brides. The thing they said about our wedding. They... they did it, Odin.” I gulp.
His hand on my shoulder squeezes harder, something to keep me grounded. “But you’re safe. And so is Lucas. I’m here and—” I place a hand on his chest, stopping him.
“Logan is missing.” The words leave my mouth in a rush, floating in the air between us.
He stops, blinking at me. He sighs slowly, running a hand down his face. When he speaks, it is with such apathy guilt pierces me through all over again. “How did you find out?”
He pulls me in, embracing me. His arms once were able to pull me together, collect the pieces and glue them back. What if he never does it again? Will I feel forever as incomplete?
His heart hammers against his shirt, and I waste no time wrapping my arms around his waist. He smells familiar, and I feel myself in the eye of the storm with him here. As long as he’s here he can be the perfect distraction, an anchor to keep me here, safe. Alive.
He mumbles in my hair. “I’m sorry, Alexandra. I didn’t know.”
I look up at him, guilt churning at my insides. As much as I wish I could blame him, I know I can’t. I’m the only one to blame. “It’s not your fault and I—we’ll deal with that in the morning I just...” His green eyes bore into mine. Anger chases the fear out of my system effectively. Rashly, I decide to change course. “You know? You’re my husband now.”
His mouth twitches, his eyes widening slightly before gaining back his composure. It is hard assessing my emotions. He makes an effort to mold into my ever-changing moods. “I get it if you don’t—I mean, it’s okay to let the formalities go for tonight. Things must be on your mind right now. I get it.”
I shake my head, pulling away. Here, he makes me feel nothing and everything at all. It’s like we’re in a bubble and nothing can touch me. There’s nothing wrong as long as he’s here. I try to close off my mind to Logan. As much as it hurts, Odin deserves my attention. He’s been nothing but attentive to me.
I’m aware this is nothing more than a flailing, desperate attempt to distract myself from delving deep into my pain, but I’ll take it.
The promise I made myself repeats in my brain. I’ll allow my heart to love this man. I don’t know how close I was before. Loving someone as much or even more than I loved Logan seems impossible, far away. But it seems to me tonight might lead me the closest I’ve ever been to that point.
“No.” I take his hand, playing with his fingers. “Tonight’s about us. Yes,”—my voice shakes. I push on. —"he’s gone. But you are mine now, and I’m yours.” My pulse heightens, my cheeks redden. “I want to be with you in every possible way.”
I pull him the other direction, back to my chambers. He groans behind me. “What does that mean?”
Barely do I have time to think about the meaning myself. All I know is I need him close. His warmth, his smell, his touch. Him. To keep me from drowning, from feeling the pain pulling my insides.
I stop. He clashes onto me with a smack. Carefully I turn around. I lean on my tiptoes, caressing his face. I need this. I need the pain killers he gives me, and I need them now. “I need a distraction, Odin. And I want you.”
He doesn’t need further explanation. His lips crash onto mine, my feet swaying as he picks me up the floor, wrapping my legs around his hips. I giggle onto the kiss, my insides warming up.
Anger clouds my head, makes me reckless. Stupid. Foolish. Nothing new.
“Is this fun to you?” he asks, breaking our kiss, breath fanning on my face. He takes the dress’ tail in his fists, laying it on my lap to stop himself from stepping over it.
“No.” I peck his lips, messing with his hair. “I giggle when I’m nervous.”
My mind on overdrive, the seconds he takes to get to my chambers—ours, now—seem endless. His lips on mine, he doesn’t miss a step, unlocking the door and closing it with his boot, pushing me against the solid wood.
Air leaves my lungs, my heartbeat loud in my ears, my fingertips pounding, my chest exploding. Millions of nerves wake up all over my body as he kisses my collarbone, goosebumps on my skin.
“We can... wait if you”—I kiss him again, hunger overpowering me—“want to,” he finishes.
“Are you scared?” It comes out in a high pitch as I blow off air, messing with a few strands of my hair disheveled by him.
His green eyes darken. “No. I—I want this to be your choice.”
All serious now. “But it is. You’re my first choice, Odin.” Somewhere in my disconnected mind the thought echoes. I mean it.
It works for him. He grabs my back as he leads us towards the bed. Laying me softly, my hands shake as I grab his tie, pulling him to me while I scoot backward. He follows my command, my legs wrapped around him, our lips tangled as he takes my heels off.
I mumble clumsily, trying to undo the buttons of his shirt. My mind swims with adrenaline and poor wine. He smiles, guiding my fingers until he throws the shirt away, taking my hand and unbuttoning my dress with the same clumsiness. I struggle to let the fabric loose, slipping my nightgown’s sleeves under my arms and kicking it off the bed with my foot. I stop, staring at Odin while our breathings go crazy. My stomach heaves, jumping excitedly. My throat burns and my hands feel numb.
The same numbness spreading over my system.
He hovers above me, smiling softly at my figure. My undergarments are all covering my body now. He can see my bare stomach, the scar there. I trail his body with hungry eyes, from his toned chest to sculpted arms, all the way to the scar he showed me the first day we met.
I pucker my lips, shaking my head. “Your pants are still on, Abernarthy.”
He chuckles to himself, shaking his head as he undoes his belt, my mind going miles per hour.
He stands up, shaking them off, leaving them in a puddle around his feet. He holds something up on his fingers for me to see.
“What—what is that?”
“What does it look like?” he asks, coming back to me, finding the perfect spot between my legs. I sit up, hands on his shoulders.
Tipsiness makes me slow to answer. I scowl at the metallic square. “A... condom?”
He smiles ruefully, color returning to his neck and ears. “It’s your choice. I’m not the council. I won’t pressure you into having a baby.”
I could cry right then and there. I smile instead. Right now, I don’t need to think. I appreciate his choice, the option he gifted me. I make the choice absentmindedly. “Nice of you. I—let’s try with it tonight and then... we’ll... figure it after.”
He nods, eyes glinting, arms snaking from my hips to my upper back, undoing my bra.
Stars explode in my vision, my cheeks burn. He throws it with a flick of his wrist, eyes trailing my body before he pushes me down softly.
I raise my hips to his, earning a moan from him, his fingers sliding off my panties. My insides scream at the sudden cold air. His weight over me, his lips go back to my neck.
My breath hitches as I push myself to him, the only barrier between us being his underwear. My mind goes numb as he fondles my breasts, and there’s not a moment in my life I’ve felt more alive and complete.
“Odin,” I murmur to his ear, wrapping an arm loosely around his neck. He leans his head on the crook on my neck as I rock my hips against his. My stomach turns to knots.
“Jesus, Alexandra, you’re killing me.” His voice is gruff, his green eyes darker than I’ve ever seen before. He lowers his mouth to the valley between my breasts, my lungs incapable of getting air. He touches the scar softly, raising his head to meet my eyes. “You’re— my God, you’re stunning.”
I giggle softly. “Stop making me wait.”
He nods once, falling back to my lips. I feel his arms go between us, his legs moving as he struggles with his underwear. Once he’s steady, unmoving above me, I can tell he’s nervous.
“You’re okay?” I ask him, kissing his forehead.
“I don’t want to hurt you. This might hurt, from what I’ve heard.” I smile. “You won’t hurt me.”
He pants. “You tell me if I need to stop, okay?”
I gulp. “Okay.”
We go back to kissing, the seconds stretching forever, before I feel a burn as he pushes himself inside me. I gasp, surprised at the feeling, digging my nails on his arms. He looks to me for direction. I nod. “Just... go slowly,” I groan.
It’s an odd feeling. Something I can’t describe. The slow burn I feel with him on top reminds me I’m alive and he’s here, with me. I will never experience something else quite like this. It’s exquisite and special and unique. It fills me up, something I never knew I needed.
I never thought I’d need him like this.
My mind starts to work again slowly, replaying the images from the wedding night, the letter from Bridgit. Lucas’ wedding. Odin.
For a moment, I’m scared of opening my eyes. What if everything was just a dream and nothing happened? What if my parents are still alive and all I have to worry about is court life and etiquette lessons?
What if Logan is still here?
I don’t know if that’d be better or worse.
My thoughts wander for a moment before the weight beside me shifts. It breaks any haunting dream and longing memory. I let a low sigh of confused relief, his arm wrapping around my torso. I blink at the ceiling, enjoying the familiar scent emanating from him combined with sweat and the smell of something sultry, something I can’t quite pinpoint.
My numb legs come back to life and I shift so I lay my weight next to his.
He sleeps peacefully, his hair plastered to his forehead, the normal lines of stress gone from between his brows. I raise my hand, tracing his hairline with my fingertips, his breath fanning my lips.
I don’t know how to feel. My emotions are oversaturated. I’m worn and confused but somehow, I feel whole again. The closest I’ve been to happiness since father left.
Don’t kid yourself, Alex. This isn’t long-lasting and you know it.
His eyes open slowly as I draw my hand back, pulling up the duvet sheets to cover my chest. It’s still early; the sun isn’t peeking through, making the usual line on the floor. Of course, with the black curtains, it gives the room a sense of privacy, like time doesn’t move when you’re in inside it.
“Good morning,” I whisper, laying my head on my hand.
He smiles lazily, taking my other hand in his, shifting me so I lay next to him, skin to skin. He touches my head softly, so I lay on his chest, listening to his heartbeat.
“Good morning.” His voice, husky and low, sends shivers down my spine as I bite my lip, suppressing a giggle at my train of thoughts. “Are you okay?” is what he says next, which surprises me.
I pull away, resting my chin on his chest. “Shouldn’t I be?”
He smirks softly, running his fingers through my disheveled hair. “I meant, did I hurt you last night?”
My cheeks burn as I move my legs a bit. Soreness, mostly, but an exquisite feeling at the
touch of the sheets to my bare skin. “The usual. It’s a bit sore and I...” I raise the sheets, finding the rumor of Greece truthful. “There’s blood on the sheets,” I admit, laying my head back so he can’t see my guilt.
He sits up and I mimic his movements, perching his head on his hand. “Nothing to be ashamed of, love.”
I try to force a smile of my own as he caresses my cheek with his thumb. “I—I’m sorry for leaving you alone for the toast,” I say. “I just needed some air to breathe.”
Nodding, it takes all of me to ignore the somber expression flashing across his features.
“It’s okay. The fact that they...” he trails off, laying down next to me, staring at the ceiling.
“The fact that they infiltrated the castle right under our noses is baffling.”
I shrug. “They told us they were strong, Odin, stronger than we give them credit for. Duncan’s right. It’s a matter of time before they try something else. I don’t know why they’re holding back.”
“Don’t do that,” he says, covering his eyes with his forearm. “I know you need to talk about what happened. I don’t want you to drown yourself in quiet sorrow.” My heart rises to my throat. He looks at me. “You know you can trust me, right? I understand, Alexandra.”
The last time we spoke about trust I was alone in his room; my parents had just gone and I was scared of confronting the truth. What an improvement.
“Understand what?” I ask, but I know exactly what he means.
I see his eyes looking in me, searching for something. I raised my mask long before he started prodding. “The situation where we are in isn’t common. You were practically forced to marry me. I’d understand—I understand you still have feelings for him, whatever they might be.”
Guilt pushes at my lungs. I go back to my position with my cheek to his chest, tracing circles on his stomach. I can’t bear to look at his face. “I wasn’t forced to marry you. Situations weren’t the best, that’s true, but I chose you, Odin. You’re a good man, and I know without you I wouldn’t have been able to get through the funeral or the coronation or the council. You make me strong.”
“You chose me,” he echoes back as if he can’t quite believe it himself.
I smile. He traces my spine with his fingertips. I trace patterns on his chest. “I’m mourning for a friend. The idea of something that could’ve been. Nostalgia over a girl I no longer am, over my childhood.”
He hums. “But you loved him.”
I shut my eyes, begging the image of him not to come crashing back, destroy the walls
I’ve built. “I did.” I swallow. “Maybe part of me always will. But whatever I felt for him; it is totally different from what I feel for you. He... he never understood what I had to go through. Hell, he was happy. He had a life full of choices to make and I was stuck in the middle. Some of my anger towards this life bled to him. I could tell I dimmed his happiness. We weren’t good for each other.”
I don’t think of the words, they just spill out, something with meaning, words I truly feel. The truth astonishes me.
Maybe I love him still, part of me says, it is why I’ll find him, no matter what it takes.
But you can love a friend, right?
Me being with him has long since become a useless impossibility. It wore me out just by wishing on it.
Odin doesn’t speak. I allow my voice to drop. I need to speak the truth into existence. I can’t afford to forgive myself, my selfishness. And maybe Odin won’t, either. But the words beg to leave my throat. “He wanted to leave. Right after the coronation, he told me he’d leave. He saw no purpose on remaining in the castle. I knew we no longer could be together because I knew it was you whom I’d end up marrying.”
He is no stranger to my behavior. “Did you ask him to stay?” he asks slowly.
I close my eyes, hating myself for a moment. “I gave him the order to stay.”
Odin sighs, hand stopping on my lower back. “Alex...” It’s not judgmental or skeptical. It’s not lacking emotions like I’d rather want it to. It’s my name full of hurt and burn.
It cracks my walls with the force of a hammer. “I’m hurting you over this, aren’t I?”
He takes a moment to answer before he pushes me away softly. My heart stops, immediately thinking he’ll choose to push me away, the first smart choice coming from him, when he takes my hand, sitting me on his lap. I giggle at the touch of his hands on my stomach, struggling to pull the duvet sheets higher to cover my breasts.
Like always, he dons an armor to protect me from his feelings. He thinks I’m not strong enough to see him hurt. For all I know, he might be right. “Let’s not talk about it, okay?
I’m—I’m the one who has the better end of the deal. I get to see you and touch you and you have to be an actual queen. You’re human, Alexandra. You’re allowed to think and feel and be selfish. It’s basic human nature.”
I don’t find it in me to believe his words. His lingering tone tells me he doesn’t, either.
“Logan didn’t think so,” I say.
He smiles. My chest swells. “I’m not Logan.”
The sentence leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth. “Greece wasn’t there,” I say instead.
“I didn’t see her, either. Wasn’t she with you right before the wedding?”
I shake my head, crossing my arms. “She told me she’d be, but I don’t know, something must’ve come up on her father’s schedule. Tell me if you get a letter from her.”
He nods swiftly. “Will do.”
“So how was it?” I ask.
He blinks at me. “The wedding?”
His laughter booms across the room, contagious. “It was every bit worth the wait. Can’t believe I waited that long.”
I nod. My hands on his shoulders, adrenaline makes me dizzy with renewed desire. “I don’t think I’m used to you yet. Greece says the first couple tries are painful.”
His smile turns to concern in a second. “What does it feel like?”
“Uncomfortable at first. It burns a bit. I’m super sore.” I smile. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“I’m glad I got to show you my skills,” he says, winking right after. I almost giggle. Almost.
“You gave me a choice,” I whisper, kissing his jaw. My hands quiver. I will them to remain steady. “Thank you for that.”
Unlike the council and everyone around me, he allowed me to choose what I wanted. If I was ready for a child or not. I must have an heir to secure my place, and soon, but the fact he took his time making sure I was comfortable and safe the moment I’ve been at my most vulnerable warms my heart.
“I’ll never force you to do anything you don’t want to. Hell, if you don’t want children, I get it.”
I push away Logan’s conversation in the underground tunnels. I don’t need another wound to heal. “I do. I mean, I have to. Just not... not quite now.” He nods, kissing my temple. “Actually, I don’t think I have enough elements to make sure I know how skilled you truly are.”
I make a pause, leaning into him. “Do you mind if we try again?”
It’s not hard deciphering her humor. Aunt Heaven practically glimmers, her green dress matching with her eyeshadow. Even her perfume smells different, more extravagant, and she shines, all smiles.
“Good morning, sweetie,” she says, standing up and leaning in, kissing the air next to my cheek. I am not used to her elaborate, fake happiness.
I smile out of reflex, sitting down next to her. “Hi,” is all I muster. I’m not in the mood for charades and fake dispositions, not now. I know her true intentions.
She picks up her cup of tea, taking a sip before arching an eyebrow. “How was the wedding?”
“You were there,” I remind her as a servant leans over my left to pour a new cup of steaming tea. Heaven basks in glory. The wedding was all her scheme, a plot she planned before she came into the castle. But she doesn’t know it was a choice I let her think she made in order to grow strong under her nose. With the wedding, I stripped her husband of rageful allies. With the wedding, I get to keep my country.
Her eyes squint at me with morbid curiosity and undercut distaste. “Right. I mean the wedding night, Alexandra.”
The first thought comes to mind. She has no right to know. It’s something so intimate, something I’m not sure I’ll be able to share with anyone else ever. I blink at her, trying to get my anger under control. How dare she come here thinking she’s my confidant just because mother’s gone?
“That,” I say, “is none of your business.”
Her tongue hits the roof of her mouth. “We need an heir, Alexandra. And quick.”
“I’m married now. I did what the council wanted me to, for once. I need them to let me rest. I don’t want a baby. And, need I remind you: it’s been two days since then. It’s impossible to know if I—”
“You can know if you used protection or not,” she interrupts.
I let out a grunt. “If the only purpose of this talk is to give me basic classes of sex ed, I’ll pass, thanks.”
She smiles again, touching her temple. “The same attitude as Lennon. God bless me.” She takes a deep breath, staring down the tablecloth before picking her head up, eyes piercing mine. “All I’m trying to say is, I’d like to see you pregnant before I...”
She doesn’t finish the sentence. I lean in. There’s something clouding her features. She is joyful but not eager. She’s rather calm for the occasion. A fire desperate to burn damped by a cloth. “Before you?”
Shaking her head, it is as though she’s trying to get rid of some unwanted thought in her mind. She sighs. The crown on her head glimmers with the setting sun. “Before I leave. I can only stay here for so long. James’ got it under control, but a country always needs both monarchs.”
I scoff. “I don’t see why I have to rush,” I tell her. “Mother had me when she was twenty-seven.”
“The situation then is quite different from the current one in Alemiss. You know that. The more of a foothold you have, the harder it’ll be to get you off the throne.” She taps her chin with her bony finger, reminiscing on the years. She barely talks about before.
“I don’t know,” I say, crossing my arms and paying attention to her annoyingly beautiful features as I say the next words. “True, an heir will make me stronger, but not while I’m pregnant. Another country—hell, even the brides—could take advantage of it and use it against me, don’t you think?”
A true queen, her face doesn’t crack, her eyes don’t even move. But my meaning is clear. The words glimmer in the air around us. She hears my subtle accusation, taking it in stride. “Odin will be strong enough for the both of you for those short months.”
“But the preparation I have, the full responsibility relies on me and the duty I have to protect our legacy.” I make a pause, thinking my words through. “I’m not ready to have a child when I still haven’t let go of Lennon or Bliss or...”
She smiles. I wish I could smack her. “Your boy. The commoner. Liam?”
“Logan,” I correct her, gritting my teeth. “How do you know about him?” Of course she knew. She could have his head on her hands. I hate not being able to call her out on it, not yet. I remember Duncan’s advice. I knit my fingers tightly to stop my desires of pulling her blonde hair and making her confess.
If anything happened to Logan though, she’d pay.
Her small shoulders shrug. “Well, Odin’s got a racket since yesterday morning deploying convoys to specific points in different cities and placing missing and reward posters all over the streets. He’s making an effort for a man who was useless for the crown. A man who could cost you your head.”
My feet move without my permission. I find myself standing up. Rage stills my resolve.
“You know nothing about what he means for the crown or for me. Whether Odin’s armies are looking for him or not, that’s none of your business. Do me a favor and step aside, Heaven, this isn’t your calling,” I spit.
She nods, tilting her head like a bird’s, blinking. “Did I hit a nerve?”
I inhale, exhale. Protocol lessons stop me from slurring. “Those things, private things about me or between Odin and I, they’re out of your control and you’re stepping out of line. I don’t need you looking over my shoulder all the time like a damn child.”
“Manners,” she chides.
I raise my middle finger. “Fuck your manners.”
She sighs again, standing up, matching my height. Her dress puffs
as she pushes her chest out. I’ve had enough intimidation. I stand before her as her equal, a stronger queen. “I get it if you’re hurt, if you’re scared...”
Here comes her speech again. I push back the chair, my hunger long forgotten. My heels clank against the marble. I trot furiously towards the exit. I don’t have the time to listen to her.
“I know you can’t tolerate any more losses. But remember!” she yells after me. “The more you wear your sorrow, the stronger it’ll make you.”
I close the door behind me with a slam. She said those exact words before when mom and dad went away. She didn’t cry then. How could she not? Am I just too weak?
No, she’s insensible.
I walk fast through the hallways, my head pounding and my chest heaving. I need her to leave, as quick as she can. If I could, I’d get her exiled. It’s added pressure. Useless pressure I don’t need.
She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
My room seems so far away when all I want to do is jump in bed and scream. Scream because of Aunt’s ulterior motives and the pressure that’s still on me, no matter how much the council takes from me.
They still want more. They will always want more. I should get used to it, but how can I?
I doubt anyone can.
I open the door to my room after what seems like ages, pushing against the heavy wood. Except, the door has never been heavy before, always sliding easily with just a push. I suppress a gasp when I find what’s blocking the door.
Or rather, who.
Falling to my knees, I cup her head on my lap, checking for a pulse. “Are you okay? Liliana, are you alright?” My hands move all around her, frantic. I’m not sure what to do.
She rolls over, allowing me to come inside by crawling out of the way, closing the door behind us. There’s no blood, which leads me to believe whatever happened can be dealt with in private. Her eyes, green and wide, stare at me, looking at my movements. She shivers.
“Did someone do this to you?” I ask her.
Just when I think I’ll get no reply, she stifles a sob, sitting up, rocking back and forth, hands on her knees. “Your—Your Majesty,” she fumbles, her chin shaking.
I place a hand on her shoulder. Her worn uniform is rough under my fingertips. Nothing can harm her now that I’m here. “Call me Alex,” I tell her. “Was it a guard? Did someone—”
She shakes her head slowly, closing her eyes in a pained expression. I wait, the doubt eating my insides. “Your Majesty... a guard, a rebel—came into your room.”
My face remains stern. My fingers brush the hair off her face to give me something to do, but my stomach drops. I pray Odin doesn’t feel the urge to see me at this very moment.
“Is that so?” After losing Logan, her news is like talking about an ant infestation.
Nodding, her eyes find mine for the first time since I found her. “They—they weren’t here to harm, My Queen. They would’ve done you no harm.”
“Then what were they here for, Liliana?” I snap. She shakes her head, her eyes welling up. I struggle to lower my voice to appear tranquil. “Did they hurt you?”
“No, My Queen, I let them in because they—they visited Logan’s chambers and came to yours to make sure I—”
The reality stares right at my face. It’s so obvious I don’t know how I didn’t see it before. She looks scared, fragile, alone. And I understand.
It makes sense, the dots slowly connecting in my splintering mind.
“You let them in,” I say slowly, echoing her words. “Because you’re one of them?”
She throws herself over me, hugging me while her cheek rests on my shoulders. She weeps shameful tears, staining my dress. I don’t care. Shock freezes me in place. I can’t move.
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty—they promised me they wouldn’t hurt you when I joined. They promised, and they—she’s loyal to her word.”
“She?” I ask, caressing her hair. Liliana’s older than me, but now the roles could be reversed. I could be her older sister, comforting her. It’s almost as if my queen status is forgotten for a second. The same position I acquired with father, the protector, the crutch, replicated again. I sigh. “Bridgit?”
She nods, her cheek going up and down my collarbone.
I take a deep breath, stringing the words in my mind. “You are part of the brides. You are a bride.” I whisper. Denly was right. Of course he was. I knew there had to be personnel involved with the brides. I just never thought it’d be her. “How long since?”
She pulls away, looking at my face before running a hand down her cheeks. Her eyes are red-shot, puffy. Dark eyeliner traces the paths of her tears. Standing up, she lends me a hand. I take it, walking to the bed and sitting down, patting the space next to me. She sits slowly, gingerly. “Ten years, Your Majesty.”
“How old are you?”
I nod, processing, calibrating, taunting. “May—may I ask why?
Why did you join?” Everyone has a motive. A small one, like hating men, or a big one, like being sold or raped.
The anger flooding my veins in Heaven’s room is licked by empathy and caution.
She takes a deep breath, her eyes scanning the room, refusing to remain on my face. “I was a product of rape,” she says, fidgeting with her black apron. “Mom didn’t choose to abort me because well... she was scared of the penalty. My father sold me when I was fourteen to a man. He owned a cabaret, forced me to please men so he’d get the money. One night I realized I couldn’t live like it any longer. I was being beaten and used and men got too aggressive. I’d get drugged, waking up not knowing how many men had slept with me for how much gold.” She shuts her eyes, willing the thought away. Shudders ripple my body.
I blink at her, my heart thrumming in my throat. “I escaped one night. A riot occurred just outside the cabaret and I knew it was my shot. I ran for God knows how long, no clothes on my back or food. I could’ve perished if it hadn’t been for your late King.”
My voice catches in my throat. “Le—Lennon?”
She nods, quick eyes squinting in my direction. Apologizing for the pain her story awakens in me. “I wandered the forest alone for a couple of days. Fed on what I could find. I fell asleep one day on the roadside, and I woke up when I heard horses. It was the king’s vehicle. He was to give a speech in a nearby city and I happened to stumble upon him. I thought his men would kill me—I had run from my owner. But he stopped the vehicle, talked to me. Asked me what had happened. I told him everything and he...” She grips her chest, remembering the moment. “He said he’d help me. He offered me a job here. Protection. Safety. The brides contacted me later when mother found out where I was. She—she was—or is, I wouldn’t know, a bride, too.”
I nod, archiving her story. Another perspective I didn’t see. Another ally. “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Her hands shake on her lap. “Will you send me to the dungeons, Your Majesty?” Her voice sounds young, innocent. I shake my head.
I make a choice for her, narrowing my eyes to make sure she understands. “No one must know about this. You have the right to be... part of them. Due to your past. I understand. I’ll pay blind eye this time but I... I need to know. What were they here for, exactly?”
She shrugs, looking sorry. “I wouldn’t know, My Lady, I just follow orders.”
Even in the Brides, she still is treated like a maid.
“Do you think it’s possible for you to send a message to your superiors? I’d—” I think about father and Odin. Lucas and Logan. I’m not in danger, and even if I were, I don’t want to threaten the brides. I’m letting one of them go. I’d never kill Liliana. We’re even now. “I’d like another meeting with your leader,” I say. “Bridgit Glasser. More privately this time.”
Just the two of us. So she can tell me what she did. Where Logan is. So I can kill her on the spot.
She nods sharply, standing up in practiced manners. Her smile returns and her chest puffs as she moves towards the door. “I’ll see what I can do, Your Majesty. I’ll be forever grateful.”
She closes the door, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I twist the possibilities in my mind, playing and changing them. I need to know where Logan is. If he’s alright or not. Liliana is my only way. For now.
If good deeds come back eventually, I hope dad’s good heart and my poor attempt at saving a child’s life is enough.
I hope I’m able to get Logan back.
chapter one! i loved this one. let me know what you think/ what team are you in? i'd love to know!
thank you so much for reading!
PROLOGUE - LUCAS
By the look on aunt’s face, you would think the wedding was hers and not Alex’s. Heaven stands besides the pew closest to the altar, chin high and cheeks ablaze. Odin beside me is slightly flushed too, but nerves are different than the ego boost that comes with getting your way.
My voice sounds shaky against my best efforts. “Are you okay?” He fixes his tie, green eyes darting everywhere. Big, thick fingers fumble with the knot. “Don’t asphyxiate yourself,” I warn. If I’m being honest, he looks a bit sick. Purple isn’t a color meant for a soldier’s face.
The church is crowded. People from the media, commoners, guards, royals, and nobles. Even the council decided to come. Everyone is here to watch my sister get married and a general become king. I’d think he’d be more excited, which is why it’s surprising to see his frame hunched, his hands shaking on his collar.
“This isn’t going the way I planned,” is all he allows, giving up with the tie, his mother next to him fixing the crooked angle. Her touch is light even if her son dwarfs her dainty figure.
“So you’re scared? Or are you having regrets? I could tell Alex to call off the wedding if you’d like,” I tease, smirking.
He returns the same rueful smile, his tie finally in place. “I’m more scared of her than I am of the rebels.” His mother beside him finds it in her to smile begrudgingly. There’s something about her I don’t like. She seems innocent, conniving. Which means she’s not.
I shift my weight. The irony of the wedding and the circumstances surrounding it is astounding. “Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Life has a weird way of working out.”
He echoes my sentiment. “I didn’t think I’d ever become a king. I guess you didn’t think I’d become one, either.”
“Dad wanted you since he first met you,” I say, standing up from the big yet uncomfortable couch in the waiting room right next to the common room of the church. Speaking of father gives me something to look forward to. In some ways, this wedding is everything he wanted for Alexandra. If he had no doubt in Odin, neither should I.
Odin rolls his thunderous shoulders. “He told me so himself, but I never thought Alex would end up marrying me.”
I shrug. “Guess you’re just lucky then.”
The mockery and wonder in his voice are gone, his hands on his sides suddenly steady as he holds my gaze. “That I am.”
I respond in kind, fixing him a stern glance. “And if you dare to hurt her, you’ll have me to worry about.”
He smiles, shaking his head. “Believe me, she knows how to guard her back. A little stubborn, she is.”
Understatement of the year.
The people behind us are the main ‘actors’ of the wedding. Because that’s almost what this is. A play the country will watch to entertain themselves and calm the boredom capable of sparking an almost-revolution while we play along hoping they’ll buy the whole thing. Chloesa’s family, the council, and Alexandra’s maids in waiting are all here. Everyone who matters for Alex is behind, almost as if we were backstage about to perform a show.
Everyone but Greece. And Logan.
Logan, I understand. Watching the woman you love married off to someone who wasn’t here months ago must be a big hit. But Greece, Alexa’s best friend, she had to be here. Show Alexandra her support, be the crutch she needed.
Alexa isn’t here. She’s the bride, and she swore she needed a couple of minutes by herself to gain back her composure. I left her in the chapel as she whispered a greeting to our parents’ boxes. She’s not the same girl I spoke to when the bird in my chamber appeared.
She’s grown, matured, lived and died.
She’s not my Alex anymore.
“Where’s Greece?” I ask, hoping he’ll tell me she’s with Alex or out on the pews.
I get a shrug from Odin, his eyes scanning the crowd. Worry furrows his brows. “Don’t know. Alex isn’t late now, is she?”
“She won’t stand you up,” I assure him.
He huffs. “She’s been paranoid ever since she spoke with the seer.”
I knew. Father and she had the idea of visiting one of those women who read the future, somehow granting you a chance to change things. Even if it is a ruse to get your money, I don’t blame Alex. If I were her, I’d need every coping mechanism I could get to deal with the crown.
“Do you know what she told her? I mean, seriously, how accurate can the predictions be? She’s wasting gold on a woman who doesn’t—”
He cuts me off, walking closer to the table where the archbishop stands, talking to a Father. I follow him. “I don’t know the details, but it mustn’t have been something nice.”
I noticed Alexandra’s grim expression at my wedding. Paired with Bridgit’s kind visit, my sister had too much to handle in such little time. “Things like ‘the crown is a curse’ and stuff of the such?”
His face pales for a second. He clears his throat. “Is she wrong?” It is all he says before his father signals him over, Odin’s tall frame walking from one side of the room to the other to meet his father.
As he walks away, I can’t help but picture the crown on his head. How will he handle power? Will he be just, like father was? Or will he become those kinds of kings who love power more than anything? He seems genuinely attracted to Alexandra, and for both our sakes I hope it’s father’s personality the one he’ll take after.
The bell above our heads echoes a while later, its beat making the whole thing really sink. It’s a low, dull throb, reverberating in my stomach. Chloesa walks beside me, my hand on her lower back, as I lead her toward our assigned pew. I stare ahead to where Odin now stands, a serene expression on his face while he fidgets with his hands.
He cuts a handsome general. Someone to respect, to fear. In some ways, he carries the strength I used to see in father. He’s scared. I see it in his wandering eyes and pursed lips, but he won’t allow the fear to peek through for my sister’s sake.
Alexandra makes her appearance holding onto Duncan’s arm, just like father would’ve wanted. Her dress extends a couple of meters behind her. It is a delicious intricacy, something mother would be proud of. White brings out the sharpness in her electric eyes, juts her cheekbones. Her hair is pulled back with the veil in a style I’ve seen before somewhere. Her makeup, light and almost invisible, makes her eyes shine brighter underneath the chandeliers and the colored glass. It hits me then.
It’s the exact same look mother wore to her wedding.
I’ve seen pictures and tapes of that day but seeing my sister in a very similar dress with similar features makes my chest heave. The dress by itself is simple, no embroidery or details, just white satin falling but embracing her shape. Surprisingly, she doesn’t look as
young anymore. There’s joviality in her face, but it is shadowed by a deeper sense of maturity.
“She looks stunning,” Chloesa whispers beside me, catching my eyes for a second before trailing Alex’s figure down the aisle, the whole room gone quiet. The traditional song plays in the background and the soldiers closest to her at all sides are careful not to step on the tail.
Alexandra is the reincarnation of mother. It’s all I can think about. Royal and beautiful, wise and strong, and even a bit more stubborn. It’s almost my imagination, but there’s an air of power as she walks, swaying her hips gracefully, her chin out in a sign of clear defiance. This is a moment that will secure her foothold on the crown, the thing she had to do to remain alive. I’m almost glad she made the choice as quick as she did. Life was kind enough to find her a friend in Odin.
Odin smiles at her, it is all I see, the same way Lennon smiled at mother on those videos from years ago. All I can think of and pray for is they don’t share the same fate.
All too quickly, she reaches the three steps to the altar, smiling softly at Duncan as he bends over to kiss her hand, a sign of recognition. Odin walks forward, taking her hand and bringing her up the steps.
I take a deep breath. Chloesa holds my hand.
The archbishop, the same man in charge of her coronation all those days ago seems happy about the wedding, a soft smile playing with the crinkles in his eyes as he grabs hold of the bible.
“Friends and family, people of Alemiss, we are gathered here today to celebrate the union of your queen, Alexandra Coltrane the first, and Odin Abernarthy, general from Lanese’s armies.” The pair turns, eyes on each other. The archbishop doesn’t need a microphone. The acoustics in the chapel is designed for events like these.
I can’t see Odin’s face, but Alexa’s expression is drawn. Maybe in thought, probably about mother. She has no real reason to be afraid. She knows Odin, probably more than I initially had guessed. She knows I wouldn’t lead her to the strange hands of a man who wouldn’t know how to handle her. Still, her eyes flicker and her hands holding Odin’s shake the slightest bit. She bites her lip.
Heaven beside me looks around the room too, as if finding out a piece of information missing. Her hushed tone and pursed lips make her look pleasantly annoyed. “Where are her friends? Greece? And... is his name Liam?”
“Logan,” I murmur back. Right. She’s looking for Logan. Heaven smiles at my lack of reply. She knows Logan’s name. Aprincess born, a queen in power, she has the names of all her enemies, and if Logan wasn’t one, he was clearly an obstacle.
An obstacle she overcame with flying colors. The wedding happening around us is enough testament to her power.
I can’t blame Alex. Letting something like that go must not be easy. I also trust her enough to know she’ll respect this marriage, even if it meant nothing to her romantically.
She cares for the country and the crown. She cares for her life and our safety.
And, a small part of her cares for the overrated general.
“This wedding is not just for the sake of love,” says the old man. “In a civilization like ours, monarchs have to exchange such luxuries for protection and alliances. Though, God willing, people find those trials difficult to endure and love sprouts along the way. We’ve seen so in kings and queens before. Our former monarchs, Bliss and Lennon Coltrane.
This wedding is for the citizens of Alemiss, and may God place a good spirit in everyone’s hearts here today.”
I zone out. I heard this just days ago at my own wedding. I stare at Alexandra’s hair, black and just as smooth as mother’s, or focus my attention on Chloesa’s arms around me. I listen to the vows. Anything to keep me away from the memories I pretend to dodge.
Odin clears his throat. His shoulders shake with emotion as he rolls them again. “Alexandra. I can’t begin to express how lucky I feel to get a chance like this. Not only of protecting and caring for your people as if they were my own, but to have a chance to support you along the way and watch you become a woman of good. A merciful queen for your country, now mine too.”
Alexa smiles. Her lips quiver. Fear flashes in her eyes. With a blink, she shakes it away. She’s one to find her way around fear.
Odin’s voice drones on. “I can assure you, you won’t face anything alone, and I’ll always have your back, taking care of the duty left behind by your ancestors and honoring our people with my last breath. In chaos like this and in serenity like before, in sickness and in health, I pledge myself to you, Alexandra Coltrane.”
Odin’s father close to him leans to say something to his wife, her eyes gleaming with something I suspect are tears. It’s so human, to show her doing something as mundane as crying. But it comes out fake. Staged. Wrong.
Alexandra’s voice steals my eyes from the woman. “I promise to let you handle matters with me, Odin Abernarthy, and I trust you will take care of my people, now your own. I will be there for you. A friend, a wife, an ally. A queen.” That’s what she is, smile gleaming for thousands of people to see. “And together we will honor and respect the legacy we are yet to build, loving one another and our people in hopes of a brighter future—the one my parents would’ve wanted—for Alemiss.” Her voice doesn’t falter. She sounds sure of herself, even stopping a couple of times to stroke Odin’s cheek. It’s not hard to understand her intentions. If people buy this, it’ll appease the masses just enough for Odin to get back the cities we’ve lost and be able to send our soldiers back to the battlefields if necessary.
Though part of her, the young, beautiful part of her I know so well hides behind those words and swift caresses. She feels something for Odin, and though it might not be love, I hope someday love blossoms from it.
The bell rings again. People cheer around me. Chloesa jumps to my arms and I find myself smiling at the view. I wish father and mother would’ve been here, but I’m sure there’s part of them with me, with us.
Odin signs the papers he only would’ve signed if my sister had asked him to—the coronation slips. Ink is placed on her thumb and his alike, they press it to the paper just like Chloe and I did, the bishop declaring, “Long live King Odin and Queen Alexandra.”
“You seem worried.” Her voice can break through the fog clouding my brain as easy as the sun peeks every morning from the darkness. Her green eyes shine in the fluorescent lights of the dancefloor.
I shake my head, dismissing her comment. I don’t want to worry her. I don’t even know what I’m thinking of myself. “I’m just thinking, that’s all.”
She smiles at me, touching my cheek, caressing the stubble growing there. My energy was consumed by Alex’s wedding. In past days, I rarely had the strength to drill with the soldiers or do something as simple as shaving. I couldn’t bear the thought of her doing this for a country with nothing more than vain traditions to uphold. “I can see smoke coming from your ears. What’s going on?”
Her words are why I didn’t put up any resistance to marrying her, I think to myself, she’s sensitive and knows how to make people around her feel better. She’s just what I need, a solid companion.
Like a child in the middle of a tantrum, I heave a theatrical sigh before surrendering my efforts. “I don’t know how she’ll handle this. Or even if she’s ready to.”
She hums, gripping my tight shoulders, looking up at me. “If she’s half as stubborn as you are, she’ll get through this. We got through this.”
“I’m not talking about the wedding. I’m not really worried about it,” I tell her. “But with the marriage come new strategies and an heir. As soon as possible. She’s a queen in the middle of a civil war.”
And through it all, I must keep her safe. Odin is a new addition to the plan; one I’m still testing. He cares for her. He’ll go through lengths to keep her safe. Sometimes the biggest threat she faces is herself.
Chloe smirks at me as I twirl her around, her green dress puffing around us. “Never underestimate a woman, Lucas.”
“It’s not... I mean, yes,” I say as we finish the song, her head on my shoulder. “I understand. But I—the council isn’t necessarily her number one supporter. The war’s not looking good either and the decision she made about the brides’ leader was not a good choice. Not in the eyes of the council.”
I’ve heard about the meeting all over the news, seen it in the council’s preying eyes and on Alexandra’s lingering blue pebbles. I don’t know how it went. Odin has kept the information to himself. Try as I may, I haven’t been able to get anything from him. I can only hope whatever it is, Odin knows how to calm Alexandra.
“I heard about it. What happened there? Any news? I don’t think they reached an agreement. The security here is packed,” she mutters, raising her head and staring at the guards at every corner.
“It may not have been a good move, but it isn’t a terrible move either.”
We walk back to the table, her tiny hand reaching out for a glass of champagne. She knows of diplomacy as much as I do, but even with the knowledge, these are times where tests are hardly foreseen.
I stroke her hand lightly. “I forgot you’re a neutral, too.”
She takes a big gulp, her throat bobbing up and down before she smiles at me, her lips a deeper shade of red. “No, I’m not. I’m with the decrees. Of course, my opinion doesn’t matter since I’ll never be a queen but...”
I don’t know what I expected from her, but the words gush from her mouth and my eyes
widen in disbelief. I stare at her for a moment once we take a seat. “But—but you’re a woman.” Mother was against the decrees. Alexandra, Greece, their maids. Everyone I know. Even me.
“Yes, but we need the decrees to establish order and to...”
She trails off, bowing her head. I pick her chin up with my index finger, staring at her. I force her to continue. I need to listen to her thoughts; see how she thinks. She’s the strongest ally I’ll get here. “Yes?”
Shaking her head, her auburn hair leaving behind a sweet smell, she pushes my hand away softly, taking another sip at the glass. “And nothing. That’s it. My family is neutral—verbally. We fully support the measures. It helps keep the monarchies stable.”
But I know her better. Her eyes flicker with guilt, and I take her hand resting on the table. “There’s something you aren’t telling me, darling.”
She coughs, surprised by my manners. I share her way my trademark smile, hoping she’ll trust me. She knows she can trust me. It doesn’t work, I realize with shock. Am I losing my charm? “I’ll tell you later. Now’s not the time. It’s your sister’s wedding.”
“Chloe—” I push. Her gaze turns back to me, her eyes glossy. I backtrack, easing my prodding. Whatever it is, it’s important enough to hurt her, so I decide to wait.
“Lucas, please not now.”
I nod, swallowing my words and pulling her in for a hug, resting my chin on her head. The music stops and the peculiar sound of a knife against glass shatters the comfortable silence, followed by a few murmurs. From the private table beside the dance floor, Odin stands up, eyes alert and shoulders stiff.
Alexa’s missing from his side.
He smiles ruefully though, shy once the crowd notices the queen isn’t there. “Alex—um, your queen had to leave to fix her corset, but we’re almost done for the night, so I wanted to thank all of you on her behalf, for coming here to celebrate our wedding...” His words trail off as I begin to think the possibilities, the hidden meaning behind his words and uncomfortable stance.
She would never skip something important unless she felt sick or something was missing.
From one moment to another, I am pushing Chloesa away softly, excusing myself to the bathroom and walking fast towards the exit. Once I reach the hallways, I start running. Wherever she is, this must be starting to wear on her. I go to the floor of her chambers. Nothing. The garden looks empty. I ask the guards in a couple of hallways. They all shake their heads. It seems to me they’re not doing their job of monitoring the castle. Finally, a bulb lights up in my head and I run the opposite direction, to the noblemen floor.
I stop at the sight of her on the floor, her head bowed, something on her lap. I reach her slowly, willing my shoes not to make any noise, though I doubt she even notices at all. She doesn’t move, her legs crossed and her hair spilling forward, the dress around her like a rag doll.
Bending down, I touch her shoulder lightly. She jumps at my touch. Her face is serene, almost void, and I find myself asking her if she’s okay, but she doesn’t reply, her gaze returning to her lap once again.
In it, a piece of leather lies. I take her cold hand in mine, asking her for silent permission to read whatever it is. She raises her head, nodding to me, blue eyes gone cold. I take it from her thin fingers, frozen hands, kneeling in front of her.
When the words finally begin to make sense in my brain, I drop the note, laying it on the cold marble floor, and look at her. She’s already looking, refusing to speak.
All I can say is her name, taking her head on my hands and pushing her to my chest, embracing her in an attempt to keep her whole and alive, bring back the spark in her eyes they’ve taken from her.
She doesn’t cry, just wraps her arms around my waist, pulling me closer. I inhale her familiar scent, so much like mother’s, and we stay like that for a couple of minutes.
Time doesn’t matter when Alexandra is hurt.
They have used her emotions, not against the country, but against the alliance.
How will Odin react?
EEEEEEK im so excited! writing from other points of views proved to be super fun so expect more of that. let me know what you think! (this is the second book of my previous novel, bride war. i have it all uploaded to my profile, too, so check it out)!
thank you so much for reading!
and I learned
You left me one dreary morning.
Everything’s still a haze.
I was breathing in a colosseum
with no doors and no windows,
and I could hear the footsteps of soldiers
coming from miles away.
No weapons in my hands
I was defeated before they came.
And I had four walls on my sides,
and nowhere to escape
and so I cried,
day and night,
and my tears watered vines and they
grew up along those walls.
I clung to them, my last chance,
and I broke free before they could get to me.
I wandered the desert, the nights grew cold,
and you had taken my coat.
So I hugged myself to keep me warm and the days piled up.
Found a little creek and drank from it,
stopped to rest until my feet were no longer sore.
And there, a snake came by,
told me I would die
and I would be all alone.
So I had to fight, took my hands and strangled my doubt.
But the snake took a bite and I felt the poison spread
up my veins and I could almost hear you calling my name.
I found a rock and I made it sharp.
With the strength you lacked I cut off my hand.
I used my shirt to tie my wound.
By the time I stopped bleeding,
I had lost a little part of myself,
but when the sun came up
I knew then it was done.
And so I kept on.
And I had four dreams in those nights,
and freedom at the tip of my tongue.
And I would cry,
I would scream and fight,
cursed you for leaving me alone and I,
I found a road in the shimmering sun.
And I took my time walking down those lines,
hoping they would take me to a new home
So I, I found a place, barely standing,
and I stayed there two nights but it still felt empty.
I tended my wounds and stitched my scars.
I washed my face and cleansed my body off your touch.
And I looked in the mirror, into those two eyes
that looked so much like yours but had seen way more,
and I took a breath, barely holding a scream,
realized all I had was me.
And so I picked up my pride
and let the tears flow,
they watered the garden I now feed from.
And I slept, tossed in the night.
I knew then I wouldn’t die.
The alternative was live with a few wounds to treat.
And I took it shamelessly.
Because you left me alone,
I had to fend for my own,
and they judge but don’t know
the hell I’ve been throug.
I escaped men with swords
when they had planes and boats,
I lived through the snake bite
and I died a little inside,
but I was alright.
And I spent two years alone
healing on my own.
No one to rush me, no one to judge me
And I learned
hello! i've been from a writing hiatus (only free writing, still working fully on my novel), but this piece came like a regurgitated string of words from my chest and i really like it, so here it is. if you're going through a rough time, hang in there. things get better.
thank you so much for reading
Duncan walked me down the aisle. I remember it. I remember the dress and the people cheering. My heart a painful reminder I was alive, about to seal my fate. It pulsed steadily. My lungs worked at miles per hour. My head spun as I caressed the thin, fragile material my dress was made of.
The images blurry past as I sit on the cold marble, a harsh stone called reality.
Almost in a daze, I repeated the condemning vows in front of the pope, and I felt the warm assurance of Odin’s hands on mine as I whispered a faint I do.
My mind was consumed with thoughts, looking every which way to see if a threat was coming. I feared for Odin and for Lucas.
I never feared for Logan.
This is what the life I hated had done to me. The day I’d dreamed of for my entire life was one I soon learned to dread, and it’d replay in my mind for the months to come.
Odin’s lips brushed mine, but I barely felt a thing. I’d spent years wondering how that moment would feel like, wishing it’d be with someone I loved more than myself, but it had been nothing compared to my imagination.
Briefly, I imagined mom and dad seating on a pew, smiling at me while holding each other close. Part of me knew something was wrong, the threat had come to be, but I was so blind keeping my hands firmly intertwined with Odin’s and keeping an eye on Lucas to notice who was really gone. As long as Odin never left my side it meant he was alive, with me, here.
He didn’t seem faced by the threat. Understanding flickered in his eyes as we spun around the dance floor. His grip was a bit tighter on me, but I understood. I didn’t mind. I tried to push the thoughts away. I was doing fine; I was alive, honoring father’s wishes. Mother’s voice echoed my inner resolve.
As I walked around the castle in the middle of the party, I tried to excuse my foolish behavior. I just needed to see him one last time, I promised myself, as I knocked on his door. Just one more time and I’d be happy. I’d let him go and I’d move on. He had refused the invitation to the wedding. I didn’t judge him. I would’ve done the same. I barely could stomach the thought of him belonging to someone else.
But that girl had to be gone. I had to get rid of her, no matter the consequences.
When the answer to my weak knocks didn’t come, the door never opened, I wondered briefly if he’d gone to the wedding. I doubted it for a second. With my head swimming in wine, I sat down on the floor, waiting for him. My reasoning was he had to come back soon, wherever he was. Maybe he was checking up on his parents, or maybe he’d gone to the kitchen.
When the seconds turned to minutes and I still sat at the door, wedding dress and heavy makeup on, my gut clenched. I laid my hands on the linoleum floor to find my fingers caressing a soft leather piece.
I knew what it was before my eyes trailed the hasty text.
Happy wedding, Your Highness. Took a little something from you, hope you don’t mind. Say hello to that enriched soldier for me.
Before my brain could process it, I remember thinking that taking him instead of killing him was something worse than death itself. And then it settled on my mind, knocking the air off my lungs. I couldn’t beckon the strength I needed to stand up. Life was stolen from me, vitality, energy. I was weak and drunk. But still, the words resonated in my mind, jolting me awake.
I had no room for heartache, pain. A numbness came to me, spreading down my chest to my legs, my throbbing head, and shaky hands. Grief settled in the pit of my stomach, anger battling and losing against sorrow.
My boy was gone, taken, stolen. In danger. Together with him, any trace of the girl I’d been vanished.
The words cluttered in my mind, freezing me in the impending moment.
Logan was gone.
And I’ll do anything to get him back. Not because I love him, not because I need him, but because I feel stranded, alone, scared.
Because they have taken a piece of me with him. Because if it wasn’t before, it is now.
Even if I don’t know who I’m fighting against.
this is the epilogue! this book my baby sooo i hope you enjoyed it as much as i did. im starting to post the next book next week so stay tuned for that too!
thank you for reading
chapter twenty two
The wrinkles on her face deepen in concentration, her blue eyes closed as I watch. Her room is nothing special: covered in red from ceiling to floor, adorned here and there with black details. Candles burn all around the room, making the air take a sweet, almost sugary smell. She is a small woman, the coat wrapped around her shoulders threatening to engulf her in a black abyss. Her voice is quiet, weathering with age and many fates.
“You’re getting married soon,” she whispers, trailing her fingers across my palm. My instinct is to shrink but the lady in me bleeds through, keeping my spine straight as I listen. “But there’s something in your past making you feel guilty about it. Better yet, someone.”
I swallow. She has no possible way of knowing of Logan. But she’s right. Blinking a few times through the fog from the candles, I listen to her breathing. I force mine to keep her synchrony.
“Though you want a happy marriage, it’ll be anything but. Your union will be clouded with anxiety, chaos, and turbulence.”
My heart drops, but I will myself not to let my emotions show in front of this woman. Thousands of questions flutter in my mind, my hand finally quivering under her bony fingers. She spares a kind smile. It does nothing to warm my insides.
“Is someone getting hurt?”
Odin warned me about this. In his eyes, it is a waste of time, trusting women who have had years of practice and expertisescamming people. But I can’t live in the uncertainty hanging in the air every day of my life. I need answers, even if they’re fake ones. I want to prepare myself, especially after Bridgit’s threat. Maybe a trap of its own, but the words of this woman speak to me in hushed whispers.
Relinquish of power.
Father’s death. Everything I believed in crumbling like sandcastles against the waves.
She takes a minute, focusing on something I can’t see. Maybe something that doesn’t even exist. “Not someone you know, no. The unrest among people will be calm for a while, but it is the peace coming before a storm.”
Did my dad really think she was reliable enough to put his trust in her?
She was right the first time. She almost predicted my father’s death.
Will she predict mine?
Her chest shudders as she takes a staggering breath. My lungs deflate.
“There’s a hidden truth—I can’t see it very clearly—but that piece of information can build you up or tear you down.” She opens her eyes slowly, eyeing me. “Anything else you wish to know?”
I pull my hand from hers, tucking it under my armpit, bowing my head.
“Through all of this, will my brother be safe?” I care for this answer more than anything she’s told me, though I make sure to write her words on my brain to dissect them later.
She tips her head to the side. She could pass for an innocent granny anytime. Her abilities are something a rational queenwouldn’t rely on. Luckily, I’m anything but rational. “You can say so, yes.”
I nod briskly. “This thing I don’t know... is someone keeping it a secret from me?” I clear my throat. “The—the council?”
No hesitation in her thin, velvety voice. “Yes, someone decided not to share the information with you to keep you safe, but the council had no say in it.”
I stare into her blue eyes, trying to see beyond them. Unfortunately, she wears her years proudly, creating a barrier to stop me from seeing what lies beneath. “You spoke once to father. A while ago. Did you—was there any way to know he’d—he’d leave?”
Her eyes soften, and her tone wavers as she stumbles through the words.
Pity and shame flicker like flames in her eyes. “I saw something. A little boy in my vision. Blue eyes. I had no idea what it meant at the time, but the domino effect was what brought about his doom. Had I known, I would’ve warned him, my Queen.”
With a gasp, I realize she saw the kid I saved. Dylan. My eyes flood as I blink hateful tears away.
But she didn’t warn him.
The next question doesn’t dare leave my lips. I doubt I truly want to know, but the thought is there, in my blood, in the back of my brain.
How close am I to my final days?
The days leading up to my wedding are filled with blurry, unconscious decisions and the time ticking by way too fast. A talk with Aunt yesterday assured me the rebels wouldn’t get through our security. I did little to believe her. After all, she’d proven time and time again she wasn’t on my side.
I didn’t fear for my life. She wouldn’t hurt me. All she wanted was my country, but for now, her only purpose here was seeing her niece getting married to a potential ally of her crown.
Fear and eagerness made their way to my veins, making the days feel like years and seconds all at the same time. The predictions of the seer did little to quench my fears. They spread like wildfire.
Part of me knew I wasn’t ready for the wedding. I care for Odin, more than I liked to admit, but whether I like to admit it or not, Bridgit was right; I’m not a woman yet. The girl in me is afraid to surrender myself to Odin on our wedding night. I’m not an angel, I did certain things with Logan ladies shouldn’t do based on men’s standards, but what Odin and I would eventually have to do surpassed it all. The thrill and a flush enveloped me whenever I thought of it.
Lucas and Duncan had a talk with me the day before Lucas’ wedding, and I remember bits and pieces of it as I spun in mybrother’s arms the night of the party. He seemed happy, relaxed, even a light color coated his cheeks. I allowed myself to feel nostalgic for a bit. The boy I used to run around the castle with was becoming a man before my eyes, and he had gotten married to protect me. The love I felt for him reached its peak on the dance floor, and I swore to anyone who was listening above I would take care of him, no matter how much I had to lose.
The wedding itself was small, decent and more luxurious than most. More than that, it was everything I wished mom and dad had seen. The garden was surrounded by a red and brown structure— the rain had decided to pour at the last minute. Flowers, red and orange, just the shades of Chloesa’s hair, littered the grass, smelling almost angelical. She looked stunning too. Her hair was pulled up back with the veil, and the dress’ tail occupied the entirety of the descending steps at the front gates of the castle. Her mother did a peculiar job at planning a wedding in such short notice. Her family was there, the knot tied in the witness of the court and the broadcast happening in Toyar.
The event was broadcasted around all Alemiss too, though the party was just for us royals to witness. I gave a speech. This time, with the threat and the seer’s words echoing in my mind, I allowed the council to write it for me, trusting Duncan’s wisdom to say the things my people needed to hear. My head was just elsewhere, and I felt like if I had to add to my to-do list making a speech, I’d eventually collapse. I read the speech, the words blurring, meaningless. Something along the lines of how successful our meeting had been, how the decrees were important, but we appreciated their concerns. How I was eager to marry the man next to me. That’s all I recall. I was eager. Sort of. I was also scared.
Maybe it was the thrill and fear combined, but it made me wish father and mother could’ve been there. If mother were still here, she’d make sure I knew what I was getting myself into and she’d hold my hand in the process.
“What’s in that little, chaotic head of yours?” Lucas poked my crown jokingly as we spun around the dance floor. He followed my steps easily in swift synchrony. Chloesa wasn’t far behind, Odin’s arms wrapped tightly around her small waist.
I smiled up at my brother. Any other day I would’ve kept the thoughts to myself, but I knew without a doubt he was thinking about mother too.
The telltale signs were there. Wavering eyes, darting from the crowd to me and back again. The thought of mother provided strength both of us needed desperately. “I’m thinking about mom.” He nodded once, understanding the meaning behind the words. “How I’m not ready to get married.”
He chuckled, shaking his head, a gesture that made him look like my father. The ache ebbed that moment, only to come back with a resounding crack, wobbling my knees. He didn’t notice. “It isn’t all bad. I mean sure, everyone’s looking at you hoping you mess it up, but ignoring it, there’s not much difference. You’re just signing up another paper like the royal you are.”
I could see the truth behind his words, but it didn’t make me feel less unsettled. Even less comfort I found when Logan showed up. I took my time seizing him up from afar, staring at Lucas and me as we moved elegantly through the dance floor. Whenever my eyes met his, he’d bow his head, ashamed. Finally, he’d mustered up the courage to approach. I didn’t want to listen. I silently pleaded Lucas to say no. But the girl getting married in less than a week needed this closure. Odin would understand.
“Mind if I steal your sister for a dance?” I immediately looked around the room. I didn’t want Odin to see. Lucas taunted my reaction, squeezing my back in silent comprehension. Logan looked strikingly handsome in the black suit; gray eyes focused on my dress. I felt hot under his gaze, dropping Lucas’ shoulders with ease.
“Of course,” Lucas said, smiling towards a happy, glistering Chloesa. At least he is happy, I repeated myself.
Logan’s grip on me was soft, too careful. “Hi.”
I remember staring at him, hating myself for the way my heart hammered without my authorization. I took my time answering, writing him on the walls of my mind, drinking him in. I was sure he was doing the same. His steps faltered a bit, no match to Lucas’ protocol lessons, but they resonated with me, reminding me of chases given under moonlight and days spent soaked on the fountain.
“Tomorrow’s the big day, huh?” His tone was light, cautious. Smiling, I willed my eyes to part from his while I nodded. “It is.”
I searched for his eyes though, trying to send a message. “I don’t feel like fighting tonight, Logan.”
“Neither do I,” he agreed, shifting his weight. “I came here to wish you the best. I hope you learn how to love him.”
Swallowing the sudden knot in my throat, I nodded again. This was the final departure, everything I had dreaded and wanted tangled in a moment I knew I’d never get back. It hurt to let him go. Because that’s what the dance meant. Surrendering the little girl in me, burying her six feet under. “Thank you.”
“Are you a hundred percent sure about this?” I knew he was asking just to be polite, but part of me wished he really did care. Part of me wanted to remember our hasty plans to run away together, seek shelter in Nalyn, change our names and leave the court behind. Those thoughts now seem infantile, stupid. So far away.
I sidestepped the question. “I don’t have another choice, Logan.”
He grimaced, staring off to some spot over my shoulder. Odin, I realized, Logan’s features twisting to a scowl. “Have you changed your mind about your... order?”
I hadn’t. And I wouldn’t. Had I known how things would turn out, maybe I would have. I would’ve begged for him to leave, ushered him out the castle myself. But I wasn’t ready. I told myself I’d be happy watching him looming in the corners of the castle, far away not to touch him, close enough to remember him. Even now, with my heart struggling against a warrior’s charm, I still needed him.
“No.” I smiled, pushing him away softly. “I need you here. Stop being so selfish, Logan.” Ironic, all of it. He was obeying the rules of a queen he despised, not the girl he loved. He had no choice.
Before he had the chance to answer, Odin touched my bare shoulder. I would recognize his warmth anywhere. His tone cut through steel.
Logan’s hands fell from my body in a jolt. Not bothering to be polite in the slightest, Odin leaned into me, his lips brushing against my ear, a display of affection for Logan to see. “Are you busy?” he asked, ignoring Logan as he placed a paper on the palm of my hand. “I found this in your room.”
My mother’s handwriting.
I gave what I hoped passed as an apologetic smile to Logan.
“Have fun,” I told him. That’s what he needed to hear. Not that I loved him, not that I wanted him to spin me around the dance floor till the night was gone.
Looking up at Odin, I fixed him a stare. Back off, it said, but the words died on my throat as I swallowed. “Thank you.”
Needless to say, I looked for a place where I could be alone before gathering the courage to open it.
The letter remained on my limp hand for minutes. It eyed me, daring me to open it. But once I did, mother’s words would be new for once and then disappear again. I wondered briefly if I would ever hear her clear voice again. Not the misconstrued version my mind had created, but her voice, her stealth.
With the last bit of strength I could muster, I tore the envelope open, hands quivering. Her voice filled my ears, the ache on my chest lessening.
We, queens, always must have a contingency plan, don’t we? In case you’re reading this, you’re close enough to your wedding.
My eyes watered, and I sobbed lightly. Odin must’ve read the words, too, but at that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to care as I scanned the paper. Right now, mother was back, beside me.
Mother, not the queen, the monarch, the woman with a crown. My mother.
I believe you are nervous. Scared. Anxious. Thrilled? I felt all those emotions before you, honey, but we have one thing separating us. Power runs through your veins, all your own, when it never did through mine. You’re a queen, with or without your husband, remember it. Yes, it’s new, and it’ll be weird for a while. Hard to get used to. But if God answers my prayers, it’ll be one of the most beautiful days of your life.
I pray you love him as much as I love your father, and for the love to give you the strength you need to continue with this duty, not only to your people but to you and your future heirs.
Though I wish I could’ve been there for you, there’s no doubt you’ll do great, look beautiful while you’re at it. I can almost see your defiant face and puffy cheeks as you walk down the aisle. Remain strong, love. I’m there even when you can’t see me.
Bliss Deline Coltrane.
Somehow, the hole in my heart grew and decreased at the same time.
If I didn’t admit it before, I had to now. The Alexandra she knew treasured the words, but the Alexandra who was about to walk down the altar used them as a shield. A memory of what she once had been.
A reminder of what she could no longer afford.
i cant believe this is the last chapter before the epilogue! what do you think? if you've read this far, thank you so so much! let me know if you'd like to be tagged on the final part + if you're excited for book two
thank you so much for reading
chapter twenty one
The sun peeking through the windows does little to ease my discomfort. My hands shake on my lap, and my corset feels tighter than usual, making breathing harder.
“Having regrets now?” Odin’s voice is a murmur, something I hear faintly as I watch dust in the streak of sunlight make its way to the floor. Everything is eerily quiet. Even him. He’s on the other side of the room, back against the wall, eyes closed.
I sigh, wishing I could be anywhere but here. “No. I feel anxious. Like the whole country depends on me.”
“Maybe because it does.” I wait for him to continue while he rolls his shoulders, a gesture he does when he feels out of place. “You know, if you strike a deal with them, then maybe we can tackle Lanese’s invasion quicker.”
Narrowing my eyes at him, I control the urge to snap. “The only deal they want is for the decrees to be gone, thing to which the council will never agree to.”
He opens his eyes groggily. “So why even call a meeting in the first place when you can’t offer them anything?”
Fuck it. “You know what? Forget it. I’ve got enough to deal with other than your pessimistic ass.” He fixes his eyes on me, green pebbles taunting. “You shouldn’t even be here. It’s supposed to be private.”
“I have to make sure you’re safe.” His hands fall to his pockets, a sly smile playing with his lips. “I’m becoming king in six days.”
“Conceited ass,” I mutter. “Heard that.”
We wait for a couple of minutes. They drag on forever, hours and hours of excruciating uncertainty. I count the seconds by drawing circles on my arm, trying to drop my habit of biting my nails. Something my mom hated and now, Greece insists it makes me look naïve. Why do I keep getting myself in these situations?
I’ve had my fair share of awkward, uncomfortable moments. However, the feeling I get in my gut and Odin’s face confirm my fears. This isn’t something I’m prepared for. Father chose not to do it for a reason, but I’ve grown tired of waiting on the line and being handled like a puppet on strings. I need to make choices of my own, and now even more so with Lanese chasing our tails.
It’s hard to explain the nausea I feel. It’s similar to the time I rescued that boy from being killed in the massacre. I knew I was stepping out of line but didn’t care. My little episode caused a domino effect, ending with my parents being gone and me becoming queen. Is this what this meeting will unfold? A consequence I don’t know I can deal with?
Odin has been behaving weird all day. He knew the meeting was coming early in the morning, but his quiet and serious attitude makes me feel there’s something more clouding his thoughts. I tried asking him about it, but he shrugged it off, insisting he was just getting ready to provide security when we were in the room with the brides’ leader.
Now I’m not so sure. I curse the part of me wishing for him to hug me close, ask me if
I’m alright and calm my fears with the assurance I’ve grown accustomed to. Unfortunately, all I get are darting, green eyes and a stiff posture from his part.
His usual uniform is substituted for a deep, rich red. So is my dress. Unity and class, Heaven said. She begged to be here, but I differed. This isn’t about Lanese, and even if it were, she and her army have enough advantage as it is.
There’s a gun on one of Odin’s hips, a knife on the other. It’s weird seeing him with weapons. I’ve grown used to the loving, sweet- though-jerk Odin. It’s hard reminding myself a couple of months ago, before our paths crossed, he was a soldier with no issues killing the opponent.
However, life in court is never easy. Who’s the opponent now?
He looks lethal, menacing, tense shoulders, working jaw, his eyes scheming before me. I don’t have to think to know he’s seeing maps in his brain. Focal points, strategic battles, numbers and days. Always planning.
“Thank you for being here,” I whisper, if only to see if there’s a spark in his eyes to get rid of some of the chills I feel. There’s none. Before he can utter a word, the door is opened, and three guards come in, holding a girl by her upper arms. It seems tacky and unnecessary. Her body is thin. A guard could do the job himself. Her face barely registers, adrenaline kicking in. I jump at the sudden noise, furrowing my eyebrows once it hits.
She’s the leader of the brides, the one who has slowly but surely kicked the pedestal off my feet. Weirdly, she isn’t what I was expecting. Not sure what I was expecting, either.
I smile at the guards as Odin steps forward. “That’s enough. Let her go. Thank you.” Her face is bowed, so I can’t see her features. As soon as the guards release their grip, her shoulders tense, her spine straightening.
The life in her eyes takes my breath away. I don’t know what I expected, coming inside the room to meet with the issue that has been holding back Alemiss since before my birth, but it clearly was not this.
She can’t be much older than me. Probably twenty-two or twenty- three. Dirty blonde hair makes its way, straight, over her shoulders. There’s a scar on her forehead, a cross. I shiver at the sight of it.
The tissue is mostly healed, but the skin is raised, her brows up in a gesture of scrutiny. She looks me over. I do my best not to squirm under her gaze. Her eyes, greener than grass, taunt me, but I’m beyond caring for how I look as I inspect this woman. Her face is long, carved perfectly. High cheekbones and beautiful lips twisted to a sneer. If the scar and the smudges of mud on her cheeks weren’t there she could pass for a royal anytime.
Her body is thin, but her arms hanging from a sleeveless white shirt show years and years of arduous work. Odin’s eyes linger on her face longer than mine. Hemust be as shocked as I am.
I clear my throat, extending my hand. “Hello, I’m Alexandra Coltrane. You are...?”
She spares a glance at Odin before focusing on me. “I know who you are.” Her smile cracks on thin lips, unsettling. “Your Highness.” Just as I’m about to ask for her name again, Odin steps forward, offering his hand. “She’s Bridgit Glasser.”
I blink at him, unsure about how to respond. I slowly lower my arm. I didn’t really expect her to take it. It makes sense for him to know the names of everyone who enters and leaves the castle. I let it go, doing my best not to take her dismissal personal even if it obviously is. She doesn’t take his hand either. After a pause, I turn around. “Here, Bridgit, take a seat.”
She doesn’t say a word as she follows us to the table, my eyes trailing her posture.
Confident yet uncomfortable. Is that how my posture must look, too?
“Thank you for being here,” I begin as I take a seat, stealing a glance at Odin, who’s just as perplexed for our visitor as I am. He lowers himself beside me, glowering. “I organized this, so we must get to the point. I’m here to listen to you, my people, and you are speaking for them today.”
She scoffs, rolling her green eyes. Her face remains oddly calm. “Your people? Your father didn’t care about us. Or his father before him. What makes you think I believe the words I know are rehearsed coming out of your queenly lips?” Her tone is disinterested, bored.
As much as I wish I’d rehearsed something beforehand to be ready to deal with her, I didn’t. I settle for the truth. “Yes, that’s true. My father and my grandfather were—had a different agenda in mind. But I am different. For starters, I’m a woman, just like you are.
I understand what you’re going through more than they ever could.” I am pleased with myself for keeping my composure even if my heart hammers inside my ribs. She doesn’t look impressed.
Crossing her arms over her chest, she kisses her teeth, trailing her eyes over me. “A girl. You’re a girl, not a woman.”
I lay my hands on the table, holding her scorching gaze. Her remark stings but I let it. I deserve it. “I’m aware I’m younger than you are but—”
“It’s not about age,” she says shortly. “You have never gone through the struggles women go out there. You’ve seen nothing. That makes you a girl.”
Praying above for patience to her rude behavior, I sigh, drawing back. Odin replicates my manners. “You’re right. But we do have one thing in common, though.” She raises her eyebrows, waiting for me to continue. I hesitate just a second, hoping Odin will understand my use of words. “We were and are being sold in order to keep men pleased and comfortable.”
Throwing her head back and laughing like a crow, she fixes her eyes on Odin, smirking. “Cat got your tongue?” she asks him. “Don’t tell me you’re doing this... marriage charade because you’re being forced to. I’ve seen the speeches, too. I know there’s something between you two because if it wasn’t, your brother’s wedding would be enough for you. For a while.” The easiness with which she talks to us as though she’s known us for her entire life astonishes me.
I bristle, forcing myself to hold her empty stare. “If I had it my way, I wouldn’t be getting married. I’m eighteen. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment, but I’m doing it for you.”
She holds up her hand, a silver bracelet glinting. “Save it. The self-sacrifice bullshit again? I’ve heard it over and over, memorized your speech so I can laugh at it on my low days.”
I tip my chin, showing her my teeth. A smile of my own. Her words betray the hint of insubordination I share with her. “So you’ve heard the speeches? You’re the leader, you must be aware of every movement I’ve made. I took away the decrees.” Little, but better than nothing, I remind myself. At least I’ve done something good, humane.
Exhaling, she pulls at her hair. “No, you took away the pretentious chores your dear aunt gave us. The decrees are still there, and thanks to you, millions of girls are dying, starving on the streets, being raped. And what are you doing about it? Playing dollhouse with me.”
I blink at her, reaching over to touch her hand. To my surprise, she doesn’t even flinch, as though she saw it coming. My skin crawls at the contact, her skin cold against mine.
“You’re the leader for a reason. May I know why?”
She chuckles sadly, eyes going to the window, far away from me. She pries her hand away with agile motions. “I wasn’t until recently when your father decided to murder the real leaders.”
At loss for words, I begin to make up an excuse. “Fath—”
Her words quiet my uneasiness. “I know. I know what you did there. You saved the kid. I won’t say I’m thankful. You saved one life out of the millions we’ve lost.” Her tone is void, no anger but no compassion either. She’s seen too much.
“What about your parents. Are they on here too?” On here, I meant the movement. Maybe if they are, I can offer her something in return. I don’t necessarily know what yet, but something will come up.
Before I get the chance to make up my mind, she smiles darkly. “Those were the old leaders. That’s why the brides chose me, I guess. Because I knew more than most.” The woman back in the council meeting Odin snuck me into burns in my memory. I shudder at her eyes. Restless, determined, bold.
Those same eyes stare through me now.
My heart sinks. She knows what’s losing both parents, too. She knows what it’s like to have their bodies displayed for everyone to see and how you can’t mourn because others will think you’re weak.
“Maybe you and I have more in common than we think,” I grind out, swallowing the rancid taste the memory of my parents leaves on my tongue. “We both lost people. Our parents, both of them, were taken too soon, at the same time. Displayed for everyone to see. I beg you to understand that, though we carry the same last name, I am not my father.”
The smug smirk splitting her gorgeous features is grotesque. “You must be desperate,” she observes. “You to degrade yourself that way.” She glowers, tracing her teeth with her tongue. “I bet your... kind carrying the same name as their predecessor must be an honor.”
Odin stares. He refuses to speak. I go on. “It’s not an honor knowing my father killed people during his rule. I am not him.You’re tying me up with him like I’m bound to make the same mistakes he did.”
“Aren’t you, though?” she counters. “You’re keeping the decrees.”
Not because I want to, I want to scream. I take a deep breath instead. “The decrees help.”
The lie leaves my lips easily, and I almost choke on the words.
“The decrees kill. Girls are being raped. Nine-year-olds, eleven- year-olds, pregnant. They die. Men use us as their sexual slaves, mistreating us. People starve in the riots, or they die at the hands of your soldiers.” She throws a pointed look at Odin. “Don’t tell me you know what’s happening if you haven’t seen it yourself.”
“I haven’t,” I admit. “Tell me more.” Odin grimaces, leaning closer to me. If he refuses to tell me, I can get the answers I yearn for from someone else.
I almost hope for her not to. I wish she hadn’t. Instead, she leans over the table, eyes on me, spilling words like a fountain, painting a vivid picture, burying it in my heart.
“Girls start being sold as young as four years old. They go to the church for four years, getting them ‘ready’ for the holy path you’ve chosen for us, and most of them are married by ten.” She bites her lip, thinking. “If a girl is caught with a boy who’s not the match, the boy is executed, and the girl is sold off for less money. Women who aren’t sold by their eighteenth birthday are sent to low-income cities. They have an auction there, once per month, of women who weren’t... attractive enough to be exploited sexually by rich men.” She glowers at me, a muscle in her jaw twitching. Is that what happened to her?
“If a girl younger than twelve falls pregnant your doctors refuse to provide attention. ‘It’s their responsibility. They’re old enough to care for themselves.’” She throws off a bunch of colorful slurs, spitting right next to Odin’s hand. He almost flinches.
My muscles clench and my heart stops. Why didn’t I know any of this? Fear and shame twist my stomach. To my dismay, she goes on.
“My younger sister, Theresa, was sold when she was fifteen. The man was a very rich noble, and as soon as the wedding happened, he raped her, allowing his other friends to do the same. She died. She was beaten to death.” At the mention of her sister, her eyes drop to the floor, the only step back she’s given since she took a seat. Odin exhales loudly, closing his eyes for a second.
I swallow my concerns, leaning in. I fight to find my voice. “And you? You’re older, are you—”
She looks at me, pink cheeks flaming. “Yes. I was sold five months ago.” I see doubt cloud her green eyes for a second before she closes them, exhaling. “I’m pregnant.”
For some reason, her eyes lay on Odin as she says the words, deep and soft, her hands shaking on the table.
I nod. “I will look after you personally. You’ll have a doctor who will—”
“The doctors are there. I have one. But millions of girls don’t. In fact, I don’t need one.” I brace myself for what’s about to come, like I have any way of knowing. “I’m getting an abortion.”
“You’re not stupid, Bridgit.” Her defeated smile takes my breath away. “An abortion is even worse than the actual birth. You could die.”
“I’ll die either way.” She shrugs. “My husband, or you, charging me with treason. Why would I bring a baby to this world? What if she’s a girl? What will I tell her when her innocence is gone at the hands of a spoiled, unloving man? How will I have the heart to sell her off?”
Odin shakes his head, sitting straighter. “An abortion isn’t a choice,” he growls.
They trade glances. I get the feeling they have their own language, even if they’ve known themselves for less than an hour.
“You’re going to tell me what to do with my body now, too? Or what? Was this a decoy to send me to jail and get me killed? Because if it is that way, my people won’t be too glad about it.”
I intercede, blocking whatever Odin was about to say. “Don’t get rid of the baby.” The words come out rushed, begging. “I promise you, if it’s a girl, I won’t allow the church to take her. Give birth to her. Or him. Please.”
She raises her eyebrows, taken aback. Clucking her tongue, she can only smile. “Is this what privilege feels like? Why not offer the same condition to the millions of women dying from abortions or rape?”
Guilt slows my resolve. “I can’t take the decrees down,” I mumble.
“Why not? You’re queen.”
I sigh, struggling to paint the picture and omitting the incriminatory words at the same time. “In a monarchy. You’d beamazed, but not everything is ruled by me.” I bow my head, closing my eyes. “If I had it my way, the decrees would be gone. I promise.”
She snorts. “Promises are worth nothing when they’re void,” she shoots back. I know that all too well. “You are a queen. A queen born. The council can’t force you; your king can’t force you, and most people need the decrees gone. What’s stopping you?”
The legacy I swore my father. Lucas. My head and Odin’s. Lanese. The council.
Too many things to count.
“I can’t change something which has been established since before I was born,” I answer
She briskly nods. “Have it your way. I came here to bring some light to the truth you’re so eager to ignore. I also came by to...” She opens her palms, trying to find the right words. “...attempt to strike a deal. Of course, now that you’re so sure the decrees can’t be dropped, it has turned more into an ultimatum, if you must.” Her eyes focus on mine. I shudder under her gaze, unspoken words and a light behind them filling them with rage.
Rage, I understand. Rage, I feel.
“You can’t—” Odin begins.
Like I’m witnessing this from another perspective, I can only nod. “What is it?” I spit.
She leans back on her seat, licking her lips. “Drop the decrees or you’ll lose someone.”
“Won’t work,” Odin chides, smirking. He stands up quickly, a soldier ready for action, hands on his hips. “We have security—”
Bridgit lets a low guttural growl. Laughter, I realize. “The security has failed you twice before. Two sieges in the same year? Killed the king and the queen? Wake up, people!”
She jumps, extending her arms. She slams a fist against the table. For a second I wait for it to splinter, crumble, just like my brain begs me to. “We own the castle, Alexandra.” She turns to me, tipping her head. She looks menacing, dangerous. I’d wager she knows as many ways to a slow death as Odin does. Could kill me just as quickly. “Drop the decrees. You thought losing your father was bad enough?”
I blink, memorizing her features. “When?”
She smiles, crossing her arms lazily. It’s like poking a bear. Odin’s feet dig into the carpet. “Curious, huh?” she teases.
“If she tells the plan fails,” echoes Odin.
He is a soldier, but diplomacy is my suit. I can read this girl easily. I know what she’d do, what I would do were the roles reversed. I might have the crown on my head, but they have the numbers, the power.
Bowing before me, she laughs. “I can tell you when and I’m sure the thing won’t go to hell. Can’t you see?” She gestures to the room around her, sounding like a maniac. Her words slide through her lips, hissing like a snake. “You’re like puppets moved by bigger, imposing puppeteers. It’ll happen on your wedding day.”
She raises herself to her full height once again, puffing her chest. Odin calls the guards.
They don’t come. “Sleep on it, Your Highness. The clock is ticking.”
Just like she swore she did, she opens the doors by herself, skulking out proudly. No guards on the hallways. She leaves on her own feet, a demonstration of the power they
The power undermining mine.
hiii! i dont know what bridgit came off as to you, but i love the idea of her in my mind lol. let me know what you think!
thank you for reading!
I linger a moment with my knuckles on the wood, hearing the conversation. It could technically be called eavesdropping, but Lucas wouldn’t mind. I’m sure he listens to an occasional conversation of mine every now and then.
Chloesa’s auburn hair, straight and magazine-like, is all I can look at. She’s stunning, basking in the light settling on her head like a halo. A good match for Lucas’ looks. Her voice almost makes me forget she’s not much older than a child.
“We can’t celebrate our wedding the day of the queen’s wedding,” she complains, tilting her head, her hair falling like a river. That’s the way our world works. A fifteen-year-old talking about her wedding like it’s her birthday party.
“We can’t make it after,” Lucas mutters, but I can hear the scowl in his voice.
“Well then,” sighs Chloesa. “We’ll make it earlier.”
I resist the urge to laugh as I wait for Lucas to reply. I can almost hear him swallow. “We—we aren’t ready. Alexa’s wedding is in seven days and—”
She cuts an impressive brat figure. Sounding familiar, her voice carries with concealed annoyance. “You’ll find my mother can arrange events fairly quick. She’s amazing at wedding planning, did the same with my brother. It’s not like you have a choice, Lucas.” There’s a hint of defiance in her voice, mockery. They’ve grown close. “Unless you don’t want to marry me? I mean I—”
“Let’s make it in three days,” Lucas caves in. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Chloesa’s laugh is heard, chirpy and alive. “This is normal lives for us. Be lucky you got someone as beautiful—”
“And annoying,” interrupts Lucas.
“—as me.” She laughs again, throwing her head back. “Are you scared? Come on, we’ve known each other for quite a while now.”
“Not enough,” he mumbles. I echo the sentiment. She shrieks as he pulls her close. “But it’ll have to do.”
They’ve grown too close.
I burst through their door, interrupting their kiss. “Lucas!” Chloesa pushes herself away, smiling softly at me like a doll would, green, wide eyes and pink cheeks. “You wished to see me?” I paste an innocent smile in my face to stop me from retching.
He nods once, annoyance flickering in his eyes. I interrupted their moment. I wince at the thought of what they would’ve done, had I not interceded. He recovers quickly, waving a hand to me. “Sister, long time no see.” Then, to Chloesa he adds, “I’ll see you tonight, yeah?” She nods back. I should’ve known Lucas’ charm would end up making its way to her head sooner or later.
I tsk at him, sitting down on a chair next to his dressing room. I quirk an eyebrow, his tall figure hunching to kiss Chloesa goodbye. “You’ve grown quite... close,” I observe once she’s gone.
He closes his eyes for a moment, leaning against the door. “She’s pretty.”
“And you don’t think with your head,” I mumble.
A pillow flies through the air, hitting me on my chest. He picks up another one, a warning. I smile at him, shrugging him off. “I heard that. She’s quite annoying too. Reminds me of someone.”
I roll my eyes to the back of my skull, raising my chin. “Anything you want to tell me?”
“You were eavesdropping, weren’t you?” He shrugs. “I don’t need an answer; I know you were. Seems like my wedding got rescheduled—not to my benefit—because of yours.”
I nod. As much as it pains me, this is something we were raised to do, put our well-being after our people. He knew he’d make sacrifices. Part of me aches at the thought of rushing him to the altar, but I’m reminded I’ll join soon thereafter. We’re both scared, trying to honor father’s wishes. “Well, better to rush things along, though I doubt you two haven’t—”
He raises a hand to stop me. “How’s yours going?”
I thank him for not allowing me to finish the thought. “Fine, I guess. Odin’s mother and Aunt Heaven are doing everything. I just have to show up.” I stand up, touching his shoulder lightly. He leaves the door, trudging by the foot of his bed. “Which reminds me, you’ve grown quite close to Odin, too, haven’t you?”
“When he’s not with you he behaves almost normally,” he replies, eyes trailing my movements as I look over my shoulder, wandering across his room. It’s neat, immaculately so. Product of the thousands of maids coming into his room whenever he’s out training or joining me in countless meetings. The chandelier winks with the sunlight streaming from a closed window. The air smells like strawberries, Chloesa’s brand.
“Which tells me you may have some information he refuses to give me. How are the focal points? How’s our army holding?”
He shrugs again, eyes falling to the floor. “I don’t know much.” “You know more than I do,” I shoot back.
He concedes. After the swift move I pulled, requesting to meet the brides, the more information I have, the longer I have some shaky leverage. He knows this. Instead of scolding me for being spontaneous, he doesn’t prod at my stupidity. “The rebels are gaining territory. Three cities are under their command now—which is costing quite a bit for the crown. They think you’ll be easier on them since the speech you pulled the other day.”
I bristle, stopping by his mirror. It takes a glance at the small box brimming with gold to find father’s rings twinkling at me. “Three cities. Which ones?”
“Parlo, Kirme, and Wehpan.” Though Odin’s machinations were enough to recover
Taylorless and the Weaponry state for a while, there is no denying the intensity and spread of the Brides. Not anymore.
I stop, turning around. “Isn’t Kirme the border with Lanin?”
“Yeah. Weird thing is, the rebels haven’t even tried to cross it. The decrees there are less tough because, well, the monarchy there wasn’t able to hold up to the riots. Sort of what’s happening here, minus the boring, manipulative council and the rich, handsome general.”
I ignore his jab. Lanin. Lanese’s allies—where the armies are coming through. I regret not being able to share this information with him. Duncan was convincing, and the less you know in this world, the less at risk you are. It’s the reason why Odin’s been holding back information from me. If a queen doesn’t have answers, though, she looks for them.
“So, the wedding,” I mutter, trying to steer the conversation away from the topic. He’s innocent. I’ll have my talk with Odin tonight. Any information he’s feeding Lucas should be given to me too, at least. “Are you scared?”
He shrugs, his particular gesture. His face twists into a pained expression poorly masked with a thin smile. “It stalled yours long enough, so I’m happy about it. Chloesa’s not bad either.”
My chest sinks. I’m the reason why he’s being wed this young. I wish I could’ve given him the freedom I’ve longed for. “I don’t think you understand what being wed entails.”
He raises his eyebrows, smirking. “Neither do you. We’ve never done this before.” And luckily, we won’t do it ever again.
“But you’re taking it with such a—such a stride. Are you sure you aren’t... afraid? Or at least anxious?” He’s stronger than I am, ruled by rationale rather than feelings. I wish he’d feel as scared as I do. Doubts steal my quiet silence, clustering in my chaotic mind.
He drops the mocking face, replacing it with a concerned look. He knows me too well not to read me. “I’m not, but you are. You always want me to feel the same way you do.” He waits for a second, looking for the words. “Odin hasn’t—he’s never mistreated you, right?”
My back stiffens. “No. Why?”
“Other than that, I don’t see a reason why you should be afraid. If I must say so myself, he adores you. I’m glad he’s the one you’ve chosen.”
Dad chose him, I wish to correct him. I swallow the stubborn words. Speaking about father hurts.
“I don’t think I’m ready,” I whisper, twirling a piece of hair in my finger. “I’m too young for children.”
“But that’s the way this world works, sister,” he mutters, green eyes reaching mine. “And if there’s something you are, it is wise enough to find your way around fear.”
I stop the kiss, pulling back. The kiss gave me enough time to think the words through, wield them and twist them so they sound right, so they convince him. “It’s not fair. You’re—you’re putting him at risk.” The words come out rushed. Better get my thoughts out before I’m distracted by his touch again.
He looks at me funny, dropping his hand from my cheek. “What do you mean?”
The bed gives out under his weight as he takes a seat. I follow along, leaving a space between us. A handy thing. If it all goes to plan, the space will be closed by him relenting to my desires, feeding my hunger for information. “You’ve told Lucas more than what you’ve told me. Three cities under the brides’ control, one of them in the border with Lanin. I should know about this, Odin. I am queen.”
“I can’t tell you everything I know.” Paranoia rises in my chest, only to be deflated soon after. “I don’t want to give you more to think about.”
I appreciate the efforts, I truly do. But he knows I need the answers, a good idea of what I’m dealing with. I might be a reckless queen, but not an ignorant one.
I scowl. “The more you keep from me, the more you tell him. If there’s something I’ve learned is the more you know, the closer you are to death. Lucas won’t bear that weight. It’s why I’m queen and he isn’t a king.” I know how I must sound. Moody and annoying.
But Lucas always, always must come first. “If you refuse to tell me what you know, I’ll refuse to sleep in the same room as you once we’re married.” I hold my ground, boring my eyes into his. He must understand the importance of this.
My threat lingers for a while longer in the air, stretching. “You are serious.”
Mentally, I praise myself for holding my composure. “Yes, Odin. Care to reconsider how much you let me know?”
After a long sigh, he nods. I can tell how hard this is for him. “Fine. Duncan was right, they’re using that piece of the border to bring soldiers through. At least two thousand.”
“We have double the amount in the border,” I whisper, remembering the numbers harshly scribbled on a decaying piece of paper back in the war council. “Why—”
“Because it’s not the number with the brides in. The brides quadruplicate the number of soldiers in James’ disposition.”
I blink at him. “Eight thousand people against five thousand Alemiss soldiers?”
He nods. “And a thousand or so coming from Lanese for us. Although we can’t know who they’re loyal to anymore. Your aunt is quite wise for putting a Lanese general at their front but giving them the exact contradictory orders I do.”
My head fills with information I don’t know how to juggle. Compared to his knowledge, I’m a child. Politics I can handle,diplomacy. But war? “I—I don’t know what to say.”
By the arm he pulls me close, leaning his head on my neck. “I told you not to get worried about that aspect. I’m handling it. What you have to be worrying about is the stupid council, Lucas’ wedding, and ours.”
I shake my head, standing up. Another quality of mine is stubbornness. “Speaking of council, I have a meeting in a couple of minutes, and I’m sure Lord Denly will be insufferable.” I wait for him to understand my double meaning. He doesn’t. “Now, you’re about to be king... would you mind joining us?”
He smiles, a kid on Christmas day. “Thought you’d never ask,” he sing-songs as he hoists his weight up, taking my hand while turning off the lights.
The walk to the meeting chamber stretches forever. I feel anxiety rocking in my bones, growing in my chest. It keeps me from remaining still. I never should’ve done what I did, but the reckless part of me still sees the meeting with the brides’ leader as the only choice we have of settling this before my country is back in chaos.
When we near the entrance, Odin’s hand graces my back. “If he so much as raises his voice—”
“Queen Alexandra!” Denly’s voice makes Odin grunt, my chest heaving. His empty threat is interrupted.
I smile begrudgingly. “Lord Denly,” I acknowledge him as he opens the doors, holding them for me.
The stern, judging looks don’t face me anymore. I stride along, smiling as I know mother always did, taking my seat at the head of the table, Odin to my right. “Councilmen, a pleasure to be here once again. This time, your future king has joined us.”
I don’t miss the look on Yulin’s eyes. Even if I have agreed with their terms to a quick wedding to produce an heir, he is still uncomfortable with whom I’ve chosen. Odin nods, his permanent smirk gone. “My pleasure,” he echoes, crossing his arms.
“The wedding is being celebrated sooner than we thought, Your Highness,” Lady Elle remarks, eyeing us both with pink cheeks and soft eyes. Her tone is light though, almost proud. I don’t know the woman, but I thank her for her kindness secretly.
“I’m aware of it, but I’m also aware of the risk Alemiss is taking and how we must do everything sooner to diminish the impact the brides have on the crown. This weekend will serve as a swift distraction, with Lucas’ wedding and ours.” I take Odin’s hand in mine, both to provide the image of a steady couple ready to rule a country, and to draw strength from him.
Lord Iges is quick to smirk. “While we are pleased with the sudden marriage happening, we aren’t pleased with your moves against the council. Can we really expect a selfish queen to rule over our people?”
The same threats that once cornered me set a determining fire alive in me. I’m already queen. His words hold no real power.
“We intend to give you the best advice, Alexandra, but making the play for diplomatic pressure won’t work under our discretion.” Lord Denly’s eyes are slit, taunting. I won’t buckle.
I nod. “Whether you are agreeing with it or not, the speech was made public that very day. I’m sure you understand we don’t see eye to eye in this specific issue, but did you always see eye to eye with my father?” The blow is low, and the hidden meaning drips in my voice.
“What we’re trying to say,” Lord Jacons interjects, smoothing over Denly’s request, “is we’re no longer sure of the role the council plays on your rule if you deflect our advice. We all have the wellness of Alemiss and the monarchy as our focal point.” His eyes would be kind if not for the stupid smirk on his thin lips.
Earlier suspicions arise again as I see him shift his weight from one foot to another.
I’m surrounded by people I don’t know, who wouldn’t think twice before getting rid of me to place someone older, more malleable, a man, in my place. The very same people who got my parents killed.
“The role of the council has always been important. You see, my father followed your advice all the time, and the war got nowhere. In fact, it got more gruesome and violent.
The castle has been sieged twice. The offensive strategy isn’t working, so I think it’s time to apply the diplomatic strategy now.”
“The riots have gotten worse, though,” points Iges, his mustache moving at the same rhythm as his lips. “We’ve lost three cities.”
Odin chimes in. “Three cities with no real harm to the crown. We recovered the Weaponry state and the capital is safer than before. Those three cities aren’t lost either, we are using our soldiers in the castle this week for the special events. Soon, I’m confident your armies and mine will recover them.” I sigh, relieved. He’s right.
By the looks of the people around me, they acknowledge his wisdom on these topics.
“The meeting is happening, as I suggested it. What kind of queen would I be if I went back on my word? You don’t have the obligation to be there. Be confident whatever information I consider important for the crown will be revealed to you shortly thereafter.”
A lie, albeit a necessary one.
I can only hope I made the right call.
hii! another chapter. i love Chloesa's character. she's so airy?? let me know if you liked it / would like to be tagged !
thanks for reading
Duncan was right.
It wasn’t a surprise, of course, when Odin entered my chambers late that night to explain to me what had happened. He looked strained, a coiled wire. Somehow, his face was strangely alive. He thrives off moments like this, where the bred general in him gets to peek through. His eyes were wide, almost thrilled, voice quick and hushed with passion flickering in his small smile.
Soldiers claiming to be ordered by their queen, my aunt, came through the doors, the enemy at my own home. Turns out the official reports state them as brides who somehow managed to get hold of Lanese’s uniforms. But we know better. If they’ve been trying to capture the castle, they’re doing an awful job at it. I voice my concerns to Odin.
Now, in his chambers after a walk around the dead castle, I ask, “Don’t you think if they’re really trying to get rid of me, it seems almost as though they’re failing on purpose?” My voice is hushed as I enjoy the sound of his heartbeat next to my ear. My leg is strewn carelessly on his lap. I’m too tired to bother. The exhaustion of the day wears me down, makes his voice sound eerily soft, like a lullaby, despite it narrating horrific things.
He stops caressing my back, heaving a sigh. “Unless they aren’t ready yet. I mean, it’d make sense, their desire to spread fear would make us seem weak in the eyes of the council and nearby nations, including Spilten, so we won’t be suspicious of anything. They fail the attempts because they want to. It gives them time to buy the army, strategize.”
I close my eyes, trailing patterns on the worn jacket. He got rid of the intruders, sent them to the dungeons for questioning earlier tomorrow. Right now, his warmth belongs to me. I cling to him desperately, trying to make me forget Logan’s words. They might’ve been true, but I don’t have the energies to second-guess. My order echoes in my ears, even hours after its delivery.
“So Denly was right in having our personnel checked? They’re not as loyal as we thought.”
Kissing my forehead, I know he only does it to lessen the blow. “They are loyal. Just not to us.” Not to us. I wonder if they’ve ever been. Father was an authoritative figure, he thrived on fear rather than respect. I think my precarious situation would make him laugh at my naivety.
“Duncan was right, then,” I admit, pushing myself off his chest. My palm caresses the thing fabric, my back aching after hours spent in something close as a sewer. “We need to make that announcement public, and soon.”
It takes him a while to answer. “So, you are marrying me?”
My cheeks blush. My posture changes. I shift my weight, sitting down with my legs crossed, tipping my head to stare at my lap. The worn leggings are a comfort. I hate wearing dresses every day. “Unless you don’t want to,” I add, twisting the rings on my
A soft chuckle is heard before he pulls me closer again, shaking his head. “We’ll make it public the day you want me to. I have no regrets. Do you?”
I shrug under his soft touch. I know myself enough to know if I overthink this through, I won’t be able to go through with it. “You were right before. I don’t want to marry someone I don’t know. You’re my safest bet.” Only to ease some of the tension I feel building up, I smile at him. “Also, you promised to show me those amazing bed skills, so are you backing out now?”
His smirk lets me know he wasn’t waiting for my reply. “I—no. However, why are you so intrigued when you know I’m a”—he rubs my cheek, whispering in my ear—“virgin?” I hear his smirk all the same, delicious shivers running down my spine.
I push his shoulder softly, kissing his cheek. Emotions like these are rare. Being with him is different. There’s not a protocol guiding my actions. I move on my own, responding to his words. It’s easy, the easiest I’ve done since father left. I dig a finger on his cheek, biting my lip. “A very cute, very handsome virgin.”
He groans, swatting my hand away jokingly. “You’ll make me throw up. With further consideration, can I back out?” he asks, sending us into a laughing frenzy.
“Are you ready to be a king?” I trace his jawline, my hair covering us from the stale air of the room.
He hums deeply, tracing my lips. He notices the tremors as I shake in his grip. “Maybe. I don’t know much about politics but...” “But Lucas has been teaching you stuff,” I finish for him. His eyes find mine. I shrug, answering his unasked question. “I keep an eye on him. And on you. I’m glad he has. Means he likes you.”
“How long will it take?” he asks, tipping his head to whisper the words into the crook of my neck. I can’t read the expression on his features. I content myself by touching the nape of his neck. “From the moment we make it public to the altar?”
I sigh, lying down next to him. “A week. Greece is already making sure everything’s in place.” Ordering flowers, perfecting dresses, planning the time and place, talking to the chefs to provide my favorite meal, as well as organizing a pretty detailed guest list. Heaven adds to the masterful haste.
“Are you scared?”
The word rushes to my mouth. “No.” I smile, allowing peace to relax my limbs. “Not if
it’s with you.”
He smirks again, taking my hand. It’s something he likes doing, something I enjoy. His hand on mine feels right. He wears a ring on his middle finger, a big gold monster with a single stone in the middle of the ‘A’ etched on it. A for Abernarthy, A for Alexandra.
“There’s been reports of riots rising in parts where they hadn’t before. Your security advisor—my father—is trying to contain them.” He barely mutes, stating it as another mere fact. For him, it is. For me, it makes unease felt in my stomach. But I trust him. I trust him with my life. I can trust him with the riots. His father, though, he’s another story.
I nod. “Does your father agree with the wedding? Your mother?” I trace the veins on his hand with the tips of my fingers, focusing intently on his skin on mine to serve as a balm against the fear quickly making its way through my system.
He shrugs. “He’s sour. Old man can’t believe he didn’t get the chance to be a king.”
“Not funny, Odin,” I chide, squeezing his wrist.
He returns the gesture kindly. “They are aware, and they’re happy. They like you, for some reason beyond my knowledge.”
I roll my eyes at him. “Ha. Ha. Very funny.”
His lips interrupt my comeback, pressing me against the pillows. I tumble back, my spine hitting soft fabric. I sigh, pulling him close to me eagerly. His touch is soft but fierce, careless and passionate. I bask in his warmth shielding me.
I pull away when I’m sure I can’t go another second without air. “Take it easy, boy,” I tell him, breathless. “Save that for the wedding night. They want an heir as soon as we marry.”
He raises his eyebrows as his chest heaves. “Do you?”
I dodge his question, standing up. He protests weakly, and part of me wants to jump back to the bed, stay with him the entire night. I know I can’t trust my decisions when I’m with him. I will the fog away. “I don’t know what I want anymore. I’m a queen, I’m supposed to want what they want, and soon you’ll learn to do it, too.”
His lower lip trembles, a child mocking hurt. “But I only want you.”
Making sure my dress is perfectly smooth, I turn to smile at him. Even if there are rumors of our engagement, I need to keep up the façade of innocence. No one can know I was in his room. “I have to leave. Public speech early morning tomorrow,” I explain, wishing it weren’t that way.
He groans, turning around. “Stay,” he pleads, just like I did all those days ago when I was drugged. I don’t remember much of it, but I remember his weight on my back, keeping the nightmares at bay.
Unlike that night, I have things to ponder, boys to mourn. “I can’t,” I murmur, even if it’s what I really want to. “Soon, though.”
With the promise I leave him, closing the door softly behind me. I make a promise to myself too.
I’ll allow my heart to love that man.
I’m starting to get rid of the problem where it all began, with the brides and the lack of common sense by the council. It’s a new strategy. I’m giving them what they want, or a version of it, while keeping some of it to my advantage.
I stand before a crowd of at least a hundred people, the same plaza where my coronation was, almost a month ago. Their eyes are wide, reflecting the same thing I felt when I woke up on the bed after being out for weeks. Disappointment.
“It is a pleasure to me, to announce alongside my brother’s engagement to Princess Chloesa from Toyar, I will also be wed soon.” The crowd cheers, mainly composed of sympathizers, nobles or high-ranking commoners. It does little to stop my hand from shaking as I signal Odin to step forward. He moves with robotic movements, his hand grazing my hip. “This is Odin Abernarthy, general of our ally’s army, Lanese.”
I make a pause. If there’s something I learned from the thousands of speeches I ever witnessed my father give, was where to make pauses, and where the blow hurts the least.
It’s a skill, being able to craft a speech. I prolong the inevitable, giving away the life I wanted for the life I must have, the ideas of a perfect marriage chosen by myself. Selling myself off to someone who will take care of me. Someone whom I’ve known for two months.
I swallow the fear down, placing a well-practiced smile. “He, as well as I, will honor you and your wishes, remaining close to God and to you, taking care of every single one of your needs. He’ll protect this country as if it were his own.”
He nods as he steps forward, just another step to place him on full display right before me, a soft smile playing with his lips. I take a breath to steady myself. I have to be strong for him. Born in the high realm, he takes my hand, his shaking slightly. “The wedding will be happening in a week, securing not only our position among other nations but the stable monarchy you desire.
“It shames me to say,” I continue, “that although I would love for you, my people, to be there with me on the very special day, due to security measures imposed because of the brides, it is impossible for us. However, I would like to be a queen known to listen to every party involved in these senseless riots. Though, of course, we aren’t perfect either. The monarchy has made some mistakes in the past, and so have I.”
Odin’s brow furrows. I swallow. I can’t stop now. I feel a bead of sweat go down my neck. They don’t know what I’m doing. To be fair, neither am I.
I squeeze his hand, harder this time, leaching whatever strength he has and using it to fuel my words. “I want to listen to the other side of the story as well, not only our benefits from keeping up with the Coltrane decrees. That is why I’m sure the brides must be listening to this. A collision as strong and united as yours must have a leader, right?” Or rather, multiple of them. James. Nalyn.
The council doesn’t know I’m about to do this, but they can’t harm me as long as they know I’m soon to be wed. I’m using Odin as a bulletproof vest, to keep me alive while I try this without risking my life.
He plays the part, protecting me with his broad frame and kind words. I speak to the camera before me, a small smile on my lips. A smile designed to erase the fear flickering in my eyes. “I would appreciate it if your leader came forth. Not to the castle, of course.
A letter would do. Later on, we will settle a meeting where we will discuss both of our needs. Please keep this in consideration, my people. Thank you for listening.”
I can tell from the look Odin gives me he doesn’t agree with my plan. As a general, he must have every single move laid out, every turn and twist planned. I’m a bit more spontaneous. Reckless. Idiotic. The council mustn’t agree, either. But I don’t care, I only have this choice.
Sometimes, diplomacy and stupidity can be the key to everything.
If I don’t deal with the brides, and soon, I won’t be able to deal with Lanese. I must keep this country safe. For me, and for Lucas. For my parents. Mom’s voice echoes in my head.
You do what you must to keep the crown safe.
hii! new chapter :) i kinda really like this one. hope you enjoy! let me know what you think / if you'd like to be tagged
thanks for reading