All he wants is my existence. The sooner I grasp that, the better.
I purse my lips and allow the flush to cool as Eldas carries me back to my rooms. Poppy is there waiting for us. She tuts about as Eldas speaks for me, giving the summary of what happened.
“Your brother is worse by the day,” Poppy says grimly. “I fear for whatever lands he’s given lordship over.”
“He will find his discipline once he has real responsibility,” Eldas says coolly. He lays me down on the bed, his hands lingering on me for just a second longer than I think is necessary, and then hastily steps away. The tender touches were all my imagination. He’s clearly all too glad to be free of the burden that is me. A fact further proved when he turns to Poppy. “Heal her. No one is to come in or out of this room but you and Willow, including her.” Eldas looks to me. “We’ll begin work again in two days. You must learn to control your magic if you’re going to survive here, and if I must be your teacher then so be it. Make sure you’re strong enough to keep up with my tutelage.”
He stalks toward the door. I prop myself up. Poppy is already working on the gashes on my legs.
“What happens if I don’t manage to control my magic?” I’m a bit afraid to ask, but I have to know.
Eldas looks between me and the sleeve of his jacket, inspecting where I bled on him. He scowls. I can barely watch him lamenting the stains in his rich blue satin more than he did my injuries.
“You will,” he says, finally. I expect him to backtrack, or make some other cutting remark, but he doesn’t. I watch as the king leaves in silence and am left wondering if that is the best encouragement he can muster. And, if it is…then maybe there’s some hope for me after all.
A firm knock on the door heralds Rinni. “How are you today, Your Majesty?”
“I’m fine.” I’m not. I stare at the window, dressed in an emerald-green, silken gown. Its long sleeves taper to points over the backs of my hands. Unlike the last dress I wore, this one isn’t boned and the skirt is simple, offering me more mobility.
“Very well, let’s go, then,” Rinni says thoughtfully. I wonder what she sees in me and what she heard about yesterday’s incident. But I don’t ask. I follow silently, guarding my last shreds of hope that today will be productive. Today Eldas will help me begin to learn my magic, and with that knowledge I might start to find my place here.
We go down the same path to the throne room. Just like before, Rinni listens at the door, presumably for anyone Eldas might be speaking with.
“Who does Eldas meet with?” I ask, quietly, before she can open it.
“Kings and queens of the other folk of Midscape, the elf lords and ladies of Lafaire who oversee his vassals, and the citizenry who live in the valley here in Quinnar.”
“Quinnar is the city we’re in now? And Lafaire is the kingdom of the elves?”
“Yes, on both counts.” She answers my question without making me feel bad for not already knowing the information. In fact, she does me one better by continuing. I hope it’s a good sign for the day to come. “The Elf Kingdom—Lafaire—is situated at the point of the Fade at the southernmost reach of Midscape. To the north-northwest of us there are the fae clans littering the fields and forests. It used to be the fae kingdom of Aviness, before infighting tore them apart two thousand years ago. They still fight over territory between themselves, rarely with us these days. The vampir live in the eastern mountains and the lykin to the north of them in the verdant forests. Mer are in the waters to the far north, beyond the swamplands, right along the edge of the Veil.”
I swallow thickly, still coming to terms with the idea that there is so, so much more than just the elves on the other side of the Fade.
Rinni continues, “Remember, all those people bent the knee to the elves when the Veil was made—to the bloodline that Eldas is the heir to. That means, by extension, they bend the knee to you.”
“I’ll try and remind myself of that whenever I’m face-to-face with a long-fanged vampir,” I murmur.
“Unlikely to happen… They haven’t emerged from their mountain strongholds in centuries. Not one peep from them.” Rinni moves to the door. I stop her again by grabbing her other hand.
“One more question.”
“What?” Now she looks annoyed.
“The vampir, do they really…do they really feed off of humans to live?” Like the old stories said.
“If they really fed off of humans then how are they still alive? Since humans are on the other side of the Fade.” Rinni gives me a withering look.
“Well, you said they hadn’t been seen in centuries.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re all dead. We do hear rumors from time to time of their activity.”
“Okay, you have a point.” Though I kind of wish they were extinct. “But other creatures, animals, even—what I’m asking is, do they need to eat blood to live?”
“Don’t be silly.” She shakes her head and I breathe a sigh of relief. “Vampir don’t need blood to live. They eat normal food like the rest of us. They need blood for magic. Be careful to never give it to them or they may steal your face clean off.” My stomach clenches with dread. Rinni opens the door before I can ask anything further. “Your Majesty, I’ve brought the queen.”
“You’re late.” Eldas stands from his throne the moment I enter; his eyes dart from me to Rinni.
“It’s my fault; I had some questions for Rinni and held us up,” I say quickly. Rinni gives me an appreciative glance. I return it with a small nod. I’m not going to have her kindness be punished.
“Is this true?” He looks to Rinni. She nods. Eldas purses his lips. “Don’t let it happen again. Now, leave.” Rinni departs and his curt demeanor returns to me. “Well?”
“You were late. Don’t you have an apology for me?”
I blink several times. Gone is the protective and mildly attentive Eldas I saw yesterday. But rather than fighting him, I force out, “I’m sorry.”
“If we’re working on your magic, we should also work on your manners. There’s little time before your coronation and you must be the vision of a queen by then. Your subjects have waited an extra, long, bitter year to meet you. Honor them by being what they expect of you and more.” The way he says it makes me think that he is the bitter one. “So, I’m sorry, Your Majesty, would be more correct.”
“But you’re my husband.” Even if he hasn’t really acted like it and this is a sham of a marriage, I’m going to at least try and use the fact to my advantage. “Is that really necessary between us?”
“I am your king first.” Eldas’s lips pull into a disapproving frown. “Thus it is very necessary.”
“All right, Your Majesty,” I force myself to say. I have lived to people’s expectations before. I can do so now. I just wish those expectations were something more than pretty dresses and fancy manners. Something more…useful. “I permit you, however, to call me Luella.”
“I will call you however it pleases me to do.”
“Fine. Shall we focus on the matter at hand, Your Majesty?” Every time I say those two words I draw them out just a little more.
Eldas clearly picks up on the slightly snide tone. His eyes narrow, but he doesn’t address it. A small victory for me, I think. If he wants to be difficult then that’s what he’s getting thrown back at him.
If he wants to be kind and thoughtful, like the glimpses I saw yesterday…then maybe he’ll get that back too. But I’m not holding my breath.
“There is no better teacher of control than the throne. We’ll have you sit again.”
The suggestion makes me physically recoil. Every part of me revolts. I try desperately to keep my composure when I say, “I actually have another idea.”
“Oh? Do tell. I cannot wait to hear it,” he drawls.
“For the time being, wouldn’t it be possible for me to wear some black obsidian, I believe you called it? It suppressed my magic for years.” I can already tell he’s going to say that won’t work.
“Black obsidian suppresses your magic, yes, for your use. It doesn’t get rid of or change the depth of your power. If anything, wearing black obsidian would only make you more vulnerable to attack because you won’t be able to effectively defend yourself.”
“Moreover,” he interrupts and approaches me. The man can’t even walk without being terribly handsome and intimidating at the same time with the way the light plays on the sharp edges of his face. It’s unnerving. “At some point, you will be required to perform magic. What happens if you lack control of your powers?”
“And, the real question is…why would you want to get rid of your power?” Now he stops. Judgment alights in his eyes. “You are the Human Queen. You are the embodiment of life and nature itself. And you would throw it all away. You spit in the face of all the powerful women who came before you. You shame their names and memories.”
“That’s too far,” I snap. So much for hoping today might go peacefully.
“Is it?” He shakes his head and the judgment hardens unfairly into disgust. “There are people who need your magic. And you would turn your back to them. Why? Because it is too hard for you? You would rather go back to the pathetic existence in that gods-forsaken town. You speak of duty, but I doubt you’ve ever cared about anyone other than yourself.”
I strike his cheek and the slap echoes through the room. I swore an oath to help others, rather than hurt. But the royals of Midscape are making that oath impossible to keep. I’m surprised by how much my hand stings. Perhaps he really is made of sculpted marble. His cheekbones are so sharp they could’ve drawn blood.