I bit my lip, my attempts at being aloof vanishing before my guilt. “I’m so sorry. When I said that, the date of the visit had completely slipped my mind. It’s taken me by surprise as well.”
“Has it? My mother said you were quite a willing student today.” He crossed his arms and leaned sideways against the wall, as if this were an everyday meeting, as if he knew me so well.
“Willing, yes, but good? That remains to be seen.” I pulled my robe a little tighter. “I’ve never been the brightest of the girls at court. If I ever forget that fact, Delia Grace reminds me. Or my parents. But your mother and Scarlet were quite patient with me today. I may need them to come by again tomorrow. I mean, today, I suppose.”
“I can tell them if you like.”
“You’ll also have to tell them I’ve moved.”
“Moved? In a day?”
“In an hour.” I brushed my hair back and swallowed, trying not to sound as irritated as I felt. “King Jameson moved me into the queen’s apartments tonight. I don’t think my parents even know about it yet. I have no idea how the privy council is going to take it once the news becomes public.” I rubbed at my forehead, trying to smooth the wrinkles of worry away. “He wanted me to look the part before King Quinten arrives. I have jewels coming. He mentioned some new dresses. And suddenly, I have new rooms. . . . It’s all a bit much,” I confessed.
“Isn’t this what you want, though? You will be the best kept woman in the kingdom.”
I sighed. “I know. So I’m not sure what . . .” I paused. I was telling this boy far too much. He was a stranger and a foreigner. Who was he to ask about my life? But in that same moment, I realized I’d rather talk to him about my troubles than anyone else, even the people who were truly meant to know everything about me. “I suppose it’s not the gifts I’m receiving, but the pace at which they’re coming. You’re quite right, I have everything I could ask for and more.”
His smile didn’t seem as genuine as it had before. “Good.”
I could sense an ending coming that I wasn’t prepared for, so I quickly changed the subject. “How are you settling in? Are you enjoying Coroa so far?”
He smiled. “I knew the food would be different, and the air would smell different, and that the laws are different. It’s just, in the past, when I’ve visited, I’ve always known I was going home. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. I’m thankful His Majesty let us stay for more reasons than I can even list. But there are times I’m sad, knowing I won’t ever see Isolte again.”
I bent my head down and softened my tone, coaxing him to be more positive. “Surely you’ll go back to visit. You have family there still, yes?”
He gave me a very thin smile. “I do. And I’ll miss them. But when we see King Quinten tomorrow, I hope, with all of my heart, it will be the last time I ever lay eyes on that man.”
Something about his words sent a chill through me, and I realized they were strangely similar to what Jameson had said.
“If he’s so awful, then I shall wish for that myself. And for your family’s happiness for as long as you live in Coroa.”
“Thank you, my lady. You are the gem everyone says you are.”
I wanted to tell him that, to my knowledge, no one but Jameson thought I was a gem. But it was such a kind thing to say, I didn’t want to spoil it.
He tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear. The rest of it was tied back with a cord, and I realized that must have been the piece that Jameson cut, and now Silas was left with a section of hair that would not obey. I also realized now that when the sword was brought near Silas’s face, he did not flinch.
“I guess I’ll be on my way, then,” he said. “Don’t want to keep you.”
“What were you doing here, by the way?” I threw out quickly. I wasn’t ready for him to leave, not just yet. “It’s quite a distance from your corner of the castle.”
He pointed up. “Like I said, we’re great thinkers in Isolte, but not great creators. The art here, the architecture . . . there’s something about it. I’d describe it if I could, but I don’t have the words.” He looked back to the windows. “I like watching the light in the glass. It’s . . . calming.”
“It is, isn’t it? All the light cast down looks broken, but if you look up, you can see there was a plan all along.”
He nodded. “And you say you’re no student. I admire how you think, Lady Hollis.” He bowed. “I’ll tell my mother to come see you after breakfast. We’ll probably need Scarlet to stay and help us finish the pieces.”
“I really am sorry.”
He shrugged, his expression easy again. “It was a good idea. Especially given the kings’ tumultuous past. But could you give me some more notice next time you have a stroke of brilliance? A boy can only do so much.”
I giggled. Without thinking, I reached out to reassure him, taking his hand. “I promise.”
Caught off guard, he looked down, staring at our hands. But he didn’t rush to pull his away. And neither did I.
“Thank you, my lady,” he whispered, nodding quickly before vanishing into the corridors of the castle. I watched until he became another shadow of Keresken, blending into the night. And then I looked down at my hand, stretching out my fingers as if I could remove the warm feeling in them.
Shaking my head, I brushed the sensation away. Whatever had just happened, it was the least of my concerns right now. I turned back, looking at the explosion of color on the floor.
If I wanted to, I could walk across the room and knock on the door to Jameson’s apartments. I could tell a guard I needed to speak with the king, urgently. I could tell him how I needed more time, how, as someone not born to the position, I was struggling to keep up.
I looked across the Great Room, considering. I cared for Jameson. I really did. That alone made me want to try harder, to look like I could handle it all, even if I wasn’t quite there yet.
The love of a king could drive one to attempt anything. And there was nothing as intoxicating as being adored by him, and by the people who adored me for his sake. Tomorrow, I would have the privilege of telling my parents about my new rooms. I would get to see the lords as they conceded to Jameson’s desires, knowing that I had been raised not only above every girl in the kingdom, but also above every available princess on the continent. I would, very soon, be queen.
I gazed up at the window one last time, then walked back to my new rooms. It was a bit of a thrill, walking up the stairs to a room that wasn’t just made for royalty, but was also a space independent from my parents. That alone was something to be grateful for. And all those things combined made me ready for anything.
THE FOLLOWING MORNING WAS A bustle of activity as all of my worldly goods were brought up to my new rooms. Amid the chaos, a page arrived carrying a box. He was flanked by two guards who watched as he carefully placed the box on a table. Nora and Delia Grace exchanged a confused look as I gave the page a nod saying he could open it. I thoroughly enjoyed the collective gasp from the girls as they took in the blinding sparkle of the rose-colored necklace.