“The king must care for you very much,” Silas said, coming to stand next to me. “These rooms are amazing. They remind me of our rooms back at Chetwin Palace. But the Coroan architecture is so different. I think the stones alone change everything.”
“How so?” I asked. It was the same stone I’d known all my life.
“In Isolte, the buildings are tinted slightly green or blue. It’s a mineral in the stones by the northern coast, and they’re very pretty, but in the winter especially, it makes thing seem dark. These stones of yours have such warm colors in them. So everything looks brighter, welcoming. And when you combine that with the impressive scope of the apartments, it’s quite striking.”
I nodded, many feelings playing through my heart. “It’s easily the most beautiful place I’ve ever rested my head, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t I miss the simplicity of my old room, not to mention knowing what was going to happen most days.”
I swallowed, once again wondering if I’d said too much but still feeling there was no one I’d rather share too much with.
He smiled softly. “There’s a beauty in simplicity, isn’t there?” He looked around the room again. “At one point in my life, I might have chosen the new clothes, the finer food, all the trappings of court. But I can say that, in losing them, I’ve learned that nothing in this world can replace loyalty, patience, and genuine affection.”
I sighed. “I think I might be forced to agree with you. The most valuable thing you can own is the assurance of your place in someone’s heart. It is far better than any necklace, far better than any apartment.”
We shared a quiet look.
“Would you exchange your crown of gold for one of flowers, then?” he asked with a smile.
“I think I just might.”
“I think it would suit you,” he commented, and I found myself holding eye contact with him for just a moment too long.
“I told your father you were welcome to hide here as long as you like. If you need anything at all, you know where my rooms are. Don’t be afraid to ask.”
He shook his head. “You’ve given us so much already. Look at how happy Scarlet is, and Saul. I couldn’t ask for more.”
He was right. Everyone was smiling . . . with one exception.
“Thank you, by the way. For attempting to defend me earlier.”
Silas glanced up, finding his cousin as I had: alone and looking miserable. “If he knew you, he wouldn’t say such things. I told him how good you’d been to us, how kind. I told him how highly my sister speaks of you, how even Sullivan smiles when he hears your name.”
“Does he?” I gushed.
Silas nodded proudly. The compliment of Sullivan’s quiet approval was not lost on me.
“My mother praises your bravery, my father says you’re wise for your age, and I—”
He stopped quickly, and I looked up at him, dying to know the end of that sentence.
He stared down at me intently, and I could see the words trapped in his mouth. He looked at the ground, took a deep breath, and came back to me.
“And I am so pleased to have found a friend in Coroa. I genuinely thought it might be impossible.”
“Oh.” I glanced around the room, hoping no one could read the disappointment on my face. “Well, with how thoughtful your family is, it hardly seems impossible to me. And you shall always have my friendship.”
“Thank you,” he whispered.
We both turned to his mother’s voice.
“Please excuse me,” he said, and I had the distinct sensation of being rescued.
“Absolutely. I need to make rounds anyway,” I said as he moved away.
For reasons I couldn’t say, I picked up a glass of ale and walked over to the scowling figure at the sweeping window.
“Is something wrong, Sir Etan?” I asked, offering him the cup. He took it without a word of thanks.
“I mean no offense. Your rooms are very pretty. I’m sure you were dying to show them off.”
I shook my head. “That’s not why I invited you.”
“I expect your king wants us to go home with reports of how well he treats his future queen. But I don’t have time for gossip. I’d just rather be home.”
“Ah, look at that. Something we have in common.” I turned and walked over to Delia Grace, refusing to let him ruin my mood.
“That man is awful. If he wasn’t related to people who have been helping me so much, I’d kick him out right now.”
“What’s this?” Nora asked, hearing the end of my sentence.
“Nothing. Just the Eastoffes’ cousin Etan being a bit of a snob.”
“As if any Isolten has the room to be snobbish here,” Delia Grace grumbled.
I looked over my shoulder, hoping no one was close enough to hear that.
“By the way,” she continued, “I think I’m going to take Nora’s advice and start choreographing our dance for Crowning Day. Just so we’re prepared.”
“Good idea. Everything feels so rushed lately.”
“I want to keep it small, only four girls. So you need to pick one more, and we’re all set.”
“Good idea. Hmm.” I mentally ran through the other girls at court. I didn’t know many very well, and I wasn’t too fond of the ones I did. Goodness, if I couldn’t think of one I wanted to dance with, how was I supposed to fill out a household? I glanced around the room, trying to see if anyone would make a good addition, when my eyes alighted on the one person I knew would be perfect.
“Scarlet?” I asked, walking over to her as she chatted with her aunt.
“Yes, Lady Hollis?”
“Do you know about Crowning Day?” I squinted. “I dare say I don’t know any of the holidays in Isolte.”
“I’ve heard of it. Isn’t it meant to celebrate the forming of the royal line?”
“Yes! We symbolically recrown the king and pledge our loyalty. It’s probably my favorite holiday. Most people sleep all day, and the feast begins in the evening, and everyone celebrates through the night.”
Lady Northcott’s eyes widened. “This sounds like my kind of holiday. Perhaps we will move here, too.”
I giggled at her enthusiasm. “Well, part of the celebration is dancing. Nearly every girl at court is in one dance or another, so of course we’ll have one. Would you be willing to join Delia Grace, Nora, and myself? It will be a great opportunity to impress the king.”
Her face lit up. “Oh, I’d love to! When do we start?”
“After King Quinten leaves, at least. I won’t have any time to think about dancing until then.”
“Of course. Let me know when you’re practicing, and I’ll be there.”
Her aunt looked so pleased on her behalf, and in the corner, I saw Silas trying not to smile.
Sure, Valentina had been cold, and Etan had been rude. Twice. But when I saw Silas’s glittering eyes looking back at me in appreciation, all I could think of was that it had been such a good day.
THE NEXT MORNING, I SAT up in bed, hopefully inhaling the morning air. If anything could cheer an anxious mood, it was the jugglers and musicians and games on the tournament field.