The moment was broken by Mother marching through the door, still refusing to knock.
“What in the world are you wearing?”
My face fell instantly. “What’s wrong?” I looked back at the mirror, turning to take in every angle.
“Take those flowers off your head. You’re a lady; you need to be wearing a proper crown for Crowning Day.” She pointed to her own head, where she was wearing a small crown that had been passed down through the generations of the Parth family. It was not so grand as the one she’d lost, but it was old, and that would do.
I sighed. “Oh, is that all? I chose these on purpose.”
“Well, take them off on purpose.” She walked back to the receiving area, knowing exactly what was in the box on my table. “King Jameson sent you perfectly gorgeous crowns. Just look at this!” she said, holding up the one encrusted with rubies.
“It’s beautiful, Mother. But it’s not for me.”
She set it back down. “No, no. Come and look again. The lords won’t like this at all.” She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me over to the box.
“I don’t care what they think of me.” And I didn’t say it, but I didn’t care much what Jameson thought, either.
“You should. The king needs them, and you need the king.”
“No, I don’t. I just can’t do—”
“Hollis, you will listen to me!”
I took her by the shoulders, forcing her to look into my eyes and speaking with a calm, steady voice. “I know exactly who I am. And I’m content with it.” I touched her cheek. “You’re my mother. I wish you could be content with me, too.”
Her eyes darted all around my face as if she were seeing me, truly seeing me, for the very first time. Maybe I only imagined the tears in her eyes, but her tone was much softer when she finally answered me.
“I suppose they look right on you. Oh . . . are there jewels in there, too?”
“Yes! Do you like them?” I did a turn so they could all catch the light.
She nodded, a whisper of a smile on her face. “Yes, I think I do.”
Delia Grace clapped her hands. “Come on, ladies. We can’t have our future queen arriving late.”
“Are you staying with me or going with Father?” I asked.
Mother still looked stunned. “I’ll be with your father. But we’ll see you in there.”
I nodded as she made her way from the room, and I turned to make sure my dress was straight.
“We are ready when you are, my lady,” Delia Grace said. And with a nod, I marched us toward the Great Room.
The feeling of entering the hall on Crowning Day was similar to that of the day King Quinten had come, with so many people sighing and staring as I sauntered past. I did feel beautiful tonight, the most like myself I had in ages. I think it showed.
I made my way to the front of the room, as I knew Jameson would expect me there for the ceremony. I supposed most kings didn’t have their fathers present for their own Crowning Days, but he also had no mother, no siblings. He was the last of his line until he produced heirs, and that was all dependent upon me. I made sure to stand where his family would have been if they could have been here. Maybe it didn’t quite feel that way yet, like we were family . . . but we would be soon.
Tonight, Jameson would be symbolically recrowned with the same ancient crown used on Estus. The nobles who had their own crowns were wearing them, and most women were bedecked with jewels to mimic the appearance. After a short ceremony, we would celebrate with dancing. It was easily the most exciting night of the year because it didn’t end until dawn. Crowning Day had its roots in something very sacred, but it was more like a free-for-all for as long as I’d been alive. Of course Jameson would want to propose today; it forced the entire country to celebrate it, too, whether they intended to or not.
The trumpets played, and I pushed my cynicisms aside, ready to be as queenlike as I could.
A hush fell over the room as the boys in red robes came out ringing their bells. Jameson followed, wearing a heavy fur robe that trailed ten feet behind him. He was followed by the holy man who was gingerly holding the Crown of Estus.
The boys parted, and Jameson walked up the center aisle they created, taking a seat on the throne. The holy man stopped at the base of the throne, holding the crown aloft. In perfect unison, the bells stopped.
“People of Coroa,” the holy man intoned, “let us rejoice. For one hundred and sixty-two years, we have had one faithful ruler, a descendant of Estus the Great. Today we honor King Jameson Cadius Barclay, son of Marcellus, son of Telau, son of Shane, son of Presley, son of Klaus, son of Leeson, son of Estus.
“Above all people, we are the happiest, for we celebrate a long and happy reign of the most powerful family on the continent. Let us today renew our devotion to King Jameson and pray for his life to extend for many years, and for his heirs to be plenty.”
“Amen!” the room chanted as Jameson looked ever so slightly to his right, knowing I would be there.
The holy man set the crown upon his head, and the room erupted in applause. Once that was done, Jameson smiled at the holy man, murmuring words of thanks before standing and raising his hands to silence the room.
“Good people, I thank you for trusting me to lead you. I know I am a young king, and my reign to date is short. But above any king on the continent, I am devoted to your happiness and the peace of our land. I pray for our kingdom to prosper. I will continue living my life for our country, which is growing not only as our own people make their families, but as others choose to join us,” he said, gesturing to the back of the room. I followed his hand, and many of the families who’d come from neighboring countries were gathered together there, including the Eastoffes.
“And for tonight, that is certainly a reason to celebrate!” he cried. “Music!” And the people cheered, and the musicians began to play.
And while the lords enveloped the king, I stared at the back of the room.
MY EYES STAYED LOCKED WITH Silas Eastoffe’s as the room swirled to life around us. I’d seen him dressed in his best before, but he seemed particularly handsome tonight. The Eastoffes, understanding the occasion, were wearing crowns of their own, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were heirlooms of their long family lines or creations they’d made themselves.
Around me, people embraced and complimented each other’s gowns. People cheered, already managing to find large cups of ale to toast the king, the country, the night . . . anything, really. But my eyes were only for Silas, and his were for me. He swallowed, looking outwardly how I felt inwardly: decimated with longing for something I could not have.
“Hollis!” I finally snapped at Delia Grace calling my name. “There you are. We’ve been looking for you.”
Had I moved? How much time had passed?
“The king is asking for you,” she said pointedly.
I took some deep breaths, trying to bring myself back to my senses. “Yes, of course. Lead the way, won’t you?”
I slipped my hand into Delia Grace’s, and she walked me to the front of the room. I could feel her eyes coming back to me, inspecting. She knew my reservations, of course, and I sensed she could tell there was something more happening. There were so many people around us that she didn’t dare ask, but instead faithfully delivered me to Jameson.