A shiver skated over my skin as I stared at the smooth, reflective black stone of the floor, a little unnerved to realize that I stood in his Temple. Swallowing, I looked up. “All of this can be done today? The exchange of power? Speaking with the Council and then greeting the people?”
“Yes,” Eloana confirmed.
Casteel squeezed my hand. “Then let’s do this.”
A fondness settled in his mother’s features as she motioned for us to join them. “Come. You should not stand below us but before us.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Casteel and I climbed the short set of steps. What happened next was surreal. My heart slowed and calmed. The faint tremor faded as the hum in my chest spread throughout my body, seeming to wash away and replace the nervousness with a keen sense of rightness. I looked down at the hand that held Casteel’s, half-expecting to find that it was glowing, but my skin appeared normal.
“Bow,” the Queen ordered softly.
Following Casteel’s lead, I lowered to one knee before his mother. Our hands remained joined as his father stood directly before him. I looked over my shoulder. The wolven had sunk to the floor throughout the Temple, heads bowed but eyes open and fixed on the dais. Kieran, Naill, and Emil had done the same, and I saw that Delano had joined us in his mortal form, bowing alongside them.
“As we stand in the Temple of the King of Gods and before the Council of Elders who bear witness, we relinquish the crowns and the thrones of Atlantia,” Valyn announced, “and all the power and sovereignty of the Crown. We do this of our own free will, to pave the way for the peaceful and rightful ascension of Princess Penellaphe and her husband, Prince Casteel.”
Shock splashed through me in response to my title being stated before Casteel’s.
Eloana reached up, removing the gilded crown. Beside her, Valyn did the same with his. They placed them on the floor of the dais.
A whirl of air swept through the Temple, lifting the strands of my hair. Before us, the bleached bones of the crown Valyn had placed on the floor cracked and slipped away, revealing the gilded bone beneath. Both crowns shimmered, a light from within them pulsing intently and then fading until they glimmered in the sunlight.
A rattled breath left Valyn as he and his wife picked up the crowns once more. His voice was steady as he said, “Do you, Casteel Hawkethrone Da’Neer, swear to watch over Atlantia and her people with kindness and strength and lead with compassion and justice, from this moment to your last moment?”
Those words. From this moment to your last moment. My throat tightened.
“I swear to watch over Atlantia and her people,” Casteel answered, his voice thick. “With kindness and strength, and to lead with compassion and justice, from this moment to my last moment.”
“Then so be it.” His father placed the golden crown atop Casteel’s head.
“Do you, Penellaphe Balfour Da’Neer,” Eloana spoke, and a rush went through me at hearing his last name attached to mine, “swear to watch over Atlantia and her people with kindness and strength and lead with compassion and justice, from this moment to your last moment?”
My skin vibrated as I once again followed Casteel’s lead. “I swear to watch over Atlantia and her people with kindness and strength, and to lead with compassion and justice, from this moment to my last moment.”
“So be it,” Eloana answered, lowering the crown she held to the top of my head.
Flames sparked to life in the once-barren torches of the gods that stood to either side, one after another, until fire erupted from the torch that Nyktos held. The flames that crackled and flickered above the torches were silvery-white.
“Rise,” Eloana ordered softly, her eyes glistening with bright tears when I looked up. She smiled. “Rise as the Queen and King of Atlantia.”
The weight of the gilded crown was unexpected, lighter than I imagined but only in the physical sense. An intangible heaviness came with it, one that spoke of thousands of years of decisions, choices, sacrifices, and gains.
But I would bear the weight because I’d sworn to, just like Casteel had.
He looked rather striking with the crown resting upon his head.
I looked over at him as we stood just inside the palace foyer before a row of banners that hung from the ceiling to rest a scant inch or two from the floor. The palace staff had been called and briefly introduced to us by Eloana and Valyn. There had been hundreds of them, from kitchen staff to housekeeping to the stable hands and those responsible for the grounds. My head had spun from all the faces and names, and now they were filing out from the foyer while my gaze swept over Casteel.
He wore the crown as if he’d been born to.
Eloana approached us, along with an older woman wearing a long-sleeved gown of gold—the color that all the staff wore. I’d learned that many lived within the palace on the floors above, while some maintained homes offsite with family. I’d been shocked to learn that they held quarters among the Lords and Ladies. In Solis, the staff was considered servants, and they shared bare rooms lined with cots and very little personal items.
“I would like to introduce you to Rose,” Casteel’s mother said, touching the woman’s arm. “She is the palace manager—or the magician of the palace. Whatever you need or would like done, she is your woman.”
Rose bowed as warmth and bubbly happiness radiated from her. “It will be an honor to serve Your Majesties.”
“It will be an honor to have you continue on as the magician of the palace,” Casteel replied smoothly.
A bright smile broke out across Rose’s face. “The Royal Chambers are being cleared as we speak, and I took it upon myself to have some of your personal items moved, Your Majesty.” This was said to Casteel, and I was curious to discover what these personal items were. “I have already had refreshments sent to the State Room for your session with the Council of Elders. Is there anything else that you would like?”
I couldn’t think of anything.
“There is one thing.” Casteel looked over at me, his eyes twinkling. “I believe my wife and I would like to make a change.”
My gaze flew to the banners. “The crest,” I blurted out, and both Rose and Casteel’s mother turned to look at the banners. “I mean, I would like to change the Atlantian Crest. I was told that we could.”
“You can.” Eloana turned back to us.
“Yes.” Rose nodded. “What change would you like to make?”
I glanced at Casteel, grinning when he winked. “I would like the arrow and sword to be crossed equally over one another so that neither is longer than the other.”
“We can do that,” Rose conferred while I felt a splash of surprise from Casteel’s mother. “I will have the banners pulled down at once and send word to the steel workers, seamstresses, and leather shops that they can expect an influx of work—which they will be happy to hear,” she added quickly and brightly. “There are saddles and stamps, shields and flags which will need to be changed. The banners we could have completed within the week, the shields will take a bit longer. And the rest—”
“There is no rush,” I assured her. “Whenever it can be done is fine.”