Her look turned perplexed. “It will be done at once. Anything else?”
“I…I don’t think so?” I said.
Casteel shook his head. “That should be all for now.”
“Perfect.” She bowed and then spun, hurrying off as she motioned to several staff members who waited by the walls.
“She is mortal. I know you were going to ask,” Casteel stated before I could do just that. “I don’t think she has any Atlantian blood in her. Does she, Mother?”
Eloana shook her head. “Many generations ago, her family did, but by now, she is of a mortal line. I was surprised by your request,” she admitted, turning to me. “The sword represents the strongest one in the union. That would be you, Your Majesty.”
Casteel was utterly unfazed by the blunt statement. “I believe that Casteel and I are of equal strength,” I reasoned, a little surprised that she would even question it. “I want the people of Atlantia to see us as such.”
Eloana held my gaze for several moments and then nodded. “I think that is a wise choice,” she said finally.
“And, please, just call me Penellaphe,” I said.
Her smile widened as she nodded. “I will join you all shortly in the State Room.” She started to turn and then faced Casteel. Her gaze roamed over his face. “I am so very proud of you today.” Stretching up, she pressed a kiss to his cheek.
Casteel cleared his throat. “Thank you.”
His mother smiled and then left, heading down the same hall that Rose had disappeared down. She was leaving to make sure the announcements were sent out.
“Ready?” he asked.
Taking my hand, we walked forward under the banners and into a hall straight ahead. Evaemon Palace was a surprise. Based on the exterior alone, I would’ve imagined that the inside would be cold and unwelcoming, but only the floors were made of the crisp black I now knew was shadowstone. The walls were covered with a cream-hued type of plaster, and all the windows and glass ceilings let in a surprising amount of natural light.
Staff hurried along the sides of the corridor near the walls, stopping to bow hastily before disappearing into other wider halls. I caught sight of a sparse atrium, one full of night-blooming roses, and the hall we entered had numerous closed doors.
“These are meeting spaces,” Casteel explained, his hand wrapped firmly around mine. Kieran, Delano, Emil, and Naill walked with us. Some of the wolven had remained in the foyer while Vonetta and Lyra followed with a dozen or so wolven.
They weren’t the only ones who trailed behind us. From the moment the crowns had been placed on our heads, Hisa and several Crown Guards followed. I wondered if it was strange for them to switch who they protected so quickly, and if it was also odd for Casteel’s parents to suddenly be lacking familiar shadows—although at least two guards had flanked Eloana when she parted ways with us in the foyer.
The hall we traveled down spilled into another foyer, one where a grand staircase spiraled up to the second floor and several above it. “Guest rooms are above, along with the staff rooms.”
I resisted the urge to break from Casteel and rush over to the staircase to see if the black stone of the banister was as smooth as it looked. “What—what about our rooms?”
“They are the east wing,” he answered, nodding at an older male who descended the stairs, carrying a platter of empty glasses.
“Oh,” I murmured and then frowned. “Wait. They’re in the east wing, right?”
A smirk appeared as Kieran said, “His and Her Majesty’s quarters are the east wing.”
Well, I had nothing to say to that as we entered the hall beyond the staircase, passing several paintings I would have to stop and look at later when I wasn’t thinking about the fact that the Royal Chambers were an entire wing of the palace. “Where will your parents live?” I blurted out the thought as it occurred to me.
Casteel grinned. “They will probably remain here for a bit while the transition is made, and then they’ll either stay or move to one of the estates.”
“Oh,” I repeated.
We entered a circular chamber where the breezeways connected the east and west wings. A goddess statue stood in the middle, her arms stretched above her head and palms tilted upward. I had no idea which goddess she was, but she was definitely…ample in the hips and chest areas.
We passed a family room, a rather inviting space with couches and thick carpets and a glass ceiling, and then continued on through the Great Hall and past a dining area large enough to seat dozens.
The State Room was more than one space, situated toward the west wing of the palace. Cream settees lined the walls of the reception hall, placed in between large potted plants with leafy palms. Staff lingered near the banquet tables, where people I assumed were members of the Council helped themselves to drinks and finger foods. At the back of the hall, two open doors led to a chamber that was long and oval, set with a table that stretched nearly the length of the room.
We’d taken perhaps two steps into the Hall when the Elders turned from the table. Along with the staff, they all bowed deeply, even Gregori—the only one I recognized.
“As you were,” Casteel issued with a nod, and I committed that phrase to memory as the staff and Elders immediately straightened.
His father broke away from where he’d stood with a woman with deep brown skin, and a man with long, reddish-brown hair.
“We are still waiting on a few to return from their rooms, but they should be here shortly,” Valyn said, clasping his hand on Casteel’s shoulder. His voice lowered. “You will be expected to choose an advisor. Both of you. It doesn’t have to happen today, but you should choose one soon.”
“I already know who I will choose.” Casteel looked at me, and I could only think of one person. I glanced to where Kieran now stood just inside the door, his head tilted as Delano spoke quietly to him. I nodded in agreement. “I will want to speak with him first.”
Valyn’s gaze flicked to Kieran. “He is a good choice.” He squeezed Casteel’s shoulder, and I was relieved to see the gesture. “For both of you.” There was a pause as he looked at his son, clearing his throat.
Opening myself up, I could…taste what reminded me of vanilla—sincerity—but there was also a warm, cinnamon flavor. Pride. Emotions seeped through the cracks in the walls his father had built around himself, and even without my gift, I could sense that he probably wished to speak with his son alone. The gods only knew how long Valyn had waited for this moment, having gone from expecting one son to assume the role and then hoping the other would eventually take the throne.
My gaze skittered over to where Naill and Emil had roamed into the chamber. “I’ll be right back,” I said, and Casteel’s gaze shot to me. I smiled at him and then his father. “Excuse me.”
Vonetta prowled alongside me as I walked into the chamber, aware of the eyes that followed. I let my senses open wide, and once again, I tasted the springy freshness of curiosity and the undertone of concern, thick like buttermilk. As I continued on, my chin lifted, my gaze moving from Naill and Emil to the round windows spaced between similar-shaped mirrors throughout the chamber. I could see just the steel gray and ivory of buildings. Eager to see more of Evaemon, I almost didn’t catch my reflection in the mirror just inside the room.