Tales of loathsome tyrants and prophesied saviors aren't nearly so appealing when you are a royal bastard with a prophecy hanging over your head.



"Your Highness?" I tease. Aidan shrugs, halfheartedly. Something's not right. "What's wrong?" I ask quietly. He's upset.

He sighs, glancing aside. "Drake's dead," he states directly. Aidan looks away and swallows. "Carling, too."

I nod. I remember that, now. Tears begin to form in my eyes. Why did he have to do this?

"Your father killed all his siblings and cousins, so there isn't anyone else left for the succession."

…His point?

"That leaves you queen."

For a long moment, I forget to breathe. I stare. A minute ticks by. "…What?"

"You're the only surviving heir of…" He coughs. "…Grehafen's royal family."

I laugh, convinced he's joking. He must be. Me, a baseborn child, queen. "You play!" My laugh swiftly dies at his still-serious mien. My eyes widen. "…You… don't… play…"

He smiles slyly and shrugs. "I don't know what's so special about it. It's a pain. You have advisors, nobles, and populace to keep happy; have a multitude of outrageous, not to mention illogical, rules you have to follow, else be shunned…"

I bite my lip. "If I'm queen…"

"You are," he assures me, which doesn't help me get the nerve to finish this.

"Then who's ruling Grehafen now?" I wince when the words escape my mouth. So mercenary—not like I meant them.

"His Majesty of Marsdenfel, Liathen the Second," Aidan says promptly. "It'll take some time to remove the integration between Marsdenfel and Grehafen. He's working on restructuring the kingdom, too, so you won't have to figure out and untangle everyone your father, ah, persuaded to join him."

He sighs. "But when you feel up to it, there is a matter that needs your personal attention. Nothing utterly urgent, you understand, but…"

"Right." I swallow. "And Liathen can't handle it?"

Aidan's looking up and to the side when he says "No," in a half amused, half irritated way. His brown eyes twinkle before dimming. "Speaking of acts as queen…  Would Her Majesty of Grehafen be willing to ally with Salles?"

I giggle despite myself. I ponder his question, a bit puzzled. "We're already allies; I'm not going to change that. I owe you. And… we're friends, aren't we?" Rulers can be friends with each other, right?

Aidan's answer is quiet. "Of course, Your Majesty." He stands. "I'll let you sleep. Here's your knitting." He moves a basket closer to my seat. I see my not quite complete nightgown inside, with the needles and as-yet unused yarn.

He bows. "Sleep well, Majesty."

He ignores the tongue I stick out at him as he leaves.

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