Chapter Two

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While I'm not the most diplomatic of princesses, I have to admit that I excel at petty court aggressions. Some people are good with lutes; I'm good at getting under King Lionel's skin.

He's an absolute twat and doesn't deserve to be on the throne, but such is fate.

I flick a hand over my wide, heavily-embroidered panniers and adjust the puffy yellow sleeves of my chemise. They poke out between the cuffs like lemony tufts and look garishly bright on such a solemn occasion. Wholly inappropriate and absolutely perfect.

Sitting by the window in my room, I toy with the jewel-encrusted belt at my waist and wait to be summoned.

I don't have to wait too long. The king's official messenger arrives, and I pretend to be very interested in the embroidery upon my cuff as Riza harasses him on my behalf. When she finally lets him in, I feign surprised that the king wishes to see me.

My sister has been married to Lionel for all of a year now, and other than official holidays, when he has to see me, Lionel completely avoids my presence. It suits me quite fine, as I loathe the boor.

Gathering my skirts, I follow the herald through the enormous keep. Castle Lios should be a place of enlightenment, learning, and joy like it was in the time of my ancestors.

But Lionel has taken to ruling things with an iron fist, and he picks endless fights on the rocky borders of Darkfell. Instead of courtiers and musicians, Lios is filled with tense advisors and soldiers.

They give me uneasy looks as I swan through the halls in my garish clothing. It's as if my cheery presence offends their war-leaning sensibilities. Lionel is going to drive this kingdom to ruin; I just know it.

And he will drag us all down with him.

"The Princess Candromeda Vestalin," the herald cries as I enter the throne room.

I feign more surprise to see the throne room full of courtiers and ambassadors. I blow kisses and wave at the gathered men as if they're all here to see me.

The men in their armor and war cloaks look less than pleased with my antics, but I don't care. I beam at everyone and then sink into a low, perfect curtsy before the paired thrones on the dais.

When I rise, I glance over at my sister, who sits at King Lionel's side.

I shouldn't have looked. Erynne's face is blotchy with tears, her eyes red. She dabs at them with a silk handkerchief that matches her dress, and a woeful expression is on her pretty face. Her other hand caresses her heavily pregnant belly, and I'm stricken with guilt.

Here I am, acting the jester, and my sister is weeping over the loss of our sister. I'm filled with a hint of shame that I don't have the same memories of Meryliese that she does. I was too young to remember much, but Erynne is four years older than me and probably remembers a great deal more.

I bite my lip because a princess shouldn't cry in public. At least Erynne's tears can be blamed on her pregnancy.

"Greetings, my queen," I say sweetly, slowly adding, "and my king."

Lionel's jaw clenches, and I just know he wants to say something unpleasant to me. I brace myself, ready for it. We've gotten into such spats in the past. He thinks he gets the final say in all things, and I think he's a dreadful louse, so we've squabbled in front of courtiers many a time. He can't do anything to me as I'm Erynne's sister, and I clearly have the cursed blood of Vestalin in my veins, but I know he'd love to bring me down a notch if he could.

He glances over at his bride, frustration written on his face.

I dislike Lionel intensely. I dislike his florid face, his blond beard, and the way he laughs loudly so everyone will look over at him.

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⏰ Last updated: Jan 16 ⏰

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