Chapter 12

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Only Coralina could flirt from the throne.

Maelyn didn’t know how, but word that Princess Coralina now ruled over Runa spread faster than Red Fever. Every unwed nobleman the realm possessed appeared at her throne. Knights, especially. Coralina had always favored knights.

“What do you think, Sir Gwyn? Will I make a pretty queen?” She grinned at the stalwart young man nearest her throne.

“Prettiest of a hundred kingdoms!” Sir Gwyn cried.

Coralina pouted. “Only a hundred?” And the forty knights surrounding her thundered with hearty laughter.

Maelyn wanted to be sick. Yes, Coralina was lovely. Black curls spilling over her shoulders, plum-colored gown shimmering, teardrop pearls dangling from her ears. Acting more like a child at her birthday feast than a queen.

Maelyn stood at the back of the throne room, shielded by a clump of townspeople still waiting for Coralina’s attention. Maelyn noticed sympathy in the cautious smiles they gave her and sensed not all in the kingdom rejoiced at the change in monarch.

“Isn’t that your mother’s crown?” asked Sir Brunner, a man of dark eyes and crooked smiles. “I remember Queen Runa wearing it.”

“Why yes!” Coralina laughed. “Do you like it on me?”

Maelyn forgot to breathe. Coralina wore Mother’s crown. She hadn’t noticed. Mother’s silver crown with inlaid sapphires, that had lain on her pillow untouched since her death. It belonged on the next queen of Runa, not buried in Coco’s turbulent hair.

Her outrage must have been obvious because a hand nudged her shoulder. “Not to worry, my lady,” said a man.

Maelyn turned and recognized Gord, a carpenter of Creaklee village. A mountainous man with gentle brown eyes. He nodded toward Coralina. “It won’t last. She’s having her fun, but she’ll tire of it. It’s her butterfly nature.”

“Butterfly?”

“Never lingers at one flower. Always flitting to a brighter one. Playing queen – it’s just one of her flowers.”

“Hmm. I think men are her flowers,” Maelyn muttered. She watched Sir Brunner begging the privilege to kiss Coralina’s hand, and Coralina making a bad pretence of reluctance.

“My lady!” Sir Gwyn cried. “When you become queen, who shall be your husband and king?”

Coralina smiled mysteriously. “Perhaps he is in this room.” The knights bunched around her throne, crying “Who?” and “Pick me!”

“Ugh.” Maelyn dropped her face in her hands. She’d seen enough. And the neglected townspeople had waited long enough. She turned to the carpenter. “Why did you come today, Gord? Is it your eyesight?”

Gord nodded. “Gets worse every day, my lady. I’ll be blind soon.” He cleared his throat twice to steady his voice. “You said you’d find a nurse for my little girl when… when it got too hard….”

Maelyn touched his arm. “Of course, Gord.” She caught another peasant looking at her, an old shepherdess. “My sheep are wandering off pasture,” said the woman. “The fence is broken and I can’t repair it myself.”

Maelyn crept toward the door, beckoning the townspeople. “Come with me, all of you. We’ll talk in my library.” She needn’t have whispered, or worried Coralina would notice them. Coralina had eyes for only men and mirrors.

“Health and wealth to Queen Coralina!” another knight cried. Coralina laughed. “We must drink to that! Sir Brunner, find the Kitchen Princess! We need wine for everyone!”

Maelyn let the shutting door muffle the men’s cheers. Stupid Coco. Those men would drain a barrel at least and she knew Coralina would demand the finest: the aged mulberry wine that Uncle Jarrod drank.

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