A groan escapes me at my mother's words finding their way out of her pretty, pink mouth.

"If he wasn't the future ruler of Purgenite, I'd say we have every right to throw him in the dungeons when he finally arrives," Maureen says on my other side.

Gretchen's frown deepens, but it's me that answers, "I expect the rift is becoming difficult to cross since Elara's bridge shrinks in the north." The bridge was a passage of light-filled forest that kept the shadows at bay--without it, our two queendoms could not trade. The dark rift of magic separating our two countries is impossible to cross.

A deafening bang. The door swings open with a quick rush of cool air. And my heart seizes.

But it's not the Prince that walks through the parting crowd of chatty guests.

My sisters and I stand, meeting our unwelcome visitor at the bottom of the dais. The wizard of the Darklands winks as he comes to a stop a few feet from us. The creator of the shadows that wreak havoc on our queendoms, and master of the rift.

His cloak sways around him, all black and gold elegance. His face is far too young for someone of his supposed age. If I were to guess by searching for his non-existent wrinkles, I'd place him around twenty or so years old.

"My Lady," Rodan, the wizard, laughs. He bows low, his pale forehead nearly kissing the polished stone of the floor.

"Stand and let your presence here be explained," Maureen shouts, her voice echoing an authority that I could never hope to achieve.

Rodan straightens, a crackle of magic surging through the room like a wave on the shore. Nothing more than parlour tricks, my mother used to say. And I believe her, even now. If he were the wizard he claimed to be; he and the Darklands would have taken our queendoms many years ago. Instead, he simply hides away in his darkness and lets the monstrosity that is the rift do all the work for him.

"I've come to request the Princess Isadolla hand over her queendom to me and mine. Here and now before this audience of witnesses."

The crowd of courtiers are silent.

An un-princess-like laugh escapes me in a snort before I can catch myself. "You want what?"

"Your queendom, my lady." His expression stays slightly amused, his dark eyes glittering with a secret. "Before you answer, let me warn you that your refusal will result in me taking action upon yourself. Something you really don't want, I assure you."

"The answer to your ridiculous request is, and always will—," Gretchen grabs a handful of my skirts, cutting me off. "What?" I snap, swinging around.

Her gaze darts out to the wizard, then back to me. "Isa, what if he hurts us?"

"He's nothing more than a fake, Gretch," I reassure her. "If he were all powerful, he would have attacked before now, and he wouldn't be asking for our queendom. He'd just take it."

"Quite right," the wizard interrupts. "But at the same time, not." His head tilts to the side, his brown hair falling in front of his eyes.

"Speak plainly."

"I thought that's what I was doing?" He grins, contempt and something that looks like anger sparkles.

I roll my eyes and move back to my throne. "Come on, sisters. This man is not a threat. He merely wants someone to pay attention to him while he throws a tantrum like a child."

"You will not make fun of me," Rodan warns.

I scoff. "I will do as I wish. In case it escaped your notice, this is my queendom, and these are my people. Go back to the wastes you call a home and this time, stay there."

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