She didn’t answer, just kept walking. The hall they were in was much quieter, and perfumed with sweet smoke and flowers. The stone was carved into intricate patterns with more gold leafing and gemstones set like mosaics. She trailed her fingers along one wall and picked up a scattering of emotions: happiness, misery, pride, duty, complacency, love and hate. All jumbled together and all fitting, considering where they were.
She dropped her hand from the wall, the onslaught of so many feelings unsettling her. She didn’t need help in that department.
The king and his court traveled this hall. And now she was walking it. Headed toward one of the most dangerous decisions she’d ever made outside of running away all those years ago. At least this time, she had Nick at her side. Hopefully, this decision would also lead to freedom. For her and Nick. And Shay and their parents.
The hall joined another, and they went right, past a second set of guards who nodded at Zane. Royal purple silk carpet spooled down the length and led to another pair of double doors with a third set of guards. These doors were burnished silver trimmed in gold with carved amethyst handles. At the side hung a small bell of pure crystal on a braid of violet silk cord.
The guards were dressed to match in purple and gold with crystal buttons.
The king’s personal guard outside his personal chambers.
Her pulse kicked up a beat, urging her to turn and run. She hated confrontation. Hated the way her mouth went dry and her knees weak. But there was no way out of this situation except forward. The direction she was facing. She reached out, gave Nick’s hand a quick squeeze. He squeezed back, reassuring her.
Zane jangled the bell.
A servant girl answered the door a second later, like she’d been waiting. She bowed and ushered them in.
Kyanna stood beside the king’s chair, a massive ornamented seat three times the size of the man sitting in it. King Edwyrd looked much older than Willa remembered, but then she’d only seen him once, when she’d been presented. He was gaunt and pale with illness, but sat straight and stiff on his chair.
Her parents stood several paces back and to the side of Kyanna. At the same distance on the other side were the king’s people. A steward, the king’s master at arms and his personal counsel. Their eyes held the kind of appraising gazes that said they didn’t much care for any of this. Perhaps they disagreed with Kyanna. If that was true, Willa might find allies amongst them.
She fixed her gaze on the floor and bowed her head. “Your Highness.”
“Willa Iscovian. Sister to my All Seer.”
Willa straightened at his acknowledgment. It wasn’t a question, but she nodded anyway. “Yes.”
“Lapidus,” he whispered. Then he lifted a hand to point at her. “I remember you. You were presented to the court, but…”
He either didn’t remember the details of her disappearance or was offering her a kindness. She didn’t want or need it. “I ran away.”
He nodded, mouth pursed and drawing lines in from his cheeks. “Yes.”
“But I’ve been summoned back and asked to join my sister and brother in service to the kingdom.” No telling how much the king knew about her arrival here. She was guessing not much.
His pale gray eyes brightened. “And you’ve decided to join them. That’s very good. It means you will become the next All Seer when your sister becomes queen.”
Sorrow dimmed the brightness in his eyes. “I have no children who can wear this crown as I’m sure you know.”
“Yes, Your Highness. My sympathies. However, I’ve come before you for a slightly different reason than becoming my sister’s All Seer.”
She took a breath, the moment of her decision upon her quicker than she’d anticipated. Details presented themselves individually as time slowed. Kyanna’s nearly blinding smile faltered, while Zane’s frown deepened. Her parents leaned forward, eyes clouded with concern. Somewhere in the gardens beyond the king’s chambers, birds sang and insects buzzed and the fae kingdom was as unchanged as the day she’d left.
Willa lifted her chin, her body numb and alive at the same time. “I have decided to challenge Kyanna for queen.”
Nick’s military training kept him from reacting to Willa’s announcement. At least on the outside. On the inside, he was losing it.
His gut instinct was to shift, grab her and fly them the hell out of there, but they’d have to get past a lot of guards who would try to stop them and running wouldn’t do anything to protect Shay.
Plus, he’d told Willa that he trusted her, and acting against her wishes would be a violation of that trust.
So he did nothing but stand there and watch, because it was clear Kyanna and Zane did not have the benefit of his training.
Zane had begun laughing uncontrollably while Kyanna looked like the top of her head might blow off in a cloud of steam and spite.
The king seemed oblivious to the machinations going on around him, then proved Nick’s theory true by clapping and nodding his head. “Very good. It’s been too long since we’ve had a challenge. And between two lapidus! Excellent.”
Willa’s back was ramrod straight, and her hands were at her sides. The slightest tremble shook them, so subtle he doubted anyone else had seen it. She was nervous, but controlling it. “Thank you, Your Highness. I look forward to it.”
“Yes, yes, very good.” He nodded some more, and his burst of good cheer diminished the pallor of illness surrounding him.