Nick almost laughed. She’d fallen asleep five minutes into the massage he’d given her to help her relax and she’d stayed that way. He’d slept beside her, holding her in his arms and soothing her back to sleep the few times she’d tossed and turned, but if Willa wanted Kyanna to think her night with him had been spent doing much more intimate activities, so be it.
Kyanna frowned. “I don’t know how you can…do such things.”
“Really?” Willa tipped her head. “Don’t tell me the high and mighty All Seer never got the birds and the bees talk?”
Zane snorted, which earned him a cutting glare from Kyanna. “You know what I mean.” She shifted her gaze to Nick, raking him up and down. “Although, maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m missing something by not giving it a try.”
Willa made a face. “Let’s change the subject.”
Kyanna smiled and licked her teeth. “Does it make you sad to think about losing your pet, sister dear? Maybe I’ll make him my official consort once I’m queen. Would that make you feel better?”
Nick scowled at her. The thought turned his stomach. He snorted. “Like that would ever happen.”
Kyanna leaned in. “Slaves don’t get a say in what they do and don’t do.”
He bit back a retort, remembering that the bracelet on his wrist was supposed to be hers, not Willa’s, which meant he should still be under her command. It almost killed him, but he managed to nod and keep his mouth shut.
“That’s a good boy.”
“You disgust me, Kyanna.” Willa put her hands on her birdhips. “No creature deserves to be enslaved.”
Kyanna walked within inches of Willa. “The old ways kept us strong.”
“The old ways caused war and heartache.”
“If you want things to be different, you’d better win the challenge.”
“I’m going to, so you’d better be prepared to lose,” Willa shot back.
Kyanna laughed. “I doubt it.”
The interior doors opened again and a pair of the king’s guards walked out pulling a wheeled platform that held the king on a big tufted chair. His court followed him, the steward that had been instructed to run the challenge first in line.
Willa bowed as he was escorted to the dais and helped to his throne.
He sat and nodded at them. “Good morning, such as it is. I trust your early presence here means you’re ready for the challenge to come?”
Kyanna spoke up first. “Ready to win, Your Highness.”
“Very good, very good.” He looked at Willa. “And you, sister to the All Seer. Are you ready as well?”
“Yes, Your Highness. I have one question, however.”
“All right, that’s fair. Although I may not be able to answer it.”
Willa took a breath. “Will the citizens of the kingdom be allowed into the great hall to watch the challenge?”
Nick frowned. He hadn’t seen that coming. A crowd might make her more nervous. All those eyes watching, waiting for one of them to fail… He didn’t like it, but if Willa was asking for an audience, she must want one for a good reason.
The king stroked his long white beard, his hand shaking slightly. He glanced at his steward. “Gerard, is that permissible?”
The steward nodded. “If Your Grace decrees it so, it is perfectly acceptable.”
The king smiled. “I think it’s a grand idea. The people should be able to watch the rise of their new queen.”
Willa lifted her hand. “One more question, if I may.”
The king nodded. “What is it?”
“Could I have a moment with Gerard?”
He glanced at the steward. The man shrugged as if to say why not. The king gestured toward the man as he looked at Willa. “A moment. We cannot delay this forever.”
“Your Highness,” Kyanna started. “This is unfair.”
The king lifted a feeble hand. “It’s only a moment, All Seer.”
She stewed, crossing her arms. “Tyrra would never allow this.”
Willa shot her sister a stern look. The nerve of Kyanna calling up the king’s unwell daughter whenever things didn’t go her way. Honestly.
Kyanna looked away.
Willa turned back to the king before he could change his mind. “I’ll be quick, Your Highness. Thank you.” She gave a short bow, then went off to a far corner with Gerard. Even with the distance, Nick could tell Willa was asking the man some hard questions as he jerked back and stared at her. Then finally, he nodded.
Willa seemed relieved. She dipped her head in thanks, and they returned to the center of the room.
The king raised his brows at Gerard. “All settled?”
“Yes, Your Highness.” The steward had a curious twinkle in his eyes. “We are ready to begin.”
The king raised his hand. “Throw wide the doors to the great hall. Send messengers to spread the word that the challenge is open to all.”
Willa bowed again. “Thank you, Your Highness.”
Nick went to her side. “Plan? As much as you can tell me.”
She kept her eyes on Kyanna for a moment before looking at him. “I want witnesses. I don’t want her to be able to get away with a single thing.”
Was that what she’d been talking to Gerard about? “Good idea.”
It didn’t take long for word to spread, and soon fae filled the great hall. The tables and benches became bleachers, and a noisy hum vibrated through the space as time ticked toward noon. Silk ropes and wood stanchions were brought in to cordon the center where Willa and Kyanna would face off.