The Blind King Preview

Chapter 1

 

Efren placed a hand on his younger brother’s shoulder as they walked down the stone corridor of the castle. Gannon led the way, his boots echoing against the polished floor. Their father, the King of Ra’jhou, had an important announcement for Efren, and Gannon had taken it upon himself to fetch his brother personally. Forbidden from traveling the castle unaccompanied, Efren had not even been informed that his father wished to see him. It was a rarity, as the king had little need of his eldest son.

“Are you nervous?” Gannon asked.

“Not really,” Efren replied. He had a suspicion why his father had summoned him. There could be only one reason. His life was about to change, and he was looking forward to it. His marriage would bring him the freedom he craved. Soon, he would be able to leave the castle and experience life without his father’s many rules.

“I wonder if he’s chosen someone for me as well,” Gannon commented as they continued down the passage.

“I doubt it,” Efren replied. “You are heir to the kingdom. Your marriage announcement will likely be accompanied by a lavish feast.” He grinned at his younger brother, knowing how much he hated attending any type of celebration, especially if it involved dancing.

Blind since birth, Efren had never been considered heir to the kingdom. When his brother Gannon was born, he was immediately given the title. Efren, however, was not bitter. He loved his brother dearly, and he had no desire to rule. Over the years, Gannon had proved himself a strong and honorable man. Efren had every confidence in his brother’s ability to lead the kingdom.

“To the right,” Gannon said, steering his brother toward the throne room.

Though Efren had the castle mapped out in his mind, he was never allowed to travel the halls unaccompanied. King Nilan did not want to risk embarrassment should the prince become lost within the castle’s walls. His mother, the queen, feared he might wander away, never to be seen again. They had little confidence in their eldest son’s abilities, and they looked upon him with sorrow.

Studying gave Efren his escape from the mundane realities of life. He loved learning of the diverse cultures of Nōl’Deron, and he particularly enjoyed history. His tutors would read to him for hours while he sat and listened, his mind filled with wonder. Having no playmates except his brother and sister, he had plenty of time to imagine the sounds and smells of the far-off lands mentioned in his lessons. He dreamed of traveling to distant regions, unfettered from the demands of ruling a kingdom. It was a great relief to him to be spared the responsibility.

Gannon spent most of his days training with a sword, but he made every effort to spend time with Efren. He did not understand his parents’ reasoning behind naming him heir, but there was nothing he could do about it. His father’s word was law, and he had resigned himself to his fate. He had proved himself a leader among the soldiers he trained, choosing to focus his energy on military activities. Politics bored him, and he much preferred action to sitting around a conference table.

The pair finally reached the throne room and paused outside the door. Gannon turned to face his brother. “I’m sure the king has chosen someone pretty for you,” he said. He brushed at the dark blue tunic his brother wore to ensure it was in pristine condition. Then he tugged at the black doublet he wore, hoping to make himself presentable as well.

With a quiet laugh, Efren replied, “It matters not to me.” To him, the acceptance of his future wife meant far more than her pretty face. As long as she was good-natured and had not been coerced into marrying a broken husband, he would, in time, grow to love her.

“It’s a matter of prestige for him,” Gannon replied. “She’ll be shown off at court, and they wouldn’t want to encourage gossip if she were any less beautiful than a princess.”

They stepped inside the massive throne room, where the king and queen awaited them. Efren drew in a breath and swallowed it, attempting to push away his nerves. The gathered members of court fell silent as the young men took their place next to their sister, Aubriana. With the three siblings side by side, their differences were obvious. Efren was fair-haired with pale, crystal eyes. He stood a few inches taller than his brother, but he was thinner, with less muscle. Gannon had striking dark hair and eyes, and a muscular build. Aubriana was nearly as tall as Gannon, but her hair was golden and her eyes deep blue. She wore a bright yellow gown, resembling the image of her mother, the queen. The princess’s beauty was unmistakable. She had no lack of suitors, and she worried who her father would choose as her husband.

No smile graced the king’s face as he looked upon his children. To him, marriage was a matter of business, and today was no different from any other. “Efren, my son,” the king said. “I have chosen for your bride the Lady Ryshel. She is daughter of the Duke of Sarril. With the exception of your sister, she is the most beautiful girl in the kingdom. You should be pleased.”

Efren stood forward and knelt before his father. “I am pleased, Your Majesty. I thank you for your generosity.” Rising back to his feet, he felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He had wondered if he might be sent to away to a different kingdom, but it seemed his father had other ideas. It would have interested him to travel away from Ra’jhou, the land he had always known. He doubted he would ever set foot in the lands he had read about.

“My daughter, Aubriana,” King Nilan said.

The princess stepped forward and curtsied. Her heart was racing, and her face was pale. Time seemed to stand still as she awaited her father’s words.

“You shall marry Prince Ivor of Na’zora.”

Aubriana’s mouth dropped open, but she could not protest. There had been strained relations between her own kingdom and Na’zora. Skirmishes often broke out along Ra’jhou’s southern border, and the Na’zoran king was not usually open to negotiations. It would seem she was the price of peace between the two kingdoms, and the reality frightened her. How would she be treated there? Would they accept her as one of their own? Though she tried to hide it, she was visibly shaken.

“You shall someday be queen,” the king added. His expression was one of pride. Though he hated the Na’zoran king, he would gladly give his daughter to his enemy. One day, his own bloodline would sit on the throne of both kingdoms.

Gannon softly patted his sister’s arm. “All will be well,” he said with sincerity.

She wished she could believe him. It pained her that she was being sent away, and she wondered if she would ever return to this kingdom in the mountains where she had spent her childhood. Silently, she hoped that her husband would be kind to her, and that he was not as war-like as his father. Bowing her head, she said, “Thank you, Your Majesty. I shall endeavor to be a good wife to him.”

“Indeed you shall,” King Nilan replied.

“I shall have some gowns prepared for you in the Na’zoran style,” the queen remarked. “You’ll need to fit in among your new people.”

“There will be no betrothal for Gannon today. He is heir to the throne, and the decision is far more difficult where he is concerned.” The king rose and exited, leaving his children to ponder their futures.

Queen Cala descended from her throne and took her daughter by the arm. Leading her away, she said, “I can see your fear, child, but it is unnecessary. The prince’s heart will melt when he sees you. No man could resist loving one as beautiful as you.” Her words were sincere, her smile warm and comforting.

“I hope you are right,” Aubriana whispered.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Ryshel stared at her reflection in the mirror as her maidservant cinched the bodice of her dress. She smiled slightly, admiring the emerald green fabric. Today she would meet her future husband. Having full knowledge of his blindness, she wondered what tasks he was able to perform alone. Little was known about Prince Efren, as he did not regularly attend court functions, and few people passed gossip about the rarely seen prince. Ryshel’s father had never laid eyes on him during his numerous trips to court, and the king never spoke publicly of his children besides Gannon.

“You look lovely, my lady,” the maid said, stepping back to admire the future princess.

With a sigh, Ryshel nodded. “I doubt my husband is interested in my looks.” Silently, she hoped he would be interested in her mind. Few women studied literature, history, or politics, but those things had always appealed to her. Of course she could dance and behave like a proper lady, but once she had her own household, she hoped to take part in running it.

“We had better get you to your betrothed,” the maid said. “We mustn’t keep him waiting.” Opening the door, she motioned Ryshel to come along.

Her soft slippers made no sound against the castle floor as she proceeded down the corridor. The sounds of the banquet filled the hallway as she moved closer to her destination. Voices were speaking over each other, and glasses were clinking. As the door opened, her eyes scanned the crowd, searching for Efren among the gathered nobles.

Dozens of tables had been laid out with a variety of decadent foods. She searched the tables until her eyes finally fell on King Nilan, his golden crown gleaming in the candlelight. At the king’s table were two young men, one fair-haired, the other dark. Immediately, she knew which one was her future husband. Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly and stepped inside the dining hall.

A hush fell over the crowd as she entered, and the assembled guests rose to their feet to greet their new princess. She had black hair, which was pulled back into one long braid reaching past her waist. Her stunning green eyes, set off by her green satin gown, caught the attention of the royal family. Gannon and Aubriana exchanged pleased glances.

Aubriana leaned forward to pat Efren’s arm. “Your bride-to-be is here,” she whispered.

He smiled and sat up tall in his seat, his heart pounding in his ears. Hoping she would like what she saw, he held his breath in anticipation.

Reaching the king’s table, Ryshel curtsied politely before him.

“Lady Ryshel,” the king said.

“Your Majesty,” she replied.

“This is my son, Efren,” the king said, his hand indicating the fair-haired man on his right.

Efren stood and bowed to the lady who would soon be his wife. Taking her hand, he pressed it to his lips. “My lady,” he said. Her skin was soft and delicate to his touch, and the scent of fresh roses graced her presence.

“My lord,” Ryshel replied, bowing her head slightly. Relieved to find that her husband-to-be was handsome, her heart fluttered momentarily. His gentle features spoke of kindness, and she hoped that meant he would be a caring husband.

“Please, be seated,” the queen said. “Have something to eat.”

Ryshel took her seat next to Efren, but she had no appetite for food. Her mind was overwhelmed with many thoughts. Would her husband be willing to hear what she thought on certain issues? How many children would he expect? Would she be able to give him any? Where would they live? There were far too many questions when it came to marriage. Though she had been prepared for this event all her life, she still felt apprehensive.

Aubriana smiled warmly at her future sister. “I am Aubriana,” she said. “I hope you will find happiness with my brother.” In her mind, she hoped her own husband would be much like Efren. He was loving and thoughtful, and she believed Ryshel quite fortunate to marry a man who was both gentle and above her station.

After a while, the king declared, “Let the young couple have a dance.”

Efren rose, taking his betrothed by the hand. A single violin began to sing, soon being joined by other stringed instruments. Ryshel noticed a smirk on the king’s face, and she wondered if this was some joke at Efren’s expense. To her delight, Efren knew the steps to the dance and performed each movement flawlessly. For a moment, she felt embarrassed for doubting him. In front of her was a charming young prince, and soon her fears subsided. She felt a sense of warmth in his arms as they moved about the dance floor.

Efren’s heart was still pounding, but he concentrated on moving his feet to the correct locations. Careful training had prepared him for this moment, and he had no desire to disappoint his bride. The soft touch of her hand and the nearness of her body calmed him, making him feel as if she were already a trusted friend. When their dance was complete, he bowed to his bride.

The king applauded the young couple. “Splendid,” he declared. Though he had little use for his eldest son, he was pleased to have him educated in the ways of the court. It would not do to have him embarrass his father, and it would be impossible to keep him hidden at all times. Though he had considered locking him away at birth, his conscience would not allow it. The boy was, after all, his son. Luckily, the queen had borne him a second son who could fill the role as heir to the kingdom.

“Shall we dance again?” Ryshel asked.

“There is a private chamber to the left of the dining hall,” Efren replied. “Perhaps we could speak a moment.”

“Of course,” she replied. She was curious to hear what he had to say. Slipping her arm into his, she accompanied him into the empty room, her heart fluttering. “Shall we sit?”

“Yes,” he said, taking a seat upon one of the cushioned benches.

Ryshel took her place at his side, wondering what he might have to say. She had been told to expect little interaction from him and to give him plenty of space. He had been described to her as a person who prefers solitude, but his countenance had a warmth that suggested otherwise.

“I would know the truth,” he said. “Are you being forced into this marriage? I have no desire to make you unhappy, and I know I am not an ideal husband.” His honesty came naturally to him. Truly, he wished only to please this young woman who had offered him her hand in marriage. If she did not wish to be his wife, he would make sure she was released from her pledge.

His words took Ryshel by surprise. The marriage was arranged, of course, but it had never occurred to her that she should object. He was, after all, a prince of Ra’jhou. Though he would not be king, he was still due to inherit immense wealth upon his marriage. She was guaranteed a comfortable life, and there was little chance he could be cruel. Marrying Efren was everything she had dreamed of. The fact that he cared about her happiness only made him more appealing.

Looking into his crystal eyes, she felt a connection to this humble man. Without a doubt, he would make a fine husband. “It is my desire to be your wife.”

He leaned in and kissed her cheek, lingering long enough to feel her warmth. “We shall have our own household, away from the court. It is my desire to live in the country.” Lovingly he placed his hand against her cheek, his fingers finding her soft raven locks.

“That would please me as well,” she replied. It would seem that all her childhood dreams were about to come true. She would have a loving husband and a house in the country where all her needs would be fulfilled.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Four decorated carriages prepared to escort Princess Aubriana to her new home in Na’zora. Her nerves had not left her, but she had accepted the situation and held her head proudly as she descended the castle steps. Shala, her most trusted handmaiden, would accompany her, giving her some sense of her former life. Starting over with no familiar face to look upon would have been devastating.

Gannon, Efren, and Ryshel waited beside the carriages to wish farewell to the young princess. There was no sign of the king or queen. Aubriana slowly approached her brothers, making every effort to smile despite the absence of her parents. She may never have the chance to see them again. Any visit to Ra’jhou would have to be approved by her husband, and she had no way of knowing whether he would allow such a thing. The two kingdoms were hardly friends, and she knew nothing of the man she was to marry.

Gannon took both of her hands and said, “My dear sister, your marriage will ensure peace with our neighbor to the south. May your husband treat you well.” He kissed her cheek before departing for his morning sparring session. He wasn’t a fan of long goodbyes. Though he would miss his young sister dearly, he was accepting of her fate. Perhaps they would see each other again someday.

Aubriana’s eyes filled with tears as she watched her brother walk away. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes with a handkerchief before feigning a smile for Efren and Ryshel. “May your marriage be a fruitful one,” she said. “I regret I must leave before this afternoon’s ceremony.”

Efren wrapped his arms around her and said, “Be well, Sister. May all your days be happy ones.”

Ryshel said, “I regret I did not arrive sooner. I would love to know you better.”

Her words cheered Aubriana a little. “I shall write to you, if you like.” She sniffled quietly, her eyes glistening from uncried tears.

“I would like that very much,” Ryshel replied. She kissed Aubriana on both cheeks and hugged her tightly. Ryshel was fully aware of the pain involved in leaving one’s family. It was the duty of many noblewomen to be sent away to husbands they did not know. Her marriage had taken her halfway across the kingdom, but her husband’s plan of country living would place her closer to her own family. She considered herself among the luckiest women in Ra’jhou.

Aubriana turned to take one last look upon the castle where she had grown up. Backing up to the Wrathful Mountains, the castle appeared as a fairytale land to her eyes. Fond memories of playing with her brothers and learning how to dance filled her mind. She wished with all her heart she did not have to leave. Surely Na’zora’s palace would be a thing of beauty, but her heart would ever lie here among the mountains.

Finally, she stepped inside the carriage, followed by her servant. As the door closed, she stared out of the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of her parents. They were not near the entrance, nor were they present on the balcony leading from their chambers. They had not spared a moment to say goodbye to their only daughter. Regretfully, she looked again upon Ryshel and Efren as they stood arm in arm. They appeared genuinely happy, and she hoped only good things for them. For herself, she hoped her husband would be as kind as her brothers had always been to her.

Efren and Ryshel lifted their hands in farewell to the princess as the carriages began to roll away. Aubriana waved back, her tears spilling over. Would she ever see either of them again? Only time would tell.

“My lady, you should not weep,” Shala said. Tucking in a loose strand of hair on the princess’s head, she said, “You are too beautiful for tears. A smile suits you better.”

Aubriana managed a weak smile. “Thank you, Shala. I’m all right.” In truth, she was far from all right. Too much was uncertain, and the reality of leaving home had not set in until she was inside the carriage. She made up her mind to sleep as much as possible during the journey. The hours she was awake would no doubt be filled with worry, so sleep would help pass the time. Tucked in her bodice was a small pouch of herbs that would ensure a calm mind and dreamless sleep.

Ryshel waited for the carriage to move out of sight before escorting her betrothed back inside the castle. “I hope she will find happiness as I have,” she said.

Efren kissed her cheek. “She will,” he said with confidence. “Now, it’s time we were dressed for our wedding.”

“I suppose it is,” she agreed. Their marriage would take place in a matter of hours, and the king would expect it to happen without delay. He was a man who hated to be kept waiting, and this was an occasion for celebration, not a king’s anger.

A manservant in a dark red tunic approached them in the hallway. Bowing, he said, “I’ve come to escort Prince Efren to his chambers for dressing.”

Efren turned and smiled at his bride-to-be. “I shall be with you again soon,” he said, kissing her on the forehead.

“I leave him to your care,” she said to the servant, who bowed a second time. Ryshel returned to her own room to find several servants buzzing about.

“There you are, my lady,” one of them said. “We must get you ready.”

Ryshel allowed herself to be undressed and sat patiently in her undergarments as two servants fussed over her hair. She preferred something simple, but the maidservants wouldn’t hear of it. After nearly two hours, they had finished an intricate style that stood several inches off the top of her head. There were braids and loops and long tresses dangling on each side of her face. She had never seen any hairstyle so complicated.

A silver wedding gown was brought out for her to wear. It was a lovely dress with sparkling threads arranged throughout. All of the dresses she brought from home paled in comparison. Her life as a princess was about to begin, and she made a mental note to hire a tailor. If she was to attend court functions, she would need better clothes than the ones she owned. Her family had been far from poor, but a princess was expected to outshine everyone else in the room.

On the opposite side of the castle, Efren was dressed in a blue-and-gold satin tunic. A circlet of silver was placed upon his head. The servants complimented him on his looks, and he smiled politely in return. He felt slightly nervous at becoming a husband, as he had not had any prior experience with women. Gannon roamed freely about the castle and encountered many young maidens, but Efren was given little opportunity to be alone. There was not a moment he could remember when no one was at his side. The king had demanded that a servant sleep in the corner of his bedroom, should he require any assistance in the night. This left little opportunity to experiment with women.

After today, Efren would make his own rules. With a loving wife at his side, he would preside over his own household and have children of his own. He looked forward to being a father and hoped he would make a good one.

The servants accompanied him to the castle courtyard, where the king and queen were seated. Gannon had also cleaned up from his morning activities, and he stood at attention near his father, dressed in a dashing red doublet. A crowd of citizens had gathered to witness the ceremony, and the noise of hundreds of voices filled Efren’s ears. He was led first before his parents, to whom he bowed before being taken to the altar.

As Ryshel appeared before the crowd, the citizens cheered to welcome this new member to the royal household. The shining threads of her gown caught the afternoon sunlight, giving her a radiant glow. She dipped her head shyly, being unaccustomed to receiving so much attention. Curtsying before her future in-laws, she proceeded to the altar next to Efren.

His heart raced at her approach, the rustle of her gown announcing her nearness. Extending his hand, he closed his eyes as her small fingers interlaced with his. Her grip was delicate yet strong, and he savored this moment.

Lifting a golden chalice from the altar, Ryshel declared, “I take you, Efren, as my husband. I shall love only you for the rest of my days.” Taking a small sip of purple wine, she passed the goblet to her husband.

Grasping the goblet and holding it high, he said, “I take you, Ryshel, as my wife. I shall love none but you for the rest of my days.” He took a long sip of the wine before placing the cup back on the altar. Taking his wife in his arms, he kissed her long and full upon her lips. Before releasing her, he nestled his face in her dark hair, inhaling its pleasing fragrance. The crowd erupted in cheers, many of them throwing flower petals as the couple made their way back to the castle.

The king and queen rose and applauded the young pair, before following them inside. The occasion had gone smoothly, and the king was pleased with himself. The young couple would undoubtedly come to love each other.

“Once the marriage is consummated, you may leave for your own house,” the king said to his son. “Everything has been prepared. You will have the funds you need, and you will no longer be a burden to me.”

Efren said nothing as the king walked away. Ryshel felt anger rise in her, but she also remained silent, not daring to insult the king. His footsteps grew fainter as he walked away, leaving the young couple in peace.

“Don’t worry about him,” Efren said, sensing Ryshel’s displeasure. “He has never come to terms with having a less-than-perfect child. I am happy to be leaving his care.”

“You are your own master now,” Ryshel replied.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

After spending several days cramped in a carriage, Aubriana’s body ached. The wooden wheels were not forgiving when they encountered a bump, and the longer she sat in her seat, the more bruised she became. Finally, they reached Na’zora’s palace district near the sea, where King Tyrol dwelt. Aubriana’s first glimpse of the ocean took her breath away as she stared out the tiny window of her carriage.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

Shala nodded, her eyes staring off into the blue.

Stepping out of the carriage, Aubriana took a moment to stretch her back. “I’ll need a bath immediately,” she said. “We must take care to avoid Prince Ivor at all costs. He mustn’t see me before I’m prepared.” Lightly touching her hair, she knew it was a mess. Her future husband would certainly be displeased if he saw her in her current state. She planned to shine when he first laid eyes on her.

Five servants appeared out of nowhere to assist with her luggage and escort her to her rooms. The princess smiled nervously, wondering what they must think of her. She was probably the first Ra’jhouan they had seen, and she looked dreadful after her travels.

“This way, my lady,” a servant said. “Your rooms are in the east wing.” The servant turned immediately and proceeded up the palace steps.

Aubriana hoped that being in the east wing meant her rooms would look to the ocean. It would be a welcome sight to see such beauty each morning. She followed the servant up two flights of stairs and across a polished marble hallway before arriving at her chambers. To her delight, the spacious rooms included a balcony, where she could stand and admire the sea beneath her. There were velvet drapes and cushioned chairs all around, providing a suitable area to entertain her ladies in waiting. A large fireplace graced the far wall, and gold candelabrums would provide light in the evening. A tub had already been prepared in anticipation of her needs, and the servants hurried away to fetch warm water.

Shala began unlacing the princess’s dress, while Aubriana pulled out the pins that once held her hair in place. She ran her fingers through her disheveled locks in a feeble attempt to smooth them.

“I’ll fix them, my lady,” Shala said, moving Aubriana’s hand away. “Don’t worry.”

Aubriana’s heart was pounding, and she wondered if her maid could hear it. After a few moments, the servants returned with buckets of warm water. Aubriana climbed inside the tub and felt immediate relief.

“My rosewater,” she said. “I can’t remember which bag it’s in.”

“I know just where to find it,” Shala replied calmly. “Relax.”

Aubriana settled into the tub and closed her eyes. Focusing on her breathing, she tried to stop her mind from racing. If the prince was displeased with her in any way, she feared for her future. She must impress him with her beauty first and then let him get to know her. All her life she had been taught to conform to her husband’s wishes. Now, it was time for her to perform her duties and become a perfect wife. What if she failed? The thought did nothing to ease her mind, and tears came to her eyes.

“Shala, what shall I do if he dislikes me?”

“Shhh,” the maid replied as she added rosewater to the bath. “He will love you the moment he sees you. There could be no other as beautiful as my lady.” She stroked Aubriana’s hair softly with a shell comb.

“I wish that might be true,” the princess replied. But what if he doesn’t? The warm water comforted her, allowing her to drift off to sleep. As dreams of her wedding filled her mind, a disturbance at her chamber door forced her back to reality.

“My lady,” Shala said. “A servant of the prince is insisting you make yourself presentable. The prince is awaiting you. Your wedding is to be immediate.”

Aubriana sat up in her tub. “Now?” She had yet to meet her husband, and she was not expecting to be wed the moment she arrived. Rising to her feet, she said, “Help me, Shala.”

Shala rushed to her side, wrapping her in a white robe. “We’ll have you ready in no time,” she promised.

Aubriana’s heart was racing as she hurried to her mirror. “Bring my finest gown,” she said. “It seems I won’t have time to choose a wedding dress.” As she stared at her features in the mirror, she found it impossible to smile. Behind her, a group of young girls had entered the room to prepare her for her wedding.

Shala tied the princess into a long, champagne-colored gown. Her fingers worked quickly at the lacings, and Aubriana took shallow breaths to allow herself to be cinched tightly into the bodice. The young girls began fussing over her hair, adding pearls and sparkling shells to her golden locks. Her lips were painted soft pink, and her cheeks were given a rosy hue.

“How do I look?” she asked nervously.

“You’re the loveliest woman in the kingdom,” Shala replied, beaming.

Aubriana said nothing as she followed her servants out of the room and down the long palace corridor. She felt as if she might faint but did her best to remain calm. Entering a small chamber adorned with velvet tapestries, she finally glimpsed her future husband. He stood tall and proud near the altar, his expression severe. He had sandy hair and dark eyes, as well as a nicely groomed beard. Aubriana found him rather plain for a prince, but she hoped his lack of beauty might be replaced by kindness.

Prince Ivor looked her over with contempt. Marrying the daughter of his enemy was his father’s idea—one that he reluctantly agreed to. As she approached, he grabbed the goblet from the altar and thrust it at her without a word.

Aubriana was surprised by his gesture, but she reached out for the goblet, her face remaining calm. Due to their common ancestry, the two kingdoms performed the same marriage ritual, which meant Aubriana knew exactly what to do. “I take you, Prince Ivor for my husband. I shall love and honor you for the rest of my days,” she said before sipping the wine. She handed the goblet back to the prince with a shy smile upon her lips.

Snatching the goblet from her hand, he said, “I take you for my bride.” Rather than sip the wine, he threw the goblet to the ground with a loud clang.

The assembled nobles gasped and muttered among themselves. Aubriana was startled but remained composed. This was not the time to upset her husband.

“I have no desire for you,” he declared. “But you are my wife now, and I shall do what I must, no matter how it disgusts me.” With those words he stormed out of the room, leaving behind his new bride.

Shala, who had been watching from the back of the room, rushed to the princess in time to prevent her from collapsing. Aubriana wept, her face pressed against her maid’s shoulder as the nobles made their way to the exit. No one spoke a word to the new Na’zoran princess.

“I fear I’m destined for unhappiness,” she said.

“Hush,” Shala said. “All will be well. You will see.”

Her words did nothing to comfort Aubriana. Determined not to live a life of misery, Aubriana resolved to conform to her husband’s desires. If he preferred a wife who would keep to herself and leave him to his own devices, she would gladly oblige.

End of Sample

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