Royal Bastards(10)

By: Andrew Shvarts

Zell pulled his hand back. “Never seen nightglass before?”

I’d seen it, of course, on arrows and blades and axes. Nightglass was the northern tundra’s chief export, a beautiful black metal that looked as fragile as glass and was harder than steel. But I’d never seen it like this.

Miles was equally captivated. “Fascinating. A living metal that fuses to bone.” He circled over to look more closely. “I’d always heard that nightglass could do that. But I’d never seen it in practice. Will it continue to grow? Is the density compromised at all?”

Miles was somehow avoiding the most important question. “Why?” I asked.

Zell folded his hands together, hiding his knuckles. “A disarmed warrior is easily dishonored. This way, I’ll never be disarmed again.”

I jerked away and Zell saw my reaction. “Do I repulse you?”

“No,” I replied. “You scare me.”

“Uh, guys?” Miles had turned toward the front of the room. “Something’s happening.”

Miles was right. The room had once again fallen silent. The entire hall was staring toward the front, where Archmagus Rolan had taken to his feet. It was like every light had dimmed except the ones on him. For all I knew, they actually had.

“Assembled guests,” he said, and I startled. It wasn’t that his voice boomed. It was that it somehow carried through the air, as if he were standing right next to me when he spoke. “It is my great honor to present to you…my niece…the daughter of our beloved King…Princess of the Kingdom of Noveris…Lyriana Ellaria Volaris!”

The Hall’s heavy wooden doors were still shut, but Rolan hurled back one hand toward them. The air crackled with the electric pulse of magic, and a plume of purple smoke and pulsing yellow light burst from his palm, enveloping the entryway. The sound of thunder shook the walls. The room gasped as one. Zell’s brother reached for his sword.

Then the single most beautiful girl I had ever seen emerged from the smoke.

Princess Lyriana was fifteen, but she managed to somehow look both older and younger. She was tall for a girl, a little taller than me, with a slender, elegant frame. Her white dress clung to her body like a second skin, adorned with what had to be thousands of beautifully sparkling diamonds, a dazzling ocean of stars. Long white gloves, a style I’d never seen before, covered her hands and arms halfway to the elbow. She had the most perfectly symmetrical face I’d ever seen, like something out of a painting, with big round eyes and full lips, framed by wavy black hair. She was clearly a Volaris like her uncle: her skin was as dark as his, and her eyes burned a warm, brilliant gold.

You could feel the air get sucked out of the room as she walked in. The servants froze in place. Every young man (and many old) perked up, mesmerized, probably playing out some impossible fantasy where she fell into their beds. Next to me, Miles’s jaw hung open. Even Zell sat alert.

I’d never felt more frumpy in my life.

My father was the first to rise. “Your Majesty,” he said, his head bowed low. “It is my great honor to welcome you to my home. Will you join me at my table?”

She turned toward him, and then something strange happened. She hesitated. She stared out, at the dozens of faces staring at her, at all the hungry eyes. Her perfectly serene expression cracked with what looked like curiosity, maybe even excitement.

Somehow, across that entire crowd, past all the Lords and knights and squires, she saw our table. She saw me. Our gazes locked across the Hall, her beautiful, blinding gold eyes staring right into mine.

“My apologies, Lord Kent,” she said. “But actually, I would prefer to sit back there.”

YOU KNOW THAT AWKWARD SILENCE where someone has committed a horrible social blunder, but no one knows how to react, so everyone is just staring at their feet? Imagine that, but in a hall with two hundred people.

My father spoke at last. “Your Majesty, I’m afraid you misunderstand. The guest of honor sits with the host.”

“The Princess has made her wishes clear,” Archmagus Rolan said, and his voice was as hard as Zell’s knuckles. “She will sit where she pleases.”

“Ah.” I’d never seen my father look flustered before. I didn’t like it. “The thing is…in our custom, you see, that table is for b—”

“I know who the table is for, Lord Kent,” Rolan cut in. “And I repeat that the Princess has made her wishes clear. Do you have difficulty obeying royal commands?”

My father stepped back, biting his lip. A suffocating tension hung over the room, every eye on him. I felt my hands clench into fists. Archmagus or not, Rolan was still a guest in our home, and he had no right to challenge my father like that. But what could he do? Everyone knew how the Kingdom worked. Peasants bowed to their Lords. The Lords bowed to the High Lord. And the High Lord bowed to the King…and his enforcers.

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