Mara poured a glass of wine from the chilled crystal decanter left for her on the table and wandered slowly to the window. From here, you could see so far, the city on this side of the castle was a small margin of clutter and stone before the trees began, hard up against the wall. She gazed over the green, undulating sea of the Great Forest, out to where it washed up against the Far Mountains.
This was what she’d been born for, raised for, what she’d been working towards since she first realised her heritage and her destiny. She was the daughter of the King of Everlea and had intended to be its queen when he passed.
She’d been trained in diplomacy, history, economics, history, languages, mathematics, finance, engineering and agriculture.
She’d spent time beyond the castle walls, even outside the city walls, working to know her kingdom, her people and her strengths and weaknesses.
And yet, when the crown had come to her, resting on a red velvet cushion, borne by a temple acolyte of surpassing beauty, she’d shaken her head, stepped away, pointed the trembling girl to another in the Great Hall.
As if her thoughts summoned him, Trey strode into the room, crossing it to stand in front of her, not speaking yet, but wariness, confusion and even a little anger in the set of his shoulders and clench of his jaw.
He reached up, pulling the crown from his head and holding it in front of him. Like some sort of accusation.
She remained silent. He knew.
“Why did you do this? You are the rightful heir, I was prepared to support you, to follow you. Why?”
“Because this kingdom needs a King. It cannot comprehend a Queen and I am not strong enough to change its mind.”
“You gave up before you even started.”
She laughed. “No, I started a very long time ago, and I’m not giving up now. I will use your reign, and my support of you, to show what a woman is capable of, so that your daughter, or grand-daughter or some other is able to fit the wedge into the cracks I create, and shatter the old ways.”
He looked at the crown in his hand, then reached for her wine glass, taking it from her and placing it on a nearby shelf.
He looked down again, then up, expression set and serious. “In that case, will you continue as my queen?”
Mara choked, tears brimming.
He stepped forward, placing his crown on her head. “Us, Mara, together, for our daughter.”
The tears overflowed as she nodded. “Yes. I will.”
He grinned, he always did like to win, but she was no loser in this contest. He plucked the crown away and tossed it on the table, silencing her protests at its rude handling with his kiss.