Chapter Thirty-Three- LIVIA
One Month Later
The Willow stood here for countless years, a skeleton of what it had been. Now it blossoms again, full of violet buds, and whispers of wind move its timeless boughs.
I stand in the top tower of the Willow Sisters Temple and look down to Willow Round. Thousands of people are gathered, some of whom have traveled from the farthest parts of our kingdom. Even dignitaries from the North have came to celebrate this day of my coronation.
A soft knock comes at my door. A sister pokes her head inside.
“We are ready, Princess Livia.”
“Thank you, Sister.”
As the door closes, I look down on the cheering crowd. So much has changed since Reddik and I returned. We traveled back at the same speed as when I first arrived--full speed. We found thousands of soldiers from both sides scattered and dead across the fields. The dead masses continued all the way up to the castle. I’d never seen such catastrophic loss. The Silent Watchers had retreated back to the East by the time we got back.
We immediately reported to Regent Grif all that had happened. He was shocked to discover that I’d almost been forced to marry the Eastern King, yet relieved to know he was also dead. He understood Vera’s reasoning for not returning but hoped she would come soon.
News of my return spread like fire, and Queen Bellflower’s song was sung all through the streets, drifting through the city as if on a soft breeze. It made me think of seeing the queen in the golden mirror, and of the cryptic message that she told. I plan to share it with Scholar Eli in hopes he can shed some light on its meaning.
Regent Grif said an earthquake awoke The Willow, and shortly thereafter it sprouted buds. The tree is once again alive. This, of course, prompted me to explain the bonding that happened between Vera and me. Regent Grif found that interesting, and wondered what else the magic had awakened.
My door opens back up. Amah steps inside and gently closes it behind her. I sigh--my Amah.
I rushed to her side when I found out she was alive, and was able to mend her back to health. Then she resigned as my caretaker, telling me I no longer needed her. We had a long talk about a lot of things. She decided she would take a much needed journey after I was crowned queen. We cried in each other’s arms, knowing we would always love one another from this difficult time.
“You look beautiful, Livia.”
Her eyes gleam as she takes in the high neck gown that flows down past my waist. A material with a soft grey sheen lies over a darker grey layer underneath, bringing out the brightness of my violet eyes.
“Thank you, Amah. I wish my parents were here to see me now.” I look down to my hands. “Of course, I wouldn’t be getting crowned if they were here, huh?”
“En Oli, your parents would be so proud of the woman you have become. And they are here.” She places her hand on my chest. “Inside you.”
She extends her arm and I take it. We both leave the sanctity of the room to head down to the ceremony. Violet Guards line the walls all the way to the sanctuary. They stand at attention, their faces beaming in admiration. The last guard I see is Cam.
He tried to resign as my protector, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I told him I was sure he would do better next time, and if not, I would send Reddik after him. I remember his booming laugh and the promise he gave shortly after.
Which brings me to Reddik. Every night since our return, we have met next to the tree in the Queen’s Garden. Some nights we talk until we have nothing left in us, while other nights we don’t say a single word. We have found a love and respect for one another that I know will last for a very long time. I can still feel the touch of his arms around me and his breath in my hair. I will always be grateful to him for coming after me and for all that followed. I told him of the golden mirror, no longer able to keep it to myself. He, too, didn’t understand the magic but promised to help uncover whatever he could.
Amah and I stop in front of two large doors. I can hear the murmur of voices coming from the other side. Taking a deep breath, I find my calm. Amah faces me, adjusting my dress and pushing back some wisps of my hair that are floating free.
“You ready?” she asks.
Afraid of being sick, I can only respond by nodding. The nervousness of having all eyes on me prickles down my arms.
The doors open and Amah steps aside. Benches filled with hundreds of people occupy both sides of the now silent room. The moment I take my first step a soft melody begins to play, signaling everyone to stand.
I continue forward and take another deep breath--why does the aisle look a mile long? I try to focus on all the smiling faces in the crowd. I spot Oliver and he’s grinning wide. He waves excitedly, and I can’t help but laugh. Standing next to him, grinning from ear to ear, is Annie. It takes everything I have not to run to her.
I look up to the balcony where beautiful voices sing flowing melodies, where Sisters in magnificent lavender robes fill the gallery. Their voices help me find my calm.
My uncle stands at the front. He couldn’t look more proud. He told me this day would come and I’m thankful for how he’s welcomed me to it.
I still wish Vera were here to share this moment with me. Last night we visited in the golden mirror. She wished me luck and told me not to get too big of a head. She laughed at my horrified expression only to tell me she was joking. It was strange to see her so relaxed, as I thought of all the times I’d found her angry. Freedom suits her well.
She is free from her bondage, and living in the mountains with Kamon. Zyrik is doing great, and has taken a liking to Kamon. He’s not sad about his father’s death and seems thrilled to be in the mountains. He still isn’t talking, but Vera is hoping with time he will come around.
When I asked about Bellek, she said they had been in touch and that he has taken control of the Eastern Kingdom. Apparently, when the king died, so did all the noblemen--something about a contract they’d all signed.
Vera also informed me of her own contract, and that she wasn’t sure yet on a plan to handle the Enchanter. I told her I would help her with anything. I hope she doesn’t try to do it alone.
Regent Grif takes my hand as I step up onto the dais. He guides me over to Prelate Rishima, who is smiling his welcome. I kneel before her as instructed, and a velvet pillow is brought over; it’s holding my crown. It’s a simple band of antique gold with a large purple gem set in its center. It’s charming and absolutely perfect.
“Princess Livia comes forth this day to sacrifice herself willingly to the people of the Western Kingdom. She has already shown us her willingness to do all that’s necessary to keep us safe and to share with us her precious gift. Livia, do you promise to always put your people first?”
“Do you promise to help the people thrive and never neglect them.”
Prelate Rishima takes the crown from the pillow and places it on my head. I embrace its subtle weight. “You may stand.”
When I stand and face the people, Hal and Kimber are in the front row. Kimber’s jumping up and down in giddy delight. Lady Ella is next to her, and I’m surprised when her mouth curves up in a pleasing smile and she gives me a subtle bow of her head. I guess miracles can happen after all--and I will gladly take this one!
My eyes then land on Reddik. He smiles proudly and winks, which automatically makes my heart soar.
“I hereby crown and declare you, Queen Livia, ruler of the Western Kingdom!”
The crowd cheers loudly, “Long live Queen Livia!”
I welcome this new chapter in my life. I will forever cherish this moment. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a simple girl, sitting high up in a black pine, hoping someday to see the world. Now I’m queen, and the world is laid out before me. My time is now.
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