Chapter 24: Colloquium
We walk out of his room together, my hands tucked in his elbow. I stand a bit straighter when we get into the hallway. One of the servants passing by stops to bow to us. Alpha Kaine nods in her direction but pushes me forward so I don’t stop.
“Good evening Alpha,” she says to him. “Good evening L-”
“Thank you,” he says warmly. I smile at her over my shoulder awkwardly, trying to apologize mentally through my smile. She only looks confused.
“What was that about?” I ask him. Alpha Kaine looks at me sideways. With the added boost of height from my heels, my nose is finally level with his chin making him easier to talk to when we stand closer together than usual.
“What was what about?” I don’t even bother trying to ask him about it. I’ve spent enough time with him to know that when he responds to my questions with questions that they will never be answered.
“Nevermind,” I say, shaking my head. We reach the top of the staircase and suddenly I feel a bout of butterflies swarming around in my stomach. Alpha Kaine senses my nerves and his head shoots to mine.
“Are you okay?” he asks me, yanking his elbow from me to wrap his arms around my shoulders to steady me. “You don’t look alright,” he continues. I lean my head on his shoulder and close my eyes for a moment. He taps my shoulder with his fingers and I slowly bring my hand up to entwine my fingers with his. “You don’t have to be nervous, Anita,” he says gently.
I nod and take another step forward, gripping the railing. “Why did you tell them that I had ideas? They’ll probably ask me about them,” I try to keep myself from whining like a child as I say the words.
“You have ideas,” he says to me. “You tell me all the time.” I roll my eyes as he tries to push me forward again.
“Telling you I’m not happy doessn’t mean that I want to be put in front of the King and Queen to talk about what I do and don’t like about the way they run their kingdom. That isn’t fair to me. You didn’t even tell me!” I try to keep my voice to a minimum but I can’t help but shout at him.
I pull my hand from his and use it to shove him away. “I really hate you right now,” I mumble. He frowns at me and tries to reach for my hand again. A servant on the steps stops to look at us but one jerk from Alpha Kaine’s head sends him stumbling backward and out of the room.
“Frightening the help again, brother? That’s at least two since you’ve been here,” Prince Maximus remarks as he passes us on the steps.
"Fuck off," Alpha Kaine tells him. Prince Maximus stops in front of us and imitates his brother like a sassy two-year-old. “Anita and I would like some privacy to continue our discussion.”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re discussing much of anything, actually. It sounds like you’re in trouble.” Before Alpha Kaine can grab him Prince Maximus ducks away and skips down the steps quickly, Alpha Kaine hot on his heels. Prince Maximus stops in front of the doors and ducks behind a statue, trying to get away from his brother and the fist he raised before he began his chase.
“Catch me if you can, old man,” Prince Maximus taunts. Alpha Kaine moves the statue aside and moves to land the first punch as the door to the dining room opens.
Queen Elara stands in the open doorway with an unamused smirk on her face. Her arms are crossed over her chest as she sends her sons angry glares one at a time. “No one would think two grown men would be bickering like children in the hallway. It’s almost like you were raised by swine and not by the King and Queen,” she remarks as she takes in the sight.
By this point Alpha Kaine has a hand on Prince Maximus’s collar, his fist raised. Prince Maximus has his arms raised in surrender, his crown slipping a bit. Then there’s me, clutching the side of the railing as I watch on in horror.
“Anita,” Queen Elara beckons me. “Come on, dear. We can dine while the children sort out their issues away from mature eyes,” she smiles tightly as I take the stairs quickly to take her hand. Alpha Kaine shoves Prince Maximus as I pass and the two boys straighten up to follow us in.
“Look what I found in the hallway,” Queen Elara tells the two men in the dinning room. ”Your sons were frightening our guest,” she tells the man on the end. He grunts and snickers. “Do you have nothing to say to them?” he mumbles something to his plate before looking up at his boys.
“You’re too old for that. Don’t do it,” Queen Elara rolls her eyes and nods as if that was the response she was expecting, pulling out a chair for me with a kind smile. She nudges her husband in the back as she moves to sit by his left side. “Do you want to introduce her, Kaine?” Queen Elara asks, picking up her wine glass and taking a large gulp.
“Anita,” he rumbles from behind me as Prince Maximus takes a seat next to me. “This is my father, King Slethius.” He waves his arm in the King’s direction, his other hand settling on my shoulder. “And that is my brother, Prince Jericho.” The boy he points to looks timid, staring at his plate and nothing else. The crown on his head is crooked and he looks up at me from beneath his lashes when he hears his name before his head snaps back down to its previous position.
“Kaine tells us that you have a rough background,” King Slethius says. Alpha Kaine glares at Prince Maximus and takes his own seat on my other side.
“Can’t you sit somewhere else?” he hisses in front of me. Prince Maximus fake gasps and sticks his tongue out at him before ducking behind my shoulder.
“No. Anita is in my regular seat. It’s only fair that I sit on the other side of her.” Alpha Kaine grumbles but goes back to his plate with a frown.
“Should I move?” I ask, putting my hands on the edge of the table in case I need to get up and walk away. Alpha Kaine grabs my wrist and Prince Maximus shakes his head quickly. Queen Elara takes another gulp of wine and mock bangs her head with the glass when she is done.
“No. You’re fine,” she says to me. Then to her boys, she hisses, ”Behave."
“I guess it hasn’t been the easiest for me. I don’t think I would call it rough by any means,” I tell the King, pushing my foot around my plate with my fork. When I imagined dining in the palace as a child I had assumed it would be a fifteen-course meal served by men with silver domes on their plates all revealed in sinc by servants lining the halls. This felt quaint and private compared to those childish fantasies.
“Your father was murdered, yes?” I nod. “And your mother was forced into prostitution?” Another nod. “I wouldn’t exactly call that an easy life, child,” King Slethius tells me. “You must really think I’ve done a horrible job of running this country, eh?” He laughs and takes another bite from his place.
“I don’t think I ever really felt you had anything to do with it, your majesty,” I lie. “I assumed it was the way the people of the Kaine District behaved. I didn’t think it was a problem with the country.” It wasn’t a complete lie. I did think that Alpha Kaine was very much to blame, but I also thought a bit of nudging from the King was the reason he was on that path in the first place.
“It’s always been a little harder for your kind,” I ignore the sting that comes with the words. “Humans have a harder time in the supernatural world. That’s how it has always been. The people are set in their ways. It’s hard to change years of thinking overnight, my dear.” I nod along with him, not sure if he really wants to see the change in his kingdom that I do or if he is just trying to make me happy for the time being. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’d been lied to by someone in power.
“I want there to be a change in the way people see humans. Just because we don’t share the same abilities as Shifters doesn’t mean we are weaker. We have different advantages. Shifters have their Feral side, humans have their technological advances. We can both be equals. The change just needs to start from somewhere at the top of the chain of command. An Alpha, or a King. One human girl who wants rights for her people makes no difference if the changes aren’t put into place. Training should be open for both humans and supernaturals. There should be elective positions for humans to govern with Alpha’s to keep rulings fair. There really are a ton of ways that you could go with this, your highness. I just really think that it’s important that you do something or the people if you agree that humans are being treated unfairly.” I take a deep breath and close my mouth.
The room is silent for a moment. The King things about what I’ve said as I lower my arms and lean back in my chair, awkwardly looking to Alpha Kaine to apologize for my outburst. “Sorry. I know you probably didn’t let Alpha Kaine drag me here so I could talk politics at your dinner table,” I say.
Alpha Kaine gives me a knowing smile and puts his hand on my leg, patting me gently over the material of my dress. He smiles warmly at me as a proud parent would smile at their five-year-old who just presented the shit drawing they made for the fridge at kindergarten that morning.
“On the contrary, I find it enlightening. It isn’t often that we get to hear the opposing side of things. You lived in one of Kaine’s Sectors, did you not? A poverty-stricken one?” I nod.
“It isn’t the human’s faults. We do the best we can with honest work. It just can’t get us very far. Discrimination just makes business harder for everyone. Something simple like letting humans and Shifters train together would make everything so much easier to adjust to. It would give Shifters and humans a chance to work together and build trust with one another. If we unite humans and Shifters we could win every war. Our army would be unstoppable.” The King nods, as does his wife. They share a knowing look and happy smiles. King Slethius stands and bows to me.
“Well, Anita, I do believe that I will be reaching out to you at a later date to hear more of your ideas. This discussion has been riveting.” He moves to me and takes my hand, kissing my knuckles gently. “I will be retiring to my study with your Alpha to make plans to put your ideas in motion as soon as we can.” I grin with pride and nod enthusiastically.
“Thank you. Thank you so much, my king,” I say. “You have no idea what this will do for my people.” King Slethius nods once more and claps Alpha Kaine on the shoulder.
“Come, we have business to discuss,” he tells him. Alpha Kaine nods and stands from his chair, bowing to me and kissing my hand as his father did moments ago.
“I will see you tonight, Anita.” He leans in closer to me, his breath whispering across my ear. “You did just as wonderfully as I knew you would.” Queen Elara beams at me from across the table and stands, her plate in hand.
“Would you care to join me for a stroll in the gardens?” she asks me. I lick my lips and look down to my barely touched food. I had been so engrossed with our conversation that I had forgotten to make any real progress on my meal.
“I’m afraid I’m not quite done eating...” I explain awkwardly. Queen Elara makes a noise and waves her hand, pulling on her silvery skirt as she moves out of her chair.
“We’ll bring it with us. Snack a little while we chat. We have much to discuss.” I look around for permission, confused on how to react without Alpha Kaine’s guiding hand. Prince Maximus nudges me and nods towards his mother.
“Alright,” I say, grabbing my plate as she did.
“Excellent,” she replies.