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Chapter Eight

I sat in bed reading a book on the deities of Evaron, trying to decipher if one could be trying to talk to me. I felt stupid in doing so. On Earth, I had no religion and believed in no God or higher purpose, yet here I was clawing at bits of information to understand what was happening to me, to see if something was calling my name for a purpose. So far, the only two I could really draw points to were Tula and Ebus as I saw no reason for Arla to want to draw me into the dark forest.

When a knock sounded on my door, I jolted. Was it her? Taking the letter opener I had snuck into my room, I padded to the door and cracked it open, the letter opener behind my back, poised to strike.

“Sorry to disturb you,” Levi said, facial expression sheepish as he tilted his head to the side. Letting out the breath I was holding, I opened my door fully to stare up at him.

“What, it’s your turn to stay with me?” I joked, allowing him to walk in as I placed the letter opener back on the bedside table. He eyed it before taking a seat at the end of the bed.

“Yes and no. I thought we could get a little more off our chests before tomorrow’s ceremony.” He leaned back on his palms while watching me. We were officially married, but tomorrow we would have to show that we had eloped.

“I suppose.” Sighing, I climbed back under my covers, placing a feather in the deity book to mark my place, a ghastly drawing of Tula staring up at me as the cover flipped closed. “What else would you like to know, King Levi?”

I woke up with a jolt, gasping for air. Levi stirred at my side where he had fallen asleep under the quilt. He rubbed at his eyes before placing a hand on my clenched one. Glancing down at him, I felt myself calming down. Taking another deep breath, I lay back down, trying to find sleep when Levi pulled me loosely against his chest and smoothed a hand over my hair until I fell into a calming, dreamless sleep.

When Yuki came in to wake me, her gasp was enough to wake even Levi who clung to me until he realized where he was and who was standing over us. He blinked and without a care, brought the quilt over his head just as Yuki began hitting him with a cushion for giving her a fright. The racket was enough to bring Blaze in, who averted his eyes as I pulled the covers up to my chin.

“Not even a night after eloping and you have snuck into Harper’s chambers, you perverted king,” Blaze teased, taking the cushion from Yuki so Levi could come out from under the quilt and glare at them sleepily. “Suppose I can’t say much when tonight you will be in the royal chambers, but for that to happen, you two need to get washed up and dressed for the festivities. C’mon, Levi, before I have to drag your kingly ass out of here.”

Levi glanced at me as if asking for permission, when I nodded, he begrudgingly left the covers and the room with Blaze on his heels. Yuki tsked and hurried me into the bath and helped prep me for the crazy day ahead of me.

We stood in front of the castle doors awaiting the signal for the outside world to be revealed. This was our ceremony, the first glance our subjects would receive and our first time seeing the crowd of curious faces.

My heart hammered against my ribcage. Was my modified wedding dress, plaited hair with silver ornaments and shadowed face enough to uphold the expectations they held? Did I look strong enough to be trusted, respected and dependable? Surely, it would take more than a silly wedding dress to convince them, yet it was the first thing they would see me in. Was Levi having these thoughts? He looked strong and respectable with his suit and chin held high. He looked like a king ready to take charge, handsome and fearsome.

Then it was happening. First, there was a sliver of sun pushing through the crack in the doors, glittering off the small jewels sewn into my skirt. Secondly was the cheering of the crowd, the light embracing Levi and me, all eyes on the purple velvet knot tying our hands together to show our approved elopement. Lastly was the step into the thrall. Blaze and Yuki stood on either side of us, the Queen’s and King’s guard forming a path through the outstretched hands. Dark flowers were thrown up in the air as we walked, the beautiful petals changing colours mid-air. Only when we got to the pavilion, did I finally allow myself to take in the faces grinning at us.

Lizard Folk and Evaron humans stood shoulder to shoulder, children running around with a beast closely resembling a dog nipping playfully at their heels. Scales, flesh and clothing were of varying shades, faces and eyes different shapes and sizes. Hands clapped while tails thumped the hard-packed ground as we took our places on wooden carved thrones. From there, the thanes of our territories introduced themselves.

Fendrick, the Thane of Lorcan, was a dark-skinned man who wore leather armour scratched and worn from battle. His unusual golden-blonde hair and eagle-sharp blue eyes unnerved me, but the smile lines around his mouth made me keep my smile on my lips.

Mal, Thane of Alderreach, was a short, well-built woman with rough, large hands adorned with silver rings. Her fire-red hair was a tight mess of curls under the thick leather strip she used to keep it tamed and out of her dark eyes. Her wizened, freckled face smiled with approval as she gave me a subtle nod and wink.

Lastly were Bronte and Niven, Thanes of Mirk. They were twin Lizard Folk brothers. The bulkier of the two, Bronte, was Shimmer’s husband while the leaner was yet to be married. Their scales were ridged and sharp, painted with golden patterns over the obsidian. Their eyes glittered like moonstones, only their slitted pupils coming off threatening as they studied us. When it came to their turn to greet us, they lowered their foreheads to ours, took our hands in theirs, touching our knuckles to their chests before pressing their lips to them.

Only when all the thanes had introduced themselves did they take the chairs on each side of us as the crowd was gently moved back so a troop of soldiers could march into the cleared market square. Blaze was smiling as he watched, his idea coming into completion as the men and women shouted, thrust swords into the air and performed their routine of power. While watching, I glimpsed a hidden smile on Levi’s face, he was enthralled by the performance. In the back of my head, I could remember how he acted when he heard about the ability to cause a war and win, but the expression he was giving now was nothing close to power-hungry as one might have thought, no, he was just a kid watching something he really enjoyed.

After the demonstration, the day blurred with faces, greetings, exotic foods and wines, curious glances, laughing children and barking dogs. When no one was addressing me, Bronte would begin a conversation. What did I think of Wylan? How was the transition of being a normal girl to a queen going? Would I possibly discard Levi for Niven? Compared to the few conversations I had had with Shimmer, I could see why she chose to marry him. He spoke enough for both of them and knew how to work over sore topics with humour. I could feel myself relaxing into my throne every time we spoke and I could not fully say that it was the ancient Lizard Folk blood running through my veins or not, but I truly trusted the two brothers.

When it was finally time for Levi and me to leave and get ready for the ball, the twins chose to escort us. I was in deep conversation with Bronte about the tribes within the forest when Niven let out a blood-curdling growl from within his throat and unsheathed his rapier. Tracing his gaze, I watched as a figure dressed in a dark cloak pushed off a farmer’s cart and hurried past.

“Can never be certain of the enemy,” Niven hissed, his accent thicker than his brother’s. He side-glanced Levi as he slipped his sword back into its leather sheath. “King Levi, who teaches you combat? Will need to look after Queen when none of us ’round.”

“Blaze has been giving me lessons, but if this is an offer, I will take it,” Levi said, touching the hilt of his own sword. Niven nodded, glancing behind us as Yuki walked up behind us, two of her women behind her.

“Bronte, Niven,” She greeted curtly. She gave me a pointed look, telling me to hurry. “King Levi and Queen Harper, I will wait at the castle doors.”

Yuki strolled past, her soldiers following hastily. The brothers gave us the same greeting, but this time they placed our hands flat against their hearts as they placed their own hands on ours, Bronte doing so lightly.

“We will see you at the ball.”
“Thank you for coming, I know it’s not like you to come to these functions.”
“You are a queen we are happy to go the extra scale for.”

I watched as they walked down the cobbled slope, leaning slightly into Levi’s side. He lightly placed his hand on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze before the moment ended.

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