Chapter 50 - The Reveal
My make-up is subtle, just the way I like it. The diamond earrings glitter in my earlobes. The necklace and the bracelet are secured around my neck and my wrist. My hair is pulled up into a slick but elaborate bun. A simple but beautiful diamond encrusted tiara that came in the second box from Queen Sophia looks brilliant against my black hair. Caspian’s mark on my shoulder is visible for the world to see.
King Alexandros has conceded to have a much smaller event than originally planned by cutting the guest list by half. The ball is in full swing. It doesn’t look small to me.
“You look breathtaking, Moya Printsessa,” Caspian whispers in my ear. He is looking stunning, standing next to me in his tuxedo. His hand rubs my back soothingly, trying to ease the tension in my body. So far, his hand never leaves my waist or the small of my back. I imagine I’d be much more stressed if I wasn’t enveloped by his soothing warmth and amazing scent.
I’m surrounded by the members of our pack. Genesis, Serena, and Penny are looking gorgeous in their dresses and Constantine, Lazarus, and Darius are looking very sharp in their tuxedos. They never stray too far from us.
My cousins, Jonah and Jorden aren’t too far from us as well. They’re also in their tuxedos and I’ve never seen them looking so good before. They’ve cleaned up well.
Darius brought in some trusted men and women who used to serve with him in the Royal Army as he said he would. They are mingling as guests, including Eva, who Genesis, Serena, and Penny seem to be familiar with. She seems nice and open and I like her on sight.
The ballroom is a magnificent sight. There is live music where the musicians are playing soft haunting tunes. The marble floor gleams from the glittering chandeliers. The soaring ceiling is clear glass where you can see the stars and the moon above. There is a mezzanine with doors that open to balconies overlooking the valleys below. The guests are dressed to the nines.
The thrones are placed on a slightly elevated platform facing the grand staircase and the great double door entrance to the ballroom. This is where King Alexandros and Queen Sophia are sitting at, watching. They are subtly but heavily guarded. There is an elevated podium on their left where the king would stand to make his announcement. Lady Celeste is sitting on a less elaborated chair next to the queen. She is looking beautiful in her cream and gold evening gown. Her father isn’t here this evening but her mother is standing beside her the whole time.
The queen’s expression never betrays her feelings but I didn’t sense the cold blast of her disapproval when she saw us earlier. Dare I say I saw a bit of warmth in her when she gazed at us?
The guests are mostly nobilities and high ranking lycans. I catch the sight of Æmilius with a beautiful blonde. Penny leans in when she sees me watching them. She and Darius had found it funny when I told them about my mix-up the other night. “The lady with Æmilius is his mother, Katya,” she whispers.
“That’s Darius’s aunt?” She’s a tall woman. Her hair is so blonde, it’s almost white, just like Æmilius’s and Darius’s. Her features very much resembling Æmilius and Darius, only softer and a much more delicate version. She’s holding herself rather stiffly. She doesn’t look like she’s enjoying herself. In fact, she looks annoyed. She waves her hand dismissively when one of the uniformed servers with a tray of canapés gets too close to her. “She doesn’t look too friendly, does she?”
“Oh, her factory setting is bitch resting mode,” mutters Penny. She sounds like she’s talking from experience. “Family,” she sighs.
“Well, I think it’s nice of Æmilius to bring his mother to a function like this,” I say, after struggling to find something nice to say.
“He always brings his mother to functions at the palace,” replies Penny. “Should’ve left the miserable woman at home.”
I look closely at Lady Celeste as she slowly approaches the elevated podium. It is time for her to make her demand known. I can feel the tension surrounding our pack as we don’t know what the price would be. Dread settles in my stomach like a heavy stone.
The room has grown silent after King Alexandros has commanded attention to make his announcement about the mating that’s not going to happen tonight. This is not a surprise to anybody since the rumor about it has been talked about for days. Yet you can still feel the audience’s hunger for this juicy piece of gossip like sharks circling a boat where they can smell blood in the water.
There’s a look of fear on her face as she stands there. Her eyes are searching the room for something before finally, her intense stare falls on us...no, on Jorden. Determination flickers in her eyes and settles in the set of her jaw. “I would like to choose a new mate,” she says. “I want Jorden St. Martin.”
There are gasps everywhere, especially from her mother. My eyes seek my cousin right away.
Jorden is staring up at Lady Celeste in awe, amazement, and wonder while she’s gazing at him with hope and fear. A tiny smile is growing on her lips as Jorden continues to gaze at her.
“No!” wails her mother. “You chose wrong! What have you done? No!”
There are more cries following the Marchioness’s outburst. There are yelling and screaming from several other ladies in the crowd. This is when I notice the guards in Royal Army uniforms closing all the entrances to the ballroom.
My mate seems unaffected but his arms slide protectively around me. Our pack members closed in on us. Jonah seems to have pulled Jorden into our circle.
Among all the confusion, Æmilius and Katya boldly step onto the stage where King Alexandros and Lady Celeste are standing. The wailing stops and Queen Sophia stands up from her throne. Her eyes narrow and her posture stiff.
“What are you doing?” asks the king. “Æmilius, Katya, what is the meaning of this?”
“I’m giving your firstborn his rightful place,” announces Katya, holding her son’s arm while looking at King Alexandros. “My son. Our son.”
Firstborn? Their son? What does that mean? The ballroom is filled with loud gasps and suddenly silence by the implication. The silence is deafening and seems to last forever until my mate finally speaks up, “Father, tell me that’s not true.”
King Alexandros doesn’t say a word but the way he’s looking at Caspian says it all.
I feel my mate’s body grows rigid beside me. Something sharp twisted in my heart - a piercing stab of hurt and betrayal. I’m feeling his pain. I tighten my arms around him and look into his face. He’s staring intently at the stage. His expression is cold and unreadable.
“Your son’s rightful place is in the sewer where you both belong,” spits Queen Sophia, glaring at Katya. She looks furious but she doesn’t seem surprised while my mate is frozen in shock.
“Tsk tsk tsk, Sophia,” Æmilius admonishes her playfully. “Always full of claws, in and out of bed.”
“Æmilius!” bellows King Alexandros.
“Relax, father dear. I’m not even attempting to take over the palace. That would be foolish of me. You have this place secured tight like a fortress. How paranoid of you.
“I’m not planning to kill anyone either, at least not tonight. I’m here just to enlighten the crowd that you have a son with your erasthai and issue my challenge to claim what is rightfully mine.”
“A bastard son born of a mistress has no right to claim the throne,” says Queen Sophia.
“I am his Erasthai,” replies Katya. “My son may not be born of the mating bond but he is the first born.”
“Quiet!” barks King Alexandros. “Katya, stop this nonsense.”
“I’m just here to ask for a chance to fight for the throne. A fair fight to the death with your revered golden son. My little brother. Surely that’s not too much to ask, isn’t it, father?” says Æmilius.
“We are not open to The Rule of Seven. We are not open to challenges,” announces the king.
The Rule of Seven, as I’ve learned from my Nana a long time ago, came about when the Moon Goddess released her seven sons, the first lycans, into the world. They battled over the power to lead until all but one perished and became the leader and the father of all lycans in the world today. Today, when a pack or the king declares the Rule of Seven, it’s an open invitation for any werewolves or lycans to challenge and fight to the death for the power to become the new Alpha or King.
“You have no clue, do you, father?” Æmilius spits out the word father like a curse word. “This is not an option. I have gained enough followers---”
“Mostly criminals and rogues,” interrupts Queen Sophia.
“Criminals and rogues make the best followers. Dangerous and unscrupulous. At least they’re honest of their true nature, unlike hypocrites in here tonight. Monsters hiding behind the mask of a cultured and civilized front.
“Anyway, back to what I was saying before. I have gained enough followers who are at the ready to destroy all the packs North of the region. If you kill me or restrained me tonight, those packs will die. If you refused my challenge, those packs will die. What happened last night was just a child’s play compared to what’s to come. Besides, your subjects and followers will forever be wondering if they truly had the rightful leader on the throne or if their leader is strong enough to lead.”
“The answer is no!” barks Queen Sophia.
“Yes!” growls Caspian. “I accept the challenge.” What? No! I cling to his arm. No! He squeezes my waist as if he’s trying to calm me but there is no calming the storm in my chest and my head. No! “Father, please clear the room,” he says.
King Alexandros orders the guards to lead the stunned guests out.
“You, my dear Celeste, are a disappointment,” says Æmilius to Lady Celeste before she stepped off the stage. He leans in to whisper something in her ear and she blanches. I wonder what he has on her.
The room is immediately cleared. The only ones remained are King Alexandros, Queen Sophia, Katya, Æmilius, two royal advisors, one of King Alexandros’s guard, Caspian, and I.
“Surprise, surprise brother. I am finally able to introduce myself to you properly.” The smile on Æmilius’s face is very friendly. Sickly so. “So, you’ve finally claimed your mate. чудесно! Wonderful! I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. For a while, I thought it was going to be the lovely Lady Celeste, but you did better for yourself. You don’t disappoint. She is gorgeous! Fit for a king. Too bad you won’t be able to keep her for too long.”
“What do you really want, Æmilius?” asks Caspian. He sounds bored even though I know he’s furious and on edge right now. His stony expression reminds me of Queen Sophia.
“I want everything denied to me all these years.”
“You are crazy,” snaps Queen Sophia.
“I want everything that my little brother has,” he continues as if he hasn’t been interrupted. “I’ve watched him being pampered and revered for a very long time. Nothing is too good for him. Everybody bows to him. Everybody bends over backward to please the king’s spoiled brat. Everything comes easy to him, and now he’s found his erasthai, claimed her and he’s ready for the crown and to live happily ever after.”
He turns to Caspian with that smile again and says, “I’ve been waiting for you to finally claim your mate so that I can take her away from you. Thank you for inviting me to breakfast yesterday morning. You gave me the chance to take a closer look at what is going to be mine. How much would it hurt when I take her for myself?”
“I would rather die than let you touch me! I will kill you first before you ever laid your hands on me,” I snarl fiercely before Caspian had the chance to open his mouth. I feel his arms tighten around me. My chest burns.
“Fiesty! I like that. I expect no less. I always have a taste for the fiery ones.” His smile is menacing.
“You will not touch my mate,” growls my mate.
“Save the fight for tomorrow, brother dear.”