Maya jumped up from the table, grinning in utter delight as she tried to wrap her arms around both Angela and Exalon. Angela laughed, letting go of Exalon’s hand to give her a proper hug.
“I can’t believe the Fates have given me a sister!” Maya squealed, turning and hugging her brother, who squeezed her back. “Oh, Ex, I’m so happy for you! For both of you!’
As the three of them smiled at each other, Queen Axala looked utterly horrified. The color was draining out of her face and she stumbled back, bracing herself on the table.
“That’s not possible,” she muttered, her eyes darting between Exalon and Angela. Maya sighed and squeezed Angela’s hand, before sitting back down. “Our species would never find a Sonsara in one of the lower classes. You’re wrong, Exalon.”
“I’m afraid I’m not,” Exalon said almost gently. “However, if you refuse to believe me, let us invite a Priestess from the Temple of the Fates to judge our union. We can even do it at the ball so everyone can see the truth. Angela is mine and I am hers. And I believe we have suffered enough insult from you this night.”
Exalon took Angela’s hand, then walked over to one of the locked doors. He placed his hand on one of the wood panels and a blue light appeared, scanning his handprint. The door opened and Exalon began to usher Angela through before turning back to his mother, who had collapsed onto her chair, shock and anger covering her face.
“We would appreciate your support, Mother,” Exalon said to her. “It would make things run much more smoothly. But if you refuse to give it, I’m still not giving Angela up. I’ll walk away from the Crown and the monarchy if that’s what it takes.”
Angela opened her mouth to protest, but Exalon gently shook his head at her.
“Angela has already told me she refuses to let me give up my birthright, even if that means we cannot be together. But I’d give up the Crown for her. I’ll do anything, including permanently leaving this planet if that’s what it takes. Angela doesn’t want that. She wants me to keep my birthright, my planet, my family. She told me she’d walk away to protect me from myself. The only problem is that she doesn’t see she is my life now. Not the Crown. Not Axion. My beautiful, human Sonsara is my future.”
Maya had tears in her eyes, smiling at her big brother. Queen Axala looked as if she might faint at any moment.
“If you had taken the time to get to know Angela, if you had put your prejudices aside for just one night, you would have seen how extraordinary she is. How worthy she is to be a member of this House. To be my wife. To be Axion’s future Queen.” Exalon shook his head, his disappointment clear. “Make your decision quickly, Mother. I’ll be announcing my decision at the ball, so if you choose to stand in our way, I will be saying my goodbyes.”
Exalon bowed slightly, then led Angela out of the dining room. She was shaking slightly, horrified that their love might mean Exalon sacrificing everything just for her. Angela knew she couldn’t let that happen. If the Queen wouldn’t support them, then Angela would have to find a way off the planet. She wasn’t going to be responsible for Exalon losing everything in his life. She had to protect him at all costs, even if that meant losing him.
They didn’t speak on the drive back to the apartment. Exalon had one arm around her shoulders and the other around her waist, so Angela’s back was pressed against Exalon’s side. She slowly ran her hand up and down his arm, understanding he needed to be close to her. When they arrived home, Exalon whisked Angela to his study. He went straight towards a row of brightly colored decanters and Angela collapsed onto one of the sofas, mentally exhausted.
“Do you want a drink, my love?” Exalon asked, throwing back what was in his glass before pouring a more generous portion.
“No, thank you, I’m fine,” Angela said warily. “We need to talk about what you said to your mother.” Exalon just shook his head, walking over to Angela with his drink in hand.
“There’s nothing to talk about. My mother now knows where I stand. It’s up to her to decide what happens.”
“Ex,” Angela sighed, pulling him down to sit next to her. “I’m not letting you give up your life, your family for me.” Exalon just smiled and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind Angela’s ear.
“You’re my family now, Angela. Whatever the future brings, you’re a part of that. I’ll willingly leave all of this behind.”
“And your sister?” Angela asked, her heart twisting in her chest. She’d already come to care for Maya in the incredibly short amount of time they had spent together and Angela couldn’t imagine abandoning her, especially to Queen Axala.
“She can come visit us wherever we end up,” Exalon said with a sad smile. Knowing he had practically raised Maya, Angela knew the idea of leaving her had to pain him greatly. “I have a feeling she’ll be begging us to take her with us.”
“And the Crown?” Angela asked despondently. “Exalon, you had all of these plans, these ideas, not just for Axion, but for the Galactic Union. You can’t tell me you want to give those up.”
“I’ve worked for years on my reforms, you’re right,” Exalon sighed. “And it wouldn’t be easy to walk away from that. But for you, I would. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to leave you. Sonsaras are bound by the Fates, my love. Even if I could find the strength to let you go, it wouldn’t be possible. We could spend weeks, perhaps even months, apart, but our bond would bring us back together. The pain we would feel from the other’s absence would be too much.”
“Ex, I don’t understand. What was all of that you and your mother were talking about? What are the Fates?”
Exalon settled back into the couch, pulling Angela closer to him.
“Most civilizations have outgrown their ancient religions. I’m assuming Earth had some?”
“Earth had many religions,” Angela said, snuggling closer to him. “A few of them are still widely practiced. It gives people comfort, hope.”
“Understandable,” Exalon nodded. “When you’re considered a lower species, it’s hard to be hopeful about the future. Religion gives people that hope. That even if you suffer in this life, you’ll be rewarded in the next.”
“So what are the Fates?”
“The only religion left on Axion. We had many, thousands of years ago, but slowly people stopped believing. We started relying on technology, on science, not on stories. The Fates, though, have always had power. There’s something almost mystical about it. When you visit a Temple or even pray to the Fates, there’s this physical sensation that someone is watching, listening. The Priestesses of the Temples are revered here and on many other original planets of the GU. If a union is questioned, be it a match or marriage, a Priestess makes the final determination.”
“So if people didn’t believe we were Sonsaras simply because we told them, they’d believe a Priestess?” Angela asked, trying to wrap her head around such an advanced society still believing in some mystical power. Exalon nodded, finishing his drink and setting it on a side table. “Well, what if the Priestess says we’re not? Sonsaras, I mean. What happens then?”
“But we are,” Exalon said confidently, beginning to run his hands through Angela’s hair, ruining the elaborate updo Harrison had created.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean some random lady from some temple is going to believe that!”
Exalon gave a slight laugh.
“I, uh, I wouldn’t refer to the Priestesses like that. They’re incredibly powerful. They spend they lives devoted to the Fates. My love, I’m not sure how to truly explain it, except to say that here, on Axion and other powerful GU planets, the Fates are the highest authority and the Priestesses speak for them. They’ll see our bond and will speak the truth.”
Angela saw this wasn’t an argument she would win, so she would have to push aside all thoughts of the Fates for now. If Exalon wanted to believe some higher power would see their link and allow them to stay together, that was fine. Angela would just have to trust in him and in their bond, no matter what some woman said about it.