“Are you ladies ready to leave?”
Maya and Angela turned at Exalon’s voice. He hadn’t looked at them yet, too busy fiddling with his cuff. Gander followed behind him and, upon seeing the young women, bowed deeply. When Exalon finally looked up, his mouth dropped open as he stared at Angela like she was the most exquisite thing he had ever seen.
“My love.” Exalon walked forward, almost without thought, taking Angela’s hands in his. As soon as they touched, the Sonsara Pendant shot off the same sparkling rainbows it did when Harrison placed it on Angela’s head. Both Maya and Gander gasped, but Angela and Exalon didn’t even seem to notice as they stared deeply into each other’s eyes.
“You look…”, Exalon trailed off. “I’m unable to even find the words, my love. You look as if the Fates themselves created the most brilliant, beautiful object in the universe, then somehow decided I was worthy of it. And yet I’m not sure I will ever be worthy of you.”
Exalon lifted Angela’s hands to his mouth, kissing the back of each one, causing her to blush.
“I’m pretty sure I’m the unworthy one,” said Angela. “And we’re about to go to a ball entirely filled with people ready to remind me of that.”
“They’re all idiots,” Exalon stated bluntly, causing Angela to laugh. Behind them, Maya pointedly cleared her throat.
“Hi. I’m here looking awesome too, by the way,” she said sassily. Everyone laughed, breaking the spell Angela and Exalon had been under.
“You all look wonderful,” Gander said in his calm, reassuring voice. “Now, it’s time to get you all to the Royal Palace. Your Royal Highness, you and Miss Winslow will be in one limousine, Her Royal Highness and I in another. We’ve increased security measures for the drive to the Palace and back, as well as added security inside the ballroom as well.”
“Wait,” Angela said, confused. “Why are we taking separate limousines? They’re enormous enough, we would all fit.”
“Heirs to the throne never travel together, in case something happens,” Exalon explained.
“Oh,” said Angela. “You mean, like, unfortunate deaths. Awesome.”
Gander gave a slight smile as he ushered them all into the elevator.
“Not to worry, Your Royal Sonsara,” he said as the elevator doors closed. “No heir to the throne has been assassinated in almost 500 years.”
“Oh, just 500? Nothing to worry about, then.” Angela suddenly frowned. “Wait, why did you call me ‘Your Royal Sonsara’? Aren’t I still ‘Miss Winslow’?”
The Axions in the elevator all exchanged guilty expressions.
“Ah, no, actually,” Exalon said as they stepped into the empty lobby. “Miss Winslow indicates you’re still just my match. Your official title until we’re married is Your Royal Sonsara.”
“It’s a title that hasn’t been used in millennia,” explained Gander. “It indicates that you are no mere match or mate. You are a Sonsara to royalty and therefore due respect.”
“You even outrank me now,” Maya said, sounding a little too gleeful about that fact.
“This is insane, this is insane, this is insane,” Angela started muttering to herself as security entered the building and whisked them to their separate limos. Exalon put a comforting arm around Angela as the limousine doors were closed. She found herself close to hyperventilating by the time they started moving. Exalon moved, taking Angela’s face into his hands.
“Everything’s all right, my love. It’s just a name.”
“No, Ex, it’s not. It’s a title. An official title. It’s even elevated above having your family name become an official House. No human has ever held a title.”
“Well, then, someone had to be the first,” Exalon said with a grin. Angela lightly punched his arm as she began to calm down.
“I’m not an idiot, I knew this was coming. I just expected to have more time. Like, lots more time. I figured planning a Royal wedding took at least a year, if not longer. By then, I might have gotten slightly used to the idea of having a title. But getting one now? I most definitely was not prepared.”
“I’m so sorry,” Exalon said, looking guilty. “We, um, we all knew you’d probably have a bit of a negative reaction to the news.”
Angela narrowed her eyes.
“So you decided not to tell me until it was too late to have a complete meltdown?”
“Well…”, Exalon paused. “Basically yes.”
“You’re kind of a jerk,” Angela said with a smile. Exalon laughed and kissed her.
“Believe me, I know. Many people have told me so over the years.”
Angela just shook her head, looking out the window for the Palace. When she saw it, she gasped.
“What…how…what?” Angela spluttered. The entire Royal Palace was shining with brilliant lights that slowly changed colors and the mosaics seemed to be moving, with the pictures constantly changing. Angela had thought the Palace seemed intimidating before, but now it seemed like a fairytale castle no ordinary human would ever dare enter.
“Well, Mother’s certainly decided to make statement,” Exalon commented dryly. He didn’t seem at all awed at the glorious spectacle.
“Does she do this for every Royal Ball?” Angela asked, refusing to look away, afraid she might miss something.
“She has a whole team of designers whose only purpose is decorating the Palace for the annual ball. If you think this is impressive, wait until we get inside.”
“Why would she do this for me? She doesn’t even like me!” exclaimed Angela.
“Perception, my love. Since my father’s passing, my mother only holds one Royal Ball a year. Decorating like this is her way of reminding the titled who’s in charge. If she can do that just by holding a party, she will. The Dragon doesn’t particularly like other ways monarchs sometimes prove their power over their titled subjects.”
Angela grimaced. She knew enough Axion history to know certain past monarchs had been especially brutal in dealing with even the slightest threat to their power. She glanced out the window again and noticed they were driving past the glittering entrance.
“Ex, where are we going?”
“There’s a private entrance that’s well-guarded. There’s no chance anyone will be taking pictures there.”
“Both you and Gander have mentioned tightened security measures,” Angela said, frowning. “Have there been threats?”
Exalon tightened his jaw before looking at Angela.
“Everything’s under control.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“No, it’s not.” Exalon paused, then sighed. “If you must know, there have been some. Few credible, but enough that extra security measures for you, Maya, Mother, and myself were necessary.” Exalon took Angela’s hands in his and rubbed his thumbs over her knuckles. “Don’t worry. We’re always under some type of threat. It comes with the territory when you’re royalty.”
“You do realize that’s not very reassuring, right?” asked Angela.
“Everything will be fine,” Exalon said firmly. “I promise.”
Angela didn’t say anything, just smiled and squeezed Exalon’s hands before releasing them. She knew better than to believe promises you couldn’t guarantee.