Suddenly, a brisk knock sounded at the door and Gander entered.
“Your Royal Highness, I-”. Gander abruptly stopped, seeing the close embrace Exalon and Angela were in.
“I beg your pardon,” Gander said, blushing. “I shouldn’t have walked in so suddenly. I’ll just-”.
“Gander.” Exalon untangled himself from Angela, but kept a firm grip on her hand. He motioned towards the sofas with the other. “It’s fine. Please, sit.”
The three of them sat down, Angela and Exalon sitting so close, their legs were pressed up against the other’s. Gander took a seat in one of the arm chairs, blushing furiously.
“I do apologize, sir. If I had known-”.
“Honestly, Gander, it’s fine,” Exalon told him. “Please don’t concern yourself with it. Now, I’m assuming you came with some news.”
Gander gave a brief grimace before speaking.
“Your presence has been requested at the Royal Palace.”
“You mean demanded?” Exalon said dryly. Gander’s mouth twisted into a wry smile.
“You know Her Imperial Majesty would never demand. Just request. Forcefully.”
“Ah, of course,” Exalon said with a sarcastic tone. “I take it your presence at the transport station was noticed?”
“Not really much of a surprise, as you know,” Gander replied. “The gossip seems to be revolving mostly around Miss Winslow more than myself, although we anticipated that. The Crown Prince’s private secretary picking up a human was bound to raise a few eyebrows.”
“Only a few?” Exalon asked, smiling. “We must not be doing something right.”
Angela smiled, enjoying their banter. It was clear Gander and Exalon had a close relationship that extended outside of work. It was also obvious how well they worked together, as they could understand the nuances of each other’s doublespeak.
“Has anyone else’s presence been requested?” Exalon’s sarcastic emphasis on the word ‘requested’ made it pretty clear his relationship with his mother was complicated. If she had to guess, Angela had a strong suspicion the Queen interfered in Exalon’s life frequently.
“Just your sister’s and Miss Winslow’s. I believe Her Imperial Majesty is trying to ascertain the situation before involving anyone else.”
“Of course she is,” Exalon said with a sigh. He looked at Angela, then his eyes seemed to brighten with an idea.
“Gander, I’m going to need you to stop by the Crown Jewels vault before dinner. Angela needs the Sonsara Pendant of the Crown Prince.”
Gander’s eyes widened in shock as he looked between Angela and Exalon.
“The-the Sonsara Pendant, Your Royal Highness?” Gander stuttered. “No one has worn that in over a millennia.”
“I’m quite aware,” Exalon said. “However, it’s necessary, both for my mother and any other titled who happen to conveniently find themselves at the Royal Palace this evening. They need to know who Angela is to me.”
Exalon lifted Angela’s hand, placing a soft kiss on the back of it. She blushed and looked back at Gander, who, to her surprise, seemed to have tears in his eyes.
“Angela’s your Sonsara, Exalon?” Gander asked, emotion clear in his voice.
Angela widened her eyes slightly. Gander had only called her ‘Miss Winslow’ and Exalon ‘Your Royal Highness’. Their relationship was much closer than she had realized.
“Yes, she is,” Exalon said with a smile directed towards Angela. “I realize how difficult this is going to be, but I’m not losing her. If it comes to it, I’ll renounce the Crown to keep her.”
“Like hell you will!” Angela practically shouted. Both Exalon and Gander turned to look at her, surprised by her outburst.
“You are not giving up your birthright for me,” Angela said fiercely. “I refuse to be responsible for that. If I’m forced, I will protect you from yourself by leaving. We just have to figure out another solution. We’re a team. Remember?”
“I remember, my love,” Exalon said, smiling, adoration clear in his eyes. “We’ll fight this together, just like we will everything for the rest of our lives.”
Gander smiled at them almost paternally before standing.
“I’ll send the request immediately, Your Royal Highness, and pick it up myself.” He bowed slightly to Exalon. Then, to Angela’s great surprise, he turned and bowed slightly to her as well. He quickly exited the room and Angela turned to Exalon.
“What’s a Sonsara Pendant?”
“On Axion and the other powerful GU planets, when a titled is matched, the woman will wear a simple strand of gems through her hair to indicate she is taken, at least for the moment. When she is mated, the string is replaced with a circlet of precious jewels to indicate her new status. And when she is married, she wears a complex diadem with precious gems and metals woven through it. A Sonsara Pendant includes a very rare gem that hangs off the diadem onto the woman’s upper forehead.” Exalon gently brushed back Angela’s hair, which had fallen out of the complex Axion style during their intense make out session.
“This gem indicates to everyone that the woman is someone’s Sonsara, the most intimate and powerful bond between two people. Almost every titled family uses gems to indicate a woman’s relationship status, but few can afford the precious jewels and metals Axions can. The Crown Prince’s Sonsara Pendant is overly elaborate, but once people see it on you, they’ll immediately know who you are to both me and the Axion people.”
“Is that why Gander bowed? Because I’m your Sonsara?” Angela asked.
“Yes,” Exalon replied. “A match band would have protected you, but it wouldn’t have garnered you much respect. With the Sonsara Pendant, everyone will know that one day you will be my Queen and their leader. You now outrank everyone on Axion except my mother and myself.”
“Well, that’s terrifying,” Angela said, only slightly joking. Exalon just laughed, placing a swift kiss on Angela’s forehead.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you with Mrs. Cotterhill and the stylist, my love. It’s time to start impressing the titled and that begins with my mother.”
Mrs. Cotterhill, frown in place, was waiting outside the doors to the study. She looked at Angela, sniffed, then began leading her through the hallways at a brisk pace, her back ramrod straight.