Lover’s Curse Chapter Twelve - Affectionate Trigonometry
Tiberias cannot stop moping. He barely smiles at his grandmother, despite her numerous attempts to cheer him up. His head hangs at a permanent angle, always fascinated by the ground. He won’t laugh at any of my excellent jokes.
“Does she love him?” Tiberias finally speaks once we arrive inside the gates. Anabel nudges him forward, past metal columns and ominous guards. I might have exchanged one prison for another. “He wrote her letters when we were on the run, and she kept them. Read them in the middle of the night, over and over, crying. They were friends once.”
“Please don’t involve me in your melodramatic teenage love triangle.”
“She’s being tortured.” He glares. “What mind fuckery does it take to convince someone it’s better to be tortured than not? It’s a reasonable concern.”
I roll my eyes. “Do you think her an idiot? Use your head.” I scoff. “Mare knows what kind of man he is. No amount of poetry can erase that. Perhaps she has plans you don’t know about.”
Tiberias sighs. “Of course. She had to make herself a martyr.”
“Wonder who she learned it from.”
“We’re here.” Anabel guides her grandson away from me, halting in front of a bedroom far less grand than his station should merit. “Don’t get comfortable. Maven’s troops have been marching towards Corvium, and a clash is inevitable.”
“I am no stranger to battle.” I lean against the wall. “Tiberias, on the other hand, hasn’t trained in weeks.”
He rolls his eyes “I’m beginning to understand why Maven threatened you.”
“I know. Neither of you have a sense of humor.” I huff. “Barrow does. Can’t fathom how either of you attracted her.”
“Did you talk to her?” Tiberias lingers in the doorway. Anabel has retreated, choosing to inform others of our arrival rather than escorting me to my chambers. It seems poor manners run in the family.
“Occasionally.” I study my nails. “She understood what court did not. I could relax my guard and discuss what mattered to me without fear of violence or interrogation. She was a suitable companion.”
“Did--?” He hesitates. “Did she ever talk about me or Maven?”
“Self-centered, I see.” Eye roll. “She barely mentioned either of you, as she should. Empty wind bags, both of you. Learn some manners.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Tiberias grits his teeth. “You’re not listening to me.”
“I don’t owe you answers.”
He slams the door in my face.
My room is severe, black and silver coiling around one another in columns, punctuated by the occasional window. Metal spikes gleam on every surface. These people would turn on me the instant they stood to gain.
I reach for my vapor to soothe me, but a portion of air is conspicuously dry. There’s a body in the way. “Lady Evangeline, I’m not an idiot. Keep your shadow wench to yourself.”
“Princess Evangeline.” She appears in the doorway, arms crossed. There’s a new smugness to her posture, one I hadn’t thought possible. “You’re addressing an equal, nymph.”
I know her type. Deeply insecure, overcompensating, resentful of anyone with the authority to make her shut up. They were always the first to call Tiora lazy, or me an emotionless statue.
“It’s still an act of aggression. Did you fail Protocol, Your Highness?”
“Why are you here?” She scowls. “You had everything, and you gave it up for what, a disgraced prince? You can’t be that foolish.”
I scoff. “Everything? Do you think titles are all that defines power? There is always someone above you, and I’d rather they be Mother than an overstuffed peacock. I’m sure she’ll agree.”
She tenses. “You don’t know that. You can’t leave an engagement and beg forgiveness. Marriage is for alliances, treaties, business deals. Not happiness.”
“Pardon. Did I ask your opinion?” I turn my back. “I’ve no desire to steal your princeling, so please cease the dramatics. Empty your misery on someone who cares.”
The air beside me shimmers into a curtsey, coiled locks more flame than hair. “Forgive me. I couldn’t restrain my curiosity.”
I sniff. “Be more cautious next time. I may not use underlings to teach a lesson, but others might.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty. You’re wise beyond your years.”
“At least one of you passed protocol.” I am the still ocean waters on a moonlit night, placid surface teeming with dangers beneath. “Bother me again, and I’ll carve the next warning into your flesh.”
“What a charming guest.” Evangeline steps in front of her lover, the metal ornaments twitching in time to her rage. “Congratulations. Few manage to be so insufferable Maven Calore won’t tolerate them, but you broke his patience within a month.”
“Please leave. Don’t make me settle this in public. My family might still love me after a humiliation, but I suspect yours won’t.”
Poke a bear, you get mauled.
Evangeline pales. “Come, Elane. This is growing tedious.”
After a moment’s hesitation, she follows.
I grasp at vapor to ensure I am alone before collapsing onto the bed. This was the longest day in an endless string of sleepless nights and busy schedules, and I cannot summon the energy to don a proper nightgown. Gods, grant me strength. My mortal body is failing me.
When have I last been able to rest?
Perhaps I should’ve stayed. Maven’s image was a devilish foil to mine, the violent temper to my measured calm, the madness to my rationality, the Merandus menace to my Cygnet saviour. Once his brother had been slain, I might have swayed enough nobles to depose him.
A Lakeland Empire.
But I’m not a machine. His blunders couldn’t go uncorrected, my every moment squeezed for maximum efficiency. Every missed meeting was filled by me, every slighted noble soothed, always humble, always reserved. So much work, most unappreciated.
Why does any woman marry?
I wake at noon.
My morning routine condenses to a flurry, plain dress and sloppy hairstyle compensating for the time already wasted. War waits for none, no matter their status.
To my dismay, Tiberias is already alert, eyes plastered to a broadcast. Seated beside him, a scrawny red boy grits his teeth. Tiberias wrings his hands, lips pressed to a thin line.
“She must know how damaging this is.” Scrawny paces back and forth, fists clenched. “It’s exactly the propaganda he needs, and we can’t afford to lose any more support.”
“He’s blackmailing her.” Tiberias clutches his head. “Remember when he forced her to recruit newbloods? Her hollow eyes, her tense stance, her starved frame--they’ve all grown so much worse.” He closes his eyes. “She was so fragile. I can’t imagine what he’s done to her.”
Scrawny throws his hands in the air. “Then why didn’t she leave?”
“I. Don’t. Know.”
“Excuse me.” I nudge Tiberias, and he glares. “You’re blocking the screen.”
He shuffles with a huff, revealing a familiar set of blue eyes. The words slide off me, the usual pageantry, but enough details stick to complete the picture. Her face flickers into view, a stone that has withstood the pull of an ocean.
Her time has come.
I chuckle. “She plays him like a fiddle.”
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