The Winter King

Page 25


As for the current royal family, after Wynter’s departure, the deposed king would be exiled to one of his smaller country estates, away from Summerlea’s political heart, and kept there under guard to dissuade him from fomenting rebellion. The two Seasons Wynter was not taking to wife would remain in the city under Leirik’s watchful eye—hostages in case Verdan did anything foolish. Active rule of the country would pass to Wynter’s appointed governor: Leirik at first, then a nonmilitary figure when the country restabilized; and once Wynter had his heir, he would marry off the other Seasons to neighboring princes in return for economic, political, and military favors.
The terms were more than generous. Verdan kept his head, and his daughters retained their titles as princesses of Summerlea. The prince, Falcon, had, of course, lost his lands, title, and inheritance, but so long as he stayed beyond the Wynter’s reach, he could keep his life. All things considered, the deposed king had little to complain about, and the signed and sealed parchments outlining the transition of power were now neatly packed in Wynter’s own correspondence bags.
By sunset on the third day, he had completed all of the most pressing paperwork, and the only vital document left that required his signature and seal was the marriage certificate that Verdan’s steward Gravid had delivered personally. Two copies of the certificate—one for him and one for Summerlea—lay before him. He picked up the top copy and regarded the simple piece of parchment that, once signed, witnessed, and consecrated before a priest, would make a princess of Summerlea his queen.
Her Royal Highness, Angelica Mariposa Rosalind Khamsin Gianna Coruscate.
That was the name of the stranger who had agreed to be his wife.
Which Season she was, Wynter still hadn’t a clue. He’d asked Verdan, whose only response had been a curt, “Does it matter?” It didn’t, or rather shouldn’t. And he’d be damned if he’d ask the pinch-faced prune of a steward waiting to take a signed copy of the certificate back to Verdan. Whichever one she was, the princess and her witness had already signed both copies of the marriage document.
Her signature was shaky, he noted, as if she’d been trembling (or crying?) when she’d signed. His lips thinned. Poor little flower. Such a terrible fate, to be his queen. He dipped his quill in the inkwell and signed first one copy, then the other, with a steady, sweeping flourish, then added his own pale silver-blue wax impressed with Wintercraig’s Snow Wolf seal beneath the red wax medallion bearing the Summerlea Rose.
He passed the documents to Valik, who signed as his witness, then sanded both signatures, waited a few seconds for the ink to dry, and handed one copy to Gravid.
“Well,” he murmured after Verdan’s steward had departed, “that’s that.”
“It is,” Valik agreed.
“There’s only the wedding and bedding left.”
Valik grunted.
“When is the ceremony?”
His friend glanced at the small brass clock set on a nearby table. “In an hour.”
“Guess we’d best both get ready.” Neither of them was dressed for a royal wedding.
Valik looked at him askance, and it was no wonder. Wynter had never been one to drag his feet. Why was he dragging them now?
“Full plate mail?” Valik asked.
He considered it, then shook his head. “No,” he said. “No, I feel in the mood for a fight, if he’s fool enough to give me one, but I won’t go looking like I’m expecting one.” He rose to his feet and paced restlessly. Signing the marriage certificate should have left him filled with cold triumph. Instead, he felt hollow.
“What?” He turned to regard his lifelong friend.
“Put her from your mind.”
“Is it so obvious?”
“It is to me. I’ve never seen you like this. I don’t know what spell the little witch cast on you, but I don’t like it. You don’t know who she is or where she came from. For all you know, she was a Coruscate spy sent to find your weaknesses. Forget her.”
“It’s not just her, Valik.” Liar, his mind immediately whispered. “I can’t help thinking there must be more than this. The victory doesn’t feel . . . complete.”
“Give it time.” Valik clapped him on the back. “Tonight you claim your prize. After a few pleasant hours in the soft company of your Season, I’ve no doubt you’ll feel better.”
“What do you mean she isn’t going to be ready for the wedding?” Verdan glowered at the old woman who’d been his wife’s beloved nurse, then caretaker of his wild, unmanageable youngest child. “You’ve had the better part of three days.”
“And I’ve spent all of that just trying to undo the worst of the injuries you dealt her!” Tildavera snapped. “I’ve done everything in my power to speed her healing. Ointments, herbal baths, I even ordered the servants to bring up all the growing lamps we’ve been using to keep some measure of fresh fruit and vegetable on your table. The best I’ve been able to do is help her breathe without pain and grow a thin layer of new skin over most of the lacerations you inflicted.” She put her hands on her hips. “There’s no possible way she can stand before the priest or sit for hours at the wedding feast in her current condition.”
“Unacceptable. I’ve already told the Winter King the wedding will take place tonight, and he’s already agreed to it. You’re supposed to be a master herbalist. I let you go to her only on the condition that you could get her fit for tonight. Now can you do it or not?”