When I awoke the next morning I found myself alone in the bed. My heart didn’t have time to drop as the reason for my awakening, a knock on the door, came again.
I sat up and wrapped the blankets around myself as I blinked at the door. “Pennae?”
“Yes. May I come in?”
I whipped my head to and fro, and finally spotted my discarded clothes. “Y-yeah, one second!”
I leapt off the bed and into the clothes, and in a few hurried steps I opened the door. Pennae stood there with a clothes hook held high in one hand. The article itself was covered by a thick white cloth. She couldn’t have had a prouder smile on her face. It beamed so bright I was nearly blinded by it.
Pennae thrust the hanger and its contents at me. “It’s here!”
I blinked at her. “What is?”
“Your dress, silly!” Pennae explained as she swept past me and stopped in the middle of the room to turn full circle. Her eyes grew larger as she looked over the quarters. “How beautiful!”
I joined her and grabbed her shoulders to stop her spinning. “What’s this about a dress?”
“I made you your dress!” Pennae explained before she paused and wrinkled her nose. “Well, we did. Ethan helped by drawing out some ideas I had in my head, and I stayed up all night to make it!”
Pennae flung off the covering and I beheld a beautiful white wedding gown, complete with a long train and veil. Pearls had been sewn into the puffy cuffs and on the border of the veil. The bosom was made of lattice with flowered designs stitched across it. When Pennae rocked the dress in her outstretched arms the material shimmered like fish scales.
Pennae smiled up at me. “What do you think?”
I had to shut my mouth before tears sprang into my eyes. “This is. . .this is for me?”
Pennae grinned and bobbed her head. “Of course, silly! Who better to show off my first really original design but the first friend I made in the city?”
I leapt forward and wrapped my arms around her in a tight hug. She held the dress as far away from both of us as possible. “It’s beautiful!”
Another knock came from the door. We parted like the Red Sea and I wiped my tears of joy away before turning to the door. “Who is it?”
Mia’s voice floated through the doors. “I was told some help would be required.”
Pennae sheepishly smiled at me. “Ethan must have told her how complicated the dress was.”
I lifted an eyebrow before returned my attention to the entrance. “I think we could use all hands on deck.”
Mia slipped inside with a mischievous smile on her lips and a sparkle in her eyes. “To be honest, I had to see this dress of which Ethan is so proud, and which involved so many books from the archives.”
I blinked at her. “What books?”
Pennae shrugged as she showed off the outfit to Mia. “I wasn’t sure what past dresses looked like, so Mia let me see sketches of what other queens had worn for their wedding.”
Mia grasped the bodice before giving a nod of approval. “And this will make a fabulous addition to that wonderful collection, but now we must hurry. The procession will start soon.”
The two of them went to work, and in a half hour I found myself bedecked in the fabulous dress. I wanted to spin in a circle, but the train bogged me down and I was unaccustomed to high heels. Mia opened the doors while Pennae both took up the train.
I took a deep breath and walked forward. The dress was as light as a feather and I felt as though I drifted over the stones. Sfetnic waited for us at the top of the first flight of stairs, and a soft smile lit up his pale face. He pressed his hand against the wall and bowed his head to me. Magic spread down the stone wall and I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. No dozens of staircases in those high heels.
My entourage followed me down the steps to the foyer where the staff stood in two lines on either side of me. They smiled and bowed their heads, and I blushed beneath their attentions. Luca’s old nursemaid stood beside the closed doors with a large bouquet of flowers in her hand which she handed to me.
Her eyes sparkled as she grasped my hands and looked me in the eyes. “You are a beautiful bride, little miss, and make sure to keep that young man in line.”
I could only nod before I was led to the doors. Trumpets blared outside, and I couldn’t help but be nervous as the crowds grew louder. My hands shook so much that the bouquet rattled.
Pennae set a hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. “You have nothing to be afraid of. They’re going to love you.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and managed a shaky smile of my own. The doors creaked open and sunlight spilled onto me. I blinked against the harsh light before I was blasted by the noise. It sounded like the whole of the city had turned out to see me. The people crowded about the open gates and gawked at me, their eyes admiring and curious. I stepped out into the courtyard and was presented with a line of armored guards. They wore plates over their chests and gauntlets that resembled dragon claws over their hands.
Pennae gave a slight tug on my train. I got the hint and took a deep breath before I walked forward. The soldiers turned to face ahead and marched along at my side to keep back the pawing hands that wanted to touch my dress. I put on my best smile and bowed my head at as many people as I could without my head falling off from the effort.
Cheers and whistles followed my procession down the wide street. Murmurs swept through the crowds, and more than one made me blush.
“How beautiful she is!”
“The king will be happy with this one.”
“I wish my old woman was half that nice.” That one was followed by a hard thwack from said woman.
I walked down the long road and thanked whatever gods were in this world that I didn’t trip even once. Mia and Pennae followed, and together we arrived at the Cloister of Reflection. The doors had been thrown open and I could see a pile of white-packaged gifts covered all the walls. King Plas stood before the mirror, and he held in his hands a beautiful crown of silver with jewels of every imaginable color inlaid around the band.
Cassius stood outside with one foot on the short steps. He wore a simple silver cloak and formal attire, and as I passed he smiled and bowed his head.
Luca stood to one side in front of Plas, and was decked out in military garb much like that worn by his soldiers. Atop his head, however, was a crown of his own, bedecked as the one in Plas’ hand but with a scarlet-colored felt cap whereas the silver one was open like a tiara.
Luca’s eyes sparkled as I came up to him and he offered me his hand. “You look stunning,” he whispered as he turned so we both faced Plas.
Plas held up the crown and the chatter at our backs was silenced. “We gather ourselves here to pay homage to this union of two lines now joined as one! May they live long and prosper so that many others will prosper under their light!” He lowered the tiara crown onto my head and the crowd erupted in cheers.
I couldn’t believe it. I was a queen now.
Plas lifted his hands above his head and grinned. “All hail King Silvanus and Queen Diana!”
Luca leaned forward and pressed a light kiss to my lips. “What does it feel like, Queen Diana?”
I snorted. “I’ll tell you when I believe it.”
He swept his arm over the vast amount of gifts stacked about the room. “Your subjects believe it, and have sent gifts to show their happiness for us.”
My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open. A laugh erupted from those closest to the building who had somehow managed to overhear our conversation through the din of celebrations. “All of them?”
Luca chuckled. “Yes, and you have the honor of choosing the first present to open.”
I swept my eyes over the presents, and situated close to the doorway. Everyone down the procession way would be able to see me open that one. I hurried over and lifted the square box in my hands. A single red ribbon decorated the top like all the others, and held the lid closed. I pulled on the ribbon, and the bow came undone and floated to the floor.
My heart pounded as I eased open the lid. The whole of the city hushed.
Something moved inside it. I let out a scream as a mass of dark shadow flung the lid off and flew at me. I threw my arms up in front of me, but the black light passed through them and struck me in the stomach. The force threw me backward off my feet. Luca leapt into my path and caught me in his arms. The shadows disappeared inside me and I let out a cry as a horrible pain squeezed my insides.
Screams erupted from everyone as Luca lifted me in his arms. He spread his wings and leapt into the air, flying over the frightened citizens as the soldiers tried to disperse them in an orderly manner, much like herding terrified cats.
The pain shifted inside me like someone was using a cold instrument to push my organs around. A trembling gasp was all I could manage as my body stiffened against the agony.
Luca’s trembling voice broke through my pain. “Hold on.”
We landed on the balcony as we’d done before and hurried inside. Luca raced up the stairs and soon we were in our bed chambers. He hurried over to the bed and lay me atop the covers. “Hold still.”
“No. . .problem,” I wheezed as my whole body stiffened from the agony.
Luca tore my shirt open and his eyes widened. A dark circle with strange markings covered the front of my stomach.
Sfetnic appeared to float through the open doors and stood behind Luca, his face paler than I recalled, though admittedly I was in such pain that my vision was somewhat blurred. “What happened?”
Luca shook his head. “I don’t know. Some dark cloud burst out of one of the presents and attacked her.”
Luca reluctantly stepped back and Sfetnic took his place. The magician tapped one of his sharp nails against my stomach, though I hardly felt the pain as he pricked me. He lifted the tiny speck of blood to his lips and flicked his tongue over the blood. The next instant he spat out the blood on the ground and curled his lips back.
Luca’s face paled. “What is it?”
Sfetnic glared at the mark on my stomach. “A binding spell of the blackest kind. The concoction is born of unicorn blood and Dragon’s Bane.”
The pain slightly receded, or at least enough that I swallowed the lump in my throat before asking the question on everyone’s minds. “Binding what?”
Sfetnic pursed his lips. “So lost as this curse is in your body, you are unable to bear children.”