I lead the king down to the back entrance to the gardens, and we walk along between plots of dill, thyme, and chives. I wait, knowing he will speak when he is ready.
“How much does your mother confide in you?” he asks as we near the middle of the gardens.
I slide a look at him from the corner of my eye. “Enough. My lord.”
His lips quirk, the first true smile I have seen from him. “Is that honest?”
I pause beside a bed of borage. “How much do I need to know, my lord? You are here seeking a wife for your son.”
“I am,” he agrees. “How often do you participate in the discussions between your mother and the council?”
“I don’t, my lord. You should know I am not . . .” I hesitate, aware that I have no place telling this king what he should or should not know. Or jeopardizing such an alliance for my land.
I struggle to find an appropriate way to finish. “Not—it is not thought my place to attend such meetings.”
“You would never inherit the throne?”
I could inherit, it is true, but I doubt the council would allow it given my history—and certainly not now that I might marry into another royal family, one that would be happy to add our lands to their own. Either way, should my brother die, the council would certainly pass over me in favor of our nearest cousin. “It is unlikely,” I say finally.
“I doubt that,” the king says. “It has been my experience that even young men die. What you mean to say is your council would not accept you should your brother die without issue and you were yet unwed. Why?”
If he knows all the answers, why is he asking? I look him in the eye and quip, “Perhaps I am too honest, my lord.”
He laughs. “And too straightforward. You will have to learn to play with your words more.” He reaches out, his fingertips brushing my arm where my brother held me. I flinch back reflexively, as if the bruises have already darkened—as if he could see them through my sleeve. He watches me, his eyes glinting in the sunlight. “Once you are Menaiya’s,” he says, “your brother will never hurt you again.”
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