The Rogue Princess
“Maj!” Livia shouted across the room. “Your son is out of control.”
I sipped on a bit of elderberry wine, grinning behind the edge of the horn.
Rorik—for, perhaps the first time all turn—had joined forces with Halvar’s last daughter, Alva and a few other littles like young Mattis, Siv and Mattis’s son and little Bodil, Tova’s and Bard’s little girl. They had Livia and Mira cornered near the inglenook, all looking to get a taste of the saffron buns on the platter first.
I mouthed a half-hearted apology to my girl, watching as shadows moved in behind the group of littles.
Across the hall, Valen’s dark eyes caught mine. He laughed silently, shaking his head and turning back to Saga and Kase who still bickered over who held tiny Vera, Calista’s and Silas’s infant daughter.
Squeals of fright and delight rattled the chandelier over the long table.
Jonas, Sander, and Aleksi, pounced on the littles, scattering them around the room lest they be snatched and robbed of the sweets they’d already collected by the elder princes. Jonas had already threatened as much, and waved a pouch about that was laced in honey sweets and smooth toffees and berry tarts.
The young ones raced between tables of wine and juices, roasted pheasants and sponge cakes. They hid beside a stack of parchment wrapped gifts, laughing as Ari wiggled his fingers, casting the three princes in an illusion of snowfall.
Saga laughed, an arm around her king, and handed out a few sugar straws to the young ones, while Silas added a package to their greedy little hands before they rushed to Calista. The fate queen sat on the stoop, feral and wild. Her golden braids were pinned over her head, and she still vehemently refused to don a gown.
Rorik shoved Alva’s shoulder, fighting to get his destiny first. Halvar whispered to Kari, watching, and grinning with a touch of pride when Alva overpowered the young prince and stepped in front of Calista, hand outstretched.
An arm slid around my waist. I let my eyes fluttered closed and leaned into his body.
Valen pressed a kiss to my brow, drawing his lips close to my ear. “I have a confession, Kvinna.”
“What’s that, Night Prince?”
Valen encircled my waist from behind, propping his chin atop my shoulder, and taking in the boisterous room. “Even before I knew my name, I imagined days as this. With you.”
One brow arched. I returned my drinking horn to the table, and spun into my husband. “What? Legion Grey wanted to end a curse—”
“Legion Grey,” he interrupted, pecking my lips. “Lost sight of his motives long before truths came out.” Valen brushed his fingertips against a lock of hair in my eyes. “I have distinct memories of lying in bed, alone, in that cottage on Lysander land, thinking of the second princess. Imagining a different life. One where lies and curses and tyrants did not keep us apart.” Valen looked about once more. “Naturally, I didn’t see all these faces, but rooms were full of laughter, of those we loved. We had a little or two.”
I snorted. “One of those littles would prefer we stopped at one in this moment.”
“It was worth it, Elise,” he whispered. “The fight to bring about those moments I thought were only misplaced dreams.”
A sting burned my eyes. Moments of longing for those we’d lost along the way. There were faces missing at our table since the great war ended. Faces I thought of daily. We’d all lost many we loved, friends, family. They were missed, but never forgotten.
Candles were placed beside wooden markers with the names of those who’d fallen during the many fights that brough peace to our world. Despite the pain, they all died for this purpose. They all wanted moments as this, where the kingdoms were free and united.
To them, wherever they dined with the gods on this Jul, I believed they would think it was worth it, much the same.
“Hard to think it’s been ten turns since the war ended,” I admitted. “Already folk are planning the Crimson Festival. I can’t help feeling like soon our Jul revels will change even more.”
I tilted my head, a smirk on my lips. “Meaning our daughter is twenty turns, Valen. How many young men have slyly asked about her?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
I laughed and kissed his cheek. He never wanted to speak about it. But call it an mother’s instinct, I could not shake the feeling that soon Livia would lose her heart to another and we would once more navigate the joining of families and folk.
Aleksi was the desire of many ladies in the Night Folk Court and the Southern courts of Ari and Saga. Tor and Sol found it hilarious the way their Rave devoted son focused on his battle strategies and sparring techniques, often missing the lingering gazes of fae women.
Sander was a gentle soul. Cunning, no mistake, but when he found a lover, it would be deep and unbreaking. Mira would be the same, although she shared a bit of her father’s tongue. She would be made of fire and whoever claimed her heart would need to be prepared.
Then, Jonas. I laughed, watching the prince sling Rorik over his shoulder, while in the same breath casting his roguish grin at a courtier from one of the kingdoms. Malin noticed and rolled her eyes.
Whether Jonas ever found a love did not change the notion that our children were grown, and lives would change over the coming turns.
I wrapped my arms around Valen’s waist again, tilting my head up to meet his gaze.
“It was worth it,” I whispered. “These days were why I fought, were why I dreamed. The moment you sat all day in the library of Castle Ravenspire, merely reading with me, I began to imagine that I’d like these days with you.”
Valen leaned in to kiss me. I pressed a finger to his lips.
“Of course, I had no idea you were a fae prince with a hefty amount of bloodlust.”
He laughed. “Ah, but it kept life interesting.”
“That’s one word for it.”
Another burst of squeals and battle cries, drew out attention to where Rorik and Mattis now declared war against Bodil and Alva over a particularly fine set of throwing knives gifted by Stieg and a few of his Rave warriors.
I let my head fall to Valen’s shoulder, holding him close, peace, warmth, love, all of it collided in the center of my chest. Pain, death, and battle brought us here, no mistake, but it was true—these were the purpose behind the fear. Days where we stood as one, free, whole, and happy.
I looked up at Valen, voice low. “You were always worth it, Valen Ferus. No matter what changes, no matter what our next Jul looks like, or the next, and the next. That will never change.”
With a burn of desire in his eyes, Valen kissed me. Deep and perfect.