Home > Midnight Soul (Fantasyland #5)(10)

Midnight Soul (Fantasyland #5)(10)
Author: Kristen Ashley

This one: Loyal Subject.

As the guard stepped out of the way, in front of me I saw Queen Aurora’s large desk. She sat behind it. Sitting atop and situated at the outer edge of the desk, closest to me, I distractedly noted that there were three chests, one rather small, one somewhat sizeable, one in between.

But this did not take but scant attention.

As ever, I needed to identify the players and act accordingly.

Therefore I saw surrounding Aurora on both sides were my cousin, Frey, and his wife, Princess Sjofn, or as Frey and all who knew her (that she felt affection for) called her, Finnie.

Close to Frey stood Apollo Ulfr, the queen’s general and chief strategist.

At his side was Ilsa, though they called her Madeleine, the other-world woman who’d taken the place of Apollo’s dead wife. Indeed, this Madeleine was going to do that two days hence in an official manner, becoming his actual wife.

I’d met his previous Ilsa prior to her expiring.

The women were the spitting image of each other.

I did not understand this, Apollo carrying on with this new Ilsa. It seemed sordid to me. Disrespectful of Ilsa’s memory.

Even knowing there was another Antoine in the other world, I would never seek to go there to find him or bring the other him here to be with me.

There was no replacing him.

There was only one true Antoine.

However, it appeared Apollo held genuine affection for her.

He was a man of emotion. He’d grieved his wife openly and he’d done that for years.

But he was not a man ruled by emotion. He would never take to wife a woman who had not found her way into his heart.

This mattered naught to me.

One thing I had managed to decide that day during my bath, with my head refreshed and my thoughts clear, was that the concerns of others were no longer any concern of mine.

My life from that day forward would be quiet.

No more machinations.

No more intrigue.

This decision was Antoine’s fault too. I knew it.

However, despite it not being my character, I couldn’t stop myself from looking to a future such as that, perhaps not with relish as that future held no Antoine, but with a sense of serenity.

I thought this as I turned my head to take in the rest of the room.

On the other side of Finnie stood the mighty (and large) Dax of Korwahk, their king, Lahn, his Circe, and close to them stood Prince Noctorno and Princess Cora.

Taking him in, I found I wished I had the time to study Prince Noctorno more closely. But even with the brief glance I gave him, I noted the resemblance to the man who called himself Noc was uncanny.

Prince Noctorno of Hawkvale had a scar on his face that didn’t mar but instead enhanced his features, which Noc did not have.

But that was the only difference.

As I came to a halt at the front of the desk, I sensed more and looked over my shoulder.

When I did, I felt an odd pang hit my belly.

Circe was sitting in an armchair (and it was more than disconcerting, though I’d never allow it to show, the present Ilsa looking like a dead Ilsa, two of the same Circes and two of the same Noctornos in that room).

Noc was standing beside her, leaning into her chair in a way that made me question my read of the situation the evening before.

It seemed with the way he appeared now that what they’d had was not a tryst.

His position, the closeness of it, would suggest something else.

That odd pang came again, stronger, when I saw he was regarding me, a look of familiarity on his face, warmth in his eyes.

He was the only one in the room who was showing even a modicum of cordiality. The rest were regarding me with unconcealed impatience (even if I had just that moment arrived) and even (in the case of Frey and Apollo), dislike.

It wasn’t cordiality Noc was displaying, however.

It was friendliness.

It took me off guard, mostly because, outside my friend Valeria, the only true friend I had in the Drakkar House (or anywhere), no one looked on me with friendliness.

“It’s good you were able to rise from your bed. Or Sjofn’s bed, as the Winter Palace is the home of Lunwyn’s Ice Princess.”

Queen Aurora’s cool greeting turned my attention back to her.

I didn’t trouble myself with a reply.

It was not lost on me that my behavior (in more than being forced to turn traitor against my country, indeed an adulthood (and then some) of behaving precisely like a Drakkar) had earned me this kind of enmity.

Any other person, even our queen (who rarely showed any emotion) would be aware of all they’d lost, all they’d suffered, all they’d known Antoine had suffered, and thus she would deduce sleep would not have been easy.

Indeed, by the gods, day in, day out, simply finding the strength to throw my legs over the side of the bed and face another day plagued with the pain was an extraordinary endeavor.

But I had not earned that regard.

I had earned the frosty look in her eyes that accompanied the chill in her voice.

And as ever, I withstood it, but this time, I had no venomous rejoinder.

I just stood there silently.

“In order to save you the energy of making your play, Franka,” she continued. “And as we’ve all got much more important things to move on to, we’ve discussed recompense for your activities of yesterday and we’re seeing about doling that out without delay.”

I stood silent, but inside I went still.

How much I had changed.

Even playing my small part in saving the world, it hadn’t occurred to me to use that happenstance to better my circumstances. Prior to Antoine, this very thought would be the first thing on my lips before I’d actually go to Spectre Isle to face the three most evil, most powerful witches in our entire hemisphere.

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