Author: Maddie Rose PM
Princess Merridy Dolorin finds herself a prisoner in her political marriage to cruel and ambitious Lord Dommiel Rhindal. Yet with her brother Chalix's lethal secret and her scheming cousin Jupiter's plots to take the throne, Merridy finds herself playing on desire to find the answers she seeks. Can she save the King? Can she save herself? NON-CON. REVIEWS RETURNEDRated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Suspense - Chapters: 9 - Words: 57,144 - Reviews: 25 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 11 - Updated: 05-22-13 - Published: 01-30-13 - id: 3096905
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter One: Promises Made
Octavius, Month 8, of Year 611
Chalix Dolorin, Crown Prince of Chattel, led his younger sister Princess Merridy into the room with his arm linked through hers. The banquet hall was teeming with members of the court who were eager to wish Merridy well on her impending marriage to Lord Dommiel Rhindal. Chalix glanced at his sister, who was looking around the hall as though she was overwhelmed by everything.
"If you cry, you will make me very unhappy." A terse frown crossed his face. "You don't want to do that."
Merridy fiddled with the ribbons on her green dress. She knew the consequences of making her older brother unhappy. She took it all in, the courtiers she barely knew, the chandeliers sparkling with the reflection of firelight. She glanced to the hearth, wishing that the roaring flames could somehow burn her engagement to ashes, as if it was a tangible thing rather than an agreement between families.
She had been betrothed to Dommiel since she had been a mere twelve years old, and he seventeen. Perhaps things might have been different if her father had not died three years past, her oldest brother Farlan succeeding him as King – but as it stood, now that Merridy was seventeen, she was of an age to marry Dommiel…and she would, in two weeks time. This was something that gave her cause to despair rather than celebrate.
"I am not going to cry," Merridy assured her brother.
Farlan walked over to the pair with a benevolent smile across his face and a gold crown adorning his black hair. He looked just like his siblings, with their green eyes and striking features, apart from the fact that Merridy and Chalix both had hair of caramel brown rather than black. His eyes fell upon Merridy. His little sister, soon to be married. She was no child anymore – not with that beautiful face and those woman's curves – but she was still his baby sister no matter the circumstances.
"Sister, you look beautiful."
She managed a small smile. Perhaps it was just Merridy's own dislike of Dommiel that made the celebrations seem so dismal. From a young age she had been perceptive, although she had often kept it to herself. She had quickly seen past Dommiel's golden-boy features – those bright blue eyes, his charming smile – and seen that it was all a lie. There was also the matter that since she had developed a woman's body, he had become interested in making suggestive remarks about their future together, even daring to kiss or touch her at times.
"Thank you, your Majesty." Merridy inclined her head to her oldest brother. "You look dashing as always."
She noticed their cousin, Jupiter, already sitting down, swilling a cup of wine in one hand and watching the proceedings. He looked nothing like the royal cousins, having copper hair and hazel eyes instead. Jupiter was a year younger than Chalix's twenty years, and therefore was quite close with the middle cousin.
Farlan laughed easily at his sister's compliment. "Beautiful and kind. You're so like Mother."
Chalix stilled a little at the mention of their mother. Merridy observed this silently and took a seat, averting her gaze. Her brother had only been three when she had died, and he had always made sure Merridy realised that her life had meant the Queen's death.
Arilyn Rhindal laughed a little as she entered the hall with her brother, gazing around in astonishment. The banquet hall was huge in any case, but now it was packed to the brim with nobles from near and far, some which she didn't even recognise. Arilyn and Merridy had been friends since childhood, yet she knew better than to wish the Princess well. She glanced at her brother Dommiel, knowing that this was all about him and his impending marriage. They shared the same golden good looks – fair hair, angelic features and blue eyes. In Arilyn's opinion, that was where all similarity between them ended.
"This is the biggest feast of the year," she remarked, glancing around with wide eyes.
"Yes, well, Merridy and I are celebrating the shortening length of time to our union," Dommiel replied dryly, although Arilyn highly doubted that that event brought any happiness to the Princess. She knew it was her duty to marry Dommiel, she had since she was twelve years old – yet the notion brought her no pleasure.
"It certainly is drawing close," Arilyn murmured. Her brother nodded in response and casting around the end of the hall for the royal family. Of course, he had been a close friend and playmate to the older royal siblings, Farlan and Chalix, since they had been only children – just as Arilyn had always been close with Merridy.
"If it isn't the husband-to-be and his lovely sister!" Jupiter crossed over to them with a broad smile adorning his features and a goblet of wine already in his hand. Like the Crown Prince, he was known to be enthusiastic about his drink.
"Hello, Jupiter," Arilyn replied with a smile, oblivious to the secretive smile and meaningful eye contact that her brother sent Jupiter as he inclined his head.
Jupiter kissed the back of Arilyn's hand. "You are looking radiant tonight, Lady Arilyn."
She flushed slightly at the compliment. Jupiter was well-known for being charming towards many young women of the court, but only recently had he began to show Arilyn attention. Perhaps she had been too young for him before.
"Thank you." The pair took their seats, which happened to be beside each other, and Arilyn glanced across at him. "You look very handsome yourself."
"Why thank you. I do try." Jupiter grinned, watching as Arilyn laughed and reached across the thick wooden table for the jug of wine to pour herself some. "Allow me."
"Thank you," Arilyn said with a little smile as he poured the deep red liquid into her goblet. She lifted it to her lips and took a small sip.
"Chalix!" Farlan turned his jovial attention upon his brother, clasping his arm. "Going to find yourself a wife at one of these feasts someday?"
"A wife?" Chalix rolled his eyes. Women were nothing more than objects, to be bargained for. That was why Merridy was being given away, because Dommiel's father must have paid the right price. However, Chalix had no need for a wife. She would be nothing but a thorn in his side in any case, and he would hate having to shower her with false affections. "You know I am hardly the sort to marry."
Farlan took his seat with the sort of regal grace that was expected of a King, grinning at his younger brother. "Some day."
"And what of yourself?" Chalix sat with a slight smile curling his lips. At twenty-four years of age, Farlan was yet to marry – not that Chalix was complaining. Without children, without sons, Chalix would remain Farlan's heir. "Still to take a wife and you are four years older!"
"I'm…busy." Farlan's tone became serious and picked up his cup and quickly took a drink, something Chalix did not fail to notice.
"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Busy in what manner?"
Farlan gestured over the hall. It was pathetic really, Chalix surmised, all the people that came to fawn over Merridy simply because they thought it would put them in the King's good graces. Unfortunately, Farlan had always possessed a soft spot for his little sister…however, he did happen to turn a blind eye to Chalix's often violent behaviour towards her.
"Ruling. It's taxing stuff."
"Ah, but of course," Chalix agreed, "No doubt you enjoy it nonetheless."
"It's tiring at times, but I must confess it's fulfilling," Farlan admitted, before he heaved a sigh. "Mostly."
Chalix stretched himself out. Luckily he did not possess Farlan's lanky limbs, but rather a stocky build, and as he was not even quite six feet tall, it meant he could lounge about a little without accidentally kicking the person across from him.
"I just have a much better understanding now of how drained Father would be sometimes," Farlan confessed. Their father was not often a topic of discussion, as his death had been a very controversial matter. Had it been simply a spy in the palace who had poisoned him, or a Gifted one seeking power? No one knew, and it was doubted that anyone would ever know.
"Ah, yes. Still, you have me to help you."
Farlan grinned at that, his jovial mood returning. "That I do, and you keep me sane, dear brother!"
Chalix laughed. "I should hope so."
"Truly," Farlan lifted his cup and took another sip of his wine. "Having you and Merridy close is a great help to me."
"Merridy?" Chalix scoffed her name, that of the sister he had never been able to bring himself to love. "She is but a girl."
"So she is, but still our sister," Farlan reminded him carefully.
"Yes, but she will soon be married," Chalix waved a careless hand.
Farlan inclined his head. "Dommiel's father advised our own. A good family."
Across the table, Merridy had already set about pouring herself some wine. Dommiel stepped up behind her chair, watching her intently. She ignored him to the extent that she could.
"Merridy, you look a vision tonight."
"Thank you, Dommiel," Merridy replied rather stiffly, sipping at her wine. Of course, she had known that he would be close to her for most of the night – after all, this was about their impending marriage – but she had still hoped rather foolishly that she would not have to speak with him too much.
"Looking forward to the ever closer day?" Dommiel inquired, sitting down beside her and placing a hand atop hers. Merridy immediately snatched her hand back, causing him to raise his eyebrows. "Careful now."
"Whatever is there to be careful of?" Merridy asked in a measured tone.
He frowned at her words. Dommiel had never enjoyed her playing games, and two weeks before their wedding, that dislike was as clear as ever. He believed a woman should know her place, especially a woman that would soon be his wife.
"We are getting married soon. You may have a care to act like it."
Merridy's lips tweaked into a slight smile. "But we are not married yet."
"Soon enough." Dommiel smirked and leaned across to kiss her cheek, watching as she turned her face to the gesture. "Come now, tonight is for us."
Merridy took another sip of wine, glancing over at where several couples were already dancing. She wished that she could be so free. She would not mind having a husband who was ugly but kind. Dommiel put on that charming smile, thought his handsome face could compensate for the darkness she knew was inside his heart. He followed the line of her gaze.
"Care to dance, my dear?"
She could see no polite way to object. She bit her lip. "If we must."
"How have you been keeping?"Arilyn inquired of Jupiter, oblivious to how he watched her carefully. Arilyn shared many secrets with Merridy and knew of a past, chaste romance the Princess had briefly embarked upon, but she had never so much as kissed a man herself. "I haven't seen much of you around court of late."
"I have been well," Jupiter admitted, before a charming smile split his face. "And I don't doubt you will be seeing me more often."
Arilyn glanced up from the potatoes she had been cutting. "Oh, that's good to hear."
"Is it really? I am glad of it." Jupiter observed her as she flicked her eyes down shyly, taking another sip from her goblet. The way Arilyn continued to avoid his gaze, he had doubts as to whether she was actually aware of Dommiel's plans for her. "Have you not been told of the circumstances?"
Arilyn cocked her head to the side. "Which circumstances might those be?"
Jupiter flashed her another winning smile. "It is possible that we may be betrothed."
"Pardon?" Arilyn inquired, as though she might have misheard, a confused expression coming over her face.
"One moment." Dommiel stood, glancing over at his sister and Jupiter. Merridy cut slowly at her meat, sensing an ulterior motive. "Lords and ladies of the court. King Farlan, might I have the permission to make an announcement?"
Farlan arched an eyebrow curiously, but waved his assent. "By all means, proceed."
All eyes were on Dommiel now, which was exactly how he had intended it to be. Merridy glanced up from her plate, noticing Jupiter smiling in a pleased way. There was no doubt in her mind that both he and Dommiel had planned something. Arilyn looked carefully at her brother, wondering what he was going to say.
"I am pleased to announce to you all the engagement of my sister, Arilyn Rhindal, to Jupiter Dolorin. As of tonight, the pair is formally betrothed."
Chalix leaned back in his seat, a smirk playing about the corners of his lips. "Well said, Lord Dommiel."
Merridy glanced between Jupiter and Arilyn. Her cousin appeared content, but although Arilyn's expression didn't change, when she looked over at Merridy there was slight shock visible in her blue eyes. Dommiel smiled and picked up his goblet, raising it in a toast.
"My best to the new pair."
Farlan blinked a few times, as if still comprehending, then raised his own goblet. "Congratulations, Jupiter and Arilyn."
"Yes, indeed, congratulations!" Chalix exclaimed from his place, with the air of someone who had already consumed too much wine.
"Oh please." Jupiter laughed and modestly waved a hand. "Let another night be about Arilyn and I, this is for my dear cousin and Lord Dommiel."
Dommiel chuckled and then turned his attention back on his betrothed, reaching a hand out to her.
"Now, that dance?"
Merridy reluctantly took Dommiel's hand, seeing no other choice. She had resigned herself to the fact that it grew hard to resist him. He pulled her to her feet and led her out to where the others were dancing in front of the hearth, roaring with a blazing fire. She followed hesitantly, aware that a dance would give him an excuse to be free with his hands.
"Aren't you happy for my sister?" Dommiel asked, putting an arm around her waist to draw her close, "And for us?"
"I am very happy for Arilyn and Jupiter," Merridy replied, carefully avoiding the second question as she reluctantly put her arms around Dommiel's neck. She didn't meet his gaze when he smirked down at her.
"What of us?"
Merridy thought carefully on her words. A young woman she recognized vaguely was whispering to her partner and glancing across at them, no doubt voicing her opinions on the soon-to-be-married couple.
"I don't really care much for my own duty."
"A duty?" Dommiel inquired, mocking disbelief, "Is that all you see me as being?"
"Well…" Merridy knew it would be no good to lie. "Yes."
"I'm hurt." Dommiel pulled her closer, so that she was pressed tighter against him, much to her discomfort. "You might be more open to the idea."
The words came flooding out before Merridy could stop them. "You know what I think of you."
Anger flashed momentarily across Dommiel's gaze. Merridy knew that he would not dare strike her in public, yet with Dommiel, there was never any telling what he would do. It was gone before she could even think to comment on it.
"Word yourself carefully," he warned.
She gazed brazenly up at him, being completely indifferent to the fact that she was only five foot seven to his six foot three.
"I am not afraid of you."
"Perhaps you should learn to be," Dommiel leaned in close to whisper, his lips nearly touching her ear.
Merridy tensed up and tried to draw back a little, disliking his close proximity, but Dommiel merely tightened his grip so that she couldn't slip out. She glared up at him, loathing his arrogance and the fact that she could do nothing about it. She was the Princess, yet really, she held so little power.
"What do you want?"
"A dance with my lovely bride-to-be?" Dommiel feigned an air of innocence.
"I didn't mean that." She shook her head. "I mean, why are you intent on marrying me?"
He looked down at her, and she felt like he could see right through her. It sent unpleasant shivers running down her spine.
"Well, why wouldn't I be, sweet Merridy?"
Her anger flared. She had no doubts in her mind – and even if she did, Chalix would have corrected them. Once Merridy married Dommiel, she would be his entirely. Almost akin to a possession. There would be nothing she could do then to defy him.
"Princess to you."
He smiled tolerantly. "Princess."
Merridy wrenched free of his grasp. She didn't care what anyone else might think. She already felt that Dommiel was suffocating her. He frowned and reached out to pull her back. Farlan seemed to have noticed the commotion, for he stood with a baffled expression on his face, clearly beyond comprehending what was going on.
"Merridy? Are you quite alright?"
"I thank you for your concern, Farlan," Merridy replied, quickly regaining her composure as she turned to face her oldest brother. "I just need some fresh air. If you'll excuse me."
She turned on her heel and walked outside into the courtyard gardens. Farlan watched his sister go and retook his seat. Chalix had watched the whole affair with a smirk plastered across his face.
"Troublesome girl," he remarked.
Farlan raked a hand through his dark hair. "I suppose it's just stress."
Dommiel stood where he was for a few moments as Merridy forsook the warmth and light of the banquet hall for the near darkness outside. Once several seconds had passed, he weaved his way through the crowd and followed her.
Arilyn looked down at her linked hands, not quite sure what she was thinking. She certainly hadn't expected her brother to announce her betrothal to Jupiter. Of course, it made sense – it was another link into the royal family, and at sixteen she would be expected to marry soon in any case. She only wished that Dommiel had informed her beforehand, although it would go against the grain of who he was if he had.
"Arilyn?" Jupiter's voice was gentle as he observed her. His eyes searched her, as if he could possibly find the answer to his tentative question written across her face. "Are you not pleased?"
She lightly bit her lip before looking up and replying. "Oh, it's not that! I'm just…surprised."
Jupiter smiled wryly. "He didn't tell you, I take it."
"He really didn't." Arilyn laughed mirthlessly and shook her head. It didn't surprise her – Dommiel had raised her to learn her place, and as a woman, that place was not high. She did what her older brother asked of her, whether she willed it or not. Arilyn was aware that she had no say in the man she married…but of course, Dommiel did. "I thought he might tell me before announcing if I was betrothed or not."
"Perhaps it's a pleasant sort of surprise," Jupiter suggested, his hazel eyes still searching her. He seemed to be trying to get through to her. It could have been worse, she supposed. There were men far less kind and less handsome than Jupiter that she could have been betrothed to.
Arilyn nodded and bit her lip. "Oh yes, very pleasant."
"You don't seem so certain," Jupiter remarked, his sharp eyes picking up on how she avoided his gaze and seemed distant. She seemed to be avidly watching the couples dancing near the hearth – the Princess and Dommiel included. It was difficult to miss them, as the blonde man was very tall, and the emeralds of Merridy's tiara glittered in the light.
Arilyn looked up and smiled a little hesitantly. "I am, just as I said, surprised."
"Of course." Jupiter nodded and picked up the pitcher in the middle of the table. Alcohol soothed the nerves, he found. He had been a rather quiet boy, but as the years passed and his tolerance for wine grew, he found himself becoming far more social. "Another wine, perhaps?"
"Thank you, that would be good." Arilyn watched him as he poured the wine into her goblet, handing it to her. Dommiel had only recently allowed her to partake of wine, being quite strict about matters such as alcohol when it came to his wide-eyed sister. "What of you, Lord Jupiter. How do you feel about our…new circumstances?"
Jupiter's smile seemed genuine. "I am pleased about it."
"When did my brother speak of this to you?" Arilyn inquired. She knew better than to think Jupiter was unaware of the situation when Dommiel had announced it. Of course her brother would have sought out Jupiter, spoken with him about the matter. It just so happened that neither of them had thought to inform her, because marriage was simply her duty.
"Perhaps a week or so past." Jupiter regarded her carefully. "He said nothing to you of this?"
Arilyn shook her head. "Not a word."
"That's odd." Jupiter frowned in consideration. "I would have thought you would be the first person to tell."
"As did I…" Arilyn murmured into her cup. Dommiel knew that she would never object, so why hadn't he mentioned Jupiter? It was a far better match than, say, the Crown Prince…but Dommiel would never allow her to marry Chalix, for he did not want her higher in the ranks of power than he was about to become.
"Perhaps you'd like to dance?" Jupiter suggested, a winning smile playing about his lips, causing Arilyn to offer an answering smile.
"That would be nice."
Jupiter stood and took her hand, leading her over to where several couples were already dancing. Arilyn followed, giving Merridy a concerned look as the older girl passed her by. Jupiter engaged her attention by putting an arm around her waist, causing her to put a hand lightly on his shoulder. She felt a little uncomfortable at the close proximity, but supposed she would probably have to get used to it.
"So how well do you get along with your brother?" Jupiter inquired.
"He's all I have," Arilyn responded, deliberately avoiding answering the question. She and Dommiel…well yes, he was all that she had. However, he was also the sort who would only use her for his own gain, even though she was his little sister. Sometimes she envied how Farlan babied Merridy, treated her with true affection.
"Ah, yes." Jupiter nodded. "I know what it's like to be without parents."
"I…I'm sorry for what happened to them," Arilyn blurted, more out of practise than anything else.
"Oh, it's alright." Jupiter waved a hand. "We all lose people."
"I suppose that's true in both our families…" Arilyn admitted. She had only been twelve years old when she had been left in the care of her brother. It had been four years since then, but it still hurt when she thought about her parents and how much she missed them.
"My royal cousins have this issue too, unfortunately," Jupiter admitted with a sad smile. The previous King, Leonidas, had been lost to the siblings some three years past. It had been an event mourned throughout the entire realm, despite the fact that Jupiter himself had held little love for his uncle.
"Well, it was all under similar timing," Arilyn remarked, "At least it's no family curse on either of our sides."
"That's true." Jupiter twirled her. He didn't have Dommiel's muscular frame, and found that for a slender man, dancing was quite a bit easier. The blonde man was used to a sword or a bow, not spinning a woman in circles. "You have known my cousins for some time though, have you not?"
"I have." Arilyn spun back into his arms. "Merridy – I mean, the Princess – especially."
Jupiter smiled. "Ah yes, the baby of the family."
"She and I are close, but I must confess…" Arilyn regarded him with rather curious blue eyes. She knew little about Jupiter and they had only met a scarce few times before now. "I know you least out of the Dolorin family."
Jupiter winked at her. "Perhaps I am the most evasive."
Arilyn couldn't help but laugh. "Well, I suppose we shall be getting to know one another a bit more now."
"I shall be looking forward to it," Jupiter remarked, watching with a slightly concerned expression as she looked down towards her feet. He was certainly glad that she was not fiery Merridy, to object strongly to issues that should have been none of a woman's concern. "What is the matter?"
"Oh, nothing!" Arilyn quickly looked back up at him, hoisting what she hoped would be a convincing smile across her features. "I'm alright."
"You seem distracted." Jupiter raised his eyebrows. "Are you upset?"
"I am," Arilyn replied, before mortification coursed through her and she immediately amended herself with a soft laugh. "Not upset! Distracted. I fear it's all just a bit…much to take in."
"I suppose it's a short timeframe," Jupiter admitted, "Dommiel and Merridy have been betrothed for five years."
"When are we to be married?" Arilyn inquired. She was not altogether excited by the prospect, but she would not dread the wedding as Merridy did her own. Jupiter seemed a kind, jovial young man – far different to her brother. She wondered how they could possibly be friends.
"Within the year, I should expect."
"Oh." Arilyn was a little taken aback. She had not expected it to be quite that soon. Perhaps when she was Merridy's age, or a little older…but then, Dommiel had never been a patient man. Now that he was gaining the Princess as his wife, he was clearly anxious to have his sister tied to another man. "Rather soon."
"Yes." Jupiter grinned at her. "I look forward to it."
Arilyn bit her lip lightly and nodded. She didn't want to lie, but at the same time, what was the truth? She had no desire to marry soon. It seemed that everything had become a rush, what with her brother marrying Merridy within the month and now her own betrothal.
"As do I, of course."
Jupiter watched her critically. She was a pretty little thing, almost like a china doll in some ways. Fragile. She also seemed rather nervous about the whole thing, although of course Dommiel would have raised her to expect that one day she would be married.
"You seem uncertain."
She smiled wryly. "I did only discover this tonight. But, I'm sure that things will perhaps get less…awkward by then."
"I hope so. You are indeed a lovely young lady." Jupiter's words caused Arilyn to flush delicately, and he smiled. Although a noblewoman, she was more…well, virtuous than most. "Do I embarrass you?"
"You just give such compliments with ease," Arilyn confessed. She was not used to people thinking she was pretty. After all, most of the time she was in the company of the Princess, who was often said to be a radiant beauty.
"Do you deny it is the truth?" Jupiter inquired, raising his eyebrows.
Arilyn inclined her head. "I do considering others present tonight."
"Which others might these be?" Jupiter asked, still looking curious.
"Oh no, I was speaking of the King." Arilyn quickly put a hand over her mouth. Dommiel did not like her joking and so she believed that it had been horrendously unacceptable, especially considering Jupiter was her future husband. However, he merely laughed and she found the relief flooding into her system made her feel slightly weak.
"Ah, a jester! Well, Merridy is fair, but I find you to be more so."
Arilyn smiled slightly. "I must disagree."
"That is a matter of opinion," Jupiter reminded her, observing her critically, "And now you have mine."
"Well, I thank you for it, however it may differ from standard belief." Arilyn had always been taught to be gracious when she was complimented, however it did not happen often. Dommiel was the sort who would talk her down rather than praising her.
Jupiter looked surprised. "From your own belief?"
"Mine, my brother's, the court's." Arilyn had often listened to her brother obsessing over Merridy, not to mention other young men. They flattered the Princess endlessly, but she always accepted their praise with a cool smile and a word of thanks. Merridy did not believe what they said was true, for she had been born into flattery.
"Your brother just wants Merridy." Jupiter shrugged. It had been evident for some time that Dommiel grew impatient about the upcoming wedding. His interest in the Princess had lately morphed from purely political to…something else. "As for the rest of the court? They tell the Princess what she wants to hear."
Arilyn's smile grew warmer. "You are very kind."
"Just speaking my truth, Lady Arilyn." Jupiter mocked a bow, which caused a genuine laugh from her. She supposed she should be grateful for him, rather than an old man who sweated easily, or who was fat. Jupiter was young and handsome, and despite Merridy's guarded opinions of him, he seemed kind.
"Oh please, stop it."
"Why?" Jupiter questioned, a grin playing about his lips.
"Just…" Arilyn couldn't think of a proper reason. Perhaps it was because she was so unused to flattery that it embarrassed her when she was complimented. Dommiel would certainly never say anything positive about her, not when he was too concentrated on the brunette beauty he would soon be wed to. "Please?"
"If you insist." The dance finished, Jupiter took Arilyn's hand lightly in his own. "Would you care to sit back down?"
"Perhaps." Arilyn cast around for her friend. She had noticed the Princess storm outside, but had been too busy with Jupiter's charms to see that she had not yet returned. "Merridy still hasn't returned…"
Jupiter waved a careless hand. "I'm sure she is off sneaking time with her betrothed."
Arilyn frowned slightly as she noted that her brother was also not present. No doubt the Princess had ventured outside to get air – and Dommiel had followed her. Merridy wouldn't have realised that her chance to escape, to be free of the prying eyes and whispers of the court, would only provide her betrothed with an advantage. An unpleasant chill crawled up Arilyn's spine.
"Yes, I suppose."
"Would you like wine?" Jupiter inquired, seeming to sense her discomfort. "Or another dance?"
"Perhaps a dance?" Arilyn suggested. She didn't want to think about Merridy, or the attention that Dommiel was no doubt forcing upon her. "If you wish it."
Jupiter pulled her close. "I wish it very much."
Arilyn had to put her arms around his neck for this dance, making them that much closer to one another. Jupiter smiled at this and she looked up at him. There was no doubting that he was good-looking, in a boyish sort of way. However, what did Jupiter think? He was being nothing if not polite, but surely there were far more appealing women in court.
"You truly don't mind being betrothed to me?"
"Of course not!" Jupiter sounded almost offended that she would even ask. "Young, beautiful, what more could I ask for?"
Arilyn glanced around, noting several other pretty women dancing with their respective partners. "You could no doubt have any lady in this room."
"Ah yes, but it's still you I want," Jupiter responded, tipping her another wink.
"This arrangement, my brother's idea?" Arilyn inquired. She got the feeling that Jupiter had not approached Dommiel for her hand, otherwise she no doubt would have noticed his interest long before now. Dommiel's involvement in arranging her betrothal made her a little uneasy, although it was expected.
Jupiter nodded. "He thought it was wise."
"Hmm, alright." Arilyn looked a little distant and Jupiter found himself wondering about her once more.
"You don't trust his decisions?" he inquired tentatively.
"Of course I do," Arilyn replied fervently, before wondering if she was reciting an automatic response, "He's my brother."
"Sibling love…" Jupiter shook his head. As an only child, he had never really been able to comprehend the deep bond between siblings. There were his cousins, but it was not the same. "Never really understood it myself."
"It's hard to explain," Arilyn confessed, "Perhaps it's similar between cousins?"
"Hmm…probably." Jupiter knew that he was close with Chalix, even with Farlan to an extent. He and Merridy had got along well when they were younger, but as time passed the tomboy was tamed and she had blossomed into a young woman. He had not managed to understand her then. "I trust my cousins to an extent."
"No more than that?" Arilyn sounded a little surprised.
"Well, you can never trust someone too much," Jupiter informed her, his tone all seriousness now.
"That's true. But I guess…he's not just my brother, he's all I have had since the age of twelve." She lightly bit the corner of her lip. The memory of her parents' deaths – and Dommiel's subsequent complete control over Arilyn – was not a memory she liked recalling. "I suppose that's why I trust him."
"That's true." Jupiter offered her a smile, indicating that his joviality had once more returned to him. "He must think highly of you if he wants to marry you into the royal family."
Arilyn smiled wryly, not really believing that was the case. "He must."
"I think highly of you too," Jupiter remarked, causing her to laugh a little. This was the first time they had met properly. Yes, they had exchanged words in the past, but Jupiter spent far more time with Dommiel than he did with Arilyn.
"Lord Jupiter, we seldom see one another."
Jupiter's expression was knowing. "Ah, but I have heard much from dear cousin."
She shook her head, but couldn't quite overcome her buzz of happiness. "That's cheating."
"Does she never speak of me at all?" Jupiter inquired, raising his eyebrows almost expectantly.
"Hmm, maybe," Arilyn responded enigmatically. She was aware that Jupiter and Merridy did not always get along.
"Good things, I hope," Jupiter commented, taking her hand and leading her back across to the table when their dance was finished. His tone was light, but in truth he was very curious as to what Merridy might be saying about him. It was always good to have the upper hand when it came to information.
"But of course." Arilyn saw that it was better to be diplomatic, however she did not count on Jupiter probing further.
Arilyn smiled tolerantly as she sat down. "Oh you know, just gossip and such. Court talk, you know the like."
"Oh." Jupiter didn't sound very pleased at that. He knew that women liked to chatter about inane things, like their dress or hair. If he was spoken about in such a context it would have been a passing comment rather than anything of note. "Fantastic…"
"Nothing…bad, I promise," Arilyn wasn't sure how best to skirt around the issue. Sometimes Merridy might compliment her cousin, but other times she could be in a foul mood and say some very unladylike things about him.
"Then do tell," Jupiter insisted, pouring himself another goblet of wine.
Arilyn shook her head slowly, unwilling to betray Merridy's trust. "Ladies are sworn to secrecy on such things, I'm afraid."
"Oh dear." Jupiter glanced across at her consideringly. "Now I wonder if it was such a good decision to put you as the Princess's lady-in-waiting."
"Why is that?" Arilyn inquired.
"Gossiping can never be a good thing…" Jupiter trailed off meaningfully. Of course he knew that ladies liked to talk, but it was what they talked about that concerned him.
"It's fairly informative," Arilyn remarked, swilling her own wine. "If you have the right information."
Merridy seated herself on a bench in the courtyard gardens, breathing in deeply. The torches flickered dimly as the sky darkened, but she felt at peace in the wan candlelight. Sometimes, there was nothing more she wanted than to be alone. Being alone was easy, because she didn't have to have a care in what she said or did. It was when she was around other people that she had to fight back the desire to scream.
"Are you alright, Princess?" It was Dommiel, with a slightly mocking edge to his tone as he crossed towards her. She glowered up at him, and if he had paid any heed to her gaze he might have left.
"Don't play games with me, Dommiel," she said wearily, running a hand through her brown hair.
"Oh?" Dommiel sat down beside her, in closer proximity than Merridy was comfortable with. "What game am I playing?"
She shifted away from him. Dommiel's presence made her uncomfortable, especially here and now. They were alone, and he did have a habit of touching her inappropriately in similar circumstances in the past. However, she knew that if she ventured back inside, he would follow, and she would be even more helpless there where she had to put up with his advances.
"Pretending you care."
Dommiel took Merridy's hand in his. "Who says I'm pretending?"
She clenched her jaw. "Don't touch me."
"We're betrothed," Dommiel reminded her, as if she could forget, keeping his hand on hers. "It's natural to touch."
"I don't want you to touch me," Merridy spat the words, then immediately regretted them. She may be freer of voice outside with no one to hear her, but that didn't mean that Dommiel would take her words any more kindly.
"Have a care with how you speak," Dommiel warned her, "You are far too free with your words."
"And you are far too free with your hands," she shot back.
"A man can't touch his intended?" Dommiel trailed his hand higher up her arm, shifting closer to her. Merridy stiffened, but knew that there was nothing she could do about it. "That's the thing about you, Merridy. You're all talk. Nothing more."
She glared across at him. "And what are you then, if not the same?"
"I can act."
Dommiel leaned in and kissed Merridy, much to her disgust. She had been worried something like this would happen. She turned her face, breaking the contact. Her heart was hammering frantically in her chest, and her palms were clammy. Dommiel put a hand to her chin and turned her to face him.
"You can't fight this forever."
"Fight what?" Merridy asked, hating that she was being forced to stare right into his eyes. "I have no feelings for you."
"You can't fight me forever," Dommiel informed her. He reached out a hand as though to stroke her hair, instead winding it in gently. "Understand?"
Her green eyes narrowed. Dommiel's social station was lower than hers. In essence, she should be the one giving commands and not the other way around.
"I am not someone you can order around."
"But you are my betrothed." Dommiel tightened his grip in her hair, smiling as she winced and shifted uncomfortably. His message was starting to get through. He had the power, both physically and politically…at least, he would once they were married. He let his hand move to cup her cheek. "Just so we understand one another."
"I understand you hope to gain nothing but power," Merridy retorted coldly, disdain creeping into her tone.
Dommiel shrugged nonchalantly. "That's all anyone in this world wants."
"I don't want power," Merridy murmured, more to herself than her betrothed, "Or marriage. Or children."
He glanced at her, critically assessing her. "What do you want?"
Merridy thought on that for a moment. It was a question nobody had really asked her, because nobody ever cared. Dommiel didn't, he was just curious to know.
"The freedom to choose for myself, not that it matters."
Dommiel pondered this. "That in itself is still a kind of power."
"Your words don't fool me," Merridy assured him. He might hiss ideas into the ears of her brothers like a sly snake, trying to play the advisor like his father before him, but Merridy had never trusted him.
"You should stop fooling yourself with your own, and your hopeless dreams," he retorted.
She lifted her chin. She knew her next words were lies, but it just felt good to say them. "You will gain no power from marrying me."
"I beg to differ, my dear." Dommiel smirked and tucked a lock of her hair back behind her ear. "But you? Freedom is not something you will gain through anything."
"I am my brother's heir after Chalix," Merridy reminded him, acknowledging that she must have power of some kind in that position. "Not you, not even after you marry me. Then Jupiter after me."
"I still have power," Dommiel reminded her with a dark smile. "I'll always have power."
Merridy's eyes hardened. "Not without a line to follow you."
"That is something that I know for certain will be resolved in time," Dommiel's smile became lecherous as his eyes roved over her. "In the near future, even."
She shook her head stubbornly. "I want to wait."
Dommiel shrugged. She was a woman. She might be the Princess, but once she was his, he would do what he liked with her – whether she desired it or not. It seemed a lesson Merridy was yet to learn.
"What you want doesn't particularly matter."
"I will tell my brothers," Merridy blurted, flushing at how childish her words sounded.
Dommiel laughed aloud at that. "You think Chalix will raise a hand to help you? And by the time it is to happen, it will be too late for our dear King to do anything."
Merridy tugged away from him and went to stand over at the ledge, looking out over the city. The castle was set on a hill and she could see everything from where she stood. Guards weaved through the streets, and the last of the people were making their way back home. Beyond the city walls stretched an unknown wilderness, in the distance a forest that Merridy wished she could disappear in forever.
Dommiel moved to stand behind her, resting his hands upon the ledge either side of her. Merridy was immediately uncomfortable, leaning forward over the ledge to distance herself more. He merely let his hands slip around her waist.
"Be careful, you may fall."
"Remove your hands," she ordered coldly.
"I have no need to," Dommiel replied simply.
Irritated, Merridy brushed his hands off her, but he just put them back around her waist again. His behaviour annoyed her.
"You would do well to behave like a gentleman," Merridy remarked, silently wishing that she could turn and claw at his face.
"How am I not?" Dommiel inquired.
She turned to face him, her back pressed uncomfortably against the hard brick mass of the ledge.
"Being too easy with your hands."
"We are soon to be wedded," Dommiel reminded her, putting his hands either side of her and leaning close, "I suggest it's something you become accustomed to."
Merridy tried to draw back, but couldn't really go any further. Panic was starting to creep into her now. Dommiel had her pinned and she knew that he was physically strong, as well as already being a lot bigger than her. He pressed himself closer still, so close that Merridy could feel his hot breath on her neck.
"You truly do look lovely tonight." He watched as she turned her face. "What? Don't like compliments?"
"I don't like your close proximity," Merridy admitted, although she knew it would do nothing but encourage him.
"Again, something you will have to get very used to," Dommiel informed her, before leaning even closer, "Here's another thing."
He put one arm around her waist to hook her closer, kissing her passionately. Merridy knew there was no point in trying to fight it. Perhaps if she surrendered, let him do what he wanted, it would be over more quickly. Dommiel pulled her tight against him, her soft curves pressed against his hard body, deepening the kiss. She remained still and after another few moments he pulled back a little.
"See, not so hard."
"Let me go!" Merridy exclaimed, twisting against him, which only prompted him to firm his hold on her.
"Give me a convincing reason to," Dommiel challenged.
"Because I want you to," Merridy declared. She was used to her word being obeyed, but as their wedding drew closer, Dommiel took liberties with her that he would never have dared to earlier on in their engagement.
"Mmm, not convincing enough," Dommiel replied, the hint of a laugh in his voice, "Not by a long shot."
"I will scream," Merridy promised fiercely.
Dommiel just pulled her to him and kissed her again. She desperately wanted to bite him, but knew that would not really help her situation. She struggled against him, trying in vain to break free.
"It's futile," Dommiel murmured softly when he drew back a bit again.
"Stop, please," Merridy protested.
He raised a critical eyebrow. "Oh, but I have no incentive to."
Merridy pushed at his chest, but it was like trying to move a boulder. Dommiel smirked, clearly amused by her efforts, and she felt hot tears beginning to well in her eyes. Immediately, she was ashamed of herself. She should not be nearly crying over so little a thing. Perhaps it was how Dommiel was so able to assert his power over her.
"Let. Me. Go."
He gently traced a hand down her cheek. "Merridy, why do you have to try and stop me at every turn?"
She forced herself not to flinch at his touch. "Because you try and force me into things."
"I'm well within my rights to wish those things with my intended," Dommiel informed her, his eyes raking over her body.
Merridy bit her lip. "Step away from me."
"You won't be able to hide away forever," Dommiel assured her, however he still made no move to step away from her.
"I still…have some time before we marry." It was two weeks, as Merridy knew. Only two weeks before she belonged to Dommiel. The thought terrified her.
"Time that's ticking away," he reminded her.
"Dommiel, step away," Merridy repeated, her tone growing more urgent as he seemed unwilling to listen to her. He moved back a fraction, but not quite enough to be out of her space. "Step back, or I swear on the Sceptre, I will scream."
The Sceptre. An object missing for three years now. It had been stolen from the Gifted Ones, when their Temple had been attacked in apparent retribution for the previous King's sudden death. It was an artifact of ancient power, given to the royal line centuries ago. The good King had seen fit to give it back once the Gifted Ones had assisted in ridding a foreign threat…but in the slaughter three years ago known as the Fall, it had seemingly vanished.
Dommiel scoffed. "Swearing on a lost thing doesn't do a lot."
"Just let me have some space," Merridy begged, clearly working hard to retain her calm.
"Ask me nicely," Dommiel commanded.
At first she was affronted. She was the Princess, she did not take orders from him. Then again, her supposed power hadn't worked so far in making him keep his distance. She swallowed her pride and spoke the words.
"Step away, please."
Dommiel pressed another kiss against her lips, then stepped back. Merridy quickly moved past him and the flickering candles, her hands fisted in the skirts of her dress as she made her way back inside, clearly rattled.
Chalix rolled his eyes as his sister made her reappearance. She appeared pale as a ghost and he had no doubt that she was being stubbornly childish about Dommiel's advance. Farlan pushed himself to his feet and crossed over to his little sister, looking worried. Of course – trust the benevolent King to show all too much concern for Merridy's feelings.
"Merridy, that fresh air doesn't look like it helped you much."
"I'm fine, Farlan," Merridy insisted, although when Arilyn glanced across at her friend she knew that the Princess was lying.
"Are you sure?" Farlan persisted.
"Oh…would you excuse me a moment?" Arilyn glanced at Jupiter.
He inclined his head. "Of course."
"Thank you." Arilyn walked over to Merridy, noting how her brother strode in moments after his betrothed, an all too smug expression across his face. "Princess, are you feeling tired?"
"I just want to rest," Merridy murmured, her green eyes flicking towards the ground. Arilyn took initiative and turned to face Farlan.
"My King, perhaps I should take her back to her room."
He nodded. "That looks to be a good idea. You'll feel better in the morning, sweet sister."
"Thank you all for the celebrations," Merridy said with a wan smile, before Arilyn took her arm and led her from the hall.
"Come on, Princess." Arilyn tugged her gently out, watching as Merridy bit her lip. Once they were away from the other, she immediately dropped the use of formal titles. "Merridy, what happened?"
"Nothing," Merridy replied all too quickly, "I…I'm just being stupid."
"Did…was it Dommiel?" Arilyn knew how her brother behaved around the Princess. When Merridy had developed curves at fourteen or fifteen, he had become all too interested in her. Recently, she was aware that he had begun kissing and touching her when others weren't around. When Merridy hesitated and nodded, a wave of pity came over her and she put her arm around her friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"It's no fault of yours," Merridy sounded defeated. "I suppose I'm just being childish."
"No, it's fair enough," Arilyn assured her, "He…Dom wants what he wants, and that's all he thinks of most of the time."
"I just wish it wasn't me," Merridy said softly.
"It will be okay." Arilyn's words were empty and she knew it. Two weeks from now, Merridy would belong to Dommiel. There was nothing that either of them could do about the matter.
"How so?" Merridy inquired, almost as if hoping that her friend could possibly know a way out.
"I…don't know." Arilyn bit her lip.
"I know he's handsome, and I know that's what a lot of women want," Merridy admitted almost reluctantly. "But…he's Dommiel."
"I know, but…he's not always." Arilyn didn't know if she was defending her brother or trying to soothe her friend. "He's not always so bad. Just…often."
"Often is bad enough," Merridy muttered. She thought about the times that Dommiel forced a kiss on her, or touched her inappropriately. It was always when no one else was around, so she could not complain to Farlan. There had never been any semblance of kindness that she had seen, just a man who knew that he would have what he wanted. She quickly changed to the topic. "So, you are engaged to my cousin."
"It would seem so." Arilyn sounded as though she was a little unsure.
"How do you feel about it?" Merridy inquired. "Honestly?"
"I really don't know." Arilyn knew that Merridy was perhaps one of the few people she could tell the truth, no matter what. It was nice to have a friend like that. "I mean, I know Jupiter somewhat, but not well."
"I suppose it could have been worse," Merridy said mildly.
Arilyn thought of Chalix and suppressed a shudder. "It could have been. What he's like?"
"He doesn't play with his swords like our brothers." Merridy was careful with her words. She had spoken of Jupiter around Arilyn before, but not ever really saying something of consequence. "But he does love his word games."
"That sounds like a nice change from Dommiel," Arilyn admitted.
Merridy considered her soon-to-be husband. "He's going to break me."
"He could never!" Arilyn exclaimed indignantly. "You're strong, Merridy."
The Princess gnawed at her lip. It was a daunting prospect, that Dommiel was going to have her – and her maidenhead – in around two weeks. She felt that she was suffocating, but knew that there was nothing she could do to help her breathe. Nothing except talk to Arilyn and hope her friend would understand.
"I don't know if I could be strong enough," Merridy said in a small voice.
"You can be, you're stronger than I," Arilyn insisted.
The Princess smiled wryly. "Hardly."
"Trust me," Arilyn said, returning the smile.
"You are strong." Merridy informed her, however she doubted her own resolve. "I just…let him do what he wants."
"It's hard for us," Arilyn agreed, "Against all of them."
"I try, but…" Merridy considered the issue of Dommiel. Gods, she knew that she could not even overpower Jupiter, and he did not possess anywhere near the same sort of physical strength as Dommiel. "He's a lot bigger than me. Stronger. And one day, I will be his, and I cannot escape it."
"But for now you're not his," Arilyn told her, wincing at her own words, "He doesn't have dominion over you."
"He will." Merridy's tone was bleak. "There will be nothing I can do. It's only two weeks now."
"That's two weeks still left free," Arilyn reminded her. She wanted Merridy to look at the positive, but admittedly there was very little light shining through the darkness she was confronted with.
"He still tries things," Merridy informed her, although what he did she didn't say. Arilyn didn't need to know the details of her brother's perversion.
"He's…" Arilyn made a face. "Well, he's Dommiel. He's used to getting what he wants, and doesn't like it when he doesn't."
Merridy walked into her room and sat down in front of her vanity. "He thinks I already belong to him."
"He's thought that since the two of you became engaged," Arilyn confessed, closing the door after herself.
"I was but a child then." Merridy picked up her brush and handed it to Arilyn, who obediently began to run it through the Princess's long, light brown hair.
"Which is why he only started acting like this after you grew up," Arilyn said rather grimly.
Merridy sighed heavily. "When did I grow up?"
"I'm not sure," Arilyn admitted, "It's hard for me to define when even I grew up. I wonder sometimes if it should be as looked forward to as others think."
"I wish I could never grow up," Merridy murmured, although she was somewhat lulled by the soft, rhythmic movement of her hair being brushed.
"Being grown up, or being a child." Arilyn sighed. "Made no difference in my case."
Merridy frowned slightly. "What do you mean?"
Arilyn shrugged lightly, pulling the brush through the last few tangles and setting it aside. "I don't know that my life was defined so much by the shift from child to adult, as opposed to my parents passing."
"Oh." Merridy bit her lip. "Yes, that's always hard."
"I know you understand," Arilyn said, sitting down across from the Princess. "It's why I can talk to you."
"Losing Father was hard." The words were not an untruth. It had been hard, but in all honesty, Merridy had never mourned the passing of her father. It was more the transition, the fact that it had become Farlan to care for her. "I never knew my mother. Chalix loves reminding me of that."
"Chalix is no more than spiteful," Arilyn said a little sharply, before she winced. "Sorry, my tongue escapes me."
"It's fine." Merridy waved a careless hand. "I have to agree with you there."
"I wonder if older brothers are a curse for every girl with them," Arilyn said quietly. Dommiel was not often kind to her. He would strike her if she spoke back or did something wrong. Her lessons in life had been hard learned.
"Farlan is kind of heart, but I fear it blinds him to the flaws of the others," Merridy said. Her brother had not yet taken a wife and this concerned her. It meant that, should Farlan die, Chalix would ascend the throne.
"He should find himself a wife to balance that," Arilyn said, echoing the Princess's thoughts, "Or else we are stuck with Chalix forever second in line."
Merridy laughed lightly. "I fear he is looking for the perfect woman."
"Well then I fear he will be a long time in the searching," Arilyn replied. There were many pretty women in court, but many were social climbers. Farlan did not need someone bent on deception. He needed a wife that he could love and trust.
"That's the problem." Merridy raked a hand through her now silky hair. "He is already twenty-four."
"I can't see the Crown Prince marrying," Arilyn said thoughtfully. Merridy agreed – her brother hated women far too much to take a wife. "I suppose if the King doesn't, it will fall to your own children."
Merridy winced, not only because of the fact that they would be Dommiel's children also, but because she knew how her cousin would take this.
"Of course, Jupiter would love that…"
Arilyn sighed. "Why is it that all men want power, but so few deserve it?"
"I don't know," Merridy stared out the window into the darkness of the night. "What is so fascinating about being King?"
"The power," Arilyn admitted wryly, "Not that they know what they'd do with it."
"It's tiring," Merridy sounded almost frustrated. "I see how weary it makes Farlan, they couldn't handle it."
Arilyn scoffed derisively. "Try telling them that."
"They think they are so powerful," Merridy mused. In reality, they were all just little boys, fighting to be the best. The one man who did have power was the one who was oblivious to just how much others would take to achieve it.
"Because in a lot of ways, they are," Arilyn informed her, "But that blinds them to when they are not."
"They are arrogant, all of them," Merridy said contemptuously.
Arilyn sighed heavily and laid out a nightgown for the Princess. "They are and that only gives them more imagined power."
"Sometimes I truly don't understand them." Merridy started to loosen her dress. Now all she wanted was to sleep, to forget Dommiel's lips on her own.
"I stopped trying long ago." Arilyn crossed over and helped the Princess as she slid off her dress and tugged at the ties of her corset.
"Perhaps it would be easier if we were born male," Merridy suggested, something she had personally considered countless times.
"Perhaps," Arilyn agreed, her tone somewhat grim, "But I should hate to be like them."
Dommiel walked down and took a seat beside Chalix, raking a hand through his blonde hair. He enjoyed toying with Merridy, but sometimes the girl's spirit had a way of wearing him out. Perhaps he should be glad that his betrothed and his sister had left the celebrations.
"Ever the hypochondriac."
Chalix leaned back in his chair. "What happened now?"
"Just being difficult, as usual," Dommiel sighed, pouring himself some wine and leaning back as well, "The sooner this wedding happens, the better."
"What did you do, say you wanted to bed her or something?" Chalix inquired. As always, the Crown Prince was very blunt about the matter. He cared nothing for what Dommiel did to his little sister, and that showed through his abrupt words. "She truly is a child."
"I only kissed her." Dommiel rolled his eyes, taking a sip of his wine. "Really. You'd think I'd forced myself on her from the reaction."
Chalix chuckled, unperturbed by such a notion. "Isn't that the next logical step in any case?"
Dommiel smirked. "But of course."
"Two weeks and you'll have her regardless," Chalix reminded him. In honesty, he would be glad of it. His sister had always been rather troublesome. She obeyed when she was told to, most of the time. But she questioned things too much, was too curious. It would be good to have someone else to deal with her.
"Oh, I'll have her alright." Dommiel grinned darkly. "She'll be mine then, completely and solely."
Chalix laughed and took a sip from his cup. "You've wanted to bed her for how long now?"
Dommiel chuckled along with him. "Since she got that woman's body."
"I heard woman's body." Jupiter, ever notorious when it came to seducing women, came and sat on the Crown Prince's other side. "I'm interested."
"In my sister's, no doubt," Dommiel said casually, swilling his wine. He had noticed the way that Jupiter had been flirting shamelessly with Arilyn, although he was very good at charming women. "I was speaking of your cousin's."
Jupiter laughed. "I can't object to that."
"Well, you'd better not, she's got no other use." Dommiel saw his younger sister as a pawn, something he could use to gain more political power for himself. By marrying her off to Jupiter, he had yet another foothold in the royal family.
"Harsh words…" Jupiter tutted.
"So they are," Dommiel confessed, "Do you disagree? My my, have you fallen for her charms already?"
Chalix couldn't help but smirk. "I doubt it's my sisters charms you're interested in, Dommiel…"
"Arilyn is a pretty thing," Jupiter said with a smile.
"It certainly isn't, she has far more…eye-pleasing traits." Dommiel said in response to Chalix's wry comment, before turning to Jupiter. "She is, I suppose, lucky thing for her."
Chalix swilled his wine. "By eye-pleasing traits, you mean breasts."
"Chalix!" Jupiter objected, although he was grinning, "Why so blunt?"
"Wine, I think you'll find is the answer to your question," Dommiel replied, glancing at the Crown Prince, "And an over-fondness for it."
Chalix shrugged. "What can I say? Yet you did not object."
"He's a man," Jupiter slapped Dommiel's arm in a friendly manner. "Of course he didn't."
Dommiel laughed at that. "My thoughts exactly, Lord Jupiter."
"You'll see enough of her on your wedding night," Chalix informed Dommiel in an almost bored way. The thought of his sister losing her innocence didn't affect him in the slightest. It happened to all women when they married, why should it become a big deal because it was Merridy?
Dommiel's smirk was dark. "A prospect I am greatly looking forward to."
"Take your wine and go!" Jupiter exclaimed, half-laughing, half-serious. He shook his head as Chalix sipped his wine and then offered some to him. "I would rather my tongue not be loose as yours."
"That is a wise choice," Dommiel nodded, unable to suppress a grin, "Though it would take a while to reach a Crown Prince level of drunkenness."
Chalix leaned back in his chair, his green eyes glittering with amusement. "I could have you hung, but unfortunately, you're my friend and my sister's betrothed."
"It would cause an awful displacement in court," Dommiel added, leaning towards the Crown Prince with a challenge sparkling in his eyes. "Tell you what, wait until the next tourney and try to beat me."
"In archery, or with a sword?" Chalix inquired, raising an eyebrow.
Dommiel smirked. "Sword."
"Now that's hardly fair." Chalix shook his head. Dommiel was well-known in Chattel for being one of the finest swordsmen at court. "You just want to show off your muscles to my sister."
"Fine then, the joust?" Dommiel offered, "Even territory for the both of us, and no skin display for the swooning ladies."
Chalix nodded. The joust was a good playing field, as this was one area where he and Dommiel were evenly matched.
"Ah, fair game, my friend."
"Jupiter," Dommiel turned to the royal cousin, "Feel like throwing yourself in this round?"
"Joust and the tourney are next week, to celebrate your upcoming wedding," Jupiter reminded him after a sip of wine. "Definitely cannot become a warrior in such a short time."
"I see." Dommiel nodded. It was common knowledge that Jupiter was far more interested in the game of politics than wielding a sword or a bow. "Rather sit by my sister in the lists?"
Jupiter inclined his head. "But of course."
"Now, what is the bet my dear sister does not come just to spite you?" Chalix asked of Dommiel, cutting into his carrots.
"Oh, she'll come," Dommiel replied confidently, "I'll make her. And as back-up, I'll have my own sister make her. I don't know why you're bothering with charming Arilyn, Jupiter, she's easy enough to lead."
Jupiter smirked. "I don't have the resistance issue that you do."
Dommiel grimaced and took a gulp of his wine. Merridy would object strongly, but she did possess the same hot temper as Chalix, although she did have more control over hers. However, that temper was something that would need to be quashed.
Chalix grinned. "Don't look so pained."
"Well, it's not like her resistance gets her anywhere." Dommiel had the advantage in every aspect apart from station, but that would soon be resolved when he married Merridy. He was physically stronger, far better in the game of politics. She didn't stand a chance.
Chalix chuckled dryly. "As pathetic as it is."
"It truly is," Dommiel agreed.
Chalix swilled his wine. "Merridy has always been spineless."
"She likes to think otherwise," Dommiel remarked, "As if it will give her some kind of power."
"That's because she's stupid," Chalix replied boredly.
"Oh, it's not that." Dommiel was not unwise enough to believe that Merridy was stupid. She was clever, but he was even more so. "But she's nowhere near as smart as she'd like to believe."
Jupiter smirked. "She's smarter than you, Chalix."
The Crown Prince appeared insulted. "I highly doubt that."
"Well, whoever is smarter, it doesn't matter in the end," Dommiel waved a careless hand. "She's still just a woman."
"Not even that," Chalix scoffed derisively, "A girl."
"Oh, I think her body begs to argue with your statement there," Dommiel commented with a suggestive smile.
Jupiter groaned loudly. "Please. What you do with my cousin's body is your business, not mine."
"What's the matter?" Dommiel laughed mockingly. "Shy about the subject?"
"I don't want to hear you lusting after her," Jupiter told him, taking a gulp of wine as if that could erase Dommiel's words.
"You're awfully defensive of your cousin," Dommiel noted, "Even her own brother doesn't have much of a problem."
"Well, that's because I am perhaps wiser in the ways of the world," Chalix drawled, shrugging carelessly. Jupiter may be a little more concerned about Merridy losing her maidenhead, but to him it was just a natural process. "A fuck is a fuck."
"Well said." Dommiel raised his cup to him. "I wonder if perhaps young Lord Jupiter is not all that knowledgeable on the subject."
"I have had women." Jupiter's hazel eyes narrowed. "What of you, Lord Dommiel, have you so much as touched a girl?"
"Oh, I've done more than touch." He might have been betrothed for five years, but he had started before he had been formally engaged to Merridy, and there hadn't exactly been much fun in the prospect of a twelve-year-old. "Far more."
Jupiter glanced at his cousin. "Are we counting whores?"
"If we don't, poor Chalix would lose half his numbers," Dommiel said, and it wasn't a lie. Chalix normally lay with whores because those were the women he could beat without consequence.
Chalix merely smirked. "And you would lose all of yours."
"I resent that implication!" Dommiel exclaimed, folding his arms. "Ask Lady Gianna."
Chalix snorted contemptuously. "That woman walks around with her legs spread."
"I'd list more," Dommiel assured them both, "But I don't feel like being challenged to a duel by a jealous husband."
"Oh dear," Jupiter said mildly, glancing consideringly at him, "Whatever would my sweet cousin think of this…"
"It wouldn't make a difference," Dommiel shrugged the matter off. Once he had Merridy he would have no need of bored noblewomen or pretty whores. "What would my little sister make of your own early blooming?"
Jupiter winked. "Didn't know I would be betrothed to her, or I would have been seeing her pretty face when I bedded women."
Chalix rolled his eyes and Dommiel raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, now who's being descriptive?"
"It's alright when it is not my cousin," Jupiter retorted, and then snickered. "Or were you seeing a twelve-year-old when you made love?"
Dommiel mocked offense. "I'll have you know my interest in Merridy was strictly political, until her breasts grew in."
Chalix chuckled, amused. "I don't doubt you'll fuck her for pleasure as well as sons."
"But of course, who wouldn't?" Dommiel inquired, ignoring how Jupiter grimaced at Chalix's words. In Dommiel's mind, there was no doubting that Merridy was a beautiful young woman. "Excluding the both of you and the King."
Chalix scoffed disbelievingly. "She's not that pretty."
"You just don't see it," Dommiel assured him, gulping down the last of his wine, "As you're her brother."