In my opinion, my cousin Aric looked every inch the king of Harat as the High Priest set the crown on his dark curls. The crown was a golden circlet, studded with diamonds and emeralds; it winked and glittered in the pale autumn sun. Aric's face was stern, noble, and statue-like. The ridiculous finery he wore – velvet that was cream and forest green, embroidered with gold thread – looked actually very natural on him; his eyes were lowered and his head bowed as he accepted the monarchy of his country.

Unfortunately, practically no one agreed with my opinion. One look at the stony faces and barely-concealed sneers all around me proved that.

As the priest finished up his rites, Aric stood up, looking much older than his mere eighteen years. He said something in a low voice to his attendant and turned to the people. Though I was on the dais along with the rest of the nobility, I had no doubt that his voice would resonate as clearly to the very back of the crowd.

"Citizens of Harat," he began in his deep voice – and I stopped paying attention. I watched his face for a while. He looked, as usual, calm, unruffled, and very well-behaved. I felt an unreasonable urge to giggle as I remembered how he had fallen off a tree last year and yelled bloody murder when I jumped also and landed on his arm; he was far from calm and unruffled then. I hurriedly pretended to cough violently and looked at the ground; my mother, standing next to me, pinched me warningly on the arm.

Deciding that watching Aric was not a good idea, I turned to the nobles standing so motionlessly. There was my father, looking bored as usual, and Leonus, Aric's younger brother, the same age as I. Leonus stood with his legs far apart and his hands held behind his back; he also looked bored, though he usually did, and the usual detached amusement that rested on his dark, handsome face was missing. I had an idea that he was deep in thought. My eyes traveled down the rest of the line.

All the other nobles were absolutely livid.

I suppose I could understand why. After all, when King Adalar passed away, any one of them could have become the heir to the throne, for Adalar had no children. In fact, the last month of his life, everyone had been hopeful that he would not name the heir at all, and there would be a civil war. Unfortunately for the ambitious nobility, Adalar named his sister's nephew – in this case, Aric – the heir. I was prepared to see some slightly upset emotions, and perhaps even jealousy.

What I wasn't prepared to see in the eyes of the people I had known my whole life was murder.