OKAY SO I AM GETTING A LATE START, I'VE HAD SOOOOO MUCH TO DO TODAY THAT ITS EATEN UP ALL MY TIME SO I AM GOING TO ATTEMPT TO PUT UP A FEW CHAPTERS!!
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Arya left Lumi in charge while she and Ihsan headed to the Fall Court to gain alliance from them. King Volc kindly welcomed them with open arms, bestowing gifts upon them as they arrived. Red Soldiers are gathered at his border as well, readying to attack once given the command so there is no time to waste. They need to reach an alliance sooner rather than later and then together they need to find a way to sway the Autumn Court to their side. An alliance that strong would make Kahlem question his current course of actions.
Arya, Ihsan and their protective detail are escorted to the council room where they eagerly await Oberon Volc’s presence. When he arrives Arya is pleasantly surprised. He’s tall with olive toned skin, a shaved head and arms with muscles bigger than her head. He looks more like a soldier than a King and his wife looks Amazonian.
“I must say, the rumors have not done you justice Queen Arya. You’re more beautiful than I expected,” Queen Aoki smiles, raking her eyes over Arya, completely ignoring Ihsan at her side. Arya swallows hard. She’s heard rumors that Queen Aoki prefers the company of women to men, including her own betrothed.
“As are you,” Arya smiles back, undressing the Queen with her eyes. She needs this alliance and if exploiting the Queens naughty side could give them that, then she’ll play the part.
“I assume King Rayne gave you our terms?” King Volc gets straight to the point.
“Yes, but there’s only one problem, you can’t have the Winter Court. I have plans for it.”
King Volc narrows his eyes. “Plans? What plans?”
“Plans to expand.”
“Then it seems we have a problem because I too wish to expand.”
“Which is why I will allow free trade and travel within the Winter Court for you only your Majesty,” Arya offers.
“Or I could elect to ally myself with the Summer Court, wipe you all off the Season’s Plane and take both the Winter Court and Seelie Court for myself.”
Arya scoffs, “You can try, but judging from our last battle you didn’t fare too well. And we both know King Kahlem Jarrah won’t give you either Court. He’ll take them for himself. And once he’s done with those, he’ll take the Fall Court from you as well.”
King Volc takes a deep breath and exhales weighing her words. Naturally he’s looking for ways to benefit from this alliance. “I can’t enter this alliance with nothing to gain.”
“Which is why I’m offering to allow you to have a governing interest in it. The Winter Court will be mine, but you’ll have a seat at the council table to make sure that the needs of the Fall Court are being met.”
“King Jarrah and Queen Grayson have controlling interest in the Winter Court. How do you plan to remove them?”
“I don’t but King Jarrah owes me a favor,” Arya smiles.
King Volc thinks on it for a moment then agrees. They both know allowing the Winter Court to fall back into Kahlem’s hands would be worse. Sharing it with Malich and his Queen would be the lesser of two evils.
“Very well then. We share the fate of the Fall Court once this battle is over. Tonight, we dance and dine,” King Volc inclines his head. Arya mimics his gesture and she and Ihsan are taken to their quarters.
It appears King Volc has a sense of humor. Arya and Ihsan have rooms with an adjoining door that doesn’t lock. Great. The last thing she needs is King Volc trying to play matchmaker. It’s no secret Ihsan is favored amongst the people to become her betrothed, only it’s not what she wants. Not that it matters much anymore. Malich is betrothed to Lizbet Grayson and King of the Winter Court with an heir on the way. He’s as good as gone and she can’t simply become his mistress. She’s a Queen now and her actions have consequences.
Glancing sidelong at Ihsan between rooms as he barks orders to his protective detail, Arya allows herself to contemplate a union between the two. It would strengthen both their kingdoms. He meets her gaze and for a moment they’re both suspended in that moment before she looks away.
As much as she deserves happiness, she can’t bring herself to leave Malich behind. Not even to save her kingdom. Evander moves to the door adjoining the two rooms and closes it. Arya’s grateful for the small mercy.
“You’re welcome.” He nods. “Get some rest. I’ll have guards posted outside your door and I’ll only be in the next room.”
Arya nods and waits for Evander to leave before pushing open the French doors leading to a large terrace. She’s not the only one who needs some air. The balcony wraps around both Arya’s and Ihsan’s room, and he too steps out for some air.
She tries not to let her nervousness show as they both reach the railing of the balcony and peer over it into the garden behind the palace.
The silence between them stretches on forever before Ihsan speaks. “I’ve missed you,” he turns to her. “More than I care to admit because I am soangry with you Ar.”
“I know you are,” Arya sheepishly turns her gaze to the floor.
“Why him? Is it Stockholm syndrome? Has he brainwashed you that well?” He asks.
“It would make it easier for you to forgive me if it were either of those things instead of the truth, wouldn’t it?”
“What is the truth? Do you even know?”
Now it is Arya who turns to him. There’s pain in his eyes, causing her strength to falter. She’s hurting him. She knew in making a decision he would get hurt and she accepted her role in his pain, but facing it is harder than she anticipated.
“The truth is that I didn’t choose you because for all of his flaws and crimes against us both, I’m equally as terrible. I gladly traded your pain, suffering and hope for him because I am not good Ihsan.”
“Bullshit,” he boldly replies, his eyes boring into hers. “You chose him because you are more afraid of rejecting him than you are of rejecting me. He won’t take no for an answer and you think I will.”
“This is a hard position to be in, holding both your hearts in my hand. Can you blame me?”
“What more does he have to do for you to realize you deserve better? He’s betrothed and expecting an heir. There’s nowhere for you to fit into this life he’s made for himself unless you’re you willing to be his paramour?”
“If there’s a way he’ll figure it out.”
“There isno way out of his marriage,” Ihsan hits her with a hard truth. “Not now, not ever. Queen Grayson is well respected; he can’t simply leave her for you. It doesn’t work that way. To do that would be to dishonor her and he would lose whatever respect and obedience to him her people offer. Malich is a lot of things, but he’s not stupid, and forgive me for saying so but he isn’t exactly the abdicating kind.”
Again he digs into the gaping wound Malich has already left in her heart. Tears fall form in her eyes. “You’re right. He won’t give up his kingdoms and he’s too much of a gentleman to dishonor her, but I knowhim.”
“Marry me Arya. The offer is still on the table. Unite our Kingdoms and we will grow in strength. Our children will be the most powerful beings within the Planes.”
“Or…” they’re disrupted by Queen Aoki who’s invited herself into Arya’s room, “Or you can marry my son Prince Oran and acquire one of the most powerful armies in the Planes next to the Red Legion.”
Arya and Ihsan exchange glances. He narrows his eyes at Queen Aoki, furious she would attempt to sway Arya’s interest elsewhere. All of this fuss over her hand in marriage makes Arya want to escape to some place no one can reach her.
“I won’t be marrying anyone,” Arya declares.
“You’re still young,” Aoki waves a dismissive hand at her. “Eventually you’ll realize a kingdom with no King is as good as a township with no government.”
“Or perhaps the Planes haven’t quite met the right Queen,” Arya fires back. She refuses to let the fact that she is a woman cause those around her to discount her ability to rule. Truthfully, the Planes are a male dominated world, but she’s always been a rebel. Going against the social grain is nothing new to her. “Thank you both for your offers, but I decline them both. I do not need a cock, or to marry one, to know how to rule my kingdom effectively.”
Desire burns behind the eyes of Queen Aoki. She’s enchanted by Arya, which makes Arya almost certain offering her son Prince Oran’s hand in marriage is Queen Aoki’s way of keeping her close for her own selfish reasons.
Arya turns to head back inside and Ihsan follows. “I am out of options Arya. If you won’t do this because you love me, do it because you owe me. If not you, I’ll have to marry Princess Boleyn and I’d rather not.”
Arya feels a twinge of jealousy, which only serves to confuse her. She glances behind him to Queen Aoki whose eyes are slowly devouring every inch of her. If she marries Ihsan she won’t regret it and maybe then everyone will stop vying for her hand. The only downside is it would put the final nail in the coffin of her relationship with Malich. Not that there is one anymore.
“Arya please just think about it,” Ihsan sighs. “I don’t need an answer right this instant, but I will need one soon.”
Swallowing hard, Arya nods. Ihsan returns to the balcony to speak privately with Queen Aoki. She waits until their voices become distant to pull at the fabric of the world around her and winnows herself directly into Malich’s bedchamber. She needs answers, and only he can give them to her. It’s a risk coming here, but one she must take. His chamber is empty so she slips out into the hall and into the maids’ chambers. She throws on one of their God awful dresses, ties her hair back in a bun and places a cap over her head, hoping its enough to conceal her identity.
As she travels through the corridors of the Winter Court she keeps her head down in subjection and curtseys whenever the situation warrants. It takes several minutes before she finds him.
Queen Grayson comes barreling out of the office inside the Great Hall, her hand cupped to her mouth and tears in her eyes. Only Malich can inflict that kind of deep emotional pain. If the girl hadn’t stolen him from her Arya might feel sorry for her, but she doesn’t. It takes a special kind of female to handle the many moods of Malich Jarrah.
“I have no need for service, please see yourself out.” Malich waves her off without looking at her.
“Then I guess not having to obey that request is one of the many benefits of becoming Queen.”
Malich whips his head in her direction, frozen. His eyes take her in as if he believes she’s a figment of his imagination. It takes a moment for him to realize she’s actually here and he quickly rushes to close and lock the door behind her.
Relieved and cautious, he turns to face her. “What are you doing here?” He asks.
“The Red Legion moves against me and I’ve come to find out why.”
“Kahlem’s orders,” he sighs.
Arya nods. She figured as much. She wants to touch him, but he looks as if his self-restraint is hanging on by a thread. She also fears she won’t be able to control herself if she does. “Where do we stand Malich?” She asks.
“Where would you like to stand?”
“Don’t,” Arya shakes her head. “Don’t charm me, talk to me.”
“What canI say? Nothing I say will change our circumstances. My marriage to Lizbet cannot be undone,” his eyes cast down to the floor, “and a marriage between you and Ihsan will be equally as damning.”
Arya recoils. “How did you…?”
“I’m a strategist. I know the probability of a union between the two of you increased with my being married off to Lizbet. He’s the smartest choice and if I were your advisor I’d encourage it. It would strengthen both Kingdoms and he would treat you well.”
Arya grimaces. “Is that what you want?”
“What I want no longer matters. I’m in an impossible situation Arya. As long as he has my mother I have to do his bidding.”
Arya nods, pain beginning to swell in her heart, and a lump growing in her throat. “What advice would you give as my lover?”
Malich hesitates before saying, “As your lover I won’t give you my opinion. I cannot tell you what to do I have no right. I have a wife and a child and nothing to offer you at the moment, but empty promises even I am not sure I can make good on,” he sulks. “I am at Kahlem’s mercy. As long as he holds my leash I am a danger to you Arya and anyone you care about, including your kingdom. He plans to use me against you and I won’t be able to stop him. If the time comes, you must not hesitate. You mustput me down.”
Arya blanches. She can’t kill him any more than he can kill her. “You know I can’t.”
“You must. Do. Not. Hesitate.”
“I won’t,” she refuses, backing away from him again.
“You will because you must. The Red legion will follow you after I’m gone, I only ask that you protect Lizbet and our unborn son.”
His request is a blow to Arya’s heart. He wants her to protect the girl who took him from her. And to make matters worse, Lizbet has given him an heir. It’s yet another thing this young Queen has taken from her. “You would have me fight for her?” Arya couldn’t keep the pain from her voice.
“For me. I’m asking you to fight for me. If my legacy ends then Kahlem wins.”
“You’re asking me to rip out my own heart Malich. I can’t protect them anymore than I can kill you or my sister.”
“I know, but there may come a time where you’ll have to do both, and you must. The Gods have blessed you Arya and I truly believe you’ll be the one to balance the power within the Planes.” Malich cups her face with his hands. The close proximity between them has as much of an affect on him as it does her. It isn’t right to be this close and have to subdue oneself from ones instincts. The sensation his touch sends throughout her body is almost unbearable.
Arya grips his shirt meaning to pull his lips to hers but he stops her. She can feel him warring with himself about whether to give in to her or not, but in the end he stays true to the thieving Queen and the stolen seed growing in her belly. More pain follows.
Malich Jarrah is no longer hers. He’s made that very clear. Whether he wants to be or not, he’s bound by his honor to Queen Lizbet Grayson. The crown resting atop his head binds him.
A knock at the door interrupts them and one of Lizbet’s aunts calls out to him. “You should go,” he whispers to Arya, eyes on the floor unable to meet her gaze.
There’s so much she wants to say to him, like how much she loves him and hopes he finds his way back to her. She wants to tell him she’ll wait for him as long as it takes, but thinks better of it. She must put her kingdom first, the same as he. Instead Arya nods, backing away from him while everything inside her wishes to go to him, winnowing back to her room at the Fall Court. When she reappears Ihsan is sitting at the foot of her bed, waiting.ns 18.104.22.168da2