Authors: Breeana Puttroff
Zander would have kissed her.
. He mentally shook himself. He couldn’t think like that anymore. She had made her choice – was married, had a
, was a queen. And he was stuck here watching all of it, so he needed to keep control of his thoughts.
Alvin climbed into the carriage just in front of Quinn and William’s. As he settled in next to King Stephen, he looked right at Zander and winked.
Zander looked away.
THOMAS SHIFTED UNCOMFORTABLY IN his seat between Zander and Linnea when Alvin winked at him. He wasn’t sure what message Alvin was trying to send to him, but he had a few guesses, starting with the little silver bracelet that had weighted his pocket for the last few weeks.
Reaching into his pocket, he fingered the tiny silver bar with his name inscribed on one side, Mia’s on the other. He hadn’t seen Alvin since Ben’s funeral. On that day, Alvin had given him a pretty intense talking-to about the way things had gone with Mia.
Alvin had been right – Alvin was always right – but Thomas hadn’t been able to bring himself to heed his advice yet.
He and Mia had spent the last weeks on carefully guarded, polite terms. They’d spent time together – there was no avoiding that when they’d stopped together so many times on their journey to Philotheum from Eirentheos, and when she’d been so deeply involved in the care of his younger brothers and sisters and his nephews.
Even the last couple of days, as they’d begun to settle in the castle in Philotheum, Mia was a near-constant presence around the infant prince and in everyone’s rooms – his, Linnea’s, and Zander’s in particular – while she attempted to learn her way around her new duties.
Of course, they were never alone at any of those times. Even on the rare occasion neither of them was working, Mia was busy soaking up her last moments with her parents, who would be returning to Eirentheos without her, and Thomas spent nearly all of his time with his own family.
It had taken until yesterday morning, when he’d found all of his clothes neatly put away in the armoire of his new room to realize that he was really doing this – that he’d be staying here when his parents and siblings returned home.
He wasn’t giving up as much as Mia was, though, he knew. William and Linnea would be here with him, along with Quinn and his amazing new nephew who would earn his name and the birthright to his kingdom today.
No matter what stories he’d been telling himself, he didn’t have a real excuse for not addressing this issue between him and Mia. Maybe today would be the day – a day everyone would be celebrating the baby prince and a promising future.
The carriages started moving. Thomas turned, intending to grin at Linnea, but she was staring intently in the other direction. Before he could call her name to get her attention, he saw her hand dart surreptitiously to her face, brushing her cheeks with the little white handkerchief concealed in her palm.
Fighting back the sudden lump in his throat, he dropped the tiny chain back to the bottom of his pocket and reached for his sister’s other hand instead.
For once, she allowed him to take it, and even squeezed back, turning her face halfway toward him. “I’m fine,” she whispered.
“Are my eyes all red and puffy?”
“No. You’re perfect.”
He squeezed her hand again.
* * *
As the procession began moving forward, the small, warm bundle in Quinn’s arms wiggled, and the baby inside opened his eyes.
“Well, hello,” she said, lifting him close so she could kiss his forehead. He scrunched his little eyebrows and sneezed.
William chuckled beside her. “I thought maybe you’d sleep through your whole Naming Ceremony little one.” He leaned in close as she settled the baby back into her lap, laying his hand over the gold-embroidered symbol on their son’s long green velvet gown.
In response, the infant yawned so fiercely that his whole little body shuddered, making both of them laugh. When he finished he blinked up at them, his gray eyes wide, and the sides of his tiny mouth edging almost into a… “Is he smiling?” she whispered.
William nodded. “You are, aren’t you, mister? You know what today is.” He slipped one arm across her lap, reaching for the baby’s fingers with his other hand. “Today’s the day we celebrate you.”
She shifted so she was even closer to William, relishing the warmth of both his body and his words, although she was mindful of the fact that as soon as their carriage drove through the castle gate and into the city, hundreds of eyes would be on her.
As they grew closer to the crowd, he kept his hand on her knee, gentle and reassuring in a way that made her feel strength flowing through his fingers and into her.
She heard them before she saw them, the throngs of people – her people – lining the streets of the city, cheering as the carriages came through, rising to a roar as Quinn and William appeared.
Despite her worst fears, the baby didn’t cry at the noise, or even when a flower came through the partially open window, landing on her lap right by his face.
Instead, when she held him up near her cheek where the crowd could see him, he flashed the grin he’d just been practicing.
“Little Show-Off,” she cooed. “Two moons old and already you’re better at winning over your kingdom than I am.”
William’s thumb rubbed soft circles on her knee, but he didn’t try to convince her differently. Becoming queen of Philotheum would have been a challenging task even if she wasn’t the first woman to do it, even if she hadn’t been young and pregnant for the first part of her reign and then left the kingdom for over two moons to have her child elsewhere, leaving an uncle in charge of the fledgling monarchy.
Even among the joyous crowd today, there were those who were quiet, watching the passing procession with suspicion in their eyes. She saw them, and tried her hardest not to acknowledge anything, instead smiling and waving, keeping the infant high and close.
Marcus, riding alongside the coach between Quinn and the crowd, flicked his gaze toward her protectively, confirming that she wasn’t imagining all of it.
* * *
“So… Naming Ceremonies must be like the biggest deal ever in your world?” Zander said quietly to Thomas as they settled into the second row of pews after being formally announced and walking through a shower of rose petals.
Thomas shrugged, glancing around as Quinn’s extended family was being announced and seated. “Well, they’re normally pretty important, but I’ll grant that this one is a little over the top.”
“A little?” Zander looked at the elaborate decorations, the musicians lining the walls, the paintings and portraits and gifts lining nearly every inch of the dais at the front of the chapel. It was more impressive by far than anything he’d encountered, even in this world where he’d been staying in two different castles and traveling with armed guards on horseback. “I think we’d need a telescope to see down to the top from up here.”
“Yeah,” Thomas chuckled. “You’re talking to the wrong person if you want to hear that this is too much for my nephew, though.”
“Was it like this for both of your other nephews? Will it be like this for…” he glanced at Linnea who was chatting quietly with Rebecca as she held her sister’s baby.
“Ryan’s was a lot like this, yes. He’ll be the heir to the throne of Eirentheos, just like Samuel will be for Philotheum. It maybe wasn’t to
degree, but then things are a lot more settled in Eirentheos, politically speaking. This baby is very important to this kingdom. I think Sophia planned for this ceremony to be such a big thing to represent that.”
Zander nodded. “Do you think Samuel is safe … what with Tolliver still out there somewhere and…” he didn’t know what the “and” was – he didn’t completely understand the situation here, but he knew there had been a lot of concerned conversations lately.
The look Thomas shot him, though, made him wish he hadn’t said anything. Perhaps today wasn’t the best day to bring up the topic. “So, is it weird to you that two of your brothers and two of your nephews will be kings?” he asked instead, to change the subject.
Thomas shrugged. “I always knew Simon would be. It’s a little strange that Will is, for sure. But I’m proud of him.”
“Do you ever get jealous?”
“No. Not even a little bit. I don’t envy either of my brothers that job.” He sighed, looking thoughtful. When he answered, his voice was low. “I think it might bother Maxwell sometimes, though – that just because he’s second born he’ll never have that chance and most likely his children won’t, either. Daniel’s been kind of annoyed about that, too – though he’s still kind of young to really understand it.”
He was still contemplating his response to that when the music changed from a quietly joyful hum in the background to a thundering, victorious march. Everyone in the auditorium stood at the same time – it took Zander only a second to catch on. After a rousing crescendo, everything fell silent at once.
“Presenting Her Royal Majesty, Queen Quinn, His Majesty, King William, and His Royal Highness, the Infant Prince, Heir to the throne of Philotheum.”
Guards in green and gold stood along the entire length of the main aisle. One by one, beginning with the ones in back, they knelt as William and Quinn walked together down the aisle, followed by Marcus.
Quinn held the baby facing outward from her chest, his long gown hiding her hands. He was alert; his eyes scanning the crowd.
When they finally reached the platform, William took the child from Quinn and placed him in a cradle in the middle of the dais. At this, he finally protested, his screech filling the whole chapel. Next to Zander, Thomas tapped his foot on the floor.
Up on the stage, Quinn looked absolutely composed, though Zander saw her eyes flick between William and the cradle.
William moved a step closer to the baby, but just as he did, Alvin appeared on the stage. Zander didn’t know from where – he hadn’t walked down the aisle with them, he hadn’t been seated in the pews, but now he stood on the stage, calmly reaching into the cradle to retrieve the fussing prince.
“Well,” Alvin said, cuddling the baby close and rocking him, “at least we know the future heir already has his loyalties in order.” He grinned, kissing the infant’s soft black hair and then handing him back to his mother – a move that clearly surprised more than a few people in the audience.
Quinn carried the baby with her as she and William were seated in two thrones on either side of the cradle.
“This day has been many cycles in coming,” Alvin said, addressing the crowd again. “It’s been a long time since I stood here before you to name another heir, Queen Quinn’s father, Samuel. This day bears few similarities to that one, I suppose, other than the most important one. Today I have the privilege of restoring the most precious of gifts to your kingdom.”
He paused, looking out over the crowd. “A gift, of course, is something that has to be accepted. Even the most beautiful gifts, those from the Maker himself, are only worthwhile to those who understand what they are, who value and protect them. Today, the Maker wishes to grant several gifts to the people of Philotheum. The first is the gift of tradition, of returning to your history, and your loyalty to the family chosen to hold your kingdom in safekeeping.” He smiled at Quinn and William.
“The second gift is peace – peace amongst yourselves, and with your family in the kingdom of Eirentheos.
“The final gift, of course, is the sweetest gift of all; a beautiful infant heir who links your kingdom with Eirentheos, who represents a powerful political alliance built on respect and love, and who will someday be known to his people as King Samuel Owen Rose.”
Alvin paused, giving the audience time to react, reminding Zander that nearly everyone really was hearing the baby’s name for the first time. Quinn and William had only shared their choice with William’s family – and with Zander and Owen, when Owen had still been here. There were many smiles in the crowd, many quiet murmurs of approval.
The name didn’t draw a happy reaction from everyone, though. Notably, Quinn’s grandmother, Sophia, looked as if she’d encountered spoiled milk.
“Prince Samuel will receive more than a name today. We have all gathered to bring our gifts to the future king. Many of you have come to offer your loyalty, your trust, and the keeping of your kingdom. Those related to the child have brought tokens of their affection, and will soon have an opportunity to come up and offer the prince their gifts.”
“And the Maker has granted Samuel, through tradition and decree, two special gifts today. First is the gift of leadership. Samuel will wear the pendant of the firstborn and the gift of being a strong leader, firm in his judgments, gentle with his subjects, and convicted in the things he knows to be right.”
At this point, Alvin walked over to Quinn and the baby, reaching into his robes and removing a tiny box, which he opened and took from it a small gold chain with a shiny circle dangling from the bottom. Zander recognized it as a necklace like the one Quinn now wore. Alvin carefully fastened the chain around the baby’s neck.
“The second gift the Maker grants to Samuel today is the safekeeping of the people of Philotheum as the heir to the crown.” He reached back inside his robes and withdrew another small object. Zander couldn’t see what it was, only that the light glinted off of it as he held it toward the infant.
It was a crown, he realized, when Alvin reached over and placed it gently on Samuel’s head. A very tiny crown, different from the one William was wearing – much simpler – but similar to the ones that both Simon and his son Ryan were wearing, only theirs were silver and Samuel’s was gold like his parents’.