Thank you for your patience, I had a rough twenty hours. Between a lot of confusion about my work from home situation and general depression issues, it’s been hard to concentrate to get this re-write all smoothed out.
I finally managed to sit down to really edit this whole chapter out. Much like with Chapter Two, Chapter Four was originally supposed to be much longer. Thankfully, after a couple of revisions, I’ve gotten it down to a more reasonable length.
Please enjoy my adorkable main characters refusing to slow the fuck down.
Chapter 4: Temptation
They walked together to the estate gardens. Other courtiers milled about here and there, all whispering when they caught sight of Elan with Ravenna. None of the whispers seemed to bother the fae queen a bit, she focused on the woman on her arm instead.
“It’s fascinating to see the estate at full capacity,” Ravenna remarked, her dark eyes roaming around the gardens as she spoke.
“That wasn’t originally the plan,” Elan said with a small sigh.
“Oh?” Ravenna tilted her head in that bird-like way of hers. “And what was the first plan?”
Elan shrugged, making her headdress lines jingle. “A simple gathering, much like the one you had with my mother and father.”
Ravenna laughed to herself. “I suppose in comparison to this, it was simple.” She shook her head in fond remembrance. “Your poor mother, she was suffering. She won’t say otherwise now, I’m sure, but she continually ran off to her rooms. She was trying to play the part of hostess all the while losing every meal she ate.”
“I didn’t know that,” Elan confessed, shocked. How did she not know about this? Her mother never said anything about it.
“Yes, so when we had the opportunity to be alone, I gifted her with a few bits of magic to help her along. It was the least I could do for her hospitality.”
Elan stared up at her. She’d never heard of her mother being blessed with magic by the fae, but it made sense she never revealed it. People would forever gossip and fear monger about it. The fae were known, tolerated, but the old stories still held their sway. It was actually very surprising they weren’t being followed by a guard or two.
Elan murmured, “Thank you, for helping her.”
Ravenna waved a hand in front of her in dismissal. “Magic is my lifeblood, a bit of it given for peace is well worth it.”
She tugged Elan gently towards a staircase. They walked up together to a high balcony, one that overlooked the ballroom and the guests below. Ravenna shot Elan a crooked smile before she waved her hand. The air crackled, shone before them for a moment, then settled with a fuzzy grey between them and the crowd. Elan looked around her, realizing they were encompassed inside a small ball of magic.
“What is this?” Elan asked, a bit nervous.
“I’ve made us hard to see and hear. Not quite invisibility, I think your parents would have a fit if you were suddenly gone. Still, keeps away unwanted eyes and ears.” Ravenna turned to encroach on Elan’s space. “We look like we’re just chatting.”
“Are we?” Elan asked.
“Perhaps.” Ravenna brought up a hand to smooth a single finger down the side of Elan’s face. “Perhaps not.”
Elan hated that she blushed again. She kept Ravenna’s gaze, refusing to turn away and be coy. She wanted her, she wanted this, whatever this was. The finger moved to skim over her red cheeks, and Ravenna looked vastly amused by it.
“Tell me, do Contenders often dress so?” Ravenna’s eyes flickered down to the skin exposed by Elan’s dress.
“Not at all.” Elan smiled, a winning one she perfected over years of training. “We usually wear whatever the Queen of our land prefers.”
“Is this what Queen Valeria prefers?” Ravenna asked, a brow quirking up.
“She wasn’t the queen I was thinking of when I dressed.” Elan said, ignoring her racing heart. She heard the phrase ‘weak in the knees’ before but never really understood it until this moment. She couldn’t believe she was being so bold!
Ravenna got in close, her hand cupping the side of Elan’s face. “Do I presume too much?” She said as she drew her thumb along Elan’s bottom lip.
“No,” Elan said, “you don’t.”
The kiss was warm. Elan sighed into it, bringing a hand to Ravenna’s shoulder to pull her just a bit closer. Ravenna obliged, pressing into Elan with her body, a line of heat somehow traveling through the layers of clothes to fire against Elan’s skin.
A flyaway thought filtered through, ‘She tastes like winter.’ Mint with a hint of wine. She wanted to get drunk off it. Another part of her wanted to bite down, not to hurt, just to tease. Would the queen hate it though?
Ravenna beat her to it, biting gently down on her lower lip in a soft squeeze. Elan couldn’t help but moan, a long and wanting note. When Ravenna pulled away, she chuckled with her teeth bared.
“I could devour you,” Ravenna said, her thumbs tracing lines under Elan’s eyes, “and I rather think you’d like it.”
But then, Ravenna’s eyes squinted at her. Her form went tense, and her playful smile lost it’s form.
Elan returned her gaze. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I suppose I do have to wonder why?” Ravenna licked her lips. “We’ve only just met…Would there be a particular reason you’ve decided to catch my attention?”
Elan’s face lit up red. Oh, the real why of it? She stuttered trying to express her truth. “Well, I, that is to say, I just thought you were quite, uh, beautiful. Yes, there are diplomatic things to discuss and to-.” What was happening? Where was her tongue! Why was this suddenly so hard? “But I don’t have anything that would, I wouldn’t use this for any of those things, I just wanted you…to see me.”
Hands cradled her face, bringing her eyes back up to meet Ravenna’s. The Queen was smiling again, an absolutely gleeful expression. “I see you, Elan, I see you.”
And they were kissing again. Ravenna gave no quarter, kissing Elan like she wanted to have all of her. All her words, her soul, her air, all of it. Elan couldn’t escape, and that worked because she didn’t want to. She couldn’t gasp, only moan into the motions with her own fervor.
When they broke apart, Elan sucked in air like she was drowning. Ravenna laughed.
Ravenna released her face, instead taking her hands down to squeeze at Elan’s waist. “If we were in my own realm, I would take you here and company be damned..”
Elan put her hands up to hold Ravenna’s shoulders. She felt unmoored, unbalanced, and those words, company be damned? As in having sex in public? She never imagined doing such a thing, but Ravenna made it seem like a good idea.
“But alas, we’re not, so I’ll have to summon some form of patience.” Ravenna took Elan’s hands in hers. She kissed the backs of her knuckles one by one. “I think keeping good relations relies upon more than just pretty words. If you would indulge me, please keep your window open tonight so we may discuss further endeavors together?”
Elan leaned in close to whisper, “If you can find my window, your majesty, it shall perhaps be open.”
Returning back to the ballroom, Ravenna released her with a small kiss to the back of her hand before returning to her fae entourage. The leathery winged man said something to her, and Ravenna glared at him. Elan had only a brief moment to herself before Amelia nearly tackled her from out of nowhere.
Amelia hissed at her, “How did it go?”
“Later,” Elan promised her with a blush.
“No, now!” Amelia pushed. “Something happened, I can tell. You’re blushing worse than Larent did when he proposed!”
Larent appeared to drag Amelia away. “You are the worst whisperer! I can hear you across the ballroom!” He took her off, the two of them sniping at each other until he pulled them into a new dance.
Jalek took their place and extended his hand. “Can I have a dance now? Without the overflowing of lust and whatnot, of course.”
Elan accepted, letting Jalek guide her onto the floor. Attending the rest of the ball, Elan couldn’t really stay in the moment. All of it was mechanical and automatic. She danced with people here and there, chatted with courtiers about this and that or the other. None of it really stuck in her memory, and Elan couldn’t force herself to care too much.
She’d never been kissed like that before, like she was the whole world and nothing else mattered. She wanted to just sneak off to her rooms early, but she knew that wasn’t a remote possibility. No, there was a feast to oversee, and it would last well into the evening.
The Grand Hall of the Northern Province Estate wasn’t grand in comparison to Valeria’s Palace, but it had ample room for all the guests. It was to the left of the ballroom, and Lady Brienne told everyone to come and go as they pleased for food and drink until the official feast began. On the tables was a simple fare of breads and some cheese to hold off whining from vigorous dancers.
Flora would be seated at the tallest chair they could find in the estate, but it was nothing so lavish as the throne. Everyone ate and mingled together. Until Flora called for all to sit, they would simply mill about near their respective tables. Elan watched out of the corner of her eye as Flora slowly made her way to the Grand Hall.
The other Contenders noticed, and moved as one, helping to bring the people towards the Grand Hall without having to shout for them to follow. Elan opted to make it obvious by standing near the entrance and welcoming guests as they entered. She loved chatting with a few courtiers, such as Jalek and Larent’s cousins from over the sea.
Marina and Ash were twins. Marina liked music and poetry, but Ash liked to just drink while telling stories. In another life, both of them were probably bards traveling across the lands, but in this life they were simply the second in line to a Dukedom neither one of them even wanted.
Marina asked Elan, “Did Valeria tell you why Flora was picked?”
Elan sighed. “You’re perhaps the tenth person tonight to ask me.”
Ash muttered into his cup, “I’m surprised it’s not more.”
“She’s capable of being Queen. Flora has the intelligence, grace, and all the other qualities of a Queen.” Elan could probably recite those words in her sleep.
“Yes, but,” Marina shrugged, “you just seem like the person who’s the best at the rest of it. I mean, you put up this ball and this feast in mere days. That is very impressive. It’s all been so smooth because of you. She just doesn’t have that same element to her, I think.”
All three of them turned to the interruption. The dark fae with leathery wings stared at Elan in shock. “You did all of this in days?”
Elan stared at him in return. “Well, yes, there were some circumstances that required us to move venues. I’ll be discussing them with Ravenna and all of your comrades tomorrow, if that’s alright?”
The fae shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t handle the diplomacy part of things, I just make sure her majesty stays safe.” He rolled his eyes. “As if she’s not a vastly more powerful and magical force than I, but a job is a job.”
Elan bowed slightly to him. “I’m Elan Altier, once Contender and Duchess in Waiting. Pleasure to meet you…?”
“Oh sorry, Garth. I’m not really used to parties.” He bowed as well. “I have titles, but none of them are terribly important. Just call me Garth.”
Ash tipped his cup to him. “Hello there, Garth, I’m Ash. This is my sister Marina.”
“Pleasure to meet you, sir.” Marina bowed a little and then motioned to Elan. “Elan did indeed prepare everything-.”
“I had help, all the other Contenders-.”
“-as I said, everything, in just a few days. Isn’t that just truly amazing?”
Elan gave her a side glare, but Marina just grinned back.
“I will be horrible and tell you all a secret.” Garth motioned them all close. He whispered with a cupped hand as his wings flared out to shield them all. “Ravenna is awful at planning things, so she couldn’t have managed anything like this.”
Marina and Ash gasped dramatically, “No!”
Elan rolled her eyes as she said, “She’s a Queen, so surely she at least has a Court and people for that.”
“The Fae Court isn’t like the human world,” Garth said as he leaned back and tucked his wings to his sides again. “It’s more of a military council, not gentle folks milling about. The Court generally does meet for the solstice and such, but we haven’t had a good party in ages.”
“Sounds like you need to borrow Elan!” Ash said a little too enthusiastically. “We were just saying we’re actually surprised she wasn’t chosen to be Queen. Flora is a real nice girl, but Elan is just so much more-.”
Marina smacked her brother hard in his gut. “Brother, you might want to consider shutting your mouth right about now.”
Ash let out an “Oof!” and rubbed at his stomach. “What? It’s not as if it’s a big secret?”
Marina groaned as she grabbed her brother by the arm and dragged him away. “Please excuse us!” She grumbled things under her breath as she told her intoxicated brother exactly how he messed up.
Elan turned to Garth with a forced smile. “Please pay no mind to what you just heard. We all love and adore Princess Flora, and she will make a great Queen, I assure you.”
Garth tilted his head to the side. Elan took note that his eyes didn’t blink, but there were white folds that did instead. She also noticed his dark skin rippled a bit along his forearms, changing from a black-blue to dark violet. She wondered if there was a creature equivalent of him in her own world. She wanted to ask, but would that be considered rude?
“I’ve been standing around and listening. They’re right, it’s not really a secret.” Garth shrugged again. “Honestly, the human matters don’t affect us, so I see no reason to tell Ravenna about it. I’d bet my talons she already knows. She’s an inquisitive little bird.”
Elan blanched at the last bit. Wasn’t it rude to comment on his Queen like that? Surely it must be? She scanned the room and found Ravenna walking up to Flora. The two of them bowed and began chatting seemingly in an amicable way.
“I don’t see anything little about her, though,” Elan said, and then clacked her mouth shut. “That is to say…”
“Madame, literally everyone saw you on the dance floor, I get where you’re coming from.” Garth didn’t seem upset about it, but instead amused. “I also saw her jaw drop to the floor when you entered the room.” He sighed and put a hand over his heart. “Oh, I’ll treasure that moment for a long time, I assure you.”
Elan felt a blush creep up her cheeks while she tried to remind herself firmly that she was a woman now, not a love sick child. She could woo and be wooed, it was fine. At the same time, it was one thing to want something, it was a whole other thing to realize everyone knew you wanted it.
Her eyes flicked back over to Flora and Ravenna. Flora said something, and Ravenna’s smile faltered just a slight bit. When Ravenna responded, her smile no longer matched her eyes. Elan felt Garth beside her tense.
“That’s not a good look.” He said softly. “Your Princess said something rather innocuous, though, I don’t get why she’s upset.”
“You can hear them?” Elan asked, surprised. “What did Flora say? Please tell me, I can fix it if I know, maybe?”
Garth shrugged and said, “Princess Flora said, ‘We appreciate your presence, Queen Ravenna, and will treasure you even when your absence comes about all too soon.’ It sounded fine to me?”
Elan scrunched up her brow. Depending on how it was said, perhaps Ravenna thought Flora wanted her gone? Surely, not, but still she had to make sure no one felt insulted. Elan bowed to him slightly before moving away. “I’m going to go over there to try and mend things.”
As she moved through the crowd, Elan kept her eyes right on the two women. She hated to think that the Queen of the fae realm might come out of this night thinking poorly of Princess Flora. It was fairly obvious that Flora wasn’t as beloved as Elan assumed, as everyone felt such keen surprise that Flora was chosen instead.
“A divided Kingdom is a broken one, and a broken one is a dead one.” It was one of the first lessons the Contenders ever learned.
Elan walked up, and Flora turned to her with a dazzling smile. “Hello dear! Queen Ravenna and I were just chatting. I don’t think I mentioned it, but you look rather spectacular today. I think Ravenna agress?”
The Queen’s smile was more bared teeth than warmth. “Oh, that I do.” She nodded to Elan. “Red was certainly not my favorite color before, but now I must admit I like it far better.”
Flora laughed with her teeth clenched together. Elan wondered why Flora was so upset about the compliment. “I must admit Queen Ravenna that I’ve always found the color red quite fetching. It is after all the color of passion and love. When it comes to both, I am very serious in my pursuits.”
Ravenna nodded. “Of course, as the heir to the throne, your partner must be a good match.”
Flora’s grin only widened. “Better than, I intend to have the best.”
Elan decided to gently interrupt. “Princess Flora, should we proceed to the feast? I believe my father is getting peckish.”
At that Flora’s shoulders lowered a notch and the few lines on her brow went smooth. “Of course, how rude of me to keep everyone starving. After all the hard work you put into every detail, it would be a shame for everything to go cold.”
Ravenna surveyed the long table. “Are we seated to the right as we were before?”
Elan motioned towards a long table. “Yes, the right side of the Princess, please.”
Ravenna held out her hand. “Would you mind escorting me to my seat?”
Elan took her hand and tucked it into the crook of her elbow. “Of course, couldn’t have you getting lost.”
Flora rolled her eyes and shook her head as she turned towards the table. She walked along the back way towards the head of the seating arrangement. Ravenna and Elan trailed behind her, Ravenna asking a few questions about the people in attendance here and there.
When brought to her seat, Ravenna pulled Elan down to sit next to her. Elan shook her head and tried to get back up.
“No, no, this isn’t the plan!” Elan said as she tried to get up.
Garth appeared beside her. “I don’t eat human food, and I’d rather stand behind my queen as a good defensive position. No offense, my lady.”
Ravenna kept hold of Elan’s hand. “I would appreciate your company over his, anyway.”
Garth snorted. “And I would appreciate a better job, your majesty.”
Ravenna gritted through her smiling teeth. “Get to the wall and hush, guard.”
Elan giggled at the banter. Apparently, Ravenna and Garth must’ve known each other for a long time, for they spoke like friends or siblings rather than some servant and master. Garth’s skin rippled again, this time to an ebony with light blue lines running along his arms. Ravenna turned her head away from him with a scoff as Garth stepped back to the wall.
Flora announced to the Grand Hall at large, “Dear nobility of Surene, it is a good day. We will sign tomorrow the treaty that has kept both the fae world of Ravenwood and Surene together in peace for over two centuries. May it be another two centuries yet, so that our grandchildren may know the blessings we have had in these years.”
Ravenna stood up as well. “It is a great honor and privilege to once again reinforce these bonds between Fae Kin and humans. May the future reign of Princess Flora be full of blessings.” She bowed her head in respect to Flora, and she did in return.
“Let us feast!” Flora announced with her wine cup in hand.
Elan started off with her soup and bread. Ravenna watched the other nobles talk with each other at their chairs. She leaned over to Elan and asked, “How is Queen Valeria? Is she well?”
“Oh, very,” Elan said as she dipped her bread into the broth, “and I expect Valeria will still be Queen for some time.”
Ravenna moved in closer. “But then, why coronate a Princess?”
“Ah,” Elan paused to think, “it’s just to secure someone in case something happens. Queen Valeria doesn’t want to leave anything to chance, even in this time of peace.”
“I see.” Ravenna picked at her bread, only eating small pieces and ignoring the soup completely. She turned to Flora and asked her, “And how are you faring in your new role?”
“Oh, I’m managing very well.” Flora sipped on her wine. “It helps that Elan has been with me for every step of the journey to where I am, and I know she’ll continue to be by my side even when I take the throne.” Flora gave Ravenna another rigid smile. “But of course, it won’t be without it’s challenges. I intend to face them all head on, and come out the victor.”
Ravenna let out a small laugh. “I suppose that is the right attitude for an heir to the throne to have.”
Flora laughed a little as well. “Yes, I have been told I’m a bit headstrong, but what contender isn’t?” She glanced at Elan out of the corner of her eye. “The only difference between us is what we’re willing to do in the end to win.”
“Such as?” Ravenna asked.
“More than what is asked of us.” Flora motioned to the crowd at large. “No one here will ever really know what it takes to run a kingdom. You understand, of course, you’re a queen. The people will always judge and gossip, but they shall always be blind to the real mechanisms of politics.”
“True indeed.” Ravenna picked at the bread again before turning to Elan. “But not everything about politics has to be difficult and full of conflict.”
Elan shrugged her shoulders. “I like the more compromising and persuasive approach, myself. Finding some common ground and then moving from there.”
“Hmm,” Ravenna leaned in close to whisper against the shell of her ear, “and what if I don’t need persuading?”
Elan whispered back, “Then I suppose all that’s left is compromising myself.” She heard a disgusted noise from Flora, but ignored it. “My room is on the fourth floor. I’ll leave a candle burning for you to find me.”
“Very good, I will see you when the moon is high.”
OK, and on that note, this will be the last chapter I’m putting up on the blog. Tomorrow I’ll be announcing which platform I’m finally going to commit and just self-publish the book. I think I’ll also do promotional things, like giveaways and such. I’m so new to all of the self-publishing tricks, so we’ll see how this goes.
I’ll also announce tomorrow for the day. I’m kind of torn on the exact day I’d like to post the book, and my cover art is still a work in progress from the person I commissioned for the book.
So yeah, final post for book week is tomorrow, see you then!