“No reason to fear, I made your favorite, and she’ll be waiting too.” Helena gave me a wink before wandering off.
I made my way up the center stairs to the office waiting beyond them. I slid the door open, peeking in before entering the room. The advisors glanced up, stopping their work.
“You wanted to speak with us, your majesty?”
“Yes, Thomas, I needed to speak with you, all of you about the arranged marriage.” I kept my eyes down, refusing to meet their stares.
“A fine choice, isn’t he? The only one we could think of, really.” William approached me, tilting my head up so I could see his grin.
“Perhaps you came to discuss wedding plans? You needn’t worry about that. We’ve got it under control.” Harrison stood up, ready to come at me with dozens of papers. “All right here if you need a look.”
“No, that’s not what I-”
“Honeymoon arrangements, then?” Willam clapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself, your majesty.”
“Maybe if we let her speak, she can tell us what’s on her mind.” Thomas ushered William back to the table, sitting him down before leading me to my own chair. “Go on, then, your majesty.”
“Thank you, Thomas. About the arrangement, I- I can’t marry Damien.” I clasped my hands together, wringing them under the table.
William’s smile dissolved. “Why on Earth not? You’ve known each other practically your whole lives, he’s the best guard the castle has… he’d make a fine husband!”
“Why couldn’t you have just waited? You tried to make one of the biggest choices of my life without me!”
Thomas nodded. “That’s true, we did. Seeing as you’re of age and you were so-”
“Distracted, we thought we’d choose the best man we could think of.” Harrison rose his voice. “And he is the best, is he not?”
“I’ll tell you this again, I cannot… will not marry Damien Alger.” I crossed my arms over my chest, forming a shield from them.
“Give us one good reason you shouldn’t!” William slammed his fists on the table.
Thomas stared at me, reaching for my arm. I didn’t follow his gaze until he’d already uncovered the bruise wrapped around my wrist.
Tears welled in my eyes as I nodded, revealing the bruise in full. I placed my injured wrist on the table for all to see.
“He did this. When he informed me of the decision, he cornered me.” I bowed my head, letting the other part roll back on my tongue.
William hovered over me, examining the bruise, tracing the imprint of his fingers. “Have you any proof? Witnesses perhaps?”
Thomas rose up, blocking him from me before I could speak. “Are you suggesting that our queen would lie about something like this?”
William puffed out his chest. “It’s rather convenient, don’t you think?”
Thomas’ face reddened. “What could possibly be convenient about abuse?”
“Oh, nothing, sir, just maybe that she might’ve needed an excuse to get out of the arrangement. Accuse a perfectly good man of a horrible act.”
Harrison got in between the two, shoving them apart. “Gentlemen, let’s not make this an ordeal. Perhaps if we call Damien in here, he can give us his side of the story.”
I withdrew, covering the bruise once more. “I’m telling the truth! I don’t want him anywhere near me.”
Thomas took hold of my shoulders. “We do need him. If the marks on your wrist match up with his hand, there will be no doubt what he’s done. That would be proof, wouldn’t it, William?”
He cleared his throat, sitting down. “I suppose it would be.”
Damien appeared in the doorway, glancing at me with a smirk. “I came to check in on the wedding plans, but it seems my bride to be has beaten me to it.”
William shook his hand as he passed him. “Just the man we needed, excellent timing!”
Thomas rose, standing beside me as Damien approached. “Yes, we needed you to settle something for us.”
He grinned. “Anything, whatever you need, I’m here.”
Thomas smiled, offering his hand to uncover my wrist. “Excellent, then would you mind?” He revealed the bruise.
Damien’s eyes widened before the smile crawled across his face. “You think I could harm my bride?”
William stood up beside him. “We can’t be certain who the culprit is, but the queen has made some serious accusations.”
His eyebrow quirked. “I see, and you want me to prove my innocence?”
Thomas held my wrist up. “Quite simple, just need your hand.”
He grasped my wrist, tracing his fingers over the marks on my wrist. The advisors stared as they matched up, and Thomas ripped him away.
“Just as I thought. You’re gonna rot in the dungeons for this.”
Damien held his hands up. “What exactly does this prove? So my hand matches up with a bruise, there must be at least a dozen men who would.”
William stepped in front of him. “The man does have a fair point.”
Thomas blocked both men from me. “We all agreed this was proof, and you all saw it with your own eyes.”
Harrison sighed. “While that is true, Damien did point out a flaw in our thinking.”
Damien placed his hand over his heart. “You have my word as the highest ranking guard in the kingdom, as a servant to the queen, and as her husband to be, I would never harm her.”
I grabbed Thomas’ arm. “He’s lying! Please, he’ll only hurt me again!”
Thomas took my hand in his. “The queen clearly doesn’t feel safe with Damien. If we can’t send him to the dungeons with evidence like this, surely we can at least let her decide whether or not to marry him.”
The other advisors paused, exchanging glances. The heavy air weighed on my shoulders as seconds ticked by before Harrison looked at me.
“You’d have to decide on another person to marry soon, your majesty.”
“How much time do I have?” I stepped out from behind Thomas.
William smirked. “Since you seem so keen on not marrying Damien, you must have someone else in mind, do you not?”
Damien smiled, creeping forward. “Yes, maybe that’s why you seem so… distracted.”
Heat rose in my face, and I looked down to avoid his glare. “I- I am in love with someone else.”
Thomas laughed, tilting my face back up. “No reason to be embarrassed, your majesty. Who is it?”
Harrison smiled, stepping forward. “Yes, who’s the lucky man?”
My heart dropped as I caught sight of Damien’s grin. “Actually it’s-”
“Better to have the two of you here for such a big announcement.” Damien strolled to the door. “Perhaps Helena could-”
William clapped his hands together. “Splendid idea, yes, have Helena fetch the fellow.”
Damien raced out of the room before I could protest, and my heart sank to my stomach. I wrung my hands together the men settled back in to wait. Minutes passed in heavy silence before Damien reappeared with a smirk on his face.
“Helena is on her way as we speak, just another moment.” He took a seat and leaned back to watch as Helena entered.
She waved me over, and I rushed away from the men as she blocked the doorway. “Damien said I was supposed to-”
“Yes, Helena, it’s alright.”
A clammy hand clasped mine from behind Helena, and I turned to Damien and the advisors.
“This is the one I want to marry, the one I’ve loved since we met, and I’d be the happiest woman in the world if she’d have me.”
Damien’s grin slithered from ear to ear as the other men froze, watching Zinnia step through the door. She squeezed my hand, not daring to look up as I stood next to her. Helena stood behind us, a hand on each of our shoulders.
William sprung from his seat. “There must be a mistake. Surely, you can’t be serious!”
“Yes, I am. For the first time since my parents’ accident, I’ve felt truly happy. Zinnia’s done so much for me, made me feel loved when I needed it most, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”
Harrison placed a hand on William’s shoulder, all but yanking him back down. “Your majesty, you must admit this is quite… unconventional.”
Thomas shook his head. “So what? If she makes the queen happy and they’re both in love, why shouldn’t they be able to marry?”
Damien turned to the others. “Say we do let these two wed, what of an heir to the throne?”
William nodded, tapping his fingers on the table. “Another fine point! There’d be no liable heir!”
I froze as Damien turned back to us, crossing his arms over his chest.
“So we should deny these two happiness? Thomas rounded the table, coming to our side. “Why don’t you think of the queen’s well being for once in your lives?”
William growled, clenching his fists on the table. “In doing that now, we forsake our kingdom, our entire way of life!”
Zinnia released my hand, stepping forward. “What about a Divine Blessing?”