“That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen! Eliza, come see this!” My father waved my mother down from the garden, grinning as I cooed at a ball of fur in my lap.
“Ian, why do you let her play with them? They could be carrying sicknesses.” My mother crossed the grass into the garden, trying to shoo away the pup sleeping as I rested my hand on its back.
“Let the girl have her fun. Besides, it’s just a little one. It won’t bite.” He ruffled my hair. “How can you say no to that pair?”
She crossed her arms, trying to hold a smile back. “It doesn’t step foot into our house, understand?”
He grinned, giving my father a thumbs up as she walked away. “Hear that, my flower? We’ll make a place for the little one to stay.”
“Can I help, Papa?”
He chuckled. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Zinnia.” He held out his hands to take the pup. “You can start right now. Show Papa your blessing!”
“What about a Divine Blessing?” I kept my head down, clasping my hands in front of me.
William scoffed. “What on Earth is she talking about?”
“Our religion, William. A Divine Blessing from one of the gods or goddesses.” Thomas rose up from his chair and retrieved a book from the top shelf, wiping away some of the dust. “For the life of me, I can’t remember who handles fertility.” He started flipping through the pages.
Alexandra stepped up behind him. “I believe it’s the water goddess, Rinnelle. Yes, there!”
Willam slammed his hands on the table. “What does it matter what goddess? This Divine Blessing… what does it have to do with anything?”
Thomas shut the book, handing it off to Alexandra as she made her way to me. She clutched it to her chest, keeping it between us as Damien’s glare bore through me.
I cleared my throat, raising my head up to meet William’s wide eyes. “It’s another way to conceive. It’s usually a prayer made by barren women.”
His eyebrows quirked as he looked at Alexandra. “Are you suggesting-”
“No, of course not!” Alexandra whirled around to face him. “But according to the religion, Rinnelle can bless a Carrier, that is, someone who holds either power given by her or another compatible god or goddess.”
Harrison rose up from his seat. “That’s all well and good, but I don’t see the connection. There are no Carriers in our kingdom. Your parents rid the area of them after the war, decades ago.”
Damien laughed. “Unless of course, you met a witch we don’t know about.” A smirk slithered across his face as he stared at me. “Someone harboring their magick, perhaps?”
William clapped him on the back. “Good one, boy. A little witch, praying for a child.”
Thomas shook his head. “He’s right. And there’s no other way to ask for a Divine Blessing.”
I stepped forward, shaking away Alexandra’s grip. “I can pray for the blessing.” I made my way to the window, opening the curtains to the view of the grounds. “See the garden all the way to the right?”
William held his sides as he doubled over with laughter. “Oh, yes, that dreadful thing. Nothing more than a patch of dirt now.”
Thomas stood beside me at the window. “Are you sure about that?”
The other men rose from their chairs, craning their necks to see the garden. Damien laid back in his. When William and Harrison stepped back wide-eyed, Damien joined the group, gripping my shoulders from behind.
“Our gardener deserves a reward for such fine work, doesn’t she?”
William spun around, staring at me. “You did this? Impossible! That garden has been nothing but a dusty wasteland for years now.”
Thomas met my eyes before I hung my head low. “Zinnia, are you a Carrier?”
Damien squeezed my shoulders. “No! She can’t be! That’d be cause for arrest, banishment even.” His thumbs grazed my neck as he released me. “Besides, our queen who know, wouldn’t she? Especially if she claims she wants to marry this woman.”
I shook my head, stepped forward to meet Thomas. “Yes, I’m a Carrier. I was blessed by Zelien, and the garden is my doing.”
“Zinnia!” The book slipped from her grasp, crashing to the floor. “You can’t-”
William looked at her. “You knew?” He towered over her. “How long have you known? How long have you been harboring this- this witch?”
She jabbed her finger in his chest. “Don’t you ever call her that again, do you understand me? Like it or not, I’m still the queen, able to dismiss you for talk like that.”
He backed off, crossing his arms. “You know magick is forbidden here. Since-”
“Yes, since the war with the rogues, but what does that have to do with Zinnia or me for that matter? Neither of us was born until after the war ended.”
Thomas stepped up beside William. “She has a fair point. Magick hasn’t existed out in the open since the rogues were all banished, but that doesn’t mean it vanished from the face of the Earth.” He turned to Harrison and Damien. “And who’s to say it’s all evil? If memory serves, Zelien is the god of nature. The Revitalizer, isn’t that right?”
I nodded, approaching Alexandra, but Damien drew his sword. He blocked my way with the blade, pushing me back toward the wall.
“Who cares who gave her the magick? She could still use it to harm all of us, especially our queen.” He raised the blade toward my neck. “I should lock her up now.”
Alexandra came up behind him with Thomas, trying to pull him away. “Damien, I order you to lower your weapon, now. Zinnia would never harm anyone. How could she? Zelien blessed her with the power to heal.”
Harrison and William exchanged looks, stepping forward to join the group.
“Will all due respect, your majesty, magick is still illegal. By using it, even to bring the garden back to life, she still committed a crime.”
“I’m the queen. Can’t I change the law?”
The advisors’ eyes bugged out as their gazes flitted between each other.
“It’d be insane to change a law that’s protected us for decades!” William stared at me, then at Alexandra. “Besides, you’d need a two-thirds vote from the council for approval to change an active law.”
Alexandra forced Damien back. “Fine then, let’s have a vote. You’re here now.” She led me to the other side of the table, sitting me down next to her as the advisors returned to their seats. Damien hovered close to William as the advisors stayed silent for a moment.
Thomas looked at me, then at the window, cracking a small smile. “The lady has given nothing but beauty to our castle and happiness to our queen.” His eyes met Alexandra’s. “You have my approval to repeal the law. We can’t afford to live in fear.”
William pounded his fists. “Absolutely not! The law has protected us from murderous Carriers since the war, and it’s a completely ridiculous thought to put the kingdom in jeopardy over some illegitimate ‘love’”.
Alexandra clenched her jaw, gripping my hand under the table. “Alright, we’ve heard from the two of you. Harrison, what do you have to say?”
“William has a point about protecting the kingdom. We must protect our people.” He held his hand up. “However, Thomas is right. We cannot live in fear, especially if we are ever to prosper, to improve the village.”
“What is your final word, Harrison?” Thomas gestured to himself and William. “You know our votes, so what is yours.”
“I’ve noticed a change in our queen since she asked Zinnia to take on the garden project. I haven’t seen her this happy since her parents’ passing, and it’d be a shame to take it all away over one law.”
Alexandra squeezed my hand. “So? Is that your vote?”
He shook his head. “I say we change the law, yes, but instead of repealing it, we should amend it. Magick shouldn’t be forbidden if the Carriers who use it mean no harm. However, should one of them try to endanger our kingdom, they should be punished.”
Alexandra nodded. “That seems fair enough, amending the law. Votes for the amendment as described?”
Thomas raised his hand, ignoring Damien’s glare. Harrison kept his hand in the air, looking at William. He crossed his arms, drooping his head before he relented.
“You better know what you’re doing, your majesty.”
He hand inched into the air, and Damien dropped his hand from the man’s shoulder, storming out. His footsteps pounded on the stone as he hurried downstairs. Alexandra grabbed me into an embrace as the men looked on. Thomas smiled at us as we held each other, but Harrison cleared his throat, getting our attention.
“We still have something to discuss.” He raised a stack of documents. “I assume you two want to help with the wedding plans, right?”
I exchanged a look with my queen. “Actually, I’d like to surprise her, if that’s alright with you.”