As midmorning rose over the city, Valena returned to the palace in much better spirits than she had been the day before. Her bag was empty and she only ached a little bit. Once she had a nice long soak in a bath with Valon’s elixir, she’d be just fine. Warm from head to toe, she practically skipped back into the palace and up to her chambers with Sir Jupitus close behind her.
He took his place beside Sir Numenor, and she climbed the stairs alone. Arstella was there as she usually was when she returned looking as reserved as ever.
“Run me a bath, if you’d please. Is my sister around? I would like to have breakfast with her in the garden.”
“I will ask, Your Highness,” she said and went to Valena’s bathing chambers as Valena began to undress. She caught sight of the light bruising around her hips and licked her lips. Yes, Hayden was as exquisite as always.
She entered the bathing chamber and poured in the elixir Valon made for general soothing and healing and watched the powder dissolve under the running water. Slowly, the water turned blush pink and she slipped in with a sigh.
Ria, her other lady in waiting, came in and began to wash her hair.
“It seems your hair has grown, Your Highness.”
She sighed, “Well, I suppose it had to eventually.”
Where Valon’s hair grew like wildfire, her hair grew slow. He said something about using the potions he’d made properly, but she honestly couldn’t remember his instructions. It was more of a chore to take care of the finicky length than wear a wig. It was one of the principal reasons she cut it.
Their mother had always had short hair for a similar reason, but their father’s hair had been as long and lucious as Valon’s. A knock sounded on the door.
“Val’, are you in the bath or decent?’
“Blush pink decent.”
He sighed and opened the door, and she gasped, “Who are you and what have you done with my Val’?”
He rolled his eyes from behind his veil and came to sit in the chair by the door. She sat up in the tub and leaned against the edge of it. Valon had a different grace to his stride than she did, he always had but it had grown over the years, likely due to his martial and mage training. Ezra, their personal chief attendant, had always fussed over the way he dressed and Valena always agreed that he dressed more like a Bjori general than an emira.
Today, however, Valon made her proud in a gorgeous, spring blue dress with the subtlest silverthread and sweet peach lace overlay on the sweetheart bodice and up around his collar. It was sleeveless, showing off the tone of his arms. It didn’t have the structure or extra flare of the gowns Valena favored, but it had enough to emphasize his slender figure.
“Don’t just sit down, give me a spin, Val’! That cow of a seamstress has actually done her job for a change.”
He sighed, stood, and obliged. Valena clapped proudly at the backless, well cut gown. The laces at the small of his back, pulled the dress tight around his waist and fell delicately over the back of the skirt. She knew he was wearing a petticoat at best rather than a bustle and smiled.
“Your ass looks fantastic as always and the hem on that gown certainly shows off your legs… It seems the cow does listen to me.”
“You’ve been discussing my wardrobe?” Valon asked.
“Of course, it is a hobby of mine. Clothing that is,” she leaned back in her bath tub and sighed. “Not that you would know what a hobby was…”
Valon scoffed and sat, “Did you enjoy your night out?”
“I do not answer to imposters.”
He chuckled, “Ezra did this.”
She hummed, “Go on… is this about that handsome knight?”
“No, you goof, it is about the formal tea to be held this morning. The nobles and their families expect us out in the garden soon. Did you forget?”
Valena sighed, “Willfully.”
He shook his head, “Of course. A quick debrief?”
“Do we have to? They’re only here to drink your teas, rub elbows, and insinuate that there will never be a royal consort unless they can get you married and depose me.”
Valon said nothing and for a moment, she wondered if she had gone too far. She couldn’t feel his usual frustration through their bond and turned her head. His eyes were amused.
“I am not.”
“You are,” he said and she felt his happiness blossom. “You want them to respect you as the next arka…”
She glowered at him, “I will have none of that from you.”
“I like whoever it was you spent the night with,” he said, “He’s good for you. As for a debrief, I was going to tell you that I am certain several of your suitors will be in attendance and there have been rumors that a few sons of noblemen are set to be engaged.”
She smiled and looked at him, “I do so love court gossip.”
He produced a sheet of paper, “Shall I?”
“Oh, please dear sister, make my morning!”
Valena listened as she soaked in the hot water, feeling more energized about a noble gathering than she had been in a long time. There were several untitled sons and daughters of the noble class. Not all of them would be in attendance, but enough of them would be to keep her entertained for the entire tea.
She would also have great reason to trim down the list of her lovers. Listening to Valon debrief her about the gossip among the nobles made her smile but it was a bit bittersweet.
Would they get to have this sort of fun after she was crowned or would they be drowning in the work? She pushed that thought away, watching Valon out of the corner of her eye. Valon practically ran the kingdom on his own now. The other country leaders of the alliance respected him, the archmage adored him as a pupil, and the people loved him as they saw him so much.
What were their parents thinking not naming him the next arka? Without leaving a will? Had they not realized it before they were murdered? Had they simply not had the time?
She looked over at Valon who seemed to be waiting for her reply.
“I’m sorry, Val’. I suppose I enjoyed myself a bit too much last night.”
Valon quirked an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes before folding his hands over the paper.
“I believe in you,” he said. “And even if there is a will out there, whatever it says doesn’t detract from the fact that you are more than capable.”
Valena’s eyes burned as Valon’s eyes smiled.
“Every great arka has had support, Valena and no one knows how much.”
“Thank, Val’…” she shook her head. “No more important talk. Let’s talk about you flirting with some of these nobles.”
“Never in a million years.”
She laughed, “Oh, Val’, you poor naive baby.”
She turned in the bath as Valon huffed, “I am not naive.”
Valena snorted, “If you think that Corani and the other nobles aren’t going to try their best to get one of their sons onto the throne one way or another, then you’re absolutely naive.”
Valon gripped the papers tightly and stood, “I have to get the gollum ready. Will you be ready to go when I return?”
Valena sighed, “Can we at least both agree that if you were taking over, it would be easier?”
Valon stopped at the door and looked at her, “Is that what you want, Val’?”
Valena frowned, “What do you mean?”
“For me to take your place?”
Valena felt a little breathless, meeting his gaze. They were just like hers and their mother’s. She looked away.
“What about what you want, Val’?”
“Do you think I want to depose you?”
“No,” she pouted. “You’ve made that pretty clear. What I don’t know is…”
“Because you’re my sister, Val’,” Valon said. “You’re the eldest. It’s always been your right. Have I ever seemed unhappy to support you?”
She sighed, “No.”
“Then what is it?” Valon asked.
Valena sighed and shook her head, “Nothing, Val’… Maybe I’m just thinking too much.”
He narrowed his eyes and turned to her, “Promise me, we’ll talk about this.”
Valena groaned, “I promise.”
“Promise?” He urged.
She waved her hand at him, “Gemini promise.”
Seemingly satisfied, he came over and kissed her temple, “I’ll be back. Bathe, get dolled up to make a mockery of the court with me. We’ll have fun.”
Valena rolled her eyes as he left and grumbled, “You mean, you’ll fret if I don’t seem at ease and you’ll have no fun at all.”
But maybe Valon’s overprotective nature would help her get him out of the way of being happy. Maybe, if it was clear enough that she feared for his future, he’d put in a little effort towards finding his own happiness instead of following in the steps of every other second twin born to the line of Solomon.