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Chapter 32: Implications

Jordan


A firm knock on the chamber door woke me from my doze, and I found myself sitting in lukewarm bath water.


Your Highness?” Kurrum called out. “Have you completed your bath? It is time for your official introduction to your palace staff.”


One moment!” I groaned and hauled myself out of the water, grabbing a shockingly soft towel the previous attendants had laid out on a ledge near the tub. I’d have to ask someone what these towels were made of…and whether it was possible to smuggle some Earthside as future Christmas gifts for my friends at the Hub. I’d never given anyone a towel as a gift, but then I’d never felt a towel like this before—I was sure once they felt these towels, they’d thank me.


After quickly toweling off, I slipped the robe from earlier back on and cracked open the door to peer out.


Kurrum immediately shoved a small stack of folded garments at me. “Put this on. There was no time for your official fitting, so the seamstresses adjusted it to their best estimate. They’re waiting here in case it doesn’t fit, but you need to hurry, My King. I allowed you as long in the bath as I could, but we are behind schedule!”


Schedule. Right. Um—the introduction, and then… when am I supposed to be where, again?” I had no idea how I was supposed to plan my activities around the invisible itinerary inside Kurrum’s head, but apparently he expected me to try.


Kurrum’s eyebrows raised. “Your coronation, Your Highness! Did you forget?”


No, I just wasn’t sure when I—” I decided to just bite my tongue, and nodded. “Right. Of course.” Didn’t these people have cell phones with schedule alarms, or at least watches or something? Even a piece of paper with a basic agenda would help. But maybe the king usually just waited for someone to tell him he was supposed to be somewhere.


Kurrum stared at me, looking something between bewildered and skeptical.


I’ll be there!” I stammered. “I mean, of course I’ll be there; it wouldn’t be a coronation without—um—”


I halted my rambling.


The small cluster of my family and friends was visible over Kurrum’s shoulder, standing near the opposite wall behind him. Reina was watching our interaction from near the back of the group with an amused smirk.


I grabbed the bundle from Kurrum. “I’ll be as quick as I can.” But before I could shut the door, Reina called out for me.


Jordan! Wait a sec.”


She ran toward me—and my face split in a grin as I saw who else slipped out from the group, bounding along on a leash beside her.


Champ!” I dropped to my knees as he shoved his hard head right through the crack of the door and forced his way through.


Kurrum nearly toppled over when Champ pushed past him, but at the moment I didn’t care. I was just so freaking happy to see this goofy furball.


I missed you, buddy!” I rubbed his head and ears as he pressed his wiggling body into me, then I looked up at Reina. “Thank you! I’d thought Striker and Brone took him back to the Hub.”


Reina smiled at me. “I asked them to leave him here. I thought you’d want him with you—but I guess no one actually told you.” She laughed. “I found him down in the kitchens, worming his way into the cook’s heart with those sad puppy eyes.”


I absolutely want him here.” I pulled Champ close as I stared up at her. “Thank you. Seriously. You always know me so well.” Our eyes locked for a long moment.


Reina blushed slightly. “Of course I do. You’re my best friend.”


Something tender but also slightly awkward passed between us as I held her gaze.


And you’re mine.” I stood. Champ instantly sat on my foot, wanting to be as near me as possible, but I kept my eyes locked on Reina. “I haven’t even had a chance yet to thank you for saving Champ’s life. I heard what you did. Thank you, Reina. Every time I feel like hope is lost, you’re right there, having my back.”


You’re welcome.” She smiled at me, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.


I held her stare. “I’m serious, Reina. You are my best friend, and there’s no one I trust more. You and Ayla—”


She glanced away and laughed, and I immediately sensed tension.


I mean, Ayla is… it’s different, with her, of course,” I blurted.


Of course.” Reina watched me with a guarded look.


I stepped toward her. “But no one can ever replace what you are to me. You know that, right? You’ve been my best friend my whole life. I think of you as family. I love you like family. Like a sister. And I always will.” I needed her to understand that, to understand what she meant to me—but also what we weren’t, and what I couldn’t offer her… especially now, when so many things were changing.


I just hoped it wouldn’t mean I’d lose her.


I could feel the weight of the rest of the group watching from across the hall, but I kept my eyes focused on Reina.


Reina was silent for a moment as her gaze studied mine, then she sighed. “I know. I think I’m finally understanding that.” She glanced down at Champ, avoiding my eyes. “I love you too, Jordan. I always have. Get dressed, okay? We’ll all be waiting out here.” She walked back toward the others.


She hadn’t said she loved me like familyand the implications of that left me wildly uncomfortable.


I gestured Champ inside, then shut the door, unsettled by our exchange but unsure what to do about it. I couldn’t bear to lose Reina—she meant so much to me. But I also couldn’t bear to hurt her, which now seemed inevitable. I sank my head back against the door. “How in the world do I fix this?”


Champ’s tail thumped against the wall beside me.


I glanced down at him, and his mouth dropped open into a tongue-lolling grin. I laughed. “You always know how to make me feel better, don’t you?”


Maybe things would get easier between Reina and me with time? I had to hope so, because right now, there was nothing else I knew to do. I sighed and ruffled Champ’s fur. “I’d better get dressed. Think they’d agree to make you a royal canine outfit? They said the attendants were here to fulfill any of my requests…” I smiled down at him one more time, then carried my stack of folded garments to the changing room.


I set the stack of new clothes Kurrum had given me on the bench, then grabbed my LeyGuard clothes from the floor, carefully folded them, and stacked them on the bench, too.


The new clothes from Kurrum contained a finely woven, deep blue tunic with dark blue breeches, and a satiny, crimson, gold-embroidered thing, kind of like an open-fronted ceremonial robe, to wear over the outfit. I exchanged the bathing robe for the new clothes. They seemed to fit well enough. Kurrum had even included a clean pair of dark, very comfortable socks. He had provided no other special footwear, so I slid my trusty LeyGuard boots on over the socks and secured my dagger in its sheath over my new outfit, then hung the discarded bathing robe on an empty hanger on the clothing rack.


When I finally turned to look at myself in the mirror, my breath caught.


I looked like a king.


I’m not ready for this,” I whispered. My reflection stared back at me like a complete stranger.


I hesitated, wanting to call Ayla, craving her calm encouragement—but I couldn’t really afford the time or another use of the stone. Instead, I crossed back to the bench where I’d left my clothes. My LeyGuard pants’ pockets had the stone and a couple other personal items in them—including my favorite ink pen and my cell phone. The phone was practically useless here in Faeside but I still didn’t want to lose it, and I definitely didn’t want to lose the stone. I wasn’t sure folding my clothes on the bench would be enough to prevent the laundress from taking them, so I grabbed an empty hanger and hung my entire outfit up on the end of the clothes rack. I would ask Kurrum to make sure no one came to wash my clothes until I’d found a safer place to store my personal items, but for now, hanging them up would have to do.


I could come back to the room to call Ayla after the coronation, when I actually had an update to report. Hopefully, then she’d also have time to tell me more about her magic. The anticipation of talking to her later calmed my nerves a bit. I could do this. I could get through this—and afterward, my friends and family would all still be there. Even if I made a fool of myself, I still had what mattered… not that I wanted to make a fool of myself. But still, the thought helped.


I forced myself to look back at the mirror. Was this what my father had looked like on his coronation day? Had he worn this same outfit, or one like it? What would he think of me now if he were here? And my mother—she had given her life to protect mine, to make it possible for me to one day take this throne. What would she think of me?


Suddenly, although I’d never met them, I desperately wanted to make them both proud.


I drew a long breath and forced myself to stare my reflection in the eyes. “You are the king, now,” I told myself. “You can’t run from it. You can’t avoid it. You just have to step up and figure it out—step up and be the king they deserve.”


But I had no delusions. I was going to need all the help I could get.


Sorcha’s warm voice drifted into our bond. King-of-mine? They are gathering your attendants into the great hall—and the stage they have assembled for your coronation is already amassing a crowd. Where would you like me to wait for you?


Her words sent a tremor of panic through my chest, but I forced away the image of a massive crowd awaiting me outside and focused on my response to her question. Can you wait on the other side of the palace? Away from the crowds. I don’t want to startle anyone.


A faint tinge of amusement drifted through the bond. I believe it is too late for that… There are already many staring at me, even though I’m flying far above. Dragons are not good at hiding.


I chuckled. All the same… I want this to go smoothly. I’m not sure how the people will react to a dragon up-close. I would like to be with you when you officially approach the crowd, so I can try to avoid unnecessary panic.


Very well, King-of-mine, she answered. I will wait on the far side of the hill, away from the crowd—though they will still be able to see me.


That’s fine, Sorcha. I’m sure they all know about you already, anyway, I told her with a smile in my thoughts. But we’ll make our official introductions together. I’ll see you soon.


My focus returned to my image in the mirror—me, yet so not me. The King of Teionyr. Was I really ready for this?


No. I most definitely was not, but I was doing it, anyway.


I said a quick prayer that my ineptitude wouldn’t spiral the entire kingdom into a panic, then I stared myself back in the eyes. “You can do this. Not alone, of course, because you have no clue what you’re doing, but—you have help. So… it’s going to be fine.” I glanced down at Champ. “It’s going to be fine, right?”


Champ’s tail thumped against the bench as he stared up at me.


Right, sure, we’re fine. It’s all fine.” I drew a shaky breath, and as I smoothed my fancy robe, I felt a strange peace settle over me. I really was doing this.


There was no backing out of it now, so I might as well embrace it.


Okay,” I said, still looking down at Champ. “Let’s go meet my royal attendants.”

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