Chapter Thirty-Four

The agreement was made late that night over tumblers of brandy. Aravis was fast asleep in her cozy narrow bed when H.C. consented to let his eldest daughter travel with the future king of Archenland as a candidate for his queen, but Hana woke her first thing the next morning with the news.

"You seem strangely happy for someone whose chances of becoming queen just decreased by fifty percent," Aravis said groggily, rolling out of bed and rubbing the back of her head where it was still slightly tender from the whack Gyneth had given it.

"But I like Janey," Hana repeated. She pulled out a fresh shift for Aravis to don and gave it to her.

"Like her or not, she's competition."

"She would make a better queen than I. She's the daughter of a mayor!"

Aravis eyed her as she slipped into the shift and reached for the thin summer frock and trousers she would be wearing for the next few days. "One would think you didn't want to be queen."

Hana colored. "And what if I don't?"

She straightened, brushing out her tangled hair. "I am sorry to break the news to you, Hana, but if you marry Cor, you will eventually be queen."

Hana shrugged.

"Don't you want to marry Cor?"

She shrugged again.

Aravis found herself at a loss for words. "You—but—who wouldn't want to marry Cor? He's—young and handsome and kind—and will be king—I don't understand, Hana!"

Hana was bright red, but she maintained her fierce look as she folded her arms and met Aravis's gaze. "You don't want to marry him, Aravis!"

Struck speechless again, Aravis moved about the room, dazedly gathering up her belongings and shoving them into her satchel. "That may be true, but I'm also not a candidate for the position, now, am I?"

"You of all people should understand," Hana said fiercely. "It isn't Cor—I mean, there's nothing wrong with him, I just…if I was back in Wolfdell…I might pick someone else, is all."

Aravis was divided between feeling rightfully abashed and suddenly curious. "You're right, Hana," she said sheepishly, swinging her satchel over her shoulder. "But…who would you pick, exactly?"

Hana gave her a stricken look, her blush turning mottled, and swept from the room in indignation.

"I'm sorry," Aravis called, hurrying after her, "was that rude?"

"Probably," said Cor as she ran straight into him on the stairs. "Where's the fire?"

"Oh, sorry, Cor. Everything go all right last night?"

"As well as can be expected. Janey's more excited about seeing the treasury's collection of fine art than possibly becoming queen, I think."

Aravis had to laugh. "She will make you a fine mate—you can spend your conjugal nights rhapsodizing about Mactevis and his Illumination of the Windowsill and Study of Floorboards."

Cor snorted. "Aravis, you know I'm partial to Westeron's Painting of Our Most Esteemed Capital City Anvard With a View Towards Promoting Archenlandian Trade in the International Community."

"Simply riveting."

"Oi! Old hens! Some of us want to get to our breakfasts, you know."

Aravis realized then that she and Cor were completely blocking the stairway, and Corin and a few servants were waiting somewhat less than patiently at the head. "Sorry," Cor said to her. "I've left my things upstairs—"

"And I've got to eat, aye," Aravis replied, suddenly flustered. Cor flattened himself against the wall and she slid past him, her face feeling warm for some reason.

Janey, Hana, Darrin, Ram, and Borran were already seated at the table, and Janey passed her a platter of fresh summer fruit and various cheeses. "Sleep well?" Aravis asked her, choosing a peach and a hunk of cheddar.

Janey was practically glowing, but she only smiled and nodded demurely. "Quite so. And you?"

"Perfectly. Are you ready to shove off today?"

"Yes—Hana was a dear and helped me this morning."

Hana beamed.

Aravis cut into her peach. "I do have some record-keeping to do with you…but you needn't worry about it yet. We can do it later."

Janey looked supremely unconcerned, and a contented silence filled the room. All was well. For now.

A/N: Welp, I had more planned for this chapter, but it just didn't fit. So. Consider this a transition chapter. :)