We’d been having a picnic by the lake. Peran had brought all my favourite foods and we sat on the edge of the dock to eat and chat. My other Guardians had been dismissed and had agreed to give us some privacy. Everything was perfect.
“Marry me.” I’d said, leaning my head on his shoulder.
“When?” He’d asked.
“Natsuki and Mizuki. I know they’re secretly watching.”
“What about the king?”
“What about him?”
We’d sat in silence for a moment.
“Tonight then.” I’d said. “We don’t need a ceremony.”
“Just each other.” He’d agreed.
And then the first arrow had landed in the wood.
Peran instantly went from boyfriend to protector. He’d pushed me into the water and turned to face the assailant, dark sword materializing.
Currents had pulled me down and away from the dock, Mizuki no doubt controlling them. But I was facing the surface when Peran fell in. I saw the blood mingling with the water.
Mizuki had pulled us both from the lake a good distance away, but it had been too late. Three arrows were lodged deep in Peran’s chest and he was already unconscious. Even Natsuki’s healing touch couldn’t help him.
Natsuki had easily dealt with the assassins, and officially, they’d failed. But they’d still taken something important from me.
“I’m so sorry.” The twins constantly told me. “If I’d been faster.” “If I’d been closer.” “If I’d paid more attention.”
Peran’s memorial was beautiful. Natsuki had grown all of his favourite flowers to decorate his wreath. Ellen made sure there was always a ball of light sitting beside it, as if his spirit were still there. Seraphina kept the multitude of candles lit and made sure nothing else burned. And Skyler, on my request, blew in clouds to blanket the sky above us.
“We can make this a wedding.” Ellen suggested. “It wouldn’t be official, but it would still be sweet.”
Seraphina nodded. “We all know Peran would have said yes.”
I nodded absentmindedly, running my hand over his wreath for the hundredth time.
“And.” Seraphina continued. “Given the circumstances, a bride in black is totally acceptable.”
“Peran’s guardian band can be the ring.” Skyler suggested, touching his own. “I know they’re bracelets, but it’s still gold.”
“And it would be symbolic, too.” Mizuki added.
“We didn’t want a ceremony.” I said. “Just to be together.”
There was silence until someone knocked on the door leading to our courtyard. Natsuki opened it a crack to speak to whoever was there. “We’re busy.” She told them.
“And the king isn’t?” Reiner’s voice cut through the space as he pushed the door open completely. “Princess Lucia, His Majesty wishes to speak with you.”
“No.” I replied. “I won’t hear any more about replacing Peran.”
“Princess, with all due respect, as heir, you have a duty to—”
“I refuse!” I snapped at him. “Peran was my husband. Maybe not on paper, but in spirit we were one. I will not marry another.”
“Princess.” Reiner’s voice was icy, barely holding formality anymore. “As heir, you don’t have a choice. This kingdom is in a position where you can marry whoever you fancy. You should consider yourself lucky.”
“Get out.” My hand found the base of a candle and I threw it at him. It hit the ground beside him and Seraphina rushed to pick up the flame. “You can tell my sister to tell my father that I will never love again. I am heir, but I do not need to produce one. Luna will succeed me, and her children after her. Do I make myself clear?”
I was happy to see a whisper of fear on Reiner’s face as he quickly bowed and left.
“All of you.” I said to get their attention. “I need a moment alone with Peran.”
They bowed out of respect and filed through the door as well.
“I meant it, you know.” I told Peran. “I won’t love anyone else.” Inside my chest, my heart felt cold, as if it was agreeing with me.