Grandfather Attwell, Grandmother Alice, and Aunt Dianira had left for home the day after the announcement ceremony. Their family, the Everlaine line, ruled the eastern territory of Solstice. There were thirteen territories in all. The royal family naturally ruled from the center, which was encircled by four territories. The remaining eight areas claimed the outer borders of the country. Officially, the names were “The Everlaine Territory” and so on, but in casual conversation they simply got referred to by their direction from the center.
“Eagan, take a look at what we’ve gotten.”
And with so many territories with their ruling and noble lines, it meant there were many little boys and girls near the same age as me and my siblings.
“What?” Father walked over.
Mother had Heather and me, dressed in matching periwinkle, at her feet in my parents’ sitting room getting our tummy time while Theo and Lucian were in the nursery attached to the bedroom being slow to wake from our nap. Father, half-changed from a spar session with Uncle Cedric, leaned over her shoulder.
“Wait. Is it another one?” Father growled before Mother could answer. He took the open letter from the stack of mail on her lap. It got crumpled and thrown into the unlit fireplace.
“Hold on. I didn’t actually read it yet,” Mother said, more amused than anything.
“It was trash,” Father scoffed.
He returned to the bedroom while Mother stared deviously at the mail. She sorted through it placing the desired items on top before opening and reading the chosen six or seven letters.
“Oh my, here’s one from the high north. This one is all the way from Cirro.”
She acted as if she spoke to herself, but her loud words stomped Father back out. I giggled into my plush cat toy as he snatched the letters, bitterly spared them the briefest glance, smashed them into balls, and rapid-fire pitched them into the fireplace.
“That’s not polite, dear,” Mother laughed.
“I said fourteen! Not four months, and they’re still days away from that! I made the announcement clear to all, so any marriage proposals will get treated like this for the next thirteen years and nine months.”
“People are eager. It’ll do nothing to be humble about it— Solstice is the largest and most powerful kingdom this side of the Divide. One of these four will be the inheritor of it all. Even if they’re not the chosen heir, by being our sons and daughters that alone gives them an attractive and near limitless source of power,” Mother mused.
Divide? Was that a massive canyon or expanse of sea separating this area of the world from another? Also, and more importantly, Mother confirmed a prominent question of mine. I loathed the idea of being queen. However, I hadn’t feared the position as I was not just the youngest quadruplet but the second daughter. Even should the right to rule not be passed down automatically to the oldest son, which I now knew it wasn’t, my position in the birth order still likely offered me my out.
“My grandparents worked hard against the backstabbing mess Solstice used to be in their day. They set many welcome precedents, including moving us away from arranged marriages. I don’t want to sully their efforts. Father and Mother got to choose each other. You and I got to choose each other. Heather, Theo, Lucian, and Evianna should have the same chance. Their future spouses will have to meet certain standards, of course, but the matter of their life-partner shouldn’t be a game for an intangible ‘victory.’”
“It won’t be. I think the same, of course. I merely meant to explain,” Mother smirked, “and tease.”
“Oh, I’m well aware of that.”
Father knelt before the fireplace. A small ‘whoosh’ signified the emergence of flames while the rich scent of smoke gently tinged the air. I saw when Father stood the crumpled letters indeed quickly burning from the fire reducing them to ash. However, where had the fire come from? Father didn’t hold anything in his hands, and there wasn’t a firestarter anywhere nearby.
“Have Theo and Lucian at least woken up from their nap?” Mother wondered.
“Yes. They’re lying in their crib content to be.”
Heather and I shared a crib while our brothers did the same. I’m sure that would change once we could move better.
“Would you mind bringing Theo to me? He needs to be nursed a bit more.”
He said that, but two minutes ticked by with no Father and no Theo.
“Eagan?” Mother called curiously.
“Just a moment!”
That moment passed as well. Mother turned in her chair to lean and stare past the door connecting the bedroom and sitting room.
“Eagan? Is everything alright?”
Father finally returned, holding both boys and wearing a mortified pout. In a pitiful voice, he admitted, “I can’t tell who is who...”