Home > Queen Song (Red Queen 0.1)(8)

Queen Song (Red Queen 0.1)(8)
Victoria Aveyard

He barked a laugh of humor and relief. “Clever, Coriane, very clever.”

They bypassed the ticket booths, as well as the public entrance to the theater. Tibe led her up one of the winding staircases, offering her a better view of the massive foyer. As on the bridge, she wondered who made this place, but deep down, she knew. Red labor, Red craftsmen, with perhaps a few magnetrons to aid the process. There was the usual twinge of disbelief. How could servants create such beauty and still be considered inferior? They are capable of wonders different from our own.

They gained skill through handiwork and practice, rather than birth. Is that not equal to Silver strength, if not greater than it? But she did not dwell on such thoughts long. She never did. This is the way of the world.

The royal box was at the end of a long, carpeted hall decorated by paintings. Many were of Prince Robert and Queen Anabel, both great patrons of the arts in the capital. Tibe pointed them out with pride, lingering by a portrait of Robert and his mother in full regalia.

“Anabel hates that painting,” a voice said from the end of the hall. Like his laugh, Prince Robert’s voice had a melody to it, and Coriane wondered if he had singer blood in his family.

The prince approached, gliding silently across the carpet with long, elegant strides. A silk, Coriane knew, remembering he was of House Iral. His ability was agility, balance, lending him swift movement and acrobat-like skill. His long hair fell over one shoulder, gleaming in dark waves of blue-black. As he closed the distance between them, Coriane noticed gray at his temples, as well as laugh lines around his mouth and eyes.

“She doesn’t think it a true likeness of us—too pretty, you know your mother,” Robert continued, coming to stop in front of the painting. He gestured to Anabel’s face and then his own. Both seemed to glow with youth and vitality, their features beautiful and eyes bright. “But I think it’s just fine. After all, who doesn’t need a little help now and then?” he added with a kind wink. “You’ll find that soon enough, Tibe.”

“Not if I can help it,” Tibe replied. “Sitting for paintings might be the most boring act in the kingdom.”

Coriane angled a glance at him. “A small price to pay, though. For a crown.”

“Well said, Lady Jacos, well said.” Robert laughed, tossing back his hair. “Step lightly around this one, my boy. Though it seems you’ve already forgotten your manners?”

“Of course, of course,” Tibe said, and waved his hand, gesturing for Coriane to come closer. “Uncle Robert, this is Coriane of House Jacos, daughter of Lord Harrus, Governor of Aderonack. And Coriane, this is Prince Robert of House Iral, Sworn Consort of His Royal Majesty, King Tiberias the Fifth.”

Her curtsy had improved in the past months, but not by much. Still, she attempted, only to have Robert pull her into an embrace. He smelled of lavender and—baked bread? “A pleasure to finally meet you,” he said, holding her at arm’s length. For once, Coriane did not feel as if she was being examined. There didn’t seem to be an unkind bone in Robert’s body, and he smiled warmly at her. “Come now, they should be starting momentarily.”

As Tibe did before, Robert took her arm, patting her hand like a doting grandfather.

“You must sit by me, of course.”

Something tightened in Coriane’s chest, an unfamiliar sensation. Was it . . . happiness? She thought so.

Grinning as widely as she could, she looked over her shoulder to see Tibe following, his eyes on hers, his smile both joyous and relieved.

The next day, Tibe left with his father to review troops at a fort in Delphie, leaving Coriane free to visit Sara. House Skonos had an opulent town house on the slopes of West Archeon, but they also enjoyed apartments in Whitefire Palace itself, should the royal family have need of a skilled skin healer at any moment. Sara met her at the gates unaccompanied, her smile perfect for the guards, but a warning to Coriane.

“What’s wrong? What is it?” she whispered as soon as they reached the gardens outside the Skonos chambers.

Sara drew them farther into the trees, until they were inches from an ivy-draped garden wall, with immense rosebushes on either side, obstructing them both from view. A thrum of panic went through Coriane. Has something happened? To Sara’s parents? Was Julian wrong—would Sara leave them for the war? Coriane selfishly hoped that was not the case. She loved Sara as well as Julian did, but was not so willing to see her go, even for her own aspirations. Already the thought filled her with dread, and she felt tears prick her eyes.

“Sara, are you—are you going to—?” she began, stammering, but Sara waved her off.

“Oh, Cori, this has nothing to do with me. Don’t you dare cry,” she added, forcing a small laugh while she hugged Coriane. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to upset you. I just didn’t want to be overheard.”

Relief flooded through Coriane. “Thank my colors,” she mumbled. “So what requires such secrecy? Is your grandmother asking you to lift her eyebrows again?”

“I certainly hope not.”

“Then what?”

“You met Prince Robert.”

Coriane scoffed. “And? This is court, everyone’s met Robert—”

“Everyone knows him, but they don’t have private audiences with the king’s paramour. In fact, he is not at all well liked.”

“Can’t imagine why. He’s probably the kindest person here.”

“Jealousy mostly, and a few of the more traditional houses think it’s wrong to elevate him so high. ‘Crowned prostitute’ is the term most used, I think.”

Coriane flushed, both with anger and embarrassment on Robert’s behalf. “Well, if it’s a scandal to meet him and like him, I don’t mind in the least. Neither did Jessamine, actually, she was quite excited when I explained—”

“Because Robert isn’t the scandal, Coriane.” Sara took her hands, and Coriane felt a bit of her friend’s ability seep into her skin. A cool touch that meant her paper cut from yesterday would be gone in a blink. “It’s you and the crown prince, your closeness. Everyone knows how tightly knit the royal family is, particularly where Robert is concerned. They value him and protect him above everything. If Tiberias wanted you two to meet then—”

Despite the pleasant sensation, Coriane dropped Sara’s hands. “We’re friends. That’s all this ever can be.” She forced a giggle that was quite unlike herself. “You can’t seriously think Tibe sees me as anything more, that he wants or even can want anything more from me?”

She expected her friend to laugh with her, to wave it all off as a joke. Instead, Sara had never looked so grave. “All signs point to yes, Coriane.”

“Well, you’re wrong. I’m not—he wouldn’t—and besides, there’s Queenstrial to think of. It must be soon, he’s of age, and no one would ever choose me.”

Again, Sara took Coriane’s hands and gave them a gentle squeeze. “I think he would.”

“Don’t say that to me,” Coriane whispered. She looked to the roses, but it was Tibe’s face she saw. It was familiar now, after months of friendship. She knew his nose, his lips, his jaw, his eyes most of all. They stirred something in her, a connection she did not know she could make with another person. She saw herself in them, her own pain, her own joy. We are the same, she thought. Searching for something to keep us anchored, both alone in a crowded room. “It’s impossible. And telling me this, giving me any kind of hope where he is concerned . . .” She sighed and bit her lip. “I don’t need that heartache along with everything else. He’s my friend, and I’m his. Nothing more.”

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