Chapter Twenty-Six – continued
“No, but there are a lot of things I don’t know about the castle.”
“Well, it’s relatively new anyways. James let Kyanan have an old workshop at the top of the castle. It has a large outdoor workspace and, since her fae magic was showing signs of being earth oriented, they thought it would be helpful for her to have a garden.” He glanced at her and grinned. “It’s beautiful, Abigail, and she’s letting us have our midday meal in it.”
“It sounds lovely, but what if the sea witch sends another wave?”
“Kyanan has taken care of it.” He sighed. “I have to be honest. Kyanan is the one who set all of this up for us.”
Abigail laughed softly. “I’m not angry, Adrian. This war is taking a lot out of us, very quickly. And I suppose we can add another person to the list of people who are eager to see us married.”
Adrian glanced at her, one brow raised. “When we get to the garden, you’ll have to tell me more.”
She sighed. “I’m surprised you don’t know more about it. Ever since Camille learned I was helping Madeline win you over, it seems everyone wanting us to marry has come out of the woodwork.”
“Madeline?” he asked in disbelief as they headed up a staircase. “You were trying to help Madeline win me over?”
She sighed again. “I’ll explain over our meal,” she said, resignation heavy in her voice.
“Well,” he said, scratching at his head, “it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to discuss, but I suppose it’s a start.”
“What did you want to talk about?”
He shrugged. “I just wanted to talk, like we used to.”
“You mean you wanted to tell me stories that make me laugh.”
“You have to admit we all could use a laugh right now, and it has been a while since I’ve told a story. This time, though, it sounds like you have the stories and, if I’m lucky, I’ll get a good laugh.”
“Maybe,” she said as her breath started to come in pants. “Why don’t we just walk up all these stairs in silence?”
He laughed, a heavy, breathy sound that told her he was becoming just as out of breath as she was. “Sounds like a good idea to me.”
In silence, with their hands tightly clasped together as flour remained dusted over them, Adrian and Abigail climbed staircase after staircase until they reached a locked door at the top of the castle. It was quiet, practically abandoned if not for a couple of young men in guard uniforms standing at attention.
“Can’t go anywhere without them,” Adrian muttered as he pulled out a large silver key and stuck it in the lock.
Abigail stifled a giggle. “You are the Crown Prince. The last thing they need is another one of you running away.”
Adrian shook his head as he pushed open the door and the heady scent of flowers in bloom wafted out. “I don’t think I could live with myself if I ran away from my duty. James and I may be cousins, but we’re very different in that regard.”
“I know,” she said softly as he guided her into the garden.
The work space was large and the balcony that opened off of it almost as big, but the sheer number of plants in both areas stole her attention. It was a summery oasis in the middle of winter and war, a riot of colors and scents and large branches and leaves that bent slightly to touch her shoulder in acknowledgement.
“It appears Kyanan has quite the green thumb,” Abigail said, pulling a term from a gardening book she’d found in her mother’s collection, one from the linked world Genevieve’s father had given her when Genevieve thought she’d like to try her hand at a garden. The book had remained in the collection, but the garden hadn’t had as much temerity to do so and had become utterly useless and overgrown in less than a season no matter what its mistress tried.
“It’s her fae magic,” Adrian said as he guided her to a table set up in the middle of the flowers and foliage. “She and James were right; she’s earth-oriented. She just doesn’t know quite what to do with it, so spends her time here when she’s not in her workshop or assisting me.”
“A woman of many talents,” Abigail murmured as she slid into the wrought-iron chair with a soft, pale cushion Adrian guided her to.
He settled himself into the seat across from her with a sigh as a light rain began to fall outside. A grimace spread across his face as the pattering sound filled the space. But he shook his head and took hold of a simple white teapot sitting in the middle of the table.
“So, tell me about the people wanting to see us married,” he said as he poured hot tea into a cup for her. His voice sounded relaxed and light, but, underneath, she could hear a strain in it.
As he moved his hands away, she quickly reached out and touched him fingers. “Adrian, I understand where you need to be.”
He lowered the pot back to the table and gave her a tired smile. “I know you do, and I love that your sense of duty is as strong as mine, but, as my aunt and uncle reminded me a few days ago, we also need the people who will let us lean when we need to, people who will share the burden with us.” He reached out to grasp her hand. “You’ve been unwavering since we were children, always so serene. You’re not just the Queen the Glass Kingdom needs, but also the wife and partner I will need.” He shook his head, his fingers tightening around hers. “I know you understand, but I won’t take anything for granted, I won’t ignore you, especially when I know I need you more than anyone else.”
A soft smile spread across her face, her heart falling for him just that little bit more. “Adrian,” she whispered. “I’m here. I’ve always been here, and I always will be here.” She squeezed his fingers. “Now, may we eat?”
Adrian laughed and reluctantly dropped her hand. The table had been filled with small bites, from chunks of meat to pieces of fruit and even small cakes. Small bowls of soup released curls of steam and warm rolls waited alongside fresh butter.
She looked at the rolls as Adrian went to take a cake, wondering if her hands had touched that dough.
“I can guess my sister was one of the ones hoping to marry us off,” Adrian said, breaking into her thoughts.
Abigail laughed. “Since we were all children it was her and my sister. Since your family returned, I believe they went right back to their matchmaking ways. My father, too, is quite thrilled and doesn’t seem at all surprised.”
Adrian shook his head, flashing her a grin. “I’ve spoken to him a few times. He acts as though we’re already betrothed and that it’s been something to expect.”
She winced. “My father? Sounds more like something my mother would say.”
“If she hadn’t left us, I think she’d have been another one playing matchmaker.”
Abigail nodded. “Yes, I think so. She was always fond of you.” She frowned. “She knew something. Just before she died, she told Camille she wished she had encouraged us more.”
Adrian sighed. “Just how long is this list going to be?”
“Well, your parents seem quite pleased.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes skyward. “My father was quick to put in that I was practically engaged when the Pearl King wanted me to marry his daughter.”
Abigail shuddered. “Let’s not imagine what life would have been like had that happened.”
“I agree. Does the list end with Kyanan, then?” he asked.
“So far,” she agreed.
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