The King of Adarlan doesn’t fear much these days. Especially not the naked body sleeping next to him, her iron nails protracted and exposed.
The white silk sheets are in shreds by her side, evidence from their unholy activities from the night before, yet she looks like an angel. The bright sunlight pours in from the balcony, framing her white hair like a halo around her sleeping face. He knows the moment she opens her eyes, burnt gold and tinged with sultry wickedness, the facade will disappear quicker than the thought had crossed his mind.
But he’s content, for now. To lie next to her, drawing lazy circles on her back as she sleeps, avoiding the faint scars. She is no angel; the High Queen of the Witches is far too beautiful.
So when a woman he hasn’t seen in a very long time—nor ever expected to see back in his bedchambers, of all places—comes into his room with her arms outstretched, he’s only startled when the Queen Mother Georgina Havilliard starts screaming bloody murder.
“A witch, Dorian! My gods, of all the foolish things you have done!” She chides him later, when she thinks they’re safe. She’d gathered them all in the kitchen cellar, dismissing the cooks and servants, to start yelling at him for his choices.
Dorian Havilliard is properly dressed now, ignoring his little brother, Hollin, smirking back at him. The younger boy had grown taller since the last time they had seen each other, his ebony hair more unruly than ever. Dorian considered pushing him out of his chair with his magic, but he caught Chaol’s eye from the corner of the room.
His best friend had also been … surprised by his choice, but nonetheless supportive. After hearing Georgina’s scream that morning, Chaol Westfall had rushed to locate the source of the trouble – only to try and fail miserably holding back his laughter once he had wheeled his chair into the room and saw the predicament.
Chaol cleared his throat and uncrossed his arms. “Queen Mother, I believe it is—”
“And you!” Georgina turns on him, her finger pointed. Chaol only blinks in surprise. “To allow this to happen, how could you? You were supposed to protect him!”
“Mother,” Dorian drawls exasperatedly. “You have been gone a long time. Chaol has performed in his duties most admirably—”
“By letting you bed a witch? He is your most trusted advisor, he should never let this happen!” His mother’s voice is hysterically calm, but her green eyes flare with fury and terror. She grasps his hand desperately, pleadingly. “Dorian, must you continue these … these imprudent desires? You are too old for this. Can you not find one suitable woman to court?”
Dorian’s patience is wearing thin and he’s ready to tell her to go back to the mountains, when the Hand of the King gently interrupts, “Your Majesty, perhaps if you met Manon Blackbeak-Crochan, Queen of the Witch Kingdom, properly, you might consider differently. She is quite excellent company and I believe you two would get along nicely.”
Dorian keeps a neutral expression. Should he laugh at the absurdity of Chaol’s statement, he might subject himself to more tortures of listening to his mother complain all day. His mother and Manon getting along nicely is as likely as Aelin Galathynius willingly taking orders from someone.
Georgina draws back, straightening her shoulders. Her thin lips form a line. “Fine. If this is what I need to do for you to realize how folly your choices have become, then so be it.”
She stalks out of the kitchen cellar. Dorian and Chaol exchange wary glances.
“She must be the ugliest beast on all of the continent for Mother to react like that,” Hollin sneers, his presence having been forgotten for a moment.
This time, Chaol looks the other way when phantom hands push a shrieking Hollin off of his chair.
Despite Chaol’s diplomatic attempt, the Queen Mother hates the witch. And the feeling is mutual.
Upon seeing her for the first time, Hollin openly gapes at Manon, her crown of stars too bright to ignore, when she joins them for dinner. The young boy makes a fool of himself, stumbling over his own feet, trying to pull her chair out for her. Invisible hands push him aside when Hollin tries to sit next to her, drool already forming at the corners of his mouth.
“Dorian,” his mother snaps quietly, her eyes trained on the table. She's wearing her best court dress, even though there's only five of them to impress.
Dorian shrugs indifferently as he sits next to Manon, ignoring Hollin glaring behind him. “Oh, no. It seems Hollin must have lost his balance.”
Yrene and Chaol look down, small bursts of laughter escaping their lips.
His mother directs her glare to them, still too terrified of the witch to even look in her direction. But it’s all worth it when Manon’s nails, her unshaped non-iron nails, grip his thigh as she purrs in his ear, “Are you jealous, princeling?”
Before he can respond that he’s not jealous of his eleven year old brother—or maybe start drooling as badly as Hollin—Manon pulls away and flicks her wrist, her iron nails coming out in Georgina's direction. She turns to Yrene, with a playful smirk at the healer's swollen belly. “So. What names have we decided on?"
The entire dinner, Manon dominates the conversation, speaking mainly to Yrene and sometimes to Chaol, who has begun to warm to her slowly over the passing weeks. Whenever Hollin tries to impress her or get her attention, Georgina glares at him but he’s too spoiled a child to realize what a parents’ scolding looks like. She’s too scared to glare at Dorian, on the other side of Manon, so she mostly glares at her soup.
“It is always a pleasure when you come to visit, Queen Manon.” Yrene laughs after the servants have taken away the dinner plates. Her rich brown hair glows golden under the dining hall lights. She touches her swelling belly, looking at Chaol with tender fondness. “It excites me to think one of these days that you come, you will be meeting our baby.”
Georgina’s ears turn bright red. “You trust her around an infant child? She’ll slice it to pieces!”
“Mother,” Dorian says sharply. He can almost smell the fear spreading around the room, from Chaol’s wide eyes to even Hollin’s frozen stature.
But Manon doesn’t lash out, nor does she explode into fury. She looks lazily at Georgina, as if noticing her presence at the head of the dinner table for the first time that night. “Do human children not like being shredded to pieces?”
Georgina sputters, horrified. Hollin gasps, while Chaol grimaces. He looks to Dorian with raised eyebrows, an unspoken plea to end this torture already. Just as the servants come back into the dining hall, with a cake and biscuits platter and tiny cups for tea.
Dorian clears his throat. He winks at Chaol as he stands. “Excuse us, everyone. We will be taking dessert upstairs, tonight.”
“Gods help us,” Yrene murmurs in amused horror, as Manon smiles wickedly at Georgina, her iron teeth protruding.