“Three cheers for the bride-to-be!” Queen Aelin Ashryver Whitethorn Galathynius yells for the fourth time that night, though her grin is as cunning as ever, her turquoise eyes pools of mirth and wickedness.
Lady Elide Lochan waves her hand in front of her face, as she tries to blink back some sobriety. “No, no. No more. Not again.”
“It’s for the bride,” Lady Lysandra Ashryver croons, wrapping her arm around Elide. She matches Aelin’s smirk and lifts her mug. “To Manon, soon to be Queen of Adarlan!”
“And Queen of the Wastes!” Petrah Blueblood reminds her, raising her mug to her lips.
Manon, herself, looks warily at the ale in the jug, brown sloshing liquid. It’s watered down, even though Aelin and Petrah had demanded the finest ale this tavern had to offer when the party had arrived. They were in the Witch Kingdom, celebrating Manon’s upcoming wedding with copious amounts of alcohol, even though the bride-to-be didn’t care for champagne or wine or ale. If she had her preference, she’d be in her tower with Dorian, her teeth lightly sinking into his throat.
He’d also, preferably, be naked.
But it was not often that the Queen of Terrasen and her cohort ventured to the Witch Kingdom, and it was not often that it was for celebration. The promise of a better world had brought peace to their people, all of their people, but there were still conflicts from time to time. There were still disputes and meetings that had to be attended to, the kinds of councils where she would have rather watched paint dry than listen to another lord complain.
So tonight was for celebrating, without the worry of politics. Aelin had marched up to her door and demanded that Manon join her for drinks that night. Dorian’s laugh could still be heard from her bedroom as they descended down the stairs, Manon trying to protest that the taste of ale disgusted her.
Though here she was, sitting in a newly-built tavern in the center of the city. Cobblestone streets lead up to the dark brick and torch-lit exterior, where inside a low-hanging chandelier barely brightened the space. Other witches and humans from Adarlan and Terrasen had gathered as well, though so far no blood had been spilled. No iron teeth or nails exposed.
All was well, it would seem.
But still, Elide’s onyx eyes narrow as she looks across the table at Manon, who’s yet to bring her fourth – or tenth? – mug to her lips. “Are you alright, Manon?”
Manon steels herself. Straightens her shoulders and purses her lips, so that it would appear she’s smiling. “Of course I am. Where is Yrene?”
The healer was supposed to have met them here tonight, after she had put the little ones to sleep. Dorian had even offered to help out Chaol instead, but Theo has now reached the age where he only cries and screams whenever he does not get what he wants. And every night, he wants his mother to sing to him as he falls asleep.
“Are children exhausting?” Manon asks, before Elide can even answer her first question, as she gazes about their cohort. Elide had a little one, a beautiful little girl that they named Marion, after her mother, staying at an inn with her husband. Lysandra’s children were also with Aedion, at the same inn.
Aelin and Rowan had been taking their time, even though it was well-known throughout their friends she was not taking a tonic. They had so many years promised to each other, that they wanted to enjoy them, without worrying about trying to conceive.
A soft look glazes over Elide’s eyes, her own silly, drunken smile spreading. “Yes. But they’re worth it. Even when she wakes me up in the morning, screaming like a wild lion, I adore her.”
“Sounds awful,” Bronwen says, though an amused gleam flickers in her eye. Manon pretends not to notice Ansel of Briarcliff coming from the bathrooms at the same time, giving her cousin a sense of privacy.
Ansel returns to the head of the table and notices the jug near empty. She hollers towards the barkeep, “Another jug of ale! Keep your finest coming!”
Elide presses her fingers to the temples of her head. “I think I’m going to be sick if I drink another.”
Manon stares at her mug, still untouched. Often when Dorian stumbled back to their bed, after a night out drinking with Chaol and some of the generals, he was wild, full of insatiable lust and hunger. Some nights he wanted her with her clothes on against the wall, and other nights stripped naked against the sheets. But there were the few nights, where he simply couldn’t stop smiling as he looked at her, just talking to her in the moonlight-filled bedroom and caressing her skin lazily.
One night he’d wanted to ride Abraxos and her foolish, wily wyvern had pretended to drop dead from the highest point of the stables, before spreading his wings just before he would have hit the ground. That was a mistake she had not made again – for if she had been on the ride when Dorian had emptied the contents of his stomach, she would have promptly broken their engagement.
Staring at her mug and staring at her friends, Manon wants to feel as light as he does those nights. Tonight, her heart feels stuck in her throat and she hates this feeling. As if she were simply a vessel of tears and misery, and not a strong-willed, deadly predator.
Manon raises her mug to her lips, as the barkeep brings Ansel another jug of ale, and drowns the liquid, drowning her heart. Ansel and Aelin clink their mugs together, liquid sloshing as they sing a raunchy song. Lysandra’s melodic laugh turns more than a few heads and Petrah pretends to throw money at the duo.
Though Manon notices Elide watching her as she reaches for the jug and pours herself more ale. She steels herself once more. As long as she could get Elide to believe all was well, then maybe she could too.
Later that night, Manon staggers into her bedroom, red wine caked at the corner of her lips. Dorian looks up from his book, only a single torch blazing by the nightstand, and grins.
“I suppose you all had fun?”
She’d never much cared for human wine until tonight, gulping down the sweet taste of fermented berries like cold water. It was much better than the watery ale, that much she remembers. She nearly stumbles over herself, trying with shaking fingers to take off her leathers. “Fun?”
“Fun,” Dorian repeats, standing up and crossing to her. With swift and soft fingers, he unlaces her shirt fabric, his touch warm against her skin. “How were they?”
Manon tilts her head to the side, as if trying to remember. She can see Aelin jumping atop their table well after they’d had their sixth – maybe eleventh? – round when the wine had finally been brought out, and challenging a stockier, taller man to a sword-fighting duel.
Even the Queen of the Wastes couldn’t sway their favor, as the barkeep politely asked the group of women to leave. Just as poor Yrene had finally made it to the tavern.
“They were fine,” Manon says, her eyes darkening as his fingers deftly unlace the buckle of her pants.
Her friends – to think that once upon a time she would have never called Ansel of Briarcliff a friend – had decided to walk towards another tavern and that was where the night had started to slip away from Manon. Though, sometime during their second – or maybe third? – place of drinks, Elide had reached for her hands, silver lining her eyes, and said, “Manon, it’s alright. I miss them too.”
“Do you know what I saw?” Manon tells him, though her head spins as she tries to walk towards the bed.
An amused smirk crosses his lips as he watches her fall onto the mattress. “What did you see?”
“Bronwen did not come back to the tower with me. She went with Ansel.”
Dorian starts unlacing her boots. “Are you surprised? It was you who wrote to me a few months ago that you thought Bronwen needed someone to warm her bed, since she was so uptight.”
“I say a lot of things,” Manon says as she rolls her eyes and stares towards her window, where the night sky is littered with thousands of silver stars. “But I don’t expect more than half of them to come true.”
“What do you mean?” Dorian asks her, before slipping into bed beside her.
The wine swirls and swirls in her head and she finds herself longing for the sound of Asterin’s voice, for her Second’s wild and cunning smirk. Maybe it had been a century ago, when she and Asterin had laughed of the idea – marriage, being shackled to a man for time and time to come. A hundred years must have passed by since she had decided she would never marry, and would instead fly through the skies with her cousin for the rest of their immortal lives, the Thirteen howling behind them.
I miss them too.
Her hand finds Dorian’s under the blankets, though she still watches the stars, as if she can see them there in the skies. “I think I saw Glennis at the tavern. I think I saw Glennis drinking pints and pints of ale.”
Dorian’s laugh fills the room with music as he holds her hand tighter. “You did not.”
“I did too!” Manon turns to him, insistent that he believes her. Even though it’s cloudy in her brain, if she actually did see the gray-haired witch in the tavern with them.
“My love, Glennis was here the entire night,” Dorian says, the laughter reaching his beautiful sapphire eyes, gleaming against the shadows of the room. “In fact, I saw her not ten minutes before I came up here to read.”
Those two simple words, my love, had melted her iron teeth and nails, melted any resolve she had to make him understand she did see Glennis at the tavern. All she heard was his low voice calling her my love, suddenly wanting his body more than she’d ever wanted him before. She curls up against his chest, comfortably warm despite the summer night breezing through the window, and listens to the sound of his heart.
He pulls her against him and she can feel his smile against her hair, most likely sticky with the sweetest wine the tavern keep could summon. The Queen of Terrasen had cackled before she uncorked a bottle, the liquid exploding into her own hair and onto her friends. That must have been the second time they were asked to leave a tavern – or it could have been the fourth.
“I am happy you are here,” Manon heard him whisper. “I missed you.”
Perhaps if Manon had not chugged down all of that ale, wine, and champagne, she would have rolled her eyes and swung her legs over his hips, rolling their bodies until they both found their pleasure.
But instead she thinks of the politics of their marriage-to-be, how they will have to be apart from each other for months at a time to rule over their own kingdoms. And how she won't be able to know the nights when he can't fall asleep because he's worried for hours upon hours about those who still doubt him, who still distrust her. There are still many who remember the siege of the Ironteeth in the days of Erawan, when she, herself, had been the dark lord’s Crowned Wing Leader. Those who did not approve of Adarlan aligning with the Witch Kingdom, or of their king marrying a predator with iron teeth.
She lifts her lips to his, inhaling his scent that has become like home to her. His eyes had darkened, but she can see universes in them, worlds where they are no one but everything to each other. “I missed you too, princeling.”
The hole that has been in her heart for so long will always be there – but with him, it isn’t so unbearable. So bleak and so miserable. It’s a part of her, but a part she can start to control, like the iron of her nails and teeth. The starlight casts a pretty glow on his face and she’s overcome with such emotion, she worries it will spill out of her and leave her lifeless on the bed.
So she whispers, more sober than she’s ever been, “Marry me.”
His laugh sounds like the summer wind; like the music of young witchlings playing over the hills of the Wastes by the shore of the sea. “I already am, my love. The day after tomorrow, actually. If you remember.”
But she shakes her head and caresses the side of his face. “Marry me now. Right here, with no one else watching but the stars themselves.”
His grin is delicate and lazy, pulling her towards him a dream. “Okay. Okay, then. Queen Manon, uniter of the mighty Ironteeth and Crochans, do you take me to be your husband, in sickness and in health? United until death do us part and forever more?”
In this dream, they’re standing in the center of the evergreen Wastes, the fading sunlight casting golden halos upon Dorian’s beautiful face. Silk, she decides. He must be made of silk and sapphires and sunset evenings. He’s in a suit of white, the human color of marriage and purity, across from her, slipping his mother’s bright ruby engagement ring onto her finger.
And beside her are the twelve most beautiful witches she’s ever known, ever loved, ever rode into war with. Delight and prideful expressions beaming on all of their faces, as Asterin stands beside her, holding her own ring for Dorian. Sorrel’s face, ever made of stone, has cracked the hints of a smile. Vesta’s wine-colored hair is on fire under the shining sun.
Lady Elide Lochan is there, sitting in the front with her husband. And so is Aelin and her mate, the silver-haired prince of wind. There’s Fenrys right beside them by Ansel of Briarcliff, and Lady Lysandra and Aedion Ashryver and Evangeline, with them beside Hollin Havilliard and his mother. She sees Glennis and Petrah and Bronwen and Karsyn, and the beautiful Crochans she’s come to know and love. There’s Chaol, silver lining his eyes as he watches his friend. And Yrene and Little Josefa and Little Theo, right beside him.
But none of them matter, in this moment. In this moment, it’s just Dorian lying next to her in her bedroom.
“I do,” she says to him because it doesn’t hurt right now, the beating of her heart.
Staring deeply into his eyes, she says it again with more power and stronger conviction, “I do, Dorian Havilliard. A thousand times over, I do.”
“Do you,” she asks, nearly breathless. “King Dorian Havilliard II, of Adarlan, take me to be your wife –”
“Yes,” he tells her before cupping her face and pulling her to him. Against her lips, he mumbles, “Yes, yes. Yes and yes.”
Soft laughter dies in her mouth as she kisses him back. He tastes like the gray waves of the sea rolling in, like a crisp winter morning. His phantom hands roam her body, his touch leaving trails of ice and fire on her skin.
She wakes up the next morning, the sunlight acting as a blanket on her naked body wrapped in sheets, with a pounding in her head so severe, she nearly flings herself out of the window.
“Yrene suggests this tonic for the headache,” Dorian tells her, already dressed for the day’s responsibilities. There’s a glass of water next to her bed, with a vial of clear liquid she suspects that he wants her to drink.
“Where are you going?” she asks, not caring that her voice sounds like sandpaper. The taste of blood never has this effect on her the next day and has a far more pleasant aftertaste on her tongue than alcohol does.
Dorian smiles, as he runs his fingers through her hair, still kneeling beside her bed. “They’re setting up the chairs today. I'm going to greet the last of our guests are arriving for tomorrow.”
Manon tries to blink away the crusts of sleep around her eyes and holds her stomach. “I’m never leaving this bed again.”
He kisses the side of her mouth, and brings the tonic to her. “Try this. You’ll feel better.”
Manon looks at it warily, thinking back to how she thought the ale and wine would make her feel better.
“I would stay here with you, but I do have to meet Chaol and the others in the field in a few minutes,” Dorian says apologetically, once Manon has finally deigned to take a sip. “I will see you tonight for dinner one last time.”
Manon makes no effort to hide her eye roll. Another ridiculous human tradition that the bride and the groom should not see each other on the eve of their wedding – though Manon had rebuked the idea of going the whole day without him. Not out of weakness, nor of a need to be near him, but because she simply wanted to. And it was a freeing feeling, as Aelin had told the year before, to love someone, so she had finally stopped denying herself of it.
“Then I suppose this is the last private moment we will have together?”
Dorian considers her words. “Well, until tomorrow night. After, I’m all yours for the next fortnight.”
Her eyes rove over his body, his muscles taught beneath his white shirt. Imagining how handsome her king would be, his tan skin glowing under the sunlight as he hovers over her, she stands up and lets the sheets fall to the floor.
Her brow lifts, a quiet question. Will you really wait until tomorrow night?
Cold, phantom hands guide her towards the wall. The king’s darkening eyes matching his fervent smirk in response.
Manon hardly expects visitors for the rest of the day, content to not leave her tower, even for food. She can barely contain her shock at the sight of the Queen Mother standing at her door, a little after midday with a thick velvet fabric in her hands, that trails on the floor of the hallway behind her.
Manon looks over her shoulder, as if that will somehow conjure Dorian from the fields where he’s been attending to his people and making sure they’re all settled in. It had been a long time since she’d spoken to the Queen Mother alone, an even longer time since they’d even had a civil conversation. She’s still slightly feeling the after effects of all the ale and wine, aware that her white hair is a mess at her shoulders, and wishes she looked better.
“I do not know what your customs are,” Georgina tells her, for once making eye contact with Manon as she speaks. “But when I married Dorian’s father, his mother gave me a dress similar to this to wear on our wedding day. You’re taller than I am, you wouldn’t fit in it – and perhaps, well, you may have another dress but – consider this a wedding gift.”
Manon feels as if her muscles have frozen, as her eyes rake in the fabric. When Dorian had told his mother of the wedding, she had not balked or stuttered or protested – even though Manon’s still convinced she had wished for a human wife for her eldest son, heir to the Adarlan kingdom.
She had simply asked, “How will you rule two kingdoms, from two separate palaces?”
It was a valid point, something Manon had been wondering herself, and therefore reason enough for her to avoid the Queen Mother whenever she visited Dorian.
But now, the Queen Mother stands before her with a lovely wedding gift, yet Manon’s stomach doesn’t fill with lead. She reaches for the dress, examining the material as she holds it in her hands. It’s a deep red fabric, the color of her Crochan cape, with a sleeveless, gold encrusted bodice. It takes her very breath away, and nearly all coherent thoughts in her mind.
“Where did you find this?” Manon breathes out, unable to take her eyes off of the gown. If she had, she might have noticed the Queen Mother blush a shade of crimson as deep as the dress itself. She might have noticed her future mother-in-law hiding her hands in the folds of her own dress, where tiny cuts nicked the tips of her fingers, from endless nights of needles pricking her skin.
“It was no trouble,” Georgina says. “I do hope it is suitable.”
Manon nearly smiles at the absurdity. The gown was more than suitable, perfect even.
“Thank you,” she says to Dorian’s mother. Petrah and Bronwen had tried convincing Manon to wear a dress instead of her witch leathers for months, and would probably be out of their minds with happiness. She would have to find them later, if she felt up to brushing her hair and washing her face.
“It’s bad fortune for the groom to see his bride’s dress before the wedding.” Georgina juts her chin to Manon’s wardrobe. “All his life he’s never been tidy. Hide it in there, and he’ll never find it.”
After she leaves, all Manon wants to do is put the dress on, put on her crown of stars, and walk down her room as if she were practicing for the ceremony. She’s never worn dresses, not even to other weddings – where instead she just donned her best leathers that had seen neither war nor sieges.
But she savors the moment for tomorrow, instead doing as Georgina had advised and hiding the dress away in her wardrobe.
“A dress?” Glennis asks right before dinner time. She’d met her great-grandmother in the tea room, to discuss final preparations that needed to be in order before Manon could enjoy her honeymoon. “That was certainly kind of her.”
Manon had worried for a moment, that the dress was laced in poison or needles. But there was no malice or trickery in the Queen Mother’s emerald eyes and so Manon had quelled her suspicions.
“It’s beautiful,” she admits, raising her tea cup to her lips. They’re sitting in front of the fireplace, in leather arm chairs that are meant to control one’s posture, instead of comfort.
“Yet you are still troubled,” Glennis notices.
Not anymore because of the dress, Manon thinks to herself. She presses her lips together and wishes for the thousandth time that day that she had not consumed so much alcohol the night before, having not felt this out of sorts in a long time. “I just wish – I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Explain what, dear?”
Manon lets out a sigh so deep, she wonders if she’d left her heart drowned at the bottom of the jug of ale. “I’m grateful for the dress. It was a kind gesture from the Queen Mother.”
“That you weren’t expecting?”
Manon snorts. That would be an understatement.
“Or perhaps, you were hoping to never get?”
Manon frowns now, tearing her eyes to Glennis. “What are you implying?”
“You carry a deep sadness inside of you, Manon,” Glennis explains and sets her tea cup aside. “Yet you seem to think you are unworthy of carrying it.”
Manon sets her own tea cup aside as well. “I don’t catch your meaning.”
“You are a queen who has accomplished much in her young life, who has the unconditional love of a wonderful human and great friends. Sure, you must think that you should be happy. But you will find that your heart sometimes has a greater will of its own.”
Manon watches the flames, trying to steel herself once more.
“It is okay to miss those who have left us, even long after they have gone. Your parents, Rhiannon, your Thirteen. Even the Matron. And perhaps, not having the Queen Mother’s blessing made that grief feel tangible, something to hold onto. But now, you feel you have no reason to be sad.”
Manon still remembers the day she and Dorian’s mother met – under less than ideal circumstances. The fire in Georgina’s eyes had told Manon that she would never accept her and maybe that had been a comfort at the time, for Manon never actually thought she could marry her son.
“You can be sad Manon, even if you have many, many happy things around you.” Glennis reaches for her hands. “You can be happy, even if you have many sad things around you. But most importantly, you can feel. You can love, you can grieve, and you can cherish. That does not make you less of a queen.”
If Manon lets herself truly grieve, she’s worried that the dam inside her she’s worked so hard to control and contain will never end.
But she has one question to ask Glennis, before she pieces herself together once more. One that she will allow herself to ask. “Do you think they would have loved him?”
The look in Glennis’s eyes tells her she does not need to clarify.
“Yes, Manon. I do think your parents would have loved him, just as your people do. Just as his people will see. He is a great king, but an even greater man. And he is lucky, that his soul should have entwined with yours.”
Manon presses her lips together again, so that it appears she is smiling. And for now, the dam will hold.
“Quit moving so much,” Elide sternly tells her, as another needle pricks Manon’s waist.
Manon doesn’t snap or snarl back at her friend, imagining Elide must use this voice on her little one often enough. It’s her wedding day and they’re trying to adjust the hemline of Manon’s dress around her waist in her tower. It hadn’t humiliated her that the dress was too tight around her middle for humans had slimmer waists, but she still hadn’t wanted to seek out the Queen Mother for adjustments.
Manon lets loose a discontented sigh. “You try standing for hours and not moving at all.”
Yrene hands her a glass of water and smiles, trying to relieve the growing tension in the room. “Oh, you look so lovely, Manon! What a beautiful dress.”
Manon hisses when Elide pokes her once more with a needle. “I’m sorry! But you have to stop moving.”
Aelin fixes her with knowing eyes, sitting in the arm chair with her feet up. “Do you have something to tell us, Manon?”
All of the women turn to the witch with wonder.
Manon just rolls her eyes and does her best to keep still. “The Queen Mother just assumed my waist was the size of a human woman. One who probably hadn’t eaten for months before her wedding.”
“You know, it wouldn’t surprise me,” Aelin muses. “If she, herself, hadn’t eaten for months before her wedding.”
“I bet you’ll be the first to carry a child,” Petrah tells Manon, with a smirk. “The first of us, at least.” Referring to her and Bronwen, who’s been staring out the window at the witches and mortals gathering on the street below for the ceremony.
Yrene meets Manon’s eyes, though the healer wisely does not say anything.
“Does it look alright?” Elide asks as she stands and admires her handiwork.
Manon turns to the mirror, her white hair braided into a crown on her head. She had expected the deep red fabric to wash out her pale skin, yet she doesn’t look sickly. The gold bodice fits her waist better now, bringing out her eyes.
Bronwen places the crown of stars on her head gently and smiles. “It looks more than alright, Elide.”
Manon turns away from the mirror and smooths her hands over the dress. “Alright. I suppose we should go now.”
“Oh don’t sound so excited,” Aelin snorts, as she stands. “You do look rather beautiful. Dorian’s a lucky man.”
“Does it not fit? Is it still uncomfortable?” Elide asks in a near panic. Manon frowns before realizing she’d been holding her hand against her stomach.
She avoids Yrene’s gaze and pushes a smile. “It’s perfect. And I am excited. We should go.”
Her friends file out of her room, their elated chatter carrying as they descend the stairs. Yrene stays back, holding her hand to Manon. She opens her mouth but Manon shakes her head, still wearing her smile.
“Not today. Because I am excited,” she explains to her. “Any day but today.”
Yrene nods. She matches her smile and tells Manon of last night’s escapades, trying to get Josefa to take a bath, especially as the young girl was going through a phase of playing only in mud and dirt. If Yrene is aware that Manon absentmindedly runs her hand over her stomach again, where the scars from the Matron’s nails still mar her skin, nearly taking out all of her internal organs that day, she does not say. Just as she does not tell their friends of the less than likely chances Manon will be able to carry a child, an heir, full-term.
Up until this moment, standing on an altar with Dorian, in front of hundreds of mortals and witches, Manon had not realized what a spectacle it would be to marry a king. A human king.
The sunlight pours down on them, on her blood-red gown of gold, on his white clothing. Light sweat trickles the tops of their foreheads, but Manon thinks he’s never looked better.
Their friends are there. Lady Elide Lochan sits in the front row with her husband, with Aelin and Rowan, the silver-haired prince. Fenrys sits near Aedion Ashryver and Lady Lysandra, and Evangeline sits near Hollin Havilliard and the Queen Mother. There’s Ansel of Briarcliff, sitting very close next to Bronwen, sitting next to Petrah and Karsyn and Glennis. And there’s Chaol and Yrene, with Little Josefa and Theo, exchanging grins with Aelin.
It is both a witch and human custom for someone to lead the wedding, and preferably it would have been someone they knew. One of their fathers, even, but no one had dared bring that up during wedding preparations. Instead, as a show of good faith, Manon and Dorian had asked a lord of Adarlan to bless their marriage. One of the men who had been in the Rifthold Map Room many years ago, when Dorian had called upon Manon’s opinion of their council. He had not warmed to her at the time, but they had become civil over the years. Civil enough that he no longer snorted or balked at her opinion, but listened to her. Even acknowledged her as a Queen instead of a monster.
He stands before them, thanking the crowd for gathering today and for trekking the many miles it took to get here. He encourages Manon and Dorian to hold hands as he recites passages from a book.
Manon tunes him out as she stares into Dorian’s eyes, a small smirk playing at her lips. It’s not too late, you know. We could still call off the whole thing and get married on a boat, sailing over the seas.
He tilts his head ever so slightly, returning her grin. Oh, sure. Why have you not called for Abraxos already?
“And do you, King Dorian Havilliard II, take Queen Manon to be your wife, until Darkness claim you?”
“Yes,” Dorian says just as the lord's finished his sentence. He squeezes her hands, as if relinquishing any doubt that may still linger on her part. I want you, all of you. Whatever you will give me, I will take.
“And do you, Queen Manon, take King Dorian –”
“Yes,” she says, the magnetic pull between them stronger than it’s ever been before. “Yes, yes, and yes.”
The whole crowd, naysayers and all, burst into cheers and laughter as she cups the side of his face and brings his lips to hers. The clouds break apart as the sun shines brighter on them, Dorian’s hands pulling her closer to him.
And as she pulls away, her chest heaving for breath, her smile stretches wide across her face. He smiles back at her with a face crafted from the heavens, the most beautiful human ever created by the gods. A tender reminder that he was hers for thousands and thousands of years, and only hers.
“I love you,” she whispers, as the young witches and human children throw petals of flowers up in the air, and the crowd continues to cheer. The words feel natural sliding off of her tongue.
Dorian laughs and pulls her in for one more kiss before they descend the altar, for another human tradition involving more ale and champagne and dancing. “Love you more.”
There’s a cabin in the Ferian Gap that Abraxos takes them to that night, after they’ve danced and laughed and drank so long, Manon’s started to see stars. A home that they’ve been overseeing the construction of since the announcement of their engagement.
There’s plenty of greenery for Abraxos to lounge around and nibble at it, though Manon knows she’ll have to go hunting for meat the next day. But for now, they walk into their wooden home, a fireplace blazing inside. Inside, it smells like pine and honey, so different from her tower back in the Wastes.
“Do you still wish we had chosen a place by the sea?” Dorian asks, though his eyes are bleary from drink.
Her own tower overlooks the sea, the very reason she had chosen it. But here, their refuge away from their kingdoms, was to be exactly that. A place where they could forget the outside world and just be with each other.
She shakes her head, leaning against the soft, blue couch in the center of their front room. “Do you still wish we had chosen a place farther from Endovier?”
Dorian considers this as he stumbles towards her. “I think wherever I am with you, I am happy.”
“You think?” Manon purrs, pulling him closer by the buckle of his pants.
Dorian nods, ever a lightweight with champagne. “I think we will be very, very happy here.”
“I can make you very happy right now,” Manon assures him, in a voice so low his breath turns ragged. And she sinks down to her knees, looking up at him from her lashes.
But he reaches for her and shakes his head, though he swallows. “Bedroom. I want you – I want this to be special. The first time wasn’t –”
Manon rolls her eyes, though she indulges. “The first time was fine.”
“Just fine?” Dorian asks, once he’s regained his senses as they head up the stairs. Now his voice turns silky as he croons, “Then tonight, I’ll have to do better.”
Manon bites her lip, as her core heats, refraining from reminding him that even then fine was enough to rid her of reason.
Their bedroom is just the vision she’d described to the workers – a king-sized bed in the corner of the room, with windows carved into the arched ceiling on either side. Moonlight covers the silky, sea-blue sheets. Shelves of books and maps and art line the walls, with a dark gray carpet at their feet.
But Dorian doesn’t take much time to admire their sanctuary, instead leaning down and kissing her so intensely, her toes curl. She’d changed into a simple, silver dress, that hugged her curves for the after-party, with thin straps instead. His real hands, soft and strong, slip the straps off of her shoulders as his body guides her towards the foot of the bed.
His lips hover at her throat, before he kisses down her chest. “I love you.”
“Love you,” she breathes out as his lips near her the curve of her hips. And then as his fingers dance at her entrance, his tongue inside of her, “Love you more.”