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hello princeling, hello witchling

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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.

 

I.

 

“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.

 

II.

 

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.

Chapter Text

True to their parting words after the war, Manon comes frequently to Rifthold to help the rukhin learn how to ride the wyverns. Sometimes she brings Ironteeth witches, expert riders. Most times she comes alone.

The host of witches absolutely terrifies the Queen Mother, who learns to listen for the flapping of wyvern wings in the air and when it’s best to hide away in her chambers for a few days. Hollin adores the witches who never give him the time of day. It only thrills him further when they catch him creeping too close and protract their iron nails and teeth, snarling at him. 

Dorian doesn’t hover over them, or Manon, as the aerial legion he’d requested starts to form its humble beginnings. He spends his time in the Royal Library while they work, his own still undergoing construction.

“So this is where you hide all day?” Her voice, smooth like silk, draws him away from his book.

He turns around to find Manon leaning against the shelf with all of his favorite mystery novels, despite the bright sun still looming overhead outside. “What are you doing here? Are the riding lessons over?”

Manon lifts off the shelf, stalking towards him with a predatory slowness. “Do you not wish to see me, princeling?”

“I always wish to see you, witchling,” he breathes out, the most honest he’s been with her in broad daylight in months. She approaches him, her white-silvery hair pulled back and gleaming in the sunlight pouring in from the skylight ceiling.

Her burnt-gold eyes flicker towards the pages in his hand. “What are you reading?”

He shows her the book, full of quests and dragons and secret lovers. “I could – I could read it with you, if you like.”

Manon sits down, patting the space on the floor between the bookshelves. “Read it to me.”

And so he does, sitting down next to her. He starts from the beginning, even though he’d already gotten halfway through, and reads aloud to her until the sun starts to set outside, the fading pink clouds darkening. 

Hours ago, he’d almost thought she was bored, when the witch queen tilted her head back and shut her eyes. He’d stopped reading, looking over to examine if she had fallen asleep, when she’d instructed him to continue without opening her eyes. 

“Did you like it?”

Manon regards him lazily. “The prince is a fool. He is walking into a trap by thinking he can save the princess from a dragon . Which are extinct, by the way. The whole book is foolish.”

A smile quirks at the corners of his lips. He hadn’t truly been expecting her to pay attention. 

“What?”

Dorian shrugs irreverently, still smiling. “I did not think you would care for mystery romance stories.”

“I do not,” Manon tells him bluntly. 

“You just listened to me read half of this story for hours, when you could have been anywhere else. I think you do.”

Manon sits up. She slides closer to him, their faces barely a breath apart. “I’m going to make this your favorite place.”

“This library?” Dorian asks. “It already is one of my –”

And as her lips press against his throat, softly trailing the pale band that will never go away, her hands expertly unbuckling his pants, he understands. “Oh.”

“Oh?” Manon purrs, her voice silky against the top of his chest. 

Her fingers slip into his undershorts, her non-iron nails wrapping around him in a smooth, familiar motion. “Oh .”

 

I.

 

During his months of flying with Manon and her beloved Thirteen, he’d come to learn something about the wickedly beautiful witch, who claimed to drink the blood of men for sport. Who would sooner slice her iron nails through the soft skin over his bones, ripping him apart, before admitting she actually liked the bubble baths he drew for her at the end of a long day of training the rukhin. 

Coldness and cruelty turned her on. More than the sweet affectations or large gestures of romance that made Yrene swoon. Chaol had told him in detail of the proposal, of how once his wife had said yes, she had jumped into his arms, causing them to fall into a fountain of fish.

His witch queen would curl her lip at the gesture. 

After that afternoon in the library, he had wanted to get her back . For what, even he was not clear – as they had both enjoyed it. Maybe it was her boldness to publicly pleasure him in a place they could have easily been discovered. Maybe he saw it as a challenge, and one he wanted to win. 

A few nights later, Dorian and Chaol had agreed to host a dinner for the new Royal Guard, to boost morale back into their spirits and into their king. The Queen Mother had been so overcome with excitement, she had even invited all of the noblest ladies-in-waiting to attend. She had spent the majority of the day hovering over the chefs in the kitchen, instructing them on the finest dishes that could be served.

“I am going to regret this, aren’t I?” Dorian asks his friend.

It was as if his mother had overheard him. She spotted them by the doorway to the kitchen and came over. “Dorian, about that witch –”

“Her name is Manon, mother.”

His mother’s face contorts in thinly veiled disgust. “About Manon –”

“Queen Manon,” Dorian interrupts one more time. “Queen of the Witch Kingdom, uniter of the mighty Ironteeth and Crochans.”

Even Chaol gives him a look that suggests he should consider holding back his tongue.

“I think it might be best if she flew back home before tonight,” his mother says, her face tight. “You may have your wild fantasies, Dorian, but Adarlan needs an heir. You need a wife.”

She turns on her heel, exiting with a dramatic twirl of her gown.

Chaol turns to him with a friendly smirk. “Yes. Yes, you are.”

The last thing Dorian intends to do is ask Manon to leave. When he tells her of the night’s plans, the witch is not thrilled but agrees to come when he assures her Yrene will be there.

“Do you think it shall be a boy or a girl?” Manon drawls as they walk towards the dining hall, where his Guard will be waiting and various ladies from noble families hoping for an invitation to sit at his table. 

“I think he hopes for it to be a boy.” Dorian takes advantage of her momentary idleness to reach for her hand and rest it in the crook of his elbow. “But I should think he would be just as happy if it is to be a girl.”

Manon frowns at her hand on his arm, but does not draw back. “What are you –”

They enter the dining hall, everyone rising to greet them. No one looks more horrified than the Queen Mother at the witch standing next to him.

Dorian nods, signaling for everyone to sit down as they walk towards their table. Manon rolls her eyes, but her smirk is cunning. “You are too old for this.”

“But I do love to make a dramatic entrance.”

She even lets him pull her chair out at the table, if only to make his mother and rest of the noble ladies seethe. Yrene smiles warmly at their table. “I do think this shall be an enjoyable evening, after all.”

Dorian intends for it to be an enjoyable evening, but mostly for one person. 

His table is small but at the front of the room, where all eyes are watching them. The Queen Mother sits at one end, directly across from Hollin, who makes it clear that he would rather be anywhere else. Dorian sits in the middle with Chaol, while Manon and Yrene sit on opposite sides of them respectively. 

Even Hollin is not immune to Yrene’s charms, as she regales him with stories of the Southern Continent during dinner so that he stops throwing his silverware at the servants. Chaol points out new members of the Guard around the room to Dorian, under his breath revealing his assessments of them on who might make a good Captain. 

Manon refuses to speak to Georgina, the feeling mutual. Which is fine, even though he would have preferred Manon’s attention to be occupied.

The witch’s eyes widen when his invisible hands caress her thighs under the table. He can tell she has turned to glare at him, but he keeps his attention on Chaol, who is none the wiser to anything happening. 

He raises the hands higher and higher, but with an agonizing slowness that has Manon shifting uncomfortably in her seat. 

The Queen Mother frowns as she notices. “Are the chairs not to your comfort?”

Under the table, Manon flicks her wrist, showing her iron nails only to Dorian as a warning. “Quite the opposite. These chairs are most comfortable.”

Chaol and Yrene frown slightly at the strained civil nature of Manon’s voice, but don’t raise attention to it. Chaol continues pointing out members of the Guard, unaware Dorian’s long stopped listening.

Now, he keeps one hand caressing Manon’s thigh but the other travels upwards, under her shirt. Over her skin, gently stroking her breasts. 

“Are these chairs … inherited?” Manon asks. To anyone else, it had seemed Manon was struggling to make polite conversation with someone she had no fondness for. 

But he knows her tells. He’s the only one who can hear the difficulty in her voice to keep cold and distant, so as not to make sounds of pleasure. 

Chaol, Yrene, and Hollin stop pretending not to stare in wonder at the other end of the table. Georgina looks at Manon with suspicion.

“Inherited? Yes, I believe you could say so. They have been in the castle for generations of Havilliards.”

“Tell her you think it’s lovely,” Dorian commands in Manon’s ear, his voice light enough for only the witch can hear, but authoritative. 

“How lovely,” Manon murmurs. Under the table, she crosses her legs, nearly clamping his invisible hand.

Surprised at the lack of biting retort, Georgina continues with an animated fervor. “In fact, all of the furniture in the castle has been here for generations. Yet, it looks new, does it not?”

“It does.” Dorian says in a low, daring voice, again only for her ears to hear. 

“Yes, it does.” Manon’s own voice is airy, almost pleasant. He brings both hands to her breasts as a reward, reveling in the brief flutter of her eyes. 

Yrene and Chaol’s jaws are nearly to the floor.

“Is she drugged?” Dorian hears Yrene whisper to her husband. Chaol sputters something in response. Georgina, completely unaware, keeps talking about the furniture as Dorian keeps ravishing Manon’s body, one of his hands traveling back down towards the buckle of her pants. 

Abruptly Manon stands, turning to him. “Did you forget?”

Dorian tries to hide his smirk. “Forget what?”

Manon rolls her eyes. “I can’t believe you forgot the gift we brought for your mother.”

Yrene slaps her hand over her mouth as Georgina exclaims, “Gift? For me?”

“For her?” Hollin asks bitterly.

Dorian rises, despite the lack of said gift’s existence and the rest of his Royal Guard watching them. Manon’s golden eyes have darkened to the color of the night sky outside. “We’ll be right back.”

Chaol snorts, their eyes locking in a knowing exchange as Dorian leads Manon to go find the gift.  Once they’re out of the dining hall, Manon turns to him, baring her iron teeth. “What a dangerous little game you play.”

“Yet you enjoyed it, did you not?”

She pushes him into a spare closet at the end of the hall, where there’s little space and little lighting. “I might enjoy it more if you stop talking.”

He smirks as he slowly lowers himself to his knees, reaching for the buckle of her pants. “Your wish is my command.”

 

II.

 

His witch queen does not let that offense go lightly. 

One afternoon, when he’s in the Map Room preparing for a meeting with the Lords of Adarlan, she slides into the room and shuts the door behind her.

He lifts his brow, surprised. “Will you be joining us today?”

Her white hair is pulled back with that strip of red cloth, a few loose strands surrounding her face. She looks around the room, at the wooden walls filled with aging maps. “Would you insist I not?”

Dorian isn’t sure there’s much he can insist that she can or cannot do. “You might grow bored. Lords always have something to complain about, and when one of them gets started –” He lets his voice trail off as his finger moves in a circular motion in the air. 

Her golden eyes flicker with understanding as she approaches him, leaning against the heavy wooden desk. “It sounds like you are the one who will grow bored.”

Dorian sits in his chair with a sigh. “How are the rukhin? The wyverns seem to be growing quite quickly in the aerie.”

But Manon doesn’t respond as she comes around his desk, suddenly in front of him. He tenses as he watches her drop down to her knees on the dark blue, velvet carpet. “What are –”

“Shh,” Manon instructs him as she reaches for the buckle of his pants. “You needn’t talk so much.” 

He opens his mouth to tell her that he does not , but a completely different noise comes out when she takes him in her mouth. He grips the armrests of his chair, biting down on his lip before he can groan so loud Chaol hears him. The sunlight spills into the room from the windows and onto Manon’s white hair, glowing like her crown of stars – oh gods, help him. 

He’s entirely thankful he’s sitting, sure that his knees would’ve given out simply at the sight of her. But she rarely drops to her knees for him and when she does, he finds it hard to remember how he could have ever been intimate with anyone who was not her

But just as his fingers slip into her hair, his nails dragging along her scalp, there’s a pronounced knock at the door. “Dorian? Are you in there?”

He’d never hated the sound of Chaol’s voice so much in his life. 

Manon pulls back and stands up, tugging at the cloth and letting her hair fall down past her shoulders. That wicked, cunning gleam bright and fiery in her gold eyes as she runs her tongue over her bottom lip. “I suppose you should get that.”

Dorian breathes deeply, trying to make himself presentable. The problem is there’s no way he can stand up and get that door, much less adjust the buckle on his pants.

“Just come in,” he orders, his voice low and gutterel. Manon’s smirk was sharp and beautiful, and all he could think about was her, her, her

Chaol enters the room on his wheeled chair, flanked by Lords of Adarlan, coming to discuss their claims and rights to land properties. He frowns at Dorian, still sitting behind his desk.

Dorian clears his throat, ignoring him, ignoring the lords gaping at Manon leaning against the window. “Let us begin, shall we?”

Manon says nothing the entire time the meeting drags on, only listening as the lords squabble with each other about who gets what and how much each of them should get and why they deserve what they should get now that the evil of Morath had been defeated. As if they had anything to do with that

Even Chaol’s long lost interest in the incessant bickering, his head tilting to the side and his blinks becoming longer and longer. 

Only Dorian gives them apt attention; for watching their tight, wrinkled faces steels the fiery desire inside of him to reach for Manon with his phantom hands and ravish her right then and there, under the sunlight. 

He wonders what they should say were an alliance ever to form between Adarlan and the Witch Kingdom, if they would look at him the same way they looked at Manon. She has not said anything of it, but he’s aware only the rukhin do not gape or gawk at her when she walks about the palace, or shrivel underneath her gaze. Even when the lords had walked in, they had not looked to the Queen of the Ironteeth and Crochan Witches with the respect she deserved but muted fear and distaste. 

“Queen Manon,” Dorian says, once one of the lords has finally paused his speech to take a breath.

Manon and Chaol’s heads whip towards him, suddenly alert. 

“What do you make of their claims?”

Manon narrows her eyes, assessing his intentions. He’s content to wait, though he can tell the lords grow impatient by her silence. Gives her the time to consider all that has been said and claimed. To decide if she even wants to have a word in. 

At last she asks, “Are there not more important things to be considered when rebuilding a kingdom than property rights?”

The lords stiffen in their seats. One of them turns as red as Ansel of Briarcliff’s hair. “And what would those matters be?”

“Your Majesty,” Dorian wants to correct him, when speaking to Manon, but she doesn’t care for others fighting her battles for her. 

“If you can not all agree on where your borders lie within your own kingdom, how can you expect to work together in times of trouble? Should you face conflict from another kingdom, from Fenharrow or Melisande, how can you work together if you’re all only wondering about who reaps the profits and how much you should get?”

Chaol exchanges a glance with Dorian, his eyes silently agreeing, It’s a fair point. 

But the lords do not see it the same way. The first lord who had dared to speak to her narrows his eyes to Dorian. “Does your witch speak for you, Your Majesty?”

“Queen Manon does not speak for anyone but herself,” Dorian tells him in an even-tempered tone, though his magic itches to throttle the Lord. “And I am inclined to agree with her. We are still recuperating after the war and after all it has cost us. We need to build our allies, rather than enemies. Especially with each other.”

He looks to Manon, still sitting by the window, and tries not to smile at her fondly like a lovesick princeling. But he keeps their eyes locked on each other as he says, “And Adarlan is proud to have such a strong alliance with the Witch Kingdom.”

It was a risky gamble, considering they had not spoken much of it since that night before he left for Morath. It was a topic they skirted around each other but he hopes he is not shackling her, forcing her to agree to this to save face in front of the lords. Although he feels strongly enough in them, to know that there is a part of her that wants this, that feels similarly about him the way he feels about her.

Dorian finds that he can breathe again when she nods, the smallest of smiles forming on her lips. One that only he can see. Because even though she does not care for sweet gestures, he does – and he just wants her right now.

Before the lords can keep complaining, Dorian takes advantage of his ability to stand again and gestures for the lords to follow. “But we do not have to all decide this today. We will reconvene in the morning and I trust we will have come to an agreement.”

He heads to the door as they head out, following Chaol. He looks to Manon lingering by the window. “One moment.”

He waits until the lords have disappeared down the hallway, whispering probably nasty things amongst themselves, and closes the door to the Map Room behind him. He studies his friend’s expression. “I hope I did not cause you offense.”

Chaol gives him a knowing look. “I could almost say she did me a favor. I had lost track some time ago of what they were even arguing over.”

Dorian smiles, ready to head back in when Chaol reaches for his wrist. The mirth has left his eyes. “Be careful, Dorian. Witches are long-lived.”

Dorian opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Chaol nods, taking his leave down the hallway. He watches after his friend until he’s disappeared as well.

He turns with a quiet, heavy sigh back into the Map Room where the witch is sitting on his desk, unclothed and stealing his very breath away. The sunlight dances on her naked skin, causing her to glow. All heaviness and political turmoil evaporates; the only thing on his mind is her, her, her. 

Her smirk is wicked, her golden eyes dark as midnight. “I should tell you, princeling. I never lose.”

Dorian regains his senses. He shuts the door behind him and purrs as he crosses the room. “Good to know, witchling. Because I always win."

Chapter Text

Usually, Manon’s visits were short. She would come for a few days, maybe a week if he were lucky. He never asks her to stay longer. Though every single bone in his body misses her with a relentless longing when she leaves, returning to her own kingdom to rebuild.  

But this time, the weeks have faded into a month and Manon’s still warming his bed each night. Still terrorizing his poor mother, still training the rukhin and the wyverns. He’s too drunk on her to point out that this is the longest she’s ever stayed, worried that the spell might break and she’ll fly away on Abraxos in the middle of the night.

She doesn’t say anything, either. Makes no mention of when she plans to return to her own kingdom.

The dream ends when a witch with black hair and deep brown eyes flies into Rifthold on a broomstick, flanked by a small number of Ironteeth. She finds Dorian easily in the gardens when the sun is high in the sky.

He resists the urge to frown as she approaches, unaware that Manon had called for more riders. With all the pleasantries of a monarch, he greets her, “Welcome back to Rifthold. Did you have a pleasant journey?”

Bronwen bows her head slightly. “The mountains can be a bitch, stifling hot in this heat. But we’ve had worse rides.”

She inclines her head at her company. “Go on.”

The witches disperse, making for the wyvern aerie. They’ve come to know the layout of his castle almost as well as he does. 

Only Bronwen stays behind, training her piercing gaze back on Dorian. “We will not stay longer than the night. How is she?”

“Manon?” He asks. Bronwen nods. “She is well. She did not call for you?”

Bronwen shakes her head, looking towards the highest balcony of the stone castle as if she might find the white-haired queen looking down upon them. “It has been a month, King Dorian. So she is not suffering from illness?”

“No.”

Bronwen’s eyes narrow at him. “Is she with child?”

Dorian tilts his head to the side, a lazy smirk curling at the corners of his lips. “Last I heard, the Queen of the Witches was not married.”

He sees the smile she tries to hide, Bronwen bringing her hand up to her mouth to cover her abrupt cough. “I am just relaying the rumors that surround the missing queen. Is she not around? I wish to speak with her.”

Dorian nods. “I will go find her.”

He is aware Bronwen could most likely find the witch queen for herself, if Dorian had wished to keep enjoying the sun. But the rumors frayed his nerves more than he wanted to let on in front of Bronwen and he feels it only right that he be the one to let Manon know why her cousin is here. 

He had been so intoxicated by Manon’s presence, foolishly losing track of time and of reality as he read to her some afternoons in the library, running his nails along her hairline as the setting sun kissed their skin from the ceiling skylight. The dinners they took to his bedchambers now that Chaol and Yrene have settled into their own home in Rifthold, with Chaol's mother and younger brother – Manon once making a mess of his sheets by spilling the remnants of her soup over her bare, moon-kissed stomach.

Dorian hadn’t minded. Not at all when she’d instructed him to clean it up with his tongue.

He finds her lingering around the kitchen, one of the very last places he’d expected her to be, where the servants still tense in fear of her presence. She stalks with a predatory stillness around the head chef trying to prepare the Queen Mother and Hollin’s lunches, asking questions about the meat being tossed into the stew.

“Are you trying to poison my mother?”

Manon lifts her head away from the pot, wicked amusement in her smirk. “Would you object?”

The head chef drops the ladle into the pot, a choking sound emitting from his throat.

Ignoring that, Dorian tells her, “I need to speak with you.”

Manon deftly reveals her iron nails, using her pointer finger to lift the stew-covered ladle from the pot. The head chef freezes in abject fear as she presents it to him.

Dorian senses Manon’s patience wearing thin, her jaw tightening, and steps between them, handing the ladle to the chef with a smile.

He finally realizes that something is amiss, when Manon lets him lead her away from the kitchen, their fingers intertwined. Chaol’s eyes would bulge out of his head if he could see the two of them now.

“In such a hurry, princeling?” Her voice purrs as they near his bedchambers. “It is only midday.”

He turns to face her, trying to immortalize her beautiful face like this. A smile – not a smirk, not a mischief-ridden grin but a genuine smile – gracing her lips, her golden eyes bright and cunning.

Still letting him hold her hand.

“Bronwen’s here,” he says gently. “She and a few others have come to pick up on training the rukhin.”

Manon’s face hardens, his hand suddenly cold as she makes for the balcony. “Did you call for them?”

“I thought you did.”

Manon stops. 

“They think you’re with child,” Dorian tells her. She knows very well who they are.

Manon whirls around. “And what did you say?”

“I was my charming self.” Dorian pushes for a smile, for her sake. “A true gentleman would never impregnate an unmarried witch. Much less their queen.”

Manon’s golden eyes roll to the top of her head as she lets out a long sigh. “I have stayed too long.”

You never stay long enough , he would like to tell her. But his witch queen does not care for sweet affectations or large gestures of romance. 

“They are planning to stay the night,” Dorian says, a familiar tightness burdening his heart. “I will arrange for meals to be prepared for your journey back in the morning.”

 

I.

 

They take dinner for the first time in a week in the dining hall among the witches. Dorian doesn’t miss the eyes that flicker towards Manon’s flat belly.

She is her usual distant self, as she listens to the reports Bronwen provides from the Witch Kingdom while they eat. Glennis is well. More flowers are blooming, the land is thriving. Ansel of Briarcliff says hello. Ironteeth and Crochans are still adjusting to not killing each other on sight – but this past month, there has been a decrease in skirmishes between the two clans. 

Manon almost smiles at that.

Only Hollin is present, his mother strangely having caught some sort of chill in the middle of summer. He pesters the witches at the end of their table about where they keep their iron teeth and nails. Dorian tries to distract his attention, by reaching for random objects around the dining hall and juggling them with his phantom hands. It works for a while, Hollin gazing at Dorian with a reverence he had never received from his younger brother. 

Until Hollin wants Dorian to light the items on fire or to freeze over what remains of their dinner plates to throw at the witches. Some things might never change.

He leaves Manon and the witches after dinner, to give them privacy regarding their traveling plans the next morning. Hollin is too enthralled to leave, even as Dorian threatens to pick him up and carry him over his shoulder.

Manon turns to the young boy, flicking her iron nails out. “Listen to your brother and I’ll show you how to do this, too.”

“I can do that too?” Hollin exclaims in terrifying boyish delight. He turns to Dorian. “I’ll race you out of here!”

As Hollin sprints out of the room, Manon smirks at Dorian, mischievous amusement rampant again in her golden eyes. Then she turns back to Bronwen before he can smile back at her.

Stay, he thinks to himself, as his feet carry him away and after Hollin running through the halls like a nightmare, please just stay with me. 

Manon returns once the moon is high in the sky, carrying a bottle of wine in her hands as she enters his bedchambers.

He puts the map he had been studying down on the floor next to his bed, lifting a brow. “Is this a parting gift?”

Manon doesn’t respond right away, instead swinging her legs over his lap and using her iron teeth to pull the cork out of the bottle. For a moment, he thinks she’ll strip of her clothes and let the wine dribble down her chest and it excites him.

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course,” Dorian says without thinking, his mind pulling out of the gutter. “Why would you ask that?”

“I’m going to bite your throat.” Her voice is sultry, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “And then you’ll drink this.”

He thinks back to a time when they had been on a ship, Manon chained inside a tiny room as she rose from unconsciousness. He had asked her if she was hungry, her gaze immediately latching onto his throat. 

Really?

Only for sport.

“Is this sport?” His own voice, low and husky.

Her teeth are already ghosting his skin, her body grinding over him in languid movements. “You talk a lot, princeling.”

But before he can retort, her iron canines puncture the base of his throat and he releases a loud groan of pleasure. He had expected a small degree of pain, but nothing arousing quite like this. All air escapes his chest and he forgets his own name as she tastes him, her tongue messily lapping at the two tiny holes in his skin. His pants are too tight, her pants are still on

He grips her waist so hard that he almost worries he’ll leave bruising marks, but he needs the pressure, needs her hips to move faster, faster, faster –

And suddenly, she’s sliding off of him. Her tongue sliding across her lips, the corners of her mouth, where his blood still remains.

Dorian . His name is Dorian. King of Adarlan. Son of King Dorian Havilliard I and Georgina. 

He pants, his chest rising up and down, looking to her with unmasked bliss. “Why have you never done that before?”

Manon responds by leaning over him, reaching for the bottle of wine she had placed delicately on the floor. He takes it from her, takes a long swig of the sweet, warm liquid. 

She doesn’t move away from him. Doesn’t glower at him, when he curls his arm around her body, keeping her close. 

“We’ve done almost everything,” Dorian muses, drunk off of her, tipsy off of the sweet wine, buzzed off of the moonlight shining on their bodies. “But that… that was gods-damned amazing.”

He half-expects her to roll her eyes, to tell him to shut up.

But she only smirks dangerously, leaning her weight on her elbow. Her silvery white hair frames her face like a curtain. “You think we’ve done almost everything?”

Heat fills his entire body, as if he’s been soaked in flames. 

Never taking her golden eyes off of his, she drags one of her nails down the center of her shirt, her breasts spilling out in glory.

She only breaks their eye contact to jut her chin towards the bottle of wine in his hands. For all he knows, his witch queen is the Goddess herself as he follows her unspoken command, worshipping her name over and over all night long.

 

II.

 

“I cannot do this without them.”

He hears her whisper, despite his closed eyes that might have suggested to anyone else that he was asleep. Anyone who hadn’t shared his bed for the better part of a year, growing familiar with his breathing patterns. 

They no longer had the luxury of even an hour to themselves anymore, as morning light was soon approaching. 

She’s staring at the ceiling when he opens his eyes, one hand behind her head and the other resting on her stomach. She rarely spoke of the Thirteen to him, only indulging him with stories when he found himself missing Ghislaine’s endless depth of knowledge or Sorrel’s rocky voice or Vesta’s cunning grin, or Asterin; the fiery witch who loved sparring with him because he could never disarm her, but he always tried to. Every time she knocked him down, he returned her fiendish grin and got right back up. She would talk to him as he rode on the back of her wyvern, even though most of the Thirteen did not care to engage in small talk while they rode. In the early weeks of their travels together, she’d talk to him when Manon had gotten lost in her own head, trying to figure out how to even approach the Crochans, making jokes to ease both of their worries.

It pains him that he never said goodbye to them. That circumstances were what they were; he had a part to play in the war that led him on a different path. And so did they.

Manon never cried in front of him. Not while he was awake, anyways. Even now, her eyes are dry. It would take years to let go of the guards the Matron had instilled her, but those were years he wanted to spend with her. Trying.

He reaches for the stray strands of silver-white hair, pushing them back behind her ear. A small comfort to remind her that he’s here. “You can do this for them. Rebuild a home worthy of their memory.”

“And then what?” Manon asks. Her voice sounds hollow, bottomless, sending chills down his warm skin. “Once the kingdom is renewed and peace truly among us, even with Ansel’s people, then what do I do?”

“You remember them through stories,” he coaxes. “Keep them alive in your memories. They will always be with you.”

She turns to him, her eyes haunted by endless grief. “I’ve tried to go back every day. One morning when you were still sleeping, Abraxos and I almost made it out of Rifthold. But I was listening, waiting for the sound of their wyverns behind me. And it never came. It’ll never come again. That’s all it is now, a memory. And then I was on the outskirts of your city when I realized one day that’s all you’ll become to me –”

She stops herself abruptly. She stands her arms hugged around her naked torso, curling into herself. 

“Manon –” He stands just as quickly, not bothering to wrap the sheet around his waist. Reaching for her.

Manon’s eyes are glistening when he faces her. “A hundred years I had with Asterin. I always thought we’d have a hundred more.”

He just holds his arms out, inviting her to shoulder her pain. He loves her, loves every inch of her, loves every moment she takes to make a decision or to reveal important information during a time-sensitive conversation. He has his own walls he built up around women, around love, but with her it doesn’t matter. Every day with Manon is a sun-filled moment in the library, her head on his lap, his fingers running through her hair, as he reads chapters and chapters from his favorite books.

It’s love, he’s sure of it, when she steps into his embrace, on her own time. He’s in love with Queen Manon Blackbeak-Crochan and he wants those hundred years with her. More than anything in the world. He wants to heal with her, to grow past the damages they carried and thought defined them. He wants to hold her like this when she is grieving. He wants her. All of her.

“Manon, I –”

As if she’s read his mind, word for word, she says, “Please do not ask me to watch you die, Dorian.” 

Just last night he’d been grateful, over the rutting moon, that she had a century on him. A century of learning how to make a man fall apart in bed. Barely hours ago.

“I just wanted you to know that I will listen,” he tells her, his hand tracing careful circles on her back. “Whenever you need. I’ll be right here.”

Manon pulls back to look at him, her hands on his shoulders. “What?”

“Whatever happens with you and me, whatever happens tomorrow, I’ll be here for you to come back to.” He cups her face, treasuring this small moment of intimacy she lets him have. Immortalizing the beauty of her features in his mind for the cold, lonely nights to come. 

“You’re not — you’re not going to try to persuade me? That a marriage between our kingdoms would be an even stronger alliance, a wise strategic union?”

His smile curves into a smirk. “So you have been thinking about this too.”

Manon rolls her eyes, but he sees the flutter of a smile she hides quickly. “It is not hard to overhear the healer talking about such a thing to her husband.”

Dorian takes her hand in his. “Manon, I would marry you right now, so we could have every last moment together. A hundred more years, even a thousand more years, is not enough time with you so I will take what I can get. Whatever you will give me, I will take.”

Because I love you . I’m always going to love you. Until the end of my days. And beyond , he would like to tell her. But his witch queen is not ready for such words, not while the wounds of the loss of her beloved Thirteen are so fresh and unhealed. 

He could wait to tell her. He would wait until she could feel whole again, and see the love her kingdom had for her. To hear the voices of the Thirteen in her ear and it not haunt her, but warm her heart. He could wait.

The ghost of Manon’s smile still lingers, though she tries not to show it. “And then what happens when you find a beautiful human wife?”

Dorian shakes his head indifferently. “Only you.”

Manon scoffs. “You will need to produce an heir. To inherit your throne.”

Dorian shrugs indifferently. “I have a little brother. He might have some uses, after all.”

“Dorian,” Manon chides, a surprised bout of laughter escaping through. He likes the way his name sounds on her lips when she’s laughing. “Don’t be foolish.”

His face turns serious, as he reaches for those stray strands of her hair again, pushing them behind her ear. “Don’t trouble yourself so much about what happens after, Manon. You are not alone. You don’t have to face after by yourself.” 

Her eyes line with silver again and before he can wipe away any tears threatening to spill, she kisses him. Her lips melding into his, as if they’ve done this a million times.

But the butterflies in his stomach awaken, his heart almost fluttering out of his chest. He can’t remember kissing Manon just to kiss her. Her lips are soft and warm, the last thing he’d expect from a witch who bared her iron teeth for pleasure. Her arms wrap around his shoulders as his curl around her waist, their naked bodies pressed together but still not close enough. 

It’s nice, he thinks. Kissing her now might be his favorite thing to do, next to watching her unravel on top of him or under him.

It ends far sooner than he likes, the both of them needing to breathe. Her forehead stays connected with his, their noses barely brushing. “Such pretty words from a pretty princeling. Did you pick them up from your books?”

“You’ll have to come back and find out, witchling,” he croons. “Our story’s not finished yet.”

The day before Bronwen had come, they had been halfway through another book about dragons and knights and a princess that needed saving. Dorian could have continued reading to Manon all evening, if the dinner bell hadn’t rung, their hungry bellies summoning them to the kitchen.

But Manon knows what he means. Based on her genuine smile, the wicked gleam in her burnt-gold eyes brighter than ever. “I suppose you are right. After all, the dragon has not yet incinerated that infernal princess.”

And for the first time all morning, Dorian tips his head back and laughs, two tiny holes on his neck sparkling in the rising sunlight. “It was written in a different time! Back then, princesses didn’t save themselves.”

Manon begins dressing herself, in her witch leathers instead of his trousers which she’d lazily begun tossing on after one day when she was late attending to the wyverns. “She let herself get captured, so that infernal prince would have to come save her.”

“Not all princes can be charming like I was,” Dorian says, ignoring the tug in his heart as she tugs at the laces on her boots. He wouldn’t tell her yet, that she had already guessed the plot twist to come in the final pages.

Manon stands, straightening her shoulders. “How do I look?”

She would be riding for a few days back to the Wastes, so it would seem silly to worry about her appearance when she arrived. But Dorian noticed the leather she had fastened tighter around her flat stomach and the wildness in her eyes. 

“Tired,” he tells her.

Manon frowns, too startled to snarl at him. 

“You had stayed so long here in Rifthold because I was out of sorts. About Chaol, my Hand, my best friend, moving away to settle with his new family,” Dorian says, giving her a knowing look. “And I was disheartened about losing my best friend. The most important person to me in my life. You stayed to comfort me and now you have come back to your kingdom, and you are tired.”

Understanding washes over Manon, who looks more energized than anyone should after a night of very little sleeping. He is giving her a chance to hide her truth, until she feels she is ready to share it with her people.

Her eyes flicker over his naked body. “Did you know their home just happens to be on our path to the Wastes?”

Dorian lifts a brow. “Whatever are the odds?”

“Maybe you should drop by for a visit soon. See how Yrene is handling the last weeks of her pregnancy.” Manon suggests, in a tone that’s more of a demand. “Maybe you should drop by today.”

Whatever you will give me, I will take.

Dorian grins. “Maybe. Do you mind giving me a ride?”

Chapter Text

Yearly, Aelin Galathynius liked to call upon her court and her former allies to come dance and feast in her castle in Orynth to celebrate the beginning of summer. It was all a royal ruse for a reunion among old friends that lived far away and preferred to see each other in peace, rather than in meetings of conflict. 

Manon had been surprised when the King of Adarlan still called upon her to accompany him to the party, even five years after the war had ended. The Queen Mother had made it quite clear that Dorian needed to stop indulging in boyish temptations and find himself a suitable wife to provide a suitable heir for his kingdom before it was too late.

And frankly, Manon agreed. Almost a month prior, the last time she had visited Rifthold, she had even offered to help the Queen Mother find a suitable wife for Dorian – a woman with beauty, but not too much. Who challenged the King’s mind and did not meekly hold her head down when he disagreed. A woman who could soothe his temper, while holding him accountable for it. Someone who listened to him without getting lost in the sapphire of his eyes, heard what he wanted to say even when he, himself, could not find the words.

But Queen Mother Georgina Havilliard had frowned upon her requirements. “His wife is his wife. Not his Hand.”

And that had been the end of their civilities. 

She’s flown into Rifthold a couple days before he is to depart to Terrasen, even though in years past she had met him there. The King isn’t expecting her, evident from the shock of delight on his face as Abraxos lands on his balcony. 

“To what do I owe the early pleasure of your company?” He asks, approaching her wyvern with a smile. He was the only human Abraxos had let anywhere near him, even letting the king pat him gently. 

Manon decides to keep the full details of her visit a secret, as he might get cross that she was trying to find him a wife without his permission. “Can’t I just come say hello?”

Dorian regards her with mild suspicion, but he turns back to nuzzling Abraxos. “Of course you can. Would you like to see the new library in my tower?” 

 

I.

 

From the Wastes, it takes less than a week to travel to Orynth by wyvern. From Rifthold, it would take almost half the time – except the King’s company chooses to travel on horses.

Manon hates horses, because horses hate her. Every time she approached one in her younger years, they must have smelled the demon in her and balked away. Abraxos is her chosen creature and never shied away from her, never made her feel like a demon, even when she believed she was.

But Dorian explains to her the night before they leave, their bodies naked under his silk sheets, torn and tattered by both of their nails, that Chaol and Yrene’s young children cannot ride on wyverns yet. Josefa, their oldest, was turning five soon and had been promised her very own pony. Their youngest, Theodus, named after the Weapons Master who had trained Chaol in the Royal Guard, would be riding with his parents.

Manon's lips linger on his skin, where two new bite marks decorated his throat tonight. “You mean I have to leave Abraxos here?”

“I did not know you were coming with us,” Dorian tells her, sounding apologetic. “If I had, I would have arranged differently.”

She could easily ride ahead without them. She could also ask Dorian to ride with her in the skies and he’d say yes, but she has become rather fond of Yrene and Chaol. She’d stopped referring to them as the healer and her husband almost a year ago. Had even started playing with their children when they visited the palace, or when she went along with Dorian to their home to celebrate the holidays, finding that she did not hate the presence of human children. 

And she won’t openly admit it, but she wants the extra days with Dorian before she finds him a mortal wife. Extra days to study him and what he might like in a human woman, that is. 

The first night they stop for rest at an inn near the Oakwald Forest, Josefa tugs at her mother’s skirt. “I want to sleep with Uncle Dorian and Aunt Manon tonight.”

Both the king and the witch turn as red as her crimson cloak. 

Yrene and Chaol try to hold back their laughter, as the former consoles her daughter. “Maybe another time.”

“Tomorrow then?” the young girl asks, looking to Dorian with big golden-brown eyes that he could never say no to. Theodus just makes incomprehensible baby noises cuddled in Yrene’s arms.

Dorian looks to Manon, who’s still shaken by the young child calling her Aunt. “Well –”

“We’ll see.” Yrene just winks at the two of them. Over Josefa's head, Dorian maturely sticks his tongue out at Yrene. 

They pay for two rooms, Josefa’s lower lip pouting out once Dorian and Manon wave goodnight. Their room is sparsely decorated; two windows on either side, slanting towards the ceiling. A king-sized bed in the middle of the room, although Manon could tell the sheets were cotton. To the left of the room was the shower, the kind where the water fell down like rain in the glass encasement, a window high on the ceiling letting the starlight in.

Manon usually prefers the side of the bed that’s closest to the window but she just lies down in the middle, her entire body stiff and tired. Dorian slips onto the mattress beside her. “I suppose we will have to let her stay in our room at least once before we get to Orynth. Maybe even little Theo as well.”

Manon looks up at him and purrs, “How are we supposed to have fun if there are little humans around?”

His eyes darken as they travel down her body. “We could have fun tonight. But you’re wearing too many clothes.”

“We could try something new.”

Dorian scrunches his face. “I think I still prefer you with no clothes.”

Manon rolls her eyes and starts unlacing her shirt. “No, I just meant – you could stand there and I could be in front of you.”

“We could,” Dorian’s voice drops low, heating Manon’s blood. His eyes have glazed over, as if he’s already imagining Manon on all fours. “Or you could be on top of me?”

Normally, Manon would have already been on top of him but it'd been a long day. “Or you could be top of me.”

Had Manon not looked at him at that precise moment, she would have missed his eyes fluttering a little too long – and the unsubtle yawn he tries to stifle.

She leans her weight on her elbow, her eyes narrowing in disbelief. “Are you falling asleep on me?”

“I am not.”

Manon lifts a brow, undoing all the laces of her shirt. “So then take me, princeling.”

His phantom hands caress her breasts, Manon arching into his touch before she could stop herself. His voice, like a husky whisper, breathes against her neck, “Ask me nicely, witchling.”

Manon bares her teeth at him in response, and his sweet laugh envelops the room before his lips devour hers in such a kiss, it makes every part of her body heat to his touch.

But after a while, the blithering idiot has the nerve to fall asleep on her, just after his phantom hands had loosened the buckle of her pants. While his lips had been pressed against her neck, his real hand covering her mouth to stifle her sounds of pleasure. 

On her. She might have sliced her nails across his throat, devouring his blood, sweeter than any other human male’s blood she’d ever indulged herself in, if she hadn’t started to yawn herself. 

His mouth is slightly ajar, softly snoring under the moonlight. And so she relaxes her muscles. Adjusts their bodies so that he’s not crushing her with his weight, but rather wrapping his arm around her, pressing her against his warm, firm chest. She would miss his body once he had found a human wife. Wasn’t sure if she’d ever want to let someone touch her like this again.

Manon had almost fully drifted off when the arm around her waist pulled her closer, sleepy smiles crossing both of their faces.

 

II.

 

The next morning, the king refuses to wake up.

Manon had awoken at first light, his arm still wrapped tightly around her, ready for a shower before they joined Chaol and Yrene for breakfast. She’d tried to slip out of their bed, but his arm wouldn’t let her go.

“Dorian,” she’d said. “Wake up.”

He made no response.

“Dorian. I need to shower.”

He continued sleeping.

“You can join me.”

“Mm,” he murmured sleepily but still refused to release her from this death grip.

Manon shifts so that she’s facing him. “Dorian. We have to go.”

“A few more minutes,” he mumbles. 

Manon rolls her eyes and considers rolling them both off of the bed, until his body hits the floor with a thud. She almost does – when she thinks back to a time at Blackbeak Keep, when Vesta had been drawling on and on about some human male she’d seduced. 

Asterin had been there, along with Sorrel, as stone-faced as ever. They must have been witchlings at that time, new to couplings with human men. Asterin had listened intently, her grin full of wicked amusement, while Manon pretended to be bored. Vesta was foolish then, still foolish even after a century. What she had done was most likely foolish as well – but she’d gone on to explain in explicit detail how the human had ravished her after. 

Manon rolls her eyes again. She leans close to Dorian’s ear, hesitating a moment. Rolls her eyes a third time, so hard they should get stuck to the top of her head, with a sigh.

And then moans.

Moans as if his phantom hands are ravishing her body. As if his teeth were dragging against her neck, leaving marks so deep, he might have even broken her skin like that afternoon in his Map Room after the Lords of Adarlan had curled their lips at her presence. Forget them, the king had whispered that day, kissing her neck as her legs wrapped around him. I only want you for the rest of my life.

She had long forgotten them by then, making the same noises of pleasure in his ears as she does now.

Dorian jolts awake, his own cheeks flushed. He blinks a few times, looking down her body where her shirt was still undone from the night before.

“What – I heard – I thought,” he stumbles over his tongue. He rubs the sleep out of his eyes as his brows twitch towards each other. “Did you just – was that a trick?”

Manon smirks. “I was trying to wake you up.”

She rolls over on her side, ready to finally get out of bed, when Dorian reaches for with his real hands. “Not so fast.” His voice is low, tinged with cruelty.

She lifts a brow.

His phantom hands reach for her wrist, bringing them over her head. “I’m awake now.”

Manon looks to his pants, suddenly tight. “I can see that.”

His real hand caresses her breast this time, the side of his lip curling up into a wicked grin. “I want to try that something new now.”

 

III. 

 

Later during breakfast, when they finally make it down for breakfast to find Chaol and his family, Josefa asks them, “Who jumped higher?”

Dorian frowns, sitting down across from her at the table and reaches for a cup of coffee, not noticing Chaol or Yrene's slight glares. “What do you mean?”

“Mama and Papa said you were having a contest to see who can jump higher on your bed this morning,” Josefa asks innocently. 

Dorian snorts his coffee out of his nose, quickly covering his mouth with his hands. 

"Thanks for that," Chaol tells him, holding up his piece of toast, now covered in coffee. "And for this morning. Could you two have jumped any louder?"

Manon just smirks back at the young child, spreading a sweet jam over her bread. “That is a very improper reaction for a king, is it not? Obviously Dorian's just upset that I jumped higher.”

(The night before they get to Orynth, Dorian and Manon let Josefa and little Theo sleep in their room so their parents could see who could jump highest on their bed too.) 

They arrive in Terrasen before the end of the week, after a few nights of sleeping at inns and showing the children the outskirts of Adarlan and the city of Meah, when they stop by the monument. 

Kingsflame covered the quartz statute of a witch, her iron teeth bared and her iron nails sharp at her sides. A marble plaque underneath, that read Terrasen Will Never Forget, with all of their names, her beloved coven. Asterin. Sorrel. Vesta. Faline. Fallon. Edda. Briar. Thea. Kaya. Linnea. Ghislaine. Imogen. In the fading sunset, the quartz witch turned golden, as if she were a force of flames. But in the morning sunrise, the statute was bright and gleaming. Serene. At peace. 

Manon had to be present at all of these meetings; to discuss the budget, to discuss the proper way to honor them, to discuss how much space it should take up at Theralis. She'd brought along Petrah and Bronwen, though Dorian had offered to accompany her, because she needed their opinion to make sure it was tasteful while her eyes glassed over during the meetings, her heart stuck in her throat. 

Every year she stops at that monument, alone. Allowing herself enough time to grieve on her own. This year, she had hoped it would be easier to ignore the lump in her throat and the stinging in her eyes. But as they approach, Manon finds her mind traveling away again, to a time of bloody fields and screaming witches in the sky. She's aware they've stopped, somewhere in the back of her head. But she torturously sees them – one by one – their bodies breaking, the light from their bodies exploding. 

Live Manon. Live. 

Suddenly a young hand touches her. Little Josefa's standing next to her, holding a flower. She tugs Manon forward as she sets the flower, among a great many others, at the foot of the quartz witch. But she continues to hold Manon's hand with her chubby fingers as she tries to pronounce all of their names.

The lump in Manon's throat starts to disappear as she reads them aloud to Josefa. Asterin. Sorrel. Vesta. Faline – no, like Fay–leen. Good girl. Now, Fallon. Edda. Briar. Thea. Kaya. Linnea. Ghislaine – hmm, more like Giz–lane. Yes, good job. Okay now, last one. Ready? Imogen. Im – oh – gin. You're a good girl, Josefa.  

Yrene's wiping tears from her eyes by the time they're ready to go, rocking her little one in her arms. Chaol holds his arms out for Josefa to run to, reaffirming that she did a good job. Dorian just tightens his arms around her as they finish the rest of the ride to their destination, though she can feel his smile tickling the back of her neck, though this time it burns. 

The sun sets by the time they make it to the castle. Most of their friends had already arrived, the ones who already lived in Terrasen. Expecting to see the black-haired human with witch blood bound towards them from the steps, Lady Elide Lochan instead approaches them slowly. Her hand on her belly. 

Manon’s lips curled into a smirk. “I see we have lots to talk about.”

Elide wrapped her arms around Manon. “It’s so good to see you. We were thinking of coming to the Wastes when Queen Aelin goes to visit Ansel of Briarcliff next month.”

Manon didn’t openly curl her lip in front of Elide. “Well, I would look forward to seeing you.”

Elide’s husband, the infamous Fae male who had been blessed by death herself, was not high on Manon’s list of agreeable visitors, but for Elide, Manon would hold her tongue. 

Elide greeted Yrene, Dorian, Chaol, and the children and then brings them into the castle, Yrene asking questions like how far along was she, how was her ankle healing, was she getting enough rest, this and that. The mother and mother-to-be both coo over the little one, while Josefa holds her father’s hands, regaling him in numerous jokes he kindly laughed at.

Manon and Dorian lag behind, an unfamiliar knot at the bottom of Manon’s stomach as she realizes what she needs to do.

“You think Aelin’s with child yet?”

Manon shrugs. “You correspond with her more than I do.”

She lets a few moments of silence linger before reminding him, “People are going to be wondering when you’re with child too. And married.”

“Perhaps they should mind their business.”

Manon steels herself, forcing herself to say the words she had been preparing for the past week now. “Perhaps you should sleep in your own chambers tonight.”

“What?” Dorian asks, stopping abruptly. The others up ahead don’t notice. 

Manon keeps her eyes level with his. “It would be better, that way.”

“What way? Better for who?” Dorian’s frown deepens, and she has the strangest desire to brush the pads of her fingers over the lines on his forehead.

But instead she says, with a new lump in her throat, “For us to see other people.”

Dorian’s entire body deflates as he sighs. “Manon, I don’t want to have this conversation again. I don’t want to see other women.”

“It’s not about what we want.” Her voice becomes sharper. “It’s about your duty.”

“I can be king and still make my own decisions that make me happy,” Dorian hisses back. 

Manon just sighs, “You need an heir.”

Dorian opens his mouth, as if he's ready to engage in one of their infamous verbal battles that hardly last very long.

You need an heir.

No I don't.

Stop being a child.

Make me. 

Usually by then, both of their clothes are off but now is neither the time nor place for such a distraction. As if he's remembering too, how their arguments usually go, he comes closer to her with that kingly swagger, a smug gleam in his sapphire eyes, and whispers, “Until you’re the Queen of Adarlan, don’t tell me what I do and don’t need.”

He’d been so close she’d felt his words on her lips, unwittingly arching her throat for him. 

But Dorian turns instead, back to their friends who unsubtly attempt to hide their gawking, and a wicked flare of fury rattles the blue blood in Manon’s veins. “I’ll procure my own chambers, if you so insist.”

 

IV. 

 

Manon realizes her problem during the fourth night of their stay in Orynth.

The Queen of Terrasen has plans for parties nearly every night, the first night having been an exception. Then, she’d simply hosted a dinner for their faraway friends, wisely not saying anything when Manon and Dorian opted to sit at separate ends of the table.

On the fourth night, Manon had donned her witch leaders, dressing alone in her chambers. The same leathers she had worn earlier that morning she and Elide had walked around the gardens, enjoying the sun. She had been asking Elide about some of the women from Perranth who had accompanied her – their age, their marital status, their families.

If they would be willing to relocate to Adarlan, to live in the castle that had once been constructed of glass. 

Elide had lifted her brow. “Cressantha is quite nice. I’m sure she would – well, in what conditions are you asking?”

Manon glared at the roses blooming. “The king needs a wife and an heir.”

“So you and Dorian –” Elide had tried to ask.

“Don’t.”

Elide nodded, though her onyx eyes held a look of disappointment. “Well, then, Cressantha – I believe she would do.”  

When Manon had arrived to the ballroom, she’d been expecting all the ladies to be dressed in lovely gowns of bright and colorful silks and she was not disappointed. Lady Lysandra, in a flowing dress as purple as midnight, danced in the middle of the room with her husband, the general Manon had once found insufferable. Under the golden chandelier, their smiles were bright with mirth as he dipped her, her laugh trailing towards Manon.

Elide stood with her own husband, Lord Lorcan Lochan, near the corner, her hand on the deep emerald fabric covering her bump. The Fae male kissed her cheek, as she tilted her head back and giggled. 

But Manon wasn’t as curious to know the source of her laughter as she was to know why Dorian had declined to dance with Cressantha. They hadn’t spoken since arriving in Orynth, but Manon would see her quest through and had inspected Cressantha herself earlier that evening. The woman had beautiful golden skin, long, curled hair that fell upon her back. Her eyes were bright, even bluer than the shores of the Wastes. 

She was perfect. A perfectly good mortal woman. All he had to do was dance with her and give her a chance.

Yet he had turned her away, smiling politely. And then had turned to the upper floor, where Manon was standing by the balcony, winking at her. 

Manon wanted to fling him off the roof of the castle. 

“He was an insufferable lunatic when he courted me. Did you know that?” The Queen of Terrasen says, suddenly standing next to her. Her own turquoise eyes following Dorian’s movements, as he continued to dance with Josefa, bending down to the child’s size. 

“Was?” Manon asks, her voice dry. Though she glanced at Aelin next to her with upturned lips. Over the years she had grown fonder of the young queen, found her arrogance and swagger much more delightful now that they were no longer enemies. 

Aelin returned her small smile. “He is different now. Far from the womanizer he used to be, yet still wiser than he lets on. Too kind hearted for his own good.”

Manon’s eyes flicker to the silver-haired Fae prince, dressed in pants tighter than sin and a tunic that glowed like moonlight, on the other side of the hall, still towering from even a distance away. “Careful now.”

Aelin follows her gaze and laughs. “He knows everything about me. And I know everything about him. It was – hard, at first. We were both still hurting from our pasts and trying to fight what was between us. But it is a freeing feeling, Manon, to love someone.”

Manon is not sure what possesses her to say what she does next; she had not ingested blood, or even that ridiculous sweet wine humans liked to drink. But she tells the golden-haired queen, “Not so much, I suspect, when your love is meant to expire.”

And that’s what her problem had been, has always been when it came to Dorian. 

Aelin smirks at her, and normally Manon would bare her iron teeth in warning. But the queen’s face holds no mockery nor judgement, only hints of that youthful arrogance. “Have you not noticed?”

“Noticed what?”

Aelin juts her chin out at Dorian. “He is no longer aging.” 

Manon frowns. “Why do you say that?”

“Because he looks the same as he did when I first met him.” Aelin’s voice turned to a purr. “When he was 19 years old.”

It had been almost eight years since the King of Adarlan had been 19. Manon did not notice years the same way mortal humans did; she noticed decades, rather. This close to the end of a decade, Dorian should have tighter skin around his eyes, sharper features. 

Manon’s eyes flickered to Chaol, dancing with Yrene, the healer using her magic to keep him steady. In the past few months, Chaol had stopped shaving the light stubbled hair along his chin every day. His shoulders were broader, his laugh deeper. 

And then her mind turned to the castle in Rifthold, where the king’s young brother, once a royal pain, had grown taller and was just a few years shy of twenty himself. His voice had evened out, no longer the pitchy boyish drawl of his childhood. She hadn’t noticed that until now – that everyone around them was aging, but Dorian was not. 

Dorian still looked the same, year by year. As if his features had frozen, unrelenting to the cruel beast of time. 

“But he’s human.” Manon shakes her head. “He’ll eventually age.”

“Doesn’t seem likely it’ll be anytime in the next century,” Aelin drawls. “You know, Lord Lochan is aging a mortal lifespan. Along with his mate, Elide.”

Mate. Manon nearly snarls at the word. Though she can’t deny the intense magnetic draw between her and Dorian that always brings her to his castle every couple of months. Never to her home, though. Manon has to keep some pretense of sanity in front of her witches.

But mate? How absurd to think their life spans are now tied together. That he would remain immortal along with her, with the same youthful face for centuries. 

Aelin sighs loud enough for the people of the Southern Continent to hear her. “Come dance, won’t you? It is supposed to be a party. You can’t spend the entire night up here sulking.”

Manon could if she wanted to. She had enough sulk in her to brood over the ballroom for days, perhaps even months. 

Manon, I would marry you right now, so we could have every last moment together. A hundred more years, even a thousand more years, is not enough time with you so I will take what I can get. Whatever you give me, I will take.

Such pretty words, she thinks, even if five years had passed since he’d said them. Yet she remembers every word, every moment he'd paused to take a breath. 

Her eyes lock on Dorian, still dancing with Josefa, even as other women watch and fawn over him. His smile lights up the entire floor. There it was – the magnetic pull that she can’t seem to get away from, though she supposes now, she never really wanted to share him after all.

Manon’s lips curl to match the smirk on Aelin’s face, still waiting for her answer. “I have something very important to do first.”

She whirls towards the stairs, her heart thumping against her chest. Is this how cowards felt when striding towards the lines of battle? She pushes past the humans coming upstairs, not bothering to say polite things such as excuse me or sorry, but get out of my way before I claw you to pieces. 

The light from the golden chandelier seemed to be trailing her as she kept pushing her way through the throng of mortals, who danced in their ridiculous dresses and velvet vests as if there was not something more important at play, until she had stepped right up to Dorian.

And suddenly became aware that she had not planned what she was going to say.

The King of Adarlan just smiled at her lazily. “Hello Manon.”

Josefa’s young eyes flittered between them as she gasps, “Are you talking again? Uncle Dorian says that you’re being stubborn.”

Manon lifts a brow, though Dorian’s smile lingers as he shrugs. But he must see something in her eyes that causes him to lean down towards Josefa and say, “Why don’t you go see if your mother will let you have an extra pasty?”

Josefa’s golden-brown eyes light up as she sprints towards her parents, laughing like teenagers who had finally stolen some time alone. One of Aelin’s most trusted servants had been watching the little one in their chambers that night, allowing the parents to indulge in some wine and dancing as Dorian had enraptured most of Josefa’s attention.

Manon wishes now that she had thought of something wise to say before storming over here like a madwitch, fire storming from her heels like the tips of Aelin’s fingers. She wants to tell Dorian how much his words mean to her, how much she thinks about them most nights when she’s alone, staring at the moon. That she doesn’t think she could ever let someone touch her, hold her, feel her the way he does. That she likes it when he runs his nails through her hair, when he pins her against his wall until they’re both breathless and sweaty, when he kisses the side of her lip before she has to deal with his insufferable mother, when he reads to her under the sun in his library, when he smiles at her and it seems like the sun is breaking through the clouds after a rainy day.

Well. She could say all of that.

“Do you want to go for a walk outside?” Dorian asks, breaking the spell her thoughts had cast over her. He says it, as though his voice were laced with boredom, but Manon sees the worry starting to etch over his features.

“Sure.” She plays along, following him towards the palace doors and out into the cool summer air. The monument to the Thirteen pulls painfully at her heart as they sit down on the marble steps, side by side. 

Live Manon. 

Manon straightens, as if she’s actually heard her Second’s voice over her shoulder this time. 

“Are you alright, Manon?” Dorian asks, but this time he doesn’t hide his concern. His fingers crawl towards her, with trepidation.

Live. 

Manon looks to him. “If we had all the time in the world, would you tire of me?”

Dorian frowns. “Why would you ever think that?”

“A thousand years, the Queen of Terrasen and her mate are promised,” Manon says, as if that should explain everything. “If you had a thousand years with me, would you eventually grow tired?”

Dorian pushes a loose strand of her hair back behind her ear, his hand lingering on the side of her face. “I would only wish we had a thousand more.”

She lets herself lean into his touch, suddenly aware the pulling in her heart doesn’t feel so painful anymore. More like a warm caress – a reminder that she is not alone. 

“Tell me, Manon, if we had thousands and thousands of years to each other — would you grow tired of me?”

She looks into his eyes, sapphires glittering against the night sky, his hair as black as onyx. A handsome face that his gods must have crafted with gentle care and precision. In his eyes, she sees sunsets and stories, afternoons spent lazying around when there were no politics to attend to. A future where she was his and he was hers, only hers to touch, to explore, to hold onto. 

Thousands of years to teach him all the things she knew — in the bedroom and outside of Adarlan. 

Once upon a time, she would have been horrified at the thought of being shackled to a man for the rest of her immortal life. 

But once upon a time she had not known Dorian Havilliard. 

So Manon shakes her head. Maybe she would tire of palace walls and cooked fish stew as opposed to dried meat, but no. Never of him. 

He smiles back at her with the light of a thousand stars and kisses each corner of her lip. “So. Will you spend forever with me then, witchling?” 

Live Manon, she hears Asterin cackling, joined by the sounds of twelve other laughs that sound like bells. Live. 

Manon wraps her arms around his shoulders, pulling his body closer to hers under the moonlight, smirking before she presses their lips together, “Only because you asked me nicely, princeling.”

Chapter Text

“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.

 

I.

 

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.”

Live Manon.

“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. 

Live.

 

II.

 

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.

 

III.

 

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.

 

IV.

 

“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.

 

V.

 

“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.

 

VI.

 

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.”

 

VII.

 

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.”