Fantastical Page 96

Her face had paled before she whispered, “That cannot be.”

Oh dear. She was into Noc. She did try. And she failed.

Poor Cora.

Tor didn’t reply.

“That can’t be,” she repeated softly, her eyes searching Tor’s face.

Then she saw the truth, dropped her head and her shoulders slumped as she looked to the floor.

“Cora, your king demands your eyes,” King Ludlum commanded and, slowly, she looked at him. “You will be sequestered in solitude, except for your guard, at Merrygate for the rest of your days.”

The air in the room changed again. Both of the Goodes, I noted, looked relieved at this announcement. Orlando sent a dark look to Tor who was also glancing at his brother so I couldn’t see his reaction. After I caught Orlando’s look, I turned to Cora to see she was about as happy as Orlando.

“Merrygate?” she whispered.

“It is a lovely property with vast gardens. You will be happy there.”

“It’s a five day ride from anything!” she cried.

“Indeed, and also surrounded by sacred land which means it will be difficult for you to find trouble,” King Ludlum replied.

“But –”

“I could give you a choice,” King Ludlum interrupted. “You can live your days in Merrygate or you can live them in the dungeons of Castle Tristrom. Your choice.”

She snapped her mouth shut.

Well, with that reaction, I guessed Castle Tristrom wasn’t Club Med.

Then she forced out, “Merrygate, your grace.”

“Excellent, it is decided,” King Ludlum started to stand but Cora spoke again.

“Will I be allowed to see my parents and Rosa?”

King Ludlum settled back in his seat. “They have a new daughter and sister now.” My body jerked at this announcement, Cora’s face froze and he went on, “But they care about their old one, although it still astounds me my future daughter-in-law holds any regard for you after your heinous deeds. Nevertheless, she did no wrong, nor did your parents so I do not see any reason to punish them. They will visit you but as your existence will be held in deepest secret, these visits will be rare so I will advise you to make the most of them when you have them.”

Her mouth thinned but she said not a word.

King Ludlum continued and he did it with quiet warning, “And I will remind you, Cora, that your existence is to be held in deepest secret. If you connive in any way to reveal that secret to anyone, it will be considered treason against the crown, your second such offense, and that one will not be handled with the generosity I am bestowing on you today. Is that understood?”

She stared at him, fear plain on her face.

I guess treason didn’t buy her a trip to Castle Tristrom but something a lot less fun.

Oh dear.

“Cora, is that understood?” the king prompted.

She stared at him some more. Then she gave in with a soft, “Yes, your grace.”

He nodded, then, pushing to standing, he declared, “We’re done here.”

Once he was on his feet, he flicked a wrist at the four guards standing at the opposite end of the room. They advanced forward and the king’s eyes went to the Goodes.

“Say your farewells, my good people, then we will move on from this sad business to the celebration.”

The Goodes nodded, Forrest bowed, Dara bobbed a quick curtsy then they rushed to their daughter and crowded her as she was led out of the room.

Cora didn’t look back. Cora had no words for Tor or for me. Cora had no words for Orlando, who put his neck out and expended considerable energy saving her sister. Cora was thinking about Cora.

Stupid cow.

Sliding an arm around my waist, Tor turned me to face him and I looked up into his eyes.

“It is done, my love,” he murmured. “Go to your sister, share this news, it will bring her relief so she can put it aside and focus on her wedding day.”

“Your Dad made a compassionate decision, I gather,” I murmured back.

“It is his way.”

Yeah, I was noticing that. King Ludlum was a decent guy.

I nodded. Then remarked, “Orlando didn’t seem happy about it.”

“Orlando rescued a drawn, terrified Rosa from Minerva’s clutches. Orlando was also called upon by Algernon to assume my rule while I was in your world, making it so those who witnessed our disappearance did not speak of it, taking on all my responsibilities while I was away at the same time trying to discover the powers that were at work that took me away. Orlando cannot call up much compassion for Cora, the Exquisite.”

Hmm. Understandable.

His head dipped down and he brushed his mouth against mine.

Jeez, I liked it when he did that.

“Go to your sister,” he urged quietly when he’d pulled away an inch.

“Okay,” I whispered, smiled at him and realized it was over. Done. The bad shit was behind us and all we had to look forward to was the good.

That was why my smile got brighter. Tor’s arms got tighter when he witnessed it, I got up on tiptoe and touched my mouth to his then moved away.

“See you guys at the wedding,” I called, starting to descend the steps that led up to the dais we were on and waving at Orlando and King Ludlum as I went.

“My sweet,” Tor called, I kept walking but looked at him, raising my brows. He pressed his lips together but his eyes lit with humor. Then he reminded me, “Cora, my love, you’re leaving the presence of your king and two of your princes.”

I stopped, whirled to face them and cried, “Oh shit! Right.” Then I dropped into a low curtsy to my king and two of my princes.

“Rise, my dear,” King Ludlum commanded, his voice shaking with laughter and I rose. “How about we leave such formalities for formal proceedings,” he suggested then he smiled at me. “We will just be… us when it’s family.”

When it was family. That felt nice.

“That’s cool with me,” I told him on a grin and heard Orlando stifle another chuckle.

The king and his handsome son didn’t stifle theirs.

“Later,” I called, turned and hurried through the throne room.

“Until then, my dear,” I heard the king say to my back.

“Erm… later, Cora,” I heard Orlando say.

Tor didn’t reply but at the door, I turned and saw him huddled with his family. He must have felt my gaze for he looked my way, I caught his eyes and blew him a kiss.

Then I rushed through the door and then through the castle to go help my sister prepare for her wedding.

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