Alexane couldn’t sleep, too furious.
The thunderstorm, shaking the palace walls and glaring through every window with stark lightning flashes, echoed her mood exactly. She leaned out of a window and reveled in it. When it ended she slammed the shutters, and shook her wet hair so rainwater whipped everywhere, and her young ladies-in-waiting made horrified unsurprised faces.
It was long past midnight by the watchbells. She paced, with a towel over her head. Standing still to have her hair combed would have driven her mad, so she didn’t. It would wait until morning. She’d dismissed her ladies but they all refused to go. Good girls—she knew they wanted desperately to see their mothers, after so long away. Little Merriment, just turned twelve, had talked of nothing else for days. Dimity and Seventh weren’t much older, but they’d all said no, their faces shining with braveness. Then they’d sent for a late supper, and fruit ices afterward, and then fallen asleep over cards in the corner.
Mere sat by the hearth, reading Herodotus.
Alexane ripped a trencher of bread to shreds, sopped them in stew and devoured them. Anger always left her hungry. With just a little encouragement she would have bitten off Father’s nose.
She refused to disguise herself and escape down the servant’s stairs, though she could have done it anytime.
How dared he?
She’d been away too long, and forgotten her unimportance. A surplus royal, no use to anyone. Only her twin brother Alexander mattered, because he was crown heir. She was half-a-bell older than Alexander, too. Life wasn’t fair.
But ever since she’d realized that—how old had she been, six?—she’d vowed to live as if the world was hers. To fear nothing, throw as long a shadow as life allowed, and never allow Father to squash her. Do exactly as you please. That was her promise to herself.
She finally threw herself down opposite Mere at the hearth, where the light was brightest, and took out her painted miniature of Perrin in its gold filigree frame. She stroked its ribbon, and held it in the light.
A year ago, he’d only been a face, brushstrokes on silk, one of a dozen miniatures on Father’s desk. But a handsome face, so she’d claimed the miniature for her own, never mind Father’s raised eyebrow or Alexander’s jeers. She’d picked it up off the desk and walked away with it. Do exactly as you please. She’d never expected Father to choose Perrin for her from all those suitors, that was certain.
Besides, handsome men invariably turned out to be worthless ninnies.
So of course she’d decided he would be dead stupid, and she would end up running his life for the rest of their years together.
She’d been so wrong. Once she met him, she’d thrown all that out the window, and set about ensuring he’d become Everian instead of Gloxian. Gloxia couldn’t have him!—she would give him to Everie. No better goal existed within her reach.
Her beloved Perrin …
A knock at the door made her look up.