Her heart had been destroyed.
Alexane—but she intended to think of herself as Crown now—stood in the picture gallery outside Father’s study, hands clenched into fists so hard that her nails punched whitened crescents in her palms. She wanted to tear her hair in exaltation over taking Alexander’s place. She wanted to tear her hair out over Perrin too. And tear out Father’s hair while she was at it. All these things at once, and more.
Mere had taken away the paper with the names on it, conferred in an undertone with Sir Gawaine her father, and was now speaking quietly—soft as a restful stream. “You’ll want to tell Prince Perrin what your father’s done. I’ll take care of this list, then. Leave it to me.”
She’d kill Father.
Yes, she had to go to Perrin. Immediately.
She began to walk.
“You should take a squad of halberdiers,” Mere said. “Use the king’s signet, you still have it in your sleeve. No, don’t take it out, you’ll drop it, you have too many other things to think about. I’ll find you some halberdiers. Stay there, Alexane.”
“Crown. I’m Crown now.” Yes, she was.
When she was queen she’d marry anyone she pleased.
“Why did your father do this?” Mere asked.
She’d … never thought to ask him.
“What will you say to Prince Perrin?” Mere’s eyes were troubled. “What could you say, at a time like this?”
Well, that was Mere all over, always full of questions. That was probably why she’d never yet fallen in love. Alexane never bothered asking questions, they were a waste of her time, the best thing was just to stride straight forward and take the consequences. That was the way to live.
“I’ll know what to do when I’m there. The important thing is to never give in.”
Mere quietly went off, quietly returned with five Royal Halberdiers in tow, and quietly went off again.
There might have been trouble getting into the ambassadorial wing, but Father’s signet and five of the palace halberdiers solved that. No one said no to the Royal Halberdiers. This was the new wing of the palace, built many-arcaded and airy around a rose garden, which the ambassadorial apartments enclosed; the garden was a good hundred years older than its surroundings, so the rose-trees were tall and amazing. It had been a queensgarden once, before Father had the new queensgarden put in next to Mother’s chambers. The gardeners had tended it with loving care. Even now, in the wee hours of the morning, she caught the distant fragrance drifting in through some open window somewhere. The yellow roses of lost love.
She waited in a mirrored gallery for Perrin to come to her. When he eventually appeared, it was in company with the Gloxian ambassador and several of the ambassador’s secretaries. They looked disheveled and the secretaries were yawning; they must have dressed in a hurry. But Perrin was, as always, immaculate.
The others stayed near the far door while Perrin strode to her. He took her hands. “Heart’s desire?”
Just hearing his voice, the touch of his hands, just the scent of orris powder in his hair, made her choke.
What could she say? Nothing.
“Something’s wrong. Something’s happened? Tell me. Remember the old saying, speak an ill word and it loses half its poison. Just speak it out loud.” He lifted her hands and pressed them briefly to his face, kissing one: her left hand, where his ring was, his gift. He’d given her two rings, actually. With one he had affianced her as prince, but the other had been given from Perrin to Alexane. She wore them both, one on either hand, but it was the unofficial ring that he kissed now.
No, there was nothing worth saying. She drew back, covering her mouth. Then she yanked at her fingers, pulling both rings off, as fast as she could because one instant of hesitation and she’d crumble. Perrin started to speak, and she shouted at him. “No!” If he spoke, she’d be lost. Her eyes stung and her throat had closed up tight. She could barely stand straight.
She thrust out the royal ring, the one he’d given her as a prince. Perrin took it, his face blank.
Now the other one.
Her hand jerked when he reached for it, and the ring fell. It rang when it struck the marble tiles. She turned and strode off, her halberdiers at heel.
Now see how loudly she could slam the doors!
The crash reverberated. There, she’d done it, it was done, it was over, finished. She walked away, but at the first turn in the corridor, where the ambassadorial wing joined the older part of the palace, she came to a halt. Her hands felt stripped naked. “Go ahead. Just—just around the corner, wait there,” she told the halberdiers. “I’ll join you in a moment.”
She’d almost cried. Her eyes still prickled and ached. She’d die before giving in and scrubbing them dry. It would be … it would be like giving Father the victory. No. No, she’d never do that. She’d make that her vow.
She made the vow to herself, there in the empty corridor.
She’d never admit defeat.
Her heart had been destroyed.