Christopher Key, chapter nine continued

I’ve backtracked a couple of paragraphs here, and am continuing the scene, since it’s a fairly long one.

——————

Mere has the Eye of God. It was only to be expected, once they’d found a Key. That was the way of it: a court of potential knights gathered around a new Key, and in the Key’s presence, one by one, they manifested the knightly powers. Magic strength or sight or other strange ability—the list of powers was long, and kept changing. Crown knew it usually took months for knightly powers to make themselves known, but here it was, barely two days gone and Mere had … it spoke of unusual strength in their Key. But it should have been her. She was crown heir, she should come first.

“Why did you tell Alexander?” she said.

Father raised an eyebrow. “To see what he would do.” Then: “Until now you’ve enjoyed an idle life, daughter. Useless. That ends now. You’ll pull in harness, you’ll work with others—your brother included. Stop carrying on like a spoiled princess in a story.”

“Well, I’m not that any longer, am I? I’m Crown!”

She wore her dining knife, of course, even here. She kept it honed razor-sharp; that was another trick the halberdiers had taught her. No wise soldier let his knife go dull. One slash with it and off came her braid, severed just below the nape of her neck and flung it down on the map of Albion.

“I’m not just a pretty princess anymore,” she spat.

Father nudged the braid with his boot, toed it aside. He said, “You were never pretty.”

She felt like screaming but she only drew herself up and made herself stare back with the same expression he wore: the slitted eyes, the lips thinned to a haughty line. If her face froze like his she’d never know herself in the mirror anymore. “In that case I must dedicate myself to my duty. Please excuse me, Father. I must go embrace it, the boy is waiting.”

On her way out she slammed the door, taking care to be louder than Alexander.

Mere has the Eye of God.

She’d been given two halberdiers for her personal guards, good men. She’d never had her own guards before. “Alain, Harry,” she said, and they nodded and fell in behind her. She walked—she couldn’t stand still—onward at random, blind with thought, heart racing.

Mere has the Eye of God. No use deceiving herself that she felt the first stirring of her own power, it was just wishful thinking. She had nothing.

Mere. She barely believed it. And Father was bent on playing her against her brother. She’d give him this much, he’d made her feel guilty—not because of his suspicions, though! Of course Alexander thought she’d been with Perrin. But only a fool would make such a mistake, and Father’s spies had doubtless informed him that she hadn’t gone near her betrothed. Her former betrothed. But no, she’d spent the night alone.

Her Perry, her darling, her heart—she ached for him. But all the company she’d had was his portrait pressed to her cheek as she slept.

Her rooms had been lonely without Mere or the others. She’d never been alone at night in her entire life before. Nor had she done what she ought to, which was dancing attendance on the boy Christopher. Derelict in her duty only because she needed solitude to clear her mind.

As long as she could remember, she’d been that way. Mere called her a creature of thunder and shouting, but even Mere didn’t know that she got overwhelmed sometimes. Rattled by life’s stormy weather, feeling drenched and swept away. And when that happened, when she got really upset, she needed to go off by herself before she could settle down.

She ought to be furious at Mere now. If only she was Alexander, she would be. She wanted to be. It would be easier to go blind-hot with anger than to feel ashamed, as she was now. And proud of Mere. If you don’t rule from your heart, there’s no use being royal at all.

Alexander. The worst thing about the whole infuriating interview had been Alexander’s presence in Father’s study. Even though he hadn’t said much, she’d known every thought in his head. He was probably doing something nasty right now. Pulling wings off flies, torturing a kitten. He’d ridden her favorite horse to death once out of sheer spite—forced the grooms in the stables to saddle it for him, and ridden out with his whip and spurs ready.

Crown walked slower and slower down the long hallway, heading nowhere in particular. Her halberdiers heeled her dutifully. She chewed her lip. Mere, with the Eye of God. Father telling Alexander about Mere. Alexander, damn him. Where would Alexander be—

She about-faced and strode in the opposite direction, heading for the chambers that had been the crown prince’s.

By the time she reached them, she was running.

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