In today's episode of our February Love Fest, I present to you our star-crossed lovers from The Song and the Sorceress and The Northern Queen, King Breyveran of Sahtamor and Queen Ki'leah of Si'vad. In this excerpt, Breyveran and Ki'leah meet to discuss some of the finer points of the political firestorm brewing in Si'vad-- and find the topic turning to more personal matters.
Breyveran took a step closer. His stiff formal air dissipated; in place of the proud king stood the man she best remembered, the same man who had fought at her side and danced with her in the forests of Cel’velahd, free of the encumbrances of titles and kingdoms. “Trust in me, Ki’leah. I have not abandoned your side, nor will I.”
“Yet you sent your brother to my coronation in your stead.”
His expression darkened. “I did not send my brother. He came of his own accord.”
“And made his own choice to leave as well?”
“Yes. Del comes and goes as he pleases, without any thought to the consequences to himself, to others, to his country.” He frowned. “What is this about?”
She lifted her chin. “You tell me that I can trust you, but I learn at my coronation that you have a brother whose existence you never revealed. A brother who has tried, repeatedly, to gain my ear—though for what purpose I may never learn, as for some reason your presence here has chased him home.”
“After his latest ploy, I am surprised my brother continued to enjoy your gracious hospitality for as long as he did,” Breyveran said with a harsh, mirthless laugh. “Delveran has made it his life’s work to destroy everything—and everyone—I value. If you knew half of what he has done, you would not question my hesitation to speak of him.”
“From what he has told me—”
“I doubt he has revealed to you the better part of his involvement in schemes that border on treason, or worse,” he snapped. “My brother still breathes only because I continue to honor the promise I made to our mother on her deathbed. Delveran would never do the same for anyone else; he would sell me into servitude without a backward glance if the opportunity presented itself.”
“Perhaps you are too hard on him—”
“He had my ship intercepted by pirates.”
While Ki’leah simply stared, dumbfounded, he continued. “He paid Captain Gem, Queen of the Southern Seas, to capture my flagship and hold me aboard indefinitely. All so he could take my place at your coronation.”
Ki’leah tried to make sense of his words. “Why would he do such a thing?”
Breyveran closed the distance between them and laid his hand against her cheek. “I told you, Ki’leah. He strives to take from me everything—everyone—of any importance to me.”
Her breath caught in her throat as he leaned closer—hesitated—then, just when she thought he would change his mind, pressed his mouth to hers. Her senses ignited: she reveled in the feel of his rough palm against her skin as he slid his fingers from her cheek to cradle the back of her neck, the gentle strength of his embrace as he slipped his other arm around her waist and pulled her close. She swayed into him and reached up to twine her fingers in his hair. Their kiss grew more confident, more urgent, and for a time, all thought, the years of separation, and the oceans that lay between them melted into insignificance.
Too soon he broke the kiss and rested his forehead against hers. For a moment, only the sound of their ragged breathing broke the silence. He brushed his lips against hers once more, then drifted light kisses across her cheek to the lobes of her ears, her neck, the line of her jaw, and her eyelids before pulling away with a shuddering sigh. He untangled her hands from his neck and half-turned aside, his eyes looking anywhere but at her.
As keenly as her every sense had become aware of him, Ki’leah now felt his absence. A rush of emotions left her reeling. When she could marshal them into some sort of order she whispered the only question that mattered to her then: “Why do you do this?”
A flash of pain, quickly concealed, crossed his features. “Do what?” he asked, though she could see in his expression that he knew exactly what she asked.
Her face heated with sudden anger, as intense as her desire had burned only heartbeats earlier. “It has been two years since I stood on the battlements and watched you ride away, your kiss still tingling on my lips. Two years I waited, all the while wondering what your intentions were, if you remembered me with the same fondness, why you did not offer for me again. When you did not come to the coronation, I assumed. . . and I made peace with the idea that I could only aspire to a lasting friendship between us. But now— why?”
When he did not answer she added with more spite than sense, “Because you do not want your brother to have me?”
The words struck him like a blow; she instantly regretted them, but they had already done their damage. His back stiffened and a calm, cold anger replaced the haze of passion that had softened his features.
“No,” he said. “I do not want my brother within a sea’s breadth of you, because I could not bear to see either you or your kingdom swept into the wake of destruction and misery that follows him wherever he goes. I question his motives in coming here. No doubt he set something into motion that has yet to run its course.
“But to answer your question: I ‘do this’—hold you, kiss you—because I want, more than you will ever know, to give you everything I have to offer in exchange for your heart. And I stay away because I am weak. I do not know how much longer I can remain this close to you without losing my resolve.”
“Then why set your will against your desire?” she whispered. “Offer for me, and everything I have—my heart, my lands, my people—are yours.”
This time, he did not attempt to mask his pain. “I cannot.”
“You offered for me once before.”
He shook his head. “That was an arranged marriage in name only—a scheme planned by the High Council for the sole purpose of meeting the terms your parents set to secure access to the Songs of the Kings. But now—I could never offer such terms again. I could not stand to live across the seas from you while I governed my lands and you remained here to safekeep yours.”
“Then I would give care of Si’vad into the hands of my Lord Advisors and follow you to Sahtamor.”
“The very same advisors you no longer trust?”
She flushed and looked away. And then he was standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders and his voice warm in her ear. “Ki’leah. You have read the prophecy. You know as well as I do why we cannot be together. If we made a child. . . .”
She closed her eyes with a sigh. Of course she knew, though she had stayed awake many a long night denying the accuracy of the Tyrrine Prophecy or talking herself into believing that the whim of prophecy did not order the fates of men, despite her experience to the contrary. From the first time she had scanned the lines that foretold of the Northern Queen, she had guessed at the reasons behind his reticence, though she had always maintained the hope that she could wrest the reins of her own fate from the hands of prophecy and dictate a course of her own making. To hear him confirm that she could not—that a few simple lines of prose held the power to dash her hopes to dust—cut her to the core.
“‘Born to a Northern Queen,’” she whispered. “Fated to become the Heir of the World.”
“Or its destruction.”