The Queen Of Carleon
When Calfax confirmed the news, Arianne could scarcely believe it.
She had worked herself into vexation fighting the desire to place more importance on the symptoms she experienced. Until she knew for certain, she would not accept the signs of impending joy. She moved through her day, trapped in a state of limbo. Her mood drove her poor husband to distraction because he could not fathom what was at the heart of her temperamental state. She longed to tell him what was in her mind, but held back at the thought of disappointing him. That, and the possibility that he might become so terrified by the idea that he could take the first horse out of the kingdom and hide in Tamsyn's remote tower in the forgotten corners of the Jagged Teeth.
What was it with men of courage and strength, who could ride forth and slay a thousand beserker warriors without a flinch, but went into complete and utter ruin when confronted with the possibility of becoming a father? Arianne suspected not even the Gods could answer that question, and as a result, she chose not to torment her king with the possibility that he might have an heir before she herself knew without doubt.
Besides, there were other matters to occupy Dare's mind.
As the High King of the newly unified Carleon, the War Dragon was working hard to rebuild the kingdom in the wake of the destruction wrought by Balfure's war. Any person who thought being king was about power and glory would be shocked to learn how arduous it was to be architect of a country's restoration. Too many times Arianne stepped into the Great Hall to see him working tirelessly in consultation with his ministers to the late hours of the night.
When he paused to catch his breath, Arianne saw the glimmer in his eyes, longing for simpler days, when he was simply Dare—the exiled Prince of Carleon. Yet, he was a good man, the one she loved beyond reason or thought. He would carry the burden because his people needed him, and because he was the last of his house, at least until now. He alone left Eden Halas and stepped out into the world, with the courage and the will to see Balfure driven away from Avalyne for all time. Arianne would be at his side forever, carrying that burden with him, to fill his life with the simple pleasures, such as the news she was now about to impart.
Today, there was no longer any doubt in her mind once Calfax, the royal physician, confirmed her suspicions—she was with child. She drifted, if it was possible for a flesh and blood being to drift, through the halls of the palace, with her hands on her belly in secret delight. What a sight she must have been to the palace staff—the queen of Carleon sweeping about the place wearing the smile of a happy fool.
She knew they were probably grateful for her good mood, since she had been difficult of late. Arianne resolved to make it up to those who bore the brunt of her temper, especially Dare, who was a devoted and attentive husband as any woman could ask. After all, being queen did not excuse bad behaviour in any shape or form. Her mother taught her that.
Thinking of Queen Lylea made Arianne's smile widen, knowing how thrilled she would be at the news. Despite her sometimes aloof manner and her adherence to ensuring all forms were observed, Arianne knew her mother would like nothing better than to be a grandmother allowed to spoil her grandchildren shameless. It was a right after all.
* * *
As always, when he was with taking counsel with his counsellors and advisors, Dare was in the Great Hall when Arianne found him a short time after she had received her news. He spent a great deal of time in this room, attempting to portion out men and resources to the few lands still being plagued by scattered remains of Balfure's army. The beserkers, without their master, were even more dangerous than ever, as their rampage was now without purpose or direction. They were mindless beasts, driven by instinct and need, making their behaviour difficult to predict, and even harder to defend.
She watched him a moment, circling the large wooden table covered with maps, engaged in serious discussion with Aeron and Ronen, his most trusted advisers, while she stood there being so very proud of him.
* * *
Arianne remembered the day Dare first arrived at her mother's court in Eden Taryn.
He was but twenty-five, having spent much of his life in the court of Eden Halas. Arianne had heard the gossip of a human child being adopted by Queen Syanne, and how this action had caused much disquiet between her and her king. Naturally, she was curious as to what reason this human could possess to seek an audience with her mother—the High Queen of all the elves in all of Avalyne. He was taken through the Veil by Syanne's youngest child, Prince Aeron. Even so, Arianne was astonished that her mother allowed the incursion by a human into their lands, even if he was accompanied by an elf.
Lylea, who possessed the gift of the Sight, claimed this audience was one of importance. It could change everything.
Arianne found this difficult to believe at her first sight of him. He looked like a ruffian, with threadbare clothes, dusty from too much travel, and the leather of his boots were scuffed and worn. Sporting a day's growth on his face, his dark brown hair was unruly, and hung about his shoulders, like it had never known a brush. Still, he was beautiful despite the pains he took to conceal it. She wondered if he simply did not care enough to exploit his looks, or whether this was a guise he wore to disarm people into believing he was nothing more than a vagabond. Overall, it was not a good first impression.