I still remember the final few moments of my brother's humanity before I lost him to the dark arts forever.
"Warlocks aren't real" were the last words of the king before he died at the hand of my brother, a black mage. Monarchies were a plague. Tyrant kings and queens alike were the cause of the unjust poverty that commoners like us experienced. They were the cause of the deaths of our family and our lives.
And now we were the cause of theirs.
We had taken over as the kingdom's rulers, assuming the identities of the late king's long lost heirs, unbeknownst to its people.
Veck was now its king.
And I, its princess.
The nearby kingdom of Castria was ruled by a king and his younger sister, the princess, much like Veck and I at this one. I always thought the tales of her beauty seemed a bit exaggerated until I stood before her myself.
Castria was known as the golden kingdom because of its incomparable resources and lavish wealth. Its rulers were the golden king and princess. At her throne she sat in fair and regal composure with a gray-eyed glance and locks of sunlight flowing past her shoulders.
I swallowed hard, trying to ignore my brother's words as we arrived at their castle.
I swallowed hard, trying to ignore my brother's words as we arrived at their castle. "We will kill them all."
But sending an army here was too chaotic, too complicated for him. No, it was all too messy. He decided to be more creative.
The gold-banded ring in my pocket suddenly seemed heavier to me, a burden I no longer want to carry. Veck discussed terms of a peaceful accord, which pleased the king who declared that he would never turn away those who favored peace over conflict. He favored the alliance.
Across the throne room, the golden princess gave me a smile. I almost wanted to warn them of my brother's intentions and the trap he was leading them into. The entire throne room buzzed with chatter. I kept forward, looking on as Veck had instructed me to do.
But I wanted to see the expression on people's faces and read the emotion in their eyes; the worry, excitement, and surprise. I wanted to turn to the council of nobles and see the way they looked at me and Veck, wondering if they believed we were truly a king and princess just as royal as their own.
I wondered if any of them were going to speak against their rulers' attempt to trust the enemy. But none of them did.
Veck moved forward and the crowd quickly fell silent. "Your highness," he addressed. "Let our alliance be properly consummated. We shall sign a treaty and exchange goods and resources. But most important of all, a marriage must take place."
The room erupted into noise once again, only this time it seemed impossible to quell. The king was so taken aback, his glance jumped from the princess to the captain of his guard, to the nobles before returning to Veck.
He let out an uncomfortable laugh. "Marriage?" the king questioned. Veck spread out his arms. "What better way to align our kingdoms with holy matrimony, a bond that can never be broken?" he responded, then looked at me.
Anxiously, I reached into my pocket and kept the small golden band in between my thumb and two fingers. I lowered a knee to the ground and held it out high enough for everyone to see.
The royals stared at it with wide eyes and dropped jaws. A collective gasp was followed by a hush that swept over the room.
"Princess Annalexa of Castria, the first of your name," I said, "May I have your hand in marriage?"