We entered the castle with Ridan, emerging in a grand entrance room. A carpet in tones of brown, burgundy and gold lined the floor and shields of iron and gold hung from the walls.
“They will likely be in the royal court now,” Ridan announced.
He stopped outside a pair of heavy oaken doors and pushed them open. We emerged in a vast hall whose walls were draped with red-and-orange velvet tapestries. Black stone chandeliers hung from the high ceiling, and in the center was a raised platform upon which were two thrones, occupied by a beast of a man who could only be Theon, and a striking pale-skinned girl with coal-black hair, whom I could only assume was his new queen. The court was packed to the max with dragons.
“Welcome,” Theon boomed as he laid eyes on us entering with Ridan. He and his queen left their thrones and descended toward us.
I looked to my sister, who stood next to Caleb holding his hand. She, of all of us, had a special connection with these dragons. Theon had once wished to pursue her as his own.
The king was beaming as he approached, bowing low before my parents and shaking their hands warmly. “Finally,” he said, “we have a chance to accommodate you in our own land. Jeriad tells me that you bring three other couples who wish to be wed in dragon country, your son and his love included among them.”
“Thank you, Theon,” my father replied. “That is correct.”
“Since tomorrow marks the end of the week, we have decided that it will be fortuitous to hold the weddings then, rather than wait a few more days for preparation,” Theon went on. “Is that agreeable to you?”
My parents looked to me and River. “Yes,” River and I responded. Micah, Kira, Matteo and Helina were also in agreement.
“Excellent. Now allow me to introduce you to my wife, Penelope,” Theon said, his eyes glinting with pride as he rested his hand on the small of Penelope’s back.
Penelope smiled graciously and shook my parents’ hands.
“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, her gray eyes darting to each of us. “Feel free to call me Nell.” She had an American accent. That meant Theon had traveled to somewhere in America to find his soulmate… I couldn’t help but wonder how all that had played out. She didn’t look older than twenty.
“Your arrival is of impeccable timing,” Theon went on. “We have just completed rebuilding the city.”
“What happened to your city?” my mother asked.
Theon exchanged glances with Nell before letting out a hearty chuckle. “Let us not speak of the past. At an auspicious time like this, we must look only to the future.” His broad smile was contagious.
“You must be tired after your journey,” Nell said. “We should arrange for your quarters and some refreshments. Please, come with us.”
I was surprised that the king and queen themselves led us out of the court and up a broad set of carpeted stone steps. I looked down at River to see her gazing around the ornate castle in wonderment. I took a moment to remind myself that she was still relatively new to all of this… supernatural craziness. She’d been plucked from the most mundane life possible, had her world turned upside down and been thrust into this whirlwind, whereas I had been acquainted with supernaturals since birth. I couldn’t help but admire how she handled herself.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I said softly, drawing her eyes to me.
“Yeah,” she said, quite breathless. I squeezed her hand and leaned down to kiss her cool cheek.
We arrived in a residential area of the castle and roamed down a long corridor lined with dozens of doors. Theon explained that the apartments on either end would be reserved for the betrothed couples exclusively, with the men sleeping on one side and the women on the other, while all the guests could occupy whichever apartments they liked in the middle.
“We’ll bring refreshments shortly,” Nell said. “In the meantime, do make yourselves at home.”
With that, everyone began milling about the corridor and choosing their apartments.
Rose left Caleb’s side and moved to River, taking her hand. “Why don’t we share an apartment tonight? Caleb’s a big boy. He can manage for one night without me.” She winked at her husband, who chuckled.
“I’d love that,” River said, grinning.
River and I shared a kiss before the two girls drifted into one of the apartments to my left. That left Caleb and me alone. We exchanged a smirk before moving to the opposite end of the corridor. I chose the door at the very end, which was still unoccupied, while he entered the apartment next door.
When I stepped inside, the suite was extravagant and luxurious, its interior design reminding me of a rustic five-star hotel. The bathroom contained a shower and what looked like a jacuzzi, while the spacious bedroom was dominated by a stately queen-sized bed, draped in deep orange satin and velveteen burgundy cushions. The ceiling above the bed consisted entirely of glass, allowing sun to stream through and affording a view of the breathtakingly blue sky. I could only imagine how stunning this room would be when the stars were out.
Planting down my backpack on an antique wooden table, I sat down on the edge of the bed. A manservant arrived at the door soon afterwards, carrying a silver tray containing a jug of some kind of exotic juice and a basket of peach cupcakes laced with saffron icing.
“A full dinner shall be served later,” the man informed me before bowing out of the room.
The cupcakes were divine, so soft and moist they practically melted on my tongue. I ended up finishing the whole lot. The juice was pleasant too, though a little sweet for my taste.