Page 14

“Yes. Could you please go grab those chairs and put them on the other side of the head table? You, too, Ean?” They walked off to follow my request. “Hale, Fox? Can you get the place settings?”

I moved, too, picking up silverware and glasses, and making my way to the head table. Before anyone else could choose a place, I took Dad’s chair for myself. Kile was on one side, and Hale was on the other. Fox, Henri, Erik, and Ean sat across from us, and suddenly that long, imposing table felt like an intimate dinner party. Just me and my boys.

The butlers were a little disorganized as they served, unprepared for the impromptu rearrangement but making it to everyone in good time. And, taking a cue from our date, Henri dug in first and the others followed.

“So, I hope you’re all ready for tomorrow,” I announced. “Erik and Henri are giving us Finnish lessons in the morning.”

“Really?” Kile asked excitedly. Erik blushed a little and nodded.

“What’s in the lesson plans?” Fox asked.

Erik raised his eyes to the ceiling as if he was still deciding. “Henri and I were talking, and I think we’ll bypass the usual first-day things, like the alphabet. What would be most helpful in this situation is basic conversational skills. So telling time and other requests will be at the top of the agenda.”

“Neat!” Hale commented. “I’ve been wanting to learn more. Great idea, Erik.”

He shook his head. “It was our future queen’s idea. The credit belongs to her.”

“Hey,” Kile said, getting my attention. “Can we also take a moment to talk about how great you were on the Report again? I know you’ve done announcements and stuff, but managing a whole show on your own is no small feat.”

“Also,” Fox added, “how awesome is the seating arrangement tonight? For all but one of us, this is the only time we’ll ever sit at the head table in the palace. Unforgettable.”

“Agreed,” Ean added.

And while Henri didn’t add much to the conversation, I could tell he was pleased, too. But, of course, it would have been more surprising to see him upset. As Erik caught him up on the conversation, he raised his glass.

“For Eadlyn,” he said.

The others put their drinks in the air and chorused his toast. I found myself blinking back happy tears and unable to say a word. Not even thank you, though I could tell from the looks in their eyes that it was already understood.

There were plenty of good things for the country to focus on, but with a mass elimination earlier in the week and Gunner leaving before the Report, it looked like I was pushing people away again. At least that’s what the papers said. It was as if they didn’t hear a single thing Ean had said about how I’d toiled over that decision. An entire live broadcast was brought to rubble by a handful of headlines.

Surprisingly, beneath those stories was Marid’s handsome face splashed across the papers next to mine, with commentary on how he’d missed out now that I’d begun my Selection process.

“Give me those,” Neena insisted, balling up the papers and smooshing them into the trash can. “It seems they’re reporting little news and plenty of gossip these days.”

“Undoubtedly,” Lady Brice agreed. “Focus less on what people say and more on what you can accomplish.”

I nodded my head, knowing she was right. She told me things I felt sure my father would if he was in the room, and though it wasn’t always easy, I felt compelled to listen.

“I’m just not sure I can focus on what I’m capable of accomplishing until I get public opinion under control. Anything I propose, even if it is something they might have championed if Mom or Dad had initiated it, will probably be met with opposition. I need to choose a husband,” I said decidedly. “I feel confident that will help with public opinion, and let’s all hope so, because they don’t like me.”

“Eadlyn, that’s not—”

“It’s true. I know it is, Lady Brice. I’ve experienced it myself. Need I remind you of the parade?”

She crossed her arms. “Okay, fine. You’re not exactly popular. And I can see how finding a partner might sway that. So, is that what we’re focusing on today?”

“At least for the next five minutes. I trust my head a little more than my heart, so help me. Talk it out.”

Neena shrugged. “Who’s up first? Kile? The entire palace is pulling for him. He’s so cute and smart and oh, my goodness, if you don’t want him, send him my way.”

“Don’t you have a boyfriend?”

She sighed. “I hate it when you’re right.”

I laughed. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a connection with him. I even told him as much … but I keep pausing on him. I’m not sure why, but I’m not ready to say he’s my first choice.”

“Okay,” Lady Brice replied. “Who else?”

“Hale. He’s got a great attitude and has vowed to prove himself to me every day. He’s yet to fail. And he’s easy to be around. That’s one of the reasons I like Fox, too.”

“Fox is more attractive than Hale,” Neena said. “Not to be shallow, but those things matter in public opinion.”

“I understand that, but beauty is subjective. You know how sometimes what makes a person attractive is the way they make you laugh or how it seems like they can read your mind? I want to think about that, too.”

Neena smiled. “So you’d pick Hale over Fox then?”

I shook my head. “That’s not what I meant exactly. I’m only trying to say that looks aren’t everything. We need to focus on other qualities.”

“Like?” Lady Brice encouraged.

“Like how Henri is endlessly optimistic. No matter the circumstance, he is a beacon of joy. And I don’t doubt his affection for me in the slightest.”

Neena rolled her eyes. “That’s fine, but he can’t speak English. There’s no way you two have ever had a conversation that did more than skim the surface.”

“That’s … well, that’s true. But he’s very sweet and would be good to me. Erik said it was possible for Henri to learn, but it might take a while. And he’s been up until midnight studying since he became an Elite. And for my part, I’m on my way to a Finnish lesson right now. We can work on this from both ends, and Erik could stay on for as long as it took for us to adjust.”

Lady Brice shook her head. “That’s rather unfair to Erik. He has a family, a job. He didn’t sign up to possibly be stuck at the palace for the next five years. What if he wants to find a partner of his own?”

I wanted to shoot back that she was wrong … but I couldn’t. Erik didn’t know how long the Selection would last when he agreed to come, but he certainly didn’t go into this thinking he’d live at the palace until his charge was fluent in English. And it would be unkind to ask him to do just that.

“He’d stay. I know it,” was all I said.

There was a silence after that, like Lady Brice knew I was in the wrong and was debating calling me on it. Instead she sighed.

“Who’s left? Ean?” she asked.

“Ean’s a little trickier, but trust me, he’s important.”

Neena squinted. “So then … they’re all front-runners?”

I sighed. “I guess so. I’m not sure if that means I chose well or chose poorly.”

Lady Brice laughed. “You chose well. Really. I may not understand Ean’s appeal or how you’d make things work with Henri, but they all have their merits. I think what we need to do at this point is step up their training, really start grooming them for the throne. That will help elevate some of them, I’m sure.”

“Grooming? That sounds creepy.”

“I don’t mean it like that. I’m simply saying—”

Lady Brice’s next words were lost because, without any warning, Grandma flung the door open.

“You really need to ask permission first,” a guard warned her in a hushed tone.

She kept walking toward me. “Well, my girl, it’s time for me to head out.”

“So soon?” I asked, embracing her.

“I can never stay too long. Your mother is recovering from a heart attack, and she still has the audacity to order me around. I know she’s the queen,” she conceded, raising her hands in the air in surrender, “but I’m her mother, and that trumps queen any day.”

I laughed. “I’ll remember that for down the road.”

“You do that,” she said, rubbing my cheek. “And if you don’t mind, get yourself a husband as soon as you can. I’m not getting any younger, and I’d like to see at least one great-grandchild before I’m dead.” She stared at my stomach and shook her finger. “Don’t let me down.”

“Ooooookay, Grandma. We have to get back to work here, so you head on home and make sure to call when you get there.”

“Will do, honey. Will do.”

I stood in silence, basking in the insanity that was my grandmother.

Neena leaned over. “Now, which of your top five do you think would be the most eager baby maker? Should we put that on a checklist?”

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***