“I’m Eadlyn Schreave, and no one in the world is as powerful as me,” I blurted without thought.
He nodded. “Damn right you are.”
The producer burst through the door. “Thank goodness! You have ten seconds. Run!”
I BOLTED INTO THE ROOM, searching for Eikko. I couldn’t see him through the throng of people who’d been scurrying around hunting for me.
I tripped onto the stage as the light on the camera turned red, and I brushed my hair out of my face as I began speaking with absolutely no idea where my words would take me.
“Good evening, Illéa.” I broke all the rules I’d learned about public speaking. My posture was atrocious, my tone was uneven, and I didn’t bother looking into the camera because I was too busy searching for Eikko. “We have a bit of a surprise for you tonight. On this special edition of the Report, I have an important announcement.”
Finally I spotted him, half tucked behind Henri.
“Please join me in welcoming Mr. Eikko Koskinen to the stage.”
The room applauded, and I stood there hoping he’d brave the cameras for me. Eikko swallowed and straightened his tie as Henri patted his back, urging him to move.
I took his hand and invited him to stand beside me, feeling a little light-headed and worried that he may be feeling the same way.
“Some of you might remember this gentleman from a Report a few weeks ago. He is Sir Henri’s translator, and since his arrival at the palace, he has proven himself intelligent, kind, honorable, funny, and a dozen other things I didn’t realize I wanted until I saw them in him.” I looked over, and something about his expression, the hopefulness in his eyes, calmed me. I forgot about the cameras. “As such, I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with him.”
“And I with you,” he answered so quietly, no one may have even noticed.
“Eikko Petteri Koskinen, would you do me the extraordinary honor of becoming my husband?”
He let out one beautiful, disbelieving laugh, and the world stood still. There was no falling to knees or scrambling for rings. It was just him and me.
And millions of people watching.
He turned, and I followed his eyes, knowing he was looking for Henri. His friend stood there waving his hands and mouthing yes exaggeratedly, wild-eyed.
“Yes,” Eikko finally said, laughing as he answered.
I flew at him, wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling him in for a kiss. I was vaguely aware of applause and whistles, but the joyful pounding of my heart drowned out most of it.
A corner of my mind told me I should be worried about how the country might react, how things would unfold after tonight. But the rest of me silenced that worry, and I knew, with pure and perfect certainty, that I’d found my soul mate.
I pulled back to look at him, indescribably happy.
After a second, confusion settled on his face. “So … what do I do now?”
I smiled. “Just stand to the side for a moment. I have something else to take care of. And then so much I want to talk to you about.”
The clapping dimmed, and I stared into the camera, too content to be afraid anymore, and told my people the truest thing I knew.
“I am aware that I’ve only been your queen for a few days, but in that short while, and for a long time before, I have been very worried about my place in your hearts. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why I’ve come up against such disapproval, but I’m only now seeing that I shouldn’t care. My life should be wholly mine, not yours.
“And, conversely, your lives should be wholly yours, not mine.”
In that moment I felt the mood in the room shift, and maybe I was crazy, but it felt like it was bigger than what I could see in the studio.
“These last two months have been a whirlwind for me. I’ve made it through nearly losing my mother, having my beloved twin move abroad, being crowned queen, and finishing a Selection none of us expected me to have.” I smiled, thinking of how fast it all happened, how it should have torn me apart but didn’t.
“Through all this, some of you have been sympathetic, while others have felt ignored. Some have been supportive, and others have been aggressive. Until recently I would have said those feelings had no foundation, but I am sure now that is untrue.
“Before the Selection I lived my life within a small circle of acquaintances. I admit, my greatest concern in the world was my own comfort, and to maintain it I was willing to sacrifice a vast pool of things, including the well-being of so many around me. I’m not proud to tell you this.”
I focused on the carpet for a moment, needing to steady myself. “But meeting these young men showed me a world beyond the walls that I enclosed myself within. It is only in these past few weeks that I have learned how little I knew about my own country. Budgets and proposals can give me a blueprint of your needs, but it has been seeing you face-to-face that has shown me how much more you are up against.
“As such”—I took a deep breath—“I come before you now to announce that Illéa will become a constitutional monarchy.”
There were gasps and murmurs around the room, and I gave them a moment to settle, imagining those watching at home needed the same consideration.
“Please don’t see this as me shirking my duties. In truth, I know now that I love you too much to attempt to do this job alone. Even with a partner,” I said, peeking over to Eikko and smiling, “it would be far too great for anyone, as has been shown by the young deaths and health issues of my predecessors. I will do my part so that you can do yours.
“For so long now we here in the palace have searched for ways to make your lives better, happier, only to find that there is no way for us to do that. Your lives need to be in your hands. Only then will we see the change so many of you have waited through generations to see.
“I will find a suitable prime minister in the interim, and we will plan to hold proper elections within the next two years. I cannot begin to express how eager I am to see what you have in store for our country.”
“I’m sure there will be many questions and hiccups as we reinvent our country, but please know that we in the royal family are on your side. I cannot govern your hearts any more than you can govern mine. I think it is time for all of us to seek out a brighter and better future.”
I smiled, not feeling fear or anxiety, but a sense of peace. If any of us had stopped worrying about how we looked like we were performing and focused on how we were actually performing, we would have come to this conclusion long ago.
“Thank you so much for your support. For me, for my family, and for my fiancé. I love you, Illéa. Good evening.”
I watched as the lights on the cameras went out, and I stepped off the set to a flurry of shouts. The advisers were angry, obviously, turning to my father and demanding answers.
“Why are you yelling at me, you fools?” he called back at them. “She’s your queen, for goodness’ sake. Ask her.”
I turned to Eikko.
“Are you all right?”
He laughed. “I have never been happier or more terrified.”
“That sums it up pretty well.”
“Hey!” Kile called, with Henri coming up behind him to embrace Eikko. As they began celebrating, I moved away. There was much more that needed to be taken care of.
I elbowed my way past confused and irate advisers, dialing a familiar number on the phone in the back of the studio.
Marid picked up instantly. “What did you just do?” he screamed.
“I uninvited you from any participation in my reign.”
“Do you realize how stupid that was?”
“What I realized was that something perfectly normal completely horrified you a few weeks ago. It makes sense now. Why would you want power in anyone’s hands but yours?”
“If you think this will be the last you’ve heard from me—”
“Indeed I do. For my ear is now closer to my people, so I have no need of you. Good-bye, sir.”
I smiled, positively blissful, now knowing this very important thing: my country could never be taken from me now; I’d happily given it away. My people wanted happiness as much as I did, and I was sure we were all done with people trying to live our lives for us.
“Eadlyn!” Lady Brice called, rushing in to me. “You brilliant, brilliant girl!”
“You’ll do it, right?”
“Be prime minister. It’s just until we have elections, but still.”
She chuckled. “I’m not sure I’m the best person for the job. Besides, there are—”
“Come on, Aunt Brice.”
For a split second she looked absolutely horrified. Then her eyes swam with tears. “I never thought I’d get to hear those words.”
I reached for her, embracing this woman who’d become one of my greatest confidantes. It was strange because, even though I’d never lost her, holding her now felt a lot like getting something back. Like when Ahren came for the coronation.
“Oh, my goodness, I have to call Ahren!” I exclaimed.
“We’ll add that to the list of things to do. Get engaged, check. Change the country, check. What’s next on the agenda?”
I looked across the room, watching my father shake Eikko’s hand and Mom reach up to kiss his cheek.