“Hold still, milady. Braiding isn’t as easy as it looks.”
“I – I’m sorry.” Obsidia glanced in the mirror at her maid, Julie. “I didn’t realize…”
Julie clucked her tongue. “I do wish you wouldn’t read while I did your hair – not that I’m saying that you shouldn’t or can’t, mind you, I know my place – but you move more than you realize, and it’d make my job a great lot easier if you wouldn’t.”
Obsidia was spared the necessity of response by her mother’s entrance.
“How is she coming? The suitors are gathered and waiting,” Queen Adelaide announced. “And you know how Ossian feels about making his guests wait.”
“She’s ready,” said Julie, stepping away from Obsidia. “At least, as ready as I can get her. I frankly can’t see how any girl could be ready for the sort of decision that she’s about to make.”
“Not that it’ll be much of a decision,” said Queen Adelaide. She put a hand on Obsidia’s shoulder. “Ossian will tell you who to pick, dear, so you needn’t stress yourself about it. But you at least have the opportunity to reject his suggestion, which is more than what I had.”
“I know,” Obsidia admitted. “Still, all of my suitors are little more than strangers. Nice young men – all of them, I’m sure – but I can hardly see myself married to any of them.”
“The day my engagement was announced was the day I first met your father,” said Queen Adelaide, “and I came to love him. You Dialcian princesses are fortunate and still see fit to complain. Still … stand up and let me have a good look at you.”
Obsidia did as her mother bid. “Do I look all right?”
“You look beautiful, of course.” Queen Adelaide’s expression relaxed. “Ah, but it’s hard to believe that this day has come at last. It seems only yesterday that you were but a babe in my arms. Only yesterday that…”
“The nali lily, mother?” Obsidia prompted. Queen Adelaide was reminiscing Obsidia’s father, whom Ossian had killed the very night of Obsidia’s birth. Obsidia didn’t blame her mother for her resentment, but she didn’t want another lecture about how things were before that fateful night.
“Oh, yes, of course, dear,” Queen Adelaide shoved the flower she held into Obsidia’s outstretched hand. Then she caressed Obsidia’s cheek. “Your father would have been so proud of you.”
Obsidia glanced down. “I am only a daughter.”
Queen Adelaide withdrew her hand and gave a sad smile. “Your father was a man of strange ideas. I do not think that you would have disappointed him. Besides, had he lived, I … surely would have had more children.”
“They’re waiting on me,” said Obsidia, not sure what else to say.
Queen Adelaide sighed. “Yes, I suppose that they are. Well, get along with you then.”
Obsidia nodded and hastened out the door.
It was nearly noon – the hottest and heaviest hour of the day. She wished that the Choosing Ceremony could take place earlier in the day, but such was not tradition. Noon was also the brightest hour, and the decision that she was about to make wasn’t one to be made in the dark.
“Ah, there you are, Obsidia. My, but you look beautiful today.”
Obsidia smiled and blushed as she took King Ossian’s arm. Because her father had no male heir, Ossian had become king in his stead. He would oversee the ceremony and offer Obsidia his advice.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“The simple look suits you,” King Ossian continued. “You’re the sort of girl whose inner beauty outshines any girl.”
Obsidia’s blush deepened. “Thank you.”
She was dressed as tradition demanded: a simple white dress and no jewelry. Her black hair was done in a simple braid down her back, and on her feet were a pair of delicate slippers.
“Come along, now. We mustn’t keep the young men waiting.”
“Speaking of your suitors, there is the matter of which of them you are about to accept as your future husband – an important decision indeed,” King Ossian continued, as they began walking. “Have any of them caught your eye? Corrin of Fiyar is quite a handsome young man and did well in all of the tournaments. Harold of Hollolund may not be much to look at, but his country is wealthy and you would want for nothing as his queen. I saw you talking with Zirro of Zovordia. You’d be taking a gamble with him, what with the mask and all, but if you’re intrigued by the mystery…”
Obsidia shook her head. “They’re all but strangers to me, every one of them. How can I possibly choose from among them? “
“You wish a husband whom you already know?” asked King Ossian, nodding thoughtfully. “I suppose that is understandable. You know, as I recall, there will be a young man in the room who isn’t a stranger to you. While he isn’t officially your suitor, I don’t think that he would be averse to marrying you.”
“Delaney?” She blinked at the thought.
“While the law forbids him from actually being your suitor, nothing forbids you from giving him your lily. Indeed, you would be the third Dialcian princess to make such a choice.”
Delaney was King Ossian’s son and heir. Obsidia had always seen him as more a brother than anything else … but she supposed that she could see herself married to him. Sooner him than any of her official suitors.
“I’m not saying whether you should or shouldn’t,” King Ossian added. “I don’t want to decide your future for you – you’re a smart girl, Obsidia. I just wanted to make sure that you knew that you had the option.”
The same law that forbade Delaney from courting her forbade Ossian from doing anything more than suggesting him.
“Thank you. I’ll think about it.”
They said nothing more until they reached the room where her suitors were gathered, waiting for her to choose from among them.
“You have a head on your shoulders,” King Ossian assured her. “I trust you to make the right decision.”
As she stepped into the room, Obsidia wished that she had the same confidence in herself.
Corrin, Harold, and Zirro were seated in a circle in the center of the room, along with Prince Evin of Elvira and Yuri of Vinieris. The elven and merfolk princes, however, were her suitors for political politeness only. Several important Dialcian nobles and officials – including Delaney – stood against the walls, there to stand as witnesses for this most solemn of occasions and prevent anything untoward from happening.
Gripping the lily’s stem tightly, she circled the five young men once, twice, three times. All eyes were on her and she shrunk under the scrutiny. How was she supposed to make this decision under such pressure?
Evin and Yuri were eliminated automatically, and perhaps Zirro as well, for he was her second cousin and that was a bit too close of a relation for her comfort. That left Corrin and Harold – and Delaney.
She glanced Delaney’s direction for half a moment and received an encouraging smile. She felt her confidence rise.
Corrin was a handsome young man – dashing and daring, too – but Obsidia found that intimidating rather than endearing. She couldn’t see herself marrying him. She was too quiet and he’d likely forget about her within minutes after the wedding was over. Harold was the best match politically, but he was a terribly dull fellow who only cared about what he could put in his stomach. She frankly didn’t see how he’d make a good king when the time came, much less a husband.
Then there was Delaney, standing tall and handsome with his father’s golden hair and blue eyes. They’d grown up together. He was kind, caring, funny, intelligent…
And a dear friend.
If she married Harold or Corrin, she would have to travel to their country, live among strangers, and learn traditions that could be radically different from her own. If she married Delaney, little would have to change.
Her mother might not approve of her marrying Ossian’s son, but Obsidia preferred to not take a risk with love.
Lifting her chin, she made one last circuit of the princes, then stopped in front of Delaney and held out the nali lily to him, held out her heart.
“I know that you aren’t my suitor,” she said, quickly, “but you are a dear friend to me, and nothing in Dialcian law forbids me from choosing you. Will you have me?”
He didn’t answer at first, and while he didn’t appear terribly surprised, it was clear that he hadn’t expected her to ask him. She bit her lip, suddenly very unsure of herself. Did he not want to marry her? Had she just ruined their friendship forever? Unlike her suitors, he had the power to refuse her.
She wanted to run from this room, lock herself in her own, and cry away this terrible ceremony. Only her dignity as a princess kept her rooted where she stood, and she wasn’t sure that it would hold her much longer.
But before it ran out, his reassuring grin quirked the corner of his mouth, and his hand closed around hers, taking the lily away from her.
“Sidi,” – and her heart leapt at the nickname – “I would be honored.”