Remtani looked at the crowd and sighed. Normally, crowds didn’t bother him. He was the crown prince and the prince-general. People were always looking at him. They had all his life. He was a peacock. He enjoyed people looking at him.
But today was Jaidu’s nineteenth birthday. She was officially an adult. The crowd was there to celebrate. As the man desiring to marry her, he had a responsibility.
“What’s wrong?” Jaidu asked.
“I don’t know,” Remtani lied. “Perhaps I’ve had too much to drink.” They were bonded. She would feel his nerves. He needed to calm down.
Jaidu laughed. “More like not enough.” She handed him his glass. “That’s still your first.”
“Is it?” He drained the glass. “Better?” He asked.
She smiled and kissed him. She knew he didn’t normally drink. He needed to be sober to lead his men.
He stood. He wished this was something he could do in private, but there were expectations with being the heir to the throne. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he pitched his voice to carry. When he had almost everyone’s attention, he continued. “I’d like to thank you all for joining us today to celebrate Princess Jaidu’s birthday and her coming-of-age.”
There was a round of applause. When it died down, he went on. “I’d also like to invite you to act as witnesses.”
He turned to Jaidu and got down on one knee. “Jaidu, five years ago, I asked you to marry me once you came of age. Now that you are of age, will you still agree to be my wife?”
Jaidu smiled. “Of course I will.”
Remtani breathed a sigh of relief and pulled a new ring from his pocket. To the sound of more applause, he removed her old ring and replaced it with a new one he’d had made for her. He put the old one in his pocket. He’d been pledged once before and had used the ring from that because it was all he had. If Jaidu still wanted it, he’d give it to her later, but he felt she deserved her own ring. He then stood and kissed her briefly.
He noticed the dark looks of a few noble girls. There had always been those who had hoped to marry the future king, even after he’d been pledged to two women, even after they had learned what he’d done to Sapphire.
Lorail, the other woman he’d once been pledged to, smiled in approval. He gave her a brief nod and turned back to the woman he loved.
“Is that what you’re so nervous about?” She asked once they were no longer the center of attention.
“Did you think I’d say no? We’ve been bonded for five years.”
“Remtani, five years ago, I came to this kingdom fully prepared to marry a complete stranger. Why in the world would I change my mind now that I know and love that man? And do not tell me it’s the age difference.”
Remtani shook his head. That had bothered him some, but not Jaidu. “It’s because you know me and the kind of man that I am that I worry.”
“I’ve known since before you proposed the first time. I still accepted.”
“You didn’t understand then. All you understood was that we were supposed to get married.”
“But I do understand now and have for a while. You’re not the man you thought you were. You were driven to that. You are the kind of man I dreamed of. You were going to marry me just to get me away from my father. When that couldn’t happen, you still proposed just to protect me. And you treated it like it was real. There were other girls you could’ve courted. But you didn’t. You showed me respect and courted me instead.”
Remtani hugged her. She kissed him. As he kissed her back, he heard a growl behind them. He jumped and pulled away to see Pt’this, Nim, Ann, and Andy there.
They laughed. “See, I told you he’d jump,” Ann said.
Remtani relaxed when he saw Mishtali wasn’t with them. “You try having Mishtali growling at you every time he doesn’t like how you’re acting for five years.”
Pt’this laughed. “I did that for most of my time at Dragon Castle. Do you know why Miramar and I waited so long? Mishtali scared the scales off me.”
Remtani groaned. “Tell me he gets better once we’re married.”
“Sorry, he was gone by then.” And she died before he returned, but no one mentioned that part.
“When’s the wedding?” Ann asked.
“When Mom gets done planning it.” Remtani groaned again.
Ann laughed, remembering her and Andy’s wedding. As with all the weddings, Tylan had the palace in an uproar. Remtani found an excuse to leave Sen-gan and stay gone until after the wedding. He tried to do something similar with his other brothers and sisters, though he returned for the weddings. Now, he had to stay.
“Andy, didn’t you say it was bad luck for the groom to know what was going on before the wedding?”
“I said it was bad luck to see your bride before the wedding,” Andy corrected him.
Remtani grinned. “For how long?”
“Only on the day of the wedding.”
“Hey, you are not getting out of this. If I have to deal with my father coming, you can deal with your mother’s wedding planning,” Jaidu told him.
This wasn’t news, but Remtani frowned. “Your dad’s coming? Maybe we should elope. Pt’this you’re a member of the court. Will you marry us?”
Pt’this shook his head. “No way. I still have to work here. I’m not risking your parents’ wrath. And we’re practically family. Since Miramar and I never had a wedding, it might be legal, but the nobles would protest.”
“Nim?” Remtani turned to the quiet dragon.
“Don’t look at me. I’m not getting in trouble with your parents. Besides, I only know the informal ceremony. You need the formal one.”
“You were at our wedding,” Ann pointed out. “That was the formal one.”
Nim had a perfect memory. He never forgot anything.
He smiled and blushed. “I was a bit distracted. Did you see the dress Jo had on, how low it was cut? And there was a split up the side of the skirt that went most of the way up her thigh.” The wedding was one of their first times together.
“Down boy,” Andy laughed. “She’s still recovering.”
Nim turned even redder. He let out a low growl.
“Hey, Andy, how about you?” Remtani asked.
“Marry you? I can’t. We’re related. I’m married to your sister. That’s the only reason I am a noble.”
“It’s not that bad,” Ann assured her brother. “You know Piena was just being difficult. There was hardly any trouble with Irkali’s wedding, or Bacna’s.”
“Bacna got married so soon after you did, I think Mom was worn out,” Remtani reasoned.
“She didn’t want to risk him postponing it again,” Ann said.
“We are having a proper wedding, and you are going to help plan it,” Jaidu insisted, poking him in the chest.
“Yes, ma’am.” Remtani smiled. He loved that she was willing to speak her mind and even tell him what to do, not that he always did what she said, of course. But she’d made so much progress. She was raised to do what she was told. There was no reason to think, just obey. Now she gave her opinion and debated with him. She spoke her mind and listened to him. It was what he needed and wanted in a wife and queen. He was proud of her.
“How’s your mom going to be seeing Kamlia again?” Ann asked.
“She says she’s going to be okay. I’m more worried about how Mishtali’s going to be.”
“I talked to the college and the council. They’re going to keep him busy in Baj-tisk as much as possible,” Nim said.
Jaidu nodded. “Thanks. It’s probably best.”
“And I’m having guards for the delegation too, for their protection and to keep an eye on them,” Remtani told her.
“I’d rather have Mishtali here than my father,” Jaidu admitted. Remtani took her in his arms.
“I’d suggest we could take Kamlia to Baj-tisk, but if it was known who he was, he probably wouldn’t survive,” Nim said.
Jaidu shook her head. “I don’t want that either.”
“We should probably stop monopolizing them and let them mingle,” Andy suggested.
Nim nodded. “Happy birthday, Jaidu, and congratulations.” He hugged her. “Rem, congratulations. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go help Jo with the baby.”
“Thank you for joining us. Good night,” Jaidu said and Nim left.
“Isn’t Amelia still here helping with the baby?” Rem asked.
“She is.” Ann nodded. “Nim doesn’t like crowds. I’m surprised he stayed as long as he did.”
“I think he was waiting for the proposal,” Pt’this said. “He still has responsibilities.”
Remtani nodded. He knew Nim was there to keep an eye on him because of his past and his rash actions. He didn’t care. He was more afraid of Mishtali than the high council. The high council would go through proper procedures and give him a chance to defend himself. Mishtali would just crush his windpipe again. This time, he’d probably kill him too.
“How about we go and keep Grandfather distracted for a bit so they can finish what we interrupted,” Ann suggested.
The other two agreed and left to find Mishtali.
Jaidu smiled and leaned then for a kiss. Remtani pulled away.
“You’re supposed to wait until after we’re married to get me killed off,” he joked.
“Mishtali is not going to kill you for kissing me,” Jaidu insisted.
“He crushed my windpipe once.”
“That’s because he misunderstood your actions. Mother told him to let us kiss so we can have a strong bond. He may growl but he won’t kill you.”
Remtani knew Shay had said that. And while Mishtali intimidated everyone else, Shay intimidated him. Around the palace, Ann and Emeton’s tempers were legendary. Neither compared to Shay. Mishtali did still try to limit what they did to protect Jaidu’s honor.
Despite this, as he often did, Remtani allowed Jaidu to lead him to a relatively secluded corner where they enjoyed each other’s kiss for a few moments before returning their attention to the party.