Marcous held a single red rose in his hand. It was his duty to bestow the flower to the one who would share his throne. Before him stood eighteen suitors from neighboring lands, all royalty to a greater or lesser degree. The women varied in stature, weight, and coloring but were equally beautiful, except for one. Sanaia.
She was old, not just older than the rest of her rivals but old enough to have been his wet nurse. Her skin was not unlike parchment and her silver-streaked hair was an upswept hive held in place by a weave of ribbons. She was draped in a fabric of unknown origin, which caught the light from unseen sources, that tapered at the waist before cascading in layers to the floor over her full hips.
Unprompted, Sanaia said, “I can tell by your gaze that I am not what you dreamed of when envisioning a suitable mate.” Her husky voice rumbled like a storm and reverberating through his bones.
“It was not my intent to offend,” Marcous said, staring into Sanaia’s eyes which were so dark a shade of brown that they appeared to be black.
“I take no offense, Good Prince, at least not by your expression.”
“Your meaning eludes me.”
“The umbrage you detect is not meant for you,” she said, stepping from the gaggle of frustrated princesses. “But for he who sired you for the throne you hope to inhabit was stolen from me when my husband was unjustly slain.”
Marcous, his face twisted in insult and outrage, began to object but Sanaia flicked her hand, silencing him.
“You are young, life has been kind to you, but you will learn about sacrifice and I shall be your tutor,” she said. “I will be your queen, whether you consent or not, and should you take another as your bride, your reign will be fraught with peril. But I am not unreasonable, so I will give you time to decide. When you know what you want, send word by raven.”