The whole crowd stood still with their eyes widened and affixed upon the fighters, but when Lady Raylyn appeared, all attention was on her. It was quite the contrast; moments ago, the field was vivacious with music and dancing, and now there was nothing but silence.
Passing through the crowd, a figure dashed forward, and firmly grabbed Cole's arm. "My liege, what is the meaning of this?" Malachai's words sounded bitter in the young man's ear. "Do you understand what you have done? This atrocity is worse than treason!"
The woodsman turned to Lady Raylyn, addressing her with the utmost air of respect, ignoring the king's excuses. "Queen Raylyn, your grace, please forgive the ignorance of my liege, and I beseech you not to demand to have him beheaded, but that he might be spared on such a wonderful night as Tahni."
The queen of the fae stepped forth from an illustrious platform, which had been carried in on the backs of giant beetles. Her attire was a fuchsia colored wrap-over dress with ivory high lights, held together by a garland of fresh flowers, and a cloche style hat, embroidered with intrinsic design and complete with a lacey veil, which masked the visage of the Lady Raylyn.
She slowly approached both Cole and Malachai. Not saying a word, she halted before them and stood for some time, perhaps measuring the thickness of Cole's neck, determining which tool would best suit his execution, or so he thought. Surprisingly, she turned her head to Ruby, who was still occupying the ground, and extended to her a hand.
"On your feet, child," Lady Raylyn said, her voice being softer and sweeter than any instrument Ruby had heard that evening. The young woman accepted the gesture of kindness, though she seemed nervous as she did.
"And as for the fight - well, I can see why passions would be so tempered. I saw you stepping, lovely girl, and it was wonderfully enchanting! The magic of the lantern birds is majestic, but they rarely interact with the mortals to such degrees."
Ruby blushed, and thanked the queen with a timid voice, slightly bowing her head.
"I see no reason to be so harsh," Lady Raylyn cried out to the denizens who were looking on, "as Malachai has mentioned, it is Tahni, afterall. That being said, what happened to all of the merriment from moments ago? The Sans must continue on, it is tradition! I wish to hear 'Endless Bond,' if it pleases the people, that is."
Basil, understanding the drift of the queen, cued his band of minstrels, then more delightful music filled the air, and steppers once again brought life and jubilation to the fields of Aura.
"We shall discuss this incident more privately," she addressed Cole and Jace, her countenance remaining graceful as ever, "follow me."
Soon Malachai, Cole, Ruby, Jace, and even Aira, much to Ruby's irritation, joined the wooden throne of Lady Raylyn. When all were present, she lifted the veil from her face, and brought to light her stunning appearance. Her high cheek bones and slim jawline gave her a look of permanent elegance; her eyes were bright yellow, speckled with flecks of dark green and black hues, like that of leaves from a tree; her hair was curled and braided in perfect chords of weaved silk, colored in strands of auburn, crimson, and scarlet high lights.
She laughed, yet the bent lines around her mouth did not seem wicked or nefarious. "Really Malachai, a beheading? You haven't changed a bit; always so dramatic."
"Had I not said it, your grace, the denizens would have called for it themselves."
"And so you thought it would be easier for me to deny you than an entire mob." Her eyes shifted to Cole. "Your life has been spared on account of his wisdom."
Now her gaze was on Ruby, and she continued, "and as for your life, I must apologize. My spies had misinformed me of the secrets that surround a certain tome which we fae highly regard, yet has gone missing. I had originally thought a miscreant or servant of evil had purloined the tome, but since then, much has happened. The Tree has told me you visited, and now the magic of our people has bonded with you."
"Forgive my interjection your grace, but will the other fae leaders be joining us this evening?"
"In time Malachai, in time. Before they arrive, we must rehearse!"
Cole's stare had been aimed at Jace up to this very moment, but the words started him. Both Ruby and Cole were stupefied, and in unison they asked the queen, "Rehearsal?"
"Why, for the wedding ceremony, of course." Lady Raylyn took Aira by the hand, and drew her close to one side. "The princess must be wed to the king of Avelen before the fae can recognize his authority. Since she has fae blood flowing through her, the bond will signify the unity of the kingdom; a wish come true for the Elder,as well as myself. And what better night to do so, when all of Aura is present and joy is being shared by everyone? If you recall, dear Malachai, that the last time a wedding was promised to commence, your former king jilted the princess, though the circumstance could not be averted. I will see to it that this wedding be more prompt; for the people, the entire kingdom, and for the fruition of the prophecy.”
Ruby grit her teeth, cringing at the thought. Cole alternated between flushes of redness and flashes of pallor as sweat formed on his brow. The drug was still affecting him, and now his mind was solely fixed on the prospect of marriage, which terrified him greatly.
Malachai, who held close to his heart the words of the prophecy, perceived that there was no other alternative; in order for the star-born king to lead a nation, that nation had to be united. Placing a hand on the middle of Cole's back, the woodsman pushed him forward, so that he was standing on the other side of Lady Raylyn, opposite of Aira. "Let it be as you wish. You heard the queen, time to rehearse."
Ruby was clenching her fist so tight that that some of her knuckles cracked from the pressure. Infuriated, she was contemplating who she should strike first; Aira for her continued impudence, or Cole for his enduring ignorance.
Just then, the wild neighing of a horse interrupted the affair. Galloping swiftly down the country road was a figure dressed in royal attire, and mounted on one of the castle's steeds. Malachai quickly rushed to greet the servant. When he returned, his eyes were full of the deepest despair.
"Dragons fly over the castle!"