“King?” Lothar asks, astonished.
I nod eagerly and grin. “That’s what Saleri said. I wouldn’t doubt her.”
His eyes widen at my question and he gives me a small smile. “Corynne, do you remember when I told you I would tell you everything when the time was right?”
“Of course I do.”
“Well, I think that time has come.”
I release a breath that I feel I have been holding for days. Finally, he will share his heart with me and all of this crypticness will begin to make sense.
“I was born to be king. What you have just told me confirms what I have always known. It is my destiny.
“The trouble has always been that my father doesn’t see it that way. Litham is his first-born, and traditionally, the first-born son always takes the throne. Father does not intend to break that tradition. But, there is a… ” he frowns, as though searching for the right word, “darkness inside of Litham. I’ve always seen it, even though father cannot.”
“I can see it,” I mutter bitterly, remembering my last horrific encounter with Lothar’s elder brother.
“You experienced it firsthand,” Lothar says, “and I believe you.”
Something about the way he said that does not sit right with me. “What do you mean? Are you the only one who does?”
Lothar sighs with vexation. “I know that Litham was responsible for my mother’s abduction, but he claims that he was otherwise occupied when the chaos happened. He says that you seduced him and when he refused your advances, you struck him with the candlestick, rendering him unconscious.” A look of sheer hatred alters Lothar’s features as he tells me this.
“What?” I cry in outrage. “Nothing could be further from—”
“I know,” Lothar confirms. “But it is my word against his and he claims that I am so blinded by your…” he grimaces, “wiles that I will defend you at all costs.”
“Well, everyone else is blind if they believe that load of tripe,” I say. “Surely the king does not believe him.”
“Litham has this way about him,” Lothar says. “Long before you came along, strange things started happening around the castle—a delivery of poison flowers one day, a venomous serpent in my fathers’ bedchamber another. Litham always has an alibi, and he persuades people easily. My father started getting suspicious, but he just couldn’t see that the answer was right in front of him. Litham wants to be king, and he does not want to wait for my father to pass. I hate to think of how far he would drive Lyvenia to ruin if that happened.”
“But it won’t happen,” I assure him. “There is something I don’t understand, though. The king told me that his power is the ability to know whether someone is lying to him. So why can’t he see through Litham’s deception?”
Lothar turns his head down and his eyes become saddened. “That is his power, but sometimes magic—particularly in my family—comes with handicaps. My father can detect a lie from anyone in the kingdom except for his children. In Lathian’s case, he has the gift to make people happy, but at the cost of his own happiness. Sometimes, he falls into depressions that are difficult for him to rise above.”
“Lathian is depressed?” I ask. “He doesn’t seem the type.”
“He hides it well, but I see it—just as clearly as I can see my other brother’s wickedness. Thanks to me, Lathian can see it too. For months now, we have been conspiring to find a way to make my father disinherit Litham and make me his heir.”
“There was too much at stake,” he answers. “Before I brought you to the castle, I was not sure how my ambitions for the throne would affect your desire for me. After, I could not risk telling you in case Litham should find out and use his powers of manipulation to draw information from you. I hope you understand.”
“So, what is your power?” I blurt, and am surprised that I do not know this already. It is a very personal thing to ask someone. Then again, don’t Lothar and I know each other personally? Perhaps we do not know each other as well as I had thought. I suppose that the much more pressing matter of lovemaking usually took priority to asking questions.
He smiles at me, looking a little surprised himself. “I thought I’ve told you. I see people—their character, their inner-workings.”
“So, you can see whether someone is good or bad?”
“In a way,” he says, “but people are not all good or all bad. I see the different tones of dark and light; I sense their energy. If I allow myself to get close enough to a person, I can even feel what they are feeling.”
He laughs and wraps his arms around me, pulling me towards his body. “I always feel what you are feeling when we are that close. It’s exquisite, but it can be difficult to last long enough to prolong your pleasure until…”
“I think you do well enough.” I kiss him. After our tongues dance for a little while, I break away and ask, “So, what is your handicap?”
He frowns and is quiet. I feel selfish for asking him this and ruining a sweet moment. Is it wrong of me to want to know everything about him? Perhaps I should learn to let go and let him have his secrets.
“Sometimes,” he interrupts my musing, “when I want to believe something hard enough, I cannot see what is really there.”
“Do you see me?” I ask.
He grins and I relax. “Oh, I see you.”
“What do you see?”
“The most beautiful girl in the world,” he answers at once.
“You’re kind,” he says. “The first time I looked at you, I saw this… innocence and warmth. And your eyes…
I laugh, perhaps a little too giddily. “I’m a potion-maker. You know that.” I decide not to tell him what Galaea said my power is. I do not even know if it’s true for one thing, and if it is, then that certainly is not the reason why Lothar fell in love with me. It couldn’t be. I kiss him once more and this time I do not relent.
Our breathing grows heavier and Lothar puts his hands on me. I wonder if he is now feeling as I do. I begin to pull his tunic up, but he stops me. “You should go.”
He has never refused me before. I look in his eyes, questioning.
“I wish you could stay,” he says. “Believe me, but it would be better if you leave. Won’t the witches wonder where you are?”
The witches. As I crash back down to reality, I recall something painful. “Lothar. There is a ceremony coming soon and if I stay there, I’ll have to join in it. Unless you take me back here before the eve of summer solstice, that is.”
I heave a sigh. “The mating kind. One night a year, all the witches of the right age have to seduce a man and take his seed to try to conceive a daughter.” I begin to cry. “I don’t want to do it. I can’t be with any other man but you.”
He wipes the tears from my face and says, “You won’t have to. I’ll go to you on the eve of summer and you can lie with me. We’ll express our love right under the witches’ noses.”
I sniff. “But how? They will know that it’s you.”
He shakes his head, smiling. “Not if I am disguised. I’ll wear commoners’ clothing and a cloak. Only you will know.”
I imagine meeting him in the moonlight at the witches' camp. To all of the other witches’ knowledge, I will only be performing my sacred duty. Then I form an idea… possibly the best idea I have ever had.
“Darling, tonight the Witch Queen said that the next baby girl born in our camp will be her successor. What if it was our daughter? She would be both a princess and a future Witch Queen. She’d be the link between the witches and royalty. And there would be peace at last, just like Saleri said. Oh, Lothar, it’s perfect!”
He looks unsure. “You want a baby?”
“Think of it!” I say. “She would be the most loved, perfect little baby in the whole world. We could name her…”
“After my grandmother,” Lothar says. “Her name was Rosadonya. I adored her. She died when I was quite young, but I remember how she would hold me and tell me stories. I always thought about naming a daughter for her.”
“All right then.” He pulls me toward him and gives me a look that I know quite well. “If we are going to try for a baby, don’t you think we should start now?”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
“And that is why I repent for giving in to the evil ways of men,” I say as I stand before all of the witches in the meeting hall. “I humbly ask for you to accept my apology.”
I look out into the crowd at my mother and Keiry, wearing matching looks of approval.
“Oh yes,” I say. “I’ve learned.”
“It is always good to see a young woman return to the right path,” Galaea says. “Our sister has come back to us at last. You all may welcome her back into our order.”
She keeps talking but I am no longer listening. My thoughts wander elsewhere as I watch the youngest members of our sisterhood squirming about. I wonder if I am with child yet, or if it will happen at the ceremony.
All that I can do now is wait and count the days.