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After Glori dismissed me, I used my Elven speed to return to our common room. Rorik answered the door, and I gave our current password. Knowing the Unseelie had infiltrated the palace guard in the past, we couldn’t be too careful. With glamor, they could pretend to be anyone, so we’d begun taking extra precautions, especially as Nolan didn’t reside with the Guard anymore. He was the only one who could have seen through their glamor.
I’d depended on the non-consort guards to protect Glori more frequently, but as two of them were still in the human realm, that only left Rorik, Erynn, Valente, and Fen. Kenji and Angel didn’t count yet. With Lian’s death, losing Nolan as a trusted member of the Guard, then Thressa’s betrayal, we needed more guards to relieve them. Ever since I’d decided to bond with Glori, my attention had shifted away from my obligations as guardleader. I should have stepped down long ago.
Courting her had seemed like the best way to convince her to accept her responsibilities and become the queen I knew she could be. Now I recognized it for what it was — foolish pride and selfish longing. Glori had met so few Fae outside the Guard. If she had, maybe she would have chosen an Elf more worthy than me.
Since Fen and Valente were away guarding Glori with Kenji and Angel at her side, I glanced between the sole occupants of the room — Rorik and Erynn.
“If either of you have suitable candidates to fill the ranks of the Queen’s Guard, now would be a good time to mention it.”
Erynn straightened her shoulders. “I know a Nixie fighting at the Tree of Life. She would be interested.”
Part of me hesitated, wondering if Erynn was any better judge of character than myself. Thressa had fooled us all, as had Nolan.
Instead, I said, “Remember, the Queen’s Guard can number greater than ten.” I met their gazes before making my next statement. “I also plan to seek a replacement for guardleader. I intend to step down.”
“A ridiculous idea,” Rorik growled. He’d either been preparing to dress or undress, as his chest was bare, along with his tattooed shoulders.
“I will do what needs to be done, and that includes stepping down.”
“As queen, Gloriana must be protected at all costs,” Rorik disagreed. “Appointing a different Elf as guardleader invites in the potential for more Unseelie into our ranks.”
“Not if you become guardleader,” I pointed out.
High winds blew me back a step, and I glared at the Veela who had given up any pretense of controlling himself. “You mean to take the easy way out, is that it?” Rorik gazed at me with a crazed lavender stare. “We need you to stand strong.”
Just then, a knock sounded at the door, and Rorik turned his glare toward it as though personally offended. When he opened the door, however, Angel stood in the corridor. The young Nixie glanced between us before giving the password. I wasn’t sure I wanted him here for this discussion, but since I couldn’t think of a reason for sending him away, I returned to the matter at hand.
I frowned. “As her consort, I cannot in good conscience also remain her guardleader.”
Rorik’s eyes narrowed as he sensed the trap I’d laid for him. Did he also want to avoid the mantle and responsibilities of guardleader because he sought to become her consort at last?
To my surprise, Erynn stepped between us. “I agree with Lyall.” Her youthful gaze swept over Rorik before locking with my own. “He and I should both be removed from the Guard for neglecting to see Thressa for what she was. And for failing Glori.”
Her words cut through me. My self-control snapped as I counterstruck. “I suppose you’re right. You were in a relationship with Thressa, after all.”
Even Rorik seemed taken aback by my words, the wind falling to a soft breeze. That only made me angrier.
“If anyone should have guessed Thressa’s true loyalties,” I said to Erynn, “it should have been you, as her lover.”
Angel lunged forward between us. His sapphire eyes practically glowed with anger. “Let’s all calm down before we say things we’ll regret later.”
Erynn bowed her head. That she accepted my pronouncement somehow made me feel worse. Then she raised her chin.
“I admit I failed Glori, as I said.” She prowled toward me, around Angel. “Maybe I’m young and stupid, but I had never met an Unseelie in my life prior to Thressa. As our leader, and as one of the most experienced members of her Guard, what’s your excuse?”
Her words struck home, leaving me speechless.
Angel took a deep breath and stared at me as though willing me to do the same. “Lyall is an excellent leader who brought this entire group together and kept it together despite many challenges over the centuries.” Then he glanced at Erynn. “Erynn is a loyal guard whose greatest desire is to see Glori live to become queen. Thressa was a traitor, but she did everything in her power to appear to be the Seelie everyone thought her to be. She fooled us all, and it’s not anyone’s fault but hers.”
Though Angel’s words couldn’t ease all the negative emotions swirling within me, they did birth something else… Respect for what he was trying to do, even if I didn’t agree.
“We are all responsible for protecting Gloriana.” Rorik’s growl undercut the tension in the common room.
“Yet as guardleader, I have failed time and time again to spot the weakness in our ranks.”
“We all neglected to notice the Unseelie turncoat in our midst. I myself thought of her as an ally.” His steely gaze turned to me. “Failing to lead now, however… That’s the true problem you must solve.”
I regarded him levelly. “I intend to. By finding a new guardleader. If I recall, I have a distant cousin who is fighting at the Tree of Life. His loyalty to the Seelie cause is unquestioned.”
Rorik’s mouth set in a thin line, mirroring Erynn’s.
Angel broke the tense silence. “Glori needs us. All of us.”
Ignoring him, I said, “If he agrees, I will leave it up to him to decide who deserves to remain as members of the Queen’s Guard.”
“A decision for another day, then,” Rorik said through clenched teeth.
“Lyall…” Angel shook his head as though reconsidering his words. “You shouldn’t give up.” When he looked up at me again, the resolve, the desire I saw in his gaze took me by surprise.
I’d sensed Angel’s attention turning toward me before, but now I could no longer question it. The young Nixie was interested in me, and as fellow consorts, nothing prevented our exploration of what might grow between us, as long as Glori allowed it.
I opened my mouth, then closed it, uncertain of what to say. It had been a long time since a lover had challenged me in the way Angel had done here. I found it… oddly arousing. He’d stood up to me. He wanted what was best for Glori and for the Guard to stay together, but now I sensed another truth between his words. He didn’t want to lose me if I stepped down, perhaps fearing I would resign as both guardleader and consort.
“I say we burn off some of this strain and stress.” Rorik’s words snapped me out of staring at Angel. Perhaps the Veela misjudged the true cause of the tension between us. “We should practice outside and remember what is at stake.”
I tilted my head in consideration before nodding. He was right. This wasn’t just about failing Glori. My failures as guardleader had ramifications for the rest of the Fae as well. Who knew what knowledge the Unseelie might have gleaned from Nolan’s translations? Who knew what they planned to do next with Thressa and all her intel at Iona’s beck and call? We had to be prepared for the worst.
“Very well,” I said. “Get our gear.”
Angel and Erynn shared a look as Rorik and I took various practice weapons and headed for the door. I still felt annoyed at Erynn, even though I knew I might regret my words later. Angel had been right to step in. His boldness intrigued me, but this wasn’t the time to consider the budding interest between us. Rorik had known me for centuries, and for now, we would release some tension in the best way we knew how — trying to hit each other with long blades.
More to come… Things are about to heat up, I promise! You’re going to love the next few chapters…
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