Alistair and Aria, Part 4

“How did we develop this kind of repertoire?”

Alistair laughed. “The night before your seventeenth birthday, and that’s what you have to ask me?”

“You said in exchange for a physical present this year that you would tell me the truth about something. I’ve thought about it for a week. I want to know how we’ve managed to end up so close when we rarely saw each other.”

He offered Aria a glass of dark alcohol, then poured himself an equal amount. They sat on the same plush couch in the library.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I just knew that whatever your parents had done to me, however they had acted—it had nothing to do with you.”

Aria made a face at the strength of the alcohol when she took a sip. “Still, though. We didn’t grow up together—we rarely saw each other. How was it that every time I did see you, we just…got along?”

“I’m offended by how confused you are by this.”

She laughed, letting her head fall back and her hair spill over the headrest of the couch. “Oh, never mind. I guess I’m not making any sense.”

“Some people just work, Aria. I figured we were one of those.”

“Is that why you thought we could handle this arrangement?”

“I did have faith in your eventual maturity, I suppose.”

She glanced at him, a smile still lingering on her lips. “I guess I can accept that we were destined to be close merely by similarity in our personalities. I’ve never had a friend I look forward to seeing so much as you.”

“It could always be the scarcity with which we saw each other, too. Or my withholding nature.”

She grinned. “Probably a bit of that, too.”

“But I can’t believe that’s what you wanted to know the truth about.”

“Alistair, I already know everything else I need to know.”

He furrowed his brow. “You do?”

“I know you were relieved when my parents died, and that you don’t regret killing them. I know you’ve struggled to live up to your commitment to me, even if I’ve always been happy with our arrangement. I know you never speak of how lonely you are, and I know that sometimes you barely sleep because you’re reading and researching, trying to make sure you never make a mistake, in policy or elsewhere.”

Alistair swallowed, temporarily speechless. An intangible part of him suddenly grew very warm—he hadn’t realized that returning to Suvid permanently would mean that someone would finally, well…see him.

“And anyway,” Aria said, “you’ve always been honest with me. If I ever want to know anything else, I’ll just ask.”

The corners of his mouth tugged up. “Well, then. My present wasn’t very effective.”

She laughed. “I don’t mind.”

“You know, I forgot to tell you…Valtteri sent another letter.”

Her grin vanished. “What?”

He rose to retrieve the scroll. She accepted it with a frown.

“I think you should write him back,” Alistair said.

Aria threw him an annoyed look. “Don’t scold me.”

“He’s not a bad match, Aria. That’s all.”

“I really like him, Alistair. But it isn’t in the cards for him and me.”

“Why not?”

She shook her head. “It just doesn’t feel right. I only liked the way he looked at me—I didn’t feel what I thought I would. And his father…I wouldn’t put myself in that situation for all the world.”

“It’s not a fairy tale, certainly.”

“I have to trust my gut.”

“That bad in bed, huh?”

Her jaw dropped, but nonetheless, they both laughed.

“You’re vile,” she said, still giggling. “No comment.”

“I just want you to be happy, Aria. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I don’t care who you decide to throw me aside for, just as long as you say it’s the right man.”

“So why all this worry about Valtteri?”

“I just hear a lot of good things about his countenance.”

“I’m sure they’re all true. But he knows where we stand.”

He lifted a hand in acquiescence. “Fair enough. I won’t push you about it anymore. There’s something else you could do for me, though.”

“Yeah?”

“Prince Dominik’s daughter Natalia is looking for an out-of-Spine experience. And one of her lady’s maids happens to be my current mistress.”

Aria sat up with an appraising look. “Oh, and I expect you want me to invite her here to stay for a while?”

“Natalia is about the same age as you. Maybe you’ll be friends.”

“Maybe…” she said slowly. “How long do you want her to stay?”

“A month or two?” He shrugged. “You’d be doing me a huge favor. Some of the nobles in the Spine are whispering that I’m not planning on stepping aside when you turn eighteen. A prolonged period of seeing me with another woman will clear that right up.”

She cocked her head. “Why is everyone so worried about you continuing on as king?”

He snorted. “That’s not what they’re worried about. They’re worried about you.”

“Me?”

“The availability of your hand is going to be the greatest event of the decade. Valtteri and his father were trying to get ahead of it by inviting you to Reziva at sixteen. In the next year, you’re going to receive more invitations than you can possibly handle. But they need to know their effort isn’t being expended uselessly.”

She stared at him for a moment, then sighed and sat back. “Well, if you insist.”

“Don’t sound so excited.”

“Oh, I’m excited to meet Natalia. I always hated that her father never brought her when he traveled here.”

“Then what?”

She shook her head. “Your mistresses have always been hypothetical to me. Now I have to meet one.”

Alistair frowned sympathetically. “I’m sorry. I know it’s awkward.”

“What’s she like?”

He shifted uncomfortably; they’d never really discussed his liaisons before. “Why do you want to know?”

“I don’t know,” Aria said. “If I’m to let go of my greatest protector, I’d like it to be to a worthy woman. You say similar things about the man I’ll marry.”

“This one won’t appreciate being judged by my current wife. She’s a little tetchy about the arrangement already.”

She sipped her drink, her eyes on the other side of the room. Alistair smiled a little at how dismissive the set of her mouth was.

“I’ll invite Natalia,” Aria said. “And I’ll be the one who decides whom I do and do not judge.”

He smirked as she met his gaze. “I hope these nobles are ready for your tenacity, truly.”

“I learned some of it from you.”

Alistair laughed. “Not much, though. I have enough self doubt for three people.”

Aria smiled. “But sometimes you speak with enough wisdom for three, too.”

One Comment Add yours

  1. Susan says:

    I, too, want an out-of-Spine experience 🙂 HOW FUN this good relationship between siblings is in this universe, Becca. I am so very curious if she’ll somehow end up with Casimir in this one. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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