"Are you sure about this?" she asked, eyes glued to the rows of soldiers below.
"Precious, you are the one who wished to sever our ties to the monarchy. If you're having second thoughts—"
The queen shook her head, one hand settling over her swollen stomach. "No. I want our child to grow up with the choice in their future. It just seems like the wrong choice."
"It is the wrong choice, which is precisely why it is the right choice. He has no ties to anything—to anyone, which will help him in keeping the Underground free from those who would enslave its inhabitants." The king wrapped his arms around her waist, brushing his lips against the back of her ear.
They watched as the soldiers saluted, the elected heir towering over them as he walked between the rows, silver hair swinging from side to side. His face was blank, but the queen could see the tension in his shoulders, and she sighed, leaning back against her mate.
"He doesn't want the position."
The king smirked. "Of course not. Another reason why this is so entertaining."
"You're trapping him in this role. Why not one of the—"
"Ah, but you forget, my love, he was free to refuse the offer. He simply knew what was better for him."
The queen turned around, eyes hardening. "Like anyone would ever refuse you."
His smirk only widened, and he tilted her chin up. "I seem to remember a certain willful girl refusing me on more than one occasion."
She smacked his hand away. "And you deserved it every single time." Slipping around him as best she could, she walked back into their room, gazing around at the bare walls and empty bed. She had called this place home for so long; it felt strange to think it would be their last day within the castle walls.
Even the magic items had been tucked away, protected for travelling, and she rubbed her arms, feeling the chill through her entire body.
"It will take some time, but you'll adjust," the king said, linking their fingers together before bringing the back of her hand to his lips. "You picked our new home yourself, after all."
She had, and was greatly looking forward to the sound of waves lulling them to sleep, but it was still different. It still wasn't here, and he only laughed when she said as much.
"I shall build you a throne room if you like."
She rolled her eyes. "That is not what I'll miss the most."
"Pity. I have many fond memories of that particular room." The feral gleam in his eyes had the queen's cheeks darkening, his grip only tightening when she tried to pull her hand away. "You can't change the past, love. Especially when you were the one to initiate it so often."
"It's not my fault you look so good in glitter," she mumbled.
"So you have told me. Why do you think I wear it so often?" He tugged her toward the doorway. "Come, we are expected to greet him before we leave."
The queen cast one last look around the room, taking in every memory spent within it and hoping their subjects understood their choice to step down. She trusted her mate's choice, though she couldn't wrap her head around the idea of someone without fae blood ruling the kingdom.
The king's successor was a champion in his own right, one that had his enemies cowering and likely one of the reasons he'd been chosen in the first place. No one would think to argue his position when so many had fallen at the tip of his sword.
Not that anyone inherited the throne in the first place. Offspring were so few and far between that it had become an unspoken rule to appoint a successor rather than birth one. This was the first time in over a millennium that the current ruler had had a partner, let alone a child, and many of the neighbouring kingdoms had wondered if the king would be the one to break tradition.
A smile touched her lips. He could lay the blame on her all he wanted, but as soon as the king had discovered her to be with child, the plans for appointing an heir had been set in motion. She'd thought it was due to her human heritage, but those fears had been quickly quelled by the abundance of gifts once the news of her pregnancy had been announced.
The kingdom had been thrilled, immediately launching into predictions of which parent would have more influence—the king chagrined when the odds fell in her favour.
There was a flutter in her stomach as if the child had read her thoughts, and her smile widened. She was very much looking forward to this new stage of life, and she trusted her mate had chosen the right candidate to keep the peace.
But this place did funny things to people, she alone knew that firsthand, and she couldn't help but wonder how it would change him. How long would it be before he met his match? Before the magic seeped far enough into his veins to change his views of what he considered right and wrong?
And how far would he go to obtain what was his?