She parted her full lips and smiled. “My name is Shahliha.” The mysterious, shapely maiden in the pearl-gray cloak who had shadowed his steps ever since he had alighted from Corsair’s Breakwater had been his sister all along, then! The lass he had not seen in eighteen years, since the night of the red doors – kin to him, and his last link to a family he thought lost forever.
“Thank goodness none of our previous interactions were tinged with eroticism,” Danveniel thought to himself as he helped her from her horse. They’d never touched one another, sexually.
“Know you what they say of the Lancienses?” The saege inclined his head toward the boisterous group of travelers. “They always marry their fiancées, and have consensual sex with strangers.”
“We are only half-siblings, Nierest,” Slannen whispered in silken tones.
“Yes,” Nierest replied, “but we are full friends.” They hugged for two seconds, without touching pelvises, then pulled away.
“See yon tall and stately figure across the hall?” Ana asked, guiding Morgana’s arm in the direction of the man who had drawn the attention of the entire room merely by entering it. “He is your cousin.”
“That,” Morgana said delightedly, “explains the fond and platonic feelings I felt for him once I saw his face!” She looked forward to meeting him. How uncomplicated it all would be.
“Let the night of the Three Loves commence,” Trelenium intoned before the gathered, writhing assembly. “Don the Masks of the Ancients, that we may love anonymously, and therefore as fit vessels for the Goddesses’ energy.”
“Except for you, Meleste,” she said suddenly, turning to a raven-haired youth in the corner. “You and Bendren are kin, and therefore you should both put on a wristband, so you do not accidentally copulate during our night of public love.”
They did, and nobody touched anyone they were related to all night.
“What woman could be fit for a king but a king’s sister?” Nuanna said from the Shadow Throne. His green-grey eyes met hers, and they flashed in a sudden, identical light.
“Then, my brother,” said Nianna, bowing low, “I shall leave the kingdom immediately and find one, who is related to a different king, to marry you.”
“Thank you,” Nuanna said.
“Bring me a handsome young man who is willing to sport in my bed for coin tonight,” Baron Lhelled-Rothnoy commanded his Cerebrant Hestat. “One who looks nothing like my nephew.”
Primhesh lifted the lantern and peered at the looming mass ahead. Instinctively he drew back shuddering. “Let us leave this place at once, lad.”
“Why?” Jack Naïvelinton asked him. “We have been long and footsore on this road, and yonder house seems as good a place as any to rest ourselves for the night.”
“Know ye not the name of yon house, boy?” Primhesh asked. Jack shook his head. “It is called Grimhearth, and for good reason. The Keeper of the East Woods dwells there, with his many daughters. They say he keeps them close and forbids them to speak to any man, until they get married and leave home and have children with their husbands.”
Ghendroahr looked with a steel gaze at his daughter across the campfire. How like a woman grown she had become this last sevenmonth.
“You look so much like your mother now,” he said wonderingly. “Chiefly in the eyes, and lips.”
“So they tell me, Father,” she said, eyes lowered.
“God, how I hated her,” he said. “Go sit somewhere else.”
He wasn’t much of a father, but she certainly had to admit to herself, as she crawled into her sleepsack later that evening, that he had never been attracted to her.
“Well,” Prince Haiglish said after some time staring at the grave, “let us return.” His aides looked at him. “My mother is dead, and while I’m quite sad about it, there’s no point in dwelling on something I can’t change. It’s very natural for a mother to die before her son, and while I plan on cherishing her memory, I certainly wouldn’t want it to stand in the way of my future happiness.”
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.