My insides twist. Tears prick my eyes. I want to scream, but I can’t.
Hold your tongue.
Ihatethat I have to heed father’s words.
If not for this betrothal, Aderick, the eldest of the two, would inherit a disaster; a barony in ruins, crippling debt that will take a generation to pay off, and the wrath of the Duthriss family.
Kastel would have nothing.
Just a dire future.
All because of my father’s pride and stupidity. The extension to the castle he commissioned lies in half-finished ruins, marble columns cracked and exposed to the elements, water and mud and snow pooling on the crumbling stone floors.
“At least let me stay a little longer,” I plead, my voice cracking. “Just a few weeks… until spring.”
Father stares down at me, his expression cold. “No. The Emperor has made it clear that you must reach Tyron before winter’s end. After you finish eating, you may go down to the stables and say your goodbyes to the boys. Then you will go to your mother’s chambers and allow her to choose attire that is a little more appropriate for your station. I willnothave you presenting yourself to the Archduke in trousers and a fucking tunic.” He shoots my mother a stern look. “I don’t know how you raised such an unladylike daughter.”
“I don’t know, either,” Dorava says softly. “But I will ensure that she is dressed in a manner that His Imperial Highness should find pleasing, at the very least.”
I glare at her, but she refuses to meet my gaze. Dorava has never said anything nasty to me. She’s never raised her hand in anger or been blatantly cruel. But she never stands up to father, either.
“Good.” My father returns to his seat. He picks up his silver fork and starts to eat.
Silence hangs over the dinner table like a cold, damp fog.
I force myself to eat. The food sticks in my throat. I can’t taste anything anymore.
I knew this day would come.
I just didn’t think it would come sosoon.
But I suppose all things must end sooner or later, and people like me, who have no power, will always be at the mercy of the ones that rule.
I can only hope that Archduke Corvan Duthriss isn’t as terrible as the stories make him out to be.