Uh oh! It's a fic! This is the first of three weddings for Eadlyn Schreave of the Selection series (property of Kiera Cass), using three of her suitors from The Heir and The Crown. So it is (a) AU for at least two of the three and (b) SPOILERY if you have not finished The Crown. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. It is inspired by the song "Nobody," from Nick Fradiani's album Hurricane, so let's do the song as a way of protecting y'all from spoilery text for a minute!
Chapter 1: How'd It Go From Just One Night?
“Come on, Kile, spill. What’s the medal for?” Samn Crane, my roommate from Fennley Advanced Technical College, folded his arms across his freshly starched uniform and smirked at our reflections in the huge gilt-framed mirror.
“Best kisser.” I shifted in my polished boots, to the annoyance of Tonzhir, who hadn’t quite finished arranging every strand of my hair to his satisfaction. “Wait’ll you see the one Eady gives me tomorrow.”
During Princess-now-Queen Eadlyn’s whirlwind Selection, I’d more-or-less gotten used to being fussed over and fancied up. Honestly, shaves and manicures and pomades aren’t so bad when they’re delivered by a team of professionals who treat Making Kile Woodwork Presentable as a tactical challenge comparable to inserting a spy in New Asia. It’s having my mother after me to tuck in my shirt that gets old.
“Why do we have to dress like Guards, anyway?” Samn’s own medal, half the size of mine, was basically for being my official best friend. I’d considered offering him hazard pay for it, too.
“It’s my job to guard her heart.”
Tradition was the answer I’d really been given. Tradition also said my soon-to-be-wife shouldn’t be beckoning me from a cracked-open door that belonged to the green parlor. She certainly shouldn’t be kissing me with her wedding dress on, though the way she had one hand tangled in my hair and the other pressed to the small of my back, I wasn’t likely to see the dress.
Kissing Eady only became more enticing with practice. That first kiss she’d bargained for, back during her Selection, had been as much a surprise to me as to her. The Royal Pain in the Ass wasn’t supposed to make my pulse pound or my hands want to hold her so tight that I could feel her own heartbeat in rhythm with mine.
I moved my lips to her bare shoulder, her neck, her ear lobe. Eady tasted like caramel, salt, and roses, and there was a spot just under her ear that was very ticklish.
Eady freed her hands and used them to give a little push against my chest. “Eloise took hours to get my hair like this.”
“Why are we here?”
“I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.” There was laughter in her voice, and her hazel eyes sparkled. She pushed back an artful curl while I wondered if Tonzhir would faint at the disarray that had been made of my head.
During the dull bits of services, I used to entertain myself by designing a modern cathedral. It would have soaring trusses of metal, set with glass so the sun traced the length of the aisle to the altar. The effect would be so much more awe-inspiring than frills and froufrou and fusty art from centuries ago.
As I followed the bishop from the robing room onto the stage—I mean, the sanctuary—frills and fust seemed plenty capable of knocking me over with awe. The painted vaults on either side of the central colonnade concentrated the murmur of conversation and the glitter of tiaras, until it seemed like every important person on the planet was packed in. My throat went dry and my palms went damp.
“What’s the medal for?” the bishop whispered.
“Climbing on the mountains and leaping on the hills.”
My mother, looking more like an older sister in a floaty gray dress, dabs at her eyes with a ribbon-trimmed handkerchief. Dad, the one dark spot in the front row, gives me a thumbs-up.
Once Lady Brice Mannor, Neena Hallensway, and my little sister Josie were lined up on the sanctuary steps—managing to look identical in lacy blue dresses despite being tiny and blonde, tall and dark, and a grinning bundle of look this was all my idea, respectively—the bouncy Bach bubbled into silence.
Tall inlaid doors at the far end of the cathedral swung open as if pushed by the trumpets’ blare, revealing Queen Eadlyn of Illéa, flanked by her parents.
She shone like a star, from the jewels in her ceremonial crown to the gold and diamond swirls of her dress. Eady outshone King-now-Prince Maxon in his Guards uniform, his chest covered with medals he’d earned. Next to her, Princess America was a shadow in deep red embroidered in silver.
As Eady progressed up the center colonnade to the tum-dum-de-dum of the organ, her dazzling figure wasn’t lost in the fuss and fust: she focused it, made it coalesce around her, as if she were a shooting star, sweeping everything in her wake like the thirty-foot cascade of her veil.
Then she was looking up at me with wide hazel eyes. As I clasped her hand and led her to stand in front of the bishop, she felt like a stranger—not even the Royal Pain in the Ass, but a woman I’d somehow missed growing up with.
“Into this holy union, Eadlyn Helena Margarete and Kile Ludwig now come to be joined. If any of you can show just cause why they may not be lawfully joined together, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
My shoulders tensed against the sudden certainty that one of Eady’s rejected Selected would jump to his feet, waving a hand, and insist that Eady had promised to marry him.
When silence stretched and stretched instead, my fear dissolved into inappropriate giggles. I brought a hand up to cover my mouth, but Eady caught the virus anyway. Before I knew what had happened, we were forehead to forehead, choking on laughter, Eady’s giant cascade of calla lilies weighting down my shoulder as she leaned on me.
My turn came first. “I, Kile. . . Ludwig. . .” don’t forget your middle name, Kile. . . “take you, Eadlyn Marga. . . Eadlyn Helena Margarete, to be my wife.” I’m getting married. I’m marrying the Royal Brat. My heart was pounding so hard I could feel it in my ears. “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.”
With each phrase, I gave her hand a squeeze, as if that could steady me. “This is my solemn vow.”
Then it was her turn. Eady didn’t stumble over my middle name, much less her own. The only signs that she wasn’t delivering a declaration in her usual clear, carrying tones were the gentle squeezes of my hand and the way she never looked away from me.
We knelt for a blessing. This had to be hard on white Guard pants. Then I stayed kneeling while Eady stood. She and the bishop raised above my head a crown—simpler than the one she wore.
“Are you, Kile Shreave, willing to take this oath?” We’d agreed that I’d take Eady’s family name: Woodwork just didn’t sound royal.
“Do you vow to uphold the laws and honor of Illéa all the days of your life, at home and abroad, with justice and mercy, in accordance with the will of our queen, Eadlyn?”
“I do.” My throat was dry again.
The crown was lowered onto my head, settling tight across the forehead. Then I was standing, exchanging with Eadlyn our most chaste kiss since she was four years old. The bishop turned us toward the crowd.
I had no idea so many eyes existed. I’m married to Eady. I’m married. Really married. The sparkling people were chanting words that slowly coalesced in my ears as God save Queen Eadlyn and Prince Kile.
“What’s the medal for?” General Leger asked as we bumped elbows beside a tray of tiny pastries that glittered like jewels.
“Courage under the fire of Eady’s temper.”
He clapped my shoulder and went to retrieve Miss Lucy from where Prince Ahren was putting her through the paces of a country dance. In the past five hours, I’d stood for endless photos, shaken endless hands, eaten barely ten bites of dinner, fed Eady a slice of wedding cake with the right amount of playfulness to make her giggle but not so much that I smudged her make-up, then danced with Eady, Princess America, Mom, Princess Camille of France, my own sister Josie, Lady Brice Mannor, Eady’s lady-in-waiting Neena, and sixteen foreign dignitaries.
Josie was now deep in conversation with Prince Kaden, which probably meant I’d better check the nuptial bed for frogs, confetti, squeaking toys, and people hiding underneath. My school friend Samn was on his third dance with the elegant daughter of one of the women from Mom’s and Princess America’s Selection.
Prince Ahren, in the blue-and-buff uniform of France, offered me a glass of champagne. “What’s the medal for?”
“Combat wounds sustained on the dance floor.”
“I could have told you not to waltz with Princess Clothilde.”
“But you didn’t.” We leaned against the wall, screened by a potted palm, and watched Eady—my wife—dance with one of her councilors.
“I’m glad Camille and I skipped all this fuss.”
“Eady suggested eloping only twice during the planning.”
“Third time, you would have accepted?” His raised eyebrow and half-smile gave him a sudden resemblance to Eady—to my wife—that usually was lost in his paler coloring.
“Damn straight.” I folded my arms over my chest, then unfolded them. “What’s it like, being Prince-Consort?”
Ahren shrugged. “Lots of paperwork, lots of listening, lots of knowing what meetings to skip and when it’s better to lurk quietly in the background. So business as usual, but in French.”
“How much time do you get for your own. . . stuff?”
“I’m writing a thriller based on the life of Camille’s grandmother.” Ahren sipped his champagne. “I never had that much stuff, though. I was trained to be someone’s royal husband. It was just a question of whose. I could be writing about Princess Angelica’s grandfather or Princess Clothilde’s step-great-uncle.”
“What did Princess Clothilde’s step-great-uncle do?”
“No idea.” My new brother-in-law shifted from foot to foot. “I’d hoped publicity from Eady’s Selection would launch your career. Not that it isn’t great to keep you as a member of the family, because it is. But don’t let this stop you from doing what you want to do. I mean it.”