Efren, the Crown Prince of Zioneven, squared his shoulders as he and his entourage made their final approach to the royal castle of Sheburat. He’d had his whole life—since the age of five, anyway—to prepare himself for this journey. He didn’t relish the changes about to be wrought to his life, but he’d always accepted it as his fate. In the name of peace between the two kingdoms, he wouldn’t shirk his duty.
The castle loomed, much like his upcoming marriage. He had barely twenty-four hours left before he would be shackled for life to Princess Marcela, fourth daughter of Sheburat’s Queen Giselle and Prince Consort Elmer. The princess had been only a few months old at the time the treaty was signed. Did she dread this marriage as much as he did?
Zioneven’s diplomats had never reported anything unduly negative about her. Nothing beyond the obvious—her expected viewpoint, coming from a matriarchal society, that she was inherently superior to Efren rather than his equal. He could only hope that expanding her horizons would lessen that mindset.
His kingdom’s diplomats had assured him that Marcela was beautiful, and that there was nothing innately cruel about her character. Despite these reassurances, he advanced with a heavy heart. His parents sympathized, although there was nothing that could be done. They knew where his preferences lay.
Efren would be capable of ‘performing’ on his wedding night…and beyond if Marcela seemed intent on bearing children. He would be there in body if not in spirit. Thankfully, his younger siblings, like most people, experienced attractions to members of the opposite sex, and had already produced several heirs. He wouldn’t be pressured by his family to father children, although he’d be willing for the sake of marriage harmony.
Gideon Bailey, the Zioneven ambassador assigned to Sheburat, approached on horseback alongside Jeremy Cook, one of Efren’s entourage who’d ridden ahead to alert the castle of their expected day of arrival. As they got closer, it became obvious from Jeremy’s twitching expression that the man was bursting to give Efren some news. Gideon was much better at schooling his features, but still, his very presence riding out to greet Efren rather than waiting in the castle spoke of something important to report without Sheburat witnesses to—to what?
Had they discovered something meant to be kept secret, or was it information best conveyed where Efren’s reaction wouldn’t be observed? Was it good news, or bad?