Gideon had ridden back to arrange for the two courts to meet in the castle’s great hall. If the marriage was to happen on schedule, he needed to inform the royal family of Sheburat of his choice without delay. Otherwise, they would expect a deferral of at least a year, assuming they expected him to select the next eldest daughter, Kemble.
Efren stepped into place, front and center on one side of the hall, and his entourage arranged themselves around him. Queen Giselle was announced, and she nodded as she stepped into place opposite him. He returned the nod and stayed alert while the Sheburat royals and nobles were announced, one by one, as they entered and settled into formation around Queen Giselle.
One of the last to enter the great hall for this impromptu meeting was Princess Kemble, who entered with the air of someone determined to retain her dignity as she was escorted to the gallows. Her expression was tight. She obviously expected a momentary announcement sealing a fate she did not relish.
Although she would have grown up knowing she was the likely backup should Marcela die before her marriage day, she’d no doubt grown complacent as that date approached. Her expression when he made his announcement would be as interesting to watch as Prince Marcelo’s would be.
Speaking of whom, Efren’s breath hitched as a striking young man with strawberry blond shoulder length curls stepped into place in the doorway. He had a superficial femininity, but his lithe masculinity shone through. Prince Marcelo stood straight and tall as his name was announced, and he strode gracefully to his place below the youngest of his sisters rather than in age order as they were arranged. Efren schooled his features to not display his disgust at that demeaning convention.
Efren kept his gaze on Marcelo as the young man’s features softened inquisitively even as he lifted his chin in a show of strength while he perused the people on the Zioneven side of the room. Marcelo seemed to be everything his diplomats had reported. Curious and intelligent—albeit undereducated. He was also reportedly the most empathetic of Queen Giselle’s offspring.
Marcelo’s gaze eventually landed on Efren, and the young man blinked as if surprised to find his regard returned. The muscles in Marcelo’s jaw tightened, and he stared unwaveringly. He had spirit, and a corner of Efren’s mouth quirked up before turning his head, making a point of letting Marcelo “win” the stare down.