“I’m sorry?” Queen Giselle’s eyes widened perceptively. No, she had not seen this coming.
“Sibling,” Efren repeated. “The terms of the treaty specify I may choose an alternate from among Princess Marcela’s younger siblings. It didn’t restrict the choice to daughters.”
To a person, everyone on the Sheburat side of the room stilled. Of course, they understood he wasn’t merely being pedantic, but had said that with a purpose in mind. Efren’s gaze slid to see Marcelo’s reaction. Passing across the line of sisters, he couldn’t help but notice Kemble’s widened eyes and parted lips twitching up at the corners. Marcelo was likely the only person in the room who remained unsure of Efren’s intent. Suspicious and alarmed, yes, but confusion was evident in his demeanor.
Queen Giselle faltered. “Do…surely…but…”
Marcelo’s head turned toward his mother as if silently imploring her to voice an objection. Efren swallowed. He’d known Marcelo would be staggered, so his current response was no surprise. All Efren could do now was hope Marcelo’s delayed reaction would be more reflective.
Efren turned back to stare at the queen as she processed this unexpected revelation. She returned his scrutiny, and perhaps saw his determination, because her expression changed to reflect her acquiescence of his choice. In his peripheral vision Efren saw Marcelo’s head twisting back and forth between the queen and Efren before settling on Efren.
Efren turned to look at Marcelo, hoping against hope that he could silently convey some reassurance that he had only the best of intentions for Marcelo’s future. Worst case scenario, Marcelo would break the pattern of former royal sons of Sheburat and would have no interest in relations with other men. Or with Efren in particular. In that case, Efren wouldn’t pursue the issue beyond the required consummation of the marriage. He had no intention of forcing his affections, but he would certainly do his best to earn Marcelo’s.
A few more moments ticked by before the queen cast a brief apologetic glance toward Marcelo, lifted her shoulders is a barely visible shrug, and said, “The treaty does indeed use that word. Prince Efren, the choice is yours.”
Efren continued to stare into Marcelo’s alarmed eyes as he firmly stated, “I choose His Royal Highness, Prince Marcelo. The wedding will proceed tomorrow as planned.”
Marcelo paled and swayed as his eyes glazed with a faraway look. His youngest sister, standing beside him, whispered, “Marcelo? Are you unwell?”
She repeated the words as Marcelo wobbled. Efren reached and took a step forward, but was too far away. Thankfully, Kemble was quick to react and caught Marcelo as he dropped like a stone, at least preventing him from hitting his head.