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🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene - Alt POV Scene from beginning of Chapter 4
Bonus Scene - Alternate POV Scene from beginning of Chapter 4
As Dukan, a prince of Butari, trudged toward the lake the groundskeeper at Canna’s royal palace had pointed him toward, he thought back to the previous evening when Canna’s Prince Obren—his fiancé—had approached him at the meet and greet before dinner. Hope had briefly flared in Dukan’s chest at the sight of the man he’d met only once before when they’d been children.
Obren’s physical appearance was nondescript except the paleness of his hair. But Dukan might have recognized the shape of his smile, regardless. It had a sharper curve to it than most even when it was slightly wary. That guardedness hadn’t been unexpected, all things considered.
Dukan heaved a sigh. Given that he only felt sexual attraction toward other men and not at all toward women, he’d used to think it would be ideal to be able to marry a man instead of whichever women his family eventually arranged for him. More specifically, he’d dreamed of how wonderful life would be if he and Vidan could have married each other.
Somehow, the broader fantasy had never included a betrothed who held that designation only because he’d drawn the short straw. Not to mention that other thing Dukan didn’t want to think about.
Dukan had hoped, when Obren had approached with his cautious smile, that Obren already knew about that…thing. Knew and understood. Knew and had forgiven him. But their subsequent conversation had dowsed not only that hope, but the likelihood Obren would ever absolve him once he learned the truth.
His boots crunched the layer of stones lakeside, and he squatted, rummaged through the stones, and selected a nice, flat one. He stood and dropped back his head to gaze at the shifting clouds. Here and there, clouds billowed and morphed from amorphous clumps into vaguely animal-like shapes and back again.
The breeze ruffled the leaves of an adjacent grove of trees as the birds chirped merrily on the branches. He closed his eyes and thought of Vidan. His mentor. His lover. Gone now for more than a year. The wretched war had seen to that.
What would Vidan have advised him to do in this situation? Obviously, he wouldn’t counsel him to avoid the marriage, not with the peace treaty hinging upon it. Not at all, really. Marriage was expected, and it wouldn’t have had any effect on their relationship. But marriage to Obren of Canna of all people?
He stared out across the lake and skipped the stone with practiced motions. He repeated the process dozens of times, each time pausing to meditate. Vidan would likely have advised him to be truthful, but no amount of envisioning his dead love gave him a good answer on how to go about it so as not to completely alienate his future husband.
He drew in a deep breath of crisp morning air, selected yet another stone, stood, gazed at the roiling clouds, and pondered. A flock of geese honked overhead, and the wind rustled through the trees as he reared and threw his stone.
Except this time his stone collided with another, midair, with a resounding clatter that echoed over the water. Or more accurately, another stone collided with his. Dukan gasped and spun with his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Dukan’s eyes widened, and his upper body swayed back when his gaze landed on Obren. They stood silently as Obren carefully tucked his slingshot back into his waistband. It seemed an eternity passed before Dukan broke the tension-filled silence.
Of course, he wasn’t questioning who Obren was. They were close enough for that to be obvious. No, that one word represented a different question.
Though they certainly had the potential to be a dangerous weapon, slingshots were something young boys played with then left behind with their childhood when they began training with adult weapons of war. Dukan had become and expert swordsman. Obren, he knew, was an archer.
But during the war, Butari had experienced a handful of casualties that had appeared to have been caused by a slingshot. Archers were occasionally cut off from arrow resupply, and they’d assumed the slingshot ace was likely an archer who’d resorted to his singular skill at those times.
Vidan had been killed by the vicious force of a slingshot fired rock.
So yes, that one word represented a different question. Was Obren the slingshot expert responsible for Vidan’s death? Did he know whom he’d killed in that instance and the man’s relationship to Dukan?
Obren’s face quivered with barely restrained emotion. “I’m sorry.” The words warbled, and he cleared his throat. “I thought it best to be honest with you.”
And with that, Dukan’s question was answered.
🔽 🔼 Bonus Scene - ALT POV Scene to Parallel Chapter 5: Not Dishonorable
Bonus Scene - ALT POV Scene to Parallel Chapter 5: Not Dishonorable
Dukan groaned despite the warm, comforting hand on his shoulder. His brother, Novak’s hand. His stomach churned as he tried to settle his emotions, which vacillated between hope at Obren’s words, “We’ll be all right. I’m committed to that,” and despair at the desolate expression of a broken man that had graced Obren’s face despite his reassuring words.
“I think you should focus on his words,” Novak said. “Of course he was going to be overwrought in that moment, considering what you’d just told him, but all indications are that he’s a reasonable man. Give him a little time.”
“Time doesn’t heal all wounds.”
“You got over your loss. You don’t hold Obren in contempt for it.”
“Yes, but I’d already moved on from Vidan’s death, and yes, time helped me get past the grief, but it’s not the same. Vidan was older. He’d experienced more of life. And though I will always remember him with love regardless, and I will always think of his passing with sorrow, I’ve been able to add perspective.”
Dukan blew out a frustrated puff of air. “You can’t charm someone out of strong emotional feelings.”
“No, but you don’t need to do that. His grief will continue on its normal course. And he’s in a unique position to be able to see both sides of the coin, so he can reason with himself to absolve you of true blame. What you can do is charm him into seeing you as someone worthy of being alive and happy. Make him realize that you are someone who, had he known you better before the war, he would have grieved for you had you been the loser in that fateful battle.”
The spark of hope ignited by Obren’s earlier words burned a little brighter, and a grin twitched at the corner of his lips. “I can do charm.”
He already had a leg up on that since he knew his and Obren’s personal servants, Janko and Zeko, were loading saddle bags with the makings of a picnic as Dukan stood here wavering on how to proceed. Perfect setting for a charm offensive.
But the budding grin faded as another thought occurred. “That’s assuming he would welcome that. I have no idea what he wants out of our marriage. Friendship? Companionship? Romance? Or just getting along and not hating one another while we live our separate lives.”
Novak’s typically stoic face relaxed as he cupped Dukan’s face in his hands and forced Dukan to meet his gaze. “Ask him. As mother always says, clear the air and get it all out there. Just come right out and ask.” Novak patted his cheek. “I think you’ll get the answer you’re hoping for.”
Novak dropped his hands, and Dukan stood a little straighter. “You truly think so?”
As good as Novak was at reading people, Dukan shouldn’t question his opinion. Besides, Dukan was too close to the situation to be a good judge himself.
Novak simply quirked an eyebrow, to which Dukan rolled his eyes. “All right. I’ll ask him, then respond accordingly.”
With a decisive nod, Dukan thanked his brother, spun, and strode toward the courtyard to meet up with his fiancé.