No Man Can Tame (Page 52)

Veron stood in the grand hall’s periphery, Aless on his arm, as Mati shook hands with King Macario and then with Duchess Claudia. Lorenzo was at Aless’s side, along with Bianca and Luciano, who’d come to change Tarquin’s mind—albeit too late. The kuvari already had him in their custody at Heraza Gate.

“What do you think was the final agreement?” Aless whispered, leaning in.

That much he’d overheard. “A reaffirmation of the Sileni–Nozva Rozkvetan alliance. A more concrete agreement between Stroppiata and the allied queendoms. Roccalano to compensate Queen Nendra for the loss of her murdered volodari, with vast quantities of food and other supplies. The Brotherhood to be rooted out and ended by the coalition. And Tarquin Belmonte to be exiled.”

It had been a kindness to Bianca and Luciano, and to Arabella. But also, as an exile, Tarquin couldn’t be used as a martyr to further stoke the malcontents; he’d simply disappear and be forgotten.

Aless lightly rested her head against his arm, and there was something about her in Nozva Rozkvetan robes that pleased him as he looked her over. Her human clothes had always suited her—and he’d say or do just about anything to see her in that sheer red thing from their wedding night—but in these plain robes, she was saying something to him, to his family, to all of Nozva Rozkveta, without even a single word. That message mattered to him, a lot, even if his Aless could never fade into the background, never blend in—and he didn’t want her to. That wouldn’t be the woman he’d married… and was marrying again today at the Offering.

“What about Arabella?” she asked.

Arabella moved about Nozva Rozkveta freely, even now, although she seemed to spend most of her time with Noc, who could answer most of her questions about her new nature.

“She wants to learn control of her Change,” he answered. “And my mother has agreed to help her.” Unicorns had always been a benevolent force in the world, and Arabella herself had saved him from imminent death and prevented a war.

Soon, Mati would send out a team of the volodari to track other unicorns—who generally didn’t want to be found—in an effort to find Arabella’s maker, who could help her control her Change by lifebonding with her.

“And in exchange, Tarquin goes quietly.” Aless took a deep breath.

“Something like that.”

She gave him a faint smile, although it soon faded. This entire situation had hit her hard—they’d nearly lost one another, a war had almost been instigated, people had died, and not all of them hateful Brotherhood members. And all of it born of ignorance.

It was by Holy Ulsinael’s dark grace that a peace had survived.

Mati turned to the assembly of humans and dark-elves and raised her hands. “Today, we reaffirm a friendship between the kingdom of Silen and Nozva Rozkveta, between humans and dark-elves, built on a shared land, a shared purpose, and the marriage of our children.” Smiling, Mati gestured to them both, and Aless curtseyed as he bowed. “That friendship was forged with a wedding, and today we renew it with a wedding once more. I invite you all to join us at Baraza Gate in one hour for the Offering between my son, Veron, and his wife, Alessandra.”

Everyone turned to them and applauded, and he couldn’t help a jittery hum coursing through his veins. If Aless would but have him, today would change their lives forever.

He was a dark-elf, Immortal, and the love of his life was a human.

Today, he had come so dangerously close to losing Aless, and he never wanted to feel that way again. Ever.

“We have also chosen to share our knowledge with the sky realm, to forge a partnership going forward that will help protect both our peoples against those who would mean to do us harm, while welcoming the people of the sky realm to know us,” Mati said.

Next to him, Aless’s breath caught.

“A library,” Mati declared, with applause filling the silence she left.

Aless held his hand tightly, practically brimming.

“We will invite knowledge from around the world that we could use to learn about our new circumstances, all the while sharing with the world our culture, our knowledge, our language, teaching any who wish to learn. To that end, the Order of Terra, a monastic order devoted to serving the goddess Terra, has agreed to be our partner.” Mati gestured to the Paladin Grand Cordon next to Duchess Claudia, who inclined his head to the applause.

“My daughter-in-law will oversee the project and ensure it meets everyone’s needs.” Mati smiled at Aless, who gasped, scarcely able to catch her breath.

Despite everything—or maybe even because of it—it was safe to say Mati had a fondness for his wife.

After another round of applause, Mati held out her hands. “Now, let’s all get ready for a wedding.”

“The library,” Aless whispered, her cheeks reddening. “Our library… and the second ceremony. All in one day. Veron, I…”

“I know.” He grinned. “Come on, let’s prepare.”

He was ready. Today, with all his heart, he would offer her everything he had and everything he was. And pray she’d say yes.

Aless gripped the ancient stone balustrade in the ruins behind Baraza Gate, where the Bloom curled around crumbling stone pillars and every bit of stone in the courtyard, a lovely weave of verdant vines and glittering red roses that only glowed brighter as the world darkened.

It would soon be dusk, and she’d be making the Offering to Veron.

They’d stopped a war, still had each other, and he didn’t hate her after she’d abandoned him. And Queen Zara had announced the library. Soon, there would be several libraries across Silen, open to all, unwinding this ignorant hatred book by book.

It was happening. It was all happening.

She took three deep breaths.

“Alessandra,” Papà’s voice came from the steps. “You should be happy. You finally got your wish.”

Did he mean the library or Veron? “Papà, this is the best day of my life.”

He stroked her cheek, his gaze soft. “Your mother’s wish came true, and she is gone. I wish you’d see the danger in this.”

She shook her head. “Mamma died doing what she loved. It was important to her, and she—and her purpose—are important to me, too. I want to keep that alive. Maybe I would’ve been useless in your world”—and when his mouth dropped open, she added, “Yes, I heard you say that to Mamma. But I’ve finally found it. My world. I helped sow a peace, and I will continue to do so. The library will be a beacon of knowledge, education, and hope.”

Papà heaved a sigh. “Alessandra, I have tried all your life to protect you. This—getting involved in something so risky, putting yourself out there and accessible to any lowlife…” He shook his head sadly. “You are still here, and your mother is gone. Leave the past in the past. You should just live safely.”

It was not in her to hide and live a safe life. Not while she still had two hands, and there were people who thirsted for knowledge but didn’t have the tools to acquire it. Mamma had tried to shine a light on the world, to fight the ignorance that begat fear, and that was a worthy cause, one she’d continue the fight for.

“Mamma is gone,” she whispered to him, “but she doesn’t have to be forgotten. We did that, by disregarding her wishes, her life’s work, everything that mattered to her. I understand that you mean well, but I choose a different path, Papà.”

Another heavy sigh left him, but he kissed her cheek. “Congratulations, daughter. I may not agree with you, but I know your mother would be proud. Both of your library and you.”

She couldn’t help but smile, and with a final nod, he descended the steps and headed to the front of the ruins.

Bianca crept up next to her with a beaming Gabriella. “Well, that was unexpected.”

She couldn’t help a laugh as Bianca looked her over.

“Are you sure this is the right dress?” Bianca asked.

Aless brushed her fingers over the rose-red tulle netting of her wedding gown from Bellanzole. It fit her perfectly, and the skirts flared out gently, a ten-foot train behind her.

Veron had asked her to wear this gown, this same gown, and she hadn’t brought another for the second ceremony, so she’d reluctantly agreed. Besides, when everyone in Bellanzole had seen it as shocking, he hadn’t—at all. It meant something different to him.

“I’m sure.”

“You look beautiful,” Gabriella said, sweeping a stray lock of her hair off her face. She and Danika had returned with Papà and Lorenzo safely, thank the Mother.

She took Gabriella’s hand. “Thank you. For taking the messages to Bellanzole. You did a very brave thing that saved lives.”

Gabriella blushed, then inclined her head. “It was my honor.”

Bianca’s eyes widened, and Aless spun to see Veron approaching, in his best leathers, astride Noc. She blinked, and suddenly she was in L’Abbazia Reale again, watching a dark-elf prince on a massive black horse trotting down the hall, decked out for battle, regal and intimidating, well built and hale like the heroes of old, hewn from Carrerra marble.

She blinked again, and Veron was the same man, but so much more. The man she loved, who loved her. The man who listened to her. The man who wanted to live her dreams with her. The only one she could ever imagine wanting to spend the rest of her life with.