Rukan’s silken hem whispered over an obsidian floor. It was late and she was restless.
The gown was a replica of one of her sister’s, but sewn for a woman grown. The woman Zheng never got to be. She was Rukan’s first thought every dawn and every time she glimpsed pink.
Tonight the moon lit the obsidian, making it shimmer ghostly white.
The long hall Rukan strolled was a gallery of sculptures carved from marble. She admired each beautiful maiden and every dashing warrior. She ran her fingers over their smooth shoulders and sturdy hands. She cupped the cheek of a classically handsome man wondering who he was and what he did to be rendered in stone.
Would she ever be portrayed in such a way? Would she ever make history? She brushed her thumb morosely over the man’s lush stone lips, knowing the disappointing answer.
Another pair of sleepless feet wandered over the stone floor behind her. Rukan turned to find the sullen features of Prince Holtan. His glower disappeared when he espied Rukan in her soft pink silk, her hand lingering on the Heissian sculpture’s neck.
“Has King Jared captured your attention, Lady Rukan?” the prince said. His voice rolled over the empty space.
“He is handsome, no?” She smiled. “One of your kings you say?”
“One of my ancestors,” Holtan offered genially.
Rukan admired the statue with a tilt of her head. “I see where you got your good looks, Highness.”
“I’m far too removed from King Jared for him to have influenced this,” he indicated his face. “It’s all my mother’s side.”
“She is a glorious woman.” Rukan moved over to the next statue. A warrior queen with her hair billowing behind her and a sword raised to the heavens. “I am humbled by Queen Venetia every time I see her.”
Rukan’s loose gown revealed a single pale shoulder. Elegantly disheveled. Holtan’s blue eyes danced over her frame. “I think the world is humbled by you, Lady Rukan.”
Rukan wandered to the next pair of statues. Two kissing lovers. Rukan envied them in their perpetual bliss. Her lips twisted wryly. “You speak only of my beauty and my skill on the dance floor.”
“And your intellect. Your graceful gait, goddess skin, and striking eyes are nothing compared to your wit.”
She snickered. “Mere trifles, clearly.”
“Hear me, sweet lady,” Holtan said. He rested his head on the woman statue’s shoulder. “You are radiant as the starry sky.” His eyes dropped to Rukan’s gown. “That is a lovely color on you.”
She smiled weakly. “It was my sister’s favorite color.”
Holtan did not know Zheng. Did not know Zheng’s tragedy. But respectfully, he did not ask. Only said, “You honor her by wearing it.”
“Thank you, Highness.” Rukan respected him all the more for not prying, and invited the prince to stay. “Tell me the story of your King Jared.”
Prince Holtan glowed. “Once upon a time, a young man became king against his will…”