Palace guards lined both sides of the Throne Room, standing at attention in their royal-blue tunics with gold center panels, each holding in his left hand a flagstaff from which hung silks in the same colors. At the front of the hall on the marble dais, the King's Elite Guard formed a double arc on each side of the thrones, with Can-nan, clad in the black jerkin he wore as Captain of the Guard, standing closest to the right side of the King's throne. The benches that had been placed in rows with a wide aisle between were filled with the opulently attired members of Hytanica's nobility. Late-afternoon sunlight filtered through the high windows of the northern wall, casting a glow over the front of the hall as if extending an invitation. Except for the occasional sound of someone shifting position or a bench scraping the stone floor, the room was silent, as everyone waited for the coronation ceremony to begin.
Steldor and I, along with the other members of the royal family, were likewise silent. Although the antechamber provided ample seating, excitement kept us on our feet. At the opening of one of the doors leading into the Throne Room, we shifted simultaneously to watch Lanek, the King's herald and personal secretary, step into our midst.
"The priest is ready to begin," he informed us.
My dark eyes briefly met Steldor's, but I saw none of the nervousness I was feeling reflected on his face. His composure surprised me until I realized that the stress of this ceremony was probably nothing compared to the pressures he would have coped with as a field commander leading troops in battle.
At the King's nod, Palace Guards swung the heavy double doors open, enabling my mother and father to stand side by side on the threshold. They would be preceded by heralds, one of whom bore the kingdom's standard, another a flag embroidered with the royal family's coat of arms.
My father was dressed in gold and shouldered the Sovereign's Robe of royal-blue velvet with an ermine collar. Upon his salt-and-pepper hair rested the Crown of the King, a diamond-embedded circlet of gold with four bejeweled crosses spaced evenly around its circumference. He carried the royal scepter in his left hand, on his right hand he wore the King's signet ring, and the royal sword rested in the scabbard on his left hip.
Atop my mother's honey-blond hair sat the Crown of the Queen, a golden band to match the King's, but with a single bejeweled cross at the front. From the shoulders of her gold brocade gown swept a royal-blue velvet cape.
The assembled nobility rose to their feet as the trumpets sounded and Lanek stepped forward to announce the King and Queen. Although his short, stocky build made him difficult to see in a crowd, his booming voice always ensured he was heard.
"All hail King Adrik and his Queen, the Lady Elissia!" My father's soft brown eyes met my mother's serious blue ones, and I saw him squeeze her hand affectionately before extending his arm to her for the processional. He then made his last entrance into the Throne Room as Hytanica's ruler, his wife at his side. The aged priest who stood in front of the dais in anticipation of administering the oath to the King's successor moved to the right to make way for their coming, and my father and mother mounted the steps to stand before their thrones, turning to face their subjects.
My sister, Princess Miranna, her blue eyes sparkling, entered next, clothed in a gown to match our mother's with a tiara of gold and pearls encircling her strawberry blond hair. She curtsied to the sovereign before likewise climbing the steps to stand in front of the farthest of three regal armchairs that had been placed to the left of the Queen.
I waited for my sister to take her position and then began the slow walk down the aisle. Despite my efforts to quiet them, my hands were shaking, for my heart was laden with dread at the thought of the power Steldor would soon wield as King. I was clothed in the dress I had worn for my wedding but a week ago on the tenth of May, although a crimson robe was now attached at the shoulders to sweep the floor in my wake. Like Miranna, I wore a tiara of gold and pearls upon my head, my dark brown hair drawn up off my shoulders.
As I approached the thrones, a smile flitted across my countenance at a sudden mental image of what London would have looked like had he been standing among the Elite Guards. My former bodyguard had not yet returned from his search for Narian in the mountains, but I knew if he had been present, he would not have worn the requisite uniform. The thought of him standing in his leather jerkin among this ostentatious company struck me as comical. Reaching the dais, I curtsied to my parents before stepping up to stand in front of the armchair immediately to the Queen's left.
The anticipation in the room heightened as I gazed at Steldor where he waited at the head of the aisle, magnificent in a black dress coat over a gold doublet that emphasized his muscular build and set off his dark hair and eyes. The scabbard that hung at his left hip was empty, but the dagger I had given him three months ago for his twenty-first birthday was sheathed on his right. A crimson cape, secured to the shoulders by gold clasps, pooled on the floor at his heels.
At the sounding of the trumpets, Steldor began the long march down the aisle, his boots beating a slow and steady cadence. He focused straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the gathered throng, his expression as fixed as those of the past kings in the portraits lining the walls to his left and right. Regardless of his demeanor, I knew from the tilt of his head that he was relishing this moment.
As Steldor drew closer to the thrones, the priest moved into the aisle, not speaking until my husband had halted ten paces from him.
"Lords and ladies of Hytanica," he said, raising the volume of his nasal, tremulous voice so that all might hear. "I present unto you Lord Steldor, son of the Baron Cannan and husband of the heir to the throne, Princess Alera, who comes before you to be crowned rightful King over all the lands and peoples of Hytanica. Are all you assembled here this day willing to recognize him as such?"
A resounding "Aye" echoed throughout the Throne Room.
"And are you, Lord Steldor, willing to take the King's Oath?"
"I am willing."
The priest surveyed the nobility and, when he was satisfied that everyone was listening, nodded to Steldor, who dropped to one knee.
"Will you solemnly promise to govern the peoples of the Kingdom of Hytanica with justice, mercy and wisdom?" the priest inquired.
"I solemnly promise so to do."
"Will you promise to enforce and maintain the laws of God?"
"I do so promise."
"Will you restore the things that are gone to decay, punish and reform what is amiss, and confirm what is in good order?"
"All this I promise so to do."
"Then arise and approach the throne."
Steldor stood as the priest yielded the aisle. After tendering one last bow to his King and Queen, he mounted the steps of the dais, and Cannan advanced to remove the crimson robe that marked his son as the successor to the throne. My mother thereupon took the Sovereign's Robe from the King's shoulders. She waited as Steldor turned to face the nobility and then draped it over his powerful frame. As my parents moved to stand next to the Captain of the Guard, Cannan tendered the crimson robe to my mother so that she could place it upon my father's back.
Steldor now cast his eyes over the nobility, poised to make his final pledge.
"The things that I have here promised, I will perform and keep, so help me God," he declared, his voice impassioned.
He held out a hand to me, and I moved to his side. After detaching the crimson robe from my gown, he passed it to my mother in exchange for the Queen's royal-blue cape. He then laid the raiment upon my shoulders, and for the first time we took our places upon the thrones.
The priest now came before us with a small vial of oil for the Anointing.
"So be thou anointed, blessed and consecrated King over the peoples of Hytanica," he intoned, dipping his fingers into the vial and making the mark of the cross on Steldor's hands and forehead. "May you govern and preserve us in wealth and peace, and may you rule wisely, justly and mercifully."
Turning to me, he again dipped his fingers in the oil.
"So be thou anointed Queen of Hytanica, to support and assist your King in the performance of his charge," he said, likewise placing the mark of the cross upon me.
After administering a blessing, the priest moved to the far right of the thrones to sit in the chair that had been provided for him.
My father would now relinquish his authority as King and invest it in his successor. He stepped forward, and Steldor rose to accept the accoutrements of the monarchy.
"Receive the Rod of Wisdom," my father said, pressing the royal scepter into Steldor's left hand. "Honor the faithful, provide for the weak, cherish the just and lead your people in the way wherein they should go."
The King then drew the royal sword. "Do not bear this sword in vain, but use it for the terror and punishment of evildoers, and for the protection and encouragement of those who do well."
Steldor accepted the sword, briefly holding it aloft before placing it in his scabbard.
Removing the royal ring, the King slid it onto the third finger of Steldor's right hand.
"Receive the Ring of Kingly Dignity so that all may recognize your sovereignty, and so that you may remember the oaths you have here taken this day."
The time for the final act had arrived, and I watched somewhat sadly as my father removed the crown from his ow...