A Dance of Water and Air

A Dance of Water and Air

by Antonia Aquilante

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Overview

Edmund is heir to the throne of Thalassa and a wielder of Water magic. Devoted to his kingdom and his duty to it, Edmund can do nothing but acquiesce to an arranged marriage with the queen of a neighboring kingdom. The marriage and the child it is required to produce will seal an alliance between Thalassa and Aither that is vital to Thalassa’s safety, and far more important than Edmund’s personal misgivings.

Arden is the younger brother of Aither’s queen and a wielder of Air magic. Raised in the politics of the court to support his sister’s rule, he understands the alliance is important to Aither, even as he worries about his sister marrying someone she’s never met. When Edmund arrives in Aither to prepare for the wedding, Arden is tasked with helping him settle in at court. As they spend more time together, Edmund and Arden develop a close friendship, then stronger feelings, but with Edmund’s wedding approaching, they must hide their feelings, even from themselves.

When someone tries to assassinate the queen, Edmund is blamed, and Arden rescues him before he can be executed for a crime he didn’t commit. To prevent a war between their kingdoms and protect them from a dangerous enemy, Edmund and Arden will have to discover who wants to pit Aither and Thalassa against each other and mend relations between the two kingdoms as they evade those searching for them—all while finding a way to be together.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781949340914
Publisher: NineStar Press, LLC
Publication date: 10/01/2018
Series: Elemental Magicae , #1
Pages: 318
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.71(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

EDMUND SWAM, LONG limbs slicing through the clear, warm water. His mind quieted in the repetitive motion, in the weightlessness and the comfort of being surrounded by his Element. Everything washed away, leaving him calm and relaxed, the only time he ever was lately.

If only he could stay there.

He imagined it for a moment. Spending his life swimming and sailing. All his time in the soothing embrace of the water, or at the shore or bank, feeling Water's power, learning to use its magic. It was a lovely dream. A lovely, impossible dream. With that thought, tension — the tension his morning swim had briefly dispelled — came flooding back. He stopped swimming and flipped onto his back, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before letting it out in a long sigh.

The sigh had barely left him when he heard the scrape of a shoe against stone. He bit back another sigh and flipped over again to straighten and tread water in the center of the large pool. His secretary stood on the tiled terrace. Peregrine knew better than anyone that this time was Edmund's and wouldn't disturb him unless it was urgent. Disaster or grave injury were top of the list.

"Good morning."

"Good morning, Highness." Peregrine would never call him by name when someone else might hear, and Edmund would never try to convince him otherwise. Edmund was far too aware of the dictates of his own position. And far too grateful to have found a friend in Peregrine to quibble overly about how they had to behave in public. "I apologize for disturbing you, sir, but the king has called for you."

A summons from Father certainly counted as a valid reason to disturb him, especially with the rising tensions between Thalassa and their neighbor, Tycen. It seemed Edmund would be cutting his swim short this morning. He struck out for the terrace where Peregrine waited, swimming with steady but unhurried strokes. He wouldn't dawdle, but if there had been reason to rush, Peregrine would have said.

Soon enough, he reached the terrace and pulled himself up to sit on the edge. Peregrine handed him a towel. He wiped his face first and stood to strip off his soaking wet swim pants and dry the rest of him. Peregrine wouldn't care about Edmund's nudity, and he didn't worry that someone else would come upon them. The pool he chose for his swims wasn't the largest of the many on the palace grounds, but it was the most private. The terrace they stood on was the only one that connected to the palace, and it was shaded from view. The rest of the area was screened with trees and shrubbery. The smaller terraces on the side opposite them were even more secluded. He'd spent much time in the pool, which was fed by the same underground spring as the rest of the palace waterways, and on the terraces over the years.

Once Edmund was dry, Peregrine handed him the robe he'd left hanging over the back of a chair when he'd arrived. He'd also left a book there — he'd been far too optimistic about his time when he came down here, apparently. He thanked Peregrine and shrugged into the blue-green silk. It was new, something he hadn't really needed, but he liked the color against his brown skin and the feel of the smooth, cool silk.

"Any idea what my father needs?" Edmund stepped into his sandals and picked up his book from the table.

"None."

He raised his eyebrow at Peregrine in surprise. Edmund could always rely on Peregrine for more information than seemed possible about everyone from the maids to the king. He'd long since gotten over any misgivings about Peregrine's seeming omniscience and begun to rely on it. For Peregrine not to have an inkling of what was brewing ... Odd. And slightly disturbing.

"I guess we'll find out."

Not immediately, of course. A summons through official channels called for more formality. Edmund couldn't appear in the king's presence in nothing but a thin robe and sandals. Peregrine kept pace as Edmund walked to his rooms, informing him of other court news and gossip that he might find interesting or useful as they walked.

Edmund's rooms were a floor up from the garden pool. A guard stationed near the door jumped to open it for Edmund as he approached. He nodded but didn't slow as he sailed through the door, Peregrine at his heels. His sandals made soft tapping sounds on the green and white tile of the entryway. His sitting room opened up in front of him, curtains fluttering in the breeze blowing in off the ocean below. He had no time to relax there or even to eat the breakfast that was sure to be laid out in the dining room. Instead, he turned left, taking the short hallway leading to his bedchamber, dressing room, and bathing room.

He went directly to the bathing room. Wide windows let in sunlight over the large tub, empty because he usually bathed after breakfast. There was no time to fill it, let alone soak. He settled for rinsing the salt from his skin with water from the basin and briskly rubbed a towel over his shoulder-length hair. Having it drip all over his clothing while he met with Father just wouldn't do. When he'd squeezed as much of the water from it as he could, he left the towel and went to the dressing room.

Peregrine was there, laying out clothes.

"That isn't your job," Edmund said.

"I'm aware."

"I can select my own clothing."

"I'm aware of that as well. Put them on anyway."

Edmund laughed and did as he was told. Peregrine was only saving him time and knew what would be appropriate for him to wear, considering the meeting with Father and the day ahead. He pulled on undergarments and slim gray pants and dropped a sleeveless white shirt over his head. Peregrine held out a dark teal jacket for him, helping him shrug into the embroidered silk. Edmund murmured his thanks and fastened the jacket over his chest, fingers working quickly over the row of little silver buttons. When he was finished, he stepped into shoes and fastened the silver and aquamarine drop earrings Peregrine had just pulled from their box into his ears. It was the only jewelry Peregrine had chosen, and as he looked in the mirror, Edmund had to admit he was probably right in that. The clothing didn't need more.

"Thank you," Edmund said.

"My pleasure, Edmund."

"Perhaps I should have you dress me every day. You have an eye for it. Much better than anyone else. Do you think you'd prefer it to being my secretary?"

Peregrine sent a stern frown at Edmund. "Funny."

It was, for any number of reasons. Only one being that Peregrine was frighteningly efficient in his present position and far too good at it to do anything else. In fact, he was far too skilled to be anything except a royal secretary, and it was Edmund's good fortune to have him.

"Shall we?" Peregrine didn't mention that Edmund shouldn't keep Father waiting, but he didn't have to.

"Yes. Catch me up on any changes to my schedule as we walk."

Peregrine did so, barely consulting his notebook. Edmund listened carefully as they left his rooms and strode through the palace corridors. His own wing, reserved for the rooms of the royal children, was quiet as it was only occupied by him and Kerenza. His sister would still be abed — she preferred to rise late when she had the opportunity — and he had no appointments that might bring anyone to his office until later in the day. When they passed out of the wing, the entrance marked by a three-tiered fountain decorated in mosaics of blue and green tiles, the corridors became more populated. But everyone gave way for the prince and his secretary, bowing as Edmund passed them.

Father's office was near the council chambers and other administrative offices in the main block of the palace. He worked sometimes in the small private library attached to his rooms, but all his official meetings took place here. If Edmund had any doubt that today's summons was serious and formal, it would have been dispelled by the location of the meeting.

Peregrine knocked when they arrived, and a moment later, the door was opened by Father's secretary, who bowed and stepped aside. Edmund bowed slightly as soon as he entered the room, then walked closer to Father's desk. Peregrine remained back near the closed door. Father looked up from the papers he was examining to study Edmund with a keen eye. Edmund was sure Father was cataloging every detail of his appearance from his attire to his still damp hair.

Father was dressed formally, as Edmund would expect. His jacket was green, heavily embroidered in gold and white, the color vivid against his dark skin. The circlet of his rank sat on his head amid black curls now streaked with gray. Edmund had not worn his own circlet, deeming it unnecessary for the day he had planned; he hoped he wouldn't regret that decision. The set of Father's features caused Edmund's stomach to churn unpleasantly.

"You called for me, Father?"

"Yes. Come sit down. I need to speak with you." The seriousness of his tone did nothing to alleviate Edmund's sudden concern.

Edmund took the chair across from Father's desk, hoping he properly concealed his anxiety. He'd been trained all his life to mask every emotion, so he'd best be able to. He looked at Father and waited for him to speak.

"As you know, we've been pursuing an alliance with Aither," Father said.

And, of course, Edmund did know, though he hadn't been involved in the negotiations. Aither sat at their western border. Theirs was generally a friendly border to begin with, trade flowing freely between the two countries, but Father and his council had hoped that the looming threat of Tycen's aggression might worry Aither's young queen as much as it had them and would tempt her into an alliance. Edmund hadn't been informed about the state of the negotiations in some time. Had they gone horribly wrong?

"We've come to an agreement with Queen Hollis."

"You —" Edmund stopped. He'd been so sure Father was going to say just the opposite that he couldn't believe what he'd heard. "That's wonderful, Father. Did the final agreement go as you'd hoped?"

"We got what we needed from it."

"Good." And yet the relief Edmund should've been feeling didn't come. Father didn't look as if he'd just concluded a successful negotiation, didn't look as if he was pleased by the outcome. Or ... no, not as if he was displeased, but too serious. "Is something wrong?"

"Not at all. However, the promises of increased trade and mutual protection were not enough on their own to secure the alliance we needed."

Edmund wasn't surprised, though he hadn't been privy to the particulars of what Father wanted, aside from Aither standing with them should Tycen press their aggression. "What did they ask for?"

"Queen Hollis and her advisors required more assurance of our compliance, and truth be told, I wasn't upset to have more of theirs. They're Air wielders, so they're different from us, but Water and Air are compatible. Even if I would have preferred an alliance with no deeper entanglements."

"Father?" A rush of cold spread through Edmund's veins.

"You and Queen Hollis will wed with the expectation of a child being born within two years. The alliance will be secured by blood and all the stronger for it."

EDMUND WASN'T STUPID or naive; he knew the best way to seal an alliance such as this one was with a marriage and a child. But, somehow, he hadn't consciously thought about it. Perhaps he hadn't wanted to because if he'd thought about it, he'd have to accept that the marriage would be his.

"Are you all right?" Peregrine hovered for a moment before sitting beside Edmund on the couch.

"I'll have to be, won't I?" After Father had explained the terms and told Edmund to prepare to travel to Aither within the week, Edmund had silently returned to his rooms, Peregrine trailing behind him. "I have my duty."

"I hate that it has to come before your own well-being." The vehemence in Peregrine's voice kindled some warmth within Edmund, where there had only been numbness.

"I'm all there is. With Gareth ... gone, I'm all Father had to bargain with. Unless Queen Hollis put forth a different member of her family for Kerenza." Not that he wished an alliance marriage on Kerenza. Arranged marriages had been the norm in their family for generations — all the more reason that he should have prepared for this moment. Nevertheless, Kerenza was young yet, and he wouldn't push his responsibilities to Thalassa on her shoulders.

"I almost wonder why she didn't. Or why they didn't put forth Prince Arden for you," Peregrine mused. Edmund had asked Father why it would be her instead of Prince Arden — if Edmund married Aither's prince, he would be able to stay in Thalassa, at least — but apparently Aither insisted he wed their queen. Peregrine continued, "She's young, and while an alliance is in the cards for her, she can't know if the tides will change and something more important come along. Unless they're feeling the threat from Tycen as keenly as we are."

He hadn't thought about it, and while they and Aither weren't enemies by any means, Aither was insular enough that information wasn't widely disseminated from its court. Queen Hollis had been on the throne only six months, after the sudden death of her father. There had been rumors at the time that he'd been assassinated, but no one had been able to confirm them. "Perhaps they are. The whole thing is moot anyway. The papers have been signed. It's done."

"And still, I wish it didn't have to be you." Peregrine laid a hand on Edmund's arm, the weight of it warm and comforting. "At least you get some time there before the wedding. Perhaps you can get to know her."

"Come to love her beforehand?" He swallowed back a bitter, sad laugh. Peregrine was the only one who knew about Edmund's oddity. For a long time — as everyone else his age tittered over boys and girls, flirting and stealing kisses, and he had no interest in any of it — he'd thought he was strange and broken beyond repair. He'd faked what he could, avoided everything else. And then there had been Lior, first a tutor then a good friend, then much more. The attraction that followed his feelings for Lior had been stunning, and though the relationship couldn't last, Edmund carried with him fond memories and some relief. He could want someone; he could be as giddy and infatuated as anyone else.

Even if it hadn't happened since.

But now all he could do was dread a wedding night and the nights that followed as they tried to conceive an heir within the time required. Father's concern was the alliance, and for that he would settle for marrying his son to someone with an Air Affinity, as it was compatible with Water and brought about the desired outcome. Edmund had never told Father of his worries about himself, and it wouldn't matter if he had. Edmund's duty was to his king and country; he'd been raised to put that duty first, would do so as prince and later king. Only ... he wasn't sure he could manage this, knew he didn't want to. No wonder he hadn't acknowledged what was likely to happen.

Peregrine's hand tightened on his arm. "What will you do?"

"What can I do? I'll travel to Aither and meet my intended. The alliance is the important part. If Tycen strikes at us, we'll be stronger for it." The safety of his people was the important thing. "Who knows? Perhaps I will fall in love with her before the wedding."

Peregrine had to hear the lack of optimism in his words. "Whatever happens, I'll be there with you, my friend."

"Thank you."

"ARE YOU SURE about this? Are you absolutely sure it's the best way?"

"Yes. I've considered all the options. The council has too, if you trust them more than you do me."

Arden turned from the window at the snap in his sister's tone. "Hollis. You know I trust your judgment, and you know I support you as my sister and my queen. I just want to make certain this is what you really want. You're arranging a marriage for yourself with someone you've never met."

Hollis's voice lashed out, sharper than before. "What I really want? Of course it isn't. I don't want to marry a man I've never met and be required to have his child to secure an alliance. I don't want to have to constantly be on my guard, hoping that once I'm married to him and carrying his child, he won't try to undermine my rule. I don't want any of that, but it's what I have to do. For Aither."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "A Dance of Water and Air"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Antonia Aquilante.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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