Prince, 102

Monarchy Is the Worst System Under Which to Meet Your New In-Laws

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“So, you’re the little shit who married my sister, huh?” Franz asked, crossing his arms at Giacomo DiSheere.

Well, he was going by Giacomo DiGorre, now. But he hadn’t yet convinced Franz that he deserved to. He smiled at Franz, playing with a lock of his hair. “Is that what that ceremony was? I’m so used to priests telling me off that I just tuned her out, honestly.”

Dahlia slapped his arm. “Don’t be cute, Franz doesn’t like it when boys are cute.”

That was demonstrably untrue, of course, and Franz could say that in the privacy of his own thoughts since Frederick, Silas, Donny, Jacob and Noel were all too busy running the kingdom to be here and tease him. In his defence, it wasn’t his fault that all the boys in his life were adorable. Boey also wasn’t here, having lunch in the other room with Dahlia and Giacomo’s companions Andre and Alfie. But Franz didn’t think Giacomo was cute, because he was married to Franz’s sister and that wasn’t particularly acceptable.

“That’s just not true,” Gabrielle told Dahlia. “You should see his staff.”

Dahlia rolled her eyes. “I have. They’re adorable. But Giacomo shouldn’t be a pain in the ass.”

“I’ve had a husband for three days, which is more than long enough to know that they’re pains in the ass.”

“It doesn’t get any better, trust me,” Dahlia said with a sigh.

“Do you two really need the two of us here?” Giacomo asked.

“No,” said Gabrielle, Dahlia and Franz, all at the same time.

“Excellent, I’m going to…fine,” Giacomo said, when Dahlia pulled his arm and made him sit back down. “I’m here.” He smiled bashfully. “Sorry, I’m only this obnoxious when I’m nervous. My dad used to say it was a defence mechanism so I could control how people perceived me. It’s nice to see you again, my prince.”

“And you, my king,” Franz said, giving Giacomo half a smile. Franz hadn’t known Giacomo well before he’d left Hawk’s Roost, but he’d gotten taller, leaner in the face, and he had an unusual haircut, his head shaved all up the sides so all his hair was piling out from the top of his head. “But I still don’t approve of you marrying Dahlia. I didn’t even get to harass you before.”

“You can harass me now if it’ll make you feel better.”

“Good. You can come riding with me tomorrow and we’ll talk, and if I like what you have to say, you’ll come back alive.”

Dahlia rolled her eyes again. “Franz used up all his masculinity in that threat, don’t worry.”

It was true, but she didn’t have to out him like that. “I’ll have you know I’ve gotten much more masculine since coming to Dolovai.”

“Is that so? Your wedding dress was very nice.”

“Thank you,” Franz said, smiling. “It was, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, definitely somewhere between mine and Gabrielle’s. Not that it’s a competition. Listen, we can do the thing where we alternate between making fun of you and making fun of Giacomo, but I think we should also do the thing where we talk about the future of our family and our kingdoms,” Dahlia suggested.

Franz sighed, putting an elbow on the table. “I guess we could do that. Could we also intersperse it with making fun of you and Gabrielle?”

“No. We’re unimpeachable. Flora and Donny should come back to Hawk’s Roost with me. Francis and Maria too.”

“That’s not a good idea,” Gabrielle said, which saved Franz having to say it. “No offence, but there have been two coups and a civil war in your kingdom in the last six months.”

“The civil war was more civil than war,” Giacomo said, waving a hand. “There was barely any fighting and what there was was contained to four neighbourhoods in Hawk’s Roost.”

“And the only reason why it didn’t spread is because you changed sides,” Franz reminded him.

“Exactly.” Giacomo’s smile was a little sharper this time. “It didn’t spread.”

“Francis is the king of Kyaine,” Dahlia said to Franz, looking him in the eye. “I’m only his regent until he’s old enough. He cannot grow up in Three Hills, or nobody will accept his legitimacy no matter what I do. Franz, he cannot show up in fourteen years and try to claim the throne, or he will spend his entire life being seen as a ven Sancte puppet and I think you know that’s true.”

Franz sighed. He reached for a fork on the table, tapped it against the plate. “I do know that’s true,” he said, finally. “And I’ve been fighting with Gabrielle’s parents about this for months.”

“He has,” Gabrielle said. “It won’t just be perception. My father fully intends for Francis to be a Dolovin puppet. We’re working on that, and I want you to know that nobody in this room is suggesting we keep him here for any reason other than his own safety.”

“Hawk’s Roost is safe,” Dahlia insisted. “There’s no more dissent.”

“Is that because everyone is happy you’re there?” Gabrielle asked. “Or because you’ve kidnapped a child from every noble family in the kingdom?”

Giacomo made a bit of a face, but Dahlia was impassive. “Does it matter? It’s a temporary measure—taking hostages has always been how you ensure people don’t try to assassinate you. Most of them are happier there than they were at home, anyway. Nobody actually wants another civil war.”

There was always somebody who wanted another civil war. “I apologize, Giacomo,” Franz said, looking at Dahlia.

“For what?”

“Dahlia, I’m not sending Francis back to you until I know that your husband isn’t going to strangle him in his crib.”

That brought on the oppressive silence Franz had expected, and it wasn’t any easier to bear for being predictable. But Franz bore it, because this was important. He ignored Giacomo, looking at Dahlia. And he saw in her eyes that she understood why he was worried. “So I’m worried that your new family is going to colonize House DiGorre, and you’re worried that my new family is going to kill it. Remember when we used to do each other’s hair?”

Franz nodded. “Yeah, I do. I’m sorry.”

“I know. Me too.”

“Killing Francis is the stupidest possible thing I could do,” Giacomo said, not looking at anyone. “I’m not going to lie and pretend that my brother and I weren’t ambitious. And I’m not going to pretend that I married Dahlia by accident or that I never wanted to be king. Nobody here is stupid enough to believe any of that. But Franz, if Francis dies next week, that evacuates Dahlia’s status as queen regent. You’d be king of Kyaine.”

“Not anymore,” Gabrielle said quietly, watching him carefully. “Franz’s marriage agreement with my family was that he’d keep all his Kyainese claims and titles until the wedding, after which he’d surrender most of them. He surrendered his claim to the Kyainese throne when we got married. His biggest asset besides my hand is a small tin mine out of the city. There’s also a beautiful orchard, but it wouldn’t feed his own guards, let alone a conquering army.”

“If Francis dies, Dahlia becomes queen officially,” Franz agreed. “Which you know full well.”

“I also know full well that your supporters don’t care about legal semantics,” Giacomo said. “If you declared yourself king, especially if I’d just murdered your nephew, nobody in their right mind would contest it.”

“Yes, they would, because I’m also going to be the king of Dolovai in twenty or thirty years,” Franz reminded him. He also wasn’t going to start a civil war against his sister, and he was sure Giacomo and Dahlia both knew that. “Those are legal semantics that people absolutely care about or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That also means there’s nothing I can do if Francis comes of age and you two decide not to step aside for him.”

“I was thinking about that,” Dahlia said. “Nobody should be a monarch at my age, at the age Francis will be when he’s old enough. And the thing you’re not quite saying is right. I’m not really going to be regent for all that time, I’m going to be the queen. I think the best way to dispel fears that we’ll do something to Francis to stay in power is to flip the legal precedent and just name him my heir.”

Another silence clouded the room at that. Franz looked at Gabrielle, who was pretending to be impassive so nobody could tell how surprised she was. Giacomo nodded once. “Dahlia would release a formal edict declaring that and making clear that even if she and I have children, Francis would still be the next king.”

“This is technically another coup,” Gabrielle said.

“A baby can’t be king, no matter what the law says, which I’d expect you to understand, since Dolovin law forbids it. And a fourteen-year-old boy shouldn’t be king, no matter what the law says. He’d still be ruled by his regents and councils, all of which I’ll have picked anyway. This is the kind of thing that stops succession disputes and you both know that.”

“It’s a good idea,” Franz was forced to admit. He didn’t like having to admit it, but it was. It seemed like it should feel like a betrayal, but it didn’t. “I can’t picture anyone having a serious objection to it. I’m just worried.” Naming him Dahlia’s heir legitimized Dahlia as queen, which meant that if something did happen to Francis, Giacomo’s children would take his place.

“Franz,” Dahlia said, reaching over the table and putting her hand on his. “Nothing is going to happen to Francis. He’s my nephew too. He’s all we have left of Felix. I know everyone looked at the display with Geoffrey after the coronation and thinks Giacomo is capable of anything, and I’m not going to pretend he’s harmless. But he’s not going to kill a baby.”

Franz looked at her, looked at her really carefully. “You look like Mom, you know that?”

Dahlia smiled. “So do you. I trust Giacomo. He’s not perfect. But he’s also not stupid. If nothing else, he knows that if anything happened to Francis, I’d kill him myself.”

“I murdered the people who had my father killed,” Giacomo said quietly. “I destroyed my entire reputation so Dahlia wouldn’t have to execute my brother for treason. I understand protecting your family. I am not going to hurt your family. You didn’t get a chance to witness my marriage vows, but you can witness this one. I swear my loyalty and my life to House DiGorre. I swear to protect it, to make sure it grows and prospers, and that Kyaine is safe under its rule. I swear on my former house’s name that I won’t cause any harm to any member of House DiGorre, ever.”

He sounded so sincere, he really did. Geoffrey had been so obviously afraid of his own brother. But at least he was alive. The war had ended quickly and with minimal casualities.

Francis couldn’t grow up in Three Hills.

He leaned back, feeling tired. “I need to be the one to talk to Maria. And we’re not doing anything until Hans is out of Hawk’s Roost for good.” That was a whole different conversation. “Gerard and Georgina are going to try and talk you into arranging a marriage between Francis and mine and Gabrielle’s first child.”

“Makes political sense,” Dahlia said, not seeming impressed.

“They’re worried about the encroaching power of the Empire,” said Gabrielle. “It’s going to end up being the thing that we both get to deal with for the rest of our lives.”

“No kidding.”

“The Sorcerer King has a baby sister.” Giacomo’s voice was quiet. “We have to at least consider that as an option instead.”

“As if you’d give away your firstborn to a psychopath,” Franz reminded Giacomo.

Giacomo shrugged. “He’s not as bad as they say. He’s married to my cousin but it’s not like I’m friends with him; I haven’t exactly raised the question. It’s just something that might unite our monarchies with the most powerful dissident force on the continent. If there’s going to be an Imperial invasion from the west, not having a psychopath at our back in the east would be helpful, is all.”

“Yeah, that’s a good point.” A good enough point to make Gerard back off from drawing new branches onto his family tree. Maybe. “I’ll talk to Maria about Francis. Flora’s old enough to decide what she wants to do for herself. I think it’s best if we keep her and Donny together at least until Donny is a little older. He doesn’t understand any of what’s happened.”

“Yeah, well…” Dahlia sighed too, just like Franz had. “That runs in the bloody family, doesn’t it?”


“When are you guys going to have kids?”

“As soon as we can get Franz pregnant,” Gabrielle said, patting Franz’s back as if she were joking.

Dahlia snorted. “I keep telling Giacomo he should be the one to do it, and as soon as I said it, suddenly he didn’t think we’d ever have kids.”

“Men are cowards,” Gabrielle agreed.

“Tell me about it.”

“You don’t have to literally tell her about it,” Franz advised. Gabrielle, of course, did not listen, but that was good. The rest of the lunch was good after that, and by the time they were done and on their way to go riding with Flora and Donny, the shadow they’d cast over everything had almost started to fade. Almost.

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