“Do you understand the noise, now?” Alex extended his hand for hers. This time, she sheepishly gave it to him.
Nodding, she whispered, “I understand.”
Everyone in the crowd let out their breaths. The power of the chant had accepted her. For a whole day, she had toiled and finally, she possessed all the qualifications to become queen.
Alex signalled to her silently. He turned his back to the audience and walked back to his throne. But this time, he wasn’t alone. The audience saw her turn and walk along with him. They walked abreast. Danielle reached out her hand and grabbed his. Her mate looked at her, surprised that she took the initiative. There was that sheepish smile of hers again. Alex began to find that expression rather endearing. She looked like a thief, giving back what she had stolen.
They walked together holding hands as the orchestra started to play a faster-paced piece. Climbing the grand stairs, they reached the thrones. The one on the right was hers, she had learnt. With a swish of her dress and the jingle of her bells, she turned around. And as the world watched this momentous occasion, she seated herself on her throne, laying her hands on the beautifully engraved armrests.
Two guards held the velvet cushion on which sat the bejewelled crown and climbed the grand stairs from the left. From the right, Warlock Everett joined them. They stopped two steps before the platform. Taking the cue, all but the violins stopped and they continued to play in the background.
Alex was garbed in complete royal robes including a cloak which looked similar to the one that his mate wore. And on his head sat his crown, signalling that he was the undisputed monarch of the werewolves. He walked to the two guards and took the queen’s crown in his hands. Striding to the centre of the platform, he faced his queen and smiled. Everett’s staff twirled and his incantations began.
“I, Alexander Remington, take an oath to protect, cherish and love my mate. As king, I shall first and foremost remain loyal to my queen and will, to the best of my abilities, be a friend, partner, lover and mate for the rest of my existence.” He paused, looking at her jaw drop. His smile grew wider as he continued. “With this oath, I fulfil my goddess-ordained role and ask for her blessings for every step of the way.”
Everett finished his chant and Alex suddenly felt soothed. Stabilising his mood, he gently placed the crown on her head and adjusted it slightly. He took a step back and gazed at her.
She looked radiant.
He forced himself to sit down on his own throne while the guard hollered, “Stand and bow to the luna regina of the Werewolves! Her Royal Majesty the Queen, Danielle Ivy Ward!” The wolves obeyed and rose to their feet. It was a grand sight for the world to see. They watched as the crème de la crème of the werewolf world honoured her with a bow — the luna regina, the luna queen.
In that moment, both Alex and Danielle turned to the side, looking at each other. Her cheeks became a lovely shade of pink, as she was reminded of his oath. She quickly turned away, trying to look regal.
The only thought in his head was, “It fits. The crown, the woman... everything fits.”
“Sire, if I may, we need at least two of your guards with you. It’s for your own safety,” A man earnestly insisted. The king was going on with his daily activities which he had neglected for his mate. It was during noon that Alex took a walk around the borders as a human and walked with his betas and gammas.
“That’s enough, Richard,” Alex said curtly. “Now what’s going on with the Lost Star regiment?”
“But my king, if we walk on the grounds without—”
“Will you test my patience, beta?” Alex said in a deceptively soft tone. He continued strolling across the border as if he owned the land he stood on. Which he did.
Richard instantly bowed his head in submission, “No, alpha. Apologies.” Alex ignored him and walked on. The beta hurried to catch up. He hesitantly spoke up, “About the Lost Star regiment...” Alex gestured with his hand to go on.
“According to the captain’s report, out of the ninety members, only fifty-six returned alive from this mission. Out of this fifty-six, thirteen sustained light injuries while eight are heavily injured.” Richard recited. The men around inhaled sharply.
“Richard, you seem rather slow today,” The king glanced at him casually. The rest looked at Richard pityingly. They knew the mistake he had made. They also knew why Richard was off his game that day.
“I’m sorry, my king—”
“That’s one too many apologies out of you,” Alex snapped. “I don’t care what’s going on with you, but I need you to do your duty, beta!”
Poor Richard kept nodding until it seemed like his head might come off. He looked at his tablet and scrolled through, his brain in a mess, unable to make sense of anything. “Ian, you begin,” Alex said at last.
Ian didn’t even have his tablet on him. “Sire, the information that Captain Dyer received was of a sort of vampire coven in our territory which was interspersed with... wanderers.” Ian glanced at his king. Seeing no reaction, he continued. “Intelligence said that this coven had about thirty vampires and around fifteen or so werewolves.”
"About thirty? Around fifteen? What is this, child’s play?” Alex said in a normal tone. The fact that he was able to casually scold them without changing his expression brought goosebumps to the men. No matter how many decades they had worked with the king, they couldn’t adjust to his... frightening self-control.
If only they knew all the times he had lost control in the past couple of weeks.
“That was Captain Dyer’s first strike, Your Majesty. The intelligence network which Captain Darren had built so carefully has been ruined in his hands,” Ian continued cautiously. “That is his second strike. When the regiment left for the mission, he handed the low-ranked warriors low-quality equipment. That is his third strike, Your Majesty.”
“I’m sure there’s more,” Alex said with certainty.
“Yes, sire, there—” Alex lifted a hand.
“Ian, Richard, tell me one thing,” he said in a low tone, “First strikes, I can accept. Second strikes, I can barely tolerate. Since when did we start giving third chances?" He looked at them all. His face darkened. Richard and Ian knew there was going to be a show to watch that day.
“We don’t, sire, it was an oversight,” Richard admitted, owning up to his mistake.
Alex just looked at them for a full minute. “The goddess knows how many strikes you two have had,” he muttered irritably. “I need to meet this Captain Dyer. Where is he?”
This, Richard could do. He closed his eyes and quickly sensed the man. He seemed to be in the gym, hitting on she-wolves instead of being in the training room with his comrades.
“The gym, sire,” Richard said quietly.
Without any warning, Alex shot forward towards the gym with supernatural speed. The rest were used to it and followed at his heels. Seconds later, they arrived at the northern part of the pack’s territory. Every wolf was used to seeing the king in this part of the pack. After all, the palace was in the north of the centre.
As soon as he came, they gave way respectfully. Alex strode purposefully into the gym and asked, “Where is Jeremy Dyer?” He asked. People quickly recognised him and pointed towards the man in question.
Alex moved as quickly as his wolf and had the man by his throat and hanging in the air. He tilted his head curiously as if looking at a shiny new toy. “It’s interesting, really,” The king mused. “I wanted to see what a fool looks like and my beta recommended this man. He does have some distinct traits, can you all see it?”
He asked the entire gym the question. No one dared to laugh. No one dare do reply.
When Jeremy’s face started to turn purple, Alex let go. As we walked out, he told his beta, “Take him to the chambers.”
Despite the haze of losing oxygen, the king’s words managed to penetrate Jeremy’s mind. Once the message registered, he knew his little life was as good as gone.
“I don’t want to do what others are supposed to do. I don’t do altruism, neither do I do accommodation. Do I need to tell you that?” Alex questioned his betas and gammas harshly.
“No, alpha,” they muttered.
“What happened this afternoon, I don’t want that happening another time,” he warned. They nodded furiously. “Richard, you can go handle the interrogation.” Alex looked at him pointedly. “I hope you won’t let me down again, today. That would be twice in the same day.”
“I will, sire. It won’t happen again, sire.” Richard hurriedly assured him. Alex relaxed against the chair. The men knew that the dreaded part of the discussion had come.
“As for the others... you were rather mediocre when I need your best,” The king said slowly. “Richard will take seventy-five, Ian... will take twenty. The gammas will each take thirty.”
They let out a breath they were holding. It wasn’t so bad. It seemed manageable. Alex abruptly straightened in the chair and a second later, they realised why. They could feel and smell their queen. The doors were flung open and she walked in. The men tried to stay out of the way as much as possible but it was obviously impossible.
“You told me I could enter anytime, so here I am.” She grinned cheekily.
A smile grew on Alex’s face. He stretched his hand out and she walked around the desk, taking his hand. “Hello,” Danielle looked at them all curiously. “What were those numbers that Alex allotted?” She asked them.
The wolves were under the compulsion of obeying their queen, so immediately, before Alex could stop him, one of them replied, “Lashes, my queen.”
Danielle opened her mouth in shock. She turned to Alex who preferred to be anywhere but there. “You administer lashes to your trusted subordinates?”
“Love, we can have this conversation later,” Alex said quietly.
Danielle frowned, “But really, Alex—”
“Danielle,” Alex said sharply. “Let’s have this conversation later."
She was taken aback by the tone. She stared at him and he stared right back. The men wanted to quickly run out of the palace, but they had no such choice. They had to stand there and watch the recently mated couple quarrel.
Danielle broke away first. “Are you done?” She looked at the wolves. She looked back at Alex. “Are they done?”
Alex nodded. With a motion of his head, he basically told the wolves to get out. They had been fidgeting as if they had ants in their pants. The moment they got their order, they ran out as quickly as possible.
The doors closed behind them automatically. Danielle sat opposite to him. “Is it later, now?”
Alex sighed. “Danielle, you can’t just do that,” he said.
“Do what?” She looked bewildered. “I’m clueless, Alex, help me understand here. If this is about me barging in then—”
“No, absolutely not,” Alex replied swiftly. “I always want to see you. So I am more than pleased whenever you come in unannounced.”
“Then what...?” Danielle frowned and tilted her head.
“Don’t question me in front of the wolves,” Alex enunciated each word. “It is in bad form.”
“Are you saying that you are always right about the way you rule?” She demanded.
“I did not say that!” Alex said exasperatedly. “I’m saying that as monarchs of a nation, we shouldn’t easily let others know what we’re thinking. That’s bad for maintaining order and conducting diplomacy. So, it should also not be known if we both have any difference of opinion. We must always project a united front. Having a different opinion is okay, but just between us, we have to settle the issue. This is the first point.”
He continued to patiently explain. “The second issue is the matter of authority. When you, as queen, question my decisions as king in front of our subjects, you are undermining my authority. Our subjects then will ask, ‘If the queen herself doesn’t agree with the king’s decisions, what right does he have to expect that we will?’ That one line, Danielle, implies a lot of things.”
Danielle was stunned. She understood the crux of the matter quickly. “Oh, goddess. I never thought of it that way. Thank you,” she fingered his shirt’s collar, “for telling me. I don’t think you’ll see me saying such things again.”
Alex gave her a small smile, “I’m glad.”
Danielle looked at him critically. “You seem worn out. You don’t look it, but I can tell.”
He continued to smile simply. She was right and her presence was giving him a lot of comfort. He stood up from the chair and pulled her to the couch. Flopping on it, he gave her a tug and she tumbled on him. He pulled her close until their bodies were sticking to each other and gave her a chaste kiss on the lips.
“I don’t really know much about you, Dani,” he whispered to her. “Tell me something about you.”
Danielle scrunched up her nose, looking adorable. “What is there to tell?” She said with mild distaste. “I’m that horrid man’s daughter. I remember very little about my mother, but all that I remembered was happy. I am indifferent to his second mate, but she appears to have something against me.” She paused. Then her face brightened. “On the other hand, I like her children who don’t seem as paranoid as their mother. So there you are,” she finished.
Alex chuckled, hiding the sadness in his heart. He knew she wasn’t likely to reveal anything significant about herself, so he let it go. Time would change things. Or so, he hoped.
“Alex?” She called out.
“We’re going to be talking about those lashes, okay?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”