Just that morning, he'd collided with an attendant in a castle hallway outside his mother's chambers. Cream-colored paper scattered on the stone floor. Never too proud, Evan had dropped to his knees to assist, only to discover his own seal on the unfamiliar documents.
Attendants in the castle respected him so little that the servant dared to protest when Evan broke the seal. And what could the young king do? Until he married or attained his 21st birthday, the law afforded the queen dowager as much power as it did him. He could throw the churl in the dungeon, but the gesture would be futile. His mother would laughingly order another disloyal attendant to release him, and the result would be a servant with a grudge and a public example of his political impotence. Face burning, Evan held his mother's creature away with an outstretched arm so that he could read the words attributed to him.
"A wedding?" Evan roared, so loudly that the Lady Anthes herself appeared in the hall. The king advanced on her. "Mother, when would I have found out about my own wedding? Who, pray tell, is the bride?"
His mother didn't have the grace to look frightened. She crossed her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow. "I've asked you repeatedly to select a bride from among the many suitable ladies I have suggested."
"There can't be a wedding without a bride!"
"My point exactly. As you can see, you have two months' time to choose one."
"Cancel the blasted event! I've not agreed to marry anyone!"
"State weddings can't simply be halted in such a scandalous fashion. Royalty from the world over are already making preparations to attend. They may even be en route to this kingdom. You will have to set aside personal preference and do what is best for the state."
Evan tore the paper in half, then in half again, and threw it at her feet.
"Childish," Lady Anthes murmured, gesturing for a servant to take the torn paper away.
Evan glared at her. "How could my sudden marriage be best for the state? Surely, the woman would need time herself to prepare?"
"Any woman you choose will jump at the chance to be your queen. I've explained to everyone that, for security reasons, you can't allow the woman to be known until she's come to live in the castle."
Evan stepped in close, pitching his voice so only his mother could hear him. "Why are you doing this to me?"
Lady Anthes' face softened. She reached up and stroked a lock of Evan's hair. "You will turn 21 in a few months, my son, and the law will no longer allow me to rule by your side. I worry for you."
Evan gaped. He'd been a fool to hope for the freedom his birthday promised. His mother's machinations would force him to live with a viper in his bed—one groomed, no doubt, to report to Lady Anthes and no other. The law forbade a common bride, who might be grateful enough at the elevation of marrying a king to refrain from betraying him. Among noble ladies, his mother's influence extended even to the farthest kingdoms. Speechless with rage, Evan tore away from her.
He turned the old king's signet ring around and around on his finger. His mother had been distant until his father's death. In five short years, her presence had grown to crush Evan utterly. He called for his hunting party.
The Six Swans is available from Smashwords, 1PlaceForRomance, and Amazon. All proceeds go to Kiva, which offers microloans to entrepreneurs worldwide.