Elia held her breath as Reth took first one step, then another, then another, stalking towards the man who stood, chin low, but body braced for impact.
When they were mere inches apart, Reth stopped. “Do you make a challenge for the throne, Lucan?” he said in a low purr that invited the man to say yes so he would have the opportunity to slaughter him.
But with the tiniest shift of his body, Reth suddenly seemed to loom over Lucan. “Make your choice, wolf,” he growled through his teeth. “Submission, or death?”
The shift was so subtle, Elia almost missed it. But something in Lucan changed. Though he didn’t break eye-contact his chin lowered slightly, and the tension went out of his body. Reth stepped in closer until they were almost chest to chest and he stared down at Lucan who seemed to shrink. Reluctantly.
But Elia knew she’d understood this correctly when the crowd began to murmur again, whispering their thoughts about the exchange. And Reth turned away from Lucan to address them. “I still do not hear a valid counter to my claim of mate, is there more?” He turned the circle, his hands open to invite comment.
The people shifted, looking at each other, whispering. But then one man stepped forward. He was long and lean, naked above his leather pants, and whip-strong. He moved with an odd grace that reminded Elia of a snake, or a fish in the water.
“Majesty,” he said loudly enough for the entire hearing to clear. “Regardless of her selection, the goal of the rite is to identify the strongest queen, the best to mother the royal line. She did not even fight. She does not possess the battle spirit needed of a leader.”
“Really, Seerus?” Reth gave a cold smile and Elia’s skin crawled. “She faced me down and refused my direct order to kill Lucine. Would you measure her heart weak? Unless you see me as an easily dominated opponent?” There was a collective gasp at that and Reth’s smile got even colder as he stared down at this man, Seerus. Reth sauntered up to him, his body loose with a lethal grace.
“Does your King,” he asked menacingly, “lack knowledge of battle, or the courage in it, that a Battle Queen is needed to pick up the slack?” A sense of barely contained power suddenly rolled off Reth in waves.
Seerus’ throat bobbed.