Your presence is requested…
King Críostóir looked from the parchment to his advisor and back again in stunned disbelief. He couldn’t believe what he was reading. It seemed that the council was enforcing the mate challenge rule. Since taking over as king, Críostóir had done everything his father’s advisors suggested in an effort to make the change of leadership smooth for his people. But, he was met with opposition at every turn. Not only were his people in a state of unrest, but it seemed his enemies thought this was the perfect opportunity to attack.
He might not want to be king, but he refused to be dethroned. He wouldn’t allow anyone to take his position or his crown. Críostóir would fight. He had already done everything he could to insure that his borders were strengthened by bonding the dragon leaders with the human leaders. They had been able to repel all invaders so far.
And yet, the council still wasn’t satisfied. If he had his way, Críostóir would remove each council member from their positions and send them packing. He was just as tired of their interference as his father had been. Unfortunately, they seemed to be a necessary evil.
The normal one month celebration period that most new kings enjoyed had been turned into a yearlong odyssey for Críostóir due to the fact that his older brother had been trained to be king and not him. The council wanted to give him time to learn the laws and grow used to wearing the crown. If all fared well, he would officially take the crown one year from when his father died. Until then, he was on a bizarre form of royal probation.
“Is this supposed to be a joke?”
“No, sire.” His advisor bowed his head respectfully. “This is the way things are done. Now that each territory is secure, you need to find a mate. It’s the only way...”
“The only way to…?” He stared at the man waiting for him to finish his thoughts.
“It’s the only way your people will continue to follow your command, sire. It’s the only way to secure your position. You need a mate and an heir. It will give the impression that you’ve settled down and that you are mature enough to take the position from your father.”
“I was chosen by my father to be his heir. This wasn’t my decision. I’ve given you a lot of leeway since you were my father’s advisor and he respected you but this”—Críostóir balled up the parchment paper and tossed it across the room—“isn’t happening. I will not choose a mate based on an archaic ritual.”
“Unfortunately, you cannot change this particular law, Your Majesty. It was created centuries ago when our kingdom was in a great period of unrest. Many have tried to change it, but it’s impossible.”
Críostóir scoffed at the idea he couldn’t change one lousy law. If there was a way to change it, he was going to be the one to do it. He was the king, after all. If he couldn’t change the laws, what good was he?
The law was archaic at best, outdated and overdue for a change. How could anyone be expected to find a mate based on a challenge? Men competing to become his lover, it was ridiculous. The strongest man could win and still be a horrible choice for him and his kingdom. Críostóir refused to be mated to someone he didn’t choose.
The advisor continued, “The summons have already been sent out, Your Majesty. Two men will arrive from each territory, one human and one dragon, within the next two days.”
“The council expects me to find a mate from these men?” Críostóir raised a brow. Would the council really accept someone of a lower station to serve the court by Críostóir’s side? “Anyone? Their status doesn’t matter? The council will accept the winner without question.”
“Yes, sire. Current social standings do not matter in a mate challenge. All the men will compete in various challenges. It’s not solely based on physical strength or mental aptitude. It’s a combination of many trials. There will be a point system and the winner will become your mate.”
Leaning back against his throne, Críostóir blew out an aggravated breath. It didn’t seem as though he had any options. He had to fulfill his father’s last wish and become king. His older brother wasn’t an option, and his father had known it for ages. Críostóir adored his brother and understood his father’s decision, accepted it.
He had always had a close relationship with his father. The former king was one of the only men that Críostóir confided in. If only his father were here now, Críostóir would ask for his advice and guidance. He wouldn’t let his father down, not now.
“What are the conditions of this mate challenge?” He wanted to know how much wiggle room he had to work with.
“According to the ancient law, one dragon and one human from each of the kingdom’s territories must be summoned to participate in the mate challenge. They are to be given tests to insure the strongest and the wisest is chosen to mate with the king.”
“And that is all the law says?”
“I will agree to the mate challenge on two conditions.”
“There will be one winner from each territory, human or dragon does not matter. That includes this territory.”
“You’ve sent out summons to the territories to the West, North, East, and South. You need to include the center of our kingdom.”
Surprisingly, the advisor grinned. “Yes, sir.”
“I want a warrior named Kurgan to be notified. He will be the dragon chosen from our kingdom to compete. I also want the council to understand that winning the challenge does not guarantee that I will choose the winner to be my mate. I will choose the best person for the position from those participating, both as my mate and my royal consort. Also, the winner needs to agree to be my mate without coercion from anyone. I will not mate with an unwilling man. I will not tie someone to me that doesn’t want to be my mate. I won’t doom us both to a lifetime of misery.”