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Court of Ice and Ash: Chapter 27

Night Prince

    shambles. Shanties burned, a full unit of ravens ravaged the shops, toppled carts, spilled blood.

The grass was no longer vibrant and green but rusted in puddles of blood and flesh and bodies. Darkness roared inside me. Fury in my blood scorched under my skin, desperate to break free. I could do nothing about the bindings on my wrists, but I could have a weapon.

Before we crossed over the border of town, I grabbed Mattis by the collar, and drew his face next to mine. “My axes. Now.”

Mattis didn’t fall into petulance. He nodded and sprinted to the stables where he kept my weapons locked away.

“Night Prince,” Halvar said at my side. “We fight for our people today.”

I rolled the sword in my hand. A newly lit fire erupted in my chest. These people were mine! These were the folk my father, my family, died defending in the raids. For the first time since my memories returned, the crushing sense of duty shifted, and the honor of the burden pierced through my heart.

This land chose my line, my blood. It chose me.

Fight Valen! You fight like you’ve never fought before! Fight like the gods! Sol’s voice empowered me.

“Legion.” Mattis returned and handed me both black axes. They gleamed, polished and unused.

I gave the carpenter the sword and wasted no time. We raced into the chaos.

Fury boiled in the ground. Roots, vines, and earth tangled around the ravens. Night Folk fought as they knew, but it wasn’t enough. The guards were too many. Soon the fae realized the more they paused to use fury, the more they died by the swift cut of a sword.

I came behind a guard and buried one axe in his spine. The woman he’d been after scrambled back to her feet. She sneered a little wickedly, took up the raven’s sword and thrust it into a nearby guard.

It didn’t take long before calls of notice were drawn to the Guild of Shade. Across the town square, Junius fought beside Stieg and Casper. Near the royal longhouse, Tor, masked and ruthless, fought with Ari and Frey.

My axes were a calm to me. Each blade tempered, while also taunting the dark lust for death I kept inside. With them I had control. I could kill and pull back with a clearer head. Maybe I created their power all in my mind, but did it matter? I was nimble and deadly with my axes restored.

Three guards rushed me. I cut deep into one thigh. As he fell, I opened another guard’s chest. I spun around and drew an axe blade on the back of the first raven’s throat. Two dead before the third skidded to a stop.

I gave him time to let out a breath, then I threw both axes, burying them deep in his middle.

By the time he hit the ground, I’d ripped out the blades and moved on to the next.

Two ravens rushed me. All my training with the knights of the courts served me well as the Blood Wraith, even if I hadn’t known who had taught me. Quick steps kept me out of reach. A guard swung his broadsword. I stepped backward, a whip of wind from the swing on my face. He reeled back, expecting me to parry, no doubt. I didn’t move. My intent was to gauge his skill. He didn’t impress, and his companion guard impressed me even less.

“Fane!” the raven who’d tried to take me down shouted, out of breath and bleeding from his lip. “Are you going to just stand there?”

The words snapped his companion into action. He lunged with a short blade, aiming at my heart.

Make them stumble, My Prince.

I grinned at the memory of Dagar. Halvar’s father taught me many steps. Precise, strategic, maneuvers with my body to upend an opponent’s footwork. The blade came from the front. I bowed my middle backward to avoid the strike.

He tried a downward blow. I ducked. When he staggered forward, I swung one axe up, slicing through his cheek. With a kick to his back, I shoved him aside. Let him bleed. Beneath my mask, a grin twisted over my mouth when the first raven picked up where the other left off.

This raven had surer marks. It took more thought. Bend, jab, parry, cut. Steel rang on steel as his sword met my axes.

Make them stumble. Even after centuries, Ravenspire had not taught their warriors to guard their feet. The guard made a strong strike. At the last moment, I dodged, then kicked out the back of his knees.

The raven stumbled. His shoulders heaved as he straightened off the ground. “Kill me with a warrior’s honor, Wraith. It is all I ask.”

I kicked his sword away. “Thieves of this land do not deserve the great hall of the gods.”

He did not have his blade, but I granted him a swift death. My mask was soaked with blood. The fight raged. I raced toward the royal longhouse, striking and dodging blows as I ran to aid Ari and Tor.

Then, the low rumble of a horn carried over the battle. Almost at once, the Ravenspire guards pulled back. They rushed for the boundary, leaving a stun over Ruskig. It took a few breaths before the folk cheered. They bellowed our victory.

My grip tightened on my axes. Something was off. Ravenspire didn’t pull back for no reason.

A scream, all too familiar, rang over the horn. Followed by a shrill cry that shot a hole through my chest.

All gods, no.

At the gates a huddle of ravens carried a thrashing Elise between them. She screamed and kicked. She snapped her teeth when one tried to cover her mouth.

“Elise!” I roared and darted for her.

“Legion!” By the hells, she fought, but when her eyes found me, they were bright with fear she tried to hide.

A few remaining guards stood in my way. I swung my axes, not killing most, more shoving them aside. The more I tried to reach her, the more bleeding bodies seemed to stand in my path.

“Elise!” Desperation pulsed through me, heavy as iron. They were taking her. They’d come for her, and I’d left her out there alone.

A raven pounced in front of me. He was dead at my next step, his blood on my face.

The guards had her halfway through the gates. I was at least a hundred paces from her. I wouldn’t make it. My body weakened, as if the whole world pressed down on my back. “Elise! You fight! I will come for you! I’ll come!”

She was gone. The moment the invaders fled through the gates, the fury wall of stone, thorns, and briars repaired itself.

I fell to my knees. Breath wouldn’t come. Soil broke between my fingers as I dug into the earth.

“Fight,” I said, haggard and broken. “Please fight.”

Time didn’t matter, so I had no idea how long I remained there before Tor’s grip pulled me upright. My body trembled in unmanaged rage when I looked at my friend. “I won’t let them take anyone else.”

“You will not feel the pain of losing your hjӓrta.”

I didn’t dispute it. I could not. Elise Lysander stole my heart when it was still cursed. I never took it back. I slammed both axes into the earth. Rage ripped through me like a second being lived inside of me.

“Ari!” I bellowed. Elise was gone, and not another moment would pass that did not involve me getting her back. The king was near his longhouse. Blood speckled his face, his body weary as he helped the wounded. “Ari!”

He faced me. The smugness he’d always had was gone. Now he was a beaten and broken man.

I didn’t care and held up my wrists in his face. “Release me! Do it now or I slit your throat.”

He scoffed, but there was no humor in it. “Legion, I cannot release you. I do not hold the key. Perhaps that is a good thing for now. You cannot run after her without a plan. Be logical.”

He turned away, but I gripped his tunic and forced him to face me. “You said you had the key. Find a way to release me, you bastard.”

A shadow passed over his features. “We are not straying from the plan, Legion Grey! We will go to Ravenspire, we will fight back, we will take their fury. We will do all we can to retrieve Elise. I assure you.”

“I don’t want your bleeding assurances. Give me my fury, and I will handle the rest.”

“Brother.” Halvar shoved his way through a few bystanders. He pressed a firm hand over my racing heart. He rarely addressed me like the knights once did, but I needed it now. I looked at him, fists clenched. He didn’t blink. “You know we have one chance. If we rush, she’ll die for certain.”

“You think they won’t kill her if we move slowly?”

“They want her, remember? You saw it in her sister’s face in Mellanstrad. I could sense it. They want Elise alive. For now.”

I turned away, dragging my fingers through my hair.

“Legion,” Ari said. “Help us tend to our dead, then we will make our retaliation.”

He didn’t command me, truth be told, Ari hardly sounded like the king he was playing. I looked at him, shoved my finger in his face. “You will follow my order. I will lead us there. I will be the one to stand against the false king.” I would knock him off my throne.

Part of me wondered if Ari sensed something had shifted in me. He didn’t argue. He dipped his chin. “I could not protect my people. If you can lead us there, if you can fight more than I can, then you lead. I want no more death.”

“You will rid me of these bindings.”

“If I do, if I retrieve the key,” he said, “will you tell me who you are, really? Someone betrayed us today. I need to know who I can trust.”

I leaned in close, so our heads nearly touched. “Release me, and I will be known soon enough.”

Ari nodded. “Legion, do not make the mistake that you are the only one who cares. Elise matters, but there are bigger things than any of us in this battle.”

He was right. This fight was greater than any one life. I knew it. Even Elise knew it. But only one life mattered more than the rest to me.

“We all care,” Frey added.

Doubtless an attempt to be soothing, instead it fueled my anger. I shouted my rage at the sky. For a moment the bindings on my wrist squeezed. They glowed. Hells, my fury nearly burst through them. Ari and Frey wore matching expressions of stun and intrigue.

“You might care with the best intentions, but I love her,” I shouted at them, finishing the rest over my shoulder as I walked away. “Go to Ravenspire for your reasons. I go for Elise Lysander.”

No one followed me. No one tried to soothe me again.

I stormed back to her shanty, locked the door. My back scraped over the wood as I slid to the ground.

To the eaves I made a silent vow. By the end of tomorrow, I would find Elise. I could not stand any longer than that.

By the end of tomorrow, I would be king.

The pyre rose high over shattered rooftops. We stood in a somber line as the dead burned to ash.

Children cried for lost mothers and fathers. Mothers and fathers cried for their littles. Ellis stood next to Halvar. His chin trembled as he watched the flames. Arabella had been found behind their shanty, likely one of the first to fall. Kari had her hands on the boy’s shoulders.

I went to him and lowered to my haunches.

He stared at me with glassy eyes. “Herr Grey,” he said, bravely. His voice shuddered.

From my boot I took out a narrow switchblade. The hilt was made of bone and had an arrow carved into the steel. “This knife has served me well. You fought well today. You protected the other children. Kari told me how, at Elise’s call, you helped with the small ones. Your mother would be proud.”

He blinked and a tear dropped on his cheek. I handed him the knife and began to stand.

Herr Grey,” he said softly. I returned to my crouch. “Kvinna Elise, she believed you were stronger than the false king. I heard her talking to Maj about trusting you, about believing in you. I trust you too.”

I choked on my words. All I could manage was, “You take care of that knife. It brings new responsibility.”

Later, the Guild of Shade packed the inside of Elise’s shanty. Being there allowed me to feel close to her. It took half the night to tend to the dead and ensure the borders were completely secure. Ulf was due to return with his scouting party, so we could make alternate plans on how to return to Ravenspire during the vows. Tomorrow was the highest moon, and it would be the last the false king would sit upon the throne.

A knock cut into my mad steps.

Junius hurried to the door, then stepped aside as Ari entered with Mattis and Siv.

Ari looked around the room. “I want a vow that you will not kill me when you have your fury restored. Try to understand why we blocked it to begin with.”

Tor glowered, but Casper let out a loud chuckle. “Ah, we like you kingling. We won’t kill you. But remember—we could.”

Siv came around and handed each of us wooden bowls. She had tear tracks on her cheeks when she met my eye. With a slight bow of her head, she handed me the bowl then shuttered the windows.

“Remind me again why we must be so secretive,” Ari said. “Don’t mistake me, I’m wholly intrigued, but also unsettled.”

“You have a traitor among you,” Halvar said. “It will be to our benefit if you are the only one who knows our fury is restored. Trust me, you’ll understand soon enough.”

“But what about Mattis, here?”

I looked at the carpenter. “We trust him.”

He ruffled at the praise and took Siv’s hand.

“Good,” Ari said. “Because he has the key to the bindings.”

“What?” Now I glared at Mattis.

He stepped forward sheepishly. “I was the angriest, so King Ari thought I would be the one who surely would never give in and unbind you.”

Mattis went to Casper first, a silver rune piece in his hand.

“Grab your bowls,” Ari said. “It is rather unpleasant having bindings removed and most people turn their guts inside out.”

“We’ve all endured bindings before,” I muttered, but did ready the bowl.

Casper and Stieg drew in sharp breaths and doubled over when Mattis removed their fetters. Stieg was the one to vomit first, but Casper was the loudest. Junie backed to the door with a look of disgust.

Tor and Halvar resisted the longest, but even they succumbed, clinging to their bowls. Mattis hesitated when he came to me.

“I trust you too,” he told me. “I will stand with you. Whatever fury you have.”

The way he spoke, I got the feeling he believed me to be a dark fae. Easy to suspect, I supposed, since I knew about the blight.

He ran the rune over the bindings. They clattered on the floor. Hot, white pain throbbed in my blood. Bile burned my throat. I groaned and leaned over my knees, breathing through my nose. I didn’t vomit as much as the others, but even kings struggled with bindings.

After a moment the rush eased, and I straightened. Tor grinned as he opened his palm, and a bright blue flame snaked around his fingers.

Ari let out a long breath. “Powerful fae. All of you. I’ve either made a wise choice or a deadly mistake.”

My body felt whole. My head clearer. I went to Siv first thing, wishing I could’ve done this with Elise. “I release you from your fury lock.”

She closed her eyes, her shoulders relaxed.

“Ah, that answers a few questions,” Ari said. “I assume, dear Elise was also tongue tied, then. Now I am even more curious, Legion Grey. Her little warnings about my games and threats. What kind of dangerous man are you? What is it you do? You assured me you would be known once fury was restored.”

I held Ari’s stare for a long moment. He had proven he could be trusted, but how would he react when he learned his rule as king was at an end? He’d given me leadership even without knowing. I had to trust he was loyal to Etta, no matter who ruled.

I went to the center of the room. “Stand back.”

The others pressed against the walls when I kneeled. Fury strengthened as my mind imagined what I wanted. I pressed my palm to the floor, careful to control the bend so the rest of the township wouldn’t take notice.

The shanty rattled. Ari and Mattis were the only ones who looked uneasy. Mattis even cursed when wood splintered and cracked.

Elise would need to forgive me for destroying her hovel. It was hardly an effort, but soon enough the wood split, and a deep fissure opened the soil and stone of the ground beneath the house.

I opened my eyes and stood, brushing the dust from my palms.

Ari and Mattis gawked at the crack in the ground. Then gaped at me.

“You’re . . . you’re a Bender,” Ari whispered.

“I am.”

“This is fun,” Halvar murmured to Tor.

“But the only one in a thousand years was . . .” Mattis tried, but he faded. He stared at Siv. She simply took his hand.

Ari lifted his gaze to me again. “What is your name? Your true name.”

No secrets. It was time. For Elise, for Etta, it was time.

“I have several,” I said evenly. “But most know me as Valen Ferus, the Night Prince.”


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