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Crown of Blood and Ruin: Chapter 10

Night Prince

My friend,

Betrayal has placed my husband and sons in the hands of a man I once considered a dear friend. Such hate fills my blood. Such violence. I wish him the most painful death for what he has done to my family and our people. You once told me he is fated to strengthen the limbs of my family’s legacy, but I refuse to allow it.

I will cut him from the branches, then watch him bleed.

I need you. Your guidance. I’m not strong enough to face what you insist is to come. I will not face it. The suffering, the pain. Help me save them. Help me save us all.


For a week now, when the moon rose to its highest point, I’d wake to Elise standing at the window, studying the stars. Most nights, I gave her the peace, but no longer.

I vowed to be her companion, her friend, her lover. What a poor habit it would be to begin our life together by keeping burdens hidden inside.

Careful not to make any noise, I slipped out of the bed, and crossed the space between us.

She jumped when my arms curled around her waist, but in another breath, her head fell back against my bare chest.

“You are warm,” she whispered.

“There is a warmer bed behind us.” I kissed the slope of her neck.

“I can’t sleep.”

“I said nothing of sleep.” Her elbow met my ribs, drawing out a soft grunt and laugh. “What’s troubling you?”

“Herja. Ravenspire. There is a stillness, and I hate it. Like a calm before a storm, it feels as if we are simply waiting for my sister and Calder to make the move. I want to be steps ahead of them, but feel lengths behind.”

I spun her around to meet her gaze. My palms cupped her face. “We are not lengths behind. Calder has no move to make. My brother is no longer in their control—”

“Why?” she interrupted. “What happened to Sol? How is his mind restored?” She paused to look at me. “Why are you all alive? I don’t understand the purpose.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know.”

“I think it’s more. You didn’t see Leif’s eyes up close. He was angry they’d lost their manipulation over the Sun Prince, but he wouldn’t kill him. He wanted Sol alive more than me. They know something,” she insisted, “some reason, some fury—something—we do not know.”

“But we can’t dwell on what Ravenspire might know and what we don’t. We focus on what we do know. Because my brother has his mind, we know Herja is alive. We must assume Ravenspire isn’t aware of her, or at least they don’t realize we are.” I tucked a lock of stray hair behind her ear. “Elise, it is to our benefit if Sol cannot be controlled. Having him in Ravenspire gives him the chance to fight for us from the inside.”

“Unless they’re torturing him.” I closed my eyes, stiff and cold until her palms touched my chest. “I’m sorry, Valen. Words are just coming out.”

“It’s the truth. It is nothing I don’t think about myself.” True enough, I knew Sol was likely mistreated daily, and it added a heavy layer of urgency in the pit of my gut, weighing each step. “I share your frustration, Elise. But exhausting yourself with no sleep will not bring us closer to Herja or Sol.”

“We’ve been unable to learn anything of your sister.”

“We will. We keep looking, keep searching. Ari and Casper will be going to a dock brothel tomorrow.” The notion drew bile to the back of my throat. While half the Shade searched brothels, the others scouted Raven units. But as much as I hated to admit it, according to Kari and Brant, if a fierce female fighter were part of the Ravenspire guard, it would be known.

Unlike Ettans, Timorans had yet to realize their females could learn a blade as well as the men. To have a Ferus princess wielding a sword, at the least, there would be rumors.

In truth, enslaving Herja to the pleasures of Ravenspire was the sort of cruelty fitting for the bastards in the castle. And I could not think too long on it, or the dormant bloodlust simmered to the surface, and I feared I might slaughter anyone who stood half a step in my way.

I forced the thoughts to the back of my head. A furrow deepened over Elise’s brow, and it would stop if I had any say.

I pulled us away from the window. “Come with me.”

Past the bed, into the hall, I took us toward the door of the longhouse.

“Valen,” she whispered roughly. “Where are we going?”


Ruskig slept. Only the light of the moon and a few posts with lanterns lit the muddy roads and sod rooftops. The night was calm and warm. A few night patrols strode through the darkened shanties and walls, singing folk songs and staring at the stars.

Elise snickered, tightening her grip on my hand, when I led us into the trees. Thieves in the night in our own kingdom.

A back wall kept Ruskig from the view of the sea, but we had crevices and secret holes where we could send ships or trade to what few allies we had in the East and hoped to gain in the South.

Guards and archers tromped in a steady march atop the scaffolding overhead.

I held Elise against my chest, my back to the wall as a pair of our guards went by. She shuddered, and I took a bit of pleasure knowing she was laughing instead of locked in tension and worry.

“Hiding from your own guards.”

“The life of a royal,” I whispered against her ear. “You should know this more than anyone.”

“I’ve missed sneaking past guards.”

As the thud of boots faded above us, I turned us to the wall. “Go. Hurry.”

Elise’s white smile broke the syrupy night. She didn’t hesitate, didn’t question, and slipped through the narrow break in the wall until brine and damp filled our lungs. We ducked into the few aspen and spruce trees that led to the pebbled shores, and as soil transformed into sloped rocky water edges, Elise’s smile widened.

A moment later, moonlight cracked over the black glass of the narrow fjord. A gentle push and pull of ripples on the shore soothed fear. The chilly, clean air of the sea chased away battle. Out here was empty of carnage and blood. This was where peace lived.

Even if it only survived by moonlight.

Elise released my hand and stepped onto the white pebbles, passing fishing nets and traps, drawing her hands alongside the few longboats we had. At the edge of the water, she slipped off her shoes, gasping when the chill of the water touched her toes.

A smile curved in the corner of my lips. In the light of moon, her pale hair gleamed. She looked like part of the starlight. Through all the turns of living a cursed life, all of it, every moment, seemed wholly worthwhile to be here with her.

I hooked a finger behind the neck of my tunic, tugging it over my head as I joined her at the water’s edge.

She widened her eyes, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth, when I worked my belt, then sloughed off my boots and pants.

“I didn’t see all this coming,” Elise said, drawing her fingertips across the planes of my stomach. “Not that I’m complaining.”

I grinned a little viciously and stepped into the water. “Come with me.”

Elise hesitated. Her eyes following me as I sank into the water. Finally, she unlaced her chemise. Her body bared in the dimness. Beautiful. Perfect. She shivered when she treaded the shore until her skin was buried in the black water.

I pulled her against me, arms curled around her waist. She tangled her legs around mine.

“What are we doing out here?” She studied my lips with her fingers, adding seductive, gentle kisses to the point of my ear, my jaw, my shoulder.

“Those rooms, that refuge, is suffocating you,” I said gently. “When there is a problem I can’t solve, stepping away clears my head. Thought it might do the same for you.”

One hand stroked the slender curve of her back, the other on her thigh, higher and higher until Elise drew in a sharp, quivering breath. Her legs tightened around me. “I’m not so sure you brought me out here to clear my head at all.”

“True. I came to swim.” I released her, so she let out a shriek and sank to her chin. “I don’t know what you’re thinking.”

Her laughter muffled when I dove under the water, swimming away from her. It took only another breath before Elise followed. Numb in the cold, alone in the night, we did forget about war and death. This night belonged to us. Playing, trading kisses, teasing.

When I fell in love with Elise, these nights were what I imagined; they were the ideas I clung to. A land where we had the freedom to love each other completely and unapologetically.

Elise had her arms wrapped around my neck, clinging to my back, by the time I started to swim back to shore. The closer we came, the trickier her mouth grew. Slowly, her lips teased the edge of my ear. She nipped at my neck, her hands roving across my chest and middle under the water.

“Elise, I will drown if you keep doing that.” The wrong—or right—thing to say.

Elise put more passion behind her mouth. Her tongue and teeth teased my shoulder, her hand slid down my stomach, gripping my length in her fingers.

I let out a harsh breath and maneuvered so we were chest to chest as the gentle tug of the tide pushed us to the shore. When the sand and smooth stones hit my back, I pulled us most of the way out of the water, spread the crumpled pile of my clothes beneath me, and held Elise as she leveraged into a straddle over my hips.

I kissed her; my fingers twisted around her soaked hair. A sharp heat from her fingernails scraping my wet skin drew out a rough groan.

“I don’t want gentle, My King,” she said when I took a soft nip of her neck.

Gods, this woman.

I tugged on her hips. In a rough thrust, I joined us as one.

Elise clung to my neck, gasping over my shoulder as we rocked together, taking and giving. Free to unleash.

I gripped her jaw and drew her face into my line of sight so I could hold her gaze. Her fingers tangled in my hair as I answered her plea for passion, not gentility, and ground our hips together until no space was between us.

Elise tossed her head back. “Valen . . . more.”

I gripped her hips and rolled her onto her back. One hand beneath her head and the pebbled beach, I hooked one of her legs higher on my waist, filling her deeper, harder.

Elise bucked her hips. She took all of me. I thrust into her wet core in a frenzy, losing myself in my wife, my lover, my friend. Pleasure numbed my mind. All I could do was sink into a rough, primal instinct to feel, to please this woman who’d captured me, body and soul.

“All gods,” I said, voice dark and low as Elise’s whimpers turned to breathless, ragged gasps next to my ear.

Elise drew in a sharp breath, shuddered, and froze. Sound strangled in her throat. Her fingers dug into my hair, the bite of pain on my scalp was the final push to toss me over the edge.

My release was blinding, powerful, like the crash of the waves beyond the fjord. It set the whole of my body on fire.

I lifted my gaze to hers. The icy gold of her hair was sprawled across the dark beach. Moonlight revealed the pink flush to her face. Elise’s lips were parted, her fingertips gingerly touched my jaw, like she wanted to relearn everything about me.

I kissed her, nipping her bottom lip. Words for how much I loved her escaped me in the moment. I would burn every piece of this land for her. I’d slaughter anyone who brought her heart pain.

I once told her my heart beat for her, and I meant every word. My name breathing off her lips. Her eyes closing. Her touch heating my body.

All this beat for her.

It always would.

A sliver of pink sunlight crested in the distance. Elise nestled against my chest, head on my heart. My eyes closed, wholly at ease.



“I think I know how to find Herja.”

I lifted my head from the pebbles. “How?”

Elise’s jaw tightened. Ah, I had a feeling I wouldn’t like it. “You keep sending men to the brothels posing as patrons. But I don’t think that’s going to work. The pleasure mates won’t speak to patrons. They don’t trust them.”

True. “What do you suggest?”

She swallowed with effort. “I go instead.”


“Hear me out.” Elise sat up. I propped onto my elbows, fighting every impulse to instantly refuse whatever she was about to say. Elise hugged her knees to her chest, voice soft. “Send me, Kari, and Siv into the brothels as new mates. We’d be trusted faster and might be able to learn something.”

I shook my head but stopped when she placed a palm on my cheek.

“Valen, we are equals, right?”

“Yes, but—”

“Then why are you the one who takes all the risks while I keep our bed warm, tucked safely away in Ruskig?”

“I recall you leaping off a cliff after crossing into a unit of Ravens not long ago.”

She chuckled. “And did the risk pay off? I believe I came bearing messages from the Sun Prince.”

“I could’ve done without the leaping off a cliff part.”

“Me too.” Elise’s smile faded. “This would not require leaping off cliffsides, and I wouldn’t be alone.”

“Elise, you’re asking me to put my wife in a position where a patron could purchase her. Then what?”

She smiled a violent sort. “Have more faith in my ability to draw blood, my love.” Elise kissed me slowly. Hells, this was pure manipulation. She knew how to wreck any walls, any reservations with her wicked touch. “Admit it, Night Prince,” she whispered against my lips. “You see the brilliance in my plan.”

I hated to admit sneaking into brothels from the other side made a bit of sense. Doubtless the pleasure mates knew more about the inner workings of the wretched system than anyone. If Elise could learn of secret brothels, or rumors of anyone who could possibly be Herja, we would have a direction.

And as the sun broke through the night, I had to admit we did not have much of any direction. The longer we remained here, unmoving pieces in this game, the more of an advantage Ravenspire would have.

Still, I didn’t have to like it.

“We are there,” I said. “As patrons, in the trees, under the beds, I don’t bleeding care. If anyone puts a hand on any of you, they die.”

Her eyes brightened. “Agreed. But you must give us a chance to play the part. You cannot be cutting out eyes if a patron looks at me.”

“I refuse to promise such a thing and reserve the right to take at least one eye as a warning.”

She laughed and curled her arms around my neck, holding me close. “We’ll find her, Valen. I swear to you.”

I buried my face in her neck.

Yes, we’d find Herja. We’d rescue Sol.

I had to hold to the hope of reuniting with my brother and sister, of learning why we were kept alive, but I would not lose Elise in the process.

I would not.


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