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Crown of Blood and Ruin: Chapter 13

Night Prince

A great, suffocating unease took up space in the deepest part of my gut. It had been there all day, all last night, and it swelled until now I might retch.

Whatever it was, something did not settle right about this plan.

I kept my distance. Reluctantly.

I could not risk being recognized and putting Elise and the others in danger. Not unless it was necessary. In truth, I was not the only one who looked ready to split their skin in disquiet.

Halvar hadn’t blinked. Truly, I didn’t think he’d dropped his eyes once from the land surrounding the pleasure house since Casper had driven the women away. Next to him, Ari held the sides of his head, focusing. He grew paler with each passing moment as he fought to hide fae features from those inside the house.

“This is a good plan,” Tor said.

“Convincing yourself, or me?”

“It is a good plan, but it doesn’t mean things will go as we expect.” Tor paused, then stared at the grass. “Elise is as needed in this fight the same as you, Valen. I’ve believed it since Sol spoke with her. Fate brought her to us for a reason. We will all fight to keep her safe.”

“All of them safe. We fight to keep them all safe,” Halvar snapped, still without turning away.

“Hal, if you think for one moment anyone could get the upper hand with Kari, then she will make you pay for it when she returns.”

“A man can hope.” He almost grinned, almost broke his stare.

I looked back at Brant. His forehead wrinkled in a deep furrow.

“Brant? Anything?” His magic was strange. Perhaps it was his discomfort that added to my own.

Brant shook his head. “I can’t get a handle on this bleeding fury—mesmer—whatever they called it. I see shapes and shadows in my head, but nothing clear. It is more a warning, heavy on my chest. But I can’t say if it is worry for my sister, or if it is a true warning. Either way, Valen, I don’t want to wait much longer.”

Agreed. No need to convince me. If I did not see my queen’s face in mere moments, I would level the rickety walls of the pleasure house before another ewer of ale was poured.

“Dammit.” Halvar’s curse added a layer of cold to the air.

I reeled around in time to watch my friend unsheathe his seax, Tor and Ari at his shoulders. My gaze locked on a fiery glow against the black night. In the stables where the pleasure mates readied for the night, a cloud of black smoke rose through the sod roof.

“It’s the bleeding signal,” I said. Trouble. Something had gone wrong. Elise, Siv, or Kari were to signal us with fire if anything went off our plan.

Why did I stay so far away? I could’ve kept hidden, as promised, in a damn closet inside the house. Almost without control a wave of fury burned through my fingertips, rolling the soil and bedrock.

Shouts rose from the house, glass shattered, part of the roof tipped slightly.

“Don’t waste energy,” Tor said, scolding me. Never mind that his palms were already alight in blue pyre.

“Go.” I whistled toward the trees even though the fury blast would be enough to signal the others.

We sprinted toward the stables. From the corner of my eye, shadows moved. More of our folk joined the ranks.

But we weren’t alone.

Brothel guards and a few Ravens sprinkled the lawns. I took out one axe, catching the end of a spiked rod from a house guard. He grunted, slashed at my ribs. Sloppy. Lazy. Almost insulting.

I allowed the swing and as the strength of it pulled his body forward, I cut the curved edge of my battle axe through one half of his face.

There were few guards in the north. We’d chosen a shabby brothel for a reason. Fewer patrons. Fewer interruptions. But the Ravens did patrol here as if the ghosts of the dead wastes of Old Timoran might slip through the mountain pass. Those sods from Ravenspire spilled out of the shadows and held a good fight.

A large Raven met my eye. He rolled his sword in hand. I took out my second axe. Ready and willing.

But when the back of the stable burst open, he and I both turned as smoke and flame ignited the night in a wash of gold and red. The lawns were overtaken with a huddle of pleasure mates. At the head, two women—Siv and Kari—directed them to the trees.

Without a moment of hesitation, Halvar shouted at Kari, tossed her a sword, and gave her the means to fight. She didn’t pause, and took the battle I’d planned to take with the Raven in my place.

Where was Elise?

As if she sensed my scrutiny, Siv raced—pleasure mates at her back—to me.

“She’s in the house, Valen,” she said breathlessly. A few of the mates stared at me with wide eyes. I hardly noticed them; my head swam in shadows. A pull to slaughter anything that moved grew potent enough to taste. Until Siv touched my arm, drawing me back to reality. “Someone purchased her.”

My jaw pulsed. I jerked my head, voice low. “Take them away.”

She dipped her chin and shouted at the pleasure mates to take cover in the trees. Around me my people fought. Pyre engulfed Ravens from Tor. Stieg and Halvar used fury to keep the air breathing life into the flames. Mattis fought beside Brant. Kari shouted in the face of the Raven as he fell to her feet, bloody and battered.

My eyes locked on the house.

This ended now.

Another shudder of fury seeped into the soil when I took my first step toward the door. The fight outside faded, but inside furniture toppled. Women screamed. Men shoved through hallways, desperate to escape.

I didn’t stop. Some folk knocked into me as they ran. I shoved them aside. The house mistress whimpered by a writing desk; Stave and another of Crispin’s men held their blades at her throat. If they acknowledged me, I didn’t stop long enough to notice.

“My King.” Axel shouted from the center of the great hall, blood on his face, light in his gaze. “They took the queen to that room!”

He cut a kneeling patron’s throat as he spoke and pointed the bloody knifepoint at a sealed door.

The axes in my grip heated with fury. It took a mighty level of focus to keep my magic from splitting the soil beneath our feet, but if Elise’s face did not greet me behind that door, this hovel would sink in the ground.

If a patron had touched her, when my hands found him, he’d pray to the gods to end his life to stop the pain.

In truth, I should’ve done as Elise asked. Had a bit more faith in her ability to draw blood.

When I rammed the door open, axe raised, my eyes fell to the thick Raven sprawled on the floorboards first. His eyes stared lifelessly at the wall; his throat cut deep enough it nearly exposed his spine.

Blood soaked everything. The walls, the floor, the hems of the tattered quilts. That was where I found her. Elise sat in the middle of the bed, paler than she’d been an hour ago, blood in her hair, on her hands, her lips, an open wound on her leg.

My stomach turned.

Beside her on the bed were bloodied fingers. Bones and flesh mangled on the ends, still dripping onto the floorboards.

Much like her sister had done with their mother, for the first time I noticed she’d sliced the beringed fingers off the Raven, the silver bands a mark of his status as a guard remained in place.

Her blue eyes met mine. She lifted her chin, but a tremble lived in her voice. One only her husband might notice. Because only her husband knew how often brutality and compassion collided in her heart.

All she said was, “We’ve been betrayed, My King.”


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