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Crown of Blood and Ruin: Chapter 32

Night Prince

Time became irrelevant. All that mattered was holding Elise in my arms, knowing she was alive.

Damn prophecies.

Runa and Calder put too much faith in a roll of parchment than they had the strength of Elise Ferus. The second queen stood, she lived, and through her the kingdom would rise stronger.

Because a second Kvinna trusted a mindless beast, Etta was healed.

True enough, I could’ve held her in my arms forever. But my strength had other plans. When my arms threatened to snap off, reluctantly, I let Elise’s body slide down mine. I trapped her face between my palms and kissed her once more.

“Hail the Night Prince.” A rough voice rang out, drawing us both to remember a great army stood stalwart at our backs. “Hail our Lady Elise.”

“Not king?” Elise whispered.

With battle silenced the truth of it sunk into my heart once more. I tugged on her hand. “I am not king.”

The warriors bent the knee, their fists pounded over their hearts as we approached. But there were those who remained standing.

Niklas and Junius. The Nightrender, Tova, and a few folk who stood close to them. I didn’t care if Alvers bowed here. I didn’t care if anyone bowed right now, my attention remained on the faces of my family.

Herja dropped her bow and ran to us; her arms encircled our necks.

“It is over,” she said, voice rife in emotion.

Sol approached. His face was coated in blood, but his smile was endless. He gripped my shoulder. I met his eye, hardly believing we’d made it.

“You are keen to listen to me, Elise,” Sol said. “You delivered my message, made certain this fool listened, and you made sure to be the last queen on this battlefield. I think you might be my favorite sister.”

Herja shoved his shoulder, laughing. Elise chuckled weakly when my brother wrapped her in his arms, a soft, thank you from his lips was enough to break the last of the tension in my chest. Over their heads, my mother and father waited.

I cleared my throat and laced my fingers with Elise. “I want you to meet . . . the king and queen of Etta.”

Elise’s eyes widened. Her hand pressed against her chest as if her heart might pound straight through. “Valen.” She pulled back. “How . . . I don’t . . . how is it possible?”

I pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “We have time for answers.”

My parents stood shoulder to shoulder. My father towered over my mother in almost a humorous way. We’d often teased my mother over her size, but what she lacked in height she’d many a time made up for in strength.

“Mother. Father.” I started slowly, pulling Elise to my side. “This is—”

Words dried up. Before I finished my mother pulled Elise into a tight embrace. “Born of Timoran, with a heart of Etta.”

Truth be told, I’d always seen my mother as Ettan. But side by side with Elise, her similar hair, her pearly complexion buried under the blood, she was utterly Timoran.

Lilianna Ferus cupped Elise’s cheeks. “The heirs of both lands will heal this kingdom. From the blood of House Eli, from the blood of House Ferus, Etta is restored.”

My chest tightened. Hadn’t my mother spoken of a prophecy at my birth? The heirs of both lands. Where I interpreted it as a battle between the heirs, it meant the unification of them. Both sides were needed to heal a broken land.

Elise choked on a sob. “I’ve spent turns reading of you, and now . . . you’re here. Both of you.”

“We look forward to many turns to know you now.” My mother embraced her again. “Thank you for loving him, for saving them all.”

The battle had ended, but the pain of it had only begun. We set to work traipsing through the dead, looking for loved ones, for faces we would not see again until we entered the great hall.

Elise clutched my hand, silent tears on her cheeks as we readied our lost for their pyres. Behind us Ari, Siv, and Mattis followed. We took the center of the field, Tor and Sol took one side, while Herja and Gunnar took another.

A cry of agony drew a gasp from Elise’s throat.

Ten paces away, Halvar kneeled with Kari, stroking her hair. My eyes closed. Brant lay still, already his sword on his chest, his arms crossed over the hilt.

“He knew,” Kari cried against Halvar’s chest. “He said those things because he knew.”

A premonition? It wrenched against my insides to think he knew he’d fall in this battle, and still he stepped forward without hesitation.

Elise wiped at her tears and went to them both. She hugged Kari and whispered in her ear.

“Valen.” Stieg trudged up the hillside, a blade in his hands, bloodied and weary. His face was despondent.

“Stieg,” I said in a long breath. I hadn’t seen him on the battlefield, but from what Ari explained he’d taken the rivers with Casper and— “Where is Casper?”

Stieg’s jaw pulsed and he handed me the blade. One I’d seen in Casper’s hands more than once. “He fought valiantly. Saved us in the rivers. Drowned half the bleeding Ravens before getting lost himself. He always said his damn fury grew too strong too fast.” Stieg chuckled but there was little humor in it. “Bleeding stupid fool.”

I lowered my head, holding his sword to my chest for a few breaths before stabbing the point in the damp soil. “Vi trӓffas vӓn.” Until we meet again.

When Elise returned to my side, we stayed until she could mark the ground in runes for glory in the Otherworld in Casper’s name.

We went on, helping place weapons on the chests of the fallen of Etta.

Elise paused at the mangled body of Jarl. She closed her eyes in a grimace when I tore my axe from his skull. Her face was unreadable. I touched the edge of her jaw, gently. “He will never touch you again.”

“I’m glad it was you,” she whispered. “Out of anyone you deserved to end him.”

Frey and Axel lived and helped gather wood for the pyres. A few paces away, Niklas and Junius stood close together, somber, heads lowered over a row of unmoving folk. The Nightrender and his guild stood beside them, not speaking. How thankless was I? They came to fight for us, and I left them to mourn their losses—losses for a kingdom not their own—without a word.

“Niklas. Junius.” I touched her shoulder.

Her eyes were wet with tears. “Have you lost many, Valen?”

I nodded. “Casper . . . Brant.”

Her face wrinkled and a silent tear trailed her face. She pointed to a man on the grass. Young in the face, but he’d died with a smile. Niklas hadn’t looked away. “His name was Söt. Like a younger brother to Niklas.”

I knew well enough no words took this kind of pain away. “He will be remembered always. Give us the names of all your fallen and they will be written here in honor.”

Niklas lifted his eyes to me at that and held out his arm. We clasped forearms with a firm nod of understanding to each other. They fought for us. Should they ever need us, we would fight for them.

I faced the Nightrender. At our short acquaintance on the battlefield, he’d been dark, soaked in shadows. Now he looked like an ordinary man. Bright eyes like a setting sun, dusty hair, no shadows. No magic.

“Did you lose any of your number?”

“No,” he said. “Only what the Falkyns lost. We mourn with them.”

“I’m sure you know what we were told about you.”

“I am. And I still do not give it much thought. Prophecies tend to put wicked targets on the backs of the innocent.”

It sounded a great deal like his words had an underlying meaning, but now wasn’t the time to ask. If ever. A man was entitled to his reasons and his secrets.

“I hope you will stay for a time. All of you. We wish to honor you here. I would not have survived without you, nor would Elise as I’m told. Please.”

The Nightrender glanced at his weary guild. “We shall vote on it and let you know.”

“I give my vote to stay,” Tova shouted. “I’m exhausted, and I saw more than one disgustingly fine room in that castle. I very much plan to sleep in one of those beds before I’m shoved into a tiny ship with you smelly men.”

For the first time—likely in his life—the Nightrender smiled. “Well, there you have it. Tova has spoken for us all.”

The funeral pyres filled the courtyards and forests around Ravenspire with thick smoke that burned until well after dawn. Some people remained for their fallen, honoring them into the Otherworld. Others remained to meet the dawn in silence.

It was a sight.

Kjell had his hand on Tor’s shoulder. I knew the feeling. To touch the one you thought was dead made it real and tangible.

The same reason, no doubt, that Tor’s hand had not left Sol’s.

Halvar and Kari were surrounded by three of his brothers, who’d been knights in the court before the raids. Dagar looked over what was left of his family with a gleam of pride and reverence. The absence was in Halvar’s mother and youngest brother.

Not everyone could survive, not everyone could be saved. It ached, fiercely, but we honored those of old, those who fell in the first battles for this kingdom.

“And I thought it was unsettling to learn you were alive,” Ari muttered at my side, adjusting a sword on his hip.

He’d be leaving soon for the township of Lyx alongside those with enough strength to hold a blade. There could be no time wasted in gathering the people of Timoran and embracing them in our courts or killing those who would not stand with us in this new kingdom.

Ari nodded at my parents across the smallest courtyard of Ravenspire. They spoke with Gunnar, Herja, and Elise, faces bright with grins and interest, as they learned more of the two newest members of their family.

I crossed my arms over my chest. “You were surprised? I thought we’d find a bleeding spell or curse. Not them.”

Ari clapped me on the back, and—like the bastard he was—laughed when I winced against the ache in my muscles.

“For what it is worth,” he said, “I thought you were a magnificent king while it lasted.”

“I am nothing compared to the king my father is.” I met his eye, my voice softened. “I intend to give him your name, Ari. You have served Etta more than anyone. You never lost faith in what it could be, and you began this fight. I hope, if he asks, you’ll consider serving in his court.”

Ari pinched his lips, hands on his hips. He cleared his throat. All hells, if emotions did not stop, I would be taunted by Sol for being soft until my last breath.

When his voice steadied, Ari nodded. “It would be an honor.”

He left before we did anything to embarrass ourselves further.

The Alvers found place around a large log table. With Stieg, Frey, Axel, with Niklas and Junius they sang their lost friends into the Otherworld. Even the Nightrender, a man who seemed burdened in shadows and secrets, drank, and held up a horn to honor those lives lost.

All of it struck me like a blow to the head. At long last, we’d found peace. Lasting peace.


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