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Crown of Blood and Ruin: Chapter 33

Rogue Princess

At the noon sun, I staggered into the halls of Ravenspire. My eyes grew heavy from fatigue, my insides churned for food, but I could not find the energy to even imagine chewing.

The funeral pyres had faded, and the knights of King Arvad’s court had gone with a few folk to Lyx and other townships across the kingdom.

More of my cousins were hidden away in their fine villas and manors. King Zyben’s consorts lived among them. I’d not seen them in turns, not even when Calder rose to his short-lived power.

Calder’s mother had little love for my dead uncle. As a girl, I’d had no qualms with the third consort of Zyben. But what would become of her, the mother of the false king? Did what was left of Zyben’s line even know what happened here?

I had few doubts the Lysander households would be the first to be visited and informed they were no longer the royal bloodline of this land.

Some were good; they didn’t provoke violence like Zyben or Calder. I hoped they’d join us here, hoped they’d find a new, healthier, more vibrant land for their families.

But it would be their choice.

Word would be spread of the fall of New Timoran. It would be known that Etta rose again, and Night Folk were free in this land. Ettans were equal with Timorans. Our people would be united the way Lilianna and Arvad had yearned for all those turns ago.

Those who refused, well, I would leave it to the king and queen to decide their fates.

I covered a yawn with the back of my hand. Somewhere in the commotion and stun I’d lost Valen. Try as I might, I wasn’t sure I could keep upright much longer and abandoned celebrations to find a place to wash and sleep.

“Elise.” Herja quickened her step to catch up to me. She’d cleaned herself and wore a long fur cloak. Her eyes were bright, her hair long down her back. “Where are you going?”

“To the rivers to wash.” I gestured at my bloody clothes. No doubt my face was terrifying with the gore still splattered across it. “Where are you going?”

“Back to Ruskig for Laila and the other young ones. I’ll be with Tor and Sol and some of the Alver Folk. I’d hoped the Nightrender might join us, but he seems hells-bent on avoiding me. I think he knows Hagen, Elise.”

I shared her suspicions, but I’d learned a few things about our sly friend the Nightrender; he would not give up answers easily. I took hold of her hand. “Now that the fighting is over, we’ll search for him, Herja. It will be safe for him here. You can be a family now.”

Her chin trembled through a smile. “I’ll hold to that hope. By the way, don’t bathe in the rivers. You and Valen shall be in his old chambers. Did you not realize Castle Ravenspire is once again ours?”

She directed me toward the right corridors, and I discovered Valen Ferus once occupied the same rooms as a few of my younger cousins before they were fully grown.

“Thank you.” I embraced her before she left. “If you see your younger brother, tell him his wife is looking for him. No, tell him she is hunting him.”

Herja dipped her chin, snickering. “I am surprised you managed to escape his sights at all.”

I smiled and waved as she joined Gunnar, her brother, Tor, and Junius at the front gates of the castle.

The quiet was welcome when I pushed through the door. A library, a study, a washing room, and a round bed chamber made up the space. Comfortable, warm with its own stove and open flame in the study.

Only when the door clicked at my back did I let my shoulders slump. The one thing missing from the comfort would be a delightfully handsome fae prince.

I wanted to tangle myself in his arms more than I wanted sleep. The craving for Valen Ferus without the looming burden of war was that potent. My steps grew heavier as I forced myself toward the washroom.

But when the door swung open, my body shocked itself awake.

Valen glanced over his shoulder, bare-chested, washing away the blood from his skin. “Ah, I wondered if you’d find your way here eventually.”

“Eventually?” I narrowed my eyes. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“I’ve been looking for you.”

I snorted. “Is this our meeting point then, a washroom?”

“Our washroom, yes.” He moved toward me. I tried not to look at the welts and open wounds across his body. I didn’t want to think of how close we both might’ve come to the Otherworld. Not tonight. Perhaps not ever. His arms encircled my waist. “Because, my love, in the washroom it usually means clothing is minimal, and at the moment that sounds perfect.”

I sank against him, my arms going around his neck. I kissed him as he peeled the rancid tunic over my head, as he gently washed around the wounds across my skin, leaving kisses there. I washed flecks of blood from the points of his ears, his hair, beneath his fingernails. He slid the trousers off my lower half.

“These will be burned,” he said, laughing as I unbuckled the thick leather belt from his waist.

Together we slumped into the large basin with heated stones at the bottom. The warmth of the water chased the pain of battle from my limbs. My husband’s tender touch chased the fear of losing him from my heart.

We lasted only until the last of the gore was wiped from our bodies.

With a heated gleam in his eyes, Valen scooped me up and took me to the bed chamber. He pulled me into his arms and never looked away from my gaze as our bodies tangled together.

He leveraged over me, waiting as I parted my legs. The way he looked at my body was as a man who’d found something precious, something to worship.

His mouth covered the soft curve of my neck. Valen’s fingertips trailed over the scrapes and gashes across my body. He took great care to kiss the bruises across my breasts, sucking and licking the pain away until I could hardly recall my name.

Then, all at once he pulled away from me.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I said in a gasp.

“Patience, my love.”

I thought I might kill him after all until his tongue ran over my breastbone. I had nothing to say; I froze and let the king do with me whatever he pleased.

“I am a piss poor king,” he said, voice rough as he left a line of kisses down my belly.

I adored this new plan of his, this new direction he was taking with his mouth.

“Wh-Why?” I arched my spine, desperate to feel his mouth in the drenched center of my thighs.

He paused, then grinned with a touch of darkness when his gaze locked with mine. “I fought a battle not for a kingdom. I doubt I ever will. I fought for you, Elise. I would destroy everything to see you safe and breathing. I suppose that makes me rather selfish, perhaps wicked, but no less the truth. For you, I would destroy the world.”

I laughed and let my head fall back onto the furs as he hooked my legs over his shoulders and proved his words with that wicked tongue.

When the rush of release took me, when I screamed his name for all of our armies to hear, I rolled him beneath me, and straddled his waist. He aligned his length to my center, and cursed when I slid over the thick shaft. Valen would destroy the world, but I had mighty plans to destroy him in the best ways.

My name on his lips was soft as he pulled my mouth against his. He gripped my hips and met my movements with desperate thrusts until I let out a sob of pleasure, of relief he was in my arms with his hands on my skin.

Valen held me close as he shuddered, whispering promises of a beautiful life in my ear as the heat between us broke, and released all the fears we’d taken to the battlefield in one moment of bliss.

Once we caught our breaths, Valen pulled me against him and pressed a kiss to my forehead.

We were exhausted, energized, broken, and whole.

I could not remember a time when his touch, his kiss, his body had loved as deeply as this moment.

Valen slept soundly at my side. I rubbed my thumb over the furrow of worry between his brows, then slowly unraveled myself from his arm slung across my waist.

The wardrobes were filled with gowns and tunics and cloaks, no doubt for Calder’s consorts. I hurried and dressed in a woolen dress a size too big, tying the waist with an intricate scarf stitched in silver thread. Washed, sated, and warm, I could not ignore the sinking hunger any longer. No doubt when Valen woke, he’d be ravenous too.

I knew the halls of the castle, yet still felt like a stranger here.

It would take some adjustment.

On the way to the kitchens, I passed a few Ettans dressed like serfs. They laughed and stood blithely against the walls. Some drank ale straight from curved horns.

At the sight of me, most stiffened as if I might demand they take up their old chores, but when I tilted my head in a simple greeting, they returned it.

One woman came to my side and said, “We will always be indebted to you, Lady Elise.”

“No.” A knot formed in my throat. “It was a fight won by many.”

Her eyes darkened. “This might be strange, but it does not escape me that you lost all your blood family in this war. Your heart must ache.”

I smiled. “I did not lose my family. I gained one.”

The halls connected to the kitchen were dim, only a few tallow candles perched on sconces. I softened my steps through the door, careful not to wake anyone who might be sleeping nearby, and slipped into the heated kitchen.

“Could not sleep either?”

I jolted back, my spine slammed against the door. “Oh, you startled me.”

Lilianna sat at one of the chopping blocks, sipping a steaming drink from a clay cup. “Apologies. I had to get up and move about. Sleeping for centuries, I’m afraid, has caused me to be quite restless.” She signaled to a wooden stool beside her. “Join me? Do you have a taste for cloves in your tea?”

“I was raised with it.”

A true Timoran drink. Sharp spices and tastes always found their way into a kettle.

Lilianna poured a cup for me and patted the stool top. How was it after all the countless words I’d read of this woman, that I now could sit and speak with her face to face? In some ways I felt as if I’d known her most of my life, in others she was a stranger to me.

“Elise.” Lilianna said my name as if she were taking a bite and rolling it over in her mouth. “I am told your namesake is Eli.”’

My cheeks heated. “Yes. He is my great-grandfather.”

Where I thought she might look at me with a touch of disdain, Lilianna smiled over the rim of her cup. “It is such a relief to know something lovely came from him.” She set her cup down, staring at the tea inside. “I see it in your eyes, but you should not be ashamed of your namesake. Eli was lost, jealous, and greedy. But he once was kind, brave, funny even. He once was a good friend. You have taken from those good parts of the man who lost his way. You have saved my family.”

I shook my head. “No. Valen and Sol and Herja, they are the ones who have been resilient.”

She grinned. Lilianna had a youthful face, with only a few lines near her eyes hinted she often smiled and laughed. Her hair was long like mine with more fire than ice, but we shared similarly blue eyes.

“When Valen was born, I met my dear friend Greta. She sailed all the way from the Western Kingdoms to deliver a gift to us. At first, I did not think it so much a gift as a curse. She spoke of suffering, warned us that Etta would not remain free. When Eli infiltrated our courts and our own folk turned against us, her warnings would not leave me.

“We fought, do not mistake me. We fought to keep the raiders away. We lost so many, but when Arvad and my sons were captured, I could not deny her predictions any longer. My family would suffer until the blood of the heirs healed the divide of lands. The heirs of both lands.”

Lilianna snorted a laugh into her cup. “Not the sort of thing I wished to hear at the time, of course. Anything to do with Eli’s heirs made me rather violent.”

I scoffed and stared at my hands. Her hand fell to mine, stopping my breath short.

“But it was you,” she said. “Greta saw you. I believe even Valen saw you. As a boy he often dreamed of a blue-eyed girl.”


“Oh yes,” Lilianna snickered. “He was quite captivated as a dewy eyed young fae.” With a sigh she studied her tea. “My children have been resilient, true. They have suffered greater than anyone, but do not diminish the crucial role you played in the war. I know what you did, Elise. I know the choice, the bravery, the love required of you to break through Greta’s curses. Valen would not be the man he has become without you. And Sol and Herja would still be lost.”

I adjusted on the stool to face her. “Did you know what their curses would be?”

“No.” Her smile faded. “I was forced to trust Greta and pray she would be extremely careful with her words since Eli would be the one to select how each of my children were cursed. But she insisted it was necessary, part of some larger plan across the world.”

Four queens of fate. I swallowed a scratch in my throat. “Something to do with queens?”

Lilianna stared at me, brow lifted. “Yes. Greta often spoke in riddles and lore, but I do recall a mention of how the Norns were angered by the treatment of their magic in the realms of mortals. She insisted sovereigns of their gifts would rise to take back their power.”

Lilianna paused. “I thought she said it to encourage me, as queen, but when our situation worsened, Greta insisted it was necessary to write a new fated path to fit the twisted mind of whatever pain Eli planned to give my family, but also in a way that the will of the Fates would be done. It was one of the most difficult times of my life, knowingly putting my children at the mercy of pain and suffering. Strange to hear you bring it up. I’d nearly forgotten her odd folk tales.”

I took a sip of my tea. “I do not think Greta was the only one who believed such a tale.”

Thoughts of the Eastern Kingdom, of the dark fete the Nightrender described filled my head. Their people turned the torture and enslavement of magic into a game, and I could not help but think it might have something to do with the man’s battle Calista promised.

But I had no answers, I had no knowledge if these four queens were metaphorical or real. I forced a smile and peeled the worry from my voice.

“How did Arvad survive?” I asked. “Valen had been so sure he’d witnessed his father’s death. He’d been so sure you all were dead.”

Lilianna nodded. “Kjell. The burden of convincing all the Ravens and King Eli that our family had fallen landed on the shoulders of Kjell. He is the most skilled illusionist I’ve ever known. Arvad was tortured, but somewhere through it all, Kjell locked the guards in an illusion. They believed Arvad was dead. They took what they thought was the body of my husband to show his sons. But it was another fallen warrior with the face of Arvad. In the distraction, Kjell took my husband away from the fury quarries. Through a few more tricks, Eli was able to witness Arvad’s body, but he was in the fury sleep. Still, it was enough to convince the false king.”

“And you?”

“I went into the fury sleep, yes. Eli believed I took my life. Rumors spread across the kingdom that Herja and I were killed for refusing to be his consorts, but the princess was already far from Ravenspire towers by then.

“Dagar and Kjell and our warriors agreed to being cursed, to defend where we slept. It was more to keep the guards of Eli hesitant to come close. If too many Timorans guarded the Black Tomb, it would prove even more difficult for the heirs to open it, you see.”

“They agreed to be cursed?” I said the words in a breathless whisper.

“I’ve never known braver men and women than our warriors. They knew Etta would die as Old Timoran if we did not do something to end the war.”

“How would it die? I know it has something to do with fury.”

“It is more to do with those who are chosen by the land to rule here. Etta chose Arvad, it chose me, and our children. Until it chooses another, we will serve the fury of this land and lead its people.

“To kill us would kill the fury of Etta if it was not passed onto another chosen line. Eli did not want to believe it, but I am grateful that Greta was persuasive. She convinced the king the heirs of the Ferus line needed to live since fury had not officially selected which heir would take up the throne of their father. All three would be needed to keep fury dormant but living. But, of course, to Eli they could not be a threat to his crown. So, they were cursed and scattered. It was then that Greta delivered her final prophecy.”

I fiddled with the sleeve of the dress. Greta was the first storyteller. Valen’s enchantress. A woman he viewed as tricky and wicked had been a trusted ally to his mother. Every word, every action had been part of a grand strategy, and my head still spun at the idea of it all.

“Her last prophecy was given to Eli,” Lilianna went on. “She assured him his kingdom would rise through a queen. Eli did not care for queens. I’m afraid after a queen denied him, he had no desire to let women have much of a voice in his kingdom. Greta lost her life after it was all over. She knew she would and fought for us anyway.”

I winced. “Eli still hunted her folk, though. They’ve used fate witches across the turns.”

“Ah, he must’ve determined he rather liked having a speaker of fate after he’d killed one.”

“The last storyteller was only a girl. But she was the one who added upon the first curse; she knew of me, and wrote me into the story, if you will.”

Lilianna grinned. “It was all part of an intricate web, Elise. One that has unraveled to bring us to this moment, to the queen who would fall, and let Etta rise.”

“I did not fall.”

“Ah, but you did. You fell from the thrones of Timoran, and rose to the thrones of Etta. And I could not be prouder to know you.”

She patted my hand again and together we stayed, late into the night, talking of happier things. Futures we, at last, could dream up.


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