We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Den of Blades and Briars: Chapter 39

The Ambassador

Saga would have a new scar on her neck, and I’d already plotted a dozen ways to make the former queen and the bastard inside her die for it.

The moment the hidden path was revealed, they’d torn us apart again, but whenever we had a moment to come close, Saga assured me she was fine. I was convinced she did it for my benefit only.

It only added to the violence invading my heart.

As we walked, to soothe the constant dreams of death and gore, I took pleasure in unsettling the guards. More than once the gilded men from Bracken’s court looked at Frey, Stieg, and me like we’d gone mad as we traveled up the peaks. We laughed, taunted, and shouted memories of times in Ruskig or captivity that were equivalent to moments in our current predicament.

The lot of us, bound and dragged like goats, had lived lives in hiding, in war, in shackles of some kind.

Being forced to the place we’d been heading anyway was inconvenient at most. With our heads together, we would figure something out. The only troubling part of our situation was not even Saga knew exactly what we’d face the nearer we came to the end of the map, nor exactly what we’d find inside this hidden place.

Rune kept proffering, on our behalf, a few scathing glances. I would’ve liked to send them back, but there was something breaking in him. Something tilted off-center in the deadened rage that had him prisoner.

He would not be so intent to watch us, to puzzle us out, if not. I thought, out of anyone, we might be able to peel Rune from whatever darkness had latched onto so many hearts in my longhouse.

He’d been the one to suggest keeping us all together, easier to watch had been that winged bastard’s reason. Maybe that’s all it was, but I couldn’t despise him too fiercely, since it lent me the chance to have Saga next to me.

I had no weapons, and grew rather insolent when control had been taken from my hands, so to have her close, even for a little time, eased the tendency to lash and bite anything nearby.

The way the former queen agreed, however, left me curious if she did have some dark being possessing her or not. Wouldn’t Davorin want to keep Saga in his sights?

How would I know? Possession from a bitter, former lover of my wife was a new experience I never had thought out in my plans. There were few answers and few options but to watch Astrid. Closely. I wanted to prepare for any tricks or ploys long before there was time to enact them.

I planned to make our own.

She sat close to me, fiddling with her fingers, but I preened a bit when my hand covered hers and her nervous fiddling ceased. Saga grinned at me, eyes glassy, unspoken words between us that said we were getting out of this alive. Together.

“Ambassador.” Bo came up to me. “Lady Astrid wishes to speak with you.”

“I don’t care.”

“She told me to inform you, she will keep your wife bound in fire through the night if you refuse.”

Damn the hells.

“Ari, don’t do anything because of me,” Saga said, digging her fingernails into my arm. “Don’t you dare.”

I peeled back her fingers, then kissed the tips, one by one. “I do like to irritate you so.”

“Ari.” Saga tried to grab me, but a guard came to assist and held her back. She thrashed and swatted at him. Stieg and Frey began to curse and shout much the same.

“Now look what you’ve done,” I said to Bo. “You’ve upset the whole camp.”

The tracker looked ready to ram his blade through my heart.

“I’ll be back,” I said to Saga, then glanced at my fellow northerners. “I will.”

Jaw clenched, I strode behind Bo with the tune of Saga’s shouts at my back. He led us to the stupid tent the guards had arranged for their lady.

Astrid was seated on a moss coated boulder. “Come in, Ambassador. This won’t take long.”

Once Bo left us, Astrid rose and crossed the space to me, a sneer on her full lips. “You think you have a claim on my little spy.”

“I think you are misguided to think you ever did.”

“You know she is manipulating you, don’t you? She does this for her gain, not yours.”

I scoffed. “You cannot manipulate or use the willing. Understand this, you are on borrowed time. If you try to touch my wife again, if you so much as make her uncomfortable, it only adds to the list of ways I will torture you.”

Astrid had the gall to laugh. “You have no power here.”

“You have no idea what I have done, nor what I will do to those who attack people I love.”

She tilted her head. “How precious. You love her. It is terribly sad you will not last much longer.”

I blamed the red rage in my eyes at being in this creature’s presence for my inability to notice the coil of her glamour around her hand. I did not even have a chance to fight her off before a lash of her heated magic carved into the place above my hip.

I doubled over, but Astrid gripped my chin. “You will not speak of what has happened here and will grow weaker without notice.”

Gods. Agony ripped through my middle. I could hardly catch a deep enough breath. I glanced at the wound. It was dark, not bloody, and not normal. Like the fire poisoned something inside.

“Now go. Be as you were and say nothing of this moment. I wish I could say I was disappointed. Do try to understand there are reasons you must fade, Ambassador. For the greater good, you see.”

Astrid shoved me out of the tent. I wanted to retch, but strangely, little by little, the pain subsided until it was a mere annoyance. She’d cursed me somehow. Much like she’d cursed Saga.

Focus. I closed my eyes and drew in a long breath through my nose. I needed to see this through. Whatever Astrid had done, she knew I was a necessary piece of this game. That meant I wouldn’t fade to any great hall before Saga, at least, reached the feather.

Good. I let out a soft breath, bringing my pulse to a calm. She could be safe. She could be free.

That was what mattered here. More than anything, more than my life, to see her free mattered the most.


Our little prisoner group wrapped around a pitiful fire. The camp was made of sparse trees, but tomorrow the incline steepened, winds worsened. I’d been unable to show a glimpse of discomfort from Astrid’s wound. A strange feeling, the ache was there, yet my thoughts could hardly form enough to imagine telling someone what had happened.

I was able to walk upright, and a lie on why Astrid had summoned me rolled off my tongue too easily. For all my men and Saga knew, the wretched queen had brought me to her for a humiliating attempt to frighten me.

Bo took to securing our campground. Astrid, or whoever she was, was pretentious enough to demand a white canvas tent to sleep in. Hardly discreet. It took most of the guards to watch her small settlement, leaving Rune and one other Borough guard who was too skinny for his fatigues to tend to us.

I lifted a tin cup filled with hot water boiled with cedar bark and a few roots. It tasted like a clod of wet soil.

“Care to join us, Rune? You’ve all truly outdone yourself with the nightly meal. What do you call this? Dirt tea, or something more refined?”

Rune had strapped his wings back until they were barely seen beneath his long coat. He strode over and kicked dirt on our fire. “Quiet.”

“When have you ever known me to be quiet?”

He grumbled a few curses in his throat and began to turn away.

“You know there is something strange here, Rune,” I said. “You know it. I can see it in your face.”

His thick lashes fluttered over his eyes. Rune looked to be a few turns older than me, but it was hard to gauge ages amongst fae kind. Saga looked younger than me, but was in truth, turns my senior.

There was a moment where I almost saw the conflict within Rune, like his soul knew something outside himself was causing him to turn into an enemy of those he’d once respected.

It wasn’t enough.

He returned to his post without a word, leaving us in the dark with nothing but a hissing stream of smoke from our fire pit.

Good. I didn’t want anyone to pay us much mind.

Stieg had been bound by fury bands the same as me, Frey, not being Night Folk, was in iron bindings. Hodag had whimpered over the red marks on Stieg’s wrists all evening.

She ignored the marks on my wrists.

“Where is the prince and princess?” I asked.

Frey smirked. “Well hidden, and Prince Gunnar had a lot to say about being hidden. It is not in his nature to shy away from a fight.”

I chuckled. “No, it isn’t. Why did you need to get to Eryka?”

Hodag snorted. “Them at the Court of Stars get all twitchy. Said it was omens and stupidly stupid such things. They began questioning if a match ought to be made and banned the sweet princey from his beloved.”

“Truly?” I looked to my men for clarification. “Eryka’s folk took her back?”

Stieg rolled his eyes. “They did. Locked Gunnar out of the Starlight Tower. Of course, we got her back.”

I listened to them recount the tale of Gunnar Strom reminding everyone by his actions that he was raised behind locks with his loved ones kept from him, then as a killer and thief with the Guild of Kryv.

He was not a regal prince, and his Alver mesmer was terrifying. Like glamour that could compel, Gunnar could infiltrate thoughts and make others do exactly what he wanted them to do. The more ale he had in him, the longer he could manage.

“Stumbling drunk,” Frey said with a laugh, “but by the time we made it to the princess, all he had to do was politely ask the guards to open the door. I think he asked to lick her ear or teeth or something strange when he saw her. He wasn’t making a lot of sense at that point.”

Stieg grinned. “But don’t forget, the princess was half out the window, already escaping the old dependable way.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“Tied her bleeding gowns together and was scaling the damn tower wall.” Stieg muffled his laughter when Rune shot us another of his infamous glares.

When we settled, I whispered, “Where did you send them?”

Frey looked to Stieg, then over his shoulder. “I don’t want to say, but they are safe.”

“Tell us what has become of you,” Stieg flicked a glance to Saga, then back to me. “What changed?”

Saga was sleeping at my side. Her body curled against me, ropes on her wrists, but she still looked peaceful. I smiled at her soft, even breaths. “We are vowed.”

“So I heard.” Frey snorted. “Congratulations?”

“You ought to congratulate me. I looked stunning, and it was a pity you weren’t there to be envious.”

“Ari,” Stieg said, “you’ve always detested the woman. You’ll have to forgive us for being hesitant in thinking this is real.”

“All couples have rough times.”

Stieg’s brow arched. “Did you ever have good times?”

“Hearts change, my friends.”

“You trust her?” Frey didn’t sound convinced.

I studied Saga’s profile and stretched a bound hand to brush the tip of her pointed ear. My chest grew tight knowing all she’d suffered, all she’d risked, and she still told me she wanted me when it was over. She was seeking out the claim to a throne, and she wanted simplicity as an ambassador’s wife instead.

We might not get that final wish, not anymore, but until the end I would do all I could to protect her heart.

“I trust her with everything. My life, my secrets, everything.”

“What is this talk of the voice of the land?” Frey asked.

“It is powerful glamour. It once belonged to kings and queens. We plan to take it back and heal whatever has been broken here.”

“Does she, I mean, I’ve never witnessed Saga use glamour of her own,” said Stieg. “Does she have any?”

I nodded and slid down on the log at my back. The movement let Saga’s head settle more comfortably on my chest. A broken branch on the log dug into my back, but I didn’t move. A soft smile had curved on her lips, and I wasn’t disturbing it.

“What is her ability?”

“It is for her to say.”

“I never thought I’d see the day Ari Sekundär gave up his heart,” Frey said. “Elise will be devastated you no longer pine after her.”

“Well, the queen had her chance and missed it.” I laughed and shoved his arm.

“I don’t understand how last we saw you, you were doing blood rites because you did not trust the woman, now you’re fawning over her.”

“For anyone else, I’d cut out your tongue for accusing me of such odious things as fawning. But on this, for her, I will accept it.”

“Hells.” Frey grunted and nestled against his own log. “I’m going to sleep and will see if anything else decides to change in the morning. Life no longer makes any sense.”


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset