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King of Merits: Chapter 14

A Wolf and a Boy

Merri

days, the Elemental Court is in an uproar, courtiers reeling from our close call with the Merits, my parents in constant talks with the king, queen, and the High Mage as they work to discover the identity of the creature responsible for the felling of Riven na Duinn.

Outwardly, I continue on as usual while I bide my time until the fourth night after the Lowlands skirmish when everyone is attending a lavish feast in the Great Hall. Everyone except my brother.

Bearing offerings, I carry a tray laden with wine, steaming bowls of pasta, and freshly baked bread to Wyn’s chambers. Creamy Alfredo, a human dish Isla introduced us to, is his favorite meal, which he regularly bribes the cooks to make for him. Tonight, I’m doing the bribing.

With the tray balanced on one hip, I knock on his door and wait, the fragrant steam making my belly rumble.

“What?” he barks out.

“It’s Merri. Open the door. I come bearing gifts.”

“Open it yourself.”

I blow a lemniscate pattern on the heavy bolt and it begrudgingly shudders open. With my mind, I turn the handle, kicking the door wide as I enter. “You should lock your door properly when there aren’t any guards stationed outside it.”

“Why should I?” Wyn asks, sprawled in an armchair by the fire, his wolf lying at his feet. He smirks over his shoulder. “I have no enemies in this castle and little to be afraid of.”

Laughing, I set the food on the table in the middle of his messy sitting room. “Yet the most powerful of all the Merits spent weeks living right under your nose and you had no idea. Is he not your enemy?”

“I’m not sure. And, regardless, I lived to tell the tale. Speaking of noses, what is that divine smell?”

“Pasta Alfredo. Come eat with me….unless, of course, you aren’t hungry.”

I make a show of arranging candles and cutlery while my brother tells Ivor to stay put, and then crashes over furniture in his haste to get to the table.

“I wasn’t at all hungry until that smell hit my nose, but now I’m positively famished.” He plants a kiss on my cheek and scrapes a chair out, head bowing over the bowl and his fork digging in before he’s even seated properly. “This is bliss.” He sighs and then side eyes me. “So, what do you want from me in exchange for this feast, little pest?”

“Who me?” I ask, rounding my eyes to shining orbs of innocence.

“Yes, you. How will I be paying for you to badger the cooks on my behalf? They despise making mortal food.”

“First, you can tell me why you aren’t attending the court banquet.”

“Simple. Because I’m too bored to bother, and no faery girl entrances me. I’m obsessed with thoughts of visiting the Shade Court. It’s rumored they have some very fetching human slaves right now. I have dreams of freeing one.”

“Wyn, the Shade Court is not a place for you to loiter. You’re not nearly as heartless as those fae are.”

He grunts. “Well, perhaps I’ll have to try harder to fit in, then.”

After I eat a few mouthfuls in silence, I lean back in the chair and watch Wyn stuff his face like a pig at a trough, thinking how best to phrase my request. As always when it comes to my earthy brother, the blunt approach is best.

“I made the pasta myself, Wyn, to pay for your silence.”

“What?” His hand freezes in the action of running bread through the creamy sauce.

“You heard me. I need your silence.”

“Damn.” He pushes his bowl away. “I wish you’d said so first, and I wouldn’t have started eating.”

“Yes, you would have. You can’t resist this dish, hence why I chose it.”

“Tell me and be quick about it.” He lifts his palm. “Wait. On second thought, allow me to drink my fill of wine first to lessen the shock, for I’m certain it will be a bad one.”

I refill his goblet, and he closes those glittering eyes and drinks deeply. He lets loose a great sigh, cracking a lid open. “Well? I’m waiting.”

“All right, here it is. I’m going to follow Riven to the Court of Merits and—”

What? Merri, are you insane?” Wine spills from his cup, drenching the fur and garnet trim of his dark-brown robe. “How could I possibly assist with such a terrible scheme?”

“I need the High Mage’s help to enchant the court so nobody will look for me or wonder where I’ve gotten to. At least until I arrive safely and make my place in the Merit Court. You can help by making sure Mother and Father are distracted while I speak to Ether.”

“You are mad! Ether will not help you, and Lidwinia will have your head after what you did to her brother.”

“What, saved his life so she would have the pleasure of looking at his handsome face for countless moons to come?”

“Handsome, is he?” Wyn bellows. “Now I see what you’re about. You’re smitten by the bluest bloody eyes in all the realms. And then there’s the fact that Father despises him. Of course, you would find Riven irresistible.”

“Oh, do grow up, Wynter! I’m not a fool. Even if his eyes were as blue as the Emerald Bay, it would take a lot more than that to bewitch me. I’m not a child anymore.”

“The Merit king’s eyes are bluer, and you’re following a fool’s dream.”

“What I’m following is my destiny! Riven’s life is in danger. I’ve dreamed of his death all my life, and I know I can prevent it. I stopped it in the forest, and I’ll be called upon to do it again. I know it, Wyn. Why else have these dreams been given to me?”

“But why should you care if he gets eaten by a selkie or drops off a cliff never to be seen again? You’ve saved him once already, so consider your destiny fulfilled, and save me from the wrath of our parents. They’ll murder me if they ever find out I’d aided you in this reckless venture. Are you trying to ruin my life?”

“Wyn,” I say, rising from the table and kneeling at his feet. I grip his hands tightly. “Please, Wyn. I wouldn’t ask this of you if it wasn’t necessary and urgent.”

He stares at the crackling fire, refusing to meet my gaze. I conjure a gust of wind, and the flames disappear. He turns his scowl on me. “Merri, bring the flames back.”

I send another gust to reignite the fire. “Consider this for a moment: if you had a chance to return to the human world in secret and slake your obsession with mortals. Would you do it?”

“In the blink of an eye.”

Of course he would. He hasn’t been to the mortal realm since he was a boy of twelve and still begs our parents to take him. When they refuse, he spends a sennight searching Ithalah Forest for a portal that doesn’t exist.

Mother has sworn me to secrecy about the one in the Moonstone Cave and the mages who can open it, because she knows that if Wyn discovered these secrets, he’d be lost to her forever. Such is his fascination with the human realm and its people.

“Well, if you help me now, I vow to do the same for you—assist you in any way possible—when your opportunity to fulfill your dreams arises.” I thrust my hand forward. “Deal?”

Eyes sparkling, he shakes my hand. “Ah, Merri, you’re merciless. Of course you have yourself a deal.”

Squeezing his cheeks, I smack a kiss on his lips. “You’re the best brother in all the realms. Will you take care of Cara for me while I’m gone?”

“As though she were mine.” He laughs. “Do you realize the Merits may not be happy to see you?

“I do. And I might not make it out of there alive.”

He blows a hard breath. “Tell me what I must do.”

“It’s simple. Stick close to Mother and Father tonight, distract them each time they wonder where I am. It won’t take long for me to ascertain whether Ether is willing to help.”

“Why would she want to help you?” he asks.

“She once told me if I ever needed assistance, she’d be there for me. I’m going to test that offer.”

“Fine, then.” He stands and brushes breadcrumbs from his robe. “I suppose I’d better dress for the Night Court. Go to Ether and take the órga falcons with you. If you find you must leave for the Merit City in a hurry, send Taibsear to fly over the Great Hall’s roof window closest to the dais, then I’ll know you’ve embarked on your foolhardy journey and begin praying to the Elements for your safety.”

“Thank you, Wyn. You’re as annoying as a prickle in my boot, but I love you endlessly. You know that, right?”

“I do.” He enfolds me in an earth-scented hug, and then shoves me toward the door. “And I love you, big sister. I wish you luck in saving your king.”


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