Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 34


Alno and Difila were sleeping in a corner of the landing bay when Sikthand arrived back in Vrulatica.

They roused at the tapping of Ahea’s talons as she landed. Both shot to their feet, their raised-brow expressions asking a million questions while their mouths remained closed.

“He lives. He’s somewhere safe,” Sikthand explained in a rush. “Where is she?”

“Back in her room. She’s fine,” Alno croaked, his voice still raspy from sleep.

He nodded, gave Ahea a few grateful scratches, then tossed her reins to Difila. “See to her.”

Without another word, Sikthand stalked out of the bay.

Hours had gone by. Hours and hours of picturing nothing but Sophia’s pale, blood-streaked face flash over and over through his mind. He needed to see her, feel her body under his hands. She wasn’t hurt—, it had been fake, but he hadn’t been able to calm his racing heart since watching Roldroth’s bolt soar by, inches away from her face.

Glancing down at himself, he caught sight of his filth-covered armor, and turned on his heel so he could first visit his room.

The apprentice had survived, but just barely. Sikthand had had to help Vezel remove the armor before he could be loaded into the healing tube, and the stench from the boy’s infected belly wound had nearly brought both males to their knees.

Sophia’s plan to sneak the boy out of the city had been overly dramatic and dangerous and a bit silly, but it had worked.

Vrulatica buzzed with the news of the future queen’s assassination attempt. No one questioned whether she was the one Sikthand had carried off through the tower and flown to the infirmary with. As she’d planned, Vezel had even cleared a whole floor of the infirmary as he always did whenever there was a royal visiting. The male had been beyond surprised when Sikthand had removed her helmet and revealed a dying young male.

The apprentice was safe, stashed in a covert location. Vezel was sworn to secrecy, and though the boy was still too terrified to speak, Sikthand was certain he’d be able to name the person who’d done these vile things to him in time. Thanks to Sophia’s quick mind, she’d kept an innocent Vrulan safe.

The threats he’d spat toward Vezel and the singular sentinel tasked with guarding the boy had been harsh, but Sikthand didn’t regret them. For hours, his insides had felt like they were being slowly pulled in half.

All he’d wanted to do was return to Vrulatica and confirm with his own eyes that Sophia was okay. She’d been shaky when he’d left her in the passage. Shaky, but perfectly healthy. Still, having a bolt shot at her head had made bitter fear waft off her in a way that had his gut twisting.

He tossed his armor into a pile in the corner of the room, bathed, then paused in front of his mirror. More than anything, he wanted to go to her and pull her against his chest, but he knew how she’d act. She’d wave away his concerns. She’d pretend everything was alright.

How did she really feel?

Sikthand stepped into the secret passage and crept behind her mirror. His eyes found her instantly, as if they’d already known where to look. She sat in a comfortable chair, and he was pleased to see someone had started a fire for her.

Muscles loosening one by one, he let his gaze roam over her. Blood no longer oozed down from her head. Color had returned to her skin. She was clean and healthy and safe.

He let himself relax as he watched her. She held up a mailing canister, extending it so she could read a letter. Early on, he’d kept track of what she mailed and what she received, but her correspondence had been sparse and innocent. Whatever she read now would likely be more of the same, but the way she stared at the paper, gazing at it as though she’d read it before and was admiring the words, had tension building in his shoulders. What did it say?

His tail flicked anxiously and hit the chair behind him. It scraped across the floor for half a second. The sound should have registered mildly with her, but she flinched, practically jumping out of her seat.

Her eyes flew to the door, and she shoved the message between her thigh and the chair, hiding it as she held her breath and waited for someone to come through the door. Sikthand scooped his tail up to keep it from moving and swallowed past the tightness building in his throat.

After moments of silence, her brows knit and she glanced around the room like she’d just realized the sound hadn’t come from the hall outside. Pulling the letter from its cramped hiding spot, she re-rolled it and stuffed it into a low drawer behind bundles of bedding.

His eyes fixed on the drawer as she moved about her room. He wanted to tell himself it was nothing. Being protective of a private message didn’t mean anything.

His heart was on the verge of splintering, like glass hit by a piece of hail. The cracks hadn’t formed yet, but the integrity was compromised.

He’d read that letter as soon as he had the opportunity, and he’d give himself a good smack when he found it to be a simple message from one of the Tremantian humans.

That’s all it will be.

***

A knock sounded low on her door, and Sophia sprang to answer it.

Her heart leapt when she found Sikthand waiting for her. She studied his expression, noting the tightness around his mouth and the way his hood seemed to grow into a sharper triangle when he was tense. Her gut roiled.

She pressed a hand to her heart. “He’s dead.”

Sikthand shook his head and stepped in. “Alive, well, and eating more food than a starved malginash.”

Sophia cried out in relief. “Oh, thank God. You looked so down I thought he must have… Did he tell you anything?”

“Not yet. He needs time to understand he’s safe. He’s too scared to speak right now.” Sikthand stepped toward an enormous barrel filled with purple-leafed fruit.

“Oh yeah.” Sophia rushed over to the barrel and grinned. “This worked too. I was really nervous about it. It was like something out of a sitcom. After the streets cleared and Alno got me out of the alley, I stuffed myself into the barrel and he covered me with fruit. I was sure the guards at the door were going to dig through it. I mean, it’s so absurdly large, but they just peeked in and moved the top layer of fruit around a bit then let him through.” Sophia sidled closer, giving him a coy look from the corners of her eyes. He still looked stiff. “The fact that you had demanded two barrelfuls just a few weeks ago helped. Alno said the soldiers made some comments about how obsessed with this fruit I am. They joked that they should start stocking up in case any more human females came to visit.”

“Perhaps Ezros will name the fruit after you.”

Sophia’s brows knitted. “Yeah, maybe.” Sikthand had tried to make his voice light, but she’d heard the strain. His tone sounded way too similar to polite small talk. Should she mention the weather next or some shit? “Is everything alright?”

His mouth tightened, his jaw working. “It’s been a long day. My nerves are worn.” His fingers lifted and brushed across the area of her scalp where the fake blood had been. “I just wanted to check in on you before I went to sleep.”

Disappointment welled in her throat. Sophia shook it away. He’s tired, so he’s going to sleep. Stop overanalyzing it.

Still, Sophia couldn’t keep her mind from reexamining his shuttered expression late into the night. It hadn’t been angry or suspicious or cold, even. It had almost been sad. But what sense did that make?

Even before they’d saved a boy’s life—with an incredible performance on her part, if she did say so herself—they’d had a good day. She’d finally began to narrow down the candidates she liked, he’d dived face-first between her thighs showing her just how deep Clecanian women needed to be licked, and she’d even caught him smiling absently a handful of times.

What had happened at the infirmary?

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