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Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 35

Hours had never passed so slowly. Sikthand’s eyes burned. His insides had that hollow feeling from lack of sleep, and every muscle in him was restless. A million possibilities had played through his mind since he’d seen Sophia reading the letter two nights before.

He’d spent the previous day hosting meetings with the Guild and lying about Sophia’s assassination attempt. The Guild had scrambled to assure him that the culprit would be caught. He’d allowed his broodiness over the letter to shine in his expression and kept quiet. Everyone had seemed to attribute his silence to a simmering thirst for vengeance, which worked out well for him. At least he didn’t have to concentrate on pretending everything was normal.

Sophia had remained locked in the royal wing, which had also helped his swarming mind. He hadn’t had to worry about running into her. He’d sent word through Alno that he’d need to remain out for the night and that he’d miss their meeting.

It was a lie.

He’d returned to his room through his passages and slipped inside quietly, then he’d come here, to her mirror.

Until he saw what was in that letter, he wanted to keep his distance. No point in acting oddly toward her if it turned out to be nothing after all.

It was morning now, and she was nearly ready to leave for the day to tour the cloud chasers’ training yard. They’d announced to the people that she would go on her tours as normal, which had had the unforeseen benefit of building a bit of respect in the Vrulans’ eyes. From their perspective, their future queen had been shot and nearly killed, yet she was holding her head high and carrying on.

At long last, Sophia clomped out of her room. Sikthand remained in place until he could no longer hear the metal clanging of her armor, then stepped into her room and retrieved the message canister from her drawer.

He typed in her code, which he’d ensured he’d known as soon as she’d decided on one.

The canister popped open. Sikthand had one hand on each edge of the scroll, but he couldn’t seem to make his hands pull it open. He’d wanted nothing more than to read this for over a day, but now apprehension set in.

It’s likely nothing, he argued, before pulling the scroll wide. His mind shorted when foreign scribbling met his eyes. What language was this?

Paranoia building in his chest, he sped back to his room, retrieved a translation reading glass, and rushed back. Dark thoughts kept filtering into his mind, and he struggled to keep them under a net of rationality. Just because the message was written in a foreign language didn’t mean it was willfully coded.

Fury had his muscles stiffening harder and harder as he passed the glass over the words and watched them translate into familiar Clecanian. What had Heleax done?

This king thinks he can steal my bride away? Sikthand would tear out his throat for the insult. And he’d tear out Heleax’s for carrying this insidious offer to Sophia.

Sikthand’s anger hardened like metal quenched in oil. This letter was old, the delivery date long past.

And Sophia had kept it.

Was she considering this offer? Why had she tucked the message away behind bedding? Why was she so nervous about someone walking in while she read it? Why was she rereading it at all?

His heart swelled in his throat. King Cueyar of Roborh.

She’d been reading about Roborh when he’d sought her out in the archives. Had she been considering his offer even then? Sikthand couldn’t blame her if she had. At the time, he’d just nearly avoided assassination and she’d probably been worried he’d suspect her—which was fair, since he had, in fact, suspected her.

But now? After all their nights talking and touching? Was she still considering this?

He says he’ll give you until the week before the Leaders’ Summit to decide and then he will attempt to find a human elsewhere.

Sikthand rolled the scroll away and replaced it in her drawer before he accidentally crushed it in his palm.

The week before the Leaders’ Summit was in eight days.

Sikthand stalked through the halls. He didn’t know what to think or how to feel. She hadn’t done anything, and yet the familiar taste of betrayal was bitter in his throat.

The world was a blur around him, his mind a tangle of rational and irrational thoughts. He reached the messenger station closest to their wing and searched until he spotted the male in charge. Focused on sorting through piles of waiting message canisters, the male didn’t hear him approach. He caught sight of Sikthand’s shadow falling over the table and jumped, letting out a startled bellow as he whirled.

“Sire,” he breathed, gaze zooming around while he tried to gather himself. “I didn’t—”

“I wanted to confirm that you are still notifying me of all messages sent to or from the human.” Sikthand tried to recall whether he’d been told of the message from Roborh or not, but couldn’t. He had no idea exactly when it had happened, but Sikthand had stopped making a point to read her correspondence.

Though the word was something shameful in his family, he’d started trusting her, and reading through her mail had felt more and more like a betrayal. It was an immensely hypocritical feeling considering he had no reservations about stalking her throughout the castle and watching her in her room.

The male was quick to nod. The metal headpiece he wore jiggled with the action. “Yes, sire. I’ve been sending a notification, then holding the mail for one day before delivering it, as you instructed.”

“You sent a message when a delivery from Roborh arrived?” he growled.

The male’s dark bronze hood paled. He scrambled over to a small book hidden under a stack of empty canisters and flipped through. His eyes slowed on one entry. “Yes. I sent word on…” The male swallowed. His hood was nearly gold now, the color continuing to drain. “Sire, I… On the day…”

Sikthand’s anger built as he stammered on. “Spit it out.”

“We were very busy that day and I set the message aside, but…” He licked his lips. “I now realize you were recovering from your…from the attempt on your life. I’m so sorry I didn’t think harder on it. The time period passed, and I hadn’t been given an order to continue to hold the mail so…”

Sikthand glared, his metal gloves scraping as his hands drew into fists. He wanted to release some of his pent-up aggression on the male, but he held it back. “If I can’t count on you to use your head in a situation like that, then perhaps I need to employ someone new.”

The male was shaking his head wordlessly.

Sikthand continued in a dangerous hiss, “If the human sends any mail, you will hold it until I have seen it. Do you understand? If that takes ten days, a year, then so be it.”

“Yes,” he squeaked.

Sikthand made to turn, but another squeak had him pausing. His gaze settled back on the nearly quivering male. “Is there something else?”

“It’s just…the queen sent out a letter to Roborh weeks ago. I sent word. I didn’t receive an order to hold, so…”

Sikthand’s stomach bottomed out.

He left without another word, trying to force breath to resume moving through his lungs.

He was furious. With King Cueyar, with Heleax, with the messenger, with Sophia.

But most of all, he was disappointed in himself. As soon as he’d met Sophia, he’d known she was dangerous to him. Nothing about this situation should feel like a sucker punch.

He’d deluded himself into believing that he was building something with her. Something that would last, even though nothing lasted. Nothing good anyway.

He trudged out of sight until he was sure no one was watching, then disappeared into a passage. It was dark in here. And quiet. His mind whispered words of encouragement, but they felt hollow, empty.

There was no way to know what she’d said apart from asking. But if he asked, she’d know he’d breached her trust and read her mail. Even if she’d turned down the king, she could still change her mind after hearing that. She could decide that his invasion of her privacy was the final blow and send another letter accepting the king’s offer.

What if she had already accepted? What was she waiting for, if so? Wasn’t her continued presence in Vrulatica proof that she’d turned him down?


What if she planned to leave after the vote? What if she was staying only to ensure he voted for her pick and then planned to vanish in the night? Off to live in Roborh where flowers sprouted thickly from the earth and the clouds were fluffy and white?

No. Sophia wouldn’t do that. His chest ached as he earnestly tried to believe those words.

Their relationship had started roughly, but they’d turned a corner. She sought him out, tried to get him to smile. She’d taken him in her mouth and let him kiss her lips. She acted upset when he didn’t have time for her, as if she liked spending time with him.

That couldn’t be fake. Not all of it.

She wasn’t going to leave. This paranoia was just from old wounds turning his thoughts malignant. Sikthand rose and stepped quickly toward their wing.

He set his mind to burying the cynical whispers that told him to study and spy and suspect. They reminded him he’d been blindsided before. He could be wrong now. The same way he’d been wrong about Japeshi.

He pressed the memories back. He’d been happy a day ago. Blissful. He wouldn’t let his past taint the only good thing in his miserable life.

Sophia would stay. He would go to the Leaders’ Summit and submit their vote in two weeks. Then he would come back, she would happily marry him, he would finally allow himself to fully take her body with shaft and fang, and he would win her affection.

Hours later, he sat with Sophia in his study and knew all his efforts to put the letter from his mind were in vain.

What would he do without her? Like an infection, weakness had snuck into his heart without him knowing and silently spread. He was dependent on her. On her scent and her presence and her taste. He honestly didn’t know what would happen if she betrayed him. With a terrifying uncertainty, he wondered whether his mind would break.

She scrunched her nose at something in the file she was reading and peered up at him.

If she was planning to leave him, how could she sit there so casually? She had either turned down the king, or Sikthand had been fooled by someone who had no heart to speak of. She’d said she was a good actress, but how good?

“Sikthand.” He brought his vision back into focus and found her watching him with knitted brows. “Are you okay? It’s like you didn’t even hear my question.”

Had she asked him something? “What was the question?”

Pressing her lips together, she moved the file aside and crossed to him.

His body tensed fiercely as she lowered into his lap. She’d done this on a few occasions now, and he loved it. She’d usually kiss him while sitting here.

But the purr in his chest didn’t rise.

She hooked her hands around his neck. A wave of intense possessiveness crashed through him, and he nearly pushed her away. All he wanted to do was claw at her dress, force her neck to his mouth, and bury his fangs so deep no healer could ever remove his marks.

With shaky hands that wanted to restrain, he guided her to rise. The look of hurt and confusion in her eyes scalded him, but his old wounds threatened his control. “We need to get through these last few candidates so we can discuss your pick for the Summit. We don’t have much time left.” He forced a smile, hoping she’d believe his weak excuse.

Her lips pursed and she studied him suspiciously, clearly not believing a word. “Alright,” she said, apparently deciding not to press him for now.

They sat back down, and Sikthand’s tail swished over the ground. She eyed the movement with furrowed brows, then peered back at her file.

If she were planning on leaving, she’d tell him.

Stupid. No, she wouldn’t. If she even had a fraction of an inkling of how he would take that news, she’d try to fly herself out on a malginash before telling him.

But we were growing closer… he thought. Surely Roborh and the vote weren’t good enough reasons for her to betray him.

It’s only the vote that will decide which powerful Clecanian will guide the very lives of her species.

He hated the voice hissing through his mind, and he hated how effortless it was for him to believe the worst rather than give her the benefit of the doubt.

“What if I don’t vote for who you request?”

Sophia’s head snapped up. “What?”

“Say we go through all the candidates, and I don’t agree with who you pick, so I vote for someone else. What would you do?”

Her jaw dropped open, and fire lit behind her eyes. “We had a deal, Sikthand! Are you saying you aren’t—”

“Hypothetically,” he interrupted. “If I didn’t vote for your choice, what would you do?”

Her jaw snapped closed, and she glared at him for a moment. “Well, hypothetically”—she said the word with a sneer—“I’d be really fucking pissed off. And hypothetically I’d take that shiny retractable spear you gave me to train with, and hypothetically I’d shove it up your ass.” She fell back in her seat with a huff and flipped through the pages in front of her.

“You think you could shove that pole up my ass, little human?” He couldn’t help but allow the warmth to chase away some of his misery and grinned at her ridiculous statement.

At his raised brows, she shrugged. “Hypothetically.”

“And in reality?”

Sophia let out a huff and flattened the papers in her lap. “What is going on with you? Are you seriously thinking about reneging on our deal?”

Sikthand said nothing. It was completely out of line, but he wanted her to tell him that it wouldn’t matter. That she’d marry him regardless.

When he only stared, waiting for an answer, she shook her head and peered up at the ceiling.

Her eyes scanned the lights above while she thought. “I honestly don’t know. I’d be really upset. That’s all I know for sure.”

“Would you still marry me?” he asked, the emotion bubbling inside came out as a growl, though he wasn’t feeling angry.

A line appeared between her brows. She tilted her head at him, seriously considering his question. “I don’t think I can answer that. My instinct is no—unless you had a very, very good reason. You’d be breaking my trust. Why would I marry someone who does that?”

Sikthand’s insides were crumbling. She wasn’t wrong. Sophia respected herself. Why would she marry someone who broke their word?

“But it’s not that simple, is it?” She sighed. “Marrying you and becoming queen would still mean I could help my people. So, I suppose I don’t really have a choice. But it would be a cold marriage, like you said.” Her gaze rose to his. “Do you still want that? A cold marriage?”

Sikthand swallowed. King Cueyar had offered her a romantic marriage. He’d offered her the vote and a throne. Roborh was also a gentler city. Humans would be much more excited to live there than they would in the stormy, technologically bare city of Vrulatica.

If Sophia’s decisions were solely driven by where she could make the most impact and give the best life to humans, he’d be an idiot to think she’d remain here. Even if she felt something for him, it would be in her best interest to go, and there was no argument Sikthand could make for why he and Vrulatica were the better choice. He could only hope she was honorable enough to keep her word.

So, did he want a cold marriage? No. His insides screamed for him to say the word aloud, but revealing the change of his heart would leave him vulnerable.

Sophia’s lips pulled down the longer the silence stretched. He didn’t know what to say.

“I think I’ll head out for the night,” Sophia murmured, gathering her things. Before she left, she turned to him, her eyes glassy. “Don’t do anything foolish, okay?”

He wanted to burst out laughing. He’d fallen in love with his future wife. He was the biggest fool of them all.


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