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Song of Sorrows and Fate: Chapter 11

The Storyteller

An ache raged behind my eyes. With the heel of my hand, I rubbed it away and took in the dim room.

Black satin shades covered windows in a sickeningly large room. I’d spent turns in the palaces of every kingdom, but I had never spent a night in such an ornate chamber. Wooden beams climbed to the rafters and marked every corner of a fur wrapped bed fit for at least four men. Overstuffed down pillows took up half the surface of it.

With a groan, I stood from the floor, rubbing the back of my head. What happened? Hells, I couldn’t recall when I’d slept so soundly.

I dragged my fingers over a polished chest of drawers, pausing when I touched the golden handle of a hairbrush. Pieces of golden hair were still tangled in the soft bristles.

I knew this brush. I spun about, wincing as the blood rushed back to the slow ache, and took a second glance at the furnishings. A corner seat near the covered window. The bed, a wardrobe in the corner where . . . where a calming voice had once soothed me.

My pulse quickened. With the toe of my boot, I kicked back a pelt used for a rug. My palm covered my mouth. A few flecks of blood splattered the floorboards. On instinct, my hand went to my throat. The barest of scars was in my skin. A scar that had only appeared after my return from captivity in the North. I couldn’t recall what caused it and brushed it away as some clumsy mistake in my Ravenspire cell.

Until I’d witnessed that brutal night in Ari’s dreams.

A mother that held a knife to her child’s neck. The way she fought against the darkness overtaking her, as her love and desire to save her child kept the blade from digging in too deep.

The wardrobe was painted in . . . roses. I’d always loved those roses, and often sang, tracing them with my fingers as Maj brushed her hair. My hold on the handle of the hairbrush tightened. A spark of white, burning pain clung to my heart when I hugged it to my chest.

This room once belonged to Riot and Anneli Ode.

Or at least it was made as a replica. Hadn’t my parents ruled in the fae isles? Then again, hadn’t they shattered the kingdom into bits and pieces?

Ari’s dreams never gave up what became of those empty Western seas. My father never said, only made plans with his . . . ward.

The king’s ward. The boy.

I remembered the shadows all around me. The opened gates at Hus Rose. I remembered him. A man in a mask with smoky storms in the burden of his gaze.

Silas.

And the bastard had locked me in like a common thief. In three strides I reached the door, cursing him under my breath, prepared to kick and claw at the latch until it opened, but on the first forceful shove, the door gave and spilled me into the corridor.

I coughed, face down on a woven runner. Dust and mildew burned my nose as I hurried back to standing.

Knife. Knife. Where was my bleeding knife? I padded my chest and sheaths, recalling I’d dropped any blades before I’d stepped foot in Hus Rose. To live in Raven Row meant one was resourceful when supplies weren’t readily available. I turned the hairbrush in my grip, handle out. Might not kill, but it would do damage when shoved into an eye socket.

The new blood moon brought dull light, but it couldn’t break through, not in here. Like the bed chamber, dark, musty shades covered windows and an occasional glass mirror. Eerie candlelight painted the walls in dancing shadows.

Somewhere down the hallway a door slammed. “Hello?”

More slams, more groans. I held my breath and peered into the room with the racket. My shoulders slumped in relief. A window had unlatched, and the pane kept striking the latch again and again as the wind tossed it about.

I let out a shuddering chuckle and combed my fingers through my messy braids. I was a damn fool. What if it’d been a sword-wielding madman, and I’d come armed with a hairbrush?

My solitude was interrupted by a sweet, melodic strum of whimsical strings. I’d fought descending into the throes of fate, convinced death greeted me at the end of the tale, but in this moment I didn’t resist. I knew that song. I knew who played it. And the bleeding sod wasn’t getting off easy for locking me behind damn doors.

Certainly not while he was playing the spritely song he’d always played to get me spinning and giggling as a girl.

The more he pushed, the more I wanted to fight back. Call it a need to have a touch of control over my own destiny after living a life where everyone wanted to snatch it away. No mistake, I yearned for answers to the endless string of questions, but the day my brother died a death he knew was fated to happen, I vowed my destiny would be my own.

The sweet tune led me through corridor after corridor. Turns and twists, like a bleeding labyrinth. The room might’ve appeared like the one from my childhood, but this part of the palace was unfamiliar. Dark and dangerous—a wolf’s lair.

It seemed the deeper I went, the darker it became. Fewer sconces on the walls, heavier drapes on any outer windows, as though blotting out the sun and moonlight had always been the intention.

A small staircase led to an upper landing with a single, arched door. The melody bled from inside. I gripped my hairbrush battle blade and softly padded inside the room. All hells. Clay statues were toppled and cracked. Shredded satin was tossed across stained woven rugs. Rawhide drums, toppled harps and lutes, and scattered pan pipes, dirtied the floor. But in one corner was a long bench, padded in coarse furs. It was placed beside a tall window, drapes pulled aside, and seated atop the furs was Silas.

His face was turned away from me, broad shoulders hunched, and propped in his lap was a tall tagelharpa, a stringed instrument with a horse-hair bow that brought the strings to life with wistful, evocative melodies.

I hadn’t seen one played in . . . in truth, I wasn’t certain I’d ever seen one in the four kingdoms since—my teeth clenched—since before the brutal end of House Ode.

The hairbrush made a slow descent to my side.

Silas hadn’t noticed his solitude had been disturbed. His head moved with each gentle glide of the bow stick. He was my father’s ward, no mistake. The boy who’d studied seidr under the tutelage of the fate king was drawn to all music after he’d found his voice.

Saga told me that my daj had been much the same.

My cheek twitched in a reluctant smile. Mornings waking to the sound of lyres or small fife tunes floating through my open window broke through my mind. As though the music unlocked the shadowed memories and brought unexpected light.

All you do is blow your breath in it, Little Rose. Give it a go.

I bit the inside of my cheek, hiding a laugh when I recalled the irritated huff and larger hands snatching the fife out of mine, with a snarly, You’re gods-awful at this and you bleeding slobbered all over the end.

I winced and pressed the heel of my palm to my skull. Somehow this piece of my life had been hidden. Why, I didn’t yet know, but planned to find out.

The draw to Silas was undeniable. Almost unbearable now that I’d crossed the threshold of the palace grounds. What had kept me from doing it all this time? More than fear. Much like the other kingdoms, any curiosity of the Mad King faded swiftly if ever thoughts of him slid into my brain.

Until now. In this moment, the occupant of Hus Rose consumed my every thought. My every breath. It was as if my heart beat coiled with his, needing his nearness.

He was the fate I’d avoided. Deep inside an ember sparked to life. A piece that had always been there, yet locked in shadows. Moments as this, I detested the tricks of the Norns. If after one interaction this draw toward my phantom had reeled me back to him, why was I parted from him at all?

I supposed fear was potent enough to keep me tethered in my dangerous notions that hiding from my fate was better for everyone. Now, I feared I’d waited too long to face it.

Two paces from Silas, I lifted my hand to reach for him. He startled when the tips of my fingers dragged along his shoulder, but he didn’t cease his playing. He didn’t look at me.

Heat from his skin, his dark tunic, radiated up my arm. It blazed from the inside out, and I wanted more. I wanted to be nearer.

Gently, I roved my hand along the curve of his shoulder, to the side of his neck. His fingers came to a still on the tagelharpa. My hand climbed, lost in the warmth of his skin, the rough stubble on his jaw.

With a sigh, he tilted his head into my palm as I touched his face, the curve of his ear. I wasn’t bold, I’d never really craved anyone. Had I wondered about the moans and sighs coming from other tenement rooms? Often. Had Stefan stumbled into our flat more than once with his hair disheveled and bite marks on his neck? Constantly.

I’d balked at the near maddening desire that always lived in the eyes of my royals. The sort of passion and need that drove them to violence to protect their lover was confusing at times.

This burning was new and foreign and frightening. Part of me wanted to dig my claws into Silas’s skin so he might never be rid of me. Another piece wanted his larger, stronger body to cover mine; I wanted him to devour me. Then, the final piece wanted to run, scream, and sever whatever this connection was before it could take hold any more.

I dragged my fingernails up the shaved side of his head, touching each tattooed rune mark, then wrapped the longer strands of his hair around my knuckles.

I forgot myself, forgot the need to be wary, and let my brow drop to the back of his head. “Why did you stay hidden from me?”

“It was not by choice.” He stiffened. “You are my thoughts that rise with the sun, and my fears that come with the night.”

“Your fears?”

“Fear that I will wake and you will once more be gone.”

“I don’t understand.” My hands dropped to his shoulders and I shook my head, still pressed against his. “If you missed Stef—Annon—then, he knew of you.”

“It was not as though he wanted to keep secrets. We did not . . . interact. We . . . couldn’t.”

“Why?” Silas looked away and frustration gathered like a stone in my chest. “Gods, what harm would come from telling me the truth?”

“Why did none of the fated crowns know their truths, Little Rose?”

I considered the question, and despised the answer. “So they would find their true destiny through sheer grit and stubbornness.”

A low chuckle rolled from his throat. “I suppose. They had to find their paths. It was part of the story. They had to fight, struggle, they had to cleave to their new power for it to grow as strong as it was always meant to be, or it would be easily taken again.”

“So, that’s what this is? My fight. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don’t have the time.” I opened my arm, gesturing to the window. “Don’t tell me this moon means nothing. I saw him.”

“Yes.”

“Then we cannot stay holed away in here.” I straightened my shoulders. Thoughts of Sol, Tor, and little Alek ran in my head. Thoughts of Cuyler and his men. Even the odd resentment of Olaf. No more running. “There are those who must be warned of what I saw.”

“I cannot watch you take the risk.”

My lips parted. “Cannot? Or will not?”

Silas sighed. Gently, he set the instrument aside and turned around on the bench. Hells, he was . . . haunted and beautiful. The way shadows painted contours in the world as the sun sets, secrets lived in the curves of his face, behind the mask he wore, in the shades of his dark eyes.

“These walls are safe,” he said briskly. “This is where you’ll stay.”

Silas rose from the bench, and without a backward glance, he left the room.

Stunned, I opened and closed my mouth more than once before freeing a frustrated shriek that echoed through the corridors.

This was worse than being a captive at Castle Ravenspire, since I wanted to slaughter those guards, but with him I still wanted to reach out and pull him close every time my damn captor showed his masked face.

In his presence, my heart would sing.

In his absence, I thought only of how to get free of him.


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