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Song of Sorrows and Fate: Chapter 27

Rogue Princess

Somewhere in the West

Ravenspire was different. A few broken beams from the shift, but . . . there. Surrounded by blossoms of moonvane and new trees. Aspens like Etta had always had, but more evergreens, a few spiked plants that seemed only to grow in the fae isles.

What was missing were the normal borders of Lyx, the lower township near Ravenspire. And the docks. Where was the damn sea?

Valen shuffled through our chamber. Tables were overturned, a few cracks were in the windows, but most of our belongings were here, and it made little sense.

The damn kingdom had been swallowed by a night so thick I could not see my own hand in front of my face. As the soil had shattered, we’d lost sight of it all. I was certain we’d wake in the Otherworld but instead we were . . . somewhere else.

I couldn’t even orient myself in this new landscape, yet somehow, it felt a great deal like home. Trees blocked our view, but we couldn’t remain here not knowing what faced us in the wood.

Valen handed me an additional dagger and strapped one in a sheath on the small of his back. He tucked a few bits of copper shim to a pouch on his belt, his axes, and the wrapped disc we’d won from the death of the sea king.

Valen rarely left it unguarded, unsettled by the threat from Thorvald’s brother ten turns ago to return. Truth be told, there was a strange, fading power to the gold talisman. Like it was slowly dying.

“Ready?” he asked, taking my hand.

I squeezed his fingers, nodding, and followed him out of the castle to the crowd gathering in the cracked gardens. The cobbled paths, bowers, and fountains had toppled in the earth shift. Most of the plants remained unscathed, but like everything else, seemed different than before, lusher, more vibrant.

A cart had been loaded with supplies and Lilianna. Our horses and charges fled during the shift, so the front was pulled by Ettan warriors, Arvad, Kjell, and Dagar Atra. Arvad hadn’t left Lili’s side. We’d anticipated the need for sleeping draughts, but something else was keeping her body at rest.

In truth, every cursed Timoran seemed to have fallen under some kind of sleep spell.

We’d emerged in this new Etta with Timorans sprawled about, coated in blood. For now, they were all safely locked in the cells, sleeping. Lilianna would remain with us. If we found a way to help her, we could help them all. Until then, we had some sense of safety from at least one threat.

Valen went to a few knights with the orders to keep guard on the palace where our elderly, injured, or those unable to lift a blade would remain. A few gates were crooked and bent on their hinges, but still strong. With archers and watchmen in place, it was the most we could offer them for safety.

I stepped away from Valen and went to the woman staring at the sky, her hand on her belly.

“Siv,” I whispered.

Siverie peered over her shoulder, a glisten to her eyes. “Do you think he’s here, Elise? I don’t want to leave him behind.”

My throat burned. I wrapped her in my arms. “He’s always with you, Siv. Gods, he loved—no, he loves you. He’ll always be here, no matter where we are.”

She’d sniffed when she pulled back, wiping a few tears off her cheeks. “I should come with you.”

Siv was heavy with their child. I placed a hand on her belly and smiled. “I need you here. Protect these people, protect your little. We’ll return, I swear to you.”

“You . . . you and Valen, everyone who’s going out there, you’re all I have left.”

“And we’ll be back.” I trapped her face in my hands. “Don’t you dare have that babe without me.”

Siv let out a broken laugh and hugged me tightly. I refused to be the first to let go. Siv had been without Mattis barely over a week, and I suspected the shock of it was still settling. No mistake, if ever we found time for peace, the pain of his absence would come with a wretched vengeance.

When Siv released me and returned to the inner gates of Ravenspire with the others, I crossed into the gardens to those going out into the wood.

The rest of us, most of our armies, and the royal littles (for I doubted there would be any chance we could leave our young ones without the comfort of their families after what they’d seen) would trek for the light in the distance.

Our kingdom had shattered, but the same golden shimmer we’d seen before the break remained in the red sky.

Perhaps it was a ruse, a trap set to lead us in like a moth to a flame, but somewhere inside it felt . . . safe. Like home.

“We travel with little light,” Valen said, his voice lifting over the caravan. “Until we know what we’re facing, blades out, instincts sharp. Littles are kept on the inside.” The king took in his nephews, his nieces, his warrior’s young ones, then at last, his own daughter. Valen kept his gaze on Livia as he finished his instructions. “You all run if we command it, no question, no fighting. You run. Aesir.”

Halvar’s son snapped to attention.

Valen gripped the boy’s shoulder. “You’re the oldest of those not of age to fight. You’ll lead them if it comes to that. Can I count on you?”

“Yes.” Aesir dipped his chin. “Always, My King.”

Burdens lined my heart. One look at my girl and it wanted to snap in two. Livia fought to be bold and brave, but there was a significant tremble to her chin as she clung to Aleksi’s side. I wanted nothing more than to assure her it would all be well, but in truth, I’d never seen this. I did not know what was happening, or what we faced in those trees.

“May the gods be with us,” Valen said with a touch of despair.

I took hold of Livia’s palm, bending down to kiss her knuckles, and positioned her on the inside. I stepped next to Valen, blade in my free hand.

He leaned in and pressed a kiss to my throat. “Don’t break your promise, Kvinna.”

Protect yourself. At all costs. The plea of Legion Grey seemed so long ago. I could hardly process all that had happened since a handsome dowry negotiator stole my heart. Unknown as our future was, I would not go back. I would never change the path that led me to Valen Ferus.

“I promise.”

Valen took out one of his axes. “Then, let’s find out where in the hells we are.”

My legs ached, like splinters of bone were jabbing into my boots. Our path led us down hillsides. It was as if Etta had landed on a damn mountain, and the gilded sheen to the sky kept leading us down.

Those pulling the cart kept taking shifts with others to keep up their strength. By now, I had Valen’s axe in one hand, a sword in the other, while he stood on the inside of me, holding Livia in his arms.

Nothing had leapt from the shadows. No beasts appeared, other than a few hares, shy deer, and the tails of white foxes. What had changed, however, was the hint of the sea at long last. Brine and sand and cool wind washed through the wood the closer we trudged toward the beacon of light.

“Should we make camp?” Herja slipped beside her brother, the bow strapped over her shoulder, a bit of respite for her tiresome grip.

“Probably wise.” Valen let out a sigh. “I don’t know how much farther we have to go to reach the shore.”

Herja stroked a hand down Livia’s head, a weary smile on her face. “I’ll let those in the rear know. The littles will sing your praises.”

Valen leaned in to whisper against my ear when she left. “I think some of the young ones are doing better than me.”

I cracked my neck side to side and took a seat on a fallen log. The moan slid from my throat involuntarily when blood rushed to the aches of my feet.

Valen grinned. “Perhaps they are doing better than you, my love.”

“Careful how you mock me right now, King. I’m tired enough to get a bit violent.”

He kissed my lips quickly before gently settling Livia at my side. She whimpered in her sleep, then flopped her head onto my lap, her body crooked and oddly positioned on the log.

We all looked a little disheveled. Tor’s hair had slipped from the braid down his head. Sol’s face was coated in dirt. Even Halvar hunched as he leaned against a tree, blood and innards still stained on his tunic.

Stieg aided Valen and Hagen in delivering water down the line. Most took the pause to stretch the soles of their feet, their backs, and to relieve their belts from the weight of blades.

I closed my eyes and let my back slump against the trunk of a nearby tree, holding Livia a little tighter.

A branch snapped behind me. My heart leapt to my throat when a distant, low rumble of a voice followed. Someone was in the wood.

In the next breath, I had Livia tucked behind the log, awake and trembling, as I lifted a blade. “Who’s there?”

At my voice, Halvar rushed to my side, next, Tor.

Valen was swift to return, axes out. “Show yourself.”

The night thickened. Like more weight filled the shadows between trees.

“Show ourselves.” A rasp, low and gritty, followed. “I do despise demanding royals.”

I let out a rough breath of relief when from the darkness, a familiar face appeared. Like us, a blade extended, eyes pitch as the night, but Kase Eriksson smirked.

“Kase,” Valen breathed out, dragging his fingers through his hair. “Gods, what . . . how are you here?”

“I could ask you the same.” The Nightrender was not a warm man, at least not to others, but when Valen hooked an arm around his neck, Kase clapped my husband’s back with as much relief.

“Elise? Herja? Gods, it’s the North!” Malin’s vibrant red hair broke through the trees. Each of her hands was clasped in one of her boys’.

“Mal.” Hagen rushed for his sister and had her wrapped up in his arms in the next breath. He laughed when the twins hugged his hips.

Their brother, Bard, stepped from the shadows and clasped forearms with Hagen, a look of relief on both their faces in knowing they were all still intact.

“Look at you little creatures.” Hagen lifted each of the Eastern princes into his arms. “You’ve grown a full head since I saw you last.”

“Maybe me. Sander’s still bony,” said Jonas. His darker hair was on end, and his pale cheeks were coated in a new layer of dirt. Sander had more auburn waves, like his mother, and didn’t even attempt to argue. He merely hooked his skinny arms around Hagen’s neck, hiding his face.

“Livie!” Jonas wiggled out of Hagen’s hold and raced for Livia. “Gods, guess what? You’ll never guess. Our bleeding kingdom broke. Broke.”

“Ours too.” Livia wrung her hands together.

“Alek!” Jonas said with relief when my nephew joined them. “Oh, good, Metta, Dain, and Laila are alive. Maj was really scared they got hurt. She was scared for you, too, obviously.” Jonas gave quick embraces to his cousins from Herja and Hagen, then returned to his playmates.

Sander seemed content to hide in Hagen’s arms.

Malin came to me, quickly embraced, then pulled back. “So, the same happened to Etta, the shadows?”

“The shift?” I returned.

Malin nodded. Her shoulders slumped, weary as mine, and dirt soaked into her freckles. “Elise, everything . . . everything has changed. The Howl, it’s gone. How does a sea disappear?”

I shook my head. None of this made any sense.

“We left some folk behind,” she said. “We decided to look about, to catch our bearings. Thankfully we found you.”

“We’ve done the same. We have wounded and—”

I didn’t get a chance to explain about Lilianna’s predicament before Kase spoke.

“Safe to say we’ve all experienced something similar? The sea attacked us, said they were there because that was where their king died.”

Valen’s jaw tightened. “They should’ve come for me.”

“Sounds like you had your own worries.”

“That we have. Is Niklas with you? My mother, she has need of his skills.”

Kase shook his head. “We’ve found a few of our folk who were in other regions when the shift happened. But . . . no Falkyns yet.”

“Have you lost anyone?” I whispered, taking Malin’s hand.

Her face fell, and even not knowing the names, my heart ached for them.

“Yes,” she said. “Both . . . both Luca and Dagny. They fought for each other, died together. You?”

All gods. I closed my eyes. “Many Timorans, and warriors, and . . .” I tightened my hold on her hand. “Mattis.”

“No.”

It took a few moments for us to describe the events that took place in our kingdoms. All horrid, all strange and confusing.

“We need to be on the watch for Ari, Saga, and Calista,” Valen said at long last. “For now, I’m assuming whatever spell brought us here, brought them as well.”

“I think you’re right, Uncle Valen.” Dain swiped his dark hair out of his eyes, and sheathed a short blade, gesturing at the treetops. “Or do you suppose that bird up there looking at us is simply a normal raven?”


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