Authors: Mary Weber
“He's an angry person.” Kel wrinkles his nose as the wind whips over the airship railing. “And not much for caring who knows it. He says being confined with two traitors on âa bleeding Bron king's ship' is the worst offense, and that King Sedric will punish you all.”
I raise a brow. “I'm sure he's saying it, but I'm more curious as to how you
he's saying it.”
“The air vents are all the same on these ships.”
I eye him with what amusement I can muster. “I assume your father still doesn't know about your escapade in Faelen using those vents?”
“Nah. And don't you go telling him either.”
“Or else what?”
“Not sure,” he mumbles. “But I'll think of something.” His big
dark eyes watch me from his black, rain-spattered face. “You going to come inside soon? You got goose bumps.” He nods to my hands.
I look down at my wrists peeking out from the cuff sleeves that are overly long but still the shortest I could find. It took me half an hour to dig up this Bron uniform from a storage closet. “I like the rain.” I close my eyes and inhale the air that has gradually gone from icy to only mildly cold the farther south we've flown over the Cashlin mountains. “If you concentrate, you can smell the salt in the wind. We've almost reached the sea.”
“You think we're going to make it in time then?” Kel whispers.
“To save Eogan?”
He shrugs. “Just asking. 'Cuz he looks pretty all right to me, except . . .”
He shakes his head.
He furrows his brow. “I just think something's off with him, and not just 'cuz he's still ill.”
I frown. “Want to explain that?”
His little lips purse together as he swerves his gaze to meet mine. So solemn. So intent. Finally, “It means nothing. And if it didâit's not my business to worry about. But . . . here he comes, so just don't kiss him or anything.”
I ease my frown and follow Kel's gaze to where Eogan emerges from the captains' room. “Well, now you've ruined my plan. Because I was thinking I'd smack him a good one right in front ofâ”
Kel's gone before I can finish, scurrying past Eogan with an exaggerated gagging sound. I move to assist Eogan, but he waves me off even as his gaze catches mine and glimmers. “What was that about?”
“Nothing. I'm merely beginning to think it's a Bron curse for
the men to talk in hints so as to keep the world confused,” I say lighter than I feel. I eye him closer.
What did Kel mean?
His eyes scan my cheeks. “Must've been quite the hint seeing as it's got youâ”
Suddenly my face feels beyond warm. I narrow my brow and he clears his throat. “Easing the rain up.”
I snort and look up. Yes, the rain softened right along with Kel's embarrassing kissing comment.
When I drop my gaze, Eogan is studying me with amusement. “Think we'll make it in time?”
He swags a hand dramatically down his chest with a lopsided smile. “Survival, or whatever it was the queen told you.”
“Funny, Kel was just asking the same thing,” I say with forced casualness. “Maybe if you'd lie down and rest for once.”
“I'm feeling much better, thank you.”
“You don't look it.” I move over to support him, but he shakes his head and leans against the railing. “Truly, I'm fine. Whatever they didâ”
“So now I'm confusing
a liar? What have the Bron men ever done to deserveâ”
I level a glare at him, prompting him to laugh and lift both hands in surrender.
“Fine. But when do I confuse you? Aside from the whole shape-shifter thing, which I'll remind you was completely beyond my fault.”
I actually snort. Has he not spent the past few months living the same days as me? “You confuse people with your intentions. With your words and with what you hide and what you want. I'd think you'd know that, considering all the time I've spent yelling at you.”
He straightens and smirks. “All right, another fair point. I'll give you that.” He shoves a hand through his bangs and pauses as he eyes me. “The fact is, I think I've spent most of my life hiding thingsâinitially from my fatherâand then when I came to Faelen, from everyone else. But these days . . .” His gaze turns sincere. “I think you'll find my intentions are quite clear.”
Then what about his hesitation in the room this morning . . .?
The old awareness that he's a king and I'm a newly emancipated slave slips over my shoulders like a scratchy shroud.
“Thank you for getting us out of Cashlin, by the way.” He glances at the soldiers working the ship while their counterparts catch an hour's sleep in the hull.
“We all did.”
“Maybe, but without your storm moving in, we wouldn't have made it.”
“What did the queen say to you?” I ask, assessing his sallow complexion.
His expression flickers puzzled, then clears with apparent acceptance of the topic change. “I told you, she asked questions.”
“But she also said things to you, I assume. Can I ask what?”
His brow goes up but he stays silent, studying me, as if he's trying to decide what to say or, perhaps, how to say it.
“She gave me options,” he murmurs after a moment, his voice barely rising above the airship's drone. “She told me we could fight Draewulf, or we could run and hide and hope Draewulf never finds us. Or . . . we could separate, and I could put as much distance as possible between me and you to keep Draewulf from capturing us both. However, she could give no guarantee that any of those would work.”
That's what she gave him?
He nods and continues staring at me. “Why?”
Something inside breathes a sigh of relief, releasing a tension I didn't even know was there. Perhaps because I know his beautiful face and soul well enough to understand if she had suggested the option of either him or me dying, he would've claimed it in a heartpulse. He would've seen it as his responsibility to sacrifice for the good of everyone.
But that's not how it's supposed to be. Because
am the one who was never supposed to survive.
And she didn't give him the option . . .
I smile in spite of his sincerity.
“Are you going to tell me what it is you're thinking?”
“Do you know what you're going to decide?”
His expression takes on the same hesitation I saw earlier today in the room with him, after he'd returned from the queen. “I'll not abandon you in hopes he'll not find us. But I'll not control you either. However, if we run . . .” He lifts his eyes and stares hard out at the peaks and the glimmer of Faelen just beyond them.
“We have no guarantee he won't destroy them just to draw us out,” I whisper.
He nods as if this is exactly what he was thinking. “Which is why I still believe we must fight.”
“Even though it could destroy all of them.” His tone says he knows how heavily such a choice will weigh on me.
“We will lead them to war, but ultimately it is their choice whether to follow. They still have the freedom to choose.”
I snort. “Many of them have no idea what freedom even is.”
“Then let's pray we introduce them to it.”
I swallow and keep my eyes on the horizon just as white peaks come into view. And beneath them, a blue so deep it calls to my lungs and steals my breath, only to replace it with salted air and the smell of woods being lapped by lazuli waters.
The Elisedd Sea.
My blood snaps within my veins at the sight. And Faelen, the island of my birth and birthright. We're almost home.
My chest clenches at that realityâthat this truly is my home, and these are my people.
A people I will endanger in an effort to bring them freedom, because I am willing to fight, yes. But if I can give them freedom easierâif I can circumvent Draewulf by allowing myself to be killed at the start of the battle . . .
“Hold it all lightly. You will have to sacrifice.”
I slip my hand over Eogan's and nod. Of course we will fight. Because it's the only choice we can in good conscience make. Anything beyond that . . .
“And may I ask what choices she gave
“The queen? The same,” I say without thinking.
His brow rises in surprise before furrowing. “And?”
“And that Rasha will need us as much as we need her to defeat Draewulf . . .
. . .”
“If the queen dies.” He stares at me with a gaze that says we both know it's no longer a question of “if.”
“Your eyes still say she suggested more.”
I drop my gaze back toward the Cashlin cliffs, now dropping away into the sea, and say nothing.
“What aren't you telling me?”
That you or I could die to keep Draewulf from succeeding. That no matter what, one of us will die in fighting him.
I steady my voice. “I'm not ready to speak of it because I'm still not quite sure what she meant.”
The snort he utters reminds me why he was Bron's military general for so many years. He's no daft fool. He nods and waits.
I clear my throat. Then lighten my tone. “Tell me what it was like.”
“What what was like?”
“Fighting Draewulf inside you. Tell me again how you survived. Perhaps there's something in it that can help us defeat him on a larger scale.”
Eogan's green gaze enfolds mine. “It was like screaming inside the blackest nightânot knowing where I was or where everyone else went. The times I erupted to the surface, it was like drowning at sea and fighting for air. And the times I sank back, it was . . . quiet.” He stops.
The way he said it, I suspect he means more than quiet. He means lonely.
He leans heavily onto the railing and his hands shake slightly for a moment, and I swear his eyes are starting to look glassed over. Suddenly everything within me is cracking and becoming all fissures at the fact that he is so clearly fadingâand at what he's not saying. About the years he's spent knowing true aloneness more than anyone else in this world. Hearing in his tone the understanding of what it means to be completely separated from love.
Except for the feeble amount offered as a sick perversionâa skinny lust so frail and weak and emaciated by the woman who couldn't bear, couldn't
, to let him feel for anyone but herself.
From where the sensation emerges I don't know, but my heart is abruptly fluttering like a bird, confessing as I peer up into his eyes that I would give anything in this moment to offer it.
Love. At least what little I've learned from him and Colin and even Breck.
And to take what he's willing to give in return, in the hopes that I could grow the skinny love he's known, until it becomes full and whole and reaching. One that starts at your soles and reaches into your spirit and on up into your throat until you're pouring pouring pouring out the words and hopes and everything about yourself that you would give, without reservation, to another being.
That is what I want to promise him at this moment. That is what I want to ask of him.
And suddenly I know this is what I can give to him.
If I hadn't decided before, my soul is answering nowâwe will fight, yes. But if too many lives are in danger of being lost, then I will choose the biggest love I know to give. The thing that will keep the monster from ever consuming Eogan again or his life and land and soul. That will keep Draewulf from decimating our people.
I straighten my shoulders harder.
“What did the queen tell you, Nym?” he asks weakly, still staring toward Faelen.
I swallow and keep my gaze steady as he turns those questioning eyes to me. “I won't argue with you, and I know I have no right to demand any truth from you. But is it unfair of me to ask you to trust me?”
“You of all people should know that sometimes we keep our own counsel for a time,” I whisper. I lift a hand, half draped in that too-large Bron coat, and press it to his face. Then stand on my tiptoes and place a kiss on his chin.
this time,” I murmur.
“Your tapping the railing won't make us go any faster, you know.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
“Is it annoying you?”
Eogan tips his head to my crippled hand where my knuckles are rapping the metal so hard they've apparently begun bleeding.
I pull them away and push them into my sides. And try not to stare at the bags beneath my trainer's eyes that have been growing grayer over the past two hours. Nor at the slight shivering that's taken hold of his body.
“We're going to make it in time,” he says, and I almost laugh at the forced levity in his tone.
“Your Highness! Warboats off the starboard,” a voice breaks in.
When I glance up, the lookout stationed on the skywalk is pointing frantically to the oceanâto the vessels crowding the channel between Tulla's cliffs and Faelen's shores. Five of the boats are flying Bron's silver-and-black-striped colors, with an airship floating above one of them, and the seven facing them are sporting Faelen's. Despite the wind and weather, the boats and ship are showing no movement from either side. It's a standoff.
“Well, that might come in handy.” Eogan nods toward the airship.
I frown. That wasn't there a few days ago. Then I look at Eogan. Does he remember? “Draewulf brought them with us to attack Tulla.”
His lips grow pale, but whether it's from illness or the recollection, I can't tell. He just nods. “Question is, are they full of his Dark Army or my men?” He turns. “Kenan.”