Book: B01786HSBM (F)

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Next: Chapter Nine

Chapter Eight

 

Negotiations were fruitless. Three days into the ambassador’s visit and it was clear the Pythians were not going to be swayed. There was nothing King Lucius’s advisors could offer that would match the Caltothian’s terms. And from the way the meetings had gone thus far, King Horrace had promised a lot.

I wasn’t present for said meetings, of course, but the worry lines creasing the non-heir’s forehead each dinner were enough. I had to watch Darren’s haggard face each time he stepped out of the Crown Chambers looking worse than before. Over dinner he would practice strained conversation with the Pythians while I picked at my food and pretended things weren’t as hopeless as they seemed. Even Blayne stopped trying to carry the pretense of self-assurance by that third night.

Duke Cassius was the only one enjoying himself, and he toasted his kinsmen every chance he got. Between his raucous laughter and that smug smile, it wasn’t hard to see he was making a mockery of our court. Like me, he had four days left to his visit—but his was a mere formality.

“A shame…” The duke started to say, and then stopped himself. He didn’t need to finish. The rest of his sentence was implied. A shame your kingdom will fall. A shame King Horrace offers King Joren the world. A shame you can’t offer the same.

King Lucius was faring the worst. While Darren and Blayne continued to plaster fake smiles and flourishing compliments, their father was silent to a fault. The king spent entire evenings staring daggers at the duke, and from the way he tore into his meat and let the bloody venison drip down his chin, I suspected he envisioned it as the Pythian’s flesh instead.

I lost all appetite after that.

The remainder of my time was spent in the practice courts—etiquette postponed in light of the Pythians’ arrival. There were no more lessons on courtly decorum; the scholars were too busy poring over records in the treasury, searching for a way to appease the Pythians’ demands.

I had just finished washing up from a particularly grueling session with some of the regiment knights when I heard Darren enter his chamber next door. From the way wood slammed against stone it was easy to assert the Crown had come no further in negotiations.

And then it slammed again. Two angry voices started on the other side.

Pressing a finger to my lips so Sofia and Gemma didn’t give our presence away, I tiptoed across to the wall and cupped my hand against the surface.

I knew it was wrong to listen in, but Darren had refused to tell me anything since the negotiations began, and I was desperate for news. He was so busy trying to pretend things weren’t as bad as they were, and if he wasn’t willing to reveal the truth to me just yet, then I would find out another way.

“Never should have sent you off to that school!”

“Blayne—”

“You were supposed to be here, Darren. With me. Not her. Me.”

“I’m here now.” There was a bit of silence, then much quieter: “Was he really that bad after I left?”

“What do you think?”

“Blayne, I’m—”

“It’s a bit late for an apology.”

A reticent sigh. “We still have three days. I’ll figure out a way, there must be something we haven’t thought of—”

“We offered them everything. Everything! Didn’t you hear the advisors? The only thing we haven’t proposed is the country itself.” A harsh laugh. “Would you prefer Jerar go under Pythian rule, dear brother? We can’t match the wealth of Caltoth, the only thing left is a crown.”

Something hit the wall with a shatter. “They are supposed to honor the Great Compromise. Why won’t they honor it?”

Darren’s voice: “Caltoth has been attacking our border for years! They can’t claim the incident in Ferren’s Keep a territory dispute—”

“King Joren will never choose honor when faced with his own country’s gain.” Blayne’s tone was full of contempt. “Why should one carry out a century’s old pledge when he can further his own?”

“It isn’t right. We have supported the Pythians for years—”

“Loyalty is never built upon honor, brother. It is built upon blood.”

I stepped away from the wall and asked Gemma to tell the king I was feeling a bit faint. I could not join them for dinner. It had been a mistake to listen in on Darren and his brother. The princes hadn’t said anything I hadn’t already assumed, but somehow hearing the words spoken aloud made it worse.

I could not sit across from that merciless duke and force a smile to my lips. Not tonight.

I had Sofia help me back out of my dress and then pulled on a fresh pair of breeches, yanking my long-sleeved wool tunic up over my head.

“My lady? You’re training, again?” My lady-in-waiting blinked at me in confusion. “Aren’t you exhausted?”

“I am.” I grabbed my scabbard and swung open the door. “If Darren asks, tell him I am outside the soldiers barracks. But tell him I want to be alone.”

****

Paige found me an hour later drilling myself in the soldier’s arena to the east of the palace wall. I was fighting the flurry of cold with my blade, cutting a swathe through falling snow and pretending it was the Pythians instead. My breath came out staggered and hot, but I kept swinging and swinging until she finally dragged me away.

My guard pried the blade right out of my hands and tossed it to the frozen ground, handing me her flask. I took a long swig while she waited. And then another. I drank the entire container without even emitting a gasp as the searing contents tore a hole through my chest. Blood started to move and my fingers burned as they tingled, the warmth slowly working itself back to my limbs.

Paige studied my hands. “You should have worn gloves, my lady.”

“Did Darren send you?”

“He did.”

“Do you know what it is like to feel powerless?”

She didn’t bother to reply.

“I’m powerless. They summoned me here to help win the Pythians’ favor. Me. A lowborn.” I hacked back a cough. “Lowborns can’t lie. Did you know that?”

“I’m a lowborn,” the knight scoffed. “I can lie.”

“Well I can’t. I mean…I can lie. But not well. Duke Cassius told me he could read the truth all over my face. I’m a truth-teller.” I wobbled and then acquiesced as Paige led me back to lean against the barracks’ fence. “And I couldn’t lie and tell him to pick Blayne. He wanted me to give him a reason and I couldn’t. He-he hurt Ella. And—and I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it.”

“You don’t trust the crown prince. So why are you trying to defend him?” Paige gave me a hard look. “Clearly the Pythian duke knows you are lying. You should try a different angle.”

“Like pleading for our country? Begging for our people?” I choked back a laugh. “He doesn’t care. They are toying with us, Paige.”

She chewed her lip. I suspected she and the rest of the palace staff had already heard the rumors.

“They play to win.”

“Perhaps you need to show them what they’ll lose.”

“How is that any different? They lose what cannot be won.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Caltoth can give them more than Jerar ever could.” I let her lead me back toward the palace, anger fading to cold. I was shivering and hot. I needed another searing bath, and then the chill of my bed. I needed everything and I needed nothing. I felt despair seeping its way back into the pit of my stomach.

“Thank you, Paige,” I mumbled.

She clapped my back as she handed me off to Sofia and Gemma.

There was nothing else to be said.

****

The final evening of the Pythians and my visit was spent in a somber silence.

Our attempt at negotiation had failed. Darren and Blayne no longer feigned pleasantries as the night dragged on. The king didn’t bother to eat the meal in front of him—his white beard was stained coppery red along the rim, and with every wine that was brought his eyes grew the icy blue of a storm. I kept waiting for the royal family to break, but the king and his two sons were well trained in the art of restraint.

Much more than I.

The Crown’s advisors chattered the longest, but I could feel them growing quieter and quieter as the evening wore on. I was pushing mutton around on my plate, unable to stomach another bite with the knowledge that this man could reap the best of our harvest, drink our wine, and enjoy our hospitality all the while knowing he was sentencing the people he saw—and their kinsmen—to death. For the price of wealth. For the price of Caltothian rubies.

For a couple of sparkling red gems he was willing to watch us burn.

The Pythians were monsters.

“Well, hasn’t this been just pleasant.” The duke cleared his throat loudly, and held his goblet to toast the king with his other in flourish. “A shame, truly, that we couldn’t—”

An unsuspecting maid scurried past the ambassador and caught her sleeve against his hand. Giant clumps of gravy coated his chair.

“Lucius, are your servants truly this daft?”

As the girl scrambled to apologize the duke began to tirade over the cost of his Borean silk and the incompetence of servants. His complaint was met with an outbreak of service. Servants scrambled to blot out the gravy as the maid fled the room.

I watched the whole scene play out with an invisible grip on my throat. I wanted to say something, anything, but it wasn’t my place. The king hadn’t even allowed my presence during the week’s talks. “You are ornamental, nothing more.” The tutors had repeated the reminder to me endlessly. “Your role is to smile at your betrothed and give the Pythians a reason to believe in happy endings. Convince them their crown princess can have the same with Prince Blayne.” I was no one and it was taking every bit of resolve to keep the other Ryiah—the restless, reckless Ryiah—away.

I willed myself to take a deep, steadying breath. Beside me Darren was gripping his goblet so tightly I half-expected it to break. I wanted to reach out and take his hand but his expression was foreboding. Directly across from him, Blayne was fighting to maintain an air of indifference as he ushered simpering apologies for the girl. If I hadn’t heard him the night before I would have easily believed his performance now. There was only the barest lilt of anger, and given the context, it could have easily been directed at the servant.

The king, in this round, resembled his youngest. His eyes were like ice. The man did not bother with condolences. He hated the duke. But like the rest of the kingdom, he had to retain peace for as long as he could. So he said nothing.

I frowned. We, the people of Jerar, were so eager to appease. So eager to beg and plead and give the Pythians whatever they wanted. It was a paradox: we had the greatest army in the realm, but we would lose the war.

The Pythians couldn’t be bought. We would never be enough.

“Desperation and fear will never win a Pythian’s favor,” the duke had said.

I studied the wet splotches of silk, watching the man twist and squirm in his chair. Duke Cassius was too big for his seat.

“Perhaps you need to show them what they’ll lose.”

Maybe Paige was right. It was reckless. But we had tried safe. And if we were truly going to lose the war, then my actions wouldn’t matter much longer anyway. We didn’t have the Pythians’ favor.

We had nothing left to lose.

I pushed back my chair; it made a loud grating screech as it went. I pretended not to notice, wiping my sweaty palms across my skirts. My heart skipped a beat.

I didn’t look to my betrothed or his brother. I definitely didn’t look to my left at their father. I had the eyes of the room but mine were fixated solely on the duke.

At worst they could blame my words on a headstrong lowborn. At best… I didn’t bother hoping for the latter.

“Your grace, for the past six evenings you’ve regaled us with tales of Pythian grandeur. You tell us there is no greater fleet than your ships, and no prouder king than your Joren.” Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop. “You tell us that a Pythian never loses, but you are wrong.” I took a quick breath and let out my words in a rush. “If you choose Caltoth, the wealth their king promises you will be lost to war.”

Silence.

I could feel King Lucius’s gaze burning a hole through the back of my skull. Sharp intakes of breath and the duke’s lips were parted in shock.

My legs started to tremble, and I clenched and unclenched my fists at my sides. “B-because…” This was the hard part. The one I could live to regret. “Because…”

Darren’s hand grazed the side of my wrist. He threaded his fingers through mine and abruptly shoved back his chair to join.

“Because we will destroy everything.” Darren’s voice rang out clear across the room. “Every village, every crop, every homestead. We will set the whole of Caltoth aflame.” His grip on my hand tightened. I could hear all the frustration and rage from the past week seeping back into his speech. Darren wasn’t his brother; his strength lied in passion, not policy. “We will destroy its ruby mines and melt them right into the earth. We will plunder and pillage until nothing is left.”

The room was so quiet at this point a pin could have dropped and I would have heard it. Every single set of eyes was fixed upon us—the king, his eldest, the Crown advisors, the Pythians… even the servants had stopped serving.

This was the moment.

I swallowed and made myself finish. Because even Darren couldn’t anticipate where I was about to lead next. “In short, your grace, we will lose the war. Without Pythus we will lose. But we won’t be the only ones losing.” Now. The final threat. “Because we will also light our fields on fire. We will destroy every last inch of our lands. We will do this so that when the Caltothians acquire their victory with you by their side there will be nothing left to take.”

My words grew bolder:

“Do you know the difference between a nation of merchants and a nation of warriors?” I followed through without waiting for a reply. “Only one of them is prepared to fall on its blade. King Horrace might promise you the world but in the end you will reap the greater loss.”

Absolute silence. Not a breath, not a cough, not a whisper. Nothing.

I forced myself to exhale, slowly, and then the duke started to clap.

And then he started to laugh.

“Well, well,” the man finally said, “just when I thought negotiations had run their course.”

I froze and Darren’s grip tightened on my own, tugging me gently back into my chair. Everyone was waiting for Duke Cassius to continue, to decide whether or not to condemn my actions.

I willed myself to breathe.

The large man leaned forward so that his elbows hit the table, jostling his goblet of wine. His gaze was fixated on Darren’s father.

“Now tell me,” Duke Cassius drawled, “why is it that the best argument I’ve heard all week came from a little girl?”

The king opened his mouth and shut it tightly.

“I do believe your stuffy board of advisors were a large waste of my time, Lucius.”

“My apologies.” The king’s reply was forced. “It appears I have misjudged my men.” The steel in his tone promised quick recourse. There was a hushed panic at the other side of the table as my victory turned sour.

Recklessness had a price. Always.

“I suppose I must send word to my brother.” The duke stood abruptly, thrusting his goblet into the arms of a scrawny man that had been attempting to squeeze past, unnoticed.

“Are you not leaving in the morning, your grace?” Blayne’s question was full of nonchalance. “Surely your news can wait until then… unless perhaps your visit is being extended?”

The duke waved an irate hand. “Don’t play the fool, young prince, it doesn’t suit you.”

The king cleared his throat. “This is wonderful news, Cassius—”

The duke turned sharply around. “Wonderful it may be, but we still have much to discuss. A decision such as this will require great examination. I expect it to take no less than a month to find terms my brother will agree to.”

“Whatever it takes.” King Lucius did not bat an eye.

****

“We should stay.” Paige sat down on my bed with a thump as I finished gathering the last of my belongings. She was rapping her fingers against the bedframe loudly. Every tap came harder than the last. “Now that the Pythians…”

“Paige.” I looked up from my packing with an exasperated groan. “You know that isn’t necessary.” King Lucius had only ordered my presence as part of decorum—even with my feat the night before I was still excluded from the negotiations themselves. True, the Pythians were extending their visit for the time being, but only the Crown and its board of advisors could partake in meetings. Since I was neither, there was no point to prolonging my stay.

Well, there was Darren…I bit my lip in frustration. I would miss him; I missed him already—even now while we were still in the same city, the same residence. In the two short weeks since I’d arrived I had spent perhaps three hours in his company, and each time we had been in the midst of crowding nobility. Yes, we’d had a short exception in the library, but even Blayne had managed to interrupt that.

We might have been in the same place at the same time, but for all the actual time we had spent together we might as well have been miles and miles apart.

Once the alliance is forged it will only be a matter of time before you return to the palace anyway, as his wife. My annoyance began to fade. The two of us would have more time then. Without the stress of Pythian negotiations, Darren would be dismissed from most of the less pertinent Crown affairs, and the two of us would be able to serve together on the King’s Regiment.

I wondered if the king would consider granting Darren and me service in the Crown’s Army among its patrols. Once Blayne and his new princess secured an heir, surely Darren would be granted more freedom than before. Anything was possible.

In the meantime, I would return to Ferren’s Keep. Crown politics took precedence here. Even Darren had fallen behind in his training, and the Candidacy was only six short months away.

I needed every advantage I could get.

“Ryiah…”

My guard ducked out of the room just as the younger prince appeared at its entrance, looking unusually out of sorts. Darren’s hair was all over the place, as if he had run his hand through it one too many times and then given up completely. He studied the door for a moment and then heaved a great sigh and shut it behind him.

“If your father’s advisors find out we are alone in my chamber they will flay us both alive.” It was supposed to be teasing, but the comment came out a little more breathless than I would have liked.

One of the many things the palace scholars had endlessly drilled into me was the importance of a bride possessing certain qualities. Qualities that were becoming increasingly hard to keep during moments the two of us were alone.

A sad smile lit the prince’s features, and when he met my eyes it wasn’t what I expected. “Are you happy here, Ryiah?"

Panic gripped my lungs. Was something wrong? Why was he looking at me like that? “O-of course.” Liar.

“What you did last night.” Darren cleared his throat. “It was amazing. Ryiah, my father was impressed…”

I never heard what came next—it was all I could do to stand still and scream a silent thanks to the gods above. For a moment…for a moment I had thought Darren might be here to tell me the king wanted to call off our engagement.

“He would never go so far as to actually praise a lowborn’s actions, but he’s agreed to your attendance for the remainder of the Pythian negotiations. I convinced him the etiquette lessons weren’t necessary to your stay. You will be placed in the King’s Regiment instead.”

I hesitated. The conversation had taken an unexpected turn. “Darren, your father granted me leave until Blayne’s wedding. Did he rescind his offer?”

The prince stared at me, a crease forming along his brow. “No, but…I thought you would want to stay.” He ran a hand along his jaw and he seemed to be struggling against something unsaid. “Even after six months apart, you would still prefer Ferren? Even if you could be a part of the Crown negotiations and the palace regiment?”

I swallowed, an uneasy feeling entering the pit of my stomach. “I know you don’t want to be here, either. Not truly.” He had said it more than once.

Darren’s jaw clenched. “Did you even miss me at all, Ryiah?”

“You know I did.” I frowned. Two days before he hadn’t seemed the least bit disturbed when we discussed my return to the keep. “What’s wrong?” What changed?

“The two of us might as well be strangers for all the time we have shared since our engagement.” Darren’s gaze seared into mine. “And once King Horrace finds out the Pythians have extended their visit? It’s too dangerous to patrol up north. Caltoth can’t be trusted not to retaliate. I don’t want you there if something happens.”

“If anything, the Caltothians will be more likely to hold off now that their alliance is at risk.” I studied Darren’s defensive stance. I didn’t believe for a moment he thought the keep was dangerous. There was something else bothering him, and I was determined to get to the bottom of it.

“Darren…”

He started towards the door, and then paused, still facing the wall. “When were you going to tell me he was stationed there, too?”

I balked, thrown off by the sudden change of topic. “W-what?”

“Ian.” The non-heir spun around to face me, and his eyes were twin pools of fire.

“Ian?” Was that all this was? Jealousy? I wanted to laugh but Darren looked so serious I thought better of it.

“Commander Nyx’s monthly report to the Crown arrived this morning.” Darren didn’t bother to hide his disdain. “His name was mentioned in your patrols. I checked the records and he accepted a post and sent word the day after your ascension. If I were a betting man I would say it was because he heard you were to take up at the keep.”

“It’s been three years. Ian doesn’t still harbor those feelings—”

Darren gave me a pitying look. “Believe me, Ryiah, a man can carry the sentiment a lot longer than that.”

I folded my arms. “Darren, Ian grew up in Ferren. His parents are blacksmiths there.” He had never once indicated feelings of any kind, and he had been as surprised as I when I arrived at the keep.

“And yet you felt guilty enough to hide his presence?” The prince’s expression was dubious.

I balked in offense. “I wasn’t hiding anything! My younger brother Derrick is there, too. Do you think I am hiding him?”

“I’m not a fool, Ryiah.” Darren scowled. “I trust you but that lowborn’s timing cannot be overlooked.”

I glared at the prince. “Ian has never lied to me. He has been open and honest with his intentions since the day we met. Perhaps you are confusing his motivations with your own.” I pointed a finger at the non-heir accusingly. “You were the one who pursued me after Ian and I got together, not the other way around—in this context only one of you has ever behaved honorably and it hasn’t been you.”

Darren recoiled as if he’d been slapped. “I apologize for not being as honorable as him,” he snapped. “Not all of us had farmboy’s freedom to choose.”

“Darren, that’s not what I meant.” I scrambled forward to grab his wrist before he could storm out of the chamber. “Please.” I took a deep swallow. “Please believe me when I tell you that you have nothing to worry about.”

Darren’s expression softened. “I can have your brother stationed at the palace if that is what you wish.”

“I want to return to the keep, Darren.”

“Stay.” Darren weaved his fingers into my own. “I’ll make sure you have everything you need.”

I took a deep, steadying breath. “It’s not the same. The Crown takes precedence here. You can’t serve abroad. I’ve seen how little time you’ve had to yourself—even you have fallen behind in your training.”

Darren released me and fell back in reproach. “I haven’t fallen behind!”

“And maybe I’m wrong.” I quickly retracted my words. “I just don’t want to squander my chance of winning the Candidacy.”

“Winning?” Darren arched a brow. “Love, I hardly think you need to worry about that.”

My face turned to flames, and before I could stop myself the words came spilling from my lips. “Why? Because you are the only one who can?”

“I believe you are a great mage, Ryiah.”

“But I’ll never be as good as you, is that it?”

The back of his neck was tinged red. “I never said that.”

I placed my hands on my hips. “You didn’t deny it either.”

Darren folded his arms and met my gaze head on. “This isn’t some game, Ryiah.”

“Some game?” Hot rage sputtered from my lips before I could stop. “How can you even say that?”

“Admit it, love.” His expression was dark. “The people who choose this career don’t do it for honor, they choose it for power. Prestige. The chance to make a name for themselves.”

I dropped his hand angrily. “And what makes you so different?”

“Expectation. I’ve spent a lifetime training for the role.”

Darren’s pride was so great he wouldn’t even acknowledge the possibility of me winning.

I swung my pack up over my shoulder. After everything we had been through Darren still managed to find just the right way to cut like a knife. There were words bubbling inside, words I knew I shouldn’t say but just then I wanted to hurt him. To hurt him like he had just hurt me. “You know the difference between a prodigy and a prince, Darren?”

His mouth formed a thin, hard line.

“You can have the best training, the best tutors, the private lessons during the apprenticeship with Master Byron, everything that the rest of us—even the highborns—never had.” My voice caught and I forced myself to continue, eyes blazing. “But none of that guarantees you a victory. None of that makes you a prodigy. It just means you were privileged.”

A flare of anger. “You have no idea what it’s like—”

I cut him off, a new surge of indignation rising to the surface. “You know what? You are right. I probably won’t win the Black Robe. But at least I will earn my place in that tourney. You? Well, you’ll never know. Because a boy with the world at his feet? He’s never truly earned anything.”

“Better to be the boy with the world at his feet than the reckless lowborn who wouldn’t amount to anything without my help.” Darren’s snarl was the last thing I heard before the door slammed shut in my face.

He didn’t come back to apologize. I know because I waited. After fifteen minutes of hating myself, Paige burst through the door.

The knight ignored my red-rimmed eyes and started to drag me by the arm toward the castle exit.

“You’ll have plenty of time for that on the ride back.” For once she spoke without sarcasm, but her pity only made it worse.

I wiped my eyes, determined to keep from crying until we were on the road, and I could blame it on the bright winter sun. I didn’t want any of the servants to report back to Darren. I needed to look strong; I wanted the court to remember my moments standing up against the Pythians, not the crippled girl who let a prince get the best of her.

“Let’s get out of this place.” I would prove him wrong. The non-heir might have helped me initially, but I had clawed my way up from the very bottom rung of the Academy, and I wasn’t done. I had earned my rank and my potential was improving every day. I could still win.

He is just jealous.

Darren was falling behind, and I was in no mood to play the doting wife. I wasn’t going to remain at the palace to appease his insecurities. He could fret over Ian all he wanted. I would train in the north, and while Darren was busy with Crown affairs, I was going to pass his blasted potential and shock the whole country when the former lowborn Ryiah was declared Black Mage instead. And only after I wiped that insolent smirk off his face would I accept his long, drawn out apology.

Because wrapped up in conceit the size of Jerar was my Darren. Somewhere. Deep, deep down. And that part I loved. With every bit of my being.

I just vehemently hated the rest.

Paige and I were five feet away from the palace doors when I realized who was waiting at their exit.

Would I never be free of the Crown?

I approached with caution. “Blayne.”

“So full of distrust.” The crown prince made a clucking noise at my leery expression. “And to think I came bearing gifts.”

I fought every instinct I had not to scoff. Any present from him was not without its price. I waited for him to reveal this “gift.”

The young man dug a drawstring purse from the satchel in his hands and tossed it my way. I reached out to catch it and almost dropped it from the unexpected weight.

Peeking inside I saw the leather pouch was stuffed to its brim with coin. Not just any coin, but gold. Enough to feed a village for a lifetime—enough to feed several villages, in fact. My arms sagged under its bulk, and it was all I could do not to gape.

“What—how?”

“It’s all my father would allow.” Blayne sounded pleased. “It’s not much, of course, but you did ask my brother for aid. For the north.”

“The north,” I echoed, still not quite comprehending the wealth in my hands. I had forgotten all about my request until this moment.

“Consider it a parting gift. After your speech the last night, it was the least that I could do.”

“T-thank you, truly—”

Blayne waved his hand in disregard. “Our interests are the same, Ryiah. Perhaps now you will be more willing to forgive the transgressions of our past.”

I nodded dumbly and watched as he peeled himself off the wall and faded into one of the corridors behind.

I finished stuffing the satchel into my now-overflowing pack and followed Paige to the waiting stable-hands and our mares outside.

She waited until we had passed through the palace gates and the main city onto the King’s Road itself before she finally spoke her opinion aloud.

“I thought you hated him.” She didn’t bother to say whom.

“I…” I paused. Anger at Darren was still taking up the majority of my thoughts, but Blayne was confusing me as well. What was he up to? Everything he did was surprising me. More than once he’d had the opportunity to make my stay difficult, and yet everything he did had been in my best interest. I didn’t trust him, but it really did seem as if he were trying to make amends.

I studied the white tree line ahead of us. “My feelings don’t matter one way or the other.” Blayne was to be king regardless. “If he wants to claim amity, who am I to refuse?”

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