“Perhaps if I make amends to Bettina, it would lessen Morgana’s hostility?”
Lanthe shook her head. “It infuriates Morgana that this place is hidden, that she’s been unable to retaliate for all the harm done to her subjects. She’d love to strip the wards here completely, leaving the Territories defenseless. Imagine if she enlisted Portia and Emberine. These islands are made of rock. Portia could send them colliding like bumper cars. Emberine is packing the firepower—literally—of dozens of fire demons. She’d be lying in wait to burn anyone who thought to escape to the air.”
With Lanthe’s every word, Thronos grew more tense. She hated that, but she wouldn’t sugarcoat the problem.
Or hide the sheer magnitude of it.
“There are other Sorceri with powers just as catastrophic,” she said. “Morgana doesn’t even have to get them to sign on—she can simply control them. That’s her sorceress power: the ability to control others’ powers.”
“If they attacked in that manner, humans would be able to detect us,” he pointed out.
“Some Loreans don’t care.”
“What do you suggest?”
“The sorceress in me is wondering how all these Vrekeners can get scarce really quickly.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, the idea of fleeing completely foreign to a warrior like him.
“Do you have an evacuation plan in effect? Everybody, even the strongest species, needs a contingency, a plan B, a rabbit hole.” A harsh reality she’d learned by running from Vrekeners. Fate is weird. “Is there some place where these people could go?”
“When the Territories reside over Canada, there’s a remote forest we visit to hunt. A permanent fog bank cloaks the tops of the trees, so some have built cabins in the mist. It’s an outpost of sorts.”
“Perfect. Maybe we could head that way? Oh, and can you and your guys devise a security alarm of sorts? Like a first-warning system that would encompass all the islands?”
“I can see.”
“Okay.” She stood, cracking her knuckles. “We’ve got shit to do. I need pen and paper.”
“Parchment and quill?”
“How did I know you were going to say that?”
“Ugh!” Another inkblot on an official Vrekener queen document. Lanthe laid down her quill and examined her stained fingers. She looked like she’d been finger painting.
Occupational hazard, she supposed, now that she was pretty much the royal letter writer. For the last five days, her quill (because of course it was a quill) had been her sword.
Lanthe wasn’t saying she’d do murder for a Bic; but she wasn’t not saying that either.
Her first letter had been to Sabine. In it, she’d vowed to gold that things were well and that she was happy to have wed Thronos. She’d written that she was now a queen and included a plea to get Morgana to enter into talks with her.
Lanthe had known there was a risk in sounding like she adored it up here—everyone would think she’d been brainwashed—so she’d tried to sound as much like herself as possible.
She’d had that letter delivered immediately. Then she’d set about contacting all the factions who’d declared war on them.
To Carrow, she’d explained that Thronos had turned out to be a wonderful surprise.
Kind of like Malkom Slaine turned out for you, if I’m not mistaken? Do you remember how everyone in the prison cell disbelieved you’d wed him, but you refused to deny it? Though no one will believe I willingly married Thronos, I need you to. So, a couple of things, Crow: Say hi to Ruby, and please get the witches to back off.
To Bettina, she’d written:
The old Vrekener king was a vicious fiend who got what he deserved. Kudos to your new vamp husband for a well-played assassination and tournament victory.
Lanthe had also written that the new Vrekener king would like to personally make amends to Bettina with a gift of priceless dragon gold.
In her letter to Lothaire, Lanthe had reintroduced herself, then related that heaven was under new management. The Vrekeners wanted only peace with the Dacians, so could the two factions reach an accord? She hoped the missive would get to the Enemy of Old; the contact details for the newly revealed kingdom of Dacia were sketchy. But Thronos had a trusted knight who had yet to fail on a delivery.
She’d also written to Nïx:
From Nereus’s bedroom window (don’t ask), I saw Furie, trapped at the bottom of the ocean. She’s alive and doing as well as can be expected—i.e., cataclysmically bad. I assume you and the Valks are going to bring the pain to Sargasoe soon? P.S. We sure could use some foresight up here in the Skye.
With all those letters written, Lanthe had struggled with a more lengthy explanation for her sister. She’d started—then wadded up—more than a dozen of them. She hadn’t been able to decide how much to reveal of her past with Thronos.
It was one thing to tell her big sister to her face: “Well, I kind of misled you for centuries.” It was quite another to write it out.
How to explain what Thronos had come to mean to her?
Yesterday she’d decided to start from the beginning, the day she’d first met him. Now it was late afternoon, and she’d only just gotten to the—heavily edited—faux Feveris part. She’d given herself a deadline of one more day. . . .
She gazed up from her desk, scanning the sky for Thronos. He’d be home soon to take her to the bastion for dinner.
He’d been meeting with his knights, tirelessly strategizing their defenses and implementing their new evacuation plan. Yesterday they’d organized their first drill. There’d been some hiccups, so today, they planned to “calibrate” things.
His body was paining him until he could barely conceal the agony in front of others. The stress of leading a realm on the brink of war wasn’t helping anything. He was exhausted from all his duties, exhausted from his conflicted grief.
In Pandemonia, he’d told her that when he’d realized his father had killed her parents, he’d looked up at the man and seen a stranger. He felt the same way about his brother—
She heard the now familiar swoop of Thronos’s wings. When she was with him and they were able to close out the world, life could be sublime. When she wasn’t with him . . . not so much. Unable to hide her customary jolt of excitement, she leapt up from the desk. “You’re home—”
He seized her hand. Without a word, he headed straight for their bedroom to fall face-first atop the bed—his big body was like a tree gone timber.
“Your day was that good, huh?” She climbed onto the bed, rucking up her skirt. “Scooch your wings.” When he parted them, she straddled the small of his back.
He turned his face to the side. “I had more fun with the pest.” Clearly, he was not in the mood to go dine with others right now.
Oh, darn. They’d have to miss eating in the grim dining hall? Not a problem. She’d been stockpiling fruit, surprisingly tasty breads, and divine cheeses—for just such an occasion.
When she began to knead his muscles, he gave a deep groan. “You’re a gods-send, lamb.”
“I know,” she said though she’d just gotten ink prints all over the back of his shirt. Oops. “Um, how did the calibration go?”
“The alarm does work. Unfortunately, the only place to trigger it is in the Hall. Every island needs this ability to sound the alarm.”
“It’ll come.” She pressed her thumbs round and round into his fatigued muscles.
“Tell me your day was better than mine.”
“Mine was okay.” Lanthe found it funny to be having this “How was your day, dear?” conversation with him. As if they were a long-wed couple.
But the two of them had started to fall into rhythms. Each night after dinner, they assailed each other—even if he’d managed to drop in a few times over the day. During those stolen daytime trysts, he’d take her hard against the wall or atop her desk, with his hand over her mouth to mute her desperate moans. He’d sink his fangs into his forearm to stifle his own bellows.
Every time he brought her release, he grew more sexually confident. More cocky.
Which was hot as hell.
If he came before her, he’d drop down and use his mouth to bring her over the edge. The first time he’d done this, she’d cried, “Oh! Ohhh . . .” and felt obligated to say something before he tasted his own seed.
He’d answered, “It’s unavoidable. Throughout every day and night, I will fill your sheath and kiss it at every opportunity. Besides, it’s me mingled with you—never deny me that.”
Wicked, pervy Vrekener.
Once the worst of their need had been slaked, they would read correspondence together. He always wanted her opinion on things. More than once he’d told her, “When you said you wanted to co-rule, I took that very seriously. Tell me what you think. . . .”
Now he asked her, “Did you pick up your new clothes?”
“I did!” Her second day here, she’d realized that she needed lots of new garments, and that they should be fabulous since she was a queen and all. Even if her subjects were lame.
After giving designs for metal garments to the smithy, she’d crashed a group’s sewing circle with instructions for strapless dresses. Lanthe figured she would split the hemline difference with Thronos—mini instead of micromini.
“How did the females treat you this time?” he asked. “Did they, um, throw ’tude?”
There’d been no pushback from the sewing circle—by now everyone knew their sorceress queen could bespell them—but Lanthe had gotten some attitude.
After she’d faced down the females of Omort’s court and vanquished a sorceress like Hettiah, those Vrekeners had been a cakewalk. “No, I shut that down.” Remembering one of Sabine’s favorite sayings—if one shows me fear, he shows me respect—Lanthe had returned the ’tude and then some.
In other words, her clothes had been rush-ready! The dresses were plain white, but when she wore them with the necklace . . .
Not too shabby.
Of course, her current dress was white—and ink. “Anything new about Aristo?” Every day, more Vrekeners found the courage to divulge horror stories about the previous king and his three trusted knights. Those four had been a scourge on the Lore, hiding behind a cloak of righteousness.
“It’s everything you warned me of.”
As king of a people who believed in chastity until marriage, total sobriety, and forthrightness in all instances, Aristo had kept several love nests, drunk like a fish, and lied about his behavior.
She’d thought she would feel vindicated when Thronos comprehended these things. Instead she hurt for him. He was ashamed of his blood relative, feeling responsible.
“Things can only get better, right?” he asked.
“Speaking of which, I got a response from Bettina today.” The queen of the Deathly Ones had reported progress with her Vrekener phobia, but she’d still been less than enthusiastic to meet with one.
That hadn’t stopped Bettina from inquiring about the dragon gold. “She requested a detailed description of the medallion with a weight estimation and a photo if possible. So we’ve got her on the hook. Go, peace!”
Though his eyes remained closed, his lips curled. Yet then he tensed up again. “I regret that you have to give up your treasure.”
At least she’d still have her silisk gold keys.
“As soon as things settle down here,” he continued, “I’ll replace the medallion with something even greater.”
Another queen might have said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that, my goodly monarch, for I reap satisfaction just from assisting whenever I can.”
Lanthe? She cried, “Okay! And that has to be in addition to the ring you already promised me.” She worked her hands to the edges of his broad shoulders, massaging there, making his wings ripple from pleasure.
“Duly noted,” he said wryly. “And your letter to Sabine? How far have you gotten?”
“Only to Feveris. I might have spent a bit of time describing the gold temple. In any case, I want the Reader of Words to scan it before I send.” She bent down and pressed a kiss to his neck. “Our story’s pretty epic.”
But she had a chapter she wanted to add: the “Thronos’s Eternal Pain Ends” part. She couldn’t change the past, couldn’t magically transform their current circumstances—but could she make his old injuries better?
She’d hesitated to use power on him; ensorcelling his pain away would be a huge risk. For instance, in combat he might need pain to recognize how bad an injury was, or to remind him of blood loss so he could adjust his tactics for weakness.
Lanthe would have to straight-up heal him. Though she’d become an expert at this when she was a girl, she hadn’t needed to use those commands for ages.
Plus, back then, Sabine hadn’t been frozen into her immortality yet; she’d been more . . . malleable.
With Thronos, Lanthe would need to take her time. An unresisting patient would be ideal.
Her sorcery heated the air when she whispered at his ear, “Sleep, Thronos.” He passed out at once, body gone lax on the bed.
She rose to remove his boots, inspecting his lower right leg. The muscles on the inside of his ankle were contorted, as if he’d sprained them to a supernatural degree. Even with his body at rest, the tendons were knotted so tightly, they pulled his foot inward.
His calf was equally bad. She probed the bunched muscles with her fingers.