Yet his bitterness staggered under the weight of another feeling.
Loss. All I feel is . . . loss.
"And La Dorada?" he asked. "Did you have a run-in with her?"
"Her ring has been returned, your transaction completed," Stelian said, adding against the rim of his flagon, "Gods help the poor souls in that book."
Lothaire already mourned his ledger, his squandered fortune. He would start a new book! Perhaps he and Dorada could trade debts like baseball cards. . . .
Kosmina cleared her throat. When all eyes turned to her, her face turned bright red. "W-we fear Queen Elizavetta is behind the guard of the Ancient Scourge. Th-there's no way to circumvent them." The chit was socially inept, more backward than he'd ever believed Elizabeth to be.
"Your uncle knows a way around the Scourge," Lothaire grated with disgust. "But I won't be using it."
Carafina thought to force him to reveal where her sister was? Everyone assumed he knew-simply because he'd been the one to sink her in the first place.
Perhaps I oughtn't to have chosen a seabed with frequent seismic rifts and a strong current?
When he'd told others he had no idea where Furie was, he'd spoken the truth.
To this day, Lothaire couldn't find the Valkyrie queen, despite Hag's help. Even if he could, he would never ransom Elizabeth. "Ugly on the inside!" she'd screamed. "I could never love you!"
She truly hadn't fallen for him.
Which indicated that she was an idiot. He had no time or patience for them.
Damn you, Elizabeth, why . . . ?
Stelian tsked. "Feelings stung because of one measly beheading?"
They knew she'd done this to him? I'll kill them all-
"She left an eighth of an inch of tendon," Stelian added. "Plenty for regeneration."
Lothaire narrowed his gaze at him. "You're the one who voted against restoring me."
"That I am. Seemed wise then, and even more so now that you've lost your queen."
"I haven't lost her."
"I'm no expert with females"-the others rolled their eyes at that-"but I believe an attempted decapitation communicates the need for some space."
Lothaire didn't like this Stelian smart-ass.
In an innocent tone, the Dacian asked, "Isn't that the modern term for it?"
Viktor said, "We've already assembled a party to negotiate with the Valkyries. If that fails, I will happily lead the siege." Black flickered across his irises, as if the idea of a war aroused him.
So this one likes to fight. "Disassemble it. Carafina can rot waiting." At the male's incredulous look, Lothaire said, "I don't want my Bride retrieved."
Mirceo said, "Whatever happened between Queen Elizavetta and yourself should be subordinate to the good of the crown-"
"Do not speak her name again," Lothaire murmured, "or it will be your last utterance."
Mirceo's lips parted in surprise. "If this is what you . . . command, my liege."
"Not used to taking orders, are you, Mirceo?" Lothaire gazed at them one by one. "You all assume that I want your kingdom? Perhaps I prefer the fucking Horde!"
Another gasp from Kosmina, with more furious blushes.
Stelian said, "Go to the window, look out."
Uncaring of his nudity, Lothaire did. With a choked sputter, Kosmina traced away, while Mirceo chuckled. "There are garments for you, Uncle. Take care not to set a new fashion."
At the window, Lothaire stared out, agog. Why did Ivana ever leave this place?
He was in the fabled black stone castle of Dacia, the one circled by fountains of blood.
The magnificent structure sat high upon some rocky vantage-from here, he could survey a kingdom that stretched on and on, before fading into a mist on the horizon.
Soaring caverns rose above; cobblestone streets wound through the fog below. The architecture was old-fashioned but ornately constructed with carved stone.
At the top of a high cavern, a giant prism diluted the sun's light, shining it over the entire kingdom-muted rays that illuminated all, but didn't burn. Not even a vampire's skin.
And everything I see is . . . mine.
When he could manage words once more, he informed them, "My coronation will be held as soon as my throat heals. I will accept your vows of fealty then."
This was truly happening-the imbeciles were inviting him to rule this fantastical kingdom.
"Very well," Stelian said with unconcealed disappointment. "Will you take a new regent name?"
A vampire tradition. Lothaire's own uncle Fyodor had taken a new name when crowned by the Horde-one which meant rule without end.
Ah, not quite, Uncle. "No. I've done too much PR with the name I have. I'll be known as King Lothaire, the Enemy of Old."
He'd still have his vampire war, but the sides would be changed. I'll use the Daci to lay waste to the Horde. He had no problem reversing himself; he switched alliances with ease.
And then he would be done. He'd have everything he'd ever wanted. Then he'd know happiness.
I knew happiness before. But she stole it from me.
With one swing of her sword. Of all the blows, of all the torture, that strike had hurt him the worst.
Why, Elizabeth . . . ?
Fists clenched, he ordered them, "Leave me to dress."
Leave me to relish the idea of my Bride trapped in a hellhole filled with malicious Valkyries. Arch-Fury Carafina would terrorize her. Belligerent Regin would have her throat. Would Nix save Elizabeth, or let nature take its course?
I hope the latter. Perhaps he should send his female a parting gift, as she'd once said.
Yes, to inform her that I'm now a king, and have forsaken her.
The princes traced away one by one, with Stelian muttering, "A red-eyed king who spurns his Bride. Gods help us all. . . ."
This is a kill-or-be-killed scenario, leech," Regin the Radiant, a glowing-skinned millennium-old swordswoman, told Ellie in a baleful tone. "So raise your weapon and prepare for your end. 'Cause I'm about to take your head."
Ellie yawned. Ten days of this was getting old. "Girl, I don't wanna play video games anymore."
Regin's berserker mate, Declan, had been having meetings with some other berserkers concerning the Accession, so Regin had been hanging here every couple of days, glowing on the couch, playing games with Ellie.
At first, Regin had been excited to meet her because Ellie had done what Regin had dreamed of for centuries. "Buy this leechly leech assassin a mug of the thick stuff! Took down Lothaire? No shit? Describe it second by second in a breathy voice. . . ."
The only thing the Valkyries hated more than vampires in general was Lothaire in particular.
Of course, Regin would have succeeded in "collecting Lothaire's head and fangs."
Yet after a couple of days, Regin had realized that Ellie still had feelings for the Valkyries' archenemy: "Not cool, hillbilly, not cool."
Why hadn't he come for Ellie yet? From time to time, Nix had visited, keeping her informed-even if she wasn't always coherent. Through Nix, Ellie knew that Lothaire was indeed recovering and had been invited back to Dacia to rule.