While Casteel spoke with one of the staff members to have food sent to our quarters, I roamed the rooms, searching for the personal items that had been sent over in advance.
I found them sprinkled throughout: an adorable stuffed bear that had surely seen better days rested on a shelf. Several leather-bound books lined the shelves in the main sitting area—some were children’s books, and the rest appeared to be a collection of fables. There were no textbooks to be found. Grinning, I discovered two training swords hanging in the hall between the sitting room and the dining area, their blades dull. Several paintings hung in the dining room, and the one of lilacs, gray stone, and clear blue waters had to be Casteel’s.
It was the cavern.
In the walk-in closet, I found the clothing we’d brought with us, and the things that had been sent ahead, already hung up and folded. Inside the chest was a trove of weapons that pierced flesh and stone, some made of a golden metal, some steel, and others bloodstone. On the other side, between the doors to the bathing chamber and the closet, were two raised, stone podiums with a thin ledge. Inherently, I knew what they were for, having a wispy memory of spotting something similar in Wayfair Castle.
Reaching up, I lifted the crown from my head. The gilded bone was smooth and cool to the touch, reminding me of the wolven bone in my dagger. Carefully, I placed it on the podium, letting it rest on the ledge.
The Queen of Flesh and Fire.
Flesh and Fire. I had heard that phrase twice before. Casteel’s mother had said it when she first saw me, and it had been mentioned in the prophecy that Alastir had recited.
But I wasn’t the great conspirator.
And the title…well, it sounded badass.
Grinning, I turned from the crown and wandered over to the nightstand. I found a wooden toy horse. I picked it up, marveling at the intricacy. No detail had been spared. I turned it over, surprised to see Malik’s name carved underneath. I ran my thumb over the strokes in the wood.
“Malik made that,” Casteel said from the doorway. I turned, watching him remove the crown and place it on the pedestal next to mine. “It was for my birthday. My sixth, I believe. Gods, that was forever ago.” He paused. “Which reminds me, I don’t think we know each other’s birthdays, do we?”
“I’m sure we—” I laughed as I realized that he was correct. I placed the horse back where I found it. There was so much we knew about each other, and yet so many things we didn’t. “When is your birthday?”
He grinned as he leaned against the wall. “I was born on the first day of the sixth month. You?”
My smile started to fade. “I was born in the fourth month.”
“And?” An eyebrow rose.
I drifted forward. “I…I don’t know. I mean, I don’t remember. I have these vague memories of celebrating a birthday when I was younger, but after my parents died, neither Ian nor I really celebrated.” I lifted a shoulder. “And I guess over the years, we sort of forgot the date, so we’d pick a random day in April for me and December for him.”
His grin had disappeared. “Pick a day.”
“Your birthday. Pick a day in April, and that will be your birthday.”
A pang of sadness lanced my heart. “Vikter asked me once when my birthday was. He said the same thing. Pick a day in April.” I let out a low breath. “I picked the twentieth day, and that was when he gave me the wolven dagger.”
“Perfect.” The smile returned but it didn’t reach his eyes. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m okay. Like I don’t feel…different. I mean, maybe I do? I don’t know.” I laughed self-consciously as I approached him. He pushed off the wall. “I feel calm, though. How about you?”
“I feel the same.” He opened his arms, and I went to him, looping mine around his waist. Pressing my cheek to his chest, I closed my eyes and sank into his embrace, taking in his spicy, piney scent. “Though I have to admit when that crown turned gold, I was relieved. I wanted a crown as spiffy as yours.”
I laughed. “I talked to Willa.”
“I noticed.” His lips brushed the top of my head. “I was very curious about what you two were talking about—and sort of jealous.”
Grinning, I stretched up and kissed the corner of his lips. “Nothing your dirty mind will approve of.”
It looked ridiculous and yet adorable, endearingly so. I told him that she was the woman who’d been at the Red Pearl and had sent me to his room, much to his surprise. He’d had no idea that any of the Elders traveled to Solis, but considering her diary, it made sense. I didn’t tell him what she’d said about him. I didn’t think he’d want someone knowing the innerworkings of his heart, but I shared with him what she’d said about the prophecy.
Casteel was still a bit doubtful as we walked back toward the sitting area. “It’s not that I can’t believe in it,” he said, his arm draped over my shoulders. “I just find it hard to believe that if there is one that may be true, how can there not be others? Ones we haven’t heard of?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe prophecies aren’t meant to be known.”
“That sounds like something a Seer would say.”
I giggled. “It does.”
One dimple appeared as he smoothed a hand over my cheek, tucking back a strand of wayward hair. “The food should be here soon, and I know you’re probably tired and have already been eyeing that shower. I know I have been, but I wanted to talk to Kieran first. You up for that?”
“Good. Because he’ll be down here in a few minutes,” he said, and I laughed again. I saw it—the churning of vivid, golden sparks in his eyes. His lips parted until the tips of his fangs appeared. “I love that sound. I love how much more you laugh now.”
“I do, too,” I admitted quietly. “And it’s because of you.”
His eyes closed briefly as he dipped his forehead to mine, and a long moment passed with us just standing there. “Before Kieran gets here, I wanted to ask you something.”
“That sounds serious.”
“It kind of is.” He lifted his head. “Have you felt any hunger?”
“For food?” I drew out the question.
His lips twitched. “Not the kind you’re thinking of.”
“Oh.” My eyes widened. “For blood?”
He grinned then. “You don’t have to whisper it.”
“You totally did.”
“Whatever.” I bit down on my lip. “I don’t think so? I mean, I haven’t felt that gnawing ache again. I think I would know if I had.”
“It’s not always like that, my Queen.”
My Queen. I liked that. Almost as much as I liked it when he called me Princess. Not that I’d admit that to him. “How does it feel?”
“You’ll feel inexplicably tired, even after sleeping. You’ll eat, but you’ll still feel hunger. Food will eventually lose its appeal,” he told me. “You’ll be easier to irritate, which wouldn’t be new for you.”