The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 136

Another night, when his body was curled around mine and after a long day of meetings, he’d asked, “There’s something I’ve been wondering and keep forgetting to ask. When we entered Iliseeum, and you saw the skeleton soldiers, you said they were hers. What did you mean?”

I’d realized then that I hadn’t shared that image with him. I’d told him what I saw when I was in the Chambers of Nyktos. “I saw her again when I was sleeping after the attack—after you saved me. It felt like a dream…but not. Anyway, I saw her touch the ground, and I saw bone hands digging their way out.” I’d looked over my shoulder at him. “Who do you think she could be? If she is or was real?”

“I don’t know. You said she had silver hair?”

“Her hair was a silvery blonde.”

“I can’t think of any of the gods that resembles her, but maybe she was one of the Primals Nyktos spoke of.”

“Maybe,” I murmured.

We’d also spent the time using our mouths and tongues to speak words of the flesh. I enjoyed each thoroughly and equally.

But Casteel didn’t feel as if the trip was a waste. While I found Nyktos’s parting words to be generally unhelpful at the end of the day, Casteel took them to mean that I would one day rule both Solis and Atlantia. But those words made me think of what the Duchess had claimed.

That Queen Ileana was my grandmother. That was highly impossible, but it was the only way I would have a true claim to the throne—succession instead of conquering. Or maybe Nyktos meant that we would take the Blood Crown that way? I didn’t know, and the pressure to convince the Blood Crown in our upcoming meeting was even greater. We couldn’t let this become a war including these Revenants. I had a horrible feeling there would only be one way to stop this. Maybe that was what Nyktos had meant. That I had the power in me to stop this.

Icy fingers drifted across the nape of my neck. I’d heard those words before, spoken by the little girl who’d been so grievously wounded, but when she’d spoken them, they had struck a chord of familiarity in me. Over the last several days, I’d tried to remember, but they were like a dream you tried to retain hours after waking.

Passing the entrances to the busy kitchens, I rounded the bend in the hall and nearly walked right into Lord Gregori. I took a startled step back. The dark-haired Atlantian wasn’t alone.

“My apologies.” A slight frown appeared as he noted the absence of my crown.

It did not go unnoticed that he didn’t acknowledge my title. Neither had Lord Ambrose when I passed him the other day in the halls as I’d left to explore the grounds with Vonetta. “It is I who should apologize. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking.” My gaze darted to the young woman behind him. She appeared to be around my age, but I knew immediately she was a wolven, so she could be dozens or even hundreds of years older than me.

The pale, wintery eyes were a striking contrast to the golden hue of her skin, and the warm blonde hair that fell over her shoulders in loose waves. Her features were a mix of traits you would’ve found on different people. Her eyes were wideset and yet hooded, softening the sharp angles of her cheeks and the blade of her nose. Her brows were thick and several shades darker than her hair. Her mouth was small, but her lips were full. She was short, several inches shorter than me, but the cut of her tunic showed off the curves of her breasts and the lushness of her hips that would’ve seemed at odds with someone of her stature. Nothing about her made sense, and yet everything about her lined up so imperfectly that any artist would likely be driven to commit her image to canvas with charcoal or oil. She was perhaps the most uniquely beautiful person I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t stop staring at her.

And I was sure I was probably creeping her out a little based on her growing unease.

“I was actually looking for the King,” Lord Gregori announced. “But I see that he is not with you.”

Pulling my gaze from the unfamiliar wolven, I focused on the Atlantian. The thread of distrust was apparent, even if I wasn’t able to read his emotions. Either the Atlantian kept forgetting that I could do that, or he simply didn’t care. “He is with his parents. Is there something I can help you with?”

Amusement flickered through him, the mean kind. “No,” he said, his smile simpering, his tone overly conciliatory. “That will not be necessary. If you’ll excuse me.”

He hadn’t been excused, but he still brushed past me. I turned as Arden flattened his ears, watching the Lord as he nodded at Hisa and the other guard. The striking image of Arden rushing off and biting the Lord’s leg filled my mind, and I smothered a giggle at the ridiculousness. Arden’s head swung to me, and then he looked at the one who remained.

Remembering the female wolven, I turned back to her. “I’m sorry. I thought you were with him.”

“Oh, gods, no, meyaah Liessa. We just happened to enter the hall at the same time,” she said, and I grinned at the shamelessness of her response. “I was actually looking for someone I hadn’t seen in a while.”

“Who? Perhaps I could help you locate them?”

Her smile faded a bit, and unease returned. “You probably can. I was looking for Kieran.”

Surprised, my brows lifted. “He is with his sister. I think they were in…” I frowned, going through the many different doors and rooms in my head. “One of the five hundred thousand rooms here. Sorry.”

The wolven laughed. “It’s okay.” She looked up and around, taking in the vaulted ceilings and skylights. “This place is a lot to get used to.”

“That it is.” My curiosity took over. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

“We haven’t. I was in Aegea with my family when you and Cas—you and the King—were crowned,” she said, and I zeroed in on her words. She’d either almost called him by his first name or his nickname, which wasn’t all that surprising since she was looking for Kieran. If she was friends with one, I was sure she was friends with the other. “And if we’d met, I’m sure you would remember.”

Her nervousness itched at the back of my throat, stroking my wariness. “What do you mean by that?”

The wolven’s shoulder’s leveled. “My name is Gianna Davenwell.”

I inhaled sharply. Her unease made sense now on several levels. I swallowed as my gaze swept over her features again. Of course, the one Casteel’s father had wanted him to marry would have to be so fascinatingly beautiful and not resemble a Craven.

And, of course, I wouldn’t be dressed in any of the pretty gowns that had arrived from Spessa’s End. My hair was braided, and I wore leggings and a tunic—a pretty one the shade of amethyst that I had thought flattered my figure before I saw Gianna and realized she was the woman Casteel could’ve married.

Now I wished I’d worn the crown.

“I am so sorry for what my great-uncle took part in and orchestrated,” she added quickly, her anxiety now edged with the bitterness of fear. “We had no idea. My family was shocked and horrified to learn—”

“It’s okay,” I said, and surprise rolled through her—through me as I yanked my head out of a very unmentionable place. “If you and your family didn’t know what Alastir planned, then you have nothing to apologize for.” And that was true. One was not guilty because of who they were related to. “I am sorry for what happened to your cousin. I met Beckett. He was kind and entirely too young to have died.”

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