Eloana placed a hand over her mouth, but not quickly enough to hide her smile.
“As most know, we monitor many of the shipments in and out of nearby ports,” Lord Sven continued. “And since Oak Ambler is the closest, we know that wine and other goods are infrequently shipped into the city. The shipment will not be questioned.”
“They won’t be expecting us from the sea.” Casteel picked up his chalice. “Not with the mist that comes off the Skotos Mountains. As far as people know, both mortal and vampry alike, the mountains continue into the sea. That is what the mist leads them to believe.”
“I can confirm that,” I noted. “We believed that the Stroud Sea ended at the Skotos.”
“That doesn’t mean the Blood Crown believes that,” Valyn pointed out. “They could’ve gotten that information from any number of Atlantians they captured over the years.”
“True.” Casteel nodded. “But I’m also sure they will have scouts on the road leading to Oak Ambler. The group traveling by land will be spotted. Lyra and Emil will travel with their identities hidden. Vonetta will be in her wolven form, and Naill will be at Emil’s side.”
“It takes, what? Four days by land to arrive at Oak Ambler?” Lady Cambria inclined her head. “How many by sea?”
“With our ships?” Sven grinned. “Faster than anything Solis will have, but you will have to go slow through the mist. So, you’re looking at roughly the same time.”
Understanding flickered on Hisa’s face as she smiled tightly. “It will take us about two days to clear the Skotos and enter the Wastelands. We would be spotted before you arrive.”
“Meaning they will turn their attentions to you,” Kieran stated. “Emil and Lyra, along with Vonetta and Naill, will enter and travel to Castle Redrock.”
“Hopefully, that is what occurs,” Eloana said, shifting in her seat, uneasy. “There is still a chance that you could be discovered.”
“There will always be a risk,” Casteel confirmed. “But we have a better chance this way.”
“And then?” Valyn queried. “Once you’re in front of the Blood Crown, how do you plan to get out if things do not go as planned? If it is a trap? I will go to the north to await word with the armies, but what will you do if it is a trap?”
My mind went to what I’d believed Nyktos had been referring to regarding the power already residing in me. I lifted my gaze to Casteel’s.
“What are you thinking, my Queen?” he asked.
The way those two words rolled off his tongue caused a wicked curl to start up low in my stomach. The way his eyes heated as they held mine told me he knew exactly what they did.
I took a drink. “I was unable to gain the aid of Nyktos’s guards,” I stated, and I could feel Casteel gearing up to deny that, so I rushed on. “And with what he and my brother said about the Revenants, we do not want to go to war with Solis. So, I was thinking that if this is a trap, or if the Blood Crown doesn’t take our ultimatum, we are left with only one recourse.”
The room fell silent with understanding. “And what if that provokes what you’re attempting to avoid?” Lord Sven asked.
“The King and Queen wouldn’t have survived even if they agreed,” Casteel said after a moment. “If we have an agreement, we would be careful about ensuring that neither Ileana nor Jalara are a threat any longer—once we were sure that the remaining Blood Crown is in agreement with what we have set forth.” One of his fingers drew idle circles on the bottom of his chalice as his attention flicked back to me. “But I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about.”
I shook my head. “If they don’t agree, the only option we will be left with is one that ensures the Revenants can’t be used or can be dealt with. And there is only one way we can do that.” I sought out Eloana’s gaze in the room. “We cut the head off the snake. We destroy the Blood Crown in its entirety, and I…I can do that.”
Clutching the rails of the quarterdeck, I kept my eyes open as I stared at the choppy steel-blue waters of the Stroud Sea. It hadn’t been bad when the ship first left the shores of Atlantia and drifted seamlessly through the mist. The gentle swaying of the ship had been kind of a fun experience.
But then we’d cleared the mist, and all there was were the deep blue waters that stretched for as far as I could see. It looked as if the sea kissed the sky. I’d thought closing my eyes would help.
That was much worse because without my eyes open to confirm that I was indeed standing straight and steady, I felt like I was falling.
What had Perry claimed not too long ago? That I would gain my sea legs in no time? I didn’t think that would happen at all. The small crew who worked the riggings of the masts made it all seem so easy.
“Please don’t vomit,” Kieran said.
I glanced over at him, my eyes narrowing. He’d joined me the moment Casteel had left my side to speak with Delano and Perry on the helm. “I cannot make that promise.”
He chuckled as he turned his face to the sky and the last of the sun. “Well, if you do, please aim for over the railing.”
“I’ll make sure I aim for your face,” I retorted.
That got another laugh from the wolven. My grip on the railing tightened as I turned back to the sea. “You know,” he started, “it might help if you stopped looking at the water.”
“I’ve tried that.” I forced a dry swallow. “It did not help.”
“Then you need to be distracted,” he replied.
“And it’s a good thing I excel at the art of distraction,” Casteel said, striding up behind us. He reached around, peeling my death grip from the railing. “Come,” he said, leading me away as the breeze rippled across his loose white shirt and tossed about the waves of his hair.
“Have fun,” Kieran called out.
“Shut up,” I snapped, walking stiffly beside Casteel.
Perry and Delano waved at us as Casteel guided me to the stairs that led down into the cabins. It was dimly lit belowdecks, and I’d only been below for a short period of time earlier to try and eat something, but I had found the floors of the stately cabin we’d been given just as unsteady as the ones above.
Casteel opened the door, and I inched my way in. Everything was bolted down. The table and two chairs. The bare surface of a wide, wooden desk. The wardrobe. The wide bed in the center of the cabin. The clawfoot tub. The standing dressing mirror and vanity. Even the gas lamps were secured. He led me to the desk.
“Take a seat,” he said, and I started to sit in the chair in front of the desk, but he tsked softly under his breath. Letting go of my hand, he grasped my hips and lifted me onto the desk.
My heart gave a silly little tumble at the show of strength as he opened one of the cabin windows. I was neither small nor dainty, but he often made me feel that way. I watched him pick up one of the bags we’d brought with us and place it by the desk.
“You were about to take my seat.” He returned, taking the chair directly in front of me.