The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 3

He would die.

Casteel would die because of me—because I called to these wolven and didn’t know how to make it stop. My heart thumped erratically. A wolven near the steps stalked Emil as he continued backing up. Another tracked Naill as he spoke softly to the wolven, attempting to reason with the creature. The others had zeroed in on the guards surrounding the King and Queen, and a few… Oh, gods, several of them crept up behind Casteel. This had slipped into chaos, the wolven beyond control of any of them…

I sucked in a sharp breath as my mind raced, breaking free of the pain and turbulence. Something had happened within me to make that drop of god’s blood break the bonds. I superseded their previous oaths, and that had…it had to mean that they now obeyed me.

“Stop,” I ordered as Kieran snapped at Casteel, whose own lips were now peeled back. “Kieran! Stop! You will not hurt Casteel.” My voice rose as a soft hum returned to my blood. “All of you will stop. Now! None of you will attack.”

It was like a switch had been thrown in the wolven’s minds. One second they were all poised to attack, and then they were sinking onto their bellies, lowering their heads between their front paws. I could still feel their anger, the old power, but it had lessened already, was fading in steady waves.

Emil lowered his sword. “That…that was timely. Thank you for that.”

A ragged breath left me as a tremor traveled up and down my arms. I almost couldn’t believe it’d worked as I scanned the Temple, seeing all the wolven lying down. My entire being wanted to rebel against further confirmation of what the Queen had claimed, but gods, there was only so much I could deny. Throat dry, I looked at Casteel.

He stared at me, his eyes wide once more. I couldn’t breathe. My heart wouldn’t slow enough for me to make sense of what he was feeling.

“He will not hurt me. You all know that,” I said, my voice shaking as I looked at Jasper and then Kieran. “You told me that he was the only person in both kingdoms that I was safe with. That hasn’t changed.”

Kieran’s ears twitched, and then he rose, backing up. He turned, nudging my hand with his nose.

“Thank you,” I whispered, briefly closing my eyes.

“Just so you know,” Casteel murmured, thick lashes lowered halfway, “what you just did? Said? It has me feeling all kinds of wildly inappropriate things at the moment.”

A weak, shaky laugh left me. “There’s something so wrong with you.”

“I know.” The left side of his lips curved, and his dimple appeared. “But you love that about me.”

I did. Gods, I really did.

Jasper shook out his fur as his large head swung from me to Casteel. He turned sideways, making a rough, huffing sound as he did. The other wolven moved then, coming out from behind the blood tree. I watched them trot past me—past Casteel and the others—ears perked and tails wagging as they joined those descending the steps and left the Temple. Of the wolven, only Jasper, his son, and Delano remained, and the feeling of chaotic tension lifted.

A thick lock of dark hair fell over Casteel’s forehead. “You were glowing silver again. When you ordered the wolven to stop,” he told me. “Not a lot, not like before, but you looked like spun moonlight.”

Had I been? I glanced down at my hands. They looked normal. “I…I don’t know what’s happening,” I whispered, my legs shaking. “I don’t know what’s going on.” I lifted my eyes to his and watched him take a step forward, and then another. There were no snarls of warning. Nothing. My throat started to burn. I could feel it—tears creeping into my eyes. I couldn’t cry. I wouldn’t. Everything had already turned into enough of a mess without me sobbing hysterically. But I was so tired. I hurt, and it went beyond the physical.

When I first stepped into this Temple and looked out over the clear waters of the Seas of Saion, I’d felt like I was home. And I knew things would be hard. Proving that our union was real wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as gaining the acceptance of Casteel’s parents and that of his kingdom. We still needed to find his brother, Prince Malik. And mine. We had to deal with the Ascended Queen and King. Nothing about our future would be easy, but I had hope.

Now, I felt foolish. So naïve. The older wolven in Spessa’s End, the one I’d helped heal after the battle, had warned me about the people of Atlantia. They did not choose you. And I now doubted they ever would.

I drew in a stuttering breath and whispered, “I didn’t want any of this.”

Tension bracketed Casteel’s mouth. “I know.” His voice was rough, but his touch was gentle as he placed his palm over the cheek that didn’t feel swollen. He lowered his forehead to mine, and the shock of awareness his flesh against mine brought was there, rippling through me as he slid his hand into the tangled mess of my hair. “I know, Princess,” he whispered, and I squeezed my eyes shut against a stronger rush of tears. “It’s okay. It will all be okay. I promise you that.”

I nodded, even though I knew it wasn’t something he could guarantee. Not anymore. I forced myself to swallow the knot of emotion that rose.

Casteel kissed my blood-streaked brow and then lifted his head. “Emil? Can you retrieve clothing from Delano’s and Kieran’s horses so they can shift and not scar anyone?”

“I’ll be more than happy to do that,” the Atlantian answered.

I almost laughed. “I think their nakedness will be the least scarring thing to happen today.”

Casteel said nothing as he touched my cheek again, gently tilting my head to the side. His gaze then dropped to several of the rocks still littering the ground at my feet. A muscle popped along his jaw. His eyes lifted to mine, and I saw his pupils were dilated, only a thin strip of amber visible. “They tried to stone you?”

I heard a soft gasp I thought had come from his mother, but I didn’t look. I didn’t want to see their faces. I didn’t want to know what they felt right now. “They accused me of working with the Ascended, and they called me a Soul Eater. I told them I wasn’t. I tried to talk to them.” Words spilled out in a rush as I lifted my hands to touch him, but I stopped. I didn’t know what my touch would do. Hell, I didn’t even know what I would do without touching someone. “I tried to reason with them, but they started throwing stones. I told them to stop. I said it was enough, and…I don’t know what I did—” I started to look over his shoulder, but Casteel seemed to know what it was I searched for. He stopped me. “I didn’t mean to kill them.”

“You were defending yourself.” His pupils constricted as he caught my stare. “You did what you had to do. You were defending yourself—”

“But I didn’t touch them, Casteel,” I whispered. “It was like in Spessa’s End, during the battle. Remember the soldiers who surrounded us? When they fell, I felt something in me. I felt that again here. It was like something inside me knew what to do. I took their anger and I—I did exactly what a Soul Eater would do. I took it from them and then gave it back.”

“You are not a Soul Eater,” Queen Eloana said from somewhere not too far away. “The moment the eather in your blood became visible, those who attacked you should’ve known exactly what you were. What you are.”

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