I couldn’t even fathom that. Not because I would judge someone in that situation, but I would be so concerned that the other might worry they were a replacement. “I know that he would have more control over the Crown if you were to marry someone he had control of. That he was on the verge of losing whatever influence he had over Atlantia with you marrying me, and him knowing the truth of what I was. I don’t think for one moment that his motives were purely centered around protecting Atlantia. I think he wanted to maintain control, and he was virtually staging a coup. I told him I thought as much, too.”
A slow, shadowy smile crossed Casteel’s features. “Did you?”
“Yeah.” A tiny grin pulled at my lips. “He wasn’t too happy about that. Protested a lot.”
“Protested too much?” Kieran said.
I nodded. “I think he believed he was doing the right thing, but I think he wanted to keep his influence, and he wanted revenge.”
“That makes sense,” Casteel said. “My father wants retribution, just as Alastir does. Malik wouldn’t have wanted war, and he knew that I don’t either. Both my father and Alastir were impressed with what was done with Spessa’s End.”
“But Alastir didn’t believe it was enough,” I said, recalling how Alastir had responded. “He said it wasn’t enough for your father, either.”
“It hasn’t been,” Casteel admitted. “And Alastir wasn’t a fan of my plan to negotiate. He wants blood from Solis. My father wants the same. Alastir believes that my brother is a lost cause.” He folded his arms over his chest, and I felt the tangy spike of anguish. I started moving to him to take away his pain. I forced myself to stop because he had asked me once before not to do that. I clasped my hands together as he continued. “And perhaps he thought with Gianna as my bride, he would be able to wield his influence.”
I wasn’t sure what to think of the female wolven I’d never met or seen, as far as I knew. Casteel had never intended to marry her, and according to him, she hadn’t shown any interest in him, either. She wasn’t to blame for what his father or Alastir wanted. At least, that was what I kept telling myself. Alastir hadn’t mentioned her at all.
“Whatever his motivations were,” Kieran said, “it really doesn’t matter now.”
I supposed it didn’t. Because Casteel had found him, and I knew the wolven no longer breathed.
Casteel came forward then, kneeling in front of me. He took my hands, and as I stared down at him, I felt his anger at himself and his family. But his anger for what had been done to me, his concern, overshadowed it. “I’m sorry you had to find out the truth like that.” He picked up my hands, holding them in his. “I can’t imagine what you must have felt.”
“I wanted to kill him,” I admitted. He lowered his lips to my hands, kissing the top of both of them. “Well, Princess, do you remember when I said I would give you whatever you wanted?”
He smiled again, and this time, it was a smile that promised blood. “Alastir is still alive.”
“What?” I whispered.
“We made sure he was imprisoned before we headed to the Wastelands,” Kieran said. “We figured it was best to keep him alive just in case we didn’t get to you in time.”
Casteel’s gaze captured mine. “He’s all yours, Poppy.”
I learned that we would travel straight through the Skotos, not stopping. According to Kieran, we would reach the other side by nightfall because of how close we already were to the mountains. I was relieved to hear that as I didn’t look forward to spending another night in the mountains with the mist. The fact that I’d almost walked off a cliff the last time still haunted me, and I really didn’t need a repeat of that right now.
My mind was still skipping all over the place when Kieran left to ready the rest of the wolven and the Atlantians who remained—my memories jumping from one discovery to another. There were three things I was not thinking about as I made use of the small bathing chamber and returned to the sparse room.
The immortality thing and everything with that. Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard not to think about it because I didn’t feel any different than I had before the bolt struck me in the chest. And I didn’t think I looked any differently. There was no mirror in the bathing chamber to confirm, but Casteel hadn’t mentioned anything. I felt like myself.
I wasn’t allowing myself to think about the whole Queen thing, either, which was something neither Kieran nor Casteel had brought up, thank the gods. I would have probably ended up in the corner of the hunting cabin if they had.
The third thing, I was failing at not thinking about. Who Alastir claimed I was related to kept popping up in my head every couple of moments. I watched Casteel pull on a thick tunic. Did he know? Had Alastir told him when he captured the wolven? Maybe he hadn’t. I didn’t have to say anything. If Casteel didn’t know, that was probably for the best. Because how would he feel to know that he was married to the descendant of the King who’d nearly destroyed Atlantia? And his mother? My stomach twisted and churned. What would she think?
Or did she already know? Was that why she had asked Casteel what he’d brought home with him? King Valyn had fought beside him, but that didn’t mean he didn’t know. Alastir had arrived before us, and even if his parents hadn’t been involved, they still could know who I was related to.
And his father… I remembered him shouting at Casteel to stop—to not give me his blood. His father had known what Casteel had been about to do, and gods, it was what Malec had done all those hundreds of years ago, turning his mistress Isbeth into the first vampry out of an act of desperation.
It was like a tragic replay of history, except I hadn’t become a vampry.
But King Valyn didn’t know that.
“Where is your father?” I asked as I picked up one of the boots Jasper had found.
“Emil and a few others escorted him back to Atlantia. They’re currently keeping him under watch,” he answered.
I looked up from my boot. “Do you think that’s necessary? To keep him under watch?”
Casteel nodded as he sheathed one of his swords at his side. “He’s most likely under the assumption that I’ve turned you into a vampry,” he parroted my earlier thoughts. “If we just sent him back to Atlantia, he would’ve immediately come back here.”
“To do what?” I pulled on the soft, worn leather boot. It was a little snug around the calf but would work. “Cut off my head?” I asked, only half-joking.
“He would try and die trying,” he stated bluntly.
I froze. “Casteel—”
“I know that sounds harsh.” He bent, swiped up the other boot, and brought it over to where I sat on the edge of the wooden chair. “But even if you were a bloodthirsty Ascended, trying to rip the throats out of everyone who came near you, I would still destroy anyone who sought to harm you.”
My heart skipped a beat and turned over heavily as I stared up at him. “I don’t know if I should be worried about that or flattered.”
“Let’s go with flattered.” He knelt, holding my boot. “And be thankful that it won’t come to that. When he sees you, he’ll know you haven’t Ascended—at least not into a vampry.”