The ​Crown of Gilded Bones

Page 5

Casteel had once planned to marry Shea—Alastir’s daughter—but then Casteel had been captured by the Ascended, and Shea had betrayed him and his brother in an attempt to save her life. Everyone, including Alastir, believed that Shea had died heroically, but I knew the true tragedy of how she’d perished. However, Alastir also had a great-niece, a wolven that both he and King Valyn hoped Casteel would marry upon his return to the kingdom. It was something he’d announced at dinner, claiming he believed that Casteel had already told me. I wasn’t so sure he truly believed that, but that was neither here nor there.

I couldn’t be the only person who found the whole thing…weird. Alastir’s daughter? And now his great-niece? I doubted there weren’t plenty of other wolven or Atlantians that would’ve also been well suited to marry Casteel, especially since Casteel had given no indication that he’d be interested in such a union.

None of that made Alastir guilty, but it was strange.

Now the wolven looked absolutely thunderstruck as he stared back at Casteel. “I don’t know what you think Beckett did or how it has anything to do with me, but my nephew would never be involved in something like this. He’s a pup. And I would—”

“Shut the hell up,” Casteel growled as I peeked around his shoulder.

The wolven blanched. “Casteel—”

“Do not make me repeat myself,” he interrupted, turning to the guards. “Seize Alastir.”

“What?” Alastir exploded as half the guards turned to him, while the others nervously glanced between Casteel and the only King and Queen they knew.

The King’s eyes narrowed on his son. “Alastir has committed no crime that we know of.”

“Maybe he hasn’t. Maybe he is completely innocent, as is his great-nephew. But until we know for sure, I want him held,” Casteel stated. “Seize him, or I will.”

Jasper prowled forward, growling low in his throat as his muscles strained under his mortal skin. The guards shifted nervously.

“Wait!” Alastir shouted, his cheeks mottling as anger pulsed around him. “He does not have the kind of authority required to make demands of the Guards of the Crown.”

I imagined the Crown Guard was a lot like the Royal Guard that served the Ascended. They only took orders from Queen Ileana and King Jalara, and whatever Royal Ascended were seated to lord over a city or town.

“Correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t think I am, but stranger things have happened,” Casteel said, and my brows puckered. “My mother removed the crown and told everyone here to bow before the new Queen—who happens to be my wife. Therefore, according to Atlantian tradition, that makes me the King, no matter what head the crown rests upon.”

My heart tumbled. King. Queen. That couldn’t be us.

“You never wanted the throne or the trappings that come with that crown,” Alastir spat. “You spent decades seeking to free your brother so he could take the throne. And yet now you seek to claim it? You’ve truly given up on your brother then?”

I sucked in a sharp breath as anger flooded me. Alastir, of all people, knew how much finding and freeing Malik meant to Casteel. And his words had cut deep. I felt from Casteel then what I’d sensed the very first time I ever laid eyes on him—a rawness that felt like shards of ice against my skin. Casteel was always in pain, and even though it had lessened a little with each passing day, the agony he felt over his brother was never far from the surface. He’d just recently allowed himself to feel something other than the guilt, the shame, and the anguish.

I didn’t even realize I had moved forward until I saw that I was no longer under the shade of the blood tree. “Casteel hasn’t given up on Malik,” I snapped before I could find my damn dagger and throw it across the Temple. “We will find him and free him. Malik has nothing to do with any of this.”

“Oh, gods.” Eloana pressed her hand to her mouth as she turned to her son. Pain tightened her features, and in an instant, soul-deep sorrow rolled off her in potent waves. I couldn’t see it, but her grief was a constant shadow that followed her, just as it did for Casteel. It hammered at my senses, scraping my skin like frozen, broken glass. “Hawke, what have you done?”

My focus darted to Valyn as I shut down the connection with Casteel’s mother before it overwhelmed me. A jagged pulse of grief surrounded him, pierced by a surge of peppery, desperate anger. But he locked it down with a strength that I couldn’t help but admire and envy. He bent and whispered in his wife’s ears. Closing her eyes, she nodded at whatever he said.

Oh, gods, I shouldn’t have said that. “I’m sorry.” I clasped my hands together tightly. “I didn’t—”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Casteel said, looking over his shoulder at me and finding my gaze with his. What radiated from him was warm and sweet, overshadowing the icy ache a bit.

“It is I who should apologize,” Alastir stated gruffly, surprising me. “I shouldn’t have brought Malik into this. You were right.”

Casteel eyed him, and I knew he didn’t know what to do with Alastir’s apology. Neither did I. Instead, he focused on his parents. “I know what you’re likely thinking. It’s the same thing Alastir believed. You think my marriage to Penellaphe is yet another fruitless ploy to free Malik.”

“It’s not?” his mother whispered, tears filling her eyes. “We know you took her to use her.”

“I did,” Casteel confirmed. “But that’s not why we married. That’s not why we’re together.”

Hearing all of this used to bother me. The truth of how Casteel and I had gotten to this place was an uncomfortable one, but it no longer made me feel as if my skin no longer fit. I looked down at the band around my pointer finger and the vibrant golden swirl across my left palm. The corners of my lips turned up. Casteel had come for me with plans to use me, but that had changed long before either of us realized it. The how no longer mattered.

“I want to believe that,” his mother whispered. Her concern was oppressive, like a coarse, too-thick blanket. Maybe she wanted to believe it, but it was clear that she didn’t.

“That is something else we need to discuss.” Valyn cleared his throat, and it was clear that he too doubted his son’s motivations. “As of right now, you are not the King, nor is she the Queen. Eloana had a very impassioned moment when she took off her crown,” he said, squeezing his wife’s shoulders. The way her entire face pinched in response to her husband’s comment was something I felt deep in my soul. “A coronation would have to take place, and the crowning would have to go uncontested.”

“Contest her claim?” Jasper laughed as he folded his arms over his chest. “Even if she wasn’t married to an heir, her claim cannot be contested. You know that. We all know that.”

My stomach felt as if I were back on the edge of the cliff in the Skotos Mountains. I didn’t want the throne. Neither did Casteel.

“Be that as it may,” Valyn drawled, eyes narrowing, “until we discover who was involved in this and have had time to speak, Alastir should be kept somewhere safe.”

Alastir turned to him. “That’s—”

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