I let that sink in, and of course, my mind went to one place. “And yet I can’t shift into anything.”
“You’re really hung up on that, aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” I muttered. “Anyway, did some of the kiyou refuse?”
Kieran nodded. “Some did because they did not trust the god, and others simply wanted to remain as they were. The ones who took his offer were given mortal form and became wolven. We were here before an Atlantian ever was.”
It made me wonder why a wolven didn’t rule then, especially considering that they were viewed as equal to the elemental Atlantians and the deities. Were other wolven in positions of power like Jasper? Like…Alastir had been? “Has a wolven ever wanted to rule Atlantia?”
“I’m sure some had the desire to, but that pack instinct from our ancestors remains inside of us. We prefer to watch over our packs to this day. A kingdom is not a pack, but several wolven are Lords and Ladies and oversee smaller cities and villages,” he told me, shifting onto his side and resting his weight on an elbow so we were facing each other. “The Lords or Ladies in Atlantia are often land or business owners. They’re not all from an elemental line. Some are wolven, some are half-mortal, and others are changelings. They aid in ruling alongside the Queen and King. There are no Dukes or Duchesses, nor do titles necessarily stay within families. If land or a business is sold, the title and its responsibilities transfer with it.”
Hearing all of this was a stark reminder that I needed to learn a lot about Atlantia, but I wasn’t exactly surprised to hear that they had similar class structures, and I felt safe assuming that this was another thing the Ascended had copied. I was, however, surprised to hear that the titles transferred. In Solis, only the Ascended were considered nobility or of a ruling class, and they held the position for life—which was basically an eternity.
“Discovering what you are doesn’t mean we no longer respect the Queen and King,” Kieran said after a moment. “But you…what you are is different to us. You are proof that we came from the gods.”
I tilted my head. “Do some need a reminder of that?”
Kieran grinned. “There will always be people who need to be reminded of history.”
“Explain,” I stated.
His pale eyes warmed. “Every so many decades, an arrogant, young, elemental Atlantian demands a bonding or behaves as if he or she is better than all the others. We’re more than capable of reminding them that we consider everyone equal, but at the end of the day, we are not in service to anyone.”
I smiled at that, but it faded. “But there’ve been issues between the wolven and Atlantians of late, right?”
“A lot of it is the land issue. We lost so many of our people during the war, but our numbers are growing. Soon, it will be a problem.”
“And the other issues? They have to do with Casteel’s parents still ruling?”
“No one is comfortable with that, but we can sense that something has to give. Our land issues. The uncertainty about the Crown. The Ascended and Solis. I know that may sound strange, but it’s a part of our instincts that remained from the time when we were kiyou. We can sense unrest,” he said, and I listened intently, wanting to understand what was causing the division between the wolven and the Atlantians. “And things that have happened have aided in that sense of unease.”
“From what I heard from my sister and father, there have been a few unexplainable incidents. Crops destroyed overnight, sheared and trampled. Homes inexplicably catching fire. Businesses vandalized.”
Stunned, I lowered the pillow to the space between us. “Other than the fires, none of that sounds exactly unexplainable. Those aren’t natural incidents.”
“Has anyone been injured?”
Yet went unsaid. “Casteel hasn’t mentioned any of this.”
“I don’t think he—”
“Wanted me to worry?” I finished for him, irritated. “That is going to need to change.”
“In his defense, a lot has happened.”
I couldn’t argue with that. “Does anyone have any idea who is behind this or why?”
“No. And it is bizarre.” Kieran sat up. “Everyone who lives in Atlantia believes in community, the strength and power in that.”
“Obviously, someone doesn’t believe in the strength and power of community,” I remarked, and he nodded. We hadn’t even had time to discuss what happened in the Temple. “Do you think Alastir was involved in any of that?”
“I don’t know.” Kieran exhaled heavily. “I’ve known that wolven my entire life, and I never expected him to do what he did. I haven’t always agreed with him. Neither has my father. But we always thought he was a good man.” He dragged a hand over his head and then looked at me again. “But if he and the others acting on his belief believed they were protecting Atlantia, I don’t understand how damaging crops and businesses would help their cause.”
My gaze fell to the teal-colored pillow, and I forced my grip to loosen. It didn’t make sense to me either, but those actions created unrest. It would ultimately come down to what a person believed they could achieve through the disruption. Thinking of the Ascended, it seemed all too clear to me. The people of Solis lived under constant hardship, and it made them easier to manipulate and control. Alastir had basically been staging a coup, and that would have been easier to carry out if the people of Atlantia were unhappy. But with Alastir and the others gone, could there still be more out there who sought to create strife in Atlantia, and saw me as a threat? Casteel and Kieran had to believe there was a chance. That was why Casteel had handed me the dagger before he left to get food, and was why Kieran sat here now.
What the Duchess had said to me in the carriage and what Alastir had claimed resurfaced like a wraith determined to haunt me.
Kieran reached over, tugging gently on a strand of my hair. “What are you thinking about?”
I let go of the pillow. “Did Casteel tell you what the Duchess said to me before I killed her?”
That surprised me, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with Casteel not wanting Kieran to know. There really hadn’t been time for them to talk. “She said that Queen Ileana would be thrilled when she learned that I married Casteel and that I would be able to accomplish what she had never been able to do. That I would take Atlantia.”
Kieran frowned. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“But it does, doesn’t it? Being a descendant of the gods means I usurp the throne without force. I take Atlantia.”
“Yes. You are the rightful ruler,” he said, and I swallowed hard, almost reaching for the wine glass again. “But I don’t see how that helps Solis at all.”
“I don’t either, but that is what she said, and…”
“And you think there’s something to that because of the shit Alastir said to you?” he surmised.
I said nothing.
“Listen to me, Poppy.” He leaned over so we were eye-to-eye and there was barely any space between us. “Every single one of us who lives within Atlantia is a potential threat to the kingdom. Our actions, our beliefs? Any of us could tear the kingdom apart. You being a descendant of the gods doesn’t make you more of a threat to the kingdom than anyone else. Only you control your actions. Not your blood—not your bloodline. Alastir was wrong. So was the Duchess. And the fact that you didn’t turn into a vampry when Casteel Ascended you should be evidence of that. And if you take the Crown, you’re not taking it in the name of Solis.”