“When you say children, are you talking about Theon or all the gods?” I asked.
“His actual children,” Casteel confirmed. “And Theon was never his actual son. That’s another thing the Ascended either lied about or they simply misunderstood due to his many titles.”
It was very possible it was a mistranslation. I stared at them, thinking how one of them was responsible for Malec. “Could they shift into cats?”
“Not sure,” Kieran said. “Nothing that I remember reading ever said as much, and I don’t believe Nyktos’s ability to shift was something passed on to his children.”
Of course, not. “What are their names?”
“Like with his Consort,” Casteel said, “they are not known. Not even their genders.”
I raised a brow. “Let me guess, Nyktos was just super-protective of their identities?”
Casteel smirked. “That’s what they say.”
“Sounds like he was super controlling,” I muttered.
“Or maybe just really private,” Kieran suggested as he reached over and tugged gently on the strand of hair Casteel had tucked back earlier. “Being the King of Gods, I’m sure he sought privacy wherever he could.”
As we continued on through the museum, it was hard not to think back on that painting or the creature I’d seen in that cage when I was a child. I remembered the way the animal had prowled in its confines, desperate, and with a keen intelligence in its eyes.
We ended up sharing a dinner of freshly grilled fish and roasted vegetables in one of the cafés closest to the water, joined by Delano, who had shifted into his mortal form at some point. I had asked if the other wolven wished to join us, but they had chosen to remain in their wolven forms, watching over any and all that ventured near us, including the Crown Guard.
It wasn’t until after the sun had begun its steady descent into the horizon that we made it to the beaches. The first thing I did was unstrap my sandals. The very moment my feet sank into the gritty sand, a smile tugged at my lips as a barrage of memories rose within me—memories of my parents and Ian, walking along another beach. As my sandals dangled from my fingers, and Casteel wrapped his hand firmly around mine, I looked out at the sea, watching the clear waters turn a shade of silver as the moon rose. Those afternoons on the beaches of the Stroud Sea felt like a different lifetime, eons ago, and that saddened me. How long before they became memories that felt as if they belonged to someone else?
Delano, who walked ahead, turned to face us. “If you’re not tired, there’s something ahead you might enjoy, Penellaphe.”
“I’m not tired.” I looked up at Casteel. “Are you?”
A faint smile appeared as he shook his head.
Delano’s gaze flicked from Casteel to Kieran before returning to me as he walked backwards. “There is a celebration of a wedding,” he explained. “Just around the bend.”
“Are we able to join? I mean, they don’t know me—”
“They will welcome you,” Delano cut in. “Both of you.”
“You want to?” Casteel asked. Of course, I did. I nodded. He looked over his shoulder to where I knew the members of the Crown Guard followed several paces back. “Thank you for your watchful eyes. That will be all for tonight.”
I turned just as I saw several guards bow and then pivot. “They’re actually leaving?”
“They know they don’t belong at a celebration like this,” Kieran explained. “It’s not personal. It just is.”
My feet sank into damp sand as we made our way around a dune, the sounds of laughter and music growing louder. There was so much to soak in—the shouts of happiness, the canopies rippling in the salty breeze, the thick blankets and cushions scattered about the sand, and the groups of people huddled about, dancing and talking. There was so much life, so much warmth and joy, that it flooded my senses, leaving me exposed like a live wire but in a way that was pleasant for the first time. In a way that I wanted. My gaze bounced everywhere, stopping on those moving around the flames.
“During these kinds of celebrations, only the wolven can dance around the fire,” Casteel explained, following my gaze. “Though I bet they’d allow you. You’re their Liessa.”
“It’s strange to be the wolven’s Queen and not be a wolven,” I said, watching people envelop Delano as the wolven who’d been trailing us all day rushed forward, disappearing into the crowd.
“Tonight is about celebration,” Kieran told us. “You don’t have to worry about anyone bowing or beating their fists off the sand tonight.”
A tiny grin appeared. “Was my awkwardness the last time really that noticeable?”
“Yes,” both Casteel and Kieran answered.
“Wow,” I said, ducking my chin against Casteel’s arm as I smiled.
But Kieran was right. As he broke away from us, joining several others who stood near a few of the canopied tents, only waves and smiles greeted us. Taking my sandals from me, Casteel dropped them onto the sand and then unstrapped his swords, lying them on a blanket—a sign that he felt it was safe to do so here. Sitting, he pulled me down so I was nestled between his legs, facing the bonfire.
I’d completely lost sight of Delano as I relaxed in Casteel’s embrace, but I found Kieran a few moments later, talking with a tall, dark-haired female. That was about all I could see of her from a distance. “Who is Kieran speaking to?” I asked.
Casteel looked over the top of my head. “I think her name is Lyra. If that’s who I think it is. She’s a bit younger than Kieran and me, but her family is close to his.”
“Oh,” I whispered, watching them and thinking of what Kieran had once said about loving and losing someone. He’d never expounded on that, but what I’d felt from him when he spoke was the kind of anguish one felt when the person they loved was no longer in the realm of the living. It made me happy to see him with someone, even if they were just talking and laughing. Not that I would share that with him. He’d probably consider it a question.
“You know how you said it was weird to be a Queen to the wolven but not be a wolven?” Cas said after a few moments. “It made me think of how when I met you, I was looking for the Maiden, but I found a Princess, a Queen—my wife.” He laughed, and it sounded as if it were one of awe. “I don’t know. It just made me think about how you find things you never knew you needed when you’re looking for something completely opposite.”
“Or not looking at all,” I said, my nose scrunching. “Or maybe I was looking. I went to the Red Pearl that night because I wanted to live. And I found you.”
He curled his arms around me, tightening his embrace. A couple of additional moments passed as we watched the wolven around the fire. “What would you want to be doing right now if you could be doing anything? Barring seeing your brother or anything that has to do with what we need to do.”
My brows rose at the unexpected question. Letting my senses stretch out to him, I felt a boyish sense of curiosity, one that brought a grin to my face. I didn’t even have to think about it. “This. You?”