“And you told us that you didn’t know,” Casteel replied.
“That wasn’t entirely a lie,” he said, glancing at his wife before turning to Casteel. “The past that your mother spoke of plays a role in this—what you’ve become. But it doesn’t explain how.”
Icy fingers of unease touched the nape of my neck, sending a shiver down my spine.
“Your parents?” his mother asked as she tipped forward slightly. “You believed them both to be mortal?”
“I did,” I said, shoulders tensing. “But I’m not so sure now. I don’t even know if they were my birth parents.”
Her throat worked on a swallow. “And you have a brother?”
Alastir had definitely informed them well. “I do. He is older by two years.”
“And he Ascended?” she asked, and I nodded stiffly. She clasped her hands lightly in her lap. “Are you sure of that?”
“He has only ever been seen at night,” Casteel confirmed. “Beyond that, there is no way of knowing. But he has been seen multiple times. I do not believe they are using him for blood—in the same way they intended to use Penellaphe.”
I knew what his parents were thinking. That Ian was either my half-brother or not my brother by blood at all. If either were the case, I didn’t care. He was still my sibling. Just as my parents, who had given their lives to protect us, would always be the only mother and father I knew.
“I believe that we can answer some of the questions you have,” his mother stated, her gaze briefly meeting her husband’s.
Casteel squeezed my hand as I said, “Alastir told me that I share similar abilities with—”
“Malec?” Queen Eloana interjected, her sorrow becoming a thickness that cast a pall on the room. “You do. You would. He spoke the truth.”
Sucking in a sharp breath, I was stunned and even more surprised by the fact that I was so shocked. Apparently, some part of me hadn’t wanted to believe it was true. I sat back, trying to pull my hand free of Casteel’s grip.
He held on as he angled his body toward mine. “It doesn’t matter, Poppy. I told you that before.” His gaze snared mine. “It doesn’t matter to me.”
“And it doesn’t matter to us,” Kieran stated softly from behind us, bravely speaking for the entirety of the wolven.
“You actually look like him,” Casteel’s mother whispered, and my head swung in her direction. “Even if I hadn’t seen the power radiating from you, I would’ve known exactly who you came from. You have many of his features and his hair—though his was a shade of red that carried more brown in it, and his skin was a little darker than yours.”
I could feel the blood slowing in my veins. “I was always told that I looked like my mother—”
“By who?” she asked.
“By…” Queen Ileana had told me that. Ever since I could remember, she’d said that I was a replica of my mother when she was my age. I never once questioned that growing up, and even though I was beginning to suspect that at least one of my parents wasn’t related to me by blood, I’d never truly thought it was my mother.
Casteel stared at me for a moment and then turned to his mother and father. “What are you saying?”
“What we’re saying is that it’s impossible for the ones you believed to be your parents to be who you remember them to be.” King Valyn’s tone was softer than what I even imagined him being able to accomplish. “Or they were not your parents at all. Because we know who one of them was.”
The sympathy that radiated from the Queen nearly choked me. “Malec had to have been your father, Penellaphe.”
I stared at Casteel’s parents, caught in a cyclone of confusion and disbelief. I wanted to stand, but Casteel still held onto my hand tightly. And where could I go?
“For you to have your abilities, you have to be the child of a deity and not just share their blood,” King Valyn explained in that same gentle way. “And it also means that neither of your parents could’ve been mortal.”
I inhaled sharply. “What?”
“There’s simply no way that you were ever mortal,” Queen Eloana said, her gaze searching mine. “That doesn’t mean that the mother you knew isn’t your mother. It just means that she was never mortal.”
I shook my head as my brain rapidly tried to process this new information. “But wouldn’t Alastir have known that? He met her.”
Queen Eloana lowered her gaze, and I knew then that she had said what she had to lessen the impact.
My stomach hollowed. “Don’t do that—don’t lie to soften the blow. I appreciate it. I do.” And I did. It meant that she cared in some fashion about my feelings. “But I need to know the truth. I need to face it.”
A measure of respect rippled through the Queen as she nodded. “He would’ve known if the woman he met was not mortal.”
“It also means that Leopold couldn’t have been Malec.” Kieran had moved to perch on the arm of the settee. “Alastir would’ve known and would’ve said as much.”
I focused on taking deep, even breaths as I reminded myself that I had already suspected that at least one of my parents hadn’t been related to me by blood. I’d even started to accept that, and I…I could accept this. But Malec as my father? Something didn’t add up about that. But my thoughts were too much of a whirlwind to figure out what that was at the moment.
“And he would’ve told me if he had happened across Malec,” Casteel’s mother stated, snapping my attention back to her. “He would’ve told both of us.”
Casteel’s fingers slipped from mine then, and my heart stuttered at the blast of iciness that rolled off him as he stared at his parents. “Did you two know about Penellaphe before me? Did you know what Alastir took part in that night in Lockswood?”
Oh, my gods.
I…I hadn’t even considered that. But I tasted it then, the sourness of shame, coming from both of them. The center of my chest hummed, and Kieran inhaled raggedly as he stretched his neck from left to right. “You…you knew?”
“We knew that he had found what he believed to be a descendant of Malec’s,” Queen Eloana answered as her husband reached between them, clasping her hand. “But we did not know anything else about you or your family. He didn’t even know then that you were Malec’s child. He only came to realize that when he met you again.”
Casteel’s body was impossibly rigid, and I saw Hisa inch away from the window and move toward his parents. “But you knew that he killed her parents? Left her to die?”
His father met his stare. “We only knew after the fact. There was nothing we could’ve done then.”
A moment passed, and then Casteel started to stand. I snapped forward, grasping his arm. “He’s right,” I said, swallowing thickly as his head swung in my direction. His eyes reminded me of frozen topaz. “There was nothing they could’ve done after the fact. This is not their fault.”
So focused on Casteel, I couldn’t quite place the strange sensation again, a fleeting emotion that was sour yet also tangy. I had no idea who it came from or if I had really even felt it when Casteel’s rage was a fire storm. “They’re not to blame for what Alastir did,” I told him, curling my other hand around his arm. “They’re not.”