I traipsed back over to Truin, standing beside her, every sense heightened as I watched the healers pack away their kits and bow.
“How,” I said, stopping to clear my throat. “How bad is it?”
The young one with violent orange hair looked at the woman next to her, who, after running her somber eyes over me, nodded.
“She needed to be stitched several times,” she said. “We put her to sleep first so she didn’t feel it. She will remain asleep for most of your journey home.”
She knew, or guessed, that we’d be leaving. I was thankful they’d done that for her.
The older witch with gray seeping into her burnt orange hair, stepped forward, her voice low. “She will heal just fine.” Her gaze drifted over Truin, returning to mine with knowing gray eyes. “On the outside.”
My own closed briefly, a breath shaken from my lungs, but I nodded. “Thank you,” I said.
They stopped on their way to the door, turning back to curtsy, deep and with their heads dipped. “We are honored to be of help.”
Raiden returned a minute later. “A carriage is ready and waiting in the courtyard.”
I didn’t care that it was dark and therefore more dangerous. I was getting us home as soon as possible.
With a gentle ease, he maneuvered Truin into his arms, and I followed him out, flicking my eyes everywhere, looking for threats.
I climbed in first so he could lay her over the soft leather seat with her head upon my thigh. “Let me come with you.”
I almost laughed. “Not a chance, King.”
“Audra,” he said. “It is not safe to be journeying across the border, across the continent, with just a driver.”
“We will manage.”
“At least let me have some of my best warriors—”
I held up a hand at that. “And what if she wakes? What if the sight of them alone is enough to have her screaming and alerting every danger in the dark to our presence? No,” I said. “Your warriors have done enough.”
“They’re not all savages,” he said.
“I do not care what they are. I care only that you brought her here when it was unnecessary, and now, she will forever pay the price for your childish behavior.” And my own.
For if I had been more forceful and less inclined to humor the rubble that was once my heart… I gritted my teeth and sat back in the seat.
Raiden’s eyes darkened, his throat bobbing as he backed out of the doorway. “You’re right.”
I faced forward, telling the driver to go.
“Let me know if there is anything I can do.”
“Yes.” I pulled the shutter on the window. “Leave me alone.”
The queen stumbled through the courtyard with a bottle of wine in hand.
Standing in the shadows against the rough wall, I watched as she righted herself, glared at the glass bottle, and then took another sip.
It’d been two weeks since the king’s passing. Ten days since she’d exiled her own husband.
Raiden had been sent to The Edges, where he’d live out his days wholly unaware he was a king, a husband, and a waste of fucking flesh who never deserved to so much as look at Audra, let alone find a way inside the fortress she’d erected around her heart.
She’d delayed it as much as possible, and Mintale, forever loyal Mintale, had done all he could to postpone it for the heartbroken princess.
But the princess could remain a princess no more. This evening was her coronation.
Only twenty summers old, and now, Audra was the queen of the entire continent.
During the whole silent and tense ordeal, not once had she smiled or seemed to appreciate that which had been bestowed on her.
Not that many could blame her. Her entire world had been reduced to a wave of rubble that kept on rolling.
She wouldn’t let me in. I knew that, and still, I gave her all she’d let me—my presence.
“Stupid, ghastly thing,” she muttered, plucking the crown from her head.
I bit my lips, then winced as she tossed the precious heirloom into the rose bushes and walked up the damp, leaf-strewn path.
Her gown, creamy white silk with skirts that would make most topple, ate half of the bench seat, the silver-beaded roses and jewels of the bodice glinting beneath the moon.
She sat alone, as she so often did, with the bottle hanging from her hand. It plonked to the grass, wine spilling beneath her bare feet, but she did not seem to notice. Or perhaps she just did not care.
Plucking a rose from the small cluster behind her, she cupped it within her snowy hands and gazed down at it as though it would answer all her misery-laden questions.
Purposely treading on a stick, I made my presence known as I walked up the path.
She didn’t look up; she didn’t move at all. Reaching between thorn-shrouded branches, I retrieved the crown, staring down at the heavy silver as I approached its owner.