He had me there, and he knew it. “It’s not that simple.” It wasn’t. “And that’s not an excuse but the truth. We were severely outnumbered, and he took a spear to his side. Truth be told, I do not even know if he lives.”
“He is half royal. He is not so easily bested,” he said, lips twitching. “I know it’s hard for you to think anyone not of pure blood can survive such things, but we can. He can, and I’m certain he has.” He paused, his eyes shuttering. “I would feel it had he departed for the darkness.”
My chest squeezed, and I gritted my teeth against the tightness. “Klaud, we have other matters that need our attention, but believe me when I say that this is not the end.”
“Oh, I know all about your other matters.” He bent low, creeping farther up the table to hiss into my face. “Your precious traitorous husband is the reason he is trapped there.” He spat, a glob of saliva landing on the side of my plate. “You’re no queen. You’re a child playing with your toys as you see fit while everyone around you suffers.”
Zadicus had apparently had enough and leaped over the table in half a breath, his chair crashing to the floor. His fist crunched into Klaud’s cheek as they collided with the ground, and growling and snarling sounded from behind me. I stared at the fallen chair, floating on a dark breeze, hardly breathing, hardly seeing.
Then I blinked, and the guards were escorting the cursing soldier out the doors.
“You can arrest me, trial me, Audra, but guess what? It is you who will burn for your father’s mistakes if you do not grow a heart and fix them.”
His words burrowed deep, sinking inside me like laced stones, plummeting and poisoning every vital organ they touched.
I was staring at the marred meal before me when Zad returned. “He’s being dragged to the dungeon.”
I nodded, pushing my chair back. “See to it that he’s released by morning.”
“I’ll not be requiring your company tonight.”
Mintale raced back into the dining room, his beaded eyes darting back and forth between us. “What has happened?”
“Lord Allblood can fill you in.” I breezed by them, cutlery and drapes rattling and rocking in my wake.
I didn’t so much as try to harness the storm inside me. I let it breathe as I struggled to do the same.
Inside my rooms, I lowered myself into the filling tub, allowing it to fill my lungs as I sank into the bubbling silence.
Untold minutes later, I emerged and toweled off, then padded naked into my bedchamber.
Zad was sitting by the fire, staring into the crackling flames. “I thought I told you—”
“You’ll find I care very little about what you’ve told me.”
I tugged on an emerald silk robe, then grabbed my brush and began dragging it through my wet hair.
“Come here, Audra.”
“I’m not a mutt. I do not come on command.”
His wolfish smirk almost had the brush flying at his head. “But do you not?”
I sniffed, then grudgingly walked over to the opposite armchair. Before I could fall into it, his hand coiled around mine and tugged. Then he gripped me by the waist and set me on the floor before his feet.
I was too drained, too much of nothing to care about where he’d positioned me. A queen. His queen. Sitting beneath him on the floor. Not a queen at all.
You’re no queen.
Gently, he pried the brush from my fingers and gathered my hair behind my head. I let my eyes shut and felt everything that had knotted inside me slowly unravel with every careful stroke of the bristles through my hair.
“You shouldn’t listen to him. Returning for Berron without a considerable army is out of the question.”
“War,” I said. “My kingdom, my continent, would be at war.”
“It’s looking to be that way already.” Zad’s voice was gentle but firm. “The decision to march lies in your hands.”
“I might be the daughter of a tyrant, and I know I’m definitely no saint, but so many would die.” I swallowed. “So many unnecessary deaths.”
The lord hummed, his words gruff. “You continue to surprise me.”
“Did you think I would not care?”
“You do a fabulous job of pretending you don’t.” Those words slid over every inch of my skin, drying flesh that was still damp.
“I cannot make an example of an entire kingdom.”
Zad was quiet for long moments. Flames licked at the hearth, crackling and spitting. “No, you cannot. Though I do wonder, is it because of your king’s return? Or because you truly want to spare them?”
I turned and glared at him.
His eyes smiled. “There she is.”
“Not everything revolves around Raiden.”
Zad sat back as I stood, rubbing a hand over his chin. “How easily you say his name once again.”
I snatched the brush from him. “Enough.”