“I’m not asking you to do anything, but your friends…” I watched his back arch as he hung his head. “I know they’re the reason you knew what was going to happen on my vow night.” I paused, crossing a leg over the other. “It occurred to me as I was visiting my exiled husband and replaying what was almost the happiest moment of my life that your appearance was rather timely, my lord.”
The silence screamed as I continued to watch his muscular back gently rise and fall.
Finally, he murmured, “I heard of it myself, not from my friends.” He straightened but didn’t face me. “As the weeks after your engagement carried on, something didn’t feel right, but no one would talk, so no one outside of their inner circle knew anything. They were too careful. So I pretended to go against the marriage alliance. Darkness knows I had enough reason to.” At his exasperated tone, I frowned but did not interrupt. “Or so Solnia and Phane believed, being that I thought I’d one day be your husband. They knew that, and after only a few meetings, they were easily misled.” He turned then, expression still blank as he said, “I infiltrated their inner circle a mere week before the ceremony.”
Which was why he could attest to their guilt in the days after, other than being there to witness the horrors firsthand.
“Why didn’t you tell me all this?” The words were almost whispered, and I hadn’t realized until I cleared my throat how much this visit was due to me wanting to look him in the eye and have him tell me what he knew for himself.
“I tried. You ignored me at every turn, and it was beginning to look suspicious, the way I was following you around, hoping for a moment where Raiden would leave your side.”
But he never did, not in those final days leading up to the ceremony.
I looked down at the fur rug and my dirtied boots. “So you decided to try to thwart their plans on your own?”
Zad nodded. “I had help as you can probably recall. We cut through the woods, which was why you wouldn’t have seen me at the festivities.” He snorted, shaking his head. “Not that you’d have bothered to look.”
I frowned and opened my mouth, but he went on, “And then we waited. They struck before you could fully enter the forest, though. That was not the plan. They must have found out at the last moment whose side I was truly on. We had to race…” He stopped, and I could’ve sworn there was a tremor in his hand as he cupped his mouth with it and turned back to the fire. “I didn’t know if we’d make it.”
Long moments ticked by as I let that night—what he’d done, and what he’d risked—close one of the tiny cracks inside me. “Thank you,” I finally murmured.
He stiffened, then slowly released a breath. “So what makes you think those are even Berron’s fingers?”
It took me a moment to gather the present into place, and then I flashed my teeth, laughing. “Oh, believe me. They’re his.”
Zad grimaced. His jaw clenched as he ran a hand through his hair, then moved for the door while muttering, “I’ll show you upstairs.”
After ridding the day’s ride from my skin in a tub that was almost as luxurious as my own, the female who’d greeted us delivered a platter of cheese, meats, and fruit to my room.
The room was filled with white wood. A bed fit for three kings sat in the center on a raised dais and carved trees rose from the four corners to form a canopy of wreathed, woven wood.
“Your name,” I’d said as she went to leave.
“Emmiline.” She then dipped her head and closed the door behind her.
I stared at it for a time, wondering exactly who she was to the lord, then my hunger bested me, and I devoured most of the food on the platter.
For hours, I’d stared at the intricate canopy above the bed. Exhaustion weighed down my lids, yet I couldn’t drift away.
My guards had been shown to rooms after I had been left to mine, and other than the sound of water gurgling somewhere in the large home, there was nothing but silence.
I shucked the blankets off and swung my feet to the cool marble floor. The door creaked slightly as I pulled it open and traversed the hall until I’d reached the stairs. They continued higher, presumably to the roof.
As silent as possible, I climbed them and met no resistance as I pushed the small door, a piece of cutout glass with grass on the other side, wide open.
I soon figured out why as I let it fall closed and crawled over the soft, wet rooftop, careful not to squash any flowers on my way to where two bench seats perched in the middle, hidden behind serpentine vines and sunflowers. To the left of them sat a fountain with what looked to be blue two-headed fish swimming inside. Grends.