“Do we have a deal?”
“You want him a free male?”
“Of course.” Corra kicked a glob of blood off her boot. It hit the bars with a splat, spraying my arm. “He needs to remarry. Not only to have a more deserving female to lead beside him, but to keep the Evington bloodline pure. He cannot do that while he’s tied to you.”
I looked at Berron again, but his gaze was on the ground. Crimson covered his arm, snaking around his elbow and bicep, staining his torso.
I could give up my king. It would mean breaking some archaic laws and risking my own title, but I could do so. And if I were finally being honest with myself, perhaps I needed to. Perhaps this was always supposed to end this way.
He back in his court, and me on my own.
Thunderous groans and snapping sounded, dirt and rocks raining over us.
I scrambled back against the wall as another boom came from above. The entire ceiling, rocks and all, was being ripped from the ground. I flinched as that black rock cracked and collapsed into pieces, and tree roots slithered and snapped.
Four males jumped down, swords out and swinging through the air. “No,” I screamed. “Don’t kill them.” Crawling out from my cracked cage, I got to my feet. The sight of Zad was enough to find the strength I didn’t have.
The dark-haired male standing closest to Zad looked at me, then back at him.
The other two bound the female’s hands behind her back and stuffed a clump of dirt inside her mouth. She spat, but it wouldn’t budge.
Zad nodded to the male. “He comes too.”
I fell back against the crumbling wall, my lungs emptying as the starless night bored down into our prison, exposing the tiny space for the moon to glow upon.
“What is that?” one of the males asked, his nose and lips twitching with distaste as he eyed the pieces of black stone.
“We need to leave. It absorbs magic and slowly ruins the mind,” Berron said as Zad unhooked him from the ceiling, then broke open the chains.
I went to the hole, staring up and out of it, already feeling some of the pain fade from my head. Then I was swept into strong arms and a hand was pressed to the burns on my face. “They will wish they never so much as laid eyes on you,” Zad said, his voice a feral rasp.
My head slumped to his shoulder as he climbed out of the ground. “I know.”
Zad had one of his friends, who I thought I heard him call Landen, hold me while he mounted his horse, and then I was situated in front of him.
He fiddled with my skirts, and I smiled as he ensured they covered as much of my legs as possible. “Modesty is the least of my concerns, Lord.”
“Hush and let me fuss.”
Then we were off, Corra and Cid bound and forced to walk or run to keep up with Zad’s friends’ horses.
Berron was having his arm strapped by Azela before they joined us. Within minutes, we slowly left the chamber of stones in the ground. “We need those rocks destroyed.”
Zad jerked his head, and then one of the males tossed his torch inside the crater. Too tired to look back, I wasn’t sure what he did to make it explode and then extinguish within seconds.
“How did you find me?” I asked when we neared the woods we’d been ambushed in. “Azela?”
“Wen raced back to my estate like his ass was on fire,” he said, voice gruff. I smiled, glad the clever beast was okay. “But yes, Azela and Ainx.” He paused. “I must warn you, your captain is in pretty bad shape.”
Images of Ridlow’s broken body lingered upon my lashes like dust unwilling to dissipate. I drew a scathing breath, exhaling the question. “How bad?”
“They slit his throat. Somehow, Azela managed to get him back to my estate, one hand on the reins, another holding him to the back of her horse.”
I closed my eyes, the disorientation and swelling inside my head retreating and resurfacing.
Then I forced them open, unwilling to be blindsided again, and kept them trained on the trees.
“Do you think he’ll survive?”
Zad’s chest rose and fell at my back, his steady words rustling my hair. “It’s hard to say, but he’s in good hands.”
“You have a healer?”
“One who lives locally with her two young children. When needed, they all come to the estate, or she leaves them with her mother.”
“She lost her spouse?”
“She killed him when he came home drunk one evening and punched her in the stomach, causing her to miscarry their third child.”
“How did she kill him?”
“A spork to the eyeball and a dagger to his groin. Simultaneously.”
My brows rose, and I gripped the roughened strands of River’s mane. “I should like to meet this warrior.”