“One moment.” We watched as he made it all the way to the road before I raised a hand. A boulder rose on an invisible wind and sailed into the side of his head. He fell to the ground like a pillar of concrete. “It’s fun to watch when they think they can get away.”
Mintale said nothing.
“He should cause you little difficulty now.” I jerked my head at the fallen traitor, and Mintale fetched the ropes and harness from his saddle while I climbed atop Van.
I was in the sky before Mintale could heave Raiden over the back of his mare.
We made it home without too much turbulence, unless you counted that of my once flat emotions.
I did my best to squash them as Van plummeted toward a barren patch of rocks some miles away from the castle. To play in the mountain range was one thing, but to outright alert others to my presence there by riding atop a furbane during the final hours of daylight was another foolish thing entirely.
A few people marveled at the beast dipping between the clouds, and I watched, even though I didn’t need to, as he circled the snow-dusted peaks behind the castle before disappearing.
Nightfall was descending once more, and I longed to soak in my tub until the trip had rid itself from every pore.
Allureldin came alive as the sun began to sink and then gradually died once the clock approached midnight. Until then, people flocked in and out of taverns, cafes, the theater, and restaurants—laughter and shouts echoing into the watery light cast from the curved necks of street sconces. Inside them lived families of fluttering beetles with glowing wings.
The expanding shadows and the hood of my cloak concealed most of my face. I wound through alleyways and slunk behind vendor carts, breathing a sigh of relief once my eyes feasted on the alabaster and onyx structure that rose high above the winding, sloping streets.
Behind wrought iron gates stood a monstrosity with three spires. The arched windows were stained red and gray with serpentine ivy crawling between them and over the stone exterior. Thorn-laden vines bound and knotted together over the curled metalwork, and when I touched the cool lock, feeling the jolt all the way to my core, the leafy whorls closest to it unknotted, slithering as a heavy click broke the still air and the gates opened.
Guards were quick to ensure they closed, and I strode through the mostly empty courtyard as Ainx left his post in front of the castle doors and approached.
“Clear out the dungeon,” I said once I’d reached him.
Heavy brows dipped low over sapphire eyes. “And what do you want done with the prisoners?”
“Kill the worst, warn the rest, and let them run free. I don’t particularly care.”
“My queen?” he questioned with not a little alarm, keeping stride with me as we waded into the entry chamber and strode down the halls.
I glanced at the few nearby male servants, then decided I didn’t much care. They were going to find out eventually. Let them try to crucify me for bringing a traitor back within our stronghold. I had greater challenges ahead of me. “Our king is coming home.”
Ainx coughed, and then Azela, my second, spied us at the end of the hall and waited.
She bowed, but before she could talk, I turned back to Ainx. “Fill her in and let not a whisper of this reach the townsfolk. Then call for Truin. I’ll be in my rooms.”
Seemingly pale with uncertainty, Ainx’s jaw shifted as he clipped, “Of course.”
Ignoring the gaping castle workers, I left them to it and rounded the corner, heading down the hall lined with silver-patterned carpets and drapes for the stairs. I made it to my rooms, slammed the doors, and fell against them, my eyes closing as my heart pounded a violent, bruising rhythm.
“Will he not share your chambers?”
I’d been so distracted by feelings that I hadn’t even remembered the way I’d locked Zadicus in here. I felt behind me and found no damage to the wood. He hadn’t even attempted escape, and he’d had the door handles replaced.
Opening my eyes, I found him sprawled on the bed, shirtless. “I thought you were taking your leave.”
A lazy sweep of my frame accompanied lazier words. “You’ll need to forgive me for doubting if our agreement stands to be met after you’ve just flown across the continent to fetch your late husband.” His bronze-flecked eyes sharpened and glowed as they leveled on mine. “I will not remain a lover.”
“Many would kill to be in your position.”
“And I’m sure they have.” Cold aired his smooth voice. “However,” he said, rising to a sitting position, pale skin stretching over taut muscle. “My pride is a problem.”
“Pride is never the problem,” I muttered, removing the hood from my head and then the cloak from my body. “The problem lies in how you manage it.” It puddled behind me as I undressed on the way to my bathing chamber where I drew a bath, rolling my neck as Zad leaned in the doorway, watching.