“What do you plan to do with him?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.” It pained me to admit it, but I did owe him that much at least. The cool porcelain of the circular tub bit into my skin as I sat on the side and shook some bathing salts into the water, one to heat it and another to scent it. “I will inevitably have to kill him.”
“All because you couldn’t bear to see him vow to someone else.”
My hand stilled, and I twisted, sliding into the scalding lavender-scented water. “The humans call it a wedding.”
“All the same,” Zad drawled, hands tucked in his pockets. “A pledge of commitment is a pledge of commitment.”
My nose twitched. “Go bore someone else with your pointless reminders.”
Zadicus chuckled, a dark, brash sound. “You know what? I actually find this situation quite… comical.”
Dropping the salts on the shelf behind me, I tilted my head back to glare at him.
His eyes were on my breasts as the cool air and water pebbled them. Soft and unhurried, he murmured, “You are a beautiful fool, my queen.”
“Yet you want to vow to me,” I reminded him.
His eyes flashed, meeting mine. “I don’t want to.” His top lip curled, and my muscles stiffened. “I need to. This kingdom cannot be run by a spoiled brat with enough power in her pinky to reduce it to cinders.”
A bar of butter soap flew across the bathing room, narrowly missing his head. It hit the red tiled wall, then slid to the mosaic floor in two pieces.
His lips didn’t so much as twitch with humor. Hands still inside his pockets, he just raised his brows in that infuriating way before leaving me to dwell.
With a groan, I slid beneath the water.
Zadicus was gone when I drained the tub and dressed in a black silken camisole.
For untold minutes, I laid upon the bed, staring at the whorls of vines carved into the stone ceiling.
Zad was but a buzzing tisk, forever eager to annoy the shit out of me. I knew his game—he needn’t remind me of it—but I wouldn’t allow him to question everything I did.
An alliance was needed between our territories; for although his lands fell under my jurisdiction, his people were loyal to him. Most were not supporters of my father; therefore, I doubted they were supporters of me.
Thanks to my tyrant father and his volatile power plays, over his reign that lasted nearly five hundred years, the kingdom of Allureldin had been reduced to a cesspit of fear.
Raiden had been right to show me all the ways my father was poisoning this land.
Perhaps he had been right to kill him, too. That didn’t mean I’d be the gentle princess he once hoped I’d be. Queen now, courtesy of him.
No, as cruel as he might have been, my father’s blood was a heavy oil running through my veins—racing rivers of vengeance ready to upend any who dared to usurp me. It wasn’t within me to cower, to fold to any males’ whims, especially not that of Zadicus Allblood.
I would take him as a husband if only to aid in quelling the unrest; the dislike that fanned and feathered far beyond our territories and into the Sun Kingdom—where that dislike bloomed into blood-bright hatred.
I suppose our fathers never foresaw all the ways in which an arranged marriage, a coupling that would unite our divided kingdoms once and for all, would only make things worse. Or maybe, they did.
And they’d welcomed it with open arms.
“Enter,” I said, hearing Truin’s footsteps outside.
The doors creaked open and closed, and she padded over the hides of fur littering the stone floor to lean against the dark oak post of the bed. “You have him.”
I didn’t bother asking how she knew. “I need a spell. A tonic. A—”
“Stop,” Truin said, her voice uncharacteristically harsh.
I’d have glared at her, but I was too shamed by the words that’d fled my mouth. I hadn’t realized how badly I’d wanted to reinstate his memories and have him look at me like he once did, rather than with the confusion of a hostile stranger.
I hadn’t acknowledged the desire at all. Until now.
“Will you not do it?” I asked, more cautious.
Truin sighed, and I felt the bed dip as she perched at the end. “You cannot do this, my queen.”
“I can.” If I had to kill him, then I wanted him to look me in the eye and see what he’d done to me beforehand.
“No,” Truin said. “Forget the decree. I mean it’s just not possible.”
I sat up, my teeth gritting. “You cast the spell. You created the potion. Which means you can undo it.”
“Audra.” Her little white teeth tugged at her pink-stained lip. “There is no spell to undo something of that magnitude.”
I blinked, my stomach swaying. “None?”
She shook her head, her hands curling around one another. “I told you so before we proceeded.” It was probably true that she had, but I’d been barely breathing from all that had happened, from the array of pitch-black darkness that’d taken hold. Her brows knitted. “Why would you want to?”