"Our father, King Lucian. He could be… difficult, at times, but he was always fair."
Lesson number one in making a deal with the devil… never trust the devil. Asher charmed me. He made me believe his lies. And now he stands here before me, with his infuriating smirk and a mouth full of deceit, expecting me to trust him. Again.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice. Just, no.
"Ari, please allow me to explain," he says, his words like soft caresses.
I am not swayed. "I can't believe anything you say, so why should I listen?" I cross my arms over my chest, hiding the fresh blood from the wrist wound I reopened against the stone edge of the table. I try to keep from trembling, and I try to hide the demon mark I drew in blood on the wall behind me. Fen is summoned. He will come. Now, I can only hope I live long enough to see him. I sneeze, and groan with the realization that being stuck in a frozen cave with a sick vampire gave me the flu. My head is heavy and my skin is hot. Still, I must keep my wits about me.
The walls are dark and rough, dimly lit by torches casting blue light, flickering sinister shadows on the cold bare floor. In places, white crystal erupts from the stone, as if threatening to consume the entire room.
Asher steps closer. "I can understand why you distrust me, but I promise, it's not what you think."
His father, King Lucian, who was supposed to be dead, sits quietly, drinking from a silver goblet. Grey lines streak his black hair. A red cape falls from his shoulders. Black armor clads his body. The king studies me like men study horses, his dark blue eyes cold and calculating. His lips betray no emotion. He lets his son do all the talking.
"So you didn't lie to your brothers?" I ask. "Didn't hide the fact the king still lives, or let Fen investigate a murder that never happened? You didn't conspire to kidnap me and bring me here?" There's a tone to my voice my mother would have called snarky. And it's the thought of her that sends chills up my back. "What will happen to my mother?" I yell loudly, harshly, as spit flies from my mouth. I can no longer fulfill my bargain of spending time with each prince. I can no longer choose one to marry.
Asher doesn't respond.
I ask again, slower, my eyes drilling into his. "What. Happens. To. My. Mother?"
He holds up his hand and takes a step toward me. He has his father's blue eyes, his black hair. "She will be safe. I give you my word."
I laugh. "As if your word means anything right now."
"How could you do this?" I hiss at him. "Fen trusted you above all. And you betrayed him. You betrayed me."
Asher sighs. His hand falls to his side. The playfulness is gone from his face, replaced by something darker. "Things aren't always black and white. Not in your world, and certainly not in mine. My brothers want war. They want to enslave the Fae. Your people. Is that what you want?"
I pause, struck by his words. I haven't even had time to consider the implications of what they've told me. I'm Fae? How?
Asher takes another step forward, and I adjust, keeping my body between him and the demon mark. I need to—
"Move out of the way, girl," Lucian says.
I don't obey.
The king stands. When he walks toward me, I can almost feel the room shake from his heavy iron boots. He draws a sword from his side, giant and grey. A horned skull of some beast makes the guard of the blade, and foreign symbols engrave the steel. The king lifts the sword one-handed and points it at my neck. It must be three times the size of Spero. How can this man lift it? And then I remember… this is no man. This is the monster who drove the Fae from their world and enslaved their race. This is the monster who claimed my mother's soul.
"Move," the king commands.
I shuffle to the side, and the sword presses against my throat, drawing a speck of blood.
Asher's eyes land on the mark. He looks to me, sadness on his face. He says nothing.
For the first time, Lucian's lips show emotion, curling into a grimace. "You summoned the Prince of War? Do you have any idea what he would do to this kingdom, these people, if he finds a way here?"
I don't respond. He will have no pity from me.
"Asher, take this… Princess… to her quarters. Until she knows the truth, she must be kept under guard."
I ball my fists, my knuckles turning white. "You will not keep me here. You—
He whips his blade forward. The blunt side hits my ribs, throwing me back. I crash into the wall, the air leaving my lungs in a rush.
"You are a dog," Lucian spits. "A dog. And you will know your place at your master's heel." He turns away, whispers something to Asher, and leaves.