READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Unleashed by Celia McMahon
I will claim my victory with claws and teeth and steel.
In the wake of her battle to protect the Den, Izzy has crossed back into Stormwall to enact her plan with the former prince, Ashe, to retake the kingdom from within. Only weeks go by with no word from the prince and Izzy is faced once again with Ashe’s betrayal. She is forced to make alternate plans with a group of rebels to kill both king and prince.
But the world has always bent at odd angles for the wolf-princess. On the day of their battle, things don’t go as planned and Izzy finds herself once again fighting for her life and friends. In the chaos that follows, Izzy and her rebels lose Stormwall into the hands of the Gwylis.
Read the first two chapters to get a sneak peak into Celia McMahon’s riviteting third chapter of the Unspoken Series, Unleashed—out Tuesday, November seventeenth!
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I could almost taste his blood on my tongue.
I rose to my knees and peered over the roof of the Old Hen tavern. He was walking away—or rather, stumbling away, most likely wasted from ale and exhaustion. The sight of him elicited a growl from deep in my throat.
I’ve been waiting for you.
The sky was blue-black: a full moon with a light shower that plas tered my short hair to my forehead. I wiped the water drops from my eyelashes and stood. I found level footing and leapt onto the roof of the next building, landing feather soft. When the man turned to look my way, I crouched and pinned my hood closed across my face, hoping for the cover of night. I heard him cough, and spit something thick onto the street. I dared a look to be sure.
Archibald Grayson Apatimi looked more pathetic now than he had been a few months ago, his pock-marked face even more cavernous with eyes so unfocused, it was on my luck alone that he now walked in the right direction. He had been Ashe’s captain of his personal guard and a traitor to Mirosa. He was thinner and sickly. And yet, despite the man’s fragile state, I felt no pity. Branch, the older wolf from the Den who taught me to fight, was a voice in the back of my head. Don’t be fooled. Even injured or sick wolves can bite.
The sight of the traitor dragged me into memories I’d rather have forgotten. If I could, I’d have chalked them up to nothing but a long and horrible dream. But being here in Stormwall made that impossi ble. Not only was I forced to remember, but also see with my own eyes what I’d done to my kingdom.
I could feel the pain coming off the city, like a sentient thing gath ering under my skin. A sudden, ferocious pain made me struggle for breath. The loss of life during Dal Paratheon’s invasion swirled around like a blackened cloud. How many more had died since? It was difficult to discern, with every one of Stormwall’s people moving through the destruction of their home.
Every one of my people.
Their fear was a palpable thing, invading every inch of space in this city. If not for the storm of Peek Island soldiers and Gwylis, but for the shockingly large amount of missing children; posters begging for their return nailed to buildings and walls all around the city. This terror permeated the air, the earth, in the very breath of the lungs of the people I should have protected.
This regret panged in every rise and fall of my chest. My people deserved a better ruler.
I drew in a long breath and leapt to the next roof, following Archibald’s solitary path through the city. He turned down an alley and stopped to piss. I cringed against the scent of urine. I could kill him now, though this close to the main square, it would be entirely too reckless. All my killings were lured from the city and, sometimes, to the privacy of a bedroom.
But before I could stop myself, I crouched and sprang from the rooftop.
I didn’t land as softly as I intended. Archibald finished pissing and looked over his shoulder, seemingly unconcerned of the woman standing behind him, watching him soil the brick of the wall. The rest of his body followed until he faced me, a grin spreading across his gruesome face. “The whore returns, after all.”
In my former life, I’d be distracted by the insult. Often, it would send my temper flaring and soaring with reckless abandon, doing anything and everything to defend myself. But now, I had demon magic inside of me. It flared there now, in the hollow of my stomach like an inextinguishable fire.
I met the former guard’s eyes and matched his grin. “You know who I am.”
He held my gaze. “Don’t think for one moment, the shadows of my past do not come calling at one point or another.”
I ground my teeth together. “I am no shadow.”
“Could have fooled me.”
I drew in a sharp breath. No time for arguing. “Where is Prince Ashe?”
Archibald threw his head back and laughed. “No wonder you’re covering the city in red.” He casually anchored a hand on his hip. “I don’t know anything about the prince. As far I know, he’s dead.”
My eyes widened. For weeks, I’d lured and tortured soldiers and guards alike for information from behind the palace walls. I’d taken a knife to my face, healing, and then repeating it every evening. For weeks, I’d sunk into a blood-red fury only the threat of daylight could stop. If Dal Paratheon’s own traitorous fiend didn’t know where Ashe was, what hope was there in finding him?
Ashe should have sent word. A crow. Anything. But I waited for days before donning the hood and stalking the city under the cover of night. I hunted men as they came out of taverns, loose and drunk. I tempted them into inns, I took them beyond the city boundaries, and for what? I didn’t know how many I’d killed, or which ones still churned around in my belly. I did not regret the killing, because the demons did not allow me to feel shame or guilt. I only regretted the time wasted.
But I refused to believe him, gritting out the words, “You’re lying.”
“Are you sure?” Archibald asked. “I’ve been in the palace, and there’s been no one-armed prince strutting the halls. As far as everyone knows, he died during the Battle for Stormwall.”
I scoffed at the ridiculous name. It sounded like my father and his forces even had a chance at keeping the throne. They didn’t. “So, you wish to die for your lies.”
“I’m going to die either way, Princess. Best by your claws than the king’s noose.”
He was right. If he went back and reported me, Dal would certainly kill him for not taking me back there with him. Dead or alive. He was better off dead, and better for my conscience.
Wargave would tell me how I was wasting my time and effort. No news would come from the palace, especially not anything useful and convenient for myself. He’d said those exact words just days ago when I’d come crashing into his little shop bucking like a wild horse, angry that I could not find what I needed. The world doesn’t bend for you, Isabelle Rowan. Stop thinking it will.
Suspicious shopkeepers with fake eyes shouldn’t speak like wizened old men. There was nothing more unnerving. “You ruined everything for me, bringing your traitor king to my kingdom,” I said. He blinked at the last word, clearly misinterpreting my absence. As much as I thought I’d left the New Kingdom behind, it was always there waiting for me, very much mine by blood and rights. “It didn’t have to happen the way it did.”
Before I finished speaking, I moved. Changing into a wolf here would only attract attention, as it did in a bedroom for example, but my strength as a human matched the bite of my teeth. I grabbed Archibald’s arm and slammed him against the opposite wall. He went for his weapon—a dagger, perhaps—but I knocked it away too quickly. He tried to drive a fist into my belly, but I sidestepped, knocking him off-balance. I drove a fist into his neck and a knee into his midsection, sending the older man crashing onto his knees.
This cat and mouse game was fun, and only for the truly sadistic. I was playing with my food.
Archibald heaved. “Your mother wasn’t quite so feisty. Where did you get such fire?”
I drew my dagger. “You slept with her, didn’t you?” Images of their shameful flirting across the table flashed before me. I’d first spoken to Ashe that night. Lulu had been gushing the entire night.
“Like mother, like daughter, slumming with the palace scum,” Archibald spat. “Some likeness after all.”
My pulse kicked up a violent rhythm as the darkness pressed on me, my fire lashing out from beneath my skin, sizzling the very air between me and the guard.
“What was the boy’s name? Fray Castor?”
I thought hearing his name would freeze me to the spot and flood with my mind with all the things I’d done to him—the things he never deserved. The full weight of it should have subdued me, but the demons reacted with a hiss and a whisper: Forget about him. You never needed him.
“Shut up,” I snapped, addressing both the Uncanny and Archibald. “You don’t know him, and you don’t know me.”
This only made the man smile wider. “Oh, I know women like you. The sick kind of females who lust after monsters because it reflects what they are deep down inside.”
My hand trembled. Don’t think about him. Don’t. “I said, shut up!” “They talk about you, you know. They call you a monster.” I lunged for him, but blinding anger made me careless. He grabbed
hold of the necklace holding the jewels and ripping it from my neck. I barely heard them fall to the ground, back against the alleyway, before my vision flashed with shadows.
My throat went bone-dry, my tongue leaden in my mouth. The feeling of being filled up like a wave and then like a deluge. I swear the ground tipped beneath my feet. My hands curled into a fist around my dagger hilt. My control over my magic slowly shattered.
I am not a monster.
A burning sensation swamped me. Flames licked my fingertips. Embers sprouted from every hair on my body. But I did not burn. This magic was from demons, born of choice and desperation. Yes, you are.
An inky black figure came into view to my left. I knew what it was, I did not have to ask. And I was too weak to fight against it. Fire, wrath, and hatred.
Shadows drank up the enormity of the scene, and in one swift motion, I drew a straight line across Archibald’s neck. The scent of blood soaked the air; a familiar scent, and a good one at that. Archibald’s head rolled to the side, his eyes still wide, as if death came as a surprise.
I picked up my necklace and tucked it into my pants pocket. The demons shrank away, but not entirely. They danced in my peripheral, awaiting the next call.
Another smell hit me right away. Not Voiceless, but not the typical Gwylis scent either. Something earthy, like a kindling fire and cheap bracelets. The sound of jewelry clacked and bounced off the light of the moon as she approached and dipped her head to the guard’s body. “I see you couldn’t stay away long. What mess have you dredged up now?”
I swiped my blade across my pants and sheathed it. “That’s none of your concern, soothsayer.”
Abiyaya laughed. She stepped further into the street to gain sight of me, but I kept putting space between us until there wasn’t any more. “Visit me,” she said and turned her back. “The stars are bright tonight.”
Finished talking, the old soothsayer disappeared down the cobble stone street and out of sight. I held up my hands in defeat and looked back in the direction of the Barge and then in the direction of impov erished homes where Abiyaya lived—where I ultimately made my destination.
I kept a slow pace beside the soothsayer, winding down the city streets until we approached the poor section of
A voice cracked the air moments later. “TOBIAS!”
I craned my neck over a small grouping of people. There, I found a Peek Island guard restraining the screaming woman while the rest watched helplessly.
Panic assailed me, fueled by the silver fish upon the guard’s breast plate. From what I could tell, Dal Paratheon cared very little for the people of Mirosa. This could end in tragedy.
The woman screamed, her eyes bloodshot, her body going limp as she sobbed for a name. Tobias. Who was Tobias?
I leaned into Abiyaya, keeping my face hidden in my hood. “What is happening over there?”
Abiyaya took a moment to listen. “She cries for her son, Tobias. He was seven years old. Taken, probably.”
I turned back to the woman, who was now out of the guard’s arms and on the ground in a heap. I watched as a man, a commoner, low born in a threadbare cloak came and lifted her, looking vulnerable and apologetic to the onlooking guard.
“I’ll take her inside,” he said, his tone rushed. “She will cause no more noise, I promise you. Don’t kill her. She is only grieving.” Grief took hold of my body. Familiar grief. “The missing kids,” I whispered. At first, I’d thought they were being smuggled out of the city, but the missing posters and now this; I could no longer deny something far more sinister was happening. People were getting hurt. More than I could save.
Abiyaya met my fraught expression. “Twenty-two children.” I loosed a breath. Twenty-two children, vanished. This had to do with Dal Paratheon, I knew it. But what would he want with children? Was he punishing people? Surely not this woman. She was not a palace worker. She hardly looked like a business owner, and by the state of her clothing, she did not have much money. What would Dal want with her son?
There was something there, but I filed it away for when I had more information.
We neared the soothsayer’s home and I let all of questions drift away.
“Come. Sit.” Abiyaya motioned to one of two chairs at the table where I’d once dropped my blood into a dish; it had turned black as tar. It was only at this moment, I finally understood why.
I wanted to say, “I’m not your dog,” but instead, I stayed silent and took the seat.
When enough time had passed, Abiyaya came out with it. “So, you went ahead and became the thing your family hated.” She smirked, and her deep wrinkles wrinkled further. “That’s quite the achievement.”
Yes, quite. I folded my hands on the table. The dish sitting on the table in front of me dredged up memories of the first time I’d come to the soothsayer’s house. “You called me beautiful and cruel.” “And you called me a witch.”
I curled my lip, smirking. “Well, you made predictions that came true. That makes you a witch.”
“You speak of things you know nothing about.”
I looked up at the soothsayer, to her scarred hand. “Are you a Gwylis?”
Abiyaya kept her mouth in a thin line and slowly raised her powder-white eyebrows. “Do I smell like a Gwylis to you?” I’d be able to smell her some distance away, but I sniffed the air anyway for good measure. It stunk of damp earth and something I could not identify as either pleasant or offensive. “No. But you smell like you crawled from the center of the world.”
She laughed at this. “Maybe so. Maybe so.” She gestured to the dish. “Another go?”
I snorted. “Why, so you can tell me my heart is a shriveled carcass roasting in the summer heat?”
“That’s why you came, isn’t it?”
“I came because I thought you’d have information for me.” Abiyaya cocked her head. “Information is what you need?” I smirked and gestured to the room. “That’s why I’m here.” Abiyaya sat back in her seat. “Why are you really here?” she asked.
“It is to kill Dal Paratheon’s soldiers, is it not?”
“Because my home was threatened, and good people died.” I blocked my mind from conjuring Ghetee. I couldn’t show weakness. Not now.
“This home was threatened. What did you do to stop it?” She waited for an answer, but I kept silent. “You ran is what you did. You ran to a place you thought was better.” She leaned forward, her eyes locked onto mine. “Was it better?”
“It was led by a someone unfit to rule who deserved to die.” I nodded. “I suppose not.”
An infinitesimal smile crawled across her lips. She knew of Rixon’s death. Of course, she did. “And who should rule?”
“I will rule. This is my kingdom.”
“You wish to be queen?” Her words ignited my skin, sending a jolt into my head and I let the feeling ride.
I am Isabelle Victoria Rowan, and I would be Queen of Mirosa. Gone were the days of running from my problems. I would no longer let usurper kings invade my land. I would defend it with my life.
“I am the only answer,” I said simply. “I am the right answer.” Abiyaya weighed my words, but remained neutral. She pulled her lips together and said, “The dead are reflected in your eyes. This grief will kill you.”
I stood up. “If you’re done, I have places to be.”
Traitors to kill.
Abiyaya stopped me with one quick hand to my forearm. “I will tell you of the prince if you amuse me just this last time.” She motioned to the dish once again.
My gaze jerked back to the soothsayer, my breathing erratic, my mind swirling with images of the one-armed Ashe Paratheon. Once a prince. Always a traitor. “You know of Ashe?” I hated the desperation in my voice.
“You two had a plan, did you not? Did it ever occur to you maybe that plan did not go the way you wanted it to? Maybe the prince betrayed you. Again.”
Yes, the thought crossed my mind, more times than I liked. It kept me up at night and rattled me in the day. I could still hear his words. “I can get him to trust me again and then I’ll kill him,” he’d said. He knew as well as I did the only way to destroy Dal Paratheon was from within.
We did not have the forces yet, and Dal seemed to conjure them from thin air.
Are you listening?
How could I deny the determination in such words? Ashe looked as though he could destroy the world from its core if he had the chance.
The one-armed human prince with the heart of a beast. I now lived in a world where enemies lurked in every corner. I’d left my allies in another world, far past the Archway. My throat tight ened. I was alone, but I’d done it to myself. This loneliness, like two fists squeezing my neck, evaded only by hunting down soldiers and guards throughout the city and letting death become my own companion.
Well, other than the demons living inside of me. Not many people could say that.
I shook the thought away, forcing myself to focus. I had nothing left now but to trust the prince, and to see him back safely. “Fine.” I thrust out my hand. She ignored it, and suddenly, she was moving so fast, she might as well have been a blur. She unsheathed my dagger and pressed the tip of the blade into my skin. The demons recoiled, spouting poisonous words with voices mingling like a chorus.
Gwylis Queen, why do you let the bitch hurt us?
I gritted my teeth until Abiyaya withdrew the steel from my finger. “Aquarius won’t speak with you yet, will he?” Abiyaya asked as she squeezed my blood into her dish. I watched a drop, two, three, and then she released my hand. I caught my breath as the demons still cursed into my ears.
“That’s none of your concern.” Aquarius did refuse to speak; not because of who I was, but merely because he needed time to think, I assumed. Wargrave undoubtedly informed him of the happening back at the Den. But each day passed, and I waited, sitting on rooftops, and with each day I grew more anxious. Nothing got done. And I made excuses for the Gwylis king when he might be a filthy coward like my father.
Questions wracked my brain. How long until the Den pack came for me? How long until I’d get into the castle and shred apart Dal Paratheon for all he’d done? What of Pyrus? Crim? I shook my head. This is too much.
I shouldn’t have come alone.
I didn’t think I’d be alone. I thought Aquarius would stir from his depression—from his cramped and hidden life in Wargrave’s cellar. I’d expected too much too soon.
The world does not bend for you, Princess.
“This dagger will subdue the demons,” Abiyaya said.
I knew this, of course; I’d used it to kill Rixon and her very own evil inhabitants. But I never thought of stabbing myself to shut them up.
“The necklace too,” she added.
My fingers curled into the emerald and ruby necklace resting in the hollow of my neck, heavy and warm against my skin. I had to find the last gem to call upon the heavens to fight the Uncanny and break the Gwylis curse. It sounded simple enough until I said it aloud to the skanky shop owner, Wargrave. He laughed and laughed, but offered no insight. It was all right anyhow. I didn’t need him. I needed Aquarius.
Both Henry’s dagger and the gems did nothing but delay the inevitable. I could not control the demons, and sometimes, I did not want to. Not when brute force took precedence over polite conversation.
“What of the boy?” Abiyaya asked, pouring the strange liquid from a bottle she produced. She mixed it with my blood and stirred it with her finger. “Was this all worth it?”
I bared my teeth, but said nothing. There wasn’t anything to say. I’d done what I’d done and there was no taking it back. Don’t think about him.
“You can say his name, you know,” Abiyaya said. “Your heart may be bleeding, but it’s not emptied yet.”
Do you think you could love me the way I love you?
I could hear the question, spoken by someone who used his words only when needed. Only when his heart told him to speak. I’d nodded to his question as the ball continued without me outside those hedges.
He’d come back for me, risking his own life. The cure had worked, and he used his first words on me. Let me save you, Izzy. His words had purpose.
No, I didn’t think it possible now; the saving and the loving part. Not after killing his own mother. Not after putting everything else before him. I saw him through a looking glass, turned the opposite direction. So, so far away.
He was better off nameless, or else I would break.
“Our paths have split,” I said, keeping my voice steady. “Love has no place in war. It’s for the best.”
I flicked my eyes away, suppressing the sting of tears those last words threatened to set free. Stop thinking about him! “You see war.” I kept my voice as steady as possible.
Abiyaya stirred the dish with a noncommittal sound. “I see the same things I saw before, but…”
As she trailed off, she stood. With the dish in her hands, she turned her back to me. “You love too strongly, too fiercely, and it will be your downfall.”
“Will I still bring nothing but death?”
Abiyaya turned, her eyes foggy with…tears? “Yes, but most of it will be your enemy.”
I drew breath into my lungs, the relief crashing into me like a wave. “And Ashe?”
Abiyaya set down the dish and took a breath. “The only thing I’ve heard about the prince is that he is here in Stormwall and he is alive.” A small tear made its way down my cheek, but I only allowed one. I wiped it away and sat up straighter. Steeled myself. “But you don’t know what will become of him?”
The soothsayer shook her head. “Do you trust him?”
I said nothing.
Abiyaya scoffed. “He is human. Incapable of trust.”
I shook my head, but no words came.
She nodded. “But you want to trust him?”
I did. Every part of me wanted to know that he would not side with his father again. But would the promise of power deem too much for him? Would he succumb to the weight of a crown? Men were weak when presented with the choice of power. But Ashe was alive, and that was something.
I stood to leave. “I have to send another crow.”
Abiyaya clucked her tongue. “How many would that be? No crow will reach him. He is beyond your reach.”
I tilted my chin to my chest and sagged into my chair. Humans, incapable of trust, had let me down before. If the gods were listening, they would have heard my prayers. I would have known Ashe was still with me, that he was still on my side. But as the days wore on, those prayers faded, and along with them, my hope.
“I do secret coding in my messages,” I said, finding my voice. “I take precautions, so even if they were intercepted…they’d be…all right.” My breathless words didn’t make sense. They sounded far away and weak. When did words become so worthless?
“I have often been wrong,” Abiyaya said, rousing me from my thoughts. “Even I’m not perfect.”
My posture slumped. I killed Archibald tonight, but I may have lost Ashe. Why must it be that when my best intentions were fulfilled, the world deemed to punish me? Death surrounded me like a storm cloud, thundering its way into my life, cascading floods into every thing I held dear.
Hope was an ember in the back of my mind. All could be well if I held on a bit longer. But how long?
I did know why they came to me now, but I recalled the words Abiyaya said back in the alley while Archibald bled out atop his own urine.
The stars are bright tonight.
The phrase sounded familiar. I’d heard it three days after I’d arrived in Stormwall. The fact that they were spoken in the daytime should have alerted me to something amiss, but at the time, I was stalking a soldier and had no time to dwell on something insignificant. Now, those words did not seem so pointless.
“What did you mean by saying the stars were bright tonight?” I asked. “Is it code for something?”
Abiyaya smiled and her eyes brightened. “That, my girl, is why you will never be alone.” She bowed her head. “But also, why you need to get through to Aquarius. There can be no revolution without a leader. There are those who defy the king, those who can be stirred with the right motivation. You know as well as I do Gwylis hide within this city and beyond, but they will not last long if you waste time waiting on the prince. You must take matters into your own hands.”
“I need to get to Hassara.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Do you know anything about that city?” “City?” The question hung there, but she did not elaborate. Time crushed me, and I did not have time to poke and prod this old sooth sayer. I had things to do.
After a while, she finally said, “But you cannot make the journey alone.”
I bowed my head. How right she was. I’d taken missteps all too often and gotten myself into more trouble than necessary. I did not listen to reason, and my arrogance sometimes clouded my vision. But I’d come this far with nothing but my own two hands, albeit a body full of demon magic, but still, alone.
I still had the Gwylis cure, concocted by my good friend Pyrus, the best healer in all Mirosa. I missed him so much, it hurt even to think about him. Without his wisdom and encouragement, I felt as lost as I probably looked at times. But I had this cure—enough to save a dozen or more I expected, more if I could get more of it made. I wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. I couldn’t access the castle. I didn’t know if he even lived.
Or Crim. My former Voiceless guard whom I left behind, who told me not to come back the last time we’d seen each other. Would he be angry for my return or would he ask to see my new dance routine?
I smiled to myself.
I’d practiced, after all.
But instead of friends, I had an old shopkeeper with a fake eyeball and a wolf king who would not speak to me. Useless, the lot of them. All my life, I wanted nothing more than to break free of my parents. To belong somewhere. But I’d learned that you belong in the places you left the pieces of your heart. In Stormwall, I left them with Crim and with Pyrus and in the grave where my cousin Lulu rests. I scattered them in the Old Kingdom with Olio, Branch, and Sonia, and then I bled the pieces over the young wolf, Ghetee and over my broth er’s resting place in the Lonely Fields.
With new allies, I risked losing again. I risked loving again. I put my entire heart in peril.
But I’d already sold it, didn’t it?
“I expect a crow will arrive at the Barge soon,” Abiyaya said. “All right.” My heart raced in my chest. In these last few stagnant weeks, I finally felt something was about to happen.
Abiyaya cleared her throat. “The Uncanny will use what you feel and throw it back at you tenfold.
Do trust others, but do not trust yourself.”
If I’d been paying attention, I would have seen how much of a monster my father was. Instead, I sat at supper at a table that did not belong to him, in a castle he had stolen, surrounded by people I did not care for who thought of me as their heir apparent. I am going to die in this place.
I painted on my best smile and focused on a man who seemed content as I nodded along to his words. These people, they spoke to hear their own voices. It was nothing of value. Nothing of heart.
I missed being around people who only spoke when there was something worth saying.
“My son,” my father said, dabbing at his mouth. My father looked nothing like me with his hollow eyes and gaunt face. When he smiled, I flinched. He looked like a corpse, dressed in someone else’s skin. “What do you say about the offer?”
The food turned to dust in my mouth. I swallowed and took a swig of wine. It burned all the way down my throat. “What offer, Your Majesty?”
A bubble of laughter erupted from the table. Drunk, I assumed, the lot of them.
My father eyed me with disdain, but kept his smile pasted on his face. His line of sight traveled to my missing arm. I instinctively tucked it away beneath my cloak. “The offer of marriage from the Lord of Kine’s daughter. She’s of a pretty age. Just shy of fifteen.”
I felt the blood rush from my face. Since the day I’d arrived in Stormwall, I’d been treated like a prize to be won. Servants doted on me, trailing me day and night. And the meals. So many meals with so many people I did not recognize. Were they sympathizers? Were they Gwylis? It wasn’t like they spontaneously shifted to ease my worries. Not one person was ever introduced to me, and they came and went so quickly, I never had time even to ask.
But I was the heir to Mirosa. Since nobody had ever seen me leave Stormwall after my father attacked, it had been easy. But my father assumed I’d been taken, and I didn’t say a word to refute that. Not one person knew what happened to me beyond the Archway.
At least none here with me in this room.
I tapped the tip of my nose and fit on my best smirk. “Fifteen, has she not had her first blood yet?”
Raucous laughter filled the room.
My supper churned in my stomach.
“Indeed, she has,” the man beside me replied, downing a cup of foul-smelling ale. Ah yes, now I remembered; this was none other than the Lord of Kine himself. “I can attest to that.”
I swallowed the taste of sour bile.
“I cannot see how you can frown at such a wonderful gift,” my father said, his lips thinning.
The Lord of Kine waved off my father. “Leave him be. Let him grow from your shadow.”
I exchanged a look with the lord, brief, barely there. Was he defending me?
“To be bestowed such a gift is a great honor,” Lord Kine intoned. “You are half a man. You should be grateful for anything you are gifted.”
I cleared my throat. “I am not frowning at the gift, but only that I have to wait weeks for the gift to arrive.”
The table was pleased. They went back to eating and drinking and fell into individual conversations. My gaze moved from my cup, across the table to my father who stared back at me with the cold displeasure I’d come to know. Nothing would ever be good enough; the evidence lay in a scar across my lower abdomen, given to a boy not yet man enough to my father’s taste. Although he marched me around like a hero, he found my existence disappointing.
A man who let himself get captured was not a man at all. But I was his only son, and he needed to keep posturing if only to show his people he was a king whose blood would continue to rule long after this death. My father was a bully, tried and true. He knew Mirosa would not bend to a usurper king, at least not right away, but far be it for him to accept it. He’d keep on posturing until the day he died, denying that he did not have Mirosa’s love and never would. A young man came from the kitchens—a servant, from the look of his bland grey uniform—signed to another servant on the other side of the table. Had I known how to communicate with the Voiceless, I would know what they were discussing, but from their actions, I assumed it was only to refill the cups on the supper table and to clear away empty plates.
I had never given the Voiceless a second thought, even before Isabelle had told me what her father had done to them. I never truly looked at them. Not until the day the former princess and I found Fray Castor bloodied and dying in the forest during our hunt and disas trous almost-kiss. It would’ve been terrible for me to think that it had been the first time I truly looked at them as people.
Sometimes I could be a terrible person, but at least I was a sorry one.
The young male Voiceless picked up my plate. He blanched at the sight of me and looked a little too long. A little too searching. His eyes were a clear blue, like the waters around the Peek Islands. I knew he was Voiceless, but I couldn’t find it in me to speak a word. The sound of my father clearing his throat had him averting his eyes quickly and rushing off with haste.
“If you had a thing for the Gwylis, I could arrange something for you,” my father said, quirking an eyebrow. He said this loud enough for all to hear, as he always did when belittling his own son. “Ah, here she is now.”
I looked up from my scowl to see the tallest woman I’d ever seen. She had at least five inches over my father, who stood at six-foot-ten. She was around my age, with blonde hair, cut short like a man, and light eyebrows to match. Her eyes were two different colors: one blue and the other a dark brown. Although she wore a neutral expression, something about her suggested coiled power.
There was a man behind her, his pace slowed, dark brown skin slick with sweat. He appeared to be panting. The tall woman barked orders for him to hurry or he’d, “spend another night tied up to the bedpost.” If this man hadn’t looked the way he did, I’d have thought this woman’s words to be raunchy bed humor, but this was a whole different beast.
Something happened to this man.
She sat down at the table and leaned back in her chair. The sweating man stood behind her, failing to keep upright. He used the tips of subtle fingers on the back of her chair to keep himself from falling over.
“Ashe,” my father said. “Meet Katka. The leader of the Greatwolf Pack.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” I struggled with the words, my voice breaking like a pubescent boy. I’d yet to see any Gwylis in the weeks I’d been in Stormwall. At least not ones with voices. The sight of Katka brought something locked away to the surface; I’m not safe within these walls, no matter what side I choose.
Still, the Gwylis took on a role far beyond what I knew, and my father made sure I was kept in the dark. The man who had captured me the morning on the cliff was never seen again. His name I knew, and I’d asked for him once, only for my father to shake his head as if he’d never known the man at all. That soldier had seen me speaking to Isabelle and the way she had to tear herself away to let me go. If it ever got out that Dal Paratheon’s son had ties with the Gwylis, well, I’d probably end up by way of Henry Rowan. Dead by my own father’s sword.
Not the way I wanted to die.
Rumors circulated about what I’d seen in the Old Kingdom. Some of my own friends from the Peek Islands had sat down to discuss it in length. They wanted to know what it was like and how badly the Gwylis suffered without their king. I’d arrived in Stormwall with a bushy beard and cloaked in animal fur. It took long looks to determine I wasn’t Gwylis myself.
So, I made up lies. I told them I spied on their city. I told them I watched as they killed and ate and mated without regard. I painted them the savage beasts these soldiers wanted them to be. But to my surprise, they never questioned why my father had brought in the very people they hated to fight at their side. Did they tolerate them? Or did my father have a different plan for the Greatwolf Pack?
The crows proved a useless tool, as messages in and out of the castle were strictly forbidden. If Isabelle had lived up to her part of the deal, she and the others should be somewhere in Stormwall right now, hiding, and waiting for me. The thought kept me up at night and plagued me like an illness. The old healer who kept crows down in the dungeons had not been seen and all, but the king was allowed down there. Sometimes, I’d hear screams, and I wondered if they were torturing the man called Pyrus. But they’d go on and on, deep and filled with rage and hunger. They were not human sounds. That I could attest.
I was not allowed past the castle grounds. Most days, I’d sit in the cemetery, at Henry’s false grave and imagine; if Isabelle could be anywhere, it would probably be here. I’d noticed, some two weeks after my arrival, that there’d been a loose stone in the cemetery wall. But I’d not been vigilant, and a guard had seen me loitering about and had the hole duly repaired. Now, if one tried to move the rock, it would not budge an inch.
The supper conversation died down and the guests bade their goodbyes as they headed to bed. The man standing behind Katka’s chair groaned audibly, as if something pained him. I would have asked if he needed help, if not for the fact that my father never let his smile slide when looking upon the poor man. Katka ate and drank without even a glance at the man.
I nodded to my father by way of goodnight. He said nothing as I moved across the hall, but Katka’s calculating stare bore through my back. I looked once over my shoulder to meet her dark gaze, only for her to turn away a moment later.
But it wasn’t the Gwylis’s icy stare. It was the look Isabelle gave when the soldeir dragged me away at knifepoint; the vulnerability she’d let slip, and although she had an intense bond with Fray Castor, I knew part of her cared for me. And that was the only thing getting me through my days. The hope, the sadness, and everything in between.
The same feeling shadowed me as I moved through the castle, to my room on the second floor. The carpet in the halls had all been ripped up, after having been burned to a crisp by Isabelle I assumed, and the paintings and tapestries along the walls stripped and thrown away. Now there was nothing but the sound of my boots on the stone and the cold loneliness nipping at my heels.
My father must be poisoning people. It was the only thing I could think of to make that man behave the way he did. My father loved to watch others’ suffering. Letting a person slowly die in front of him would be his own form of entertainment.
I let the thought form and found that I could not rebuke it. My father was the one giving the orders, but the tall woman—Katka— enacted it. What was she? Were there more terrifying things in this world besides giant wolves?
Yes, there were…and some of them wore human faces. In the hallway leading to my room, I ran into Lord Kine loitering in front of his guest chambers. His large frame took up the space in the corridor. Sweat gleamed from his face. He wasn’t the kind of man I wanted to exchange pleasantries with, even after his offer of his daughter.
But I remembered his words at dinner, and it gave me pause. “Your Highness,” he said, bowing at the neck. The light of the torches on the walls made his face shine. “I thought you could join me for a drink.”
I shoved my hand in the pocket of my pants. “I don’t drink.” “Good man.”
“I do not wish to give you my daughter,” Lord Kine said, squaring his shoulders. “In fact, the thought gives my cramps. Not because of your”—he gestured to my missing arm—“unfortunate shortcoming, but because I am taking her far from here. Your father is evil.”
I shifted on my foot. An invisible line drew itself between Lord Kine and myself. This could be a test of sorts; another one of my father’s cruel games. “That is treason.”
“You should know treason very well, I expect.”
I flexed my hand, hyperaware of the one I’d lost to Fray Castor. The memory slammed into me anew: Castor ripping my flesh, my words, begging for someone, anyone, to cut off my tainted arm so I would not become a monster.
Innocent, ferocious Izzy.
She was so determined. She’d thought she’d save me the pain. Now, the Gwylis didn’t feel as much of a threat. The man with whom I shared blood frightened me more.
Inside me swelled a fury of what I’d let myself become. Hatred for what my father had done. But Izzy broke free. I could do the very same.
If I took a chance.
“I thought—” I cleared my throat and lowered my voice. Some thing in this man’s eyes told me he knew I’d been lying, that I was not hear for love of my father or my land. “I thought perhaps I misinter preted something this evening at dinner. Something—”
The lord dipped his chin to his chest and smirked. “You did not misinterpret.”
I leaned in closer. He smelled stale, like a day-old ashtray. “Could you get a crow to someone in the city for me?”
The Lord of Kine held my stare, and my heart went from its place in my chest to down into my belly. Had I made a mistake? Finally, he tilted his head, surveying me as if I were a child showing him a simple trick. “When I find you worthy, I will help you. But if only you are worthy.”
With that, he turned and left me alone in the room, staring at the space where he’d been.
I’d messed it up. I’d messed everything up. I’d taken the first chance I’d had in weeks and still, I’d failed. The Lord of Kine wanted a worthy man? Surely, he wouldn’t find it here in this hallway.
I went to my room and closed the door behind me. Servants came in and out all day long, cleaning up dishes or dirty clothing or patting down the wrinkles on my sheets for the hundredth time. Everything was perfect always. I sighed and cast a look over my chambers from the four-poster bed on one side to the sitting area with a table and four chairs on the other.
Nothing could have been out of place, except the person sitting there.
Teal robe, an excess amount of jewelry, and all-knowing eyes all belonged to the soothsayer called Abiyaya. She leaned forward, crossing an ankle over her knee, her robe falling between. “The Lord of Kine’s loyalties are not so cheap. But he does not deal in riches, but in esteem.”
I stood there, open-mouthed, saying nothing.
“You’re surprised to see me.”
“I—um…” My stammer did nothing to allow my thoughts to catch up to what I was seeing. Stormwall was locked down so tightly, not even a crow could enter, so how did an old woman who walked no faster than a wounded deer get through all that security?
“At a loss of words.” She raised a brow and sat back in the chair. “You weren’t so silent the first time we met. If I remember correctly, you said I was ill-mannered.”
“You are in a prince’s room without permission, so I think I’ll stick with that assumption.”
Abiyaya gave a gap-toothed grin. “I know you, Prince; don’t forget that.” She eyed the place where my left hand had been, and grunted. “Such a pity. You had very strong hands.”
Heat flushed my cheeks as I moved my arm out of sight beneath my cloak once again. “How did you get in here?”
“On the wings of a crow.”
Abiyaya stood, sucking the air from the room. “A lot of things that seemed impossible for you have happened, and what do you say, Prince of Stormwall? Do you still deny the magic that runs under everything in this land? The gods, the demons, the humans who wanted to become gods? Do you deny my predictions?” She glanced at my left arm again. “With one hand, you can still bring down your father, even though you sink down into despair night after night. You vowed not to hurt anyone ever again, but you must.”
I recalled the words. I’d spoken them to Isabelle on the mountain side while on our way to see the Gwylis queen, Rixon. At that time, I’d felt a certain freedom there in the Old Kingdom, and whether or not the queen wished for me to stay, I knew even alone I would feel better than I would beside my father.
That day on the cliff, when I’d first seen Isabelle with Fray Castor, I lost myself. My head swam with confusion and furious jealousy of seeing her with him; along with the pressure of my captain of the guard, Archibald, I’d sided with my father. I’d made a choice, and that choice rippled across the entire kingdom. Even as I laid bleeding from my wounded arm, I did not feel sorry for the Gwylis servant. I had wanted him dead.
And in doing so, I’d broken the trust of the one person I loved the most.
Now I stood before the soothsayer, as broken as I should be, given the things I had done. She exhaled dramatically, closing the distance between us. Her jewelry clinked as she moved, and she stopped at arm’s length. “Weak things are easily broken, Prince, and the king wants to break you. You cannot be weak, not now. You must be strong for her.”
“But I cannot contact her outside this damned castle,” I bemoaned.
“You must do what needs to be done on your own. Sit. We have much to discuss.”
I shook my head. Isabelle and I had a plan. Killing my father would do no good if I did not know what plans he had for Mirosa. Something sinister lay in those dungeons, and the lack of Gwylis told me my father had secrets, and I was not trustworthy enough for him to confide them in me.
Are you listening?
Isabelle had nodded to those words, agreeing to everything I proposed. If I could not follow through, would my actions drown the kingdom?
Abiyaya cleared her throat, drawing my attention back to her. “You wish to accompany Isabelle Rowan to Hassara, do you not?” Hassara—a place she’d been instructed to go by her dead brother, Henry. I’d never heard of the place, and although I found it on a map one night, I couldn’t help but listen to the tiny, uncertain voice in the back of my mind.
All of it sounded absurd. If I knew anything, I’d say she were running herself right into a dead end.
“Are you listening, Prince?”
The world felt unbalanced, shaking beneath my feet. I thought of the Gwylis of the Den and how they’d brought me back to life after traveling through the wintery mountains.
They’d saved my life.
I owed them mine.
Paper rustled. There were stacks of blank parchments and a feather with an accompanying bottle of ink at the table in front of me. The soothsayer slid a piece between her fingers. “Prince?”
My throat tightened, but I sat down nonetheless.
Abiyaya pushed the ink toward me and handed me the feather. “We have much work to do. Will you listen closely?”
I took the feather and dipped it in the ink. “Yes, I’m listening.”