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Chapter no 28 – Apollo

A Curse for True Love

Apollo had never participated in the Hunt.

It’s an excellent way to get killed, his father had always said. Be there at the start, give a rallying battle cry, and then get the hell out.

Apollo had always done just that. He never even ventured beyond the perimeter of the royal camp to enter the Cursed Forest.

The one thing that could have drawn him into the Cursed Forest was Evangeline. As soon as the child had appeared in his tent and told him that someone had tried to kill her, Apollo had wanted to go into the forest to save her.

Then he’d realized this was the opportunity he’d been waiting for. The moment that would ensure he’d always be able to take care of her.

“Your Highness,” called a guard. The front flap of his tent cracked open and the guard quickly slipped inside. “Lord and Lady Vale are here to see you.”

“Let them enter,” Apollo said.

The door to his tent swung wider and Honora and Wolfric Valor stepped inside.

The air stilled as they entered. The flames in his fire went low, as if the tent had taken a deep breath and held it.

Wolfric didn’t bother with a coat. He simply wore an old homespun shirt with ties at the throat, heavy black trousers, and worn leather boots. His wife’s clothing was equally plain. They should have looked like peasants, and yet some higher authority still clung to them. Before Apollo’s guards had closed the tent, he’d caught them watching the couple with something close to reverence, despite not knowing who they truly were.

“Please, take a seat.” Apollo motioned to the bench across from a low table covered in candles while he took a chair adjacent to them. As Apollo had planned to be here for days, he’d made sure that his tent possessed as many comforts as possible. Pillows, blankets, chairs—he even had a bathing tub in the corner.

“Thank you for coming tonight. It is good to see you both again, Your Majesties. Though I wish it were under better circumstances. I’m sure you know now that my wife is missing.”

“My family will help however we can,” said Wolfric.

“I’m glad to hear that, because I believe you may have access to the one thing I need.”

Apollo pulled out the scroll that Lord Robin Slaughterwood had given him and carefully unrolled it. Instantly, the bottom of the page began to burn, just as it always did. Slowly, flames ate up the words line by line.

After Lord Slaughterwood had first given him the scroll, it had taken Apollo eight tries to read the page, and even then, he never managed to catch the last few lines—they always burned too fast. But he had read enough to know that he never should have wasted his time in search of Vengeance Slaughterwood’s cuff. This story was the one that he should have been chasing all along.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked the Valors as the page continued to burn before them.

“No,” replied Wolfric. “And you should know, I’m not one for theatrics.

If you have a request, spit it out.”

“It’s not theatrics,” Apollo said apologetically. “It’s just the story curse.” He worked to keep his voice from sounding condescending. If this was going to work, the old king could not see him as a threat. “This scroll contains a long-lost tale about a tree of which there is only one. The Tree of Souls.”

Apollo paused long enough to take in Wolfric’s expression, but the stoic former king gave nothing away. Neither did his wife, although the scroll

didn’t mention her, so perhaps she didn’t know about it.

“I’d never heard of this tree until the day a friend gave me this scroll. According to the scroll, the branches of the Tree of Souls are filled with blood, and anyone clever enough to find the tree and brave enough to drink its blood will be human no more, but immortal.”

“Sounds like quite the myth,” said Wolfric.

“You would know,” said Apollo. “This scroll also said that you were the only person who successfully grew this tree.”

“I was,” said Wolfric calmly. “I was also a fool to plant it in the first place. The Tree of Souls is evil.”

“Sometimes evil is necessary.”

For a second the former king’s stony expression finally cracked. His lips curved. Apollo felt a brief flare of triumph.

Then Wolfric stood and looked down at him as if Apollo was nothing more than a simple child. “There is never necessary evil, just poor choices, and I fear you’re about to make one, boy.”

Apollo bristled at the word boy. But he managed to temper his voice as he said, “Evangeline is an innocent, and Lord Jacks is an immortal with immortal friends. I’ll never best him and save my wife as long as I am merely human.”

Wolfric snorted. “I heard your wife was taken by Lord Belleflower, not Lord Jacks.”

“That may be true, but mark my words, Jacks will have her by now.” “Then you should stop wasting your time in luxurious tents and go out

like an actual leader and search for her,” said Honora.

Apollo was more than a little taken aback and slightly abashed. Wolfric’s words had made him bristle, but Honora’s put Apollo to shame.

“My wife is right,” said Wolfric. “Go search for your princess, and if you value your life, forget all about the Tree of Souls.”

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