Chapter no 14

A Dawn of Onyx

I followed Barney out into the sea of tents. A wide and shining harvest moon hung in the crisp night sky, and it glowed on his soft, familiar face.

I was stunned to realize I had missed the sweet, doughy man.

I had borrowed a dress from Mari and a few of the black ribbons so often found in Onyx women’s hair. I had no idea what Kane wanted me to see, and neither did she. She had mused that maybe he was going to bring me to the front lines and show me the realities of war so I could see why he ruled so cruelly. I couldn’t imagine anything more terrible.

Dagan had been even less helpful. I only revealed that the King had asked me to join him for something that evening, and of course left out all of the needy wanting and aggressive eye contact that seemed to overcome the two of us the past few days. I had a feeling Dagan knew something else was going on, though. Every time I spoke of Kane my cheeks grew hot. When I had asked if he knew why the King might wish for me to join him tonight, he only rolled his eyes and left me alone in the apothecary for the rest of the day. Reminder: do not ask Dagan for relationship advice.

The sound of fire crackling in my ears, Barney and I passed by men cooking pots of stew, dealing cards, and drinking ale. The soldiers that had been so fearsome to me just a few weeks ago now seemed like Ryder and his friends—playful, boyish, and all too young.

We rounded a boisterous corner and came across a tall, pitch-black tent. It was more like a pavilion—adorned with silver filigree around the entrance and banners on each side with the Onyx emblem.

I recognized the area, and nausea flitted through me.

Behind us was the exact spot where Bert had tried to assault me. Kane

must have been in this very tent the night he heard my struggle. I shuddered, thinking of what might have happened had he not been there. Begrudging gratitude had blossomed inside me toward my training. Had I had a sword with me that night, and known how to wield it, I could have at least been able to fight back.

The tent was not at all what I expected upon entering. In the middle of the room sat a sizable textured map of Evendell, with various pieces representing each kingdom’s many battalions spread about. Leather chairs and furs in an array of sand and chocolate shades filled the rest of the space, as well as gothic lanterns and black taper candles that bathed the room in streaks of butterscotch light.

Men and women held copper chalices and ate cloverbread, chicken, and steak. Ginger, citrus, rum, and cloves wafted through the air, mingling with gardenia and lilac—the most common Onyx flowers, I’d discovered. The glowing lights made for a warm, pleasant ambience.

I realized, belatedly, that I was pressing my hands to my heart in awe, and… excitement.

Barney guided me over to Kane, sitting on a velvet throne. To his side was a man with dark skin and a strong jaw, whom I didn’t recognize.

“Lady Arwen, Your Majesty.”

Kane stood to greet me. Tonight, he was dressed as a true king—black robes, a few silver rings, hair slicked back, and a delicate crown of onyx branches encircling his head. He was breathtaking.

I swallowed any residual embarrassment at our almost kiss in my washroom yesterday, and greeted him with a simple curtsy. Kane examined me with a slow sweep from my boots to my black ribbon, a spark dancing in his eyes. I wondered if he noticed that I was dressed like one of them.

But his usual playfulness and charm were absent tonight. No flirtatious comments, no witty banter.

“I’m glad you could join us,” he said. “I’ll just be a minute. Please, sit.” He motioned to the plum velvet chair beside him before resuming a heated conversation with the man to his right.

I fought against the urge to look out at the small sea of nobles that filled

the tent. Their eyes, curious but also territorial, bore into my back like the pointed ends of a hundred swords. Instead, I looked to my other side where my biggest fan, Griffin, sat. I wanted to ask him or Kane exactly what this was, but he, too, was entangled in a conversation I feared interrupting. I found myself wishing Barney was still here.

Staring at my hands, I turned my ears to the conversations around me. Kane was discussing the Opal territories’ peace treaty, but I could only pick up on a word here or there. The room was growing noisy and restless.

To my left, Griffin was engaged in a surprisingly jovial discussion with a beautiful blonde woman. It was fascinating to see Griffin laugh when he had always been so stoic around me. He actually had a warm and friendly smile when he chose to show it.

“Wild, right?”

I turned to Kane. “I think it’s the first time I’ve seen his teeth. Other than when he’s baring them at me, at least.”

Kane smirked, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Something was clearly on his mind tonight. “As I said, it’s not you, it’s me.”

I hummed my understanding but didn’t say more. Griffin and Kane might not have been brothers, but clearly, there was some deep-rooted, almost familial tension between them that I had no intention of getting involved in. The commander in question stood, and the crowd of chattering dignitaries quieted, turning their attention to him. “Tonight’s forum is regarding the Opal territories,” he said. “Amber has been running soldiers through Opal’s

Midnight Pass illegally. They’re getting to our men quicker because of it.” My heart dropped into my stomach with a thud.

Oh, no.

My eyes flashed to Kane, but his were trained on his commander.

I wracked my brain for what I knew about the Midnight Pass, the treaty. This was information I had learned as a kid in childhood classes. Opal’s land was free and clear of any one ruler. It was a wild and rocky kingdom with many different groups and divisions. If I recalled correctly, decades ago the territories had collectively signed a peace treaty with the other eight kingdoms that declared them neutral in any wartime event.

Unfortunately, both Opal and Peridot were right in the middle of Amber and Onyx’s conflict. Soldiers from both sides had to go around via the Mineral Sea and the Quartz of Rose, both of which took much longer than just cutting a straight line through Opal.

My excitement at joining this forum had rapidly soured in my stomach, warping into grave concern. What would they do to the Amber soldiers? How ruthless would they be?

Or did they not care? Maybe it was Opal’s problem to deal with.

“Thank you all for joining us,” Griffin finished. “The forum is now open.”

Almost immediately a portly man with an impressive beard stood. “My King, I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again gladly. If Amber can break the territories’ rules with no consequences, so can we. Let’s get our men in there tonight. Even the playing field. There’s no time to discuss alternatives.”

The blonde woman sitting next to Griffin scoffed, standing up and facing Kane. Her eyes were pleading. “Your Majesty, with all due respect to Sir Phylip, Amber’s actions are not without consequence. My spies have heard that the territories are launching an attack on King Gareth any day now in retribution for using their land as a shortcut and going against the treaty. That will help our cause. Let us not end up on the receiving end of their fury, too.”

Sir Phylip dragged a hand down his face. It seemed these two may have had this argument before.

“If we go in there,” she continued. “We will only bring danger to this kingdom and cause more blood to be shed in Opal.”

Kane spoke for the first time. “Lady Kleio is right, we don’t go through Opal out of respect, not fear. Amber may be bastards, but we aren’t.”

Opal created the treaty to keep their lands and people safe—I didn’t believe Gareth would disregard that for his own gain. That sounded more like Kane, if anyone.

The man next to Kane stood, his baritone voice rumbling through the forum and commanding attention. “I have advised our king to meet with the

various tribe and division leaders to enact a new treaty allowing only Onyx safe passage. If we want to send a wave of troops to meet Amber, we will need their help.”

Both Sir Phylip and Lady Kleio rolled their eyes at this almost in unison. Kleio spoke first. “Lieutenant Eardley, tracking each leader down, even with our best intelligence officers, will take months. It’s time we don’t have.”

Unease churned in my gut. I didn’t want to hurt my kingdom, but I did want to help avoid more bloodshed altogether. The lack of dignitaries standing up against Phylip’s plan for carnage worried me. If they utilized his plan, thousands of Onyx, Opal, and Amber lives would be lost within the next few days.

But the predicament did remind me of something—

It was a stretch but, when I didn’t want a medication to hit the nervous system too quickly, I’d put certain herbs or elements into my concoctions to act as blockers, allowing the medication to find other routes through the body and the effects to last longer for the patient.

That was what Onyx needed. Something to block the Amber soldiers, forcing them to abandon the pass. If going through Opal took the same amount of time as the other routes, they’d stop seeing it as a shortcut and leave the territory altogether.

My eyes cut to Kane. Leaning back, ankle crossed over his knee, fingers steepled in his lap, he was the epitome of calm. I had to admit I was wrong about the way I assumed he ran his kingdom. He was giving every noble, lieutenant, and dignitary in his court a chance to voice their thoughts and come up with a decision together. It was surprisingly fair.

As if he could sense my staring, Kane turned and caught my eye. He waggled his fingers at me in a coy wave. I smiled but shook my head—I wasn’t saying hello. I motioned to the group and then pointed at myself. He raised an eyebrow but nodded once in suspicious approval.

My stomach made a little heave of anxiety, and I fisted my hands in my dress to suppress their shaking.

When a curly-haired older woman had finished making her point about

stationing Onyx men at the border of Opal and Amber, and Griffin had shot that down as a waste of their troops, I took in one more deep breath and stood.

“Good evening,” I started. The room was silent. Everyone seemed to look to Kane for his endorsement. I turned to him as well. He watched me with the same detached expression that he had held throughout the entire forum but didn’t make a move to stop me.

“I have no military training,” I said, turning back to the small crowd. “I’m not nobility, and I’ve only seen two maps of our continent in my life.” Beside me, Griffin placed his head in his hands. Kane stifled a laugh at his commander.

“What are you doing here then?” asked a gruff voice from the other side of the tent. Voices tittered with humor, and I strained but couldn’t see who had said it. My cheeks heated, sweat prickling at my hairline.

Kane shot the man a look of pure venom. “I don’t believe the lady was finished speaking. You’d be wise to watch your tongue in her presence.”

Deadly silence followed.

But his words bolstered me and I continued, voice a little less wobbly this time. “It could be fruitful to render the Midnight Pass ineffective.”

Despite there being no moisture in my mouth or throat whatsoever, I tried in vain to swallow. I waited for the rumble of disagreements I knew was coming, but all I could feel were their eyes lingering on me, waiting for me to continue. There was no way to look at Kane for some kind of approval without showing weakness.

And I didn’t need to.

This was a good idea. I knew it was.

“Not only would this stop Amber soldiers from getting to our borders faster than we can get to theirs, but it would be doing the Opal territories a favor. We’d be keeping war out of their land for free, and later down the line, they might be happy to do us a favor in return.”

“We can use the dragon and our hydras,” a nobleman added from my right. “It’ll be faster and more covert than having a battalion transport the blockade.”

“Our ore deposits will work to block the pass. They’ll never have enough manpower to move them out of the way,” Griffin added, deep in thought.

Pride warmed my bones as I sat. I couldn’t help looking at Kane now. He continued to watch the discussion play out but shot me a small nod, a smile twinkling in his eyes.

Kleio stood next. “Thank you…?” “Arwen,” I supplied.

“Thank you, Arwen,” she smiled. “It’s not a bad idea. I have some spies in Opal as we speak. They could track down—”

Kleio was interrupted by heavy boots marching toward the tent.

Murmurs of concern danced through the forum, and I felt dread pull low and deep in my stomach.

Seven fully armored Onyx soldiers pushed through the tent’s flaps and marched straight through the forum on a track toward Kane.

The king shot out of his chair with something I had never seen in his eyes before—pure fear.

My throat had constricted, and I fought to swallow nothing at all.

The soldier whose armor was studded with silver spoke to Kane in hushed tones. I recognized the armor but not the man, and realized he must have taken Lieutenant Bert’s position.

I waited and waited and waited.

The atmosphere crackled with horrific anticipation.

But as soon as they exchanged a few words Kane’s shoulders relaxed. And mine followed suit. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t what he dreaded. The fleeting relief came and went before Kane faced the forum.

“Enough for tonight. Lady Kleio, see to it that your spies make sure the pass is cleared. Utilize Eryx if need be. My men will begin to harvest and transport the ore.” With that, the entire tent cleared out in a matter of minutes, leaving only Kane, Griffin, Lieutenant Eardley, and the soldiers.

And me.

Griffin ordered men to cover up the war table. I waited for someone to tell me what to do or where to go, but no instruction came. Kane nodded to the lieutenant, who left the tent and returned with three more Onyx soldiers.

The sight before me filled my stomach with a twisted queasiness, and I dug my fingernails into the wooden arms of my chair. Each soldier held a man whose arms and legs were bound by chains and a sack hung over their heads.

I drew in a quick breath—prisoners. They were prisoners of war.

Kane turned his attention to the men forced to their knees in front of him. The lieutenant cleared his throat. “These three Amber soldiers were found in our keep, trying to access the vault. They killed six of our men and three bystanders. I believe them to be a specialized team of King Gareth’s. How

do you wish to proceed, my King?

Kane’s face was pure steel. Cool, calm fury. Not a single ounce of the man I had come to know was left. He looked like death and violence personified, and fear rippled through me. Not for myself, but for the men who knelt before him.

“Off,” he commanded, and the soldiers removed the men’s hoods. I nearly fainted.

Before me, dirtied, nose bloodied, and wincing in agony, was Halden.

You'll Also Like