The entire castle had felt on edge lately—servants rushing and whispering, soldiers even more brutish and poised for a fight than before. I had hoped it was only due to the pressure to prepare for the upcoming festivities. I tried not to worry that something more foreboding
It wasn’t like I could ask Kane what was going on—I had decided, with Mari’s encouragement, to let go of all my complicated feelings for the king. He was a charming, powerful man, with a good sense of humor and a killer crooked grin, but also a hot head, a manipulator, and a liar with no sense of morality or compassion. Not a fair trade in my book.
But my heart hadn’t quite agreed to the new arrangement yet, so I was avoiding him—to the point of ducking behind columns whenever he stalked through the halls. Not the most mature way to carry myself, but I had bigger issues to deal with.
All that mattered was helping Halden.
I didn’t think I could fake my way into the dungeons a second time, especially with Kane’s eyes all over the castle, as he had said, so weeks went by with no clue as to how Halden was doing. Still, I was determined to help him escape; I couldn’t sit around and wait for Kane to use him as a bargaining chip with King Gareth or kill him in another bout of jealous rage. Hopefully neither of which had happened already.
Mari had promised me she had a plan, but that she just needed a bit longer for it to work.
To take my mind off it all, I trained with my sword in the mornings, healed soldiers in the afternoons, and spent most evenings with Mari in the
library. Summer had fully arrived, and with it I experienced my first real seasonal shift. Onyx’s spring hadn’t been too dissimilar from Amber’s year-round chill, but summer here was like a bath of light and heat. With the soft, blustery winds and days that never seemed to grow dark came an abundance of bluebells and violets, which I had taken to stealing and keeping in glass vases in my bedroom. When they wilted, I was so unable to part with the spectacular blooms, I’d press them in my books until they were delicate, thin memories of the blossoms they once were. It wasn’t too far off from how I was feeling about myself recently, as I wandered from apothecary to bed each day in a daze.
I was in desperate need of positive Arwen. Where had she gone?
As I folded bandages in the apothecary, the dim light of afternoon slipping behind the pine trees outside, I tried to play rose and thorn, as if my mother was here with me.
Rose: I was finally using an adult’s sword, but still nothing like the one Dagan wielded.
The sound of grunts and boots scuffing against the apothecary floor had my eyes up from the bandages and landing on a couple of armor-clad soldiers supporting a sweating, shivering man, paler than any person should be.
“Here,” I motioned to the infirmary. “You can place him on the daybed.” “Thank you.” The voice came from behind the men, like midnight. Quiet,
soft, and pitch-black.
Kane stepped into the apothecary behind them. In a simple unbuttoned white shirt, his few silver rings, and black pants, seductiveness dripped from him like rain down a window. Even after everything, I was so affected by his presence.
“What do you want? I have a patient to tend to.” I hoped my breathy voice might be accredited to shock.
“You’ve been avoiding me.”
I swore steam was curling out of my ears. “Could you be any more self-
obsessed? This man is dying.”
“Yes, and I’m here to help,” he said. “Lance is one of my best soldiers.”
Such an obnoxious liar. “Pretty despicable to use your own soldier’s illness as justification to come bother me.” I said as I followed the men into the infirmary.
The two soldiers looked anywhere but at us. Kane bristled, turning to them. “Leave us. Now.”
They scurried out without hesitation, one even bumping into my herbs in his rush and knocking sage and poppy seeds all over the floor.
A wet, hacking, cough drew my attention away from the spilled jars. Poor Lance was not doing well.
He was shivering despite the blanket I had pulled atop him and sweating profusely. I would have thought it the flu or a fever, had I not noticed the two puncture wounds near his wrist, rusty with dried blood.
“He was bitten. I believe the creature’s venom is what’s slowly killing him. Well, not that slowly, it seems.”
“Always so compassionate.” I scowled at him. “What bit him?”
Lance moaned incoherently, and Kane didn’t take his eyes off the shuddering man. “Can’t say for sure. Do you need to know in order to heal him?”
“It would help.” I moved into the apothecary to look through the shelves of anti-venom. “Funnel-web spider, stone goblin, horned ember snake…any of those?”
Kane followed me out, away from Lance’s bedside. “It’s not anything your ointments will work on. He needs you,” he demanded, with uncharacteristic sincerity. “Your abilities.”
“Fine.” I scooted past him and back into the infirmary, before placing my palms on Lance’s clammy face. He had started convulsing and twitching. Cranking the window open, I let the lilac-scented evening air waft into the room. I needed to work fast.
Ever since Dagan had shown me how to harness the atmosphere around me, I had been using it in small doses for particularly dire patients or
overcrowded days. A soft wind breezed in like steam from a bubbling pot, and I redirected it into my palms, which in turn seeped power into Lance’s head. It funneled through him, a potent tonic to his pain. He gasped as the air itself poured through him, purging the venom from his bones, lungs, and skin. Lance shuddered out a heaving exhale and weak color began to return to his wet cheeks.
I exhaled, breath funneling out of me like a burst ball. It was getting easier and easier to use the elements around me, and I was never left craving quite the nap as before. I tucked the knit blanket around Lance’s body, as he drifted off.
“He should be all right now, but I’ll stay here with him for a few hours to make sure.”
“Nicely done, bird,” Kane murmured. “I didn’t ask for your approval.”
He chuckled as I placed a cold compress on Lance’s head, and poured a glass of water for when he awoke.
“I’ve been working on it,” I admitted, as he left the infirmary to pace around the apothecary. “If you must know.” I followed him out, twisting my fingers in my skirts, then restraining my restless hands behind my back.
He needed to leave.
“Well, I’m impressed,” Kane said, eyes glinting. “And proud to have such a skilled healer in my own keep.” He continued his slow perusal of the space, which was now awash in buttery candlelight spilling in from the hallway. It gleamed off his rings and in his slate eyes. He was always glowing.
“Don’t you have something better to do?” I asked.
He lifted a brow. “You’re going to be here all night watching poor Lance sleep. I’m just offering some company.”
I scoffed. “I’m all right, thanks though.”
He turned toward me, eyes searing into mine. “Perhaps I just like to watch you squirm in my presence.”
My brows knit together. I had no more bite left in me. “Why are you like this?” I asked, exasperation seeping into my voice.
Kane threw me a sideways grin. “You don’t even want to scratch the surface of that question, bird.”
He was probably right about that.
“Have you found my family?” I asked.
“Not yet,” he said, strolling through the apothecary, opening and closing jars and drawers. “But I will.”
“I don’t believe you,” I snapped.
He spun to me. “It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack. Three needles actually… Give me some time.”
I grit my teeth, about to lay into him, when an awkward grumble erupted from my stomach. I pressed my hand into my dress to quiet it, but I had been in the apothecary all day and hadn’t eaten since I had a peach that morning on my way in. My abdomen protested again, and I grimaced.
Kane raised a single, curious brow in my direction and a slight tickle of embarrassment climbed up my neck.
“What?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
But he just walked toward the apothecary door and pulled it open, sending the wooden sign swinging.
“Barney,” he called into the gallery, “Can you send for Lady Arwen’s supper to be brought to the apothecary?”
The tickle of embarrassment had become an all-out assault.
“Of course, your majesty.” Barney’s familiar, sweet voice echoed in from the hall.
Kane made to close the door, but stopped right before it shut, swinging it open once more. “And extra cloverbread,” he said. “Two loaves. Thank you.”
When he shut the door and spun back to me, he looked very pleased with himself.
“That was not necessary,” I said, picking up the fallen herbs and throwing them in the waste bin.
“Sure it was. Someone has to take care of you, if you won’t.”
I stared daggers at him. “Is that what you think you’re doing? Taking care
of me? By keeping me here against my will and threatening to murder my friends?”
His playful expression faded, replaced by something far colder. Far more frightening. I swallowed hard.
“That boy is not your friend.”
I shook my head. I didn’t want to have this conversation with him. Not tonight.
Preferably, not ever.
He loosed a sigh and ran a beleaguered hand through his hair before turning and strolling casually around the apothecary. The sun had finally disappeared, and the room was beginning to become cloaked in a sleepy, evening darkness.
I fished through the drawer nearest to me for a match to light the room’s lanterns.
Kane tapped the glass case in front of him and my eyes flashed to him. “What’s that?” he asked.
I flared my nostrils. “None of your business.” “Come on, it’s so spindly. I’m fascinated.”
I sighed. “It’s a preserved jellyfish. They have healing enzymes embedded in their tissue, and the dried membrane can be used like a second skin over cuts and scrapes.”
“I love to listen to you explain medicinal practices,” he purred. “And I’d love to listen to you fall off a cliff.”
He visibly shook, suppressing a laugh.
The man was infuriating. Coming in here, bothering me, trying to bribe me with food.
Speaking ill of Halden after everything.
Halden and his men wouldn’t have been in his vault in the first place had he not attacked the Kingdom of Amber. I rubbed my temples. All I wanted were some damn answers.
“Why did you attack Amber?” I said, stepping around the counter and closer to him. “Give me something.”
“I’ve told you,” he said, eyes still on the jellyfish. “Gareth is a weasel and
doesn’t deserve to rule his own kingdom.”
“That’s not a reason to murder thousands in a war and you know it.”
His gaze hardened but still never left the glass case. “It’s all I can tell you.”
The roaring in my ears was so loud I could barely hear myself say, “Then get out of my apothecary.”
“Arwen,” he said, eyes finally meeting mine. “As charmed as I am by your fire, you’re going to have to forgive me eventually.”
I grit my teeth. “No, I really, really won’t.”
He prowled closer to me, and I could almost feel him. Touch him. Smell him. His brows knit together. “I can’t stomach you hating me forever.” His gaze was unflinching.
I couldn’t help my response. “Well, you should have thought of that before you sentenced Halden to die.”
Something predatory flickered in his eyes before he clenched his jaw and placed his hands in his pockets.
“Fine. Have it your way.”
“Is that a threat?” I couldn’t help the fear that crept into my voice.
He glared at me until finally, he sighed, resigned. “If it was, you’d know it. Have a nice evening.”