Chapter no 14 – Corrick

Defy the Night

For the last two years, every time a smuggler was caught, I’d be trapped with the secret terror of wondering if it was Tessa. I’d be called to the Hold, and the entire walk, I’d have to banish the thought of nding her broken and begging in a cell. Or worse, hearing about a corpse le in the dirt, the way Mistress Kendall was.

e past few days have been hell. And now she’s here. In my room.

Tessa has good aim. Brandy splashes across the center of my jacket, but I snatch the glass out of the air before it can shatter on the oor.

She’s glaring up at me. Waiting for me to make good on my threat, I suppose.

I have no idea how to move forward from here.

I sigh and move to the side table, where I set the glass down next to the bottle, then unbutton my jacket and toss it over the back of a chair.

Everything smells like brandy now. I rub my hands down my face.

I don’t understand how this all unraveled so very quickly. Harristan is going to come crashing in here at any minute and demand to know what I’m thinking, and I honestly don’t have an answer to give him.

Steel rattles against the oor, and I look over. She’s coiled the chain between her palms again, and her teeth are clenched.

Oh. She really does think I’m going to cut her hands o.

I’m used to fear and de ance, but this is Tessa, and I don’t like seeing it in her. Shame swells in my chest, quick and hot and sudden. I drop into the chair. My emotions are a tangled mix. Anger that she was able to break into the palace. Excitement at seeing her again. Betrayal, because she clearly didn’t come here looking for Wes.

Fear. Weston Lark tried to keep her safe. Prince Corrick can’t show her mercy.

I brace my forearms on my knees and stick to business, as if she’s any other prisoner.

“How did you get in the palace?” I say. “Why did you trick me?”

“Do you have any concern at all for your well-being? Tell me.” She shuts her mouth and glares at me.

“What were you planning?” I demand. “ey found powders in your bag.” I think of her words on our nal night together in the Wilds, about how we should be riding at the front instead of hiding in the shadows. Tessa wouldn’t go for a weapon—but she has bottles and vials and powders and so much knowledge. I always worried she’d be caught for smuggling, but in a sudden whirl of panic, I wonder if she came here for something else altogether: assassination. It’s both disappointing and admirable, and my emotions don’t know where to settle. My tone darkens. “Why are you here?”

Her eyes almost glow with de ance. She says nothing.

I wish I could turn off the lights and pull the mask over my face and turn back time. I wish we were back in the workshop, where she didn’t fear me at all, and she’d answer my questions without hesitation.

Why did you do this? I would ask. Lord, Tessa. I told you of the danger. I showed you what was at risk.

ere were times in the workshop where the distance between us was barely enough space to draw breath, and I crave that easy familiarity. at . .

. friendship. at simplicity.

e distance between us now may as well be the width of Kandala. I’ll never have any of it back again.

A knock sounds at the door, and the guard outside announces, “His Royal Majesty, King Harristan.”

I stand, but my eyes ash to hers. ere are a million ways this could go wrong, and a very short list of ways it could go right. “If you throw a glass of liquor at my brother, I really will have to cut your hands o. Keep your mouth shut.”

Her eyes are wide and alarmed and locked on the door, so maybe she didn’t need the warning. I don’t have time to tell her anything else, because my brother storms into the room like a tornado.

“Corrick. What are you—” He stops short as soon as he crosses the threshold and snis at the air. “How much have you had to drink?”

“Not nearly enough.”

His eyes sweep the room, and he stops when his gaze lands on Tessa. She’s drawn into the corner again, but she has the good sense to be on her knees. Her eyes are locked on the oor, and one of the silk pillows is clutched to her chest, as if that would provide any kind of defense against anyone at all.

She looks like a loud noise would cause her heart to stop beating. For half a second, sympathy joins the shame pooling in my chest, but then I realize the chain is nowhere to be seen, and I suspect she’s hiding it.

Please, Tessa. If she attacks my brother, there is literally nothing I can do to save her.

Harristan barely looks at her. His incredulous eyes snap back to me. “What are you doing?”

“Allisander demands punishment. Arella demands leniency. I thought I might have discovered a happy medium.” I move to the side table and ll a new glass, then hold it out to my brother.

He doesn’t take it. “Arella hardly thinks what you’re doing is lenient.” His eyes search mine. “For that matter, neither do I.”

It takes a moment for me to realize what he’s saying. Harristan gives me free rein to do what needs to be done, but he doesn’t like torture for the sake of pain and violence. He doesn’t like prolonging the inevitable.

I drain this drink in one swallow like the others, then drop my voice so my words are for him alone. “As you said, brother, all that matters is what it looks like.”

He frowns. “Cory. I don’t like this.” I don’t like it either. I look away.

He’s watching me carefully, trying to gure me out. is isn’t like me. I know it. He knows it. He’s going to press me for more of an answer—or worse, for more of a decision. I’ll have to tell him everything, and then Tessa will end up in the Hold, and later, at the end of a rope. I’ll be right there next to her.

But then he coughs. It’s not a small sound, like in recent days. It’s a harsh cough that requires a breath of air that sounds as though it’s pulled through a wet sieve. en again.

“Harristan,” I say in alarm.

He gives another short cough, then looks at me. “I’m ne.” He clears his throat. “If she escapes your room, she’s going to the Hold.”

I make my voice hard, the way he’d expect it to be. “If she escapes my room, she won’t make it to the Hold.”

I expect him to say more, but Harristan nods and turns away. He’s moving stiy, his back tight as if he’s trying not to cough again. I stand in the doorway and wait until he’s out of earshot, then look to one of my guards. “Have the kitchen send a pot of tea to the king’s room, along with a vial of the elixir.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” He bows to me, and I close myself back into my chambers.

Tessa is still in the corner, looking at me with wide eyes over the pillow. “What?” I say atly.

e king is sick,” she whispers.

“He is not sick,” I snap. I stride across the oor, and her eyes narrow in a way that tells me she’s going to drop the pillow and swing that chain.

I’m rattled and tired and full of tension, but on top of it all, I’m done with being struck. When she swings, I catch the end and jerk hard, looping it around one of her wrists and then the other so quickly that she cries out. Before she has a chance to ght back, I pin her against the wall, trapping her hands overhead.

She’s breathing hard, her chest expanding rapidly into mine. “You’re not the rst to attack me,” I say.

Her cheeks are ushed, and I wait for her to ght me.

She doesn’t. She stares into my eyes and we share the same air, until the moment shis. Changes. Soens, though not in the way I expect.

“I wish I’d never let you kiss me,” she says quietly.

I almost inch. I should have let her hang on to the chain. Being hit with that would’ve hurt less.

“Now I understand why you wouldn’t show me your face,” she adds.

ere’s a note in her voice that makes me feel like a coward, and I don’t like it. I have to ght to keep my eyes on hers.

“You didn’t need to bother,” she continues, and her voice is very low, full of censure. “I’ve only ever seen you from a distance.” She hesitates. “is you, I mean.”

“I couldn’t take a chance.”

“Because it’s treason,” she snaps. I say nothing. It is treason.

“And now what?” she says. “You grew bored with me? With your game?”

My thoughts ash on our last night in the forest, when she was so determined to play a role in a revolution—when she was so determined to get herself killed. She was erce and reckless and passionate, and for one wild moment, I wanted to stand at her side and believe we had a chance at changing everything.

But of course I couldn’t. I can’t.

She can’t either. Especially not now.

Her heart is a steady thrum in her chest. I can feel it against mine. “I never grew bored with you, Tessa.” en I frown, my eyes narrowing. “What’s your real name?”

She hesitates. “Tessa Cade.” She swallows. “It is my real name.” I laugh, but there’s no humor to it. “Of course it is.”

“I’m sorry I’m not as good as you are at pretending to be someone else.” She hesitates, her eyes icking to the door. “e king doesn’t even know, does he?”

I don’t answer, but I suppose that’s answer enough. I don’t like how easily she seems to see through me. She wrenches at the grip I have on her wrists, but I don’t give an inch. She nally stops, her eyes boring into mine. She lis her chin boldly. “Fine. Get on with it, then.”

“Get on with it?”

“Whatever you’re going to do.” She’s so brave. It’s honestly astounding that she hasn’t gotten herself killed before now. “Prove your point. Break my bones. Cut my hands o. Set me on re. Take your dagger and write your name in my—”

is all sounds like it’s going to get rather messy.” “Do it.”

“No.” I glance up at her hands, one of which is turning an alarming shade of pink. “I’ll ask again: If I let you go, can you agree not to strike at me?” She hesitates, so I add, “Most people don’t get a second oer. I de nitely won’t give you a third.”

She blanches a little at that, and I watch the battle in her eyes as she wars with who I was and who I am.

“Fine,” she says, and her voice is breathy. “I won’t hit you.”

I release her hands and take a step back. I keep the chain and coil it around my hand. She stays pressed against the wall, but she’s rubbing one wrist.

Despite all the de ance, she’s still afraid of me. I can read it in the set of her eyes and the way she clings to the wall, waiting for me to do one of the things she said. As Prince Corrick, I can’t x that.

Again, I wish for masks, for darkness, for relight and moonlit paths and everything we’ll never share together again.

Wishing solves nothing. I learned that the night my parents died. “Are you hungry?” I say to her.

She looks startled, then suspicious, then resigned. “No.” “I doubt that. You look like you haven’t eaten in a week.”

Her expression darkens. “It was hard to drum up an appetite when the King’s Justice executed my best friend.”

I’m used to having obscenities hurled at me, but her words hit me like the bolt from a crossbow, quick and painful, right through the chest. I have to glance away. I meant to protect her. I’m protecting her even now, and she looks at me like I dragged her out of the woods by her hair and strung her up on the gates myself.

I should have told her. at night, I should have told her. Maybe I am a coward.

As the feared prince, it might be harder to x what I’ve done, but it’s easier to force doubt and sorrow out of my head. She’s clutching her hands against her stomach, but I steel my thoughts against her judgmental expression. She can hate me if she wants. I’m used to it.

I move to the chair and my abandoned coat, then pull my pocket watch free. e jeweled face tells me it’s an hour past midnight.

When I open the door, my guards clearly thought I was either asleep or otherwise occupied—because they were leaning close, speaking in low whispers. ey snap to attention at once, and they exchange a glance across the hallway.

I’ve given the entire palace enough gossip to last a week, so I don’t chastise them. “Send for a meal,” I say. “Enough for two.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

e door swings closed. I turn away and rub at my eyes. is day will likely never end. I can’t sleep with her here. I’ll wake up with that chain

wrapped around my throat. Or worse, not wake up with that chain wrapped around my throat.

I lower my hands and study her. She still hasn’t said what she was doing in the palace, and there’s a part of me that isn’t sure I want the answer.

Her expression has gone at, her eyes closed o, and she’s pulled into the narrow space between the hearth and the corner, in the shadows. Aer so many nights in close proximity, this distance feels unbearably far.

A knock sounds at the door, and I jump. It’s too soon for food. My guard calls, “Master Quint requests an—”

I throw open the door before he can come barreling in here. “Quint. Not now—”

But he’s already stepped past me, all but closing the door on my hand. “e Captain of the Guard said you refused to have a man stationed in your room. Honestly, Corrick, it should be two, at the very least—”


“Consul Cherry has already draed a formal complaint. Word will reach the Royal Sector by morning, if it hasn’t already.” He sighs. “ey do love a good scandal—”


“But I need to have some awareness of your intentions here so I can address the inquiries—”

“I hardly have awareness of my intentions.”

“When you have a girl chained in your room, it doesn’t leave very much to the . . .” His voice trails off as his eyes fall on Tessa in the corner, then quickly snap to mine. “She snuck into the palace to kill you and you’ve turned her loose? Are you mad?”

“Very likely.”

He sucks in a breath, and I know he’s about to call for the guards, so I slap a hand over his mouth. “Shut up.”

He shuts up.

I’ve never kept secrets from Quint, and I have no intention of starting now. “Quint.” I lower my hand and sigh. “Allow me to introduce you to Tessa.”

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