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Chapter no 7

House of Sky and Breath

“This is bullshit.” Ruhn paced the ornate rugs of his father’s study as the grandfather clock in the corner chimed two in the morning. “You know it’s total fucking bullshit.”

Lounging in a crimson leather armchair by the darkened fireplace, the Autumn King said nothing. The experiments and nonsense he worked on day and night boiled and bubbled away, the sound a steady hum in the background.

“What’s the matter, cousin? Feeling possessive of your sister?” Cormac smirked from where he leaned against the black marble mantel, white sweater stretched tight over his muscled chest. Not one golden hair on his head out of place.

Fucker.

Ruhn ignored Cormac’s taunt and said to his father, “We live in a modern city. In modern times. There are lawyers by the dozen who have endless resources to challenge this—and courts that might be amenable to setting a new precedent that protects the rights of Fae females.”

“Bryce will arrive willingly at the marriage altar,” his father said. “As will you.”

Cormac’s mouth curled upward. “I hear you’re engaged to Hypaxia Enador. Congratulations.” Ruhn scowled at him. Cormac went on, sizing up Ruhn, “Of course, the marriage is unorthodox, considering your bride’s family and bloodline.”

Ruhn stiffened. “You’ve got some shit to spew about Hypaxia, then let’s hear it.”

But Cormac said to the Autumn King, “He doesn’t know?”

His father, damn him, seemed bored as he said, “It didn’t seem necessary. My order is law.”

Ruhn glanced between them. “What is this?”

His father, features tightening with distaste—as if disappointed that Ruhn hadn’t learned it himself—said, “The late Queen Hecuba had two daughters, from different sires. Hypaxia’s sire, Hecuba’s coven learned afterward, was a powerful necromancer from the House of Flame and Shadow. Hypaxia seems to have inherited his gifts alongside her mother’s.”

Ruhn blinked. Slowly. Hypaxia could raise and speak to the dead. All right. He could live with that. “Cool.”

Flames danced along his father’s hair, dancing over his shoulders. “Her older sister, however, was sired by a shape-shifting male. A stag.”

“So?”

Cormac snorted. “Hypaxia’s half sister is better known as the Hind.” Ruhn gaped at him. How had he not known this? “She didn’t inherit any witch gifts,” Cormac continued, “and was handed over to her father’s kin. The crown naturally went to Hypaxia. But it seems that since your bride has been crowned queen, the question of her necromancy has become … an issue for the witches.”

“It’s of no bearing on this conversation,” his father said. “Ruhn shall marry her, necromancy or not, odious sister or not.”

“My father found Hypaxia’s background to be problematic,” Cormac said.

“Then it is a good thing your father is not marrying her,” the Autumn King countered.

Cormac shut his mouth, and Ruhn held in his grin of delight.

But his father went on, “Ruhn shall marry Hypaxia, and Bryce Quinlan shall marry you, Prince Cormac. There will be no more debate.”

“You do remember that Bryce and Athalar are together?” Ruhn said. “Try to get between them, and you’ll get a refresher course on why he was called the Umbra Mortis.”

“Last my spies reported, she still does not bear his scent. So I can only assume they have not consummated their relationship.”

Just talking about this with his father was gross.

Cormac cut in, “One day, she’ll be Queen of Avallen. She’d be a fool to throw it away on a bastard angel.”

Ruhn spat, “You need Bryce more than she needs either of you. She’s Starborn.”

The Autumn King’s teeth flashed. “If Bryce wished to remain free of our household, then she should not have been so brazen about showing off her power.”

“Is that what this is about?” Fire seared through Ruhn’s veins. “That she showed you up? That she has more power than you? What—you needed to put her back in her place?”

“You’re delusional,” Cormac’s grin promised violence. “I am stooping to marry your sister. Many of my people will consider the union a disgrace.”

“Careful,” the Autumn King warned, true anger sparking in his whiskey-colored eyes. “Regardless of her human lineage, Bryce is an heir to the Starborn line. More so than my son.” He threw a frown dripping with disdain at Ruhn. “We have not seen starlight with such force for thousands of years. I do not take handing her over to Avallen lightly.”

“What the fuck are you getting from it?” Nausea clawed its way up Ruhn’s throat.

His father answered, “Your sister has one value to me: her breeding potential. Both of our royal houses will benefit from the union.”

Cormac added, “And the continued commitment to the alliance between our peoples.”

“Against what?” Had everyone lost their minds?

“A weakening of magic in the royal bloodline,” Cormac said. “As recent generations have demonstrated.” He waved with a flame-crusted hand toward Ruhn and his shadows.

“Fuck you,” Ruhn hissed. “Is this about the war in Pangera? The rebellion?” He’d heard rumors recently that Ophion had taken out four Omega submersibles in the north. Four. Some insane shit had to be going on over there. His father had even hinted at it in the late spring, when he’d announced Ruhn’s betrothal. That war was coming, and they needed to shore up allies.

“It is about ensuring that the Fae retain our power and birthright,” his father said. His icy voice had always belied the merciless flame in his

blood. “Your sister can imbue that into her offspring with Cormac.” Cormac grunted his agreement, flames winking out.

Ruhn tried again. “For fuck’s sake, leave Bryce out of this. Don’t we have other royals we can pair off to punch out some babies?”

“I didn’t remember you whining so much, Ruhn,” Cormac said.

“Before or after you tried to kill me? Or when you buried a sword in Dec’s gut?”

Cormac’s eyes gleamed like hot coals. “Just wanted to feel you boys out.” He pushed off the mantel and strode for the shut doors. “You know,” Cormac drawled over his shoulder, “the Starborn used to intermarry. Brother wed sister, aunt married nephew, and so on. All to keep the bloodline pure. Since you seem so heavily invested in who shares Bryce’s bed, perhaps the old traditions could be revived for you two.”

“Get the Hel out,” Ruhn snarled. His shadows writhed at his fingertips, whips ready to snap for the Avallen Prince’s neck.

“You might rebel all you like, Ruhn Danaan, but you are a Crown Prince, as I am. Our fates are the same. But I know which one of us will rise to meet it.”

Then he was gone.

Our fates are the same. Cormac meant that they would both be kings, but Ruhn knew his fate was more complicated than that.

The royal bloodline shall end with you, Prince. The Oracle’s voice floated through his mind, twisting up his insides. He might very well not live long enough to see himself crowned. His blood chilled. Was it because Cormac would lead some sort of coup?

He shook it off, turning to his father. “Why are you doing this?” “That you have to ask shows me you’re no true son of mine.”

The words seared through him. Nothing could ever hurt worse than what had already been done to him by this male, the scars he bore on his arms from it, mostly covered by the sleeves of his tattoos. But the words … yeah, they stung.

Ruhn refused to let the old bastard see it, though. Would never let him see it. “And I suppose you think Cormac will become that true son by marrying Bryce.”

His father’s lips curled upward, eyes as lifeless as the Pit. “Cormac has always been the son I should have had. Rather than the one I was burdened

with.”

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