Chapter no 31

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

I liked Lilith. At least she had balls. It took them, to stand up and yell at a bunch of vampires speaking a language you barely even knew.

After dinner, everyone filed out to their rooms. Vale remained

glued to Lilith’s side, his hand around hers. For a moment, I watched the two of them.

I’d had my assumptions, when Cairis had told me that Vale was coming back from Dhera with a brand-new Turned bride. I’d seen that story before. No, most vampires didn’t decide to marry their wards, but that didn’t change too much in my mind. Give someone endless life, and then take whatever you want from them afterwards. An eternity of servitude, sex, devotion.

I knew that story very, very well. Especially when written by people like Vale.

Even if maybe—maybe—he seemed like he actually loved her.

Admittedly, I hadn’t been expecting that.

I came up behind them in the hallway, where Vale was whispering to Lilith in Dheran.

“Mind if I cut in?”

The look Vale gave me probably had been used to gut disobedient warriors on the battlefield.

“Of course,” he said.

“Ketura wanted to talk to you.” “Can it wait?”

I smiled. “Better not to keep her waiting. She might bite.” Excuses aside, that was true.

Vale glanced at Lilith, and I said, “I have a few minutes. I can escort Lilith back to her room.”

He still didn’t move.

Fair enough for Vale to be protective of his wife—he was right for that. But the suspicion in his expression went beyond your typical possessive newlywed behavior. Fitting suspicion, maybe, for someone who lived in Neculai’s court for so long—even if in a very different capacity than I did. Neculai took everything for himself, willingly or not.

One might’ve thought it would be a little satisfying to be looked at with that kind of wariness by a noble. Instead, it made me deeply uneasy.

“She’ll be safe,” I said. A little bit of a lilting joke. A little bit of genuine reassurance. “Promise.”

Reluctantly—and with a small nod from Lilith—Vale left. I gestured down the hall, and Lilith and I set off in silence.

She definitely was an unusual woman. I fought a bemused smile when she spent the entire length of the first hallway staring at me outright—not just the typical curious glances, but actually staring, and doing absolutely nothing to hide it.

“You’ll walk into a wall if you don’t look where you’re going,” I said, in Dheran.

At that, she almost did walk into a wall. She smiled. “You speak Dheran.”

“A little out of practice,” I said.

Goddess, I hadn’t spoken my own mother tongue in centuries. The syllables now felt uncomfortable on my tongue. Maybe because I felt like a very different man when I spoke them.

Her brows lowered, as if in deep thought. “Because you’re Turned. Vale told me that.”

I really did struggle to stifle my laugh at that one. Cairis had complained about her bluntness, but I found it oddly refreshing. I’d never once had someone so directly say something so rude.

At my reaction, her brows lowered. “That was impolite,” she said, though she said it as if it was a guess, like she really wasn’t sure how to read the expression on my face.

“No. It’s true. I was born in Pachnai. Very human, at the time. And you’re from…?”


“I haven’t heard of it.” “No one has.”

“Do you like what you’ve seen of Obitraes so far?”

“It’s… it’s unlike any place I’ve ever been. It’s beautiful and dark and intriguing—” Her eyes went far off, staring straight ahead, as if far past the wall at the end of the hall and beyond. “I imagine I could spend a lifetime here and not see all it has to offer. The history in this place, and the—”

She cut herself off. “I don’t mean to ramble. I apologize.” “Not needed.”

It was nice to see someone enthusiastic about something. The idea of seeing so much beauty and potential in Obitraes was foreign to me. A little refreshing, in a romantic kind of way.

“Has it been difficult to leave your home?” “No,” she said. “I never belonged there.”

“And the other transition?”

Again, she stopped walking. This time she didn’t resume, staring at me hard.

“Forgive me for what I’m about to say,” she said. “But why are you talking to me?”

At that, I couldn’t help but laugh. “You are blunt.”

She tucked a strand of wavy hair behind her ear. “I’ve grown up knowing I would live a very short life. It’s more efficient to be direct.”

“I appreciate it. Turns out near-immortality makes people far too long-winded.”

We continued walking, and I went on, “As long as we’re being blunt, I’m just surprised because when I heard that Vale, a vampire noble, had Turned a human woman to bring back as his wife, I expected a very pretty, very polite, very subservient little thing.”

“I’m none of those things,” she said.

She was, objectively, pretty, if not my taste. But no, definitely not subservient or polite.

“I’m no good at games, Highness,” she said. “I’d like to know what your concern is. Are you worried that I’ll embarrass you at this—this celebration?”

I hadn’t thought about that, but… maybe someone really should make sure she didn’t get to talk to anyone important and easily offended.

I was unsure how to word my next question—unsure how much I wanted to show this woman I barely knew. Just the fact that I was having this conversation with her revealed more than I felt comfortable showing.

“You will find,” I said at last, “that most vampires don’t think especially highly of the Turned.”

“I’ve gathered that.”

“Many vampires don’t have especially benevolent reasons for Turning a human. My maker was no exception. So, since you like to be blunt, I’ll be blunt, too. If you don’t want to be here, Lilith, you don’t need to be here. If any of this has been against your will—”

“No.” She bit out the word fast, then laughed, like I’d just said something ridiculous. “No. It’s not like that. Vale Turned me to save my life.”

I didn’t find this especially convincing. They always say that, I wanted to tell her.

Do you want to live? Neculai had asked me. And I’d said yes, too. I’d begged for life. Like a fucking fool.

“Sometimes it can start that way,” I said. “But—”

“I’m here because I want to be here,” she said firmly. “Vale treats me with nothing but respect and affection.”

I’d been watching closely, and I had never seen anything that contradicted that. But I was still skeptical. Vale was the same man who had witnessed horrific abuse on Turned slaves in Neculai’s court, and had treated it as nothing but normalcy.

“Good,” I said. “I’m happy to hear that. Just know that if anything changes, you will never be trapped. Not here. Not in my court.”

A faint smile flitted across her mouth. “I appreciate that. More concern than I thought I would get from the king.”

She stopped at a set of double doors. “This is my room.” Then she bowed her head. “Thank you for walking me.”

I waved away the bow. “Of course.”

I started to turn away, but Lilith called after me, “Highness.” I glanced back over my shoulder.

“You’re distrustful of Vale,” she said.

That was very true, and also something I was absolutely not going to admit out loud. “Vale is my highest general and I give him all the trust befitting that position.”

She looked unconvinced. “You dislike him, then. Why?” Ix’s tits, this woman.

I smirked. “I’m sure Vale has his reservations about me, too.” Lilith didn’t answer, and that was answer enough for me.

“You’ll learn eventually that it’s a strange thing to be so long lived,” I said. “So much can change in a couple of centuries. But you carry all that shit with you, anyway. Centuries worth of it.”

She smiled a little. “Not so different from humans.” I shrugged. “Maybe not.”

I turned away again, uninterested in sharing more uncomfortable honesty. “Goodnight, Lilith. Thank you for indulging my curiosity.”

You'll Also Like