Chapter no 55

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

The wedding ceremony was performed in my chamber. The priestess was one of the Ministaer’s—one of those idiots who spent half their lives staring at a stone wall

in the church. Her gaze was lowered as she whispered scriptures in ancient tongues.

I stood there and considered running away. Considered attacking her. Considered attacking Raihn. Considered smashing the window and hurling myself out of it.

I didn’t.

I jumped when the priestess took my hand. Her touch was cool and unnaturally smooth. She took Raihn’s in the other, and then flipped both over, so our palms raised to the ceiling.

She whispered an incantation, then brushed her fingertip over my skin.

I hissed a curse, startled by the stab of pain. A river of crimson opened over my palm.

Raihn did not flinch as she did the same to him.

“The vows,” the priestess said simply. As if we were supposed to know what that meant.

I had never seen a wedding. I was never allowed at such gatherings. They often turned debauched and unruly, and Vincent always said—


The casual thought of his name stole the breath from my lungs, the pain unbearable.

Raihn’s touch was warm and rough. The opposite of the priestess’s in every way—the opposite of every vampire’s.

Maybe he knew I didn’t know what to say. He lifted my palm. I tensed as he brought it to his mouth. His tongue moved slowly over the wound. I hadn’t been expecting the tenderness of it. Soft, and gentle. An apology, and a promise.

He lowered my hand. Swallowed my blood. I wanted to look away. I couldn’t.

“Oraya of the Nightborn,” he murmured. “I give you my body. I give you my blood. I give you my soul. I give you my heart. From this night until the end of nights. From daybreak until our days are broken. Your soul is my soul. Your heart is my heart. Your pain is my pain. I bind myself to you.”

I wanted it to all be a lie. But it was not a lie.

In this moment I recognized, with unmistakable clarity, that Raihn was in love with me.

He offered his hand to me. Red-black liquid pooled in his palm, seeping into the lines and scars of a life well-lived. My mouth was dry as I raised it to my lips. I thought maybe I’d throw it up once it hit my stomach.

Instead, the taste of him was the most exquisite thing I had ever experienced. His blood was warm and smooth over my tongue, sweet and metallic and deep as the night itself.

It tasted like the sky. It tasted like falling.

I lowered his hand. My fingers trembled around his skin. “Raihn Ashraj.”

Mother, my voice did not sound like it belonged to me.

“I give you my body. I give you my blood. I give you—I give you my soul. I give you…”

My heart.

I couldn’t make myself say the words.

My heart.

My weak, human heart. Scarred and broken and bleeding. The one thing I had always been taught to protect above all. And yet, whatever thing struggled along within my ribcage now, far beneath the Mark that my dead father left on me, was anything but protected. It had been torn apart and ripped open.

How had I ever thought Vincent had given me a vampire heart? This was human.


I couldn’t say it.

“You must complete the vow, my lady,” the priestess said.

I blinked back tears and shook my head. “No.” “But my lady—”

“It’s fine,” Raihn barked. “But—”

“I said it’s fine. She doesn’t have to.” I allowed myself to look up at him.

I hated that he looked at me like he cared. His thumb swept over the back of my hand. I could hear his voice in that gesture: You’re safe.

But I was not safe. Even if I felt it, just for a moment.

Especially because I felt it.

The priestess led me through the rest of my vows. When it was done, I was married to the King of the Nightborn. I had lost my autonomy, my name, my blood. I had lost my country.

But at least I had kept my heart.

Raihn remained only briefly after the priestess left. I went to the window and watched the carnage in Sivrinaj beyond. I wouldn’t look at him. I felt too much, and I felt his stare strongest of all.

“If you’re waiting for me to invite you to our wedding bed,” I said, after long seconds passed, “it isn’t going to happen.”

My voice wasn’t as ruthless as I wanted it to be. The word “wedding” reminded me of how his mouth felt against my palm. The word “bed” reminded me of how it felt against my flesh. Both were equally confusing.

He said nothing. I wondered, in the silence, if he felt those things, too.

Eventually, I peered over my shoulder. He stood at the center of the room, hands at his sides, looking as if he had too many things to say and not enough words for them.

My husband.

Mother, what had I just done?

His lips parted. I didn’t want to hear any of it. I couldn’t. “I’d like to be alone,” I said, before he could speak.

His mouth closed. He stared at me for what felt like an endless moment—felt like it because I struggled to keep myself together with every agonizing second, and I refused to allow him to see me break.

Finally, he lowered his chin. I turned my back to him, sat on the bed, and listened to his footsteps leave. He locked the door behind him.



THE RAP on the glass came near dawn. I had been lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, trying very hard to feel nothing.

I thought I was hallucinating when I rose to see the figure in the window.

I drew closer, and the face that peered back at me— perfect, sculpted, dangerous—was not a reflection.

Jesmine knocked on the glass again, more urgently. I never thought I would be so grateful to see her.

I tried to open the window. It was locked, of course, but when I twisted the handle, it broke apart in my hands, a snapped bolt shooting halfway across the room. Was I stronger now than I was before? Maybe it was my newly-acknowledged vampire blood. Or maybe it was just all that repressed rage.

I threw the window open. Jesmine clung to the side of the castle. Her ashy hair was braided, a few strands of it whipping about her face. She was bloody and bruised, a cut slicing her cheek. She looked as if she hadn’t slept in days.

Still stunning, of course.

“Come in,” I said, and it was only after the words were out of my mouth that I realized maybe I didn’t necessarily want her to. It was impossible to tell who was an enemy and who was an ally.

Her gaze flicked over the window frame.

“There’s a barrier here,” she said. “I don’t feel like getting shredded today.”

Like the ones in the Moon Palace. She was right—if I squinted, I could see the faint blue-white sheen across the window. It would’ve been too easy.

“I can’t stay,” she said. “But I couldn’t leave without seeing you first.” She looked me up and down. “You look like shit.”

I felt like shit. “Thanks.”

“How are you? Are you alright?”

I blinked. It was strange. She asked the question like it really mattered to her.

No. No, I was not alright. I said, “Yes.”

Her eyes softened. “He’s gone.” I swallowed. Nodded.

Jesmine bowed her head. Genuine sorrow flitted over that flawless face.

“May the Mother guide him home.”

The Mother was the one who put us all in this shit situation. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to ask her for anything at all.

“I don’t have time for much, so excuse my bluntness,” Jesmine went on. “They’re waiting for me, beyond the walls.”


“The military.” She said this as if to say, Who else?

And… who else, indeed? She was the Head of War. A damned good one.

“Whoever is left, anyway. The Bloodborn bastards are…” She hissed through her teeth. “Efficient killers. We weren’t expecting them.”

“How many?”

I’d made a mistake, I realized. I had been thinking like a grieving daughter. Like a prisoner. I had not been thinking like a leader.

I didn’t even know what was happening beyond these walls.

“I don’t know yet,” she said. “I need to assess. But it’s… it is not good, Highness.”


I physically jolted at that word. Jesmine saw it. Her eyes narrowed.

“Let me make one thing very clear. I respected Vincent as my king and my leader. But he does not hold my loyalty. The Hiaj clan holds my loyalty. Until the day I die.” She jabbed a finger at me—at my chest. “I don’t know how you got that. I’m as surprised as any other that you have it. But it’s not my place to question that. You are the Hiaj Heir. That makes you my queen. And that means my loyalty is yours.”

Maybe I had misjudged Jesmine. I had never trusted her before. I wasn’t sure what it said about me that I trusted her right now.

I didn’t know what to say. Thanking her didn’t seem appropriate.

So I was grateful when she surveyed me again and moved on to another topic. “Did he do it? The marriage?”


She hissed. “Our queen married to a Turned Rishan slave. Vincent would have—” She shook her head.

“Better this than dead,” I said.

She shrugged, as if this was a small consolation.

“I told you he was trouble. Pretty trouble. But trouble.”

Fair enough, I thought, begrudgingly. “What is your plan?” I asked.

“What are your orders?”

I was not at all prepared to give orders.

I tried to speak as Vincent would have. “I would like to hear your recommendation.”

“We are losing men, and rapidly. We’re outnumbered. We need to regroup.” She peered into the room. “If you wish, highness, I can send warriors here to—”


The last thing I needed was for Hiaj soldiers to get caught trying to rescue me. Tortured. Killed. Who knew what else.

I had to think like a leader.

“I don’t want any more bloodshed than there already has been,” I said. “Not until we know what we’re dealing with. Retreat.”

Jesmine’s lip curled. “So we let him take it. Let him take the House of Night.”

We could build something better, Raihn had whispered to me.

But this did not seem better. “And let the Bloodborn—”

“I know,” I cut in. “I know.”

It was one thing to hand this country to Raihn. Another to hand it to Septimus.

This country hated me. I hated it, in some ways. But it was still my home.

“I need time,” I said. “Time to learn. Time to gather information. Keep yourself safe until then.”

“And you?”

“He won’t hurt me.”

Jesmine gave me a cold stare. “That marriage is to protect him. Not you. Your doors are locked from the outside. Your windows are cursed.”

“He won’t hurt me,” I said again, because I didn’t know how to explain to her how certain I was of this.

“This is bigger than him,” she said. “If I may speak frankly, highness—you are not a prisoner. You are a queen. I have broken the unbreakable before.”

She pulled open her shirt—revealing her scar. “I was bound to a man who sought to control me too, once. I nearly gave my life to break that bond. But I’m free now. I could free you, too.”

Yes. I had underestimated Jesmine.

And maybe that was why I was more honest with her now than I ever intended to be.

“I don’t intend to lead anyone into a war we can’t win. I don’t intend to fight for the sake of fighting. And maybe I have a Mark on my skin, but I don’t know what that means. The world knows me as human. The Hiaj know me as human.”

I knew myself as human.

“If you want to fight for this House, we are ready,” she said. “I won’t pretend it will be easy. I won’t pretend that some—maybe many—won’t want to accept your rule.” Her lip curled. “But Raihn Ashraj’s people don’t want to follow him, either. He was a slave to their king. Turned. Abandoned his clan for centuries. Do you think his people don’t remember those things? They’ll be reluctant to go on their knees for him when they feel it should be the other way around.”

Despite everything, my heart ached to know that they thought of Raihn that way.

“They are waiting to usurp him, too,” she went on. “And that’s only if the House of Blood doesn’t slide a knife into his back first, and then we are all fucked before his own people even have the chance to turn on him.”

A bang rang out in the distance, a puff of smoke rolling from the distant eastern walls. Jesmine’s face snapped to the sound.

“Go,” I said. “I’ll be fine for now.”

“You can find me when you need me,” she said urgently. “Don’t rely on him to protect you, Highness. He has his own threats and weaknesses. You have teeth, too. Yours are sharper than his. Just tell us when to bite, and we fight for you, and you alone.”

Another bang. Another flash of light in the distance.

And Jesmine gave me no time to tell her anything else before she disappeared into the night, scaling the castle walls with the ease of someone who had centuries of experience slipping through the locked windows of powerful men.

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