Chapter no 39

This Woven Kingdom (This Woven Kingdom, 1)

KAMRAN FELT HIS HEART SHATTER in his chest even as he refused to believe what his eyes swore to be true.

This was a horror too great.

The prince knew—had heard, of course—that all around the world there had been kings who made deals with the devil; they sold a bit of their souls in exchange for power, or love, or land. The stories said that Iblees presented himself to every sovereign on earth on the day of their coronation.

Never did these stories end well.

For the entirety of Kamran’s life King Zaal had warned him of Iblees, warned him never to accept an offer from the devil. How, then—

“No,” Kamran whispered. “No, it’s not possible—”

“Your dear king should have died years ago,” Cyrus was saying. “But your melancholy prince was too young to lead, was he not? He was still too sad, too scared, too heartbroken over the death of his dear father. So the great, righteous King Zaal made a bargain with the devil to extend his life.” A pause. “Didn’t you, Your Majesty?”

“Enough,” King Zaal said, lowering his eyes. “You need not say more.

It would be better for everyone if you simply killed me now.”

Cyrus ignored this. “What he didn’t realize, of course, was that a bargain with the devil was a bloody one. The snakes lengthen his life, yes, but even a serpent needs to eat, does it not?”

Kamran could hardly breathe.

He knew not what to do, knew not what to say. He felt paralyzed by the revelations, confused by the chaos of his own emotions. How could he defend a man so debased? How could he not defend the grandfather he

loved? The king had bartered with his soul to spare the young prince, to give Kamran time to live a bit longer as a child—

“Yes, that’s right,” said Cyrus. “They eat the fresh brains of young children.” From nothing he conjured a soggy mass of flesh, which he tossed at the snakes. “Street children, to be more specific. For the wretched and the poor are the most easily expendable, are they not?”

The snakes hissed and snapped at each other, swinging their necks around to catch the morsel, which one triumphant serpent caught in his open, distended maw.

Shrieks of horror pierced the silence; one woman fainted into the arms of another.

The prince saw a flash of steel.

A sword materialized in Cyrus’s hand and Kamran reacted without thinking, launching himself forward—but too late. The Tulanian king had already impaled his willing grandfather straight through the chest.

Kamran nearly fell to his knees.

He caught his breath and charged, brandishing his sword as he leaped through the searing flames to reach Cyrus, not feeling his flesh as it burned, not hearing the screams of the crowd. Cyrus feinted, then lunged, swinging his sword in a diagonal arc; Kamran met his opponent’s blade with an impact so violent it shuddered through him. With a cry he pushed forward, launching Cyrus back several feet.

Quickly, the Tulanian king steadied, then attacked, his blade glinting under the glittering lights. Kamran dodged the blow and spun, slashing his sword through the air and meeting steel; their blades crashing, slicing the air as they slid away.

“My fight is not with you, melancholy prince,” Cyrus said, breathing heavily as he took a step back. “You need not die tonight. You need not leave your empire without a sovereign.”

Kamran stilled at that, at the realization that his grandfather was truly dead. That Ardunia was his now.

To rule as king.

He cried out as he advanced, lunging at Cyrus who parried, then brought his blade down with crushing force. Kamran dropped to one knee to meet this blow, but his sword arm, which had been badly burned by the flames, could not withstand the force for long.

His sword clattered to the floor.

Cyrus withdrew, his chest heaving, and lifted his blade above his head to deliver what was no doubt the finishing blow.

Kamran closed his eyes. He made peace with his fate in that moment, accepting that he would die, and that he would die defending his king. His grandfather.

No!” he heard someone scream.

Kamran heard the mad dash of boots pounding the marble floors and looked up, startled, hardly daring to believe his eyes. Alizeh was rushing wildly toward him, shoving people aside.

“Don’t!” Kamran shouted. “The fire—”

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