Home > Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(10)

Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(10)
Author: Ann Denton

When Ryan arrived to “hand off the prisoner,” I’d almost been relieved.

Until he had led me to the outdoor practice arena, where his soldiers used wooden swords to hack at one another.

“You haven’t finished this for the day?” I sighed. It was late.

Ryan glared down at me. “Those of us who actually do our jobs, instead of run from them, have a lot of work each day.”

I bit my lip. So this was it. I was to be dragged from job to job with each ‘husband’ until I died a slow death from hatred and boredom.

“May I—”

“No.”

“You didn’t even hear what I—”

“Didn’t need to. Your job is to provide water.”

“Water carrier? Surely you have a servant—”

“Surely you can do this simple task?” Ryan cut me off and hauled me, far too easily, over to a giant barrel of water. Nearby stood pewter tankards. Ryan dropped me into the dirt and yelled toward two of his fighters. They came closer and he started correcting their form.

“Elbow up and out,” he pulled a squire’s arm until he was satisfied with the angle. With a nod, his two fighters continued their practice bout. He leaned against the wooden fence separating the fighters from the crowd and I forced myself to keep my eyes on the soldiers, and not the tight fit of leather pants on Ryan’s ass.

“Think you could be a little gentler? He only looked fourteen,” I scolded.

“Sixteen. And he’s about to be sent on patrols. He needs it.”

“Patrols where?”

“Don’t pretend you care.”

I gritted my teeth. I didn’t want to fight with him in front of his men, but I was getting sick of being accused of not caring simply because I’d left the throne. They had no idea how much I cared. I cared more than anyone for Evaness. I cared enough to give it up. Jackanapes.

“Hopefully not too close to Rasle. I heard they’re in for a hard winter. Lotta folk try to sneak through those woods. They’ll raid our farms and villages for food like they did two winters past,” I went for conversational as I filled up a tankard.

Ryan glanced down at me. “And how’d you hear about that?”

I shrugged and turned back to his men. “One of the girls at the brothel I worked at—”

Suddenly, my feet hovered two feet off the ground. Ryan’s furious face was level with mine. His glance was acid. My insides shriveled and puddled on the floor.

Shite. I bet he made grown men keel over with that look. The other armies wouldn’t stand a chance.

He marched me to the weapons room, disregarding the tankard I still clutched in my hand.

He slammed the door closed behind us and dropped me to the ground. Water sloshed all over my dress.

“The last man that got his drink all over me got what was coming to him,” I warned as I scowled down at the sopping fabric. Really? I’d just gotten dry.

Ryan’s hand came around my neck. I felt his fingers flex. He shook me slightly, but he didn’t clamp down. It was clear that he was using every bit of restraint he had not to snap my neck. His brown eyes bored holes into me. “What the sarding hell do you mean, you worked at a brothel?”

I held up my hands, placating, though my heart was racing. He could snap me in half. In quarters. He could probably crack me so many times that my bones would be splinters. I worked hard to keep a wobble out of my voice. “In the counting house. In the back. I touched the coins. Not the customers, oh delirious one.”

Ryan closed his eyes and huffed a breath. His fingers flexed on my throat and I felt my windpipe constrict before he let up.

I gasped for breath as he slowly pulled his hands away from my neck.

As soon as his hands were down, I walloped him with the tankard. Fight or flight took over. And the past four years, I’d trained for fight.

“What the—”

I didn’t give him a chance to recover. I smashed the tankard into his nose just as the two soldiers he’d been training walked through the door.

Ryan’s hand closed around my arm, neutralizing my weapon of choice. So, I reverted to the age-old standard kick to the nards.

“Gah!” he roared, pulling me into a bear hug so tight I could hardly breathe. He used his massive thigh muscles to trap my legs and lifted me from the floor, so I had no leverage. I could feel every inch of his bulging pecs against my back. His arms felt as large and hard as tree branches. If he just lowered my body a few inches, my ass would be aligned with his—

“What’s wrong with you?” he growled in my ear.

I didn’t answer, since my blood was pounding too hard in my ears to hear anything clearly. My neck still spiked with pain. My windpipe still wheezed with each breath.

His hands shifted, and my power flared. I tried to push it down, but my adrenaline had spiked. It was too high. I couldn’t control it. I could not stop the surge of power that ripped through me, ready to protect me. Like a cannon, or dragon fire, the glowing green pulse of energy blasted from my body.

“Sard!” I screamed, as the pulse touched each of the men in the room. Their expressions changed, dulled; vacant smiles grew on their faces like dandelions. False, weedy happiness invaded their systems. A sense of calming peace. My power. My curse. Because forcing peace on others had a price.

Pain ran up my arms like fire and I felt the skin burst apart on my forearms. Deep, trench-like wounds opened under my sleeves and blood soaked them.

“Ahhh!” I howled, cradling my wounded arms.

Ryan dropped me and tilted his head, a dopey, puzzled expression coloring his features. His thick lips hung open.

Behind him, the sixteen-year-old soldier stared at the weapons like they were mounds of gold. He looked stunned, or amazed, or … “Feels like a sex hangover,” he elbowed his training partner. “You know. That moment right after when you still can’t quite see straight?”

Ryan snapped out of his daze a bit at that, and moved in front of me. It almost felt protective. But I wasn’t sure. My sleeves were soaked. The extra padding my mother had sewn into my gowns wasn’t equipped for this kind of blast. I wasn’t equipped. I felt light-headed. And not in the good way the men did. Not from peace magic. From blood loss.

I stumbled. I would have fallen face-first onto an axe if a pair of arms that were not thick as tree trunks hadn’t scooped me up and turned me around. I stared up into Quinn’s grey eyes as he clutched me to him.

“My sister. I need my sister. Take me to Avia.”

I slumped forward and let the spy master carry me away. I could only hope he’d bring me to my family and not showcase my weakness to the world. I could only hope he hated me slightly less than my other husbands.

Chapter Seven

I faded in and out of consciousness as Quinn carried me through the palace. He cradled me against his chest. And though he was a relative stranger, and I was at my most vulnerable, I felt safe in his arms. This warm feeling and a dull memory of being rocked filled my mind. And then a strange song. One I didn’t remember ever hearing. It was beautiful and lilting. Had one of my wet nurses sung it to me? I couldn’t remember as I faded into oblivion.

When I came back to reality, Connor walked next to Quinn.

“She fainted? She always faints,” Connor shook his head, and the brown curls I loved so much swayed against his forehead.

I didn’t always faint. He just didn’t happen to know about the blood-letting side effect of the peace power, a power my mother liked to publicly claim could ‘tame dragons.’ No one knew. Stupid geas.

I didn’t hear Quinn’s response, but I felt him hold up my arm.

“She’s bleeding!” Connor let out a string of curses.

I shook my head. I had to swallow several times before I could speak. “Just a little. I need Avia.” Shite. Even that much speech left me gasping, short of breath.

“Where the sard is Ryan? Why didn’t he heal her?” Connor roared.

Declan’s voice drifted from somewhere. “You know how he gets. He has a patrol tomorrow. He can’t go on a rage bender. Let me see.”

I pulled my arms in as tight as I could and turned into Quinn more, hiding from their prying eyes. If my mother knew they’d seen, I’d be done for. “I’m fine. Stupid mistake. I need Avia. Only Avia.”

Quinn didn’t respond, just continued down the hall. I heard a smash somewhere behind me. But my eyelids flickered closed before I could figure out if it was Declan or Connor smashing things. Maybe it was Ryan—

The next time my eyes opened, I was nearly naked. I only wore a shift. But I was in a bed and covered by sheets. My arms were bandaged, and it felt like the bleeding had stopped, but they still throbbed dully. And I was cold. I yanked at a down comforter that had been near my waist, pulling it up to my chin.

As my eyes adjusted to firelight and candles, my sister leaned into view. She had apparently perched in a chair at my bedside. Which was her bedside, as I took in the details of the room. She’d always been a fan of rose quartz and tapestries full of handsome minstrels. Avia had a book and a cup of tea on a side table next to her chair. Her hair had been plaited into braids and she was in her night robe. So I supposed I’d been out for quite a while.

“You’re the absolute worst! Worst person in the sarding world. You leave me with your shite husbands, trying to pawn those asshole old men off on me. Leave me with mother and that stupid crown. And then you come back! And you don’t even have the decency to let me wallow in my hatred! You get sarding hurt! So that I have to care!”

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