Home > Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(11)

Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(11)
Author: Ann Denton

I bit back a smile. “I’m sorry, Squack.”

She stood and slapped my stomach, the effect muffled by the comforter. “You should be. Worthless shite sister. And don’t call me that.”

“You’ll always be Squack to me.”

“I’m sixteen—”

“Still squacking like a gull, too.”

“I do not squack,” Avia squacked as she sat back in her chair with a humph.

I decided not to push her further. She had helped me, after all.

My eyes flickered around the room as I fingered my bandages. It looked empty. Other than the flickering candles scattered about the space, there were no signs of life. I didn’t see them. Not one stupid husband.

“How’d you do it?”

“Do what?” Avia raised her brows, but her look was too self-satisfied for me to believe she didn’t know what I was talking about.

“How’d you get rid of them? The shite husbands. Did Her Majesty lift the curse?” I sat up in bed, pulling the covers around me.

“Of course not,” Avia studied her nails, preening, dragging out the moment.

“What then, oh wise and most gorgeous sister?”

“The pet name is dead,” Avia pointed a finger seriously at me.

“Absolutely,” I half-lied. We’d see how genius her solution was before I killed the name off entirely.

“I had Quinn wait in here and made Connor go to the next room, behind the wall. Then I sent Quinn away. I told him they’d need to take shifts a room over while you recovered.”

“I could kiss you right now. I didn’t know what I was going to do … how’d you explain what happened?” As one of the few people in the world who knew the price of my magic, she’d been put under the geas of secrecy too. My mother had even placed the geas on my fathers. No one could reveal my vulnerabilities.

Avia shrugged. “I didn’t have to say anything. Ryan made assumptions. Thought you’d scraped against one of the weapons. Or … something about a dented tankard?”

“I smashed him with one, so I guess—”

“Long as they don’t know the truth …”

I leaned back against the headboard. “I wish they did. For their own sakes. I know why—”

“After what happened to your dad, mother’s protective,” Avia kicked her feet onto the covers, smacking my thigh in the process.

I sighed.

Avia and I spent a long moment, both staring at the flames in her fireplace, both of us trying not to remember what had happened to my biological father.

“Why’d you leave?” she finally asked.

“To find a cure.”

She turned, and her eyes met mine. Hers were wet with tears, her lashes clumped together. She must not have been repressing the memories quite as well as I had. “I miss our dad, Lewart.”

“Me too.”

“He always snuck up on me in the hallway. Did you know that? He’d always jump out and scare me. To keep me on my toes.”

I laughed a little. “No, I must have been with the tutors when he did that.”

“He was wonderful.”

“He was.”

“I wish he’d found a cure. A way to stop this.”

“Me too.” I swallowed the lump in my throat at that selfish thought. He’d tried. Once he’d known I had the same powers he did, he’d tried.

“Did you find a cure? Is that why you’re back?”

Avia looked so young and vulnerable in that moment, with her tears and her braids and her hope-filled expression. I held out my arms and she scurried into bed beside me. She left the sheet between us but tugged the comforter over herself and snuggled into my arms. I was brought back to childhood. To the many nights she’d fallen asleep in my bed claiming she had a story to tell me, or that she’d seen a shadow monster in her room. She was only sixteen, still just a child. I hugged her tighter and stroked her hair.

“I wish I’d found a cure, sweet girl. I wish. The wizard I hunted is apparently as mythical as the dragons are now.” I planted a soft kiss on her forehead.

The sheets became damp. Avia had started to cry again.

“Does that mean … I’m still going to have to become queen?” she whispered.

Her broken tone cracked my heart. I didn’t want to answer. But I’d never lied to my sister. Not about anything serious. I couldn’t lie. But I could answer in a way that was more comforting. Less intimidating. “I’ve gotten better at controlling my power.”

“But today—”

“Was a mistake. I’ll do better.” I pulled her even closer. “I’ll do better. And I’ll help you. Train you and protect you. So that you’ll be ready.”

At that last, she let out a sob. “I don’t want to be ready.” She clutched at me.

“Sweet girl, I hope you never need to be.” But she would. Because my father’s fate was to be my fate. And today only proved that four years of control could be wiped away in a single instant.

I let her cry until she had no more tears. And I held back my own. Because this was about her. I held her and let my hopes of a quick solution and quick escape go. Instead I focused on how I’d felt when I was her age. A teenager, unsure of everything, too scared to test my mother, intimidated by the world and its expectations of me. At least I’d had Connor then. A companion to lighten the journey. I’d left this poor sweet girl alone with the burden of a kingdom on her shoulders. And four headstrong men who’d clearly not taken the time to reassure her.

They’d be hearing about that tomorrow.

My little Squack drifted off to sleep and I started to join her. But as I stared at the flames in her fireplace, strange thoughts entered my head. I imagined it was Quinn next to me, not my sister. I imagined that I was surrounded by his arms and that his soft breath fluttered like a feather against the skin of my neck. I imagined safety and warmth and companionship. I imagined him whispering, “It’s all right, Dove. I’ll protect you.”

I closed my eyes. Clearly, the blood loss was making me delusional. I curled up and pushed the hallucinations and my worries away as sleep overtook me.

Chapter Eight

The sun and the maids rudely awakened me. After my injury, I’d have loved a lazy day under the covers. But queens do not rest, my mother always said.

So, just after dawn I was up and prodded and poked until I was fitted into a red brocade gown with a high neck and told that a morning tea for the nobility had been planned to welcome me home.

Of course, Her Majesty summoned Connor and I to her rooms for a briefing before that. We had to have our story straight, after all.

Connor appeared in Avia’s doorway just as my hair was fitted into a silver tiara. His dark brown curls were slightly messy, and I had to hold back the urge to fix them. He wore a light blue shirt that matched his eyes and offset his tan, and breeches that were form-fitting under his leather boots. In other words, he was the perfect picture. Everything I’d remembered and loved but grown up. With sexy stubble.

I gulped when I saw him. Every bone in my body ached to hug him.

But his eyes avoided mine and his lips thinned as he offered me his arm. He was cold and stiff as he escorted me to my mother’s chambers, though he smiled and nodded to everyone near us. He looked like my best friend but didn’t feel like him.

Maybe I’d deluded myself thinking the letters would be enough. They clearly hadn’t been. Though our arms touched, it felt like there was a wall between us.

I opened my mouth to ask what was wrong nearly a dozen times, but there was always a courtier or a servant or someone within earshot. I’d seen the slightest word turn into a whirlwind of gossip within the palace. And I didn’t want that. Not for him.

Instead, I also focused on those around us, giving little waves to the nobles and nods to the servants we passed on our way to the north wing. It felt wooden, and fake, when I wanted to flip off half the people I saw for how they treated their tenants.

Lady Aster shot her race horses rather than let them retire to the meadows or be used in the fields. She got a tight-lipped grin.

Countess Orunta and her husband group were known to raise taxes on mead so that they could build themselves luxury ships. She got a weak wrist wave.

A dozen times, I spotted open doors. I really wanted to yank Connor into a room and let him yell at me until we were alright again. But I’d have to curb the barroom brawling techniques I’d gathered these past four years. I was certain the incident with Ryan had already caused loads of gossip. I couldn’t let it get worse.

When we reached my mother’s rooms, Connor held open the door.

Inside, my mother and one of my fathers, Peter, sat together on the bed. He fed her breakfast. It was a sight that was endearing, but also a testament to how weak she truly was.

I lifted my chin. She’d never want acknowledgment of her weakness.

I waited as Peter lifted a cup of tea to her lips and helped her drink.

Declan’s mentor, Peter, was the most patient of my fathers. He’d always been the one to teach me things as a child, from math to archery. He’d never spoken a harsh word to me. Always carried a sweet in his pocket. He was a scholar and a softie.

After he dabbed at my mother’s lips with a napkin, she shooed him away, gathering her bright green dressing coat closer to her rail-thin body.

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