Home > Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(15)

Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(15)
Author: Ann Denton

“All morning.”

She burst into laughter. “Ah! Of all your husbands, he’s my new favorite.”

I rolled my eyes. “Take him.”

“Oh no. I don’t want to deprive you.”

“Deprive me of what?”

“The joy of revenge.”

A slow, evil smile made its way across my face. There would most definitely be revenge. I’d make Quinn Byrne suffer more than any spy he’d taken to the dungeons below. I went to the bell-pull next to the bed and rang for a maid. When one appeared, I gave her a grin. “My sister and I will need wine and glasses. We have some planning to do.”

Avia hopped in place and clapped her hands. “I love when you turn into the evil villain.”

I shook my head and looped my arm over her shoulders. “Not the villain. The avenging angel.” I winked. “Now, let’s plan a man’s downfall.”

Chapter Ten

Three glasses of wine later, Avia held quite a list in her hand.

She wrote the latest option with flourish, twirling the quill as she underlined it three times. “That’s it! Damsel in distress!”

I rolled my eyes and kicked my leg across the arm of the chair I sat in. “I still think lice in his undergarments is a good idea. Think of the crotch itch!” I closed my eyes and smiled, imagining Quinn having to wriggle through a state dinner, having to dance in front of others in the ballroom. I’d dance three dances in a row with him, just to keep everyone’s eyes on his hands. To draw out every time his knee twitched from the urge to scratch. The sort of twisted bliss that only comes from planning revenge filled me up. I floated around in it, a sea of evil fantasy.

“No.” Avia ruined my moment. “That could come back to haunt you. Too much. Damsel wins.” Avia stretched out on her plush pink rug in front of the cozy little fire her maid had stoked when the wine had been delivered.

Unlike Avia, I couldn’t curl up on the rug next to the fire. I was restricted to the far wall so that I’d stay within five feet of one of my husbands, whichever one had ‘wife watch’ currently. I’d tired of the bed and so Avia’s manservant had dragged over a chair for me before she’d shooed him away again. It wouldn’t do to have him overhear the princesses’ nefarious plans. Quinn might get word.

I jolted up in my chair. “What if he’s reading my thoughts right now?”

Avia scrunched her brow. “I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“You don’t think. But you don’t know. He could be. Blast!” We’d have to scrap all our plans. I’d need to improvise then. And come up with something new. Something better than yellow dye slipped into his tub water to stain his skin. Better than the teas hedge witches made for older men who still wanted to service their wives. Sard it all. Three hours of work gone.

I sighed. I wished I could pace freely, but I could only take two steps before turning around. This stupid five-foot spell kept me walking in a circle. I had to resort to chair acrobatics in order to move. I hooked my feet solidly around the chair leg before arching my back over the other chair arm and leaning back so that my hair swept the floor. “I’m going to have to improvise.”

“You can still improvise with the damsel idea. We didn’t decide exactly how it would work.”

“That one seems the hardest to pull off.”

“Why? Acting helpless? That’s not hard.”

“Maybe for you,” I retorted. “Some of us have actually worked.”

Avia’s threw her quill at me. If the feather on the end hadn’t been so large, it might actually have reached me. Instead, it drifted down softly to land near her feet.

I laughed, “You’re quite vicious, aren’t you?”

“Shut it,” she sat up and planted her hands on her hips. She took on the voice of our old nanny. “If you open that mouth one more time, Bloss Hale, I’m going to ask the healer to sew it shut. And if he won’t, I’m sure the hedge witch has a potion for it.”

I groan, “Remember how fierce that woman could look, even with that mole?”

“The one on her chin with the hair sticking out?”

“Yes! She should have been laughable. But she was completely terrifying.”

Avia laughed. “I always thought she was a hedge witch herself.”

“Ooh, maybe she was.”

“Or maybe she was a princess in disguise like you.”

“Maybe.”

“What was it like? When you were gone? What was it like as a commoner?” Avia sounded wistful. I glanced over at her, with her legs tucked neatly underneath her and her hands clasped in her lap, she looked like an eager student. Just like when she used to ask me what it was like to be born with powers. Only one in every hundred humans or so were. My mother hadn’t been. Avia wasn’t born with power. Some of my fathers had powers.

My mother had insisted each of my husbands be gifted with magic. They had been carefully selected for their powers and their capabilities to protect Evaness.

I pondered Avia’s question and my answer carefully. How could I sum up the four years I’d spent on my own? The struggle to hide and survive, to blend in, to quickly adapt to new situations, to always be on the alert … I didn’t think she’d accept exhausting as an answer.

Before I could decide what to tell her, the fire spiked and a log rolled out of the fireplace.

“Ah!” Avia jumped and ran to grab the poker, so that she could roll it back in.

But the log didn’t stay still. It wiggled. The log had a tail. And four little legs ending in claws.

I fell off my chair. My hands and knees smacked the floor as I flipped head over heels. I scurried to my feet just as the flaming monster touched the rug Avia had been sitting on.

Whoosh.

The rug burst into flame.

“Sard! It’s a fire salamander!” I screamed.

The flaming lizard flicked its tail and then ran, directly at my sister.

Fear turned my stomach. I felt light-headed. Sick. No! Was this the creature? The one I’d heard about in the forest? Had someone sent this thing after Avia? “Run!”

My sister turned on her heel and ran, her blue skirts billowing out behind her, chocolate curls streaming through the air like ribbons as she rushed away, screaming.

I tried to run toward her, but the stupid distance spell yanked me backward. I landed flat on my back, hitting my head. Hard. I clambered to my knees, woozy. Where had Avia gone?

I spotted her at the far end of the room, waving the fireplace poker wildly.

The salamander was scuttling toward her like some evil, enchanted living torch. Its nose touched the edge of a tapestry and flames shot up the wall hanging. Smoke started to coat the ceiling in an ominous black cloud.

“Move! Move!” I screamed. I grabbed the nearest thing I could find, my empty wine glass, and threw it in between them. The glass shattered on the floor, startling the creature for a moment.

Avia darted toward me. “We need water.”

I glanced at the pitcher on her washing table. It was across the bed. I leapt onto the bed, hoping I could reach without—I strained. My fingers were just shy of touching. Sarding distance spell! I screamed at the wall. “Come on!” But whoever was behind the wall moved the wrong way. I was dragged backward over the bed.

I looked toward her servants’ entrance. The creature was scrambling toward us. Where were Avia’s handmaids? Why hadn’t anyone come?

Shite. Another rug was set ablaze.

I scrambled all the way off the bed and shoved Avia behind me; I pushed her toward the far wall. “Go through the secret passage. There’s nothing but stone there still, right? Nothing can burn?”

“But—”

“Do it!” I shoved her again, not hard enough to trip her, but hard enough that she ran as I’d said.

Avia activated the secret seam the palace mage had created by tracing her finger over the stones. A door handle appeared. She pulled open the door and turned back, “Come on!”

I didn’t bother to tell her I couldn’t, that I was tied to a stupid husband on the other side of the wall who was clearly oblivious to our screams. I was too busy staring at the sarding living flame darting toward her. The animal was clearly fixated on her. That’s exactly what those men had been plotting. They’d said the beast would go straight for her—

Fury rose in me like a storm. I fought against it. I couldn’t react the way I had with Ryan. I couldn’t blast power. This was one tiny creature, not a part-giant. My heart didn’t care. This thing had threatened my little sister. I reached out my hand. I’d never tried to stop a creature before. Only humans. I struggled internally to control the dose. I pushed out a small pulse of peace and the lizard swayed, as though dizzy—

The door burst open.

“What the hell is—” Declan’s scolding tone cut off when he saw the fire.

Avia froze in the doorway of the secret passage.

I looked back at Declan and yelled, “Multiply sand!”

At the same time, he called out, “Water!”

It was as if someone dumped an entire rainstorm on us at once. The water gushed down in sheets. The fires were doused, and the orange fire salamander went limp; a little hiss of steam escaped him as the fire on his body went out. The water swept him up in a wave. Rather than let him disappear, I scooped up the little monster. He was still so hot he burned my hand.

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