Home > Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(7)

Knightfall (Tangled Crowns #1)(7)
Author: Ann Denton

I bit my lip and tried to decide what my mother’s goal was. The answer to her question would divide them. They were meant to be a team, four knights who protected different aspects of the realm. She’d selected them to operate that way. For their differing but complementary abilities. Answering would mean war amongst them. I might be furious at her. But she’d also raised me to be tactical. She had a reason. “Why are you doing this?”

“Which of them did you write to while you were gone?”

I heard muttering behind me as the men whispered to one another.

Ryan’s hand nearly crushed my clavicle. My knees bent under his weight and I had to struggle to remain upright. Pain rippled down my arm like flames. I pushed his hand away and took another step toward my mother.

“Why are you stirring the shite?” These men were perfect leaders. She’d chosen them.

They’d never be able to rule divided.

Did she expect me to use my power to end this? Sard her. That was only temporary. The barbs she threw could not be repaired by fleeting magic.

Before I could determine the method guiding her madness, her eyes flickered to the side. Her maid had returned with the castle mage, Wyle, and ten soldiers in tow.

My mother nodded toward me.

“Do it now.”

The soldiers surrounded us. Declan, Connor, and Quinn were herded closer until the armored guards formed a circle around us.

The mage, Wyle, sprinkled a ring of ash and salt around us. He lit a candle and burned a sage leaf.

And then he muttered a spell in an ancient language.

He ignored me when I interrupted. My mother ignored me when I shouted. The guards ignored me when I tried to break through their circle. My idiot husbands ignored me and followed their queen’s orders even as golden circlets appeared and glowed on our wrists.

I finally kicked the soldier in front of me, walloping his crown jewels. He fell forward and I jumped on his back, intending to launch toward the doorway and out of the room.

But Wyle’s chant ended just as I jumped.

And an invisible tether yanked me back.

I hit the ground.

Stars were an understatement. I saw supernovas. The vertigo was so bad, I turned on my side, in case I needed to puke.

Not a single person moved to help me up.

Gradually, the room stopped spinning. When I was able to make my way to my feet, I turned to my mother.

“What in the sarding hell was that?”

“That was a bonding spell. From now on, you must be within five feet of one of your husbands at all times.”

Chapter Five

The soldiers and the mage filed out, leaving only myself and four stunned men facing the queen.

“You can’t do this!” I screamed.

“I can and I have. You will accept your lot in life, Bloss. Your foolishness has gone on long enough.”

“Foolishness? To try to find a—” the geas (the spell that prevented me from speaking about my power) cut off the string of curses I wanted to say and the end of my sentence.

I turned to stomp away but I found myself stopped by an invisible wall. I glanced down. The golden circlet on my wrist glowed faintly.

Rage threatened to engulf me. That circlet felt like a bear trap that had clamped down on my arm.

It sparked panic in me. Riotous panic that spread like fire. Quick and hot and choking.

I closed my eyes and breathed. In and out.

If I were at the inn, I would have cudgeled her to death with a soup spoon. I let that image play through my mind for a moment to quash the panic.

“Bloss, your kingdom needs you,” my mother called behind me. “Now that you have returned, your husbands can help you grow reacquainted with your kingdom. And I can die in peace.”

I turned back to my mother, to meet her eyes as mine filled with angry tears. But I held onto my control. Not a single one slid down my cheek as I looked into her lined face.

“You have another daughter. Avia will be a great queen.”

“Perhaps,” she gave a half-nod. “One day. I cannot wait that long.”

“So you condemn me—”

Someone’s hand clamped over my mouth. A hard chest pressed against my spine for a millisecond, before I was released.

I looked sideways to watch Ryan moving back to his place. “Sorry, Your Majesty,” he addressed my mother with a slight bow. “I found the condemnation comment a bit offensive.”

My mother grinned. “As did I, General.” Her grin faded, and her lips straightened as she glared over at me. “The kingdom comes first. Always remember that. All of you. Declan, perhaps you might be able to escort my wayward daughter to her chambers? She needs to bathe and change out of those filthy maid’s clothes.”

My eyes widened at the implications. He’d be within five feet of me at all times.

My nostrils flared. I ground my teeth together and glared at my mother.

But Declan started to move. When I didn’t immediately follow, all three of my other husbands took several steps backward. The spell yanked on me, and I stumbled.

Declan snapped. “Come on.”

I had no choice but to follow him. But as I left the room, I gave my mother a single finger salute.

She wanted to sard with my life?

Just wait.

She would rue the day. I’d make her hand that crown back to my sister so fast her wrist snapped. Then I’d make sure Avia was safe. I’d get rid of this gods-damned curse. And I’d disappear into the forest again.

As we marched down the hall, Ryan turned to Declan. “Find out who’s right. That’s an order.”

Declan’s eyes flashed with heat at the cryptic comment. He and Ryan paused and exchanged a long look. There was something in it. Some underlying tension.

“Are you going to come?” Declan asked.

“Not with you.” Ryan answered.

Declan bit his lip and gave a nod. He started walking again, a little faster.

“What the hell was that?” I asked.

No one answered.

At the first split in the hallway, Connor sped off without a backward glance.

Declan did not lead me to my chambers. He led me into a hallway in the royal wing that I’d never been to before. The knights’ hall. The hall where my fathers had resided. The hall where my so-called ‘husbands’ now slept.

The Queen’s husbands had moved to her chambers now that she was so ill, so they could tend to her. It was what my grandfathers had done in their day as well.

Once my mother passed, my fathers would be sent to the cliffs. A knight existed only so long as he was bound to his queen. The archaic, matriarchal laws of Evaness didn’t allow former knights to remain in the palace. Too much room for confrontation. To have authority and lose it—that was a hard battle. No. Knights were destined to end their lives with their queen.

I brushed away the dark thought and focused on the present. I had too much to worry about without becoming maudlin and depressed.

I looked instead at the portraits lining the walls of the knights’ hall.

“Why are you taking me here?” I asked. I had to trot to keep up with the pace Declan set. My other husbands peeled off one by one, in other directions, but Declan continued down the corridor. He didn’t answer me until he came to the very last door at the end of the hall.

“I have work to do,” Declan’s jaw ticked as he held open the door for me, begrudgingly polite.

“You heard my mother. The queen cannot be denied,” I rolled my eyes.

“Your maids will be able to assist you here,” he turned and led me into a room that was full of sumptuous blue velvet and brown leather.

“What if I don’t want to be assisted here?”

“You think I give a damn what you want?” Declan took a step toward me, his boots scraping along the stone floor. This close, the smell of parchment and ink radiated off of him. It was the sort of scent that made me want to curl up near a fire and read. Of course, not with him next to me.

“Of course, you do. I’m apparently your precious wife,” I shot back.

Declan’s frigid eyes warned me to stop. They were little bits of frozen blue sky and they hailed down hatred and disdain. “You’re a coward, Bloss. I don’t know why Quinn bothered to bring you back.”

I hardly knew Declan before I ran. We’d studied together. But he’d been so far ahead of me in analysis and tactics … we hadn’t been friends. So why did his words pierce me like arrows? Why did they make my heart ache? Because they were true.

But harsh truths never made me reflective. They made me want to fight. I stomped Declan’s foot and when he lifted it from the ground and was off-balance, I pulled his hair. As if I were five.

That was a mistake. Despite his scholarly ways, Declan was still nearly six feet tall. He grabbed my upper arms and shoved me. I fell to the ground. When he stomped to the bell pull, the curse yanked at me until I was forced to crawl along behind him over the stone floor.

“Ass!” I screeched.

Declan merely smirked and straightened his hair as his butler scurried into the room. The butler halted when he saw me but knew better than to ask.

I plotted Declan’s untimely death as he addressed his butler.

“My wife needs a bath. Have one set up near my desk.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“I’d like a privacy screen,” I threw out as the butler made to leave.

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