Home > The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(10)

The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(10)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

“Yes.” The word rumbled out of me in a growl that would’ve surprised me at any other time. “Here I am. Now what? You going to kill me? Or leave me here to rot?”

“If only it were that simple.” He leaned on one hand. “And I would never leave you here to die such a slow death. That is far too barbaric.”

Did he even hear himself? “And chaining me in these bones and roots isn’t? Leaving my family and me to die isn’t barbaric?”

“It was a necessary evil,” he stated. “But we can’t just kill you. Maybe before you arrived—before the Primal notam locked into place. But not now. The wolven have seen you. They’ve felt you.”

My gaze sharpened on him. “Why didn’t you change like the others? The way the King and Queen spoke, it was like they had no control over their forms. They had to answer my call.”

“It’s because I can no longer shift into my wolven form. When I broke my oath to King Malec, I severed the connection between myself and my wolven side. So, I wasn’t able to feel the Primal notam.”

Shock flickered wildly through me. I hadn’t known that. “Are you…are you still a wolven, then?”

“I still have the lifespan and the strength of a wolven, but I cannot shift into my true form.” His gaze clouded over. “Sometimes, it feels like a missing limb—the inability to feel the change come over me. But what I did, I carried out knowing full well what the consequences would be. Not many others would’ve done that.”

Gods, that had to be unbearable. It had to feel like…I had when they forced me to wear the veil. Part of me was impressed by Alastir’s loyalty to Atlantia and to the Queen. And that said a lot about his character—who he was as a man, a wolven, and what he was willing to do in service to his kingdom.

“You did that, but you won’t kill me?”

“If we were to kill you, you would become a martyr. There would be an uprising, another war, when the real battle lays to our west.” He was talking about Solis—about the Ascended. “I want to avoid that. Avoid creating even more problems for our kingdom. And soon, you will no longer be our problem.”

“If you’re not going to kill me or leave me in here to die, I’m a little confused by what you plan to do,” I bit out.

“I will give the Ascended what they were so desperate to keep,” he said. “I will give them you.”

Chapter 5

I couldn’t have heard him right. There was no way he planned to do what he’d stated.

“None will be the wiser until it’s too late,” he said. “You will be beyond their reach, like all the others the Ascended have taken.”

“That…that doesn’t even make sense,” I said, stunned when I realized that he was serious.

“It doesn’t?”

“No!” I exclaimed. “For several reasons. Starting with how you plan to get me there.”

Alastir smiled at me, and my unease grew. “Penellaphe, dear, you’re no longer within the Pillars of Atlantia. You’re in the Crypt of the Forgotten Ones, deep within the Skotos Mountains. If anyone even learns that you are here, they will not find you. We will already be gone by then.”

My insides chilled as disbelief rose. “How did you get past the Guardians?”

“Those who were unaware of our presence felt the kiss of the shadowshade.”

“And those who weren’t?” I asked, already guessing what’d happened to them. “You killed Guardians?”

“We did what needed to be done.”

“Gods,” I whispered, swallowing the anger and panic that swirled within me. “They protected Atlantia. They—”

“They were not the true Guardians of Atlantia,” he cut me off. “If they were, they would’ve struck you down the moment you appeared.”

My lip curled as I forced my breathing to remain even. “Even if you hand me over to them, how will I not be Atlantia’s problem if you give me back to the people who plan to use my blood to make more vamprys?”

He lifted his weight from his hand and sat straight. “Is that what they plan?”

“What else would they plan to do?” I demanded. All of a sudden, I remembered Duchess Teerman’s words at Spessa’s End. She had claimed that Queen Ileana would be thrilled to learn that I had married the Prince. That I would be able to do what she’d never been able to do—destroy the kingdom from within. Before I could allow those words to mix with what Alastir had said about me being a threat, I shoved them aside. Duchess Teerman had told a lot of lies before she died, starting with what she’d said about Queen Ileana, a vampry incapable of bearing children, being my grandmother. She’d also claimed that Tawny had gone through the Ascension, using Prince Malik’s blood. I couldn’t believe that, either.

Alastir eyed me silently for a moment. “Come now, Penellaphe. Do you really think the Ascended have no idea that they had the descendant of Nyktos in their grips for nearly nineteen years? Longer?”

Ian.

My breath caught. He was talking about Ian. “I was told Ian Ascended.”

“I would have no knowledge of that.”

“But you think Queen Ileana and King Jalara knew that we’re Nyktos’s descendants?” When he said nothing, I fought the urge to launch myself at him. “What does that knowledge change anyway?”

“They could use you to make more vamprys,” he agreed. “Or, they know what you’re capable of. They know what was written about you, and they plan to use you against Atlantia.”

My stomach hollowed. The idea of being handed over to the Ascended was terrifying enough. But to be used against Atlantia—against Casteel? “Then let me ask you again, how is that not Atlantia’s problem if they…?” I jerked back against the wall, my eyes widening.

“Wait a minute. You said very few people knew what Malec could do—that my gifts were like his. They could’ve guessed that Ian and I had god’s blood in us, but how would they know our lineage?” I leaned forward as far as I could. “You’re working with the Ascended, aren’t you?”

His lips thinned. “Some Ascended were alive when Malec ruled.”

“By the time Jalara fought the Atlantians at Pompay, Malec no longer sat on the throne,” I said. “Not only that, but he was able to keep the vast majority of the Atlantians in the dark about his abilities—about who he descended from. But some random Ascended knew? One who managed to survive the war? Because it sure as hell wasn’t Jalara or Ileana. They came from the Vodina Isles, where I’m willing to bet they Ascended.” My lip curled in disgust. “You claim you’re a true Protector of Atlantia, but you’ve plotted with its enemies. The people who held both of your Princes captive? The people—”

“This has nothing to do with my daughter,” he said, and I pressed my lips together. “Everything I have done, I have done for the Crown and for the kingdom.”

The Crown? A horrible coldness spread in my chest as my mind reeled from one discovery after another. I opened my mouth and then closed it before asking the question I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer to.

“What?” Alastir asked. “There’s no need to play the quiet one now. We both know that’s not who you are.”

My shoulders tightened as I lifted my gaze to his. “Did Casteel’s parents know you were going to do this?” They’d fought back in the Temple, but that could’ve been an act. “Did they know?”

Alastir studied me. “Does it matter?”

It did. “Yes.”

“They do not know about this,” he said. “They may have speculated that our…brotherhood had risen once more, but they had no hand in this. They won’t like what I’ve been a part of, but I believe they will come to see the necessity of it.” He inhaled deeply through his nose, tilting his head back. “And if they don’t, then they too will be treated as a threat.”

My eyes widened once more. “You…you’re staging a coup.”

His gaze shot back to mine. “No. I am saving Atlantia.”

“You’re saving Atlantia by working with the Ascended, putting the people of the kingdom in even more danger, and overthrowing or doing something worse to the Crown if they disagree with your actions? That is a coup. That is also treasonous.”

“Only if you’ve sworn allegiance to the heads the crown sits upon,” he countered. “And I don’t think it will come to that. Eloana and Valyn both know that protecting Atlantia may mean engaging in some most unsavory deeds.”

“And you think Casteel will go along with this?” I demanded. “That after you hand me over to the Ascended, he’ll just give up and move on? That he’ll marry your great-niece after your daughter—” I cut myself off before exposing what Shea had really done. Withholding that wasn’t for his sake. Gods, no. The desire to see his face when he learned the truth of what his daughter had done savagely burned through me, but I stopped out of respect for Casteel—for what he’d had to do.

Alastir stared at me, his jaw tight. “You would’ve been good for Casteel, but you never would’ve been my daughter.”

“Damn straight,” I said, my nails digging into my palms. It took me several moments to trust myself before I spoke again. “Casteel chose me. He’s not going to turn around and marry your great-niece or another family member you can drag out before him. All you’re doing is causing him to risk his life and the future of Atlantia. Because he will come for me.”

Pale eyes met mine. “I don’t think it will come to that.”

“You’re delusional if you believe that.”

“It’s not that I believe he’ll give up on you,” he said. “I just don’t think he’ll get the chance to stage a rescue attempt.”

   
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