Home > The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(11)

The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(11)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

My entire body locked up. “If you hurt him—”

“You will do nothing, Penellaphe. You’re not in a position to do anything,” he pointed out, and I swallowed a scream of rage and frustration. “But I have no plans to harm the Prince. And I pray to the gods that it doesn’t come to that.”

“Then what…?” It occurred to me then. “You think the Ascended will kill me?”

Alastir said nothing.

“You are delusional.” I tipped my head back against the wall. “The Ascended need me. They need Atlantian blood.”

“Tell me, Penellaphe, what will you do when you’re in their hands? The moment you are free of the bones. You’ll attack them, won’t you? You’ll kill as many of them as you can to get free and return to our Prince.”

He was right.

I would kill any and all who stood between Casteel and me because we deserved to be together. We deserved a future, a chance to explore each other’s secrets. To love one another. We deserved to simply…live. I would do anything to ensure that.

Alastir continued watching me. “And what do you think is the only thing the Ascended value above power? Survival. They will not have these bones to hold you. And if they believe they can’t control you, think that you’re too much of a risk, they will end you. But before that happens, I imagine you will take many down with you.”

Sickened, I forced my hands to relax. “Kill two birds with one stone?”

He nodded.

“Even if you’re successful, your plan will still fail. You think Casteel won’t know that you and every other so-called Protector handed me over to them? That the wolven won’t know?”

“There is still a risk of an uprising,” he admitted. “But it is a small one. You see, we will lead them to believe that you escaped your captivity and fell into the Ascended’s hands. They will never know that we gave you to them. They will turn their anger on the Ascended, where it should have always been. Every Ascended will be killed, and any who support them will fall beside them. Atlantia will take back what belongs to us. We will become a great kingdom again.”

Something about how he spoke told me that I would sense pride and arrogance in him if I could use my gift. I also had a feeling I’d feel the thirst for more. I didn’t, for one second, believe that his only motivation was to save Atlantia. Not when his plan put the kingdom at further risk. Not when his plan could possibly benefit him if he survived this.

“I have a question,” I asked as my empty stomach grumbled. He arched a brow. “What happens to you if Malik or Casteel becomes king? Will you still be an advisor?”

“It would be whoever the King or Queen chooses. Usually, it’s a bonded wolven or a trusted ally.”

“In other words, it wouldn’t be you?” When Alastir fell silent, I knew I was onto something. “So, whatever influence you have on the Crown—over Atlantia—could be lessened or lost?”

He remained silent.

And since Jasper was the one who spoke for the wolven, what effect would Alastir have? And what kind of power did he want to wield?

“What are you getting at, Penellaphe?”

“Growing up among the Royals and other Ascended, I learned from a very young age that every friendship and acquaintance, every party or dinner a person was invited to or hosted, and every marriage ordained by the King and Queen were all power moves. Each choice and decision was based on how one could either retain power or influence or gain it. I don’t think that is a trait just to the Ascended. I saw it among the wealthy mortals. I saw it among the Royal Guards. I doubt the wolven or Atlantians are different.”

“Some are not,” Alastir confirmed.

“You believe I’m a threat because of the blood I carry, and because of what I can do. But you haven’t even given me a chance to prove that I am not just the sum of what my ancestors did. You can choose to judge me based on what I’ve done to defend myself and those I love, but I do not regret my actions,” I told him. “You may not be able to feel the Primal notam, but if you planned for Casteel to marry your great-niece to bring the wolven and the Atlantians together, then I can’t see why you wouldn’t support this union. Give it a chance to strengthen the Crown and Atlantia. But that’s not all you want, is it?”

His nostrils flared as he continued staring at me.

“Casteel’s father wants retribution, just as you do. Right? For what they did to your daughter. But Casteel doesn’t want war. You know that. He’s trying to save lives even as he gains land. Just like he did with Spessa’s End.”

That was what Casteel had planned. We would negotiate for land and the release of Prince Malik. I would find my brother and deal with what he may or may not have turned into. King Jalara and Queen Ileana wouldn’t remain on the throne, not even if they agreed to everything Casteel set before them. They couldn’t. He would kill them for what they’d subjected his brother and him to. Strangely, the idea of that no longer made me squirm with conflict. It was still hard to reconcile the Queen who’d cared for me after my parents died with the one who had tortured Casteel and countless others, but I’d seen enough to know that her treatment of me wasn’t enough to erase the horrors she had inflicted on others.

But now, if Alastir had his way, that plan could never become a reality.

“What he did with Spessa’s End was impressive, but it’s not enough,” Alastir stated, his voice flat. “Even if we were able to reclaim more land, it wouldn’t be enough. King Valyn and I want to see Solis pay, not only for our personal losses but for what the Ascended have done to many of our kind.”

“That’s understandable.” Realizing what Ian could have become was hard enough. But Tawny, too—my friend who was so kind and full of life and love? If they’d turned her into an Ascended as Duchess Teerman claimed, it would be hard for me not to want to see Solis burn. “So, you’re not a supporter of Casteel’s plan. You want blood, but more importantly, you want the influence to get what you want. And you see that power slipping through your fingers even though I haven’t made a single claim to the Crown.”

“It doesn’t matter if you want the Crown or not. So long as you live, it’s yours. It is your birthright, and the wolven will ensure that it becomes yours,” he said, speaking of his people as if he were no longer one of them. And maybe he didn’t feel like he was. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. “Just like it was Casteel’s. It doesn’t matter if you detest the responsibility as much as the Prince does.”

“Casteel doesn’t detest responsibility. I’m sure he has done more for the people of Atlantia in his lifetime than you’ve done since you broke your oath to Malec,” I shot back, infuriated. “He just—”

“Refuses to believe his brother is a lost cause, and therefore, refuses to assume the responsibility of the throne—what would’ve been in the best interest of Atlantia.” A muscle ticked in his jaw. “So, it is up to me to do what’s best for the kingdom.”

“You?” I laughed. “You want what is best for yourself. Your motivations aren’t altruistic. You’re no different than anyone else who’s hungry for power and vengeance. And you know what?”

“What?” he barked as his façade of calm began to crack.

“This plan of yours will fail.”

“You think so?”

I nodded. “And you won’t survive this. If not by my hand, then by Casteel’s. He’s going to kill you. And he won’t tear your heart from your chest. That will be too quick and painless. He’ll make your death hurt.”

“I’ve done nothing that I’m not willing to accept the consequences for,” he replied, lifting his chin. “If death is my fate, so be it. Atlantia will still be safe from you.”

His words would’ve unsettled me if I hadn’t seen the way his mouth tightened or how he swallowed. I smiled then, just like I had when I’d stared down Duke Teerman.

Alastir rose suddenly. “My plan might fail. That is possible. I would be foolish not to take that into consideration. And I have.” He stared down at me. “But if it fails, you will not be free again, Penellaphe. I would rather see a war among my people than have the crown sit upon your head, and you unleashed upon Atlantia.”

At some point, food was brought to me, carried in by either a man or woman wearing the bronze mask of a Descenter. They placed the tray just within my reach and then quickly backed out without saying a word, leaving me to wonder if Alastir and these Protectors had played a role in the attack on the Rite. Casteel hadn’t ordered the attack carried out in the name of the Dark One, but it had been organized and well planned regardless. Someone had set a fire to draw many of the Rise Guards away—something Jansen could’ve ensured happened.

I clenched my jaw as I stared at the hunk of cheese and the lump of bread wrapped in a loose cloth next to a glass of water. When Casteel learned that not only had Alastir betrayed him but that Jansen had, as well, his rage would be unyielding.

And his pain?

It would be just as ruthless.

But what I felt when I thought about Alastir’s involvement the night my parents died? The rage scorched my skin. He’d been there. He’d come to help my family and had betrayed them instead. And what he’d said about my parents knowing the truth about the Ascended? Obviously, they had learned the truth and escaped. That didn’t mean they knew for years as they stood by and did nothing.

And my mother? A Handmaiden? If that was true, why didn’t she fight back that night?

Or had I just not remembered that she had?

There was so much I couldn’t remember about that night, things I couldn’t decipher as real or only nightmares. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten them. Had I blocked them out because I was scared of them? What else had I forgotten?

Regardless, I had no idea if the Queen’s Handmaidens were guards or not. And I didn’t believe that any darkness—besides Alastir—was involved with that night. His twisted sense of honor and righteousness prevented him from owning up to what he’d done. Somehow, he’d led those Craven to us and then left everyone in that inn to die. All because I carried the blood of the gods within me.

   
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