Home > The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(2)

The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)(2)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

The bonds? Hands trembling, my wide eyes shot to the Temple steps, to where Emil slowly backed away. Naill had his swords in his hands now.

“She’s right,” Alastir uttered, the skin around his mouth appearing even whiter. “I can… I can feel it—the Primal notam. Her mark. Good gods.” His voice trembled as he stumbled back, nearly stepping on the crown. “They’ve all broken.”

I had no idea what a notam was, but through the confusion and the blossoming panic, there was something odd about what Alastir had stated. If it was true, then why wasn’t he in his wolven form? Was it because he’d already broken his wolven bond with the former King of Atlantia all those years ago?

“Look at their eyes,” the Queen ordered softly, pointing out what I’d seen. “I know you don’t understand. There are things you never needed to learn, Hawke.” Her voice cracked then, thickened at the use of his nickname—a name I’d once believed to be nothing more than a lie. “But what you need to know now is that they no longer serve the elemental bloodline. You are not safe. Please,” she begged. “Please. Listen to me, Hawke.”

“How?” I croaked. “How could the bond break?”

“That doesn’t matter right now.” The amber of Casteel’s eyes was nearly luminous. “You’re bleeding,” he said as if that were the most important issue at hand.

But it wasn’t. “How?” I repeated.

“It’s what you are.” Eloana’s left hand balled into the skirt of her gown. “You have the blood of a god in you—”

“I’m mortal,” I told her.

A thick lock of dark hair tumbled from her knot as she shook her head. “Yes, you are mortal, but you are descended from a deity—the children of the gods. All it takes is a drop of god’s blood—” She swallowed thickly. “You may have more than just a drop, but what is in your blood, what is in you, supersedes any oath the wolven have taken.”

I remembered then what Kieran had told me in New Haven about the wolven. The gods had given the once-wild kiyou wolves mortal form to serve as guides and protectors to the children of the gods—the deities. Something else Kieran had shared then explained the Queen’s reaction.

My gaze shot to the crown lying near Nyktos’s feet. A drop of deity blood usurped any claim to the Atlantian throne.

Oh, gods, there was a good chance I really might pass out. And how embarrassing would that be?

Eloana’s gaze shifted to her son’s rigid back. “You go near her? Right now? They will see you as a threat to her. They will rip you apart.”

My heart stuttered to a panicked stop. Casteel looked as if he might do just that. Behind me, one of the smaller wolven lurched forward, barking and snapping at the air.

Every muscle in my body tensed. “Casteel—”

“It’s okay.” Casteel’s eyes never left mine. “No one is going to harm Poppy. I will not allow that.” His chest rose with a deep, heavy breath. “And you know that, right?”

I nodded as each breath came too fast, too shallowly. It was the only thing I understood at the moment.

“Everything’s all right. They’re just protecting you.” Casteel smiled for me then, but it was tense and tight. He looked to my left, at Kieran. “I don’t know everything that is going on right now, but you—all of you—want to keep her safe. And I’m all about that. You know I would never hurt her. I would tear out my own heart before I did that. She’s injured. I need to make sure she’s okay, and nothing is going to stop me from doing that.” He didn’t blink as he held Kieran’s stare, as the rolling thunder of the other wolven reached the Temple steps. “Not even you. Any of you. I will destroy every single one of you who stands between her and me.”

Kieran’s growl deepened, and an emotion I’d never felt from him before poured into me. It was like anger, but older. And it felt like that buzz in my blood had. Ancient. Primal.

And in an instant, I could see it all playing out in my mind as if it were happening before me. Kieran would attack. Or maybe it would be Jasper. I’d seen what kind of damage a wolven could inflict, but Casteel wouldn’t go down easily. He would do just as he’d promised. He’d tear through all that stood between him and me. Wolven would die, and if he harmed Kieran—if he did worse than that, the wolven’s blood wouldn’t just be on Casteel’s hands. It would mark his soul till the day he died.

A wave of wolven crested the Temple’s stairs, both small and large, in so many different colors. Their arrival brought terrifying knowledge. Casteel was incredibly strong and unbelievably fast. He would take down many. But he would fall with them.

He would die.

Casteel would die because of me—because I called to these wolven and didn’t know how to make it stop. My heart thumped erratically. A wolven near the steps stalked Emil as he continued backing up. Another tracked Naill as he spoke softly to the wolven, attempting to reason with the creature. The others had zeroed in on the guards surrounding the King and Queen, and a few… Oh, gods, several of them crept up behind Casteel. This had slipped into chaos, the wolven beyond control of any of them…

I sucked in a sharp breath as my mind raced, breaking free of the pain and turbulence. Something had happened within me to make that drop of god’s blood break the bonds. I superseded their previous oaths, and that had…it had to mean that they now obeyed me.

“Stop,” I ordered as Kieran snapped at Casteel, whose own lips were now peeled back. “Kieran! Stop! You will not hurt Casteel.” My voice rose as a soft hum returned to my blood. “All of you will stop. Now! None of you will attack.”

It was like a switch had been thrown in the wolven’s minds. One second they were all poised to attack, and then they were sinking onto their bellies, lowering their heads between their front paws. I could still feel their anger, the old power, but it had lessened already, was fading in steady waves.

Emil lowered his sword. “That…that was timely. Thank you for that.”

A ragged breath left me as a tremor traveled up and down my arms. I almost couldn’t believe it’d worked as I scanned the Temple, seeing all the wolven lying down. My entire being wanted to rebel against further confirmation of what the Queen had claimed, but gods, there was only so much I could deny. Throat dry, I looked at Casteel.

He stared at me, his eyes wide once more. I couldn’t breathe. My heart wouldn’t slow enough for me to make sense of what he was feeling.

“He will not hurt me. You all know that,” I said, my voice shaking as I looked at Jasper and then Kieran. “You told me that he was the only person in both kingdoms that I was safe with. That hasn’t changed.”

Kieran’s ears twitched, and then he rose, backing up. He turned, nudging my hand with his nose.

“Thank you,” I whispered, briefly closing my eyes.

“Just so you know,” Casteel murmured, thick lashes lowered halfway, “what you just did? Said? It has me feeling all kinds of wildly inappropriate things at the moment.”

A weak, shaky laugh left me. “There’s something so wrong with you.”

“I know.” The left side of his lips curved, and his dimple appeared. “But you love that about me.”

I did. Gods, I really did.

Jasper shook out his fur as his large head swung from me to Casteel. He turned sideways, making a rough, huffing sound as he did. The other wolven moved then, coming out from behind the blood tree. I watched them trot past me—past Casteel and the others—ears perked and tails wagging as they joined those descending the steps and left the Temple. Of the wolven, only Jasper, his son, and Delano remained, and the feeling of chaotic tension lifted.

A thick lock of dark hair fell over Casteel’s forehead. “You were glowing silver again. When you ordered the wolven to stop,” he told me. “Not a lot, not like before, but you looked like spun moonlight.”

Had I been? I glanced down at my hands. They looked normal. “I…I don’t know what’s happening,” I whispered, my legs shaking. “I don’t know what’s going on.” I lifted my eyes to his and watched him take a step forward, and then another. There were no snarls of warning. Nothing. My throat started to burn. I could feel it—tears creeping into my eyes. I couldn’t cry. I wouldn’t. Everything had already turned into enough of a mess without me sobbing hysterically. But I was so tired. I hurt, and it went beyond the physical.

When I first stepped into this Temple and looked out over the clear waters of the Seas of Saion, I’d felt like I was home. And I knew things would be hard. Proving that our union was real wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as gaining the acceptance of Casteel’s parents and that of his kingdom. We still needed to find his brother, Prince Malik. And mine. We had to deal with the Ascended Queen and King. Nothing about our future would be easy, but I had hope.

Now, I felt foolish. So naïve. The older wolven in Spessa’s End, the one I’d helped heal after the battle, had warned me about the people of Atlantia. They did not choose you. And I now doubted they ever would.

I drew in a stuttering breath and whispered, “I didn’t want any of this.”

Tension bracketed Casteel’s mouth. “I know.” His voice was rough, but his touch was gentle as he placed his palm over the cheek that didn’t feel swollen. He lowered his forehead to mine, and the shock of awareness his flesh against mine brought was there, rippling through me as he slid his hand into the tangled mess of my hair. “I know, Princess,” he whispered, and I squeezed my eyes shut against a stronger rush of tears. “It’s okay. It will all be okay. I promise you that.”

I nodded, even though I knew it wasn’t something he could guarantee. Not anymore. I forced myself to swallow the knot of emotion that rose.

Casteel kissed my blood-streaked brow and then lifted his head. “Emil? Can you retrieve clothing from Delano’s and Kieran’s horses so they can shift and not scar anyone?”

   
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