Home > Fae's Captive (Fae's Captive #1)(11)

Fae's Captive (Fae's Captive #1)(11)
Author: Lily Archer

We continue our trek, Leander casual but alert, his gaze missing nothing as we exit the courtyard and enter a narrow lane with ivy climbing its sides. I glance up and find more guards, a few of them watching us, crossbows strapped across their chests.

“This is the portico to the palace. Once we’re out of here, we’ll reach the stables and ride north,” Gareth says.

“Can’t wait to be on the road with you lot,” Lenetia grumbles.

Gareth bites off a few foreign words, the very sound of them unpleasant to my ears.

“Kiss your sister with that mouth?” Lenetia shoots back.

“Silence,” Leander hisses as we approach a high gate, the bars separating us from what looks like a bustling village beyond. At least a dozen guards stand along the high stone walls, and several more are atop it, some of them holding their crossbows.

One of the soldiers steps forward, a question on his lips.

Leander responds, his tone conversational, as if we’re all just out for a stroll, not escaping a murder scene.

The soldier’s brow wrinkles, and he gives me a long look.

Leander bristles and steps in front of me, his voice turning cold. The two of them engage in an escalating flurry of words.

“Shit.” Lenetia takes my arm. “We should go.”

“Can we?” I can’t see the guard past Leander’s wide back, but I can hear him.

“Never hurts to try. He’s more interested in why the king and Gareth are leaving than us.” She pulls me gently toward her and we move to walk toward the open gate.

Two guards step from the shadows beneath the stone overhang, swords in their hands.

“Keep walking. Eyes down. Like changeling slaves.” Lenetia links her arm through mine.

I follow her instructions and stare at the cobblestones beneath my feet. My chin tries to shake, but I clamp my teeth together. Leander’s voice rises even louder behind me, the rumble of it like deep thunder.

We’re almost through the gate when one of the guards steps in our path and says something sharply. Lenetia responds but keeps her gaze down. My stomach twists in a knot when he reaches out and tips her chin up so she has to look him in the eye.

I look, too, and find a handsome soldier with those odd silver eyes. He sneers as he speaks to Lenetia, and for once I’m glad I can’t understand their language.

He lifts his gaze over her head and stares back toward the palace. And then I hear it—yells and a multitude of heavy footsteps, as if the entire castle guard is running out.

The guard pushes past us, and Leander’s voice bristles. My stomach sinks as I realize he’s in trouble.

“Run!” Lenetia pulls me with her.

“What’s happening?” I follow her through the gate and out onto a busy street full of carts, horses, and fae. An entire city with stone buildings and wide roads fans out from the foot of the palace.

“They’ve found Tyrios!” She darts to the left. “They’ll kill us if they catch us!”

“What about Leander and Gareth?” I glance behind me and almost freeze at the sight.



The soldier falls before me, my punch taking him by surprise. The rest of the guards rush toward us, and Gareth and I draw our swords. My mate runs with the other changeling, safely away from the fray, though her gaze rests on me, her eyes full of worry. I want to take that fear away, to pull her in my arms and whisper the secrets of my heart. But it’s too late.

An alarm sounds from deep within the castle. We aren’t getting away. Not now. But I won’t go down without a fight. My mate deserves nothing less. I will fight till my last breath to give her a chance at escape.

“Well, this is a right mess.” Gareth backs to my elbow as the guards encircle us.

“Reminds me of that time in the Freckarian Mines.”

He laughs. “The goblins were a good bit shorter than these guards.”

“They’ll bleed the same.” I raise my sword as one of the soldiers brandishes his blade.

“It’s been an honor, Leander.” Gareth takes his battle stance as the ranks increase.

The soldiers advance en masse, their weapons drawn, their intent clear. We won’t survive. Not against these numbers. I send a prayer to the ancestors that my mate gets away and that the other changeling will serve her as promised.

The first attack comes in a whirl of speed. I parry and thrust, using every bit of warrior ability I possess. The soldiers come all at once, their silver gleaming in the too-bright sun as they attack. The ring of metal on metal sings through the warm air, and Gareth and I—no strangers to long odds and mortal danger—fight for our lives.

I parry and counter-strike, my instincts telling me where the next blow intends to land. The nearest soldier slashes at me, leaving his flank open. I swing to end him, but a flash blinds me and my sword hits stone.

“The queen!” A soldier yells. “Protect the queen!”

“Stand down!” She appears before me, her hand holding my blade. She’s covered in a diamond sheen, her powerful magic on display.

“But, your majesty, these two have—”

“I said stand down.” Her silver eyes glint deadly, and the soldiers obey, sheathing their weapons and backing away.

I lower my sword to my side but keep it ready.

“You slew Lord Tyrios.” It’s an emphatic statement, not a question.

“I did.” I meet her silver eyes as her diamond spell shimmers and dissipates.

“Was there a reason?” She seems almost bored as she releases my sword.

“He threatened my—”

Gareth coughs into his hand.

I take the easy hint not to mention that Taylor is my mate. “He threatened to kill a changeling female.”

“Oh?” A sly smile plays at the corners of her red lips. “Is it a special one perhaps?” Her gaze slides past me, as if she knows exactly where Taylor went. “Where is she, by the way?”

“She is mine.” I bite the words out. “And no one will harm her. If they do, they will suffer the wrath of the winter wind.” An icy breeze wraps around us, pushing at the summer heat. My magic is barely contained and wants to lash out as badly as I do. But with my emotions churning with the discovery of my mate, it would be like setting off a powerful bomb of snow and ice, destruction and death.

“Lord Tyrios was one of my top advisors and one of the oldest fae in my service.” She levels me with a hard stare. “You’ve taken him from me at a time when we need all the counsel we can get to solve the growing threat along our borders. And you’ve turned the rest of my court against you with this rash act.” She shakes her head gracefully. “Where we had grown a bond between our realms, now the fabric is torn.”

“I drew blood in the summer realm, which is a stain upon our truce.” I sheath my sword. “But I would do it again to one such as Lord Tyrios.”

“That’s not helping.” She waves a hand, and the diamond barrier from before forms around the three of us, effectively cutting off her soldiers from hearing our conversation. “I understand why you did it. She is your mate.”

I tense, but I can’t deny it. I will never deny Taylor.

Her shrewd gaze lightens a bit, but her brow remains troubled. “This has created another wrinkle between us. And, though I realize you don’t agree, Tyrios did have a legal claim to the changeling. My nobles call for winter realm blood in retaliation.”

“Then take mine.” Gareth steps forward. “I have plenty to spare.”

“It’s not that simple.” She eyes him. “Though your bravery does you credit.”

“Do you seek blood, as well?” I ask.

She sighs. “I’ve lived for far too long to play the short game. Tyrios’s blood is still warm, but his line will continue without him. The summer realm will quickly bury his memory and focus on new scandals or trivialities. At least, that’s my hope.” She turns and gazes toward the west, as if she can see beyond the garrison wall. “Keeping them steeped in gossip and spats means we don’t have any true enemies knocking at our doors. When they get quiet and pay attention, that’s when I worry. But the disappearances, they trouble me. And solving them is more important than Tyrios at the moment.”

She’s more level-headed than I ever gave her credit for. Beneath the summer realm glitz, she has the mind of a tactician and a cunning sort of foresight.

“What do you suggest?” I eye the soldiers who wait with caged aggression beyond the wall of diamond.

“I will call off my guard so you can escape, but I can’t promise my nobles won’t give chase. Some of them are so old that their insides are twisted with malice and hate.”

“Like Tyrios?” Gareth spits.

“Worse. Far worse. And he had plenty of allies who will feel the sting of his loss. I wouldn’t be surprised if assassins have already been dispatched for you. Make haste from the summer realm.” She holds a hand out toward the diamond encasement but pauses and meets my eye again. “Your mate. She’s different. There’s something about her I can’t place. Be wary.” With a snap of her fingers, the barrier fades, and she orders her soldiers to return to the castle and their posts.

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