Home > A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(13)

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(13)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer

“The Lady Harper of Disi,” says Evalyn, her voice hushed with awe. “Such happy news.” Then she gasps. “Are you Princess Harper? Is there to be a wedding?”

Maybe the cold has frozen my brain cells. “I’m not—did you say a wedding?”

Evalyn shifts closer and flicks her eyebrows at me. “Yes, my lady. A wedding?”

It takes me a second.

“No!” I sit bolt upright and almost spill the mug. “No. No wedding.”

“Ah. There are negotiations in play.” Evalyn nods sagely. “I understand.” She pauses. “People will be pleased. There has been so much worry. The rumors of invaders from the north are terrible indeed. We’ve had to bar the door at night.”

What on earth is Rhen spending all this time talking about? I crane my neck around.

I don’t even want to think about how quickly he’s gone from captor to jailer to savior.

“My lady,” Evalyn whispers, her voice low. “Did you take a fall during your ride? I can offer an herbal remedy to draw the bruise out of your cheek. If you need to keep his attentions, perhaps it would help—”

“Yes. Sure. Thank you.” Anything, anything at all, to stop this woman’s questions.

After she’s gone, a hard knock sounds at the door. When Coale throws it open, bitter wind swirls through the house, making the fire flicker and drawing another shiver from my body. Grey stands in the doorway, one child on his shoulders, half-covered by the cloak. Another is in his arms, sound asleep and drooling against the front of his uniform. Snow dusts all three of them. Behind him, Freya is carrying the infant, followed by the older girl. She and the children all look worn and weary and exhausted.

I uncurl from the chair. “Here,” I say. “I’ll help you.”

Evalyn is faster, coming around the corner. “Freya! Oh, Freya, you poor girl. When he mentioned children, I was so terrified it was you. Come, the rooms are prepared. I will help you get them upstairs. There is soup on the fire.” With quick, businesslike efficiency, she takes the children from Grey and ushers them toward the staircase, with Freya close behind.

Grey shakes the snow from his cloak and offers it to Coale, who hangs it by the door.

“Please, warm yourselves by the fire,” says Coale. “I will bring food. Bastian will see to the other horses.”

The men sit across from me on the hearth, blocking most of the light from the fire. Grey’s hair and clothes are damp with melted snow, and his cheeks are pink from the cold, but his dark eyes are bright and alert. For as worn and wounded as I feel, Grey looks almost energized.

Something heavy hits the front door, and I nearly jump out of my chair. Grey is on his feet, his sword already half-drawn. But the door swings open and the boy comes through, shaking snow out of his hair. “The horses are in the stables.” He throws his cloak at one of the hooks by the door.

Grey lets the sword slide back into its sheath, then eases back onto the stones of the hearth.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was disappointed. “What’s wrong?” I say. “You want to fight someone?”

His eyes meet mine. “Is that an offer?”

“Commander.” Rhen’s voice is sharp with warning.

But Grey’s expression isn’t hostile. If anything, there’s a hint of dark humor in his eyes. I think of his level voice in the bedroom, when I was so ready to fight him for my cell phone. Here now, there’s no need for all that.

I think of how he made faces at the children in the snow.

Or the way he carried them in here.

“It’s okay,” I say quietly. “He’s okay.”

This feels like the moment when I crossed a line in my head and wrapped my arms around Rhen’s waist. A cautionary voice in the back of my mind says that this is dangerous—all of this. They kidnapped me. They imprisoned me.

But then I think about those men attacking Freya’s children. How the one was ready to use his sword on an infant. How the other said, Keep the girl, too! I like them young. I think about how Rhen fired a volley of arrows to save my life.

How Rhen could have directed that horse to take us anywhere, and I wouldn’t have known any better until it was too late—and he’d kept his word and come here.

Rhen is glaring at Grey. “You should not wish for violence.”

How he’d make statements like that.

“Not violence,” says Grey, his expression losing any humor. “I had almost forgotten what this was like.”

Rhen doesn’t answer that, so I say, “What what was like?”

“Being useful.”

Coale reappears from the kitchen with a serving tray topped with three steaming bowls, another mug, and a basket of rolls. He serves me first, and I look down at some kind of brown stew, with large chunks of cheese beginning to melt.

Rhen and Grey take their bowls, but Grey waves off the mug Coale offers him.

“It’s only hot tea,” Coale says. “I know the Royal Guard forsakes spirits.”

Grey nods and takes it. “You have my thanks.”

Interesting. I look up at Coale. “You have my thanks, too.”

“You are most welcome.” Coale’s eyes linger on my face for a moment, and something in his expression tightens. “My wife added some herbs to take the pain out of your cheek.” He gives a cool glance at Rhen and Grey before moving away.

It takes me a minute to figure out why—and considering my life outside of this place, it shouldn’t have taken me any time at all.

I tear off a hunk of bread and dip it in the soup. “Coale thinks you’re knocking me around,” I say quietly.

Rhen snaps his head up. “Who thinks what?”

“The man.” I flick my eyes toward the kitchen, where Coale has disappeared. “He thinks you did this.” I gesture vaguely at my face, then tear another piece of bread. “His wife thinks we’re getting married as part of some negotiation between rival nations.”

Rhen sets down the bowl of soup. “Exactly what did you tell these people?”

“Nothing!” Heat floods my cheeks. “You were talking to the guy and I didn’t know what to say!”

“We are not alone,” says Grey, his voice very quiet. He gives a significant look at the far corner of the room, where Bastian is sitting.

I lower my voice. “I don’t know anything about all this!” I hiss. “How do you expect me to answer their questions?”

“Ah. So you determined that an engagement to ally divided kingdoms was the best path.” Rhen picks up his soup again. “Perfectly reasonable.”

I scowl. “Why are we even whispering? Can’t you just tell them we’re not?”

“Not now. Do you have no understanding of how gossip works?”

I can’t tell if he’s mad or not. “You mean if you try to tell them it’s not true, they’ll believe it even more?”

He nods, then tears a hunk of bread for himself.

I feel like I’ve screwed something up without even trying. “Well. You’ve hardly told me anything about yourself, so it’s not like I have any idea what to say.”

He dips the bread in the soup. “I might have told you more if you’d joined me for dinner instead of climbing down the trellis.”

Grey stares at me. “That is how you escaped? You climbed down the trellis?”

“Fell,” I say. “I fell down the trellis. I took most of it with me.” I look at Rhen, then glance at Bastian in the corner. “He said royalty was either too good or too dead to leave the castle. What does that mean?”

“Let’s ask him.” Rhen sets down the soup bowl again. “Boy!” he calls. “Come here.”

Bastian jumps and looks around, clearly seeking his parents. Coale appears in the kitchen doorway, then gives his son a look. The boy approaches slowly, but lingers at a distance, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. He glances between Rhen and Grey but says nothing.

“Did you take good care of the horses?” says Rhen.

Bastian nods. “I rubbed their backs and their legs, like Da showed me.”

“And water?”

Another nod. “I knocked the ice off the trough.”

Rhen shifts to reach a hand into his pocket, pulling out a silver coin. “You have my thanks.”

The boy’s eyes grow wide, but the coin lures him closer, and now he stands between me and the men. He takes it and turns it between his fingers. “I’ve never held a silver before.” He glances at his father in the kitchen doorway, then back at Rhen. “Can I keep it?”

Rhen nods. “Brush them and feed them in the morning and you’ll get another.”

“I will.” Bastian grins.

“When we arrived, you spoke of the royal family. What do you know?”

The smile melts off the boy’s face. Coale has moved out of the kitchen now, and hovers near the doorway, obviously torn between obedience and protecting his son. With one question, Rhen has tripled the tension in the room.

He must know it, because he puts up a hand. “You have nothing to fear from me if you speak honestly.”

Bastian swallows and glances at his father again. “I—I do not know.”

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