Jillian BoehmeYA Fantasy
I pushed my back against the door until it latched behind me, facing my father at all times—another royal requirement. He regarded me with mild interest—the best I could hope for—as I approached him. His silk robe was encrusted with a ridiculous number of gemstones that winked in the light of the candelabras sitting at either end of the desk. The crown resting on his pale blond head was a mute reminder of his station. I swore he slept in it.
He rested his quill in its holder and folded his hands before him. “I’m leaving at first light.”
I nodded. For a brief moment, I thought perhaps he was going to invite me to join him, the way Cannon had joined him on his late-summer progresses in the past. But that was less likely than his telling me I had an ounce of worth in the royal household, and I didn’t want to go, anyway.
“I’ll be cutting my journey short, of course, considering Cannon’s upcoming wedding.” As if I didn’t know that. “You’ll need to offer him your support while I’m away.”
“I’m sure Cannon doesn’t need anything from me.”
Father’s eyes blazed silently. “I don’t need to remind you that, until he has a son, you’re second in line for the throne.”
I shrank smaller in my skin. The throne—and the dark secrets that came with it—was never something I’d aspired to.
“Yes, Your Grace.” Holy God, I hated calling him that.
“There’s something else.” Father reached into his top desk drawer and pulled out a plate and a small dagger.
I quailed. I’d seen the dagger before, glowing with an unearthly light as he cut the flesh of his own hand and spilled the blood into a crystal goblet. He hadn’t cried out or even flinched—just cut his flesh as though it were a sack of grain. I was six, hiding beneath a tablecloth in my father’s private chapel, where I knew I wasn’t allowed. And I remembered it like it was yesterday.
Father took the plate and moved it beneath his hand. As I watched, thirteen-year-old terror clenching my heart, he made a small cut in his palm, deep enough to draw a steady stream of blood droplets onto the pristine, white plate.
“I trust there will never be a need for the magic to pass to you,” he said, his eyes on the blood. “But I can’t leave anything to chance.”
Before I could react, he grabbed my hand and slashed it with the dagger. I sucked in a hot breath, more from shock than pain. As I watched, horrified, he pulled my hand over the plate and allowed my blood to mingle with his own.
By the time he released my hand, I was too mesmerized by what was happening on the plate to pay the pain much heed. As my father uttered words I could barely hear and couldn’t understand, the blood sizzled and smoked, swirling slowly on the plate until it formed a perfect circle. Instead of crimson, it was black.
Wordlessly, he tipped the plate so that the darkened blood spilled into a metal box the size of a shoe buckle. He flipped its hinged lid closed, and I swore I saw, for a moment, a thin, black mist swirl around the box before quickly dissipating.
“Take this.” He held out the box, which was attached to a chain. “Wear it.”
I didn’t want to touch it, but refusing the king wasn’t something even a son could do. Especially a second-born.
“Why?” I whispered.
No way in damnation did I want that. “From what?”
“From harm.” I must’ve had a stupid expression on my face, because his grew impatient. “I wouldn’t go on this progress if I didn’t need to waste time convincing people of the merits of my war effort. If something were to happen to me, the transferal of the power to Cannon could be delayed. You know how dangerous that would be.”
It was what the Thungrave kings had prided themselves on—a glorious history I’d been forced to memorize. A century ago, a dark magic had appeared that roamed free, destroying anything in its path. The Thungrave ritual, passed from father to son, ensured that the magic would stay contained.
My father refused to acknowledge the truth—that the roaming magic was never meant for the Thungraves, and that using a ritual to harness its power didn’t make it rightfully ours.
But I couldn’t say that.
Reluctantly, I took the locket and held it in my palm. “That’s it? I wear it and nothing can hurt me?”
“And when you return, I can take it off?”
His smile was slow and unnerving. “You won’t want to take it off. But, no.” He pressed his fingers together, tip to tip. “Wear it until Cannon produces an heir.”
“That could take years.”
“Then you’ll wear it for years,” he said.