Black Heart Page 19

All of the fae stared in reluctant fascination at the fire floating above my hand. They had their own magic here, to be sure, but there was nothing like this that I had seen.

“How about you?” I asked Sakarian. “Do you think you can loose one of those arrows before I turn you into Korean barbecue?”

I was sure my reference went over his head, but my meaning was clear. I really hoped Litarian wouldn’t try to lasso me. I’d have to hurt him if he did, and if I had to hurt him, it would bother me. Something about him reminded me very strongly of Gabriel. But I would do it if I had to. I’d made the threat, and I would follow through.

The fae were frozen in place, obviously unsure what to do. I stepped back slightly so I could keep an eye on both Litarian and Sakarian.

“I will go with you to Batarian,” I said. “But you will not bind me.”

“You cannot be trusted,” Sakarian said. “Now that we know what you are capable of, we cannot allow you to appear before our lord unbound.”

“You’re afraid I’m going to kill him,” I said. “I could have done that already.”

There was a little flicker in Litarian’s eyes, as if he were acknowledging the truth of this.

“I could kill Batarian even if my hands were bound. And you, and anybody else I wanted.”

As I spoke, the flames rose higher, and with it, my temper. The air was filled with light, and it came from me. Forget trying to be the nice guy. They needed to know who they were dealing with.

“I will come, but it will be on my terms, not yours.”

The eyes of every fae were on me, and the majority appeared terrified. Sakarian was scared but trying very hard not to show it.

Something predatory awoke in me, something that recognized Sakarian was a weak link. It was a dark feeling, one that frightened me. I wanted to crush Sakarian because I could. I turned toward him. His eyes widened. Before I could find out what I would have done, I heard, “Wait.”

I looked over my shoulder at Litarian. He held my gaze, tossed the rope over the edge. Sakarian spoke to him in their own language, his voice furious. Litarian ignored him, focusing on me.

“There are children here,” he said.

I felt my fury dim a little, the light inside me easing down. “Then keep them safe.”

He nodded, then spoke loudly to the assembled warriors. The other fae left—most eagerly, a few reluctantly, but they all left—until I stood alone with Litarian and Sakarian.

Litarian held out his hand to me. “My lady,” he said.

I raised my eyebrows at him.

“Only a queen would have the strength you have,” he said in reply to my look.

Technically I was a queen. I was heir to Azazel’s court, and the fact that I had killed my father and blown my court to smithereens was neither here nor there. I might be monarch of a fallen court, but Litarian was correct. I was a queen.

I nodded at him, and allowed him to approach.

“Would you extinguish the flame? I will not attempt to harm you,” he said.

Sakarian spoke to Litarian again in their own language. I didn’t need a translator to know Sakarian wanted to know what the hell Litarian was doing. I doused the ball of fire, allowed Litarian to take my hand.

He spoke to Sakarian in a firm voice, and the other fae cursed angrily in response. I looked from one to the other, and realized something I should have sooner. As with Sakarian and Batarian, there was no physical resemblance, but still . . .

“You’re brothers.”

This time even Litarian’s face registered shock.

“Only a witch could know that,” Sakarian hissed. “We should kill her now.”

“Brothers,” I continued. “With different mothers.”

“How could you know such a thing?” Litarian said.

“The way you act toward one another gives you away. You’re older,” I said to Litarian. “But illegitimate.”

“Perhaps you are a witch,” Litarian said faintly.

For some reason Litarian was in the stronger power position. Sakarian, despite his protests, had been forced to submit to his brother’s decision regarding me. I wondered what family drama was at work here. It was clearly not widely known, if at all, that Litarian was Batarian’s son.

In my initial encounter with the king, the power dynamic seemed to indicate that Litarian was below Sakarian. Perhaps this was simply a performance, something that was used to deflect attention away from Litarian. No matter what, the information was obviously useful—and probably dangerous.

Litarian spoke in a low voice to Sakarian, then gave my hand a tug. “Lord Batarian awaits us,” he said.

As Litarian led me away, I was abruptly aware of my stinky, smelly clothes, my torn and bloodied jeans, my knotted hair. I thought of Amarantha on her throne, dressed and coiffed like a supermodel. I might be a queen, but I most definitely did not look like one.

Litarian led me into the main building. I expected to return to the room where I’d met the king earlier. Instead of going down two flights of stairs, we stayed on the present level.

At the end of the hallway was a large room, much more lushly appointed than the one I’d been in previously. There was more furniture, and all of it of a higher quality. Rugs and blankets woven of some soft- and fluffy-looking material were scattered on the floor or draped over the backs of chairs. The end of the room opened to a private verandah.

Batarian was there, his back to us, his shoulders hunched and tensed. As we entered, he turned on us, his face drawn in lines of fury. He strode toward me, his hands outstretched like he would strangle me.

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