The Blood Spell (Ravenspire, #4)(8)

His stomach lurched. He drew in a long, slow breath to calm his nerves and immediately regretted it. The air was thick with brine. The tang rested on the back of Kellan’s tongue, bitter and dank.


“I won’t fail you,” he said. “I know the law, and I understand my duties.”

It didn’t matter if those duties felt like a noose around his neck. He was the prince. And it was his fault his father wasn’t still alive to rule the kingdom.

The carriage topped the final hill leading to Falaise de la Mer, and Kellan stared out the carriage’s window as his city came into view. He couldn’t see the busy port from the carriage, but he could see the edges of the sea itself, stretching out along the horizon like a sparkling gold ribbon. Turning away, he watched as the castle came into view, perched on the hill directly to the north of the city, its white turrets, gleaming parapets, and silver filigree glowing in the midafternoon sun.

His mother tapped her finger on his knee to get his full attention. “You have ten minutes to change and greet Nessa, and then you have appointments at each head family’s house. From the moment we leave this carriage, you are on display. Every word, every deed, every nuance must be carefully calculated. The head families will be watching you for any weaknesses they can exploit.”

He definitely needed another pint. Queasiness be hanged. “I’m the Renard heir. Why would they be looking for weakness instead of opportunities to build alliances with me?”

“Your sister . . .” The queen’s stoic expression slid back over her face. “They know you’re the one who will rule this kingdom. If you don’t prove to them that you have the strength to forge alliances and keep your enemies in check, both from within the kingdom and from without, some of them are ready to make a bid to put their own families on the throne. Permanently.”

Kellan met his mother’s eyes as a flame of anger ignited in his chest.

“Nessa isn’t weak,” he said quietly. “And she is perfectly capable of ruling should something happen to me.”

“I know that, and you know that.” The queen’s voice was as unyielding as the stone beneath the carriage’s wheels. “But to the head families, she’s a girl who can’t speak, and therefore can’t rule. Unless they’re trying to curry favor with me, they discount her entirely. Which means you have to be flawless, Kellan. If those who want the throne think they can take it from you, they will. And if that means they have to kill you and Nessa to have a clear claim on the crown, that’s what they’ll do.”

His jaw set. Anyone who came for his sister was going to have to go through him first, but if he played the game well, it would never come to that.

Moments after reaching the castle, he’d changed into something suitable for greeting each head family and was impatiently waiting for his valet to finish tying his cravat when his sister came into the room, her face glowing with anticipation.

“Nessa!” His heart lightened, and the first genuine smile of the afternoon lit his face as she ran toward him. Sweeping her up in his arms, he laughed. “You’ve grown, little bird. One of these days you’re going to pass me, and then how will I ever be able to show my face in public?”

She laughed, a full-throated, joyous sound he’d missed while he’d been away, and her arms tightened around his shoulders.

He closed his eyes as she murmured sounds that didn’t quite sound like words, but that reached his heart all the same. He knew what she was saying. He always knew. From the moment she was born, through her toddler years as the nanny’s calm proclamations that Nessa would talk in her own time became visits with the royal physician to see why she couldn’t move her mouth the way other children could, to the summers when he’d choose her company over the company of anyone else in Balavata as she taught him the language she’d learned to sign with her hands, he’d always understood her.

Setting her down again, he stepped back and studied her. She looked happy. He was going to dedicate his life to making sure she stayed that way.

Nessa’s hands moved rapidly. Want to visit the garden with me? There’s a new songbird nest in the rynoir tree. I want to climb up to see it.

He grinned and signed back to her even as he spoke. “I’d love to, little bird, but mother has made appointments for me with each head family for the rest of the afternoon. Apparently, I’m supposed to act like a proper prince now.”

She snorted.

“Exactly.” He gave her another hug. “I have to leave now, but when I get back tonight, you and I can use the fire pit in the gardens and roast sugar puffs.”

Her dimples flashed as she grinned.

He grabbed his silk afternoon jacket and then paused on his way out the door. “And don’t climb the rynoir tree without me. Those branches break easily.”

Her eyes narrowed. You climb it every summer. Why do you get to climb it by yourself and I don’t?

“Because sometimes I’m an idiot.”

I can’t argue with that. Her laughter followed him as he hurried out of the royal wing and back down to the carriage waiting to take him to the first head family’s home.

Four hours later, exhaustion pounded at Kellan’s temples as the royal carriage left the Marcels’ and headed toward the Gaillard quarter, the last on his list of required visitations. At least this visit would include time with a friend rather than the awkwardness of picking his way through conversations with girls whose parents eagerly watched to be sure their daughters did their best to catch themselves a prince. Even Kellan’s considerable flirtation skills had been sorely tested.

C. J. Redwine's Books