The Blood Curse (Spell Weaver Book 3) by Annette Marie

  King Rouvin of Irida stepped out, his slender body draped in layers of white, green, and blue. Four more nymphs, dressed similarly and wearing ceremonial masks, exited the other carriages.

  Miysis moved forward to greet the king but Clio stayed where she was, her thoughts stuck on what the Ra prince had said.

  He was right. Hiding Lyre would be impossible. He was temporarily hiding Lyre, but he commanded all the soldiers and citadel guards, so he could control what everyone knew about his mysterious guest. She didn’t have that kind of power. She’d already raised dozens of awkward questions by allowing her guards to realize she was sleeping with an unknown daemon.

  She hadn’t thought beyond wanting to be with Lyre, but taking him back to Irida … was that too risky? Even if she crafted a new identity for him, there was no hiding the fact he was an incubus. If rumors of an incubus living in nymph territory reached Asphodel, Lyre’s family would know exactly where to find him.

  On top of that, a Nereid princess taking an incubus as her lover was a scandal that would eclipse even King Rouvin’s secret affair with Clio’s mother.

  Snapping back to reality as Miysis and Rouvin approached her, she dropped into a respectful curtsey.

  “I’m relieved you arrived safely.” Rouvin clasped her hand affectionately. “And that you could deliver my missive so swiftly.”

  “I did my best,” she murmured.

  “Let us return to the citadel.” Miysis glanced at the sky. “The weather is shifting and I expect we’ll see a storm tonight.”

  “Is this the first storm of the season?” Rouvin asked conversationally as the two men started across the plaza. Clio followed, the four nymph advisors right behind her.

  “It is, and it should be a phenomenal sight. It’s been drier than usual this year, so I anticipate the storm will be especially violent.”

  They continued to discuss the weather as they crossed the city and entered the walled citadel. Clio chewed on her lower lip, unsure what she was supposed to do. As the two royals swept inside, she let Rouvin’s four advisors draw ahead of her so she could follow their lead.

  Skipping all further ceremony, Miysis led Rouvin straight to a private room on the ground level. Instead of chairs, leather benches circled a low, round table already bearing a selection of drinks, fruit, and other small snacks. Since Clio had positioned herself near the back of the group, she ended up sitting on the bench farthest from the royals—not that she was disappointed to be out of the limelight.

  The nymph king and the griffin prince wasted no time in getting down to business. Rouvin launched into the actions he had already taken to find and stop Bastian, and revealed he’d publicly proclaimed to his court that Bastian was a traitor to the crown.

  Miysis listened somberly until Rouvin was finished, then responded with his own efforts on tracking Bastian and preparing to defend the targeted Ra cities. Their discussion continued for nearly two hours, and Clio paid strict attention to every word. Reading between the lines, she gathered Miysis was eager for an immediate peace accord between Ra and Irida but he wasn’t confident in his queen’s support.

  Thunder rolled in the distance as Miysis sipped his drink. “With your cooperation, Your Majesty, I think we can salvage this situation. Perhaps it can even strengthen the bond between our kingdoms.”

  “I would be relieved by such an outcome, Your Highness.”

  “In the future, I would love to introduce my youngest sister to your young daughter. They’re close in age and might enjoy meeting.”

  “A fine suggestion,” Rouvin agreed.

  Miysis offered Rouvin a respectful bow. “Though Aldrendahar’s councilors are eager to treat you to a welcoming feast, I’m sure your travels were tiring. A room is ready for you.”

  “Thank you. It was a long journey for these old bones.”

  Another growl of thunder sounded and Miysis glanced at the windows. “I expect, however, there will be a few lightning fetes tonight. You’re more than welcome to join us.”

  “Lightning fetes?” Rouvin repeated with a chuckle. “Whatever is that?”

  “We rarely pass up an excuse for a feast or a party,” Miysis explained with a smile. “And, I’m afraid, the storm may make sleeping difficult. Instead, we indulge for the night and exercise profound laziness the following day.”

  “How charming. Perhaps I can join you after some rest.”

  With a farewell, the prince and his people exited, leaving Rouvin, Clio, and the four nymph advisors with a handful of officials eager to show them to their accommodations. The nymph advisors were taken to a different level, while the last official led Rouvin, with Clio and four of the king’s bodyguards tagging along, past her room to the farthest door in the hall. Clearly, this was the level for the griffins’ most important guests.

  As the guards took up positions at the door and Rouvin entered to explore his suite, the official drew Clio a few paces away.

  “Lady Nereid,” he murmured in a low voice. “His Highness would like you to know that his … other guest has moved to a new room in a more private hall.”

  “Oh.” She supposed that made sense, especially after the advice the prince had passed along to her. This corridor would be busy with advisors, officials, and guards for as long as Rouvin was here. “Where is his new room?”

  “His Highness noted that discretion was of the utmost importance.”

  Her eyes narrowed but she didn’t argue. If Rouvin was going to Miysis’s lightning fete, then she would go as well. There she would find a private moment to badger the prince about where he’d hidden Lyre away.

  The official gave her a swift bow and retreated down the hall. She hovered for a moment, wondering if she should return to her room, then turned back to the king’s door, still hanging open. Passing between the guards, she peeked inside.

  Rouvin was standing at the bank of open windows that formed one wall of the room. She tapped on the door to get his attention, and he waved her inside.

  “It’s quite lovely, isn’t it? It’s been many years since I’ve visited a Ra city.” He glanced over as she prepared to curtsey again. “No, no need for that, my dear. Let us sit. I may not have walked, but riding in those sleighs is far from comfortable.”

  He sank down at the table and she poured them both goblets of ice water. At some point, she needed to ask Miysis where all this ice came from. Did he have a special team of daemons that spent all day traveling ley lines to bring back ice from a colder climate?

  She sipped her water. “I’m glad you’re here. It was an anxious wait.”

  “You’ve done an excellent job. And it certainly helps that the young Ra prince is so keen to pursue peace. I wouldn’t have expected that from his reputation or his military rank.”

  “His reputation?” she repeated curiously.

  Rouvin sampled a piece of fruit. “He’s known among the nobility of other castes, ours included, as something of a snake charmer. He always gets his way, regardless of the opposition’s stance—or strength.”

  “He hasn’t seemed that ruthless to me.”

  “I think we are most fortunate that his goals are aligned with ours. He would be a formidable opponent otherwise.”

  “Prince Miysis has been very helpful,” she murmured. “He’s given me some good advice since I found out what you said in your letter … about me.”

  His pleasant expression sobering, Rouvin folded his hands on the table. “Clio, did your mother ever talk about me or how she and I met?”

  “Not really.” Clio shifted uncomfortably. “She did warn me about how falling in love makes people act foolishly, though.”

  Rouvin winced. “Your mother and I met only a few years after I had taken the throne. My marriage to the late queen was arranged, and our partnership was cordial but barren of meaningful affection. When Bastian was born, my wife devoted herself to motherhood to the exclusion of all else, including me.”

  Clio stared at him, the intimate revelation about his past surp
rising her.

  “It was a difficult period. I was terribly lonely, and I would often retreat to my private garden for hours at a time.” Rouvin looked out the window, his eyes distant. “It was there that I first met your mother; she was filling in for the usual gardener. It began innocently enough. She would hum while she worked, and I would sit and listen. Eventually, we started to talk. We grew close … inappropriately so.”

  Rouvin focused on Clio again. “I have no excuse for my unfaithfulness to my wife or my selfishness in putting Ariadne in such a reckless predicament. I can only say that she was the one person in the entire palace, perhaps in the entire kingdom, with whom I could truly be myself. I cared for her very deeply.”

  He drew in a slow, measured breath. “Almost a year after we met, she told me she was with child. I had hidden our affair, but how could I hide her pregnancy? I was terrified as only a young king can be when he foresees his downfall.

  “In a panic, I turned to my most trusted advisor for help. I told him everything.” He sat silently for a moment, head bowed and expression tight. “The next morning, Ariadne was gone. My advisor promised that she was safe, cared for, and most importantly, far from me.”

  Silence fell over the room, heavy with the ghosts of their shared past.

  Rouvin smiled wearily. “It is astonishing, Clio, the lies we tell ourselves when the truth is too difficult to face. I convinced myself that Ariadne was better off without me, that she either hated me or had forgotten me, and that I should stay away. They were foolish, cowardly lies, but I repeated them until I believed them.” His shoulders bowed. “I didn’t learn of Ariadne’s passing until the day you arrived with Bastian. I didn’t know she had a daughter. I didn’t know your name until Bastian introduced you.”

  Clio remembered that first terrifying meeting. Already overwhelmed by the journey through Irida and her first sight of the capital city, she’d then kneeled before a stone-faced king while Bastian explained who she was and how she would be living in the palace from now on.

  Rouvin entwined his fingers together. “I am a stubborn old man and a prideful coward. There was my lost daughter, standing before me with frightened eyes—eyes just like Ariadne’s. I should have welcomed you with open arms. Instead, I let shame and fear define my actions. I let you live in my home as a stranger instead of as my daughter.

  “I was as cruel to you as I was to Ariadne when I abandoned her at her most vulnerable.” His voice, barely a whisper, cracked. “I had learned nothing from my past mistakes.”

  Clio swallowed, her throat tight and her eyes stinging with unshed tears.

  “But your courage has cast my weaknesses into sharp relief. Ariadne raised a far finer daughter than I have raised a son.” He met her teary gaze. “It is time I righted the wrongs of the past as best I can.”

  Her hands trembled and she pressed them into her lap, blinking rapidly. “I don’t know what to say.”

  “I expect my welcoming you into our family now is too little and far too late, but I will do whatever I can to repair the damage. Petrina can’t wait for you to return.” His faint smile was both rueful and sad. “I fear she is already preparing princess lessons for you.”

  “She’s preparing what?” Clio mumbled, vaguely alarmed. She shook her head. “There are more important things to worry about right now … like Bastian.”

  “Indeed,” Rouvin agreed. “But anticipating your return is keeping her mind off her brother. To be honest, it is a comfort to me as well.”

  “But revealing that I’m your daughter … it will reflect badly on you.”

  “It doesn’t matter,” he said simply. “You are my daughter, and all of Irida should be proud to have you as a Nereid. I will no longer hide the truth.”

  Her throat closed. Rising from her chair, she stepped over to her father and hugged him tightly. He returned the embrace, a hand pressed gently to her hair.

  Withdrawing, she wiped away a tear and sank back into her seat. “Becoming part of the family has been my dream for years. I can’t tell you how much this means to me, but …”

  Though he tensed, Rouvin waited patiently while she struggled with her thoughts.

  “Becoming a Nereid princess is … it’s a new life. I’m not sure … I’m not sure it’s what I really want.” The last few words came out in a stammering whisper. She could hardly believe she’d said them, but her perspective had changed so much in such a short time. A family wasn’t the only thing she wanted anymore, and becoming a Nereid princess would mean losing Lyre.

  Rouvin steepled his fingers. “You are a Nereid princess. I have already made that known in Irida. However, if this is not what you want, there are other options.”

  “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I just … I don’t know …”

  He reached across the table and touched her arm. “You don’t have to decide anything this moment. It’s a lot to take in.”

  She nodded weakly.

  He rose to his feet. “It has been a long day for you, I’m sure. Why don’t you rest?” Urging her to stand, he guided her to the door. “Shall I walk you to your room?”

  “I’ll be fine.” She straightened and drew in a deep breath. “Thank you … Father.”

  He pulled her into a brief but warm hug. “Sleep, child. The morning suns will bring clarity to your heart.”

  She hoped so, because her emotions were caught in a suffocating tangle. Walking between Rouvin’s guards, she continued right past her suite door. Her chest ached from the effort it had taken to utter even a single doubt about the future her father was offering—a future that was everything she’d craved for so long.

  There was only one person she wanted to see right now. One person she needed.

  And she would find Lyre even if she had to turn the citadel upside down to do it.

  Chapter Sixteen

  “Why are you upside down?”

  Lyre tilted his head backward to bring the doorway into view. Miysis strolled inside, his eyebrows high above jewel-like chartreuse eyes.

  “Do you ever knock?” Lyre shot back, not moving from his position on the lounge—lying on the seat, legs propped on the back cushion, head hanging off the edge as he held a sheet of paper in front of his face.

  “You can learn all sorts of interesting things about people when you walk in on them,” Miysis replied unapologetically.

  “And no one can complain because you’re a prince, huh?”

  “One of my favorite perks.” He stopped beside Lyre and looked down at him. “What are you doing?”

  Lyre waved the paper. “Sometimes looking at something from a different angle helps me think.”

  “Couldn’t you have just turned the paper upside down?”

  “I’m not looking at the paper upside down. That would be useless.”

  Miysis shook his head. “I don’t get it.”

  Lyre shrugged and pulled his legs off the back of the lounge chair. He’d almost figured out the next part of the mirror weaving Clio had helped him embed in the quicksilver, but the exact way to bind all the pieces together still eluded him.

  Sitting up, he tossed the paper onto his stack of notes on the nearby table. “Why are you here? I thought you had a lightning thing to attend.”

  As though to emphasize his point, thunder cracked so loudly the porcelain vases in the corner rattled. The drapes of the much smaller window-wall of his new room were tied back to protect them from the erratic wind, and the sky beyond was unbroken black except for the occasional flash of light deep within the boiling clouds that covered the city.

  His new accommodations weren’t nearly as grand as his previous room, despite being on a higher level of the citadel. He was guessing this room was intended for a lady-in-waiting or a nobleman’s valet—still nice, but much more utilitarian. The plush lounge chair looked like a recent addition pulled from some other room.

  “I’ve been invited to about fifteen parties,” Miysis answered as more thunder rumbled. “And I need to drop in on a
t least five so I don’t mortally wound any noble feelings.”

  Lyre snorted. “The burdens of royal blood.”

  Miysis picked up a paper from Lyre’s stack and glanced at it curiously. “What language is this? It looks like gibberish.”

  “It is gibberish—unless you know how to read it.”

  “You write in code?”

  “A habit I started a long time ago to keep other weavers from stealing my work.” He plucked the paper out of the prince’s hand and dropped it back on the pile. “What brings you to my humble quarters while all those fragile noble feelings are waiting to be assuaged?”

  “My room is about twenty yards down the hall, so it’s not out of my way. I stopped to make sure you had everything you needed.” He smirked. “And to assure you that the lovely Clio is in the middle of a deep heart-to-heart conversation with her father, so there’s no need for you to wander the halls looking for her.”

  Lyre’s mouth curved in an answering half smile to hide his instant alertness. He knew Clio’s extended stay in his room hadn’t gone unnoticed, but he couldn’t begin to guess what Miysis might do with the information.

  “So, you decided to keep me company instead?” he asked archly.

  “That wasn’t my plan.”

  Lyre let his voice slide into the deep purr that made most women blush. “You’d have way more fun with me than with those stuffy noblemen.”

  Miysis merely raised an eyebrow as though the innuendo had gone right over his head. “I don’t doubt it, but duty calls. By the way, what does King Rouvin know about you?”

  Lyre slouched back on the lounge, his gaze running over the prince from head to toe. He couldn’t tell if Miysis was secretly interested in a romp with an incubus or just had an excellent poker face. Either way, Lyre’s attempt to distract him from Clio-related topics hadn’t worked.

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