We were loaded into the gate like a bunch of cattle. Jayse and I huddled together. My fingernails pinned his arms as we waited for water to flood the place. He flinched but otherwise didn’t pull away. “Cailen,” he said.
I raised my gaze to his, mine full of tears.
“I don’t regret this. Here with you now,” he said.
“But—because of me—you will die. A traitor.”
“In whose eyes? The King is a fool to listen to his daughter. She is the traitor.” He gently traced my lips. “I would die a thousand deaths to be with you.”
I shook my head. “Don’t say that. I’ve got to save you somehow.”
“You already have.”
The water began to rise.
People began to shriek.
I wound my arms around Jayse’s neck. “Our deaths will have meaning.”
At the last second of our lives, she appeared. Haughty and triumphant. And I cursed her though my words opened only to water. I clung to Jayse, even in death.
“Princess Ardelaine, the King will see you now.”
The princess’ hand froze on her hairbrush, unaccustomed to being summoned by her father. Usually, she had to approach his people for audience. She tried to keep her smile as she turned to the man and nodded. Setting the brush down, she followed him through darkened hallways, her stomach beginning to knit with nausea. Had he somehow discovered her trespass? She shook her head. No. She’d been most careful.
When she entered the throne room, she found herself alone with her father. She couldn’t remember that ever happening before. She greeted him with kisses to each cheek. “Father, dearest. How is your health?”
“Not well but then you knew this, Ardelaine. It is why you sacrificed one witch, and one who meant everything to you, isn’t it?”
Her hands shook. “Whoever has spread these lies shall die.”
“Oh, but they are already dead.”
She stared at him then two figures that appeared beside him, bloated and drenched.
“No, it cannot be.”
“Did you think the lands of Farael would fall to you so easily? That there would be no payment for what you planned? My only regret is that I did not learn of your treachery sooner and could’ve prevented their deaths. As it is, your hour is fast approaching.”
“Father, what are you doing?” she demanded as his guards took her into custody.
“Every kingdom has to make its sacrifices to keep their King young, strong, reliable. By striking down my advisors with your hatred and schemes, you have sentenced yourself to be a part of my resuscitation.”
“But I’m your flesh and blood.”
“And the results of your death will be most useful in regaining my health.”
“How will you explain this to your people?”
He laughed. “It might come as a shock, daughter, to learn that you’re not very well liked in the kingdom. Why would my people trade the lives they have led under my rule for your slavery?” He motioned to the guards. “Take her away.”