The Fallen Queen
The House of Arkhangel’sk - Book One - by Jane Kindred
Until her cousin slaughtered the supernal family, Anazakia’s father ruled the Heavens, governing noble Host and Fallen peasants alike. Now Anazakia is the last grand duchess of the House of Arkhangel’sk, and all she wants is to stay alive.
Hunted by Seraph assassins, Anazakia flees Heaven with two Fallen thieves—fire demon Vasily and air demon Belphagor, each with their own nefarious agenda—who hide her in the world of Man. The line between vice and virtue soon blurs, and when Belphagor is imprisoned, the unexpected passion of Vasily warms her through the Russian winter.
Heaven seems a distant dream, but when Anazakia learns the truth behind the celestial coup, she will have to return to fight for the throne—even if it means saving the man who murdered everyone she loved.
Title: The Fallen Queen (The House of Arkhangel’sk, #1)
Author: Jane Kindred
Genre: Fantasy with Romantic Elements
Length: 400 pages
Launch Date: May 2012
ePub ISBN: 978-1-937044-93-0
Print ISBN: 978-1-937044-90-9
Books 2 and 3 coming early 2012!
Praise for The Fallen Queen:
“Kindred’s tale is a romantic, mature, and lyrical collage of heaven, hell, and a magical royal legend. The combination is divinely–and demonically–inspired.”
~ Alethea Kontis, New York Times bestselling author of ENCHANTED
“Angels, demons, sex. Heaven, hell, war. Blood and royalty, history and magic, fire and ice. And a story you cannot put down. This is fantasy at its best.”
~ Stephen Graham Jones, author of IT CAME FROM DEL RIO
“Jane Kindred’s The House of Arkhangel’sk dazzles with its surreal blending of worlds. Lost angel Anazakia, last survivor of her murdered family, finds herself in the hands of demons with suspect motives, betrayed by her own kind, stranded in the world of Man—21st century St. Petersburg, Russia, to be exact. Weaving startling visuals with compelling characters, Kindred reveals parallels in the two worlds that are ‘neither haphazard chance nor calculated design.’ It’s a dizzying, vibrant read.”
~ Lynn Flewelling, author of The Bone Doll’s Twin and the ‘Nightrunner’ series
© 2011 Jane Kindred
Pervoe: A Discordant Note in the Music of the Spheres
from the memoirs of the Grand Duchess Anazakia Helisonovna of the House of Arkhangel’sk
As any demon will tell you over a bottle of vodka or a game of preferans, Heaven is not the paradise you have been told. Depending upon the demon who holds your ear, he may also tell you Heaven’s last ruler was a tyrant who cared nothing for the lives of the common angel. Never believe it. He was the kindest soul ever born to the supernal House of Arkhangel’sk; Heaven would be blessed to have him now. But put no faith in me, for I am his daughter. I was born within Elysium’s pearly gates and have been cast out.
I do not like to think my impetuosity brought down the throne of Heaven, but on the darkest days, it is what I believe. When Elysium fell to a quiet coup, I was at a wingcasting table in Raqia instead of by my family’s side.
It is a favorite game in Raqia’s dens of iniquity. A fast-moving combination of cards and dice, wingcasting requires single-minded concentration and a certain narcissistic audacity. Challengers who hope to unseat the reigning prince of the game progress from one table to the next until they are opposite the champion.
I only reached this coveted spot on one occasion.
Raqia’s reigning prince that night was a dark-haired demon with eyes as sharp as the waxed points of his hair. He played his hand as cool as you please and barely seemed to notice me, but he put nearly every card I discarded into play with his own and soon had me hemorrhaging both cards and crystal.
Smoke burned my eyes while the demon nursed his cigar in a deliberate distraction. When he took it between his fingers, I could not help following with my eyes. Beneath the tattered lace of his cuffs, black crosses and diamonds, interlaced with characters of an unfamiliar alphabet, braced his fingers between the knuckles like rings made of ink.
He followed my gaze. “Prison,” he said around his cigar, the first word he’d spoken not directly related to the game.
He was trying to unnerve me; there were no prisons in Heaven. There was no need for any among the Host.
Raqia, for the most part policed itself, preferring to game the crystal from wayward angelic youth rather than take it by force and risk the flaming hand of seraphic justice. If he had really been in prison, he was one of the true Fallen who had spent time in the world of Man—though all demons were Fallen, by the Host’s reckoning. Their indiscriminate breeding muddied the cardinal elements by mixing the pure water dominant in the blood of the Fourth Choir with the earth of the Third, the fire of the Second, and the air of the First. Such blending resulted in their sullied complexions and varied hue of hair and eye.
A glance around the poorly lit den revealed half a dozen natural shades of brown and a dozen more who colored their hair and eyes with deliberately wild hues in defiance of celestial purity.
Most who fell to the world of Man bore signs of aging not present in the Host; something in the air of the terrestrial plane made Men’s lives short. A fine layer of stubble that could only have been carefully cultivated and trimmed hid any weathering of my opponent’s skin, but studying his face, I saw the telltale signs: little lines around his deep-set ebony eyes that said he’d fallen more than once.
I tightened the drawstring on the purse of crystal at my wrist, careful to keep the luminous celestine of my supernal ring turned toward my palm and cupped between my fingers while I played my hand.
The demon raised a dark eyebrow, pierced with a thin bar of metal that accentuated his coarse nature. I had put down a card in my distraction without waiting for him to call the die. I blushed and snatched it up again, furious with myself for making such a stupid blunder. His immodest grin said he thought his ploy had worked, but it took more than a small-time terrestrial thief to unnerve me. No novice to the dens or to demon magic, I never came to Raqia without a protective charm tucked into my bodice.
In truth, I had been distracted since climbing down the trellis to sneak out in the middle of a tedious banquet. My younger brother Azel was sick in bed, and my cousin Kae was acting strangely toward his wife, my sister Omeliea—and both circumstances were in some measure my fault.
Though I did not know it yet, the die had been cast against the House of Arkhangel’sk by my unbridled impulse on the day I turned seventeen. On a hunting holiday in the mountains of Aravoth, my father had presented me with a blue roan mare. I was eager to take her out, but the first snowfall had ushered in the season and my sisters were keen to head inside the lodge and curl up by the fire.
I sulked while the groom took my horse to the stable. Not even a gift of a gorgeous red velvet riding cap lined with silver fox could coax me out of my bad humor.
When my sister Omeliea admonished me for being moody, I tossed the cap back at her and announced I was taking my horse out by myself. Mama would never have tolerated such willful behavior, but she had stayed behind with Azel, and Papa was so softhearted, it pained him to discipline his daughters.
When I led the mare out of the stable, Cousin Kae was waiting for me.
“Tell her to stop being such a child!” my sister called, wrapped in a fleece on the steps of the lodge. “It’s freezing out here!”
Kae caught the reins and drew the mare to him. “Stop being such a child.” He winked, stroking the horse’s muzzle. “You can’t go alone.”
I pulled the tether from his hands and swung into the saddle. “Then I suppose someone will have to mount up.”
I trotted the blue roan out to the road and into the wooded heights, on a path muted with preternatural quiet. It seemed nothing but my horse and I existed. Here in the North, we were without the oppressive, constant presence of the Seraphim Guard, which Papa could not abide outside the city. In Heaven’s hinterlands, he said, there was no need for their protection.
After a minute or two, I heard the light clip of Kae’s horse behind me.
“Is Ola angry with me?”
Kae drew up beside me. “Not as angry as she is with me for letting you go.” He shrugged beneath his cloak. “It will pass. Sometimes I think it’s her job as a wife to be angry. She’s very efficient at it.”
I laughed at his feigned look of persecution. “Such trials you must endure for the crown.”
“Yes,” said Kae with a mock sigh. “I shall endure anything to attain the crown. Even bed that shrew of a grand duchess of mine.”
I nearly slipped from my saddle for laughing. Kae adored Omeliea and she, him. They were newly wed, and though betrothed at the cradle, he had courted her since childhood as though it were not prearranged. I could not imagine two people more perfectly matched.
Kae stopped his mount in its tracks. “Did you see that?” His grey eyes fixed on a distant point where the trees met over the road. A peculiar fragrance hung on the air, like the freshly peeled bark of an Aravothan cedar, but I saw nothing. I shook my head, and Kae started forward once more.
The bright snow began to dull, shadowed beneath the silver canopy of gathering clouds. Perhaps my sisters had been right. The cold was already making my hands ache within my gloves. I considered turning back, but the thought of Ola’s smugness made me stay my course. I knew my way blindfolded along the snow-covered path; I’d ridden it a hundred times. Of course, my horse had not.
As a dusting of new snow began to fall, Kae leaned over his mount and pointed. “There! Do you not see it?” He spurred his horse forward without waiting for an answer.
I followed, urging my mare to keep pace with him, but we were falling behind on the softening road. Heavy flakes melted in my hair, and my cheeks burned with cold. I began to regret throwing the cap at Ola.
The road went higher here, and the clouds were lowering, and soon I had to slow my horse to a walk, surrounded on all sides by grey, hanging damp. I called out for Kae, but I might have been shouting into a wet blanket for all my voice seemed to carry.
After a few more yards, the trees grew close, and I was no longer certain we were on the path. Everything looked different coated in new snow, like some fairy world I’d stumbled into. Maybe I’d veered off in the mist? I bit my lip and glanced over my shoulder, but the fog was so thick I couldn’t be sure of the distance.
I opened my mouth to call again, when the sound of approaching hooves broke through the veil of clouds. A moment later, Kae’s horse appeared without its rider. I leapt from my mare and ran in the direction the horse had come, heedless of the precipices that might be hidden from view.
“Cousin!” I stumbled over a protruding root and fell headlong in the snow. For a moment, the world was silent except for the dripping branches over my head. Then the clouds thinned and Kae stood before me in an open glade, stiller than the mountain around us. His eyes were unfocused.
“The most beautiful steed,” he whispered. “I nearly caught her.”
“A runaway?” I got to my feet with no help from him, brushing snow and pine needles from my riding skirt. “All the way up here?”
His eyes cleared. “Not a runaway. She’s wild.” He seemed angry with me, as though I’d intruded. Brushing past me to rein in his mount, he swung himself up into the saddle with a swift and brutal motion. The horse, too, was intruding it seemed, unworthy next to the imaginary steed.
Kae rode off toward our hunting house without another word.
I sighed and tossed the die against the wingcasting table. It seemed a trivial thing, that moment in the heights, that trick of the light that must have made my cousin imagine the wild steed, but his temperament began to change when we returned from the north.
My distracted state cost me another round, and the demon grinned and scooped up his winnings. “Had enough?” He knocked the smoldering ash from his cigar against the side of the table and pocketed my crystal.
“Not by half.”
At the table beside us, the violet glow of eyes dyed with amethyst oil glinted through the smoke from the player next in line to play the winner. I glared back through the ruby red with which I’d dyed my own. I had a right to play so long as I had crystal to bet, and if I had to play all night to beat this demon at a single round, I would.
If only I had known what it would cost me.
When I think back to that night and the single-mindedness with which I persisted at a game I could not possibly win, I want to shout at my former self, Forget this foolishness! Go home! Go home before it is too late! The irony is that it was guilt that kept me there, while I have been burdened with so much more by staying.
Ola suspected Kae of unfaithfulness. Upon our return to the city of Elysium, they moved into the Camaeline Palace, built for her wedding present, and we did not see Ola again until she came to us a few weeks later with her suspicions.
“He is not himself.” She stood staring at the fire in the drawing room. “I have hardly seen him since the holiday.” Ola gave me a strange look. “He hasn’t been himself since the two of you came back from that ride.” She seemed ashamed of what she was thinking and burst into tears.
“Ola, dearest.” I went to her where she sank onto the divan before the fire. Tatia came to her side while Maia hurried to the other, and I knelt before her, resting my head in her lap. We enveloped her in sisterly commiseration, four sets of honey curls draped together while Ola wept. There were no closer sisters than we four were then.
“I’m sorry, Nazkia,” Ola whispered after a moment. Tatia held her and Maia stroked her arm. “I must be losing my mind. I know you would never… ”
“Hush, Ola,” I said gently.
“Kae would never betray you,” Maia assured her.
“He’s mad for you.” Tatia dabbed at Ola’s eyes with her kerchief. “Another matter is preoccupying him. You’ll see.”
Ola shook her head, on the verge of tears once more. “He rides out every morning before I wake and stays out past dark. I heard him speaking of ‘her.’” She pushed Tatia’s kerchief away and swallowed. “He has a mistress. I know it.”
Little Azel bounded up the grand staircase then and leapt upon us, and Ola recovered herself and caught him in her arms.
Our mother followed from the landing, her stride quick and anxious, and peeled out of her damp furs. “Azelly! I’ve told you not to run!”
Mama was forever worrying over Azel. At almost twelve years of age, he appeared little older than nine. We also thought of him as much younger than his years because of his delicate health, and I suppose he acted the part we’d given him. He had been better lately, though.
Despite Mama’s fear, it warmed my heart to see him running.
I swept my brother onto my shoulders and bounced to my feet. At the sound of Azel’s laughter, Mama pressed her gloved fingers to her lips, holding in her customary scolding. Maia rose, hooked her arm in Mama’s, and led her away, distracting her from Ola’s tears and my reckless behavior with plans for the Equinox Gala.
The Gala occupied our time in the weeks that followed. Maia and Tatia reveled in the excitement. On display in our supernal box at the Elysium Theatre, we endured a prelude of ballets, operas, and symphonies—opportunities to meet potential suitors before my formal presentation to society.
I could not have been less interested.
The trick I had used to sneak out tonight had gotten me out of many a dull occasion. Magic was prohibited in Heaven’s capital, but one could find anything in the Demon Market, and I had found a bottle of “twinning spirits” that allowed me to leave a version of myself at home in the form of a corporeal shade.
The twinning spirits consisted of two vials. One contained the separating elixir. The other held the aethereal essence of the shade while its corporeal projection moved about—breathing and speaking and acting with the perfect likeness of the true form until the vial was opened and the essence returned to its source.
My shade-self spent the long nights of winter in rich brocades and velvets, bundled in furs in bright red, horse-drawn sleighs to counter the dreariness of heavy skies and starless nights as we sped over the snow to our engagements.
The rest of me spent them in the smoke-shrouded dens of Raqia. Remembering it all when my shade returned to me was tedium enough.
On the night of the Gala, however, I attended in both body and spirit. Every chandelier in the Winter Palace was ablaze, casting so many reflected glints on the River Neba it looked like a sky full of stars. Carriages arrived by the dozens, depositing celestial dignitaries and wealthy merchants in the grand foyer of our palace.
Ola arrived on Kae’s arm wearing a gown of citrine satin and lace, happier than I had ever seen her. Whatever had preoccupied Kae had obviously been resolved. He hovered beside her with the earnestness of a courting suitor, bringing a pretty pink to her cheeks when he leaned in with a whisper to present her with cordials and candies from the reception hall’s brimming tables.
The appearance of a dazzling pair of Seraphim between the arches of the enfilade announced the entrance of the principality and his queen. With the hush and rustle of silk, hundreds of skirts dipped as one.
The orders of the Second Choir were beings of pure elemental fire, and while their element could be seen in the glowing countenances of the Cherubim and Ophanim, the Seraphim alone seemed to truly burn with it.
Emerging from between their brilliance beneath a baptism of petals and gold leaf that tumbled like glittering butterflies from the gilded papier-mâché eggs overhead, Papa led Mama into the sea of silk.
In the flash of jewels and sequins and the gleam of polished medals reflected from the mirrored walls in the seraphic light, the whole affair seemed but a fairy dream.
Yet in all its splendor, the event of the season did not dazzle me half so much as the first time I saw the Demon Market.
Just across the River Asheron that divided the noble houses of the city of Elysium from the low houses of Raqia, the lights of the market glittered on the water like a wicked invitation. It was a world away from the dull and ordered life of a supernal grand duchess—a world sparkling with bright paper lanterns and trinkets of blown glass, full of buskers and hustlers, and men who ate fire. In its cobbled alleys, I feasted on prickly fruits that stained my lips and fingers purple and watched rough-looking demon boys play games of dice on the crumbling stone.
The market’s inexorable magic had enticed me at the age of thirteen, and its iniquity had kept me coming back.
When I escaped into the garden later, I found Ola and Tatia whispering in excitement among the fragrant roses. Ola drew me in between them huddled on the marble bench, saying she had reason to believe Kae was not, after all, engaged in an affair.
“I am carrying an heir,” she confided. “If I had any cause for worry it is gone now. He is so pleased.”
I embraced her. “Oh, Ola. That’s wonderful!”
“What’s wonderful?” Azel stood in the doorway in his formal costume, a miniature of my father’s military regalia, with a book tucked under one arm.
Ola blushed from shame, it seemed, and not happiness or embarrassment. I was puzzled for a moment, until Azel approached and I saw the look on his face.
“Will it be a boy?” he asked. “I hope he will be healthy.” He did not add not like me, but it was there in his expression.
Ola held out her hand and drew him between us. “I hope it’s healthy, too, Azelly, but I don’t care what sex it is. The House of Arkhangel’sk has its heir. I just want a family.”
Maia found us then, and Ola repeated her news. The orchestra began the waltz, and the four of us danced around Ola—Tatia with Maia, and I with Azel—until we fell about the garden, laughing.
A sumptuous meal was served at midnight, and Maia took up her favorite game, saying the first gentleman we saw whose name began with “S” would be my latest match. I nearly choked on my trifle when she pointed out Sar Sarael, a prince of Aravoth from the angelic Order of Virtues. Sarael was certainly divine in his aethereal beauty. His silvery hair hung down his back like a fall of crystalline water and his eyes glittered with the sheen of snow beneath a bright winter sun. But Virtues were not known for their amorousness and rarely mingled with the lower orders.
Beside Sarael was another Virtue whose name I had not learned. If possible, she outshone him in her rime-like purity. Watching Maia and I giggle over my would-be husband, she smiled at us from across the room. Then her attention fell on someone behind us, and her expression made me turn. By the entrance to the gallery, Kae stood watching her, frozen by her gaze.
Attentive as a new lover on the night of the Gala, my cousin returned to his peculiar distraction in the days that followed. Ola said nothing, but as she grew full and lovely with her pregnancy, it was clear he was once more spending his days away from home.
Kae had been my dearest friend since I was small and had spent more time at our home than his own after the death of my aunt in childbirth when he was just a boy, but now he had shut me out as well.
Ola busied herself with her layette, with Tatia and Maia bustling around her to see that her baby entered the world well-accoutered. Less inclined toward things maternal, I spent time helping Azel with his studies, but it seemed intolerable that he should be kept inside during such lovely days.
While the family took our spring holiday on the southern shore of the Gulf of the Firmament, I spirited him from the white granite Celestial Palace one afternoon to take his mind from his infirmity.
We gave his nurse Helga the slip after tea. I carried Azel on my back and ran to the stables to fetch my mare. Though he was more at home on horseback than on his own limbs, Mama was afraid to let Azel ride, so he had no horse of his own. We set out for the woodlands of our private park, singing and laughing beneath a canopy of gold-dappled leaves, until Azel spotted a hummingbird and made me stop. He had never seen one except through a spyglass from his window. We held our breath while it hovered, indigo and sparkling, gathering nectar in its dagger-sharp beak.
It was gone just as quickly, and in the absence of its whirring, we heard voices. Though too distant for the words to be clear, the birdlike titter of a lady carried down the path. I thought I had never heard anything so lovely. Awestruck, neither of us moved or made a sound.
Then, clear as the sky, I heard Cousin Kae. “You mock me, my lady. But my devotion is sincere.”
My blood froze. It was plainly Kae, though he did not sound himself. To what lady was he pledging devotion? That laugh had certainly not belonged to Ola.
“We should go,” Azel whispered in my ear.
The rippling laughter came again, punctuated with the sound of pounding hooves. A riderless white horse thundered down the path toward us, its mane a comet in the sun. It passed us in a flash of brilliance, leaving only whorls of dirt in its wake.
“My lady!” Kae followed, his horse at a gallop. He passed within inches of us, but took no notice, his face wild. “I am yours!”
Azel developed a cough the following day. Helga scolded us in her “special language”—a peasant dialect she used when particularly angry—but she said nothing to Mama. When we returned to Elysium, Azel was bedridden again. In my guilt over his ill health and over the odd encounter with Kae that we had kept from Ola, I took to sneaking from the palace even more frequently on my own.
At the wingcasting table, it was easy to forget I was a grand duchess of the Firmament of Shehaqim who would one day marry a grand duke or a prince of a distant princedom and leave the happy home in which I had grown up.
But while I played, the celestial house of cards that was the House of Arkhangel’sk began to fall.
The first to fold was my father’s brother, Lebes, Grand Duke of Iriy. Shortly after our return to the city, the duchy of Iriy hosted the annual Feast of Virtues. My uncle became ill and collapsed during the commencement address.
At first, it appeared to be merely a bout of the influence, but with the steady worsening of his condition, we began to suspect he had been poisoned. He lapsed into a sleep from which his attendants couldn’t wake him, and Kae and Ola hurried to his side.
The only suspect was a Fallen man with ties to a subversive anti-monarchist group who worked for my uncle’s chef. The Virtues them-selves investigated such crimes, but when they found no evidence to tie him to the poisoning, they released the demon and returned to Aravoth.
Kae grew increasingly distraught the more my uncle slipped away. On the morning the grand duke breathed his last breath, my cousin flew into a rage and ran the suspected demon through with his sword. Ola was beside herself with grief for the father-in-law she had adored and worry for the husband she could not reach.
The incident sparked outrage among the Fallen. Scores of them protested outside the Ereline Palace, stirring fears of a revolt.
It was not the first time such a specter had reared its head in Heaven. Tragedy had preceded my father’s reign. After the untimely death of my grandfather in a riding accident, my great-grandfather had fallen to an anarchist’s blade, leaving Papa to take the throne at the tender age of twenty.
Ola and Kae were whisked from the palace by the Seraphim Guard and brought to the safety of Elysium. Ola was horribly shaken, but Kae seemed to forget his distress almost immediately, returning to his prior preoccupation and rejecting her comfort.
His behavior became impossible to ignore. Ola, now round with his child, he treated coldly, as if he could not bear to be near her. She confided in no one but Tatia now. They were closest in age, and I believe Ola was too ashamed to confide in anyone else. They wept together behind closed doors while Maia and I tried to make ourselves useful by helping to plan Mama’s social engagements. Papa, perhaps in response to the feminine undercurrents within the palace he could not comprehend, immersed himself in affairs of state, giving increasing audience to his advisors in cloistered meetings.
Meanwhile, my guilt grew stronger as Azel and I kept secret the strange afternoon in the woods to spare Ola’s feelings. Azel’s pallor and labored breathing when I read to him from his favorite books of ornithology and angelic history caused me even more guilt. Helga, by his side night and day, did not speak of blame.
The heaviness in Ola’s eyes at last got the better of me, and I resolved to confront Cousin Kae. Though she was nearing her confinement, they made an appearance at the annual Elysium Day pageant, the last grand affair in the capital before the solstice heralded our return to the Summer Palace in the north.
At the dance following the first banquet, I managed to position myself as Kae’s partner. He went through the motions with his mind elsewhere, gloved hand raising mine at the appropriate time, the other behind his back, taking the steps with dull accuracy.
When I stepped in close to him, I met his gaze and held it with a fierce look. He focused on me at last while he spun me about, our right arms meeting overhead when we came together.
“You seem preoccupied.”
The bitterness of my voice appeared to shake him. “Preoccupied?” He glanced about in search of an excuse. “Uncle Helison and I have been engaged in some tense negotiations over the sovereignty of the duchies.”
“I’m not talking about politics, Cousin.” I stepped back into a genuflection and then forward, looking up into his face. “I am talking about my sister. Your wife. She is having your child.”
He looked puzzled, bless his craven heart. “I don’t—?”
“Ola,” I whispered harshly. “For the love of Heaven!”
“For pity’s sake, Anazakia!” He spun me about, and I whirled to face him once more. “I know who I’m married to.”
“Do you?” We were about to switch partners and there was no time to belabor the point. “And whom are you meeting when you go out riding? Do you take my sister for a fool?”
He released me, and I turned and curtsied to my new partner. I watched my cousin over my partner’s shoulder while we moved farther apart, and saw, at last, some humility in his eyes.
When the dance ended, Kae made polite conversation before making his way to the alcove seat where I’d retired. He sat beside me.
“Nenny.” He had not called me Nenny, the name Azel had invented after deeming my customary nickname too hard to pronounce, since I was a bare-legged tree climber. “You’re right. But you’re wrong.”
“I haven’t been meeting anyone. But I have been going out to see… you wouldn’t… the most beautiful… ”
“The steed,” I said, and Kae’s eyes snapped to mine. “I saw her.”
“Yes?” His eyes shone.
“But I heard her, also, Kae. I heard a woman’s voice, the owner of the steed.”
He frowned as if considering something contradictory, but said nothing.
“You are killing Ola,” I told him. “She could not love you more deeply if you had been a love match. You are not just a convenient arrangement to her.”
Kae stood, giving me a look of rebuke, but at least it was a look I recognized. “Ola is not an arrangement to me. You cannot imagine how much I love her.”
“I don’t doubt it, Kae. But I’m not the one you need to convince.”
He turned on his heel. I had angered him, but I hoped I had knocked him from whatever fantasy he was pursuing with the owner of that white mare.
With relief, I watched him find Ola settled upon a cushioned bench across the hall watching the orchestra play. Kae kissed her hand and held her gloved knuckles to his cheek for a long moment before kneeling on one knee to lay his head against her belly. Ola sifted his pale curls through her fingers. For the moment, all was well.
Tatia and Maia were making the rounds with Mama, doing their social duty, while my father played host to the noble houses of the Heavens, asserting his autocracy. With Azel still bedridden, I ought to have checked in on him and read to him to cheer him up, but my shade could do it for me.
Instead, full of restless energy, I had come to the place where I did not have to be charming, or gracious, or even interesting. I had only to put up my crystal and play my hand well. And in a single night at the wingcasting table, I lost everything.
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