Home > The Traitor Queen (The Bridge Kingdom #2)

The Traitor Queen (The Bridge Kingdom #2)
Author: Danielle L. Jensen

1

 

 

Aren

 

 

He’d been blindfolded for thirteen days.

Shackled too, and occasionally gagged, but despite the persistent burn of the ropes sloughing the skin of his wrists and the foul taste of the fabric shoved in his mouth, it was the endless shadow of the blindfold that was driving Aren, the former King of Ithicana, to the brink of madness.

For while pain was an old friend, and discomfort almost a way of life, to be confined to what sights his own mind could conjure was the worst sort of torture. Because despite his most fervent wish it were otherwise, all his mind wanted to show him were visions of her.

Lara.

His wife.

The Traitor Queen of Ithicana.

Aren had more pressing matters to consider, the foremost how the bloody hell he was going to escape the Maridrinians. Yet the practicalities of that need faded as he examined every moment with her, trying and failing to decipher truth from lie, reality from the act—though to what end he could not say. What did knowing if any of it had been real matter when the bridge was lost, his people were dead and dying, his kingdom was on the brink of defeat, and all of it the result of him trusting in—loving—his enemy.

I love you. Her voice and face filled his thoughts, honey hair tangled, her azure eyes bright with tears that carved their way through the mud smearing her cheeks.

Truth or lie?

Aren wasn’t sure which answer would be a balm to the wound and which would tear it wide open again. A wise man would leave it alone, but God knew he had no claim to that particular attribute, so around he circled, her face, her voice, her touch consuming him as the Maridrinians dragged him, kicking and fighting, from his fallen kingdom. Only once he was off the seas and beneath the heat of the Maridrinian skies did he get his wish: the blindfold removed.

Wishes were the dreams of fools.

 

 

2

 

 

Lara

 

 

Lara hadn’t known Eranahl had a dungeon.

But there was no other word for the dark cell built into caverns beneath the island city, the stone walls slick with mildew and the air stagnant. The steel bars were devoid of even a hint of rust, because this was Ithicana, and even the things that were barely used were well maintained.

Lara lay on her back on the narrow cot, the thin blanket she’d been given doing little to ward off the damp chill, her stomach tight with hunger because she was subjected to the same rations as everyone else on the island.

This wasn’t how she’d hoped things would go.

Rather than convincing Ahnna of her plan to rescue Aren from her father’s clutches, all her display of martial skill in the council chamber had done was see her slapped in irons, dragged through the city streets, and tossed in this cell. Those who brought her food and fresh water refused to speak to her, ignoring her pleas to see Ahnna.

And every day that passed was another day that Aren remained prisoner in Maridrina, subjected to God-knew-what sort of treatment.

If he was even still alive.

The thought made her want to curl in on herself. Made her want to scream with frustration. Made her want to break free of this place and try to free Aren herself.

Except she knew that would be folly.

She needed Ithicana.

If only she could make them realize that they needed her, too.

 

 

3

 

 

Aren

 

 

“Good morning, Your Majesty,” a voice said as the blindfold was removed from Aren’s face.

Aren blinked rapidly, tears streaming down his cheeks as the sun seared into his eyes, blinding him as surely as the sweat-stained fabric ever had. Gradually, the burning white receded to reveal a manicured rose garden. A table. And a man with silvered hair, sun-darkened skin, and eyes the color of the Tempest Seas.

The King of Maridrina.

Lara’s father.

His enemy.

Aren lunged across the table, not caring that he was unarmed or that his wrists were bound. Knowing only that he needed to hurt this man who had destroyed everything he held dear.

His fingers inches from their mark, Aren found himself snapped back against his chair, a chain belted to his waist holding him in place like a dog to a post.

“Now, now. Let’s not be uncivilized.”

“Fuck. You.”

The Maridrinian king’s upper lip curled with disdain, as though Aren had barked rather than spoken. “You are as your kingdom was, Your Majesty. Feral.”

Was.

The sneer turned into a smile. “Yes, Your Majesty. Was. For I’m afraid Ithicana is no longer, and your title now a courtesy you will have to do without.” He leaned back in his chair. “What shall we call you? Master Kertell? Or perhaps, given we are family of sorts, a certain amount of familiarity is appropriate, Aren.”

“I don’t give a shit what you call me, Silas. As to your other point, the bridge is not Ithicana. I am not Ithicana. My—”

“—people are Ithicana,” Silas finished, his gaze gleaming with amusement. “Pretty words, boy. And perhaps there is truth to them. Ithicana stands . . . for as long as Eranahl does.”

Aren’s stomach twisted, the name of his city on his enemy’s lips both unfamiliar and unwelcome.

“Such a secret to keep.” King Silas Veliant shook his head. “Yet a secret no longer.”

“If you mean to use me to negotiate Eranahl’s surrender, you’re wasting your time.”

“I don’t waste my time. And I don’t negotiate.” Silas rubbed his chin. “Nearly all your people gathered on one island, cut off from supplies and with no hope of salvation. How long will they last? How long until Eranahl is not a fortress, but a tomb? No, Aren, I don’t need you to see the destruction of Ithicana through to completion.”

It wouldn’t come to that. Whoever was in command of Eranahl would begin smuggling civilians out of Ithicana under the cover of the storms. North and south. Scattered to the winds.

But alive.

And as long as they were alive . . . “If I’m so useless, why am I here?”

Silas steepled his fingers together, silent. Aren’s heart sped, thundering against his chest, each beat more violent than the last.

“Where is Lara?”

An unexpected question, given that Aren had expected her to be here. Back in Maridrina. Back at her father’s side. That she wasn’t . . . That her father didn’t know where she was . . .

I love you.

Aren shook his head sharply, a bead of sweat running down his cheek. She’d stabbed him in the back, lied to him from the beginning. Nothing she’d said mattered now. “I have no idea.”

“Is she alive?”

Unease prickled across his skin, Lara’s voice echoing through his thoughts: I thought I’d destroyed all the copies. This is . . . this is a mistake. The tears in her eyes had glinted like jewels. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Did you let her go? Or did she escape?”

Please don’t do this. I can fight. I can help you. I can—

“Allowing a traitor to go free seems an ill-advised choice.” Yet it had been the one he’d made. Why? Why hadn’t he killed her when he’d had the chance?

The other man’s head cocked. Then he reached into the pocket of his gleaming white coat and extracted a ragged and stained piece of paper, the gilt long worn off its edges. “This was found on your person when you were searched. Such an interesting document.”

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