Home > Jaded Spring (Shadow Crown, #3)

Jaded Spring (Shadow Crown, #3)
Author: Kristen Martin

JADED

SPRING

 

 

ARDEN ELIRI

 

 

 I’VE GROWN TO like it here.

 Above me, the sunlight shines through the canopy of trees, warming my face. I lay on my back with my eyes closed, absorbing the peace and quiet—sans the sound of rippling water from a nearby stream. That I don’t mind one bit.

 A much earlier spring is approaching, thank the lords, and the signs are all around me—in the minimal snowfall remaining on the ground; the green leaves breaking free from winter’s cruel captivity; the warmer, but still slightly chilly temperatures; the birds chirping their cheerful melodies in the mornings.

 Winter has almost reached its end.

 A cloud rolls over the rays of warmth, casting a cool shadow across my face. As I figured it would, it takes my peace along with it. My eyes shoot open as images of Aldreda’s pallid face and lifeless body flood my mind. My hands hovering over her abdomen. The dark mist. The white light . . .

 Darkness had prevailed.

 A chill lodges in my chest. I know what I’d felt in that room with her. I’d called forth my light—my healing ability. I’d witnessed it take shape with my very own eyes. I’d breathed life back into her—her lips had parted, her chest had risen, her eyelids had fluttered—so how had this happened? How had the Queen of Trendalath died at my own two hands?

 As jarring as the thought is, I find myself distracted by two small paws pressing against my thigh. I raise my head to find Juniper aggressively seeking my attention. She pushes on my thigh again before pouncing directly onto my lap. I sit upright before cradling her in my arms.

 After Haskell had, well, rescued me from the horrors of that day, he’d offered to go to Orihia to look for Juniper and bring her back to Lirath Cave. I’d been going on and on about her and how I’d hoped she was all right. At the time, I’d been too weak to transport with him, so I’d waited impatiently—like a shell of a parent—until he’d returned safely with my sweet Juni in his arms. It’d only taken him a few hours. He’d even managed to pick some juniper berries before returning—a good call since they’re her favorite and don’t grow in the northern regions of Aeridon.

 After coddling Juniper for a few minutes too long—the incessant squirming is her “tell”—I finally release her from my arms, to which she happily prances off into the brush, chasing after a mouse. I watch her in amusement until I notice someone approaching in the distance. I can tell from the burly figure that it’s Haskell.

 My brother.

 For seventeen (almost eighteen) years, I’ve been an orphan, one who’d been taken under Tymond’s wing and trained to become a merciless assassin for the Cruex. I’ve never known what had become of my family—if I’d even had one at all—so I’ve been under the impression that they’re no longer living. The Cruex had become my family. I’d never thought to question that.

 But seeing that flash of green light in the healing ward in Trendalath castle, those piercing eyes the same shade as mine . . . I’d known. I’d known that whoever had come to save me was family.

 My real family.

 Haskell approaches with a rather cheery grin on his face, which is discomfiting given his usual rigid demeanor. We’ve only been here, together, for a few weeks, but in that short time, I feel as though I’ve really gotten to know him. I’ve caught on pretty quickly to a few nuances: to keep my distance whenever he’s preparing a meal; to never wake him before the sun comes up; and to avoid asking questions about that day in Trendalath. That last one has been a challenge. Not surprisingly, it’s the only thing I want to talk about.

 When he finally reaches where I’m sitting, I notice that his hands are behind his back. I push myself up from the ground, brushing off the leaves and twigs from the back of my trousers. I give him a coy smile before greeting him. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

 He angles his head, eyes twinkling, but keeps his arms locked behind him. “I’ve got a little something for you.”

 “Oh, do you now?” I proceed to whistle to call Juniper back over from whatever adventure she’s taken herself on.

 “I know it’s a day early, but,” he says as he brings his arms in front of him, “happy early birthday, Arden.”

 A burlap-wrapped sack falls into my outstretched arms. My heart flutters at the sight. I can tell immediately what it is by the weight and the shape of the packaging. I lay it carefully on the ground and unroll the gift to reveal exactly what I hoped it’d be.

 My chakrams.

 My hands fly to my mouth as a squeal of delight escapes. I gingerly pick each blade up and secure them back into my holsters—back to their rightful place. My eyes meet my brother’s. “But how did you . . . ?”

 He remains silent, and I realize what he’s done for me. What he’s risked for me. He went back there—back to Trendalath—to retrieve my weapons. “Haskell, I don’t even know what to say. Thank you. I know how dangerous that must have been. Just”—I choke on the words—“thank you.”

 He gives me a reassuring nod. “For family, any risk is worth taking.”

 A faint warmth blooms in my neck, traveling upward to my cheeks. “How was it? Being back there?” I clamp down on my tongue to keep from asking what I really want to know—how things are in Trendalath, in the castle, after everything that’s transpired . . .

 Haskell shakes his head as if to silence me. “Perhaps another time. Things are as you’d expect, but it’s none of your concern.”

 I almost stumble backward from shock. Not my concern? How can he say that? “I’m the reason—”

 “I’m going to stop you right there,” he interrupts. He grabs hold of my forearm and tugs me forward. “It’s time to head back. You’ve been out here for hours and you’ve hardly eaten anything all day.” He sneaks a look at Juniper. “Unless you’ve been sharing berries.”

 His attempt at humor is admirable, but futile. I’m really not in the mood. I shrug off his grip and start for the cave, making sure to stay a few steps in front of him, with Juniper a step or so ahead of me.

 Without warning, a bird’s shadow sweeps by. For a moment, I swear my heart falters. I stop in my tracks and gaze at the sky, half expecting to see a black falcon.

 Expecting . . . or hoping?

 But it’s just a hawk.

 It isn’t Xerin.

 Haskell lightly knocks into my shoulder and passes me, murmuring something about the cave being close, but I’m entirely distracted by my thoughts. I look to the sky again, hoping that perhaps, somehow, Xerin will hear my thoughts and come swooping in. But the expanse above me remains empty, save for the few pockets of clouds.

 My mind flits to the fellow Caldari I’ve left behind. Estelle, Felix, Opal . . . Braxton. After what he’d confided in me, showing me that letter—and to think, I’d killed his estranged mother. It’d been an accident, but still. I’m to blame.

 And Queen Jareth. What does she think of me now? Does she even know I’d been taken to Trendalath? Do any of them know? Do they think I’ve conspired against them this entire time? That my loyalty lies with King Tymond?

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