Home > The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(7)

The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(7)
Author: Jeffe Kennedy

I woke with a choked gasp, a storm raging outside, pain racking my body inside. Hunger in both. Calanthe’s hunger, demanding and full of frightened rage, my own body echoing that craving, even as I cowered before the strident volume of Her demands.

“Lia?” Con murmured my name sleepily. He was draped heavily on and around me, his body tensing as he came awake, hands running over me as if checking for injury. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m starving.” I nearly snarled the words, Calanthe’s ferocious need echoing in my voice.

“Right.” He rolled over, broad shoulders flexing in the dim light as he reached for something on the bedside table. “You’re supposed to drink this,” he said, showing me a glass vial. “Do you need help sitting up?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” I pushed myself up on one elbow, somewhat astonished when it gave beneath me, dumping me ignominiously onto the pillow. How had I come to this? I was so confused, and the grinding hunger made it hard to think. There were things—important things—that I should be remembering.

“Let me,” Con said, sliding an arm beneath me and easily lifting me to lie against his chest. He uncorked the vial with his thumb and held it to my lips.

“I can do that,” I said, reaching for it, but he moved it away.

“Other hand.”

I looked and saw my hand swathed in a filmy bandage, the spindly green twigs of my growing fingers spidering against the cloth. “My hand…” The bleeding stumps. That hadn’t been the nightmare?

“Your hand is growing back, yes,” Con replied firmly.

“What happened to…” I recoiled from the rush of remembered terror.

“Shh, Lia. Don’t think about it. Drink this and you’ll feel better.” He held the cool vial against my lips and I drank, more from lack of will to resist than anything else. The liquid tasted like sunshine on green leaves, and my stomach leapt with gladness. I seized the vial from Con with the hand I still had and drained it, tipping my head to get every drop.

The din of Calanthe’s need receded somewhat. Where was I?

My own bedchamber, but the windows had been boarded up, a storm lashing rain to leak around the edges. Calanthe prowled along my nerves, howling of Her starvation, snarling and struggling to break free, the land shedding from Her back like dirt off a dog. The elixir, at least, had sated some of my body’s insane hunger, but Hers raged on. “What was this?” I asked, holding up the vial.

“Something Ambrose came up with. He said it would help—did it? You seem better.”

He said that cautiously enough that I turned to look at him. A bit of blood dribbled into his beard from his swollen lower lip. It looked like it had been chewed. “What happened to your lip?”

He fingered the wound thoughtfully. “An accident.”

He was lying, I could tell, but I couldn’t remember the truth. “Why do I feel all wrong?”

Con’s face creased with emotion, and he seemed to be struggling for words. Pushing himself up, he shoved a hand through his hair. “There’s time enough to explain—”

“What requires explanation? Am I sick?”

“Not exactly.” He sounded strangled, gesturing to my hand. “You were injured.”

I tried to think back, dredging up memories that felt thin, ragged, stagnant. All finishing with that horrible feeling of my life draining away, the blackness overtaking me. “And I was unconscious.”

He blew out a short breath, looking away. “Yes.”

Another lie. “Don’t coddle Me. Tell Me the truth.”

Swallowing hard, Con pressed a hand over his face. “You were dead, Lia. That’s why you feel wrong. But you’re getting better.”

I stared at him, uncomprehending. “Actually dead,” I clarified. “You saw My corpse?”

He dropped his hand, curling it on the sheet, and met my gaze levelly. “I did. I carried your—you—out of Yekpehr, so I can verify.”

“If I was dead, why am I alive now?” If I was alive. Maybe the dead had nightmares of being alive.

“I don’t even know. Ambrose did something, but your own magic had something to do with it, too. I’d say ask Ambrose but we both know he won’t give a straight answer.”

His smile faded, unreturned, as I struggled to pull the memories together. My mind felt spongy, eroded at the edges. I pressed a finger to the stabbing pain in my head, ruthlessly suppressing the scream that wanted to well up from the black terror of those memories.

“Maybe it’s better not to think about it just yet.” Con slid a rough-skinned hand to the back of my neck, squeezing and steadying. “What’s important is that you are alive. We should be happy that—”

“Happy?” I ground out, forcing my voice past the scream I’d squelched, but that remained trapped somewhere around my heart. “You want Me to be happy? Look at Me. I’m a wreck. I can’t even sit up.”

“You’ll get stronger,” he replied stubbornly.

“How do you know?” I shot back, then nodded at the look on his face. “See? You don’t.”

He set his jaw. “I know you’re doing a hell of a lot better than you were at this time yesterday.”

Yesterday … when I was dead. The scream trapped in my chest shattered into a sob, and I gasped for breath. What a weak and sniveling mess I was.

“Lia…” Con tried to pull me into his arms, but I pushed him away.

“How long was I dead?” I demanded. “A few minutes?” Like someone drowned who seemed dead, but was revived. No, Con was frowning, searching for words to soothe me. “Longer, then. Hours?”

“Lia…”

“Just tell Me, Con,” I grated out.

He shook his head, then set his jaw. “Nearly a full day and night. You passed away about four hours before midnight and came back to life when we hit Calanthe’s waters the next evening, right as the sun was going down.”

So long. “You weren’t there, though, when I died.” I’d been alone, wishing for him. I remembered that, the sorrow and regret.

“No.” His face contorted with emotion, and he put his arms around me. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. Sorry for so much that—”

“I don’t need comforting,” I snapped, pushing him away. “I need answers. How do you know what time I died if you weren’t there?”

He sat up, releasing me and curling into himself, elbows on drawn-up knees, face in his hands. “I know what time you died because I felt it. The marriage bond, or whatever, went poof! Vesno lost his shit and I knew you were gone.” His voice thick and grating, he lifted his head to glare at me, seeming unaware of the tears leaking over the pitted skin of his cheeks. “It was the worst fucking thing I’ve ever gone through—including holding my father when he died—so don’t you dare tell me not to want to hold you, to want to be glad for a few damn minutes that you’re here and alive, even if you are snarling and spiteful.”

I stared at him, taken aback by the passion of his speech—and realizing the truth of what he’d said. The marriage bond indeed had shattered, and I was no longer the woman he’d married. I was … something else. He stared back, defying me to argue with him, eyes molten gold, new lines around them, carved there by grief and despair. I needed to get ahold of myself, regain some poise and control.

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