Page 18 of Pretty Little Thief

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“I’m fine, Robyn. Besides, that stuff will send me to my death quicker than this,” he says, lifting the covers to show me his seeping wounds. Blood oozes out with every breath he takes. Stubborn fucking man.

“You are the king, Father. They only want to help. You should let them,” I plead, running my hand gently through his hair, pushing back the strands that have fallen over his eyes.

He shakes his head no and my chest deflates with the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. He takes hold of my hand and presses it to his lips, then slowly places it upon his chest.

“My daughter is here now. She can tend to me while we chat. Leave us, for now. The princess will call for you when it is time for you to return.” He shoos them away so that we are left alone. The maidens collect the bloody rags at his bedside, replacing them with clean ones, and leave us in a hurry.

“We have much to discuss, and not very long to do so, Robyn. Listen closely, your brother and grandmother have been verybusy while I was away,” he chokes out, turning his head toward the water at the bedside table and pointing while trying to catch his breath. As soon as my eyes follow his, I jump off the bed, grab the water, and lift it to his lips.

“Father, I know they have been plotting. I don’t know if plotting is the right word, but they’ve been extra secretive since you’ve been away. I just don’t understand what their motives are, but you are here now, so we can figure it out together.”

I watch as his face falls. Sorrow and regret filling his features.

“The people are unhappy, Robyn. The lords of IronHaven do not like what they are witnessing.” He hesitates before shuffling to move his body up on the pillow behind him. “They’ve made a request of me. One that is best for the kingdom but will tear this family apart.”

Worry comes over me, my father has always put the kingdom first and family second. Whatever this request is must not be taken lightly.

“Have you been training like I requested?” I nod as a smile forms across his lips. “Good. That’s very good. I knew you would follow through without asking questions. But Robyn, you must keep up with it. No matter how hard those bastard guards push you or who tries to persuade you otherwise. Do you understand? You must not give up. You will need to know how to protect yourself, Robyn. I fear the time for you to fight is coming very soon. Sooner than either of us would like to imagine.”

“Father, you’re scaring me. Of course, I’ll do whatever you say, but where is the threat? Is it Rami? The other kingdoms? Why the urgency?”

Rami is a lot of things, but I’ve always held onto hope that he would never physically hurt me. Am I naive to believe this? Maybe.

My father lifts a brow before he speaks. “You are surrounded by enemies, Robyn. Never believe otherwise.”

My face drops. I slink back onto the bed with a sigh, letting his words really sink in.

“I should have listened to your mother all those years ago when she asked me to start your training with Rami’s, but your grandmother wouldn’t hear of it. I let her convince me otherwise, and now, I’m filled with regret.” He breathes deeply, worry lines wrinkling his face. “You may never be as strong of a warrior as your brother, but your wits are much greater than his. He depends on your grandmother and cannot make a move without her consent. Always remember that. My mother is a powerful sorceress, Robyn, do not underestimate her. She’s never shared with me the source of her power, but if you can find it, then you can defeat them.”

Jumping up from the bed, I begin to pace. “Sorceress? Like witchcraft? What do you mean, defeat them? Why would I be against them?” The questions pour from me as they enter my mind.

My grandmother is a sorceress!This thought sticks to the forefront of my mind.

“She already knows what I am planning. My decision has been made, and my mind cannot be changed. It’s what is best for IronHaven, even if it means pitting you and your brother against one another.” He scrubs a hand over his face, meeting my gaze with a fear in his eyes I’ve never seen before.

“Father! What are you saying? I won’t go against Ramiro. I would never do such a thing.”

“You won’t, but he will. If your grandmother has anything to say about it, you’ll be dead the same day that I take my last breath.” My heart pounds, I know what he is saying, but I need to hear the words to know them to be true.

“My bannermen are outside of Windemere, waiting for the signal. I have left a signed decree with Lord Osbirth. The seal has not been broken. My words should be unattested. But mymother will find a way, Robyn. You must know, she will find a way to undo all the good in IronHaven. If worst comes to worst, you flee Windemere and head to any of my bannermen for safe haven. They have sworn their allegiance to you and will not turn you away in a time of need.” My body is shaking, my mind reeling, how can this be real?

“Father, you will be fine. There’s no need to say these things. You are the king, and the people will follow your rule as you command. Let’s not discuss this anymore. You need to rest.”

“Robyn!” he shouts. His hand shoots to his side as he grunts in pain. When he finally settles, he looks up to meet my stare. “You are not listening. Soak up my words child because sooner or later you will need them. My mother and your brother are coming—for both of us. My decree states that in the event of my death, I, King Rian, house of Berxley and first of my name, name you, Princess Robyn, house of Berxley as my one true heir.”

My heart plummets. My stomach is doing backflips.

“Father, no! You can’t!”

“I can. And it’s already done. I’ve seen what kind of ruler your brother would be in my absence. I will never allow him to rule the throne of IronHaven, Robyn. He’s nothing more than a puppet for the queen dowager. That is not the making of a king. He doesn’t care what happens to our lands or our people. You and I both know that. I can’t ignore the pleas of my subjects. I’m sorry to put you in this position, but it must be done for the good of the kingdom.”

His shoulders slump forward, heavy from the weight of what’s to come.

Tears fall from my eyes. I’m frozen in the same spot. My father is a good man, and if he made this decision, it wasn’t done lightly.

“There’s more,” he says. “You need to know of your prophecy.”

“Prophecy? But I thought—” my words catch in my throat.