Lycus, she purrs in my head, and Nathair and I share a grin.
“Go, she needs you.”
I nod and turn to hurry to her side.
“Oh, and Ly?”
I still, and I feel a wave of love and comfort wash over me. “We are lucky to have you, all of us. We might have forgotten it for a moment, but we truly are. We couldn’t do this without you, warrior.”
I swallow back the lump in my throat, tears forming in my eyes.
Warriors do not cry, after all, or so I was beaten to believe.
I incline my head sharply and follow the call of my love, sliding into bed next to her. Zale is gone, and she turns into my embrace, wrapping her body around me tightly like she feels how close I am to shattering. This wasn’t for her. This was for me, I realise, and that’s what makes the first tear fall as I pull her close so not an inch is between us. Her heat and gentleness calm the banging war drums inside my heart, softening my hard edges like flames over the swell of a sword.
“He fed—” I begin, not realising I’m trembling slightly.
“I know.” She lifts her head and places a gentle kiss on my lips. “I know, my love. I feel it.” Her hand covers my heart. “You do not have to tell me.”
Shutting my eyes, I tug her even closer, burying my head in her hair and inhaling her scent until I feel more put together again. It’s as if a wound is healing, one I did not even know was there, but she did.
She came into our lives, determined to heal and love us.
She was always supposed to be ours, and I will never let her go.
She’s trapped in my webs now, and both me and my spider will protect her until our dying breath, but Osis was right in what he said. She should know all of us. We should lay ourselves bare to her. After all, we know her story, her crimes, and her past. She only knows what we tell her, but she deserves everything. I wish I could give her beauty, but what I can offer her is the edge of my blade until the very end.
My warrior’s heart and my kingdom.
Without a word, I lift my head, slice into my wrist, and press it to her mouth. Her eyebrows rise in question, but she greedily licks away the blood, and through the connection, I drag her back to my past so she can know who she holds, loves so sweetly, and claims as her own.
I might never be the sophisticated king like her ex-mate, or a noble like Nathair, but I hope she chooses me anyway because I choose her.
I am not as good at this as the others, and the edges of my memories are sharp as if to inflict pain, but I show her everything. I show her why I was judged. I show her the truth of my heritage, my greatest sins, and my greatest humiliations and hope she still loves me.
I was a great warrior once, riding into battles on horseback. I won many battles and many wars, and I show her snippets of some, of coming home soaked in blood but always victorious for my king who was a friend.
She needs to understand how I was born and raised into battle. My mother was a battle-forged warrior who led our court, and during battle with the werewolves, I was born into blood and death. It was all I knew. Our fires bloomed bright and around them, we told stories of our victories.
I was so happy and sure on my path, until that all changed one night.
My boots are silenced by the mud sliding under my feet, my leather armour slick with it along with the blood from today’s win. We captured and freed another village from the roaming ferals. The fires of our warriors light up the night sky at the perimeter, and our tents are set up for the night so we can rest, bathe, and eat before we start our ride to the next village to win yet another battle. We will not return to our king for over twelve moons, until we have freed the villages in our sector. We will return victorious. We always do.
“Captain,” a warrior greets as he passes, thumping his chest. I repeat the action, which is a sign of respect.
The village is quiet now, the inhabitants safe and sound thanks to us. Their small huts and homes are built close together in a circle with the well and bonfire in the middle. I’m usually exhausted after a battle and planning the next one. My brother, Arthur, says I work too hard, but I want to prove myself to my king. He gave me this chance to lead after all. I cannot let him or my family down—even if it’s just my brother now. He’s here, and tonight, I find myself wanting to drink and reminisce rather than plan.
I just have to find him first. Usually, he gathers with the others at the fires, protecting the perimeter in case any others attack or sneak up on us, but tonight he wasn’t there, so I am searching the village. I’m just about to give up when I hear a scream.
It cuts through the night, filled with agony and terror.
Yanking my blade free with a clank, I sprint towards the sound. Those fucking ferals must have snuck past our defences. I will have their heads for letting them through. I just hope the villagers are okay.
The scream continues, and I spin in a circle until I locate the house it comes from. Storming up the wooden steps, I kick in the wooden front door, ready to attack the ferals, only to freeze.
Horror, confusion, and pain flash through me.
“Brother,” he calls, his face almost a replica of mine, just younger. He scrambles up, his battle trousers undone. A young girl lies facedown against the wood with a split lip and a black eye, and tears stream down her face as she watches me, but there isn’t hope in those young eyes. There is nothing but resignation, an age-old knowledge of the women who have come before her.