Ascend / Page 4

Page 4


Tears stung my eyes, and I put my hand to my mouth. I’d never seen Loki shirtless before, but he even had scars on his forearms, and they weren’t there before. This had all happened since I saw him last.

Worse still, Loki had Vittra blood. Physically, he was incredibly strong, which is how he’d pounded at the door so hard it shook the front hall. That also meant he healed better than most. For him to look this terrible, somebody really had to beat the hell out of him, over and over again, so he wouldn’t have time to heal.

A jagged scar stretched across his chest, as if someone had tried to stab him, and it reminded me of my own scar that ran along my stomach. My host mother had tried to kill me when I was a child, but that felt like a lifetime ago.

I touched Loki’s chest, running my fingers over the bumps of his scar. I don’t know why exactly, but I felt compelled to, as if the scar made us kindred spirits.

“You just couldn’t wait to get me naked, could you, Princess?” Loki asked tiredly. I started to pull my hand back, but he put his own hand over it, keeping it in place.

“No, I – I was checking for wounds,” I stumbled and wouldn’t meet his gaze.

“I’m sure.” He moved his thumb, almost caressing my hand, until it hit my ring. “What’s that?” He tried to sit up to see it, so I lifted my hand, showing him the emerald encrusted oval on my finger. “Is that a wedding ring?”

“No, engagement.” I lowered my hand, resting it on the bed next to him. “I’m not married yet.”

“I’m not too late, then,” he smiled and settled back in the bed.

“Too late for what?” I asked.

“To stop you, of course.” Still smiling, he closed his eyes.

“Is that why you’re here?” I asked, failing to point out how near we were to my nuptials.

“I told you why I’m here,” Loki said.

“What happened to you, Loki?” I asked, my voice growing thick when I thought about what he had to have gone through to get all those marks and bruises.

“Are you crying, Princess?” Loki asked and opened his eyes.

“No, I’m not crying.” I wasn’t, but my eyes were moist.

“Don’t cry.” He tried to sit up, but he winced when he lifted his head, so I put my hand gently on his chest to keep him down.

“You need to rest,” I said.

“I will be fine.” He put his hand over mine again, and I let him. “Eventually.”

“Can you tell me what happened?” I asked. “Why do you need amnesty?”

“Remember when we were in the garden?” Loki asked.

Of course I remembered. Loki had snuck in over the wall and asked me to run away with him. I had declined, but he’d stolen a kiss before he left, a rather nice kiss. My cheeks reddened slightly at the memory, and that made Loki smile wider.

“I see you do,” he grinned.

“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked.

“That doesn’t,” Loki said, referring to the kiss. “I meant when I told you that the King hates me. He really does, Princess.” His eyes went dark for a minute.

“The Vittra King did this to you?” I asked, and my stomach tightened. “You mean Oren? My father?”

“Don’t worry about it now,” he said, trying to calm the anger inside me. “I’ll be fine.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why does the King hate you? Why did he do this to you?”

“Princess, please.” He closed his eyes. “I’m exhausted. I barely made it here. Can we have this conversation when I’m feeling a bit better? Say, in a month or two?”

“Loki,” I sighed, but he had a point. “Rest. But we will talk tomorrow. Alright?”

“As you wish, Princess,” he conceded, and he was already drifting back to sleep again.

I sat beside him for a few minutes longer, my hand still on his chest so I could feel his heartbeat pounding underneath. When I was certain he was asleep, I slid my hand out from under his, and I stood up.

In the hall, I wrapped my arms around myself. I couldn’t shake the heavy guilt I felt, as if I somehow shared responsibility for what happened to Loki. I’d only spoken to Oren once, and I had no control over what he did. So why did I feel like it was my fault that Loki had been so brutally beaten?

I wasn’t in the hall for long when Duncan and Thomas approached. I’d wanted to alert as few people as possible about Loki’s presence, but I trusted Thomas. Not just because he was the head guard or Finn’s father. He’d once had an illicit affair with Elora, so I thought he was good at keeping secrets.

“The Vittra Markis is in there?” Thomas asked, but he was already looking past me into the room where Loki slept.

“Yes, but he’s been through hell,” I said, rubbing my arms as if I had a chill. “He’s going to be out for a while.”

“Duncan said he asked for amnesty.” Thomas looked down at me. “Are you going to give it to him?”

“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “He hasn’t been able to talk much. But I’m letting him stay here for now, at least until he heals and we can have a conversation.”

“How do you want us to handle this?” Thomas asked.

“We can’t tell Elora. Not right now,” I said.

The last time Loki had been here, he’d been held captive. We don’t have a real prison, so Elora had used her telekinesis to hold him in place, but that had weakened her so much it nearly killed her. In fact, she hadn’t recovered from it yet, and there would be no way she could do it again.

Besides that, I didn’t think Loki was really capable of causing trouble. Not in this state, at least. And he’d come to us of his own free will. We didn’t need to hold him.

“We need a guard stationed outside his door at all times, just to be safe,” I said. “I don’t think he’s a threat, but I won’t take any chances with the Vittra.”

“I can stand watch now, but somebody will have to relieve me of my post eventually,” Thomas said.

“I can take over later,” Duncan offered.

“No.” Thomas shook his head. “You stay with the Princess.”

“Do you have any other guards you can trust?” I asked.

Most of the guards seemed to be gossips, and when one of them heard something, they all knew it. But there were very few guards around to tell anymore, since most of them were out protecting changelings.

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