Crown of Darkness by Bec McMaster



His eyes promise murder, but my mother isn’t done yet.

“I will take your love and I will twist it into a thousand writhing snakes,” she hisses at him, golden light filling her eyes.

A curse. My eyes widen.

“You will never touch another fae for as long as you live,” she spits the curse, along with a mouthful of blood. “Your touch will burn, your soul will wither, and your flesh will beg for relief, but there shall be none to be found. Live a thousand years, Edain, and never know another’s touch again.”

The curse strikes its target.

Edain screams, his spine bowing as little golden thorns flare to life in his skin.

“Mother, stop!’ I yell.

“It’s too late, Andraste. You will never have him now. Your heart may yearn, but your flesh will never meet,” she croons. “Instead, you will serve another.”

I kick against her magic, but the golden ropes only squeeze me tighter. “No!”

“Send her to the goblin king with my regards,” my mother sneers. “Tell him he may do with her as he pleases, as long as he claims he married the bitch and fulfils his part of our bargain.”

The goblin clans are merciless. They haven’t had a king in years, though there is rumor that there is one born of an ancient lineage who could rule them, if he would dare try to unite them.

No, no, no, no, no! I kick and scream, but there’s no escaping her guards. Iron gauntlets sear my flesh as they grab me, and I know this was planned. A solid fist of metal drives into my gut, the breath whooshing out of me. Another clips my cheek.

I’m on my knees, my hands wrenched behind me, there’s no escape but—

A hand fists in my hair, wrenching my face higher so my mother can look me in the eye one more time. “I will be sure to tell my lords that when you volunteered to save Asturia, I wept with grief at the thought that I would never see my beloved Andraste again. May, my darling, please come in.”

“What are you doing to Aunt Andi?” comes a tiny voice.

May.

The blood drains from my face as the little girl I exchanged for my niece hovers in the doorway, a stuffed bear hanging from her hand.

“Don’t do this! She’s innocent.”

“You were the one who told me she would be the perfect weapon to destroy her father.” Mother gestures May closer. “Do you like the castle, my darling? It’s much better than that drafty old keep at Clydain, isn’t it?”

She doesn’t know.

A relieved breath escapes me.

But then I still.

If she discovers May doesn’t share her blood, then she will kill her.

I did this.

I can’t let her hurt the girl.

“Do you want to be a princess?” my mother purrs, as she kneels in front of my adopted niece. “You will be my new heir and the people of our kingdom will adore you.”

May looks at me uncertainly, her long black hair tangling over her shoulders. “Why are you hurting her?” she whispers. “Please don’t hurt her.”

“You’re a kind little girl,” Mother purrs. “But you see what happens when those you are kind to betray you? You give them everything and they try and steal all your happiness away. I can’t let them steal my happiness, May. They must be punished. Do you understand?”

There’s only one way to protect May. I seek out Edain. “Protect her, please protect her. Tell Vi what happened here. I’ll—”

“Send her north,” Mother tells the guards, giving them a lazy nod as she sweeps toward the doors with May’s hand in hers. “She’s the goblin king’s now. I have a new crown heir.”