Crown of Darkness by Bec McMaster



And this far south of the wall, where the Seelie rule, he cannot afford to let others know he’s not entirely one of them, even though my mother has long suspected.

The word “Unseelie” is a dangerous weapon this far south.

I circle the room and sink into the seat at his side as the rest of Thiago’s court grimace at each other. Thalia—Thiago’s cousin—had been the one at the door, and she’d hauled him away to discuss something urgent while I dressed, so I’m as much in the dark as anyone else.

Two of his finest generals, Baylor and Eris, are both dressed in leather as they scowl at the table. Thalia reclines like some lady of the manor, though her green eyes are watchful, and Finn, the last remaining member of Thiago’s hand-picked court, leans back in his chair at the end of the table, tossing grapes in the air and catching them as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.

One chair remains empty at the end of the table.

It’s where Baylor’s twin brother, Lysander, should sit—though since my sister put an arrow in him six months ago, there’s been no sign of him. I’d thought him dead, though Baylor assures me that he and his brother can’t be killed. Not with the Grimm still alive.

“Adaia’s roused her border lords.” This comes from Baylor, who is enormous, his shoulders straining the breadth of plate leather and tendons cording in his powerful forearms. I’ve seen him wield a six-foot-long broadsword when he trains with Eris, and he swings it as deftly as though it weighs five pounds.

With long blond hair, golden eyes that gleam like a wolf’s, and a firm mouth that’s never seen a smile, he’s more than earned his title. Every single one of my mother’s generals swallow a little when they know they’re facing The Blackheart across the field of war. Centuries ago, he served the Grimm—one of the Old Ones who was locked away in a prison world during the last wars—and he’s not entirely fae.

But he’s not the most dangerous creature in the room.

No, that honor belongs to Eris, who leans back in her chair with her boots kicked up on the table and her dark brown hair braided in furrows across her scalp, to where it tumbles in a gleaming sheaf down her spine. “They’re staging at Caer Luwyn.”

“I thought there’d been no sign of the Asturian armies gathering?” Thiago asks sharply.

“There wasn’t.” Thalia reaches across the table to steal a strand of Finn’s grapes. “They appeared in a cloak of mist and all of a sudden.”

“Opposite Eidyn.” Thoughts race in my husband’s eyes.

It’s a terrible place to stage for an invasion. The western marshes are just as likely to swallow half my mother’s troops. And Eidyn will give us the better ground. No Asturian force has ever taken the keep.

Eris tosses her gauntlets on the scarred table. “Thalia’s spies tell us there’s a sea of gold and red marching north to join the first wave.”

I knew it was coming—my mother promised us war, after all—but after months of inactivity, there was a little kernel of me that hoped she might have come to her senses.

A foolish desire, for I know her best, after all. But it’s amazing what manner of hope you can conjure when you wish for something hard enough.

War.

It won’t just be two powerful kingdoms angling at each other. This will drag the entire Seelie Alliance into ruin.

Because I chose to love an enemy prince.

“Vi?” Thiago turns to me, and I blink out of the reverie.

“Yes?”

“You know your mother best. You know her forces. What do you think?”

“How many?” I ask, for the border lords—whilst fully aware of the danger they’re in—are barely loyal to Adaia. Once upon a time they belonged to the Kingdom of Evernight, and then there were long years where they sought to reign over themselves, until my mother slew their leader and brought them under her umbrella.

I’ve visited the border keeps, and while they don’t dare speak of freedom, I’ve heard the songs their bards play and seen the looks on their faces as they listen to “The Last Stand of Lord Balrogh.”

If they could rule themselves, they would.

“Twenty thousand,” Baylor tells me grimly. “They’re marching under Thornwood’s banners.”

Twenty thousand. “That’s the north and the west.” But only half my mother’s armies.

“Thornwood’s as tough as old boots,” Baylor says. “He won’t be easy to break.”