Crown of Darkness by Bec McMaster

“That depends,” Eris mutters, “on whether he’s digging in and waiting for us to come to him or marching across the borders. If he comes for us, then we’ll crush him against the Firenze river.”

“We start staging at Eidyn,” Thiago says, using a golden rod to push little brass figures across the map toward the border. “But we don’t move. Let Queen Adaia make the first gambit.”

I pace around the table as they argue about the best course of action.

Three months. Why the three months?

Why would she wait that long?

My mother knew there was a possibility I might have regained my memories in time and chosen Thiago at the Queensmoot three months ago.

She came prepared to slaughter us all then and there, and when the choosing didn’t go her way, she murdered one of the fae queens of the Alliance and declared war on both my husband and Prince Kyrian of Stormlight.

She would have had her armies ready to march three months ago.

So why did she hesitate to send them west?

“There’s something we’re missing.”

“Vi?” Thiago holds up his hand and the room falls silent.

I tell them my theory.

“So you think the Asturian army on our ass is merely a distraction?” Eris asks, leaning forward in her chair. “For what?”

“I don’t know. It’s too obvious for my mother. Adaia knows her border lords are fickle. She knows the might of Evernight’s armies equals her own. She murdered the Queen of Ravenal, and with Ravenal at her heels, she can’t turn her entire focus upon us.”

Thalia’s lashes lower. “My little birds haven’t mentioned any disturbance from Ravenal.”

She’s not only Thiago’s right hand, she’s also his spymistress, though I only learned that fact two months ago.

I consider the map again. A little circle of enemies surrounds the Kingdom of Asturia. “Ravenal to the south of her. Evernight to the north. And Stormlight holding the seas.”

It’s a trio of knives at her throat. My mother never does like to be backed into a corner.

“But she’s not alone. And Aska is not her only ally.” My gaze slides north, to the edge of the map. Thick dark trees carved of pure ebony are placed there, and several scarred castles and ruins peak from their depths. The wild lands of Unseelie hide all manner of creatures, and few among the Seelie Alliance know the true depths of the lands.

“Mother was working with Angharad.” The witch-queen rules the Unseelie, and if you bring her into the equation, it changes the dynamics quite significantly.

Because now it’s not a small island of two kingdoms desperately trying not to sink, but an enormous crashing wave of Unseelie poised to flood into the Alliance kingdoms.

And Evernight suddenly becomes the piece between the wolf’s jaws.

My heart sinks.

“It’s Angharad. It’s got to be Angharad.”

If Unseelie rises against us, then Evernight will be crushed.

“Surely your mother wouldn’t invite Angharad to invade,” Thalia says. “It’s one thing to be working with her, quite another to offer her the Alliance kingdoms on a gilded platter. Once Angharad gains a single toehold in the south she’ll never be removed.”

Thiago leans over the map, making swift decisions behind those devilish eyes. “Eris. Send Gwydion to Eidyn and give him command of our border armies. Send Noaz north with several companies to guard the borders we share with Unseelie. If Angharad strikes down from Unseelie, she’ll come through Mistmere. She won’t be able to get through the mountains in the north of Evernight.”

“Gwydion?” Eris demands. “And Noaz?”

If there’s anyone who can hold Angharad at bay, it’s Eris of Silvernaught.

“You’re both with me,” Thiago tells her coolly. “Vi and I have a rendezvous to attend.”

“Where are we going?” I ask.

Thiago squeezes my shoulders, then presses a kiss to the slope of my neck. “I have news of my own. Your mother wants to meet with us. She has a gift for us.”

“A gift?” My stomach drops. I know all about Mother’s gifts. “No. We don’t want to meet her. We don’t want anything she can give us. This is a trap. She’s—"

Thiago reaches out and places something metallic on the table before removing his hand.

A golden ring rattles before it slowly settles into stillness. It’s thick enough to grace a man’s finger, and the sigil is that of a howling wolf.