Chapter 52 - No Victory Dance
The sparks fly as the firewood and tinder crackle and pop in the fireplace. The blazing fire from the hearth bathes the bed and the immediate area with its warm glow. The rest of the room is cloaked in darkness.
My cheek is resting on his chest. My ear is pressed close to his heart. He’s lying on his back with one arm wrapped around my waist and another arm covering his eyes but I know he’s still awake.
I’ve been tracing my name on his warm skin, marking him over and over again. It’s impossible to fall asleep when your heart aches so badly in your chest yet you’re trying hard to hold it all in. I want to be selfish and ask him not to fight tomorrow but I know that I can’t do that.
Earlier this evening, all of the Royal Advisors came to see him and asked the same thing of him. “Don’t fight,” said Lord Stepanov, the oldest of the Advisors. “Bastards don’t have a claim to the throne. Even though his mother and the king are erasthais, they’re not mated. You’re the queen’s son and the named successor. You’re the rightful heir. That’s the law.”
“This is no longer about the law,” my mate had replied. “He has his army of rogues and ruthless criminals at a ready to destroy packs in the North. Hundreds will die if I refused to fight him. I know father has sent our armies out there but there are hundreds of packs in the North. We don’t know which packs they’re planning to attack and we don’t have the manpower to guard them all. I refuse to have any more blood of the innocence spilling freely on the ground like last night.”
Surprise, respect, and pride crossed their faces. “You are going to be a great king, Your Highness,” said Lord Stepanov bowing to him along with the other advisors. I’d never felt so proud of him.
But still, lying here with him right now, I can’t help thinking, what if this is the last time that I lie with him? What if...
I feel the change in the rise and fall of his chest before his hand comes down to cover mine, stopping my finger from the endless movement on his bare skin. “I can feel the storm inside you,” he says.
I thought I’ve covered it well. “I’m sorry.”
“No. I’m sorry this is hurting you.” His touch is gentle as he runs his fingers through my hair. “Isn’t it funny how I discovered that I have a brother tonight and tomorrow morning I’m going to have to kill him?” His voice is calm and low but I’m hurting for him.
“He’s made his intentions known. He’s not going to stop until he gets what he wants and unfortunately for me or for him, one of those things is you. You know once a lycan sets his mind on something, he’s not going to stop until he gets it or someone stops him.” He suddenly moves his hand to cover my back until he has both arms wrapped around me possessively and protectively. “He will never have you. No one else but me gets to touch you. Ever.”
I flattened my hand on his chest and raise my face to look at him. His eyes glitter, more gold than green in the brilliance of the flame.
“I’m only yours. Forever,” I promise him before I lie my head back on his chest.
We both stay silently like this for a long time before he quietly says, “I’ve always secretly thought that I shouldn’t have been the king. My parents aren’t each other’s erasthai. I didn’t want it because I don’t deserve it.”
With his cocky attitude and his arrogance, I’d never have guessed that he feels this way. I think no one else ever saw this side of him, not even our pack members. I think we have more in common than we thought.
He opens himself up to be vulnerable to me. It’s time I do the same for him. No hiding. “You know, I always feel like I shouldn’t have existed at all,” I tell him. “I’m a bastard child who doesn’t even know who her father is. He’s not my mom’s mate...just some random guy.” This is a secret I always carry in my heart. The guilt for existing. I know it doesn’t make sense but little kids have weird thoughts like that especially when they know they’re not wanted. It’s stupid but it’s the thought that I can’t get rid of, even now. My Nana never knew that I feel this way. “I’m nothing but a mistake.”
I feel the ripple of his muscles before he sits up, causing me to sit up as well. “Don’t say that,” he says urgently. “Look at me.” He shifts to lift my chin up. He looks wounded. His green eyes are intense. “Don’t ever think that again. You’re not a mistake. You were meant to be mine. You were made for me.”
“Then you don’t get to think that you have no claim to the throne because your parents are not each other’s erasthai,” I tell him. “To me, you deserve the crown because you care. You’re strong and you care about your subjects. He doesn’t. He was born out of erasthai bond but he destroyed everything good and will continue to destroy. He sacrifices innocent lives to get what he wants.” I shudder to think of what he would be capable of if he rules. “I know for a fact that you’d have given up the throne, the wealth...you’d give up your life to keep me and the pack safe. Tomorrow you’re fighting for innocent werewolf’s packs. You’re more than worthy.” I put my hand on each side of his face. “My love, you are more than worthy.”
We get up at the break of dawn. We shower together...just us gently cleaning each other. I let my soapy hands glide over the ridge of his muscles and my tears washed away without a trace by the cascading water.
François looks extra grim when he shows up to help Caspian dressed up in his black fighting gear. It’s what the army wear during fights. The material stretches during shifts and doesn’t hinder movements in any way. He looks so handsome in it.
After he’s done, he reaches for my hand. His eyes run over me appreciatively before he pulls me closer to his side.
I’m wearing a simple pale lavender dress with a wide square neckline. It has short cap sleeves with an empire waist. The soft, sheer material flows all the way down to my ankle. My hair is in a french braid that I pull to the side and tied back with a white ribbon. My face is fresh without any make-up on. All sweetness and innocence, just the look that I want for today.
“My sweet little angel,” he says.
“Or your ruthless little devil,” I counter.
He smiles. “My deadly little menace all covered in milk and honey.” He brings my hand up to his lips and kisses the back of it.
Our pack mates are already waiting when we step out of our bedchamber. Even Genesis is looking alert and grim this morning. Constantine, Lazarus, and Darius are in their fighting attire as well. I guess we’re getting prepared for any possibilities.
We are constantly approached as the eight of us make our way through the long corridors to the Fighting Arena.
A messenger comes with the news that Lady Celeste’s father and a couple of other boyars were killed last night. I have no doubt that Æmilius and Katya had something to do with it.
Some twenty or so Alphas from packs around the area request an audience to pledge their undivided loyalty and to express their gratitude for saving their packs the other night and also for the food and the winter supply he provided them.
François draped a cream-colored cloak with thick white fur trim on my shoulders before we step out into the Arena.
The Arena is a huge building not unlike the Colosseum, with fifteen levels of round stone seatings. There are areas for the audience to be standing up at the very top.
There is nothing but sky above us. The sun is shining but the temperature is low. I can see my own breath in the air. The king, the queen and the rest of the royalties have a special viewing section a few levels up from the fighting ground. This is where we’re at right now.
My stomach flips and clenches as I look around the Arena that’s already filled with the audience. My hand is gripping his in a deathly grip. I feel sick. I don’t want to let go. I’m not ready.
There are two guards flanking him, waiting. I lift my eyes up desperately seeking his to find him already watching me. His vivid green eyes are intense, always seeing too much - too deep into my soul. I want to fling myself into his arms and hold him to me forever but I hold myself still. I clutch at his hand. My chest hurts and my breathing is shallow and rapid.
He wipes his thumb underneath my eyelashes where a single tear escaped. “I’ll be back to you soon, my love. I promise,” he whispers before he pulls me in for a kiss. This kiss is desperate and urgent. It’s filled with hope and despair. It’s full of promises yet it feels like a goodbye.
Then he walks off without looking back. He’s tall, regal, and imposing. Constantine, Lazarus, and Darius follow closely behind him.
King Alexandros is looking dignified in his seat. Queen Sophia looks aloof and cold as usual. If there’an inner turmoil raging inside her at the possibility of losing her only son, you’d never have guessed it.
I feel Serena and Genesis taking each of my cold hand in theirs, giving me comfort. There are guards standing behind our chairs, probably with the order to restrain us if we ever decide to jump into the Arena during the fight.
I hear Penny hisses and look over to see Æmilius walking by on the ground level with his guards. He’s smirking while his eyes are taking me in from top to bottom. Keep on looking, *sshole, because that’s all you’re getting. I'm dying to rip the spine off his back and wipe that smirk off his face.
My eyes wander to where Katya is sitting with her own guards surrounding her. She’s wearing a long black dress. Her fair hair glistens in the morning sunlight.
It is still hard for me to wrap my mind around the whole thing. Being a mistress, a hidden lover to your erasthai while he rules with his mate as his queen. It must be soul crushing. Yet all the sympathy I have for her evaporates when I think of all the lives lost due to their actions. What I saw the other night was just a tiny fraction of what they had done throughout the years. I wonder though, would I be the same if I had to endure what she went through?
My mind is still reeling when the announcement is made. Two strong figures make their way into the middle of the snow-covered Arena. Æmilius and my mate, Caspian.
They’re the same height but not the same size. Even though they’re both well muscled, Caspian is lankier compared to Æmilius.
“It’s going to be fine. I’ve seen him fight countless times. He’s going to be fine. It’s going to be fine,” whispers Serena over and over again, as if she’s reassuring herself as much as she’s comforting me.
Æmilius goes charging even before the signal is given. He growls and changes into his full lycan in mid-air as he lunges for Caspian. Caspian manages to drop to the ground to avoid his attack but in less than a beat, Caspian is already a full lycan, ready to strike back. It takes a lot of practice to phase that fast.
What happens after that is a series of violent and deadly blur of movements that have me gripping the arms of my chair with my heart in my throat. I vaguely hear the roar of the crowd.
It’s hard to see who is winning as both of them are covered in blood. Not even twenty minutes in, their fighting gears are already in tatters. Both of them are looking menacing and ferocious, like the monsters of your nightmare come to life. Glittering, soulless black eyes regarding each other with malice. Sharp teeth and canines extended as they growl while snapping, clawing, and attacking each other. There’s no mercy.
Æmilius is strong and built like a tank, but what my mate lacks in size, he makes up with agility and clever lethal moves. He is cunning and elusive. He is very aggressive and vicious when he finds an opening for an attack.
Blood and black earth are now spattering across the white snow in the Arena. Twice, I feel hands on my shoulders pinning me in place when I’m about to jump to my feet, wanting to plunge into the arena when my mate goes down.
This time, Æmilius manages to slam him down hard on the ground again. His deadly sharp claws dig into Caspian’s side and deep red blood gushes out from the wound. I fight to get up as my vision changes. My nails have sharpened and are digging into the stone armrest.
In a blur of a movement, Caspian swipes Æmilius’s feet from under him and straddle him from behind. The crowd roars as he snaps Æmilius’s thick neck. A feeling of sadness and remorse at what he’s about to do bleed through our bond. I see just a slight hesitation before he proceeds. I don’t think anybody else watching even notices it.
From the corner of my eye, I see Katya dives into the arena toward my mate. Queen Sophia springs to her feet but before she can leap in to defend her son, I propel myself up, using all the strength of my feet to jump into the arena myself.
I’m on her within a second. I take her by surprise. She still wears that dumbfounded look on her face when I grab her head in both hands and twist until I feel, rather than hear the sickening snap of the bones. I look up when the crowd roars. It’s very quick. I’m not even in my full lycan state yet.
I place my knee on her back, but before I can pull her head off her body, a loud agonizing cry breaks through the savage cheer of the crowd from the ground just outside the fighting ring. King Alexandros is on his feet. He staggers a few steps and lands on his knees. His head bows low. He’s asking mercy for his erasthai; begging me to spare her life.
I hesitate. I look around to seek the eyes of my mate. He’s bloody and wounded. His intense gaze is already fixed on my face. I’m asking him what to do. But he’s not giving me any answers. No feelings from the bond. No betraying emotion from his cold calculating eyes. Suddenly I know. He wants me to decide. It’s up to me.
I shift my gaze back to the kneeling King. King of all Lycans and werewolves are kneeling before me, asking for my mercy.
My lycan is calling for her kill. It’s salivating to take Katya’s life for wanting to destroy my mate. I want justice for all the innocent victims of her greed and spite. All those precious lives that were taken so savagely. Because of her. She didn’t spare them any mercy. Their cry for mercy went unheeded.
Yet the King of all Lycans and werewolves is on his knees before me, begging me to spare the life of his erasthai. I might destroy more than Katya’s life. Destroying his erasthai might destroy him too. King Alexandros is my mate’s father. I don’t want to inflict any pain on my mate.
I grit my teeth and reluctantly release Katya’s head. She’s slumped forward, lying on the ground. He releases his breath and his massive shoulders sag in relief.
I take a few steps back and look at my mate. His expression is still blank. I look around the arena to seek my pack mates when my eyes fall on Queen Sophia. Bitterness and something close to hatred are marring her beautiful features as she stares at King Alexandros.
I knew what’s about to happen before it happens yet I hesitate. Sophia launches herself into the arena. Her feet land squarely on Katya’s back while her arms wrap around Katya’s head. In a blur of motion, Katya’s body is being ripped apart. Her spine is ripped out. Queen Sophia’s beautiful emerald dress is soaked with the blood of her rival. With a smirk on her lips, she lifts Katya’s head like a trophy before she tosses on the ground. It rolls and stops right at King Alexandros’s feet.
The whole arena is now silent. Not a pin drop can be heard.
She’s been waiting for this moment for a very long time. Killing her rival without consequences. That’s exactly what she did. In this Arena.
Caspian stands up. His security immediately on the alert but it’s our packmates who are flanking him. Standing by his side.
He just stands there, torn and bloody yet tall and regal. His eyes are watching me. Studying me. Assessing.
I slowly make my way toward him. When I’m within five feet away from him, he extends his hand and I take it. His big warm hand engulfs my icy fingers, bringing warmth to my freezing cold body. Together, we walk away from the bloody arena.
The crowd roars but the only thing that matters are my mate by my side and my pack mates following closely behind us.