A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer





CHAPTER ONE

GREY

The weather has begun to turn, allowing cold wind to swoop down from the mountains and sneak under the leather and fur of my jacket. It’s colder in Syhl Shallow than it would be in Emberfall, but it’s been so long since I experienced the gradual slide from autumn into winter that I’ve been reveling in it.

The others are clustered around the central hearth that burns in the main room of the Crystal Palace, drinking the cook’s first batch of winter wine, but Iisak loathes the warmth, so I’m braving the cold and the dark on the veranda to play dice with the scraver. The only flame burning out here is the lone candle in a glass jar on the table between us.

Iisak shakes the silver cubes in his hands, then lets them rattle out onto the table.

“Silver hell,” I mutter as I tally his roll. I’m good at cards, but dice seem to hate me. With cards, there’s an element of strategy, of choice, but the dice are moved by nothing more than fate. I toss a coin onto the table to acknowledge his win.

Iisak smiles, and while the darkness paints his black eyes and gray skin in even darker shadows, the moonlight glints off his fangs.

He pockets the coin, but he’ll probably give it to Tycho later. He dotes on the boy like an old grandmother. Or maybe like a father missing the son he once lost. “Where is our young queen tonight?” he asks.

“Lia Mara is dining with one of her Royal Houses.”

“Without you?”

“They requested a private audience, and she has an obligation to keep them happy.” The Royal Houses were putting pressure on the former queen before she was killed, but Karis Luran ruled with an iron fist and she was able to keep them in check. Now that Lia Mara is in power and Syhl Shallow is desperate for resources, the pressure to find trade routes through Emberfall seems to have doubled—especially since Lia Mara has no desire to rule like her mother.

I shrug and gather the dice. “Not everyone is comfortable with magic here, Iisak.”

“I assumed as much from the crowd, Your Highness.” He glances around the darkened veranda, which is deserted aside from the guards who linger by the door.

“Well,” I say noncommittally. “It’s cold tonight.”

But he’s right. It’s probably the magic.

I get along with most of the guards and soldiers in Syhl Shallow, but there’s a distance here that I can’t quite define. A wariness. At first I thought it was because they see me as loyal to Emberfall, and I stood at Lia Mara’s side as she killed her mother to claim the throne.

But as time has gone on, that wariness has made itself more apparent every time I heal an injury or drive away an opponent on the training field. It’s become more apparent when I go to the armory to put my weapons away, and conversations draw short or small groups disperse.

A strong wind blasts across the veranda, making the candle gutter and then go out.

I shiver. “As I said.”

“We should make use of our privacy,” Iisak says, and his voice is lower, quieter, nothing that will reach the ears of my guards.

I put a finger over the candlewick and make a circular motion, letting the stars in my blood dance along my fingertips. What once felt like such a challenge is now effortless. A flame crawls to life. “I thought we were.”

“I don’t need any more of your coins.”

I smile. “Well, that’s good, because I only have a few left.”

He doesn’t smile in return, so my expression sobers. Iisak is a king in his own right, though he’s living out a year sworn to my service. He was trapped in a cage in Emberfall, and Karis Luran kept him on a chain. I’ve offered to release him a dozen times, but each time he refuses. It’s a type of loyalty I’m not sure I deserve, especially since I know what he’s lost: first, a son who went missing, and then, his throne in Iishellasa. When he asks for my attention, I do my best to give it.

“What do you need?” I say.

“It is not just people in Syhl Shallow who fear magic.”

I frown. He’s talking about Rhen.

My brother.

Every time I think of it, something inside me clenches tight.

“You once said you did not want to be at war with him,” says Iisak.

I look at the dice in my palm, turning them over between my fingers. “I still don’t.”

“You have begun preparing armies on Lia Mara’s behalf.”

I close my fingers around the silver cubes. “Yes.”

“Syhl Shallow’s coffers have begun to run dry. You will likely have one chance to stand against him. The losses in the final battle with Emberfall were already great, due to Prince Rhen’s creature. A second assault will not be possible.” He pauses. “And you granted him sixty days to ready for battle.”

“I know.”

“As much as you long to preserve lives, these battles will not occur without loss.”

“I know that, too.”

Another gust of wind sweeps across the veranda, dashing out the flame again. This time, the wind was drawn by Iisak. I’ve learned the feel of his magic, how it lives in the air the way mine lives in my blood.

I give him a look and coax the flame back to life.

Another gust, and I narrow my eyes. Iisak always pushes. When I first began learning to control my magic, I found it frustrating, but I’ve come to enjoy the challenge. I keep my finger there, and the flame struggles to stay lit. Stars fill my vision as I try to keep the magic in place. The wind has grown strong enough that it stings my eyes and grabs at my cloak. Iisak’s wings flare, but the flame doesn’t die.