As they pour out of the council chamber Malich can feel Arya’s gaze on him. He needs to find a way to talk to her. That would require getting away from Lizbet and slipping into her room unnoticed. If she’ll even see him. He pushed her into Ihsan’s arms, but seeing the two of them together made him want to run Ihsan through with his sword.
“Your former flame is very bold, I’ll give her that. And she’s as powerful as your brother claims. Why doesn’t she just wipe him out and spare us all the trouble?” Lizbet fumes.
“I need to find my mother first. She won’t lift a finger until I say so.”
Lizbet looks at him pensively. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you have her hanging on your every breath. She and I aren’t much different in that respect.”
Amused, Malich’s tilts his head to the side at her. “She doesn’t hang on my every breath and neither do you. If you did you wouldn’t have sabotaged my plans to get bothof my parents back.”
“How many times must I apologize for this?”
“As many times as it takes for her to manifest in front of me safe and unharmed, the way she should be. I’d have her by now if it weren’t for your meddling in my affairs.” Malich pins her to the spot.
Lizbet swallows hard. “I am sorryhusband.” She kneels before him with her fingers hooked onto the rim of his breeches and her head bowed.
Her weakness annoys him. “A Queen should never be on her knees,” Malich backs away from her, removing her grasp on his breeches. “You should never show signs of weakness, even with me.”
Lizbet climbs to her feet putting an end to her self-loathing. She’s been trying to make up for her mistakes, but he doesn’t trust her. How could he?If she had it to do all over again, she would. Lizbet put her self-preservation over his parents’ lives with no regard for what would happen to them. That is unforgivable.
For a moment they hold each other’s gaze before he drops it. Being with Lizbet isn’t so bad once he gets past the fact that she is the reason his mother is still his brother’s prisoner and that she had a hand in ruining his life. She’s also a professional damsel in distress, which is the part he likes least about her. Or perhaps he wants her to be too much like Arya.
“Your Majesty,” Dax enters the room and inclines his head. He then turns to Malich and whispers into his ear, “I have correspondence for you from Queen Arya.”
QueenArya.Hearing her introduced this way, even though she’s been introduced this way a thousand times by now, reminds Malich that she still doesn’t have a surname. He’d hoped to give her his one day, if she’d take it, but knowing her she’d learn the truth of her lineage if only to force him to take hersurname.
Dax hands the correspondence to Malich who reads it. Arya wants to have a word with him alone. He doesn’t trust Lizbet to keep his meeting with Arya a secret from his brothers so he whispers his response in Dax’s ear.
Dax nods. He entices Lizbet into going to get samples of some of the Autumn Court delicacies, preoccupying her long enough to allow Malich to meet with Arya in private.
While he waits, he pours himself some spirits. It isn’t long before the sound of Arya clearing her throat interrupts the quiet. He turns around to greet her, surprised to see her in a combat suit similar to her alumni leathers in every way except color. It’s all white, with only the glare from the steel of her weapons to add additional color, and she’s armed to the teeth.
For a moment he wonders if she’s here to kill him. “Relax, I’m not going to hurt you.” Arya takes offense. “I was out doing a bit of recon.”
“Recon?” Malich raises a brow.
“The Autumn Court has seventy thousand soldiers. Ten thousand soldiers of varying capabilities and an additional seventy thousand land creatures.”
“If we win the alliance of the Autumn Court, I needn’t express how dire the situation will become for you,” Malich warns.
“I have it on good authority that you won’t, hence the recon. I needed to know what the Autumn Court has to offer.” Arya approaches and takes the crystal glass full of spirits from his hands. She takes a sip, winces at its strength, then hands it back.
“You’ve accepted Ihsan’s proposal?” Malich asks, changing the subject. Watching her every move, trailing her with his eyes.
She hesitates, swallowing hard, then nods. “Yes.”
His jealousy flares, but he keeps his mouth shut and his facial features neutral. He lost the right to question her or ask favors of her the moment he wed Lizbet. He simply nods, still watching her every move. His eyes trail to her hips, her lips, and her eyes. He’d risk being cursed by Anan himself to have her.
“Why’d you ask to see me?”
“I know where Kahlem is keeping your mother,” Arya confides, meeting his gaze.
He flinches with surprise. “Do not play with my emotions my love.”
Arya finally approaches him after keeping her distance and his breath hitches in his throat. She reaches for his hand and turns it over placing a piece of papyrus in his hand. He holds onto her hand, if only to commit the feel of her skin to memory. After a few moments she pulls away.
“How?” Malich asks.
“Ihsan,” she confides. “In exchange for my hand, he agreed to help me find her and rescue her from your brother’s clutches.”
Tears form in Malich’s eyes. “Do you know what this means?”
Arya nods. “You’ll have bothof your parents back and Kahlem will no longer hold your leash.”
“I meant for us,” he can’t help but peer into her eyes. Much to his chagrin, she doesn’t seem to share his enthusiasm.
Taking a step away from him, her eyes on the floor, she says, “It means nothing for us. I swore my hand to Ihsan for her rescue and I will not go back on my word. I will receive word from Ihsan at any moment letting me know she is secure. Once I have her location I will deliver her to the safety of your home.”
His heart slides into the pit of his stomach. He doesn’t deserve her and Anan knows it. No matter how hard he tries though, he can’t seem to let her go.
She did this for him. She knew what having his parents safe and unharmed meant to him and she put her own future on the line to secure this for him. It’s the very opposite of what Lizbet has done. Lizbet would sell the good parts of her soul to obtain him, whereas Arya sold hers to set him free.
“I don’t know how to thank you. Normally I’d find an empty bed to show my gratitude, but I won’t insult you by soiling your good name or reputation. If circumstances were different, I’d lay the world at your feet Arya.”
She smiles and says, “I fear my good name and reputation have already been soiled. Everyone knows how much I love you and that we’ve shared a bed on many occasions. That being said, I’d settle for any knowledge of my origin you might possess. I should’ve found out about the Vale’s from you, not someone else.”
“Yes, you should have, but it’s not that black and white. You weren’t just handed to me Arya, I was given explicit instructions on what to do and I don’t know as much as you probably think I do.”
“What do you know?”
Malich shrugs. “I’m not one hundred percent certain, but if I had to guess I’d say you and your sister are descendants of the Litri dynasty. The seer who brought you to me worked for the Vales, and as I watched you grow up, I realized you didn’t resemble them at all. It wasn’t hard to make the leap after that. The Vales worked for Prince Khel and Princess Kamaya. When the seer handed you and your sister to me, I was told the Prince and Princess wanted me to protect you and keep you alive.”
Arya swallows hard. “Khel and Kamaya Litri?”
Malich nods. “Soon after you were brought to me, the entire House of Litri and many of its inhabitants were lost do the destruction of its kingdom.”
Silence fills the room while Arya processes his words. “Do you know who was responsible?”
Malich shakes his head. “The seer looked worried though. She feared more for you and your sister than she feared for herself. There has to be something there.”
“Kamaya and Khel Litri, do you know their whereabouts?” She asks.
“No. No one has seen them since, but I’ll keep an ear to the ground. The moment I know something, you will too.”
Arya nods. He moves to come closer, but before he can reach her she vanishes with a ghost of a smile on her face, taking his heart with her. Anan help him…he’s madly in love with her.ns 22.214.171.124da2