A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Page 74)
“No,” I say.
And then I cut her throat.
A woman is shaking me awake. “Grey. Grey. It’s another night terror. Wake up.”
My eyes slide open. My mother’s worried eyes stare down at me. They’ve been worried since she found me half-dead in the stables, my throat bleeding from Lilith’s last attempt to take my life, my stitches half-torn open under my armor. She kisses her fingers and presses them to my forehead—something she did when I was a child that I’d completely forgotten.
“There,” she says. “That will chase it away.”
I catch her hand. “You’ve told no one I’m here.”
“You’ll be telling them yourself if you keep shouting like that in your sleep.”
“Mother.” I sigh, then let her go.
If what Lilith said was true, this woman is not my mother at all.
“So serious.” Her hand brushes across my cheek and I flinch away. I remember her touch. The thought that she may be nothing to me causes more pain than when I forswore them all. “They took my sweet boy into that castle and sent home a warrior.” Her voice falters. “For so long, I’ve thought you were dead.”
“No one can know I’m here.” I swallow, and the still-healing wounds at my throat pull and ache. “You will tell people I’m your nephew. Injured in the battle against Syhl Shallow in the north.”
“Why?” Her voice is hushed. “What have you done?”
“It’s not what I’ve done. It’s what I know.”
And what I remember. Harper’s eyes in the darkness.
The prince’s grip on my hand as he threw himself off the castle parapet.
Lilith’s words: Karis Luran told me the truth.
My blade cut true. I feel certain she died.
In truth, I am certain of nothing. I did not wait to be sure. She had no magic on the other side to save her.
But I fled before I was sure.
“What do you know?” my mother whispers. She touches my hand. Wraps it in both of her own.
I freeze. Pull my hand free. Open my eyes to look at her.
“No, Mother. What do you know? What do you know about my father?”
“Grey?” she whispers.
“What do you know about my mother?” I say. “My real mother.”
Her face goes still. It’s not an answer—but it’s answer enough.
She reaches to touch my hand again. “It does not matter, Grey. It does not matter. I raised you as my son. I love you as my son. No one knows. No one. You were not to know.”
I think of Karis Luran. “Someone knows.”
Her face pales. “The king himself delivered you into my arms. I served in the castle. I lost a child at birth. He said that he and I were the only people to know, and if I told anyone, he would know that knowledge came from me. I have never said one word. Never once, Grey.”
“You allowed me to apply as a guardsman. You encouraged it.”
“We had nothing. After your father was injured—” Her voice breaks, and I know she is remembering the months—the years—of struggle our family faced. “I knew the king would not know you. He had never seen you since that day. He did not even know your name. You were so eager to apply. I could not take that from you.”
We were desperate—and I was eager. I remember that, too.
“The prince is the heir,” I say. “Not me.” I swore my life because I believed that—I cannot unbelieve it so easily. It makes no difference who my father is.
I let go of her hand. “I cannot stay here.” I shift to stand. “Enough has been said to raise questions. There is already doubt about the legitimacy of the prince. If anyone discovers my true birthright, I will be sought.”
I have no desire to rule, but I have spent enough time at court to know my desire is meaningless. My very existence challenges the line of succession.
If anyone seeks me, they seek only my head separated from my body.
My mother must realize this at the same time. “No one knows.” She swallows. “I have told no one. You can be my nephew, as you said—”
“I cannot.” I already regret coming here. I have put her at risk.
“But—where will you go?” She stands, as if to stop me.
I step around her. It has been weeks, and my wounds have dulled to an ache. My weapons lie in a pile by the door—but they are all marked with the gold-and-red royal crest. “Bury those,” I tell her. “Under the feeding trough, or the manure pile. Somewhere they cannot be found.”
“I have remained here too long.”
“Where will you go?”
“I do not know.” Even if I did, I would not tell her. If she is interrogated—and it is likely more a question of when than of if—the less she knows, the better.
“But you have nothing.”
“If I learned anything while serving in the Royal Guard, it is how to stay invisible and how to stay alive.”
She swallows. “Grey. Please.”
I turn for the door.
“Grey is dead, Mother. That is all you need to know.”