*** TOKE’S POV ***

  • Andvari! What’s the hold up?!

I find him confronting a tall man at the edge of the battle. He doesn’t pay attention to me and that bothers me. I hear them talking as I am getting closer.

  • Keep your asholes away.
  • Bring her my, damn, message and I will keep my promise.
  • She is not taking orders.

The strange man laughs. Somehow it sounds cheerful, not scary. You are not expecting that from a leader at the battle. Chill gets to my skin, alarming me. He is not just an ordinary one. He is one of the royals. I never met one before, with the exception of my family, but I know he is one of us. That’s what my blood screams.

  • Each time you will face worse than this at your borders, Andvari.

He points to our man.

  • Andvari, you told nothing we could end this in a peaceful way!

He falls silent as soon as he notices me and darts his eyes down as I approach him. He doesn’t want me here. That’s easy to get, but what is the buzz going there? My eyes leave Andvari and stop on a stranger. He eyes me and narrows his eyes, turning his torso towards me. His posture is straight and he holds his chin high. Somehow I suddenly feel like a prey and double check my axe. I can swear I just saw a little smile at the corners of his lips. I still try to understand what’s going on here and between them.

  • Toke. To whom do we have honor?

I present myself and put shortly my fingers in V on my heart. Stranger remains silent observing me with his black intensive gaze. Of a sudden I feel myself smaller, though we are almost the same height.

  • He is a snake..

I cut Andvari’s words, shushing him with a finger behind my back only he could see it. I grow up from the child to a man and my teacher has to show respect to my needs and the place in this world. 

  • What kind of message were you talking about?
  • I am just a neighbour willing to speak with your ruler.

He sounds sincere but chill gets under my skin from his friendly sounding tone.

  • It’s not the best friendly knock at the front door, you know.
  • I admit. Thank Andvari for that.

His voice sounds so casually as he just told his own name. We both fire a look at Andvari. I clear my throat dragging attention back to me. I don’t like where our conversation is going.

  • Andvari can be overprotective.
  • For years.

He ends my sentence without expressing his feelings. I share a quick look with Andvari. He doesn’t look guilty. He is not in position to make those decisions and he knows it too well. All this makes me more suspicious.

  • So it’s your nice way to ask an appointment to meet Rhia?

Andvari’s eyes go instantly wide.

  • Rhia? You have a queen?!

Stranger arches his eyebrow and his voice gives away his feelings for the first time. So he has some softy underneath his steely body.

  • You sound surprised, neighbor.
  • Kingdoms usually are ruled by kings and you have the queen.

His words cut my heart as a dagger as I still wait for my father’s return. Rhia told me I will meet him. My patience is already at the fine line. That’s not what I would like to share now.

  • What is the reason of this appointment?

Stranger studies me in silence before answering.

  • Peace and alliance.
  • For that you don’t need her. WE could reach the agreement.

First time his eyes leave any of us to look through my shoulder, right in the direction where Rhia lives. My skin shudders reacting to the cold silence and heaviness hugs my insides. Decision comes quicker as I myself realise it. I am not letting him in. My hand shoots and lands just an inch from the handle of my axe.

  • It’s way too personal to leave her aside.

He answers silently, meant just to my ears. I square my shoulders and they almost match the shoulders of the royal in front of me. Our chests and breathes meet in a small gap between us. I land a hand on my axe. Just in case.

  • Don’t make a mistake, Toke. 

I’m sure I heard a little disappointment. His palm and my hand meet on the axe blocking me from using it. My second hand grabs his dagger and points at his throat. I sink in happiness of the moment having an upper hand.

  • You have an opportunity to make a peaceful deal, Toke.

I smile. His fist hard as a rock punches my solar plexus. I find myself flying backwards and dropping hard on the dusty ground.. struggling to breath.. At the same time I fight rising nausea. He just stands there and looks at me. My opponent doesn’t finish me and that makes me more pissed off. It shows my weakness. What’s worst off all – in front of my men. As he is near enough into my reach I kick him hard with my heel just below the knee cap. He winces in pain but it gives me time to get on my feet. My gut still fights nausea. I apply two more kicks, this time hitting his legs from the inner side opening them wider and disbalancing him. I rush to aim at his knee to knock him down, not getting more into the close fight. He catches my leg and turns my feet inside down. I let out an animalistic cry as it breaks. I land down flat and get a punch in my lungs area leaving me heavily hit. He turns me on my side, just in time when I start to throw up. I’m so confused and angry, can’t decide, should I thank him or cut his head.

  • Welcome to the men’s world, my boy.

He says chuckling and stretches a hand out for me to help to stand up. I snatch it to the side gathering strength and getting on my feet. I want to snag a smug smile off his face.

  • Rhia doesn’t do meetings.
  • I’m sure you will find the way to convince her, Prince Toke.

At my title his eyes pierce direct into mine. So he is royal. He feels me as well. I wasn’t wrong about him. I feel his forest scent hitting my nostrils. Again. I stand my ground though my breath becomes quicker as adrenaline washes over my body.

  • Who are you? Where are you from?

I almost whisper. He points with his head to the woods. I don’t miss the opportunity to aim at the point just above his nose. He blocks my punch and his other palm in a snake’s grip hits my throat short and sharp. Man, that hurts!! I choke in blood.

  • You are just as stubborn as your father.

His gaze lands on Andvari. F*ck you! My view starts to fade, but the steel grip lightens.

  • Looks like he was right about you. I don’t trust you either.

I spit blood clearing my mouth.

  • Ask Silva.
  • She is not in a trust zone as well.

I lie but this snake-man summons huragan of all possible feelings. Of course he knows about Silva. She is the infamous queen despite her attempts to live low.

  • Black King grows his army.

I dart quickly at Andvari. Sinns, what else he kept away from us?!

  • We are ready for him.

I say steadily, dragging a gaze from my teacher, which growed me and took care almost as a father.

  • I am sure, you would like me as a friend on your side, Toke.
  • The one we could trust.

He catches non hidden irony in my words, but he still calmly nods. I secretly admire him, though at the same time he makes me fury and always holds me on my tip toes.

  • It’s better if I meet her before then.
  • I am not so sure.
  • Toke! Toke!

We hear my sister calling.

  • Stop!
  • Don’t come near!
  • Not now!

All three of us respond to her calling, but she doesn’t listen to any of us. 

  • Toke, it’s ready!

She hugs shortly Andvari, then follows the shoulders of the snake-man and her soft lips finally plant a kiss on my cheek. I hug her waist and she stays with me.

  • Eirik, I didn’t expect you to find here, but I am happy you joined our force.

She nods her head to the side. So as he does! Her voice is cheerful. She looks relaxed around him. It is clear she knows him well and trusts him. Her chest just touched his torso flat and her hands just were wrapping his shoulders. F*ck! It was always my duty to keep her away from outsiders. I snap at Andvari. He doesn’t look surprised. One more secret. I will kick his ass!

  • Moons passed. You just brought in joy, Estrid.

His gaze is lied soft on her. I growl silently. Suddenly I feel there is not enough space for me in this body. I want to shield her but she will be mad. She is too independent. So instead I snake her waist more tightly and tug close to my chest. In response she kisses my lips without rush and my anger melts. Andvari shifts.

  • We are done for today.
  • We have to catch up, Eirik!

No way it will happen! I bite my tongue on my thought.

  • As I see, Eirik, you already met my fiance.

I state a claim on my sister holding his gaze. I could swear, his steely lips cracked again small smile.

  • More reasons to bring the message.

He blinks his eye playfully, turns head to the field and lets a roar. Then his fingers click loud in the air and his men disperse.

  • Looks like you, guys, had a good training.

We three look at Estrid. She has no clue what was going on here.

  • And now is time just for us, Estrid.

She waves for the stranger as we start to leave. I claim her lips on the way and secretly watch the newly met man as the three of us leave. He doesn’t follow and he doesn’t look jealous. What’s the f*ck wrong with him?

Continue reading chapter 21