Light My Fire

Page 8

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A meeting of local rulers from the west, north, and south had been arranged, and all had been going relatively well until, during a grand feast, Abertha's younger brother, Thomas, pointed a damning finger at Dagmar and called her a seething whore of corruption. Why? Because he'd seen her kiss her mate, Gwenvael the Handsome, a known dragon. Gwenvael had been in his human form at the time, but Thomas Salebiri had not cared.
Dagmar had been unimpressed with all the theatrics, and Gwenvael had been amused. Annwyl, however, had taken the loudmouth fuck's head. Right there in the Great Hall of her home.
It had not gone over well with the other royals. Her current alliances still held, but barely.
And that's when Dagmar had begun explaining to Annwyl, "You just can't do that, you mad bitch. No matter how much I love you, you can't do that!"
It had been the last head Annwyl had taken outside of battle or a trial. So it was a fond memory . . . for Annwyl.
"That sounds . . . promising," Annwyl lied. "What is it you wish to speak to me about?"
"The peace of our two nations."
Nations? Really?
Annwyl could already see the first problem. That the Salebiris believed they ruled a nation rather than a good-sized valley stuck between practically impassable mountains and a land of vicious raiders. But Annwyl would play this out like a proper queen, no matter how much it physically hurt not to start punching people.
"Ahh, I see. That does sound like an excellent discussion. But one that should be pursued under more . . . amiable conditions. Don't you think?"
"Amiable conditions? What's wrong with right here and right now?"
"To be quite blunt, treaties and alliances and truces are not what I do. I ensure they are maintained, but I don't really draft the contracts and put them into play. I leave that to my steward, Dagmar Reinholdt, and Queen Rhiannon's Royal Peacemaker, Bram the Merciful. If you want to be ensured of peace for your lands, Priestess, they would both need to be involved in any discussions between us."
"Really? The Beast of Reinholdt and some dragon's lackey? They tell you what to think?"
"No. But they do let me know whose head to put outside my castle walls for all the world to see . . . and enjoy until the flesh rots away." Annwyl smiled. "You remember what that looks like . . . don't you, Priestess?"
"My ladies," Baron Thomas quickly intervened, stepping between them as Abertha's Annaig Valley guards grew tense, their gazes hardening on Annwyl. "Please."
"It's all right, Baron." The priestess patted the man's arm. "We're just two ladies talking."
"Are we?" Annwyl asked.
"Oh, yes. There's just so much for us to discuss," she said pleasantly, as if they were having tea and scones. "For instance, your vile offspring, the Abominations, who will bring the True Darkness to this world. The Defiled Ones, such as yourself, who have lain with dragons like unholy whores and then birthed the spawn of such matings. All of that will have to be dealt with. Between us. Between friends."
As Baron Pyrs, his face now a grey-white, slowly backed away from the pair, the other barons edged closer and closer to a side door. They hoped to make a mad escape.
Annwyl could see them all through the red haze that now surrounded her.
For a long moment, Annwyl didn't move. She couldn't breathe. But she forced herself-literally forced herself-not to move. Not to react. Not right away.
And that moment of doing nothing allowed her to notice that Abertha's guards had not moved. They did not rush to their royal's side, ready to defend her with their lives. And yet they were clearly waiting for Annwyl to do something.
Then it hit her. Like a slap to the face. This woman wanted Annwyl to cleave her head from her shoulders. She wanted Annwyl to unleash the wrath that Annwyl had become so famous for. They all knew what would take place if that happened. If Annwyl suddenly snapped and destroyed the bitch standing in front of her. And her guards. And the barons. Maybe even the poor servants who rushed in to help Baron Pyrs. They'd all fall to Annwyl's swords, like so many before them. And after that . . . the word would travel like lightning throughout the lands: "Mad Queen Annwyl killed a defenseless priestess and her own royals!" all the traveling bards would sing.
This wasn't about a truce or an alliance or even a chance to avenge her brother's death.
No. Abertha was here for one reason and one reason only: to become a martyr to her god's cause, most likely advancing it a thousandfold.
And if that happened, it would be no one's fault but Annwyl's.
Knowing the bitch was trying to use Annwyl's well-honed rage for her own ends did nothing but piss Annwyl off more. But it also brought out what Annwyl's father used to call her "petty, hateful side." Then he would add, "You're the only cow I know willing to cut off her own nose, just to spite her own gods-damn face."
And he was right. Annwyl didn't like being pushed. If she was pushed one way, she was likely to go another . . . just out of spite.
So she held on to that spite like a lifeline and calmly said, "We're done here, Priestess Abertha."
"My lady, please," Baron Pyrs begged.
Annwyl, unsure how long she would be able to hold her temper in check, waved the baron off as she walked toward the front doors, but she stopped short when four of Abertha's guards, in bright white surcoats with the rune of their god emblazoned in the color of blood, stepped in front of her-keeping her from the exit.

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