Chapter Eleven

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Tears had found her eyes, though when they had arrived, Selene could not say. It was not the first time she had witnessed—or heard about—tragedy, but as Kareth spoke, she felt a wave of nostalgia that nearly swept her off her saddle and onto the foliage below. Her mind ran to the few memories that remained of her mother. Her auburn hair glistened. It was a deep golden red that seemed to shimmer with every movement, with every toss of her head. She was the most beautiful thing Selene could remember, though it was a fragment of a life she had all but lost. She had a father as well, she supposed, though she remembered nothing about him—not his name or what he looked like. Though, she could not remember her mother’s name either, but she knew that she existed. Faint memories of men lingered, but none were clear. It was if she were looking through water, distorted; opaque. There were stories about her father, she had no doubt, but she had found them washed away by time.

When she looked up she saw a glisten in his eyes as well. “I am so sorry,” she said through the tears.

Kareth broke the coming of tears with a forced smile. “My country was lost, but my family was saved, at least most of my family. Liras had a ship waiting that took my mother and Varo to Ovum. They lost themselves in days. My mother once told me that at first she was terrified. She said that every night she lay in fear that King Maras might find her. I was but a whisper of life in my mother’s womb at the time, but Liras kept her safely hidden. I could almost call him my father, much more than that pompous bastard from the north. Liras taught me everything that I know. I owe many lives to that man, though I have but one to give, and no time left to give it.”

His smile was contagious. “And Liras, he is waiting for you now?”

The cheer faded from his face. “He was killed defending my mother some years ago on the southern coast of Ovum.” He stopped and dropped from his horse. “Hobble your horse. We will rest for a few hours. I fear we need it.”

Selene could not agree more, but she did not want to appear weak. Not for any fear of her companion, but she did not wish to seem feeble in front of the most dreaded man in the empire. No, that kind of flattery would not do. “Was it the Silent King? Did he find them?”

“That, I am afraid, is a question that I am still unable to answer. I received word from a friend on the island that they had perished, but it took me half a year to travel that far south again to see. Once I arrived, I found nothing but stoneless graves and the accounts of the old and senile.” Kareth let out a long, sullen sigh. “Ovum was attacked by raiders, though their origins remain unknown. Most of the island was destroyed, including Osprey. Some say they were marauders from across the sea, others that they were hired assassins from Varyn. Either way, I am sure that the Silent King had a hand in Ovum’s destruction, in Liras and Mother’s deaths, but I have yet to gain such proof.”

Selene frowned. “Well I am sure that he did it, or at least sure that he orchestrated it—as you must be. What proof do you require?”

“I have made many and more mistakes in my life, Selene. I have killed men that did not deserve to die. I have robbed families that did not deserve to lose. When I was younger, I succeeded in destroying a thousand years’ worth of tradition in the Sieltacor. And most of all, I have hurt the ones that I love more than you or anyone can know. I may believe that it was my father’s hand—or influence—that killed Liras and Mother because he is anything but an honorable man, but that does not make it so. I can at least aspire to be a better man than he.”

Selene nodded with a silent, humble smile. “You are a better man, my prince.”

Kareth returned her smile but slightly, though his face held a pain Selene was not used to seeing. “I wish that were true, my dear. I truly do.”

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