Home > The Prince's Poisoned Vow

The Prince's Poisoned Vow
Author: Hailey Turner

 

One

 

 

BLAINE

 

 

Lord Blaine Westergard was ten years old when he carried the living heart of Ashion out of its capital city.

He didn’t know it at the time, because the less people knew of such things, the better.

Warning sirens rang through Amari’s air, the capital city awake when it should be sleeping, but it was difficult to sleep when smoke choked the streets. The sound of a scuffle past the pile of refuse Blaine knelt behind grew louder, and he chanced a look over the rancid mess that provided little in the way of cover.

The two men grappling with each other in the alleyway blocked the only way out, their movements quick and brutal. What light reached them from the gas lamps on the street was barely enough for Blaine to see his father’s face. Mal Westergard, Duke of Westergard and captain of the Royal Guard, wasn’t in uniform, while the other man was, and Blaine was too young to understand what betrayal meant.

Something skidded over the ground and came to a stop near Blaine. His father’s pistol, with its brass gears painted military black, was within reach. He snatched it up with one hand, the pistol almost heavier than the infant he carried close to his chest.

As the son of a duke whose duty was defined by service, Blaine had been around weapons all his life. He knew how to chamber a bullet into the barrel of a pistol or load a rifle, listening as the gears clicked and locked into place for firing. He knew how to aim at a practice target or an animal while on the hunt and pull the trigger.

He did not learn how to kill a man until that night.

Blaine laid the swaddled infant on the dirty ground behind a broken crate, tucked safely out of sight, before facing where his father fought one of his own men in a losing battle. Blaine breathed in like his mother had taught him, gaze steady even as his heart beat wildly against his ribs, waiting to take the shot.

The soldier knocked his father against the alley wall, the glint of light on sharp metal all the prompting Blaine needed to pull the trigger with a hard press of his finger. He wasn’t braced correctly, and the recoil almost toppled him over. Regaining his balance, Blaine stared wide-eyed at the body sprawled at his father’s feet.

“Blaine,” his father said hoarsely, limping toward him.

“Father,” Blaine replied, his hands shaking, voice cracking with shock.

Mal gently pried the pistol from his hands, and Blaine screwed up his face, trying not to cry. Then his father pulled him into a tight hug, one big hand smoothing over the back of Blaine’s head. “Hush, now. You’re all right.”

His father hugged him for a second longer before gently pushing him away. As much as he wanted the comfort, Blaine knew they still weren’t safe. They hadn’t been safe since fleeing the palace, a place he wouldn’t have been if he hadn’t stowed away in his father’s motor carriage when Mal had been summoned by the queen’s steward.

And if he hadn’t done that, he would surely be dead.

“Where is she?” Mal asked.

Blaine sniffed hard before retrieving the baby, picking her up off the ground. She hadn’t cried when the pistol went off, the drop of sleeping draught administered by the star priest enough to keep her under before they’d been put into a motor carriage. His father had abandoned the vehicle by Hollows Bridge on the western side of the Serpentine River, the singular waterway that cut the capital in two. Blaine wondered if maybe they should’ve stayed in the vehicle after all.

“Hold her close for me. We’re almost there,” Mal said.

“Where are we going?” Blaine asked for what felt like the dozenth time that night.

His father didn’t answer, merely steered him around the man Blaine had killed, his footsteps uneven. Warm fingers touched Blaine’s jaw, keeping his face averted, and he tried not to think about what he left behind in that alleyway.

They weren’t the only ones on the cobblestone street when they emerged, curiosity and fear driving people out of their beds. Despite the gunshot, they weren’t looked at askance, because a limping man dressed in neat, dark clothing with two children in tow was less interesting than the ugly shine of fire that glowed against the sky.

Two turns later found them hurrying along the Western Promenade that followed the length of the Serpentine River. The crowd of people in their nightclothes was growing along the riverside, every face turned east and the horror unfolding there.

A deadly, bright orange glow haloed the night sky above where Amari’s civic and royal centers were located. Windblown smoke made Blaine’s eyes water, stinging his nose. When he glanced in the direction it came from, he saw several small, two-person ornithopters skimming low over burning buildings. The aeronauts aimed hoses attached to water tanks at the fire below in a desperate attempt to contain it.

The fire crews must have been called up, but Blaine hadn’t seen any of their larger trucks with the water tanks pass them by. The only thing out in force, it seemed, were the peacekeepers who had followed them from the palace.

“This way!” a voice cried out.

His father’s hand tightened on Blaine’s thin shoulder, urging him on. “Hurry, Blaine.”

He didn’t know why the peacekeepers were after them when his father outranked them all as captain of the Royal Guard, a position that reported to the queen herself. The Westergard bloodline might not be royalty, but they were nobility and had dedicated generations to the preservation of the throne. It had been their singular duty ever since the civil war that had split Ashion in two, and an armistice kept the border in place.

Blaine was too numb to realize that fleeing through the dark like criminals while the city burned was how his bloodline kept their oath.

Pistols going off set the small crowd of observers shrieking and running away in a panic. Someone screamed in pain, and Blaine looked back, seeing the peacekeepers a block behind them and gaining through the panicking crowd.

“Don’t look back,” his father said, steering him around a corner with a steady hand.

The building that loomed before them was a grand thing at six stories tall, with a curved metal roof and a multitude of arched windows lining its walls. Situated alongside the waterfront, the airship hangar was one of a select group allowed within the city’s borders.

Blaine knew where all the hangars designated for private and diplomatic use were in Amari, having been fascinated with airships since he was a small child after being gifted a windup toy of one by the queen herself. His governess used to take him on motor carriage rides to each location when he was younger, imparting history lessons with every trip. Which was how Blaine knew this hangar belonged to the E’ridian embassy and that the people inside had no obligation to allow them entry.

“Open up!” his father cried, pounding his fist against the smaller side door.

Blaine huddled close, staring back the way they’d come, knowing it wouldn’t take but seconds more for the peacekeepers to arrive. Then the click of a lock being undone reached his ears, and the door opened.

Blaine let out a soft gasp when he saw the pistol held level with his father’s face. The E’ridian’s dark eyes never looked away. “Who calls?”

“I’m here by order of the North Star,” Mal said, one hand gripping Blaine’s shoulder tightly. “Please, there isn’t much time.”

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