Home > The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(2)

The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires #3)(2)
Author: Jeffe Kennedy

I pushed to my feet but my legs gave way like wilted flower stems, and I collapsed back against Con. How humiliating. I hated being weak in any way, and now I was nothing but that.

“Let me,” Con said, sweeping one arm under my knees and lifting me as if I weighed nothing. Probably I did, after all I’d been through. He tucked me against his chest—a comforting place to be—and braced against a pole that held up the awning sheltering us from the storm. I scanned the night-dark sea. Our torches made a pitifully small circle of flame in the swirl of wind, seawater, and sideways rain.

In the distance, Calanthe shone with drenched light, crowned by the glittering jewel of my palace high on the cliffs. The home I thought I’d never see again.

Lightning forked through the sky with an immediate crack! of pulse-jumping sound, illuminating everything in a harsh, ruthless glare, thunder rolling after as Calanthe groaned her pain and hunger. Not far away—entirely too close—sea spray fountained dramatically from the waves churned into fury by the massive coral reef that protected Calanthe.

“That is our problem,” Kara shouted over the wind, pointing, in case I’d failed to notice.

“Why are we so close?” I demanded. “Your boat will damage My coral reef.”

Con snorted out a sound suspiciously like a laugh. Kara looked pained but inclined his head. “My apologies, Your Highness, but it’s true. Unfortunately, we may not survive the encounter, either.”

“I thought you said you knew the trick of navigating My reef and harbor.” I could remember at least that much.

He grimaced, wiping rain from his face. “It seems to have … shifted, Your Highness. And the wind is driving us straight for it.”

Oh. Of course. Calanthe had changed the conformation of the barrier reef. Not only was the coral a living entity, but so was the entire island, though in a different way. And where I’d thought of my connection to Calanthe before as trying to coax a sleeping cat to do my bidding, now She was awake and beyond my control, a raging lion savaging all in Her quest for more blood.

The storm was like a living thing, too, ravening and full of inchoate rage. Even when I understood little else of my abilities, I’d always been able to steer the worst storms around my island kingdom. Allowing the gentle, nourishing rains and sending the rending winds and waves out to sea had been as natural as breathing.

This, however, was no normal storm. Birthed by the thrashing of Calanthe’s abrupt awakening, the ferocious surf and driving winds ignored my call. And … something else contributed here. A magic not my own. But one I recognized. Anure’s wizards.

“I need to see the other direction,” I told Con.

He turned, stepping out from our dubious shelter, his body flexing, briefly shifting me in his arms as he looped an arm around the post and braced against the pitching of the ship. I peered into the gloom, seeking through the violent chatter of Calanthe’s ravings for what disturbed Her waters.

“Lia, I don’t know what—” A flash of lightning cracked, illuminating the night. “Great green Ejarat,” he breathed in horror.

Rearing against the horizon, an enormous wave rose against the stormy sky. Kara and Sondra shouted orders and—absurdly—Ambrose laughed. “Now, that took some doing!” he exclaimed.

Yes, Anure’s wizards were throwing power at us from the other direction, seeking me. Sick terror, rising like that enormous wave, wanted to swamp me. I battled it back with determined rage. At least Calanthe provided plenty of that to work with.

“We have to get below,” Con shouted in my ear.

“No.” I loaded my voice with all the authority I could, ridiculous as it might be from a bald, barely clothed, and sodden heap who couldn’t stand on her own. “I can stop it.” I had to.

“Then do it fast,” he answered without further argument, then shouted something back to Kara and Sondra.

I concentrated, feeling my way, the orchid ring stirring to life with brilliant connection to Calanthe. These were my waters, mine by birth, responsibility, and long familiarity. This sea belonged to me as much as my own blood did. Not a great analogy, as those wizards had tried to steal that, too. But it had done them no good. They’d ultimately failed to take the orchid ring, and they’d fail in this, too.

The waters were mine, but the wave that shaped them came from elsewhere. As wizards, they couldn’t bend my elemental magic to their will; they could only try to disturb it. Like dropping a rock in a still pond. The rock wouldn’t change the water, only displace it. The wizards no longer powered this wave. They’d started it—dropped the rock to swamp us—but it traveled on its own now.

The yacht plummeted down a slope, following the irresistible current as the powerful wave sucked the sea toward it. A roar of the tumbling water filled my ears. Con’s arms tightened on me, and he shouted some kind of prayer or exhortation.

Be still, I told my sea. Shh. Lie down.

The wave stalled, shifted, and simmered, blacker than the sky as it reared above us. Then, like a shattering bowl of water, it splooshed down and outward. The swell caught us, lifting us high and tossing the yacht down again. Con bent over me, holding us against the post as the ship hurled up one wave and down another—and shuddered to a screeching, bone-jarring stop.

We’d hit the coral reef.

Another swell—smaller, but still huge—hit, and the boat leaned to one side, grinding against the rocks ominously. The Last Resort shuddered, as did my bones, the living coral beneath us screaming their small deaths as the yacht crushed them.

The boat lurched again. Something broke beneath us with a loud bang, the Last Resort tilting precipitously. Agatha and Ibolya had joined us on deck, clutching each other for support, their faces pale, but calmly turned to me, trusting in me to save them.

“We need to get off this boat, now,” Con barked in his rough voice. Not so much trust there. “Can you swim?”

I needed to be firm, and I couldn’t do that while cradled like an injured babe in arms.

“No, but I don’t need to. Take Me to the prow.”

“What? No. We’ll be swept over onto those rocks.”

“Take Me now or put Me down so I can walk,” I commanded coolly.

Con muttered something but began forging uphill toward the leaning prow, powerful muscles working against the incline. Sondra came up beside him, using an odd-looking walking stick to dig into the wooden planking of the deck, steadying herself and then Con with a grip on his arm.

“Close enough, Your Highness, or would you prefer I dangle you overboard?”

I ignored Con’s sarcasm, concentrating on reaching through the tempest to the waters of Calanthe.

“I have to stand,” I told Con.

He huffed out a sigh but set me down, bracing me between his bulk and the railing, one arm around my waist—and pretty much supporting my entire weight—his other hand gripping the rail. “Whatever you’re going to do, do it now. If the ship breaks apart, it will get ugly.”

A smile stretched my lips, the dry skin cracking painfully. Being dead left a body in less-than-ideal condition. Layering metal into my spine, I reached out to Calanthe’s churning seas once more. They responded less sluggishly this time, and I directed the currents to calm, to follow my bidding. With a mental twist, I reversed the direction of the waves. No need to be anything you are not. Simply flow the other direction.

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