Home > King of Battle and Blood (Adrian X Isolde #1)

King of Battle and Blood (Adrian X Isolde #1)
Author: Scarlett St. Clair

 

 


One


   There was an army of vampires encamped on the outskirts of my father’s kingdom. The black tops of their tents looked like an ocean of sharp waves and seemed to stretch for miles, melding with a red horizon that was the sky that extended over Revekka, the Empire of the Vampire. It had been that color since I was born. It was said to be cursed by Dis, the goddess of spirit, to warn of the evil that was birthed there—the evil that began with the Blood King. Unfortunately for Cordova, the red sky did not follow evil, so there was no warning when the vampires began their invasion.

   They had manifested west of the border last night, as if they’d traveled with the shadows. Since then, everything had been quiet and still. It was like their presence had stolen life; not even the wind stirred. Unease crept through my chest like a cold frost, settling deep in my stomach as I stood between the trees, only a few feet from the first row of tents. I could not shake the feeling that this was the end. It loomed behind me, long fingers gripping my shoulders.

   Rumors had preceded their arrival. Rumors of how their leader—I hated to even think his name—Adrian Aleksandr Vasiliev had leveled Jola, ravished Elin, conquered Siva, and burned Lita. One by one, the Nine Houses of Cordova were falling. Now the vampires were on my doorstep, and instead of calling arms, my father, King Henri, had asked for a meeting.

   He wanted to reason with the Blood King.

   My father’s decision had been met with mixed emotions. Some wished to fight rather than succumb to this monster’s reign. Others were uncertain—had my father traded death on the battlefield for another kind?

   At least in battle, there were truths. You either survived the day or died.

   Under the rule of a monster, there were no truths.

   “I should not have allowed you to come so late or get this close.”

   Commander Alec Killian stood too near, just a hair behind me, shoulder brushing my back. If it were any other day, I would have excused his proximity, attributing it to his dedication as my escort, but I knew otherwise.

   The commander was trying to make amends.

   I took a step away, turning slightly, both to cast him a sullen look and to create distance. Alec—or Killian, as I preferred to call him—was commander of the Royal Guard, having inherited the position when his father, whose name he also shared, passed unexpectedly three years ago.

   He returned my gaze, gray eyes both steely and somehow gentle. I think I’d have preferred only the steel, because the tenderness made me want to take two more steps back. It meant he had feelings for me, and any excitement I’d once had at catching his attention had now evaporated.

   Outwardly, he was everything I thought I’d wanted in a man—ruggedly handsome with a body forged by hours of training. His uniform, a tailored navy tunic and trousers with gold embellishments and a ridiculously dramatic gold cape, served to accentuate his presence. He had a crown of thick, dark hair, and I’d spent a few too many nights with those strands wrapped around my fingers, body warmed, but not alight with the passion I’d really longed for. In the end, Commander Killian was a mediocre lover. It had not helped that I did not like his beard, which was long and covered the bottom half of his face. It made it impossible to detect the shape of his jaw, but I guessed he had a strong one that matched his presence—which was beginning to grate on my nerves.

   “I outrank you, Commander. It is not within your power to tell me what to do.”

   “No, but it is within your father’s.”

   Another flush of irritation blasted up my spine, and I ground my teeth. When Killian did not feel like he could handle me, he defaulted to using the threat of my father. And he wondered why I did not want to sleep with him anymore.

   Instead of acknowledging my anger, Killian smirked, pleased that he’d hit a nerve.

   He nodded toward the camp. “We should attack in the daylight while they sleep.”

   “Except you would be defying Father’s orders for peace,” I said.

   Once, I would have agreed with him—why not slaughter the vampires while they slept? The sunlight, after all, was their weakness. Except that Theodoric, king of Jola, had ordered his soldiers to do the very same, and before they could even launch their attack, the entire army was vanquished by something the people were calling the blood plague. Those who had come down with the disease bled from every orifice of their body until death, including King Theodoric and his wife, who now left a two-year-old to inherit the throne under the rule of the Blood King.

   As it turned out, sunlight did not stop magic.

   “Will they have as much respect for us when night falls?” Killian countered. The commander had not been shy about expressing his opinion about the Blood King and his invasion of Cordova. I understood his hatred.

   “Have faith in the soldiers you trained, Commander. Have you not prepared for this?”

   I knew he did not like my reply. I could feel his frown at my back, because we both knew if the vampires decided to attack, we were dead. It took five of our own to bring down one of them. We simply had to trust that the Blood King’s word to my father was worth our people’s lives.

   “No one can prepare for monsters, Princess,” Killian said. I broke from his gaze and focused on the king’s tent, distinct with its crimson and gold details, as he added, “I doubt even the goddess Dis knew what would become of her curse.”

   It was said Adrian angered Dis, goddess of spirit, and as a result, she cursed him to crave blood. Her curse spread—some humans survived the transformation to vampire while others did not. Since their incarnation, the world had not known peace. Their presence had bred other monsters—all kinds that fed on blood, on life. While I had never known anything different, our elders did. They remembered a world without high walls and gates around every village. They remembered what it was like not to fear wandering beneath the stars as darkness fell.

   I did not fear the dark.

   I did not fear the monsters.

   I did not even fear the Blood King.

   But I did fear for my father, for my people, for my culture.

   Because Adrian Aleksandr Vasiliev was inevitable.

   “You presume to know how a goddess thinks?” I asked.

   “You keep challenging me. Did I do something wrong?”

   “Did you expect complacency because we fucked?”

   He flinched, and his brows slammed down over his eyes. Finally, I thought. Anger.

   “So you’re upset,” he said.

   I rolled my eyes. “Of course I’m upset. You convinced my father I needed an escort.”

   “You sneak out of your bedroom at night!”

   I had no idea that sleeping with Killian would mean unannounced visits to my bedroom. Except, like always, he overstepped one night and found my room empty. He’d woken the whole castle, had an entire army searching the surrounding forest for me. All I’d wanted to do was watch the stars, and I’d done so for years atop the rolling hills of Lara. But all that ended a week ago. After I was found, my father had summoned me to his study. He’d lectured me on the state of the world and the importance of watchfulness and had given me guards and a curfew.

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