Princess Jatta woke on the cold marble floor, groaning weakly. Soaked in sweat. The nightmare was fading, but the horror of it lingered.
Her brother was mauled.
Instinctively she knew it, just as she knew the nightmare had been real. It had now gone, retreated deep below the throbbing in her head. ‘Art, I’m sorry,’ she whispered, knowing she was to blame but remembering nothing.
A face peered down at her. She strained her neck to see. Her father. Soft cloth brushed her face, mopping her forehead, the sweat from her lip. She tried to move but couldn’t. Tears pooled in his eyes. ‘You’ve come back. My precious girl.’
You’ve come back? She blinked up at him, understanding nothing. He’d never cried, not that she knew. She felt one tear spatter on the marble tiles beside her face, wanting it to stop, watching his chin instead. Two . . . three . . . four tears for Arthmael. They fed her fear.
‘Art’s dead,’ she moaned.
‘No. It’s my fault.’
He wiped his eyes, then searched her face. ‘What do you remember, Jay?’
She opened her mouth. But there were no words to explain, only confusion. A vein in her temple throbbed. She let her face roll back on the tiles and shut her eyes to recall. Marble, cold against her cheek. Nothing. Nightgown wet with sweat. Nothing. Body shivering on the tiles. Nothing.
She opened her eyes, trying to focus. Chains clanked as she tried to move. The bedchamber tiles were smeared with bloody paw prints. They glistened in the dawn light. ‘Blood,' she whispered. More the repugnant smell of it than a memory.
‘Blood? Yes, Arthmael’s. He survived, Jay.’
‘No.’ But she desperately held onto his words. ‘Wh—what happened?’
Wolves. Her first memory. Her mortal fear. These dark magic monsters had killed her mother. She groaned. ‘They came back for me.’
‘But they g-got Art instead.’
‘He heard you scream.’
‘Let me see him.’ She tried to sit up. Iron clanked. She lifted her head to see her wrists and ankles loosely wrapped in chains. ‘What—tell me, what have I done?’
Her father busied himself unravelling them. ‘You had a fit. You thrashed about. I ordered the chains to stop you harming yourself.’
A fit? Nothing was making sense. She sat up, rubbing her cramped, bruised legs, focusing on the room. The wall lamps lay smashed. They’d been flung around, weaving burning oil. The scorch marks looked like ice-skating trails across the white floor. Bedding lay strewn in burgundy-spattered tatters. More bloody paw prints danced around her wardrobe, which had been dragged across the room, all ten doors of it, and lay on its side through her smashed glass doors. Half of it lay in the garden beyond. How could wolves have come, and she survived? Arthmael, too? Such monsters were blood-crazed. Indestructible.
‘They weren’t supposed to let me live,’ she whispered. ‘Not if my amulet failed.’
‘They shall not destroy you.’ The King’s voice was commanding, as she had always known it, and Jatta’s pounding pulse slowed. ‘Jay, we must renew your amulet’s magic. This morning I’ll send an ambassador to the Sorcerer.’
‘Maybe this time . . . shouldn’t I go, too?’
‘No!’ His eyes narrowed, suddenly severe. ‘Never imagine you’ll ever leave this palace.’
‘I’m sorry, my little Jay.’ He cupped her elfin, almost childlike face in his scarred hands. ‘But you know Lord Redd’s magic protects you only within these palace walls. I’ve lost your dear mother. I won’t lose you, too.’