The King Of Hel

Free The King Of Hel by Grace Draven

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Authors: Grace Draven
    The wind spun hard off the sea as the ship neared the jagged coastline, buffeting Castil il Veras as she huddled within the meager warmth of her cloak. In the distance, a small village could be seen, clinging like lichen to the sloping face of the cliffs. Beyond the quays lay the white lands and the fabled fortress of the snow kings. And there Kareena resided, a captive queen.
    Sails flapped hard above Castil's head, giant wings beating restlessly with the gusts blowing off the water. It was much more comfortable in her tiny cabin, but with the first sighting of Helenrisia's far shores, she had tossed her cloak around her shoulders and ran up on deck. The weeks of seemingly endless sailing, its monotony broken only by periodic bouts of sea sickness, were at an end.
    The letter, tattered at the corners from multiple readings, lay safely within the depths of her satchel. A messenger had given it and a sack of coins to her father, who frowned at the sight of the Helenese royal seal. Castil, fearing the worst, breathed a loud sigh of relief when she saw Kareena's stilted scrawl. That relief had quickly evaporated as she read the note, the desperation and loneliness in the words. There had been little to mull over. Kareena was her best friend, despite their difference in rank, and she needed her.
    Devilos Veras had read the letter and turned a troubled gaze to his daughter. “If you go now, you will be trapped there for months, and they say Helenrisia is an inhospitable place in winter."
    She shrugged. “I would stay that long, regardless, Father. ‘Tis a long trip, and Kareena will need me for more than a few days."
    He had said no more about it, only made arrangements with the captain of the Estarta to transport his daughter safely to the north.
    The ship sailed ever closer, and it seemed to Castil as if the lay of the land remained obscured. Shore met sky in an endless expanse of snow-laden gray, the icy water reflecting the color of a dulled sword blade.
    It was no wonder Kareena, always a lover of the long Caskadanian summers, called this place desolate.
    She ached for her despondent friend, alone in a strange land and bound to a man many considered cursed. The marriage between Kareena il Marcam and Doranis of House Alisdane had been arranged since before Kareena was released from her nanny's lead strings.
    Sons and daughters of the greater boyars were married off to royalty of other countries. Kareena was no exception. Marital ties to the Helenese royal family promised profitable returns in the trade of costly purple dye for dried goods and spices from the south.
    Castil recalled the wedding and its subsequent celebrations. Kareena, raised to understand her duty as an only daughter in an influential family, had been stoic in her acceptance of her fate. Only as the time neared for the wedding and her first meeting with her future husband had she voiced any concerns to Castil.
    "They say he is cursed. Marked by the Waste and its magic.” She shuddered. “What if he is a hideous, misshapen creature? And I will have to bed him."
    Castil patted her on the arm, offering whatever comfort she could. “No one has seen him, Kareena. You know how rumor starts. And if he is unhandsome but kind, will it be so bad?” The words felt patronizing to her ears, for it was not she who would soon be sold into marriage. Yet her words seemed to soothe Kareena, who smiled weakly and nodded.
    "No, not so bad. And I can always close my eyes and imagine that it is Farnoush Salbata who lays with me."
    "Kareena!” Castil admonished her with a laugh, and soon they both forgot of the upcoming nuptials and the arrival of the mysterious king.
    None of their conjectures could prepare them for the reality of Doranis of Helenrisia. When the Caskadanian court assembled to greet the Helenese delegation, no one knew what to expect. The Great Hall settled into a waiting hush as the visitors filed in to stand next to Caskadan's overlord. They were

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