This time, I wake to a flaring line of pain at my throat. A knife.
How original. I immediately want to laugh. I would probably sound hysterically mad, but I can’t help it. For sixteen years, I lived a perfectly safe life in a tiny village where I always had more than I needed to survive and never had to worry about the real world. And now, for the second time in twenty-four hours, somebody is holding a knife to my throat.
Maybe I am going insane.
I take a few deep breaths and open my eyes, trying to collect my wits. Fear clouds my head and my throat aches with the press of unshed tears. As bad as it would probably be to start cackling like a madwoman, crying would probably be worse.
I take as deep a breath as I can manage considering the knife at my throat, and then force myself to observe my surroundings. The knife is a bright gold curved blade. The man who is holding it appears to be wearing the royal colors of the crown. Blue and gold. Royalty, I think in a daze.
I can tell from where I’m standing that I’m probably at the center of the room. It's large and made of thick, heavy-looking gray stone. Rubyglass sconces of alymihzz sit all along the walls. They fill the room with red light, adding an eerie, ominous note. They’re the only light source I can see, though the room seems too bright for that. There’s probably another window higher up that I can’t crane my head to see without cutting myself on the knife.
My eyes wander to the foot of the throne. A few meters away from the elevated platform, Peter kneels on the elegant marble floor. His face is almost colorless, and I can read the fear in his eyes. His eyes are locked nervously on the knife at my throat. His chocolate-brown gaze meets mine, and I shiver violently. He’s afraid for me.
He looks slowly away. His gaze moves to a spot just over my head - the face of my captor. “Don’t hurt her,” he says. He puts his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “You can do whatever you want with me. But don’t hurt her.”
The man laughs madly. I flinch in my anger. What does he think this is? A dinner party, with me and Peter as the entertainment? Peter meets my eyes for a split second, and I can see my anger reflected in his face.
Then the knife jerks against my throat. I choke. “Peter Ringdulous,” the man starts. “I have waited a long time for this. Did Saphire ever tell you about me?”
Saphire? I think dazedly. Who…
I see Peter clench his fists through a cloud of popping black dots. A muscle in his jaw jumps. His eyes are dark with frustration. “I don’t know who you’re talking about, your Majesty,” he says slowly.
I go completely still. The whole world seems to grow sharp with detail. This is the King. The man who’d ordered my capture because Peter loves me. The man who wants to control him.
“Really,” the King answers nonchalantly. The knife against my throat presses demandingly. I try to gasp through the silver pain but I can barely breathe-
“I knew her, alright?” Peter says reluctantly. His eyes have a blank sheen to them. The King’s knife slackens, and I gasp in the sweetness of air. Peter swallows, but I can see the relief in his eyes. Blood trickles down my neck and the front of my dress, staining the blue fabric. As if I weren’t already streaked with dirt and blood.
“Is that so,” the King says nonchalantly. He waves one free hand through the air. “Do you want to know what Saphire did not tell you about me?”
“She never mentioned you,” he says.
“She never mentioned me.” He laughs flatly. “Milo must have warned you of my intentions, then, if Saphire said nothing.”
Peter looks confused for a long moment. Then his expression freezes and horror dawns through his eyes. “He knew all along,” Peter mutters to himself. His tone is disturbingly flat. “Milo Sinclair. He’s not crazy at all, is he?”
“He’s battier than an old hag,” the King counters. “But you may find, Peter, that the maddest of us are the ones who know the truth, who accept it.”
“He knew about this the whole time. And I thought that he was just rambling…” Peter’s gaze locks with mine. His eyes storm with frustration.
“Yes,” the King says, his tone cold and low and dangerous. “And now, Peter, the final pieces of the puzzle are falling into place at last.” The knife at my throat slashes, creating a flash of pain. I let out an involuntary squeak as hot blood dribbles against my collarbone. “I am capable of a great many things. My magical power once allowed me to cross the threshold between this world and the Aquae Temporus.”
“The ocean of time,” Peter mutters in a speculative tone.